Pvt. E. Starke Law, Co. B, (Oglethorpe Light Infantry), 8th Georgia Infantry, On the Battle

23 07 2015

Letter from an Oglethorpe.

Stone Bridge, July 26th, 1861.

My Dear Father: – You have doubtless ere this received a brief note from me informing you of my safety. That was but a hurried line to relieve your anxiety. I now write to give you some idea of our action. On Thursday, the 18th inst., very much to our surprise, while waiting at the breast-works at Winchester, in hourly expectation of an attack from Patterson, we were ordered to prepare for a march without any information as to the cause or our destination. At 1 o’clock we commenced the march, and we were informed that Patterson was directing his column towards Manassas, intending to unite his force with McDowell’s in an attack upon Beauregard, and that it was necessary for us to make a forced march to Manassas. We arrived at the Shenandoah about dusk; having to ford it, we lost about four hours. – At 3 o’clock on Friday morning we reached a little town called Paris, here a halt was ordered, our guns were stacked in the street, the men threw themselves upon the side-walk, and in ten minutes all were asleep. At 5 o’clock the drums beat, and in five minutes we were again on the march. After marching six or seven miles, we arrived at the railroad; the wagons were ordered to the front, and we were allowed the very pleasant privilege of cooking; if ever you saw faces brighten and eyes sparkle, you ought to have seen our army just then, for we had marched about twenty five miles without any thing at all to eat. Arriving at Manassas we were marched out about three miles and waited until Sunday morning when we received orders to proceed to the battlefield. After going eight miles we came in sight of the enemy. – A halt was ordered, and our Lieut. Col. walked up to the brow of the hill to examine the position of the enemy; in a few moments he returned with the intelligence that Sherman’s celebrated Battery was stationed opposite, and would undoubtedly shell us. Scarcely had the words passed his lips, ‘ere the boom of the cannon was heard, and the next moment a bomb passed harmlessly over our heads. We were then ordered to lie upon our faces, in which position we remained about fifteen minutes. While lying here, the bombs came nearer and nearer, until one dropped about three feet in front of John Fleming and myself, covering us with dust, the next dropped on our left, in front of the Macon Guards, wounding two men, one of whom died to day. Just at this time Gen. Bee sent an aid over to Col. (then acting Brigadier General) Bartow, saying that he must have a Regiment to support his right. Bartow ordered Col. Gardner to take the 8th (our) Regiment. Though the shot and shell were falling thick and fast around us, when Gardner gave the order, “Eighth Regiment to your feet,” every man rose and stood erect, not one faltered, and we charged for at least one mile in the face of that battery, without firing a single gun. We then turned into a narrow strip of woods within about seventy yards of the enemy’s line, and opened fire upon them. Here our little band of five hundred and fifty-nine men, for thirty minutes, bore the fire of eight Regiments of the enemy, and it is my honest conviction that they would have stood there until the last man had fallen, had no order to retire been given; as it was, the order to retreat was repeated three of four times before it was obeyed. Col. Gardner, who was in the Mexican war, and who was wounded in this action, says that it was the heaviest fire to which men were ever exposed. We lost from our Regiment, in killed, wounded and missing, over two hundred men. To give you an idea of how thickly the bullets were showered upon us, I need only state that but sixteen out of the seventy-six men that the Oglethorpes carried into action, escaped being killed, wounded, or struck with spent balls or pieces of shell. I myself got two bullets through my pants, and was struck by a piece of shell upon the right knee, which lamed me for a day or two. I the little copse of woods in which we fought, there is not a tree or bush that hs not one or more bullets in it, and it is only surprising that any of us escaped. We can only account for it by remembering that there is an over-ruling Providence, whose protecting arm was doubtless thrown around us. Poor Ferrill was killed right at my side; little Frank Bevill, Lippman, and John Fleming, were shot down just around […]

Our wounded are all doing well and I trust they will all recover. Fleming is slightly wounded in the shoulder and not considered at all dangerous. A correct list of the killed and wounded has been sent to Savannah, so that it is not necessary for me to mention them. Poor Bartow felt and suffered all that a noble, generous, and brave heart could, when he saw his brave men falling fast around him. When Gardner was shot down, Bartow was heard asking him “In God’s name, what can I do to save my brave boys?” At this time the enemy were firing on our front, had flanked us upon our right, and were pouring in upon us a destructive fire from that quarter, when, to cap the climax, one of our own Regiments coming up, mistook us for the enemy and gave us a volley upon our left; under these circumstances Bartow seized the colors and called upon his men to rally around him, when a ball pierced his heart. He fell nobly struggling for our sacred rights, and long will his memory live fresh in the hearts of his soldiers.

Our troops now began to come up to the scene of action and in a short time the enemy were put to flight and our victory was complete. Our loss, I think, is put down at 2,000 men, whilst the enemy acknowledge a loss of from 5,000 to 6,000. Prisoners are still being brought in. We took 61 pieces of cannon and a number of horses. The enemy were so confident of victory that large numbers of citizens, among whom were, I understand, a good many ladies, came out to Centreville, where they were waiting for a signal from the battle field, when the rebels should be routed, to come on and see the ruin they had wrought; but, much to their mortification, they beheld only their own troops flying like sheep before about one-fourth their own numbers. Such is the fortune of ward. I have given you but a poor account of the battle, the observations of one man engaged in fight are confined to a small space. We are now about six miles from Manassas and cannot tell how long we shall remain here.

We have no Colonel and our Lieut. Colonel is wounded, and will not probably be able to take the field for six months, so that it is impossible to say what will be done with us. As anything is decided I will inform you. In the meantime direct to Manassas, 8th Georgia Regiment.

Yours, &c.,

E. S. L. *

Savannah Republican, 8/6/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Likely E. Starke Law, per roster here

E. Starke Law at Ancestry.com 

Pvt. Lewis Herbert Metcalfe, Co. E, 11th New York Infantry, On the Battle

21 07 2015

“so Eager Were We All …”

The morning was beautiful. The day before had been so hot and sultry that the damp cool night air seemed quite a relief, and the full moon, beaming above, lighted up the valley in which we lay, and its rays glistened on the thousands of muskets which were stacked around.

I awoke shortly after twelve o’clock, my sleep having been disturbed by the voice of one of our sergeants who passed down the row of sleepers telling them that letters had arrived from home. The sight before me when I arose from the ground was one which, though often seen by a soldier, is always interesting. Twenty thousand men were gathered together in that valley covering the slope of the hills on both sides. In every camp large fires were burning, around which groups were sitting or standing reading newly received letters and papers or busily engaged in cooking food for the coming day.

We had bivouacked there two days and, having no tents, had managed to protect ourselves from the sun during the day by building bower houses of small trees which we cut in a neighboring wood, and which had served as a slight shelter against the rain which had fallen the night before.

Orders had been issued the evening previous for the army to march at two o’clock in the morning. Three days’ rations had been supplied; ammunition furnished; and all were prepared to start. Through all the camps everyone seemed stirring, though it wanted two hours of the time, so eager were we all to meet the foe. Many had not slept at all. Some had spent the night before the campfires writing to the loved ones at home, letters which for aught they knew might be the last. Others whom excitement forbade to sleep had spent the night in storytelling and suggesting plans of private action on the morrow.

As I wandered through the camp visiting several campfires, I found every man full of resolution. Once aroused I could not sleep again amid all the hum and bustle of the camp. So, taking my canteen, I started for a spring to fill it with water. I had to pass through several camps before reaching it, and found nearly everyone stirring. Here and there would be groups of privates surrounding some officer who was regaling them with latest news of which the very latest seemed to be that General Butler had captured Richmond and the Rebels had been surrounded by General Patterson. All that we had to do was to give Beauregard a thrashing in order to end all the troubles. Not a thought of defeat or reverse of any kind entered our minds. We had only to go forth to conquer.

Two o’clock came, but no movement was made. Our regiment was ordered to fall in by companies, and after a short time of waiting, the muskets were again stacked, and the soldiers dismissed for a while. Some of us set fire to the bower houses which, being dry, burnt with a brilliant light, and other regiments following our plan, in a very few moments the whole valley was almost one sheet of flame.

At daybreak we were ordered to fall in and marched a very short distance to the edge of the road, and after forming the regiment, we were allowed to rest on our arms. We rested there an hour or two. Some laid down and slept, and the sun was well up above the horizon before any movement took place around us. First, Ricketts’ Battery which lay across a little creek in front of us limbered up and started down the road. Then came the 1st Michigan Regiment who, in passing us, gave three cheers. “Fall in!” came the order to us, and instantly every man was in his place. After the Michigan regiment came the 2nd Scott Life Guard, 88th, New York, which also gave three cheers which we returned, and, on the order being given, we formed in marching order and started off behind them.

Our colonel had been suffering from fever for several days, and was not considered able to do any duty. To our great surprise, as we gained the top of the hill above our late camp, he came riding by us toward the head of the column cheered again and again by our regiment and others who lined the roadside in order to see us pass.

In a short time we passed through Centerville and turned to our left down a country road. On this road was stationed a number of regiments which were a portion of the reserve, and all of them, as we passed, cheered us and wished us success. On we marched, crossing Cub Run, and then a short distance beyond we turned abruptly to the right, passed through a small grove of trees, and emerged into a large open plain skirted by woods on nearly every side. Away ahead of us we could just see a regiment vanishing in the woods. “Forward double quick” came the order, and away we went. Now “double quick,” if properly performed, is a very pretty movement, and one not excessively tiresome to the soldier. I remember one day to have seen the Massachusetts’ 5th coming down Pennsylvania Avenue at double quick with the drums beating to keep the proper time, and it looked very well.

But with our regiment, it was another matter, and performed in a manner not set down in our tactics. Anyone who has seen a closely contested race between two fire engine companies down Grand Street can form a good idea of what double quick was with us. Soon the plain on each side of us was found strewn with blankets which had been thrown aside by flying soldiers, and some of us, thinking they belonged to the Rebels, set up a lively shout.

In a short time we gained the woods, and entered them by an old road which looked as though but little used, and which we afterward discovered had been widened and cleared in some portions to allow our artillery to pass on it. I cannot form any opinion of the distance through the woods or the length of time we were in them. Now and then we were halted for a very few minutes, and then away we went again at double quick. The day was very hot. Scarcely a breath of air was stirring, and the shade of the trees afforded but little relief.

As we advanced farther on we passed numbers from different regiments who had given out in the march and dropped by the side of the road to wait for the wagons to pick them up.

After a while we came to edge of the woods. For some little while back the booming of cannon had told us a battle was going on. Now that we had reached the edge of the woods, the sound came more clearly and we could hear the rattle of volley after volley of musketry. Passing up a steep hill, we left the woods and halted on the road. To the left of the road was a wheatfield, and, looking across the field a mile or two to the right, we could see the puffs of smoke rising, showing us where the fighting was going on.

Cheer after cheer rang out from our regiment at the prospect of at last finding the foe, and yet many among us were suffering from the intense heat and want of water, for nearly all the canteens were empty by this time.

