The U. S. Constitution and “States’ Rights”

11 09 2016

Thomas Jefferson – Wow

Much has been said about the notion of States’ Rights as the cause of the Civil War from a Confederate perspective, and of the idea of the United States formed under its Constitution as a sort of “men’s club,” with a membership consisting of states who were free to come and go as they pleased. Is the near absence from the The Federalist of the concept of secession due to a general assumption of applicability or of irrelevance, even of inconceivability? I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I thought you all might like to read these paragraphs from Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which can be found on pages 573-574. Thomas Jefferson was a real piece of work, man. A real gem – who, if you recall, was not a framer of the Constitution. We pick up the story in 1798 (ten years after the Constitution’s ratification), after the passage of the Federalist’s onerous Alien and Sedition Acts [brackets and emphasis mine]:



Alexander Hamilton – chief architect of the Constitution, but backer of the Alien and Sedition Acts as a private citizen

Many Republicans thought it best to sit back and let the Federalists blow themselves up. As [James] Monroe put it, the more the Federalist party was “left to itself, the sooner will its ruin follow.” Jefferson and [James] Madison were not that patient, especially after Hamilton became inspector general of the new army. Jefferson thought the Republicans had a duty to stop the Sedition Act, explaining later that he considered that law “to be nullity as absolute and as palpable as if Congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image.” With Federalists in control of the government, the political magician decided that he and Madison would draft resolutions for two state legislatures, declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts to be unconstitutional. The two men operated by stealth and kept their authorship anonymous to create the illusion of a groundswell of popular opposition. Jefferson drafted his resolution for the Kentucky legislature and Madison for Virginia. The Kentucky Resolutions passed on November 16, 1798, and the Virginia Resolutions on December 24. Jefferson’s biographer Dumas Malone has noted that the vice president [Jefferson, serving under Federalist John Adams] could have been brought up on sedition charges, possibly even impeached for treason, had his actions been uncovered at the time.


James Madison did a complete 180 on the relation of state and federal law, when it suited him politically

In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson turned to language that even Madison found excessive. Of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he warned that “unless arrested at the threshold,” they would “necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood.” He wasn’t calling for peaceful protests or civil disobedience: he was calling for outright rebellion, against the federal government of which he was vice president. In editing Jefferson’s words, the Kentucky legislature deleted his call for ‘nullification” of laws that violated states’ rights. The more moderate Madison said that the states, in contesting obnoxious laws, should “interpose for arresting the progress of evil.” This was a breathtaking evolution for a man who had pleaded at the Constitutional Convention that the federal government should possess a veto over state laws. In the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Jefferson and Madison set forth a radical doctrine of States’ Rights that effectively undermined the Constitution.


George Washington, in retirement, was appalled by the Virginia Resolutions

Neither Jefferson nor Madison sensed that they had sponsored measures as inimical as the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves. “Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat than the misguided {alien and sedition} laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure,” Garry Wills has written. The theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions was deep and lasting. Hamilton and others had argued that the Constitution transcended state governments and directly expressed the will of the American people. Hence, the Constitution began “We the People of the United States” and was ratified by special conventions, not state legislatures. Now Jefferson and Madison lent their imprimatur to an outmoded theory in which the Constitution became a compact of the states, not of their citizens. By this logic, states could refrain from federal legislation they considered unconstitutional. This was a clear recipe for calamitous dissension and ultimate disunion. George Washington was so appalled by the Virginia Resolutions that he told Patrick Henry that if “systematically and pertinaciously pursued,” they would “dissolve the union or produce coercion.” The influence of the doctrine of states’ rights, especially in the version promulgated by Jefferson, reverberated right up to the Civil War and beyond. At the close of the war, James Garfield of Ohio, the future president, wrote that the Kentucky Resolutions “contained the germ of nullification and secession, and we are today reaping its fruits.”


James Garfield brings us full circle, Civil War-wise



Preview – Biggs, “They Fought for the Union”

6 09 2016

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They Fought for the Union, by Jeffrey R. Biggs, is a history of the First Delaware Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac. In this video, the author discusses the regiment and his reasons for writing the book:

As the author points out, the 1st Delaware had a knack, from Antietam to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, of winding up in some pretty hot battlefield spots. As Mr. Biggs has already hipped us to their story, I’ll give you the lowdown on the book itself.

You get 447 pp of narrative in paperback for $19.99 from Amazon. These include 26 maps and 20 pages of photos and illustrations. You also get a full index, bibliography, and end-notes. The bibliography consists of a slew of published works, but also lists nine newspapers and eight manuscript sources, which are cited in the notes.

I’ve long been intrigued by the frequency with which this regiment turned up in what could be argued to be the wrong place at the wrong time – now I have a chance to learn a bit more. This is the first in-depth look at the unit in 130 years (see original regimental by William Seville here). Check out the author’s website here.

