Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable, 5/17/2023

28 05 2023

Last week I spoke to 40 members and guests of the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable at the Quaker Valley Elementary School in Osborn, PA. Sorry, I forgot to take my usual selfie with the group. It happens sometimes. This group was the first to which I ever presented, 16 years ago!

The program is a new one that I put together at the request of President Dave Fisher, Atrocities at First Bull Run. If you’re a regular reader, you’re aware of plenty of posts tagged with “Atrocities.” At first, I thought I would just assemble a few accounts by category of “atrocity,” but decided instead to focus on the testimonies of witnesses before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War’s hearings on “Rebel Barbarities.” You can find those testimonies here, toward the bottom of the page. Chasing down the details of the witnesses and individuals mentioned in their testimonies was productive and helped flesh things out, so I had plenty of material of the 50 minute show. This was the “shake-down cruise” for this program, and I think it will get better the more often I present it (so, if you think this would be of interest your group, you know where to find me). Also, I think this topic merits a “part two.” Maybe an essay or article as well.

Thanks to Dave, founder Gary Augustine, techie Scott Krebs, and the membership for having me, and for the apres parler Eat ‘n Park ice cream.

Interview: Rosebrock, “Artillery of Antietam”

21 05 2023

Friend James A. Rosebrock (Antietam Battlefield Guide and member of Save Historic Antietam Foundation and Antietam Institute) has recently published Artillery of Antietam. He answered some questions about himself and his work below. (FYI, Jim has provided me with images of all the documents from the Dixon Miles Court of Inquiry, which I still have not transcribed and for which I still owe him a beer or twelve.)


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JR: Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you Harry. I was born and raised in the Buffalo New York area (Go Bills!), and currently live with my family in Jefferson, Maryland about 20 miles from Antietam. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian history from Niagara University in 1976. I was commissioned in the United States Army in the ROTC program and served for 28 years retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2004. My military career included assignments in Germany during the Cold War, deployment to Grenada with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1983, and duty as an instructor at the Combined Arms and Services Staff School (CAS3). I subsequently worked for the Federal government where I retired from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021 as an operations officer and liaison to FEMA helping to coordinate Federal law enforcement response to natural disasters. I volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield and currently work with Antietam’s artillery detachment, Battery B, 4th United States Artillery. I have been an NPS certified battlefield guide at Antietam since 2009, and led the guide service from 2012 to 2018. I am a founding member of the Antietam Institute and am currently the Institute’s Vice President. Artillery of Antietam is my first book, but I was a contributing author for the Antietam Institute’s first book Brigades of Antietam.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences?

JR: In about the third grade, I received a copy of Bruce Catton’s Golden Book of the Civil War. Like many guys I know who grew up in the 1960s and became students of the Civil War, the beautifully rendered color maps of the battlefields with the tiny lines of soldiers and cannons fascinated me. I later received Catton’s magnificent 3 volume series on the Army of the Potomac. Catton’s beautiful prose inspired my lifelong interest. I still refer to his chapters on Antietam when I need a stirring quote. As a kid and during my time in the Amry, I was a big-time wargamer and had all the Avalon Hill and SPI Civil War games. Unlike some, our family vacations were never to battlefields, and I really did not start visiting them until I moved to Maryland after I got out of the Army. Now I am at Antietam every week giving tours or volunteering

BR: Why the Artillery at Antietam in particular?

JR: I had an ancestor who served with Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery in the Twelfth Corps. Ironically, he reported to the battery on September 21, 1862, four days after Antietam but served with the outfit until he mustered out. I had ancestors who served in the artillery during the Spanish-American War and World War 1. My dad was an artilleryman in the Pacific during World War 2, and I have a nephew who served in Marine Corps artillery units. I guess I can say it is in my blood. When I was commissioned, I requested artillery as my branch but the Army in its infinite wisdom made me a logistician. I have ten books in my library, devoted to the artillery at Gettysburg alone. Except for a book titled Artillery Hell written in 1995, there is no single book that has ever been written about the artillery of Antietam. I thought that it was time for an in-depth book on the artillery batteries at Antietam.

BR: Can you briefly describe the overall impact of artillery in the campaign and battle?

