Interview: Richard M. Allen, “Anderson’s Brigade Rosters”

18 07 2018

 

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Rick Allen giving a tour of Anderson’s Brigade at Gettysburg

Richard M. “Rick” Allen has been a friend for a while, and an e-quaintance for much longer. He has recently published, with Savas Beatie, a four volume set of rosters for the Georgia Regiments (7th, 8th, 9th, & 11th Infantry) of G. T. Anderson’s brigade. It’s a wonderful set of books that amounts to a collection of mini-biographies of the thousands of men who served during the lives of the regiments. I’m enjoying the heck out of them. Rick graciously took the time to talk about the project. You can order your own copies right here.

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

RMA: Not much to tell really. I’m an only child and a 1990 graduate of the Maryland Institute of Art, where I received a B.F.A degree in what was truly a unique environment. Not having the sense to be a Graphic Arts major, we Fine Art types took our degrees and went on to work in just about any field excepting Art. In my case, I’ve spent most of my work career in the field of warehousing and purchasing, pretty much because I was always good at organizing things.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences?

RMA: I come from largely military family; my father served, my uncles, both grandfathers, the whole shebang. I was lucky to have a father who enjoyed taking trips to battlefields and who instilled in me some sense of appreciating history. We spent many of my childhood trips on various battlefields, much to my mother’s dismay. My earliest influences were common, Tucker, Catton and Foote, but my initial fascination with the Civil War probably had as much to do with those great battle drawings with the little soldiers in The Golden Book of The Civil War as anything else. I was amazed by those drawings. It’s funny how often you hear that as an influence, but it absolutely was in my case.

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The Golden Book of the Civil War

BR: So, how did you settle on Anderson’s brigade for this study, and why did you only publish the Georgia regiments?

RMA: From about the late 90’s I started to get fascinated with Anderson’s Brigade mostly because at the time, it was like looking into a black hole. I’m primarily a Gettysburg guy, and there was always this kind of blank between Kershaw and Robertson. It seemed as if Anderson and Semmes just got sucked into the Rose Woods and that was that. You’d hear about Anderson in the Wheatfield fight of course, but it was usually just a passing reference with no real meat on the bone. The more I looked into this situation and the more tours I took, the more this pattern of emptiness repeated itself. Also, around this time, in following the line of the brigade’s attack on July 2, I became very interested in the terrain they had to cross and the particular set of circumstances that made their task so difficult. Nobody else really seemed to be doing much on the brigade, so after a few years of tentative learning, I finally decided that I would “adopt” them. This led to my serious interest in these regiments and I spent about 15 years learning all I could about them.

As you referenced in the above question, the original idea was to create a Roster for every unit that ever served in what would become G. T. Anderson’s Brigade. Taking things chronologically, that starts with Bartow, so I first made a Roster for the 4th Alabama Infantry, which was attached to Bartow’s Brigade before it transferred to Bee before Manassas. That roster turned out well as the 4th AL has a great deal of information out there and a very complete set of CSRs [Compiled Service Records]. The next Roster I made was for the 1st KY Infantry……which you really have to do by battalion as they weren’t consolidated into a regiment for some time……so I next made three battalion rosters for them. These Rosters are not much, as the 1st KY only existed for less than a year, so this Roster is not really anything to brag about, but they have one. These two rosters and one for the Wise Artillery (which was frequently attached to Anderson’s brigade early in the War) served as my training grounds. By the time I got done these 2400 or so men, I had a good idea of what I was doing. I knew I would have much more meat on the bones with the Georgians coming up, and with some skills behind me, the next rosters I did were the 9th, 11th, 8th and 7th GA in that order. I think these turned out very well, but they were more work than even I expected. By the time I was done the 8th Georgia, I knew that I only had one roster left in me, so I knew the 7th would be my last. This effectively trashed the original idea of my making a roster for every unit in the brigade because I saw no way I could complete a roster for the 1st Georgia Regulars, 10th Georgia Battalion and 59th Georgia Infantry on top of what I had already done. The thought of 3000 more men to document was just too much. I was burned out. Six regiments and an artillery battery are apparently my limit.

BR: Describe if you will the biographical rosters, their format, and the rationale for that format.

RMA: The Rosters I created are pretty much the books I would love to have been able to read 15 years ago…except they didn’t exist. They are essentially based on the same format used by Lillian Henderson in her epic Roster of Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, but with much more information. I used a basic template like Henderson, and I tried to write in as detached and clinical a manner as possible while expanding the scope of Henderson’s effort. Breaking the men down into chronological rank, a process I termed as “slotting”, is really the most radical departure from Henderson’s format, but I thought that was an important and unique addition. It also damned near drove me crazy.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What sources, paper and digital, did you use most frequently? How long did the whole thing take to complete?

