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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thanks Civil Warriors!

My wife and I had a pleasant time at the Civil Warriors' in Los Angeles last Wednesday.  I fielded more questions than usual.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Civil Warriors, Los Angeles, Nov. 8

I'll be talking about the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, at Globe Tavern on August 19, 1864, to the Civil Warriors in Los Angeles November 8, 2017.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Thank You, San Francisco Civil War Round Table

My wife and I had a pleasant time at the meeting of the San Francisco Civil War Round Table Thursday night.  The subject was Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren and the fighting around Petersburg in August 1864.  Warren won the battle of Globe Tavern, August 18-21, but received little thanks for it from his superiors, who unrealistically wanted him to capture Petersburg.  At least he didn't get sacked for winning, as he did at Five Forks the following year.  The vote after my presentation was almost unanimous that he ought to have sought employment elsewhere after his victory at Globe Tavern.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate!

On Thursday evening, October 19, I'll be talking to the San Francisco Civil War Round Table about General Gouverneur Kemble Warren's role in the fighting along the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg in August 1864 as described in The Siege of Petersburg:  The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.  Warren was an engineer.  He had raised a regiment of Zouaves, the 5th New York Infantry, crushed by Hood's Texas Brigade at Second Manassas.  He was a hero of Gettysburg for alerting General Meade to the significance of the Round Tops.  Warren led II Corps in the fall of 1863, giving A. P. Hill a bloody nose at Bristoe Station and angering Meade by (correctly) calling off an attack at Mine Run.  He led V Corps in the Overland Campaign, throughout which he annoyed his superiors to the point that shortly after Grant's army group arrived at Petersburg, Meade requested Warren's relief.  Though Meade's wish was not granted, Warren failed to realize that he ought to seek employment elsewhere.  Even his victory on the Weldon Railroad in August did not mollify his superiors.  Prior to the battle of Five Forks in April 1865, Grant unintentionally set up Warren for a fall by carelessly leading Sheridan to expect Warren's arrival much earlier than possible and giving Sheridan the authority to relieve Warren if he were too slow.  Sheridan waited until Warren had won the battle of Five Forks and then unjustifiably relieved Warren.  Denied a court of inquiry for many years through Grant's intransigence, Warren obtained some degree of vindication posthumously.

What were Warren's alternatives to his request for a court of inquiry?

Forgive me for mentioning such a thing, but earlier in the war, a Union Brig. Gen. Jefferson  C.Davis had shot dead Maj. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson in a personal quarrel.  Davis' political patron was present and Davis went on to command an army corps later in the war.  Ought Sheridan to have shot Sheridan dead on the spot when he was confronted and refused to rescind the order relieving Warren of command?  There was still enough Confederate lead flying around that a good defense lawyer might well have gotten Warren off.  But Little Phil's chief of staff seems to have been present, and terminating him with extreme prejudice would have taken the matter our of the realm of manslaughter and into that of murder though it was a matter of honor and people cut one another more slack for such things back then.

Another alternative would have been to challenge Little Phil to a duel.  Mark Twain had been challenged to a duel in 1864.  What did Warren have to lose? 

What do you think?  I think Warren should have sought a transfer after his victory on the Weldon Railroad.  He might have done better with Sherman, who ultimately granted him his court of inquiry.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Clio v. Prose Fiction: Ralph Peters' "Judgment at Appomattox"

Last night I finished reading Ralph Peters' Judgment at Appomattox.  It was such a good read that I regretted having to set the book down.  Peters has a gift for words that really brings to life the travails of our Civil War.  Those who have read all his books on the Civil War and want more of his writing can go on to read about his fictional Civil War detective, Abel Jones, composed under the pen name of Owen Parry.  Peters may have exceeded his Civil War achievement in the Abel Jones series, credibly creating the world of a Welsh detective in America.

