Preview: Taylor (Ed.), “My Dear Nelly”

27 11 2020

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New in 2020 from Kent State University Press is My Dear Nelly: The Selected Letters of General Orlando M. Poe to His Wife Eleanor, edited by Paul Taylor. Paul is a Detroit Tigers fan and, among other works, is the author of this biography of Orlando Poe, the West Pointer, topographical engineer, 3rd and 9th Corps brigade commander, and corps and department engineer.

The selected letters of Poe to his wife, Eleanor Brent, span October 1860 to April, 1865, and follow his ups and downs leading various levels of infantry command but ultimately failing to garner the support necessary for permanent promotion. Consequently, he reverted to staff engineer duties and performed, by most standards, spectacularly.

What you get:

  • Forward by Earl Hess
  • 320 pages of text featuring 241 “highly literate and previously unpublished wartime letters,” fully annotated
  • Ten page bibliography including unpublished manuscript and archival material and newspapers
  • Full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Hal Jesperson maps
  • Photograph and engraving illustrations scattered throughout the text

It’s good stuff. Check it out.





Interview: Powell & Wittenberg, “Tullahoma”

5 11 2020

I’ve known David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg now for a depressingly long time. I won’t go into their numerous publications, but you can find them on Dave’s and Eric’s Amazon author pages. There are a lot of them.

Dave and Eric have teamed up for a new book from Savas-Beatie on the 1863 prelude to Chickamauga, The Tullahoma Campaign: the Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 – July 4, 1863. They took some time to answer a few questions (I’ve interviewed Dave a couple of times, so you can get even more info on him in his most recent interview here – see, I get more page views this way).

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BR: Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourselves? 

DP: Just an update: I still live and work in the Chicago suburbs. Since we last talked, I merged my company with another local messenger service, which means I am still doing the same thing: running a specialized delivery service, just with a different title — Vice president of Airsped, Inc. In the history field, I have been very busy: publishing a book a year for about the past ten years. I write primarily on the Western Theater of the American Civil War, with a focus on the campaigns in Tennessee and Georgia, though I have written one monograph covering Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley.

EW: Thanks for asking, Harry. I’m a native Pennsylvanian, born in the Philadelphia suburbs and raised in a suburb of Reading. I have a BA from Dickinson College, an MA in international affairs from Pitt, and a law degree from Pitt (it was a four-year, dual degree program). After graduating from Pitt in 1987, I settled in Columbus, Ohio—I had to go where the job was—and am still here more than 33 years later. Once I finished law school and got out into the real world, I decided to try my hand at writing history since I wanted to challenge myself—I haven’t had a formal history class since 10th grade and am entirely self-taught. I found that I really liked doing so, and I’ve continued with it since my first attempt at it in 1991. Today, I am a partner in my own law firm, Cook, Sladoje & Wittenberg Co., L.P.A., where I manage our litigation practice. My wife Susan and our three golden retrievers live in Columbus.

Today, I serve on the board of directors of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the Little Big Horn Associates, and I likewise serve as the program coordinator for the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars. I am also a member of Emerging Civil War, although it’s been quite a while since I last contributed anything. Battlefield preservation is one of my primary focuses.

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

DP: My dad was interested in the war and had numerous books on the subject. He owned both the American Heritage Illustrated History of the Civil War, for example, and Bruce Catton’s works. He took me to Gettysburg when I was eight, and I was hooked. I have been reading ever since, which translated into designing boardgames through much of the 1980s and 1990s, and later, to writing about the war.

EW: For me, it was a third-grade trip to Gettysburg. I was hooked by the end of the day. When my uncle heard that, he bought me Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy, and I was off to the races. Catton, for obvious reasons, was (and still is) a major influence on me.

BR: How long have you two known each other?

DP: I met Eric in the mid 1990s, and what would prove to be the first of many annual events, the Gettysburg Discussion Group’s Spring Muster. We were at an impromptu evening tour of “Iverson’s Pits.” At that time, I was involved in a wargame company, not doing much writing beyond a few articles, while Eric was deeply interested in the Gettysburg cavalry story. We became fast friends, and I have since been on many tours with Eric.

EW: Dave and I met in 1996 thanks to the magic of the Internet. We were both members of the late, great, lamented Gettysburg Discussion Group, and we struck up a friendship that remains strong nearly a quarter of a century later. I suspect that, if we didn’t live so far apart, we would hang out often. As it is, we get together when we can.