Away again on the run. The dust under our feet was thrown into the air and filled our eyes and mouths, and the fierce July sun blazed remorselessly down upon us. But a short distance and we filed off the road on to an open plain, forming into companies, and halted. To the left stood a large old-fashioned mansion house, and around it were several horses tied, belonging to our army, and several ambulances were halted there in front of the house. To our right the land sloped steeply down to the creek, and at the bottom of the hill was a meadow which was occupied by several of our regiments who were getting water.

We paused but a moment, and at the order the column wheeled and marched down the hill, company front. To hear the shouts of the assembled soldiers below us as we moved slowly down toward them, and see the splendid manner in which the evolution was performed, one would think it was some gala day, and ours a Broadway parade instead of a battlefield, and a fiercely contested one at that. We halted a moment in the meadow. A squad was detailed from each company to fill our canteens with water from the creek. But before they returned, away we started again at double quick. Hot, tired, and thirsty, and Tantalus-like our chance for water seemed slipping from our grasp. But the squad detailed from our company came running up, and nearly all of us were furnished with a canteen of water.

Now it was double quick in earnest across the creek, up a hill, then another creek crossed by a bridge, by Sudley Church, and then wading through another creek till we halted for a moment and divested ourselves of blankets, overcoats and haversacks which we laid, each company by itself, in piles on the ground. After leaving our things, we started again, and soon came to a large open space, one just suited for a parade—and so we must have it. Break into platoons. Forward double quick. I guess it must have looked well, for a regiment just retiring from the field came around a piece of woods, and when they saw us, shouted, cheered, and threw their caps up. But we were tired and nearly worn out, as the pale faces and heavy short breaths of those around me indicated.

All the time the cannon were roaring out just ahead of us, and to our immediate left the crack of the muskets told us we were on the battlefield. A member of the New York 71st who was slowly walking to the rear met us. “For God’s sake, hurry up, boys,” he said. “We’re driving them, but they’re killing all our officers.”

A few moments more, and still at double quick we filed into marching order and entered the battlefield up a slope on the summit of which to our right was a large barn and several haystacks. We passed by Ricketts’ Battery which were in action a short distance down the slope of the hill to our left, and seemed to be engaging a Rebel battery which lay about a mile off a little to our rear and left. Several of the shells from it exploded in mid-air before reaching us, and a few balls passed over and through our regiment, but none were struck by them. Passing on by the barn we soon got out of range of them. We marched a little down the hill so as to be protected from the cannon, and formed in line of battle.

Behind us in the valley the 14th Brooklyn were drawn up in line and were resting. Oh, if we could but get some rest, just five minutes, to catch one good long breath,—one moment to get a sip of water from our canteens! No, not for us. Up rode an officer sword in hand ere we had hardly halted. “Colonel,” he shouted, “the General has decided to put you right into it. Let the colors advance ten paces. Detail two of your companies as a reserve. Dress on your colors.”

’Twas done. “Come on boys and show them what New York can do!” And with that the pet lambs were led to the slaughter. Ricketts’ Battery were ordered to limber up and follow us. The hill in front sloped down to a small creek along which ran a road, and just across the creek another hill rose, on the top of which was a small white house surrounded by an orchard and cornfield beyond which were dense woods. To our right a small spur of dwarf pines and bushes extended obliquely down the hill some little distance from the woods.

Down the hill we marched, over the fence into a road, across the creek, passing some skirmishers of the 14th, and then, climbing another fence, gained the foot of the hill on the other side. The regiment was thrown into a little confusion getting over the two fences, but soon resumed good order, and up the hill we pushed at double quick. Up, up, not a single enemy in sight, not a shot from his side. Up, up till we gained the top and then:

Crashing through the cornfield, singing and whistling around our ears, making the air blue and sulphurous with smoke, came a storm of bullets upon us from the woods in front. “Down, every one of you,” cried the Colonel. And we went down just in time to escape the second volley. No orders came all along the line. One and then another would jump up and fire and then lie down to reload. Some started toward the woods on their own account, crawling slowly along in hopes to get sight of the foe.

And still the volleys came thundering upon us from our unseen enemy.

Our right, among which was my company, were thrown into confusion by them, and [by] the number who broke ranks and advanced toward the enemy. Our gallant Captain who had been in front of us all this time commanded us to rise, sent the sergeants to bring the adventurers back into line, and ordered us to fall back down the hill to the valley. The men returned slowly, the company on our right returning with us, while the rest of the regiment held their ground and returned the fire of the Rebels.

As we fell back to the valley, being broken and separated, cavalry came riding down upon us. They were met by a volley from the regiment, and rode through us cutting right and left with their sabers but hitting no one. They passed to our rear, gained a small clump of bushes, partially rallied and commenced discharging their carbines at us. Without waiting for any orders, the two companies on the right rushed pell mell at them, running in their fury right up to the horses and bayoneting the riders when the bullet would happen to miss, and drove them flying from the field in as short a time as it takes me to tell it.

Having disposed of them, we soon got our companies rallied and ran up in good order and formed in line again with the regiment. We were in a bad position. The clump of trees extending down from the woods were directly in front of our portion of the regiment, and the fire of the Rebels who lay concealed among the bushes within thirty yards of us told with fearful effect on our men. We had just got into line with the regiment when a bullet whirred across my breast, passing through both shirts I had on, but not even grazing my body. Before I had recovered from the shock, a blow as though a club had hit me just above both ankles, told me that I was hit.

The regiment was still pressing forward, and not knowing how bad I was hit, I still kept on. I had taken three or four steps when my left leg crushed under my weight, and I fell to the ground. The regiment passed on a little from where I lay and left me alone. Knowing full well how necessary it was that the blood should be stopped, I took a handkerchief from my pocket and tied it tightly around my leg above the knee. Then, holding my gun in my hand, I crawled, or rather dragged myself, away from the enemy.

Several of my companions passed by me. One wished me to let him carry me back toward the ambulances, but he was stopped by the Colonel, who told him to attend to the fighting instead of the wounded.

I have no doubt but that much of the disorder into which our regiment was thrown was owing to the fact that those who were unhurt, instead of pressing on to the fight, would stop and carry their wounded friends out of the way. Thrown into all manner of danger as our firemen are, they soon learn to stand by each other in trouble, and the stern necessities of a battlefield even could not break them of it.

To the right of where we had been fighting, a road ran up the hill in the direction of the Rebels. It being but a few hundred feet off, and the balls coming very thick around me where I lay, I thought I would drag myself to it. So I started again still carrying my gun. Pausing to rest, it suddenly occurred to me that I was extremely foolish to be dragging my gun with me when I was disabled from rising. It was loaded, and raising it, I managed to get it to my shoulder and discharge it in the direction of the enemy. Then I reached for a small stone which lay near me, broke the nipple off the gun, and laid it down.

During the time while I was slowly gaining the roadside, our men were still fighting, but from the large number straggling around, and the number of wounded which were being brought by me, I could see that we would soon be driven from the hill. Ricketts’ Battery had come up behind us and got into position, but the heavy volleys had swept off nearly every horse, and it was impossible to move the guns away. For nearly two hours the strife was over those guns. We had been driven away from them, and they were in possession of the enemy when Captain Ricketts rode up to a large body of our regiment and exclaimed, “For God’s sake, boys, save my battery.”

Captain Ricketts had always been a favorite with our men, and enough of them rallied, and under the lead of their sergeants, charged on the Rebels and drove them back to the woods again. But we were too small in numbers to hold it. The brave artillery captain was badly wounded, and his battery, after being taken and retaken several times, was finally lost.

I at length reached the side of the road but found I was no better off. I lay there for a long time looking around till our own men had vanished from my sight. And then for the first time I saw our concealed foe. A company of them came slowly from the woods loading and firing with great rapidity. Their gray coats and slouch hats, seen under such circumstances, filled me with disgust which I have not yet overcome. The bullets rained all around me, striking near me in the ground and throwing the dirt over my clothes. They came so thick and struck so near me that, for a time, I thought they were firing at me. But only one ball struck that passed through my right leg.

Once again I saw a portion of our army. I was engaged in watching the motions of the Graycoats on the top of the hill when suddenly they disappeared toward the woods. Soon after there came by where I lay a party of three or four hundred of our army composed of all the regiments I had seen and of those I had not. They were not marching in regular order at all, each man alone loading and firing and pressing forward in the direction of where I was first shot. “We’re driving them! Come on, boys!” was their cry.

I hoped we were driving them, but I feared not, and my fears were too true. The soldiers pressed on, worked well up onto the field near the woods, when crack came another of those fierce volleys, and our soldiers returned down the hill, their numbers greatly reduced, and the ground around strewed still thicker with dead and wounded. The fight had been going on all this time in other parts of the field. Now for a time it ceased entirely around me, and everything was quiet.

I imagined the Rebels were changing their position, and it turned out so. They moved further to our right, and some pieces of artillery were brought and placed in position on the road near which I lay about two hundred feet above me. Just across the road from where I was, stood a large tree around the trunk of which several wounded men were lying. One man, a soldier of the 14th New York who was wounded, was standing by the tree. I had lain my head down on my arms and was resting quietly when I was startled by a fierce volley coming down the road, striking the tree and whistling through the branches. Next I heard a rush down the road and shouts of “Kill him, he’s a Fire Zouave, kill him!”

I lay perfectly still expecting every moment to be set upon by the Rebels when a voice as from one in authority spoke up, “Shame on you, men, would you hurt a wounded man?” Instantly the excitement ceased, and raising my head, I glanced across the road. Surrounding the wounded at the foot of the tree were quite a number of Rebel soldiers busily engaged in asking questions of the wounded. Among them was a gray-haired man who appeared to be their captain and whose voice at once denoted him to be the one who interfered on behalf of our soldiers.

Some of the Rebels were giving water to the wounded, and one young man among them, looking over toward me, caught sight of me and came to my side asking numerous questions as to where I was wounded, etc. I asked him for water, but he had none. Leaving me, he went to the captain and told him there were several wounded men lying there, some of whom wanted water. A canteen was found among them which was not empty, and it was brought to me and I drank. There was a large bush within a few feet of me, and some of them asked me if I did not wish to be moved out of the sun. I acquiesced in their proposal, and two or three of them lifted me very carefully from the ground and carried and laid me down in the shade of the bush.

Here, to my great surprise, were three of my own regiment, and two of them belonged to my company. One was slightly wounded, and had been surrounded by the enemy while taking care of the other, a member of 28 Engine who was mortally wounded. Poor fellow, he lay on the ground writhing in agony, now begging for water, now talking in broken sentences of companions who were far away.

Our captors had left us suddenly, and soon we heard them forming in the woods across the road, their right being supported by the artillery which was in the road above us. Their regiment extended away to the left through the woods and, at the edge near us, we could see the soldiers loading their pieces and preparing to meet the charge of our own men. I could not see our army, but the exclamations of the enemy told us a little of their movements. “There they come,” “What a splendid front!” “They look good” were some of the remarks made. One, apparently a boy, spoke: “I say, Captain, just give me twenty men, and I’ll go around here and scatter the hull on ’em.” The laugh with which his proposition was received showed it didn’t meet with much favor. I heard the Captain ask if their guns were all loaded, and then the order was given for them to lay down close.