How does the historian (our muse is Clio) compete with the ability of a talented writer of fiction such as Peters to bring events to life?  We can look at the work of Gordon Rhea, who just finished a five volume epic on the Overland Campaign, and the work of Noah Andre Trudeau, who has written about the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg as well, among other matters.  Even if we cannot write brilliantly alliterative prose, like Peters, we can still employ the words of the participants themselves to bring things back to life.  Many turns of phrase by the participants are inimitable and some real life incidents are off limits to the writer of fiction, who must heed Aristotle and obey the principle of probability.  Facts, however, are improbable.  And we historians may celebrate them by serving them up raw, in the unique words of their authors whenever possible.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"The Battle of First Deep Bottom," by James S. Price

Recently I finished reading "The Battle of First Deep Bottom," by James S. Price.  It gets off on the wrong foot with errors about Confederate activity during the establishment by the Federals of the Deep Bottom bridgehead.  The author did not examine carefully enough the Official Records of the Union and Confederate navies.  Those records make it clear that the Secessionists were engaged in a joint land and naval operation at the time the Northerners crossed to Deep Bottom.  Custis Lee's infantry from the Department of Richmond arrived at Deep Bottom as early as the afternoon of June 20, 1864, hours before the Unionists crossed, and that Col. Carter's artillery got there that evening--still before the Federals crossed.  ORN, 10:705-706.  This is surprising because the author did look at ORN.

The body of the book is a pleasant and informative read.  I am writing now about the establishment of the Deep Bottom bridgehead by the Unionists and was pleased to pick up some sources of which I was unaware.  The account of the first battle of Deep Bottom is informative and reasonably well, if not obsessively, researched. 

The book's epilogue includes the curious statement that "Grant's strategy of sending a force north of the James while simultaneously threatening Petersburg would not bear much fruit until the end of September 1864."  It bore fruit in August 1864, when Grant severed the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg after luring Rebels north of the James by striking there first.

I'll be looking forward to reading the author's book on the battle of New Market Heights.  The publisher's format was a reasonable compromise between the superficial and the obsessive.  The maps were good.  The research was reasonable.  The modest footnotes were very well organized.  This was a good introduction to the subject, only slightly marred by its initial and final errors.  It is difficult to write about any segment of the siege of Petersburg without knowing something about all of it.  For example, knowing something about the August fighting is essential to assess the fighting in June.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who captured North Carolina's Col. John Algernon Baker and Sgt. Fred C. Foard June 21, 1864?

Who captured Col. John Algernon Baker of the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry and Sgt. Fred C. Foard of Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer’s staff near the Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21, 1864?  The 5th New Hampshire of Miles’ brigade, Barlow’s division, claims its skirmishers captured the two while they slept in a barn (Child's regimental history)  The 2nd United States Sharpshooters, detached from McAllister’s brigade of Mott's division to lead McDougall's brigade of Barlow's division, claims to have captured them in the fighting between the plank road and the Weldon Railroad (Stevens' regimental history).

If the 5th New Hampshire captured Baker and Foard, it probably would have happened before the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters caught up with Barlow's division.  The 2nd no sooner caught up and took the lead than Barringer's brigade sprung its ambush on the Federals.

September 29, 2017.  I'm satisfied for now that the 2nd United States Sharpshooters (Berdan's) captured Baker and Foard.  All the Tarheel sources in Clark's North Carolina Regiments indicate that, as does Stevens' history of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters.  I'll be getting Foard's memoir later and will see what it says.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Judgment at Appomattox" by Ralph Peters is avaiiable now

I brought my copy of Ralph Peters' Judgment at Appomattox to a legal conference.  I read a little bit each night before I go to sleep.  It is hard to set the book down but I have to get up early every day.  Peters really brings history to life.  He uses a lot of alliteration, must have studied Old English, Gerard Manley Hopkins or both.

Historians need not despair.  We too can bring events to life, but that involves using the words of others as well as our own, as Gordon Rhea has done in On to Petersburg.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Help! Handwriting Expert Needed!

Can anyone read the following blank?

I know it says, "My tent is now up, and I am preparing for a good ____.  "For the first time in the history of the Second Corps, it is in reserve."

I think the first letter of the illegible word is "m" because it is made the same way as the "m" in the first word, "My."

