Sgt. James A. Ward, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle and Company Casualties

27 06 2020

Letter from Sergeant Ward.

Providence, July 27, 1861.

Mr. Webster – I am requested to send you a piece of the secession flag which was captured by our troops at Fairfax Court House. Also, the following extracts from a letter received last evening.

C. A. W.

Camp Clarke, Washington,
July 24, 1861.

I write to inform you that I am in the best of health. I will endeavor to give you a slight history of our march from the time we left Fairfax until our return to this place, which, I assure you, no one in the regiment regretted.

We left Fairfax at about 5 a. m., and marched about four miles, when we halted in a piece of woods, and stopped four or five hours. We again started and marched about 6 miles farther, where we encamped for the night, which made us, as near as I can find out, thirty-two miles from Washington. We stopped about two and a half nights, leaving Sunday at two o’clock a.m., and starting for Manassas Junction, marching in a round-about course, twenty or twenty-five miles, when we came upon the enemy at a place called Bull’s Run, some miles beyond Manassas from where we started. The reason we went beyond was, we expected they would be attacked in front, and in case they retreated, we were to cut them off. It was rather a bad “cut off” for us.

Company E was a flanking company, and we were extended out on one side of the road, to a distance of about half a mile in some places. We could not tell exactly, as we were in a dense piece of woods. As we emerged from it, we came into an open cornfield, in which were hidden about three hundred secessionists, who fired upon us as soon as they saw us. We were all alone, no other company being nearer than a quarter of a mile. Our company received the first fire, and returned it three times before we were reinforced. We have had the praise of doing bravely, and we think the Second Regiment ought to have the praise, as we did the most of the fighting.

As we were advancing at one time, with Col. Slocum at our head, he was struck with a piece of shell in the head, which was the cause of his death. How long he lived afterwards, I know not, but should not think more than twenty minutes. By losing Col. Slocum, we lost a great deal. – Some of us think that Gen. McDowell was but a tool in the hands of the enemy to lead us into a well set trap, to be cut all to pieces. He was seen to hold up his hand on the battle-field, and soon after was wounded and carried off the field. What is more singular, he was only wounded in the hand.

It was a sad sight to see men fall on every side, pierced with the fatal ball. One poor fellow I saw was shot under the right arm. There was a hole made large enough to put your finger in, and every time he tried to breath, as he was dying, the blood would ooze out. It was the only case that moved me. I felt as cool as though I were performing an every day duty.

Company E has lost four killed, certain, and two are missing, besides our Second Lieutenant, Isaac M. Church, who was either taken prisoner or killed. Among the killed is one corporal and three privates, and one corporal missing. They are Corporal Stephen Holland, Privates W. H. Nichols, J. C. Rodman, Henry L. Jaques, killed, and Corporal E. B. Smith, missing. The balls fell around us like a perfect shower of hail.

When we arrived back at Washington, we were the hardest looking lot of men you ever saw, having in our retreat, which was done in the greatest confusion, marched over forty miles without halting more than an hour or two, and had nothing to eat, being glad to get rid of our haversacks on the battle-field. I consider I am good for one more battle.

We have not done much duty for the last two days, and hope not to have any to do for several days more, as we are all tired out.

I send you a piece of the secession flag which was hauled down a Fairfax Court House by our troops. It consisted of three stripes and seven stars. I could only get one color.

Yours Truly,
James A. Ward.

Providence (RI) Evening Post, 7/29/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster

James A. Ward at Ancestry 

James A. Ward at Fold3 





Flag of the 11th Mississippi

2 05 2016

4FE_11th_mississippi_flag

Call me crazy, but I think this flag is going to the wrong National Park. See story here. EDIT: That link is dead – here’s another.

Hat tip to Robert Moore, III.





Honey, Vinegar, Flies, Flags, Chapels, Perceptions, and Consequences

20 08 2015
Lee Chapel - Roanoke Times

Lee Chapel – Roanoke Times

It seems to me the administration of Washington & Lee University have made a completely rational, understandable, and predictable decision with regards to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the use of Lee Chapel. Per this article in the Roanoke Times:

W&L denied a request by the confederate veterans group to rent the university-owned chapel for next year’s Lee-Jackson Day.

Hosting the program is no longer an appropriate use of Lee Chapel, W&L spokesmen Brian Eckert said, in light of the “distortion, misstatements and inflammatory language” the school has endured from members of the organization upset with its decision last year to remove Confederate flags from part of the chapel.

“The persistent name-calling, vilification and uncivil attacks in messages to the university, letters to the editors of local newspapers and social media postings have persuaded us that our original intent to make the chapel available would not be appropriate,” Eckert said.

“We simply are not going to allow our own facilities to be used as a place from which those attacks can be made.”

There’s an old saying about flies, honey, and vinegar. The SCV went the vinegar route, or at least that’s the perception (the spokesman Mr. Wilmore  claims ignorance.) I don’t know if the SCV was behind or condoned the “distortion, misstatements, and inflammatory language.” If they were, they got what they deserved – what they asked for. If they weren’t, and they wanted to continue using the chapel, they should have done something to distance themselves from those statements. Failure by commission, or failure by omission. The end result is the same, and predictable.





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:

13.-Pyramids-of-Giza-Egypt

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:

1280px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

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 somewhere.)

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?

HD_mosbyJS2

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.





“The” Confederate Flag

13 05 2010

Friend Tom Clemens gives a quick lesson on Confederate flags:

In case you’re wondering, the Confederate flag in use at First Bull Run was the First National.  The Battle Flag didn’t come into existence until after the battle.  It’s possible that some units had Bonnie Blue flags, but I’ve seen no positive evidence of that.

Hat tip to Kevin.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine