Interview: Stotelmyer, “Too Useful to Sacrifice”

19 02 2020

Steve StotelmyerToo Useful

2019 saw the release of Steven R. Stotelmyer’s Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam, from Savas Beatie. Mr. Stotelmyer took a little time to discuss his work, which is sure to raise eyebrows and hackles.

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

SRS: I am a native of Hagerstown, Maryland. After a stint in the U.S. Navy I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Frostburg State College majoring in Elementary Education. I also minored in English Literature and World History. I earned my Master of Arts from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. My areas of study were mathematics and science, content and educational methods. I taught in the Washington County Public School System for ten years. One of the high points my fifth-grade students looked forward to in the spring was the day long field trip to the Antietam Battlefield. Eventually I made a career change into surveying and that eventually led to civil engineering. My new employment took me to Frederick where I spent over twenty-five years. My daily commute throughout those years carried me directly through the South Mountain battlefield.

Shortly after my career change in 1988, I became extremely interested (my wife would say obsessed) about the fate of 58 dead Confederate soldiers dumped down a farmer’s well at Fox’s Gap after the battle of South Mountain. I knew that Fox’s Gap, just like Antietam, was a real place and this led me to seek out the location and story of those unfortunate souls dumped in that well. As with many events in the Maryland Campaign I discovered there were actually two stories; one tale was legend and the other was fact. The legend blamed the farmer Daniel Wise for the deed and the facts led to a Union burial detail.

My curiosity in the Legend of Wise’s Well brought me into contact with others interested in the South Mountain battlefield. At that time there was a real possibility of the ground behind the Reno Monument at Fox’s Gap being developed for a private building lot. That situation resulted in my becoming a founding member of the Central Maryland Heritage League (CMHL) in 1989. Our initial purpose was to purchase that ground and save it from being developed. I served as the group’s Historian and briefly as President before my departure in 2000. CMHL was not only successful in saving the Reno Monument property but also gained a modest amount of success increasing the public’s knowledge of the Battle of South Mountain. Eventually we were able to save over 30 acres of that endangered battlefield. My research into the fate of those dead 58 Confederate soldiers put into the well at Fox’s Gap resulted in the publication of The Bivouacs of the Dead: The Story of Those Who Died at Antietam and South Mountain in 1992.

Since its creation I have served as a part-time volunteer and historical consultant for the South Mountain State Battlefield. Currently I serve as a Volunteer Battlefield Ambassador and NPS licensed Tour Guide at Antietam National Battlefield (see their website).

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? 

SRS: It is near impossible to grow up in Hagerstown and not even become remotely aware of the American Civil War. I was 12-years old in 1962 and that year not only saw the Bicentennial Anniversary of the founding of Hagerstown, but also the Centennial Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. I would have to credit my father for generating my interest in the Civil War. He had no great passion for history, but he belonged to the Maryland National Guard and Maryland donated their services during the Antietam Centennial. It was the only time in his entire life I ever saw him grow a beard. I figured there had to be something important about the Civil War if it caused Joseph Robert Stotelmyer, Jr. to grow a beard.

BR: You’re an Antietam Battlefield Guide. What got you interested in the battle to the extent you pursued that?

SRS: Ever since I can remember Antietam has always been a part of my life and a special place. I can truthfully say that I have been visiting Antietam since before I was born. I have a treasured old black and white photo of my mother and father at the top of the observation tower at Bloody Lane and mom has the proverbial baby bump and it is me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my parents picnicking at the Philadelphia Brigade Park with a blanket spread out in the shade playing Scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon while me and my sisters played around (and on) that towering monument. I also remember Saturday afternoon visits to Lohman’s Souvenir Stand at Bloody Lane. Dad would get me a soda and candy bars (for a quarter) and we would always end up at the tower. I have vague memories of a clear hilltop where the current Visitor Center now stands. My grandmother knew some farmers in Southern Washington County and sometimes in the early Spring my father would take her and my mother dandelion hunting.

Our travels took us over the Burnside Bridge (in those days it was still open to traffic). I was impressed by the monuments attached to the bridge at that time. I didn’t understand why they were on the bridge, but I was old enough to know something was special about that bridge.

I became aware that something very special happened at Antietam during the Centennial celebration and that sparked a lifelong search to find out what made the battle so important. I camped on the battlefield as a Boy Scout and continued to visit with family and friends as a teenager. As a young adult I taught fifth-grade at an elementary school in Hagerstown. Every Spring I would take them on a day long field trip to the battlefield. Every trip was a learning experience for me as well. I met my wife while we were both teachers and as fate would have it, we purchased a home within 10 minutes driving time to Antietam. It remained a popular place to visit with family and friends. My wife also played violin with the Maryland Symphony. In 1986 family history seemed to be repeating itself as my wife was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter during the first Salute to Independence. Consequently those 4th of July weekends became yet another special family memory connected to Antietam.

This was about the same time as my career change from teaching to surveying. Because I worked in Frederick my morning commute took me through Turner’s Gap. My daily journeys over South Mountain sparked an interest in the Maryland Campaign that continues to this day. Many people think I’m a Civil War buff. Actually, I’m not; for me it is just local history. When I retired, I discovered that the Antietam Guides were taking applications for the guide exam. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Becoming a guide at Antietam has provided me the opportunity to share my lifelong process of discovery about that special place. I continue to learn with every tour I give. I am often asked by visitors how long have I been giving tours at the park. I tell them officially since 2013, unofficially as long as I can remember.

BR: Over the past twenty years or so, the worm has, to some extent and despite stiff resistance, turned for George McClellan. Joseph Harsh, Ethan Rafuse, Tim Reese, Tom Clemens, and most recently Dennis Frye have all contributed to this altered view. Can you describe your own personal journey with the Young Napoleon?

SRS: I grew up with the standard anti-McClellan stereotype of the slow timid commander who did not like to fight. I often refer to these beliefs as the three pillars of the Bad General Stereotype. Furthermore, the battle of Antietam was always the standard tale of Robert the Bold vs. George the Timid (Joe Hash’s phrasing, not mine). I believed these stereotypes as being true the better half of my adult life. I credit two people with changing that perception. My early days with CMHL and battlefield preservation efforts on South Mountain brought me into contact with a kindred soul who was instrumental with preservation efforts at Antietam, Thomas G. Clemens. I think I first met Tom when CMHL was trying to purchase some Iron Brigade battlefield east and below Turner’s Gap (sorry Tom, you know, and I know it’s Gibbon’s Brigade). We were touring the property and I was attempting an overview of the Maryland Campaign and made some statement about the Lost Orders to the effect that a more aggressive commander might have made better use of the once in a lifetime opportunity fate handed to him (you know the standard spiel). Rather than call me out publicly, Tom waited until the tour was over and quietly took me aside and gave me a few things to think about. I have always believed in the old adage “Don’t talk when you can listen.” At the time I knew Tom taught at the Hagerstown Junior College and to hear him talk about McClellan in a positive manner greatly impressed me that day. Tom gave me something quite different to think about that was at odds with what I grew up believing.

The other person that greatly influenced me was Joseph L. Harsh. In September 1998 CMHL held a fund-raising re-enactment near Boonsboro. This was shortly before the publication of Taken At The Flood. I had no idea at the time who he was, but Tom had suggested him as a guest speaker. Joe graciously consented to donate his time and spoke on Saturday afternoon. I remember a rather heated argument after he spoke with someone in the crowd who just would not accept Joe’s assertion that it was an aggressive McClellan Lee faced in Maryland. Afterwards Joe had some time to kill before his ride arrived and he sat with me and helped out at CMHL’s information booth. I actually spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon talking and listening to Joe Harsh chat about McClellan and the Maryland Campaign. After speaking with Tom and Joe there was no going back, I never looked at McClellan the same again.