JR: At Antietam, nearly 11,000 artillerymen comprising 116 batteries of 521 guns fired some 50,000 rounds of artillery in the 12-hour battle. While the book is organized by artillery organizations, I broke the action (and the maps) out into some eight artillery sectors of fire from the Nicodemus Heights – Poffenberger Hill sector in the north to the Harpers Ferry Road sector south of town. In each, there was at least one important takeaway that significantly affected the battle. It may come as no surprise that the batteries that experienced the heaviest casualties fought on the northern end of the field. These were the batteries of Joseph Hooker’s First Corps and Confederate Stephen D. Lee’s artillery battalion. One of the least appreciated areas was the Federal line of guns along the eastern boundary of the Cornfield and East Woods. Manned throughout the late morning and into the afternoon by batteries of the Second, Sixth, and Twelfth Corps, the fire of these guns prevented the Confederates from getting a permanent foothold east of the Hagerstown Pike. I also spend some time discussing the key role of the Confederate field grade officers (majors, and lieutenant colonels) who were instrumental in moving artillery to threatened areas of the field like the Reel Ridge as Lee’s infantry reserves were exhausted. These officers had wider authority to move numbers of batteries and mass fire at critical points than lieutenants and captains had.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

JR: I began writing three years ago. Originally the artillery batteries were to have been part of a book that Brad Gottfried edited and the Antietam Institute published in 2021 titled Brigades of Antietam. Quite a number of Antietam rangers, guides, and volunteers contributed to this project. I have always been interested in the regular army organizations at Antietam and wrote the chapters on Sykes’ regular division for that book. We quickly realized that including the artillery in this book would have made it too large. I had already been conducting extensive research since 2014 on all the regular army artillery batteries with the idea of writing a book focusing just on them. Since I had accumulated a lot of material on the regulars, I offered to write Artillery of Antietam. A major stumbling block was that I began writing as the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down and I could no longer visit research centers like the National Archives and Library of Congress. This is also my first book and I had little idea at the start how long it would take.

I was surprised at how many references I found from Confederate artillerists attesting to Lee’s personal role in relocating artillery batteries during the afternoon of September 17 after the Ninth Corps seized the Lower Bridge and prepared to move on Sharpsburg. I also did not fully appreciate J.E.B. Stuart’s role in positioning Jackson’s artillery batteries on the morning of September 17. Jackson’s artillery chief Stapleton Crutchfield along with battalion commanders Alfred Courtney and Lindsay Shumaker remained at Harpers Ferry. Throughout the rainy night of September 16, four of Jackson’s batteries joined Pelham’s Stuart Horse Artillery on Nicodemus Heights where they were positioned by Stuart. Stuart also shifted the batteries to counter Sedgwick’s advance into the West Woods. Stuart doesn’t get enough credit for this. On the Federal side, Emory Upton played a surprisingly important role in the deployment of the Sixth Corps artillery.

I already knew how great Henry Hunt was as an artillery commander. Many people probably don’t know that McClellan appointed Hunt to take over the Federal artillery on September 5, 1862, just twelve days before Antietam. Previously Hunt only commanded the Artillery Reserve. Hunt like his predecessor William Barry was a very able administrator but he was also an outstanding artillery commander on the battlefield. With a minuscule staff, Hunt reorganized the Federal depleted batteries and got them ready for this fight in just 12 days. With all of this going on, Hunt on September 12 took the time to write a lengthy circular to his chiefs of artillery on the tactical employment of the artillery. I found this circular in Hunt’s papers and included it as one of my appendices.

I already knew that the Confederates possessed some excellent battery commanders like John Pelham and Willie Pegram who have books devoted to their careers. There are many others like William Poague, James Bondurant, and Charles Squires. This book brings to light some equally talented young Federal artillery commanders like Dunbar Ransom, John Tompkins, and Samuel Benjamin to name just a few. The reader will learn a lot about them and many other heretofore unknown battery commanders on both sides.

After completing chapters on the artillery batteries in each infantry and cavalry division, and the reserve artillery battalions, at Antietam, I felt I was missing something. I realized that while the Confederate batteries that fought at Harpers Ferry were covered, I had not addressed the Federal cannoneers who have never received much acknowledgment. The Federal cavalry escaped, and the infantry surrendered but the 700 men in six batteries from Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Ohio, are the only combatants on the Union side that battled the Confederates. Hamstrung by poor leadership and surrounded, outnumbered, and disadvantaged by their poor positioning, the six Federal batteries gave a surprisingly good account for themselves. The book also needed an introductory chapter for the reader to understand light artillery operations and the workings of an artillery battery. After writing that I added six appendices detailing numbers, casualties, and armament of the batteries. With that completed, I knew I was done.

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

JR: I had a head start with all the information that I previously gathered on the regular army artillery at the National Archives and from Henry Hunt’s papers at the Library of Congress. I also visited the United States Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle and the archives at Norwich and Yale Universities before COVID closed everything down. I acquired every battery history that I could find including all the Virginia Regimental Histories Series which covered nearly all the 44 batteries from Virginia that participated in the Maryland Campaign. The three volumes of Ezra Carman’s Maryland Campaign edited by Tom Clemens, the Carman-Cope Maps, and the Official Records provided the foundation of the book. Tom shared over 115 letters with me from 70 different artillery officers and soldiers who corresponded with Ezra Carman. Many of the letters contain details of the fighting seen nowhere else. I shared their stories for the first time in Artillery of Antietam.