I also must thank the author for answering that age-old question famously posed by Rev. Jim Ignatowski – Delawareans or Delawarites? Mr. Biggs describes himself as a life-long Delawarean. That’s a load off my mind.

Preview: Four New Emerging Civil War Titles

20 08 2016

If you’ve been reading Bull Runnings for a while, you know that I’ve previewed all of the titles in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series. And you also know how these books work. Concise histories, lots of maps and illustrations, tough paperbacks, suitable for the field. The really interesting parts, to me anyway, are the appendices. So, for each of these four most recent publications, I’m going to give you the bare minimum, and flesh out those appendices for you. Narrative page counts are for the main chapters only, not counting appendices. All run around 200 pages total.

OutFlewTheSabers_LRGOut Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, by Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 109 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Four Battles of Brandy Station (Wittenberg).
  • Appendix B: The Winter Encampment (Mike Block).
  • Appendix C: The Battle of Kelly’s Ford (Davis).
  • Afterword on preservation efforts (O. James Lighthizer).
  • Order of Battle

Layout 1The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, 1863, by Robert Orrison and Dan Welch.

  • Narrative: 167 pages, with tours, from the start of the Confederate advance through the retreat.
  • No Appendices

Layout 1Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 – From Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge, by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 131 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Wheatfield: A Walking Tour (White).
  • Appendix B: The Heroes of Little Round Top? Controversy surrounding Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine (Ryan Quint).
  • Appendix C: Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter. Photography at the site (James Brookes).
  • Appendix D: Not a Leg to Stand On: Sickles vs. Meade in the Wake of Gettysburg (Mackowski).
  • Order of Battle

A_Long_BloodyA Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw Mountain to the Chatahoochie River, May 5 – July 18, 1864, by Stephen Davis.

  • Narrative: 105 pages
  • Driving Tour of the Atlanta Campaign: 14 pages
  • Appendix A: The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Evolving Presence (Stephen Briggs).
  • Appendix B: My Time with “Company Aytch:” Personal Memory and the Kennesaw Line (Robert W. Novak).
  • Appendix C: The Chattahoochee River Line Today (Michael k. Shaffer).
  • Appendix D: Federal Logistics During the Atlanta Campaign (Britt McCarley)
  • Appendix E: Why Do People Believe Joe Johnston Could Have Saved Atlanta? (Davis).
  • Appendix F: What We’ve Learned About John Bell Hood Since the Centennial (Davis)
  • Order of Battle


Interview: Dr. Carol Reardon, “A Field Guide to Antietam”

9 08 2016


I’ve known Dr. Carol Reardon, George Winfrey Professor of American History at my alma mater The Pennsylvania State University, since 1998 when I first started following her around various eastern Civil War battlefields. A true military historian – as opposed to a historian who writes about events with a military element – she is the author of numerous books, including the seminal memory study Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory; Soldiers and Scholars: The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920; With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North; and Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972In 2013, she and co-author Tom Vossler released the game changing guide-book A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Now, the duo have followed up the phenomenal success of that book with A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Dr. Reardon took some time from her very busy schedule to answer a few questions about that work for Bull Runnings:

100_5190BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

CR: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from Brentwood High School. I attended Allegheny College in Meadville PA, where I received a BS in biology. I did not reinvent myself as a historian until graduate school. I received my MA in history from the University of South Carolina and my PhD in history from the University of Kentucky. My first position after receiving my doctorate kept me at Kentucky as the associate editor of The Papers of Henry Clay documentary editing project. I then taught at the University of Georgia for two years before accepting a position at Penn State University. I’m entering my twenty-fifth year of service at Penn State this August. During my time at Penn State, I’ve been fortunate to receive two appointments to teach at the US Army War College and a one-year assignment to teach at the US Military Academy at West Point. I take special satisfaction from my fourteen years of service on the Board of Visitors of Marine Corps University. I also won election to two terms as the president of the Society for Military History. I maintain a busy public service profile that includes military staff rides and leadership programs on Civil War battlefields, appointments to advisory boards for several history – focused non-profit organizations, and related activities. And, of course, my professional life has been shaped by the usual academic mantra of “publish or perish.” I also have a healthy garden, keep a year list of bird sightings, and have a vested interest in a few Simmental beef cattle.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

CR: I became interested in the Civil War as early as second grade during the Civil War centennial. I made my first trip to Gettysburg in May 1963, just before the 100th anniversary of the battle. I wrote my first “research paper” about that trip, and the full-page I printed impressed my teachers. I guess I responded well to positive reinforcement. Also, my next door neighbors were into the Civil War, and that gave me people I could talk to about it. But the biggest pushes came from my father, an officer in the Army Reserve, who encouraged my interests in anything military, and my maternal grandmother, who got behind anything educational that interested me. She was the one who took me on my first visit to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland [in Pittsburgh, PA] to find my great-great-grandfather’s name on the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s plaque on the wall. Once I got to college, much of the inspiration and motivation that sent me down the path of military history came from the triumvirate of Professors Jay Luvaas of Allegheny College and the Army War College and Charles P. Roland and George C. Herring of the University of Kentucky.

