Archive for the ‘American Civil War’ Category
W. J. Wood called Braxton Bragg the “most complicated of all the Confederacy’s generals.”(1) A graduate of the academy, where he excelled, he displayed skills as an administrator and adept trainer of troops. He had seen action in the Mexican War and was heralded as a war hero for his actions commanding artillery during the Battle of Buena Vista. Bragg was a stern disciplinarian, which Wood attributes to his experiences in Mexico where volunteer units ran when under fire from the enemy. He could be brusque even to the point of being rude.(2) He also shared his opinions freely, often too freely.
(1) W. J. Wood, Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command [book on-line] (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997, accessed 29 November 2009), 118; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=30549970; Internet.
In class, we’ve been discussing how the decisions of the two commanders-in-chief during the American Civil War impacted events at the operational level. Modern scholars have challenged the notion that Lincoln simply stayed involved in military details until he found the right general (Grant). Eliot Cohen posits that’s “Lincoln exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end.”(1) This intense interest in providing direction can be seen as early as the events surrounding the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s order of the nonviolent resupply of the fort, which caused the Confederates to fire the first shot and thus initiate the war, demonstrates Lincoln’s willingness to go against the advice of senior commanders. Equally important, it showed his considerable ability at playing the game of strategy. Cohen summed it up well by calling Lincoln’s move “characteristically cunning” and revealing of “a steely willingness to accept the hazards of war.”(2)
Lincoln continued to immerse himself in operational details, stepping back only to a degree when General Grant became General-in-chief but certainly not completely. Lincoln carefully reviewed dispatches and, as has been well documented, literally camped in the telegraph office during battles. In fact, he qualified as a micro-manager to some degree. As such, one of the ways in which his leadership impacted operation was by his dismissal of generals who didn’t perform. “By comparison with our recent presidents, Lincoln was an exceptionally unforgiving boss.”(3) He also took considerable personal interest in the technological advancements that took place prior to and during the war. His personal influence could make things happen as it did with the development of river canon, which helped to win control by the Union of the Mississippi River and southern ports.
Lincoln was so intent upon staying informed of field activities that he installed journalist Charles Dana as, effectively, a spy in Grant’s camp while he was assigned in the west. Dana, who even had his own cipher for sending reports back to Stanton, was also dispatched to observe and report back on the command abilities of General Rosecrans. Lincoln put Dana back in Grant’s camp later in the war even after Grant had demonstrated success and earned Lincoln’s trust. This fact further dispels the notion that Lincoln simply turned over the war’s higher direction to Grant.(4) In fact, Cohen posits that “Lincoln did not merely find his generals; he controlled them. He molded the war to its last days, and he intended to dominate the making of peace at its end.” (5)
(1) Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, (London: Free Press, 2002), 19.
(2) Ibid., 20.
(3) Ibid., 24.
(4) Ibid., 51.
(5) Ibid., 21.
The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a copy of the new paperback edition of James McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. First published in 2007, it comprises 16 essays in which McPherson attempts to answer the following questions:
- Why did the war come?
- What were the war aims of each side?
- What strategies did they employee to achieve these aims?
- How do we evaluate the leadership of both sides?
- Did the war’s outcome justify the immense sacrifice of lives?
- What impact did the experience of war have on the people who lived through it?
- How did later generations remember and commemorate that experience?
- Author: James M. McPherson
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- ISBN13: 9780195392425
- ISBN10: 0195392426
- Paperback, 272 pages
- Sep 2009
I read the hardback version in 2007 and can highly RECOMMEND.
FYI – Amazon has the paperback version available for here for $12.21.
I’ve made a number of new acquisitions over the past few weeks. I bought this book to assist with an assignment on the command skills of Abraham Lincoln. Author Eliot A. Cohen (left), also examines the records of Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion in an effort to synthesize why they stand above others as leaders in time of war. So far, after reading the first few chapters, I’m quite impressed. Full disclosure: I own the 2002 paperback version of this book published in the UK by The Free Press. I recently purchased the audio version from Audible.com published by Blackstone Audiobooks and narrated by Robert Whitfield (a.k.a. Simon Vance).
- Author: Eliot A. Cohen
- Published: 2003-09-09
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN13: 9781400034048
- Binding: Paperback
- 320 pages
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: National Geographic (October 20, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1426203470
- ISBN-13: 978-1426203473
- Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 10.7 x 1.1 inches
The good folks at National Geographic sent me a review copy of their new Atlas of the Civil War: A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and the Terrain of Battle. I’m impressed. This is one of those books that as a kid I would spread out on the floor in front of the fire and lose myself in for hours. It’s FULL size means just that. Images that many of us have seen for years, and many we’ve never seen, are spread across pages over a foot high. So when looking at the bloated bodies of dead warriors near the Peach Orchard of Gettysburg’s Battlefield, it becomes immediately obvious that none have shoes, scavengers having carried them away.
Plainly visible among the troops and civilians crowded inside the walls of Washington’s Old Penitentiary on July 7, 1865 (below) to witness the hanging of Lincoln assassination conspirators, is a young boy, apparently unable to turn away from the gallows.
But even more impressive are the maps. There are 88 rare period maps, many published for the first time, and 34 new maps created by the staff of the National Geographic’s cartographers led by Carl Mehler. All are in a large format which makes them entirely readable. Almost a dozen orders of battle are also provided along with biographies and timelines.
Editor Neil Kagan and historians Stephan G. Hyslop and Harris J. Andrews, who also collaborated on National Geographic’s Eyewitness to the Civil War, have provided excellent commentary and a rich story of the war from beginning to end. Carol Norton, as art director, led the creative vision for what is really a quite remarkable book of art.
I say BRAVO. Highly recommend.
STEVEN E. WOODWORTH. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. 1990. Pp. xv, 380. $16.95.
Much has been written about the political and military genius of Abraham Lincoln and the successful leader he grew to be while Commander in Chief of a fractured union. But as the country divided and civil war became a reality, a new leader was called upon to assume the role of Commander in Chief for the Confederacy, the seasoned Jefferson Davis. At the precipice of war, betting men looking at the comparative qualifications of the two presidents could easily have predicted that Davis would outshine Lincoln. What kind of leader did Davis prove to be and how did he recruit and manage those men who would become members of his high command? What kind of generals were they and how did their personalities and actions impact the outcome of the war?
Steven E. Woodworth’s monograph answers those questions and others through examination of Jefferson Davis’ handling of the generals who defended the newly formed Confederacy in the Western theater of the American Civil War. Against a chronology of key events, each commander is introduced with information essential to understanding the skills they brought to war. Woodworth gives us their respective birthplaces, education, military and political experience, and reasons for consideration as senior leaders. Their performances in command roles are examined along with their interactions with Davis. There is brilliance to be sure from both Davis and some of his generals. But there is also incompetence, jealousy, loss of nerve, and even a propensity toward sabotage of brother commanders. Varying degrees of analysis are given to among others: Leonidas Polk, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Early Van Dorn, John C. Breckenridge, Edmund K. Smith, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick R. Cleburne, Sterling Price, William J. Hardee, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, Benjamin F. Cheatham, James A. Seddon, Daniel H. Hill, James Longstreet, Gideon J. Pillow, David Twiggs, and John Bell Hood. Woodworth pulls no punches.
