Speak of the Devil

20 01 2008

The boys over at Touch the Elbow are back up and blogging after a long absence.  Today they put up an article that concerns the current topic here, the 11th New York Fire Zouaves.  Check it out here.





Stuart’s Report…and “Zouaves”!

20 01 2008

 

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There’s a curious bit in Stuart’s report that is part of some confusion that permeates much of the history of the battle.  He mentions charging on a regiment “dressed in red”, and later identifies that regiment as the Fire Zouaves, the nom de guerre (gee, I hope I’m using that term correctly) of the 11th New York.  Stuart’s description was a little vague, but his subordinate W. W. Blackford was more detailed in his memoir, War Years with Jeb Stuart (from page 28, emphasis is mine):

 

Colonel Stuart and myself were riding at the head of the column as the grand panorama opened before us, and there right in front, about seventy yards distant, and in strong relief against the smoke beyond, stretched a brilliant line of scarlet – a regiment of New York Zouaves in column of fours, marching out of the Sudley road to attack the flank of our line of battle.  Dressed in scarlet caps and trousers, blue jackets with quantities of gold buttons, and white gaiters, with a fringe of bayonets swaying above them as they moved, their appearance was indeed magnificent.

This illustrates a common thread of confusion that runs through much of the documentary evidence which has served to construct the First Bull Run narrative.  Stuart’s conclusion that this unit was indeed the 11th NY is based not on his observation, but on what he was told afterwards.  While it’s not positively known when Blackford wrote his memoir (D. S. Freeman thought it was “considerably before” 1896) and his memory could have been affected by inumerable influences, Blackford’s account contradicts Stuart, and himself, with his detailed description of the uniform of the enemy.

The 11th NY at Bull Run by most accounts was clad in red firemen’s shirts and standard issue blue pants.  Their original Zouave uniforms, which by the way featured gray coats and pants, had worn out by July 1861.  Blackford’s description matches quite well the uniforms of the 14th New York State Militia (later the 84th New York Volunteer Infantry), known as the 14th Brooklyn, who were clad in an outfit of the French chasseur pattern.  (The photo at the top of the page, which is from this 14th NY, Co. E reenactment website, shows the men in uniforms that could have used Blackford’s description as a design template.) But folks seem to have commonly referred to the uniform as a Zouave uniform.  Since the 11th NY was the only wholly Zouave New York unit on the field that day (even though they weren’t wearing Zouave uniforms), the New York regiment in the Zouave uniforms with red pants has over time become the 11th NY.

There are reports of red trousered Fire Zouaves that may be referring to the 14th B’Klyn, or that may be referring to the 11th NY with the author tossing in red pants for effect, or that may be pure flights of fancy.  I even found one account that referred to the Brooklyn Fire Zouaves!  Adding to the confusion is the fact that the 14th B’Klyn fought on the same part of the field as the 11th NY, the 1st Minnesota regiment (red shirts), the 4th Alabama (red shirts), and a whole bunch of artillerymen who were commonly known as “redlegs” due to the red trim on their coats, hats and, yes, pants which denoted their arm of the service.

This is not something to be resolved overnight.

Next up for the Confederate ORs is #84, P.G.T. Beauregard.  This one takes up 31 pages!  It may be the only report I put up next week.





Wheat’s Tigers – Did They or Didn’t They?

28 08 2007

 

UPDATES: Please see the comments section for updates to this post. 

Earlier I received the following comment to this post:

First off, excellent research and a great website on “Sherman’s Battery”. I have a question that is in the ball park. Do you know of what flag Major Wheat’s Battalion captured? Evan’s OR report said “capture of a stand of colors”. There were no OR reports on Wheat’s Battalion. This has many of us just completely stumped.

We are thinking either the 2nd Rhode Island or 11th New York regiment. We are working on ALL Union and Confederate flags that were captured during the Civil War. This project will take a long time.

If you have any information or could tell me where to find it, I would be very grateful.

