Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window”

17 04 2018

9781611213881This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.

I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.

Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:

Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].

Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.

I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]

The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 6

7 04 2018

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 6: Freezing For a Fight (A) : Beauregard’s plans.

Pp. 138-142 – Beauregard’s wackiness raises its head as on June 12 he encourages Johnston to abandon the Valley, march east through the Blue Ridge passes, block them behind him, link up with Bory “in advance of Bull Run,” and together retake Alexandria and Arlington. The author characterized the Creole’s plans, rightly, as “sweeping in scope, careless of details, and unsound in some of its conclusions,” and that a glaring weakness was “its blithe reliance on the support that the inadequate and inefficient Confederate logistical system was incapable of giving him.” The author also points out that the rejection of this plan by President Davis tested the pair’s “already fragile relationship.” This rejection “shocked” Bory into a “defensive mindset.”

P. 144 –  On July 4, while scouting the no-man’s land between the Confederate and Union positions in NoVa, two members of the Black Horse Cavalry were killed by friendly fire.

P. 145 – Bory complained to anyone and everyone of the problems he was facing. He was in constant fear of attack, and called continuously for reinforcements. While most expectant of an attack on the road from Centreville to Manassas at Mitchell’s Ford, he also considered the likelihood of a flanking maneuver on his left, in the Stone Bridge area. The author points out the incongruity of Bory’s fear and the fact that he assigned only a small contingent at Stone Bridge, under “a known inebriate,” Shanks Evans.

P. 146-147 – Giving counsel to his fears, Bory informed Richmond “I shall act with extreme caution.” He laid out his “defensive strategy” in S.O. 100 on July 8. This firmed up the positions of the three brigades south of Bull Run, and also instructed those three brigades north of the Run, in the event of an attack, to fall back to various points along it before being overwhelmed – that is, don’t put up a fight. But on July 10, Bory received intelligence of McDowell’s impending advance via spy Bettie Duval that changed his perspective, and on July 13 he again pitched his unification scheme to both Richmond and Joe Johnston. This new scheme became quite grandiose. Johnston never replied, and Richmond again rejected Bory.

I don’t really have a problem with any of this. But then, Bory’s plans aren’t really my bag and I’ve got no reason to part with traditional interpretations. Next up, though, are the Federal commander’s plans. Plural. Let’s always keep that in mind.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 7





Preview – Sauers (Ed.), “The National Tribune Civil War Index”

30 03 2018

NTCWIndex1_LRG

Folks have been waiting a long time for something like this, though I wasn’t sure if we’d see it in expensive print format or free and easy-to-use website. The former has won out with Savas Beatie’s publication of Richard Sauers’s The National Tribune Civil War Index: A Guide to the Weekly Newspaper Dedicated to Civil War Veterans, 1877-1943. The set is three volumes, the first two a chronological listing of articles and the third, really the meat and potatoes as far as I’m concerned, a Subject, Author, and Unit Index. The subtitle gives the preview away, though I’d point out that the National Tribune was an outlet for Union Civil War veterans – the counterpart, if you will, of the Confederate Veteran, and the precursor to the long-running military publication Stars and Stripes.

This is a wonderful companion to digitized collections of National Tribune, such as this one. (There are other places to find it, and these are noted in Volume 1.)

So, let’s give it a try. Starting with Volume 3, I look up, in the Subject Index, First Bull Run. OK, nothing there. I’m used to this. So, let’s go to Bull Run – nothing. Well, let’s check Manassas then, why don’t we. Ahh, there it is. Manassas, VA. (Bull Run), first battle, July 21, 1861. We have listings by subject under that, including individuals like Ayres, Romeyn B., an article which appeared in the July 28, 1892 issue; general accounts, in May 1881 and August 20 of the same year, and again on 10/18/83 and 3/31 & 9/29/87, and 4/30/96; and numerous entries by Divisions, 1 through 5.

Now let’s see how it works, and check out that Ayres article from 7/28/92 at the link I provided above. As you can see here, there are 12 pages to that issue. I’m lazy and would like to save reading the whole paper to find my Ayers reference, so let’s use Volume 1 of the Index (1877 – 1903) and see if we can’t narrow that down. There I see an article by C. D. Brigham, General R. B. Ayres, listed as appearing on page 3, columns 4-5. Back to the website noted, I find the article, subtitled How He Covered the Retreat From the First Bull Run. Check it out for yourself right here.

