“G”, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

5 06 2015

Services and Suffering of the 33d Virginia Regiment.

To the Editors of the Richmond Enquirer.

Camp near Manassa Junction,

July 31, 1861.

Gentlemen: – As no satisfactory and just account has been given in the various published statements of the gallant conduct of the 33d Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, commanded by Co. A. C. Cummings, General Jackson’s Brigade, in the memorable battle of Sunday the 21st instant, it is an act of simple justice towards the brave fellows to award to them all the honor they deserve. The companies, composing the 33d, in the engagement are: the Potomac Guards, Capt. Grace, Hampshire County; Independent Grays, Capt. Spangler, Hardy; Tenth Legion Minute Men, Capt. Gatewood, Shenandoah; Allen’s Infantry, Capt. Allen, do.; Emerald Guards, Capt. Sibert, do.; Shenandoah Sharp Shooters, Lieut. Buck commanding in the absence of Capt. Walton, who was left sick in Winchester; Shenandoah Riflemen, Captain Crabill; Page Greys, Captain Rippetoe.

At six o’clock in the morning the enemy’s batteries began to open, and in a short time the thunder of artillery was heard from the extreme eastern point of the line of battle on Bull Run to the farthest point of the column westward.

Colonel Cummings’ Regiment was assigned its position in the line of battle to the left, and in a south-westerly direction from the battery commanded by the brave and heroic Colonel Pendleton. This battery occupied an elevated position, commanding the enemy’s batteries to the right and left, and in front. – Gen. Jackson was present at the battery for some length of time, until he was wounded in the left hand, when he retired from the battery. His bearing was that of a daring, brave, undaunted veteran, alike insensible to fear or danger. Col. Cummings’ Regiment was drawn up immediately fronting the several pieces of rifled cannon, all of which poured upon us an incessant fire, under cover of which the enemy’s lines advanced upon us steadily. For more than one hour our brave fellows had to prostrate themselves flat upon the ground to prevent being cut to pieces by the shower of cannon balls, shell and canister that fell around us thick as hail. When the enemy’s line had taken a position about hone hundred yards in front of us, Col. C gave the command to fire so soon as the advancing column should be near enough to draw their fire, and then charge them with the bayonet. The command was obeyed, but the enemy fled precipitately before them, took refuge behind a thatched fence about sixty yards distant, and delivered a most destructive fire upon us from their concealment. From this fire the Tenth Legion Minute Men suffered most severely, as it was immediately in their front, and was chiefly directed at them.

It is worthy of remark, at this point, that our comparatively undisciplined little regiment was contending against some of the best disciplined and most experienced men in Lincoln’s army, to wit: the celebrated Fire Zouaves of New York, (the same that were so conspicuous in the capture of Alexandria, as the “Pet Lambs,”) the regulars of the army, and Michigan volunteers.

After the third fire upon the enemy’s column, a most gallant charge was made upon the battery in front of us, in which all the companies from Shenandoah and the companies from Hardy, Hampshire and Page participated. It was a hazardous undertaking, but the men seemed to be determined to take it, regardless of consequences, as it was bearing upon them and threatened their immediate repulse. To accord to any one man, or any particular company, the honor of capturing that battery is simply absurd, not to say grossly unjust to the brave men who participated in its capture. Page Grays, Allen Infantry, Tenth Legion Minute Men, Shenandoah Riflemen and Sharp Shooters, Potomac Guards, Independent Greys, and the rest, were around and in front of the battery, in a moment’s time after the charge, and by a well directed fire, kept the column of the enemy at bat for more than half an hour, until, overpowered by a large force, held in reserve, they were compelled to retreat to the ground occupied when the charge was first made. In the meantime, the enemy had succeeded in turning the extreme left of our line, and unperceived had filed through the pine thicket to our rear, and were pouring a deadly fire upon us. This movement threw our regiment into utter confusion, and a “free fight” ensued, in which every man fought on his own hook, loading and firing at will. We were too hard for the Zouaves at this “hunting” game, as most of our men were practiced hunters; and scores of the “red shirts” suffered the penalty of their imprudence. The bushes and the battle-field in front were literally strewn with the dead and the dying. This was the best evidence that could be given of the coolness and the unerring aim with which our men delivered their charges. Reinforcements having fortunately arrived, we retreated from the field. This was a moment of great peril to us, and the result seemed to be doubtful. The struggle was desperate on both sides; the enemy making a powerful effort to flank us on the left. A sufficient force of our cavalry were dispatched to our relief; a column of the forces just arrived was formed, and in a short time the enemy were compelled to retreat in the utmost disorder, and a shout went up from our brave fellows that echoed and re-echoed from hill to hill and from valley to valley. The roar of cannon, and the rattle of musketry, and clashing of steel ceased. Thus ended the tremendous struggle of the 21st instant, at Bull Run.

It is but just to the officers, field and company, to say that they did their duty, as well as they understood it, during the action. Col. Cummings conducted himself with the utmost coolness and self-possession. As already mentioned, Lieut. Buck had charge of Captain Walton’s company, Lieut. Burwell was assigned to assist Capt. Gatewood; Lieut. Neff, in the absence of Capt. Crabill, who was unwell, took charge of the Brooke company; and Lieut. Hyde also rendered valuable assistance to the company during the engagement. The Captains were all present except those above named as being sick.

So far as we have been able to ascertain, the following is a correct list of the killed in the 33d Regiment, viz:

Capt. Gatewood’s Company. – Killed – Sergeant J. P. Hockman; privates Aaron Shipe, Wm. H. Bowers, M. L. McIntarff, Thos. J. Shuff, Isaac Wymer, Jacob McDaniel.

Wounded. – Wm. Burner, mortally; Joseph Layman, mortally; Lieut. E. T. Miller, left leg broken, above the ankle, by a Minie ball; Sergeants S. H. Bowman and R. F. Myers; Privates Daniel Miller, of Georgia, John Funk, Edward Rodeffer, Joseph Boley, Wm. E. Hilton, Noah Weaver, Philip Weaver, Jas. Lineweaver, Jas. M. Hottel, and George Copp.

This company went into the engagement with 48 men, including commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

Capt. Rippetoe’s Company. – Killed – Sergeant R. Newman; Privates S. C. Printz, D. C. Jobe, Philip B. Lucas, John W. Baily, Joseph Johnson, Martin V. B. Koontz.

Wounded. – Sergeants W. F. Hite and A. B. Shank; Privates Peter Towers, Daniel Smith, Jacob Shank, ,J. W. Vaughn, Lewis Chrisman, Wm. Frazier, J. Middleton; Corporals, G. B. Long, Jas. Comer, Paul Miller, J. W. McKay. There were 90 men in the engagement.

Capt. Allen’s Company. – Killed – Privates Alexander Williams, Wem. Walker, James Smoot, Nason Coffman.

Wounded. – Lieut T. K. Moore, Sergeant Proctor; Privates Joseph Buth, Jno. F. Grim, R. W. Grim, D. G. Glen, J. W. Hawkins, (mortally,) D. B. Hoffman, Jno. Crider, David Overhultz, Geo Patton, J. W. Stoneburner, Wm. Shaver, G. O. Welopes, Samuel Wetzell. There were 65 men in the battle.

Capt. Walton’s Company. – Killed – Serg’t. J. C. McKelvy; Privates David Barton, W. J. Stultz, R. F. Mewmaw, Daniel Cullers, James G. Rinker, Wesley Woverton, Silas Clem, Harvey Hollar, Wm. L. Fadely, James Cooly.

Wounded – Corps. S. Fry, J. P. Fadely; Privates J. Coffman, L. J. Fadely, Wm. Gess, G. Funkhouser, Jacob Coffman, Isaac Funkhouser, Ab. Sibert, E. Dellinger. There were 66 men on the field.

Captain Crabill’s Company. – Killed – Privates Charles Copp, Peter Nossett, Nicholas Rudy, Peter Good.

Wounded – Lieut J. H. Rosenberger; Sergts. D. Will and S. J. Ludholtz; Corp’ls. H. H. Crabill and H. Crabill; Privates Jacob Bowman, S. L. Crabill, N. T. Chase, Ananias Good.

[Missing portion]

Wounded – Lieut A. H. Wilson, Serg’t Jas. Lobb, H. Beercamp and Fred. Beercamp, Privates S. C. Shook, T. F. Constable, Bell Vanmeter, J. A. Stickley, W. F. Caldwell, Sorengo Self – [3?]2 in the battle.

Capt. Sibert’s Company. – Killed – Jas. M. O’Conner, Dennis Martin, Timothy Duggen, Corporal John Sullivan.

Wounded – Capt. M. M. Sibert, Lieuts. Fitzgerald and Ireland, Serg’t M. Genekin, John Talbert, Jas. Sullivan, Patrick Henney, John Hufferan, Patrick Sullivan, Thos. Emmett, Patrick O’Brian.

Thus did the 33d Regiment, which went into the field with less than 500 rank and file, suffer on the ever memorable 21st. Never did men fight more bravely and successfully against such fearful odds, both as it regards numbers and arms. Our men were all armed with the Harper’s Ferry musket, (altered) and were nobly and gallantly sustained by Col. Pendleton’s battery, whilst the enemy had the most improved arms, and were sustained by a long line of rifle cannon and columbiads, which only ceased pouring upon us a galling fire when they were captured and silenced. “Honor to whom honor,” &c.

G.

Richmond Enquirer, 8/5/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours: Iron Brigade

19 05 2015

This past weekend I attended the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours event, On the Trail of Those Damn Black Hats: Weekend with Lance Herdegen & The Iron Brigade. I did so as the guest of friend and facilitator Ted Alexander, in return for coverage of the event on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hopefully you are all followers and were kept up to date of all the happenings – if not, just subscribe using the links over to the right. But I’ll give a recap here.

Friday featured presentations at seminar HQ the Hampton Inn by Lance Herdegen (see an interview with him here) on The Iron Brigade at Gainesville; Tom Clemens (see an interview with him here) on the Black Hats’ Memories of Antietam; and Dan Welch (with the Gettysburg Foundation) on Beyond the Sobriquet: The Men of the Iron Brigade. After a break for dinner, the evening concluded with Lance and “Forward! Forward! Charge! Align on the Colors!”: The Unfinished Railroad Cut at Gettysburg.

Bright and early Saturday the 40 or so attendees boarded a bus bound for South Mountain (where we stopped on the National Road at Mt. Tabor and Bolivar Roads where Lance described the brigade’s move on Turner’s Gap.) Then it was on to Antietam, and discussions at the Visitor’s Center and the Miller Farm. Finally we arrived at Gettysburg, and after lunch at the Dobbin House Lance held court near the Reynolds Wounding marker and covered the brigade’s actions in Herbst Woods and the Railroad Cut. Of course, time in the bus was spent talking about the brigade’s actions on other parts of the field, and Lance unleashed a small portion of his vast knowledge of the men and events of the Iron Brigade as well.

I decided to stay over Saturday night for a slate of talks on Sunday morning, and I’m glad I did. Lance kicked off with a more complete history of the Iron Brigade (by the way, Lance is one of the most upbeat, happy guys I’ve ever seen on tour, and it wasn’t just this time – a hail fellow well met); fellow Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member and founder of the National Civil War Medical Museum Dr. Gordon Dammann gave a delightful presentation on Civil War Medicine Hollywood Style: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; and Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides President Joseph Mieczkowski concluded the formal talks with a really interesting talk on Rufus Dawes & the 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg and Beyond. Joe is apparently a “thread puller” like me and shared some fascinating tidbits.

The seminar and tour were well-organized. Raffles and auctions held Friday and Sunday raised about $500 for battlefield preservation, which will go toward purchasing available land at Antietam (see Civil War Trust info here.) And to top it off, I got to spend some time with a couple of fellows whom I had not seen in ten years, friends from prior battlefield stomps.

Next up for Civil War Seminars & Tours is The End of the War: Richmond, Petersburg, & Appomattox, July 22-26 (see brochure here.) Speakers feature Ed Bearss (see interview here) and friend and blogger Jimmy Price (see interview here), among others (like Bud Robertson, Richard Sommers, R. E. L. Krick, John Coski, Chris Calkins, the list goes on.) Sounds like a great event – register soon if you agree!





Blogging (and Tweeting and Facebooking) From the Field

11 05 2015

This coming Friday and Saturday I will be attending a Weekend with Lance Herdegen & the Iron Brigade, as a guest of Ted Alexander and the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours. I’ll be covering the event on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not too handy with the mobile WordPress app, so I’ll lug along my computer and make one or two posts on Friday or Saturday. To keep up live, subscribe to my Twitter feed or follow Bull Runnings on Facebook. Both links are over to the right. Should be fun!