Thank you, Sir,

Shawn Prouty

I responded in brief to Shawn’s comment and told him that I would expand in the form of a post.  I also forwarded the question to Jim Burgess at Manassas NBP.

wheats-tigers.gifThe First Louisiana Special Battalion (Wheat’s Tigers) was the command of Major Roberdeau Wheat, part of Nathan Evans’ demi-brigade that was holding the far left of the Confederate line in the area of the Stone Bridge. The unit’s official report (OR) was apparently written by Captain Harris – remember that Wheat was severely wounded as described here (UPDATE: I found a report written by Wheat in the Supplement and you can read it here.  No mention of captured flags.)  I say apparently because, while Evans mentions it in his OR, there is a note indicating that the compilers of The Official Records were unable to locate Harris’ report.  I sent a note to my friend Tom Clemens who has a set of the Supplement to the ORs, asking him to check and see if Harris’ report turns up there.  (I’d really like to get my hands on the single volume of The Supplement that has the Bull Run stuff.)

Evans’ report, written just three days after the battle, includes this statement:

I send herewith a stand of colors taken during the action by Major Wheat’s battalion.

Evans submitted his report to Col. Philip St. George Cocke, though I’m not sure why.  Cocke commanded the Fifth Brigade of Beauregard’s army.  Other brigade commanders sent their reports to Beauregard or his AAG, Thomas Jordan.  Unfortunately, Cocke did not write an OR for the battle, and he was dead by his own hand by the end of the year.  Beauregard’s report, written in October, mentions having taken nine regimental and garrison flags, but does not identify any of the banners.

I don’t think that the battalion could have captured any of the 2nd Rhode Island’s colors.  Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton’s report written on July 23 does not mention any lost colors.  In addition, the battalion’s fight with the 2nd RI as recounted in this article by Gary Schreckengost describes the battalion as being driven from the enemy’s front  while still about 20 yards away, hardly close enough to seize their colors.  The author indicates that the battalion took part in Beauregard’s general advance later on Henry Hill.  A Tiger reported to a New Orleans paper:

Our blood was on fire.  Life was valueless.  The boys fired one volley, then rushed upon the foe with clubbed rifles beating down their guard; then closed upon them with their knives, ‘Greek had met Greek’, the tug of war had come…[It] did not seem as though men were fighting…[but as if there] were devils mingling in the conflict, cursing, yelling, cutting, and shrieking.

It’s possible that the 11th New York Fire Zouaves were a part of the force against which the Louisianans fought.  According to this site, it seems that while the New Yorkers did indeed lose their flags, they were subsequently recovered.

So, the long and the short of it is I don’t know what colors Evans was referring to in his report.  How about you guys?





Bull Run Prisoners

8 08 2007

John Hoptak at The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry has an interesting post regarding Union prisoners, some taken at Bull Run, who were held for an unusually long period in “retaliation” for the treatment of Confederate privateers taken with the schooner Enchantress.  Check it out; it’s good stuff.  I wrote about some of these prisoners here, here and here.

11thny.jpgThis photo is from an 11th NY website, and shows prisoners from the regiment at Castle Pinckney.  While one of the men is shown wearing baggy trousers and sash, it should be noted that the color of the 11th NY zouave uniform was gray, and most of the men were wearing blue pants during the battle.  Right click on the thumbnail for the full size image.





Red Makes Bulls Run

24 07 2007

 

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I know, I know: for months I’ve been teasing some of you (well, really only one of you) with obtuse references to the color red and related confusion in accounts of the action on the battlefield of Bull Run.  I’ve started this article probably a dozen times without hitting on what I feel is the best way to tackle the subject.

I can see how some folks might find the whole controversy of minor importance.  What color uniforms were worn, or not worn, by what units?  It’s a question that every writer who has tackled First Bull Run has had to ask.  In most cases, they ask it in order to explain how friendly soldiers could be mistaken for the enemy and vice-versa.  The specific issue that concerns me is not nearly so sensational – in fact one might argue it’s downright mundane.  And it’s been my experience that most chroniclers of the battle have treated it that way.  They acknowledge that the inconsitency between the known details and the eyewitness accounts exist, yet seem to ignore it when it comes to evaluating the sources and constructing their narratives.  The tendrils of this inconsistency reach deep.  If one accepts the truth of what I have to say – and I am certainly not the first to say it – it will color (ha ha) how they process countless accounts of the battle, primary and secondary.

