Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Hood's Texas Brigade


During (and following) the Civil War, some regiments and brigades achieved legendary status. The Stonewall Brigade, the Iron Brigade, the Irish Brigade, and certainly Hood's Texas Brigade, among a few others, stand out for their fighting ability. 

In Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit, author Susannah J. Ural examines these westerners who fought primarily in Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to try to explain why they were so extraordinary. Ural is able to credit the Texans' effectiveness to several factors. 

First, from early on, the brigade identified themselves with the Confederate cause. Most of the men (or their parents) and their families had moved to Texas as the United States was expanding. Many had benefited from the institution of slavery and the success it brought them socioeconomically through agricultural pursuits. When war came in 1861 with the secession of the Lone Star State, a rush to arms filled the ranks of what would be the core of the Texas Brigade (1st, 4th, 5th infantry regiments). 

Secondly, there was a strong bond between the officers and enlisted men in the brigade. Several attempts were made to install officers in regiments against the enlisted men's wishes, which created difficult situations and several officers' resignations. Once acceptable officers were placed, unit morale soared. The officers took care of the men as best they could and the men fought as as hard as they could for their officers. 

Thirdly, the men demonstrated a commitment to a growing reputation and showing that Texans were the best troops in the Army of Northern Virginia. Instead of staying in the Trans-Mississippi or Western Theater, these Texans believed that the war would be fought and won in Virginia and desired to be where they could make the greatest impact. 

And fourthly, the Texans had a tremendous support structure back home. The soldiers' families back on the plains, plantations, and pine woods of East Texas were as committed as the soldiers themselves to attaining Confederate independence. 

That final point is where this book, in my opinion, surpasses several other unit histories. As the subtitle suggests, Ural takes time to tell the stories of the soldiers' families on the home front and how their encouragement sustained the men in the most difficult times. Through high battle casualties, disease, and periodic supply shortages, the solders could always rely on the home folks. This support system contributed toward reduced desertion figures for the Texans as compared to many other units. 

Hood's Texas Brigade provides historians with an excellent example of how unit history should be written. Getting to know the Texas Brigade inside and out helps us better understand why so many Confederates went to such great lengths in their efforts for independence. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Enormous Price


Perusing Civil War newspapers in effort to catch bits of military information almost always turns up peripheral social, economic, and political information if one keeps their eyes open for it.

While reading Hood's Texas Brigade by Susannah J. Ural, I learned that some of the Texans posted an advertisement in the Richmond Whig seeking shoes for their soldiers. Not having access to digital versions of the Whig, I wondered if they might have posted the advertisement in other Richmond papers. I looked through some of the available November 1863 issues of the Richmond Enquirer, but got sidetracked by many of the advertisements that mentioned slavery in the November 3 edition. One brief notice (pictured above) particularly caught my eye.

After the introductory title "ENORMOUS PRICE.-" it reads: "A negro girl, aged seventeen, was sold by Hargrove & Co. for the small fortune of six thousand one hundred and fifty dollars cash, on Monday last, at Lynchburg."

My historical thinking mind started churning. The first thing that came to me, largely from my reading and research on slavery was that this was likely a "fancy girl" situation. Especially attractive, young, female slaves sometimes brought extraordinary prices. Although the advertisement does not give a physical description of this young woman, those of light complexion, straight hair, and shapely form sometimes became the most sought after of possessions. Desired by both slave traders, who hoped to improve profits on their human investments, and often bachelor males who sought enslaved females for sexual purposes, bidding wars sometimes drove prices to astounding amounts.

Attempting to consider all possibilities, and thus continuing my line of thinking led me to reason that war-time inflation may also have escalated slave prices. Inflation had repercussions on almost everything in the Confederacy, particularly items in short supply. However, it seems that if inflation was the cause, this would not have been an outstanding case and thus the newspaper would not have claimed it an "enormous price."

