G. Moxley Sorrel’s Boyhood Home.

18 11 2013

This weekend I recorded some images of BG James Longstreet aide Moxley Sorrel’s home in Savannah, Ga.





Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On the Battle

5 10 2013

The Battle of Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas, July 22, 1861

Yesterday, the 21st day of July, 1861, a great battle was fought and a great victory won by the Confederate troops. Heaven smiled upon our arms, and the God of battles crowned our banners with the laurels of glory. Let every patriotic heart give thanks to the Lord of Hosts for the victory He has given His people on His holy day, the blessed Sabbath.

Gen. Johnston had arrived the preceding day with about half the force he had, detailed from Winchester, and was the senior officer in command. He magnanimously insisted, however, that Gen. Beauregard’s previous plan should be carried out, and he was guided entirely by the judgement and superior local knowledge of the latter. While, therefore, Gen. Johnston was nominally in command, Beauregard was really the officer and hero of the day. You will be glad to learn that he was this day advanced from a Brigadier to the rank of full General. But to the battle.

At half-past six in the morning, the enemy opened fire from a battery planted on a hill beyond Bull’s Run, and nearly opposite the center of our lines. The battery was intended merely to “beat the bush.” and to occupy our attention, while he moved a heavy column towards the Stone Bridge, over the same creek, upon our left. At 10 o’clock, another battery was pushed forward, and opened fire a short distance to the left of the other, and near the road leading North to Centreville. This was a battery of rifled guns, and the object of its fire was the same as that of the other. They fired promiscuously into the woods and gorges in this, the Southern side of Bull’s Run, seeking to create the impression thereby that our center would be attacked, and thus prevent us from sending reinforcements to our left, where the real attack was to be made. Beauregard was not deceived by the maneuver.

It might not be amiss to say, that Bull’s Run, or creek, is North of this place, and runs nearly due east, slightly curving around the Junction, the nearest part of which is about 3 1/2 miles. The Stone Bridge is some 7 miles distant, in a northwesterly direction, upon which our left wing rested. Mitchel’s ford is directly North, distant four miles, by the road leading to Centreville, which is seven miles from the Junction. Our right is Union Mills, on the same stream, where the Alexandria and Manassas railroad crosses the Run, and distant four miles. Proceeding from Fairfax Court House, by Centreville, to Stone Bridge, the enemy passed in front of our entire line, but at a distance ranging from five to two miles.

At 9 o’clock, I reached an eminence nearly opposite the two batteries mentioned above, and which commanded a full view of the country for miles around, except on the right. From this point I could trace the movements of the approaching hosts by the clouds of dust that rose high above the surrounding hills. Our left, under Brigadier-General Evans, Jackson and Cocke, and Col. Bartow, with the Georgia Brigade, composed of the 7th and 8th regiments, had been put in motion, and was advancing upon the enemy with a force of about 15,000 while the enemy himself was advancing upon our left with a compact column of at least 50,000. His entire force on this side of the Potomac is estimated at 75,000. These approaching columns encountered each other at 11 o’clock.

Meanwhile, the two batteries in front kept up their fire upon the wooded hill where they supposed our center lay. They sent occasional balls, from their rifled cannon, to the eminence where your correspondent stood. Gens. Beauregard, Johnston and Bonham reached this point at 12, and one of these balls passed directly over and very near them, and plunged into the ground  a few paces from where I stood. I have the ball now, and hope to be able to show it to you at some future day. It is an 18-pound ball, and about 6 inches long. By the way, this thing of taking notes amidst a shower of shells and balls is more exciting than pleasant. At a quarter past 12, Johnston and Beauregard galloped rapidly forward in the direction of Stone Bridge, where the ball had now fully opened. You correspondent followed their example, and soon reached a position in front of the battlefield.