For an interview with Lance Herdegen, see here.





Chickamauga’s Snodgrass Cabin

24 09 2014

With the passing of the anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, here’s my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage article on the Snodgrass Cabin, which ran in Civil War Times magazine in 2010. This is the article as submitted – some changes were made to the final product.

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The fighting between Union Major General William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland and Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee reached a climax on the farm of George Washington Snodgrass and the series of hills known as Horseshoe Ridge on September 20th, 1863. While the story of how Union Major General George H. Thomas made his stand there and earned his nickname, The Rock of Chickamauga, is well known, that of the family of those displaced by the fighting is less so.

G. W. Snodgrass left Virginia and came to Georgia prior to 1843. Sometime between 1848 and 1851, he moved from Chattanooga to Walker County, and the deed for his purchase of the farm from Sammuel Igon was recorded on September 8, 1855. The ground was far from prime farmland, dotted as it was with hills and ravines. The farm’s cabin was about a half mile from the north-south LaFayette Road, accessed by a farm lane running north from the east-west Vittetoe Road, and sat near the top of Snodgrass Hill which, while wooded, was open with good visibility.

The log cabin was a “dogtrot” design, two structures connected by a covered breezeway. The compound also included a smokehouse, and was surrounded by a split-rail fence. A small peach orchard grew on the west side of the cabin. From the house site, a ridge spur runs north, into what was the Snodgrass cornfield. Other farm buildings on either side of the lane included a barn and servants’ quarters. A small family cemetery sat at the top of Snodgrass Hill. James T. Snodgrass, who died at seven months in 1861, was buried there.

Using the 1860 census as a basis, G. W. Snodgrass was about 53 years old in September 1863, though some accounts say he was 60, and daughter Mary Jane recalled that he was 71 when he died in 1890, which would make him about 44 in at the time of the battle. Twice widowed, he lived on the farm with his third wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, ranging in age from four year old Martha Ellen to crippled, adult son John. Another son, Charles, had left to serve in the Confederate army.

Years later Julia Kittie Snodgrass, who was six at the time of the battle, recalled hearing the sounds of fighting at Alexander’s Bridge on Friday, Sept. 18th. Her father stubbornly refused to leave his home that day, but as the bullets flew more thickly on the 19th – some even penetrating the cabin’s roof – Mr. Snodgrass determined it was time to leave. About 3:00 PM, the family headed northwest and camped in a wooded ravine. They stayed there for about eight days, and while they were without shelter and had little food, they didn’t lack company. Also taking refuge in the area were other area families, some of whose properties played prominent roles in the battle: Brothertons, Poes, Kellys, Brocks, McDonalds, and Mullises. As the fighting died down on Sunday, September 20th, the refugees heard the strains of a southern tune being played by a band, which they happily interpreted as confirmation of Confederate victory.

Many of these families also had sons in the Confederate army, most notably in Company I, 2nd Battalion, 1st Confederate Regiment, which was part of Brigadier General John Jackson’s brigade of Major General Benjamin Cheatham’s Division in Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Corps of the Army of Tennessee. This unit’s rolls included members of the Snodgrass, Brotherton, McDonald, Kelly, Brock and Dyer families, and the regiment’s major was James Clarke Gordon, who swore them into service in 1861 and was a son of the owner of the Gordon mansion at nearby Crawfish Springs. So, added to the hardships of lack of food resulting from two foraging armies, and homes destroyed or otherwise occupied by wounded soldiers prohibiting the return of their rightful owners was the uncertainty of the wellbeing of loved ones involved in the fighting.

The Snodgrass cabin and outbuildings had been used to treat wounded, mostly Union soldiers, during and after the battle. When the family returned to their home eight days after the battle, they found it “a gory shambles”. While the wounded had been removed, most of the family’s possessions were gone, bloodstained, or in pieces. The damage was so extensive they were forced to relocate to a campsite near Ringgold, Georgia. They didn’t return to their farm until the war was over.

Several accounts of the battle state that Charles Snodgrass died on or near his family’s homestead during the battle. However, Chickamauga historian and author David Powell’s research of Consolidated Service Records (CSR) indicates that Charles deserted in the summer of 1863 (one of at least four local men to take that route out of the unit), his name last appearing on the July/August roll. Union authorities took him into custody in Walker County and sent him to Louisville, and on December 28, 1863 he took an oath of allegiance to the Federal government. He was later released north of the Ohio River. While it’s not clear if he was present on the field during the battle, he almost certainly was not killed during it.

The cabin that stands on Snodgrass Hill today is not that which stood in 1863. As recently as 1935 Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park correspondence stated that the original structure still stood. But by 1953, the Superintendent determined that the cabin was constructed “some time after 1890”. In a 1959 letter the Acting Superintendent wrote that “[a]round 1900 the house was in such a dilapidated condition that it was taken down and reconstructed” and that “[i]t is probable that some of the logs in the old new building were taken from the original house.”

All trace of the hilltop cemetery has disappeared.

Thanks to Maps of Chickamauga author David Powell and Lee White of the National Parks Service for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





The Roulette Farm, Antietam National Battlefield

21 09 2014

The below article was published in Civil War Times magazine back in 2010 as an installment of my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage column. Since the 152nd anniversary of the battle just passed, here’s the article as submitted (some changes were made to the final product.) See my photo gallery of the farm here.

When he realized that the men streaming past his home were Union soldiers and not the Confederates who had been in the fields the past two days, William Roulette burst out of his cellar door: “Give it to ‘em,” he shouted to troops of the 14th Connecticut, “Drive ‘em! Take anything on my place, only drive ‘em!” While the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac would eventually drive the Confederates from their line in the sunken Hog Trough Road that separated his farm from that of his uncle Henry Piper to the south, they would do so while very nearly taking Mr. Roulette up on his offer fully.

When the armies of Robert E. Lee and George McClellan met just north of Sharpsburg in Maryland’s Washington County on September 17th, 1862, on what would become known as the bloodiest day in U. S. history, they did so on farmsteads that were predominantly well established and prosperous. Much of the area was settled in the first half of the 18th century by families who relocated from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. One of those families was that of John Reynolds, who in 1761 purchased a part of “Anderson’s Delight”, including a house that was constructed as early as 1748. By 1800, two additions were complete resulting in a frame, stone, and log dwelling of more than 2,000 square feet, not insubstantial even by today’s standards. In 1804, the farm was purchased by John Miller, Jr. of a prominent area family. In 1851 and after John’s death, his heirs sold the farm and widow’s dower for $10,610 to son-in-law William Roulette (sometimes spelled Rulett), who had married John’s 17-year-old daughter Margaret in 1847. William was the grandson of French immigrants to Washington County, and a son of the sister of neighbor Henry Piper. In 1862 he and Margaret were raising corn on his 180 acre farm, along with five children ranging from under two to thirteen years of age. Living with the Roulettes was Nancy Campbell, a former slave of Margaret’s uncle Peter Miller. At 37 William, a successful farmer with a paid servant, was also serving as a unionist Washington County commissioner.