Enslaved people who possessed skills often brought higher prices. Coopers, carpenters, brick masons, weavers, cooks, and similarly skilled laborers commanded advanced values. But, those talents normally upped their cost by tens and hundreds of dollars, not normally the thousands of dollars that this young woman apparently commanded. It is difficult to believe that a seventeen year old woman had acquired many skills to bring such an exorbitant price.

Are there many other possibilities than this being a fancy girl? Does anyone have thoughts?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Albert Boisseau Home Burned


One never knows what one will find while browsing through old newspapers. Today, while looking through old issues of the Richmond Enquirer via an online platform, I happened on a report "FROM PETERSBURG" in the Friday, October 7, 1864 edition. In it are mentioned some activities related to the Battle of Peebles Farm, which occurred as part of Gen. Grant's Fifth Offensive at Petersburg (Sept. 30-Oct.2, 1864).

During the fighting, which ranged over a few miles, the Union army's V and IX Corps pushed back the Confederates and established a new line of earthen fortifications just a couple of stones throws south of where Pamplin Historical Park is today.

Part of the property where this action occurred was owned by Dr. Albert Boisseau, son of Tudor Hall plantation patriarch, William E. Boisseau, and brother of Tudor Hall's war-time owner, Joseph G. Boisseau. During the engagement, Dr. Boisseau's home happened to be between the lines and was probably used as cover for sharpshooters/skirmishers on both sides as the battle raged back and forth.

According to this article, Dr. Boisseau's house was burned on Tuesday, October 4, during "several small skirmishes" that occurred after the main fighting had ended. I had always assumed that it was burned during the days of the main battle. It is also interesting, but not particularly surprising, that the report states that the home was vandalized before it was burned. Houses and outbuildings were often dismantled for materials used to erect fortifications, and or winter quarters.

I will be looking for other pieces of evidence to corroborate this particular report, but I have no reason to doubt its validity at this point.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Calculating the Value of the Union


Much of the historical debate over slavery's divisiveness rests on whether the institution would be accepted or prohibited in the future western territories. Whether slavery would be allowed into the expanding west certainly brought its fair share of political debate on the issue in the years leading up to the Civil War. Others have argued that the main issue splitting the North and the South was the free states' unwillingness to abide by the Fugitive Slave Law and their passage of personal liberty laws, in effect nullifying the federal provision. This additionally strong argument is supported by a ton of evidence running through the 1840s, 1850s, and the claims made by the seceding states in their secession ordinances.

In Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War by James L. Huston offers a somewhat supplemental argument. Huston contends that both of the previously mentioned issues were instrumental, but they were couched within the overarching problem of property rights.

Since even before establishing the United States government through the Constitution Southerners had claimed property rights in slaves. The North, after the Revolutionary War made a move away from slavery and toward a free, wage-based labor system. Northerners also struggled accepting the idea of owning property in people. Racism was still pervasive in the North and most did not accept blacks as equals there but they believed that one man owning another reduced the value of labor and created unfair advantages by slaveholders.
This fear of allowing slavery into the western territories produced the rise of the Republican Party, which was opposed to further extension of the institution. As the 1850s wound down, Southerners, who believed that slavery was their best means toward future prosperity, were unwilling to make any compromise on losing or reducing the $3 billion in what they believed was legitimate property. When Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected, Southerners felt their property rights were under assault and believed their only recourse was secession with South Carolina starting the tumbling Dominoes.

Huston mounts a solid argument based on good evidence, and while most sections of the book are clear, others get quite dense. I recommend it especially to those with political and economic niche interests.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Civil War Talk Radio


If you are a history podcast fan, or if you're just a Civil enthusiast, I'd like to invite you to tune into Civil War Talk Radio with host Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz. Gerry is a history professor at East Carolina University and the author of a couple of excellent Civil War books. I met Gerry a few years ago when he brought a group of Stephen Ambrose Tours guests to the Park. Since then he's been back with those groups several times and we've stayed in touch.

