Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Fighting Ranges at Peebles Farm, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 1864

The peaceful and quiet fields that extend south from the Hart Farm in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, were anything but tranquil during the afternoon of October 2, 1864. The operations that culminated in the engagement on this piece of ground began two days earlier and is popularly known as the Battle of Peebles Farm; part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifth Offensive in the Petersburg Campaign.

After two days of battle, which resulted in significant gains in territory by the Union’s V and IX Corps, Grant wished for more. September 30 and October 1 witnessed a strong push north from around Poplar Springs Church (today’s Sharon Baptist Church), then up Squirrel Level Road through the Peebles Farm. The continued thrust north up Church Road nabbed Confederate Fort Archer and pushed on to the adjoining farms of John Pegram and Albert W. Boisseau, and right up to the Robert H. Jones farmhouse.

Joining the fray on October 2 were brigades of Gen. Gersham Mott’s Division of the II Corps. Instead of traveling north with the V and IX Corps, they moved west toward Duncan Road, and hopefully the Boydton Plank Road beyond, to test if defenses protected these routes. Opposing them were Confederate cavalry led by Col. Joel R. Griffin, who fell back to the line of earthworks recently under construction through the Hart Farm. William McRae’s North Carolina brigade of infantry soon relieved the horsemen at the works.

Around noon, Brig. Gen. B. R. Pierce developed his brigade into a reconnaissance in force to test the defenders. At 2:00 p.m., led by Lt. Col. George Zinn of the 84th Pennsylvania, the brigade formed up in line of battle about 200 yards or so from the works in a shallow ravine of Reedy Branch. At 3:00 p.m. the charge went forward toward the Confederate works at the Hart House. The Confederates replied with fierce fire from McRae’s infantry defenders and artillery from Ellett’s Virginia Battery. Zinn soon determined that the effort was futile without risking great loss of life and ordered his men to retire. The brief assault resulted in the Union brigade losing 5 men killed, 49 wounded, and 14 missing; most of whom were probably captured. Among the wounded was Zinn; hit in the right leg. Zinn’s 84th comrade, Capt. J. J. Wirsing, initially presumed dead in the attack, actually became a prisoner. McRae reported no losses on October 2.

Convinced the Confederate defenses were too strong to risk another assault, Mott withdrew back to the Peebles Farm line. There the Federals started digging in to ensure they kept the valuable ground they had gained in the three-day battle.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Lighting the Way


We take much for granted in our modern age. Today, for example, lighting is an expected reality. Only when the electrical power goes down do we start looking for a backup plan to see at night. Certainly, the mid-nineteenth century was a much darker place than today. However, people of that era, too, looked for lighting alternatives to continue to work and play long after the sun set.

From the 1700s into the early 1800s, one of the most popular forms of lighting came from whale oil. Seafaring expeditions, often originating from New England states and venturing around South America to the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean could last several years at a time. Rendering whale fat produced the oil substance that illuminated many homes, businesses, and some urban streets. Another common lighting source came from distilled turpentine, called camphene. Produced largely from pine tree forest plantations in the South, and often utilizing enslaved labor, camphene ended up serving various lighting needs across the United States. Yet another method of illumination came through gas. By burning bituminous coal in a controlled environment, it emitted gas. Routed to homes, businesses, and street lamps through pipes and valves, gas users paid a service subscription. Virginia cities such as Petersburg, Richmond, and Alexandria, all had gas lighting available before the Civil War to those who could afford it.

The nineteenth century also saw innovations in making fire. Matches, often known then by a brand name (Lucifers), came from dipping wood sticks into a mixture of phosphorus and other flammable ingredients. Now, instead of kindling a fire from the sparks of flint and steel, striking a match could produce an instant usable flame.