Individual chapters cover each division’s artillery batteries, the Federal Artillery Reserve, the five Confederate batteries of the General Reserve, and the Harpers Ferry federal batteries. The chapters discuss the origin of the batteries, a short biography of the commanders, and combat action prior to the Maryland Campaign. The length of the narrative on their actions in the Maryland Campaign varied greatly depending on how much information I could locate. For example, the chapter on Abner Doubleday’s division which includes Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery is long and detailed. The chapter on Confederate Major Hilary Jones’ battalion is much smaller. Jones left now report that we can find. I used whatever battery histories I had and of course, letters to Carman to flesh out the stories. Each chapter ends with a conclusion and some analysis of the role of that artillery command in the Maryland Campaign.

I have always been frustrated with books that have good content but incomplete end notes and poor indexes. I took great pains in citing sources and adding supplemental information in the notes. Colleagues who have written books advised me not to outsource the index. I’m glad that I did the index myself. I indexed each chapter as I wrote it and merged them all together when I finished the book. Every artilleryman that I write about is mentioned in the index.

I also wanted to create maps that focused on the batteries. My map maker is Aaron Holley is an amazing young cartographer who does all the maps for Antietam Institute publications. Together we devised eight artillery sectors that detail the opposing artillery lines on the field at various times of the day. While the infantry lines are shown, you can clearly tell smoothbore vs rifled guns on the maps, range information and well-developed terrain details. In addition to the 23 battlefield maps, there are five maps for South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, the fighting on September 16, and Shepherdstown.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JR: I think it is doing well. I know that in the Antietam community, there has been a lot of interest and expectation. It is available only to Antietam Institute members until the end of May after which it will be available to everyone at the Antietam bookstore, other local outlets, and on Amazon.

BR: What’s next for you?

JR: I am looking forward to a little break this summer and going back to Grenada this fall for the 40th anniversary of Urgent Fury. I’ll get to experience “soldier memory” firsthand. The next book in the Antietam Institute series is The Commanders of Antietam. I am writing the biographies for all the artillery commanders. I plan to get back to the U.S. Army regular artillery, perhaps writing a book on each artillery regiment and its role in the Civil War, much like the Virginia Regimental Histories Series does for Virginia military organizations. There is probably another book out there on the artillery at Antietam as well, looking at it from a more integrated view instead of by individual artillery organizations. Thanks again for the opportunity to talk to you Harry.

Interview: McLean, “Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg”

13 05 2023

I’ve known James L. McLean, Jr. for twenty or so years, ever since I met him when he was the bookseller at a Civil War conference I attended. You may know Jim as the owner of Butternut and Blue, which reprinted so many fine Civil War titles with superior quality. I was really glad to hear that Savas Beatie was publishing a new edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg. Jim recently sat down and answered a few questions about himself, his book, his writing and research, and his future plans.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JM: I have had a life-long interest in early American history, especially the Civil War era.

I graduated from Towson State College (now Towson University) with majors in history and education as well as a minor in mathematics. I taught mathematics for 30 years, covering courses from remedial arithmetic to calculus. Concurrently, my wife and I operated a new and out-of-print Civil War book business, Butternut and Blue, from 1983-2016.

My first edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg came out in 1987, followed by a revised edition in 1994. I have had two articles published: “The First Union Shot at Gettysburg” appeared in the spring 1980 issue of the Lincoln Herald; “The Execution of John Wood on the March to Gettysburg” appeared in The Gettysburg Magazine (Issue 45, July 2011).

BR: What got you interested history in general, and the Civil War in particular?

JM: When I was seven or eight years old, my parents took me on a Gettysburg bus tour. I still remember being mesmerized by the rock formation at Devil’s Den. At an early age, I gravitated toward history books at my local library, titles such as Fletcher Pratt’s The Civil War or Earl Schenck Miers The How and Why Book of the Civil War. On subsequent trips to Gettysburg, I purchased Frederick Ray’s Gettysburg Sketches and Human Interest Stories of the Three Days’ Battle at Gettysburg by Grimm and Roy. As I got older, I received as gifts Bruce Catton’s American Heritage histories of the Civil War and Gettysburg. When I was 12, my father took me to my first Civil War Round Table meeting (the night before JFK was assassinated). My obsession with the Civil War, particularly Gettysburg, has never waned.

BR: Why Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, in particular?

JM: In the 1970s, I delivered several talks to my local Round Table. Around 1978, I decided to make my next presentation about a single brigade’s performance at Gettysburg. I didn’t want to cover the obvious choices, such as the Western Iron Brigade or the Texas Brigade, so I did some digging. Sifting through my volumes of New York at Gettysburg led to my selection of Cutler’s brigade.

