Homeboys at Ford’s Theater, 4/14/65

15 04 2015

Check out this interesting post about four soldiers from the vicinity of my hometown, McKeesport, PA, who were pressed into duty on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865. Note that they were artillerymen, not infantrymen, however (Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.)

And yes, the men were represented by reenactor proxy at the memorial events yesterday in Washington. Friend and blogger Ron Baumgarten of All Not So Quiet on the Potomac took this picture of three of them:

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Preview: Wittenberg – The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads

8 04 2015

MONROEJacket_lgI received a few new Savas-Beatie releases, three in the Emerging Civil War series and a paperback reprint of Eric Wittenberg’s The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign. Unlike Savas-Beatie sesquicentennial editions of previously published works, this is a straight reprint to paperback. So if you weren’t fortunate enough to purchase a hardcover edition (now sold out), here’s your chance to get the full contents in a format that can be tossed in your backpack if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on the battlefield (it lies within the confines of Ft. Bragg and is very tough to be granted access. I was lucky enough to tour the field with the author a few years ago.)

Touring Monroe's Crossroads, 2005

Touring Monroe’s Crossroads, 2005





150 Years Ago Today

2 04 2015

1506594_10202031686936001_8118502619450450512_nOn this day 150 years ago, my great-grandfather Pvt. John B. Smeltzer stepped off with his comrades of Co. C, 205th PA Volunteer Infantry, in their assault on Battery 30, part of the defenses of Petersburg near Ft. Mahone. John, of Hopewell Township, Bedford County, had enlisted on August 24th, 1864 at the age of 18 years 8 months, and served until mustered out with his regiment at Alexandria, VA, on June 2nd, 1865. He was wounded in the leg during the assault. After the war he was employed as a coal miner and steelworker, married Hannah Virginia Gates, and fathered 8 children including my grandfather, Harry Gates Smeltzer. He lived variously in Bedford County, McKeesport in Allegheny County, PA, and for 6 months at the Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, OH, before returning to Hopewell where he died on Sept. 22, 1923, at the age of 77. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Yellow Creek, Bedford County, PA, next to his granddaughter Pauline.

Update: Friend and Sesquicentennial tourist extraordinaire Craig Swain took this photo of the site of Battery 30 today:

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Apparently, (and according to Craig who also took these snaps) great-grandpa had to charge past the dumpster by the Pizza Hut,

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and through the playground,

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to take that flower bed.

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Interview With Dr. Joseph L. Harsh

28 03 2015

Joe2Click here for the transcript of an interview with Dr. Harsh that appeared in a 1995 issue of Civil War magazine. Hat tip to Drew Wagenhoffer. Good stuff and, if you’re amenable, thought-provoking. If you know all there is to know, and are just looking for confirmation of same, don’t click.

When you’re done, click here for an  old old post regarding the influence of Dr. Harsh’s scholarship on interpretation at Antietam National Battlefield. Be sure to read the comments.





Review: Rafuse (Ed.) “Corps Commanders in Blue”

26 03 2015

My review of Corps Commanders in Blue, written for Civil War Times, is running in the digital version of the June 2015 issue. For whatever reason, the review was reduced in length. As I believe this book was one of the best of 2014, I’m posting the full version below.

517bM0P30PL._SL500_AA300_Corps Commanders in Blue: Union Major Generals in the Civil War, Ethan S. Rafuse, Editor

Sometimes, too much familiarity with how “modern” armies operate can be a hindrance when studying those that operated under more primitive circumstances. Such is the case with the armies of the American Civil War. At some levels, strict obedience of orders was required. At others, limitations of distance and communications required subordinates to exercise much broader discretion than that with which we have become accustomed. Outside of army chief, at no level was an officer’s initiative and ability to exercise prudent discretion more desired and expected than at that of corps command. As such, the men who held these positions present a unique study opportunity, one seldom specifically explored. In Corps Commanders in Blue, editor Ethan Rafuse has called in eight prominent Civil War historians, including himself, and put together an equal number of case studies of Union Corps commanders, most familiar, and some less so.

