Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Letters From the Storm

Not all Civil War soldier's letter collections are created equal. Some have greater value for their candidness, some have greater value for their variety of subject matter, and some have greater value for their clarity in writing. Letters From the Storm: The Intimate Civil War Letters of Lt. J. A. H. Foster, 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Linda Foster Arden and edited by Walter L. Powell is of great value for all of the above, and more.

I first heard about Foster's collection of letters while attending the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute last summer when Peter Carmichael referred to to them in his excellent talk about common Civil War soldiers. Letters from the Storm is made up of just over 100 letters written by Lt. Foster spanning from October 1862 to April 1865. Also included are a handful of other letters from family members, including Foster's wife Mary Jane, and family friends. It is sad that more letters do not survive from Mary Jane to get her thoughts and perspective on the home front.

Foster, a 28 year old husband, and relatively new father, hailed from Rural Village, Pennsylvania, in the western part of the state. The 155th was part of the Army of the Potomac's V Corps. The regiment was organized in September 1862 and barely missed out the fight at Antietam, but participated in Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (where Foster was wounded at Little Round Top), the brutal Overland Campaign, and the Petersburg Campaign.

Much of Foster's letters contain the subjects that many soldiers discussed: food, clothing, footwear, shelter, army politics, campaigning, and health issues, among many others. However, in at least one aspect, Foster's letters differ greatly from the majority of soldier's writings that have survived. This is probably due to the fact the Foster never intended for his letters to be read by anyone other than Mary Jane. In many of Foster's letters he covertly (but not too covertly) mentions his desire for sexual intimacy with his wife. He does so most of time through code names for his and Mary Jane's private parts, but occasionally he gets very descriptive about his desires and in sharing intimate thoughts. It makes one reading these thoughts and emotions of now dead people think twice if they are not intruding into this couple's private sphere. I honestly felt a little guilty for reading some of the letters.

Other concerns that dominate Foster's writings are his disdain for his company captain's perceived incompetency, his attempt to receive a first lieutenant's commission, his desire for information on his infant son Ira, and his efforts to gain an army role away from combat. Foster was eventually successful with the later goal in that he was detached to serve guard duty for the V Corps hospital at City Point beginning in December 1864 through the end of the war, thus missing V Corps spring fights at White Oak Road, Five Forks, and the Appomattox Campaign.

Letters from the Storm is a superb collection of letters that give us insights into soldier actions and emotions we do not normally get. And while these letters between husband and wife were not intended for our eyes, we are fortunate they have survived to show that perhaps, in some ways, people of the Civil War era were not so different from us 150 years later. I highly recommend Letters From the Storm.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

During my 30 years or so of collecting books on the Civil War era, I've made it a goal to gather and read primary source collections. And, I've tried to find those expressing various perspectives to help me gain a fuller understanding of how our nation's defining moment impacted the people at that time. That trend continues with the majority of my newest acquisitions.

I have the diaries, and thus thoughts, of at least two other East Tennessee Confederate women in my library (Ellen Renshaw House and Myra Inman), but the experience of the war there is so interesting due to the politically divided nature of population, which was heavily Unionist in sentiment, yet in a seceded state. Eliza Fain's words appear in numerous scholarly studies from many of the top historians of this period, but now I have the opportunity to read her thoughts in context for myself. I found a copy on a temporary sale through the University of Tennessee Press for a steal. Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fair, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee looks to be a true treasure.

I appreciate William Marvel's often contrarian approach to history. His works poke and prod us to think differently about people, places and events of the past; whether we accept his conclusions or not. I bought his Andersonville: The Last Depot largely in attempt to hopefully mine his sources for links to Petersburg Campaign captures in effort to help me explore incidents in my own research. I'm sure this study, in one way or another, will challenge my previous notions about the Confederacy's most notorious prisoner of war camp.