Woodworth concludes that Davis was highly trained, skilled from a breadth of experience in the militarily and in politics, and eminently qualified to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Confederacy. He was also flawed. His imperfections are revealed as the war in the West is traced from beginning to end. Davis is shown to be incapable of judging objectively the performances of personal friends. He both trusts and delegates too much to his leaders. This trait worked to the detriment of some of the most exceptional men like Albert Sidney Johnston, who accomplished miracles in the defense of western borders despite unanswered requests to fill and equip his ranks. It also left incompetents like Leonidas Polk in power, impairing more talented men like Braxton Bragg. Davis becomes consumed by the war emotionally and physically. In the end, failure in the West is seen to have contributed significantly to the failure of the Confederacy. Woodworth posits that the faults of Davis himself, stemming from a deep-seated insecurity, are contributory to this failure.
Woodworth brings to the work the credentials of a seasoned historian. He holds history degrees from Southern Illinois University (B.A. 1982) and Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. At the time of the book’s publication, he taught history at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He now teaches U.S. history, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old South at Texas Christian University. He also teaches military history at the American Military University. He is a prolific and award winning author.
Woodworth provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the Civil War by revealing the best and the worst of the Confederacy’s senior military leadership in the West.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of the challenges faced by Davis’ high command is Woodworth’s campaign analysis. Also exemplary is the concise summary he provides of key points at the end of each chapter. This important study in leadership fills a gap and stands equal to and complementary of the T. Harry William classic, Lincoln and His Generals. It is both highly readable and academically rich.
Class starts today!
Civil War Command and Leadership
The book list changed a bit since my first post. That’s ok. The books I picked up for the old book list are good ones.
Professor: Steven E. Woodworth
I’ve updated the courses page with the information below.
Glatthaar, Joseph T. Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1993.
McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Command-in-Chief. New York: Penguin, 2009
[Course professor] Woodworth, Steven E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1990.
I made a number of new acquisitions over the past month. The latest arrived in the mail today and has been added to my virtual bookshelves here. I’m actually pretty excited by this purchase.
and Steven Stanley (Maps and Photography) 62 photos and 70 full color maps
I’m exploring options for topics for an independent study course. This one is floating to the top of what I’d like to study. Any other books my readers might suggest are welcome.
Naval Operations of the American Civil War
Reading Pace: 1 book or equivalent primary sources per week or two weeks depending on length (max 16)
Course Evaluation: Book Review for each book read and Final essay
Beginning Reading List (Not complete and to be agreed on with professor):
Bennett, Michael J. Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Brooksher, William R. War Along the Bayou: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Washington: Brassey’s, 1998.
Chaffin, Tom The H. L. Hunley (Hill and Wang, 2008)
Forsyth, Michael J. The Red River Campiagn of 1864 and the Loss by the Confederacy of the Civil War, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.
Friend, Jack. West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Joiner, Gary D. One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003.
Lewis, Charles Lee. David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admirial. 2 vols. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1943.
Merli, Frank J. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861 – 1865 (Indiana University Press, 2004)
—-, The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War (Indiana University Press, 2004)
Symonds, Craig L. Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999.
—-,Lincoln and His Admirals (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Tucker, Spencer C. Andrew Foote: Cvivil War Admiral on Western Waters. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000.
Valuska, David L. The African American in the Union Navy: 1861-1865. New York: Garland, 1993.
Weddle, Kevin. Lincoln’s Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont, Charlottesville: Universtiy of Virginia Press, 2005.
A friend just sent this. Very cool.
A battle guidon carried by members of the California Hundred – cavalry volunteers who served in the Massachusetts 2nd. The only surviving California flag from any Civil War engagement, these colors
witnessed action in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.
See more on this flag at the Fort Tejon Historical Society here.
The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.
Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:
War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)
Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.
A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)
From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.
I look forward to a thorough reading.
An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.
The good folks at Hachette Book Group USA sent me a review copy of Robert Hicks’ A Separate Country. A follow up to the bestseller, The Widow of the South, which hit the New York Times Best Seller List, this new title will be available in bookstores on September 23rd. Multiple versions will be available including electronic and audio (unabridged). You can preview the book here.
- Category: FICTION
- Format: HARDCOVER BOOK
- Publish Date: 9/23/2009
- Price: $25.99/$31.99
- ISBN: 9780446581646
- Pages: 432
- Size: 6″ x 9
It’s subject is the ever fascinating Confederate General John Bell Hood and his life after the war with wife, Anna Marie Hennen (see her obit here). You can read excerpts of Hood’s memoir, Advance and Retreat here.
Ah… the “ding dong” of the door and the Amazon boxes thump against the door. Love it.
Full disclosure…I had to get some of these from resellers.
Here’s the stack.
For more on my upcoming class, see the post below or “the courses” page here.
UPDATE ALERT: The book was snapped up within minutes of this post. Thanks to everyone who inquired.
I recently ordered a “Like New” copy of Joseph L. Harsh’s Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Strategy, 1861 – 1862 to round out my set of his series. It came damaged in the post in part because the shipper packed it poorly (no padding). He has kindly offering to replace the book. I would be delighted to provide the damaged copy to anyone who would care to pay for the shipping. The pages of the book are in excellent shape and clearly new/unread. The damage is a scrape/bend to the cover and an associated rip of the book jacket. The dent slightly effects the first 10 pages of the book. Please contact me at renetyree at gmail.com. First-come-first-served.
Speaking of The Battle of the Crater, I found this at the Library of Congress. This is a zoomed in view of pages of what appears to be a journal. Whether intended or not, it implies by its shape a salient (see previous post: Military History Word of the Day – “Salient”). The author appears to be unknown.
salient ˈsālyənt; -lēənt n.
1. a piece of land or section of fortification that juts out to form an angle.
2. an outward bulge in a line of military attack or defense. (see example below)
Due to the extremely close proximity of the opposing lines between the two forts, sniper fire was heavy and constant in this area. Potter’s division was located in the ravine a little more than one hundred yards from Elliott’s Salient, which itself was situated at an angle in the Rebel line of works, the closest at any part to the Union lines. Observers at the time felt the Union line had penetrated into the interior of the Confederates’ lines in this area after the last battle and was thus occupying a tenuous position. (2)
The National Park Service identifies Elliott’s Salient as a point where Federals and Confederates had come close together.
One of these locations was in front of Elliott’s Salient, a Confederate strong point near Cemetery Hill and old Blandford Church. Here the Confederate position and the Union picket line were less than 400 feet apart. Because of the proximity of the Union line, Elliott’s Salient was well fortified. Behind earthen embankments was a battery of four guns, and two veteran South Carolina infantry regiments were stationed on either side. Behind these were other defensive works; before them the ground sloped gently downward toward the Union advance line. (3)
Someone has done a nice job exploring the term salient as military term on Wikipedia including a variety of examples of “salients” from the American Civil War as well as other military engagements which you can read here.
Other well known military salients:
From the National Park Service’s virtual tour of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Battlefields: By mid-afternoon on May 12 the fighting at the Muleshoe Salient had reached an impasse. By coincidence, both sides focused attention on another bulge in the Confederate lines known as Heth’s Salient. General Grant ordered General Ambrose Burnside to attack Heth’s Salient at the same time as General Lee ordered General Jubal Early to attack Burnside’s left flank. In doing so, he hoped to relieve pressure on the Confederates at the Bloody Angle.
Muleshoe Salient: Look for reference to Mule Shoe Salient in the Wikipedia post here.
From the National Park Services (see the full story here): The armies flowed onto the battlefield the rest of the day, extending corresponding lines of earthworks east and west of the Brock Road. Ewell’s corps filed in on Anderson’s right and built their entrenchments in the dark to conform with elevated terrain along their front. First light revealed that Ewell’s soldiers had concocted a huge salient, or bulge, in the Confederate line, pointing north in the direction of the Federals. The men called it the “Mule Shoe” because of its shape, but Southern engineers called it trouble. Salient’s could be attacked not only in front but from both sides, and as a rule officers liked to avoid them. Lee, however, opted to retain the position trusting that his cannoneers could keep the “Mule Shoe” safe enough.