Or could the word be "nap"?

Thoughts?
  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Another Plan for a Seaborne Move in 1864

Grant's plan for a seaborne move in the East that may have obviated the Overland Campaign is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 33, 394-395.

A modified version of the plan is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 33, 602-604:

BALTIMORE, MD., February 26, 1864.
Maj. Ge. H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
 GENERAL: In a conversation with Grant at Nashville, Teun., on
the 12th instant, reference was made to a project of an operation
from the Eastern sea-board, to aid, by co-operation, the contem-
plated movements in Alabama and Georgia. He desired, as I under-
stood him, to have a column of 60,000 men move on Raleigh, by the
way of Weldon, and thence to co-operate with the Armies of the
Ohio and of the Cumberland. I have thought of th~ project since,
as I had, in fact, often before, while in command in North Carolina
and Virginia, and beg leave, respectfully, to present the following
plan, which will, I think, meet General Grants wishes, and also
attain some other important objects:
 I would respectfully propose that the force be collected in the
vicinity of Hampton Roads, in such a way as to excite the least sus-
picion of its real object; that the artillery and infantry be moved
by transports to Fort Powhatan, on the James River, landed at that
point and the one opposite, on the north bank of the river, and a
portion of the force put to work to intrench those points, so as to b

Page 603

CHAP. XLV.] CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.TJNTON. 603


held against any attacking force, while the remainder be rapidly
prepared for marching, the whole cavalry force to move at the
same time qnickly from Williamsbnrg to Bottoms Bridge, and make
a dash on Richmond. Failing in this, to attack the enemy in rear
at Malvern Hill or at Charles City Conrt-Honse, whichever place
may be their point of concentration to meet onr threatened advance
in force; and then to cross the James River at Fort Powhatan by
means of the steam ferry-boats, to be prepared at that point, and
make a dash on Peterbnrg, the Petersbnrg and Weldon, and the
Petersbnrg and Lynchbnrg Railroads. Sncceeding or failing in
this, to fall back toward Weldon, by the connty roads, on the flanks
of the main colnmn, which, by this time, shonid be in fnll march
for Weldon, destroying all bridges in their rear. Arrived at Wel-
don, to assanlt the works at once, and failing in this, to settle down
into a determined attack, opening the Seaboard and Roanoke Rail-
road for snpplies from Norfolk, and calling np the North Carolina
force from Plymonth to act on the rear of the enemy at Weldon.
After taking Weldon, to destroy the bridges at that place and at
Gaston, and to sweep throngh the State threatening Goldsborongh
and Raleigh,. and really only occnpying Raleigh with the cavalry,
while the main column moves directly for Wilmington as rapidly as
possible, living on the conntry. All the railroad and other bridges
are to be destroyed on the march. Reaching Wilmington, to attack
that town in snch a way as to succeed, opening at the same time a
landing for a base of snpplies at Masonborough Inlet. Capturing
Wilmington, all the defenses on the river and at its month are snre
to fall in snccession. This line of advance on Wilmington is the
only one that offers decided chances for snccess, inasmnch as it en-
tirely cuts off all re-enforcements from Virginia, and, if the cavalry
succeeds in cntting the Wilmington and Manchester road, from
Charleston also. It avoids the delays in crossing the White Oak
and New Rivers of a column moving from Morehead City; at the
same time it shuts off the troops that might, in the mean time, be
poured into Wilmington by the two railroads mentioned above.
 The reasons that I prefer the route by the way of the James River
to that by the line of the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad to Wel-
don are that it avoids the delays consequent npon forcing the pas-
sage of the Blackwater, the Nottoway, and the Meherrin Rivers, and
of rebuilding the bridges over those streams, which the enemy will
be sure to bnrn to retard the march of our forces, and that the ronte
by Fort Powhatan and Prince George Court-House to Weldon turns
those rivers is likely to insnre the capture of the troops stationed
along them to defend their crossings and the salvation of the bridges;
also, that this way of coming down on Weldon cnts off the re-en-
forcements from Virginia, which might otherwise be thrown into
Weldon by rail.
 The reason that the main colnmn shonld be hnrried directly
through North Carolina without waiting to occnpy Raleigh in force
is that it saves precions time in getting at Wilmington. At the same
time the direct route lies nearer the bases of supply in North Caro-
lina, viz, Plymouth, Washington, and New Berne.
 The strength of the expedition should be fully equal to that esti-
mated by General Grant, viz, 60,000 men, to insure the snccess of
the movement, which covers a very long march, and must of neces-
sity involve some severe fighting, entailing considerable losses from
deaths, wounds, sickness, and straggling