The artillery were the first to open fire, precisely at 11 o’clock. By half-past 11, the infantry had engaged, and there it was that the battle began to rage. The dusky columns which had thus far marked the approach of the two armies, now mingled with great clouds of smoke, as it rose from the flashing guns below, and the two shot up together like a huge pyramid of red and blue. The shock was tremendous, as were the odds between the two forces. With what anxious hearts did we watch the pyramid of smoke and dust! When it moved to the right, we knew the enemy were giving way; and when it moved to the left, we knew that our friends were receding. Twice the pyramid moved to the right, and as often returned. At last, about two o’clock, it began to move slowly to the left, and this it continued to move for two mortal hours. The enemy was seeking to turn our left flank, and to reach the railroad leading hence in the direction of Winchester. To do this, he extended his lines, which he was able to do by reason of his great numbers. This was unfortunate for us, as it required a corresponding extension of our own lines to prevent his extreme right from outflanking us – a movement on our part which weakened the force of our resistance along the whole line of battle, which finally extended over a space of two miles. It also rendered it more difficult to bring up reinforcements, as the further the enemy extended his right, the greater the distance reserve forces had to travel to counteract the movement.

This effort to turn our flank was pressed with great determination for five long, weary hours, during which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed along the entire line with alternate fortunes. The enemy’s column continued to stretch away to the left, like a huge anaconda, seeking to envelope us within its mighty folds and crush us to death; and at one time it really looked as if he would succeed. But here let me pause to  explain why it was our reinforcements were so late in arriving, and why a certain other important movement was miscarried.

The moment he discovered the enemy’s order of battle, Gen. Beauregard, it is said, dispatched orders to Gen. Ewell, on our extreme right, to move forward and turn his left and rear. At the same time he ordered Generals Jones, Longstreet, and Bonham, occupying the center of our lines, to cooperate in this movement, but not to move until Gen. Ewell had made the attack. The order to Gen. Ewell unfortunately miscarried. The others were delivered, but as the movements of the center were to be regulated entirely by those on the right, nothing was done at all. Had the orders to Gen. Ewell been received and carried out, and our entire force brought upon the field, we should have destroyed the enemy’s army almost literally. Attacked in front, on the flank and in the rear, he could not possibly have escaped, except at the loss of thousands of prisoners and all his batteries, while the field would have been strewed with his dead.

Finding that his orders had in some way failed to be executed, Gen. Beauregard at last ordered up a portion of the forces which were intended to co operate with General Ewell. It was late, however, before these reinforcements came up. Only one brigade reached the field before the battle was won. This was led by Gen. E. K. Smith, of Florida, formerly of the United States Army, and was a part of General Johnston’s column from Winchester. They should have reached here the day before, but were prevented by an accident on the railroad. They dashed on the charge with loud shouts and in the most gallant style. About the same time, Maj. Elzey coming down the railroad from Winchester with the last of Johnston’s brigades, and hearing the firing, immediately quit the train and struck across the country, and as a gracious fortune would have it, he encountered the extreme right of the enemy as he was feeling his way around our flank, and with his brigade struck him like a thunderbolt, full in the face. Finding he was about to be outflanked himself, the enemy gave way after the second fire. Meanwhile, Beauregard rallied the center and dashed into the very thickest of the fight, and after him rushed our own brave boys, with a shout that seemed to shake the very earth. The result of this movement from three distinct points, was to force back the enemy, who began to retreat, first in good order, and finally in much confusion. At this point the cavalry were ordered upon the pursuit. The retreat now became a perfect rout, and it is reported that the flying legions rushed past Centreville in the direction of Fairfax, as if the earth had been opening behind them. It was when Gen. Beauregard led the final charge, that his horse was killed by a shell.

We captured thirty-four guns, including Sherman’s famous battery, a large number of small arms, thirty wagons loaded with provisions, &c., and about 700 prisoners. Among the latter, were Col. Corcoran, of the New York Irish Zouaves, Hon. Mr. Ely, member of Congress, from New York, Mr. Carrington, of this State, a nephew of the late Wm. C. Preston, who had gone over to the enemy, and thirty-two Captains, Lieutenants, &c. We cam near bagging the Hon. Mr. Foster, Senator from Connecticut.

The official reports of the casualties of the day have not yet come in, and consequently it is impossible to say what our loss is. I can only venture an opinion, and that is, that we lost in killed, wounded and missing, about 1,500 – of which about 400 were killed. The enemy’s loss was terrible, being at the lowest calculation, 3,000.