BR: Can you describe the format of the tour book, and the rationale behind that format?

CR: David Perry, former editor at University of North Carolina Press, was the mastermind behind the field guide. He went on a Gettysburg tour with me about fifteen years ago and decided then that he had to figure out a way to “bottle it.” As the sesquicentennial drew near, he raised the idea again. By then, Tom Vossler and I had done so many field programs and staff rides together that it was natural that we’d do this as a joint venture. The format followed from the experience gained from those various programs. We knew what information a visitor had to know–the what happens who made it happen. We knew what interested them–numbers, units, casualties. We knew what we wanted them to think more about –thus cost of war in very personal terms through the individual vignettes, the civilian experience, the play of memory on how we recall the past. That shaped the six questions around which we built the Gettysburg field guide, and we’ve received a positive response to it.

BR: The subject of your previous guide-book was an obvious choice. How did you settle on Antietam for the follow-up?

CR: It just seemed like the obvious next place to go. It’s an important battle in a number of different ways, from military concerns such as the great number of casualties to political consequences such as the Emancipation Proclamation that added the abolition of slavery to preservation of the Union as national war aims. The battlefield is very well-preserved. Its National Park Service staff and the members of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation are excellent stewards of the battlefield, and their active advice, support, and expertise provided a level of support that we knew would ensure a top-notch final product. It didn’t hurt that it was only an hour away.

BR: What were the most surprising finds while researching the Battle of Antietam?

CR: It’s a far more complex battle than it appears. I was taught for years to break down the fighting into the early-morning phase centering on the Cornfield, the late-morning/noon phase at the Bloody Lane, and the afternoon phase at Burnside’s Bridge as three distinct pieces. It became increasingly clear as the work progressed that these phases overlapped at times, and that actions in one phase directly influenced those in the others. Restoring the complexity became an unexpected element of the guide.

BR: How did the view-scape of and access to sites in the park, which changed while you were writing the book, affect your process?

CR: We were amazingly fortunate that several big property acquisitions were finalized just before went to press. The purchase and amazingly quick demolition of a modern brick ranch house at the western edge of the North Woods made me go into the text and remove a few references to that structure as a visual cue before we went to print. The purchase of the Wilson farm just south of the Miller Cornfield happened at a time when we could adjust the text. The tree clearing efforts of a hardy crew from Save Historic Antietam Foundation removed a treeline on the Wilson farm that restored a key view-shed that helped us to explain elements of the Union artillery deployment near the East Woods and Mumma farm. We went down and re-shot several photos to take full advantage of the new vistas that most decidedly illustrated points we made in our narrative.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

CR: The Antietam guide took about two years to write. I did most of the primary-source research for the book. In addition to the richness of the Official Records and the Antietam Battlefield Commission records largely compiled by former colonel Ezra Carman (and the outstanding editing of his work by Thomas G. Clemens), two other sources proved invaluable. First, the library at Antietam National Battlefield has an excellent collection of primary-source material, plus Ted Alexander and Stephanie Gray to help us work through it. Anyone who knows Ted knows to pay attention when he begins a sentence with, “hey, have you heard about….”. Second, the outstanding collections of digitized Pennsylvania Civil War newspapers available on the Penn State University Library website; Civil War historians working on battle studies simply cannot ignore these incredibly rich (and lightly mined) materials; there are other digitized newspaper collections online, but the Pennsylvania collection is newer and access is easiest if one has an email account that ends with

BR: You co-authored this and your preceding book with Tom Vossler. Can you describe the collaborative process?

CR: For the Gettysburg guide, we initially divided the writing/research along lines of our natural interests and strengths. at first, I focused in the sections that addressed what happened here, who fought here, who fell here, and what did they say about it later. Tom initially focused on who led here and who lived here. Tom owns a farm; the latter topic really drew him in. Increasingly, as Tom took on the primary responsibility for the modern photos and the maps (all original for each guide), I took on more of the traditional research and writing, while he focused more on the books’ highly detailed visual elements. We both worked on the historical illustrations, making considerable use of the collections at the US Army Heritage and Education Center; during Tom’s last posting before he retired as a colonel, he was director of this fine repository. It worked.

BR: What did you learn while writing the Gettysburg field guide that helped with writing the one for Antietam?