From the National Park Service (see the full story here): On May 10, the Union found a weakness in the Confederate defenses. Colonel Emory Upton was ordered with 5,000 men to attack a slight bulge in the Confederate lines known as Doles’s Salient. Upton’s men approached the Confederates on a narrow road (typical of the roads in the area that linked one farm with another) through the woods.
Ypres Salient: Famous for the World War I battle that took place there.
(1) “salient.” The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2009).
(2) John F. Schmutz, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History, (Jefferson, North Carolina: 2009), 50.
(3) “The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864,”
- Title: The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History
- Author: John F. Schmutz
- Published on: 2009-01-19, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
- Binding: Hardcover
- 428 pages
- ISBN-10: 0786439823
- ISBN-13: 978-078643982
I have happily received a review copy of John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. I can be counted among those whose interest in this remarkable 9 hour battle was piqued after watching the mesmerizing opening sequence of the film based on Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.
It would be hard to find a similar military event in history that paralleled this one in terms of overwhelming potential for success run amok. Schmutz’s use of an opening quote about the July 30, 1864 battle by Ulysses S. Grant perhaps says it best…
The loss in the disaster of Saturday last foots up about 3,500, of whom 450 men were killed and 2,000 wounded. It was the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war. Such an opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.
- Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to Major General
Henry W. Halleck, August 1, 1864.
According to Schmutz, his interest in the Battle of the Crater began with the discovery that he had “two direct ancestors in the battle, one with the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, which at the last minute, and without any preparation or forewarning, was chosen to lead the assault, with disastrous consequences.” (Preface) This seed germinated into one of the first studies to take a broad-brush approach to the battle, examining the events leading up to it, the country’s mood in its now third year of civil war, brutality committed against black troops, atrocities perpetrated by both sides, first-hand accounts, and the impact of the battle “on the body politic of both sides.”
Schmutz appropriately gives readers a sense for war in the trenches that were part of the Siege of Petersburg.
As both sides dug even deeper entrenchments and more infantry obstacles, the rolling farmland east and south of the city was soon churned into scenes resembling a moonscape. These tandem ramparts ran for twenty-six miles, crossed two major rivers, and traversed parts of four Virginia countries, from White Oak Swamp, east of Richmond, across Bermuda Hundred and south of the Jerusalem Plank Road below the city. No campaign of the war quite equaled the siege of Petersburg, which was the object of the longest military action ever waged against an American city. More battles were fought and more lives lost there than in the defense of any better-known Southern cities such as Richmond, Vicksburg or Atlanta. (p. 40)
The excellent chapter titled “The Earth Movers,” reveals how Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants and the men of the 48th Pennsylvania, many of them coal miners, accomplished what Meade’s engineers mockingly called impossible, the building of a lengthy tunnel without detection by the Confederates. Receiving literally no support from Meade or his men, Pleasants overcame every challenge with ingenuity and innovation. As an example, he used a combination of miner’s bellows and fire to create draft to circulate air through a shaft built into the tunnel wall. This bit of creative thinking, the details of which are a must read, became what Schmutz called Pleasants’ “greatest engineering feat.” (p. 61)
Of note, Schmutz provides an impressive set of references in his appendices, something I always value in a book of serious history. These include:
- Organization of Opposing Forces on July 30, 1864 including Union and Confederate Corps, Division, and Brigade, and in some cases Company commanders and officers
- Casualty counts by Corps, Division, Brigade and Unit
- Medal of Honor Recipients and Confederate Roll of Honor Recipients by Corps including a brief statement about why they received the award
Union Officers Killed or Mortally Wounded by Corps, Division, and Brigade
- Full and extensive Chapter Notes
- An impressive Bibliography which demonstrates the extent of primary sources used in Schumtz’s research
I greatly look forward to fully reading this book and fully expect that a Highly Recommend will be forthcoming.
I just registered for my next course: Civil War Command and Leadership. Here’s a quick summary: “a study of national, theater, and operational command structures of the Union and Confederacy, the leadership styles of key military leaders on both sides, and the evolution of command and control in the war. Major themes include the relationship between the commanders in chief and the generals who led the armies in the field, the relationships between the generals themselves, and the ways in which the relationships described above either served to facilitate or debilitate the causes those commanders served.”
I am VERY excited about the professor, Steven E. Woodworth!
- Ph.D., Rice University, 1987
- Professor of history at Texas Christian University
- Author, co-author, or editor of twenty-seven books you can view here
- Two-time winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York Civil War Round Table (for Jefferson Davis and His Generals and Davis and Lee at War)
- Two-time finalist for the Peter Seaborg Award of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War (for While God Is Marching On and Nothing but Victory)
- Winner of the Grady McWhiney Award of the Dallas Civil War Round Table for lifetime contribution to the study of Civil War history
I’ve added a new page on my bookshelves to show the booklist for the course as it stands today which you can access here.
I was pleased to recently receive a review copy of the book The Rebel and the Rose: James Semple, Julia Gardiner Tyler, and the Lost Confederate Gold. Its authors, Wesley Millett and Gerald White, are profiled on the book’s attractive website here. The book is currently published by Turner Publishing Company.
It promises insight into several interesting topics:
- the flight of Jefferson Davis at war’s end
- the disappearance of the Confederate war chest
- a romantic liaison with presidential ties
More to come…
The National Book Foundation has announced that Civil War historian and Yale history professor David W. Blight will be a judge for the 2009 Nonfiction National Book Award. Blight is “Professor of History at Yale University and author of many books on nineteenth century American history, including A Slave No More, published in 2007.” Finalists will be announced on October 13.
The highlight of the first five chapters of Two Great Rebel Armies by Richard M. McMurray was hands down the lesson on geography. This is, I fear, an area that receives too little emphasis in our study of the war. Particularly interesting was the reference to the Shenandoah Valley (Valley of Virginia) and the advantages and disadvantages it presented to those who chose to maneuver in it. It helps me to actually “see” a map of the area and I found a collection that you might find helpful if you’ve not already discovered it. It is the Hotchkiss Collection on the Library of Congress site here. The collection consists of 341 sketchbooks, manuscripts, and annotated printed maps, the originals of which reside in the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division. It also provides two essays including a biographical essay about Hotchkiss. Not to be missed is the Map of the Shenandoah Valley which was considered a masterpiece.
Major Jedediah Hotchkiss (1828-1899) was considered the cartographer of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was a topographic engineer in the Confederate Army. Most of the works in the collection are of the Shenandoah Valley and certainly some would have been used by Lee and his commanders.
The letters of Jedediah Hotchkiss are available on the University of Virginia’s excellent The Valley of the Shadow digital history project here. This exceptional collection is well worth the read and covers the major’s war experiences from 1861 – 1864 as conveyed to his family.
[am-buh-skeyd] noun, verb, -cad⋅ed,
1. an ambush
–verb (used without object)
2. to lie in ambush.
–verb (used with object)
3. to attack from a concealed position; ambush.