Thus far I have said but little of the part taken by particular officers and regiments; for the reason that I desire first to obtain all the facts. Nor have I said anything of the gallant seventh and eighth regiments from Georgia. This part of my duty is most melancholy. It may be enough to say, that they were the only Georgia regiments here at the time, that they were among the earliest on the field, and in the thickest of the fight, and that their praise is upon the lips of the whole army, from Gen. Beauregard on down. Col. Gartrell led the seventh regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner the eighth, the whole under the command of Col. Bartow, who led them with a gallantry that was never excelled. It was when the brigade was ordered to take one of the enemy’s strongest batteries, that it suffered most. It was a most desperate undertaking, and followed by the bloodiest results. The battery occupied the top of a hill, on the opposite side of Bull’s Run, with a small piece of woods on the left. Descending the valley along the Run, he proceeded under cover of the hill to gain the woods alluded to, and from which he proposed to make a dash at the battery and capture it. On reaching the woods, he discovered that the battery was supported by a heavy infantry force, estimated at 4,000 men. The whole force, together with the battery, was turned upon the eighth regiment, which was in the van, with terrible effect. Indeed, he was exposed on the flank and in front to a fire that the oldest veterans could not have stood. The balls and shells from the battery, and the bullets from the small arms, literally riddled the woods. Trees six inches in diameter, and great limbs were cut off, and the ground strewn with the wreck. It became necessary to retire the eighth regiment, in order to re-form it. Meanwhile, Col. Bartow’s horse had been shot from under him. It was observed that the forces with which his movement was to be supported had not come up. But it was enough that he had been ordered to storm the battery; so, placing himself at the head of the seventh regiment, he again led the charge, this time on foot, and gallantly encouraging his men as they rushed on. The first discharge from the enemy’s guns killed the regimental color-bearer. Bartow immediately seized the flag, and gain putting himself in front, dashed on, flag in hand, his voice ringing clear over the battlefield, and saying, “On, my boys, we will die rather than yield or retreat.” And on the brave boys did go, and faster flew the enemy’s bullets. The fire was awful. Not less than 4,000 muskets were pouring their fatal contents upon them, while the battery itself was dealing death on every side.

The gallant Eighth Regiment, which had already passed through the distressing ordeal, again rallied, determined to stand by their chivalric Colonel to the last. The more furious the fire, the quicker became the advancing step of the two regiments. At last, and just when they were nearing the goal of their hopes, and almost in the arms of victory, the brave and noble Bartow was shot down, the ball striking him in the left breast, just above the heart. His men rallied behind him, and finding him mortally wounded and that the forces that had been ordered to support their charge had not yet come up, they gradually fell back, bearing him in their arms and disputing every inch of ground. I learn that they would never have retired but for the orders which were given in consequence of the non-arrival of the supporting force. It appears that the order to support our charge, like that to gen. Ewell, miscarried – a failure which had nearly cost us two of the best regiments in the army. Col. Bartow died soon after he was borne from the field. His last words, as repeated to me, were: “they have killed me, my brave boys, but never give up the ship – we’ll whip them yet.” And so we did!

The field officers of the Seventh Regiment escaped except Col. Gartrell who received a slight wound. All the superior officers in the Eighth Regiment, except Maj. Cooper, were killed or wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner had his leg broken by a musket ball, and Adjutant Branch was killed. Capt. Howard of the Mountain Rangers from Merriwether county was also killed. But I shall not go into a statement of the killed and wounded preferring in delicate and painful a matter to await the official report, which I hope to get tomorrow, when I shall have more to say about our heroic regiments. I will add just here, that our loss in officers was very great. Among others may be mentioned Gen. Bee, Lieut. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion, and Col. Thomas of Gen. Johnston’s Staff, and others. Gen. Jackson was wounded in the hand, and Col. Wheat of the New Orleans Tigers was shot through the body. Col Jones of the 4th Alabama Regiment it is feared was mortally wounded. The regiments that suffered most and were in the thickest of the fight, were the 7th and 8th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, 4th South Carolina, Hampton’s Legion, and 4th Virginia. The New Orleans Washington Artillery did great execution.