Page 604

604 OPERATIONS IN N. C., VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. [CHAP. XLV.


 I am confident that such au expedition of the above strength can
succeed in all the points that I have described above, provided it be
conducted with proper skill and determination.
 A lesser force could not make sure of Weldon, upon the attain-
ment of which everything depends. It could, howeVer, operate up
the James River, as a large water boyau, fortifying point after
point in succession, and at last lay siege to Petersburg with good
chances of success. Such a move would be important in view of
the effect it would produce on the enemy at Richmond and on the
Rapidan, but otherwise of very little value.
 The above is respectfully submitted with the hope that it may
meet the approval of the General-in-Chief.
 I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. FOSTER,
Major- General of Volunteers.

Little Mac's idea is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 11, 3:337.

Plans by Generals Barnard and Gibbon are at OR, Series 1, Vol. 21, 807-808, 812-813.

A plan by Generals Franklin and Smith is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 21, 868-870.

William Glenn Robertson has a fine summary of all these plans in "Back Door to Richmond" at pp. 13-16.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15," 1864, by Gordon Rhea


Gordon Rhea’s multi-volume history of the Overland Campaign is the first place to look if you want to know something about that campaign.  The volumes are well researched and give the reader plenty of individual perspectives on the battles they describe.  I read and enjoyed most of the fifth and final volume, On to Petersburg, in manuscript and the final chapter in a pre-publication copy.  My principal regret is that it is said to be the final volume.  It stops on June 15, 1864.  Maybe we can persuade Mr. Rhea to produce a sixth volume on the next three days of assaults on Petersburg.  Technically, the Siege of Petersburg did not begin until the evening of June 18.  I’d love to see the initial assaults depicted with this degree of research into original manuscripts.  That was one of the things I thought lacking in the most recent history of the assaults on Petersburg, Sean Chick’s The Battle of Petersburg.

On to Petersburg describes what may have been Ulysses S. Grant’s most brilliant achievement, his crossing of James River, as well as one of his worst lapses, his failure to coordinate the June 15 attack on Petersburg.  Rhea correctly gives Grant the credit due for the former and the blame due for the latter.

I differ with some of the judgments in the book’s Epilogue.  Rhea does not defend Grant adequately on the charges of butchery for the Overland Campaign.  Grant did not want to conduct an overland campaign--or a siege of Petersburg, for that matter.  Those who complained that he might have gotten his men to James River without any losses were unaware that he originally intended to do precisely that—his initial plan was to move his army by sea to Suffolk and march into North Carolina.  (Horn, The Petersburg Campaign, June 1864-April 1865, 14.)  For Grant to move to James River by sea was politically impossible for the Lincoln administration because it amounted to an admission that McClellan, Lincoln’s likely opponent in the November election, had been right in moving the Army of the Potomac by sea in 1862.  Lincoln bears responsibility for the bloodshed of the Overland Campaign as he did for the relatively slow start of the Atlanta Campaign—thousands of men Sherman expected to have at the start of the Atlanta Campaign were diverted and almost lost in April’s Red River Campaign, chasing hot cotton.  It speaks volumes for Grant’s loyalty to Lincoln that the general never said or wrote a word attempting to shift responsibility for the bloodshed of 1864 to where it belonged.

