Homeboys at Ford’s Theater, 4/14/65

15 04 2015

Check out this interesting post about four soldiers from the vicinity of my hometown, McKeesport, PA, who were pressed into duty on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865. Note that they were artillerymen, not infantrymen, however (Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.)

And yes, the men were represented by reenactor proxy at the memorial events yesterday in Washington. Friend and blogger Ron Baumgarten of All Not So Quiet on the Potomac took this picture of three of them:

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Ford’s Theater

2 02 2012

As part of my little tour of Washington, D. C. back in June 2011, I walked over to Ford’s Theater. I’d never been there before. The current complex has a much larger footprint today, but you can still make out the original building (click on all the below images for larger ones):

The Petersen House across the street, where AL died, was closed for renovations:

 

There’s a lot of cool assassination ephemera in the basement museum, including the door to the President’s box, the gun that did the deed, the boot that Dr. Mudd cut off Booth’s broken leg, and one of the hoods worn by (most of) the conspirators as they made their way from their cells to the courtroom:

   

But my favorite was this fundraiser quilt that was signed by notable figures of the day, including my two favorite Georges:

   

I feel bad for Zach Harton (2nd panel, top row), don’t you?

The tour concluded with the reconstructed theater:

  

Of course, I’m always looking for the sights and sites less seldom seen. In this case, it was the back of the building, and as usual I had the place to myself. I made my best bet as to which doorway was the one used by Booth to exit the building, mount his Peanut-tended horse, and make his escape up the alley (he had to make a left right around the spot where I took the first photo below). Even without the lovely Carol Merrill’s help I think I picked the right door, based on what I found on the threshold:

    

Craig Swain’s visit to the Ford’s Theater museum.

Robert Moore’s relative was on stage that fateful night!





Lt. William Brockenbrough Newton, Hanover Light Dragoons, 30th Virginia Cavalry, On the Campaign

14 05 2016

Centreville, July 22d 1861

My Dearest Wife,

For the last four days we have never been longer in one place than two hours – have slept every night upon the ground in good weather and bad, eaten nothing but hard crackers and fried bacon, and rested little at any time. For all of which privations, and a thousand others, we have been more than compensated – thanks to the just God who governs the courses of history, and decrees the destiny of nations – in the glorious results of yesterday. My last was from Fairfax Court House.

On the morning of the 17th we had received reliable information that the enemy were advancing, over 50,000 strong, and were not surprised at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear the fire of our pickets who were slowly retiring before the advancing foe. The order was given to pack – in ten minutes baggage was packed, tents struck, and the wagons driven to the rear, and the whole command formed in line of battle. In a few moments the glittering bayonets of the enemy lined the neighboring hills. From the heavy signal guns being fired at intervals along our line commencing at Germantown, and stretching along to Fairfax Court House, it was evident that the enemy were endeavoring to surround our little band. But our “little Trump,” as the men call Beauregard, was not to be taken by any such game.

Every preparation was made to deceive the enemy by inducing him to believe that we meditated a vigorous resistance – meantime our column defiled through a densely wooded road, and was for on the road to Centreville when the enemy discovered his mistake. He followed on very cautiously. Our troop, with Kemper’s battery, was assigned to post of honour, and charged with the duty of covering the retreat. We were the last to leave the village, and as we went out at one end of the street, his column appeared at the other. We halted at this place (Centreville) about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, again made show of battle, slept until 12 o’clock at the heads of our horses, and silently left the place, the enemy’s pickets being within talking distance of ours.

At daybreak we were across Bull Run, having marched very slowly to keep pace with the infantry. We found beds of leaves in the woods, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and slept for an hour or two, until roused by the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he opened his batteries upon our lines. For two mortal hours, shot and shell flew thick along our whole line. This day’s work was evidently intended only to draw the fire of our artillery and show where our batteries were. In consequence of which, our gunners were ordered not to fire a single shot until within point blank range. After thus opening the ball, two dense masses of infantry were seen to defile to the right and left, to make two separate attacks. It was indeed a beautiful sight, as they came down in perfect order, and with the steady step of veterans. They came nearer and yet nearer, and yet no shot from our guns. Men began to mutter and say that we were preparing for another retreat. But, in a few moments, the appointed time arrived, a single shot from the Washington Artillery gave the signal of death, and for half an hour there was nothing but a continuous sheet of flame along the right of our line. The enemy fell back, rallied and charged again with a like result; again they rested and rushed forward; but old Virginia was true to herself, and the gallant 1st and 17th regiments met them, though twice their numbers, charged them with the bayonet, and drove them back in utter confusion.

The cavalry were held in reserved, and although within range of the artillery and continually experiencing the sensations which men may be supposed to indulge, who know there is a hidden danger hovering in the air, without knowing where it is to light, took no part in the action. Our time came yesterday, however. Our troop was for four hours in the hottest of the fight, and every man in it won the applause and approbation of the whole camp.

The action commenced at 8 o’clock of a sweet Sabbath morning. The enemy commenced with quite a heavy cannonade upon our right, which proved to be a mere feint to distract our attention, as his main attack was directed to our left wing. At ten o’clock the enemy had crossed the river on our left, and the fight commenced in earnest. From the hill on which we stood, we could see the smoke and dust, although at the distance of several miles from the fight waged on our left. Some thought our men had fallen back; others, that the enemy were retreating. It was an hour of painful interest.

At eleven o’clock, and aid-de-camp rode up in a gallop, and said our men were retiring, and the cavalry was ordered to the left. We were temporarily attached to Radford’s regiment. Ours was the first company, and mine the front platoon. On we dashed at a gallop. As we passed within range of a battery of rifled cannon, a ball was fired at us, and passed just between W___ and myself, knocking up clouds of dust. Without wavering in their ranks, the men and horses dashed forward at a gallop. As we reached the scene of action, the sight was discouraging in the extreme. The enemy had a first the advantage of every attacking party. He had concentrated all his forces for an attack upon one point. The 1st Louisiana regiment and the 4th Alabama were assailed in flank and center by 30,000 men, and literally cut to pieces. They refused to surrender but retired slowly, disputing every inch of the ground. As we rode up, we met parts of companies which had literally been overwhelmed, the men wounded, heir arms broken, while some of them were carrying off their dead in blankets. Every thing looked like retreat.

