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Saturday, December 3, 2016

10th Connecticut, Good Subject for a Regimental History

Everybody interested in the Civil War ought to try writing a regimental history.  It gives you a yardstick for measuring the accuracy of more general works.

I don't recommend duplicating a previous regimental history.  Sometimes that can be embarrassing.  A few years ago a book came out on the 57th Massachusetts, Mother May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen.  Unfortunately, the regimental history it was intended to replace (by John C. Anderson), remains a better book.

Plenty of good regimental histories exist, particularly for Federal regiments,  In the brigade I'm going to mention, Foster's brigade of Terry's division, X Corps (and later XXIV Corps), Army of the James, fine histories exist on the 11th Maine, 24th Massachusetts and 100th New York.  On the other hand, by "regimental history," I don't mean the historical sketches that accompany the rosters in John C. Rigdon's books or the H. E. Howard regimental history series--they shouldn't stop anybody from writing a true regimental history if enough documents can be found.

The existence of documents is extremely important.  There will be sufficient docoments for regimentals on many Federal regiments.  Confederate regiments are another matter.  When I picked a regiment to write about, I considered the 12th Virginia, the 12th Mississippi and the 29th United States Colored Troops.  I had relatives in the 12th Virginia and 12th Mississippi.  The 29th United States Colored Troops were recruited in my state, the Sucker State, Illinois.  (The name comes from a bottom-feeding fish, not the electorate foolish enough to elect and reelect politicians who are bankrupting the state.)  There were individuals in the 12th Virginia who left more writings that the 12th Mississippi and 29th United States Colored Troops put together, so the decision to write about the 12th Virginia was easy.  The existence of an historical sketch with the H. E. Howard roster did not deter me because the sketch made practically no use of what I estimate as eight to ten volumes of writings.

The unit that strikes me as ripe for a regimental history is the 10th Connecticut, which Fox included among the 300 Fighting Regiments of the United States Army.  The Connecticut Historical Society has documents from practically every company.  The chaplain left a memoir of his own and a biography of one of the regiment's field officers.  The U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center has a few letters.  The 10th participated in the seizure of the North Carolina sounds in 1862, the Siege of Charleston in 1863 and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65.

Somebody connected with the 10th Connecticut should get to work on its history.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thank You, SavasBeatie!

It was a few years ago that Ted Savas contacted me about writing the revision of The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad that became The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.  SavasBeatie does a fine job with its books.  They can do footnotes, which I greatly prefer to endnotes.  They use fonts that are easily read by old cadgers such as myself.  They take care of their authors, as well.  In 2015 SavasBeatie arranged for me to speak to the Chicago Civil War Round Table (CWRT), do an interview at Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, and do a book-signing at Petersburg National Battlefield Park.  This year SavasBeatie set me up to speak to Northern Illinois CWRT, Salt Creek CWRT, Lincoln-Davis CWRT, and South Suburban CWRT.  Next year I expect to talk to the Orange County (Ca.) CWRT, the Greater Orlando CWRT, the San Francisco CWRT and the Civil Warriors CWRT in Los Angeles.  I might have been able to do more but I'm still practicing law.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thank you, Lincoln-Davis Civil War Round Table and South Suburban Civil War Round Table!

Thank you, members of the Lincoln-Davis and South Suburban Civil War Round Tables.  It was very kind of you to invite me to talk about the fighting around Petersburg in August 1864.  Both of your meetings are within a few miles of my home and office, and I elected to focus on color bearer and Medal of Honor winner Pvt. Henry M. Hardenbergh of Company G, the Preacher's Company, of the 39th Illinois Veteran Volunteers (Yates Phalanx).  On August 16, 1864, the day Hardenbergh won his Medal of Honor by capturing the flag of the 10th Alabama, the 39th lost thirty-six killed or mortally wounded out of scarcely more than 200 taken into action.

I learned from you, too.  At the Lincoln-Davis meeting, I learned that descendants of the Indians who inhabited Cook and Will Counties, Illinois, still live among us.  At the South Suburban Civil War Round Table I learned that Atlanta's famous Cyclorama, the painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, has in it a soldier with the face of none other than Clark Gable!  I can't wait to visit the Cyclorama as soon as it reopens.

Happy Thanksgiving to y'all!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Confederate Field Marshals?

One could win a marshal's baton (the symbol of the rank) by winning a major battle as well as capturing a major fortress.  The Confederacy, however, would have produced fewer field marshals than the Union had the rank existed for them.

General Joseph E. Johnson might have won a marshal's baton for First Manassas.  Nothing he did after that merited one.

General Albert Sidney Johnson did nothing to merit a marshal's baton.

General Robert E. Lee won several victories that could have made him a field marshal--The Seven Days, Second Manassas, the capture of Harper's Ferry, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

General Braxton Bragg's victory at Chickamauga would have earned him a marshal's baton had the field marshal's rank existed.