BR: You’ve written Tullahoma together. How did you come to the decision to write it in tandem, and how does that process work? How do your earlier solo works inform this book? Were there any unexpected benefits or difficulties

DP: I had some elements of an unfinished manuscript on the subject, a couple of chapters, really; and Eric had some stuff on Wilder and the Union Cavalry action at Shelbyville — his interest in cavalry, again. I wanted to finish this project, but never could quite make the time, until Eric proposed merging our stuff into a full-length campaign study. I was excited by the offer and said yes immediately.

My own work on Chickamauga of course carries echoes of the earlier Tullahoma campaign all through it. It is the most masterful of Rosecrans’s three offensive campaigns — Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga — and as such, it is hard to discuss Chickamauga without referring to what came before. So much of my research material bled over directly into the Tullahoma project as well.

The dual writing process proved very smooth. I think it is fair to say that neither Eric nor I carried big egos into this project. We were willing to accept each other’s editing and comments without pause, and each of us went over every chapter for continuity and style. As a result, I feel it really is a blend; we each wrote half the book and edited the other half to match. There were times when we had to do a fair bit of re-writing on one chapter, not so much for style, but because we were covering a big, detailed, complex operation; and narrative flow was critical to making sense of things.

Speaking for myself, I inevitably find things I would change when re-reading my own work. But having another writer along for the ride, smoothing out my own language, was a very real benefit. I think Tullahoma benefited a great deal from this partnership.

EW: I happen to enjoy doing collaborations with my friends. I find it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, and I had been looking for a project that Dave and I could do together. I had already written an essay on the seizure of Hoover’s Gap by the Lightning Brigade and had started one on the Battle of Shelbyville for a failed collection of essays. I had even toured the sites associated with the Tullahoma Campaign about ten years ago when I was working on those two essays. My interest in these actions was piqued by my Chickamauga studies. I knew from prior conversations that Dave wanted to tackle Tullahoma, so it seemed like a natural fit, and Dave readily agreed when I suggested it. We then divided up the primary drafting responsibilities, and we both got busy. We each served as the primary author of certain chapters, with lots of input from the other. We then smoothed it out once a complete draft was done so that differences in style were not jarring. I think we succeeded, because nobody has yet identified the chapters that we each wrote as primary author, other than that I gave away two of them here.

BR: Why the Tullahoma Campaign?

DP: Again, because Chickamauga led me there. And because it is one of the most interesting major campaigns of the war, but lacks any major study examining it. The Civil War field is largely driven by battle narratives, with actual operational histories few and far between. Tullahoma’s lack of a climactic battle has led to it being ignored.

EW: My interests have long been drawn by obscure actions—the more obscure, the better. Because of the lack of casualties and the lack of a marquee battle, Tullahoma has long been the red-headed stepchild vis-à-vis Gettysburg and Vicksburg. I wanted to correct that. Tullahoma was an absolutely brilliant piece of strategic planning and execution that drove the Army of Tennessee out of Tennessee without a full-scale battle and with minimal losses. The fact that the high command of the Army of Tennessee puts the fun in dysfunctional makes it an even more interesting study.

BR: How would you characterize the popular notions of the Tullahoma Campaign, and how does your book conflict with that notion? Is there any merit to Rosecrans’s fear that a lack of casualties would result in a lack of appreciation for the accomplishment? Do you think the administration at its far remove grasped the operational difficulties facing Rosecrans?

DP: I joke that Tullahoma is the campaign that everyone has heard about, but no one really knows much of anything about it. Rosecrans’s fear that the campaign would be overlooked has certainly been borne out. However, that same lack of knowledge is also a small blessing, since our book fills a blank slate. The late 19th and early 20th century mythology that sprang up around so many battles (Just think, for example, of stuff like the Barlow—Gordon incident at Gettysburg) does not exist for Tullahoma. We had little to unlearn or refute.

As for the Lincoln administration not grasping the operational difficulties, that is true for not just Tullahoma, but Chickamauga and Chattanooga as well. In October, 1863, when Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs finally came west to help in the relief of Chattanooga, he recorded that he simply would not have believed the difficulty of the terrain unless he saw it for himself — a clear sign that the Washington authorities were beset by similar terrain blindness.

EW: Traditional notions seem to be that Tullahoma was, to borrow a phrase, a sideshow to the big shows at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. I believe that it was every bit as important as those two major victories, and that the combination of the three were the death knell of the Confederacy. Certainly, the lack of casualties meant that the newspapers weren’t going to give it the same coverage as Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and Stanton really didn’t like Rosecrans, who carped and complained a lot. Because of that, the Union high command tended to ignore a lot of what he said.

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”?

DP: For my part, some of the chapters were written as much as fifteen years ago, though they all had to be revised before integrating them into the current book. Once we agreed to write, however, I think it took us about ten months. Given the publisher’s schedule, we had the chance to do some polishing after that, but I knew we were essentially done in late 2018.

EW: Dave had independently started on the introductory chapters before we decided to do this, and I had written Hoover’s Gap and part of Shelbyville, so some of it was done before we ever agreed to collaborate. That significantly shortened the writing process. It took us about a year to get the thing to a state where we felt it was ready to go to the publisher.

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

DP: My earlier research really drove a lot of the book, since I had so many overlapping sources from my Chickamauga work, and I had been adding material while also researching for Atlanta. Eric had some great information, especially on Shelbyville, and of course, our friend Greg Biggs helped us immensely by providing a huge amount of material that he had collected on the subject. The Stones River National Battlefield gave me access to their files, so I was able to find some particularly good accounts there as well. Finally, the newspapers and older regimental histories are now so readily accessible online that huge amounts of material can be found at the click of a mouse. I am a subscriber to Newspapers.com, to Fold3.com, and to Ancestry.com — each provides useful avenues when I am running down details.

EW: Fortunately, I had all the research done on Hoover’s Gap and Shelbyville. Dave had a lot of stuff that he has accumulated over the years that is in PDF form, so he shared all of it with me. A fair amount of the newspaper stuff came from various online databases such as the Library of Congress and Newspapers.com. I also have a fair number of applicable sources, such as the Official Records, in hard copy form in my personal library.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DP: Very well. The book is drawing positive reviews on Amazon and other places, and it is selling well. It is a book club selection, is doing brisk business in digital form, and we have even gone into a quick reprint. I originally worried that the subject’s lack of a big battle to hang the narrative on might hinder sales, but so far that has not been a concern. It won’t sell like a Gettysburg title, but what else does? It is holding its own. I am delighted.

EW: Very well. I’m tickled by the reception. There was (and is) interest in this topic out there, and we filled a gap in the historiography that had needed to be filled for a long time.

BR: What’s next for you?

DP: I have just published another book: The Impulse of Victory: Grant at Chattanooga, have just completed the manuscript for The Critical Decisions at Shiloh, which should be out in 2021, and am returning to a project I have been researching for a while: a full length campaign study of Atlanta. I am sure there will be other stuff along the way.

EW: I’ve got a couple of other individual projects that are finished and in the production queue, including a study of cavalry actions leading up to the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864 and a monograph on the Johnson-Gilmor Raid of July 1864. My friend Jim Hessler and I are working on a complete battlefield guide to the Battle of the Rosebud and Little Big Horn together. Other projects down the road include a monograph on the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania/the Battle of Moorfield that will be a collaboration with Dan Welch, and a monograph on the Battle of Battery Wagner.





14 Years Blogging

3 11 2020
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Mmmmm….Scotch….

Another year has passed. The first four months, pretty awesome. The last eight, pretty weird. Here’s hoping we can get back to that first four months of awesome. I’m about up to here with weird.

The weirdness has had some good effect here – more posts this year than perhaps ever. Lots of private (more accurately, personal) correspondence, and lots more to come. Now in the middle of official correspondence – look for a flurry of activity ahead, as I’ve made it to July 20, 1861.

Readership has been steady – about 3,500 page views/month – with a nice boost coming from the assigned use of the resources section in a college history class (of course, that came ONE DAY before the assignment was due – some things never change).

Gave a couple of in-person presentations, cancelled one due to imposed restrictions, did one Facebook Live roundtable talk, and have cancelled one and scheduled one talk already for 2021.

Have a few book ideas, including essay and letter collections, but they’re nothing more than ideas. But thanks for asking. Over. And over.

As always, thank you all for reading. Continue to do so, early and often. You guys are the best.





Interview: Dixon, “Radical Warrior”

27 10 2020

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I interviewed David T. Dixon previously with the release of The Lost Gettysburg Address.”You can read the interview here to learn about that book and to get a little background information on David that I won’t repeat here. His most recent work, Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General, is available from the University of Tennessee Press, and you can order it on David’s site here. David took the time to answer a few questions about his new book.


BR: I’ve always been mildly intrigued by the story of, for lack of a better term, “Marxists” in the Union army. I got a little more of a boost when I ran across your man’s name while browsing a biography of Friedrich Engels. But for you, why the interest in August Willich? 

DTD: First of all, the term “Marxist” did not exist in the 1860s, as Karl Marx was little known outside of a small circle of radicals. His economic philosophies only gained widespread notice following his death. There were, as you mention, numerous communists and socialists in the Union Army, especially among exiled European revolutionaries. My interest in Willich stems not so much from his political orientation but more from his compelling life story and the need to bring outstanding but obscure general officers like him to the attention of Civil war enthusiasts.

BR: Can you give us a brief sketch of Willich’s life?

DTD: Willich was born into the Prussian lesser nobility known as Junkers. His father was a decorated cavalry solider in the Napoleonic Wars, but died early as a result of his war wounds, orphaning three-year-old August Willich. August grew up in the household of German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was called the father of German liberal theology. After attending the Prussian cadet schools and military academy, Willich embarked on a 17-year-career as a lieutenant in the Prussian artillery. Exposure to republican ideas, however, caused him to leave the army and rebel against his king in the revolutions of 1848 and 1849. While a political refugee in London, he fought a duel with an acolyte of fellow Communist League leader Karl Marx, whom Willich thought was not radical enough to overthrow the princes of Europe. Willich journeyed to America in 1853 and edited a German language newspaper in Cincinnati; the first daily labor paper in any language in the U.S. He was an ardent abolitionist and champion of workers and welcomed the coming of the Civil War as a war to destroy what he saw as a slaveholder aristocracy in the Confederate states and validate the principles of republican government and universal human rights. His experience and leadership talent in the military arts led him to advance quickly through the ranks from private in April 1861 to brigadier general in July 1862. He fought with great tactical skill and bravery in most of the largest engagements in the Western theatre until a sniper’s bullet ended his combat career at Resaca in May 1864. He died at St Marys, Ohio in January 1878. The New York Times praised Willich as “undoubtedly the ablest and bravest officer of German descent engaged in the war of rebellion.”

BR: What did you find while researching Willich that most surprised or impressed you?

DTD: I am most impressed by Willich’s extraordinary self-sacrifice and lifelong commitment to social justice. He renounced his noble status, alienated his family, abandoned a successful military career, foreswore marriage and children, and was exiled from his homeland all because he believed wholeheartedly in free government and human rights. He never strayed from his moral compass.

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”?

DTD: Research on the book took about two years. The fact that so many German language primary sources were in barely legible Kurrentschrift handwriting or archaic Fraktur print and spread all over western Europe and America was more than challenging. I traveled to Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland to walk in Willich’s footsteps and, of course, tramped the US Civil war battlefields where had had his most significant engagements. The best surprise, given that my bachelor general left no collection of personal papers, were the timely and intimate letters I found in numerous collections all over the world. This, combined with two pamphlets he wrote and his daily newspaper editorials, gave me plenty of material to work with. I knew I was “done” when I felt I could tell the story completely and add enough scholarly context to tell it intelligently. But of course, one is never really done with the research and I hope my book will encourage others, especially in Germany, to dig deeper and reveal answers to still unsolved mysteries about this man’s life.

BR: I’ve asked you this before, but can you describe your research and writing process? Particularly, how did writing your prior work affect how you approached this one.

DTD: So glad you asked this question. The process was very different from The Lost Gettysburg Address in two ways. In that first book, I had an embarrassment of riches in terms of primary sources; 45 boxes of personal letters to and from Charles Anderson at one archive alone! The challenge was what to include and exclude. As I mentioned, I really had to dig deep and wide for the Willich archival gold. Most importantly, I learned the value of peer collaboration in my Willich biography. I was fortunate to have a volunteer translator in Germany, a small platoon of expert peer readers, and formed a partnership with a German PhD candidate. He and I traveled in Europe and America together as he researched Willich for his dissertation.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DTD: I have been so pleased with the feedback so far. Early reviewers have been very kind and invitations for interviews and podcasts have been streaming in. Launching a book during a pandemic is challenging. All my in person speaking engagements either canceled or postponed, so I feel very fortunate that the book has received so much attention online.

BR: What’s next for you?

DTD: I have a book proposal ready to go and a fair bit of research completed on another biography. I will use that one as a case study to examine the impact of emotions of allegiance and Confederate dissent. With archives closed, the project is on ice, so I have spent more time publishing short form pieces in magazines and on the Emerging Civil War blog. Long term, I would really love to transition from university press publishing to a trade press to reach a much larger readership. All I need is a great story and a bit of serendipity. Wish me luck!





Those Plans (Plural) of June “24,” 1861

24 10 2020

Today’s update to the Correspondence – USA Official page of the Resources section is Irvin McDowell’s June 24th response to Winfield Scott’s June 20th request for a plan for his force to cooperate with that of Maj. Gen. (of PA Militia) Robert Patterson’s force to “sweep the enemy from Leesburg to towards Alexandria.” A few things to keep in mind:

  • McDowell took four days to respond to Scott’s request. Patterson’s response came in just one day.
  • Neither man seemed very enthusiastic about the project, to put it lightly.
  • McDowell’s response to Scott’s request should in no way be construed as having anything at all to do with his plans to move against Beauregard at Manassas Junction. In my opinion, some historians have done exactly this, particularly pertaining to McDowell’s plans against Bory having some sort of “requirement” regarding Patterson’s responsibilities. McDowell clearly cast out that excuse after the fact and the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War (JCCCW) took the bait, but I see no validity in it whatsoever.
  • McDowell’s plans for the movement against Manassas is dated by the compilers as “about June 24, 1861.” This seems odd because McDowell sent his plan for the Leesburg/Alexandria proposal on June 24th. So why was he sending another plan on the same day? I suspect it was written later, but perhaps it was written after some discussion with Scott on the 24th (the second plan was submitted, McDowell says, “in compliance with the verbal instructions of the General-in-Chief”). If so, McDowell sure came up with that plan fast. Another possibility is that he didn’t like the plan to co-operate with Patterson and anticipated that he would be asked for an alternative, and so came up with one in advance. Maybe that’s why it took him four days to respond. Would love to know the compilers’ reasoning for the assumed date. Guess I’ll need to see the actual document. (Keep in mind that the published Official Records – the “ORs” – are NOT in and of themselves primary documents. They’re transcriptions of primary documents.)




Recap: Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable 10-15-2020

19 10 2020
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About 18 socially-distanced people showed up at the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable

For the first time since Fo Da Co, or what others refer to as the Before Times, I gave a real, live, in-person presentation this past Thursday. Nope, not Zoom, or Facebook Live, or any of those other presentations we see on-line every day. Me, with a computer, projector, and a room not-full of people. People wearing masks, which, I’ll tell you, makes it a little difficult to judge how well things are going.

The good folks at the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Southern Pines, NC, were wonderful as always (this was my 4th trip there). They sat through what turned out to be a 90 minute presentation, nobody walked out, and some great questions were asked afterwards.

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And Away We Go!

Roundtable director and dear friend Teej Smith and newsletter editor Matt Farina treated my wife and me to a great dinner prior to the meeting, and we were joined by friend and author Charlie Knight of the North Carolina History Museum. After my talk, Civil War stamp aficionado Matt presented with two nice framed items now proudly displayed in my library.

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Clockwise from left, Teej Smith, Charlie Knight, Myself (with newsletter), Matt Farina

We spent the rest of the weekend with my in-laws, who also attended the talk and with whom we stayed, tooling about Pinehurst, taking in the mostly golf-related sights and wrapping up with a round on the Country Club of North Carolina’s Dogwood course. I had never hit out of long Bermuda rough or pine straw before, which I did often and with predictable results (yes, I could have stayed out of the rough, but then I’d have seen a lot less of the course). I played horribly and had a great time.

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Fore!

Thanks to everyone!





6th North Carolina Ravine

4 10 2020

From August 11 to August 27 this year I posted several letters from members of the 6th North Carolina Infantry describing the regiment’s actions, and specifically their approach to the battlefield. As I was transcribing them, I sent a note to Friend of Bull Runnings (FOBR, a truly worthless title I bestow on folks who have been helpful to the site but, hey, it’s a title nonetheless) John Hennessy:

Working my way through some 6th NC stuff, and for not the first time I’m running across references to the regiment emerging from a “rugged ravine” to come upon Sherman’s (Ricketts’s) battery.

Any idea what ravine they’re talking about?

His response:

The ravine–yes. Just S-SE of Griffin’s guns is a ravine at least some of the 6th used, though it’s only “rugged” on a relative basis. A Pittsburgher wouldn’t even notice it. But on that field, it’s fairly apparent if you walk the ground, which is today pretty well choked with trees. You can see it well on Google Earth, connecting the park and the community college. It points straight toward Griffin’s guns.