I gave the talk in September 1979, but I felt there was more to the story. I have pursued information about the brigade, especially concerning the 14th New York State Militia/14th Brooklyn ever since, which has now led to this third, revised edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg.

BR: Can you briefly describe the actions of the history of the brigade and its actions at Gettysburg?

JM: The components of the brigade that Cutler commanded at Gettysburg came together slowly. At 2nd Bull Run, Abner Doubleday led the brigade, where its three regiments, the 76th and 95th New York and 56th Pennsylvania, saw their first combat. After the battle, the 7th Indiana joined the brigade. Together, the four regiments fought a night action at South Mountain. The brigade saw limited action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Cutler assumed command of the brigade in early 1863. In March, the untested 147th New York was assigned to the brigade. Cutler’s final Gettysburg component, the 14th Brooklyn, was added in early June after all the two-year units it had been brigaded with were mustered out. The 14th Brooklyn became the brigade’s most experienced regiment.

On July 1, 1863, Cutler’s brigade led the 1st Corps’ march to Gettysburg where it fired the first Federal infantry shots on the battlefield. As a result of Reynolds’s orders, the brigade soon split into three distinct sections to meet the threat posed by Confederate General Heth’s division and to support Hall’s 2nd Maine battery. Cutler’s men delayed the advance of Archer’s and Davis’s Southern brigades. Then two of its regiments, in conjunction with the 6th Wisconsin, attacked the Rebels holding the railroad cut, which not only ended the morning fight but also led to the capture of a significant number of Southerners.

Despite heavy losses, Cutler’s brigade maintained its battlefield integrity, enabling it to serve along Seminary Ridge on the afternoon of July 1 and on Culp’s Hill the next two days. Cutler’s brigade was one of the few units to fight all three days of the battle, becoming one of only five brigades in the conflict to suffer in excess of 1,000 casualties.

BR: You published the most recent edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg 29 years ago. What has happened with this work in the interim?

JM: When Ted sought permission to reprint Cutler’s Brigade, I agreed as long as I could make some changes. The result is a fuller, slightly expanded, revised edition.

When I reformatted the footnotes, I occasionally added extra analysis to emphasize points I made in the text. I not only addressed a few historical flaws but I also included several more soldier accounts that described the July 1 fighting. My ongoing research into the exploits of the 14th Brooklyn led to my discovery of daily field returns for the brigade throughout the campaign. The document, housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, specifies the number of men present for duty each day of the battle, so I incorporated those numbers for the regiments’ strengths rather than the ones I used in the second edition. The maps have been redrawn (and slightly adjusted), and three new appendices have been added. I added a postscript to explain what happened to the brigade and some of its personalities after Gettysburg campaign. Instead of a photographic supplement, the increased number of photos and illustrations has been interspersed throughout the text. Finally, this version of Cutler’s Brigade sports an attractive, full-color dust jacket featuring Allen Redwood’s painting of the 14th Brooklyn at the railroad cut.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, 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? When did you know you were “done”?

JM: I started my research in 1978, so it took nearly ten years before the first volume appeared in 1987. The expanded, second edition, was published seven years later. I continue to collect source material.

As I mentioned earlier, this volume was intended to be a reprint, but I not only incorporated a fair amount of new material but I also made several revisions or clarifications to the text. When the Gettysburg portion of my 14th Brooklyn study becomes available, readers will find even greater detail concerning that regiment’s role in the battle. However, my subsequent findings confirm the conclusions I made in the three iterations of Cutler’s Brigade.

As for stumbling blocks, there are no memoirs or regimental histories for half of the units in the brigade. With the exception of J. William Hofmann, very few of Cutler’s men left published records of what they had experienced.

Three findings surprised me when I started my research 45 years ago. I soon realized that the 147th New York fought in an isolated position during the morning of July 1. Earlier accounts of the battle placed the regiment in line with the 56th Pennsylvania and 76th New York, which is understandable since their three monuments are together aligned north of the middle railroad cut. Second, I had been unaware of the important role Cutler’s men played in securing and holding Culp’s Hill. On July 2, Greene’s brigade had plenty of help defending the height. Finally, I was surprised by how dismissive many 6th Wisconsin soldiers were to the role of the 14th Brooklyn and 95th New York in capturing the railroad cut, to the point where some of them even claimed that the 14th Brooklyn never made a charge.

I don’t think my research will ever be “done” —I continue to look for information that will enhance or alter my views of what happened on the morning of July 1 at Gettysburg, especially the part played by the 14th Brooklyn.

