Interview: Ovies, “The Boy Generals”

24 09 2021

New from Savas Beatie is The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, by Adolfo Ovies. Mr. Ovies took some time to answer a few questions about his book and his writing.


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

AO: The most influential moment of my life was in 1960, when my family fled Communist Cuba for a new life in Connecticut where I became a “Connecticut Yankee” —more American than Cuban. I have, however, always remained comfortable in both cultures.

Nothing in my academic career prepared me to become a historian. During my college tenure, monetary issues turned me in the direction of the food service industry and for 45 years I worked as an executive chef and food service director, opening restaurants in both the midwest and southwest. Throughout the years my passion for history has flourished. The books in my library span the period from the Vikings to the Vietnam war.

Tournament bass fishing provided an outlet for my competitive nature. In Florida, many of our fisheries came under pressure from a host of environmental groups. I was a founder and president of South Florida Anglers for Everglades Restoration (SAFER), a group dedicated to restoring the Everglades, thus preserving the sport we all loved so much. At this time I began researching and writing what would become my first book on George Armstrong Custer.

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

AO: My love of Civil War history developed almost as a perfect storm. I have always been an avid reader and at ten years old I made the switch from reading the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift to reading Quentin Reynold’s book on Custer, a part of the Landmark Series of history books for children.

Hard on the book’s heel came Errol Flynn’s mesmerizing portrayal of George A. Custer in They Died with Their Boots On. When I was 12, my father took us on a vacation to Gettysburg. Up to this time, I had just been nibbling on the bait, but with the visit to this storied battlefield I took a full bite and was hooked for life. When my grandfather gave a copy of Jay Monaghan’s Custer, I knew I had made the transition to becoming a big time Civil War history buff.

BR: Why Custer and Merritt?

AO: The answer to the question comes down to a letter written by Elizabeth Bacon Custer (Libbie) to then General of the Army, William T. Sherman. In the letter, written at the time that Wesley Merritt was appointed superintendent of West Point. Libbie told Sherman, “years ago I knew . . . that General Custer was his [Merritt’s] enemy.” I have always believed that history is sometimes written in too cut and dried a manner. Here was a chance to be a storyteller, to write the tale of two men who came to detest each other with a passion. My book is more than a recitation of the battles and campaigns of the cavalry. Though well researched and detailed, it is also the story of two men whose differing personalities and tactical philosophies led them to what I call “a fight for the soul of the cavalry.” Compelled to trace the development of their dysfunctional relationship, I found more than I bargained for.

BR: Can you describe the relationship between the two what we can learn from it, in a nutshell?

AO: The flamboyant Custer, often chastised for his recklessness, would suffer a horrific death on Last Stand Hill at the battle of the Little Big Horn. His name will remain emblazoned on the pages of our nation’s history as long as there are historians to write. He was 38 at the time of his death on June 25, 1876.

The understated Merritt would go on to a long and influential career in the U.S. Army. He fought the Native American tribes on the frontier and led the expedition to the Philippines in the 1898 Spanish-American War. But his greatest contribution would be his founding and presidency of the United States Cavalry Association. He would use the journal of the association (JUSCA) as a platform to transform an army utilized to fight on the western frontier into one capable of fighting against the best the European powers had to offer. Yet his life and achievements remain obscure.

The lesson here is that each man created his own legacy, wove his own destiny. The old Saxons and Norsemen called it Wyrd.

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”?

AO: My first attempt at writing a history book was a self-published effort entitled Crossed Sabers: General George Custer and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864-65. That was back in 2004. It was not a commercial success, however, as the result of his review of this book, I met and became friends with cavalry historian Eric Wittenberg. Eric graciously offered to mentor me in my next effort, The Boy Generals, which has been in the works for about 9 years.

I had two major stumbling blocks in writing this trilogy.

1. Much of the mythology that has sprung up around Custer had to be challenged. Often conflicting accounts exist that needed to be verified. During his Civil War career, Custer was a great soldier sometimes disguised by his flamboyant nature.

2. The enigma that is Wesley Merritt had to be brought into the light of day. Unlike Custer, there are no trunks filled with personal material. His character had to be fleshed out through his official reports, his extensive after-war writings and the accounts of the men who fought under him.