What about General Pierre Gustave Toutant "Gus" Beauregard?  His service as unofficial chief of staff at First Manassas would not have made him a field marshal.  His successful defense of Charleston in 1863 might have.  His victory over Beast Butler at Second Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864 might have.  His successful defense of Petersburg June 15-18, 1864, also might have.  The Davis Administration would probably not have given him the benefit of the doubt, though--Beauregard and Davis detested one another.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Field Marshal Banks

Field Marshal is the highest military rank of many countries, but not of the United States.  To become a field marshal, one must capture a significant city (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of Tobruk or Field Marshal Erich von Manstein of Sevastopol), a significant area (Field Marshal Wavell of Cyrenaica), or win a significant battle (Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of El Alamein).

Just imagine if the United States Army had had such a rank during the Civil War.  We might have had Field Marshal Grant of Fort Donelson and Vicksburg, Field Marshal Burnside of Pamlico Sound, Field Marshal Butler of New Orleans, Field Marshal Buell of Nashville, Field Marshal Banks of Port Hudson, Field Marshal Rosecrans of Chattanooga, Field Marshal Sherman of Atlanta and Savannah, Field Marshal Terry of Fort Fisher, and Field Marshal Canby of Mobile.  President Lincoln would probably have had to promote Little Mac to Field Marshal of Antietam to justify issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

General Grant and Cavalry at Vicksburg, in the Overland Campaign, and at Petersburg

Diversionary railroad raids exhausted General Grant’s repertoire when it came to cavalry.  During the climax of the Vicksburg Campaign, as his infantry crossed the Mississippi below that Secessionist citadel, Grant had sent a brigade of horse soldiers southward from LaGrange, Tennessee through Mississippi to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ripping up rails, burning cross-ties, breaking bridges, destroying enemy supplies, tying down enemy infantry in defense of the vital rail link between Vicksburg and Jackson, and generally confusing the Confederates.[1]  The raid thus contributed to Grant’s investment and capture of the Gibraltar of the West.  During the Overland Campaign, the general-in-chief had dispatched Sheridan with three divisions of horsemen from Spotsylvania to defeat Maj. Gen. J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart, disrupt the railroad lines supplying Lee’s army, and threaten Richmond.  Sheridan accomplished little beyond defeating and killing Stuart, whom Lee ultimately replaced with a better cavalry commander—Hampton, the war’s best commander of an army’s cavalry corps.[2]
By sending his cavalry off to divert his enemy’s attention by ripping up rails, Grant deprived himself of horsemen for screening and reconnaissance, their traditional functions.  The principal value of Sheridan’s raids lay in that they forced Lee to dispatch his cavalry in pursuit.  Unlike Grant, the Southern chieftain employed his horse soldiers extensively in reconnaissance and screening.  For Lee, cavalry functioned as a sensory organ.  The absence of most of Lee’s horsemen in pursuit of Sheridan on the Trevilian Raid left the Secessionist commander nearly blind and contributed to the success of Grant’s James crossing.  Grant no sooner gave up his assaults on Petersburg in June 1864 than he launched what cavalry remained with him on a raid against the Weldon, South Side, and Danville railroads.




[1] The great film director John Ford made a movie based on Grierson’s raid, entitled The Horse Soldiers (1959). 
[2] Though Nathan Bedford Forrest proved formidable in independent command, he performed poorly in command of part of the Army of Tennessee’s cavalry.  David Powell, Failure in the Saddle:  Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign (El Dorado Hills, Ca., 2011), 205-212, 232-235.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Petersburg at Gettysburg, Douglas Southall Freeman Loses Count

Throw out your books on the second day at Gettysburg.  They all need rewriting.

Confusion still exists about what Mahone's Brigade of Anderson's Division did, or did not do, at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.  We know that the attack of Anderson's Division broke down in Posey's Mississippi Brigade, to the immediate right (south) of Mahone's Brigade.  We know that a message for Mahone to advance was received with incredulity by General Mahone, who said he had just received an order from General Anderson to stay put on McPherson's Ridge.

There is no question but that Mahone received an order from Anderson to stay put on McPherson's Ridge.  Douglas Southall Freeman is among those responsible for the confusion.  Longstreet's memoir, From Manassas to Appomattox was available when Freeman wrote.  Longstreet was in charge of the attack on Cemetery Ridge on July 2.  He says the plan was for Anderson's division to attack with four brigades.  OR 27. 2:332, 343.  Anderson's division had five brigades.  Therefore one brigade was not to attack.  That this brigade was Mahone's would be apparent from its position alone if it were not for Mahone's account of the matter.  All Freeman had to do was remember that Anderson's Division had five brigades, not four.

As for what Mahone's Brigade did after the confusion caused by Anderson's contradictory orders was sorted out, there was a book in publication at the time Freeman wrote that should have informed him of the action of the Virginians.  That book is William H. Stewart's A Pair of Blankets, published in 1911 (at 97-98).  Mahone's Brigade sidled to the right and advanced behind the right of Posey's Brigade.  See also James Eldred Phillips Memoir, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia; Hampton Newsome, John Horn and John G. Selby, eds., Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans (Charlottesville, 2012), 133, 155-156.  Posey confirmed that Mahone was ordered to the right.  Report of Brig. Gen. Carnot Posey, C. S. Army, commanding brigade, OR, 27, 2:634.