CONFIDENTIAL.] HDQRS. MIL. DIV. OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Nashville, Tenn., January 19, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief of the Army, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in lieu of these one be taken farther south. I would suggest Raleigh, N. C., as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.
A moving force of 60,000 men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee should withdraw from his present position. In that case the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist. A force moving from Suffolk would destroy first all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarcely meet with serious opposition. Once there, the most interior line of railway still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our armies into new fields, where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of the North Carolina troops to desert and return to their homes. It would give us possession of many negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the port now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea-coast. It would enable operations to commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters. Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying he country and the armies that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can. I have written this in accordance with what I understand to be an invitation from you to express my views about military operations, and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon, I shall always believe is at least intended for the best, and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT,
Major-General.

OR, Series I, Vol. 33, 394-395.
When it comes to analyzing who won and who lost the Overland Campaign, I think it would be better not to analyze the Overland Campaign alone but to step back and look at the Virginia Campaign of 1864 and the national campaign of 1864.  Grant lost and Lee won the former because he neither destroyed Lee’s army nor captured Richmond.  Grant won and Davis lost the latter because Grant’s subordinate Sherman captured Atlanta.


But judgments are easy to make.  Facts are tough to ascertain.  Rhea has done most of the heavy lifting in determining the facts about this famous campaign.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gordon Rhea's "On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864"

My copy of Gordon Rhea's On to Petersburg:  Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 has just arrived.  I'm just starting to read and I'll be reporting on it soon.  I had access to part of the manuscript and found it very well researched.  Just browsing through the book provides education through George Skoch's fine maps.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"The Army of the Potomac in the Overland & Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

I finished reading the above book by Steven E. Sodergren this afternoon.  I generally agree with its thesis, that the Army of the Potomac revived in the trenches outside Petersburg.  The author, however, strikes me as weak on the particulars of the campaign.  That's not surprising, because he has not read the standard works on the August and October fighting, among other books.  He says nothing about the dramatic increase in surrenders by Federal troops in the month of August though no one can argue with his assessment of the reinvigorating effect of Sherman's and Sheridan's victories in September and October.  It would be helpful to know how he explains them.  More importantly, and even though he has read Earl Hess' In the Trenches at Petersburg, he says nothing about Hess' important suggestion that the Unionists at Petersburg dug so much that training suffered.  Finally, he does not seem to understand that desertion alone did not account for all the subtraction's from Lee's army--around seven thousand men were detached in 1865 to help reconstitute the Army of Tennessee wrecked by Hood and Davis.  With those men in Lee's trenches, and with the Western Army in its proper place in front of Sherman, the South might have put to the test Stanley Horn's thesis that the Northern government did not have the funds to wage the war past the summer of 1864.

Sodergren's book raises some interesting questions.  Trench warfare was greeted with horror when it began on the Western Front in 1914, but did it slow down the infliction of casualties as it did for the Army of the Potomac outside Petersburg?  Did the Army of the Potomac play at Petersburg a role similar to the role played by the Roman soldiers who stalemated Hannibal in Italy after Cannae?

Since Sodergren was inspired by Lee's Miserables, reading that will be my next project.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

CSS Atlanta/USS Atlanta

Another ship with an interesting history was Atlanta.  She began as CSS Atlanta, an ironclad built from a blockade runner and based on the Savannah River.  She was armed with 7-inch Brooke rifles at bow and stern and 6.4-inch Brooke rifles amidships.



CSS Atlanta

In early 1863, her commander intended for her to attack blockaders downriver while most of the Union fleet was bombarding Charleston, South Carolina.  Deserters revealed the plan and the Federals held some ships in readiness to intercept Atlanta.  The ship went aground, was attacked by USS Weehawken and USS Nahant, and could not bring her guns to bear against them.


USS Weehawken v. CSS Atlanta

After two or three 15-inch Dahlgren rounds smashed into her, the defenseless Atlanta struck her colors.  The Northerners pulled Atlanta free and refitted with 8-inch Parrott rifles at bow and stern and 6.4 inch Parrott rifles to port and starbord.  She served on the James River.