All was still. One of my comrades muttered, “I wonder if our folks know where these fellows are hid?” Oh, what a moment of suspense! I could picture in my mind our brave fellows advancing steadily uphill toward the woods not knowing where they were to be met, but pressing steadily on in line of battle. I could imagine them drawing nearer and nearer the foe when from the center of the woods came a low sound which was caught up at each company and repeated again – “Fire!” And with a roar that shook the earth, the artillery above us and the infantry in the wood opened upon our advancing columns.

Scarcely had the Rebel volley died away when we heard a heavy volley from our side. Again was it returned from the foe, and the artillery kept sending their deadly messengers down the road. Cheer after cheer came from our soldiers as they poured their volleys into the trees. But it did not last long. After a short time, amid the noise of the cannon and musketry, one could hear the Rebels shout: “There they go, they’re breaking.” Several, with great enthusiasm, leaped from the ground and cheered for Jeff Davis, and the whole of them were filling the air with yells and hurrahs.

But the group near the bush were filled with different feelings. We looked at each other in sorrow. All our hearts seemed to tell us the day was lost.

The artillery had ceased firing. The soldiers had advanced from the woods, and everything was quiet again. I looked toward the poor fellow who was so badly wounded. He lay perfectly still. His head lay on the ground, and his face was covered with his right arm. I said to my friend, “Look at Tommy—he lies so still, he must be dead.” He walked up, raised the arm, and turned the body so as to get a view of the face. My thoughts were too true. Amid that crash of shot and shell, through the sulphurous smoke which filled the air around us his soul had answered to God.

The tide of battle had passed away from us entirely. Our army were slowly retreating, but the sound of cannon and small arms showed that the ground was still contested in the neighborhood of where we first entered the field. From where we lay we could see the open fields through which the last charge had been made, and saw several Southern regiments winding slowly out of the woods with their banners hanging lazily in their midst as they moved still more lazily in the direction of our army.

We were soon surrounded by numbers of Rebels all eager to ask questions, and also desirous of obtaining a Minie musket or rifle. One asked me for mine. I told him I had dropped it, and I watched him searching for it, and saw him pick it up. He went off with it, but I imagine he didn’t harm anyone with it that day. Our visitors were mostly of the [?] South Carolina and 4th Georgia regiments, although a great many other regiments were represented all of whom were desirous to see the Fire Zouaves.

From the remarks of those who came to see us, we knew that our army had been driven panic-stricken toward Washington, and as night drew near we all became anxious to know how we were to be cared for. Several Rebel officers had been around cheering us up, telling us they would take care of us as soon as ambulances could be obtained to take us off.

About half an hour after dark, someone about fifty feet down the road inquired if there were any Fire Zouaves in hearing. We answered, and soon our names were given to each other. There were two of our regiment badly wounded, lying together, and the inquiry came from them.

During the whole day I had suffered scarcely any from pain. The force of the ball which had broken my leg had so benumbed it that when I lay still I felt no inconvenience. I lay patiently waiting for some wagon to come along, but as one after another came near and then departed filled with wounded, I gave up all hope of being carried off that night, and lay down to sleep. There was an old overcoat beside me which I drew around me to keep the chill night air off. Amid the noise of the wagons, the shouts of the Negro drivers, the sighs and moans of the wounded and dying around me, I closed my eyes on this eventful Sabbath. The toil and excitement of the day at last asserted their power, and I fell into a sound sweet slumber. Sunday, the twenty-first of July, 1861, was left among the annals of the past.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe at Ancestry.com.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe bio sketch

Transcribed by reader David Ulf.

Also appeared in print in American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 16, Issue 4, 1965

Historical Symbols, The Nature of Truth, and the Sides of History

14 07 2015

Thus far, apart from this post pointing out that the Confederate Battle Flag did not exist at the time of the First Battle of Bull Run, I’ve stayed out of the feeding frenzy that is the controversy regarding symbols of the Confederacy in our modern landscape. I’ve decided to dip my toe not as a prelude to diving in, but in deference to the rules of this site I think a mere dip is all I can take. Otherwise I – or you – may feel compelled to wade into modern political waters. And we can’t have that. However, I do feel there are issues of history involved which are altogether fitting and proper to discuss here.

It’s pretty clear to most that the Confederate States of America was founded to perpetuate the institution of slavery. It was the national cause. When it comes to what caused individuals to fight for or support that national cause – the personal causes, so to speak – I suspect there were as many causes as there were fighters and supporters, be they volunteer or conscripted soldiers, suppliers of their support in the field, manufacturers of the products necessary to wage war and support the government (and their employees), more-than-subsistence-farmers, planters, free- and not-free laborers, members of the media, elected and un-elected government officials, etc. We can’t of course assign to them the national cause as their personal cause. It doesn’t make sense. But we can’t exactly separate them. They existed hand in hand, effectively.

What we wind up with are symbols with multiple meanings: flags, monuments, place-names. And those meanings are as various as not only the individuals they commemorate, but as the individuals doing the commemorating. The simple fact that they are meaningful to a person tells me nothing – absolutely nothing – about that person.

I’m pointing this out simply to emphasize why I don’t have a problem with the existence and placement of these symbols in most – not all – cases. I recognize the schizophrenic and inconsistent nature of the symbols. In fact, I celebrate it. It’s fascinating.

So I don’t have a problem with Monument Row in Richmond, the same way I don’t have a problem with the biggest monuments to slavery on the planet:


Pyramids of Giza

or with this monument to a guy who was less than nice to Native Americans:

O. O. Howard

O. O. Howard

or with this monument to the man who ordered the mass imprisonment of US citizens of Asian descent:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – In Washington, DC. I know, don’t get me started on that…

And before you say this is only because I’m not a Jew, or a Native American, or Japanese, I also don’t have a problem with the existence or placement of memorials to these guys, who were pretty brutal to my ancestors:

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

or of this flag:


Which brings us to Truth, and the Sides of History.

As a Catholic school kid back in the early-mid 1970s, I used to play the hell out of my LP and (later) cassette copy of the original recording (that is, 1970 with Ian Gillan) of the Weber/Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar. At the same time, my interest in history was really taking off (it would be nipped in the bud by a high school guidance counselor soon enough – no future in it, he said.) One line in particular, from Trial Before Pilate really stood out to me then and has stayed with me over the years. Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king:

JC: It’s you who say I am. I look for truth, and find that I get damned.

PP: But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Aren’t mine the same as yours?

(As an aside, these lines were changed somewhat in both film adaptations of the play. I’m sure there’s a story in there.)

Some might see Pilate’s question as rhetorical. I never did. Of course Truth changes, because Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Not only are times, people, and opinions different at any one point, but times change, and with it, people and opinions. Truth has its basis in belief, some might argue.

Today, the Truth of slavery is that it is an absolute wrong, legally and morally. This Truth is generally, overwhelmingly (though in varying degrees not universally) recognized. But, like it or not, in 1860 it was not, or at the very least was less so. Arguments were made for and against it on the basis of law, property rights, religion, morality, and the definition of human life. And those arguments were on a sliding scale, with different shades. Eventually, the Truth of the issue was decided to a nearly absolute degree. But this Truth does not change the Truth of 1860. Can you think of any issues like this today, with similar arguments, and supporters on both ends of the scale? If you can, keep them to yourself. Please. But also keep in mind that those current issues will one day be decided as well. Truth will win out, whatever it may be.

Once the Truth of slavery was established – or, at least, established as it stands today – believers and non-believers wound up on one of the two Sides of History: the Right Side, or what we call the Wrong Side. But these current sides do not change the fact that Truth was and is a moving target. Eventually, some current issue with multiple interpretations of Truth will be absolutely decided. And you and yours, dear reader, will wind up on the Right Side, or the Wrong Side. It will happen.

What do we do with the Wrong Side? Erase it? Write over it? Maybe it’s just too hard to interpret it. But isn’t that a historian’s job?


John Singleton Mosby

Consider one John Singleton Mosby. Here was a man who fought for the Confederacy, took up arms to perpetuate slavery. There was no doubt in his mind why he did it. He admitted to it, to his credit, after the issue had been decided. He also accepted that the issue was decided. In a 1907 letter to a comrade, he lamented (at least, I think of it as a lament):

People must be judged by the people of their own age.

What did he mean by this? Well, I see him saying that his actions had to be viewed in the context of his times and their Truths, by people who understood those times and their Truths. And in 1907, many of those people were gone. So who takes their place? Isn’t that a historian’s job?

Before we celebrate or encourage the removal of Confederate symbols from the landscape, we would do well to consider the words of a wise Vulcan:

After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.

Interview: Hessler, Motts, & Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

10 07 2015

I previewed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History earlier, and you can read all the book particulars and get ordering information here. Since its release, Pickett’s Charge has received some great reactions from the public, and signings have been well attended. The book’s authors and cartographer recently took the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings, and I’ve attempted to cobble together their responses to my questions below.

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

BR: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

JH: I have been a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide since 2003, although I work full-time in another industry. I am very proud of my prior book, Sickles at Gettysburg, which won the Bachelder Coddington and Gettysburg Civil War Round Table distinguished book awards. More recently, in 2012, I was one of the primary content designers for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg mobile application. That had an influence on my eventually working on this Pickett’s Charge book.

WM: I grew up in central Ohio. My parents currently operate the Motts Military Museum where my father is founding director. I went to school for military history at The Ohio State University where I graduated with a BA and then earned a master’s degree in American History from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I have been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 27 years. I am currently the CEO of The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa. I published the only biography of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead who fell mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge.

SS: I was born in Maryland and spent the first 17 years of my life there. After high school, I went directly into the United State Air Force. During that time in the USAF, I spent 2 years working as Graphic Designer for Headquarters, Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia and the last two years of service, I was stationed in the Pentagon working in the graphics department of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the Air Force, I started my own design/typesetting firm working for various clients from simple printing companies to McDonald’s Corporation. In 1996, my family and I moved to the Fredericksburg, VA area. I already had an interest in the Civil War so I joined the local preservation group, Central VA Battlefields Trust (CVBT), where I volunteered my Graphic Services to help promote their cause and spent several years on their Board of Directors. During that time, my work caught the attention of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, especially Bob Krick, which led to my working on a project with Frank O’Reilly, to map the entire campaign and battle of Spotsylvania Court House. After the project was complete, in looking over those maps I realized that they weren’t as user-friendly as I’d like. I started to develop a style that I felt more comfortable with and it eventually evolved into the map style that I have today. During my time with the CVBT, I helped start another preservation group, the Richmond Battlefields Association of which I was a founding Board Member. I was president of the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields from 2001 to 2003 and through that relationship I met my wife, Kyrstie, at a movie shoot the Friends was funding for the NPS. I also helped establish and launch the Friends of Cedar Mountain, again as a founding member of the board. From 2001 to 2007, my work graced the pages of America’s Civil War magazine. In 2009, J.D. Petruzzi and I released our first book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide, 2009 winner of the U.S. Army Historical Foundation‘s Award for Excellence, Reference Category. Then in 2011, we released The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook and finally in 2013, the Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses was released in time for the 150th of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

BR: What got you interested in the study of history in general and the Civil War in particular? Who/what were your early influences?