The extent of the deterioration of the relationship between Custer and Merritt was crystal clear once I understood the underlying roots. It was not something that occurred overnight, but developed gradually, battle by battle, campaign by campaign, right up until the end of the war, and even beyond. The effect of Custer always being subordinated to Merritt cannot be understated. I knew I had come to the end of the scope for this project when, during Sheridan’s 1865-1866 Texas campaign, Custer sent Merritt a brief note in which he basically thumbed his nose at Merritt and told him that he was no longer Custer’s boss.

BR: You describe this as the first volume of a trilogy. Very briefly, what does each volume cover?

AO: Volume 1 lays out the background of the hatred that developed between Merritt and Custer. It covers the time from their tenures at West Point, to McClellan’s Peninsular campaign, and on to Brandy Station, where, already, there were inklings of tension. During the battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, their careers, literally, took divergent roads. Destiny took them on dissimilar paths to the fields of Gettysburg. Merritt’s actions on South Cavalry Field and Custer’s participation at East Cavalry Field were but the groundwork for their blossoming adversarial relationship.

Volume 2 follows their respective brigades as they contested the defeated Rebels down the face of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains. After Major General Philip H. Sheridan replaced Major General Alfred A. Pleasonton as commander of the Cavalry Corps, the confrontation between Merritt and Custer was ratcheted up several notches. The volume covers the hard-fought battles of the Overland campaign, and details the battle at Trevilian Station, where their rupture became part of the official record. In August 1864, Sheridan’s troopers were transferred to the Shenandoah Valley. For Custer and Merritt, things began to deteriorate rapidly.

Volume 3 For Merritt and Custer, the situation went from bad to worse as the Shenandoah campaign rumbled up the valley. The dysfunctional relationship finally erupted into public view following the battle of Cedar Creek, after which there was no hope of reconciliation. The glory of the Appomattox campaign would be forever tarnished when Custer was insubordinate to Merritt. Their acrimony would continue into the post-war army.

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

AO: My approach to research is that there is no such thing as a solitary clue. Each clue provides another direction that needs to be tracked down and examined, and then re-examined. Each account offers a different perspective, and none can be taken as gospel truth. I have tried not to bring an agenda to this work. Though I admit that I am an unabashed Custer buff, I have tried to keep an open mind in my research on Wesley Merritt. I believe that I have brought as much material to the book on his behalf as has been written since his solitary biography by Don E. Alberts was published back in 1980.

The Official Records have been one of my primary sources of information. It takes many, many readings to mine all the nuances that are contained in the reports of the participants. There are several versions of the OR online. My favorite is the one from Cornell/Hathi Trust as it is copied from the originals. I don’t trust some of the transcribed versions. Google Books has turned out to be a tremendous resource as I have been able to download many regimental histories, both north and south, that I probably wouldn’t have gotten access to. I have taken trips to the Army Heritage Institute, the National Archives and visited every accessible battlefield pertaining to the events in this work. Many fellow historians have given freely of their time and sources. To them I owe a great debt of gratitude.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

AO: I am really heartened by the responses I have received so far. Many of the comments make specific reference to the style of my writing. As I mentioned earlier, my main goal was to tell the story of these two men who played such an important part in the actions of the cavalry in the Eastern theater of the war. Judging from the comments, I think I have succeeded in accomplishing this.

BR: What’s next for you?

AO: I have already written the following volumes of this trilogy, though they need some tweaking to bring them up to date with some of my latest research. These volumes will be published next year. I am well into my next project which deals with the Bay of Pigs invasion. It is entitled The Cuban Conundrum: The Brigade 2506, the CIA and the Cuban Civil War. I have interviewed two dozen members of the Cuban Brigade and have gained access to over 200 declassified CIA documents written in Spanish of the Brigade’s training in the jungles of Guatemala. I hope to bridge the cultural gap that has separated Cuban and American historians and write the definitive story of the 3-day battle and its aftermath.





Funny Stuff, and an Update

14 09 2021

I made some updates to my speaking schedule. Between October 2021 and April 2022 I’ll be presenting in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Two McDowell’s Plan shows, and one on the 69th NYSM at Bull Run. The Plan programs will be brand new versions, stripped down, which should be more impactful. The 69th talk will be the Saturday preceding St. Patrick’s day, which here in Pittsburgh – where I’ll be speaking – is a pretty big day. That should be interesting. You can see the schedule here.