1575–85; < MF embuscade, alter. (under influence of OF embuschier) of MF emboscade < OIt imboscata, fem. ptp. of imboscare, v. deriv. with in- of bosco wood, forest < Gmc *bosk- bush
Related forms: am⋅bus⋅cad⋅er, noun 
As used by Joseph L. Harsh in Taken at the Flood…
On this occasion, Jeb Stuart justified his reputation for alert reconnaissance. Almost instantaneously he perceived and reported to Lee the enemy’s rapid withdrawal. He also ordered Hampton to pursue and harass the Federal column retiring from Flint Hill toward the Chain Bridge. Into the hours of darkness, Hampton closely pressed the Federal tail under Sedgwick, lobbing shells into the panicky main body until the heavy casualties suffered by the 1st North Carolina Cavalry in an “ambuscade” laid by the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry bought breathing space for the retreating Federals. Meanwhile, in the center of the line, where Stuart had only Fitz Lee’s tired troopers, the Confederate horsemen pressed more gently and permitted Hooker to withdraw through the county seat virtually unscathed. Heros von Borcke, Stuart’s Prussian chief of staff (see his memoir online here), planted the Confederate colors on the courthouse green, while deliriously happy Southern sympathizers mobbed the troopers, and damsels showered Stuart with kisses. Jeb even found time to visit his friend and “spy” Antonia Ford. 
 ambuscade. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ambuscade (accessed: July 25, 2009).
 Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood : Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 / [book on-line] (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1999, accessed 25 July 2009), 19; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102364729; Internet.
I’m thrilled to be finally reading Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Clearly I must obtain copies of the other books in this series.
There is a fascinating debate afoot on the new book The State of Jones I mentioned in a post on June 23rd here. Authors John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins respond to the three part review by Vicki Bynum. I suggest that interested readers begin with Dr. Bynum’s review (Part III here) and then make your way over to Kevin Levin’s blog post where the majority of the debate is captured here.
T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.
Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.
This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.
Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.
The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.
John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.
Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.
Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)
Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.
Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)
Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.
At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.
Informative read about the Battle of Antietam prepared as a “Staff Ride Guide” by Ted Ballard, CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY, UNITED STATES ARMY. This assisted, among other things, with my understanding of artillery and particularly how units were organized who supported the guns. Interesting factoids from page 83 -84 (note this entire book is available online by clicking on the book image above):
“The artillery of both armies was generally organized into batteries of four or six guns. Regulations prescribed a captain as battery commander, while lieutenants commanded two-gun “sections.” Each gun made up a platoon, under a sergeant (“chief of the piece”) with eight crewmen and six drivers.
For transport, each gun was attached to a two-wheeled cart, known as a limber and drawn by a six-horse team. The limber chest carried thirty to fifty rounds of ammunition, depending on the size of guns in the battery. In addition to the limbers, each gun had at least one caisson, also drawn by a six-horse team. The caisson carried additional ammunition in two chests, as well as a spare wheel and tools. A horse-drawn forge and a battery wagon with tools accompanied each battery. A battery at full regulation strength included all officers, noncommissioned officers, buglers, drivers, cannoneers, and other specialized functions and might exceed 100 officers and men. With spare horses included, a typical six-gun battery might have 100-150 horses.
A battery could unlimber and fire an initial volley in about one minute, and each gun could continue firing two aimed shots a minute. A battery could “limber up” in about one minute as well. The battery practiced “direct fire”: the target was in view of the gun. The prescribed distance between guns was fourteen yards from hub to hub. Therefore, a six-gun battery would represent a front of about 100 yards. Depth of the battery position from the gun muzzle, passing the limber, to the rear of the caisson was prescribed as forty-seven yards. In practice, these measurements might be altered by terrain.”
Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.
My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.
Check them out. Very much worth perusing.
Excellent demonstration of how a gun crew handled artillery during the American Civil War can be seen below.
Ranger Mannie Gentile has become an excellent film maker. His blog, My year of living Rangerously, remains one of my favorites.
The Library of Congress has a new entry in their always fascinating Civil War Photographs section. They challenge the authenticity of the photo above which the owner of the copyright, Levin C. Handy (1855-1932) and nephew of Mathew Brady, claims to be General Grant at Center Point, Virginia. They step the reader through their discovery process which reveals …. well I won’t spoil it for you. Find out for yourself how this photo was created here.
Currently reading… Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhitney and Perry D. Jamieson. Incredible statistics describing the carnage resulting from Confederate offensives against fortified positions.
I’m reading the second half of Archer Jones’ Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory And Defeat this weekend. He makes an interesting point about the power of informal leadership over formal leadership positing that people find informal leaders just as they create informal organizations. He suggests that George McClellan provides one of the best examples.
As the creator and first commander of that Army [the Army of the Potomac], he had claims to loyalty which his charisma and the appeal of his Peninsula campaign’s strategy intensified. Even after he had left the command, his position of formal leadership, he continued to exercise great informal influence. This often took the form of the officers of the Army of the Potomac displaying hostility to the secretary of war and an unshakable allegiance to the strategy of the Peninsula campaign. No successor in command could ever displace him as the army’s informal leader, a situation which made it difficult for every subsequent commander and limited the ability of the president ad the general in chief to enjoy any widespread, deep-rooted support.
In like fashion, he suggests that Lee uprooted Johnston’s memory because of the three campaigns he conducted in four months and put Lee in the position of informal and formal leader of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Do you agree with his assessment?
Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory And Defeat, (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 126.
Always on the hunt for opportunities to inform my understanding of history, I’ve hit a gold mine. In addition to my fascination with the Civil War, I am equally passionate about maritime history and am a degreed engineer. Those three fields of study converge in a fascinating symposium hosted by the DeepArch Research Group in Technology, Archaeology and the Deep Sea at MIT in April 2003 which they have made available for viewing on MIT Earth (TM).
The symposium, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor gives us an opportunity to hear from the senior archaeologist on the recovery of the C.S.S. Hunley, Maria Jacobsen. For those of you familiar with Civil War Naval history, the CSS Hunley will not be a new name. For those not, its story is nothing less than remarkable. A Confederate submarine, it was lost after driving a mine into the hull of USS Housatonic, detonating it, and sending the ship to the silty bottom of Charleston Bay in five minutes. But the Hunley was lost as well, only to be found, recovered, and excavated in the last decade or so.
I have made it through the first presentation on the Hunley (wow) and hope to watch the second half of the symposium on the Monitor. But for now, this from the MIT site:
- Moderator: Merritt Roe Smith
- Maria Jacobsen
David A. Mindell PhD ’96
Brendan Foley PhD ’03
About the Lecture
In the last few years, archaeologists have recovered two of the Civil War’s most ingenious inventions: the Union ironclad warship Monitor and the Confederate submarine Hunley. In this symposium panelists discuss the newest technology projects that have brought these inventions to light from the sea depths, and what they can teach about technology and the Civil War.
- Submarine built by Horace L Hunley
- First submarine to destroy an enemy ship
- All three crews died aboard although several from the first crew were able to escape.
- Lost off of Charleston after sinking the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo
- Remains discovered in 1995 by NUMA
- Recovered August 8, 2000
Photo credit: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph [#NH999]
You may be interested in previous posts I’ve made on the Hunley. My first was the following:
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was reading Civil War Hospital Sketches, a collection of pieces that Louisa May Alcott wrote for The Commonwealth, a well known Boston newspaper (now in the public domain). Alcott tells of her experiences at a hospital in Washington D.C. in which she cared for injured and ill Civil War soldiers as a volunteer nurse. Much of the book is filled with Alcott’s humor but her chapter titled “A Night,” conveys the tragic side of the war. This moving account of the last days of a patient named John is quite remarkable.
