Saturday, January 9, 2016

4 01 2016

 

 

From the Carnegie Library website:

Harry Smeltzer, Kilpatrick’s Family Ties

Saturday, January 9, 2016, 1:00 pm

Harry Smeltzer, host and blogger of “Bull Runnings” a digital history project on the First Battle of Bull Run, will talk on Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. “Kill Cavalry” as he was so nicknamed for his ruthless tactics was the first United States Army officer to be wounded in the Civil War.

Harry’s talk “Kilpatrick’s Family Ties” is a mix of Civil War history and family genealogy. To quote Harry,

“Let’s just say this one has a little bit of everything. Love, infidelity, murder, royalty, ragtime, madness, natural disaster, TV stars, tight blue jeans, World War I flying aces, you name it. Fun talk for all ages and genders.”

Light refreshments served. Registration not required. Free and open to the public. 2nd Saturday Lecture Series made possible by the Massey Charitable Trust.

Come one, come all. The Steelers don’t play until 8:30. Plus, see original prints of 100 photos of Abraham Lincoln, and the restored Espy GAR post!

Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall

300 Beechwood Avenue

Carnegie, PA 15106

See more at their website here.





Popular History – What’s the Problem?

18 12 2015

563274521907e.imageI last wrote about my recent foray into popular history works concerning the American Civil War here. I wrote then that I was cutting the author, T. J. Stiles, slack in relation to what I described as errors of fact not necessarily substantial to the study. If you read the comments or follow Bull Runnings on Facebook, you know that shortly thereafter I gave up the, umm, endeavor, because it became evident that the author was building a case regarding the personality traits of the subject based on what I considered to be shallow and antiquated characterizations of a parallel subject. In addition I felt that those characterizations of that parallel subject were based on scholarship that was far from exhaustive at best and, well, biased at worst. Long and the short of it – I gave up on that book, something I am loathe to do.

So I picked a new read, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692. I’m finishing it up now. I like it. A lot. And that’s got me to thinking: why the different reaction? It’s not based on the authors’ skills as writers – both Stiles and Schiff have garnered awards, including Pulitzer Prizes. And it can’t be the quality of their research because I don’t know crap about the Salem Witch Trials, or for that matter 17th Century Massachusetts (which in many ways seems as confounding and contradictory as 19th Century Massachusetts and, let’s be real, 21st Century Massachusetts and everything in between). But therein I think lies the answer: I don’t know anything about Schiff’s subject. And so, I have to take her word. Not so Stiles.

Both Stiles and Schiff have written multiple books about historical figures and events. Both are wonderfully skilled writers. Why don’t they stick to one specific time period? Why? Because they don’t have to, that’s why. They’re that good. And if an author is that good, why limit him/herself? Which leads me to my ongoing complaint about the quality of Civil War literature, real Civil War literature, by authors whose main focus is that particular period of our history, often narrowed to a fine point within even that tight time frame (say Gettysburg, or Lincoln, or even Bull Run – though I try to read more broadly). For most of us, it’s all, by and large, tough to read. Even the super-rare, well crafted stuff. And why is that? Well, part of that probably lies in the opportunities available to really good writers like Stiles and Schiff to pick their targets and sell more copies of more generally appealing books. But another, big part has nothing to do with who writes these more focused books and everything to do with who reads them.

Us.

We know too damn much for our own good – at least, from a pleasure standpoint. We’re doomed to read these focused books as if it’s a job, analyzing every footnote. And we’re doubly doomed when it comes to popular histories that touch on our particular field of study, because we’re probably more familiar, to varying degrees, with the material and its nuances than any generalist author could ever hope to be. We have at least formed our opinions based on a lot of reading. Hopefully. And so, these works (like Civil War films) are typically enormously frustrating. For us.

It ain’t right, it ain’t wrong. It just is. (Dutchy in Ride With the Devil.)

It’s sad in a way, but we have to accept it. So I’m probably done with pop ACW. (I realize that some might argue that there are “specialist pop-historians” working in the genre, that is, who write shallowly on many ACW topics, but let’s leave that alone for now.) Conversely, I’ll probably not read more on Salem, or Carthage, or Montcalm & Wolfe, or Agincourt, or Gallipoli, to name a few, so as not to spoil what have been great one-off reads for me. Well, maybe more on Gallipoli. But that’s it. That is it. No more. I don’t think.