CR: We learned that we had hit on a formula that worked, so we did not have to consider any substantial format changes. But the biggest thing we learned is that everything connected with the publication process takes much longer than you estimate it will. Much longer.

BR: Was there anything about Antietam (process-wise) that you didn’t encounter while writing Gettysburg, or anything significantly different, that made it easier or more difficult?

CR: Not really. The process stayed pretty much the same. The special challenge for me, at least, centered on learning about a lot of units that fought Antietam that did not serve at Gettysburg. We both live in Gettysburg. We do much of programming here. We can recite the Gettysburg order of battle automatically. But Antietam made me become deeply acquainted with all the elements of the IX Corps, all the nine-month regiments that just joined the Union army before Antietam but leave it after Chancellorsville and miss Gettysburg, the Confederate brigades of Evans and Colquitt and Ransom and the like. But I enjoyed that part.

BR: What’s the promo schedule for Antietam look like? Any upcoming signings or lectures?

CR: Tom and I will be leading a special daylong tour of Antietam on September 10 for the Gettysburg Foundation’s First Corps members. We actually have more Gettysburg events coming up in the near future than Antietam events. I’m especially looking forward to taking a busload of folks from Allegheny College around Gettysburg in September, re-forging the bond between the Allegheny community and Civil War battlefields that Jay Luvaas established in the 1960s. He took me on my first visits to many battlefields, including Antietam, and it’s time for me to revitalize that little bit of Allegheny heritage.

BR: What’s next for you?

CR: We’re finishing up a new and revised edition of the Gettysburg field guide that will include two new stops, correct a few errors (yes, we know it’s not the Soldiers’ National “Seminary”), and tighten up the relationship between the maps and the narrative. UNC Press will also offer an expanded and revised eBook version of the field guide that will include the new stops, corrections, revised maps, and approximately 10,000 new words – mostly the very welcome restoration of items initially prepared for the original text that had to be cut when it got too long. We’re glad that we will finally be able to share some of these episodes and vignettes with our readers.

Preview: Mingus & Wittenberg, “The Second Battle of Winchester”

30 07 2016

SecondBattleofWinchester_LRGNew from Savas Beatie is a joint effort by Scott L. Mingus, Sr and Eric J. Wittenberg, The Second Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg. I’m looking forward to this mainly because I’ve always been struck by the inconsistencies between the old saw of Richard Ewell having lost his aggressiveness – and decisiveness – after his wounding at Brawner’s Farm and marriage, and his performance at this prelude to Gettysburg. I’ll be interested to see if and how the authors have addressed that conundrum.

Here’s what you get: 429 (!) pages of narrative, with Hal Jesperson maps and plenty of illustrations, including present day photos; a driving tour appendix with seven stops and an extended tour with six more; Orders of Battle for Second Winchester and Martinsburg; a list of surgeons and chaplains captured during Second Winchester who were sent on to Libby Prison; the March 14, 1863 Resolution of the 123rd Ohio; a bibliography with plenty of primary sources; a full index; and the usual Savas Beatie page-bottom footnotes.

New in Paperback

24 07 2016


I have a bunch of previews of new releases to post, but to jump-start let me quickly note the release of two titles in paperback. Both have been previewed here before, so I’ll just link to those.

First is John Michael Priest’s “Stand to It and Give Them Hell:” Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced It from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863. It’s really tough to expand on that title, so read my preview here.

Also in paperback is the first volume of Dave Powell’s Chickamauga series, “A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 – September 19, 1863. You can read that preview here.

2nd Rhode Island Photos

19 07 2016

John Banks has found some amazing photos of members of the 2nd Rhode Island before First Bull Run. These include great shots of the Rhode Islanders unique overall or night-shirt style uniforms.

The soldier identifications have been expanded on John’s site – visit it here. And here is a link to the Providence Public Library piece on the discovery of the photos.

Below are the photos. They are fantastic.








A Reminder – And a Teaser

8 06 2016

Note in the video above John Hennessy discusses the significance of the move of the batteries of Griffin and Ricketts from Dogan’s Ridge to Henry Hill. It’s a move that has been emphasized by many as one of the reasons for the Federal failure that day. As part of the next Bull Runnings tour (date to be determined), we’ll take a closer look at the use of the Federal artillery on July 21, 1861, with an examination of all the positions taken that day – including (hopefully) Dogan’s Ridge, where we did not go in April – and a discussion of their relative advantages and disadvantages. Guest guides TBA.

Lt. William Brockenbrough Newton, Hanover Light Dragoons, 30th Virginia Cavalry, On the Campaign

14 05 2016

Centreville, July 22d 1861

My Dearest Wife,

For the last four days we have never been longer in one place than two hours – have slept every night upon the ground in good weather and bad, eaten nothing but hard crackers and fried bacon, and rested little at any time. For all of which privations, and a thousand others, we have been more than compensated – thanks to the just God who governs the courses of history, and decrees the destiny of nations – in the glorious results of yesterday. My last was from Fairfax Court House.