If we consider the numbers engaged and the character of the contest, we may congratulate ourselves upon having won, one of the most brilliant victories that any race of people ever achieved. It was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent, and will take its place in history by the side of the most memorable engagements. It is believed that General Scott himself was nearby, at Centreville, and that he directed as he had planned the whole movement. Gen. McDowell was the active commander upon the field.

President Davis arrived upon the field at 5 o’clock, just as the enemy had got into full retreat. His appearance was greeted with shout after shout, and was the equivalent to a reinforcement of 5,000 men. He left Richmond at 7 in the morning.

But “little Beaury” against the world.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/27/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 19-23





Preview: William Lee White, “Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale”

2 10 2013

Layout 1The most recent installment in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series is Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863, by William Lee White. Lee is a NPS Ranger at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and a longtime presence in the online Civil War community (I think I’ve been yaking at and with him for over ten years now), and he’s always been quick to share his extensive knowledge on the park, the battles, and the labyrinthine Confederate command structure in the Western Theater. With Bushwhacking, he offers a profusely illustrated, concise, and easy to follow narrative of the campaign in the style to which we’ve become accustomed in this series. Appendices include notes on Longstreet’s attack, Chickamauga in Memory, Civilians in the Battle (Lee and Dave Powell helped me out in this regard with my Civil War Times article on the Snodgrass cabin a few years back), and an Order of Battle. A nice touch is a recommended Chickamauga reading list. The paperback format makes this ideal for tossing in the backpack for a day of tromping the fields – once Congress and POTUS get their stuff together and open them up again.





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.





Interview: D. Scott Hartwig, “To Antietam Creek”

18 10 2012

I’ve known NPS Historian Scott Hartwig of Gettysburg National Military Park for about a decade, and every time I’ve met up with him over the years I’ve asked him the same question: “How’s the Antietam book coming?” Well, I guess I’ll need to come up with a new greeting, because his massive work To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, has been published by Johns Hopkins. This is the first of two planned volumes, and takes the reader to the eve of the Battle of Antietam. Scott took a little time to answer a few questions about this, probably the most important Civil War book of 2012.

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BR:  While I’m sure many readers know you from visits to Gettysburg or from dozens of PCN Anniversary Battle Walks, can you tell those less familiar a little bit about yourself?

SH: I am a supervisory historian in the division of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park.  What this means is I do public history and manage the park’s day to day interpretive program.   I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, but had the itch to live out west and went to University of Wyoming.  By pure luck I stumbled onto a Civil War historian teaching there named E. B. Long.  For those today who don’t know him, E. B., or “Pete,” as his friends called him, was the research editor for Bruce Catton’s magnificent three-volume centennial history of the Civil War.  E. B. knew more about the Civil War than anyone I have ever known and could talk about the people who lived the war as if he had known them.  I ended up taking nine credit hours from him on the Civil War and he was a major influence on my decision to seek a career at a Civil War park in the National Park Service.  I have worked 33 years for the NPS, almost all of it at Gettysburg.  I can honestly say that I have never been bored there a single day.  In fact, some days I wish things would be a little more boring.  There is never enough time to get everything done.  I have written a number of essays and articles for magazines and books, and seminar proceedings, and back in the 90’s appeared in a number of History Channel documentaries relating to Gettysburg, some of which still show but only really late at night.

BR: Who or what were your early Civil War influences?

SH: The earliest influence was the Time-Life magazines in the early 1960’s that followed the course of the war and featured original art of battles, which was the sort of thing that excited a 7-year-old.  Next was probably Hugh O’Donnell, my 8th grade history teacher, who encouraged critical thinking not just about the Civil War, but about history in general.  Bruce Catton was also a major influence.  I read everything he wrote.  My parents also always actively encouraged my interest in history.

BR: Why did you decide to study the Maryland Campaign?