My personal journey with the Young Napoleon has resulted in a complete debunking of the Bad General Stereotype. McClellan was not slow in the Maryland Campaign. Divisions were covering 8 to 10 miles a day on roads little better than modern gravel driveways. In the words of Robert E. Lee, “the enemy was advancing more rapidly than was convenient.” McClellan was not timid. He aggressively attacked Lee three times in six days at South Mountain, Antietam, and Shepherdstown. Furthermore, at Antietam he attacked Lee, it wasn’t the other way around. What is remarkable is that McClellan attacks Lee believing he is outnumbered and knowing that for the better part of the battlefield Lee holds the high ground. McClellan does not believe he has the required 3:1 attack ratio taught at West Point necessary to carry the position (in his mind’s eye he doesn’t even have parity). Furthermore, he knows Lee is an engineer like himself (they both served on the staff of Winfield Scott in the Mexican War). As an engineer it was logical to assume his enemy had entrenched his position or constructed field works. Attacking an entrenched enemy in an elevated position with less that overwhelming force is certainly not the hallmark of a timid commander. The last pillar is the most easily demolished. The general who did not like to fight was directly responsible for the single day’s worst bloodletting in our nation’s entire history. Clearly the stereotype is flawed and, in my opinion, the characterization should be George the Courageous vs Robert the Reckless.

BR: Can you describe and, if you like, defend Too Useful to Sacrifice? 

SRS: My favorite Lincoln biographer, James Garfield Randall, wrote in 1945 that George B. McClellan “is most bitterly assailed, not by those who have gone afresh into the elaborate sources to restudy his campaigns, but by those who repeat or perpetuate a party bias.” Many people are not aware that most of the negative elements of the McClellan stereotype popularized over the years had their origins in the Presidential Election of 1864 when Democrat McClellan ran against the incumbent Republican President Lincoln. Politics is politics and to discredit McClellan the candidate it was necessary to discredit McClellan the General. The groundwork for destroying McClellan the general was laid in pamphlet literature that survived for years on library shelves. That is the party bias Randall spoke of and it survives to the present. Randall identified 16 political themes used by writers to propagate the bias (it is interesting to note that a very popular book written about Antietam in the 1980’s scores a perfect 16 out of 16). What I have attempted to do with Too Useful To Sacrifice is go afresh into the primary sources and restudy the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

The title of the book is taken from something President Lincoln is purported to have said to his secretary John Hay. It occurred after Lincoln restored McClellan to command following Second Manassas. There was strong opposition against McClellan in the President’s Cabinet. It was generally believed he had betrayed Gen. John Pope. According to Hay, Lincoln told him, “Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope! He wanted him to fail. That is unpardonable, but he is too useful just now to sacrifice.” The book is not a comprehensive treatment of the Maryland Campaign (for that I would definitely recommend the works of both Clemens and Harsh). I provide five chapters that deliver thought-provoking essays regarding major themes of the campaign.

Chapter 1 addresses the discovery of the Lost Orders. A few of my arguments are that its finding was not the singular event it is made out to be; it did not hasten McClellan’s army; the alleged 18-hr delay between the finding and McClellan’s orders to march to South Mountain is a myth; and that South Mountain and Antietam would have occurred regardless of the finding of the document.

Chapter 2 is about the Battle of South Mountain.

Chapter 3 covers the September 15 pursuit of Robert E. Lee; the true Prelude to Antietam.

Chapter 4 explores the influence of the Battle of Second Manassas upon people and events at Antietam. It also debunks the myth of McClellan’s unused 20,000 reserves.

Chapter 5 deals with the post Antietam supply crisis and the Lincoln-Stanton-Halleck triumvirate conspiring in the background against McClellan. The supply crisis was genuine and not a figment of the Bad General’s imagination. There is strong circumstantial evidence presented that the supply crisis was deliberately engineered by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton as part of his documented efforts to oust McClellan from the army.

I realize it is an uphill battle all the way. So much anti-McClellan bias has been repeated over the years that there exists a historical consensus that he was a Bad General. It is so ingrained in the national consciousness that it is seldom questioned. Even people who are not Civil War buffs, if asked about McClellan will likely respond that he was the general Lincoln said had the Slows. People however are not to blame. The documentaries they watch and most of the popular books they read perpetuate the consensus. But consensus is not fact; it is collective opinion and I hope to seriously challenge that popular opinion. To that effect, to go afresh, I have employed over 150 primary sources and 100 scholarly secondary sources. Another of my favorite historians and veteran of the Maryland Campaign, Emory Upton, once mused in 1912, “seeking information at the point of the bayonet is one thing, and looking for it on the shelves of a library is another.” I have attempted to use the experience of those who participated and not those who repeat the party bias in the pamphlets on the library shelves. I hope I have done it in a manner that even the non-Civil War buff can find interesting.

BR: What have you found the greatest obstacle in your attempt at reconsidering McClellan’s generalship in the Maryland Campaign?

SRS: There is not one, but two obstacles that immediately handicap any attempt at accurately portraying Gen. McClellan’s conduct not only in the Maryland Campaign, but in any aspect of the war as well: Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.

At the outset, it should be noted that the mere mention of Abraham Lincoln’s name frequently hamstrings any attempt at an even-handed accounting for George B. McClellan. Most popular histories recount the events of the Civil War from President Lincoln’s viewpoint (or what they think is Lincoln’s viewpoint). Joe Harsh identified this perspective as the Unionist Interpretation. Others have called it the Centennial Theme. Writers espousing this point of view insist the results of the Civil War: the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery are attributable primarily, if not solely, to President Lincoln. They also acknowledge that the war was a great national tragedy that cost too many lives, too much time, too much destruction. Adherents of this interpretation assume that victory might have come sooner and are critical of anybody who may have hindered victory, especially by causing delays. The standard theme of the Unionist histories is that the president’s greatest problem was finding a general who would win the war for him. In this scenario Lincoln suffers through a sorry lot of candidates until Ulysses S. Grant appears, whereupon the doom of the Confederate States was sealed. A constant in the Unionist theme is that McClellan was the first and sorriest of the candidates to try the president’s patience.

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest American heroic symbol in our collective culture and in the eyes of popular history, he stands as a martyr by tragic assassination for his success. Honest Abe has become many things to many people. For a large number of Americans, he is Father Abraham, the Great Emancipator. For an even larger number he is the man responsible for single-handedly saving the Union. Few historians have been willing to honestly appraise McClellan because it would mean criticizing the martyred Lincoln. James G. Randall, who Joe Harsh considered the greatest Lincoln scholar, provided the most succinct summation of the Unionist Theme I have ever read, “It is assumed that if one is pro-Lincoln, he must be anti-McClellan.”

The final nail in the coffin regarding an appraisal of McClellan is the fact that his story is tainted from the beginning to be one of failure because Lincoln sacks him and removes him from command. There are varied reasons behind the decision, some petty and some political, but none military as the Unionist theme would have you believe. Regardless, after November 7, 1862, when McClellan is relieved of command and leaves the army, the Young Napoleon’s image in popular history is fixed: he forever becomes the Bad General Lincoln was forced to fire.

To a lesser extent any attempt at an honest appraisal of McClellan faces a similar difficulty with Robert E. Lee. As with Lincoln, an established perspective surrounds Lee’s story. Historian Alan T. Nolan calls it the Lee Tradition. Among its certain unmistakable earmarks are that Lee was a reluctant American who sided with his state over his country. Marse Robert is often held up as the personification of the Christian gentleman. A master military strategist and tactician, he often appraised his opponents and their intentions with near clairvoyant insight. Above all, Robert the Bold was audacious. It is the antithesis of McClellan and the cornerstone of the Lee Tradition, manifesting itself in his admirable predilection for the offense. Amazingly, until the publication of Joe Harsh’s Taken At The Flood, Lee was very much immune from the analysis and evaluations that are the conventional techniques of history. Almost all who wrote about Lee previously, especially Southern writers, have accepted Lee entirely on his own terms. If he said something was so, it was accepted as so. Analysis of Lee’s activities usually stopped with a determination that he did what he thought was right. Because of the Lee Tradition apparently, few historians before Harsh dared question whether Lee’s actions were ethical, wise, or even rational. Historian T. Harry Williams summed up the popular attitude and provided the most succinct description of the Lee Tradition when he wrote, “Whatever Lee did was right because he was Lee.”