We were ordered up to within 500 yards of the enemies artillery, behind a hill which afforded some protection against their destructive fire. For an hour the firing raged with incessant fury, a ball passed over the hill and through our ranks, grazing one of our men; a shell exploded right under Radford’s horse, and every moment shot and shell were continually whistling by us. I can give you no conception of that awful hour. Not a man shrank from his post; two of our men were taken deadly sick, one fainting from heat and excitement; such calmness and composure I never witnessed. To make the matter worse, despondency, if not despair was fast writing itself on every face. The fire was evidently approaching us, and our friends were retiring, and the whispered rumour passed from lip to lip that our artillery ammunition was running low.

In a moment, however, a cloud of dust in our rear showed the approach of our wagons coming up at a dashing rate with a fresh supply. Our reinforcements now commenced pouring in. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi swept by in their glittering array with the calm light of battle on their faces, and their bayonets gleaming in the quiet Sabbath sunshine. No man faltered, no man lagged behind. Neither the groans of the dying, nor the shrieks of the wounded, as they passed to the rear in crowded ambulances, seemed to produce any impression, except to fix the determination upon the countenance of all – to win or die upon the field.

The tide now seemed to ebb just enough to keep us from despair. The firing did not advance, although the explosion of their shell was terrific in the extreme. A gleam of hope, too, gradually broke in upon us when Kemper’s battery, which had been posted in our centre, galloped up and opened a destructive fire upon our extreme left. The advance was evidently checked, when a loud cheer in the front told us that something unusual had happened. What was it? Was it the triumph of our enemies over our stricken friends, or was it some advantage gained in defence of right? The suspense was awful. Men stood straight in their stirrups and stretched their eyes as if they would pierce the rugged bosom of the barren hill which raised its sc[?]rred front before them.

An aid passes up – his message is written on his face, and, before he speaks a word, a wild shout breaks from the throats of thousands. When he speaks, another, and another, and another round of cheers told the story of our hitherto sinking hearts. The 4th Virginia regiment had taken Sprague’s Rhode Island battery of six pieces at the point of the bayonet. Scarcely had the echo of our cheers died upon the air, when again the noise of shouting broke upon us. What was it? Had the enemy rallied and retaken the guns? Fear struggled with hope. But, no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[?]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in Sherman’s battery. The firing of musketry and the rattling of bayonets was now terrific beyond description. For an hour there was an incessant crackling of rifles, without a single moment’s pause. The enemy were evidently retiring, and, unless reinforced from their left and centre, the day was ours.

To prevent this, our field telegraph had already given the signal for movement upon our own right, and a heavy fire of musketry and artillery told us that Bonham’s brigade, to which we had been attached in the morning, had crossed the run and were pouring it into the enemy’s centre. The South Carolina boys dashed up the hill, in the face of a murderous fire, bayoneted the gunners, and took quiet possession of their centre battery. It was now 3 o’clock, and the day was ours. The Washington Artillery galloped up the hill on which we were posted and opened a perfect Vesuvius of shot and shell upon the receding foe.

Colonel Lay now galloped up and told us the time for us to act had arrived – our whole force of cavalry – now rushed like the wind to the front. It was indeed a brilliant spectacle, as with slackened reins and sabres drawn, the whole command dashed past. The whole line resounded with continued cheering. The force was divided into different detachments. Col. Radford, with six companies, was ordered to cross a short distance below the enemy’s extreme right, and intercept his column; our company was in front, ,and I was riding in front of my platoon – when after crossing the swamp we came suddenly upon a detachment of the enemy concealed in the bushes, with their pieces levelled. The Colonel ordered the charge, and our boys dashed on. (1)

Poor E. F. was at my side when we rode over two of them, and they grounded their arms to E. W. just in our rear. We galloped on in pursuit of the rest, who retreated across a field toward the road on which the enemy was retreating. F. was just behind me; Saunders, a fine young fellow, just 24, and splendidly mounted, rushed past us. The enemy had concealed themselves behind a fence. We rode up and I demanded their surrender. They made no reply. I ordered Saunders to fire. Before he levelled his carbine, the whole squad poured in a volley. Saunders fell dead at my feet, and Fontaine reeled in his saddle, and exclaimed, “save me, boys, I am killed.” He was caught in the arms of his cousin, who was in the rear. Three of my platoon fired, and the two who had shot Saunders and Fontaine fell dead in their tracks. (2)

We were now in full view of the enemy’s line, passing in rapid and disordered retreat along the road, with two pieces of artillery, a large number of baggage wagons and some officers’ carriages. – Col. Radford, who is a soldier of experience, knew the strength of the enemy, and ordered a halt, commanding the men to form; but such a thing as forming was utterly impossible. The men seemed perfectly delirious with excitement, and with a wild shout of the guns, the guns,” our whole company rushed on pell-mell upon the battery, which proved to be another detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery. Such a scene of wild excitement I never witnessed.

My platoon had become detached from the company, and the company from the regiment. There were two caissons and two guns; the guns behind the caissons. My platoon, which was furthest down the road, rushed upon the men who guarded them – one fellow, standing upon the caisson, whipping the horses to make them run. They had become so much alarmed that they stood perfectly still and trembled. I made a blow at him with my sabre, knocked him off the caisson, and he was shot twice by our men before he hit the ground.