I've enjoyed Stephanie McCurry's books since first reading her Masters of Small Worlds in graduate school. A few years ago, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, really opened my eyes to the unexpected power and political agency that those who did not have the vote (women and slaves) ultimately exerted on Confederate officials. Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War appears to follow a similar vein as Confederate Reckoning in that McCurry makes sure that women do return to the shadows of the conflict.

I first heard about Letters from the Storm: The Intimate Civil War Letters of Lt. J. A. H. Foster, 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers from Peter Carmichael at last year's Gettysburg College Civil War Institute while he was speaking about his then forthcoming book The War for the Common Soldier. I just finished reading this fascinating collection of letters and will be sharing a review on here soon, so for now I won't say more.

Another collection of letters involving a spousal relationship are found in This Infernal War: The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard, edited by Timothy Mason Roberts. With this couple we get yet another intriguing perspective, that of Illinois Copperheads. Fascinating! I can't wait to delve into the sea of subjects this couple must have discussed.

Happy reading!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"The Prisoners at Andersonville"

The above little story ran in the August 20, 1864, issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. During the Petersburg Campaign, many captured Union soldiers were sent to prisoner of war camps at Andersonville, Georgia, Salisbury, North Carolina, and Florence, South Carolina.

As this article shows, the thousands of captures around Petersburg and Richmond during the first three or four of Grant's offensives swelled the POW populations, particularly at Andersonville. More were added daily. The estimated 30,000 Union inmates deep in Confederate territory raised concerns not only about the large numbers of Confederates it took to guard them, but also the expense of feeding such a large incarcerated population.

I recently bought William Marvel's Andersonville: The Last Depot in hopes of perhaps finding some good primary sources about Petersburg Campaign captures to examine. I also hope to learn more about this notorious POW camp. Another book, one that I read not so long ago and that promises some primary accounts is Lorien Foote's Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy. I think I remember her mentioning some Petersburg Campaign prisoners in it, but I wasn't focused on this specific research topic at the time and could be wrong. I have it in my library and will be re-browsing it, if not rereading it. 

It would have been interesting for the editor or author of the Daily Dispatch article to have given their recommendation on what to do with the situation. If I am not mistaken, at this time the prisoner of war exchange system was in abeyance due to the Confederacy's unwillingness to recognize African American men as legitimate soldiers, thus not willing to trade United States Colored Troops soldiers equally for white Confederate soldiers. It seems to me that building additional prisoner of war camps would have been time consuming, expensive, and would also have required guards to man them. Unless the exchange system could get moving again, there was little hope of relieving the pressure on resources caused by Union prisoners of war. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

"An Incident"

On August 25, 1864, the Richmond Daily Dispatch ran a story gained from the Petersburg Express. It notes, "An Incident," that occurred during the Battle of Weldon Railroad (aka Globe Tavern, August 18-21).

In this brief story, two privates from the 12th Virginia Infantry incorporate a degree of guile to capture two Union officers (a captain and a lieutenant) and 25 privates. The article claims that the two Confederates marched their captives in "double file to a stronger guard." Apparently the more numerous prisoners were chagrined at the turn of events and at being tricked by their two captors.

There is little doubt this event actually happened. The existence of the 12th Virginia privates that are mentioned, "George W. May, company A, and _____ Miles, company B" are corroborated with their extant service records. May had been a prisoner of war himself, captured in the fighting the first day of Chancellorsville. Perhaps he learned something from his experience as a prisoner. "______ Miles" looks to be Alexander M. Miles of Company B. Before the Overland Campaign, Miles served on detached duty with the provost guard at Orange Courthouse, Virginia, so perhaps, he too knew something about the world of prisoners.

