Nine Years Blogging

6 11 2015

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WordPress sent me a notification informing me that the day before yesterday marked the end of the ninth year of Bull Runnings. A lot has changed over that stretch, but I think the main (and yes, not-too-sexy) focus of recording primary source material or resources on the First Battle of Bull Run has been constant. So I don’t post as often – this is a hobby, after all. There’s no angling for bigger and better things. The resources section keeps growing, and there’s no end in sight (for instance, I still haven’t posted the Miles COW stuff). Social media play a much bigger role in operations (the site now has over 850 followers on both Twitter and Facebook, though many follow on both, I suspect). Other than primary sources, author interviews and book previews are pretty strong, if not quite regular, features that bring folks back. And of course the fun stuff – whoda thunk a picture of Larry David and his daughter would attract so much traffic?

Visitation is a shadow of 2011-2013 numbers. My son’s sports blog (Smeltzer on Sports) regularly out-draws me. But that’s OK. No plans to go anywhere – just keep plugging away. And yes, I still intend to do the Longacre review. Thanks to all of you who visit, regardless of frequency. As always, contributions from you are encouraged and welcomed.

Keep your eyes peeled for the new edition of John Hennessy’s An End to Innocence, due out in December. I bet it will be all the rage in year ten, First Bull Run-wise.





Preview: Two New Emerging Civil War Titles

5 11 2015

Two new titles in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series have been published recently. By now your familiar with the formats, so I won’t go into that too much.

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A Want of Vigilance is a study and guide to The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9-19, 1863. Authors Rob Orrison and Bill Backus are working public historians in the area. The narrative is 113 pages, plus you get six appendices, focusing on R. E. Lee and A. P. Hill, the reconnaissance of the 1st ME Cavalry, Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford, an earlier clash at Bristoe Station, and a chronology of events. A full order of battle, Hal Jesperson maps, suggested readings, and period & modern photos round things out.

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The Aftermath of Battle, by Meg Groeling, “picks up the story as the battle ends,” and looks at how the dead were treated through vignettes. One of interest to readers of this blog is the famous case of Major Sullivan Ballou, but you’ll also find Elmer Ellsworth and sixteen others of varying degrees of specificity and generality. Another five appendices by authors including Chris Kolakowski, Edward Alexander, and Matt Atkinson. This is not simply a look at disposal and treatment of bodies – it also includes chapters on how the horrors of the battlefield were brought to the public by Matthew Brady, Andersonville prison camp, and the layout of Chattanooga cemetery as directed by George Thomas.





Sometimes I Wonder…

28 10 2015

…why I even bother.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. I know that not every single person researching the First Battle of Bull Run (or even, if you prefer, the First Battle of Manassas) is going to use this site. I know a lot of people do, but I’m certain there are some who do not. And even those who do may only use a part of it. But I also know that, while there are some major issues which I feel almost everyone who has written about the battle have misapprehended, there is at least one minor misconception I thought had been put to rest: the uniforms of the 11th New York, and specifically those worn on July 21, 1861.

I’m not going to rehash that here. You can find other stuff I’ve written on the topic by searching the tag 11th New York in the cloud at the bottom of the margin at right, but this post sums things up nicely, I think.

What brings me to remind you of this is a book I’m currently reading and recently previewed, Custer’s Trials, by T. J. Stiles. So far it’s been what I expected – very nice writing and some interesting takes in the way of storytelling based on facts already in evidence. Some instances of a lack of familiarity with military structure during the Civil War, both theoretical and practical. But one inconsequential passage set me off, and perhaps is more illustrative of the stuff that gets in the way of folks like us, who have perhaps read too much, enjoying non-fiction story telling. Here it goes:

The cavalry did not stand by the artillery. Instead, the 11th and 14th New York infantry regiments hustled up the hill – the 11th wearing the baggy red pants of Zouaves, patterned after Algerian troops serving in the French army and something of a craze in America in 1861.

Ugh. No footnote, of course.

I have kept and will continue to keep in mind that this is a book about George Armstrong Custer. A character study. It will get some things wrong, as the author is not a specialist. He will rely on some he considers to be specialists (one author of very popular books on the Peninsula Campaign and of the Union Army commander, for instance). And I may not be happy with the results as far as that goes. But I will be guided by the question of how an error affects the story being told about Custer, as opposed to falling into the “if he got that wrong, what else does he get wrong” trap. That’s just plain lazy.





And Now, a Song about R. E. M. and W. T. Sherman…

26 10 2015

This weekend, friend Mike DelNegro of Ashburn, VA, hipped me to an old song by the band Pavement, which ties together the band R. E. M. (see here for more on them and the Civil War) and First Bull Run participant William T. Sherman. Enjoy!