Interview: John J. Hennessy – The First Battle of Manassas: “An End to Innocence,” July 18-21, 1861

4 12 2015

!cid_2CF4249F-126F-4782-8A7B-1674CF1815FE@hsd1_va_comcast_netBy now you’ve read enough here to know that John J. Hennessy’s anticipated reworking of his 1989 H. E. Howard Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series book, The First Battle of Manassas: “An End to Innocence,” July 18-21, 1861, is available from Stackpole Books. Mr. Hennessy has graciously answered a few questions to provide a little more information about the book and himself. Please feel free to make observations or ask questions in the comment section. Also pay close attention to Mr. H’s closing paragraph. UPDATE: If you’d like a signed copy of the book for your collection (and who wouldn’t?) drop John a note at jjh127@comcast.net

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BR: I’m pretty sure most Bull Runnings readers are familiar with your work, and many to some extent with you, but for those who aren’t, what’s the thumbnail sketch of John Hennessy up to this point?

JH: My career might constitute the most successful and enduring adolescent delaying tactic in history. When I got out of college (I studied both history and management), I wanted to get a job I liked for a summer before I entered the slog of the real world (thinking I would ultimately pursue finance or some such lucrative-but-un-thrilling path). So, I got a job at Manassas Battlefield, hired by Mike Andrus and Dave Ruth (now the superintendent at Richmond NB). That whirlwind summer changed my life. One summer turned into most of a year, then another….and finally a career. I haven’t entered the real world yet.

Since those happy Manassas days, I have worked for the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the NPS Interpretive Design Center at Harpers Ferry (doing interpretive and exhibit planning for parks throughout the NPS), and finally at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP. I arrived there in 1995 as Assistant Superintendent and in 2001 transitioned to the Chief Historian’s position. There I still reside, challenged every day and the beneficiary of a truly outstanding staff of history professionals.

Along the way I have written a few books, most notably Return to Bull Run, which came out in 1993. Most years my professional duties with the NPS have been so consuming that I have had little time for writing of my own. I still punch out a few articles and essays each year, but not nearly as much as I would like.

BR: So, why history, and why the Manassas?

JH: Rainy days inspired my interest in history as a kid. Rainy days gave me the chance to read, and I found I loved biographies and history. I am not alone in pointing to two books as inspiration for an interest in the Civil War: McKinlay Kantor’s Gettysburg and the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. I still remember vividly the trill of reading Kantor’s book on a dark, drippy afternoon with my bedside light on. And I do believe I came to know every one of those tiny men in the great landscape portrayals in American Heritage. Every one.

Transforming an interest in history to a career in history honestly never occurred to me until I arrived at Manassas. My determination that first summer was to leave behind at the park some piece of research that mattered—something that told us things we didn’t already know. As I dug deeper, I realized that a great deal remained to be understood about the battles and field–especially Second Manassas. At that time, for me, one thing drove me more than any other: the desire to accord significance to the ground—to be able to give visitors the experience of understanding what happened RIGHT HERE at a given moment more than a century ago.

That rather narrow quest spun up into efforts to better understand the battles in a larger sense. In 1983, I floated the idea to the park of using the research I was then doing as the basis for a set of troop movement maps for Second Manassas. I can see now that that was my great career break. That work got the attention and support of Ed Bearss, who was then the Chief Historian of the NPS, and it gave me a chance to do a level of research that quite honestly has been the foundation for everything I have done since. For me, those were exciting days that few historians will ever have a chance to match.

I left the NPS for a time in 1986, and only then did I decide to write books about Manassas. For most of five years I worked on both An End to Innocence and what would become Return to Bull Run.

A funny thing about An End to Innocence: when I worked at the park, I wasn’t much intrigued by First Manassas. Only after I left the NPS did I start to think seriously about the battle, its significance, and the conventional wisdom that governs it. I wrote the book over about a six-month period in 1988-89. Its scope is fairly narrow–closely focused on the battle itself. There is a reason for that: at the time, the best book on First Manassas was William C. Davis’s Battle at Bull Run. Davis is a beautiful writer and a thoughtful historian. He did a tremendous job on the campaign at large and the battle’s context. But at the park, we always felt like he didn’t quite get right the battle itself. And so I wrote my book to fill that gap, and to avoid treading on subject matter he had already handled so well.

BR: Are there any writers/historians who influence your writing?

JH: When I get stuck in my writing, I pull out Freeman or Furgurson to get my literary mind working again. As for inspiration, there’s no question that Sears’s Landscape Turned Red helped shape my vision of what a battle or campaign study should be. Beautifully written and organized.