On the morning of the 17th we had received reliable information that the enemy were advancing, over 50,000 strong, and were not surprised at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear the fire of our pickets who were slowly retiring before the advancing foe. The order was given to pack – in ten minutes baggage was packed, tents struck, and the wagons driven to the rear, and the whole command formed in line of battle. In a few moments the glittering bayonets of the enemy lined the neighboring hills. From the heavy signal guns being fired at intervals along our line commencing at Germantown, and stretching along to Fairfax Court House, it was evident that the enemy were endeavoring to surround our little band. But our “little Trump,” as the men call Beauregard, was not to be taken by any such game.

Every preparation was made to deceive the enemy by inducing him to believe that we meditated a vigorous resistance – meantime our column defiled through a densely wooded road, and was for on the road to Centreville when the enemy discovered his mistake. He followed on very cautiously. Our troop, with Kemper’s battery, was assigned to post of honour, and charged with the duty of covering the retreat. We were the last to leave the village, and as we went out at one end of the street, his column appeared at the other. We halted at this place (Centreville) about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, again made show of battle, slept until 12 o’clock at the heads of our horses, and silently left the place, the enemy’s pickets being within talking distance of ours.

At daybreak we were across Bull Run, having marched very slowly to keep pace with the infantry. We found beds of leaves in the woods, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and slept for an hour or two, until roused by the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he opened his batteries upon our lines. For two mortal hours, shot and shell flew thick along our whole line. This day’s work was evidently intended only to draw the fire of our artillery and show where our batteries were. In consequence of which, our gunners were ordered not to fire a single shot until within point blank range. After thus opening the ball, two dense masses of infantry were seen to defile to the right and left, to make two separate attacks. It was indeed a beautiful sight, as they came down in perfect order, and with the steady step of veterans. They came nearer and yet nearer, and yet no shot from our guns. Men began to mutter and say that we were preparing for another retreat. But, in a few moments, the appointed time arrived, a single shot from the Washington Artillery gave the signal of death, and for half an hour there was nothing but a continuous sheet of flame along the right of our line. The enemy fell back, rallied and charged again with a like result; again they rested and rushed forward; but old Virginia was true to herself, and the gallant 1st and 17th regiments met them, though twice their numbers, charged them with the bayonet, and drove them back in utter confusion.

The cavalry were held in reserved, and although within range of the artillery and continually experiencing the sensations which men may be supposed to indulge, who know there is a hidden danger hovering in the air, without knowing where it is to light, took no part in the action. Our time came yesterday, however. Our troop was for four hours in the hottest of the fight, and every man in it won the applause and approbation of the whole camp.

The action commenced at 8 o’clock of a sweet Sabbath morning. The enemy commenced with quite a heavy cannonade upon our right, which proved to be a mere feint to distract our attention, as his main attack was directed to our left wing. At ten o’clock the enemy had crossed the river on our left, and the fight commenced in earnest. From the hill on which we stood, we could see the smoke and dust, although at the distance of several miles from the fight waged on our left. Some thought our men had fallen back; others, that the enemy were retreating. It was an hour of painful interest.

At eleven o’clock, and aid-de-camp rode up in a gallop, and said our men were retiring, and the cavalry was ordered to the left. We were temporarily attached to Radford’s regiment. Ours was the first company, and mine the front platoon. On we dashed at a gallop. As we passed within range of a battery of rifled cannon, a ball was fired at us, and passed just between W___ and myself, knocking up clouds of dust. Without wavering in their ranks, the men and horses dashed forward at a gallop. As we reached the scene of action, the sight was discouraging in the extreme. The enemy had a first the advantage of every attacking party. He had concentrated all his forces for an attack upon one point. The 1st Louisiana regiment and the 4th Alabama were assailed in flank and center by 30,000 men, and literally cut to pieces. They refused to surrender but retired slowly, disputing every inch of the ground. As we rode up, we met parts of companies which had literally been overwhelmed, the men wounded, heir arms broken, while some of them were carrying off their dead in blankets. Every thing looked like retreat.

We were ordered up to within 500 yards of the enemies artillery, behind a hill which afforded some protection against their destructive fire. For an hour the firing raged with incessant fury, a ball passed over the hill and through our ranks, grazing one of our men; a shell exploded right under Radford’s horse, and every moment shot and shell were continually whistling by us. I can give you no conception of that awful hour. Not a man shrank from his post; two of our men were taken deadly sick, one fainting from heat and excitement; such calmness and composure I never witnessed. To make the matter worse, despondency, if not despair was fast writing itself on every face. The fire was evidently approaching us, and our friends were retiring, and the whispered rumour passed from lip to lip that our artillery ammunition was running low.