As they must with Lincoln, any person attempting an honest appraisal of McClellan must tread carefully with any criticism of the audacious Lee. It is beyond strange that a general commanding an army engaged in armed insurrection against the United States of America has become an iconic hero in America’s popular culture. He represents one of the most appealing of tragic themes, the man who goes down in defeat battling against overwhelming odds. To this day throughout much of the nation he embodies the Lost Cause. Honest appraisals of Lee often invite the charge of trying to change history.

I am constantly surprised by the number of visitors to Antietam that are not aware of Lee’s debilitating injuries which plagued and hindered him throughout the Maryland Campaign. It is understandable; I have never been able to find an illustration accurately showing Lee’s true physical condition in the campaign. Showing Robert E. Lee as a frail invalid riding in an ambulance with both hands bound tightly in splints and the right arm in a sling would be heretical to the Lee Tradition. The image of a national iconic hero that can’t dress himself, feed himself, or take care of his own toilet without help is one many visitor’s refuse to accept. As you know there is actually a monument at Antietam portraying Lee on horseback holding a pair of binoculars, that simply is not an accurate portrayal of him in the Maryland Campaign. Such is the staying power of the Lee Tradition.

Together, the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition tend to bias most narratives that focus on McClellan’s activities. Because of them a fair appraisal of McClellan is an uphill struggle all the way, if not impossible. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” goes an old saying in American popular culture. As I previously stated, the stereotype of McClellan as the Bad General has become so entrenched that it amounts to a historical consensus, and the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition has cemented it in popular American culture. Indeed, we could easily mimic the Lee Tradition by stating an antithetical McClellan Tradition that permeates traditional history: Everything McClellan did was wrong because he was McClellan.

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?

SRS: This book was decades in the making. After the publication of Bivouacs of the Dead, and while still a member of CMHL, I embarked on writing a book about the Battle of South Mountain. To put the battle in context required writing a book about the Maryland Campaign. There was a lot about the campaign I did not know. In the process of learning about the campaign I had to study the two commanders involved with the campaign. I began to learn that a lot of what I thought I knew about McClellan simply was not true. My conversations with Tom and Joe cemented that fact. I was determined to not repeat the myth and stereotype others had presented as fact. Too Useful To Sacrifice grew out of that effort.

In the beginning the biggest obstacle was back-sourcing popular books and locating those sources. I was extremely fortunate to have access to both the Hagerstown and Frederick public libraries. They both have special collections that proved extremely helpful. There were also many trips to the old USMHI at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In the days before the internet (I’m getting old) their library and manuscript division were valuable resources. I was also extremely fortunate to have been a volunteer at Antietam Battlefield at the time. In their library they have a collection of primary sources researched by rangers and letters and diaries of ancestor participants donated by visitors over the years that is truly unique.

I was greatly surprised at how ill-prepared Lee was for South Mountain and the effect that battle had upon his campaign. McClellan caught him totally by surprise and delivered a blow from which Lee never fully recovered. Although many Southern writers often claim it as somewhat of an operational victory for Lee because it bought him a chance to regroup at Sharpsburg, it was the surrender of Harpers Ferry that gave him that opportunity, not South Mountain. Lee had actually decided to abandon his campaign in Maryland and move back into Virginia after South Mountain. South Mountain was the turning point of the campaign, and Joe Harsh was right: it was an aggressive McClellan that caused that battle to occur.

I already knew that military sources generally spoke favorably of McClellan’s leadership. But I was surprised at the number of competent military men who experienced an epiphany regarding McClellan. Even Francis Palfrey, a staunch critic, had to admit “there are strong grounds for believing that he was the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had.” Theodore Lyman, of Gen. Meade’s staff, admitted later in the war that he was not fanatic about any general and then declared, “I am forced to the conclusion that McClellan (who did not have his own way as we have) managed with admirable skill. Mind, I don’t say he was perfect. I say he was our best.” I was especially astonished by Emory Upton. Upton was a bit of a prodigy. He entered the Civil War as a 2nd Lt. of artillery (was with Franklin’s VI Corps in the Maryland Campaign) and by war’s end, at age 25, had served in all 3 branches, artillery, cavalry, and infantry. He stayed in the army as a career officer. He is credited as the father of the modern American General Staff. In 1912 his comprehensive The Military Policy of the United States was published posthumously. Upton, an ardent abolitionist whose sympathies were strongly Republican and anti-McClellan at the war’s beginning, admitted to his lifelong friend Henry Du Pont in 1879, “I now regard McClellan in his military character, a much abused man.” That same year he wrote future President James A. Garfield that he once believed McClellan had not done his “whole duty to the country,” but in the process of writing his manuscript, “I have been compelled to change my mind.” Finally, according to his son, even Robert E. Lee, when asked after the war which of the federal generals he considered the greatest, replied “McClellan, by all odds.”

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? When did you know you were “done”?

SRS: Research on the Maryland Campaign has pretty much been ongoing since the days of taking my fifth-graders to Antietam. The easy thing at present is that most of the stuff I had to get at brick and mortar libraries in the past is now available on the internet.

I bring my background in science to my writing. With the Scientific Method one forms a hypothesis, and then devises an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If you prove it fine, if not then revise the hypothesis and start over. With accurate history one starts with a statement, consensus, or assumption and then one looks for primary sources or indisputable facts to prove or disprove the them. If you find reputable primary accounts fine, if not then you have to accept the statement, consensus, or assumption. Unlike science, the hard part with history is being able to tell the difference between a statement, consensus, or assumption and an indisputable fact. This can also sometimes be true with primary sources. Just because something was said or written in the nineteenth century by an alleged primary source doesn’t necessarily make it true. Case in point: “McClellan was slow” certainly qualifies as a statement, consensus, or assumption. It was said a number of times by no less a primary source than Abraham Lincoln. As I have shown with primary accounts from numerous participants marching thru the Maryland countryside in 1862 there were units ranging from regiments to divisions marching at rates that are anything but slow. Individual regiments, brigades, and divisions moving 10 to 19 miles in a day. These are rates of march any competent military commander would hardly judge as slow. The truth is, as far as I have been able to tell, McClellan is accepted as being slow in the Maryland Campaign simply because President Lincoln said he was slow. I remember Joe Harsh making a very convincing argument that Lincoln had a bad case of the Fasts. Unionist historians simply parrot Lincoln’s alleged fact without realizing it is a value judgment from an impatient politician, not an actual campaign participant. However, going against a primary source such as Lincoln requires indisputable facts from numerous primary sources, not counter statements, consensus, or assumptions. Having the primary sources is only half of the writing process. It also requires that you present it to the reader in a manner they find interesting. You want them to have the desire to turn the next page. I think my background studying literature in my youth helped me with that.

My wife would tell you that I’m never done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

SRS: Generally, the book has been received very well. Even though it was not released until August 2019, it became one of the top five bestselling books at the Antietam Bookstore. Obviously, the staff as well as my fellow volunteers and guides at Antietam are overjoyed at having a reputable book to suggest to visitors that counters decades of misrepresentation of Gen. McClellan. Some of the rangers have revised their presentations to incorporate new information from my book. Many visitors bring with them the three pillars of the Bad General stereotype and my fellow guides are happy to have something they can suggest countering that narrative. It has been my experience as a tour guide that there are many facets of the campaign and battles (South Mountain and Antietam) presented in the book visitors are not aware of and find interesting. I have had people tell me that have gone back to read the book two and three times.