I’m working my way through South Carolina newspapers for the two months following the battle, and am finding good stuff, even if I’m going blind in the process. Very interesting the tone of the state’s newspapers versus Virginia’s and North Carolina’s. Think the freshmen football players who never get in the game, who taunt their opponents from the sidelines under the expectation of not having to face them on the field. (I’m talking about geography, here.) Check out this column, in the Charleston Mercury, criticizing Virginia for its soft treatment of Union prisoners captured at Bull Run. I may transcribe it later.





Preview: Schmiel & Simione with Schneider, “Searching for Irvin McDowell”

4 09 2021

Just in for preview is Searching for Irvin McDowell: Forgotten Civil War General, by Frank P. Simione,Jr. and Gene Schmiel, with E. L. “Dutch” Schneider. It’s billed as “The first biography of this important Union General in the early days of the Civil War,” and I’ll soon have an interview with the authors. But for now –

You get:

  • 244 pages of text in 10 chapters.
  • 2 appendices, discussing McDowell’s stay at Liberia in Manassas, and his unique taste in headwear.
  • Bottom of the page footnotes.
  • 10 page bibliography (published works, National Tribune and magazine articles, two websites – and no, I’m not in it)
  • Index
  • 14 Hal Jesperson maps
  • 7 images





Preview: Ramold, “Obstinate Heroism”

2 09 2021

Recently received for preview from the University of North Texas Press is Steven J. Ramold’s Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox. From the jacket:

“Despite popular belief, the Civil War did not end when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, in April 1865. The Confederacy still had tens of thousands of soldiers under arms, in three main field armies and countless smaller commands scattered throughout the South. Although pressed by Union forces at varying degrees, all of the remaining Confederate armies were capable of continuing the war if they chose to do so. But they did not, even when their political leaders ordered them to continue the fight. Convinced that most civilians no longer wanted to continue the war, the senior Confederate military leadership, over the course of several weeks, surrendered their armies under different circumstances.

“Steven J. Ramold examines the reasons why the Confederacy failed in the final years of the Civil War and compelled the generals to surrender. Defeatism, a growing problem in the Confederacy thanks to failed political, military, and economic policies, was a pervasive influence upon the generals. Personal rivalries undermined efforts at cooperation, while practical military matters forced leaders to make difficult decisions.”

You get:

  • 365 pages of text in 11 chapters, plus a conclusion
  • 54 pages of endnotes
  • 35 pages of works cited (in lieu of bibliography), including 4 pages of manuscript collections, as well as various dissertations, newspapers, and online sources.
  • 18 maps, and mostly portrait illustrations sprinkled throughout.

Stephen J. Ramold is Professor of American History at Eastern Michigan University.





Pvt. Eugene H. Fales*, Co. E, 14th New York State Militia, On the Battle

31 08 2021

OUR WAR CORRESPONDENCE.

—————-

From a Soldier in the 14th.

Arlington Heights, Va. July 28.

We did a harder 31 hours work last Sunday and part of Monday than I ever thought I was able to do, or ever expect to do again. We marked 65 miles between 2 o’clock Sunday morning, and 11 Monday A. M., besides fighting and manoeuvring on the battle-field. Previous to coming up with the enemy, which we did at a quarter of 12, we had marched 15 miles, with nothing to eat but a few crackers, which we ate as we went along. We emerged from the cover of the woods on a double quick step, throwing away blankets, and haversacks containing rations, to relieve ourselves of the burden we were no longer able to endure, and reaching the hill where Griffin’s West Point Battery was stationed, we sat down amid the flying balls for a few moment’s rest, being almost completely exhausted. The ball was now fairly opened, and the rebels getting proper range of us, our position became too hot, and rendered a change necessary, as a number of our boys had been wounded, but none killed. We then went into a deep gulch, through which ran a muddy stream, the identical Bull Run, the only water we saw after getting three miles beyond Centreville. We rushed into it, bathed our hands and heads, and filled our canteens. Stopping a few moments, the Fire Zouaves passed and formed in line behind their battery, on the top of a hill. They had been there but a few moments, when they were fired upon, with deadly effect, from a concealed battery, not more than 20 yards to their right, and a little to the rear. The fire was so sudden and unexpected that the Zouaves’ tanks were broken and forced part way down the hill, and before they had time to recover, the enemy had dashed out, took their battery, and carried it behind their breastworks in the bushes. The Zouaves made two or three desperate charges, and then retreated down the hill, the 14th marching up and taking its place. We had scarcely reached the top of the hill when a bomb-shell came crashing through our company, striking down eight – three were killed instantly. After firing two or three shots, I was struck down by a spent grape shot, but merely stunned. I came to just in time to take part in the third charge, which was the most desperate of all. We carried our flag up to the very muzzle of their guns, and would have entered their works had they not at that moment opened a cross fire on us from a thicket, on our right, which compelled us to retreat. The 69th came to our relief and taking our place, fought desperately, but our artillery leaving the field at the top of their speed tended much to create a panic that was impossible to check. But one thing is true of all the regiments with one or two exceptions; the men remained on the field after their officers had left.