John Hennessy starts things off with a very strong, and balanced, look at the Army of the Potomac’s controversial Fitz-John Porter, one ultimately critical of the “too superficial” conclusion that Porter was “ruined by his devotion to [George B.] McClellan.” Instead, it was his commitment to a conservative war policy – one that the Lincoln administration officially, at least, endorsed – that put Porter out of favor with the powers-that-were. Thomas Clemens gives a flesh-out of a relatively shadowy Joseph K. F. Mansfield, whose long antebellum army career could not overcome the “leadership and combat-experience problems” that pre-existed his late arrival to the Army of the Potomac’s 12th Corps prior to the Battle of Antietam. If Mansfield is shadowy, the subject of Kenneth Noe’s essay, Charles C. Gilbert, is a virtual unknown to many. His assignment to the command of the Third Corps of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio was the result of a process of elimination of other candidates based on Buell’s personal and political considerations, and Gilbert’s experience in that role through the Battle of Perrysville was “a textbook case of how not to direct a corps.” In what may be the collection’s centerpiece essay, Christopher Stowe profiles George G. Meade in his role as commander of the Army of the Potomac’s 5th Corps. Stowe sets Meade’s record as corps commander straight, as an aggressive leader, as one who was held in high regard by peers and superiors, and as one who was clearly considered a leading alternative to Joseph Hooker as chief of the Army of the Potomac prior to Meade’s promotion to that post. Recent publications notwithstanding, Stowe notes that “[t]hroughout his career, Meade viewed himself not as a policymaker but as a public servant beholden to obey orders regardless of his personal feelings or impulses.”

While the first four essays cover their subjects’ entire careers in corps command, the last four examine specific periods of longer lengths of service in that role. Stephen Woodworth’s coverage of James B. McPherson in the Vicksburg Campaign, and Mark Snell’s of William B. Franklin in the Trans-Mississippi perhaps got a little side-tracked in the weeds of the details of the respective campaigns. Ultimately, McPherson’s “remarkably limited amount of experience” in the campaign “did not subject him to the most severe of tests.” Franklin appears to have performed as well as could be expected despite the highly dysfunctional command structure with which he had to deal. Ethan Rafuse’s sketch of Joseph Hooker’s stint in command of the 20th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland in 1864 reveals a competent, effective commander doomed by his inability to play well with others including Grant and Sherman, and by conniving anglers like John Schofield. Brooks Simpson’s essay on Winfield Scott Hancock’s command of the Army of the Potomac’s 2nd Corps in the Overland Campaign is a focused look at how “The Superb” performed those tasks peculiar to running and fighting a corps. While Hancock’s multi-layered command role at Gettysburg may be more well known, the author with good reason argues that the 1864 campaign is a better barometer of his performance strictly as a corps chief. In the course of a year, the nature of the fighting in Virginia had changed significantly. Those changes, along with failing health, limited Hancock in the use of the tactical skills and inspirational leadership for which he was best known.

Corps Commanders in Blue is an important contribution to the study of command in the American Civil War. Hopefully readers will be seeing more along this line coming soon.





Lil’ Help – Lincoln

25 03 2015

lincoln-sailorsI’ve determined to start a Resources category on soldier references to Abraham Lincoln. That is, references in the letters and diaries of officers and men of McDowell’s army written before and after First Bull Run, in an effort to examine how their views of POTUS evolved during this time. So, if you have or are aware of any soldier letters or diaries that reference the President from, say, June of 1861 through to the end of August 1861, please send me a note. The best way to do that is through the comments feature of this post. Thanks in advance for your help!





Hennessy on the Legacies of the Civil War

16 03 2015

Good stuff and important to view – John Hennessy this weekend at the Longwood University Civil War Seminar. Check it out here. Yes, like the issue of slavery in the past, there are issues today that have advocates on either side and which, 150 years from now, will be settled, with a right and correct view agreed upon.

I think all of us hope, as we sit here today, and ponder our grandchildren and great-grandchildren thinking back upon us and saying ‘Hunh?’, that they don’t interpret the issues that have permeated our lifetimes, and with which we have struggled as a society, as a testament on us as individuals, but rather as a testament on our times. And times change.

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