However, going against the grain of long accepted historical consensus is not easy. There does exist a hard-core group of anti-McClellan bashers in the Civil War community and nothing you can say or do will disabuse them of the notion that the Young Napoleon was the Bad General. As an Antietam Volunteer and Tour Guide I have years of experience tactfully and sympathetically dealing with these folks; after all, I once believed it myself. I now have a book I can specifically suggest that counters their opinions. I generally know I’m succeeding with the critics when they are forced to bring up the subject of the Peninsula or McClellan’s arrogance (his alleged snub of Lincoln). My response usually is that my book is about the Maryland Campaign, not the Peninsula. It is a different animal (although there is a lot of criticism about that campaign that is also popular consensus). As far as being arrogant, I simply counter that by asking visitors if they have ever met a general? Even the most ardent of McClellan critics comment on the extensive research and documentation in my book. The McClellan bashers are fond of dismissing me as a McClellan apologist. I know that technically it simply means one who argues in defense or justification, but in the popular culture it has a negative connotation. I am not apologizing for anything. McClellan was a human being and he had his faults just like the rest of us. However, he was not a bad general. In my opinion, he was a bad politician. His biggest mistake may have been running against Lincoln for President. I cannot help but think he would have been remembered more favorably if he had not.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a back and forth on Facebook regarding the merits of Stephen W. Sears’s Landscape Turned Red which certainly is on the other side of the spectrum from Too Useful To Sacrifice. Somebody responded that he thought the truth about McClellan was somewhere between Sears and Stotelmyer. I thought to myself, Wow, if I have managed to move the needle halfway in the popular image of George B. McClellan then I feel like I have accomplished something special.

BR: In the editorial process something always ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Was there anything in your manuscript that you regret being cut from the published book?

SRS: Yes, I had several appendices that were cut. The one I regret the most that never made it to print was titled Little Mac at the Front. In the popular imagination there is this image of McClellan never leading from the front and spending the whole day of the battle of Antietam leisurely smoking cigars at the Pry House. With primary sources this appendix proved that image false. McClellan came under enemy artillery fire at a forward observation post on September 15. The same on the 16th while conducting reconnaissance at the Lower Bridge. Also, during the late afternoon and evening of the 16th several primary sources from soldiers in the Pennsylvania Reserves put him near the East Woods and the Joseph Poffenberger farm. One account has McClellan directing counter-battery artillery fire. On September 17 there are several primary accounts proving a morning visit to the East Woods in addition to the well-documented afternoon visit. During the afternoon visit he again directs counter-battery fire from an exposed position near the Cornfield. He revisits the forward observation area and is also seen with the long-range artillery on the high ground astride the Middle Bridge. The most remarkable primary account I found was a letter written by an Ohio soldier a few days after the battle of Antietam. Private Alexander Wight of the 23rd Ohio wrote his brother that he saw and interacted with McClellan on the southern part of the field somewhere in the area of the Final Attack. Wight was a member of the regimental band on duty as a medic helping a wounded soldier of the 23rd to the rear when he turned around and saw both McClellan and Burnside. Little Mac asked Wight if the wounded soldier could ride and offered his mount. Later that evening Wight observed McClellan at a field hospital talking to the wounded like a father and shaking their hands. Evidently Wight and his brother were critical of McClellan before the Maryland Campaign because he ends the letter, “I don’t know what your opinion is about George McClellan, but I have changed my opinion.” It is a primary account, a letter from one brother to another not meant for the public. I (and several of my fellow guides) have no reason to doubt it. It places McClellan on the southern part of the Antietam Battlefield on September 17 and that has never been presented in any other book on the battle that I have ever read. I am hoping I can get the essay published as a magazine article.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I’m torn between doing a companion piece on Lee and something on South Mountain. The Confederates made mistakes in Maryland, some of which doomed the campaign from the start. Part of the campaign was supposed to be about recruiting in Maryland, but there is no Confederate Maryland infantry regiment to attract Marylanders. Confederate signalmen occupied Sugar Loaf Mountain at a time when McClellan’s army was marching thru the Maryland countryside. The large clouds of dust raised from that advancing army should have been visible to even a casual observer at Sugar Loaf. Somehow that information never seems to have made it to Lee and he completely misjudges McClellan’s rapid advance. The Confederate reception in Frederick was not as cold-shouldered as traditionally portrayed. I have always been curious how Lee’s injuries may have affected his judgement. Given the staying power of the Lee Tradition that may be even more of an uphill battle than accurately portraying McClellan. Then again, I’m considering going back to my first love: Fox’s Gap. Most people are not aware that proportionately, square foot per square foot, the Sunken Road that runs thru Fox’s Gap was bloodier that it’s famous counterpart at Antietam. I feel confident that I could write a comprehensive history of what occurred in and around Wise’s cabin from dawn to dusk during that bloody sabbath. It would give me another chance to exonerate Daniel Wise from throwing those bodies in his well. Daniel’s story is personal to me. By some strange mysterious metaphysical design I won’t try to explain, my great nephew is Daniel’s fifth great grandson.

However, to be honest, I am enjoying the down time. I am looking forward to the Spring and resuming my Volunteer and Tour Guide activities at Antietam. As we guides like to say to each other, “See you on the field.”

I highly recommend anybody interested in a fair treatment of McClellan by a Lincoln biographer check out a copy of James G. Randall, Lincoln The President: Springfield To Gettysburg, 2 vols., volume 2, chapters 18-20. And for how Lee becomes an American iconic hero, Thomas L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society.

There is a formatting error on page 85 of Too Useful To Sacrifice which resulted in a few lines of missing text. This web page that corrects the mistake and provides the missing text.





Interview: Schmidt, “September Mourn”

17 02 2020

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I first met Alann Schmidt when he was a ranger at Antietam National Battlefield probably 10-15 years ago. He has since moved on from the NPS, but recently published with co-author Terry Barkley September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield (previewed here). Mr. Barkley was unavailable for interview, but Alann took some time to answer a few questions.

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

AS: I was born in Bethesda Naval Hospital, but have lived most of my life in south central PA. I have had some interesting jobs over the years, as I started out as a funeral director at one of the largest funeral homes in Pittsburgh, but eventually I decided to go back to school to pursue what was always my greatest interest – history. While completing my Master’s degree at Shippensburg University I did an internship at Antietam, and I jumped through whatever hoops necessary (and there were many) to stay. It was a terrific job for nearly 15 years, but suddenly I became sick with an unknown illness, to the point where I was so dizzy that I couldn’t stand, my vision was blurry, and I was so achy that I could hardly get around. It turned out to be Lyme disease and a malaria related disease called Babesia, and I had to take a disability early retirement. Over the years I have improved somewhat and am able to function fairly well, but I am still affected by neurological damage and limited in what I can do. Despite this (or maybe because of this!) I followed the Lord’s call to become a pastor, and I was ordained last year and now lead a small country church (Cherry Grove Church of God) near my home.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

AS: Well, I am sure that this is sacrilege to admit, but I never was much of a Civil War buff. I live near Fort Littleton, a fort on the Forbes Road, so I was interested more in the French & Indian War. When I started at Antietam I obviously needed to learn all I could about the Civil War, and spending every day for years and years immersed in it does tend to sink in! And I had an amazing bunch of friends around me, like long-time Antietam fixtures Ted Alexander and Paul Chiles, Brian Baracz and Keith Snyder, and current authors like John Hoptak and Dan Vermilya. It was a privilege to learn from them and be part of that group. And certainly Rev. John Schildt, who I dedicated the book to.

BR: How did you come to be interested in the Church of the Brethren? Obviously you worked at the Antietam Battlefield, but did your interest predate your employment there?