This past June we caught up at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute and he asked if I would be interested in being part of future show with a focus on public history at Civil War sites. Of course, I was honored to participate. That show aired on Halloween, but is available on the Civil War Talk Radio website, along with many other episodes from as far back as 2004. There are some excellent interviews with a many of the field's best historians available. I highly recommend you tune in. Happy listening! 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Chester, Vermont Union Soldier Monument


One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling for me is seeing how communities remember their involvement in the Civil War. While driving through Chester, Vermont a few weeks ago I spotted the above monument.


Among those listed from Chester who served and died in the war are a number of men in the Vermont Brigade of the VI Corps. I wonder how many of them fell during the Petersburg Campaign?


An online source states that the monument was cast in Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1883 and was dedicated the following year.


On each side are four plaques with Chester men who served in various Vermont regiments.


"TO HER PATRIOT SONS CHESTER REARS THIS TESTIMONIAL."


The soldier sculpture is credited to Heinrich Manger and was cast at Ames Manufacturing Company foundry.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Civil War Barons


The Industrial Revolution and the technological advancements it spawned had a tremendous impact on America's fratricidal war of 1861-65. Many of those inventions that appeared in the decades preceding the war (steam powered boats and railroads, telegraphs, etc.) along with subsequent developments would be reworked in various ways to benefit armies and destroy enemies.

In Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation by Jeffry D. Wert, we receive a look at a group of some 18 men, some well known, so quite obscure, who developed ideas which helped advance the cause of the Union and paved the way for the Gilded Age. Wert provides the reader with mini-biographies of men such as Philip D. Armour of meatpacking fame; Gail Borden, who canned milk for the army; Henry Burden, a mass producer of horseshoes; railroad man Andrew Carnegie; Jay Cooke, who helped the U.S. finance the war through bonds sales; plow maker John Deere; engineer and gunboat builder James B. Eads; businessman and iron maker Abram S. Hewitt; railroader Collis P. Huntington; grain reaper inventor Cyrus McCormick; shoemaker Gordon McKay; artillery manufacturer Robert B. Parrott; railroad businessman Thomas A. Scott; repeating arms manufacturer Christopher M. Spencer; pharmacist Edward Squibb; wagon makers the Studebaker family; J. Edgar Thompson of the Pennsylvania Railroad; industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt; and lumber magnate Frederick Weyerhaeuser, but Wert also does much more. Within each of the stories of each of these men he gives us their significance to the Union cause, told in an engaging way that helps the reader see their relevance to our 21st Century lives, too.

Civil War Barons is composed of 11 chapters, ten of which cover either the men individually or in pairs: the titles,The Administrators, The Visionary, The Inventors, The Improvisers, The Patriots, The Investors, The Tinkerers, The Dreamers, The Opportunists, and The Builders, tie all of the stories together nicely. Civil War Barons only adds to Wert's fine previous works such as Mosby's Rangers and A Brotherhood of Valor, among others. His fine writing and strong research is on full display with his current study.

One cannot fully understand the impact of the Civil War by merely studying one aspect of the conflict while ignoring others. Knowing the political without the military, or the economic without the social, or any without the others leaves pieces of the puzzle missing. With Civil War Barons, Wert has provided us with another important piece of the puzzle. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Traveling Architectural Sample


One of the things that I particularly enjoy, but do not share enough of on "My Random Thoughts" is 19th century architecture. I believe that the styles that overlapped during the 1800s are some of the most beautiful homes and buildings ever created. Some are elegant, some are charmingly simple, but whether Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, or other style, or combination of styles, in my humble opinion it is tough to beat this period's designs.

The image above and those below are of buildings that I encountered in a recent round of traveling through Virginia, New York state, and Vermont. There were hundreds more that were passed by as I was driving that I wish I could have captured, but here are just a sampling of those that I found particularly beautiful.

The stone home and adjacent kitchen quarter above are at Caledonia Farm 1812, a bed and breakfast in rural Rappahannock County, Virginia. The surrounding stonewalls, grazing cattle, and changing leaves only added charm to the beautiful scenery there.
 

This elegant building was in Saratoga Springs, New York. A beautiful "main street" of commercial buildings, restaurants, shops, and homes made for a wonderful stroll.


Mid and late-19th century buildings abound in Saratoga Springs.