Our brave Major, (Major Jordan) was the conspicuous man on the field. Seated on a handsome grey horse, he seemed to be every where present, giving orders and cheering on the men – was among the last to leave the field and kept in the rear until we reached Centreville. When taken Capt. Jordan, who was severely wounded in his arm put spurs to his horse and dashed between two regiments – which were drawn up in line of battle, on either side of the road, and which we at first took for a body of the enemy trying to cut of our retreat, but who proved to be friends – at the top of his speed.

We left the battle field at 8 o’clock and reached our camping ground at Centreville about 9 p. m. – laid down and rested about an hour, and continued our march without stopping more than a moment or two at a time till we reached here at 11 o’clock the next morning. All did not get in till late of Tuesday, having lain down exhausted by the road side. For two or three days we were so stiff that it was difficult to stir around much, although we are all about right again now.

A few nights before the battle, I caught a severe cold by lying out in a rain storm, on the wet ground, but have got most over it now.

Our regiment is now stationed where the 8th were, on the heights, at Gen. Lee’s house, the Headquarters of Gen. McDowell and staff.

Having heard so much of the natural wealth of Virginia, I took particular notice on our march, that I might find out in what it consisted. The first thing that attracted my attention was a few deserted houses on the road to Centreville, few and far between, plenty of “niggers,” some fine patches of Indian-corn, wide extended forests, and masked batteries. From my observations I drew the conclusion that the natural productions of the sod are: first, “masked batteries,” second, “Niggers,” third, forests, fourth, Indian corn, fifth, unmitigated scamps.

Two of our mess are missing. Charles E. Davenport, mentioned in the papers, was one, and was also one of those struck down by the shell I mentioned in my letter, but he was not killed, only slightly wounded in the neck; the last that was seen of him was about three miles from the battle field, coming through the woods; he is probably a prisoner. The other, Malcolm Stone, a very fine young fellow, was wounded in the shoulder by a cannon ball. I found him when I was leaving the battle ground, and carried him to Sudley’s church which was used as a hospital, and staid with hm until every one that was able to walk was compelled to leave. I first got a promise from one of the doctors, that every attention would be given him that was possible, but I feel that he was killed by the shells which were fired at the church. It was well that I left as I did, for I was not more than a few minutes from the place, when the firing commenced on the church.

Our Colonel was wounded in the thigh, and was brought safely as far as the bridge, three miles beyond Centreville, where he arrived just as the firing from the masked battery, which there opened on us, was the heaviest. He was in an ambulance, many of which were blown to pieces.

When the first shot was fired there, I, with Jno. York, one of our mess, was walking quite leisurely towards the bridge, and some tow hundred feet from it – the shot, a twelve pounder, struck behind us, bounded over our heads, and rolled down the road into the stream; then came a perfect shower of shot and shell. York took to the stream on the left, and dashing to his arm-pits, waded across. I dashed over the bridge, it being easier and quicker accomplished, and too to the woods on the right, where the shot did not seem to fall, most of it going to the left. There were dead horses, ambulances, baggage, wagons, and cannon all in a heap on the bridge. Walker is well and safe. York came into camp about the same time I did. A very heavy thunder storm is now raging, but we have just about the best arranged tent in the camp, and manage to keep dry – board floor, table in the center, &c.

Yours, truly,
Eugene H. Foley.

Brooklyn (NY) Times Union, 8/1/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* While the name in the paper is Foley, that name is not listed in the roster of the 14th NYSM (84th NYVI). However, Eugen H. Fales is listed in Co. E, and other soldiers mentioned by Foley as messmates (York, Davenport, Stone) are all found as having enlisted in Co. E. No information on Eugene H. Foley located other than a pension application for Eugene H. Foley noted as having served in the 69th New York Infantry. Hat tip to reader James McLean.