Meantime W., (who, by the way, performed admirably,) with the main body, crossed the road higher up and when the main body of the regiment came up, our company, with some of the Alexandria cavalry, had killed and wounded every man at the guns and driven their infantry supports into rapid retreat. When we left, we expected to be supported by infantry and artillery, and you may imagine our astonishment when, with not quite 300 men, we found that we had merely cut into the enemy’s column, and upon looking one hundred yards down the road, we found them preparing to open upon us with two guns, supported by six regiments of infantry. The Colonel at once ordered a retreat, so we shot the horses to the caissons, so as to block up the road, and retreated, not, however, before they had poured in upon us four rounds of grape and canister at 150 yards distance. How we escaped a perfect massacre I cannot say. Had they not been so close to us, the slaughter would have been terrible. Four of our men were killed, and Captain Radford, brother of the Colonel, was literally blown to pieces, I escaped without a scratch (as did all the rest of the officers), excepting quite a severe bruise, caused by my horse’s pressing my leg against the wheel of the gun carriage. We brought off several prisoners, a great many pistols, and several horses. (3)

Just ahead of the guns was an open carriage, very handsome; as soon as they saw us – such a rush you never saw. It is suspected, or rather hoped, that Wilson, of Massachusetts (who was, it is known, on the field,) was in it; for one of our men, Lindsay by name, took it into his head that Scott was in it, pursued and overtook it, and, at the distance of thirty steps, fired his musketoon, with eighteen buckshot, into the back window. (4)

As we returned to camp, a melancholy mistake occurred. B (our Second Lieutenant,) who was carrying poor F. to the hospital, with one or two others, met with a detachment of four of the Appomattox Cavalry, who hailed him. It is said that, instead of giving the signal agreed upon in our camp, by raising the hand to the top of the head, he took them for the enemy, and answered, Federal troops – they fired and he fell dead. (5)

Our company received, upon its return, the congratulations of every officer in General Bonham’s staff, to whom Colonel Radford had spoken of the conduct of our men.

To-day it has been raining all day. Our column pushed on this morning to this place. Our company was assigned the advanced guard; and this morning at 10 o’clock, I had the honor, with eight mounted men, of “occupying” the city of Centreville. The citizens tell us, that about 12 o’clock last night, the cry passed throughout the camp that the d—-d Virginia horsemen were upon them, when they left in utter confusion.

Our triumph has been complete. In two days our noble army has driven them back to Alexandria, captured 42 guns, many colors, and taken how many prisoners I will not venture to say. After we reached here we were ordered to explore the surrounding country in quest of fugitives. We took eighteen prisoners, and got back just at night, very wet. Such a collection of property left in their flight, you never saw. Hundreds of muskets, wagons, horses, gun carriages, thousands of knapsacks, oil-cloths, blankets, hogsheads of sugar, barrels of pork, beans – in short, everything you can conceive. We found to-day over five hundred splendid army over-coats in one pile, at one of their deserted camps, besides many tents, not struck. I helped myself to a magnificent officer’s blanket and oi-cloth to fit over the head, and the men all got over-coats.

The men are amusing themselves to-night with reading their letters, of which there are thousands left on the road. Many of them were directed to Mr. So-and so, expected at Manassas Junction. Some asked for a piece of the floor of the house on which Ellsworth was killed, with blood on it; others confidently express the belief that Beauregard’s scalp will be taken to Washington. When I tell you that we supped to-night on Yankee crackers – Yankee coffee, and nice beef tongue, actually left on the hearth of one of the officers quarters, in a kettle, ready to set on the fire – that this is written in pencil given me by one of the men, upon paper taken from their baggage wagons, that I am sitting on a Yankee camp stool, writing by a Yankee candle, you can form some idea of their utter route.

I send K a pincushion, picked up on the field, and L a needlecase. Tell W I have a nice sword for him, taken from one of the Vermont volunteers. I came very near taking a drum for him, of which we found six yesterday, but thought of the noise, and declined. (6)

Our troops occupy Fairfax Court House, to-night. – Good night; God bless and protect you, as I feel he has protected me in the last few days, in answer to your prayers. I hope I feel sufficiently grateful for my preservation.

Your husband,

W. B. N.

I had secured a beautiful Enfield rifle for uncle William, but it was paced in charge of one of the men, who has lost it. I will endeavor to procure another for him. Bowyer Brockenbrough, in command of a part of Pendleton’s battery, was knocked off his horse by a fragment of a shell, and slightly wounded. Raleigh Colston, who was a captain on one of the Berkely companies, had his pants perforated, and his leg grazed by a ball while advancing on Sherman’s battery. Willoughby Brockenbrough escaped untouched.

———————————

Richmond Daily Whig, July 29, 1861

From transcription in Civil War Times magazine, July 2007, Used with Permission. The letter was annotated by Joseph Pierro, who identified some of the lesser known or cryptically referenced individuals described by Newton, and they are listed below:

1 – Col. George W. Lay, Bonham’s AAG
2 – E. F. – Sgt. Maj. Edmond Fontaine, Jr.; Saunders – Pvt. Richard W. Saunders
3 – Captain Radford – Edmund W. Radford
4 – Wilson, of Massachusetts – Sen. Henry Wilson.
5 – B – Boldman H. Bowles
6 – K, L, & W – Newton’s children, Kate (3), Lucy (4), and Willoughby (7)





Preview: Eric Wittenberg, “‘The Devil’s to Pay’ – John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour”

24 11 2014

downloadNew from Savas-Beatie is “The Devil’s to Pay” – John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour, by prolific Civil War cavalry author Eric J. Wittenberg. This is the first “book-length study devoted entirely to the critical delaying actions waged by Buford and his dismounted troopers and his horse artillerists on the morning of July 1, 1863.”

Here’s the skinny: with “The Devils to Pay” you get 204 pages of narrative taking the reader along with Buford and his men from Fredericksburg to Pennsylvania (including Brandy Station), covering in detail the actions in the Gettysburg vicinity through their ordered departure on July 2. This narrative includes background and biographical information on Buford and his men, a lengthy conclusion summarizing their performance and use, and an epilogue. In addition, there are four appendices (an order of battle; a treatise on “The Myth of the Spencers”; an analysis of the nature of Buford’s defense on July 1; and consideration of the question of whether or not Lane’s Confederate infantry brigade formed squares against a perceived cavalry threat on July 1); a 22 page, illustrated walking and driving tour; and a bibliography. Sprinkled throughout are more than 80 images and 17 Phil Laino maps.





Lt. Charles Minor Blackford, Wise Troop, On the Battle

13 09 2012

July 20th*

This day I spent lying down and taking remedies. By night I was so much better I determined to go back to my company reaching them about nine o’clock much worn down by my ride. The men welcomed me gladly. They had seen no yankees and very little expected the storm that was to break over our heads so soon. A bed of leaves was made for me and I laid down to rest. My own opinion was that a great battle was going to be fought the next day. The thoughts of a thinking man the day before a battle are necessarily solemn, he may be buoyant and hopeful, yet there is a dread uncertainty that comes over his thoughts both as to himself and those dependent on him which makes him grave and almost sad. I was tired and despite the thoughts of the next day’s work I soon dropped off to sleep and never moved until roused by my servant, John Scott, early Sunday morning. He told me to get up, something was going on, he did not know what but I’d better get up and make ready. I soon discovered what was about to happen. All the troops around me were up and cooking their breakfast, though it was scarcely light, and every one seemed to think an attack was about to be made upon our lines, but no one knew where. We supposed it would be made down towards the center where it was made on the 18th.