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

JM: When I started this project in 1978, I relied heavily on the following: the MOLLUS Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia, which no longer exists; the War College Library in Carlisle, which became the U. S. Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) before changing its name to the United States Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC). Since then, I have personally worked at the New York State Archives, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Library of Congress newspaper files, the Library of Virginia, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Additionally, librarians from the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Oswego Historical Society, the New York State Military Museum, the New York State Library, the New York Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have kindly forwarded material that I have requested.

Numerous trips to the battlefield helped me visualize and understand the accounts left by the battle’s participants.

I compose my manuscripts the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil. After several revisions, I bang out the text on my computer.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JM: The first two editions received favorable reviews. I hope readers will enjoy this revised and expanded Savas Beatie edition.

BR: What’s next for you?

JM: I am working on a multi-volume history of the 14th Brooklyn/14th NYSM. The first volume, already submitted to Savas Beatie, awaits its place in the company’s production schedule. It covers April 1861, when the regiment recruited to wartime strength, through the 2nd Bull Run campaign. The manuscript features 36 full-color maps as well as numerous illustrations and photographs. I am half-way through volume 2.

Preview: Cameron, “Tar Heels in Gray”

2 05 2023

A 2021 release from McFarland & Company is Tar Heels in Gray: Life in the 30th North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War, by the late John B. Cameron. This is an interesting work, akin to Joseph Glatthaar’s Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, with lots of statistics digging into the makeup of the regiment. In fact, some of the many tables in the book compare the author’s findings in the micro to Glatthaar’s in the macro. From the jacket:

The 30th North Carolina Infantry was involved in most of the major battles in Virginia from the Seven Days through the surrender at Appomattox, and saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the American Civil War. Two-thirds of these men volunteered early; the others were enlisted at the point of a bayonet. Their casualty rate was high, the rate of death from disease was higher and the desertion and AWOL rate was higher still. What was the war actually like for these men? What was their economic status? To what extent were they involved in the institution of slavery? What were their lives like in the Army? What did they believe they were fighting for and did those views change over time? This book answers those questions and depicts Civil War soldiers as they were, rather than as appendages to famous generals or symbols of myth. It focuses on the realities of the men themselves, not their battles. In addition to the author’s personal collection of letters and other contemporary records, it draws upon newly discovered letters, diaries, memoirs, census records, and published works.

What you get:

  • 138 pages of text, in 10 chapters, a preface, an intro, a conclusion, and an appendix. The chapters are broken down by topic. The history is not chronological.
  • 23 pages of endnotes
  • Full bibliography including unpublished and archival sources.
  • Index
  • Numerous tables and graphs

Central Ohio Civil War Round Table, 4/12/2023

27 04 2023

A couple weeks ago I presented a talk to about 15 folks at the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table in Gahanna, OH (near Columbus). Interesting venue…two (s) screens for my video. It was a little rough because they wanted me to stay in frame for the YouTube, and I like to move around. But all in all I think a good show, even if I had a small foul-up referring to the 38th New York as the Harper’s Ferry Cowards (they were not) and to its Colonel John Hobart Ward as dying at Gettysburg (he did not). Sorry about that…it sounded wrong as soon as I said it. Getting old has been a blast. Being old, on the other hand…

Thanks to Round Table program guru Mike Peters for having me, and for a great trip to the Motts Military Museum, which should be on everyone’s list when they visit Columbus.

Mike Peters, his grandson Aedyn, and me. Oh, and a real, live, genuine Higgins boat.
A button taken from the coat of Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Infantry
The place is chock full of cool stuff. This is my favorite – the lens and lens cap Matthew Brady used to take the iconic photo of Robert E. Lee in Richmond after Appomattox. The lens shows the marks from where Lee’s eyes burned a hole in it. That’s humor right there, folks. Thanks, I’m here all week.
Also the door from the cell block in which John Hunt Morgan was held in the Ohio State Penitentiary
And an audience with the great man Warren Motts himself in his sanctum sanctorum, which was filled to overflowing with really, really cool stuff. Warren’s son Wayne did not fall far from the tree.

The Citadel, Charleston, SC

16 04 2023

Last month I was in Charleston, SC to speak to the Fort Sumter Civil War Round Table. The venue was Duckett Hall at The Citadel. While in town I took a little time to tour some of the campus with my brother. Lots of history there (though the campus moved here after the war – it was located on what is today Marion Square), including a WWII major and general of some note, vehicles, swords, flags, and Bull Runners. Here we go:

Stained glass in Alumni Hall
Big Red Alumni Hall
First Alumni Association president Charles Tew, killed at the head of the 2nd SC Infantry in the Sunken Road at Antietam.
Summerall Field. My brother and an F4 Phantom similar to those he worked on in Viet Nam. (This is an Air Force model, not the Marine model he worked on.)
Grave of General Mark Clark, also a former Citadel president.
The Howie Carillon, dedicated to the Major of St. Lo.
Tablet listing names of cadets killed in the Civil War #1.
Bull Runner Micah Jenkins, Colonel of the 5th SC
Charles Tew, KIA at Antietam