JH: For nearly as long as I can remember I was interested in the battle of Little Bighorn, or as a kid I more likely knew it as Custer’s Last Stand. Flamboyant general surrounded and killed to the last man fighting hostile Indians. But as my interest matured beyond just Custer, I became more interested in the Civil War careers of the participants. Plus, about 25 years ago or so, the novel The Killer Angels sparked my interest in Gettysburg specifically. Yes! I am probably in this position today due to The Killer Angels and THE MOVIE. Haters of “historical fiction” are probably cringing at this moment.

WM: My father was a great student of Civil War History. At age 14 he received a set of diaries that belonged to a Union soldier killed in the war. As a small boy he would read entries from the diaries to me. I became fascinated with Civil War History.

SS: I’m not sure when and how my love of history started. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in history from colonial times and the Revolution through the Civil War. Until recently, I haven’t given 20th century US history a lot of time but I’ve been more and more intrigued with the US involvement in World War One. As for my love of the Civil War, I can pin point what sparked my interest – in high school, I picked up (from the school library) Bruce Catton’s trilogy and was I ever hooked. 

BR: Why another book on Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge in particular? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

JH: I admit I get annoyed with Civil War scholars & buffs who question the need for another Gettysburg book. Yet those are usually the same people who buy another Gettysburg book, write another Gettysburg book, or are out on the Gettysburg battlefield giving tours. So I will never apologize for being interested in Gettysburg. And with all due respect to enthusiasts from other battles, when most of us think Civil War, we think Gettysburg. And when we think Gettysburg, we often think Pickett’s Charge. (See the massive turnout for the 150th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge in case there is any doubt.) So the interest in this topic is still there among readers.

But what do we contribute to the literature? In a field of ever-increasing battlefield tour guides, do you realize that none had ever been produced for this most iconic of attacks? So we created a battlefield tour guide for the charge. Like the best tours, we mix the battle with personal stories, controversies, monuments, terrain analysis, reunions, color maps, and lots of photos. Trust me, you may have other Pickett’s Charge books but you do not have one that tells the story in this way.

WM: This is the first and only tour guide published of Pickett’s Charge, so for that reason this work is different from all others published on the subject.

BR: Steve, since Jim and Wayne are responsible for the narrative here, perhaps you can describe your role in the publication of “Pickett’s Charge?”

SS: For Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, I was brought on-board to create maps using my unique and user-friendly style. We went through the process of the tours and determined how many maps were needed to really tell the story and we came up with (at the time) about 35 maps. Since that was a large number of full color maps, it was much simpler to bring me in as a partner in this endeavor.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write Pickett’s Charge, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew?

JH: Officially, it took us slightly more than three years. But it was also based on stories, and tours, and research that Wayne and I had accumulated over our careers and that was a help in getting us moving. We got serious about this when we were asked by Garry Adelman in 2012 to write the third day’s content for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg app, in part because a mobile app could only hold a fraction of what we actually wrote.

The biggest stumbling blocks with two authors and a mapmaker/designer was getting three people together to work on it. We are all busy and have other things, so that was simply the hardest part. Not only getting everyone to work on it, but with multiple people you have to work really hard to maintain consistency and make it sound like you are speaking with one voice.

With all of these maps – if we said in our text that a regiment was ‘here’ then we needed to make sure the maps reflected that. With this many maps….boy, maintaining that consistency was a lot harder than we had ever envisioned when we started this. So many maps and so many regiments per map. But we think the final product paid off for the readers.

For me personally, I came to a new appreciation of how much blame Lee did lay on his artillery for this. I was also surprised at the number of personal stories that we used that I did not really know at first. We both like writing about the people who made the events happen, and we have some stories in here that I was blissfully unaware of previously.

WM: I believe the time-frame was about three total years. Much of the work was over the editing and format of the work, most especially with the detail we placed in the work. I was most surprised with the study of numbers showing that the in modern times the numbers involved in the attack, most especially for Pickett’s Division, were larger than most likely was the case on July 3.

BR: The mechanics of a tour guide-book are interesting – on what basis did you design the sequence of stops?

JH: Our book has four tours: 1) The Confederate line, 2) Walking the Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, 3) Walking Pickett’s Charge, 4) The Union line.

I think Wayne and I had an advantage on the mechanics because we have so much experience giving tours at Gettysburg. As Licensed Battlefield Guides, it was really a matter of taking what we already do and putting it on paper. But the National Park roads that we use in the tour are primarily one-way roads, which kind of dictates which direction to move, and unfortunately it becomes hard in a book-format to follow a complete chronology of events. So then we had to write, sometimes out of time sequence, in such a way that the less experienced readers are hopefully not completely lost. That was difficult on the Confederate side of the field especially, trying to maintain a relatively logical sequence of events.

WM: The stops are based on the best flow we think both driving and walking. This allowed for a complete treatment of the Confederate line and Union line as a whole plus walking both halves of the attack.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? How is the co-author process coordinated? How was the work divided up? Who was responsible for what?

JH: My process is once I get interested in a project or idea, I think of it as I would a story or a movie. So I map out chapter outlines with a logical story flow (beginning, middle, and end) and then start filling in the gaps with quotes and research. I don’t think it’s a really efficient way to work, because I often end up doing lot of re-writing (the Sickles version that was published was my 9th draft) but I guess it’s the only way I know how to do it. Although once I get motivated on a topic, I usually keep going until it’s done. Some people like to be writing books forever. I like to finish.

As for how we divided this up, I wrote a first draft, a “shell” really. Wayne then went through it and suggested various stories to add here or there and we built it up from there. Then we would proof it (repeatedly) and make further suggestions about what to add or subtract. We did not always agree on each other’s conclusions so there would be debates about whether one was being too hard on someone or vice versa.

Wayne and I worked well together because we both like doing things that the other doesn’t. He likes the research and the fact-finding; I like putting it all together. So it was a great partnership in that perspective. We also learned that I like texting (I already knew that) and he prefers to talk on the phone.

As for resources – obviously Gettysburg National Military Park and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guide Library access are huge assets to us. I should add that I ALWAYS start my writing with the Official Records if the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs). Wayne dipped into the archives at his own National Civil War Museum. The National Archives and pension records were used quite a bit by us. You will see many sources in our bibliography. Am I allowed to say that Google Books is an amazing resource? I think some folks look down their nose on it because it eliminates wading through dusty archives to hold real books, but that is complete rubbish.

WM: I cannot image a better partnership in working on this book. Jim did the writing for the work so it would look, appear, and flow seamlessly. This was by far the largest amount of labor. I was glad Jim completed this task for I really do not enjoy the writing part and I believe Jim does. I contributed to the research of course with a lot of material I have collected over the years. The park/guide library files were key sources for our work. I also compiled the orders of battle in the back of the book. These have been a work in progress for many years and I was assisted along the way by several of our guide colleagues. I also contributed the human interest stories included in the work. And the maps as created by our cartographer were essential to the book. After all this is a tour guide.

BR: Steve, can you describe your map production process? How do you work with the authors when producing a map? What resources do you use (programs, etc…)?

SS: Wow, my map production process, how much space am I allotted? Just Kidding!! Obviously the process starts with the request for the creation of a map, either the Civil War Trust sends it or it is coming from an author for their book. I have a whole Power Point presentation on this but hey, here it is in a nutshell. As I tell people, the first thing I do is actually locate and define the battlefield. Yes, everyone knows where Gettysburg is or Antietam is, but how many know where the battlefield for the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida is? So yes, defining the battlefield is key to where I start. I start to gather all my source material together then locate the oldest topographic map of the battlefield I can find. As an example, for my Gettysburg maps I used Bachelder’s base-map as my template. Now the actual work can begin. Using CorelDraw as my primary graphics program, I create the layers for each element, i.e. topographical lines, roads, water, etc. being their own layer. I will then draw in the topographic lines using the previously found base-map as a guide. Then water features are added, as well as modern roads, historic roads, structures and finally historic trees. Depending on where the battlefield is located, this process can take anywhere from several man-hours to tens of man-hours. Now I add in the troops and the final step is adding in the drop shadow behind the troops themselves. After getting a map ready using what resources/materials I have, I will send out the map to historians for proofing. Then when they send back their recommendations, I take care of those changes right away. As for how I work with the authors, some do send me hand drawn maps, but most send me the request for specific maps covering specific time-frames that relate their manuscript. There are even occasions when the author or authors have asked me to look through their manuscripts and make recommendations to what maps they will need. Case in point – for both of the latest Army War College Guides, one a revised Gettysburg edition and the other a guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the authors asked me what maps I felt could tell the story best for their guides. For the Gettysburg edition, I came up with 38 maps and for the Richmond-Petersburg edition, I came up with 42 maps.

BR: The book’s layout/design is bold. Can you describe how that was conceived and evolved?

WM: This was all left up to our cartographer Steve Stanley who did a great job in creating the overall presentation of the work.

JH: From day one, we had a collective vision that we wanted this book to “look great.” Color, maps, photos, etc. We also had a concept in mind that included lots of sidebars – topics of discussion that might not fit into a specific tour. I love sidebars – they have no pressure! You like the topic, you read it. You don’t? Then you move onto the next one! So we have lots of sidebars.

Steve and Savas Beatie obviously have a lot of experience putting great visual books like this together and Steve had the skills to make it happen. As an example, one of the coolest photos in the book was an aerial photo taken by our friend Mike Waricher from Gettysburg’s notorious and short-lived hot air balloon. (Or was it helium? I forget already.) So Mike takes these great shots but the gondola and strings are in there. Steve cleaned the images up with photoshop or whatever and the result is pretty cool. You do not have pictures from the balloon in any other Pickett books!

SS: During our meetings/conference calls, both Jim Hessler and Ted Savas, of Savas Beatie, wanted a book that had the feel of the Complete Gettysburg Guide. I think Jim’s words were, “I want to do the Complete Gettysburg Guide but for just Pickett’s Charge.” The format for the Guide was so well received that everyone wanted this to draw the same following. In creating the look and feel for the both the Guide and Pickett’s Charge, I did not want a guide book that was just tons of text, some photos and a few maps. Actually, during the process of designing the maps and gathering the photos for the Guide, I kept throwing ideas out about how would this look and that look – eventually Ted Savas (I think I wore him down with my emails) asked if I just wanted to design the entire book. I found out later that he had never at that time let authors design their own books so that meant a lot coming from him. One thing I wanted to establish in both designs was a fun, colorful, almost magazine feel to both books. My graphic background was with smaller publications and magazine formats so that was the direction I wanted to take. Now that I was designing the book, I was able to take care of one thing that has always bugged me about most books – maps. They never are in the place where you need them. You are reading about an action or movement and you go to consult the map. You have to flip through the pages to find the map that relates to what you are reading. I made sure that my maps were in the place you needed them to be, readily available on the facing page or just a page or so away. With Pickett’s Charge we wanted the maps oriented in the direction the reader needed them to be. Maps for the most part in print are oriented to the north, but some of ours are oriented to either the east or west. It was determined by which way the reader should be walking and viewing the action. All of the maps for the North Carolinians and the Virginians walking tours are oriented to the east, while the Union maps along the area around the Copse of Trees are oriented west. We felt it would make it easier for the reader to follow the fighting and the tours.