Lighting was a challenge for Civil War soldiers. The most common artificial light for individual use came from candles. Made from a variety of substances, mid-nineteenth century candles created enough light for nighttime tasks and were easy to carry. Natural substances such as beef tallow, swine lard, whale oil (spermaceti), and beeswax, as well with chemical processes (stearin), and refined ingredients such as paraffin, converted those materials into light. Manufactured by individuals hand-dipping, cottage industries through molds, and factories with steam presses, candles poured into the marketplace by the millions. Civil War army regulations even stipulated that along with their food rations, soldiers were to receive a certain allotment of candles per company. Many a letter to the home front from the front lines—or in the opposite direction—came after the day’s work or fighting was complete and with the aid of the simple candle.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Signal Success

Imagine receiving vital intelligence that could potentially change the outcome a military campaign, and yet having to rely on a horse and rider to deliver that information. By the time the receiver gets the message, the situation could have changed drastically, rendering a lost opportunity. Real time communication during the American Civil War was a true challenge for those in leadership positions. And while the invention of the telegraph fifteen years or so before helped reduce much of the time and distance problem, running wires, setting poles, manufacturing telegraph keys, and locating experienced operators, all presented numerous logistical issues.

One way that Civil War armies battled the communication issue was through the use of signal flags and the utilization of observation and signal towers. A carte de visite photograph in the Collections of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier shows one such signal tower used during the Petersburg Campaign.

Due to the relatively flat terrain around Petersburg, it was often necessary for men in the Union and Confederate signal corps to get to an elevated position—either a constructed tower or a high tree—to send and receive information. Using the so-called “wig-wag” system, a series of directional flag waving developed by Maj. Albert Myer before the Civil War, both sides incorporated the system to effectively communicate during the conflict.

The observation and signal tower shown in the Park’s carte de visite is identified as the one located at Cobb’s Hill on the Appomattox River. This Union tower stood 110 feet high. Constructed beside Fort Zabriskie, it was not far from Point of Rocks on the Bermuda Hundred. It served as a vital communication link between the Army of the James and the Army of the Potomac. Built by the army’s Engineers, the tower consisted primarily of pine logs fastened together to form a six level structure with a “crow’s nest” atop.   

The Union army had a series of signal towers that ran near the U.S. Military Railroad line from City Point (present-day Hopewell), out to the far Union left end of the earthwork line at Fort Fisher. The tower located behind Fort Fisher rose to over 140 feet. One Maryland Confederate soldier commented on the towering timbers: “From its top the curious Federals have the satisfaction of seeing all that is going on in our lines. They will next mount a telescope to ascertain what we eat and the color of our hair. Go ahead, Mr. Yankee! But use it for religious purposes, as the top of your observatory is the nearest you will ever get to heaven.” A Union chaplain who ventured up in the towner confirmed the Maryland soldier’s suspicions. He wrote, “We could see rebels very distinctly, their defences, camps, etc. We also had a fine view of Petersburg. . . .”

The Cobb’s Hill signal tower remained in use to the end of the Petersburg campaign. Although Confederates targeted the lofty structure with artillery fire, it apparently remained unharmed.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dying Far From Home - Sgt. James Lea, Co. K, 22nd USCI

The lack of surviving pre-war personal information about men who served in Civil War armies highlights the pervading anonymity of most 19
th century individuals. This was particularly true for African Americans. Before the war, enslaved men had few opportunities to leave documentation. Free black men, not considered citizens at that time, left frustratingly few records, too.

We do not know much about James Lea before he enlisted in Company K, 22nd United States Colored Infantry (USCI), however, a few historical clues do remain. Lea appears in the 1850 census. At that time he was residing in his native Chester County, Pennsylvania. Living in his father Richard’s household, the 14 year-old James’ family also included his mother, Jane, his four sisters and one brother. Unfortunately, I was unable to find Lea in the 1860 census. But he appears in an interesting 1863 draft registration record. This document helps us fill in some biographical voids. First, it tells us that Lea was not married. It also corroborates his age from the 1850 census, as the 1863 document reports his age as 26. It lists Lea’s occupation as laborer, a vague description to be sure, but this record spells his last name as Lea instead of Lee, which some other records do. Additionally, the draft registration also tells us that Lea was somewhat traveled, in that it lists men eligible for the draft in Robinson Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Allegheny County, which is near Pittsburgh in the western part of the Keystone State is quite a distance from his native Chester County, near Philadelphia, in the east.

James Lea must have made a final trip back east, as his compiled service records state that he enlisted in Philadelphia on January 4, 1864. Joining up for three years, the 27-year old, six-foot, one-inch Lea gave his pre-war occupation as “brickmaker.” About a month and a half into his career as a soldier, Lea received a promotion to sergeant.