In a moment, however, a cloud of dust in our rear showed the approach of our wagons coming up at a dashing rate with a fresh supply. Our reinforcements now commenced pouring in. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi swept by in their glittering array with the calm light of battle on their faces, and their bayonets gleaming in the quiet Sabbath sunshine. No man faltered, no man lagged behind. Neither the groans of the dying, nor the shrieks of the wounded, as they passed to the rear in crowded ambulances, seemed to produce any impression, except to fix the determination upon the countenance of all – to win or die upon the field.

The tide now seemed to ebb just enough to keep us from despair. The firing did not advance, although the explosion of their shell was terrific in the extreme. A gleam of hope, too, gradually broke in upon us when Kemper’s battery, which had been posted in our centre, galloped up and opened a destructive fire upon our extreme left. The advance was evidently checked, when a loud cheer in the front told us that something unusual had happened. What was it? Was it the triumph of our enemies over our stricken friends, or was it some advantage gained in defence of right? The suspense was awful. Men stood straight in their stirrups and stretched their eyes as if they would pierce the rugged bosom of the barren hill which raised its sc[?]rred front before them.

An aid passes up – his message is written on his face, and, before he speaks a word, a wild shout breaks from the throats of thousands. When he speaks, another, and another, and another round of cheers told the story of our hitherto sinking hearts. The 4th Virginia regiment had taken Sprague’s Rhode Island battery of six pieces at the point of the bayonet. Scarcely had the echo of our cheers died upon the air, when again the noise of shouting broke upon us. What was it? Had the enemy rallied and retaken the guns? Fear struggled with hope. But, no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[?]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in Sherman’s battery. The firing of musketry and the rattling of bayonets was now terrific beyond description. For an hour there was an incessant crackling of rifles, without a single moment’s pause. The enemy were evidently retiring, and, unless reinforced from their left and centre, the day was ours.

To prevent this, our field telegraph had already given the signal for movement upon our own right, and a heavy fire of musketry and artillery told us that Bonham’s brigade, to which we had been attached in the morning, had crossed the run and were pouring it into the enemy’s centre. The South Carolina boys dashed up the hill, in the face of a murderous fire, bayoneted the gunners, and took quiet possession of their centre battery. It was now 3 o’clock, and the day was ours. The Washington Artillery galloped up the hill on which we were posted and opened a perfect Vesuvius of shot and shell upon the receding foe.

Colonel Lay now galloped up and told us the time for us to act had arrived – our whole force of cavalry – now rushed like the wind to the front. It was indeed a brilliant spectacle, as with slackened reins and sabres drawn, the whole command dashed past. The whole line resounded with continued cheering. The force was divided into different detachments. Col. Radford, with six companies, was ordered to cross a short distance below the enemy’s extreme right, and intercept his column; our company was in front, ,and I was riding in front of my platoon – when after crossing the swamp we came suddenly upon a detachment of the enemy concealed in the bushes, with their pieces levelled. The Colonel ordered the charge, and our boys dashed on. (1)

Poor E. F. was at my side when we rode over two of them, and they grounded their arms to E. W. just in our rear. We galloped on in pursuit of the rest, who retreated across a field toward the road on which the enemy was retreating. F. was just behind me; Saunders, a fine young fellow, just 24, and splendidly mounted, rushed past us. The enemy had concealed themselves behind a fence. We rode up and I demanded their surrender. They made no reply. I ordered Saunders to fire. Before he levelled his carbine, the whole squad poured in a volley. Saunders fell dead at my feet, and Fontaine reeled in his saddle, and exclaimed, “save me, boys, I am killed.” He was caught in the arms of his cousin, who was in the rear. Three of my platoon fired, and the two who had shot Saunders and Fontaine fell dead in their tracks. (2)

We were now in full view of the enemy’s line, passing in rapid and disordered retreat along the road, with two pieces of artillery, a large number of baggage wagons and some officers’ carriages. – Col. Radford, who is a soldier of experience, knew the strength of the enemy, and ordered a halt, commanding the men to form; but such a thing as forming was utterly impossible. The men seemed perfectly delirious with excitement, and with a wild shout of the guns, the guns,” our whole company rushed on pell-mell upon the battery, which proved to be another detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery. Such a scene of wild excitement I never witnessed.

My platoon had become detached from the company, and the company from the regiment. There were two caissons and two guns; the guns behind the caissons. My platoon, which was furthest down the road, rushed upon the men who guarded them – one fellow, standing upon the caisson, whipping the horses to make them run. They had become so much alarmed that they stood perfectly still and trembled. I made a blow at him with my sabre, knocked him off the caisson, and he was shot twice by our men before he hit the ground.