Of course, the 6th probably had a front a couple-hundred yards long. The ravine is short and narrow, and so probably most men never saw it. Of course if you look at Google Earth, you can see there is a pretty steep rise to the right of the ravine which those of the 6th not in the ravine would have encountered as they moved forward.

John obligingly provided this map (click it to enlarge):

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Coming Up!

4 10 2020

Just a couple of housekeeping things.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, I’ll be speaking about McDowell’s Plan to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehurst, NC. This will be my fourth trip to this fine group. The state has limited attendance to 25 and members get first dibs, so if you’re thinking of stopping by check with them first. We’ll be turning this into a mini vacation with my NC in-laws.

Having some time on my hands the other day, I flipped through S1, V2 of the ORs and marked all the correspondence associated with First Bull Run. I think I’ll start posting those soon (I label them “Official Correspondence” to differentiate from personal letters, which for some reason I first labeled “Private Correspondence,” even though much of it was intended for publication in newspapers – I should probably fix that, but have to figure out a simple and efficient way).

Still plenty of newspapers to look at, and I have one letter from a private in the 18th VA that was subsequently purchased by the NPS. I received a copy before they purchased it, and was in the process of transcribing, but they’ll be sending me a transcription from the much clearer original soon. Good stuff in it. Thanks to readers Tim Smith of Joliet, Il., and Patrick Schroeder of Lynchburg, Va.

Two interviews of authors of new books in the works, so be on the lookout for them.





Notes on the Suicide of Lt. C. E. Earle

17 09 2020

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Richmond’s Exchange Hotel and Ballard House (contributed by reader Tom Leupold)

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Contributed by reader Tom Leupold

My last post  was an article in the August 8, 1861 Richmond Dispatch on the suicide of Lt. C. E. Earle, of Co. B, 4th South Carolina Infantry. I like to leave the items in the Resources section of this site generally free of opinion and analysis, other than providing links to where the reader can learn more. The interest this post has been surprising, considering I debated whether or not to include it in the first place, and has impelled me to provide a little more information.

As stated in commentary at the bottom of the post, I suspect the C. E. Earle in question is Claudius Eugene Earle, based on this site,  which for some reason shows his death date as July 7, 1861 as opposed to Aug. 7, but does show a birth date of 1835. Fold3 tells me that C. E. (and that’s how all his available records show, “C. E.”) was one of four Earles in Co. B, the others being Alexander C., G. W., and James W., all privates. I located a FindAGrave entry for a Claudius Eugene Earle in Anderson County, S. C., where Co. B was raised, but it shows birth and death dates in 1835. Was this another C. E. Earle, or perhaps was it some convention to allow for the burial of a suicide within the churchyard? I don’t know.

As to whether or not whatever action Earle saw at Frist Bull Run impacted his decision to leap from the 6th floor of Richmond’s Ballard House to Franklin St. below, I have no idea. Earle is mentioned twice in the after action report of Col. J. B. E. Sloan. Basically, Earle as a lieutenant was in command of Co. B. on the 21st (why Capt. W. W. Humphreys was not, I don’t know). First, the company was held in reserve at the Stone Bridge, with companies E and J (yes, J) deployed as skirmishers there. The rest of the regiment was sent to Matthews Hill. After the Confederates fell back across the Warrenton Pike… I’ll let Sloan take it from here:

Lieutenant Earle, commanding Company B (Palmetto Riflemen), and Captain Dean’s company (C), both reserves, occupied the position first held by the regiment (on the left of the road near the bridge) until after the battery retired, when they also retreated toward Lewis’ house and were then formed into a battalion, with portions of Captain Shanklin’s company, under Lieutenant Cherry, and Captain Long’s company and the New Orleans Zouaves, Captain ——-, and some Alabamians, under Major Whither and Colonel Thomas, of Maryland, and by them led to the field of battle on our extreme left. They charged a battery of the enemy, and, after a severe conflict, repulsed him. Sergeant Maxwell planted the colors of the Fourth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers on the cannon of the enemy and maintained his position until after his comrades had been repulsed by a superior force, who had deceived our men and prevented their firing upon them by using our colors and sign of recognition. During this contest Major Whitner had his horse shot under him while endeavoring to rally the men led to the charge.

And there, as far as I can tell, Earle disappears from the record, until showing up in the Dispatch eighteen days later.