USS Atlanta

Decommissioned, she was sold to Haiti and in December 1869, she was lost with all hands off the Delaware Capes or Cape Hatteras as she steamed for Port-au-Prince.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Learning from Illustrating

To prepare an illustration guide for my next book, I took several months off from a book I was writing about June 18-22, 1864, at Petersburg.  To reacquaint myself with the text, I started illustrating it.  A minor naval action took place on June 21, and part of illustrating it lay in finding pictures of the weapons.  They included the 15-inch Dahlgren, which armed all four of the Union monitors on James River.  Only three rounds from this fearsome weapon had led the ironclad CSS Atlanta to strike her colors the previous year.

Just three 15-inch Dahlgrens remain above water.  (Two lie with USS Tecumseh at the bottom of Mobile Bay, two more at the bottom of the Pacific off Arica, Peru, and another at the bottom of the Pacific off Callao, Peru--but more about these South American Dahlgrens later.)  The first two Dahlgrens above water stand near the grave of John Ericsson, the designer of USS Monitor, in Sweden, his native land.  These two had armed a monitor he designed for Sweden.

The third sits at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense.  Quite a story lies behind how it got there.

After the war, the United States sold two Canonicus-class monitors, Catawba and Oneota, each armed with two 15-inch Dahlgrens, to Peru.  The Peruvians named Catawba after the last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa.  They named Oneota after Manco Capac, the founder of the Inca Empire.


 Atahualpa



Manco Capac

Both ships met their ends during the War of the Pacific, 1879-1883, during which Chile trounced Peru and Bolivia, leaving the latter country landlocked.  Manco Capac participated in the defense of Arica, and the Peruvians scuttled her when Arica fell in 1880.  Atahualpa helped defend Callao until the city fell in 1881 and the Peruvians scuttled her, too.

The Dahlgren at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense was apparently salvaged from Atahualpa and sold to the British.


The only other image of a Dahlgren I have found is the following:


The gun in the picture is often identified as a Rodman rather than a Dahlgren, though.

My wife and I expect to be cruising past the watery graves of Oneota/Manco Capac and Catawba/Atahualpa next year on a voyage that begins in Valparaiso, Chile, and ends at Callao, Peru.  Unfortunately, we will be unable to visit Talcahuano, a fair distance south of Valparaiso.  There floats the ironclad Huascar, built by the British in 1865 for the Peruvians and named after another Inca Emperor.  The Chileans captured her in 1879 and now she serves as a museum and memorial ship.

Seeing her will require another voyage.


Huascar

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, 1861-1865"

It looks like my next book, The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, 1861-1865, should be published next year by Savas Beatie.  John Wilkes Booth stood in the ranks of one of this regiment’s companies at John Brown’s hanging.  The regiment refused to have Stonewall Jackson appointed its colonel.  Its men first saw combat in naval battles.  In their first action on land, they embarrassed themselves.  Their role at Gettysburg remains controversial.  Yet by war’s end they would number among the Army of Northern Virginia’s most renowned shock troops.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Upcoming Books by Gordon Rhea and A. Wilson Greene

Be on the lookout for a book coming out this August from Gordon Rhea on Grant's crossing of James River and the first day of fighting at Petersburg, June 15, 1865.

Early next year we should see the first of a three-volume series on the Siege of Petersburg from A. Wilson Greene.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign"

Dr. Dennis A. Rasbach has written a convincing book about the charge of Joshua Chamberlain and his brigade at Petersburg on the afternoon of June 18, 1864.  Dr. Rasbach persuaded Virginia to relocate the marker for the charge about a mile from where Chamberlain thought it occurred to where the historical documents proved it occurred.  Dr. Rasbach writes compellingly.  His research is meticulous.  The maps are excellent.  The proofreading was spectacular--I did not catch a single error.  The most poignant part of the book for me was the last appendix, describing the gruesome nature of the wound Chamberlain suffered.  Though the wound would contribute to his death many years later and would have justified his resignation from the service, Chamberlain nonetheless returned to combat and made it to Appomattox.  What an example this hero set!  We can all look forward to hearing more from Dr. Rasbach.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Petersburg Campaign, Part X.B.2: The Battle of Fort Gregg

