Lt. William Willis Blackford, AAG, 1st Virginia Cavalry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Aug. 6th, 1861
Headquarters Fairfax C.H.

Dear Uncle John,

I have been intending to write to you for several days but have been kept very busy by my new duties as Adjutant of our Regiment. We have been here now since the second day after the battle of Manassas and from present appearances we will be here for some time longer. We had a hard time of it for two days before and two days after the battle. We made a march of about 80 miles during Friday and Saturday, from near Winchester to the battlefield, starting about the middle of the day and reaching Piedmont at eleven o’clock that night. We bivouacked in an orchard, gave our horses ½ doz. ears of corn, and ourselves nothing to eat; started at three the next morning in a hard rain, wet, cold & hungry and halted to [find] & breakfast at nine. Reached the battlefield at sundown, and had a good nights rest in the broom sedge under clumps of pine branches. The morning of the 21st we were up bright and early and scouted in advance of the lines for one hour or two, ran into an infantry scouting party of the enemy who ran away from us, and we from them – hearing the firing on our left becoming hot we fell back to the rear, where we listened with purest interest to the engagement as it thickened towards nine o’clock. Here we remained until about the middle of the day when an aid came at full gallop towards us with orders for ½ of the regiment to go to the right & ½ to the left. Our Col. (J. E. B. Stuart) went to the left with ½ of the men & I with him. This proved to be the main point of attack – not long after taking our position in rear of this hottest part of the fighting we were ordered to the front to charge the N.Y. Fire Zouaves who were about taking one of our batteries. We dashed through a skirt of woods and came upon their flanks as they were marching in column by fours, and before they could form and present bayonets we were into them like lightning. We were in column by fours in passing through the woods and they were about 100 yds. beyond as soon as the head of our column emerged from the woods the Colonel brought the rear around front into line so we went through like a wedge shooting them armed with our pistols. Those in front of us we swept off in a few seconds. Hot times on right & left poured a terrific fire upon our flanks, we lost in about one minute 9 men killed, 24 wounded & 20 horses killed. The horses were so thick on the ground, I could hardly keep my horse from falling over their bodies. It was very dangerous to attempt to leap over them as they were floundering like chickens when their heads are cut off, and it was very hard to avoid them. As we wheeled to return, a battery opened on us with grape and killed some of the horses some distance in the woods. [In writing I and my horse wasn’t hurt at all.] I was detached by the Col. in the afternoon, where we were in the pursuit with 10 men & captured 80 men and a four horse wagon & team loaded with ammunition, every man of them, with the exception of perhaps a dozen I found around a house full of wounded, had his musket in his hand and many of them side arms. I got ten pistols and any quantity of Bowie knives from them two of the pistols, large sized Navy, I have now & will keep and have my name engraved on when I get home, with the date & leave them to Wyndham in my will. There is a P.O. here now. Please write to me. Love to all cousin Meats Family.

Your aff. Nephew,

Wm. W. Blackford

P.S. Excuse my making you pay postage but change can’t be had here. (See over)

Direct to Lt. W. W. Blackford

Care of Col. J. E. B. Stuart

1st Regt Va Cavalry

Fairfax CH.

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana

Specific letter

Contributed by John Hennessy

Capt. Simon G. Griffin, Co. B, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, on Capt. Ephraim Weston, Co. G, At the Battle

31 10 2015

Roanoke Island, N. C,
May 22, 1862

John C. Weston, Esq.:

Dear Sir,

Your letter, making inquiries in regard to your brother at the battle of Bull Run, was duly received through our friend, the Hon. Alvin Beard, and it will be a pleasure to me if I can afford any comfort or gratification to the family of him whom I valued so highly as a friend and associate. Captain Weston had not been well for many days, but when the order came to march he no longer complained of being sick, but was at his post, looking after his men and supplying their wants for the march and the fight. Soldiers are very much like children, needing some one constantly to look after them and attend to their personal wants, and a captain, if he is a good one, will supply the place of a father to them. Captain Weston was in this respect one of the best captains, and provided well for all the wants of his men as far as he was able. I saw him frequently on the march from Washington to Centreville, and to inquiries respecting his health he invariably returned a cheering answer, although he was so feeble as to be compelled to ride a part of the time in order to keep along with his company. We bivouacked each night, sleeping with no shelter but our blankets and perhaps a few boughs hastily thrown up by the soldiers and it must have been hard for him, suffering as he was at the time from diarrhoea.