What drove him to the act? Was it heredity, as the article suggests, something he saw or did during the battle of the 21st, something that happened before or afterwards unrelated to the battle, or some combination? It seems unlikely that Lt. Earle would have been given such responsibility as command of the regiment’s reserve had he been exhibiting signs of mental instability (though later in the war we can certainly point to many such cases). Was it what we today call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? I’m not a fan of post-mortem psychoanalysis after 159 years (although plenty of folks have based entire books on such drivel), so I won’t conject. But perhaps some reader out there has C. E. Earle in their tree, and can help us fill in the blanks with facts.

UPDATE: This from reader Brad in the comments:

Richmond Whig 8/8/61

Extraordinary Suicide.—Yesterday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, Lieut. C. E. Earle, of the Palmetto Rifles, 4th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, (Col. Sloan) committed suicide by throwing himself from the front window, nearest the Eastern end, of the sixth or top story of the Ballard House. He fell upon the granite pavement below, and was instantly killed. His head and body were dreadfully fractured and crushed by the fearful concussion. The deceased was a native of Greenville, S. C. He had been sick at his room, in the Ballard House, for several days, but made bis appearance at the office, yesterday, and paid his bill, intending, as he intimated, to leave for Manassas this morning. A note found in his room, addressed to Mr. Ballard, indicates that he was laboring under an aberration of mind when he committed the rash act. He refers to certain “slanders,” charging him with refusing to recognize a young lady, whose name he mentions, and gives directions for the disposition of a considerable sum of money which he had left in the custody of Mr. Ballard.

There is also an article on the suicide in the 11/30/61 Daily Dispatch, page 2.

What caused the Dispatch to publish another article nearly 4 months later? Well, here it is (I apologize, some of image on Newspapers.com is too blurry to make out):

The Late Lieut. Earle. – The reader will remember the remarkable suicide of Lieut. Earle, at the Exchange Hotel, in August last. The reporter at that time employed in this office, noticed the event, in the local department, in a paragraph in which it was stated that the act was occasioned by insanity, which was hereditary in the deceased. – The [?] remark, so unnecessary and heedless, and in no view of the case justifiable, attraced the notice of Mr. Wm. E. Earle, a relative of Lieut. E, and he soon afterwards wrote to the editors denying the statement, and inquiring upon whose authority it was made. This letter, in the course of official business, was transferred to the local department, without reaching the editors, and was not properly answered, whilst the cause of [???] aggravated by a statement in the local column that Mr. Wm. E. Earle denied that insanity was inherited by his relative. That gentleman has recently brought [??] to the knowledge of the [???] never read the paragraph [???] or saw the letter of Mr. Earle. [??????] for the very objectionable statement is too vague to be entitled to notice.

This case is one of the wrongs of journalism growing out of inconsiderateness, without improper motive, which it must be confessed, occur too often, and which, in the nature of things, it is impossible fully to repair. We very much regret that this paper has been the medium of it, and make this explanation in justice to Mr. Wm. E. Earle and ourselves.

For now, that’s all I have. The family refuted the statement regarding the heredity of insanity. And the possibility that a woman was somehow associated with the act has been introduced. I’ll update here if I get any more, and if you find anything, please, be like Brad and leave a comment.





Watermelony Death

10 07 2020

Oh, the things we find.

Now that I’ve fallen into the black hole of Newspapers.com, I find that I can’t just focus on Bull Run stuff. I recall reading once that Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, reads ALL of the papers when she’s researching her subject – that is, she reads the whole paper. This in fact is how she came across the story of Unbroken, while she was researching Seabiscuit. Anyway, today I was cruising through the August 1, 1861 issue of the Richmond Dispatch. On page two I came across this tidbit, a reminder that there are stories everywhere.

Lamentable Affair – We learn that Capt. Charles H. Axson, of South Carolina, was killed last Tuesday evening, near Wilson, North Carolina, on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, by Arthur B. Davis, of the Second Georgia Regiment. The main particulars of the affair, as we learn from eyewitnesses, are as follows:

Capt. Axson, en route for Richmond, was bringing with him some watermelons and fine tropical fruit, as a present to distinguished friends in Richmond. Davis, while intoxicated, cut open several of the melons and crushed others. He afterwards approached the Captain and offered as an apology the remark that he was drunk, to which the Captain replied that being drunk was no excuse for stealing. During the day Davis again approached the Captain, and declared that he was sorry for what he had done while intoxicated, and was willing to make any apology for it. The Captain replied that he was satisfied, shook his hand and joined him in a drink. – They appeared afterwards to be friendly for some hours. In the afternoon, Davis being again under the influence of liquor, was making a rather careless exhibition of side-arms, when the Captain, in a good humor, and apparently remonstrating, held him for a moment. Being released, Davis withdrew for a moment to another car; but soon returned, with pistol in hand, demanding to know who was the man who had imposed on him. Captain A, supposing at once that he was the person alluded to, stepped forward, and was shot in the breast by Davis when very near him. Capt. A. died instantly. Davis was arrested.