BR: An End to Innocence has been out, what? over 25 years now, and it’s recognized as a standard (to me, THE standard) tactical study of the First Battle of Bull Run. What prompted you to do a new edit?

JH: Stackpole Books inquired about reprinting the book at about the same time I had started thinking that I should do something new with it. At that point I envisioned only small edits and additions—nothing major.

But then I started reading it again. I doubt most authors spend much time reading their own books, and I honestly hadn’t read anything but pieces of the book in years (mostly to prepare for tours). I had always liked it fairly well, but now…. Didn’t like the opening. Rewrote that. Found a good deal of passive voice and some awkward constructions. Slayed those. And as I went, I increasingly felt the narrative lacked richness, power. In some places a vagueness betrayed my uncertainty; in other places I knew I had, since 1989, gathered more powerful source material that could be woven in.

Pretty quickly a two-week edit turned into a three-month rewrite. I didn’t rewrite the whole book, but probably 80% of it.

BR: So, what IS new in this edition? Was there anything that really surprised you along the way? And how much was that affected by the availability of material, or by a maturation in your own thought processes?

JH: I shudder when I think how little I really knew about the Civil War and American history when I wrote this book in the late ‘80s. Then, my (and many others’) focus was on the accumulation of knowledge—adding detail, incorporating new sources. Today, I think we prize understanding to a far greater degree, and we demand that knowledge and understanding be interwoven.

I think I understand the First Battle of Manassas far better today than I did then—its fabric, its nature, and why it mattered.

Back then, I saw the battlefield landscape as mere tableau—a playing field for armies. Today, and in this edition, I pay a good deal more attention to the people who lived there, recognizing that this was a living space whose residents were deeply affected by what happened there. This is a general trend in Civil War historiography, and it’s a good one.

Since 1989, we have accumulated probably 150-200 new sources on the battle, many of which are now posted on Bull Runnings (more on that later). We are at a point in the historiography of the Civil War that most of the new sources that emerge simply reinforce things we already know. But sometimes they prompt some re-thinking, and a re-examination of sources one might not have given a thought to in years. An example: we have always presumed that the 11th New York and 1st Minnesota were the only two Union regiments atop Henry Hill at the first exchange of infantry fire. But we now know that the 38th NY was there too—farther off to the left, but without question engaged with Jackson’s line at the same time the Fire Zouaves were suffering their fall from fame and grace. Similarly, we have always presumed, as Burnside asserted, that Sykes’s Regulars played a major role in averting Union disaster at the height of the fighting on Matthews Hill. A closer look makes clear that’s all wrong, and there is little question about it. The Hampton Legion, the Mississippians with Bee, Barnard’s reconnaissance on July 19-20—all emerge with a slightly different hue thanks to new sources and a forced reconsideration.

By far the biggest challenge in the rewrite revolved around Irvin McDowell. In the original, I treated McDowell as something of a caricature –embracing conventional wisdom and the relentless cascade of simplicities that seem to revolve around him. This time around I took more time and, I think, a more thoughtful approach.

You had something to do with that. Your writings on the blog about McDowell, elusive though they may yet be, helped push me to take a close, second look at this much maligned man (I was really hard on him in my Second Manassas book) and, especially, his plan for battle. I wait anxiously to learn if you agree with my conclusions about McDowell (all of us of course want to stay on Harry’s good side), but in any event, my treatment of McDowell, the circumstances he faced, and his response as the battle progressed amount to probably the most important substantive revision of the book—less simplistic, more nuanced, more intent on understanding rather than simply narrating.

Some other new things: I include a good deal about the civilian spectators, both Union and (yes) Confederate. If Americans know one thing about Manassas, it’s that civilians came out to watch. I look closely at their experience, their role in affecting the Union retreat, and the important legacy produced by their bearing witness to Union disaster.

I also take a much closer look at the aftermath of battle. The combat itself shocked the soldiers. The aftermath shocked the nation. On this field were the first major field hospitals of the Civil War. Here were buried the first great numbers of dead. To this place came hundreds of curious onlookers and souvenir seekers. All these things tell us a great deal about how this battle reverberated across the nation, North and South.

And finally, really, how did the battle affect the people of the North and the Confederacy? Is the conventional wisdom that it shocked the nation to action true? Did Southerners really believe victory meant independence? I touched on these things only slightly in the original. These questions get more rigorous treatment in the new edition.

BR: What types of sources did you rely on most, and how did that change between the first edition and this one?