14th NYSM (84th NYVI) Roster

Eugene H. Fales at Ancestry

Eugene H. Fales at Fold3

Eugene H. Fales at FindAGrave





Rest In Peace, Charlie Watts

24 08 2021




Capt. Robert C. McFarland, Co. H, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the March and Battle

24 08 2021

Army of the Shenandoah
Camp Bee, near Manassas, Virginia
July 29, 1861

Dear sir: On the 18th instant, the force of General Joseph Johnston left Winchester. Every street was filled with soldiers, wagons, and munitions of war. It was about 1 p.m. when our regiment marched from camp to Winchester when, owing to the length of the column it was sunset before the suburbs of the town were reached. The soldiers were much dissatisfied, thinking they were retreating and leaving the place to its fate. General Johnston, observing this, as soon as the forces were a mile outside of the town on the way to Manassas made it known that he was marching to the aid of General Beauregard who was attacked by overwhelming forces. Everyone was elated on hearing this and set forward with renewed vigor in order to reach the scene of action.

The march was kept up all night. The Shenandoah River was reached about 6 a.m. on the following morning. A few hours of rest was given here and then the column crossed the river, some in boats, some on artillery horses, while others forded. The road leading over the Blue Ridge mountains was very narrow, hilly, and rough, which very much impeded the march as the wagons were continually stopping. On reaching the highest point of the pass, a beautiful view of the country was afforded to the wearied soldiers. Piedmont was reached ay daybreak; the troops were weary and hungry having marched 30 miles over a bad road in 24 hours. A council of officers of our regiment was immediately called; General Bernard Bee, having expressed the wish that it be go on to Manassas by the first train. It was decided, notwithstanding the fact that the men had nothing to eat since morning and nothing to cook as the baggage wagons had not arrived, that the regiment would go forward without delay. This being made known all were much pleased.

The rain now fell in torrents, completely drenching the troops who were without coats or blankets. At 3 a.m., the regiment was on board the cars and reached Manassas about 10 a.m. So soon as it was formed, it was marched into a grove more remarkable for filth than anything else, being a general rendezvous for wagons and teams. Having rested about an hour, the line of march was taken for Camp Walker two miles from Bull Run and two from the field of battle. Here some crackers and middling bacon was distributed, a very welcome supper to the men who had nothing to eat for 12 hours. Having no cooking utensils, the officers and privates broiled the bacon on the end of a forked stick.

On the following morning Sunday July 21, 1861, the same kind of fare was served up. Shortly after breakfast, the enemy commenced firing on our center. In two minutes, the regiment was formed and the soldiers with baggage on their backs marched in quick and double-quick time to the scene of action. The enemy, whose lines extended from Union Mills to Stone bridge, commenced a cannonade on our center for the purpose of drawing out our forces- showing our strength, and make us believe that here he would make his grand attack. It soon became evident to our generals that he was making a feint on the center and was concentrating forces on the left flank. General Evans was posted on Stone bridge which is on the road leading from Centreville to the Junction to prevent the enemy from turning our flank. The enemy, however, marched dense masses of infantry two miles above the bridge and completely turned General Evans’ flank. He sent for reinforcements and General Bee with his brigade consisting of the 4th Alabama, 2nd Mississippi, and two companies of the 11th Mississippi was sent to Evans’ aid to hold the enemy in check until more reinforcements could be sent to that point.

The brigade was marched by the left flank in quick and double-quick time until it arrived within a mile of the enemy’s line. Here it was halted as the men were much fatigued and very thirsty, having marched about seven miles and allowed time only to throw down their baggage. The enemy’s position was a most excellent one on the Centreville road, commanding the country before them in every direction. We were marched forwarded to a road running parallel with the enemy’s line and about 700 yards from them. Here the order was given to load. Between the enemy and us lay a piece of woods on the top of a rising ground, and a small stream and meadow between us and the wood. The regiment was now formed in line and moved forward, part passing through the wood and part through an open field. On reaching the other side next to the enemy, the regiment was formed behind a fence, the 2nd Mississippi regiment being on our left.