In the Library

Charles Tew portrait in Library

Paintings of Cadet actions in the Civil War

Bull Runner Lt. Geroge D. Johnston of the 4th AL Infantry.
Johnston’s sword
Summerall Field

Ft. Johnson and Hampton Park, Charleston, SC

11 04 2023

While in Charleston, SC to present to the Fort Sumter Civil War Round Table last month, I took some time to visit a couple Civil War related sites. First up was Ft. Johnson, at the end of Ft. Johnson Road on James Island, not far from my brother’s house where I was staying. Per the American Battlefield Trust:

In September of 1775, the Council of Safety ordered William Moultrie, commander of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment [more on that regiment and one of its commanders later], to seize Fort Johnson on the northeast point of James Island in Charleston County, South Carolina. Moultrie assigned Colonel Isaac Motte to command three 50-man companies led by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Barnard Elliott, and Francis Marion to attack the fort. Motte took possession of the fort with little resistance, and this capture was the first-time soldiers raised the new South Carolina over a property previously controlled by the Crown. Decades later, on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m., a flaming mortar shot from Fort Johnson arced into the air and exploded over Fort Sumter, marking the official beginning of the American Civil War. Confederate soldiers buried the structure during the war, but the fort was uncovered in 1931. In 1972, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ft. Sumter in the distance
Zoom to Ft. Sumter

I also took made a quick stop at Hampton Park, near the Citadel, which was the site of what many call the nation’s first “Memorial Day:”

Hampton Park is a large site. The historic marker above is the only evidence of the event I observed (Visit Historic Charleston)

Hibernian Society, Charleston, SC

10 04 2023

While in Charleston the week of this past St. Patrick’s Day to present to the Ft. Sumter Civil War Roundtable, I made a pit stop with my brother at the Hibernian Society, where he is a member. The organization is a society, not a club, and is not affiliated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). A National Historic Landmark, the Hibernian Hall was completed in 1840, and hosted the Stephen Douglas faction of the Democrat party in the convention of 1860. The building suffered some damage from direct hits during Federal shelling of the town during the war – renovations sometimes turn up evidence.

Hibernian Hall facade (Wikipedia)
Hibernian Hall in 1865 (Wikipedia)

We entered the Hall from the members entrance:

A quick tour of the interior:

The rotunda
The reception all decked out for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Check out the harps on the chandelier.
The Society gives back to the community. Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco translates roughly to Not unaware of suffering (bad things), I learn to help the miserable (the unhappy) (from Virgil’s Aeneid)

Now for a Bull Run connection. Remember Captain James Conner, of the Washington Light Infantry, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion, a Bull Runner whose grave I visited in Magnolia Cemetery?

It turns out, Conner was president of the Hibernian Society from 1871-1874. His portrait hangs with all the other past presidents.

You can read some of Conner’s Bull Run correspondence here, here, and here.

Conner’s portrait once displayed in the South Carolina state house

Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC

9 04 2023

While in Charleston, SC, for a presentation on March 13 to the Fort Sumter Civil War Round Table, I took a trip to the city’s Magnolia Cemetery. Below are a few images, including some of the Bull Runners interred there.

First up, the entry and the Civil War section near the office.

Magnolia Cemetery entrance
Confederate Section
A tough shot to get – sun was not my friend

Here are some Bull Runners:

Col. Micah Jenkins, 5th South Carolina
Monument to the Washington Light Infantry (Co. A, Hampton’s Legion)
Washington Light Infantry
Capt. James Conner, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion
Capt. James Conner
Capt. James Conner
Lt. Col. Benjamin Johnson, Hampton’s Legion
Lt. Col. Benjamin Johnson
Lt. Col. Benjamin Johnson
Lt. Col. Benjamin Johnson

The three crews if the Confederate submarine Hunley:

First crew
Second crew
Third Crew
Horace Hunley
Third crew
George Dixon, of the bent gold piece

A fire eater:

R. Barnwell Rhett

A general prominent out west:

Arthur Manigault

Next door at St. Lawrence Catholic cemetery:

More Charleston stuff coming, including more on James Conner, The Hibernian Society, The Citadel, and Ft. Johnson.

Interview: O’Neill, “Small But Important Riots”

31 03 2023

A new release from Potomac Books is Robert F. (Bob) O’Neill’s Small But Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. I’ve known Bob for about six years now, ever since we spent a week together out west visiting Indian Wars sites, including Little Bighorn. Bob graciously consented to discussing his new book, below.