AS: My denomination (Churches of God) has very similar beliefs, but I am not Brethren and had no connection to the Dunkers before I came to Antietam. As rangers we present general orientation talks and tours, but also have the opportunity to highlight other more specific topics. I was drawn to the Dunker Church simply because no one was doing a program on it, and in practical terms it was right across the road from the visitor center so I could easily organize and take groups over there! But as I began to research it to put a talk together I found more and more interesting sides to its story. I began to organize files, thinking perhaps someday I would write a magazine article or something, and gradually I had a large plastic tub full of files. I eventually became the go-to guy on the church and have been blessed with many opportunities to share the story, from park events to local history groups. The Brethren community very graciously welcomed me, and I have made several friends and often speak at their churches and events.

BR: Tell us a little about the Dunkers.

AS: “Dunker” is actually a nickname for a Protestant denomination that began as the German Baptist Brethren. To learn about them you simply break down that longer name. The group began in Germany in 1708 as part of the Pietism movement, wanting a more personal religious experience. One of their most notable features was that they practiced adult baptism out in the river, dunking themselves in the water (hence the nickname.) Like many others, the Dunkers came to America for religious freedom, and later spilt into a few denominations, the largest being the Church of the Brethren. The Dunkers were similar to other “plain” churches like Amish and Mennonite, and believed in a very literal reading of the New Testament. They were against most forms of indulgence, like drinking and gambling, were against slavery, and perhaps most of all were against any form of violence. There were Dunkers in central Maryland by the 1750s, and their first meetinghouse in the area was called the Manor church, built in 1829 in Tilghmanton, between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. By 1852 the small white building we know as “the Dunker Church” was built on land donated by Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma just north of Sharpsburg.

BR: What roles did the Church (the building and the congregation) play during the battle and afterwards?

AS: The Dunker Church is the classic example of wrong place at the wrong time. It sits along the road on the ridge north of Sharpsburg. This made a good defensive position for the Confederate army, but that meant that all through the morning of the battle the Union army would be making waves of attacks coming right at the area. So… sitting right in the middle of the worst part of the worst one-day battle in American history was this church, dedicated to the principle of peace. You couldn’t write a fictional story like that and have anyone take it seriously, yet it is all true. The church sustained heavy damage (as you can see in the Gardner photos) but remained standing. Immediately after the battle it was a triage/emergency room, as surgeries were performed in it and soldiers were loaded up and taken to one of the many farm hospitals in the area, and it is even claimed that embalming was later done there.

While the locals, including the Dunkers, had left before the battle and were not in physical danger during it, when they came back they found a much different scene from what they had left behind. Their crops were destroyed, especially devastating since it was harvest season, and now their fields are giant cemeteries, greatly impacting how they will be used in the future. Their homes and farms are now hospitals, and they will be expected to provide much of the care and labor in these endeavors, not to mentions even more of their supplies. And their church has been defiled by the very thing they stand against. How would we respond? Obviously the focus of most Civil War studies is on tactical aspects of the battles, but there is so much more to these stories, so much more to think about. From just one day of battle these local folks’ lives were forever changed, and not only right after the battle, but years later, as due to things like monuments, tourists, and National Parks there would always be out of the ordinary impacts. I think the way the locals, especially the Dunkers, persevered, recovered and are still there is an inspiring story that we can learn much from.

One aspect that I wanted to shine a light on is the overlooked story of what happened later to the church. The congregation outgrew the building and moved in town in 1899, and it fell into disrepair, eventually collapsing in a windstorm in 1924. While it is known such an important landmark to the battle most folks don’t realize that the church was not there for nearly 40 years. It was only through a long, arduous process that it was finally reconstructed for the battle’s Centennial in 1962. This church has a tremendously interesting story of ups and downs (literal ups & downs!) and fascinating tidbits (like a connection to Mark Twain!) that is so much more than the Battle of Antietam.

BR: As we may have discussed, my great-grandmother’s brother, Pvt. James Gates of the 8th PA Reserves, was mortally wounded on Sept. 17, 1862, while advancing toward the church from the north. I learned of the circumstances of his death from the 8th PA Reserves file in the Park office, in accounts written by his comrade Frank Holsinger. I also learned that prior to the war, he came down from his Pennsylvania home as a seasonal hired hand on the farm of Church Elder David Long, and that he had courted one of Long’s daughters. After the battle, prior to Gates’s eventual death in Smoketown, Holsinger visited the Long’s and informed them of the wounding. Later, after the war, Holsinger returned for the dedication of the National Cemetery, where Gates is buried, and again struck up relations with the Longs, marrying another of their daughters. Can you tell us a little about the Long family?

AS: Elder David Long was the main pastor for the Manor church for many years before and after the battle, and as such would have also been the same for Antietam’s church, as it was one of several in the area grouped together. He was born in 1820, and in 1841 married Mary Reichard. They had 12 children; four sons were ministers and three daughters married ministers (one named Seth Myers – probably not the NBC one.) It is said that Elder Long would go to slave auctions and purchase slaves to set them free. Lots of folks (as many as 100) gathered at his house during the battle, and he would been the one preaching in the Dunker Church the Sunday of the Battle of South Mountain. He represented the area’s Brethren churches at many Annual Meetings, and is said to have performed more marriage ceremonies than anyone else in the area. He died at 75 from pneumonia. The History of the Brethren in Maryland notes that “Few families in Middle Maryland have made such a deep impression on the life of the Church as the family of David & Mary Long.”

(I do apologize that the Gates and Holsinger stories didn’t make the book, as things were pretty far along in the editing process until I realized what an interesting side story that was. I was amazed at this Bedford connection to the battlefield, as that isn’t far from where I live.)

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”?

AS: All in all it took 15 years, as I continued to gather information here and there in my daily work as well as in dedicated research. I continued to hone the material mostly through what was best received in my presentations, and even used the subject for class projects (deed chain exercises, term papers, archival studies.) As I continued to work at it I hoped to get it published as a book, but I had no idea of how that end of the process actually went. I hoped to have it completed for the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2012, but I always seemed so busy that I just never got around to finishing it. Then I got sick in 2015 and retired, and I simply thought that I had missed my chance, that it never would get done, as my mind is not nearly as sharp as it was before I got sick. I hoped that at least the material could be passed on for future ranger use, so that the park programs would continue after me and the subject not forgotten, but as time went by it all slipped further away.

Then fortuitously Terry Barkley contacted me in 2016! He was newly retired from the Church of the Brethren archive, and remembered that I had been there to research several years before. He asked me if I had ever finished the book, and I explained that I hadn’t and my circumstances. Much to my delight he offered to take up the project and finish it for me, especially the Dunker background chapters. He added and polished and made it so much more than I ever imagined it could be. We decided to send it to Savas Beatie, and much to our surprise they agreed to publish it. I am so happy that finally the Dunker Church story is out there for all to learn. Together with Terry’s Brethren background and my NPS background we have tried to give the subject the attention and respect it deserves, and in turn fill in a gap in the Antietam story.

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

AS: One of my collateral duties at Antietam was working in the park library, so I got to spend at least a small part of every day with lots of various source material, so that was where the vast majority of my information came from. I visited any other facilities I thought may have some related material, such as the Washington County Historical Society and the Washington County Library, both in Hagerstown, and the two National Archive facilities in Washington DC and College Park, MD. Once they heard I was working on the project folks far and wide gave me information, especially locals like Betty Otto, Ike Mumma, Tom Clemens, and Steve Recker, and my ranger friends would pass along things they would find in their research as well. I tried to cover all sides of the story, from Dunker religious history, to battle accounts, to park development, anything and everything. Terry had daily access to the Brethren archive and library for many years, so he was well versed in Dunker history subjects and got lots of material there. He was living in Lexington, VA at the time and did much of the final writing at the VMI library.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

AS: Well, it sold out of the hardcover printing run, so that’s good. I’ve been very encouraged by the good reviews, enthusiastic turnouts at my signings (2 years in a row now at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Meeting the books sold out before I even got there!), and the appreciative feedback I’ve received from so many. I hoped to simply provide another option for those coming to Antietam that maybe weren’t hardcore tactical buffs, and it seems that the book has been that and more, and I hope will be for years to come.