He came in a day or two after the others; and, one evening, when I entered my “pathetic room,” I found a lately emptied bed occupied by a large, fair man, with a fine face, and the serenest eyes I ever met. One of the earlier comers had often spoken of a friend, who had remained behind, that those apparently worse wounded than himself might reach a shelter first. It seemed a David and Jonathan sort of friendship. The man fretted for his mate, and was never tired of praising John his courage, sobriety, self-denial, and unfailing kindliness of heart; always winding up with: “He’s an out an’ out fine feller, ma’am; you see if he aint.”
I had some curiosity to behold this piece of excellence, and when he came, watched him for a night or two, before I made friends with him; for, to tell the truth, I was a little afraid of the stately looking man, whose bed had to be lengthened to accommodate his commanding stature; who seldom spoke, uttered no complaint, asked no sympathy, but tranquilly observed what went on about him; and, as he lay high upon his pillows, no picture of dying statesman or warrior was ever fuller of real dignity than this Virginia blacksmith. A most attractive face he had, framed in brown hair and beard, comely featured and full of vigor, as yet unsubdued by pain; thoughtful and often beautifully mild while watching the afflictions of others, as if entirely forgetful of his own. His mouth was grave and firm, with plenty of will and courage in its lines, but a smile could make it as sweet as any woman’s; and his eyes were child’s eyes, looking one fairly in the face, with a clear, straightforward glance, which promised well for such as placed their faith in him. He seemed to cling to life, as if it were rich in duties and delights, and he had learned the secret of content. The only time I saw his composure disturbed, was when my surgeon brought another to examine John, who scrutinized their faces with an anxious look, asking of the elder: “Do you think I shall pull through, sir?” “I hope so, my man.” And, as the two passed on, John’s eye still followed them, with an intentness which would have won a clearer answer from them, had they seen it. A momentary shadow flitted over his face; then came the usual serenity, as if, in that brief eclipse, he had acknowledged the existence of some hard possibility, and, asking nothing yet hoping all things, left the issue in God’s hands, with that submission which is true piety.
The next night, as I went my rounds with Dr. P., I happened to ask which man in the room probably suffered most; and, to my great surprise, he glanced at John:
“Every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the left lung, broke a rib, and did no end of damage here and there; so the poor lad can find neither forgetfulness nor ease, because he must lie on his wounded back or suffocate. It will be a hard struggle, and a long one, for he possesses great vitality; but even his temperate life can’t save him; I wish it could.”
“You don’t mean he must die, Doctor?”
“Bless you there’s not the slightest hope for him; and you’d better tell him so before long; women have a way of doing such things comfortably, so I leave it to you. He won’t last more than a day or two, at furthest.”
I could have sat down on the spot and cried heartily, if I had not learned the wisdom of bottling up one’s tears for leisure moments. Such an end seemed very hard for such a man, when half a dozen worn out, worthless bodies round him, were gathering up the remnants of wasted lives, to linger on for years perhaps, burdens to others, daily reproaches to themselves. The army needed men like John, earnest, brave, and faithful; fighting for liberty and justice with both heart and hand, true soldiers of the Lord. I could not give him up so soon, or think with any patience of so excellent a nature robbed of its fulfillment, and blundered into eternity by the rashness or stupidity of those at whose hands so many lives may be required. It was an easy thing for Dr. P. to say: “Tell him he must die,” but a cruelly hard thing to do, and by no means as “comfortable” as he politely suggested. I had not the heart to do it then, and privately indulged the hope that some change for the better might take place, in spite of gloomy prophesies; so, rendering my task unnecessary. A few minutes later, as I came in again, with fresh rollers, I saw John sitting erect, with no one to support him, while the surgeon dressed his back. I had never hitherto seen it done; for, having simpler wounds to attend to, and knowing the fidelity of the attendant, I had left John to him, thinking it might be more agreeable and safe; for both strength and experience were needed in his case. I had forgotten that the strong man might long for the gentle tendance of a woman’s hands, the sympathetic magnetism of a woman’s presence, as well as the feebler souls about him. The Doctor’s words caused me to reproach myself with neglect, not of any real duty perhaps, but of those little cares and kindnesses that solace homesick spirits, and make the heavy hours pass easier. John looked lonely and forsaken just then, as he sat with bent head, hands folded on his knee, and no outward sign of suffering, till, looking nearer, I saw great tears roll down and drop upon the floor. It was a new sight there; for, though I had seen many suffer, some swore, some groaned, most endured silently, but none wept. Yet it did not seem weak, only very touching, and straightway my fear vanished, my heart opened wide and took him in, as, gathering the bent head in my arms, as freely as if he had been a little child, I said, “Let me help you bear it, John.”
Never, on any human countenance, have I seen so swift and beautiful a look of gratitude, surprise and comfort, as that which answered me more eloquently than the whispered
“Thank you, ma’am, this is right good! this is what I wanted!”
“Then why not ask for it before?”
“I didn’t like to be a trouble; you seemed so busy, and I could manage to get on alone.”
“You shall not want it any more, John.”
Nor did he; for now I understood the wistful look that sometimes followed me, as I went out, after a brief pause beside his bed, or merely a passing nod, while busied with those who seemed to need me more than he, because more urgent in their demands; now I knew that to him, as to so many, I was the poor substitute for mother, wife, or sister, and in his eyes no stranger, but a friend who hitherto had seemed neglectful; for, in his modesty, he had never guessed the truth. This was changed now; and, through the tedious operation of probing, bathing, and dressing his wounds, he leaned against me, holding my hand fast, and, if pain wrung further tears from him, no one saw them fall but me. When he was laid down again, I hovered about him, in a remorseful state of mind that would not let me rest, till I had bathed his face, brushed his “bonny brown hair,” set all things smooth about him, and laid a knot of heath and heliotrope on his clean pillow. While doing this, he watched me with the satisfied expression I so liked to see; and when I offered the little nosegay, held it carefully in his great hand, smoothed a ruffled leaf or two, surveyed and smelt it with an air of genuine delight, and lay contentedly regarding the glimmer of the sunshine on the green. Although the manliest man among my forty, he said, “Yes, ma’am,” like a little boy; received suggestions for his comfort with the quick smile that brightened his whole face; and now and then, as I stood tidying the table by his bed, I felt him softly touch my gown, as if to assure himself that I was there. Anything more natural and frank I never saw, and found this brave John as bashful as brave, yet full of excellencies and fine aspirations, which, having no power to express themselves in words, seemed to have bloomed into his character and made him what he was.
After that night, an hour of each evening that remained to him was devoted to his ease or pleasure. He could not talk much, for breath was precious, and he spoke in whispers; but from occasional conversations, I gleaned scraps of private history which only added to the affection and respect I felt for him. Once he asked me to write a letter, and as I settled pen and paper, I said, with an irrepressible glimmer of feminine curiosity, “Shall it be addressed to wife, or mother, John?”
“Neither, ma’am; I’ve got no wife, and will write to mother myself when I get better. Did you think I was married because of this?” he asked, touching a plain ring he wore, and often turned thoughtfully on his finger when he lay alone.
“Partly that, but more from a settled sort of look you have; a look which young men seldom get until they marry.”
“I didn’t know that; but I’m not so very young, ma’am, thirty in May, and have been what you might call settled this ten years; for mother’s a widow, I’m the oldest child she has, and it wouldn’t do for me to marry until Lizzy has a home of her own, and Laurie’s learned his trade; for we’re not rich, and I must be father to the children and husband to the dear old woman, if I can.”
“No doubt but you are both, John; yet how came you to go to war, if you felt so? Wasn’t enlisting as bad as marrying?”