When the war began it was often mentioned (sometimes by both sides), but especially by the Confederates, that "one Southern man could whip 10 Yankees." Was the newspaper's purpose in publishing this positive-news story meant to boost Confederate morale and provide evidence of the old claim? Or was it just a positive-new story space filler?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Just Finished Reading - General Lee's Immortals

Published brigade studies have appeared since the end of the Civil War, and they have remained fairly popular forms of understanding the conflict ever since. Early works such as J. F. J Caldwell's History of a Brigade of South Carolinians chronicled the Gregg/McGowan Brigade, and Ed Porter Thompson's History of the Orphan Brigade set a rather high standard for such unit studies. In more modern times, James I. Robertson's The Stonewall Brigade; Alan T. Nolan's The Iron Brigade: A Military History; Jeffrey Wert's A Brotherhood of Valor, a comparative study of the Stonewall and Iron Brigades; Earl J. Hess's Lee's Tar Heels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade; and Susannah Ural's Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit have all added significantly to our understanding of these units.

Joining the recent brigade studies front is Michael C. Hardy's General Lee's Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865. Having an ancestor who fought in the 37th North Carolina, and working at the historic site where Lane's Brigade defended the Petersburg line the last week of the campaign, I was excited to see this book published last year. I was also happy to have Mr. Hardy comes to the Park to speak about the book during out 2018 Breakthrough Anniversary weekend. I purchased a copy of the book at that time, and a couple of weeks ago finally took it off my "to be read shelf." I should have done so much sooner.

This often overlooked Army of Northern Virginia brigade (7th, 18th, 28th, 33rd, and 37th North Carolina Infantry regiments) was a premier fighting force for Lee. They proved themselves over and over in some of the ANV's hardest contests. Among earlier contests they battled at Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, lost their brigadier, Lawrence Branch at Sharpsburg, experienced hard times at Fredericksburg, had the misfortune of shooting Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, participated in the third day charge at Gettysburg, fought desperately to stave Union attacks at Spotsylvania, and defended Petersburg until their lines were shattered early on the morning of April 2, 1865. The military history contained in General Lee's Immortals is a solid and balanced treatment in relation to the tactical successes and failures of the brigade. Nice maps by Hal Jesperson, along with period photographs of many of the individuals described in the text, and having footnotes on the actual pages of the citations were all nice inclusions, too.

However, what I personally enjoyed most about General Lee's Immortals were those chapters that often came between the chapters on battles and campaigns. Chapters on "Brigade Medical Care," "Daily Camp Life," "The Plight of the Prisoner," and "Crime and Punishment," all get to the heart of what the men of the Branch-Lane Brigade experienced in the environments and situations where they spent the majority of their time while in the army. Hardy's deep research is present in these chapters.

One aspect that I wished would have received more coverage was a deeper look into the socioeconomic status of the men that comprised the Branch-Lane Brigade. They came from diverse geographical communities of the Old North State, from the western mountains to the northern border region to the southeast coast, and places in between. It would be fascinating to see how their class status and association of slaveholding family ties potentially influenced their enlistments and sustained commitment to the cause of secession.

Regardless, General Lee's Immortals fills a void in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia studies in particular and Civil War history at large that had existed for too long. It is well done and I recommend it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Arrival of Prisoners

During my research, I've been somewhat surprised by how much attention the Confederate press gave to covering news about Union prisoners during the Petersburg Campaign. It is especially interesting that they often chose to share the names and regiments of some of the captured commissioned officers.

The above short article appeared in the October 4, 1864, edition of the Richmond Enquirer. It noted the large number of prisoners captured during Grant's Fifth Offensive both in fighting at Peebles Farm (1500 according to this account), and New Market Heights/Fort Harrison (apparently 52).

Almost every time that Gen. Grant made an offensive move in attempt to capture Confederate supply routes or gain additional ground on which to dig in and thus spread the Southerners thinner, the Confederates counterattacked. When the Rebels reacted, they often did so with fierce determination, smashing Federal lines of battle and nabbing hundreds of Union soldiers.

The handful of officers listed here belonged largely to two divisions of the IX Corps (here the 51st New York, 45th Pennsylvania, 58th Massachusetts), who along with two divisions of the V Corps and Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg cavalry division (here the 24th New York Cavalry, 2nd New York Mounted Infantry, 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry) made the offensive at Peebles Farm on September 30, 1864. Maj. Gen. Henry Heth's Confederates counterattacked and pitched into the IX Corps, capturing large numbers.