One of the hardest marches I have ever seen, excepting, of course, the retreat on the same day, was that from Centreville to Bull Run field on the morning of the 21st of July, not so much on account of its length, for even our division, commanded by Hunter, did not probably march more than fifteen miles, as from its tediousness, caused by the inexperience of both officers and men in marching in a long column of troops, and also from the excessive heat and consequent thirst and fatigue. We started at 2 a.m., and went into the fight at 10:30 on the double-quick. During all this long march Captain Weston must have been on his feet, as none but mounted officers had any opportunity to ride, and when we debouched on the field all were nearly exhausted.

There was but one company (Co. I) between Captain Weston’s and mine, and I recollect seeing more of him than of any other captain in the line, though each of us had plenty to do to attend to our own companies. At one time, after we had countermarched from the right to the left of the Rhode Island battery, when we were receiving the hottest fire we saw that day, when the bullets were flying like hailstones and thinning our ranks at a terrible rate without our being able to return the fire on account of friends in front, and no enemy within sight of us, we were ordered to lie down to avoid the shot. Captain Weston probably did not hear the order, and I remember seeing him standing, erect and alone, in front of his men, waving his sword and urging his soldiers to ‘Stand up like men, and not lie down like cowards.’

It was here that Colonel Marston was wounded and nearly all our loss for the day sustained before the order came to lie down, and it was a wonder that the Captain, exposed as he was, escaped unhurt. Presently the fire slackened, and we all moved forward. At another time, when we had advanced nearly half a mile to the front and to the right, we were lying down again, unable to return the fire on account of uneven ground.

My company being armed with Sharp’s rifles, different from the rest, was on the left of the line and was a sort of independent corps, and seeing an advantageous position just in front of us at the top of the hill, where I could cover my men behind a fence and reach the enemy with our superior rifles, I moved my men forward at double-quick and seized the fence, pouring in a rapid and destructive fire.

A part of Co. I went with us, and Captain Weston, seeing the movement and supposing we had been sent forward, went to the field officers and begged of them to allow his company to go with us. But they had received no orders to advance, and as other regiments were retreating, they very properly refused and gave the order to retire, and reformed the line half a mile or more to the rear. Here seven captains of us met, with quite a respectable battalion, and exchanged expressions of chagrin and regret that we had not held the foe at that advanced position. Captain Weston rushed about to find some officer of sufficient courage and authority to lead us forward again, or at least to make a stand where we then were. But none were to be found. The day was lost. The retreat — the rout — had commenced.

Commanders who had that day lost the opportunity to make themselves heroes, with a few noble exceptions, were already far on the road to Washington. Our regiment, although on the extreme right of the line, and consequently brought in the rear of the retreating mass, came off the field in tolerably good order, but there were so many fugitives constantly mixing in our ranks, and the men were so dreadfully fatigued, it was im possible to keep them together, and we were soon irretrievably scattered. About two miles, however, from the field there was an attempt made to halt and make a stand. The Captain was with me there, and we made an effort to rally our men — he exhausting all his eloquence and using every endeavor to induce them to halt. But it was of no use. The stream of fugitives from all regiments poured past us like the waters of a reservoir broke loose, and we gave up in despair. We retreated together through the woods, keeping as many of our men with us as possible, — he calling out at intervals with stentorian voice, ‘Second New Hampshire,’ and I constantly answering in the same terms from a short distance away. After two or three hours, however, we became separated, and I saw very little more of him until we met near the close of that terrible march at the Long Bridge.

We marched into the city and into camp together with a part of our men, the only two captains who remained to the last with their men and returned to camp with their regiment.

This is all I remember of our noble and lamented brother more than you already know. I can bear testimony with all others who knew him well, that as a soldier he was brave, honorable, and patriotic in the highest degree, and as a citizen and a man it is impossible to speak of him in terms too exalted.

With great respect I have the honor to be,

Yours, etc.

S. G. Griffin

Source: The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764 – 1889, by William Willis Hayward

Contributed by David Morin, Exeter, NH

Notes on Ephraim Weston and Simon G. Griffin

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
They’re marching through Georgia,
we’re marching through Georgia,
marching through 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):


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:

9160373938_81e852014d_o (2)

Click for larger image

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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