Lea fought with the 22nd USCI during the June 15, 1864, assaults on Petersburg. The regiment braved their first baptism in fire marvelously, capturing several Confederate positions and pieces of artillery.  During the summer of 1864, Lea served on detached duty at Dutch Gap, apparently working on Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s massive canal project. Although some of his comrades became casualties from the brutal Confederate artillery and sharpshooter fire, Lea remained unscathed.

The 22nd USCI was among the regiments that made up the three brigades of the Third Division of the XVIII Corps in the Army of the James. Tabbed in Maj. Gen. Butler’s battle plan to attack the Confederate defenses that protected the New Market Road, just southeast of Richmond, Virginia, the Third Division started toward the enemy through a misty fog on the morning of September 29, 1864. Acting as skirmishers and supporting the left flank of the Third and Second Brigades during their frontal attacks, the soldiers of the 22nd also took significant casualties. During the final push, and ultimate breakthrough, the 22nd led the attack of the First Brigade (Col. John H. Holman’s), which also included the 1st and 37th USCI regiments. Capt. Albert Janes, in writing the after-action report for the 22nd USCI, stated that: “The enemy was found to be in force beyond the woods in rifle-pits covering the New Market road. The rifle-pits had an abatis in front. As the charging column came up to the support of the skirmish line a part of the regiment assembled on the right and moved forward into the works, driving the enemy in confusion from them.”

It is unknown whether Sgt. James Lea received his death wound, or wounds, fighting as a skirmisher or in the brigade’s assault. All that his service records tell us is that he was “killed in action near New Market road, Va. Sept. 29, 1864.” Lea was one of the 11 men from the 22nd USCI either killed or who ultimately died from their wounds at the Battle of New Market Heights.

Today, Sgt. James Lea rests in peace in grave number 460 in Fort Harrison National Cemetery. Despite the misspelled last name on his headstone, his story is without doubt one of service and sacrifice. We remember Sgt. Lea, for his commitment to the ideals upon which the United States was founded. It is only too sad that 156 years later we as a nation are still trying to figure out how to consistently practice those founding principles.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Overcoming Obstacles: Lt. James Monroe Trotter


Learning about the lives of Civil War soldiers before their enlistments, as well as what they accomplished during their time in service, can often be inspiring. Many came from humble beginnings yet still displayed a determination to better themselves and those around them, earning many soldiers well-deserved respect from modern-day history students. That is particularly true with many of the men who served in African American regiments. A good example is James Monroe Trotter. A seldom seen carte de visite photograph of Trotter is among the items held and preserved by Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

Born in 1842 in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, James Monroe Trotter was the son of an enslaved woman named Letitia and his mother’s owner. Apparently afforded some learning opportunities while still enslaved, Trotter, his mother, and two sisters eventually landed in Cincinnati, Ohio, about a decade before the Civil War. In Cincinnati, Trotter received further education at Gilmore’s School and later began teaching in African American communities in the Ohio River Valley.

However, the Civil War interrupted Trotter’s teaching career. Only 19 years old when the conflict began, Trotter enlisted two years later, after Massachusetts started recruiting primarily Northern free men of color for their 54th and 55th Infantry regiments. Trotter made his way to Readville, Massachusetts, where he enlisted in Company K of the 55th Massachusetts on June 11, 1863, becoming its first sergeant. He officially mustered into service 11 days later. A promotion to sergeant major came on November 19, 1863.

The 55th Massachusetts still had not left the state at the time that their sister unit, the 54th, earned their glory at Battery Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, but they soon embarked to duty in North and South Carolina. The 55th also served in Florida, and participated in engagements on James Island, South Carolina, as well as at Honey Hill, South Carolina, in November 1864, where Trotter received a wound.

During his service, Trotter worked diligently to educate the men under his direction, both mentally and politically. He taught soldiers how to read and write, despite a lack of books and other learning materials. He also actively sought equal pay for African American soldiers by getting his comrades to refuse their pay until it met that of white Union soldiers. Trotter’s and others’ efforts produced results when the army finally equalized pay on June 13, 1864.

Trotter’s leadership skills helped him eventually become one of the few African American commissioned officers outside of the army’s medical department. He received a 2nd lieutenant’s commission in the spring of 1864, but unfortunately the army tabled it until 15 months later, in July 1865. However, once made official, his lieutenant’s pay was retroacted to April 1864.