SH: I think Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army was the initial catalyst.  His chapter on Antietam was unforgettable.  The other reason was, when I first started contemplating this, the only two books on the Maryland Campaign were Jim Murfin’s Gleam of Bayonets and Francis Palfrey’s The Antietam and Fredericksburg, which had been written in the 1880’s.  I thought the campaign could use a thorough study that employed the wealth of sources that had come to light since Murfin’s book.

BR: Besides the scale (652 pages of text, plus appendices and an online bibliography available here), what does To Antietam Creek contribute to the existing literature?

SH: This volume gives focus to several aspects of the campaign that have only really been brush stroked to this point.  I spend two chapters carefully assessing the two armies so the reader can understand their strengths and weaknesses.  This part of military campaigns is often overlooked, but when we know the character of an army it helps us understand why it performed well, or poorly, or was mediocre.  The bulk of the book examines the Harper’s Ferry operation and battles of South Mountain in detail, but also in the context of the larger campaign.  South Mountain has been studied by others but there is no in-depth study of Harper’s Ferry existing.  So this volume gives needed attention to what precedes Antietam, which was quite significant, since this encompassed the largest surrender of U.S. troops until World War II, and Robert E. Lee’s first defeat as an army commander, at South Mountain.

BR: Your book has been in the works a long time – as long as I’ve known you. Can you describe how long it took, what the stumbling blocks were, and what you discovered along the way?

SH: It took at least twenty years.  A big reason it took so long is working a full-time job and raising three kids is not conducive to writing.  But I was very disciplined and pecked away at it.  There were certainly times that I despaired I would ever finish it, but there was also something about the learning and writing process that I really enjoyed which always pulled me back.  Much as I enjoy writing it does not come easily to me.  There were many nights I would sit staring at the computer screen and never write a word, and more times that I would struggle to find the right words to describe something.  It was like getting stuck in the mud.  You had to keep pushing and eventually you broke free and started moving again.

There were plenty of stumbling blocks along the way.  Many have faded from memory but George McClellan was one.  He was not so much a stumbling block as much as he was a conundrum.  The first chapter of the book is his story from his arrival in Washington after First Bull Run to his return to command after Second Manassas.  I tried to avoid that chapter at first.  Everyone analyzes McClellan.  I thought I could avoid his controversial personality and history and just focus on the campaign but that proved a foolish thought.  You cannot separate the McClellan of the Maryland Campaign from his history before that campaign.  To understand the campaign the reader had to know McClellan’s history.  I also wrestled with how to treat McClellan.  My initial approach was to follow the lead of a host of writers and historians and bash him as a weak and vacillating commander with a monumental ego.  McClellan is easy to bash, but the more I studied him, his campaigns and his relationships with the Lincoln administration, I felt my initial treatment too critical and I re-wrote the chapter, this time taking a more sympathetic perspective.  I let this re-write sit and when I read it again decided that it too failed to achieve a balanced assessment.  I had strayed too far in the other direction.  This lead to more research and a third re-write, which is what ended up in the book.  My final analysis of McClellan is critical but I think it is honest and evaluates him in the context of the circumstances and conditions he faced both politically and on the military front.

When you work on a project of this size and for this long you are constantly encountering things you did not know, or uncovering evidence that challenges convention.  Two examples are the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia.  The legend is that the Army of the Potomac was an immense host that failed to win a decisive victory at Antietam because McClellan was too cautious and inept and the Army of Northern Virginia, vastly outnumbered and reduced by the summer’s fighting to a hard-core of less than 40,000 men, simply outfought them.  I discovered the reality was considerably different.  The Confederates fought well in every engagement in the campaign, but the reason they ended up with an army of 40,000 or less at Antietam was the result of straggling on a scale the army would not experience again until the Appomattox Campaign.  Confederate logistics utterly failed their soldiers, and when combined with the arduous marching required during the campaign, men broke down by the thousands sick or exhausted.   During the Battle of South Mountain some of Longstreet’s brigades lost far more men to straggling on the march from Hagerstown to Boonsboro than they did in the battle.  If you don’t believe the Confederates experienced a crisis in straggling then read Lee’s correspondence immediately after the Maryland Campaign.  As for the Army of the Potomac, it was not as large as is commonly believed, and was beset by numerous organizational and logistical issues the impaired its effectiveness.