BR: What’s next for you?

AS: Probably no more books, but who knows. I still write a lot – preparing sermons every week, and I really enjoy the research and public speaking I got used to doing as a ranger. My wife and I have a volunteer cat rescue, Righteous Rescues, that keeps me plenty busy enough for what I can handle physically.

My co-author Terry Barkley has a new book out, The Other “Hermit” of Walden Pond: The Sojourn of Edmond Stuart Hotham, also published by Savas Beatie. It is another interesting but little known side to a well known story, in this case Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Check it out.

Thanks for this opportunity, I have been so very blessed by this book and this whole process. All the best to you and your readers.





Interview: Powell, “Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah”

12 02 2020

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I’ve interviewed long-time friend Dave Powell here before. His numerous books on the war in Tennessee and Georgia have been previewed on this site as well – search his name in the box in the right margin. Now, Powell has moved his pen to the Eastern theater of the war with Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, 1864, from Savas Beatie. Dave recently took some time to answer a few questions about his new work.


BR: Dave, you’ve done a Bull Runnings interview before, so our readers are familiar with you. Any updates you’d like to share? 

DAP: Just that I have been busy, extremely busy. I published two books in 2019, and I have two books coming out in 2020: a volume co-authored with Eric Wittenberg, on the Tullahoma Campaign; and a volume on Grant at Chattanooga for SIU Press’s The World of Ulysses S. Grant series. (). Both have been tremendous projects to work on, and I am excited that they are coming to fruition.

BR: You’ve made your bones in the Western Theater, especially the Chickamauga Campaign. Geographically at least, Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah is quite a departure for you, at least at this level. What prompted this shift? What are the overlaps?

DAP: I don’t see it as much of a departure, actually. Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah is a command study, and most of my other work fits that category. What drew me to the Shenandoah project – aside from the fact that I attended the Virginia Military Institute and hence, couldn’t really avoid New Market – is the lack of sober analysis on the Union side of the campaign and battle. There are good tactical studies of the battle, and considerable insight into Confederate thinking in May, 1864, but the Union role in the Valley has not really been subject to the same rigorous analysis.

BR: Can you describe Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah? 

DAP: Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah examines the 1864 Spring Valley Campaign from the Federal perspective. It sets the campaign in the framework of Ulysses S. Grant’s strategic concept, outlines both sides’ command problems and objectives, and examines the outcomes of various decisions up to and including the Battle of New Market, fought May 15, 1864. For a such small engagement (about 5,000 combatants on each side) New Market had an outsized impact on the subsequent campaign in Virginia.

BR: Union General Franz Sigel is central to the book, of course. Can you give us some background on him, his experience in Germany for example, and your ten cent assessment on his performance in the Valley?

DAP: Sigel is an interesting character. One of the reasons I wrote the book is because I think most other descriptions of him reduce him to a cartoon; the bumbling, clueless European “political general” that is a stock character in Civil War literature. In fact, Sigel was a highly trained European soldier with both a professional education and real field experience, not only with German regular troops but also in leading raw revolutionary troops in 1848.

Certainly, however, he is a flawed character. His leadership and combat experiences in the American Civil War were uneven, to say the least; but he did perform competently at Pea Ridge and even Second Bull Run. He could be exceptionally stiff-necked in matters of what he viewed as his honor, but he also was willing to try and execute the orders he was issued to the best of his ability. I argue that this is what brought him to grief at New Market – he was doing his best to follow Grant’s intent, while other Union commanders didn’t execute their missions nearly as well. George Crook, for example, was supposed to capture Staunton. Instead, even after winning handily at Cloyd’s Mountain, Crook lost his nerve and retreated into West Virginia.
Sigel achieved most of what he was supposed to accomplish in the valley that spring. However, at New Market he let subordinates ignore his orders and draw him into a fight he neither wanted nor was prepared for: That was a blunder, and he paid the price.

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”?

DAP: This project was first intended for the History Press, with a publication date of 2014. The writing took most of 2013. In the end, they didn’t want it, so I offered it to Savas Beatie, who have published so many of my books. Theodore Savas liked it, and agreed to publish it. I took the first draft and revised it a bit, so it received considerable polish along the way, even prior to the official editorial process. As for knowing when it is “done,” I always know I am finished when, instead of making useful edits, I reach the stage of merely re-arranging words in sentences during re-write; whereupon I know it is time to let other folks get involved.
I knew I was going to write a book that challenged the conventional view of Franz Sigel. I did not expect to level much criticism at the Confederate commander, John C. Breckinridge, but I did in the end offer some critique of him, as well. I was also surprised at the amount of pro Sigel Federal sentiment in the ranks of his army. To date, he has been portrayed mainly by those critical of him, but even after the defeat at New Market, many of his soldiers were sorry to see him go. Some even thought he “saved” them from a worse disaster. That is not the traditional view of Sigel we gain from the extant literature.

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

DAP: I generally try for a very broad approach; I want to gather as many primary sources as possible, especially from the rank and file. And more and more, research is shifting to online access, as archives digitize large elements of their manuscript collections. I used several excellent online sources, including some very useful items from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America Newspaper site was very useful for ferreting out newspaper accounts. Still, most of the research was done the old-fashioned way, visiting archives and copying material. By far the single most useful repository was the Virginia Military Institute’s Preston Library, with its treasure trove of accounts on the battle, but the Western Reserve Historical Society, which holds a large collection of Sigel papers also proved invaluable. I copied nearly 100 pages from those papers, including some extremely useful day-to-day campaign commentary.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DAP: Very well. The book has received a number of very solid, very positive reviews; and I think it is selling decently for such a small topic. It’s always a struggle to find new ground on well-covered subjects, but I try and only tackle projects where I think I can do so, and I feel well satisfied with this one.

BR: What’s next for you?

DAP: I have begun writing on another very large project, a history of the Atlanta Campaign. I’ve been laying the research groundwork for this project for years, and frankly I probably now have more material than I can ever use. I expect the study to require multiple volumes – something like Gordon Rhea’s excellent Overland Campaign studies. While this might seem ambitious, I feel that Atlanta is very much a neglected subject, especially from the operational perspective, and I hope to be able to fill that void.

 





G. S. A., Co, C, 3rd Maine Infantry, On Capt. W. E. Jarvis in the Battle

7 02 2020

Letter from the Third Maine Regiment.

We received, after our paper was ready for the press, a letter from a reliable source in the 3d Maine Regiment. We make room for the later and more important portion, omitting much that we would cheerfully have published, if received in season.

Clermont Place, Fairfax Co., Va.
Aug. 3d, 1861.

I wrote an account of the battle soon after the return of the regiment to Alexandria – but finding that your correspondent “Litchfield” had already sent an account of the battle, I threw my letter into the tent, and there it would have remained, had it not been for some of the iliesi that came back to us from Gardiner. In some of the letters that came to us to-night, from home, it is said that the report was current in Gardiner that Capt. Jarvis was not on the battle-field, and that he was in so great haste to get back to Alexandria, he run his horse over the retreating soldiers. So far as Capt. Jarvis himself is concerned, he needs no bolstering up by newspaper correspondents, but his friends “down East” may want to know the facts.

On that day, Capt. Jarvis acted as Lt. Col. of the 3d regiment, and I wish it understood at home, that if there is any man in the regiment who is always at his post, that man is Captain Jarvis. He was among the first on the field, and remained there until long after the flag was carried off. During the fight he was perfectly calm and always at his post.

In regard to running over men with his horse – I can dispose of that “double-quick” – Capt. Jarvis walked all the way to Manassas, all the way back to Alexandria. One thing is plain, the man who made the statement is either of the number, liars – or of that number who were unable to get on the field, and consequently did not know who was.

Capt. Jarvis stops in the tent of Co. C and is in good health and spirits, and one of the few officers of the regiment who asks no furlough to go home. He remarked to me yesterday, that he had rather lay his bones beneath the soil of old Virginia, than go home without whipping out secession. Capt. Jarvis can stand on his own bottom.