Some bands I like to name check,
And one of them is REM,
Classic songs with a long history
Southern boys just like you and me.
are – E – M
Flashback to 1983,
Chronic Town was their first EP
Later on came Reckoning
Finster’s art, and titles to match:
South Central Rain, Don’t Go Back To Rockville,
Harbourcoat, Pretty Persuasion,
You were born to be a camera,
Time After Time was my least favourite song,
Time After Time was my least favourite song.
The singer, he had long hair
And the drummer he knew restraint.
And the bass man he had all the right moves
And the guitar player was no saint.
So lets go way back to the ancient times
When there were no 50 states,

And on a hill there stands Sherman
Sherman and his mates.
And they’re marching through Georgia,
we’re marching through Georgia,
we’re marching through Georgia
G-G-G-G-Georgia
They’re marching through Georgia,
we’re marching through Georgia,
marching through Georgia
G-G-G-G-Georgia
and there stands REM

(Aye Sir, Aye Sir, Aye Sir they’re coming, Aye Sir, move those wagons, Aye
Sir, Artillery’s in place Sir, Aye Sir, Aye Sir, hide it, hide it, Aye
Sir, run, run.)





Preview – Stiles, “Custer’s Trials”

22 10 2015

41jMb9LuJsL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The nice people at Knopf (that’s k-nop-f) sent me a copy of Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T. J. Stiles. Mr. Stiles is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book on Cornelius Vanderbilt, The First Tycoon, and also authored a biography of Jesse James. So, like Arthur Digby Sellers (author of the bulk of the TV series Branded), he’s not exactly a lightweight.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If you’re a regular reader of this or other Civil War blogs, you’re probably beyond a comprehensive biography by a “non-specialist,” particularly yet another biography of one of the most biographied Americans ever. And you’re right to be leery.

I wager there are a few members of the Little Big Horn Associates who stop by here every now and again (after all, Autie was here at First Bull Run), and I don’t think most of them or you will find much to shock or surprise. It’s 460 pages of text, with 80 pages of notes and a surprisingly brief 8 page bibliography (but a good four pages of that is archives and newspapers.) But at this point, is some new discovery the real reason you’d pick up a Custer bio these days? Doubtful. Folks who have read thousands of pages just on the condition of Custer’s body, or certain parts of his body, when found aren’t going to be surprised by much in the way of documentary discovery.

Stiles states in his preface that his intent with Custer’s Trials is “to change the camera angle – to examine Custer’s life as it was lived, in order to better grasp…his larger meaning….escape the overshadowing preoccupation with his death.” Because his life “had a significance independent of his demise.” “I want to explain why his celebrity, and notoriety, spanned both the Civil War and his years on the frontier, resting on neither exclusively but incorporating both.”

So let me explain why I’ll read this one, despite the fact I’ve read others, and some studies of Little Big Horn, and even have a pretty focused book sitting right here in my maybe-I’ll-read stack, Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle. I’m going to read this because it promises something so very rare in Civil War literature: good story telling. Dude won a Pulitzer! What I’ve skimmed is elegant, that is, not painful to read, and it smacks neither of hagiography nor hatchetography (although that could change, I suppose.) I encourage all CW lit consumers to take breaks every now and again for books that are not painful, in fact, enjoyable to read. Think of it as a reward. You’ve earned it.





Enthusiasm for First Bull Run is, well, UNCURBABLE

19 10 2015

OK, so Larry David’s daughter, Cazzie, may see things differently. But dad seems pretty fired up! Find the hint to the photo’s location at the left background of the photo below (found here):

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I have no idea when this was taken, but maybe some of our friends at the Park can help out?





Background, Pvt. Thomas Green, Co. B, 11th Massachusetts Volunteers

17 10 2015

Friend Damian Shiels, who runs the site Irish in the American Civil War, sent along this great letter from a member of the 11th Massachusetts, Thomas Green, of Co. B. In addition to the transcription, Damian provided the information below:

For your reference, the file is WC98464, and is from the Dependent Mother’s Pension File of Thomas Greene, 11th Massachusetts, Company B.

Thomas survived his wound, but was posted missing and eventually reported dead at Second Bull Run following the charge of the regiment on that battlefield on 29th August 1862. In terms of family background, Thomas is listed as an 18 year-old laborer in the Mass soldiers and sailors of the Civil War (Vol 1, 749, also attached). He worked in Chandler’s Dry Goods Store in Boston for 2-3 years before the war. He lived with his family in two rooms in a rented tenement building, which cost $1.25 a week. I am virtually 100% positive I have traced them on the 1860 Census, in Boston’s 7th Ward. The affidavits show they lived in rooms rented from the Thompsons, and the census (attached) shows the Thompsons recorded on the same page. They are the only family who match in any case. What is interesting is that Thomas is recorded as 14 when this was enumerated in July 1860, meaning he couldn’t have been more than 15 at Bull Run.

His mother Ann claimed the pension – she lived at 106 Fourth Street in South Boston. She had married Daniel Green in ‘Murrough’, Ireland (there are a few of these, so not sure which one it is) on 10th December 1843. They were in Boston by at least 1850 and Daniel deserted his family in the late 1850s, around 1857. He is described as a ‘miserable shiftless fellow’ in the affidavits.

Reader Will Hickox finds that the Library of Congress has a photo of Pvt. Green here:

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Thomas Green in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors

Boston Herald, July 28, 1861 (to which Thomas Green refers in his letter)

1860 Census








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