After the war Trotter returned to Ohio, married, started a family and moved to Boston, where he felt his family had more social and educational opportunities. In Boston, Trotter worked as a clerk in the post office, and in 1878, wrote and published “Music and Some Musical People,” a history of African American music. Tragically, Trotter’s impressive life proved short. He died at age 50 from tuberculosis in 1892.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Punishment Horse

With the majority of Civil War soldiers being in their late teens and early twenties, it stands to reason that commissioned officers and NCOs would have a fair share of disciplinary cases to contend with. Many men, away from home for the first time and just becoming accustomed to losing their civilian liberties, made mistakes. Minor infractions such as speaking back to ranking superiors, being late for roll call, not keeping their weapon clean, or shirking various camp fatigue duties called for methods of correction.

During the war, both Union and Confederate armies banned whipping as a disciplinary method. But with such a diversity of infractions, and yet without an established code for punishing infractions, officers could get quite inventive with their choice of penalties. However, most officers and NCOs believed that the most effective measures were those that both corrected the guilty party and also served as an example for their observing comrades.

A favorite disciplinary tool was the “punishment horse.” Offending soldiers were required to sit for determined duration on an uncomfortable rail while in full view of their fellow soldiers. The effect of this form of punishment was twofold: first, soldiers were humiliated among their peers, and second their physical discomfort served as a corrective reminder that there were consequences for ill behavior.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Paying a High Price: Casualties for the 22nd USCI at the Battle of New Market Heights

During the Civil War, the 22nd United States Colored Infantry (USCI) earned one of the finest battle records among African American regiments. They performed wonderfully in the June 15, 1864, fighting at Baylor's Farm, as well as that day's ensuing assaults on the Petersburg defenses. Later, while manning the trenches, they came under heavy artillery and musket fire on July 30 that resulted in a number of casualties. The regiment also served dangerous and arduous duty at the Dutch Gap canal project where they lost several soldiers. The 22nd USCI fought bravely at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, and the following day at Chaffin's Farm, stubbornly holding the captured ground. On October 27, at the Battle of Fair Oaks, they again endured high casualties doing their duty. It was for their courageous actions at these battles and for their exemplary discipline that the 22nd received the honor of participating in President Lincoln's funeral procession.

Although the 22nd USCI was not part of the two main attacking brigades at the Battle of New Market Heights, they did serve initially as skirmish support on the left of those assaults, and then they led their own brigade's attack against the Confederate earthwork line. In doing so they suffered significant casualties. Searching through the soldiers' compiled service records for the regiment, I was able to gather a list of the men killed in action, fatally wounded, and those wounded who survived. I have included their rank, name, company, age at enlistment, place of birth, place of enlistment, and any additional information provided from their service records. 

Killed in Action

Pvt. Joseph H. Brown, Co. H, 25, Burlington Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA; “is short sighted and obliged to wear glasses”

Sgt. James Lea (Lee), Co. K, 29, Delaware, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Jesse Ryer, Co. I, 20, New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Carney Saunders, Co. H, 30, Allentown, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Obadiah Treford, Co. G, 25, Virginia; Waterford, NJ

Pvt. Elias Tucker, Co. D, 25, Lancaster County, PA; Lancaster, PA

Fatally Wounded

Pvt. Joshua Brown, Co. G, 25, Burlington Co., NJ; Medford, NJ; died on 10-9-1864 from gunshot wounds of left thigh and testicles

Pvt. Benjamin Folk, Co. B, 18, Unknown; Philadelphia, PA; died on 10-6-1864 from gunshot wound through right lung

Pvt. Wilson Howard, Co. E, 18, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; died on 12-28-1864 from wounds received in action

Pvt. Alfred James, Co. K, 35, Phillips, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; died on 10-11-1864 from gunshot wound through left thigh

Pvt. Peter Thompson, Co. E, 28, Bergen, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; died on 10-22-1864 from gunshot wounds received September 29, 1864

Wounded Survived – Co. A

Corp. John Q. Adams, 19, Salem Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William H. Conover, 34, Monmouth Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William Mott, 25, Atlantic County, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Edward Spencer, 19, Salem Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Wounded Survived – Co. B

Pvt. Alton Cooper, 23, Woods, DE; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John Hall, 26, Chester Co., MD; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles Jackson, 21, Unknown; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Isaac Van Dorn, 18, Hunterdon Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge for gunshot wound to right knee