JH: For the new edition, I did only a bit of targeted research (most of that when I was preparing for the 150th in 2011). Instead, over the years I accumulated First Manassas things as I found them, throwing them into my files or, more recently, turning them into digital files (about half my research is now in digital form, and I hope eventually to phase out my 15 or so boxes of 5 x 8 cards entirely). I regularly check sites online for new material, and I have always been a bit of a maniac about wartime newspapers. The number of wartime papers online increases all the time, and many of them include primary sources worth looking at. (In fact, since I sent off the manuscript just four months ago, another dozen or so new sources have tumbled onto my desk).

Of course by far the best website for new material on First Manassas is Bull Runnings. In fact, it’s the best compilation of online material related to a specific Civil War engagement ANYWHERE (you can quote me on that).

One thing I surely noticed: Back in the 1980s, it was simply impossible to lay hands on some published sources. Today, many of those elusive sources are available digitally. As an example, my treatment of Extra Billy Smith and the 49th VA benefitted greatly from access to his writings, which I could not get in 1988. The digital age is a boon.

As I worked through the rewrite, I went back and re-examined literally every source I used or quoted in the original. Often I found I had overlooked a good passage or an important point my first time through. This process of reassessing sources prompted a good deal of the rewriting I did.

BR: Can you describe your writing process?

JH: I just write. I suppose I have in my brain an outline of what I am going to do, but I am not usually conscious of it, and I never put it on paper in outline form. My life is pretty busy, so I often got only small snatches of time for writing each day—often only 30 or 40 minutes. Once was, that would have been a disaster. But my writing “voice” has developed enough that I can fairly easily jump in and out of writing as circumstances command.

When I did get blocks of time to write, on a typical night I might get in 800 words. If I had a day, maybe 2,000. Writing is like building a brick wall. If you imagine the whole thing, it’s daunting. All you can do is the little bit in front of you—put the thoughts and sentences and passages together one-by-one.

BR: What’s next for you?

JH: My writing career has always been an inverse indicator of the fulsomeness of my career: when I have been challenged greatly at work, I hardly have the energy to write at home. But when those periods come along when 9-5 work is less stimulating (remember, I work for the government, so it happens), I look to get my intellectual jollies by writing. For the moment, my NPS work is pretty demanding. I will do occasional articles or essays, but likely not much more in the near term.

But, I am only a few years from retirement, and writing is what I plan to do when it comes. My great interest is the Army of the Potomac, and especially its relationship with the government and people it served. I am also much interested in its subordinate command. I expect I will write about both those topics. I also have an emerging itch to write a book about the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia. I’ll also someday write about the town of Fredericksburg during the war, slavery and freedom hereabouts, and perhaps a few things well outside the well-trod intellectual and literary terrain of the Civil War period.

One last thing: sometime, perhaps in the spring, we ought to convene a Bull Runnings outing at Manassas for you, your readers, or anyone else who wants to come along–walk the ground, and hash through some of the mysteries and conundrums that remain. It’d be fun. I’m game if you and your people are.

BR: What do you think, Bull Runners? Does that sound like fun? Something you’d be interested in? Maybe the first ever Bull Runnings muster! We’ll see how it plays out, but your feedback is key.





Oops…

29 11 2015

3The latest issue of Civil War Times (February 2016) is on newsstands now, and includes my review of a new e-book on page 66. The book is “If I Have Got to Go and Fight, I am Willing.”: A Union Regiment Forged in the Petersburg Campaign, a history of the 179th New York Infantry. I’d just like to clear something up with it. I’m not complaining, mind you, but there is a typo in the text that may be misleading. The text reads thus:

Click on the note number and you go right to the citation, without the need to flip back and forth. I would like to see these citations take another step, such as linking to public domain publications that are available online, taking readers to the specific passage when possible. Or for non-public domain publications, a link to purchase details (a possible revenue opportunity for publishers?) photographs, maps and illustrations that can be enlarged and swipe navigated, and links are provided to high-resolution copies on the author’s website.

That last sentence is confusing, and may lead the reader to believe I am suggesting that the book would be better if photographs, maps, and illustrations (don’t get me started on the jettisoned Oxford comma) could be enlarged and swipe navigated. Let me be clear – they can be and are in the book as is. Here is the passage as submitted:

Of course endnotes are actively linked – click on the note number and the reader is taken to the citation – no need to flip back and forth. I would like to see these cites taking another step, such as linking to public domain publications which have been digitized and are available on the web, even taking the reader to the specific passage cited when possible. Or for non-public domain publications, a link to purchase details (a possible revenue opportunity for publishers?) Photographs, maps, and illustrations can be enlarged and swipe-navigated, and links are provided to high resolution copies on the author’s website.