The Army of Northern Virginia concentrated in the fields north of the village of Sharpsburg and on September 15th. Despite obvious signs of impending danger, William determined to ride out the storm with his family in his home. But as it became more obvious that his farm was likely to be in the thick of things, he removed his family some six miles to Manor Dunker Church where they were taken in by a minister. At some point on the 17th, he returned to the farm to look after his stock and became trapped between the defensive line established by Confederate General D. H. Hill’s division and the rapidly approaching division of Union General William French. First Mr. Roulette took refuge in his basement and then, after emerging to shout his encouragement and offer up his worldly possessions to the boys in blue, headed north to the rear.

The fighting in this sector of the battlefield of Antietam, during what is referred to as the middle phase of the battle, was some of the most severe of the war. Two Federal divisions advanced over the Roulette farm fields and hurled themselves against the stoutly fortified but outnumbered Confederates in the sunken farm lane. The Confederates were finally driven south across the Piper farm, but damage to the Roulette place was extensive. An artillery shell ripped through the west side of the house, travelling upward through the first floor ceiling. At least one bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken road entered though a second story bedroom window and passed through two walls and a closet in a middle bedroom (this damage can be seen today). Another shell upset beehives in the yard to the rear of the dwelling, causing confusion among the green troops of the 130th PA. Chaplain H. S. Stevens of the 14th CT recalled: “During the battle the rooms were stripped of their furnishings and the floors were covered with the blood and dirt and litter of a field hospital.” Dead and dying men lay scattered across the farm, filling the outbuildings. When the Roulettes returned after the battle, they found crops trampled, fences down, and personal property, including food, carried off. Soldier’s graves dotted the landscape.

On October 3, 1862, Mr. Roulette filed his first claim against the United States for damages to his property. Over the years his claims would include items large a small; fences and crops, featherbeds and carpets, structural damage, one beehive (and bees), chickens, blackberry wine. Claims were also made for nine acres of farmland ruined by the passage of men and equipment, and additional “buriel [sic] ground for 700 soldiers”. The grand total for his final claims filed in February 1864 was $3,500. In the 1880’s he received $371 for a hospital claim, but only minimal other payments. He was paid nothing for damages to his home and outbuildings.

William Roulette was well off before his farm became the center of a storm of men, horses, and lead on September 17, 1862. Despite his failure to collect significant reimbursement from the Federal Government for the taking of “anything on my place”, he and his family would recover – for the most part. About a month after the battle, the youngest Roulette child, Carrie May, described by William as “a charming little girl twenty months old…just beginning to talk”, died of typhoid fever. The sting of this loss was softened a bit 24 months later, when Margaret gave birth to the couple’s last child, Ulysses Sheridan Roulette. Despite the damages, William’s heart was still with the Union.

The farm remained in the possession of the Roulette family until 1956, and in 1998 the National Park Service acquired the property via The Conservation Fund. Restoration of the exterior of the house and the first floor interior to their 1862 appearance is planned pending funding.

Thanks to Antietam National Battlefield Historians Ted Alexander and Keven Walker and to Mike Pellegrini for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





Interview: Allen Carl Guelzo, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion”

26 05 2013

Dr. Allen Carl Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program there. Perhaps best known for his works on Abraham Lincoln, he has twice been awarded the Lincoln Prize (for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America). Recently he authored  a single volume history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. His new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, is available – pretty much everywhere – now.

ACG File PixBR:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

ACG: Dr. Johnson, the first great dictionary-maker of the English language, once defined a lexicographer as “a maker of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” Substitute “a writer of history” for the bit about dictionaries, and I think you can say the same about me: a harmless drudge. I am an Army brat (born in Yokohama, Japan; when I discovered in 5th grade that this disabled me constitutionally from being president, I was left with nothing better to do in life than write history), with a son now an officer in the U. S. Army. I had strong musical interests, and was even a composition major in my first year in college – until I discovered that I wasn’t really any good at it – then went to seminary with a view toward the ministry. But I still has a certain itch to write history, so I went and obtained a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

BR: What got you interested in the study of history and the Civil War period?

ACG: I can scarcely remember a time when I wasn’t interested in history, an interest sparked mostly by the training I got as a small boy at my grandmother’s knee in reading, memorizing, and so forth. As a girl, she could remember Union veterans coming round to her school on Memorial Day to talk about the war, and I suppose that gives me one living link to the Civil War. Otherwise, I had no ancestors of any sort in the war (they all arrived in the decades afterwards, from Sweden, Prussia, and Ireland). My first encounter with the Civil War in print was the Classics Illustrated version of The Red Badge of Courage, with its capsule history of the war at the back. That was followed by the American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, a Christmas present from 1960 – just in time for me to be taken to the hospital with a double case of encephalitis and meningitis.

Bruce Catton was then, and always has been, a great model for me as a writer. I recall walking home from school, reading A Stillness at Appomattox.

I did not actually get to visit Gettysburg until 1975. When I did, I had read so much about it that it was like déjà vu. Even so, never saw myself as having more than a polite amateur’s interest in the subject. I wrote my PhD dissertation on Jonathan Edwards and the problem of free will in American thought, and have always considered myself primarily an American intellectual-history person. That was how I backed-into writing about Abraham Lincoln. And one thing has led to another, so that here I am, teaching at – and writing about – Gettysburg and the Civil War. No one could be more surprised than I am. Through all of this, I’ve never taken a course on the Civil War or Lincoln, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student.