Some of the most simple buildings from the 1800s are among my most favorite. This restaurant is in Saratoga Springs.


Just across the street from the above building are these commercial buildings with artistic windows and ornate roof lines.


The New York Military History Museum is in the above building. It houses a fascinating collection which tells the story of New York state's military service from it earliest history to the present. The Civil War section was quite impressive, as were the World War I exhibits.


Vermont has a tremendous amount of surviving 1800s (and before) architecture. This Italianate-style home was in the quaint little town of Wallingford.


After visiting the grave of a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient in Windham, Vermont, we drove on a remote gravel road to Grafton. Along the way, and with no traffic to worry about, I stopped and took the above shot of this beautiful brick home.


Grafton, Vermont is what I have always pictured in my mind what Vermont would look like.


An historic inn and restaurant in Grafton.


This historic brick church in Grafton seems to look almost as it did when worshiped in over 150 years ago.


Another beautiful church in Grafton.


It took a little searching but we found this little covered bridge just on the edge of Grafton. 


"Ye Olde Tavern" in Manchester actually dates to the 1790s. It retains much of its period charm and offers some amazing food and great service. We were so impressed we ate there twice.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Edwin M. Stanton's leadership of the U.S. War Department was obviously successful, but beyond that I know little about the man, his background or his personality. I've found other works by William Marvel thought provoking in the arguments they offer, so I'm particularly looking forward to reading Lincoln's Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton.


A late summer vacation trip to eastern North Carolina, and sightseeing at several historical sites there, left me wanting to learn more about that region's Civil War experience. Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty and Guerrilla Violence in as Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 by Barton A. Myers is the second book about the region that I've acquired since that trip.


Michael K. Shaffer was kind enough to come to Pamplin Historical Park a few weeks ago to speak about his new book, In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry. Colley, a native of Washington County in southwestern Virginia was wounded several times during his service, his final causing the loss of his left foot. A wise man once wrote that the story of the Civil War is the story of its soldiers. One has to read their thoughts and feelings in order to understand the conflict.


I've been a fan of Jeffrey Wert's writing since I read Mosby's Rangers and A Brotherhood of Valor: the Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A. and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A., years ago. So, I was happy to get an email from Da Capo Press offering me a copy of his new book, Civil War Barons:  The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation for writing a book review for it on this forum. I'm presently reading it and have enjoyed it thoroughly. Be on the lookout for my full review soon.


For too long Northern free black communities in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois have occupied a marginal position as aids to fugitive slaves. White Quaker communities have largely occupied the historical spotlight in that role. However, with The Geography of Resistance: Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad, it appears that Cheryl Janifer LaRoche is working to correct that. Apparently, focusing on landscape features, LaRoche provides a new perspective on African American agency.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Field of Blood


The contentious nature of today's U.S. politics manifests itself in congressional spats that receive a fair share of media attention. And while things often get nasty in terms of tone, rarely do they result in acts of violence. Such was not the case in the first half of the 19th century.

Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War chronicles a number of the kerfuffles, fisticuffs, canings, and duels that resulted from political collisions on the floors of the House of Representatives and Senate in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Freeman uses Benjamin Brown French's detailed journals to provide amazing insight into the world of the period's politics. French, a New Hampshire native, who spent considerable time as the House clerk and later as a Democrat, and then Republican, Washington insider.

At the heart of so much of the hatred across the aisles was the institution of slavery. In episode after episode of violence the roots of the congressional conflicts were found in the "peculiar institution." Southerners such as Virginia's Henry Wise, South Carolina's Lawrence Keitt, North Carolina's Thomas Clingman, and Mississippi's Henry Foote used bullying techniques in attempt to intimidate those of different political persuasions. Defensiveness over the issue of slavery inflamed the passions of the various contending political parties. However, as Republicans began to rise to prominence in the late 1850s, they increasingly refused to be bullied and chose to fight back.