I’m not calling out my editors here: they are a great bunch and have been a pleasure to work with over the years. I just want to be clear about what the book does and does not offer. I admit that my placement of a question mark inside parentheses without a period to end the sentence may have contributed to the confusion. But you don’t have to publish too many pieces in periodicals to learn that there are things within and without your control. Like Dutchie said at the end of Ride With the Devil, “It ain’t right, it ain’t wrong. It just is.”

I apologize to the author, Ed Rutan, for this. As I told the magazine folks, I could have written a full article on the currently unfulfilled potential of the e-book. Mr. Rutan’s book is a notch above most in that regard.

 





Nine Years Blogging

6 11 2015

keep-calm-and-have-a-happy-9th-birthday-1

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

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

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





Preview: Two New Emerging Civil War Titles

5 11 2015

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

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

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





Pvt. Green Berry Samuels, Co. F, 10th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Fairfax Station July 26th, 1861

My Dear Sister,

I wrote you such a hurried and confused letter the other day owing to the short time that was allowed me. Though I have concluded to write you another. I have been quite unwell the last few days but fortunately for now I am very comfortably quartered in my in my cousin’s tent and hope to be entirely well in a few days. No doubt you have heard by this time the full particulars of our splendid victory on last Sunday, but like all new soldiers I cannot help but say my say about it.

Colonel Elzey’s brigade of which I have the honor of being a member left Piedmont on the Manassas cars early in the morning and after landing at the Junction we ran some 5 miles to the field of battle and arrived just in time to change defeat into a glorious victory. We sustained 5 volleys of musketry within the small loss of 6 killed and 14 wounded in our regiment. The ground sheltered us and connected with our throwing ourselves flat on the ground no doubt saved many a gallant soldier’s life. I cannot describe my feelings as I came into battle and heard the shrill singing of the rifle cannon shell and the whistling of the Minnie balls. I was not afraid and I am proud to say that I think none in the company were frightened although many a pulse beat faster at the sight of death and the sound of the death dealing balls.

The hardest trial to one’s nerves is the sight of the wounded and the dead; in many cases the agony of the wounded was awful and their pitying cries for water heart-rending. As for the dead, some had died with their hands folded across their breasts with their eyes wide open looking up to Heaven with a sweet smile upon the face, some had evidently died in awful agony, with distorted faces, glaring eyes and clenched hands. I will write no more of this awful scene; it makes me sick to think of it. Would to God, Lincoln could have seen the horrors of last Sunday; we would have peace today instead of war. Our county, I understand, has lost some 20 killed, which has carried mourning into many a now fatherless home. Poor Milton Moore was engaged to be married; what must be the feelings of the young lady? The regiment to which your brother belongs, I believe, is stationed some three or four miles from Manassas; at least it was on the day of battle and the succeeding ones. I hope they will still be left at Manassas when we move on, so that your mother may not be so much concerned about his safety.

Our Brigade is stationed as you may see by the heading of my letter some 10 miles from Manassas. Whether we will move on soon or not I cannot say. Please answer my letters as soon as you receive them and direct to me at Fairfax Station…. You need feel no uneasiness about my sickness as I will certainly be well in a few days. I wish you could see us out here in the woods. We have such nice pleasant quarters with plenty of water and cool shade. I will send you a photograph of Colonel Ellsworth taken on the field of battle, please keep it safely as it will be a reminiscence for me in my old age should I live. Do not fail to keep it safely…

Yours devotedly,

G. B. Samuels

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana, October 2015

Specific letter 

Contributed by John Hennessy

Green B. Samuels at Ancestry.com

Green B. Samuels at Fold3

Green B. Samuels at Findagrave.com





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

4 11 2015

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

Dear Uncle John,

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

Your aff. Nephew,

Wm. W. Blackford

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

Direct to Lt. W. W. Blackford

Care of Col. J. E. B. Stuart

1st Regt Va Cavalry

Fairfax CH.

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana

Specific letter

Contributed by John Hennessy





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

31 10 2015

Roanoke Island, N. C,
May 22, 1862

John C. Weston, Esq.:

Dear Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With great respect I have the honor to be,

Yours, etc.

S. G. Griffin

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

Contributed by David Morin, Exeter, NH

Notes on Ephraim Weston and Simon G. Griffin





Sometimes I Wonder…

28 10 2015

…why I even bother.

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

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

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

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

Ugh. No footnote, of course.

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








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