BR: Here are the $64,000 questions: Why another book on Gettysburg? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

ACG: Because it’s there. (That’s what Mallory said when the New York papers asked him why he was planning to climb Mt. Everest; it works here, too, especially since it took almost as much time to write Gettysburg: The Last Invasion as it took Mallory on Everest). I do think, however, that there are some important things about Gettysburg that I think need saying.  First of all, I think Gettysburg (and the Civil War in general) could benefit hugely from being understood in a larger international context, especially when it comes to military thinking and tactical doctrine (which is, after all, a species of intellectual history).  The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum; the experiences of the Crimean War (1854-56), the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58), the North Italian War (1859) all offer important illumination for why Civil War generals thought as they did. That’s why Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is constantly invoking comparisons to the Alma, Solferino, and Koniggratz. In that sense, I’m trying to claw away from the blinkered view imposed on the Civil War by American exceptionalism.

That’s what lets me call into doubt the conclusions that have been repeated over-and-over again for decades about the significance of cavalry (and especially Stuart’s ride), about the practicality of Pickett’s Charge, uses of staff, and the weapons technology of the period.

I think you’ll also see the hidden (or not-so-hidden) hand of John Keegan, Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, and other examples of the British ‘new military history’ – which, come to think of it, is not actually so new any more. The Face of Battle made a terrific impact on me when I read it in the 1970s, and Griffith shaped my thinking about Civil War tactics more than any other writer.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write The Last Invasion, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and when you knew you were “done”?

ACG: It took four years, if you count the research time devoted solely to Gettysburg. In a larger sense, I suppose I’ve been writing this book ever since 1975. I cannot say I encountered anything that looked like a stumbling block. People have been extraordinarily generous with time and resources – and I think here especially of John Rudy and Bill Frassanito, not to mention the quartet of manuscript readers recruited for this project, Greg Urwin, Chuck Teague, Scott Bowden and Joe Bilby. My biggest surprise was in the Meade Papers, which I’ll explain in a minute. My sense of being “done” was on August 21, 2012, when I sent off the Epilogue. The publishers, Knopf/Random House, were determined to have this out for the Sesquicentennial of the battle, and they smiled, threatened, and cajoled all the way down to the last minute. A waterpipe in the house then broke and ruined the main-floor of the house. It must have been feeling the strain.

BR: Can you summarize for potential readers your assessment of George Meade’s performance at Gettysburg?

ACG: George Meade does not seem to have been on many people’s A list for commander of the Army of the Potomac. A reserved, haughty and testy officer, he could be meaner than a badger in a barrel. On the other hand, no one could doubt either his competence or his personal courage, which he demonstrated in spades on the Peninsula and at Fredericksburg, where his attack on Prospect Hill was nearly the only thing which went right for the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s chief deficit in the eyes of the Lincoln administration was that he was a McClellan Democrat, very much like Porter, Hancock and Sedgwick. In the years after the war, Meade’s son, George jnr., struggled to airbrush his father’s politics out of the picture (Meade junr.’s Life and Letters of his father carefully bowdlerized the letters reproduced there to produce an image of a plain, no-nonsense, apolitical professional). But in fact, Meade grew up in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia as the McClellans, shared the same conservative Whig-cum-Democrat politics, owed his initial promotion to brigadier-general of volunteers to McClellan, and received a “very handsome” congratulatory message from McClellan after Gettysburg. And the evidence lay in the Meade correspondence, archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

I have to admit that, coming into this project, I was pretty well disposed to regard Meade as man unjustly humiliated by Lincoln after winning a great victory. What I read in the Meade letters gave me a wholly different image of the man: angry, vain, contemptuous of abolitionists (he had two sisters who had married slaveowners), thin-skinned and passionate in the search for promotion and attention.  He regarded the war (and I’m using material here that I did not have room for in the book) as “this unnatural contest” which, after eleven months, “the people of the North will be prepared to yield the independence of the South.”  Even in August, 1863, he was willing to “say make terms of some kind or other with the South.”  It was the Radical Republicans who were deliberately prolonging the war: “I believe Peace could be made but not on the terms that the rulers of the North would require.” The final break came, in my mind, when I read a letter he wrote on January 20, 1865, describing a meeting he had in passing with the three Confederate peace commissioners – R.M.T. Hunter, John Campbell and Alexander Stephens – who were en route to their meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads. Meade “plainly” set out “what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace.” This would have to include “restoration of the Union.” But “a settlement of the slavery question” could be reached which would ensure “that they must have labor & the negroes must have support,” since “it was well known they would not work unless compelled.” After reading this, the first question which burned through my mind was, Whose side are you on? What Union major-general gives talking points to Confederate negotiators as they are on their way to meet with Lincoln and Seward? No wonder Meade concluded the letter with the injunction, “all this I have written you, must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I have said.” This letter appears nowhere in young Meade’s Life and Letters, or Freeman Cleaves’ well-known biography of Meade.

BR: Can you describe the reactions of other historians and enthusiasts to your assessment of Meade?

ACG: This portrait of Meade has generated some vehement responses, based largely (I think) on the assumption that since Robert E. Lee was a genius, and since Robert E. Lee lost the battle, ergo, George Meade must be a genius, too. Questioning Meade’s “genius” is nearly as offensive on those grounds as questioning the virtue of Robert E. Lee among the Southern Heritage partisans. But the fact is that Meade was not at Gettysburg for a third of the battle, was taken utterly by surprise by Longstreet’s flank attack on July 2nd, and miscalled the point at which the Confederates would attack on July 3rd. despite the Meade equestrian statue’s location, Meade was nowhere near the apex of Pickett’s Charge at the time it happened. Meade did not so much win the battle, as Lee lost it; or rather, it was the near-miraculous initiative taken by individual officers on the line – Samuel Sprigg Carroll, “Pappy” Greene, Strong Vincent, Gouveneur Warren, Patrick O’Rorke, Norman Hall, and (yes) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – that over-and-over again saved the Union position at Gettysburg. But the biggest black-mark beside Meade’s name remains his failure to follow-up after the battle. Yes, I know that the Army of the Potomac was battered and mostly used-up; but so was the Army of Northern Virginia. The lesson of every commander in history worth remembering is this: in victory, follow up. I don’t know that I can entirely blame Meade. He was conscious of the fact that if he attacked Lee and won, he would probably receive little if any credit; if he attacked and lost, his head would be on a pike. In that respect, he may have felt that Lincoln had no one to blame but himself for creating such an atmosphere of mistrust. But this was to allow personal and political considerations to interfere with a military decision, considerations which the American military tradition has always been supposed to eschew.