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

SH: I typically like to assemble my research for a chapter before I start writing.  The research also guides the story the chapter needs to tell.  But I sometimes was so eager to write – because I really enjoy the process – that I would get started before I finished the research.  I don’t recommend this method as it leads to an excessive amount of re-writing when you discover evidence that contradicts something you have already written.

The U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, Dartmouth College, the National Archives and Library of Congress were four of the most important archives among many I accessed for this project.  USAHEC houses the finest collection of Union related manuscript material in the country and it is an absolutely first class resource to use.  Besides all the official documents, correspondence, regimental books, etc., that the National Archives houses they had an obscure collection called Antietam Studies, which contained dozens of letters from veterans of the battle mainly to Ezra Carman, a veteran of the battle, and its historian in the late 19th Century, documenting in great detail their unit’s part in the battle, and sometimes, in the entire campaign.  The Library of Congress had Ezra Carman’s massive unpublished manuscript of the Maryland Campaign, which is indispensable to any study of the campaign.  Thankfully, Tom Clemens did a masterful job of editing this manuscript and it has been published by Savas BeatieDartmouth College housed the John Gould Collection.  Gould was an officer in the 10th Maine Infantry at Antietam who in the 1890’s initially set out to determine where General Joseph K. Mansfield fell at Antietam, but the project expanded until Gould was receiving correspondence from dozens of Union and Confederate veterans who fought in the cornfield and East Woods.  Although there is a great deal of correspondence from Confederate soldiers in the Antietam Studies and Gould Collection, for wartime manuscript material the Southern Historical Collection at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the largest.

When I started this project the web as we know it did not exist yet, but in the last few years I used it quite a bit.  The best on-line source for the Maryland Campaign is [Brian Downey’s] Antietam on the Web.  It is an excellent resource.

BR: What’s next for you?

SH: Next is volume 2, which will cover the Battle of Antietam, the end of the campaign and the aftermath of Antietam, both in the battlefield area and nationally.  My guess is it will take three years.

We’re all looking forward to that – but good luck with that three year schedule!





Civil War Times August 2011

11 06 2011

Inside this issue:

Inside cover – a picture of John David Hoptak’s great big giant head.

Letters:

  • Praise and criticism of Kim O’Connell’s photo-essay of monuments at Gettysburg in the June 2011 issue.
  • Praise and criticism of Gary Gallagher’s article on James Longstreet in the June 2011 issue.
  • A little more artillery info provided by Craig Swain and prompted by David Schneider’s article on “Lee’s Armored Car” in the February 2011 issue.

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher asks, Did the Fall of Vicksburg Really Matter?

Collateral Damage

Your host discusses the stories behind the homes of two Pemelias – Higgerson and Chewning – on the Wilderness Battlefield. Thanks again to Noel Harrison of F&SNMP and author Josef Rokus for all their help.

Field Guide

  • The staff show us the Civil War sites of Frederick, MD.

Interview

  • Repeat Lincoln impersonator Sam Watterson (I like to think of him as Michael Moriarty’s fill-in on Law & Order).

Letter from the Editor

  • Editor Dana Shoaf says let’s refer to the observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War as something other than a celebration. Commemoration sounds good to me.

Features

  • The Winter that Made the Texas Brigade – Susannah Ural and Rick Eiserman on Hood’s Brigade and the winter of 1861-62.
  • Yankee Super GunCraig Swain wonders if the big guns of the 1st CT Heavy Artillery could have ended Pickett’s Charge before it began.
  • The Boy Brigadier – Iconoclast William Marvel challenges the long recognized answer to a favorite Civil War trivia question – Who was the youngest general of the war?
  • WWII Comes to Gettysburg – Jennifer Murray on the ‘Burg in the Big One.
  • “The South Was My Country” – Douglas Gibboney gives us a glimps of John Singleton Mosby’s life after the war.