Capt. Axson was the commander of Company “M,” First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, which returned home a few weeks since. He was returning with his company again to enter the service. He was a true Southern man and a gallant officer. His company were warmly devoted to him, and are much afflicted by his untimely death.

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The next day, in the same paper, on the same page (semi-colons abound!):

The Late Homicide Followed by an Attempt at Murder! – Yesterday we learned that young Davis, who shot Capt. Axson on the Wilmington cars on Tuesday evening, was taken by a mob from a car on the south side of the river, opposite the city, and after being conveyed some half mile or so, was shot and stabbed several times. Though not killed outright, it is feared that his wounds are mortal. Some account of this shocking affair will be found in our local column, and it is also referred to in a letter, which we publish below.

We published yesterday an account of the killing of Capt Axson, which was furnished by a member of his company. We regret that in it the paper was led into the statement of circumstances that certainly reflect upon Mr. Davis, and are disputed. We are satisfied that he was a gentleman most respectably connected, and held in warm esteem amongst his fellow citizens. We give place very readily to the following communication in his vindication;

Richmond, Va., August 1st, 1861.

Editors Dispatch: Sir – In your issue of this morning, under the heading of “Lamentable Affairs,” I find an account of the shooting of Captain Axson, 1st South Carolina Volunteers, by Mr. Davis, of 2d Georgia Volunteers. So far as the fact of Captain Axson having been shot by Mr. Davis you are correct, and in so far only. From disinterested eye-witnesses, (witnesses who do not belong to either State, South Carolina or Georgia,) I learn that both parties were inebriated; that Mr. Davis did cut one, or perhaps more, melons of Captain Axson’s; when taxed for so doing Mr. Davis apologized, stating that he had supposed they were for sale, (as fruit was thus exposed all along the line,) and that he expected to pay for them on the appearance of the owner; that he was sorry for the mistake; that the excuse satisfied Captain A., when both drank together, more than once. A dispute afterwards arose, during which Captain Axson held Mr. Davis to the floor, choking him. On being released, Mr. Davis left the car, and procuring his side-arms returned to the car and to his seat, remarking that he would not suffer himself to be thus imposed on again; that on Captain Axson’s making a rush on him, Mr. Davis shot him. Your informant neglected to state to you other facts: that Major Butt, of the Second Georgia Regiment immediately arrested Mr. D, disarmed him and conveyed him to this city; that he left him in one of the cars, under a corporal’s guard, and went to hunt up the proper authorities, to whom he intended to surrender him; that during his absence the guard was set upon by a posse of armed men, (supposed to belong to Capt. Axson’s company;) that being no longer able to hold him the guard surrendered him, on the possee or mob promising to only convey him to the proper authorities; that the armed mob took Mr. Davis a half mile out of town, and there brutally murdered him; shooting him, and on his falling, one of the party ran up and stabbed him. Major Butt having taken his arms from him, no such cowardly assassination would have been attempted; for men who could this act, would have lacked the courage to have attacked him openly, when armed. Mr. Davis is well known in Georgia; his previous character has been unimpeachable. His conduct at home and abroad has been that of the true gentleman. The blood of Georgia’s Governors flow not in other veins, and the 2d Georgia Regiment had hoped that the press of Richmond would have waited until a judicial investigation had thrown full light on the affair. I do not know why the disposition of the fruit being bought by Capt. A. was mentioned. The piece says it was or “distinguished friends of Richmond.” If, by this mention, it was intended to leave the impression of social inequality on the part of Mr. D, it should have been left out; for Mr. D., socially, was any one’s equal. He occupied in his native State a high social position and deservedly. He was connected with (and never disgraced his connection,) the most honorable families in Georgia, begin a grandson of ex-Gov. Schley. So much for “distinguished friends” and its inference.

Respectfully,
W. A. T.

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There’s more, in other papers (for example, here), but I can’t delve too deeply into it. But YOU can! Let me know what you turn up in the comments section.

Capt. Charles H. Axson at FindAGrave

I couldn’t find anything definitive on Arthur B. Davis, but from what I can gather his wounds were not fatal.