Did losing large numbers of prisoners in his offensives hinder Grant's Petersburg operations? Would Grant have waged an Overland Campaign at Petersburg if had had the manpower? Hmmmmmm.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Looming Civil War

Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth Century Americans Imagined the Future by Jason Phillips is unlike any other history book I've read. In this unique study Phillips shows us that a host of factors influenced how people anticipated the coming of the Civil War. By examining diverse personalities, emerging technologies, ideas, religious beliefs, and even material culture items, we get a better understanding of the ways that race, gender, section, and age affected how people of this era viewed the future.

While "memory studies" have proliferated since about 2000, Phillips may have just opened a new whole new branch of Civil War scholarship to explore. At the very least Phillips has given us a new way of thinking about the coming of the conflict.

Through the lens of "anticipation" or "expectation" people of the nineteenth century came to grips with their rapidly changing world. Phillips explains that those who "anticipated" the future were those who believed in active agency. Those that "expected" the future saw that events ahead were determined by Providence, and in His due time.

To explain these viewpoints Phillips uses several historical figures, many of whom were either active or peripheral participants in the John Brown Harpers Ferry Raid drama. One person that gets a significant spotlight is Henry Clay Pate. Virginian Pate battled John Brown in Kansas, lost his bowie knife to the militant abolitionist and Brown turned the symbolism of Pate's knife into his own tool for change as he had it serve as the model for his famous pikes. Somewhat similarly, arch-secessionist Edmund Ruffin sought to use John Brown's pikes as a propaganda tool to encourage slave state governors to at least consider a break from the Union for a better future. Before the war Ruffin also produced a novel, "Anticipations of the Future," which foretold of a civil war, in several aspects eerily similar to that which eventually came about.

In addition, by examining how many nineteenth-century Americans viewed how the Civil War would unfold, Phillips challenges the traditionally popular "short war myth." Much of the evidence that Phillips presents shows that numerous Americans, both North and South, saw a future internal conflict as a long, dark, determined, devastating, cataclysmic event; much opposed to the brief 90-day, military lark we have all read about.

Looming Civil War is an important new work to the field. Its approaches, especially those of using the symbolism of period material culture items, and viewing the past through a forward-looking lens is sure to have an impact on Civil War scholarship, and one us museum professionals will certainly appreciate. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Heavy Influx of Yankees

In my continuing search for source information on prisoners of war taken during the Petersburg Campaign, I located the two news articles, above and below, in the August 22 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. These soldiers, captured during the Battle of Globe Tavern (aka Weldon Railroad) belonged primarily to the V and IX Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren and Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, respectively. 

Interestingly, a few of the regiments listed here with the officers' names appear to have been defunct by the time of the Petersburg Campaign. For example, the 2nd Pennsylvania is listed here a few times, but it was apparently a 90-day regiment who mustered out in July 1861. Also, the 4th New York, who mustered out in May 1863. Did these Union officers give their Confederate captors false information? I'm not sure.

However, armed with this information, I hope that as I search through some of these names, that I am fortunate enough to come across at least a few personal accounts recorded by these officers. In addition, perhaps, their accounts will lead me to others made by their enlisted men when captured. Regardless, it is an encouraging first step toward personalizing the experience of being taken prisoner of war during the Petersburg Campaign. Wish me luck in my search!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Iron Dawn

I've fallen a little behind in reporting my thoughts on a few books that I've read recently, but I'll try to get caught up over the coming weekend.

Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History by Richard Snow is quite the entertaining and informative read. The story of how these ironclads came into being in the first place and then how they waged war on one another is something that every student of the Civil War needs to be familiar with. However, land actions seem to predominate enthusiasts' interests over naval actions. I know that has been the case for me. Books like Snow's though, may convert more naval fans.