The bivouac of our squadron was on the extreme left near the Henry house as it was called. Mrs. Henry, who lived in it, and was so very old and infirm she refused to be moved out of it. She was said to have been a Miss Carter, and to have been one of the family who once owned the Sudley farm nearby. Mrs. Henry’s house during the day became a strategic point of great importance and was much torn up by shot and shell, by one of which she was killed. In her yard General Bee was killed and near it Colonel Bartow. Near it also it was that General Jackson formed his heroic brigade and received the baptism of fire during which he received the immortal name of “Stonewall”. A few days after the battle I got a piece of cedar post from the ruins of the house, and cut some crosses and other things which I sent home as mementos, and which I still have.

We were thrown into line about sunrise on the brow of a hill which overlooked Bull Run, with quite a wide valley (two hundred yards at least), below us. On the other side the bluff rose quite steeply, but on the top of it there was an open field. We were placed in that position to support a battery of artillery, whose I did not find out for it was moved very soon after the battle began to rage on our extreme left above the stone bridge.

I was still weak and John Scott brought me out to the one of battle another cup of coffee. He also brought some oats for my horse, which had not finished eating when I mounted him. He got an ammunition box to put the oats in and the horse was eating while I drank the coffee. We could distinctly hear the rumble of the yankee artillery on the pike beyond run, and there was no doubt they were moving in force toward the stone bridge and the Sudley farm and proposed to turn our left wing and sweep down on our side the run and our line. While we stood thus listening to the rumbling artillery and watching the dust as it arose from many hostile feet, we noticed a Federal battery of four guns suddenly dash out of the woods and throw itself into battery in the open space on the other side of the run above the bluff. We were much interested in the beauty of the movement, all of which we could see plainly, as it was not more than five hundred yards distant, but in a moment they opened upon our lines. The first shells went high above us, but the second were better aimed, and one of them struck the box out of which my horse was eating and shattered it to fragments, and then went on amongst the infantry behind us. John Scott did not move, or show any signs of fear. Having fired those two rounds they limbered up and left us as quickly as they came, and before our battery had done them any injury. When I noticed the first fire in some way I never dreamed the creatures were firing at us, so I went on drinking my coffee, but I was very rudely awakened from the dream by the second round when my indifference was changed to indignation, that they should actually have the impudence to fire at us on our own ground, and when we were doing them no harm.

After this there was a lull for a half hour while we remained in line of battle, but with no enemy in sight, then we heard the sound of cannon and musketry on our left, towards the stone bridge. We were moved up nearer the fighting, two other companies having joined us, and the whole thing being under the command of Lieut.-Col. Thomas T. Munford, of our regiment. The sounds indicated that the battle was growing fast and furious on our left, and that our lines were slowly being driven back, at which we were not surprised, as we knew we had but a small force on our left, and it was then obvious that the enemy was hurling upon it their whole force. We waited orders with great impatience and anxiety, for we saw our people were giving way and we could not see why we could not be of use. The battery we were supporting had been moved and there were no other troops very near us. I think Colonel Cocke forgot us, at all events we remained in the same position until near three o’clock in the evening.

About nine o’clock Generals Beauregard and Johnston, with their respective staffs, dashed by us, about fifty persons, handsomely dressed and mounted, and making a very grand show, and one which appealed to our enthusiasm very much, though all of us thought that one of the two generals should have been up with Colonel Cocke much earlier. Doubtless, however, they had good cause for the delay. Immediately behind them, at a sweeping gallop, came the “Washington Artillery,” a battalion of sixteen guns. This was the most inspiring sight I ever saw, and fills me with emotion whenever I think of it now. One not familiar with artillery can little imagine how grand a sight it was. Each gun had four horses, with outriders and officers on horseback and several men mounted on the gun; then the caisson of each gun with its four horses and the like equipment of men, making thirty-two in all. their ammunition wagons, forges and ambulances, all at full speed, making a processions, which under the circumstances, was very inspiring. Following the battalion next camp “Hampton’s Legion” of infantry under Col. Wade Hampton. Then a long and continuous line of infantry came pouring by as our troops were moved from the center and right wing to meet the attack on the left.

It is very easy, of course to criticise the conduct of the battle, and it is very unfair, as the critic does not know the inside causes, but while we stood there in nervous anxiety we all concluded our generals had been out-generaled, and the enemy had gained a great point upon them in transferring so many troops without their knowledge to the left, and forcing that wing back as they did. Our troops were put to a great disadvantage when run directly into a fight after moving at almost double-quick from six to ten miles on a hot July day, yet many of them were put to the test. We wondered also why, after it was discovered how the attack was made and that the enemy had stretched out his column from Centreville parallel to our front in the march towards Sudley, an attack was not made on his column, or upon the rear of his column, cutting him off from his base. Instead large forces, even after sending troops to the left, were idle all day at Mitchell’s and Blackburn’s Fords. No use was made of the cavalry until late in the day and then it was scattered about in small detachments, each acting under different orders, its attack was of little avail except to increase the panic of the enemy inducing a greater loss to them of the material of war. If when the enemy commenced to break, a column of cavalry had crossed Bull Run half way between Manassas and the stone bridge, and opened fire upon them as they moved back on the Warrenton Pike the victory would have been far more disastrous to the enemy and our gain in material so much the greater.

As these troops were passing towards the enemy another dismal line was moving back in the opposite direction. I shall never forget them. They were the wounded, some walking, some on stretchers, some in ambulances, all seeking the field hospital, which was near us in the woods, and all giving proof of their persons as well as their tongues of the terrible carnage on the left, and many giving discouraging tidings that our line was slowly giving way. Troops, certainly none but veterans, should never, if possible, be taken into action so as to see a field hospital or to meet the wounded or demoralized men. It has a bad effect and renders them unsteady.