One objection which has surprised me much more has been about the title: The Last Invasion. Some people wonder whether I’ve forgotten about Early’s or Morgan’s raids. Well, that’s the point: they were raids. They were short-term events intended to disrupt communications and infrastructure, but not to offer a full-scale challenge to battle or to occupy and feed off territory for a substantial length of time. Lee intended to do much more in 1863. He planned to remain in Pennsylvania until the fall, letting Pennsylvania rather than Virginia  feed his army, or bring the Army of the Potomac to a head-on battle. That’s an invasion. It’s all the difference between a transatlantic crossing and a Caribbean cruise. Besides, I’m unapologetically borrowing the phrase about ‘the last invasion’ from Melville’s poem, Gettysburg, which appears on the opening page.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

ACG: I do not know that I have a method, per se. I simply wade into the literature, scan archives for collections, and go to it with a will.  It’s taken me quite far afield – from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charlottesville, Virginia, and a few other points beyond.

BR: Has the process of writing this book impacted you in any profound ways?

ACG: It has made me feel very glad that it’s done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

ACG: I am much too humble to say (snark, snark…) But it did make the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list [per publisher notice of June 2, 2013 list – ed.]

BR: What’s next for you?

ACG: Back to Lincoln.





Chasing Relatives

18 04 2012

8th PA Reserves Monument Antietam NB

A while back I received a book, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier, from its author, Milann Ruff Daugherty. I wrote about it here. As you read (if you followed the hyperlinked “here”), at about the same time I received some news from my friend Mike regarding some relatives about whom I was unaware. That’s the normal relationship between my ancient relatives and me, by the way, unawareness. Of particular interest was Pvt. James Gates, 8th PA Reserves, mortally wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, died a month later at Smoketown Hospital just north of the battlefield, buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg. He served in the same company as the letter writer in Ms. Daugherty’s book. As some of you may be aware, I’m a board member and vice-president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, so my interest in the battle and battlefield is more than passing.

Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, MD

Upon learning of this more tangible relationship with the event, I felt compelled to take a drive down to Maryland (by way of Gettysburg, of course) over the President’s Day holiday back in February. I first drove out to the portion of the field where the 8th PA Reserves saw action. Then I met up with friend Craig Swain and his aide-de-camp Cade Swain and visited my great-great-uncle (how come there’s no “grand” for uncles and aunts?) in the cemetery and took in the million-dollar view of the battlefield from the back of that place. After lunch I drove over to chief historian Ted Alexander’s office near the Pry House. Ted graciously came in on his day off and so I could rummage through the park’s file on the 8th PA Reserves. It was pretty thin, but contained a series of newspaper articles from the turn-of-the-20th century, memoirs of a member of the 8th PA Reserves. In several of those articles, my g-g-uncle played a role, and from the perspective of the history of the battle and battlefield, it was a pretty high-profile role. After making copies (though I’m sure I missed some good stuff and will have to go back), Ted drove me out to the site of the Smoketown hospitals where James died. 

The long and short of it is that I took some good photos and got some great info, but I still want to do some more digging before I present my findings to you, dear readers. I hope that when I do post the piece here you all won’t mind the slight diversion from Bull Run.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

3 04 2012

I am not sure what time it was when we were called, but it could not have been very long after midnight. My recollection is that the moon was shining when we formed for the march. Soon after forming, it was evident that there was some hindrance to the program of arrangements – whatever it was – and, after several attempts to move on, it was learned that some other troops (Hunter’s division) were crossing our line of march – apparently from our right to our left. We – being the flanking column with nearly three times the distance to march – should have had the right of way, but we did not get it, and I have never learned why.

While waiting here, we ‘rested at will’ and there was a mingling of the boys of other companies, who were getting acquainted, and I think also some from other regiments in the brigade. I recall that there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that we had been called so much earlier than was really necessary, but there was a general feeling of determination and hopefulness. I think none of us knew at that time that we were to make a long march to turn the enemy’s right flank. If we had, ordinary common sense would have suggested that we should not have been wasting precious hours on that hillside. We were all so new to the war – and absolutely inexperienced in battle – that we had no basis for a judgment, and our opinions were only reflections of our wishes.

Just when the coming light of day began to make things distinctly visible, while talking with Charley Harris, he was accosted by William A. Croffut, who was – or recently had been – connected with a Minneapolis paper, but who was there as a representative of some paper for the occasion. After an introduction, there was a short talk with Croffut, who questioned us as to the “state of our minds” at the near-approaching hour of battle. Neither of us could truthfully affirm that we were not somewhat disturbed as to our individual safety for the day – though we both tried to consider the matter hopefully and referred lightly to what might happen. We each left a message for our friends and, in case of “an accident,” requested a complimentary obituary notice. After that we shook hands and parted.

Charley got his obituary and – as it was a little premature – lived to read it. A privilege granted to but few. The long, anxious delay had tried us. It was sometime after sunrise, possibly six o’clock, when the road was clear, and we were fairly moving, following after some other division.

We marched for some distance in the rear of other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We – the regiment – were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts’s Battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three months’ regiment and its time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington. It was said of them that they “marched to the rear to the tune of the enemy’s guns,” but their colonel, Hartranft, remained – acting as an aide on the staff of Colonel Franklin.

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy the first two companies – A and F – if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, exceedingly close. From these conditions and out rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be to our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.

When still some distance from the ford, near Sudley Springs Church, the artillery firing was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry firing was also heard. About this time, our regiment was hurried forward at the double quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water – wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meantime there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry firing.

There was but a short halt at the ford, when we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained – for a time – on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time, there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

Here we could smell the smoke and hear firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had some of their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as “satisfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far.” I do not recall any other attempt at ‘jesting in the face of death’ on that occasion – though it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to make and observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery – Ricketts’s – had passed to the right of wood and began firing. When we left this wood we – Company F at least – left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in ‘column of division’ and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was composed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front – far enough to see over the brow of the hill – I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream. I did not observe that they were firing, and I presume that they were sheltered by the hill from the rebel batteries. there were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley – in the edge of the wood – which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction.

The ridge we were on, I presume, was Buck Hill. there were several regiments along the ridge to our left which had been engaged and, I believe, had driven some of the enemy from that position.

We remained here but a very short time, and, when we moved, marched by the right flank – in fours – obliquely to the right – across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young’s Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle ‘on right by file into line.’ While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and – at the point where we were forming – were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.

The distance marched must have been a mile or more. A part of the time we moved at double quick, and there was considerable dodging as the shells screeched over our heads. It was a new and trying ordeal that strained the nerves and hurt our feelings, but I am not aware that any other hurt was done. The formation of the line of battle was at right angles to the direction we were marching and brought the first two companies in front of a wood and but a short distance from it. The advance was led by Company A – Captain Alexander Wilkin – and was followed immediately by Company F – Captain William Colvill – and was made without any deployment of skirmishers or advance guard.