RMA: The rosters were all done in a Word file and constantly adjusted through three distinct steps. Henderson first, then the massive amount of CSR information was added, and the third step was “everything else.” The rosters began with just the names in Henderson’s Roster, so that would be the skeleton of the entire work. As I would come to learn, what you find in Henderson is not always what you find in the CSR; in fact, quite often, there are major differences. Most of these differences can be resolved, but only by looking at the totality of an issue. In other words, you find clues in the most unlikely of places and you would never know they were there unless you looked at EVERYTHING. Records are sometimes mixed and contradictory, and there are notes on cards relating to entirely different people within the company or regiment that can solve an issue. Until you look at everything, especially as it relates to rank slotting, you are playing Jenga in the dark. Slotting was by far the most challenging aspect of these books. Frequently, on a project like this, you are at the mercy of long dead First Sergeants. Some company records were very detailed, and some were not. Figuring out how things fit together was most of the work. What could not be satisfactorily resolved was footnoted as such. By way of adding meat to the bones, these days we are lucky enough to have access to the CSRs online and essentially, these Rosters are probably 75% information that can be found in an individuals CSR. By far the largest amount of information comes from there, but it is quite a chore to organize in light of every other source. The other 25 percent comes from a combination of sources, including Henderson, the US census, Georgia Historical Societies, the National Archives, my own research material, war-time and post war rolls, Ancestry.com webpages, period newspapers, burial information from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Find-A-Grave.com and material contributed by Henry Persons from his archive. Once all that information was assimilated, it was a matter of my editing all the information into the existing format. It was rather like throwing everything at the wall, then making sense of it by subtraction.

BR: What were some of the most surprising finds you turned up in your research?

RMA: The most poignant things were the deaths by disease. I knew the statistics, but until you go through a regiment man by man, I don’t think you can appreciate the variety of ways death was visited on these young men. The emotional impact was accumulative. You can really get strangely attached to a person or a group when you are clearing the dirt off their tombstones every day and I think the sense of responsibility was a little surprising to me.

In the lighter vein, I was totally shocked by how many Georgians had some variant of the first name Greenberry.

[FWIW, here’s a letter from a Virginian named Green Berry right here in the Bull Runnings resources!]

BR: How has the book been received? Any demographics on sales thus far?

RMA: I think for those who have seen the books, they have been received very well. I never had any illusions about creating a best seller or even something most casual students of the CW would need in their collections. Not everybody likes licorice either, but the ones that do, really like it. For the average reader, I’m pretty far in the weeds on this project, but these are very narrowly focused reference books, so I always knew that would be the case.

As simple as it sounds, I really take all my satisfaction from the fact that nobody will have to stand on a battlefield ever again and wonder who these regiments were. That’s why I made them.

BR: What’s next for you?

RMA: What is next? Well, I won’t be pumping out some new book every six months, I can tell you that. I’m satisfied with my contribution and I think my hat will hang on these Georgians for better or worse. Having completed 17 years with Anderson’s men, I did all I could for them and I willingly pass the torch. The next big thing for me is taking the trip I always wanted to take.

Lord willing, I’ll be headed to the west of Ireland for two weeks next April.





Preview – Weitz & Sheppard (eds.), “A Forgotten Front”

3 07 2018

51O7X8xefjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_New from The University of Alabama Press is A Forgotten Front: Florida During the Civil War Era, edited by Seth A. Weitz and Jonathan C. Sheppard.

“The essays in this volume examine the most significant military engagements and the guerrilla warfare necessitated by the occupied coastline. Contributors look at the politics of war, beginning with the decade prior to the outbreak of the war through secession and wartime leadership and examine the period through the lenses of race, slavery, women, religion, ethnicity, and historical memory.”

This volume includes ten essays on various facets of Florida’s role in the Civil War.

You get:

  • 226 pages of text, including end of essay notes
  • Introduction (Weitz)
  • Ten essays on: Florida in the crisis of 1850 (Weitz); Race, class, and politics in antebellum Florida (Lauren Thompson);Defense and capture of Amelia Island (Sheppard); Confederate guerrillas in east and central Florida (Zack Waters); Governor John Milton (Boyd Murphee); Religion in Florida during the war (David Parker); Florida’s Civil War legal paradigm (Chris Day); Women in Florida during the war (Tracy Revels); Florida Hispanics during the war (Robert Taylor); The Battle of Olustee and Civil War memory in Florida (David Nelson)
  • 25 page bibliography
  • Contributor biographies
  • Full index

 

 





Preview – Taylor, “The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known”

2 07 2018


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New from Kent State University Press is Paul Taylor’s The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North’s Union Leagues in the American Civil War.

As enthusiasm for the war and confidence in victory waned in the North – and opposition “Copperheadism” reared its head – loyal Lincoln men took action, “These men formed what became known as Union Leagues: semi-secretive societies whose members had to possess unconditional loyalty to the Lincoln administration.”

In Complete Political Machine, Mr. Taylor chronicles the Union League movement, its influence, and its legacy. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

You get:

  • A forward by Lincoln biographer Jonathan W. White
  • 252 pages of narrative
  • 30 pages of endnotes
  • A 27 page bibliography, including dozens of unpublished sources, newspapers, and dissertations
  • A full index

Paul Taylor is the author of numerous Civil War books, all well received. See his Amazon author page here.