“No, ma’am, not as I see it, for one is helping my neighbor, the other pleasing myself. I went because I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want the glory or the pay; I wanted the right thing done, and people kept saying the men who were in earnest ought to fight. I was in earnest, the Lord knows! but I held off as long as I could, not knowing which was my duty; mother saw the case, gave me her ring to keep me steady, and said ‘Go:’ so I went.”
A short story and a simple one, but the man and the mother were portrayed better than pages of fine writing could have done it.
“Do you ever regret that you came, when you lie here suffering so much?”
“Never, ma’am; I haven’t helped a great deal, but I’ve shown I was willing to give my life, and perhaps I’ve got to; but I don’t blame anybody, and if it was to do over again, I’d do it. I’m a little sorry I wasn’t wounded in front; it looks cowardly to be hit in the back, but I obeyed orders, and it don’t matter in the end, I know.”
Poor John! it did not matter now, except that a shot in the front might have spared the long agony in store for him. He seemed to read the thought that troubled me, as he spoke so hopefully when there was no hope, for he suddenly added:
“This is my first battle; do they think it’s going to be my last?”
“I’m afraid they do, John.”
It was the hardest question I had ever been called upon to answer; doubly hard with those clear eyes fixed on mine, forcing a truthful answer by their own truth. He seemed a little startled at first, pondered over the fateful fact a moment, then shook his head, with a glance at the broad chest and muscular limbs stretched out before him:
“I’m not afraid, but it’s difficult to believe all at once. I’m so strong it don’t seem possible for such a little wound to kill me.”
Merry Mercutio’s dying words glanced through my memory as he spoke: “‘Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough.” And John would have said the same could he have seen the ominous black holes between his shoulders; he never had; and, seeing the ghastly sights about him, could not believe his own wound more fatal than these, for all the suffering it caused him.
“Shall I write to your mother, now?” I asked, thinking that these sudden tidings might change all plans and purposes; but they did not; for the man received the order of the Divine Commander to march with the same unquestioning obedience with which the soldier had received that of the human one; doubtless remembering that the first led him to life, and the last to death.
“No, ma’am; to Laurie just the same; he’ll break it to her best, and I’ll add a line to her myself when you get done.”
So I wrote the letter which he dictated, finding it better than any I had sent; for, though here and there a little ungrammatical or inelegant, each sentence came to me briefly worded, but most expressive; full of excellent counsel to the boy, tenderly bequeathing “mother and Lizzie” to his care, and bidding him good bye in words the sadder for their simplicity. He added a few lines, with steady hand, and, as I sealed it, said, with a patient sort of sigh, “I hope the answer will come in time for me to see it;” then, turning away his face, laid the flowers against his lips, as if to hide some quiver of emotion at the thought of such a sudden sundering of all the dear home ties.
These things had happened two days before; now John was dying, and the letter had not come. I had been summoned to many death beds in my life, but to none that made my heart ache as it did then, since my mother called me to watch the departure of a spirit akin to this in its gentleness and patient strength. As I went in, John stretched out both hands:
“I knew you’d come! I guess I’m moving on, ma’am.”
He was; and so rapidly that, even while he spoke, over his face I saw the grey veil falling that no human hand can lift. I sat down by him, wiped the drops from his forehead, stirred the air about him with the slow wave of a fan, and waited to help him die. He stood in sore need of helpand I could do so little; for, as the doctor had foretold, the strong body rebelled against death, and fought every inch of the way, forcing him to draw each breath with a spasm, and clench his hands with an imploring look, as if he asked, “How long must I endure this, and be still!” For hours he suffered dumbly, without a moment’s respire, or a moment’s murmuring; his limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white, and, again and again, he tore the covering off his breast, as if the lightest weight added to his agony; yet through it all, his eyes never lost their perfect serenity, and the man’s soul seemed to sit therein, undaunted by the ills that vexed his flesh.
One by one, the men woke, and round the room appeared a circle of pale faces and watchful eyes, full of awe and pity; for, though a stranger, John was beloved by all. Each man there had wondered at his patience, respected his piety, admired his fortitude, and now lamented his hard death; for the influence of an upright nature had made itself deeply felt, even in one little week. Presently, the Jonathan who so loved this comely David, came creeping from his bed for a last look and word. The kind soul was full of trouble, as the choke in his voice, the grasp of his hand, betrayed; but there were no tears, and the farewell of the friends was the more touching for its brevity.
“Old boy, how are you?” faltered the one.
“Most through, thank heaven!” whispered the other.
“Can I say or do anything for you anywheres?”
“Take my things home, and tell them that I did my best.”
“I will! I will!”
“Good bye, Ned.”
“Good bye, John, good bye!”
They kissed each other, tenderly as women, and so parted, for poor Ned could not stay to see his comrade die. For a little while, there was no sound in the room but the drip of water, from a stump or two, and John’s distressful gasps, as he slowly breathed his life away. I thought him nearly gone, and had just laid down the fan, believing its help to be no longer needed, when suddenly he rose up in his bed, and cried out with a bitter cry that broke the silence, sharply startling every one with its agonized appeal:
“For God’s sake, give me air!”
It was the only cry pain or death had wrung from him, the only boon he had asked; and none of us could grant it, for all the airs that blew were useless now. Dan flung up the window. The first red streak of dawn was warming the grey east, a herald of the coming sun; John saw it, and with the love of light which lingers in us to the end, seemed to read in it a sign of hope of help, for, over his whole face there broke that mysterious expression, brighter than any smile, which often comes to eyes that look their last. He laid himself gently down; and, stretching out his strong right arm, as if to grasp and bring the blessed air to his lips in a fuller flow, lapsed into a merciful unconsciousness, which assured us that for him suffering was forever past. He died then; for, though the heavy breaths still tore their way up for a little longer, they were but the waves of an ebbing tide that beat unfelt against the wreck, which an immortal voyager had deserted with a smile. He never spoke again, but to the end held my hand close, so close that when he was asleep at last, I could not draw it away. Dan helped me, warning me as he did so that it was unsafe for dead and living flesh to lie so long together; but though my hand was strangely cold and stiff, and four white marks remained across its back, even when warmth and color had returned elsewhere, I could not but be glad that, through its touch, the presence of human sympathy, perhaps, had lightened that hard hour.
When they had made him ready for the grave, John lay in state for half an hour, a thing which seldom happened in that busy place; but a universal sentiment of reverence and affection seemed to fill the hearts of all who had known or heard of him; and when the rumor of his death went through the house, always astir, many came to see him, and I felt a tender sort of pride in my lost patient; for he looked a most heroic figure, lying there stately and still as the statue of some young knight asleep upon his tomb. The lovely expression which so often beautifies dead faces, soon replaced the marks of pain, and I longed for those who loved him best to see him when half an hour’s acquaintance with Death had made them friends. As we stood looking at him, the ward master handed me a letter, saying it had been forgotten the night before. It was John’s letter, come just an hour too late to gladden the eyes that had longed and looked for it so eagerly! yet he had it; for, after I had cut some brown locks for his mother, and taken off the ring to send her, telling how well the talisman had done its work, I kissed this good son for her sake, and laid the letter in his hand, still folded as when I drew my own away, feeling that its place was there, and making myself happy with the thought, that, even in his solitary place in the “Government Lot,” he would not be without some token of the love which makes life beautiful and outlives death. Then I left him, glad to have known so genuine a man, and carrying with me an enduring memory of the brave Virginia blacksmith, as he lay serenely waiting for the dawn of that long day which knows no night.