In The Field of Blood, Freeman gives us political giants such as John Quincy Adams and Thomas Hart Benton, while at the same time we learn about lesser known (but just as combative) figures such as Maine's Jonathan Cilley and Kentucky's William Graves, the later two of whom fought a duel in 1838. Also here are the great congressional battles such as the 1836 Gag Rule, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska territory debates. Freeman argues that congressional members' 19th century constituents expected their elected representatives to not only be their voice, but to also fight for their rights, with weapons if need be. The 1856 Brooks-Sumner episode makes a brief appearance, but probably due to that event's extensive coverage it doesn't receive a full treatment. Rather it serves as yet another example of the difference in stands Northerners and Southerners took on what slavery's role would be in the United States.

In addition to the French journals Freeman makes extensive use of period newspapers from multiple political perspectives and official congressional records. The Field of Blood reminds us that issues that divide our nation can bring out the worst in our society as well as our political representatives. And although at present our two primary political parties are fighting a war or words, at least they are not throwing haymakers on the floors and toting lethal weapons on a daily basis. I recommend it.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Ring Shout, Wheel About


This past week Megyn Kelly was in the headlines about comments she made regarding blackface as possible choice for a Halloween costume. She ultimately lost her job for those comments, and later apologized, apparently after she was informed/educated on what historically blackface/minstrel comedy entailed. Perhaps if she had read Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery by Katrina Dyonne Thompson she could have saved herself a multitude of grief.

This excellent study on how Africans during the Middle Passage, and African Americans during U.S. slavery and the rise in the popularity of minstrel shows, were commodified through the performing arts of music and dance is a true eye opener. Thorough research and persuasive writing by the author allows the reader to better understand the white and black perspectives of music and dance.

To many whites during slavery's lifetime, who viewed the enslaved as contented, submissive, and lazy, saw them through the lens of music and dance. Blacks, often being in a powerless position were forced to sing and dance for whites' entertainment enjoyment. This created a white idea that contentedness was the primary emotional state of blacks, instead of realizing that people of African descent, like all humans, have a multitude of dispositions. African Americans on the other hand viewed music and dance as two of only a few areas in their lives where they were allowed moments of self expression.

Thompson shows how whites justified enslaving Africans, defended the internal slave trade, maintained a race-based social order, and hid the brutal reality of the "peculiar institution" by focusing on blacks' artistic expression in these art forms. On the other hand, music and dance were ways for African Americans to retain some of their ancestral traditions and develop new community bonds.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is that on minstrelsy. Thompson's discussion on minstrelsy shows clearly how blackface performances set most whites' (especially northerners with limited exposure to blacks), perceptions of blackness. Minstrelsy literally took individuality away from blacks and encouraged a stereotypical image of lazy, submissive, and hedonistic personalities.

This book should be read by every U.S. citizen. I think doing so would help people to see how we have developed our images of race in America, starting with our earliest history. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Just Finished Reading - No Freedom Shrieker


No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom, edited by Katherine M. Aldridge is an amazing collection of letters. In fact, they are among the best common soldier letters that I've ever read. Found in a box in a New York state barn by the editor they provide a perspective we do not often get.

Charles Biddlecom was a early enlistee, signing up in the 28th New York in the spring of 1861. Poor health, particularly rheumatism, helped Charles receive a discharge in the fall of 1861. However, he was drafted into the 147th New York in the summer in 1863. As a conscript, his views of the army and his situation was probably not unique. While he certainly felt a responsibility to maintain his honor and fulfill his obligation, he was hoping for another medical discharge. And, he absolutely refused to consider deserting although others were doing so.

Suffering from the hardships of army life in the post-Gettysburg Army of the Potomac, Biddlecom rode the ebbs and flows of soldering during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns. Like all of us, he had good days and bad days, steady-even days and frustratingly-odd days. What makes Biddlecom's letters so intriguing is that he shares pretty much anything and everything with his wife Ester, or Es as he often calls her. It is as if he feels an obligation to fill up each and every sheet of paper with news of his life as that is his only means of communication with his wife and their children. Biddlecom does not give the reader the impression that he had real tight comrade relationships; perhaps another reason he shares so much in his writing. These situations are to the benefit of the modern student, as he includes so much about his soldier experience for us to learn from.