The news given by the wounded men made us very impatient. We felt there was certainly something for us to do but no orders came. About eleven o’clock we were moved again further to the left, but though within range of artillery we had no actual fighting. The enemy continued to advance and at last, about mid-morning we saw signs of demoralization on the part of some of our troops; but about that time we saw a long column of troops in the same direction moving towards us, which, at first, we thought was the enemy, but to our infinite relief we found was General Jackson’s brigade which had just been put off a train of cars on the Manassas road. They doubled quick into action and met the enemy’s line and were soon heavily engaged. I was not near enough to mark the fighting, or rather my view was too much obstructed to get a view, but we could tell by the constant roar of cannon and musketry that the contest was severe. It was soon after this that Jackson won his “Stonewall,” as I have stated before. I got permission to ride a little distance from our command to get a closer view, and while out in an open field viewing the contest the best I could a bright-eyed boy of some sixteen years of age came up to me with a wounded hand and arm and spoke to me by name. I did not remember ever having seen him before, but he said he remembered me when I was a student at the University of Virginia and that his name was Everett B. Early of Charlottesville. He had run away from home and gone into the fight and been wounded. He had dressed his wound and was on his way back to take a hand again. He gave me a very intelligent account of the battle.

I was kept in a state of great excitement all day and found it hard to set on my horse from weakness induced by my recent sickness. We had nothing to eat. About four it became obvious that the advance of the enemy had been stopped. Then there was a sudden pause in the firing on their side, and when we could hear cheers and shouts on our lines. We were told by a wounded man that Sherman’s and Ricketts’ battery had been captured and that the enemy were slowly retiring. Still we were kept waiting though the sound of firing showed us the enemy was now in full retreat and the time for the cavalry had come. About five o’clock an officer came up and told Col. Munford the enemy were in full retreat across Bull Run, and ordered him to cross the stream and make for the pike to cut them off if possible and that Col. Radford with the rest of the regiment had already gone. Both parts of the regiment crossed about the same time, and we dashed up the hill, but the order had come too late for much good to be done. We were received by a scattering fire from the routed column, but they had generally thrown away their arms, and those who had not done so did so as soon as they saw us. It was a terrible rout and the face of the earth was covered with blankets, haversacks, overcoats, and every species of arms. We joined Col. Radford and the other six companies of the regiment as we reached the pike and followed the fleeing yankees, capturing many prisoners, until we came to a block in the road made by a great number of abandoned wagons, cannon and caissons, ambulances and other material at a bridge over a creek about two miles of Centreville. Further advance was checked, or at all events we went no further. From the other side of the creek and on top of the hill the enemy had been able to halt a battery long enough to fire one or two shots at our column, one of which killed Captain Winston Radford, of Bedford, a most excellent man and citizen and the brother of our Colonel. Beyond this our loss was very small and my company had only one or two wounded slightly.

Just as we crossed Bull Run I saw Edmund Fontaine, of Hanover, resting on a log by the roadside. I asked him what was the matter, and he said he was wounded and dying. He said it very cheerfully and did not look as if anything was the matter. As we came back we found him dead and some of his comrades about to remove the body. It was a great shock to me, as I had known him from boyhood, and though he was younger than I was we had met during many visits to Hanover when I was younger. We went into bivouac a little after dark, for it had become cloudy and was very dark.

It was a day long to be remembered, and such a Sunday as men seldom spend. To all but a scattered few it was our first battle, and its sights and wonders were things of which we had read but scarcely believed or understood until seen and experienced. The rout of the enemy was complete but our generals showed much want of skill in not making the material advantages greater. The Federal army was equipped with every species of munition and property, while ours was wanting in everything.  They were stricken with a panic; wherever the panic was increased by the sight of an armed rebel it discovered itself by the natural impulse to throw away arms and accoutrements and to abandon everything in the shape of cannon, caissons, wagons, ambulances and provisions that might impede their flight, yet they managed, despite their flight, to carry off much. They only lost some thirty-odd cannon, for example, while with proper management on our part they would not have reached the Potomac with two whole batteries and so with other properties.

Had there been even a slight demonstration on Centreville that evening the panic would have been so increased that we would have made more captures in cannon, small arms and wagons.

During the evening, as I was riding over part of the field where there were many dead yankees lying who had been killed, I thought by some of Stuart’s regiment, I noticed an old doll-baby with only one leg lying by the side of a Federal soldier just as it dropped from his pocket when he fell writhing in the agony of death. It was obviously a memento of some little loved one at home which he had brought so far with him and had worn close to his heart on this day of danger and death. It was strange to see that emblem of childhood, that token of a father’s love lying there amidst the dead and dying where the storm of war had so fiercely raged and where death had stalked in the might of its terrible majesty. I dismounted, picked it up and stuffed it back into the poor fellow’s cold bosom that it might rest with him in the bloody grave which was to be forever unknown to those who loved and mourned him in his distant home.

The actual loss of the enemy I do not know but their dead extended for miles and their wounded filled every house and shed in the neighborhood. The wounded doubtless suffered much. Their own surgeons abandoned their field hospitals and joined the fleeing cohorts of the living, and our surgeons had all they could do to look after their own wounded, who of course were the first served. They received kind treatment however, and as soon as our surgeons were free they rendered all the aid in their power.

The enemy had permitted no doubt of the result to cross their minds, and had not kept it a secret in Washington that the final attack was to be made on Sunday. The day was therefore made a gala day by all the classes, and they came in great numbers in every possible conveyance to enjoy the rebel rout and possible share in the rebel spoils. Members of Congress and cabinet ministers, department clerks and idle citizens followed the advancing column in all the confidence of exhorting confidence, and there were not wanting many of the hack-load of the demi-monde  with their admirers to compete the motley drew. Along the road and amidst abandoned cannon and wagons we found many a forsaken carriage and hack with half-eaten lunches and half-used baskets of champagne, and we received most laughable accounts from the citizens on the roadside of the scenes they saw and the sharp contrast between the proud and confident advance and the wild panic of the flight. The men of our company got many a spoil not known to the ordnance department or used by those who filled the ranks.