[The original newspaper here is torn and about ten lines of text are missing. It picks up as follows:]

Imboden’s company, which was sent to our aid. We were not long halted until ordered forward. Everyone thought we were going to charge Sherman’s battery and brought his piece to a charge bayonet. When we had advanced within 75 yards of the enemy, the order was given to lie down. It so happened that the ground my company halted on was more exposed than any other position in the line. The Yankees kept close behind a hill. The first one that showed himself seemed to be an officer. I ordered one or two to shoot him. This commenced the fight. The Yankees advanced to the brow of the hill, took aim, fired, and retreated to load so that we had to shoot them while aiming at us. My men were cool and fired with great deliberation. Whenever a Yankee was killed by anyone, you could hear him tell his neighbor, “I got him.” The first one killed of the Lauderdale volunteers was Jesse Zills. He was shot through the breast early in the engagement. The next one was young Bourland who was shot through the neck. The firing was kept up briskly on both sides.

An impression seemed to have seized Major Scott that we were firing on friends, and he told some of the companies to cease firing. I left my position and went to Major Scott and told him that the enemy’s flag could be seen from where we were, and that they had killed several of my men already. On passing to Major Scott’s position, I told Lieutenant Simpson where I was going and why. This was the last conversation I had with him. He was quite cool and did not apprehend danger. He had received a slight wound in the arm but did not quit his position. Shortly afterwards I was looking along the line towards the left of the company and saw him the moment the fatal ball struck him. He never moved; he was shot dead instantly as was Lucious Lorance about the same time. They were only a short distance apart stretched at full length upon the corn row. Lieutenant Simpson was much beloved by all who knew him in the regiment- he was a good officer, a true soldier, and died like a man with his face to the foe.

Part of the first platoon took shelter while loading in the corners of a fence. The enemy, discovering this, commenced to fire on our flank as well as front so that no protection was offered by the fence. We had now kept back the enemy for the space of an hour and a quarter although they were ten times our number and we were unsupported. While looking to the right, I saw the first battalion in full retreat towards the woods. Not hearing the command to retreat, I ordered the company to retreat, having then near one half of our number killed and wounded on the field. Thomas Stone was killed on the retreat and three or four others wounded before we reached the woods. The Mississippi regiment, though not exposed to the fire, had retreated before we did, as also had a Georgia regiment on our right. Thus, we were left unaided and alone.

On reaching the wood, the enemy opened on us with grape while the regiments in our rear fired incessant volleys of musketry. It is a miracle that a single one escaped. The balls flew around as thick as hail. The grape cut the limbs of the trees. Having passed through the woods, two regiments were seen on our right flank as we descended into the meadow; we supposed them to be Mississippians. They were, however, two New York regiments that had completely outflanked us and in a few minutes would have cut off our retreat. They saluted us with a volley of musketry which did considerable execution in our ranks, wounding Lieutenant Colonel Law and killing a number of others. We crossed the branch, found the regiment, and returned their salute not without effect. Here we again were obliged to retreat; the ammunition of several companies being nearly expended, mine among the number.

The first force that came to our aid was a Virginia regiment, part of General Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade. We again formed behind this regiment and in a skirt of woods in a very heavy fire of shell and ball. General Bee joined us here. Having inquired what forces we were, the reply was given that it was the 4th Alabama regiment. He said it was the only part of his forces that he could find and asked us if we would follow him. The answer was “to the death.” We had lost all of our field officers. General Bee then dismounted and faced the regiment by the left flank in order to reach the point where the battle was hottest. Some confusion being shown, as the regiment was entering a piece of wood behind Captain Albertes’ battery, General Bee called me by name and ordered me to halt the regiment and form it. This was his last command. He was fatally wounded by a musket ball and breathed forth his noble and manly spirit on the following morning. He was universally loved by his whole brigade as a brave and skillful officer.

The men were now worn out by thirst and fatigue, and the regiment retired to get water and take some rest. At no time during the whole fight was it from under a severe fire until the enemy was driven from the field. It kept the enemy back until reinforcements were brought up and saved the day. It was a glorious day for the South, but it has brought mourning and sorrow into many a happy circle. Many a wife now laments her husband who fell on that field in defense of liberty and justice. How many fond sisters will look in vain for the return of their beloved brothers? Mothers, oh what a sweet word, are weeping for their brave sons whom they shall see no more until that great day when all shall stand before God.