Despite ultimately voting for Lincoln in the 1864 election, largely because he cannot stand the peace Democrat "Copperheads" backing McClellan, Biddlecom is not a fan of "Old Abe." He thinks that Lincoln does not prosecute the war at an aggressive enough rate in the fall of 1863 and hopes for a Fremont Republican ticket in the fall of 1864. When that is not realized he goes with Lincoln.

Biddlecom's brigade and the 147th (5th Corps) have a conspicuous role in the Battle of Weldon Railroad, of which he is particularly proud, but he is at his best in writing out his thoughts when he has time in camp between battles. In one of my favorite passages he ponders the symbolism of his old uniform coat. "I drew a new blouse today and I wish I could send my old coat home, for I think a great deal of it as I have worn it throughout the campaign. I should like to save it as a souvenir of the hard fought battles of the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Petersburg. I should like to keep it with all its dust, samples of soil from Culpeper to this place. 'Tis not much of a coat now, the skirts torn and ragged, and it is sadly ripped under the arms. Still, as I look at it as it hangs on the butt of my musket, I think more of it than I ever did of any article of dress I ever owned in my life before. Sadly, like everything else I suppose, it will, as Mother says sometimes, 'go the wayof all earthly things.' That is to dust and faith. The old coat's journey will not be a long one, for the sun and dust have already turned it dark blue to a dingy kind of nondescript mud color. Isn't this lots to say just about an old coat?" Now, isn't that amazing insight into a soldiers world of thoughts? Yes, indeed!

This book is a must read for students of the common Civil War soldier. Rarely do we get such insight into what a conscripted soldier thinks and feels in the last year and a half of the war. I can't recommend it enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Just Finished Reading - A Fierce Glory


For decades the Battle of Gettysburg, the so-called "highwater mark of the Confederacy" was viewed by many historians as "the" turning point in the Civil War. However, over the last twenty-five years or so the Battle of Antietam has largely replaced Gettysburg as "the main" turning point in the conflict, if one has to chose one specific event.

Antietam, or the Battle of Sharpsburg, as it is often referred to by those with Southern leanings, has received its fair share of historical scholarship. Some of the subject's best researchers and writers have taken on Antietam - James McPherson, Stephen Sears, and Gary Gallagher, among others, have produced either books or collections of essays on the battle or parts of it.


A Fierce Glory: Antietam-The Desparate Battle that Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery by Justin Martin is a welcome addition to the works that have preceded it. Martin, no stranger to the Civil War-era, tells the story of Antietam, from the slug fest in Cornfield to the battles for Burnside's Bridge and the Bloody Lane, to A.P. Hill's timely arrival from Harpers Ferry, in a see-saw manner and with such descriptive detail that it almost places the reader among the terrifying action. In fact, the primary strength of A Fierce Glory is how this story is told. For example, on pages 49 and 50, Martin writes: "The Hagerstown Pike ran along one side of the cornfield. It was just an ordinary country road. On this morning, it became a ferociously contested demarcation, both sides struggling to keep the other from crossing. Never mind that hoary whites of their eyes; pupils dilated in terror must have been nearly visible as the soldiers fired across the road, sometimes trading bullets over a space of less than 100 feet." Martin's ability to paint word pictures is second to none.


Another strong point of the book is how Martin contextualizes the battle by telling its associative stories. President Lincoln's mourning of son Willie, Clara Barton's courage and Jonathan Letterman's medical advancements, Alexander Gardner capturing images for Matthew Brady, and of course, the Emancipation Proclamation as a product of the fight, and other people, places, and events figure prominently into and benefit the narrative.


While Martin could have explored some of the less familiar soldiers' stories by diving deeper into available primary sources instead of relying so heavily on secondary sources, the highly descriptive way he tells many of the stories breaths new life into them.