One of the things that fascinates me so much about this historical incident is the different designs that each belligerent chose to construct. For example, the Confederates transformed a captured Union vessel into a two-sided floating fortress. Although it proved to be more difficult to maneuver and required deeper water, the Merrimack (aka CSS Virginia-more on that below) was a formidable weapon, especially when equipped with a specially designed ram. The Union's Monitor, a smaller ship that sat low in the water with basically only the center circular turret showing above the water was an ideal naval weapon. It navigated better than its adversary and its revolving turret allowed a faster range of motion instead of having to turn the whole ship to get in good shots.

When I first read this book's title I wondered why Snow chose to call the the Confederate ship by its former Union name. But the author's argument is quite interesting and well fashioned.

This book is a true pleasure to read, and while it is always disappointing when an author or publisher (whoever decides those things) chooses to not incorporate citations (especially for its quotes), and thus somewhat compromises the credibility of the work, I found few obvious errors, But then again, I'm a naval novice. I recommend Iron Dawn to those looking to find a gateway drug into Civil War naval studies. I know I'll be looking to learn more about the "war on the waters" in the near future.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

A book that is receiving a significant amount of social media buzz is James J. Broomall's Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers. How did Southern men navigate the emotional rollercoasters that were secession, war, and Reconstruction? This much anticipated study provides the answers. Fortunately, I happened across a 40% off sale on the UNC Press website and snagged a softcover copy.

Another UNC Press book that I've had on  my wishlist since I first heard about it is Larry J. Daniel's Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed. I will be reading it very soon for a published book review. My western theater reading has dropped off since moving back to Virginia four years ago, so this will be  a nice return visit to where my fascination with the Civil War began so many years ago. I've enjoyed Daniel's other books on Army of Tennessee subjects, and honestly, I can't think of a better person to write this particular book.

If I've said it once at work, I've said it a thousand times: the reason we know so much about Civil War soldiers is because they wrote so much . . . and it didn't hurt that their letters weren't censored. I can't get enough of reading "dead people's mail." It is so fascinating! With Christopher Hager's I Remain Yours: Common Lives in Civil War Letters we get even more glimpses into the worlds of folks from the mid-nineteenth century who were trying to make sense of the separation and loss caused by the Civil War. This should be a fantastic read!

Along with Civil War navies, another significant gap in my Civil War knowledge is how the war played out in eastern North Carolina. Coming to the rescue is Hampton Newsome's The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864. I consider myself fortunate to have discussed research topics with Hampton and sincerely respect his research and writing. He was kind enough to give me a complementary copy for my library. In my opinion, his book, Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, is one of the top five books about the Petersburg Campaign. I'm sure The Fight for the Old North State will follow suit. If you haven't read Hampton's books, you need to.

Another intriguing title that I picked up through the recent UNC Press 40% off sale is Steven M. Stowe's Keep the Days: Reading the Civil War Diaries of Southern Women. Similar to letter writing, composing diary entries helped the authors get their inner-most thoughts out of their heads and onto paper. However, what we get from diaries and those that maintained them are usually different takes than even letter writers. Diarists usually believed no one but themselves would be reading their thoughts, so we get much more honest thoughts and feelings. Stowe uses a number of familiar diaries from Southern women during the Civil War to help us better understand their experiences.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Two Thousand Prisoners Captured

In looking for the evidence of the large numbers of prisoners taken during the Petersburg Campaign and what effect it had, I imagined it would be largely practical. It stands to reason that with great losses in manpower, it limited the belligerents' ability to wage war, particularly offensive operations. More sources may indeed bear that out. However, I also suspected that both sides drew inspiration from taking in large numbers of the enemy.

The above brief article seems to bear out the positive intangible effect that taking large numbers of Union prisoners had on Confederate morale and resolve. This article, published in the August 20, 1864 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch came during the middle of the Battle of Globe Tavern or Weldon Railroad (Aug. 18-21).

