Bull Run at Gettysburg: James McKay Rorty

10 12 2017

On Dec. 2, I was in Gettysburg for a gathering of friends. Arriving on Saturday afternoon and the meeting not set to begin until 6 pm, I decided to “get my steps in” and did a little loop on Hancock Ave. from the Alexander Hays statue to the First Minnesota July 2 monument and back, stopping at each marker along the way. This meant there was a lot of back and forth and backtracking. While there were plenty of Bull Run connections along the way, let’s just take a look at one: Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery.

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Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, at Gettysburg

You’ll recall that Private James McKay Rorty of the 69th New York State militia was captured at First Bull Run, escaped from prison in Richmond and made his way back to Washington (read his Bull Run account here, and also read a more complete biography of Rorty here). Mustered out of the militia, he subsequently enlisted in what was designated the 5th Regiment of Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade (read his letter to his father explaining his rationale for enlistment here). This turned out to be a battery of New York Light artillery – he had expected it would be cavalry – though his record of formal attachment to specific batteries thenceforth is murky. Regardless, by May of 1862 Lt. Rorty was serving as ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Israel B. Richardson.

At Gettysburg, now Captain Rorty was ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who had succeeded Richardson upon the latter’s mortal wounding at Antietam and was then in command of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. Technically, Rorty was in command of the non-existent 14th New York Independent Battery of the Irish Brigade. At the same time, Rorty maintained his association with Irish Nationalist organization the Fenian Brotherhood, and was recording secretary in the group’s Potomac Circle. You can read about Fenians in the Civil War here – there’s a lot to it, and it’s not always what you think. Long story short, Rorty was a big deal in “the movement.”

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Artillery officers on the Peninsula, 1862. Rorty is seated on the right. Fellow Bull Run vet Alonzo Cushing is standing, center. From LOC.

On the afternoon of July 2, Rorty became anxious to join in the fighting, and petitioned his boss for assignment to a combat unit. Hancock acquiesced, and some time that day Rorty was placed in command of the 122 men and four 10 pounder Parrot rifles of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, 2nd Corps’ Artillery Brigade. Late in the day, the battery was in place in the Plum Run Line that helped repulse the assault of Longsteet’s Corps’ assault on the Peach Orchard salient. The battery lost one man killed, eight wounded, and 13 horses rendered unserviceable.

On the morning of July 3rd, Rorty’s command was moved to a point about 250 yards south of the now famous “copse of trees” believed by most to be the focal point of General Robert E. Lee’s assault known as Pickett’s Charge. During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry advance, Rorty advanced his guns to the stone wall in front of his position, and returned fire. His command began to suffer casualties, and Rorty moved from gun to gun, issuing orders and encouragement. Eventually three of his four rifles were out of action, and Rorty himself stripped down to his shirtsleeves, grabbed a sponge staff, and joined the crew of his last gun. The Captain called for help from the nearby 19th Massachusetts Infantry, and received about 20 men in reply. Then, the Confederate infantry moved out from the tree line to the west.

Rorty’s lone gun continued to fire on the advancing rebels, until the men of Brigadier General James Kemper’s brigade came past the barn of the Codori farm and into canister range. Some time before the advance petered out at the stone wall, Capt. James McKay Rorty was dead, killed instantly by a shot to the head or heart. Nine more of his command lay dead; another eight were wounded.

Two weeks after the battle, Rorty’s brother Richard gathered his remains from where he had been buried on the field and returned them to New York. He was reinterred in Calvary Cemetery on July 19, 1863.

6016383_1113996429586016383_1399684971Rorty’s grave in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, New York, from FindAgrave

 





Preview: Ayers, “The Thin Light of Freedom”

1 12 2017

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The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is Edward Ayers’s follow-up or companion to 2003’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Both works benefit from and are in part a product of Ayers’s groundbreaking Valley of the Shadow project (watch a video presentation of it here).

The Thin Light of Freedom follows the story of the people of The Great Valley, basically that area of Virginia and Pennsylvania comprising the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, through the latter stages of the Civil War and Reconstruction to Virginia’s return to statehood in 1870.