Calling a book a "page turner" has become rather cliche, but in this case it sincerely fits. I recommend A Fierce Glory, particularly to new students of the Civil War, as its literary pull is sure to make it an influential book for years to come.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Lincoln's Loyalists


Although Southern Unionism is a relatively new niche interest for me, I'm finding that some scholars have been exploring the topic for quite a while. Published in 1992, Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy by Richard Nelson Current is one of those early studies.

Most Civil War students are aware that Tennessee (particularly East Tennessee) produced thousands of soldiers for the Union army. Similarly, Western Virginia (eventually to become West Virginia) was also a stronghold of Unionism. Examination of each of these two states serve as Current's first two chapters. 

Current's third chapter looks at Unionism in North Carolina (mainly in the western Mountains and in coastal areas under early Union occupation), and in Arkansas. The book's fourth chapter explores the units raised in other seceded states. Current finds that every Confederate state, except South Carolina, raised at least a battalion of white troops that served in the Union army. In total an estimated 100,000 white men from seceded states served in the Union army. That figure was an enormous double negative for the Confederacy. Not only were they taking away manpower from the South, they were adding strength to the Union army. 

Current's other four chapters focus on those men who initially fought for the Confederacy but ended up fighting for the Union. Often referred to as "galvanized Yankees," most often these men were sent to areas where they were not expected to fight against their former comrades. "What Manner of Men," the sixth chapter, is a look at traits of Southern Unionism, and the seventh chapter examines the fighting effectiveness of Southern Unionist regiments. The final chapter, "Unknown Soldiers," shows possibly why Southern Unionists contributions have been previously overlooked, and also makes a strong case for telling the important place they should have in future Civil War scholarship. 

I highly recommend this book to those seeking to gain a stronger understanding on this particular subject.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tell Your Senators That You Support Battlefield Preservation


I received an email from the American Battlefield Trust (formerly Civil War Trust) with an opportunity to let your elected representatives know that you support battlefield preservation.

The ABT makes it easy to participate with a form letter sent electronically. Once you've sent it, share the opportunity with others on your social media outlets.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


My book purchasing has slowed somewhat this past month as my "to be read" shelf is groaning under the weight of other books. Regardless, I've managed to pick up three books that promise to be good reads.

I came across The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War while reading a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine. I've always been fascinated by the Brooks-Sumner affair in 1856, and I'm sure this book will include a plethora of others to show how violent clashes could be in Congress in the first half of the 19th century.


Denmark Vesey's Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy is a book that has been getting quite a bit of buzz on several social media outlets. It focuses on Charleston, South Carolina and looks into how slavery has been remembered in the city. The horrific church shooting there in 2012 reminds us that the legacy of slavery and thus race still resonates strongly, not just in Charleston, but across the United States.


I recently received an email from the publisher offering a copy of Justin Martin's A Fierce Glory: Antietam - The Desperate Battle that Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery in exchange for writing a book review for it on this forum. Never one to pass up a free book, especially one that covers such a seemingly intriguing angle on the most costly single day of fighting in United States history, I accepted. Be on the lookout for the review. It should be posted in two or three weeks.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Slavery in the Clover Bottoms


I've been a big fan of the University of Tennessee Press's "Voices of the Civil War" series for years. Their concerted effort to put in print the diaries, journals, and memoirs of often not-so-famous people from the Civil War era allows us to have these vital primary sources in a readily accessible form. Slavery in the Clover Bottoms: John McCline's Narrative of His Life during Slavery and the Civil War, edited by Jan Furman, only adds another important perspective to the ever-growing series. 

John McCline, born on Clover Bottom plantation in Davidson County, Tennessee, and owned by James Hoggatt, gives us vivid memories of his enslaved childhood. McCline's mother died when he was very young and his father lived on another plantation. McCline lived with his grandmother and brothers at Clover Bottom where he was made to work years before he should have. In 1862, when McCline was about 10 years old, he observed the 13th Michigan Infantry marching by Clover Bottom. One of the 13th's soldiers, Frank Murray, asked McCline how he would like to go with them to the North and gain his freedom. McCline answered in the affirmative by hopping off of his master's mule and joining the Michigan men on the march. Eventually young McCline became a teamster for the regiment and participated in their campaigns which included Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga (where Frank Murray was mortally wounded), Chattanooga, and Sherman's March to the Sea. 