BR: What’s next for you all?

JH: I have three ideas I’d like to work on but it’s probably safe to say that you won’t see another one from me in print for 3-5 years. It’s a lot of work to do these right and then take some time to recharge before doing it again. But I do think I shall return. It’s an enormous relief to have the Sickles follow-up done!

WM: Wow, that’s a good question. It should be to finish my full length work on Lewis Armistead but I have many interests.

SS: What’s next? J.D. Petruzzi and I are working on our next trilogy of books, like we did for the Gettysburg Campaign, for the Maryland Campaign of 1862. We hope to have the Complete Maryland Campaign Guide (working title) out by late spring of 2016, followed by the Maryland Campaign in Numbers and Losses and the New Maryland Campaign Handbook. Also, Kyrstie and I are working on a book that will be a study in maps and photographs of America in World War One. I am still working on how the entire concept will be handled but this book will be ready by Spring of 2018, just in time for the 100th Anniversary of America’s involvement in the Great War. More on that as I get a more clear picture on the final concept.

A. R., CSA Citizen, On the Battle

9 07 2015

Interesting Letter.

We are indebted to the kind courtesy of Governor Letcher for the opportunity of laying the following before our readers. It is an aged gentleman’s account of that glorious victory which is still thrilling the hearts of the aged and the young, and which spreads noble joy over our whole Commonwealth, from the mansion of our Governor to the humblest cabin in the most lonely mountain gorge; and over the whole vast extent of our beloved Confederacy:

Fauquier County, Virginia,

Recotortown, July 25, 1861.

To his Excellency, John Letcher, Gov. of Va.,

Dear Sir – Being an eye-witness to the battle fought at the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run, on the 21st inst. and the battle fought on the same day on Bull Run at the old battle ground, believing it may be interesting to you to get a history of these battles who has known all the ground fought over for the last 50 years, this, together with a rough diagram of the fields of battle, I enclose to you.

The favorable position I occupied during the day with a spy glass, enabled me to see the beginning and end of that day’s fighting. The firing at the old battle ground commenced at 20 minutes after 7 o’clock. A brisk cannonading was kept up until the battle commenced at the Stone Bridge, which lasted until 5 o’clock in the evening, at which time I saw the enemy in full retreat at double-quick time, closely pursued by our forces, the artillery, and cavalry – the artillery pouring their deadly fires into the ranks a every favorable opportunity, and the cavalry charging upon them and mowing them down like a scythe in the grass. In this retreat the enemy for about 3 1/2 miles was miserably slaughtered. The object no doubt of the enemy in opening their batteries at the old battle ground, was to draw our forces to this point. Gen. Beauregard took but little notice of this firing, but in a few minutes after the first fire at this point our forces were in full march for the Stone Bridge. We had only a small force at the ford on Bull Run, where the first battle was fought, but they were well fortified, and these batteries, at the distance they were from our forces, did us no injury during the day. What was the number of their forces at this point, we were unable to judge, because they were concealed in a woods immediately in the rear of their batteries (See diagram.) [Diagram not included.] At about five o’clock, and about the time the enemy made their retreat at the Stone Bridge, a reinforcement of about 10,000 hove in sight, which had, as I understand, been stationed at the Union Mill, to prevent their crossing a ford on Bull Run, near this point. They were travelling in double-quick time, as I supposed; they were aiming to cut off the enemy’s retreat from the Stone Bridge to Centreville. They were too late to effect that object, but not too late to attack and defeat the enemy at the old battle ground. But little has been said of this battle, because of its small importance when compared with the battle at the Stone Bridge. The distance from Camp Pickens to the Stone Bridge is 5 miles. The main battle did not commence at the Stone Bridge, but at least two miles west of it. The enemy, in large force, had moved up Bull Run in the direction of Sudley, and near that point crossed over an marched towards Dogan’s. – The high ground and woods between the Stone Bridge and Dogan’s, concealed them from our view. Dogan’s is on a high ridge, which continues until you get near the Stone Bridge. Near Dogan’s is where the enemy rushed from the woods and made their attack on the left wing of our army in such force that I cannot compare them in numbers to any thing else that a pigeon roost in a forest, when the pigeons are either coming in or going out. Our left wing in numbers could not have numbered one to ten of the enemy. Here our brave heroes sustained their position for one hour, repulsing the enemy whenever they attempted to extend their line to flank them. At this point was our greatest loss. As soon as our reinforcements came to the relief of our noble band, we soon repulsed the enemy. – They soon rallied and a more dearly fire kept up than tongue can express or imagination conceive. The enemy took a firm stand, and well did they maintain it for two hours. At this warmly contested stand the firing of the small arms reminded me of a long train of cars passing speedily over a bridge. I could not conceive how a single man could escape the fire. The enemy could not stand it, and again we repulsed them; but they soon rallied and made a desperate effort. We then gave way, but soon rallied, and the fight seemed to be still more desperate than before, and each party seemed as though it was death or victory on both sides. This state of things continued for two hours or more. Then the enemy gave way. Again they soon rallied and came into the fight as they had before, determined to die or be victorious. They stood the deadly fire of our noble and heroic and brave boys, led on and cheered on by our noble and brave Beauregard and Johnson, who were seen during the day in the thickest of the fight. The Yankees stood this hot and incessant fire until five o’clock, when they took their final leave of us in double-quick time, closely pursued by our artillery and cavalry, for a distance of between three and a half or four miles, to Cub Run. At Cub Run there is a high bridge to cross, and here the cavalry made a desperate charge upon them, capturing the last piece of their cannon, fifty horses and forty wagons, with a number of other valuables. Besides the killing and taking of prisoners, we have taken in cannon in sixty-three pieces, in small arms an immense quantity. – The precise number will never be known, as the country people around in every direction have well supplied themselves with arms to defend their homes, which they were very deficient in before this battle, for arms for the home guard. Now it seems that God, in His kind providence, has provided us with all the material comforts and arms for our defence. – Yes, on the Sabbath of the 21st instant, we received a refreshing shower of blessing; yet it had some hail mixed with it, which cut down many noble sons of the South. In clothing, arm, ammunition and war materials, we are abundantly supplied for the present. I have now closed my observations on the occurrences of the 21st instant. That night we returned to our camp, our bosoms filled to overflowing with joy at the result of the day. We knew that night we had driven the Yankees to Centreville, yet we were restless that night to know what would be the action on to-morrow. On the next day, early in the morning, I found the whole army marching in the direction of Centreville. The army was headed by the cavalry, they followed by the artillery, then the volunteers. Before the last of the volunteers had left camp I saw t first of the volunteers that I had passed returning. All were anxious to know the cause of this move. I was then at the Quartermaster’s department. An officer rode up in great haste, and said they had received a dispatch at headquarters informing them that the Yankees had fled from Centreville, and they had crossed over to Washington. Then all our force, except the cavalry and artillery, were ordered back. – They passed on to Fairfax Court House.

It was, or ought to have been, very pleasing to all Southerners to witness the cheerfulness of the soldiers in their line of march on Monday Morning for Centreville. It was raining incessantly, as it had been all the morning; the road which they were travelling, was about shoe-deep in mud, yet they looked cheerful, and seemed anxious to pursue the enemy. I must mention, while the volunteers were passing, I discovered in the ranks my old and esteemed friend Philip Pitman[*], of Shenandoah, who has been a member of both branches of the Virginia Legislature, and is still a member. He is about 60 years of age; his head as white as snow. He seemed happy and contented, as if he was on a deer hunt, which sport he very much enjoys. If all the Southern boys were made of such material as Philip Pitman the Yankee boys would not stand up long before us.

A. R.

Richmond Enquirer, 8/5/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Philip Pitman was a member of Co. F, 10th VA Infantry. He would be discharged for old age and return to the Virginia Legislature. See here.

Capt. Hugh R. Miller, Co. G, 2nd Mississippi Infantry, On the Battle

8 07 2015



Report of Capt. Hugh R. Miller


Hon. W. S. Bates:

It was due to the friends of the “Pontotoc minute men” that I should give them some account of the part performed by us on the 21st of July in the battle of Manassas; but this duty is now rendered doubly incumbent, by certain grossly erroneous statements recently published in the Examiner, purporting to give an account of our conduct on that memorable day. Justice to the men, as well as to the officers, demands that those statements shall be corrected.

We were led into battle by General Bee early in the morning. We went upon the field with 68 men, rank and file, with all the commissioned and non-commissioned officers at their posts – a larger number than any other company in the regiment turned out that day.

As we approached the enemy’s front, and neared the point where we were formed into line-of-battle Col. Falkner was detached with three companies, (not seven) to-wit; the Tishomingo Rifles, I-u-ka Rifles and Town Creek Rifles, about two hundred yards from the other seven companies of the regiment. The object was to endeavor to silence, or force back a battery of the enemy with these three companies, and succeeding or failing in this, that they should unite with the body of the regiment.

The other seven companies, including our own, were led up by Gen. Bee and formed on the side of a fence inclosing a corn field in our front, through which the enemy were advancing. – We were ordered by Gen. Bee, who posted us, to lie down behind the fence and to await the approach of the enemy – throwing down the fence so as not to obstruct our fire or advance, if it became advisable. The seven companies were thus posted – the 4th Alabama regiment being on our right, and about 300 yards in advance of our position, on the hill-side, and in the open cornfield. After we had formed thus behind the fence, the O’Conner Rifles, Captain Buchanan, who were on our left, were ordered forward by General Bee as skirmishers. They deployed in the open field in our front, abreast with the line of the 4th Alabama regiment, and became immediately engaged in a brisk fire with the enemy, which they [kept?] up, until compelled by overwhelming numbers, to rally upon the companies remaining at the fence, bringing one of their men badly wounded. They came down and formed on our right.