Wm. H. Peacock of West Gardiner, a member of Co. C, died yesterday in the hospital at Washington. He was one of our best soldiers – a man always ready to do his duty.

Rev. H. C. Leonard, our new chaplain, arrived Wednesday, and makes quite a favorable impression with the men. He lives on soldiers’ rations, and with his gray flannel shirt and plain clothes, he makes not a bad looking soldier.

Gardiner should raise another company for the war. They have all the material; but none are wanted unless they are able to endure some hardship, and live on soldiers rations. The least they can do is, to send twenty men, to fill the places of those unable to do duty in the companies at the seat of war.

All the rubber blankets presented to us by the citizens of Gardiner, were lost at Bull’s Run. They were left at Fairfax, and stolen by the negroes. We miss them much, as the men are obliged to sleep on the ground.

The citizens of Bath are going to send new ones to the two companies from that city – (Think the Gardiner folks will take the hint?)

Peaches, blackberries, tomatoes, and all kinds of fruit, are very plenty, and can be bought for almost nothing, from the negroes who come around our camp. The slaves in this part of the country live high this season. Their masters having gone to the war, they make free to sell whatever is wanted to the soldiers – and pocket the money.

Bye the by, the best joke of the season, was Beauregard’s order to his men. “Don’t shoot the officers, if you do they will get better ones.”

“Litchfield” will be at his post next week. He has been on special duty this week.

G. S. A.

Gardiner (ME) Home Journal, 8/8/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





“A,” Co. I, 2nd Wisconsin, On the March, Blackburn’s Ford, Battle, and Retreat

7 02 2020

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Fort Corcoran, July 29, 1861

Messrs. Bliss & Son: I have delayed writing you anything in relation to the great battle, and great defeat as it is called, at Bull’s Run, supposing, in the first place, that some one else had written you, being desirous of getting information of the whereabouts of several members of our company who were missing. The full account with particulars you will find in the newspapers, most of which are nearly true. But there are many omissions of importance. For instance, in your paper of the 23rd, which we just received to-nigh, the 2nd Wisconsin is not mentioned as being in the fight at all. Now, the truth is, we were in both battles at Bull’s Run, on the 18th and 21st. But we did not spend $50.00 to hire reporters to blazon our deeds to the country through a venal press; and what is more, our officers actually refused to pay the $50.00 for doing so in one particular case.

I can only give you a condensed narration of our part in the proceedings,

“— quorum magna pars fui,” *

as I would say, had I the vanity of AEneas, when he told his story to the confiding ear of Dido.

We left our camp near this place on Tuesday, the 16th, in the afternoon, with three days’ rations in our haversacks and with no baggage except our blankets, which were strapped over our shoulders. We marched some fifteen miles and camped at Vienna, where the Ohio boys were attacked in the cars from a masked battery some weeks ago. Starting at daylight next morning we resumed the march, passing through Germantown, where we drew up for a fight, but one or two shots from our cannon sent the enemy flying in double quick time. Here we found batteries just deserted, and quite a quantity of provisions. The batteries, I must say, like most we encountered on the road as far as Centreville, seemed more to have been built to scare us than to injure us. The roads, however, were obstructed with fallen timber, which delayed us very much in removing. Here in Germantown, to the discredit of some of our troops, one or two houses were set on fire and consumed. We pushed on from here until within a short distance of Centreville, when we camped, and the boys had a taste of secession mutton, chicken, etc. The scene on the march, though tiresome, was gay. As far ahead and back as the eye could reach the road was crowded with men, horses, baggage wagons and artillery. It seemed the march of an army to certain victory.

We lay in this camp until 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, when we heard the booming of cannon in advance on our left. This was Gen. Tyler’s first introduction to the masked batteries of the rebels. About four o’clock a courier came riding up, his horse covered in foam, with orders for Col. Sherman to advance immediately with his brigade, to which we were attached. Of course we lost no time, and in a few minutes were on the march, and soon arrived on the ground above the battery, and were drawn up in line in the woods. The balls from the rifled guns of the rebels flew around and over us lively, crushing trees in their path and killing one of our men and wounding two others. Finding it impossible to dislodge the enemy without great loss of life, we were ordered to return to a camp about a mile in advance of Centreville, on the main road. Our boys had shown their courage and coolness under fire without returning it, and were highly complimented by Col. Sherman. We met while going down to the attack the 12th New York and 2d Massachusetts, puffing and blowing, saying they were all cut to pieces and had left at least half of their regiments on the field. Their fear lent wings to their fancy; the whole loss of all engaged being only some forty killed, but many scattered. There was no reason to complain of the Miners’ Guards, – all being ready to “go in” and take a hand, and only dodging the balls which passed over our heads.

We now remained in camp quietly awaiting reinforcements until Saturday evening, when we received orders to prepare two days’ rations and to be ready to start at 2 o’clock the next morning. At this time every man was ready, his haversack filled with hard bread and cold tongue, and silently as possible we took up our line of march, over a hilly and timbered county. On the way we encountered several of the “contraband” whose masters had deserted their homes, having been impressed into the rebel army. They said that the slaves were kept quiet by the story that the Northern men only wanted to get them to sell in Cuba. They did not all believe the story, however. They gave us correct information in reference to the rebel batteries, as subsequent events proved.

Of the first attack by the left wing, and of the flanking movement of the right wing, I have not time to speak. We were in the center, and from the position we occupied could tell by the dust and smoke the progress of the other divisions. At first, although, after we were drawn into a line on the edge of the wood, we could see a large extent of the country, where not a man could be seen, and it was only after our artillery began to play with thin[?] shells and cannister shot that the men began to swarm out of their hollows, all of which were densely crowded.

About 10 o’clock, after the left wing had taken the first masked battery, and Hunter and Heintzelman had made their attack on the right flank of the enemy, we were ordered to advance, which we did in double-quick time; and after fording a stream and climbing a precipitous bluff, we formed in line of battle. The first sight that met our eyes was the enemy retreating before the gallant charge of the New York 71st, who were slaying them like sheep. The slaughter was awful. But we had no time to lose. We advanced over a rise of ground and found ourselves directly in front of the rebel batteries on the opposite ridge. We marched forward under this fire until we reached a hollow, when we were partially protected from their shot, but not from their shell. A piece from one dented my word, and others hit several of the men, but nobody was killed. We were soon ordered to cross a muddy stream and charge up the hill in the direction of one of the rebel batteries. This was gallantly done, and the regiment drawn up in a road, flanking the enemy. The Fire Zouaves were fighting gallantly on our right. Our men now went to work with a will, and stood under the direct fire of a strong body of infantry for more than an hour, and fought with a spirit and determination which was much admired by their neighbors, the Zouaves, who cheered the Wisconsin boys, and several of them afterward remarked that the Zouaves themselves did no better fighting.

A constant fire was kept up, only interrupted for an instant by the cry of some traitor in the camp, “Don’t shoot your friends!” The hoisting of the stars and stripes by the rebels deceived many until the delusion was dispelled by a volley of musketry. Soon a movement was discovered on our right which proved to be a reinforcement of fresh troops from Manassas. Up to this time the victory was with us. The enemy were giving away in every direction, and had lost several of their best batteries. We were now ordered to fall back for the purpose of reforming our line and renewing the attack, and at the same time evading the flank fire. We had now had over twenty men killed and some sixty wounded. The regiment fell back to the opposite ridge, and under the fire from the battery was thrown into some confusion, like all the others on the field. But the order was given to fall in, and a large number was collected around the flag under one of the regimental officers, who conducted them down the hill where the panic had commenced, and then without any officer they made their way with the crowd in the wake of the “glorious 69th” to Centreville. Near here the regiment was re-organized by several of the company officers, and marched in obedience to orders from Gen. McDowell to camp at this place, – a tedious march of thirty-five miles, after fighting and marching from 2 o’clock in the morning. We did not arrive here till 10 a. m. on Monday morning., having rested only two hours at Fairfax. Thousands were in camp before us. What caused the panic, I do not know. The newspapers may tell. I think it was a want of officers to rally the men. It certainly was not a want of courage in the men, for they had shown the contrary; it certainly was a want of organization that caused a disastrous retreat, after having at one time gained a glorious victory.