Capturing 2000 prisoners from Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren's V Corps prompted the author to speculate that losing such quantities would damage Gen. Grant's reputation and thus increase interest in the Democratic Party leading up to their nominating convention in Chicago. Following a slippery slope line of thinking, the author believed that rising Democratic support, based on a peace platform, would "hasten the close of the war," and bring Confederate independence.

The author seemingly ignored the progress that the Army of the Potomac had made toward capturing Petersburg by that point, and that Gen. Sherman was virtually knocking on Atlanta's door. Perhaps brushing aside such obvious facts only shows the powerful effect gobbling up large numbers of Union prisoners had on maintaining Confederate hopes for ultimate success. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Pleased at the Prospect?

Yesterday, while browsing through 1864 issues of the Richmond Daily Dispatch, in search of stories about Union prisoners during the Petersburg Campaign, I happened across the above short article.

One has to take its claim with a healthy dose of skepticism. It states that three slaves: Reuben, Ben, and Nelson, were "recaptured" from Union troops. This notice appeared in the August 24, 1864 edition, and explains that they were recovered "from the Yankees on the north side of the James river," Their capture likely happened during the fighting or its aftermath at Second Deep Bottom, which occurred at roughly that time.

The little story doesn't tell us how they ended up in the Union army's hands in the first place. Were they scooped up and impressed as the Northerners went through King William County, or did they run away from their owners when an opportunity appeared to abscond to freedom?

The author claims that, "They seem much pleased at the prospect of again being placed under the fostering care and protection of their owners." A dubious statement at best. What did he think slaves would say or act like if they were caught by their previous owners. They were probably going to do anything possible to regain any favor they had lost from running away. Slave owners and pro-slavery advocates, however, didn't take the time to consider the perspective of the enslaved.

More likely was the case that I came across a few days ago while reading The Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth Century Americans Imagined the Future by Jason Phillips. On page 159, he writes: "In the spring of 1863, John Washington found freedom in Falmouth, Virginia, when cannon fire disrupted breakfast at the hotel where he worked. A Confederate cavalryman dashed into the room and reported the Yankees were coming. 'In less time than it takes me to Write these lines, every White Man was out the house,' Washington recalled. He and a group of African Americans went to the riverside, where they heard Union marching bands playing on the opposite bank. Union guards spotted them and crossed the river in a boat. When soldiers asked them about the whereabouts of the rebel army, Washington presented them with Confederate newspapers. 'I told them I was most happy to See them all that I had been looking for them for a long time.' The soldiers assured him that he was free and could find work in their camp serving some of their officers. That night Washington realized he 'had truly Escaped from the hands of the Slaves Masters and With the help of God, I never Would be a Slave no more.' He anticipated claiming every dollar earned by his labor and felt that 'Life had a new joy awaiting me.'"

Perhaps, Reuben, Ben, and Nelson were all actually rescued from Union army impressment, and perhaps there were truly glad to be reunited with their former masters. If so, their case was certainly in the minority. Far more were the situations like that of John Washington. Regardless, this little story provides an intriguing perspective of how Southerners viewed the paternalistic relationship between the enslaved and their owners.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Help Save Land at the Petersburg Breakthrough, and Other Sites

I don't make too many appeals on this forum, but like the preacher's occasional appeal to the congregation, I feel a certain obligation to ask for your generosity to help accomplish a great good.

The American Battlefield Trust (ABT) is asking for donations to help save acreage at the Petersburg Breakthrough. Not only is this small sliver of land part of the April 2, 1865 actions, it was battled over on the March 25, 1864 Jones Farm fighting, as well as the October 1, 1864 engagement that spilled over from Peebles Farm.

In addition, and along with this appeal, is the opportunity to help save land from development at Reams Station, another Petersburg Campaign location, and at Champion's Hill, Mississippi, and Jackson, Tennessee.

Can you give up buying a book or other small purchase this month to dig into your pockets and find $25.00 (or more) and send to the good folks at ABT to save these precious acres?