A good many things happened in the ‘thin space of time’ we were getting into line, and I do not think that I can give them consecutively.

Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hoofs, and ‘chucking’ of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us – apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries racing into position – and to destruction. Judged by results, they had much better remained on the other side and fired from a safer distance, but ‘all the same’ the movement was splendidly made. Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was half formed and separated the first division from the rest of the regiment. I had only time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention, and I thought no more of the batteries until we were later taken to the left to try to recover them – then a wreck on the plateau and covered by the enemy’s guns.

Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount – at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side – as if to shield himself – but came around his head and gave himself up. There was a young man with Company A, Javan B. Irvine, who had not then enlisted, but had come along out of interest, curiosity, or some other motive, and had kept with the company up to this time. He was not armed, except a revolver, but to him Captain Wilkin gave the prisoner, instructing him to keep him safe. Irvine proved a resolute, trusty fellow, and the next day delivered his prisoner to the authorities in Washington. He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of the Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in.

The most of the regiment – except the two companies, A and F – now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies – in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone’s throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to “feel in the woods,” and – at almost the same instant – shots began to come from the brush,  now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then ‘things broke loose,’ and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us – at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed the most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods; our firing ceased; and by someone’s order we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and multiple holes in the other, and were fastened with  a brass plate with hooks on the under side – and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet – coming almost directly from the front – struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was ‘done for’ and thought of everything – all mixed up. Then I heard someone – I think it was Oscar Williams – call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled over and got on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force if the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I have always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere except on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An inch or so – to the right or left – up or down – would have missed the plate, and then I would have ‘got it’ in the ‘bread basket,’ and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestion.

Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners – Alabamians. In advancing, we had crossed a fence and went for some distance into the woods. Meantime, though we were making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very heavy firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone.

We were now brought out of the woods – I suppose for the purpose of connecting with the regiment, as that would have been the natural thing to do.

Several of the boys had been hit while in the woods or at the first firing, but I do not believe that our loss was severe. Henry R. Childs, of the company, while advancing into the woods, was wounded in the head and shoulder, and was left insensible in the bushes. He afterwards ‘came to himself’ and, finding the company gone, started to follow it. Coming out of the woods to the open ground, he saw an advancing line of the enemy’s skirmishers, who ordered him to halt and fired on him, but he ran for it and managed to escape, believing – as he said – in the old adage that ‘he that fights and runs away may live to fight another day.’

Coming out of the woods at a point near where we entered, we formed in a close skirmish line and – advancing among the young pines and bushes, which were scarcely as high as our heads – we moved towards the higher ground that was on our left when we first began firing. There was cannonading going on at this time, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire which came from the woods to the right oblique – as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines along the crest of the hill – loading while laying down and rising to fire. While lying on my right side – ramming a cartridge, which was lodged part way down the barrel – I had my feet crossed to hold the butt of the musket and my left knee bent – when a bullet cut through my pants and across the inside of my left knee, but did no serious damage. It was a pretty close call for a leg. An increasingly hot fire came from the woods on the right front, and a number were hit. A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill.

About this time, Lieut. Col. Miller came – with some of the other companies of the right wing – to our assistance., and we were formed in the road. We then joined with some other troops in an attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful on so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut in the roadway.

The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken if the true condition of things had been understood. The guns were at a point between the two forces and covered by the guns of both sides from sheltered positions, but neither side could maintain a position, where they were, long enough to remove them.

After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet.  Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off – after which there was another period of quiet.

In all of these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human, and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and hat more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion. When it is remembered that we had but little rest the night before; that the morning march of 12 miles had been a severe test to our powers of endurance; that our subsequent movements had been hurried – down hill and up – over fences and through woods;  also, that we were under the severe mental strain of battle, which is more exhausting than physical action – then our condition can be partly comprehended.

We were in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat – clothing torn and disordered – and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.

Sherman had not then defined war in a single brief sentence, but I heard the one important word in it uttered several times that day – suggested, no doubt, by the day’s experiences. We had read that ‘to make war was to be hungry and thirsty'; that it ‘was to suffer and to dies'; that it was ‘to obey.’ We had been trying to do all those of those things and assumed that we were getting ‘about what was coming to us’ and we naturally wondered if there was any more ‘coming.’ I think that all there realized that we had been hit pretty hard, but I do not think that any of us supposed that we were beaten. At least I recall no suggestion to that effect.

We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front – but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. About this time, there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction now began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with.

Lieutenant Colonel Miller was the highest officer present with that portion of the regiment, and he gave the order to retire and indicated the direction – directly to the rear.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 51 – 58 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Previews Coming

22 02 2012

I have a backlog of titles that I need to talk about. I just want all the authors and publishers who have sent me stuff over the past one or two months to know that I will be getting to those in the coming weeks. In two cases (a book on Bull Run and another of letters from a member of the 8th PA Reserves), I want to go into more detail. The first I think will feature an author interview. The second will incorporate the results of a trip I made this week to Antietam National Battlefield, where historian Ted Alexander was nice enough to come in on his day off to give me access to the park’s file on the 8th PA Reserves. What I found in that file pertaining to my great-grandmother’s brother was startling. Fantastic, in fact.

But more on that, and on all the other books in the queue, later.

For now, here is the very best Confederate battle flag image to come down the pike in a long, long time.

My mom's maiden name was Powers but, sadly, I don't think I'm related to the Myrtle Beach Mermen closer.





Interview: James S. Price, “The Battle of New Market Heights”

18 10 2011

Public historian and blogger James S. “Jimmy” Price is the author of the recently released The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword. I’ve never met Jimmy, but am acquainted with him via his blog and Facebook. So when I learned of this new study of a relatively little known engagement involving US Colored Troops I was intrigued and thought maybe some of you would be, too. So I shamelessly begged a copy, looked it over, and did my thing.