Meantime W., (who, by the way, performed admirably,) with the main body, crossed the road higher up and when the main body of the regiment came up, our company, with some of the Alexandria cavalry, had killed and wounded every man at the guns and driven their infantry supports into rapid retreat. When we left, we expected to be supported by infantry and artillery, and you may imagine our astonishment when, with not quite 300 men, we found that we had merely cut into the enemy’s column, and upon looking one hundred yards down the road, we found them preparing to open upon us with two guns, supported by six regiments of infantry. The Colonel at once ordered a retreat, so we shot the horses to the caissons, so as to block up the road, and retreated, not, however, before they had poured in upon us four rounds of grape and canister at 150 yards distance. How we escaped a perfect massacre I cannot say. Had they not been so close to us, the slaughter would have been terrible. Four of our men were killed, and Captain Radford, brother of the Colonel, was literally blown to pieces, I escaped without a scratch (as did all the rest of the officers), excepting quite a severe bruise, caused by my horse’s pressing my leg against the wheel of the gun carriage. We brought off several prisoners, a great many pistols, and several horses. (3)

Just ahead of the guns was an open carriage, very handsome; as soon as they saw us – such a rush you never saw. It is suspected, or rather hoped, that Wilson, of Massachusetts (who was, it is known, on the field,) was in it; for one of our men, Lindsay by name, took it into his head that Scott was in it, pursued and overtook it, and, at the distance of thirty steps, fired his musketoon, with eighteen buckshot, into the back window. (4)

As we returned to camp, a melancholy mistake occurred. B (our Second Lieutenant,) who was carrying poor F. to the hospital, with one or two others, met with a detachment of four of the Appomattox Cavalry, who hailed him. It is said that, instead of giving the signal agreed upon in our camp, by raising the hand to the top of the head, he took them for the enemy, and answered, Federal troops – they fired and he fell dead. (5)

Our company received, upon its return, the congratulations of every officer in General Bonham’s staff, to whom Colonel Radford had spoken of the conduct of our men.

To-day it has been raining all day. Our column pushed on this morning to this place. Our company was assigned the advanced guard; and this morning at 10 o’clock, I had the honor, with eight mounted men, of “occupying” the city of Centreville. The citizens tell us, that about 12 o’clock last night, the cry passed throughout the camp that the d—-d Virginia horsemen were upon them, when they left in utter confusion.

Our triumph has been complete. In two days our noble army has driven them back to Alexandria, captured 42 guns, many colors, and taken how many prisoners I will not venture to say. After we reached here we were ordered to explore the surrounding country in quest of fugitives. We took eighteen prisoners, and got back just at night, very wet. Such a collection of property left in their flight, you never saw. Hundreds of muskets, wagons, horses, gun carriages, thousands of knapsacks, oil-cloths, blankets, hogsheads of sugar, barrels of pork, beans – in short, everything you can conceive. We found to-day over five hundred splendid army over-coats in one pile, at one of their deserted camps, besides many tents, not struck. I helped myself to a magnificent officer’s blanket and oi-cloth to fit over the head, and the men all got over-coats.

The men are amusing themselves to-night with reading their letters, of which there are thousands left on the road. Many of them were directed to Mr. So-and so, expected at Manassas Junction. Some asked for a piece of the floor of the house on which Ellsworth was killed, with blood on it; others confidently express the belief that Beauregard’s scalp will be taken to Washington. When I tell you that we supped to-night on Yankee crackers – Yankee coffee, and nice beef tongue, actually left on the hearth of one of the officers quarters, in a kettle, ready to set on the fire – that this is written in pencil given me by one of the men, upon paper taken from their baggage wagons, that I am sitting on a Yankee camp stool, writing by a Yankee candle, you can form some idea of their utter route.

I send K a pincushion, picked up on the field, and L a needlecase. Tell W I have a nice sword for him, taken from one of the Vermont volunteers. I came very near taking a drum for him, of which we found six yesterday, but thought of the noise, and declined. (6)

Our troops occupy Fairfax Court House, to-night. – Good night; God bless and protect you, as I feel he has protected me in the last few days, in answer to your prayers. I hope I feel sufficiently grateful for my preservation.

Your husband,

W. B. N.

I had secured a beautiful Enfield rifle for uncle William, but it was paced in charge of one of the men, who has lost it. I will endeavor to procure another for him. Bowyer Brockenbrough, in command of a part of Pendleton’s battery, was knocked off his horse by a fragment of a shell, and slightly wounded. Raleigh Colston, who was a captain on one of the Berkely companies, had his pants perforated, and his leg grazed by a ball while advancing on Sherman’s battery. Willoughby Brockenbrough escaped untouched.