In the meantime an incessant fire had been kept up between the 4th Alabama and the enemy. From the time we had been posted at the fence, the enemy had been throwing shot and shell about 30 feet over our heads, cutting trees and limbs that fell amongst us. Having discovered the error in their aim, they gradually lowered the range of their guns until their shot and shell passed immediately over our heads and about us. At last a shell fell about 20 paces in front of the left of our company, scattering fragments and dust in every direction. At this moment all the companies of our regiment, posted at the fence, except the Pontotoc Minute Men and the Cherry Creek Rifles, (the O’Conner Rifles being still engaged in skirmishing in our front) sprang to their feet and retreated across the woods in our rear. Three men on the left of my company rose to their feet, supposing from the movement of the other companies that there was an order to retreat. None of them “fled” or moved a pace. Seeing the movement of the others I instantly sprang to my feet and said, “down men, stand to your posts, there is no order to retreat”. I was instantly obeyed and those who had risen to their feet, every men remaining at his post; although, by this time, the minie balls, as well as shot and shell, from the artillery, rained thick around us. No other officer of my company gave any command whatever – none was necessary. What Lieut. Fontaine may have done by “calls” and “signals” to those of other companies who “fled”, I know not – I heard nothing of it then, or since, until I saw the publication in the Examiner. It is due to the Cherry Creek Rifles to say that they did not partake of the panic, and did not leave their post, but the few of them who had arisen to their feet promptly assumed their original position, Capt Herring expressing his concurrence with me that there had been given no order to retreat.

It is proper to remark that this was the first occasion on which my men had been subjected to the fire of the enemy, and nothing occurred during that terrible day, that inspired me with such a high degree of confidence in their firmness and bravery, and in their readiness to obey my commands in the midst of peril, as the promptness with which they obeyed my orders and remained at their posts. They did not fly, or need to be rallied; but remained at their post with unblanched cheeks, until they were ordered to change position by the officer in command of them.

The 4th Alabama regiment, after withstanding a heavy fire for about half an hour, was compelled to file to the right to avoid being outflanked by vastly superior numbers, and retreated in good order far to our right, leaving only our three companies to face an advancing column of from three to five thousand men supported by artillery. As they advanced over the hill we fired a few rounds and retired though the wood in our rear. Here, as at all times during the day it was the constant aim and effort to Lieut. Palmer and myself, as previously agreed upon in conference, to keep our company together – compact. And in retiring across the wood, they did preserve good order – the O’Conner and Cherry Creek Rifles leaving us far in their rear. As we approached an open field in the rear of the wood, and after we were without the range of the enemy’s shot, I commanded “halt – about face – right dress,” all of which was promptly done; and to compose and reassure the men, as much as to secure good order when we advanced into the open field, I caused the company to tell off by twos. All this was done by my command, and not by the command of Lieut. Fontaine or any one else. It was not necessary for me to “come up;” I was all the time up, and immediately with the company, and so was my second in command, Lieut. Palmer.

We then filed by the right flank into the open field, passing down a hillside to a small creek, or “run” as they are called here, until we came up with the O’Conner and Cherry Creek Rifles. – We now discovered a large body of the enemy coming over the ridge in our rear and to the right of the line over which we had just passed. Our three companies immediately crossed the run and formed fronting the enemy. We could not retreat up the opposite hill-side without being under the fire of the enemy for several hundred yards. The enemy had fired a few shots at us, and had wounded one of Capt. Herring’s men. After a moments conference with Capts. Buchanan and Herring, we determined to form our men in the channel of the creek, and if forced to do so to retreat down the channel. The command was immediately given, and the men sprang into the water – the banks affording a fine breastwork and protection.

We opened fire upon the enemy within good musket range, and the dead bodies found upon the hillside afterwards, attest the effect of our shots. – The enemy were advancing in column of division, and immediately in the rear of the regiment nearest to us, another loomed up over the ridge with a flaunting flag of stars and stripes. – They were in full United States uniform, and there was no reason whatever, from their appearance and position, to doubt that they were the enemy; yet a silly clamor was raised by some as to whether they were friends or enemies. This was silenced by the command to form in this creek and to fire upon them.

To our surprise and gratification the regiment in advance, fell back under our fire up the hill out of the range of our guns, uniting with the regiment in their rear. This afforded us an opportunity to avoid being swallowed up by overwhelming numbers, and we retired across the ridge in our rear. Here we became separated from the O’Conner and the Cherry Creek Rifles, and did not see the latter company again during the day.

We retired across the ridge and through a skirt of woods to the [south?] side of the Warrenton road, where we met with Gen. Bee, who inquired of me for Col. Falkner; I replied that I had not seen, or been able to find him, or the regiment, since we were posted in the morning, and that I desired orders. Gen. Bee immediately led us forward near a house, known as Robinson’s – a free negro – and posted us on the hill-side on the right of a Virginia regiment, and passed on to the house on the top of the hill. In a few moments he returned and appealed to us and the regiment on our left, to move up to the house and aid in holding an important position that a few men had held for some time. We immediately sprang up, and so did the men of the regiment on our left, but their colonel springing to their front ordered them to remain where they were, that he (Gen. Bee) was not their commander. Gen Bee expressed his indignation at this, and turning to us said “come on Mississippians,” and led us up to the right of the house and formed us in the lane directly in front of the line of the enemy who were not yet within musket range. – The Cherry Creek Rifles were not with us at this time at all, as stated in the publication in the Examiner. Archibald Clark, II. McPherson and Mr. Gaillard of the Coonawah Rifles had come and joined us when the [company?] left the fence where we were posted in the morning, and were the only persons with us, not of our own company.

The infantry of the Hampton’s Legion were formed in the yard and about the house on our left. Gen. Bee succeeded in bringing up a few companies of a Virginia regiment who formed on our left in the lane. We had been posted here but a few minutes when we discovered a regiment of the enemy emerging from the woods upon an open ridge directly upon our right and within three hundred yards of us – my company being on our right flank and nearest to them. Their appearance and position at once demonstrated that they were of the enemy. Capt. Herring was not there to make any suggestion, nor did I think for a minute they were friends. The entire statement in the publication by Lieut. Fontaine on this part of the subject is a mass of error and confusion. If any signals were exchanged with the enemy here, I heard nothing and saw nothing of it. It was evident that they had come up to take us on the flank by a quick and unexpected attack. Col. Harper of the Va. regiment passed along the lane in our rear a short distance, and returning quickly, remarked to me as he passed, “they are certainly the enemy and will be upon us immediately.” His companies I discovered immediately withdrew along the lane to the left of the house and I saw no more of them.

I pause here for a moment to correct a few immaterial errors. I did not order the men here or elsewhere during the day, to “cease firing.” I was at no time bothered with doubts, which seemed to afflict others, as to the character of the troops around us. I did not fire my rifle here as stated. I did not have it with me at this time. I first fired at the fence where we were first posted in the morning, and when the enemy were at least five hundred yards from us. Before doing so, I cautioned the men not to fire because I did, as the enemy were entirely beyond the range of their guns. I then elevated the sight and took aim at a man on horseback whose head and body I could just see over the ridge – the enemy’s line being entirely out of view. I reloaded it, and again, when we formed in the channel of the creek, as before stated, I then fired at the enemy again, when on the reloading and attempting to cock it I found it out of the order so that I could not do so, and as we were led up to our position by Gen. Bee, in passing through the woods, I met a Georgia soldier, leading off another whom I took to be wounded, and asking him merely what troops and regiment he belonged to, I requested him to take my gun to his camp as it was an useless incumbrance to me, which he readily agreed to do. – I delivered it to him and that is the last of it.

To return to the narrative of events. We were left alone in the lane, our men had fired a few ineffectual shots at the column of the enemy in our front, just before we discovered the regiment flanking us on our right. In a very few moments after this regiment first made its appearance, it advance upon us at the double-quick, firing. I immediately ordered a retreat, without hearing any suggestion from any one – it was a necessity obvious to everyone. The greater portion of the company jumped over the fence in our rear, and forming the enclosure on that side of the lane, retiring diagonally from the front of the approaching regiment. Some few passed directly from the enemy down the lane into the yard. Of this last number was John M. Ward, who was last seen standing in a broken panel of the yard paling loading and firing. – Here he received his mortal wound. – My men continued to halt and fire as they retreated through the orchard down the hill. William E. Wiley received his mortal wound about thirty paces from the fence we had just crossed, and where he must have halted and have been firing at the enemy, as the shot entered his face and came out at the back part of his head. Both he and Ward were killed instantly. As we retreated down the hill, in the orchard, and about fifty yards from where Ward stood, Spotswood Dandridge had his thigh broken, and appealing to me as I passed him with the rear of the company, not the leave him, I turned and called to two or three men to assist John F. Wray who had already got to him, and they carried him from the field. In the mean time Archibald Clark of Capt. Taylor’s company, and Berry M. Ellzy of my company, were wounded – Clark mortally. The advance of the enemy was retarded and our escape secured by the firing of a portion of my men, which was kept up longer perhaps then was prudent or consistent with their safety. When my attention was called by Dandridge to himself, I saw Ward and hallooed to him to come on, but the distance and noise were so great that he could not have heard me. He was then alone, and no one of our company was near him when he fell. – Nearly the entire company passed through the orchard, and down the hill, having left the lane at the start, and did not form again until we had retreated about three hundred yards and without the range of the enemy’s guns. Here I halted the company and reformed it – the wounded being carried to the rear, except Ellzy who was wounded when none of his comrades were near him, and who was taken prisoner by the enemy, but afterwards abandoned by them from alarm, thereby affording him the means to escape.

We were again without orders and without a field officer to lead us, and moved across the field toward the left of our line of battle until we came upon a South Carolina regiment, with which, at the suggestion of Lieut. Palmer, I had determined to remain during the day. We had formed on their right but a short time when we discovered the O’Conner Rifles on another part of the same field, Lieut. Palmer and myself, after consultation, concluded that it was our duty to unite with them, and if possible find our own regiment. We accordingly drew off and joined the O’Conner’s, and with them moved up to a point near our left wing, and above and to the left of a portion of the 4th Alabama regiment which we found there without a field officer and in great confusion. Our men had just sat down for the first time during the day to rest, and some had started to a ravine nearby to get water, when Gen. Bee came dashing down the hill, exhibiting intense anxiety and addressing himself to us and the Alabamians on our right and below us, he said “men, there is a position here important to be held, move up quickly and support it.” Instantly our men were on their feet, and my company being on the left, and our route being to the left, I faced the company to the left and marched off by the left flank, the O’Conner’s who were on our right did the same and followed us, Gen. Bee leading us at a canter, whilst we moved at “double-quick.” It is proper to state here that Lieut. Leland had remained with us during the day until his strength was completely exhausted. He was so feeble from protracted illness that he scarcely ought to have gone upon the field at all. When we had halted to rest, as above stated, others said to me that they were broken down and unable to go further. Of this number was Wm. Barr who was quite feeble from a recent illness. As we moved up the hill, having near a half a mile to pass over, Mr. Barr gave out, not knowing where or how far we were called on to march, and turned to the left down a road leading towards Manassas, whilst our course was nearly in the opposite direction. Here, as he informs me, he was soon joined by Lieut. Fontaine and another, a private, of my company.

There was no other regiment, or considerable body of troops on our side anywhere to be seen on or near the field over which we passed. I had occasion to look back after we had advanced several hundred yards up the hill, and discovered that the Alabamians, although they appeared to be moving, were yet in confusion, and several hundred yards in our rear. The O’Conner’s were close up with us, and continued so until we approached the brow of the hill and formed into line – they forming on our right.