BR: Jimmy, we usually start off here with a little background information. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JP: I had the great privilege of being born in the best sports town in America (and by that, of course, I mean Pittsburgh, PA). My family moved to Richmond when I was five years old, which was just in time for the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. History soon became my passion and I got involved with re-enacting at the age of 15. I was also fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who supported me while I made peanuts working at some local museums and battlefields. I was able to gain some great work experience at places like Petersburg National Battlefield and Richmond National Battlefield Park. This opened the door to doing more serious work at Pamplin Historical Park and The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. At the same time I was pursuing an academic career in history, completing my undergraduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005 and grad school at Norwich University in 2009. I currently live in Fredericksburg with my beautiful wife and our two kids and I’m working with John Hennessy and the fabulous staff at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park developing a web-based curriculum entitled “Community at War.”

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War as a line of study?

JP: My Dad taking me to the battlefields around Richmond initially spurred my interest. Shortly after that I got a free subscription to the Time Life Civil War series and managed to get my hands on a copy of the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton. After that it was game over, and I knew that I wanted to pursue Civil War history as a career. Over a decade later when I came to work for the County of Henrico, I had to spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the battles that took place there, and it was then that I did my first real research into the Battle of New Market Heights (I had known about it since my days at Richmond National Battlefield, but hadn’t done any significant research). This prompted me to launch The Sable Arm: A Blog Dedicated to the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War Era as a means to force myself to learn more about USCTs and the battle that led to fourteen of them receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

BR: New Market Heights is not an action that pops to the top of most Civil War enthusiasts list of well-known engagements. What first got you interested in it?

JP:  The thing that really piqued my interest at first was the amount of Medals of Honor that were issued for just one action. Add the fact that they were issued to African-American troops and I started to think that this battle was at least as important as the more famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner that was immortalized in the motion picture Glory. To have United States Colored Troops attacking a position that was defended by some of Lee’s best troops within a few short miles of the Confederate capital seemed to be a story worthy of more exploration.

BR: Since some readers may not be familiar with the battle, how about a brief synopsis?

JP: New Market Heights was part of a larger two-day action known today as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, fought on September 29-30, 1864. It took place during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of 1864-65. In late September of 1864, Grant prepared an offensive to strike at Petersburg, prevent Robert E. Lee from reinforcing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and – if possible – seize the city of Richmond. Grant planned a two-pronged assault with the Army of the Potomac striking at Petersburg while Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James struck north of the James River to threaten the rebel capital. Spearheading one prong of this attack would be Brig. Gen. Charles Paine’s Third Division of the XVIII Corps, a unit comprised entirely of United States Colored Troops. Their objective would be New Market Heights. Early on the morning of the 29th, Paine designated Col. Samuel A. Duncan’s 3rd Brigade to take New Market Heights. Duncan’s men deployed in a skirmish line 200 yards long and soon encountered obstacles that hampered their movement. A marshy stream called Four Mile Creek ran across their line of advance and slashing, abatis, and chevaux-de-frise blocked access to the Rebel entrenchments. Duncan’s men advanced into the thick fog and, in the words of one survivor, were “all cut to pieces.” Intense musket and artillery fire shredded the ranks of the oncoming Federals and soon Col. Duncan was down with four wounds. His brigade was forced to withdraw, losing 387 of its 750 effectives. Paine then sent in his 2nd Brigade under the command of Col. Alonzo G. Draper. As the sun began to rise, Draper’s men went in over the same ground that Duncan’s men had crossed and they were soon entangled in the slashing. For thirty brutal minutes, Draper’s men endured a barrage from the Confederate lines before the Confederates began to withdraw.  Draper would lose 447 out of his 1,300 men. They had taken New Market Heights, but as the day’s events played out, they would not capture Richmond. That being said, one former Confederate did write that “upon [the] 29th [of] September, Richmond came nearer being captured, and that, too, by negro troops, than it ever did during the whole war.”  While Butler met with only partial success that day, the fighting prowess of the African-American soldiers under his command was put on full display for all to see. Throughout the entire course of the war, only eighteen black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. Of that number, fourteen were awarded to the black troops who stormed New Market Heights.

BR: What did your research turn up that particularly surprised you?

JP: I was happy to find some unpublished accounts that backed up some of the more famous incidents that have been called into question. For instance, the story has always gone that Butler rode up to the men of Duncan’s brigade who were about to step off and exhorted them that their battle cry should be “Remember Fort Pillow!” People tend to doubt anything that Butler claims to have said or done, but I did find an account from a Texan who spoke about the attacking USCTs shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and how mad that made him. I was also happy to find an unpublished account from Alexander Kelly, who was a member of the 6th USCT and one of the Medal of Honor recipients. That, plus some great photographs from the collection of a gentleman named Rob Lyon that he graciously allowed me to reproduce in the book were very pleasant surprises.

BR: If your work impacts how the Battle of New Market Heights is remembered in one way, what would you hope that is?

JP: Well, the longstanding tradition about New Market Heights is that, while the USCTs displayed bravery and heroism during the assault, we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to those who fought there. Skeptics claim that the nefarious Beast Butler hatched up the idea of New Market Heights being a grand victory to further his political interests. I’ve read one author who referred to the idea of the black troops winning a legitimate victory at New Market Heights as being “hoopla” while another refers to this notion as “militarily irrelevant Negrophilia.” I hope that folks who read my book will view the battle in a more balanced light.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

JP: In terms of researching USCTs, Record Group 94 at the National Archives and Records Administration is a treasure trove of good information. Richmond National Battlefield had been compiling information on New Market Heights for over 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to be able to go through every scrap of paper they had concerning the battle. I was also astonished at how many good sources I could find through Google books and http://www.archive.org/, www.footnote.com, and Accessible Archives. I used the information gathered through these various sources to guide the rest of my research and then had to sift through what I could use and what I had to leave behind (keep in mind I was working with a 40,000 word limit).

BR: What’s next for you?

JP: Well, I have a few things cookin’ on my plate right now. I’ve had my first two experiences with Hollywood as of late. I had the privilege of serving as a historical consultant for the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox, which was a great experience. I reviewed the scenes having to do with USCTs and, from what I’ve seen of the script, this is going to be a fine production. I’m also working as one of the extras in the upcoming Lincoln film, which gives me the ability to brag that I’ve been in the same room as Steven Spielberg. And in other (breaking) news, I recently just signed a contract for my second book with The History Press! This time I will be examining the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought from July 27-29, 1864, where Winfield Scott Hancock and Phillip H. Sheridan both failed to add any battlefield laurels to their respective careers. Life is busy!

It sounds busy! Pick up a copy of The Battle of New Market Heights. It’s a quick read at just over 100 pages, nicely illustrated with photos, drawings, and maps. Jimmy Price has helped bring this event into sharper focus.








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