The cannons roar having ceased and the evening’s shade closing down, my little band would not allow themselves to rest until their wounded comrades were carried off the field. Lieutenant Kirkman, Dr. Armstead, and a few more from my company together with three men from each company in the regiment joined me to go after the wounded. I pressed three or four ammunition wagons to carry the wounded; what a contrast between wagons and the splendid ambulances of the enemy. It was now dark and took some searching to find the place where most of the wounded lay. They were picked up as soon as found and put into the wagons and sent to Manassas Junction about seven miles distant. The last wagon reached the Junction about 6 o’clock in the morning in charge of Dr. Armstead and myself. Some of the wounded were put on the cars and sent to Culpeper, others were put in tents and hospitals.

One or two of my men are still missing. Having drank a cup of coffee, the first food except a Yankee cracker I had tasted for 24 hours, I returned to the battlefield to search for these and also to send in the bodies of our brave dead to the Junction. The quartermaster, however, had attended to this last duty before any of the company reached the field. My search for the missing was of no avail. Christopher Rowell being slightly wounded was taken prisoner and effected his escape during the enemy’s retreat and was safe at the Junction.

The wounded having been provided for, our next duty was the burial of the dead. Their graves were dug in a retired corner of the wood a short distance from the fortifications. The rain fell in torrents during the whole time. Officers and privates worked together until the sad labor was performed. Every effort was made to procure coffins for all, but it could be done as there was no planks to make them. We wrapped them in their blankets and laid them side by side in their graves- a sad spectacle of the horrors of war and a confirmation of the Scripture that “all flesh is but as grass.”

The company and the regiment suffered terribly on Monday and Monday night for want of food and covering from the rain. We had no tents, and the mud was six inches deep. The victory was a glorious one. If the friends of any of those who have fallen wish any further information regarding them, it will be welcome. I have written to most of them, briefly, it is true. I have endeavored to give an impartial account of the part my company took in the late battle. Every man fought like a hero though his comrades were falling fast on every side.

Very respectfully,
Robert McFarland, Capt., Lauderdale Volunteers

Florence (Alabama) Gazette, 8/14/1861

Clipping image

Contributed and transcribed by Dan Masters

See more on this letter here.

Robert C. McFarland at Ancestry

Robert C. McFarland at Fold3

Robert C. McFarland at FindAGrave





A Looming Threat to the Manassas National Battlefield Park

23 08 2021

As you may be aware, there is a threat posed to Manassas National Battlefield Park by a proposed, massive data center. Despite the availability of adequate land within areas already designated for such projects in Northern Virginia, variances are being sought for this project. You can see a video with opponents’ arguments here. Posted with his permission, below is park superintendent Brandon Bies’s letter to the Prince William County supervisors regarding this issue.





Preview: Hahn, “Campaign for the Confederate Coast”

20 08 2021

By now, my regular readers (both of you) are familiar with how my book previews work. I have hundreds of Civil War books that sit on my shelves unread, and in my limited time left the only thing that dictates what I’m going to read cover-to-cover is me. So most books I’m asked to discuss on this site only get the “preview” treatment. This is no judgement on the worth of the book. What I try to do here is apply the methodology I would use if I was looking at a title in the bookstore and deciding whether or not to shell out the cash. And I make that clear to the authors, publicists, and publishers when they ask to send me a book for perusal. I tell them I look at the foreword and any conclusion, but most importantly the illustrations (maps, mostly), notes, bibliography, and index. These things tell me a lot, and I’m guessing they tell you a lot, too. As a side note, I don’t review advanced reading copies or uncorrected proofs because, usually, these things are lacking in those formats.

So, I was a little surprised when I received Campaign for the Confederate Coast, by Gil Hahn, from West 88th Street Press. Surprised because it contains no foreword, no maps or other illustrations, no bibliography, no index. The notes are endnotes and unnumbered, employing the technique of identification by first few words of the paragraph being referenced. I at first assumed the copy I received was an ARC, but upon inquiry was informed that:

The author thinks that the lack of maps, bibliography, index, and real footnotes are standard academic complaints against popular books. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of US geography knows where all the places are. Bibliography is a list of references already named in the notes. An index adds additional pages that most readers ignore.

With that being said, let’s look at Campaign for the Confederate Coast.

You get:

  • 255 pages of text.
  • 58 pages of endnotes.
  • No foreword
  • No bibliography.
  • No index.
  • No illustrations or maps.