If this kind of stuff floats your boat – that is, if you’re a researcher – get yourself a copy.





Preview – Loperfido (Ed.), “Death, Disease, and Life at War”

27 03 2018

Layout 1I previewed Christopher Loperfido’s A Surgeon’s Tale here back in 2011. So I’ll let that serve as part of this preview of a new Savas Beatie edition of the book, retitled (with a much appreciated Oxford comma) Death Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865. There have been changes made to this edition, and Christopher laid them out for me. I thought about rewriting this myself, but hey, seems clear enough:

  • The military organization has been cleaned up a bit to give readers a better understanding of military lingo that James might reference if they were not already aware.
  • The introduction includes all new photos and is more detailed regarding the status of the union army medical department at the beginning of the war, what an assistant surgeon would have done during the war, more background information about James and his family, and sets the stage at Harper’s Ferry for the beginning of James’s letters after the 111th was captured and paroled.
  • Footnotes have been tweaked, more information and some have been added and others subtracted.
  • A postscript section has been added about a bible James picked up during the war and returned in 1885.
  • 5 appendices were added to give an introduction to Jonathan Letterman, Sanitary Commission, Ambulance Corps, Amputations, and Civil War dressings.
  • More context about what was going on during the war in each year has been added and cleaned up as well.




Preview: Hardy, “General Lee’s Immortals”

6 03 2018

GenLeeImmortals_LRG

New from Savas Beatie is a unit history by author and blogger Michael Hardy, General Lee’s Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865. Here’s a brief summary and a description of the contents.

Successively commanded by Lawrence O’Bryan Branch (until his death at the Battle of Antietam) and James H. Lane, the brigade and its North Carolina regiments served with the Army of Northern Virginia for the length of its existence.

The history is laid out in chronological order, starting with a biography of Branch and the formation of the brigade, then from the Battle of Hanover’s Court House through Appomattox, with stops along the way for chapters on Medical Care, Daily Camp Life, the Plight of the Prisoner, and Crime and Punishment. A closing chapter and epilogue look at the brigade in memory and its Place in History.

You get:

  • 373 pages of text in 18 chapters and the epilogue.
  • A 14 page bibliography with substantial manuscript and newspaper sources.
  • A somewhat brief 7 page index.
  • 10 Hal Jesperson maps
  • Dozens of images, both portraiture and modern, as well as engravings.
  • Savas Beatie staple bottom of page footnotes.




Preview: Tagg, “The Generals of Shiloh”

7 02 2018

GeneralsShiloh_LRGAuthor Larry Tagg’s 1998 The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle, is by now a pretty standard book in the libraries of countless Gettysburg geeks. Brief sketches of general officers and their involvement, arranged in order of battle format, with a photo and suggested readings after each bio. (I’ve long been working on a something similar, however, with so few actual “generals” involved at First Bull Run, I have it down to regimental and battery command level.) It’s a handy and useful guide.

Now from Savas Beatie we have a new, similar work from Mr. Tagg (whom I interviewed here about his The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln), The Generals of Shiloh: Character in Leadership, April 6-7, 1862. Same order of battle format. In a preview, I can’t really get into the thoroughness of these sketches but they are, keep in mind, sketches. So let’s focus on what you get.

  • 236 pages of narrative
  • A “Critical Bibliography,” that is, a bibliography of sorts, in narrative form.
  • No notes, end or foot. Also, no suggested readings at the end of each entry, as in the Gettysburg book.
  • No Index

Now, this last bit, the index, is perplexing. (Yes, I know the notes are perplexing too, however at least some explanation can be given by way of the bibliographic essay.) Despite arguments that “you can find whoever you want by the order of battle” you can’t find whatever you want without an index. This was a huge gripe about Generals of Gettysburg. In one discussion group, years ago, it was discussed so often that I finally contacted Mr. Tagg for an index, which he graciously sent, and which I forwarded to the discussion group for inclusion on their website. When Generals of Gettysburg was reprinted by a different publisher later, I believe an index was included. So, I’m not quite sure why the exclusion here. But, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

As a guide to the commanders of both armies at the Battle of Shiloh, The Generals of Shiloh is a nice addition to your Shiloh library. Albeit, maybe a little frustrating to use.





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