The focus here is not just on military voices but on those of the people of the area, who lived through the war and its privations and the social upheaval attendant to emancipation. Diarists and letter writers north and south are featured, with a heavy reliance on manuscript sources. Follow all the links I’ve given you above and you’ll get an idea of the extent.

You get:

  • 501 pages of text in 11 chapters plus prologue and epilogue, starting with “The Great Invasion” of 1863 and ending up in 1902 (though we go from 1868 to 1902 in one chapter)
  • 25 maps and illustrations
  • No bibliography but rather “A Note on the Documentation”
  • 45 pages of end notes
  • A full index

It’s a big honkin’ book.

Edward L. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond

 

 

 

 

 





Preview: Scales, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865”

30 11 2017

Layout 1The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 is John R. Scales’s study not of the man, the myth, or the legend, but rather of his wartime activities. (Is it possible to examine these events without discussing the morals and politics of the man? Ummm, yeah, it is — don’t be fatuous.)

Essentially, this book serves as a staff ride of Forrest’s career. Each chapter discusses a particular raid or battle or campaign, for the most part. Each starts with a discussion of the operational environment. Then decisions made are examined. Each includes a driving tour, and each concludes with a review and evaluation of Forrest as commander.

You get:

  • 435 pages of text in 12 chapters, with plenty of charts and graphs, and 109 (one hundred and nine!!!) Hal Jesperson maps.
  • An epilogue with Scales’s assessment of Forrest.
  • A bibliography (primarily published works)
  • A full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes

John R. Scales is a retired brigadier general who served in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. He is the author of Sherman Invades Georgia and A Reluctant Hero’s Footsteps.





Preview: Savas Beatie Reprints Coco

29 11 2017

New from Savas Beatie are paperback reprints of two Gregory A. Coco titles, 1988’s A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, and 1995’s A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg The Aftermath of Battle. Each reprint includes a new preface by author and Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide James A. Hessler. These are must-haves for every Gettysburg student, and A Strange and Blighted Land appears regularly on general Civil War “Best Of” lists.

Layout 1A Vast Sea of Misery is a guide to 162 field hospitals that treated more than 26,000 wounded soldiers during and after the Battle of Gettysburg (an additional 14 identified after the 1st printing are listed as well). Nine maps show relative locations to help the tourist. The field hospital sites are broken down in three parts: Borough of Gettysburg area; Union Army areas; and Confederate Army areas. Additional sites are described in three additional parts:  other important sites; hospital sites in nearby towns; and Camp Letterman. Four appendices cover surgeons and physicians, how field hospital sites were selected, how wounded were moved to field hospitals, and general medical observations. There are seven pages of end notes and a full index.

Layout 1A Strange and Blighted Land is a detailed, heart-wrenching study of what came after the battle – the wounding, gathering, treating, assisting, obstructing, suffering, dying, interring, and remembering. I listed this as one of my ten favorite Gettysburg books. Relying mostly on eyewitness accounts, the reader learns of the scale of the suffering, the treatment of the wounded, the disposition of the dead, the establishment of the National Cemetery, the handling of prisoners and stragglers, and the preservation and establishment of the battlefield and its guides. This promotional passage sums this book up nicely, so I see no reason to rephrase:

Coco’s prose is gripping, personal, and brutally honest. There is no mistaking where he comes down on the issue: There was nothing pretty or glorious or romantic about the battle — especially once the fighting ended.

You get 377 pages of text, 27 pages of end-notes, a 14 page bibliography including three pages of manuscript sources, and a full index.

Gregory A. Coco was an army veteran who served in Vietnam, a degreed historian, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, and a National Park Service Interpretive Ranger at GNMP. He  authored or edited of numerous books and articles on Gettysburg and the Civil War (I have had occasion to use his papers located in the Park’s archives). He died in 2009 at the age of 62.