Bull Runnings: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bob O’Neill: My wife and I live in King George, VA. I am a retired police officer, and law enforcement instructor. Virginia Country’s Civil War published my first article in 1984. I have also published articles in Blue & Gray, Gettysburg Magazine, America’s Civil War, and the Little Big Horn Associates, Research Review. In addition to the 1993 H. E. Howard edition of The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, I published Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby, The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg in 2012. The latter study follows Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel’s Union cavalry, attached to the Defenses of Washington, and examines John Mosby’s first six months as a partisan commander from the viewpoint of Stahel’s troopers, using previously unpublished contemporary documents.

Dave Roth, owner, and editor of Blue & Gray, and I became good friends while working together on several Civil War articles. He had long wanted to publish an issue on the Little Big Horn, and in the early 2000’s we made two trips to the battlefield and several other nearby battlefields. Those trips and numerous related discussions led to my article in a later issue on the 1876 fights at Powder River and Rosebud. My work with Dave also resulted in my guiding two Custer related tours for Bruce Venter and America’s History, LLC.

Lastly, I publish a cavalry related blog, (Small But Important Riots), and several appendices not published in the new edition may be found on that site.

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

B’ON: Beyond grade-school classes, I learned to read and to enjoy reading by reading the books in my parent’s library. My dad, a naval officer in WW2 and Korea, had an extensive military library, including naval studies, Lincoln biographies, and Civil War histories. I began reading during the Civil War Centennial and studies such as Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy sparked my interest, as well as heavily illustrated books from American Heritage and similar publications. An early family trip to Gettysburg when I was nine or ten also left an indelible impression that continues to this day.

BR: Why Civil War cavalry, in particular?

BO’N: A couple of reasons: At Gettysburg, my parents hired a Licensed Battlefield Guide for the day, and while I do not remember much of the visit, I have never forgotten our first stop at the John Buford Memorial. I do not recall the guide’s description of the stand made by Buford’s cavalry, but the regimental markers and the Buford statue provided an early spark. I had also received by then a Landmark Series account of George Custer and his fight at the Little Big Horn. I loved the book, and my parents soon bought me more accurate studies of Custer and his demise. My interest in Buford and Custer has never waned. Finally, I have to credit Hollywood depictions of the cavalry and cavalry uniforms. Inaccurate though they often are, the bold colors caught my eye and sparked my interest in both the cavalry and the American West.

BR: You published The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville with H. E. Howard 30 years ago. What has happened in the interim?

BO’N: A lot. The book was very well received and sold very well but has been long out of print. Used copies commanded very high prices and remained out of reach for most folks who may have wanted to purchase a copy. The towns of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, the battlefields, and other historic landmarks throughout the Loudoun Valley faced intense pressure from developers in 1993 when Harold Howard published the book. The book brought attention to the history of the Loudoun Valley at an opportune time, just as citizens were organizing preservation efforts to save historic sites, including the battlefields. The efforts of many dedicated residents have resulted in hundreds of acres of land protected by preservation easements, several battlefield sites are now under the protection of the Northern Virginia Park Authority, roads retain their historic integrity and structures once on the verge of collapse have been saved. The battlefields have been mapped, with core and study areas defined, while opportunities to view and understand the battlefields, most of which remain in private hands, have been improved by construction of paved roadside pull-offs, and placement of Civil War Trails interpretive markers.

The first edition opened many doors, and I have met many residents of the area who have shared their time and knowledge and who remain friends.

BR: So, what have you turned up since the publication of the first version in 1993?

BO’N: No author had attempted a book-length study of the fighting in the Loudoun Valley prior to my effort. In his 1965 book Here Come the Rebels!, Wilbur Nye dedicated two chapters to the cavalry actions in the Loudoun Valley. Likewise, Ed Longacre discussed the events around Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville in two chapters of his 1986 book, The Cavalry at Gettysburg. All of the battlefields remained largely inaccessible in private hands, and only one monument and a couple highway markers marked the fields. Interpretation of the fighting remained in its infancy. Likewise, my own abilities, or lack thereof, as a researcher, as well as a deadline and format imposed by the publisher hampered by work. Publication and positive reviews, however, opened many doors for me, and the late John Divine, who had guided me over the fields, as he had guided Wilbur Nye, introduced me to many historians who have continued to offer assistance. Most importantly, John introduced me to Mike Musick, then the dean of Civil War archivists at the National Archives. I had made a couple brief forays into the archives for the first edition, but a combination of factors limited my work there. Mike, as the late Horace Mewborn used to say, broke the code for us at the archives. With Mike’s patient guidance, I grew comfortable there and learned to accept the time one needs to put in, in order to realize the real rewards the archives offers. Those rewards, as I will discuss below, convinced me that I, as well as all who came before me and after me, had erred in our interpretation of the events. The importance of one of those errors convinced me to re-write the book.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, 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? When did you know you were “done”?

BO’N: The author of one online review site has declined to review Small but Important Riots, because he sees the book as a revised edition of my previous work, and he maintains a policy of not reviewing revised editions. And I cannot argue with him too strongly, as most revised editions contain very little new material. However, this edition is completely new from the first page to the last page. I spent nine years looking at every aspect of the study, taking advantage of improved access to the battlefields, my familiarity with the National Archives, the advent of online resources and a wealth of material gathered over the preceding thirty years, as well as the wise counsel of many knowledgeable friends. Not wishing to give everything away, I will offer, by way of example, the change that convinced to redo the book.

Every preceding study, to include my own, has been based around one over-riding theme, that Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Union Cavalry Corps, had disobeyed his orders from army commander, Joseph Hooker, to take his cavalry and find Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, regardless of the cost. The editors of the Official Records defined that premise, by the communications they chose to include in Volume 27. The editors included thirteen messages between Hooker and his superiors, including President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Gen. Henry Halleck from the night of June 16-17, 1863, in which they emphatically told Hooker to send his cavalry to find the enemy and Hooker appears to agree with them. But thirty years of experience has convinced me that the editors, faced with a monumental task, left out more information than they included.

Thirty years ago, as a novice researcher, I drank all the anti-Pleasonton Kool-Aid and ignored evidence to the contrary, including his testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. But I went away from the process convinced that I and others painted Pleasonton with a very broad brush, being too lazy to parse the truth from the fiction. Over time, I found the evidence that Pleasonton had told the truth: Hooker had told his superiors one thing and told Pleasonton another. Hooker’s orders were emphatic, Pleasonton was not to send his corps in search of Lee. Rather, Hooker granted him permission to send only one regiment to do so. But Pleasonton disobeyed his orders. He disobeyed that he might find Lee and in doing so he precipitated the fighting.

I have also corrected many lesser, though still embarrassing, errors of fact or interpretation. Some errors had lingered the entire time. That is, I knew there was a problem but I did not have a solution. Others had gone unrecognized until I began the writing process.

Covid told me I was done, and, as odd as it may sound, I am grateful for the events that forced me to move on.

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

BO’N: I enjoy researching much more than writing and never considered myself much of a writer. I often described my style as police report writing 101. Luckily, a friend with a deep well of patience convinced me during the last nine years to change my style and I believe, with his help, Small But Important Riots is, by far, the best narrative I have produced. I spent nine years working on the book, re-examining every facet of the events covered.

One challenge in writing of these events is that they fall between the larger battles at Brandy Station and Gettysburg. Many soldiers did not have time to write accounts of the Loudoun Valley fighting before being engulfed by events in Pennsylvania. Thirty years ago, I chased down letters and diaries as primary sources of information. As often as not the efforts proved unrewarding, but I never ceased to gather such accounts, and several proved vital in correcting errors. Rather than focusing my efforts again on letters and diaries, I determined to focus on documents in the National Archives, including pension and service records, regimental records, unpublished reports and communications, ordnance records and quartermaster records. The first edition included just three entries from the archives, whereas the new edition includes thirty-five.

The advent of online digital newspaper databases proved extremely beneficial. Thirty years ago, my bibliography included accounts from nineteen newspapers. I cite eighty-nine in the new edition. The online Fold3 database has also accelerated the process of reviewing service records and pension files. Whereas I examined maybe a dozen pension files in the first edition, I checked more than three hundred for the new edition.

Ancestry.com also proved invaluable. The combination of online newspapers, online ancestry records and my wife’s investigative skills with family and property records, as well as Wynne Saffer’s invaluable work on 1860 property boundaries, helped me to pinpoint the property where the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry met near total ruin on June 18, 1863.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

BO’N: The reviews so far, both in print and online, have been very positive. I am grateful for all who have published their thoughts and comments and I encourage everyone who reads the book to do so.

BR: What’s next for you?

BO’N: I work very slowly. Nine years spent re-writing a book I had already written may seem a bit extreme to some. But I had started almost from scratch thirty years ago. There was simply no template for these events. I have expanded the narrative and corrected many errors of interpretation, but much remains to be done. But for Covid, I might still be researching the book. I hope that someone will continue to expand our knowledge of these events in the not-too-distant future.

At the pace I work, I doubt I have another book in me. At present, and with the National Archives again open, I am helping some friends research their own projects and enjoy doing so. I am currently working on a presentation involving the Michigan Cavalry Brigade on the Plains, following the end of the Civil War. That study continues to expand and intrigue me and who knows what might follow.