John J. Fox's The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865 may well be the definitive account of one of the fights on Battle Sunday, April 2, 1865, the day the Federals also broke through the Confederate lines southwest of the Cockade City.  At least a whole Northern division spent several hours taking a Southern fort manned by the 12th and 16th Mississippi and fragments of other Secessionist units.  Fox's book gets down among the soldiers and puts you with the Unionists huddling in the cold water at the foot of the fortifications, as well as the Rebels desperately trying to hold the fort.  Fifty-five Confederate corpses remained in the fort when the fighting was finished.  My relative in the 12th Mississippi (Pvt. Thomas Mulkaha, Co. B) claimed to have been wounded at Fort Gregg, but he appears neither among prisoners taken by the Federals nor among the ranks of his unit at Appomattox.  I suspect that he just went to his wife's farm a mile or two to the southwest--he had married a Dinwiddie County girl at Dinwiddie Court House December 29, 1864.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part X.B.1: The Battle of Five Forks

The Edwin C. Bearss/Chris Calkins book on the battle of Five Forks has required revision for some time.  Michael J. McCarthy’s book Confederate Waterloo gives an updated and more accurate picture of the fight without going much beyond the overview provided by A. Wilson Greene in his Breaking the Back of the Rebellion.  The reason is that McCarthy is more interested in exploring the subsequent struggle of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren to demonstrate the injustice of his relief at the hands of Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan immediately after Warren won the battle.  The summary of the fighting is good, though I disagree with McCarthy’s figures on Confederate prisoners after having actually counted them—his figures are high, 4,500 as opposed to the 2,500 I counted in The Petersburg Campaign, assisted by the research of Bryce Suderow.  

The main problem with the book is that McCarthy doesn’t know enough about the Siege of Petersburg to put Five Forks in perspective.  He keeps insisting that Five Forks decided the Siege.  It most certainly did not.  The April 2 breakthrough by VI Corps ended the Siege, as A. Wilson Green has observed.  As I’ve pointed out in every book I’ve written on the Siege, page 922 of The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee makes clear that Pickett’s failure on March 31, 1865 to evict Sheridan from Dinwiddie Court House would have been decisive except for the slow response of Lee’s civilian superiors (Secretary of War Breckenridge and President Davis) to Lee’s request to evacuate.  Even on April 2, in the absence of approval from above to evacuate, Lee was marshaling forces to strike Sheridan similar to the way that Lee struck Hancock at Reams Station on August 25, 1864.  Unfortunately for Lee, Grant was not sick again as he was on August 25, 1864, leaving Meade to defend with his extraordinary passivity.  Grant defended by attacking, and ended the Siege.

Likewise, McCarthy doesn't understand the depth of bad blood between Warren and his superiors.  Major General George Gordon Meade does not seem to have forgiven Warren for failing to attack at Mine Run in December 1863, even though Warren was justified in calling off the attack.  Grant and Meade also held against Warren his failure to seize Petersburg in August 1864, even though he cut the Weldon Railroad.


Once we are finished with the actual fighting, McCarthy’s real story begins—how Warren obtained a court of inquiry and how that proceeded.  This part of the book is riveting and it is hard to set down.  Despite the protestations of Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan, as well as the Army’s chief lawyer, to the contrary, it appears that the unfortunate Warren established his case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Grant carelessly set up Warren to disappoint Sheridan and then invited Sheridan if disappointed to relieve Warren, with predictable results.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part X.A: Grant's Ninth and Final Offensive

The last of the major works in the Petersburg Canon is a very good one, Wilson Greene's Breaking the Back of the Rebellion.  I agree completely with Greene that the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2, 1865, was the decisive battle compelling the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg, not Five Forks on April 1.  I would have liked to see Greene point out that for Lee, the decisive battle was Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, where Pickett failed to evict Sheridan from that critical point.  If you don't think so, take a look at page 922 of The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee.  I've pointed this out in every book I've written on the Siege.  Problem was, Lee had superiors who appear to have dithered or required more convincing, so it took the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2 to end the Siege.