Preview: Pula, “Under the Crescent Moon, Vol. 1”

21 11 2017

Layout 1Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War: Volume 1: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863 is James Pula’s first in a planned two-part study of what was at the time known as the Eleventh Corps of the U. S. Army in the Civil War (the Roman numeral is a post-war affectation not used here at Bull Runnings). In this volume, the promotional material states, the actions of the Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 “are fully examined here for the first time, and at a depth no other study has attempted.” Considering the thoroughness of John Bigelow’s background on the Corps in The Campaign of Chancellorsville, and the depth of analysis in Augustus C. Hamlin’s The Attack of Stonewall at Chancellorsville, the proof of this claim will be in the pudding. Mr. Pula has previously written about 11th Corps related topics, including a biography of Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski and a history of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry.

What you get:

  • 281 pages of text in nine chapters taking the history of the Corps up to June, 1863;
  • An appendix listing the casualties of the Corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville;
  • An appendix listing the German troops in the Corps;
  • A ten page bibliography, including two full pages of archival sources;
  • Same-page footnotes;
  • Numerous, mostly portrait photos.
  • (There appears to be only one detailed disposition/movement map in total, which is curious in a work that seeks to look at the Corps’ performance at Chancellorsville in depth. In contrast, the Hamlin book noted above has nine.)

Volume 2 of this history, release date not known, is expected to be 432 pages.





Preview: Waters and Brown, “Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau”

20 11 2017

51Vt7833uaLA recent publication of Savas Beatie is Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau, by W. Davis Waters and the late Joseph I. Brown. Rains is considered the father of landmine warfare (a dubious “honor,” at best), although in addition to the “subterra shell” he also designed two seagoing explosive devices. I admit to knowing very little about this subject, and will proceed to the physical description of this paperback.

You get:

  • 100 pages of narrative on Rains’s life and career. Chapter endnotes.
  • An analysis by Mr. Brown of a manuscript written by Rains, “National Defense Perfected by Land and Sea.”
  • Appendix – List of Men in Charleston’s Torpedo Service
  • Appendix – Rains Letter to Jefferson Davis About Sinking of the Tecumseh
  • Appendix – Report of John Maxwell on City Point Explosion and Endorsements by McDaniel and Rains
  • Appendix – Letter to W. T. Walthal for Use by Jefferson Davis for “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”
  • Appendix – Torpedoes
  • Appendix – List of Vessels Sunk by Torpedoes
  • Appendix – Rains Family Evacuates Richmond
  • Bibliography, including family papers of Jefferson Davis, T. H. Holmes, and Gabriel Rains
  • Index

 





Lucinda Dogan House Design

19 11 2017

Last week, the Manassas National Battlefield Park’s Facebook page shared this photo of the Lucinda Dogan house (at the intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and Featherbed Lane, west of the First Bull Run battlefield) in 1952, prior to its restoration in the 1960s (click on any photo for larger images):

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Here’s a more recent photo of the restored house, from Historical Marker Database:

Lucinda Dogan House Marker

Notice in the earlier photo that the design appears to be that of a “dog-trot” cabin, that is, two cabins with a common roof, and a breezeway (or dog-trot) between them. I wasn’t sure if this was an illusion, and wondered why the restored house gives the appearance at least that it is one single structure with a central fireplace. So, I went to the authority on such things, Museum Specialist Jim Burgess at the park. As is his gracious wont, he got back to me quickly:

“I know the photographs you are referring to which show the south section of the house of log construction, the siding having been removed to expose a gap on the front side between the two sections of the house. You are correct that the Lucinda Dogan house was originally two structures (cabins if you will) joined together but there was never a breezeway between. Note that there is a central chimney. Given that there are fireplaces on both sides, one for each section of the house, the chimney had to have been built when the two structures were joined together before the war. There are spaces on each side of the chimney. On the front side of the house it is an enclosed space probably used for storage. The space on the rear side of the house is an interior passageway between the two sections. The earliest photos we have of the house date to 1906 and tend to support the current appearance of the house. ”

Here are the 1906 photos Mr. Burgess provided:

Groveton-1906[4546]

Dogan House 1906[4545]

With that, it looks like the question is answered and the case closed.