Anyone studying 19th century American history will likely have read Eric Foner. WGBH Forum Network provides an audio video lecture Foner provided on Lincoln and slavery in November of 2008 at The Boston Athenaem. It provides some interesting insights on Lincoln’s views on slavery and the Civil War. You can access it here.
Eric Foner is professor o history at Columbia University.
In this world of hustle and bustle, having books read to me is a wonderful luxury. Today I found a terrific site, Freeaudio.org, that takes largely public domain works and provides them free to the public in audio form. This trumps my Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature in that real human readers are easier to listen to.
I picked up the American Library version of Frederick Douglass’ works back in January and love it, but with freeaudio.org, I can clean the garage and “listen” to a professional reading of Douglass’ work as performed by Marvin Pain, an excellent reader.
I will be adding the site to my “Primary Sources” links. Note that some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are also available.
I plan on submitting a donation and asking that they begin putting up some of the biographies and autobiographies of our American Civil War military men as well as soldiers diaries.
The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a review copy of Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction. I’m a fan of OUP’s “A Very Short Introduction” series which you can view in its entirety here or by clicking on the picture below. Their advantage is, obviously, their conciseness. I look forward to reading this one.
Professor Guelzo is the Luce Professor of Civil War Era Studies/Professor of History, Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College and you can view his profile here. He holds an MA and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
Amazon hit my mailbox with their announcement about the launch of a Kindle application for the iPhone and iPhone Touch. This effectively makes available to iPhone users the 240,000 books currently in the Kindle Store. I know my previous posts on my new Kindle 2 (see below) generated a lot of discussion so I’ll be interested in whether any of you iPhone users plan to give this a try. I have an iPhone Touch and will give it a go myself. I’ve heard some of you say that you have some challenges reading books on your iPhone so will be interested in your thoughts. I’m assuming the size factor is one of the key issues.
Of note, I’ve read posts around the net about rumors of a larger Kindle targeted toward the student market. I’ve heard it would be 81/2 by 11 inches and thus perfect for textbooks and storing school documents or journal reading assignments. VERY COOL if it happens. The Kindle 2 missed some rumored launch dates so rumors are rumors.
The folks at Oxford University Press seem to be jumping on the Kindle bandwagon. As I mentioned in my post titled Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, Weber’s book is available in a Kindle version. Also, their dictionary is preloaded on Kindle 2 and can provide word-by-word definitions at the bottom of the page as you read through a book if you so desire.
It will be interesting to see if Amazon will port their application to other phones and networks in the near future. Sprint’s Instinct, HTC Touch, and the upcoming Palm Pre (I want one) would seem to be excellent options.
What this does signal is another way to quickly download, carry, and read not only books in print but the myriad of “public domain” documents available, many being primary source material. See my previous post here on just a few of those titles already loaded on Amazon for download at either no charge or minimal charge that should be of interest to those into 19th century American and / or the American Civil War.
Here are quick links to the previous posts on Kindle 2. I recommend, if you are intrigued and considering a Kindle 2, that you read the comments.
The good folks at Zenith Press have sent me a review copy of The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry by Larry Gordon which I’m very much looking forward to reading and reviewing. A perusal of the book shows a significant set of reference notes and a strong bibliography both of which I always appreciate. More to come.
- ISBN-13: 9780760335178
- Published on: 2009-03-15
- Original language: English
- Binding: Hardcover
- Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
- 272 pages
The bronze memorial below is found at Vicksburg National Military Park. It was sculpted by T.A.R. Kitson, erected in 1911 and is located 75 yards west of the Tennessee State Memorial on North Confederate Avenue.
You can read some of the official documents authored by Vaughn here.
David Potter suggests that much of the discord between Kansans and Missourians was less about slavery and more about land claims.(i) The territory had not yet completed land surveys even six months after it opened for settlement so people squatted on land they wanted. Disputes over those claims, largely between Missourian and new Kansan settlers, sparked the events that culminated in the 1856 raid on Lawrence.
It began with a killing. A pro-slavery man named Franklin N. Coleman killed in 1855 a Free-Soiler named Charles W. Dow south of Lawrence, Kansas in a land-claim dispute. [An account of the killing by Isaac T. Goodnow can be read here.] Because Coleman claimed self-defense, he was not arrested. In retaliation, a group of Free-Soil men threatened Coleman and his corroborators and burned their property. (ii) Douglas County sheriff Samuel J. Jones was sent to arrest the aggressors but was prevented from doing so by armed Free-Soil men lead by Samuel N. Wood.
Jones accepted the aid of an army of Missouri “Border Ruffians” who converged outside of Lawrence near the Wakarusa River with the intent of enforcing “Law and order in Kansas.” (iii) Then Kansas Territory governor Wilson Shannon averted violence through negotiation (President Pierce refused him Federal troops) and the band dispersed, albeit reluctantly. Because the threat of violence was so great, the episode became known as the Wakarusa War.
(i) David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 206.
(ii) Ibid., 207.
I’ve spent some time at the Kindle Store perusing their books for deals on American Civil War Books. I’ll follow up with additional lists on Military History and History in general although they are numerous. One plus – many of the Army Field manuals are available for $0.99, You could, of course, download most of the latter from other sites and load to you Kindle as well.
Here’s my list so far of ACW books that are free or under $2.00 in the Kindle Store. Bear in mind that most of these are in the public domain so you can also load them to your Kindle 2 for free in the manners I described in previous posts.
History of the Civil War, 1861 – 1865 by James Ford Rhodes $0.99
Memoirs and Biographies
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 1 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 2 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan, both volumes in one file by Philip Henry Sheridan – $0.99
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 1 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 2 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain- $0.99
Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Father and His Youngest Sister, 1857-1878 by Ulysses S. Grant and Jesse Grant Cramer – $0.99
Campaigning with Grant (1907, [c1897]), First Person Account of Ulysses S. Grant During the Civil War by Horace Porter – $1.59
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Colonel G.F.R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G. F. R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G.F.R. Henderson and Viscount Wolseley – $0.99
The Life of General Robert E. Lee by Captain Robert E. Lee (his son) – $0.99
A Life of General Robert E. Lee by John Esten Cooke – $0.99
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by his son by Captain Robert E. Lee – $0.99
With Lee in Virginia, a Story of the American Civil War by G.A. Henty – $0.99
Memoirs of General William T. Sherman by William T. Sherman – $0.99
Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army by William G. Stevenson – $0.99
Captains of the Civil War – A Chronicle of the Blue and the Gray by William Wood – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Jacob Dolson Cox – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Reminiscences of Two Years with the Colored Troops by Joshua M. Addeman – $0.99
Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson – $1.00
Heroes of the Great Conflict: Life and Services of William Farrar Smith, Major General, United States Volunteer in the Civil War by James Harrison Wilson – $0.99
The Scouts of Stonewall: The Story of the Great Valley Campaign by Joseph A. (Joseph Alexander), 1862-1919 Altsheler
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis
History of Company E of the Sixth Minnesota Regiment by Alfred J. Hill – $1.59
Woman’s Work in the Civil War; A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience by M.D. L. P. Brockett – $1.80
Memories: a Record of Personal Experience and Adventure During Four Years of War by Mrs. Fannie A. Beers – $0.99
Fortifications and Armaments
The Story of the Kearsarge and the Alabama by A. K. Browne – $0.99
The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter, both volumes in a single file by Raphael Semmes- $0.99
The Great Railroad Adventure – a True Tale from the American Civil War by Lieut. William Pittenger – $0.99
Andersonville: a Story of Rebel Military Prisons, all four volumes in a single file by John McElroy – $0.99
The Life, Crime & Capture of John Wilkes Booth by George Alfred Townsend – $0.99
Speeches and Legislative Documents
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
The Emancipation Proclamation (Preliminary and Final Version) by Abraham Lincoln and William Seward – $0.80
Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address by Jefferson Davis – $0.99
Civil War Photography
The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War by Stephen Crane. Published by MobileReference (mobi) by Stephen Crane – $0.99
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – $0.99
Two new fiction works have made their way to my library. The March by E. L. Doctorow. This book was required reading for the Yale course by David W. Blight on the Civil War era which I mentioned here. I picked up a nice hardback used and am listening to it on my MP3 via download from the library.