When I can’t quite put my finger on how I want to present something, I tend to put off the writing.  It’s a bad habit I must break.  I need to learn to write and get my main points “on paper”, so to speak, and go back and massage it later.  Therefore I’ve determined to begin to prepare the post on “Red Pants”, as I’ve come to think of it, even though I’m still not sure how I want to do it.  As this will feature prominently in my round table program (which I will present in Pittsburgh in a mere 22 days…arghhh!!!), at least I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.  I hope to have it here for you within the next week.  Let the above illustration of Col. Corcoran, the 69th NY Militia and the 11th NY serve as a taste of things to come.





…but I know what I like

24 04 2007

I know this isn’t Bull Run related (other than in ways itemized here), but it updates somewhat this post.  The other day I picked up a used copy of Daniel Barefoot’s General Robert F. Hoke, Lee’s Modest Warrior for $9.98.  On the back of the dust jacket is a painting titled Ranger Willie, by Jack Amirian.  It depicts a stretcher borne Willie Hardee, his father standing over him, a mounted Hoke nearby.

The painting is not my style.  In fact, most modern day Civil War art is not my style – I generally find it too “cartoony”, and the overwhelming use of soft blues and grays leaves me with the image of a tattoo on the forearm of an 80 year old sailor – a blue-gray blob (though I’m sure it seemed like a good idea that night in Tokyo).  And why does everyone’s hat look like a gentle breeze would blow it off the wearer’s noggin?  Even the works of painters who strive for more realism bug me.  I mean, the subject matter!  Do we really need to see a young Nathan Bedford Forrest carrying a damsel across a creek, and how many paintings of Stonewall Jackson being alternately kind and gentle with his horse and bathed in heavenly light while at prayer – sometimes both at the same time - can the market bear (apparently a bunch)?

I only own one piece of Civil War art, and it’s by one of the few artists working in the genre whose work I like.  Keith Rocco’s Always Ready is hung above the fireplace in my family room.  It depicts the 9th NY Hawkins’ Zouaves at Antietam.  The print appeals to me on several levels:  I like Keith’s work (check it out in this book); I serve on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation; and the model for the officer holding the Stars and Stripes was an e-quaintance of mine, the late Brian Pohanka.

Rocco’s work is often reminiscent of N. C. Wyeth.  If you don’t recognize the name, or can’t remember which Wyeth he is, think pirates.  His illustrations of buccaneers graced the pages of books like Treasure Island.  He also did Civil War work, like this one of Stonewall Jackson:  

wyeth.jpg

Compare that style to Rocco’s Port Republic below (reproduced with his kind permission):    

 This painting illustrates the early stages of an action in which Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s Louisianans assaulted Federal artillery on high ground now famous as “The Coaling”.  Wheat was seriously wounded at First Bull Run, leading his men in the critical action on Matthews Hill.  He was shot in the chest, through and through, and was told he would not recover.  The 275 pound commander of the 1st Special Louisiana Battalion responded: “I don’t feel like dying yet.”  So he didn’t.  He recovered and once again led his battalion in Richard Taylor’s brigade of Ewell’s division of Jackson’s army in the Valley in 1862.  On page 412 of R. K. Krick’s Conquering the Valley is this description by a Louisianan of the scene around the Coaling on June 9, 1862:

 Men ceased to be men.  They cheered and screamed like lunatics – they fought like demons – they died like fanatics…It was not war on that spot.  It was a pandemonium of cheers, shouts, shrieks, and groans, lighted by the flames from cannon and muskets – blotched by fragments of men thrown high into trees by bursting shells.  To lose the guns was to lose the battle.  To capture them was to win it.  In every great battle of the war there was a hell-spot.  At Port Republic, it was on the mountain side.

 wheat.jpgWheat (pictured at left) and his even larger cohort, 300 pound Lt. Col. William R. Peck of the 9th LA, moved among the Federal guns on the Coaling.  The Louisianans had determined that killing the battery horses would prevent the enemy from removing the guns should they be able to retake the ground.  Wheat used his own knife, and was reported as looking “as bloody as a butcher” while doing the job.

Rob Wheat would eventually meet his end at Gaines’ Mill on May 25, 1862.  He’s buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.  I will get around to a biographical sketch, but it will be awhile yet.

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