There was no regiment then on the field upon which we were formed, nor were we formed upon the flank of any regiment, as stated by Lieut. Fontaine. He did not reach that part of the field, and therefore knew nothing about it.

As we advanced toward the hillside and before we were nearer than four hundred yards of the enemy’s line, which was not yet visible from where we were, I discovered the last stragglers of a Virginia regiment, which had just been repulsed from this position, retreating across our front toward Manassas. It was the repulse of this regiment that caused Gen. Bee’s anxiety when he came for us.

Hitherto we had been led up to positions to await the approach of the enemy, now we had to advance upon the enemy, with the balls whistling around us like a hail storm. The Minute Men and the O’Conner’s moved steadily forward, loading and firing rapidly as they advanced, until we were within seventy-five yards of the enemy’s line. No other troops came up on the field, the Alabamians having fallen back, or turned towards Manassas. Just after we had formed into line and came within range of the enemy’s guns, Gen. Bee wheeled around our left flank, and to our rear, and in a few seconds received his death wound from a point of woods to our left, where some of the enemy had concealed themselves. A few minutes afterwards Lieut. Palmer received his death wound by a shot from the same quarter, and from the nature of the wounds of many of my men, they must have been shot from the same direction. – Our attention was directed exclusively to the front, and we apprehended no danger from this quarter. This party had pursued our retreating forces across the ridge, and had ensconsed themselves there after Gen. Bee had come down the ridge for us. The artillery on both sides had ceased to fire sometime before we were led up, and it was now a contest solely of the infantry in and about the silenced guns of Sherman’s and Rickett’s battery. We were led up immediately in front of the left gun of this battery. The enemy’s shot did not reach within three hundred yards of the road taken by Mr. Barr and others towards Manassas. Men never exhibited greater firmness and fearlessness, than did the Minute Men whilst under fire of the enemy. I had, I suppose, about fifty men at this time some had been wounded, some had gone to carry the wounded to places of safety and to attend to them, and a very few had become faint by the wayside. As it was, we had Lieut. Palmer killed here, and fourteen men wounded, including Mr. Gaillard, of Capt. Taylor’s company, who had fought with us all day. Andrew J. Clements here received a wound that has since proved mortal. In a little while the enemy began to retreat and the firing ceased, We had no numbers to justify pursuit –  the O’Conner’s had suffered severely –  and I called back my men who were most advanced, and as I turned back myself, I heard the voice of Charlie Earle calling me to the aid of Lieut. Palmer. I turned to him and discovered that he was badly wounded. Calling upon Manahan, Barksdale, E.L. Earle, Cooper and some others to assist me, we bore him slowly from the field. Our other wounded men were borne from the field by their comrades. The enemy had fled; – not another gun was fired, and we were last upon the field.

I have no space for eulogy; but a better man, a more skillful and faithful officer, or a braver soldier then Lieut. Palmer never drew a blade. Andrew J. Clements, William E Wiley, and Jno. M. Ward, had, by their uniform good conduct, in camp and upon the battlefield, commanded my highest approbation.

Josephus J. Pickens was temporarily separated from the company as formed into line in front of the enemy, by a gun of our artillery in retreat, running immediately across our rear. He diverged a little to our right, and took a position near an old apple or cherry tree where he had a fine chance at, and did good service upon the enemy, but unfortunately was too much exposed to another body of the enemy, and received a severe wound through both thighs. He fell where he was shot, and was unable to move – one thigh being badly broken. –  There I found him, and had him carried on a door-shutter to the place of rendezvous for the wounded. He is reported to be doing well, as all our wounded are – tho’ several of them, Pickens, Ellzy, Alexander, and McMicken, are badly wounded

Archibald Clark, who received his mortal wound whilst fighting with my company, was a brave and gallant soldier.

This much I have felt that justice of the company demanded of me. It is not intended as a full report of all that we did on that day. We were near the enemy’s front all day, and were repeatedly complimented by Gen. Bee for our firmness and bravery. He was the only field officer who witnessed our conduct, and unfortunately for us, and for the truth of the history, this gallant officer did not live to make a report. We achieved a great victory, and are content. If the part preformed by the Minute Men is not misrepresented, they are willing to wait and let their good deeds herald themselves.


Capt. Pontotoc Minute Men.


The facts as stated above are true as fat as they are within the recollection of the undersigned, and we were in the battle of the 21st July, the entire day.

Thomas J. Crawford, Jno. W. Dillard, Allen Moore, Wm. H. Toipp, W. E. Manahan, G. B. Mears, T. J. Rye, W. C. Nowlin, J. W. Combs, J. M. Barksdale, E. L. Earle, John McCurley, J. J. Donaldson, Dichard Drake.

The (Pontotoc, MS) Examiner, 9/13/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by Cameron Stinnett

Hugh Reid Miller bio sketch

Hugh Reid Miller at Ancestry.com

Preview: Ryan, “Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign”

25 06 2015

51BWOF0G-OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve corresponded with Thomas J. Ryan a few times over the years, enough to know he’s been working on Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 (Savas Beatie) for a long, long time. Tom is well suited to the topic, having worked for the Department of Defense in intelligence related areas for many years.

In this new study, Ryan looks at how the opponents in the campaign used various sources (cavalry, newspapers, civilians, and spies for Lee, and cavalry, signal corps, and Bureau of Military Intelligence for Hooker/Meade) to guide them in the theater of operations. After laying out the assets and structures of the armies, the narrative follows a chronological path, from mid-May 1863 through Lee’s “escape” July 14, and concludes with the author’s assessment.

Spies, Scouts, and Secrets… consists of 448 pages of text, a 15 page bibliography, full index, and footnotes on the text pages. There are plenty of illustrations, including 23 (!) Phil Laino maps. I’m looking forward to digging in. Check out Tom Ryan’s website here.

The Boundaries of Your American Civil War

21 06 2015


As what appears to the general public to be the end of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial has drawn, or draws, to a close, discussion (chiding? lecturing?) abounds on just what areas of history fall under that heading, American Civil War. Most prominent among those areas is Reconstruction. Arguments are made that the Civil War did not end with the cessation of armed and organized military rebellion, and that Reconstruction was the continuation of War in a number of senses. Even within that framework, disagreements have arisen regarding military and non-military activities in the period. I’m not going to advocate for any position, because I have a problem with the word should when it comes to studying history. But I’m rather curious to hear what you think.

Is history a river which feeds streams of micro-histories, or is it a river that is fed and created by those sub-histories? Is it OK for a student to focus on a time frame or events, and not give equal attention to events that may have affected or been affected by those times and events? If a student is not as interested in what he or she may consider ancillary events as they are in what they consider the “main events”, should they feel guilty or inferior, or made to feel so? I recall one blog post – sorry, where and who escapes me – in which the author reacted to a lack of response to a Reconstruction focused post by declaring “I guess it’s just too hard to think about Reconstruction.”

I mean, think about it. A recent blog post claims that one cannot understand the Battle of Gettysburg without a good understanding of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The argument is not without merit. But what is meant by the word “understand?” Can one understand command decisions of professional soldiers in almost any battle of the Civil War without having a firm understanding of the education and experience of those making the decision? Wouldn’t one need a firm understanding of, say, the development of the U. S. Military Academy and the content and goals of its curricula, or of the duties of antebellum officers, or of the U. S. war with Mexico, or of the Crimea, or of Napoleonic wars, or of the development of military theory through the years, Machiavelli, Vauban, yadda yadda yadda? Might a lack of understanding of these things lead one to less than sound conclusions regarding those decisions?

To understand Reconstruction, do we need an understanding of the history of slavery and emancipation from ancient times? Or of the events following other civil wars, revolutions, insurrections in other countries throughout history, and of the re-absorption of affected areas into the body politic? And why stop at 1876? As you expand it, the focus on any limited period can be made to sound a trivial exercise.


Or maybe, realizing we only have so much time on this rock, do we just study what interests us most – what floats our boats, or blows our hair back? Do we even want to think of it as “study” at all? There have been times I’ve wondered about folks who beat the bejeezus out of Gettysburg. Some showed little interest in the rest of the war. I’d ask myself, “Don’t you care? Aren’t you curious?” But I think I always asked those questions rhetorically, and assumed that they should care, that they should be curious. But guess what? Many don’t and aren’t.  I’ve learned to appreciate that, and also that should is my limitation, not theirs.

Just tossin’ stuff out, seein’ what sticks. What do you think? What are the boundaries of your American Civil War?

Being For the Benefit of Mr. Stipe!

10 06 2015

Back in the 1980’s I listened to a good deal of R. E. M., the alt band from Georgia (see their official site here.) One of their songs, Swan Swan H from the 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant, always nagged at me, because I just knew that some of the lyrics had Civil War roots, and I associated them with a piece of artwork I felt I’d seen in a book – it had to be a book; that’s all we had back in the day. First, here’s the band’s performance:

20130104-rem-306x306-1357326544Searches through my steadily growing Civil War library proved fruitless, and to this day I’ve been unable to find the book in which I saw a piece of folk art by a Confederate POW that included words at least similar to those of songwriter Michael Stipe (that’s him at left, on the cover of the Rolling Stone.)

Then, one day back in January of 2013 I was reading my newsfeed on Facebook. Friend Russell Bonds, author of Stealing the General and War Like the Thunderbolt, (in essence, co-author of this post) had made a brief status update:

A pistol hot cup of rhyme
The whiskey is water, the water is wine
Marching feet, Johnny Reb, what’s the price of heroes?

I immediately recognized these lines from Swan Swan H, and replied with the verse that has afflicted me for a quarter century:

Johnny Reb, what’s the price of fans?
Forty a piece or three for one dollar.
Hey Captain, don’t you want to buy
Some bone chains or toothpicks?

Russ’s post prompted me to dig a little more using Google. Many different search word combinations finally turned up this site, which tells the tale of the conservation of a collection of watercolors made by one John Jacob Omenhauser, titled True Sketches and Sayings of Rebel Characters in the Point Lookout Prison Maryland. At the bottom of that page you’ll see a black and white image of a watercolor sketch. Here’s another, clearer image of that same drawing at this site (thanks Russ), which includes all the illustrations from one of Omenhauser’s sketchbooks:


Apparently there are at least four versions of Omenhauser’s sketchbook. Further search took me to this site, which offered for sale, at one time, a different version of the sketch. Here it is (image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Green Valley Auctions) :


In the second version our trio is at center. In both versions you can clearly see the three fans, as well as small chains in the hand of the figure at right. The first two captions/bubbles match the Johnny Reb… stanza above, but the Reb is offering “pretty rings and watch chains” in the first version and “bone rings and hair chains” in the second. It could be that there is another version with “bone chains and toothpicks.”

Mystery solved – in part.

Russ later sent me more information:

OK here you go, Friday detective work diversion from actual work.

Stipe says in an online Q&A interview:

Q: Swan Swan H pretty miraculously spins lyrics in swirls and whirlpools, and any central meaning seems nicely elusive. Could you  discuss your views/ intentions/ interpretations of the track? Sometimes I think of redemption/ Christianity; other days its the US  South/ slavery/ repression; other days its loneliness.  “What’s the price of heroes?” is a line I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in. How does the Swan fit in? Many many thanks – Gary

A (Stipe):  civil war song.  That’s all I know of writing it, I remember the inspiration but it just flowed.  What noisy cats are we I lifted from an actual civil war written piece  and Mike and I agreed finally; the title is now Swan Swan Hummingbird.  My pretentious 20’s are long gone and we can now all breath a sigh of relief.  kind of…

So, I looked in Google Books for “an actual Civil War written piece” that says “what noisy cats are we” and pulled up an issue of Antiques magazine (Vol. 114, p. 559) from 1978 (Lifes Rich Pageant wasn’t released until ’86)—with this listing (partial – the whole book isn’t available on Google):


Note the three Swan Swan H (pronounced “Huh”, according to Stipe) lyrics:  noisy cats, hurrah/we are all free, and girl and dog. Hmmm… Originally I thought maybe this was a description of a Howard Finster folk art piece–because of his link to R.E.M. But some further searching led me to a more complete listing of the above that seemed to refer to a sampler by one Elizabeth Jane Hawkes of Salem, NC. I finally found the piece in A Gallery of American Samplers–The Theodore H. Kapnek Collection (E.P. Dutton, 1978), p. 86. The description of the piece is: 123. Elizabeth Jane Hawkes, Salem, North Carolina, c. 1865. Inscription: “Elizabeth Jane Hawkes aged 13, Salem, North Carolina.” Originally noted on former frame. Stitches: cross, tent. Silk on wool, 12 3/4″ h. x 12 3/4″ w. The fascinating thing is the entire first lines of the song are taken directly from the Sampler (see below): “Swan, Swan, Hummingbird, Hurrah, We are all free now. What noisy cats are we, Girl and Dog, He bore His cross.”

Russ found a nice image of the sampler. All of the words and phrases Russ mentioned can be seen in it:


So, here we have what appear to be at least two sources for lyrics to Swan Swan H. And this is where it pays to have an attorney as a friend. Yes, Russ Bonds is an attorney. In Georgia. Where R. E. M. was born. And Russ also happened to know the name of the band’s long-time attorney. He wrote to Mr. Bertis Downs, described our research results up to that point, and then submitted the question:

[We] wanted to be sure to reach out to Michael Stipe and R.E.M. to ask for any comment they might have on this link to the Civil War and Reconstruction era. I know that, in past interviews, the band has often (though not always) declined to discuss song lyrics, stating instead their understandable preference that the songs speak for themselves. But I hope they might make an exception here. After all, these phrases from Swan Swan Hummingbird don’t merely invoke the Civil War era–they were actually spoken/written/sung in that era. I am wondering if Michael Stipe recalls the “actual Civil War written piece” the lyrics were taken from? Was there a book or treatise he referred to? Were the remaining lyrics (e.g. the whiskey is water, the water is wine) from similar sources? Was there someone who first pointed him to these phrases, or to these specific CW-era works of art? Was R.E.M. even aware of these pieces, or are they new to them as well?

Please be assured that we pose these questions out of genuine historic interest, as well as longstanding admiration and respect for R.E.M. Harry and I merely hope to illuminate this connection between R.E.M.’s great music and these beautiful pieces of Civil War art.

Please let me know your thoughts on this issue, and please pass my e-mail along to the members of R.E.M. if you feel that is appropriate. I would welcome hearing from you and/or them on this. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

And, believe it or not, he received a response:


Thanks for being in touch– fascinating work.

I checked in with Michael Stipe, who responded with the following:

“These look like the things that I saw and copied down phrases from, forming the basis of the lyric for swan swan h. I remember it was at the american folk art museum in nyc, when it was across the street from either moma[*] or our record company’s hq[**] at the time.

I didn’t remember that there were two pieces that I copied down words from; I remember one piece. But these are almost word for word the lyric of the song; anything else I filled in and wrote myself. These guided me to find the voice for the narrator and go from there.”

Many thanks and good luck with the article and your part-time scholarship.

Kind regards,

Bertis Downs

[*Museum of Modern Art]

[**IRS Records]

How about that?


John Jacob Omenhauser and Elizabeth Jane Hawkes likely never met. During the American Civil War, John was a Confederate infantryman, while Elizabeth was a North Carolina youth maturing under the difficult circumstances attendant to a country at war. Independently, however, the two produced pieces of folk art that serendipitously made their ways into the lexicon of angst-ridden alt-rock fans in the 1980s.

Some time around 1865, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth, like countless young girls before and after her, painstakingly completed a sampler – needlework embroidery consisting of letters, numbers, words, phrases, and figures. Samplers are examples or tests of one’s skill with needle and thread, and many today are highly valued works of art. Elizabeth’s sampler, a collection of fowl, dancing freedmen (Hurrah We Are All Free Now), cats, dogs, and what would prove to be catchy phrases, made its way over the years into the hands of a collector, and in 1978 it appeared in the pages of A Gallery of American Samplers – the Theodore H. Kapnek Collection.

John was a 30-year-old resident of Richmond, Va. in 1861 when he enlisted in the 46th Virginia Infantry in August, 1861 (the site chronicling the conservation of notebooks says he was an Austrian immigrant, while Mike Musick, his biographer, tells me he was born in Philadelphia.) His service was highlighted by his capture outside Petersburg, Va., in 1864, and his subsequent confinement as a prisoner of war in Camp Lookout, Maryland. While there, or shortly after, John produced at least four hand-made booklets, including water color drawings with captions and “word bubbles,” that are known as True Sketches and Sayings of Rebel Characters in the Point Lookout Prison, Maryland (available as I Am Busy Drawing Pictures: The Civil War Art and Letters of Private John Jacob Omenhausser, CSAby Ross Kimmel and Michael Musick.) These sketchbooks, like Elizabeth’s sampler, have come to be considered historical and artistic treasures.

Being_for_the_Benefit_of_Mr._Kite_-_2012_reproductionNone of this is a criticism of Michael Stipe in any way, shape, or form. Artists take their inspiration where they find it, and while the words and phrases are those of long dead folks, the arrangement of those phrases is Stipe’s alone. And this borrowing from other media isn’t unprecedented by any means. In 1967, the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which includes the little ditty Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite! It’s a rich, psychedelic carnival tune penned mostly by John Lennon with a lot of input from producer George Martin. The source material for the lyrics was provided for the most part by a 19th century poster promoting a carnival act which Lennon had come across in an antique store (see it at left, and read more about it here. Go here to learn about a project reproducing the poster, including information on how to buy one for yourself.) Take a listen, and see if you can find the lyrics in the poster:

Mr. Kite has long been a favorite of mine, and sometimes I can’t get the line Messrs. K and H assure the public their production will be second to none out of my head. Just like Johnny Reb, what’s the price of fans?

Can any lyricist ask for more than that?

Below are the full lyrics to what is now titled Swan Swan Hummingbird:

Swan, swan, hummingbird
Hurrah, we are all free now
What noisy cats are we
Girl and dog he bore his cross
Swan, swan, hummingbird
Hurrah, we are all free now
A long, low time ago, people talk to me

Johnny Reb, what’s the price of fans
Forty a piece or three for one dollar?
Hey captain, don’t you want to buy
Some bone chains and toothpicks?

Night wings, her hair chains,
Here’s your wooden greenback, sing
Wooden beams and dovetail sweep
I struck that picture ninety times,
I walked that path a hundred ninety,
Long, low time ago, people talk to me

A pistol hot cup of rhyme
The whiskey is water, the water is wine
Marching feet, Johnny Reb, what’s the price of heroes?

Six in one, half dozen the other,
Tell that to the captain’s mother,
Hey captain, don’t you want to buy,
Some bone chains and toothpicks?

Night wings, her hair chains
Swan, swan, hummingbird
Hurrah, we are all free now
What noisy cats are we
Long, low time ago, people talk to me
A pistol hot cup of rhyme,
The whiskey is water, the water is wine

Observer, U. S. Marine Battalion, On the Battle

8 06 2015

U. S. Marines at the Battle of Bull Run.

Correspondence of the Traveller.

Washington, August 9.

The battalion of United States Marines, commanded by Major John Geo. Reynolds, were in the action from the commencement until the retreat sounded. During the day they supported Griffin’s Battery, and in the charges that they made, fought with desperation; and throughout the entire battle behaved with all the coolness of veterans. The most of these men were raw recruits some of them never having been instructed in the drill prior to their departure for the field. All honor is due to our noble and gallant Major (Reynolds), who in so short a space of time raised them to such a state of efficiency, that they could favorably compare with the best men on the field. I think there are very few officers in the United States service who have the art of imparting knowledge to recruits to such a degree as Major Reynolds. On the field he behaved with coolness, and bravely led his battalion against the rebel hordes. When I saw how gallantly he acted, his long white locks streaming in the wind, I felt that I would freely sacrifice my life to have saved his. God has spared him while others have been stricken down. Lieut. Hitchcock was struck dead with a rifled cannon shot. Our officers have all shown, that although young (some of them smelling powder for the first time), they inherit the natural bravery of their ancestors. I think after this the Confederates will give the Marines a wide berth.

Major Leilin[*] was shot through the arm while leading his Company in the final charge. Among others who distinguished themselves was Lieutenant William H. Hale, who acted in a gallant and heroic manner, rallying our men by examples of bravery seldom surpassed. After Sherman’s Battery was taken by the enemy, Gen. McDowell ordered the Marines to advance and retake the guns. Lieut. Hale seized the Battalion Colors, and , while urging the men forward, was struck in the leg with a Minie Rifle Ball, inflicting a severe and dangerous wound. Paying but little attention to the wound, he continued at his post until the order of retreat was given. After having regained the other side, where our own forces were drawn up, he gave up the Colors to his commanding officer, and fell from exhaustion.

The Marines were the last to leave the field, covering the retreat of our retiring forces, and bravely contesting the ground with the rebels, inch by inch. Major Leilin, Major Nicholson, Captain Allan Ramsey, Lieutenants Monroe, Grimes, Baker, and Huntington, all behaved in a gallant and meritorious manner. Fifty-two of the Marines are killed and missing, and 22 wounded.

Major Reynolds is very active at present (having recovered from the fatigues of our long march,) in promoting the proficiency of our corps, drilling the men early and late. The Major is the able constructor and designer of the new Marine Barracks in Boston, said to be convenient, comfortable, and superior to any other Barracks in the United States.

Our men are now ready for the field, and eager for the fray. Gen. McDowell and staff gave our Battalion great credit for the manner in which they conducted themselves while under fire.



[*] Edit – Jacob Zeilin, commanding Co. A of the battalion, would later become the seventh commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps, its first non-brevet general officer, and approved the corps’ eagle, globe, and anchor emblem.

Based on the narrative, it is assumed the author is a member of the battalion.

Boston Daily Evening Traveller, 8/13/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy


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