Although McCline penned his history in his later years and his detail oriented descriptions were sometimes off the mark in chronology and in the directional (north, south, east, west) locations of buildings and other landmarks, he nevertheless gives an amazing look at one man's experience when enslaved and his efforts to gain his liberty by being the agent of his freedom. Cruel treatment by Mrs. Hoggatt and the plantation's overseer, although not expressly stated by McCline as his reason for fleeing with the Michigan soldiers was likely the precipitating cause. 

The editor's end notes help familiarize the reader with both historical context and corrections to McCline's few misremembered moments. Appendices provide additional information on a number of the 13th Michigan soldiers and the Clover Bottom slaves that McCline mentions in his history, as well as his several obituaries from his death in 1948. 

Narratives from formerly enslaved people are becoming more and more available to the public, and McCline's certainly adds another important "voice of the Civil War." I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

154 Years Ago Today - The Battle of New Market Heights


154 years ago today the horrific battle of New Market Heights was fought just southeast of Richmond, Virginia. Recently I wrote a short piece for work that was included in the "Behind the Scenes at Pamplin" series published in our local Petersburg Progress Index newspaper.

"Vindicated in Death" tells the tragic story of Capt. Charles V. York of Company B of the 6th United States Colored Infantry. The 6th, along with the 4th, was part of the brigade of Stephen Duncan. Duncan's Brigade kicked off the assault that September 29, 1864 morning and received the severest punishment.

Lt. Nathan Edgerton, Sgt. Maj. Thomas Hawkins, and Sgt. Alexander Kelly, three Medal of Honor recipients in the 6th USCI are depicted in the painting above, "Three Medals of Honor," by artist Don Troiani.

Lest we forget!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Zooming in on Scouts at City Point


I've shared a few City Point, Virginia, Civil War photographic images over the past couple of months. These shots give students of the Petersburg Campaign a much better idea of the hustle and bustle surrounding the Army of the Potomac's supply base. This image is titled "City Point, Virginia. Scouts at Secret Service headquarters."

So were these men spies of sorts? Perhaps so. If so, imagine the adventures they had, the risks they took, and the stories they could tell of their ventures behind enemy lines gathering critical information.

The photograph prominently shows a group of four men, but zooming in on parts of the image lets us see many more details.


Two African American men dominate the foreground. They sit on logs, elbows on knees, while looking at the photographer. Both wear boots and civilian style slouch hats. They do not appear to have military apparel, as the man on the left looks to be wearing a civilian-style frock coat, while the man on the right appears to have on a civilian sack coat.


Zooming in on the man on the left's face, one can see his features, including his eyes, more clearly under the shade of his hat brim. He looks to be wearing a cravat, too.


Just behind the two seated men are two standing men. They are about as different from each other as possible. The man on the left is fully dressed, has a hat on, and sports a beard. The man on the right has his baggy trousers tucked into his boots, stands in his undershirt, and does not have a hat on. He is also clean shaven. The only thing these two seem to have in common is that they are both standing about as stiff as possible; probably taking a cue from the photographer to stand still while the image processes.
  

Looking closely, a line of railroad boxcars is visible through the tree branches in the left center of the image. These cars were part of the vital United States Military Railroad. 


The railroad line continues to the right center of the photograph where a flatbed car appears in front of a warehouse. The rail line runs right to the wharf where a side-wheel steamboat with protruding smoke stack sits in either the James or Appomattox River.


I seem to run into a curiosity in each of these "zooming in" shots. Are the cords tied to the tree branches something as simple as a clothes line or are they for something more significant?


In between the two standing men, and further in the background, one can see several lines or railroad tracks, a man standing with his hands in his pockets, and what appears to be an ambulance wagon. Other than the "U.S." on the top line, I am not able to make out the other words. Does anyone have a clue as to what type of conveyance this truly is?