2nd Lt. Oliver M. Knight, 25, New Hampshire; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Edward McGraw, 18, Lewiston, PA; Lancaster, PA

Wounded Survived – Co. C

Pvt. Jeremiah Betts, 21, Wilmington, DE; Wilmington, DE; gunshot wound right thigh

Wounded Survived – Co. D

Pvt. John Harrison, 18, Edgefield Co., SC; Chambersburg, PA

Pvt. George Potts, 20, Cumberland Co., PA; Harrisburg, PA

Pvt. George Price, 26, New Castle Co., DE; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge 8-17-1865 from loss of index finger and partial loss of use of left hand

Pvt. Alfred Scott, 19, Williamsport, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; disability discharge 11-8-1865 from gunshot wound to left wrist

Sgt. Greenberry Stanton, 22, Gettysburg, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Wounded Survived – Co. E

Pvt. John Griffin, 24, Kent Co., DE; Philadelphia, PA

Wounded Survived – Co. F

None found

Wounded Survived – Co. G

Pvt. George W. Brown, 27, Camden Co., NJ; Centre, NJ; loss of sight in left eye and injury to face due to gunshot wound; disability discharge 5-17-1865

Pvt. Theodore Buck, 23, Burlington Co., NJ; Lamberton, NJ

Sgt. Joshua Champion, 24, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John C. Davis, 26, Kent Co., DE; Stockton, NJ

Pvt. Vincent Henderson, 35, Clarke Co., VA; Chambersburg, PA; wounded in left arm and right side; disability discharge 5-18-1865

Pvt. James Johnson, 30, Martinsburg, VA; Carlisle, PA

Pvt. William Luff, 21, Kent Co., DE; Stockton, NJ

Pvt. George Morgan, 20, Warren County, OH; McKeesport, PA

Corp. John Myers, 18, Cumberland Co., PA; Mechanicsburg, PA

1st Sgt. Edward Stoner, 29, Franklin Co., PA; McKeesport, PA

Pvt. John W. Winters, 24, Queen Ann Co., MD; Stockton, NJ

Pvt. John Wright, 35, Baltimore, MD; Carlisle, PA

Wounded Survived – Co. H

None found

Wounded Survived – Co. I

None found

Wounded Survived – Co. K

Pvt. John Brown, 19, Carroll Co., MD; Lancaster, PA

Sgt. Charles Cox, 19, Cape May, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Ezekiel T. Jones, 24, Monroe, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Jerard Penn, 25, Deptford, NJ ;Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge 1-11-1866 from gunshot wound fracturing left tibia

Sgt. John Turnpenny, 27, Harrison, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Six killed in action, five fatally wounded, and thirty-four wounded. This list was not produced in attempt to sensationalize the pain these men suffered, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifices they were willing to endure to ensure the death of slavery, show themselves men worthy of citizenship and thus the guarantees of the Constitution, and to maintain the Union of the states. It is also hoped that this list will help descendants make connections with their ancestors. Courageously done 22nd!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Ubiquitous Tin Cup

In the aftermath of the Battle of Chickamauga, B. F. Taylor, an army corresnpondent from the Chicago Journal, rode with a trainload of Union wounded soldiers seeking care at Nashvile hospitals. "They were loaded upon the train; two platform [flatbed] cars were paved with them, forty on a car. Seven box[cars] were so packed you could not set your foot down amont them as they lay. The roofs of the trains were tiled with them," Taylor wrote.

Taylor continued that during the train ride north, “the attendants are going through the train with coffee graced with milk and sugar—think of that!” “What worn-out faded faces look up at you! They rouse like wounded creatures hunted down to their lairs as you come.” Among the wounded, most of whom had cast away almost all of their other worldly possessions while in retreat, there was no absence of one piece of equipment, the tin cup. Taylor claimed that “The tin cups extended in all sorts of hands but plump, strong ones, tinkle all around you. You are fairly girdled with a tin-cup horizon. How the dull, faint faces brighten as those cups are filled.”

Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate, began their military service carrying a number of pieces of equipment they initially deemed vital. However, as they became veteran campaigners, soldiers quickly learned that their marches became less oppressive when they pared down their belongings to the bare minimum. One piece of equipment that usually survived a soldier’s purging was the tin cup.

