Follow by Email

Saturday, July 30, 2016

January 17, 2017, Orange County (Southern California) Civil War Round Table

John will talk at the Orange County (Southern California) Civil War Round Table about George S. Bernard, soldier of the 12th Virginia Infantry, Petersburg lawyer, and compiler of "War Talks of Confederate Veterans" and "Civil War Talks."  The focus will be on the experience of Bernard and his unit on August 19, 1864, in "The No-Name Battle" against IX Corps just south of Petersburg, part of the battle of Globe Tavern.  This is described in John's most recent book, "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864."  Books will be for sale at discounts.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, A Hero of Our Civil War

Anyone familiar with Civil War literature should be familiar with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard.  Usually, you hear of him as the commander of the routed XI Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  He is usually portrayed as a prudish excessively religious fuddy-duddy.

He was in fact a hero beyond the imagination of most of us.  At Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, on June 1, 1862, he commanded a brigade of Richardson's division of II Corps, which Lt. Col. William F Fox of the 107th New York, wounded at Antietam/Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, and Resaca declared the division of the war most generous with its blood.  (Actually, that honor goes to Mott's division of II Corps, into which orders consolidated two divisions of II Corps at Spotsylvania.)

In the collision between Howard's brigade and Mahone's Confederate brigade on June 1, 1862, Howard suffered wounds to his right arm that resulted in its amputation.  Command of the brigade devolved upon another great soldier and a great lawyer as well, Col. Francis Channing Barlow of the 61st New York, who would command Richardson's division of II Corps later in the war.  Still another extraordinary soldier, Nelson A. Miles, an officer on Howard's staff, took command of the brigade's 81st Pennsylvania during the battle.  Opposite these Federals, Brig. Gen. William Mahone of Mahone's brigade, Col. Cullen A. Battle of the 3rd Alabama, Col. John R. Chambliss of the 41st Virginia, and Col. David A. Wsisiger of the 12th Virginia  received their baptisms of fire (against infantry--they had been under naval gunfire on May 15, 1862 at the First Battle of Drewry's Bluff.)

Imagine having lost your right arm and going back into combat.  Yet that is what General Howard did.  He went on to fight at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and the March through Georgia and into the Carolinas.  Afterward he led the Freedman's Bureau and helped found Howard University.  Then he put on his uniform again and participated in the Indian Wars.

Howard risked life and limb as often as a modern day veteral serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.  How many can say the same--especially afting losing a right arm?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Another Shaky Source, A Maine Diary on Petersburg

Hand written diaries make great sources.  The John F. Sale Diary at the Library of Virginia is an example.  Beware of over-edited diaries.  An example is, Ruth L. Silliker, ed., The Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah:  The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer, Private John W. Haley, 17th Maine Regiment (Camden, Me.:  Down East Books, 1985.  For starters, the writing is too fine:  "Death filled the air like snowflakes in a winter storm," is one line in the entry on page 175 for June 22, 1864.  Someone might have written that while on the front lines, but I doubt it.  In the entry for the same day on the same page it is said that General DeTrobriand called it or would have called it "von grand skedaddle."  I really doubt that.  DeTrobriand did not return to duty with the 17th Maine's brigade until five days afterward.  He came from New York City, where he had served since the spring.  Furthermore, he would not likely have said, "von grand skedaddle."  That imitates a German accent, and DeTrobriand was a native French speaker.  Finally, the writer sees things he would have been unlikely to see, such as General Barlow washing his feet in a little stream.  There is a witness to that, but I doubt this diarist saw it because the diaries was in the second line and Barlow was hundreds of yards to the north with thick woods in between.  Much of what this diarist says must be taken with a grain of salt.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Petersburg and Atlanta, Castel and McMurry, Part 3

Castel seems satisfied that Sherman's capture of Atlanta settled the November 1864 presidential election in favor of President Abraham Lincoln.  McMurry appears to think that Lincoln would have won anyway.  I agree with Castel, not so much on the basis of his analysis, but because during the fortnight before Atlanta's capture, Lincoln was preparing for defeat.  He circulated his "Blind Memorandum" at a cabinet meeting on August 23, 1864.

Executive Mansion
Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards. 

Grant's memoirs indicate that he thought the capture of Atlanta decisive as well.  Despite McMurry's lengthy analysis, I agree with the men on the ground--Grant and Lincoln--that the capture of Atlanta decided the election and hence the war.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Maj. Gen. Francis Channing Barlow

"Fear Was Not in Him," is the title of a collection of his letters.  "The Boy General" is the title of a biography.  Francis Channing Barlow cut as striking a figure as his counterpart, William Mahone, who saw the elephant in opposition to one another on June 1, 1862 at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks--Barlow in charge of the 61st New York and then Howard's brigade of Richardson's division in II Corps after Brig. Gen. O. O. Howard suffered wounds that cost him his right arm, and Mahone in charge of Mahone's brigade.  Barlow liked to wear a plaid lumberjack shirt and carry a cavalryman's saber, the better to whack shirkers on the backside.  His fellow Harvard man, Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman III of the Army of the Potomac's staff, wrote that the boyish looking Barlow seemed like a "highly independent mounted newsboy."  Mahone favored Panama hats and suits tailored out of tent canvas.

Born in 1834, Barlow grew up in Unitarian intellectual circles, studied law at Harvard, and graduated first in his class.  He enlisted in the 12th New York Infantry as a private the day after his marriage and had risen to a lieutenancy by the time his three month enlistment expired.  Then he joined the 61st New York and rose to the rank of colonel by the time the regiment saw combat.  He fought with distinction at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, Glendale/Fraysers Farm and Malvern Hill.  At Antietam/Sharpsburg he suffered a serious wound.  Shortly after, he was promoted to brigadier general.

Service with IX Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg did not dim his reputation for aggressiveness.  He did not recover from his Gettysburg wound until shortly before the beginning of the Campaign of 1864.  Back with II Corps, he led Richardson's old division in the Wilderness and led the breakthrough at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, that nearly destroyed Lee's army.  Barlow fought at Cold Harbor and in the initial assaults at Petersburg.

On June 22, 1864, Barlow did more than any Federal alive to prevent the disaster very unfairly known as "Barlow's Skedaddle," where three brigades under Mahone routed almost seven brigades of II Corps and captured four cannon.  I do not think I treated Barlow fairly in "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad."  His friend and commander, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, put Barlow in charge of the thrust toward the Confederate flank on August 14, 1864 at Deep Bottom in order that Barlow might win a coveted second star.  Barlow was ill and was mourning the death of his wife, which had occurred about three weeks earlier.  Hancock ought to have put someone else in charge.  Barlow kept trying to return from his illness but finally had to take an extended leave of absence.  He did not return until the Appomattox Campaign, when he led the second division of II Corps.  He probably saw action for the last time on April 7, 1865, at Cumberland Church against Mahone.  Barlow's promotion to major general was confirmed after the war.

By that time, Barlow had resumed his legal career.  He held a number of political offices and steadfastly opposed the corruption of the post-war years.  He was such a straight-arrow that when President Grant sent him to Florida to determine the outcome in that state, Barlow (a Republican) made sure that the votes were counted accurately, determined that the Democrats had won the state, and was thereupon ostracized by his party.  He spent the rest of his life in private practice.  A very impressive fellow.