Preview – Sommers, “Challenges of Command in the Civil War”

1 07 2018

51TDgdVTcvLNew from Savas Beatie is Dr. Richard J. Sommers’s Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond, Vol. I: Generals and Generalship. This is the first of two volumes, focusing on the actors and their performance. Volume II will look at Civil War Strategy, Operations, and Organization.

Five chapters of the ten in this volume focus on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee throughout the war. The next five chapters examine: Union civilian corps commanders; Federal wing and corps commanders in the 1862 Maryland campaign; Federal wing and corps commanders in the Gettysburg campaign; senior Federal commanders in the fifth offensive at Petersburg; and Revolutionary War relatives of significant Civil War soldiers and politicians.

In addition to these ten chapters in 232 pages, you get:

  • An epilogue.
  • A 12 page bibliography
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Five tables and charts
  • Seven maps
  • 80 photographs

Dr. Sommers is a name with which all students of the American Civil War is familiar. You’ve seen his name in the acknowledgements of countless books, as he was for more than four decades associated with the Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) in Carlisle, Pa. He has authored dozens of articles, chapters, entries, and reviews, as well as the epic Richmond Redeemed, recently updated and published by Savas Beatie.





Tour Etched (Chemically) In Glass

30 06 2018

We had a modest (15 people) turnout for our tour on June 9, but the small crowd allowed for a lot of back and forth with our guide John Cummings. John managed to convincingly upset a few apple carts full of interpretations of the locations of period photos on the battlefield. All in all, it was a good day.

One of the highlights of the day was a demonstration of the wet plate photography process by Robert Szabo, at the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society in Centreville. First he painstakingly demonstrated the whole process, out of his mobile darkroom right there in the parking lot:

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Robert Szabo and his mobile darkroom

Then he set up the camera for a shot of the group:
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Next, he posed the group near this reproduction winter quarters hut:

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After the exposure (one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand), the magic happened:


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The final product – click on the image twice and you get a super huge version:
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Water and War’s Friction

26 06 2018

Back in September 2017 I ventured down to Virginia to give a presentation to the Brandy Station Foundation. The day before, I climbed aboard Clark “Bud” Hall’s little red pickup that definitely could and did, along with friend Craig Swain, for a tour of the Brandy Station Battlefield and environs. For those who are unaware, Bud is the authority on, and savior of, the battle and battlefield. At one point we stopped on Beverly’s Ford Road at the site where on June 9, 1863, Lt. Henry Cutler of the 8th New York Cavalry became the first man KIA in the Gettysburg Campaign (read about it here). And there Bud snapped this overwhelmingly handsome photo of Craig (R) and me (L):

Before

Well, NoVa, like many other places, has been getting a whole lot of rain this Spring, and this past weekend Mr. Hall sent me this photo of the effects of the rain and waterway flooding at this particular site:

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In this next photo, also provided by Mr. Hall, you can see the residual indication (the “mud-line”) of the extent of the flooding of nearby Ruffin’s Run:

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Craig commented on this last photo: “Wow! That demonstrates well the difficulties faced just crossing a small stream. Think back to the cavalry raid in conjunction with the Chancellorsville Campaign. I think many historians wave off the impact of heavy rains and focus on the mistakes made (by Stoneman and others). Yet they don’t see the realities that faced Stoneman.”

Pretty much every account I’ve read on Stoneman’s Chancellorsville operations make a note of the heavy rains, and pretty much all of them ultimately discount them. All too often post-mortem analysis of operations (not just this particular operation) revert to what I’ll call theory, despite giving lip service to practical difficulties. I’m reminded of a passage I’ve quoted before (here, precisely), concerning theory and “the friction of war.” This is from the official British military history of the Allied operations at Salerno, Italy, in 1943, as provided in Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle (bold underline mine):

In the land of theory…there is none of war’s friction. The troops are, as in fact they were not, perfect Tactical Men, uncannily skillful, impervious to fear, bewilderment, boredom, hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Commanders know what in fact they did not know…Lorries never collide, there is always a by-pass at the mined road-block, and the bridges are always wider than the flood. Shells fall always where they should fall.

 





Preview – Vermilya, “That Field of Blood”

22 06 2018

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The folks as Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War have moved on to the pivotal 1862 Maryland Campaign with Dan Vermilya’s That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. Here’s the lowdown:

  • 149 pages of narrative, including eleven chapters and an epilogue.
  • An eight-stop tour guide map tied to the text.
  • Appendices on Presidential visits to the field and a history of the Antietam National Battlefield.
  • Order of Battle
  • Suggested reading list
  • No bibliography (a link to an online bibliography is included)
  • No footnotes
  • No index
  • Seven Hal Jesperson maps

Dan Vermilya is an interpretive ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park, and has previously worked at Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield. He is also an Antietam Licensed Battlefield Guide, and was the 2012  was the recipient of the Joseph L. Harsh Memorial Scholarship from the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.