Often issued by their various state governments upon a soldier mustering into service, tin cups varied greatly in size and style. Another reason cups differed so greatly is that it was an item sutlers carried among their stores to sell to soldiers when cups were lost or damaged. A sutler’s wares came from a variety of manufacturers, which of course, resulted in many different styles.

Some tin cups were tall affairs that sported wire bales to hang over the campfire, while others were squat, shallow vessels. Some had straight sides, while others tapered at the base. Some even had a ribbed ring around the body to provide reinforced support. Period photographic evidence indicates a plethora of shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most common surviving examples are those that are about four inches tall and about four inches in diameter. Almost all tin cups had a wire reinforced handle.

Soldiers used their tin cups for a variety of tasks. Tin cups helped them make coffee, their favorite drink. Soldiers often mixed corn meal or flour with water in their tin cups to prepare their bread rations. Sometimes, unable to stop and fill their canteens, cups made scooping water for a quick drink much easier when crossing a stream. There are even accounts of soldiers using their tin cups as improvised entrenching tools when desperate times called for desperate measures.

In a soldier’s world, where non-essentials became burdensome and thus often discarded, the tin cup remained a vital belonging.   

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

This month I was able to pick up a few books to add to my "to be read" list. And I got a couple that I've read, but wanted in my library.

Up first is Zachary A. Fry's A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac. A question that historians have pondered is, what political allegiance did the Army of the Potomac primarily express? Democrat or Republican? Were the rank and file one or the other? Were the field and line officers one or the other? Did allegiance shift during the war? If so, who or what created the shift? Fry takes on these questions and others in what promises to be a fantastic look into the Union's most studied army.

Few conflicts have developed as many myths and stories as the American Civil War. It seems that seeds of myths and tales that get sown establish roots, trunks, and branches that never fully disappear, no matter the amount of primary source evidence presented against them. Surely these Civil War stories; how they started, how they changed, and why the remain, tell us something about ourselves, and about how the Civil War changed us as a nation. Cody Marrs explores this intriguing topic, and more, in Not Even Past: The Stories We Keep Telling about the Civil War.   

My current research project into prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign requires that I be familiar with current scholarship. At least I think that is a good idea . . . another plus is that it gives me excuses to get more books. 

The Battle of Five Forks produced hundreds of Confederate prisoners. I'm interested to learn about some of their capture experiences and compare them to those of prisoners taken earlier in the campaign. The latest study on this battle is Confederate Waterloo: The Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, and the Controversy that Brought Down a General by Michael J. McCarthy. I've heard good things about this book and I'm looking forward to digging into it.

I do not have a whole lot of history heroes. Studying people of the past usually sheds light on unattractive facts that knock them off the pedestal we place them on. I have come to understand that no matter how much we want to admire historical figures they are human, they have faults, and sometimes they make bad decisions and act in less than desirable ways. At the same time, I find it troublesome that some people in our current society seem to dismiss the good that some people of the past accomplished because of some of their missteps. 

One person who I most admire is John Lewis. Reading about his role in the Nashville lunch counter sit ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and other trailblazing Civil Rights Movement events shows his courage and commitment to better the United States. I've yet to encounter the erring John Lewis. From my past reading he seems to be a true model citizen. Perhaps Jon Meacham's His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope will point out some of Lewis' faults. If it does, it will not matter to me. John Lewis will always be one of my few history heroes.   

Every once in a while I have the great good fortune to read a book before it is released to help the author clarify their argument, catch unintended errors, or suggest additional sources. I enjoy providing what help I can. My friend Stuart Sanders' latest book Murder on the Ohio Belle combines a well-written story about Southern honor with excellent research on the history of a steamboat that served in several roles throughout its lifetime. Stuart was kind enough to provide me with a gratis copy for reading the manuscript. If that is not the definition of a win-win, I don't know what is. By the way, I highly recommend it!

I first read Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier a couple of years ago. I found the author's arguments thought provoking, and the book an excellent addition to the growing body of work about the environmental impact on conflict's fighting men. By studying the 1862 Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns she shows how soldiers came up with practical "self-care" measures when the Union and Confederate armies guidelines proved harmful to their health, and thus their ability to soldier. Nature's Civil War is a book that should be in every enthusiast's library. Now, it is in mine.