Reviews





Interview: Jeffry Wert, “A Glorious Army”

9 05 2011

I first met prolific author Jeffry D. Wert (and his charming wife, Gloria) during a Civil War seminar almost 13 years ago, and the following summer spent an amazing few days riding at the back of a bus with him and the late Dr. Joseph Harsh during another conference. I probably learned more about the conflict in those few hours than I had up to that point, just by keeping my mouth shut (mostly) and my ears open.

Jeff’s latest book is A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph, 1862-1863, and below he discusses the project.

BR: While I’m sure my readers are very familiar with your works, how about telling us about yourself?

JW: I am a native Pennsylvanian and taught history at Penns Valley Area High School in the central part of the state for 33 years.  I am now retired from the profession.  I am an avid Atlanta Braves and Penn State football fan.

BR: Your new book is about the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862-1863, from Seven Days to Gettysburg.  What prompted you to look at this army for this period?

JW: Lee and the army’s record during those thirteen months is arguably unmatched in America’s military annals.  Although I have covered the army in previous books, I wanted to write a more analytical study on the reasons for their successes and do it, hopefully, in a smooth-flowing narrative.  My book is not a detailed tactical work but looks at leadership, morale, and the common soldiers’ fighting prowess.

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

JW:  The amount of straggling in the army was endemic during 1862.  It reached a climax in the Maryland campaign but was a problem with the rank and file until Chancellorsville.  It appears from the evidence that straggling was minor during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Secondly, my research convinced me more that Lee’s aggressiveness offered the Confederacy its best chance for independence.  Admittedly, it is a controversial subject, but the results, I think, speak for themselves.  Finally, I address whether Lee took the so-called “bloodiest roads” and concluded that he chose the tactical offensive when circumstances dictated it, except for July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg.  Malvern Hill resulted in a tragedy because of misinformation.

BR: Can you sum up for us, in a nutshell, how Lee was able to be successful for most of this period, and what caused his setbacks?

JW:  When Lee assumed temporary command of the army on June 1, 1862, it was as though all the stars aligned for the Confederacy.  The Union Army of the Potomac’s subordinate leadership could not match the likes of Jackson, Longstreet, Stuart, Ewell, A. P. and D. H. Hill, and others.  To be sure, the caution of McClellan, the incompetence of Pope and Burnside, and the unraveling of Hooker contributed to the Confederates’ victories.  Lee’s infantry’s incalculable ‘élan in battle was a significant factor.

BR: What is your research and writing process? Did you visit archives and sites, and how much of a role did online research play?

JW:  I am old-fashioned in my methodology.  I put my research on note cards and write my books on legal-sized paper.  I am blessed with a wife who is an excellent assistant, and she transcribes my words into a word document.  I edit from printed pages.  During my research, I visit archives and libraries.  I use the internet to locate manuscript collections and fortunately for historians more institutions are putting letters and diaries online, making it unnecessary to travel as much.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JW:  The book has been reviewed in a few places and has been praised.  None of the major Civil War magazines have had a review in as of today.  I am gratified to have been a main selection of History Book Club and Military Book Club.

BR: What’s next for you?

JW:  For the first time in many years, I am not under contract on another project.  I may do another book in the future but not at the present.

So for the first time in years, Mr. Wert is taking a break. I have a feeling it won’t be too long before something catches his eye and we hear from his pen – really, his pen! – once again.





Civil War Times June 2011

27 04 2011

Inside this issue:

Letters:

  • Correction of tables that were erroneously flipped in Edward Bonekemper’s article on U. S. Grant in the April 2011 issue.
  • Gregg Biggs disputes Gary Gallagher’s thesis on the importance of the Eastern Theory put forth in his essay in the February 2011 issue.

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher discusses the historiography of James Longstreet.

Collateral Damage

Your host this time looks at the “Squire” Bottom house on the Perryville battlefield. Thanks go out to author and Bull Runnings reader Dr. Kenneth Noe and to Kurt Holman of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. I’m mortified that the acknowledgements did not make the final print version.

Field Guide

  • Bjorn Skaptason show us the Civil War sites of Chicago, IL – don’t laugh, there are more than you think.