From the back cover:

Readers will learn the story of blockade running from a nuanced, all-points-of-view perspective. Without recounting hundreds of encounters between pro-Confederate blockade runners and Federal blockading forces, it traces the ebb and flow of events as the U. S. Navy, blockade runners, and foreign governments (primarily the British) all pressed for advantage.

The book is blurbed by Allen C. Guelzo, William C. Davis, and James M. McPherson.

Gil Hahn is an attorney and historian who lives near Wilmington, Delaware.

See the author’s website.





Corp. Henry Ruffner Paine, Rockbridge Artillery, On Casualties

10 08 2021

Sunday night, July 21st
By Camp Fire

Dear Father:

A tremendous battle took place to the West or North West of this point to-day. We have kept the field, and the enemy are reported in retreat; yet it is said that we are threatened with an attack from the East. It will hardly take place to night; and no one knows what tomorrow might bring. Reinforcements are hurrying up to the lines. My recruits and Campbell’s are encamped in part of the vacant quarters of the 17th Va., Infantry. Bowyer Brockenbrough is here, and remains with us to night. He is slightly wounded on the nose and arm. Kable is here and safe. Rollins is slightly wounded on the head. Charley Bell, of the College Boys, was mortally wounded by a cannon ball. Jim Edmondson reported wounded in the hand. Neff is here with two slight wounds. Preston, (Tom,) is with us. He saw part of the fight. Wallace Ruff slightly wounded in the arm. David unhurt. Algernon Wade unhurt and is here. He reports Ben also safe. Hileman scratched in the face. Bill Gordon lost his company in the forced march from Winchester and could not get up to the fight. Jack Jordon is slightly wounded in the leg by the bursting of one of the Southern Ammunition Boxes. Willoughby Brockenbrough is reported safe by Bowyer. Bowyer was knocked from his horse. He says no man flinched from his post. Sherman’s Battery was taken and re-taken twice. ‘Tis said it remains on our possession. The 4th Alabama was cut to pieces. We have numbers of wounded here, and I see part of the horrors of Battle. Gen. Jackson is safe – reported by Bow. Brockenbrough. Jim Suddarth, Parks and Charlton are here all safe, but the latter slightly wounded. Bradley, of the Col. Boys, is killed, so is Asbury McCluer and William Paxton. Ricket is here and safe. Rollins saw Will. Lewis coming from the field after the fight. Sed Davidson is wounded. Calvin Utz is wounded, but getting well. Richard Jordan is wounded. G. Strickler is wounded in the side by a shell, which wounded also the above mentioned College Boys. Horace Wallace is safe. Capt. Jas. J. White safe – was here awhile ago – did not see him. Bill Kahle says a grape shot slightly wounded him in the back – he is running all about. Alexander Wallace wounded in the shoulder. Reed Hanger is wounded. Can’t hear of M.X. White’s company having been in the fight. John Moore unwounded. Bumpus safe. So is Sam Smith and Lewis Paxton. Don’t know the force on either side – both very large and the loss heavy. Copeland Page is safe. Two Arnolds safe. Henry Myers safe, and Tedford Barclay, and Woods. I write on a rough board by the light of a camp fire. We heard the firing all day. Col. Ruff could get no permission for us to go to the camp, and we can’t tell when we can join our companies. Henry Campbell caught up with his men to-day and is here. Seven of my recruits (Artillery,) have volunteered to support a battery of heavy guns close to us if we are attacked to-night. Wm. Lewis and my cousin Bob are reported safe. McCown safe at last reports, was carrying Sed Davidson’s gun. Byeton safe, C. Strickler slightly wounded. Sherrard safe. James McCorkle of the Grays is killed. M.N. White’s company was hardly engaged. Our companies are much scattered. The Rifles tried the Bayonet once and the enemy ran. Capt. Pendleton safe. His company did great damage, helped to capture Sherman’s Battery. I can hear of no more of our boys, though I have taken much trouble. Capt. Pendleton’s Battery did not suffer much – Lieut. McLaughlin and Lieut. Davis are safe. Good bye.

H.

[Note: Per records, Henry Ruffner Paine did not enlist until 7/23/1861. The tone of this letter indicates his reporting on the battle is second-hand.]

Lexington (VA) Gazette, 7/25/1861

Contributed and transcribed by Eric Mink

Henry Ruffner Paine at Ancestry

Henry Ruffner Paine at Fold3

Henry Ruffner Paine at FindAGrave

Paine Family Papers at Virginia Museum of History