The loss of the Miners; Guards was small compared with that in two or three other companies. This was owing to the fact that Lt. Bishop was detailed, just as we started to make the charge, with thirty men, to assist in manning and putting in position the big thirty-two pound Parrot gun, and who found it impossible to rejoin the company under the raking fire to which they would have been exposed. They did good service, however, where they were.

William Owens, of Dodgeville, was killed by a shot through the head; Lieut. LaFleiche was wounded by a shot in the shoulder; Lieut. Bishop was injured internally by his exertions; Philip Lawrence was wounded by a shot in the breast; Emile Peterson was wounded by a shot in the hip; Christian Kessler was also wounded, and is yet among the missing. James Gregory, George W. Dilley and Walter P. Smith have not been heard from, and are probably taken prisoners, as they were well when last seen. They are brave boys, and we hope to see them again soon. The wounded are all doing well and will soon recover.

Of course, the boys were tired, and the more so that they stood around the whole of Monday, in the rain, waiting for accommodations at the Fort. They are recruiting rapidly now, though quite a number are unwell. They will go into the next fight with more coolness, but not with more courage. They fought like old soldiers, and won the praise of all spectators, hundreds of whom were looking on.

I neglected to mention the fact, that, soon after crossing Bull’s Run, on the retreat, the cavalry charged on the regimental colors. The Wisconsin boys rallied around and drive back the cavalry after emptying eight or ten saddles. The colors were not afterward disturbed.

We are now encamped within the walls of Fort Corcoran, ready to assist in the defense of the capital, which lies constantly in sight. How long we shall remain here we do not know. We hope to do our duty wherever we are, and to have a share in the good work of delivering our country from the conspirators who are seeking its destruction.

Hoping to have leisure to continue this brief correspondence, I must retire to my wearied pillow, as the snores of my companions remind me it is high time.

A.

Mineral Point (WI) Weekly Tribune, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* Translated “In which I played a great part.”





Pvt. Mattison C. Sanborn, Co. A, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, On the March and Battle

31 01 2020

Letters from the Army.

The following letter from a member of Company A, 2d N. H. Regiment, to his father, Dr. Caleb Danborn, of South Berwick, had been furnished us for publication:

Camp Sullivan, Washington, July 24th.

Dear Father, – Last Tuesday we left Washington with our Brigade, under command of Gen. Burnside, to join our Division, under Gen. McDowell, at Fairfax Court House. We arrived there at 11 o’clock, Thursday morning, the rebels retreating before us towards Manassas Junction. In their camp they left guns, ammunition, provisions, blankets and tents. They blocked up the road by falling the trees and piling up fences.

Our pioneers cleared the obstructions out of the roads, and the army consisting of about 19,000 men, proceeded about 4 miles from Fairfax Court House, where the flag of the 2nd N. H. Regiment floated in place of the Confederate Flag, and encamped there Friday night and Saturday and Sunday until 2 o’clock in the morning. Then the advance of the army commenced and we advanced near 18 miles from our previous encampment, and engaged the enemy at Blue Ridge, near 3 miles from Manassas Junction. By that time we had about 25,00 men in the field and the battle began in real earnest, and the bullets rained about us like hail. The cannon balls and shells of the enemy did great execution. Sherman’s and the R. I. battery played powerfully upon the enemy and once silenced their batteries. Then they displayed a flag of truce, which proved only to cause a delay so that reinforcements might come for them, and General James came from Manassas Junction with 13,000 for the rebels. The Ellsworth Zouaves made a noble charge upon the rebel cavalry and routed them. We were ignorant of the forces of the enemy and their position. There were so many of our artillery men shot that it was difficult to man the guns, our ammunition gave out and we then retreated. The enemy had at least 126,000 men engaged and we no mote at any time than 40,000. Col. Marston was shot by a cannon ball in the shoulder, but he is doing well. As soon as his wound was dressed he mounted his horse and being led on the battlefield by one of the boys he made a speech and told us to defend the Stars and Stripes at all hazards and to remember New Hampshire. Capt. Rollins was hit by a musket ball in the shoulder, and is getting along finely.

The cursed rebels bayoneted our men we left on the field. In our company 2 are killed 3 missing and 3 wounded.

We had a pretty hard journey, we marched 18 miles to the battle field, fought from 11 o’clock, till 4 then retreated, 56 miles without resting an hour at a time.

The enemy are now this side of Centreville, about 36 miles from Washington.

When we move on we shall sweep every thing before us, for we shall have an army of 75,000 or 100,000 men, and artillery enough.

Several pieces of the R. I. guns were spiked by the boys. All the rest our men had safe. Sherman’s battery came in to Washington complete with only one man killed.

The cry of the Ellsworth Zouaves every time one of their men was shot was Ellsworth, and then they rushed on like tigers.

When we first heard the whizzing of the balls we felt a little ticklish, but after we saw our friends fall by our side we feared neither man not the devil.

Our Regiment conducted bravely and left the field with colors flying. Give my love to mother and all my friends, and tell them I’ve killed one rebel sure.

M. C. Sanborn

Dover (NH) Enquirer, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Mattison Sanborn at Ancestry.com 

Mattison Sanborn at Fold3

AKA Mattson C. Sanborn – Bio sketch – Sanborn later was an officer in the 20th Maine Infantry

Mattson Caleb Sanborn at Ancestry.com

Mattson Caleb Sanborn at Fold3

Mattson Caleb Sanborn at Findagrave.com 





Lieut. Warren H. Parmenter, Co. D, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

29 01 2020

The following is an extract of a letter from Lieut. Parmenter of the Dover Company, to a friend in this city:

Washington, July 24th, 1861

I suppose by this time you have heard all about the great battle at Manassas, but you must not believe more than half you read. We received orders Saturday night to get ready to march at 2 o’clock and we started and traveled until 10 o’clock, and the first thing we knew of the rebels was a volley of musketry and a discharge of grape and canister. We were then drawn up in a line and such a shower of bullets you never read about as we received, and we returned them as fast as we could. At that time our Colonel was shot in the shoulder, and a great number of soldiers, but very few badly hurt. This was the first volley that was fired at them. – We then move to the centre and gave them another pop, and fell back to give the big guns a chance, and they did a good deal of damage and drove them from their battery; but we had not force enough to back up our line and they came back and started the big guns on us again, and we went round to the left and came up in rake with their battery and rifles. I thought we were in a hornet’s nest to hear the bullets fly around my ears. We staid there about half an hour and then returned, but every other regiment had left before us, even the U. S. Cavalry, which were put there to cover our retreat. So you see we were the first on and the last off the field, and by that time a regular stampede had commenced. Away they went, pell mell, army wagons, private carriages, horses, infantry and artillery, all together. I started for the hospital where Capt. Rollins was, he being shot on the field sometime before. We got him and the Colonel into the ambulance and started for camp, two miles below Centreville; it was nearly dark. We came along several miles until we reached Bull’s Run, when they opened a masked battery on us. We left the ambulance and started again for camp, which we reached about ten o’clock, laid down about fifteen minutes, and then were ordered to Washington, which we reached Monday afternoon, having marched and fought nearly forty-eight hours with nothing to eat but pilot bread, so hard that it was almost impossible to eat it, and nothing to drink but water we got from the puddles along the road side. We lost from our regiment, killed and wounded, about 40 men. There is missing from our Company, six, but I am in hopes some of them will come in yet.

Dover (NH) Enquirer, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Warren H. Parmenter at Ancestry.com 

Warren H. Parmenter at Fold3