We bivouacked in the field and without tent or any shelter but the oilcloths, a vast supply of which we had laid in from those upon which our foes had slept the night before. They were of the very best material and we gladly abandoned ours or kept them to throw over our saddle in the rain. A battle is not a sanitarium for the sick or the cold ground a good bed for a feverish and chilly man. I was so worn and weary that I had no doubt whatever that when I awoke in the morning I would be very ill. Before I laid down I fortunately found an opportunity to send a telegram to my wife and owing to a fortunate accident it got off the next morning and relieved the minds of my people at home and the friends of all my men.

Despite my gloomy anticipations as to the effect of my health I slept like a top and awoke the next morning after daylight feeling very much better. I was aroused by a hard rain falling on my face. I got up at once and crawled into my wagon, which fortunately had come up during the night, and then I had my breakfast owing to John Scott’s thoughtfulness. I had heard nothing about my brothers, Capt. Eugene Blackford of the Fourth Alabama and Lieut. W. W. Blackford, of Stuart’s regiment of Cavalry. Both, I knew, had been engaged but I could not hear anything of them.

About eight o’clock, a staff officer from somewhere rode up and delivered an order calling for details to gather up arms and spoils from the field and to carry prisoners to the rear. I was sent with twenty men to report to Colonel Evans on the latter duty. When I reported I found also a small detail of infantry and the colonel put me in charge of the whole detachment and turned over to me several hundred prisoners, who looked very uncomfortable in the rain, with orders to take them to Manassas, six miles to the rear. Before we started Colonel Evans took me into a house in the yard of which he had his headquarters and introduced me to Colonel O. B. Willcox and Captain Ricketts of the Federal army, both of whom were wounded and prisoners. Willcox and Evans seemed very good friends and called each other Orlando and Shanks respectively – “Shanks” being Evans’ nickname at West Point. Willcox was courteous but Ricketts was surly and bitter and complained about his accommodations, which were very much better than those of his captor in the yard or than those of the vast proportion of our wounded men and officers. He had a comfortable room and bed and two surgeons to attend his wounds. One would suppose he expected the rebels to have a first-class hotel on the battlefield ready to receive him and that they had violated all the rules of civilized warfare in failing to do so.

We carried the two officers, placed under my care, in an ambulance, and we made them as comfortable as possible. We made rapid progress and I soon delivered my charge to some officer at General Beauregard’s headquarters. I had some pleasant chats with Colonel Willcox.

The sights of this day were terrible and more heartrending than those of the day before. Our preparations for the battle, so far as the care of the wounded was concerned, were very imperfect and we were called on to provide for those of both sides. The result was that many of both sides suffered much, but no difference was shown them save in the matter of priority of service. The surgeons were busy all day but still many wounds remained undressed for fully twenty-four hours. Luckily it was not very hot and the rain was a comfort.

Blackford, S. L., Blackford, C. M.,  Blackford, C. M.  III, Letters from Lee’s Army or Memoirs of Life In and Out of The Army in Virginia During the War Between the States, pp. 26-36.

*While this “letter” discusses incidents that occurred on July 21, Blackford may have started writing it on the 20th. Keep in mind that this collection had been edited twice – the last time by Blackford’s grandson – by the time it appeared in this publication. It is apparent that this account is not wholly a contemporary letter, and so has been classified here as a memoir.





Pvt. William Z. Mead, Co. C, 1st VA Cavalry, On the Battle

16 05 2012

The First Virginia Cavalry.

Copy of a letter from a member of Col. Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry Volunteers, to his friend on James River, after the battle of Bull’s Run, on 21st July, in which he was engaged:

Fairfax Station, Camp Lee,

Fairfax C. H., Va., 26th July 1861

My Dear Sir: It has occurred to me to-day (the first day of anything like rest, we have had for several weeks,) that I could not do better than to try and entertain my friends with some account of the battle of “Bull’s Run,” the grandest blow, probably, ever struck for freedom, and certainly the most complete, which hard won victory ever achieved on the American continent. If no one else, your little sons, who, I understand, are training themselves for the field of some future day, will surely be interested in knowing about the great and bloody struggle, by which the liberties of their country were preserved and secured to them forever. I say preserved, for the effect of the battle has certainly been to demoralize throughout the armies of the invader, and to change the public opinion of the North; perhaps, also, to win the sympathy of the great powers of Europe. You and the ladies must also have looked to the issue of that day, with anxious hearts,, for many of your friends were there – all to share in the glory – and some to give their blood in our holy cause. And still others, though I trust few, to yield their lives, to protect the homes, and the mothers, and the little ones there.

Friday, 19th July, was a stirring day in the camp at Winchester, occupied as you know, by the army of the Shenandoah, under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. At 4 A.M. the division was put in motion, 25,000 strong, with our Cavalry 750 strong., under Col. J. E. B. Stuart at the head of the column.

The roll of the drums, and the sound of the bugles, awoke the whole town; and as the solid columns moved rapidly away, the astonishment and consternation of the people were plainly perceptible – for not one, civilian or soldier, knew the meaning of that sudden movement.

Gen. Patterson, with 30,000 men, was within twelve miles of the city, which was thus to be left to its fate, unprotected, save by a few thousand new troops. What could it mean? The end will show the consummate generalship which planned, and the patriotic zeal which perfect the manoeuvre. For at that very moment, Patterson was marching for Harper’s Ferry, there to embark on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for Washington – there to unite with McDowell, Crush Beauregard at Manassas, and advance to Richmond. Johnston saw through it all, and hastened by a forced march to join Beauregard, before Patterson could reach Washington, and there crush McDowell, and hurl his broken columns back on the Federal city. This he did. On Saturday night, Beauregard and Johnston had united – and that night the troops intended for the engagement, 35,000 in number, slept on their arms, on the North side of Bull’s Run, three miles North of Manassas Junction. Many thousand of the Confederate troops, who were to be in action, we detained by railroad collision, caused by the criminal conduct of a treacherous conductor, who was shot by order of the Commanding General.

On the following day, Sunday July 21, at 6 A.M., the troops were formed in line of battle, in the shape of the letter V, the apex toward the enemy. Gen. Beauregard took command of the right wing, Gen. Johnston of the left, and late in the day, President Davis, in person, took charge of the centre. He rode a splendid grey charger, and inspired the troops to almost frenzied enthusiasm, by his noble bearing and stirring words of encouragement. At 9 1/2 A.M. precisely, the first gun was fired by the enemy from a 32 pounder upon our right. The enemy were in three divisions, the right and left of 15,000 each, and the centre of 25,000 men. Gen. Scott himself was at Centreville, four miles off; and nearer in view of the battle field, were many members of the Northern Cabinet and Congress, and large numbers of ladies from Washington, who had driven out in elegant equipages to witness the demolition of the rebels, as one would look upon a game of chess.