Interview

  • Eric Campbell, for years a favorite interpretive ranger at Gettysburg NMP, talks about the challenges of his new job at Cedar Cree & Bell Grove National Historical Park.

Letter from the Editor

  • Editor Dana Shoaf introduces the features, and disputes (as do I) some of the monuments chosen as Gettysburg’s “worst” in one of them.

Features

  • Bread or Blood – Stephanie McCurry on female dissent in the Confederacy.
  • Immortals: Where to Find Gettysburg’s Best and Worst Monuments – Kim O’Connell’s text and Eric Forberger’s photos look at the arguably good and the arguably bad. Personally, I disagree with some choices on both lists, but then I’m one of those weirdos who believe fingers should be longer than toes.
  • Landscape of Remembrance – Philip Kennicott delves into the history of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, warts and all.
  • First Manassas Campaign Map – David Fuller has produced a very fine map, oriented with north to south running left to right, which gives a better overall picture of the movements of the troops, complete with an OOB and four inset maps. Nice! I’m trying to get a good copy to post here. Wish me luck!
  • Hell  in the Harbor – Adam Goodheart on the shelling of the Federal garrison at Ft. Sumter. Photo captions by Craig Swain.
  • Where is Meade? – Tom Huntington tells us “how Union General George G. Meade became the Rodney Dangerfield of the Civil War.”

Reviews





Preview: Jeffry Wert, “A Glorious Army”

21 04 2011

I received a copy of Jeffry D. Wert’s new book, A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph, 1862-1863, from the good folks at Simon & Schuster. I first met Jeff about 13 years ago during a seminar in Gettysburg, and the next year got to spend a few days with him and Joseph Harsh at the back of a bus during a tour of Second Manassas. Good times. Jeff is a very down to earth, good guy (even if he’s a Braves fan), and his writing reflects his common sense approach to history. Back in the day I know he didn’t do email, but I sent a note to Simon & Schuster to see if he’d be able to participate in an e-interview for Bull Runnings. I’ll let you know how that goes – I haven’t heard back from them yet. From the jacket:

A Glorious Army draws on the latest scholarship, including letters and diaries, to provide a brilliant analysis of Lee’s triumphs. It offers fresh assessments of Lee; his top commanders Longstreet, Jackson, and Stuart; and a shrewd battle strategy that still offers lessons to military commanders today. A Glorious Army is a dramatic account of major battles from Seven Days to Gettysburg that is as gripping as it is convincing, a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War.”





Civil War Times February 2011

15 12 2010

Inside this issue:

Letters

  • Ethan Rafuse and Ron Baumgarten each wrote in to comment on the Bonekemper McClellan article from the December 2010 issue.  For an expansion on Rafuse’s letter, see here.
  • Kevin Levin is criticized for “excusing” the execution of Colored Troops after the Crater – how bizarre is that?

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher challenges modern Civil War “PCness” and considers if perhaps the war was actually won in the east.

Field Guide

  • Our nation’s capital’s Civil War monuments

Collateral Damage (by your host)

  • The Jacob Weikert farm behind Little Round Top on the battlefield of Gettysburg.  I’ll have more on this later.

Interview

  • Garry Adelman and the Center for Civil War Photography

Features

  • Judging George Custer – Stephen Budiansky
  • Lee to the Rear – R. K. Krick
  • Hell on Water (slave ships) – Ron Soodalter
  • Lee’s Armored Car (rail mounted guns) – David Schneider
  • Super Spy from Wales (Union agent Pryce Lewis) – Gavin Mortimer

Reviews

  • Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict – Susannah Ural (ed.)
  • The 111th New York Volunteer Infantry: A Civil War History – Martin Husk
  • American Civil War Guerilla Tactics – Sean McLachlan
  • The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory – Holzer, Symonds, Williams (eds.)
  • At the Precipice: Americans North and South During the Secession Crisis – Shearer Davis Bowman
  • Recollections of War Times: By an Old Veteran While Under Stonewall Jackson and Lieutenant General James Longstreet – by William McClendon
  • The Grand Design: Strategy and the U. S. Civil War – by Donald Stoker (see his interview here)