Richmond Daily Whig, July 29, 1861

From transcription in Civil War Times magazine, July 2007, Used with Permission. The letter was annotated by Joseph Pierro, who identified some of the lesser known or cryptically referenced individuals described by Newton, and they are listed below:

1 – Col. George W. Lay, Bonham’s AAG
2 – E. F. – Sgt. Maj. Edmond Fontaine, Jr.; Saunders – Pvt. Richard W. Saunders
3 – Captain Radford – Edmund W. Radford
4 – Wilson, of Massachusetts – Sen. Henry Wilson.
5 – B – Boldman H. Bowles
6 – K, L, & W – Newton’s children, Kate (3), Lucy (4), and Willoughby (7)

4/23/2016 Battlefield Tour Recap Part III

4 05 2016

Sharing the Stage with John Hennessy Was a Treat, But Yellow Was a Bad Idea (Photo by Tom Leupold)


Again, all-in-all, I thought the things over which I had control came off alright for the tour. As of now, I have no control over the weather, but never say never.

I really like the fact that no one had to put out any cash, including me, other than for travel, meals, and lodging. Sure, a bus may have been nice, but that comes with a certain lack of flexibility (some folks left early or came late), and the added risk of someone backing out at the last minute and wanting their money back. I think if we do something like this again (and that will depend a lot on you folks), we’ll try to keep a similar format. That is, caravans and no expenses.

I also was pleased to see that most attendees had the handouts I provided here. Some made up nice binders with artwork, and a good number had everything on their phones or tablets. Plus there was no copying or paper expense, and it would have been a real mess to hand those things out in the rain.

I had a lot of material that we just couldn’t get too. Yes, some of it was hardcore military stuff, and a lot of it was “cool stuff.” This time John Hennessy was the guiding force, which was only appropriate given the fact that most in attendance were there to listen to him, not me. I just angled in when I saw and opening. It’s better to have too much stuff than too little.

I was really happy with the give and take along the way. We had a number of very knowledgeable people in the group (at one point, someone came up to me and excitedly, gleefully said, “These guys are all hardcore!”), and many of them chimed in to add to the experience. Thanks to all of you who spoke up. I felt bad after I singled some of you out in the opening remarks, because I know there were accomplished names I left out. My apologies to you.

There were things about McDowell’s plan and how he did and didn’t diverge from it that I wish I had said. Sometimes I get so geared up I forget to say everything. But then, we were covering a lot of ground and a lot of material.

That back door of the Stone House opening apparently all by itself right when John mentioned ghosts was classic. I don’t think I can count on a repeat.

John and a few others prodded me several times about when or whether I am going to write “a book or something,” and by “something” I assume they all meant something other than this blog. I’ve thought a lot about that. As I said before, I think John has written the definitive study of the campaign. There are several possible outcomes when one writes a book:

  1. The result is well written, well researched, and adds to the literature. (This is something rare in Civil War publishing. Very rare.)
  2. The result is well written, marginally researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (This is the stuff that wins Pulitzer Prizes sometimes.)
  3. The result is well written, well researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (So, why bother?)
  4. The result is poorly written, poorly researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (Lots of this out there.)
  5. OK, I think you catch the drift…(We often hear it said, and we may say it ourselves that “we really need a book on fillintheblank.” I think often that’s just not true, and Paul Taylor, Mike Pellegrini, and I had an interesting discussion about that the night before the tour.)

The point is, I’d only want to put something out there if it qualifies as a #1.  I do have ideas for a Bull Run project, more of a reference work I guess, but not like any you’ve seen before. That’s problematic when describing it to publishers. My thoughts along the lines of a narrative history would produce something very similar to John Hennessy’s book. I don’t know if it would be as well written. We differ not so much in our thoughts of McDowell’s plan, mostly in the psychology at the root of it. I suspect it’s more firmly based on military principles/doctrine than John thinks. That alone, I don’t think, justifies a new campaign study – but perhaps an essay/article. However, there’s always the possibility of telling the whole story in a different, compelling way, and I’m always exploring that.

Short answer – who knows?

Most of all it was great meeting everyone, putting faces to names, moving many of you from e-quaintance to friend, and of course seeing old friends again. I’m really sorry if I didn’t get to speak to each one of you – next time, I hope. And I hope there’s a next time. With that…


Please take a little time to leave feedback in the comments section if you attended (or even if you didn’t). What did you like? What did you not like? If we do something like this again, what particular aspect of the battle or what particular sites on the field would you like to see covered?

I have a few ideas, including following letters around the field, annotating them as we go. Perhaps touring a Confederate letter and then a corresponding Union letter, covering the same action from a different perspective. Also, among Bull Runnings’s readers I know there are some with extensive expertise to share.

Let me know – fire away. Maybe we’ll do something like this again.

Part I

Part II