- Author: E. L. Doctorow
- Hardcover: 363 pages
- Publisher: Random House (September 20, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375506713
- 384 pages
Second, I have The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel by David Liss which I ordered on my new Kindle 2 only. I may pick up a used copy at some point. As I mentioned in my post on the Kindle, I can also listen to The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel via text-to-speech capabilities on the Kindle.
- Author: David Liss
- Format: Kindle Edition
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (September 30, 2008)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0015DYJVW
- File Size: 443 KB
- Print Length: 544 pages
The potential for violence after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and indeed episodes of violence, increased on the border between Missouri and Kansas as both Free Soiler and pro-slavery factions began actively arming themselves. An agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Society in Kansas, Charles L. Robinson, requested with some urgency a shipment of several hundred rifles and field guns.(i) Guns were sent to aid Free Soilers in Kansas often with the support of northeastern clergy and their congregations. Thus Sharps Rifles sent by Henry Ward Beecher’s congregation became know as “Beecher Bibles”. Likewise, according to Potter, armed militias from the South began forming to support the pro-slavery cause in Kansas. (i)
ABOUT THE POLITICAL CARTOON: Another Currier satire favoring American party candidate Millard Fillmore. A “buck” (James Buchanan) runs toward the White House, visible in the distance, as the two rival candidates take aim at him with their shotguns. Republican John C. Fremont’s gun explodes (left), as he struggles to free himself from a pool of “Black Mud.” On the far left his two abolitionist supporters Henry Ward Beecher and editor Horace Greeley are also mired in an “Abolition Bog.” Fremont: “Oh! Oh! Oh! I’ve got Jessie this time–” (a puzzling allusion to his wife Jessie Benton). Greeley: “Oh! Brother Beecher! our Kansas Gun has bursted and upset our gunner. I’m afraid we put in too big a load.” Reference is to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the ensuing violence in Kansas, an issue exploited by the Republicans. Beecher: “Confound the Gun! if I can only get out of this muss I’ll stick to preaching and let fire-arms alone.” The oblique reference to Beecher’s part in outfitting armed antislavery emigrants for Kansas is made in more obvious terms in “Col. Fremont’s Last Grand Exploring Expedition in 1856″ (no. 1856-20). On “Union Rock” (right), which is square in the path toward the White House, stands Millard Fillmore. He aims his flintlock at Buchanan and says confidently, “Ah! Fremont, your sectional Gun has exploded just as I predicted; but my American rifle will bring down that Old Buck.” MEDIUM: print on wove paper : lithograph ; image 24 x 39 cm. CREATED/PUBLISHED: N.Y. : Published at No. 2 Spruce Street,  Source: Library of Congress
(i) David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 206.
The actual number of free-state settlers that made it to Kansas was far more modest than the expectations set in the press but the perception was in the public psyche.
When the Kansas Territory’s first governor, Andrew Reeder, called for elections of the Kansas Territorial Legislature on March 30, 1855, pro-slavery Missourians crossed the border in droves and took advantage of a poorly conceived suffrage law that required little to no proof of residency to vote. The government they elected was widely recognized as bogus but Reeder let the election stand and President Franklin Pierce endorsed it. The new government created exceptionally pro-slavery laws, some verging on the absurd. Free-state men revolted by setting up their own shadow government in Topeka claiming that its laws and elected officials would become legitimate once statehood was achieved. This exacerbated further the rift between the two factions and opened the door for the Lecompton government to take legal action against the free-soil men, indeed eventually accusing some of treason.
“If one government was valid, the other was spurious, either morally or legally, as the case might be. If the acts of one were binding upon the citizens, then submission to the authority of the other by, for instance, paying its taxes or serving in its militia would constitute sedition, or even treason.” (i)
Polarization of the factions increased.
(i) David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 206.
A friend tipped me off on Friday to a EXCEPTIONAL site, AcademicEarth.org, which provides free audio-visual lecture series of some of the world’s best scholars.
David W. Blight’s entire Spring 2008 term course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, is online for free viewing. Professor Blight is the Class of 1954 Professor of History at Yale University and Director of the The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, also at Yale University.
In addition to the course, presented in an extremely user friendly format, Academic Earth provides a syllabus, reading list (yes I’ve already ordered them all), and full text transcripts of all lectures. GOLD MINE.
I’ve made it through 13 of 27 lectures and they are both outstanding and mesmerizing. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
If you hadn’t noticed, I am a hopeless book acquirer. But, like most folks, I am watching my book budget these days. That said, I found a sale going on this month over at Indiana University Press that has some awesome deals. To commemorate the Lincoln Bicentennial, they’ve put books on sale about both Lincoln and the Civil War.
There are some serious deals over there. Example: One of my favorite books, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare by Edward Hagerman – FIVE BUCKs. And FREE SHIPPING – if you buy $25 or more (I discovered). I couldn’t help myself and didn’t have any trouble making the $25 threshold.
Note to self. Buy more bookshelves.
There are some terrific sites out there about the American Civil War. The Civil War in Missouri is one of the best.
Among my favorite features in the historical section is a collection of “Animated Battles” that combine audio, film of enactors, and battle maps with action depicted by moving units, fires that blaze, and the sounds of hoof beats and rifle fire. Very cool. This is a great site for students.
My copy of Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand arrived this week. Thanks to Daniel Sauerwein, a fellow WordPress blogger over at Civil War History for the recommendation. Published by the good folks at University of South Carolina Press, it is edited by James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper, Jr. Contributors include:
- Michael Les Benedict
- Drew Gilpin Faust
- Gary W. Gallagher
- Joseph Thomas Glatthaar
- Michael F. Holt
- Peter Kolchin
- Reid Mitchell
- Mark E. Neely, Jr.
- Philip Shaw Paludan
- George C. Rable
- James L. Roark
- Emory M. Thomas
Note: I’ve put up new bookshelves over at WigWags Books and have begun adding links to my – no kidding – MANY books on writing. It will take me some time to get them all added. That said, there is a new shelf titled specifically, “Writing – Civil War” on which I’ve placed the book above. Please let me know if you’re aware of others in this category.
Finally, I’ve added a new icon/picture to the write navbar of WigWags on which you can click to be directed to books on my bookshelves. This is an actual image of just a few of the books on my home bookshelves. You’ll find the new icon right under the title,
Find books on my bookshelves at WigWags Books
I just registered for my next course, Civil War Strategy and Tactics, which will start March 2nd. Book list looks terrific and is on order. It’s also loaded on my virtual bookshelves which you can access by clicking on any of the books. I’ve updated “the courses” page here.
Course Description: This course is a study of the American Civil War with emphasis on operational contributions of Union and Confederate military leadership. Students examine Civil War battles on two levels: the strategic doctrine as formed by the major commanders and tactical developments that affected the conduct of battle at a lower echelon of command. Special emphasis is on the interplay between these levels in order to gain a comprehensive view of strategy and tactics in both armies from 1861-1865.