The battle opened with artillery on both sides, commencing on our right and spreading rapidly to the distance of over three miles, from wing to wing. In about an hour the infantry were in position, and Jackson’s brigade fired the first volley. The cavalry was stationed on the wings. Our cavalry, 1st Regiment, under Col. Stuart, in rear of the left, and Col. Radford’s Regiment in rear of the right. We were then placed, and ordered to dismount and stand by our horses until needed. The battle commenced raging, with deadly ferocity, all along the lines – the roar of artillery and the rattle of musketry being almost deafening. By the large number of wounded and dead, brought by the ambulances to the rear, it was evident that the enemy were fighting well. For five hours, the storm of shot and shell raged, column after column being hurled in vain against our intrepid young heroes – so largely outnumbered and out disciplined, as they were, they never for a moment faltered or retreated. At half-past 2 o’clock it was rumored that the enemy was defeated on the right by Beauregard – not so, however, on the left, where, it id conceded, the hardest fighting was done. General Johnston saw that his division was being terribly mutilated, and was about to be surrounded by the New York Zouaves, and the New York 8th Regiment, with several other regiments of Regulars covered […]. At 3. P.M., Johnston saw that he must withdraw his exhausted troops, for the enemy were, even then, deploying far over to the left, to surround and cut them to pieces. Then it was that he sent for Elzy’s brigade, consisting of the Maryland Regiment, the 1st Tennessee, and the 17th Virginia, and one Louisiana Infantry, Beckman’s small battery of artillery and Stuart’s Regiment of Cavalry. He told the officers that the day would be decided in 15 minutes, and they could turn the scale. The devoted column, in whose hands rested the great issues of the conflict, moved rapidly forward. Regiment after regiment, mutilated and exhausted, passed us with mingled looks of despair and hope. Not even the piles of dead and rows of wounded on the way, made one of those young spirits quail or fall from the ranks. As we approached the field, the victorious shouts of the enemy were heard behind the woods. The arrangement was as follows: To first break the column of flanking troops, by a cavalry charge, and thus give the infantry and artillery time to form – the first in front, and the last on the left flank. The brigade which we were about to relieve, was fighting on a wooded ridge, on the side of which, and running at right angles to our lines and the enemy’s was a lane through the woods, and emerging therefrom on the enemy’s right flank. Along this road, four regiments, headed by Ellsworth’s Zouaves, were deploying successfully, thus:

Just as the head of the flanking brigade of our enemy appeared in the wood, the bugle of our cavalry sounded “to the charge,” and on we dashed, with the heroic Stuart at our head. As we emerged from the woods, Sherman’s battery opened on us with grape, killing at the first fire 19 horses and 11 men, and wounding many. But there was no stopping, nor did the bugle sound “to the rear,” until we had completely broken the enemy’s lines.

The brigade of Elzy then formed on the hill, in the place of the noble Bee’s, and the artillery opened with terrible execution on the extreme left. Ten minutes more, and Gen. Johnston said the day was decided, the enemy routed, and one of the most precipitate and terror-stricken flights began, to be found in the history of warfare. The pursuit was conducted by Gen. Cocke’s Brigade with the entire body of cavalry, piously called by the Yankees, “those infernal hell-hounds,” and Beckman’s artillery. We pursued eight miles on the left flank. We cut off an immense number of prisoners, and found scattered along the line of the retreat, cannon, flags, arms, wagons, ambulances, provisions, haversacks, horses, saddles, &c., in any quantity. All the roads from Bull Run to Fairfax Court House, and beyond, were lined with articles thrown away by the panic stricken enemy.

At the latter place we captured several hundred stands of arms, and several loads of ammunition. They were at the depot, destined for Richmond. In fact, most of the prisoners say that they expected to go directly through Richmond.

The lines of our army now extend from Fairfax Court House off to the right and left, to a great distance. What the next move will be, nobody knows, but all agree that if Lincoln determines on prosecuting the war, the next battle will be fierce and more bloody than the last.    *   *   *

Last Sunday I was on the battle field where we fought so hard, as Sergeant of an escort for Gen. Beauregard. All the great chiefs of the Revolution were there to pay their respects to the comparatively young hero of the day. You have heard our Generals described so often, that I will not undertake a further description. I reviewed with mournful awe the hushed and peaceful fields which so lately re-echoed to the deadly roar of battle. I stood where the terrible Sherman battery stood and surrendered. I paused by the graves of many a dear, young and cherished friend, with its modest slab of wood and its simple inscription. I rode through the silent lane, down which Stuart’s terrible charge of light cavalry was made. I saw the mangled horses – and the graves of those who so heroically fell at the head of the column. And as I witnessed all this in the peaceful sunlight of the Sabbath, I could not restrain those tears which God has granted to relieve the pent up sorrow of human bosoms. Oh! this cruel war, those desolate hearth stones; those weeping mothers! where, where will it end? The glow of our victory is great – the lustre of our arms shines forth before the world; but I would give my right hand to-day if God would dry the weeping eyes of mothers and sisters, by permitting the war to cease.

W. Z. Mead

Augusta (GA) Daily Constitutionalist, 8/20/1861

Clipping Image

William Zacharia Mead on Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Hittin’ the Road…

5 06 2011

…to our nation’s capital – and Capitol.

In a few hours I’m heading to Washington, DC where I’ll be presenting my program on Peter Hains to the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable. Tomorrow I plan on doing some sightseeing, starting off by paying a visit to All Not So Quiet on the Potomac host Ron Baumgarten, who works in town in the Winder Building, home today of the U.S. Trade Representative. I hope then to hit Ford’s Theater and the National Building Museum, which is a beautiful structure and originally housed the Pension office. For monuments I’m taking along my paperback copy of Testament to Union to help guide me about – lots of walking.

The meeting starts at 7 PM in the Rayburn House Office Building., and runs until about 8:30.

On the way home on Tuesday I hope to stop by Manassas National Battlefield Park, and will proceed to Winchester for some field work on my upcoming Collateral Damage article and to hopefully meet up with e-quaintance Robert Moore, aka Cenantua.

So, a busy couple of days ahead.





“The Conspirator” Trailer

27 01 2011

It looks like Robert Redford’s The Conspirator will be making its debut on tax day, April 15, 2011.  Here’s the trailer (hat tip to Hop Tak):





Hunton’s Lieutenant

10 05 2010

This weekend I received the following from a reader:

I was just playing with Google tonight and missing my Dad at the same time.  He died in 1999.  He grew up in the Leesburg, VA area, born in 1910, the youngest of 6 children and 5th boy to Dr. Eppa Hunton Heaton, a country doctor.
 
I typed my Dad’s name: Eppa Hunton Heaton into Google to see what might come up.  And for a while I read some articles about Eppa Hunton who I already knew was a Colonel in the Civil War in VA. 
 
Somehow I ended up on your page: “#101a-Col. Philip St. George Cocke” .  I was scanning down through the long article and Lieutenant Heaton caught my eye as did Colonel Hunton.
 
The story in my Dad’s family is that at some point, and I’m assuming that this Lieutenant Heaton is my great-grandfather, he asked Colonel Hunton for leave so he could get married.  He promised the Colonel that he would name his first son after him.  And my grandfather was the lucky recipient of Eppa Hunton Heaton.  Even though my Dad had four older brothers, none of them got this wonderful name until my Dad was born.  His real name was Eppa Hunton Heaton, Jr. but he was called Willy as a boy and Bill as an adult.
 
His oldest sibling, Medora (“Dora”) was 16 years older than he was and the only girl.  He called her “Sis” so all of his children called her “Aunt Sis”.  She was married and living in Detroit in 1940 and Bill came up north to see her and stayed.  He soon was enjoying the party circuit of Detroit’s finest families.  My maternal grandfather was a friend of Henry Ford’s and a third generation Detroiter.  Anyway, the poor country boy fell in love with the wealthy city girl and the rest is history.  He was 30 and she was 19 when they married in January of 1941. He served as a Lieutenant in the Navy during the war.
 
Anyway, thought I’d pass this family story on to you.  I’m assuming you don’t know about it.
 
Leslie Heaton Evans

Cumberland, RI

Lieutenant Heaton in this case is Henry Heaton, who commanded a section of Capt. Arthur Rogers’ Loudon (Leesburg) Artillery at Bull Run.  According to this book, Henry Heaton was born ( also the a son of a doctor) on 3/18/1844 at Woodgrove, the family homestead, and died on 5/17/1890.  He was a state senator from Loudon and Fauquier counties.  He also had a brother, Capt. N. R. Heaton, a sister, and seven other siblings.  Further correspondence with Leslie established that her great-grandfather was in fact Henry’s brother Nathaniel, who was in command of Co. A of Col. Hunton’s 8th Virginia Regiment at Bull Run.  Both Nathaniel and Hunton would still have their respective commands two years later as part of Garnett’s brigade of Pickett’s division at Gettysburg.   It appears that Nathaniel later became superintendent of the Bates County government nitre works, where he also commanded troops thrown together to oppose Union General David Hunter in the summer of 1864.  According to Findagrave, Nathaniel Rounceville Heaton was born 1/11/1824, died 2/3/1893, and is buried in Katoctin Baptist Church Cemetery in Purcellville, Loudon County.

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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

17 02 2010

The way I heard the story, in response to complaints of baseball purists that actor Ray Liotta’s portrayal of baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson batting right and throwing left was in contrast to the fact that he batted left and threw right, Field of Dreams director Ron Shelton quipped, “Did they notice he is currently dead?  I guess that’s another mistake we made.”  Or words to that effect.

I had to remind myself of that story frequently while reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  This book requires the suspension of a whole lot of disbelief.  After the vampire-induced death of his mother, Abe devotes himself to the eradication of the creatures from the country.  Abe’s father’s inability to repay a debt to his vampire loan shark (the senior Lincoln’s many faults were frequently referred to, as were the positive traits he passed on to his son) is what led to Nancy Hanks’ murder.  It turns out that vampires were the movers and shakers, the money-lenders, the men behind the men in 19th century America, though they stretched back all the way to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke settlement.  They also played a role in the institution of slavery, striking deals with human slaveholders for prey.

Abe was a self-taught vampire hunter at first, but early on was trained by a friendly bloodsucker.  He hunted with crossbow and knives, but his weapon of choice was his trusty axe.  Over the years, he enlisted the help of first Jack Armstrong of  Clary’s Grove, then friend Joshua Speed, and later Ward Hill Lamon.  But none of them could help Abe during what would be his last confrontation with the undead in Ford’s Theater in April, 1865.  Or was it his last?

Throughout, Grahame-Smith weaves Abe’s nocturnal hunts in with the “known” history.  As you’d expect, much of that “known” history has some unknown facets: was Ann Rutledge the victim of a vampire?  Take a wild guess.  But here’s where the book disappointed me.  Not just the fact that there were inaccuracies, but that the miscues would have been easy enough to correct without affecting the story one iota.  For the record, I reviewed an advance reading copy (aka bound galley aka uncorrected proof).  The following may be corrected in the book when it is released next week:

  1. The military career of Edgar Allan Poe is discussed.  Grahame-Smith states that when Poe was transferred to Ft. Moultrie in South Carolina, he was not near a town.  Ft. Moultrie is hard-by Charleston.
  2. Grahame-Smith describes Lincoln’s cabinet in the spring of 1861, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.  Simon Cameron, not Stanton, was Lincoln’s first Secretary of War.
  3. Robert E. Lee is said to have been a friend of Lincoln’s before the war.  The two were not acquainted, though Lee’s opponent George McCellan appears to have had numerous dealings with Lincoln in the 1850s, and they established a friendship of sorts.
  4. Grahame-Smith writes that Our American Cousin was a new play in 1865.  It was written in 1858.

There are other hiccups – these just happened to stick with me.  But guess what?  Vampire’s aren’t real (at least, I think they aren’t).  Unless you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to you.  If you can overlook that minor detail, I think these little mistakes shouldn’t concern you much.

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