I would also have liked to see Greene explore the parallel between August 25, 1864, and April 2, 1865.  On both occasions, the Federals had forces in threatening positions, and Lee was marshaling his forces to attack them (Hancock in 1864 and Sheridan in 1865).  The difference was that Grant was sick in 1864 and well in 1865.  Meade defended passively in 1864 and Hancock was trounced at Second Reams Station.  Grant defended by attacking in 1865 and brought the Siege to an end.

Greene has a big canvas to fill, and provides solid background summary while getting to a more personal level with the Sixth Corps--a clever and economical strategy.  His judgments are sound and he has admirably dealt with the Siege's end.

But the Petersburg Canon is not finished!  My next and I think last entry on this subject will be Part X.B.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Thanks U.S., China, Philippines, Australia, Belgium, Russian, and Turkmenistan!

Thank you all in the U.S, China, the Philippines, Australia, Belgium, Russian, and Turkmenistan for looking at this blog!  People in the U.S. often say others, such as France, should be grateful to us for the aid our country has rendered.  But let's not forget the aid other countries have rendered us.  France helped the U.S. break free of Britain.  Russia supported the U.S. during the Civil War and shed the preponderance of blood in WWII.

But let's face it.  There is no gratitude in international affairs.  Naked self-interest rules.  So expecting gratitude is a waste of time and probably a harmful delusion..

Illustrate as You Go

I got the manuscript of my history of the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, off to SavasBeatie last weekend.  Since then I've been reacquainting myself with what I've written about June 18-22, 1864, at the Cockade City.  I've found that as I reacquaint myself with the material, it's convenient to illustrate the chapters.  Finding Federal illustrations is much easier than finding Confederate illustrations!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part IX: Missing Histories

Now comes a big gap in the history of the Siege of Petersburg, covered only by the general histories of the siege, not by any more detailed studies than perhaps a magazine article.

First, there is the Applejack Raid, also known as the Stony Creek Raid or the Weldon Railroad Raid, of December 7-12, 1864.  Grant sent a reinforced corps to wreck the Weldon Railroad from Stony Creek to Hicksford.  Lee dispatched A. P. Hill with infantry and Hampton with cavalry in pursuit.  Little fighting resulted, but there will always be speculation about what might have happened if Hill had adopted Mahone's plan to send half the infantry to Jarratt's Station to cut off Warren's retreat.  The destruction of a reinforced Federal corps might not have amounted to a Saratoga at this point, with the presidential election over.  A history of the Applejack Raid must also focus on the impact of the raid upon civilians.  It must draw upon many individual accounts.

Next, there is the naval Battle of Trent's Reach, January 23-25, 1865.  This affair was probably connected with the march of Mahone's Division to Belfield at the same time.  The Confederate James River Squadron sortied in the absence of almost the entire Federal fleet, which had gone to assist in the capture of Fort Fisher.  The mission was to bombard City Point, something that brings to mind Kongo and Haruna bombarding Henderson Field on the night of October 13, 1942.  The Confederate ironclads did not make it to City Point.  Though Virginia II and Richmond grounded, Fredericksburg made it through, frightened off the double-turreted monitor Onondaga, and then--turned back!  Never Send an Admiral on a Suicide Mission would be my title.  When fatigue sets in, sailors revert to their default mode--save the ship.  Look at Admiral Mikawa after Savo Island and Admiral Kurita at Leyte Gulf--charged with destroying the American transports, both turned back to save their ships after destroying everything in their way.  There was no point in saving their ships.

Finally, there is the Battle of Hatchers Run, February 5-7, 1865.  This was Grant's eighth offensive at Petersburg, with most of the Army of the Potomac fighting it out in terrible weather with elements of Lee's Second and Third Corps.  The offensive appears linked with the Hampton Roads Conference, where the Confederates tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a peace on terms better than unconditional surrender.  There will be many Federal regimental histories to draw upon and to get a balanced view, the author will have to do a lot of research into Confederate manuscripts and newspapers.

Back Up Those Files!

On Friday afternoon, just as I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry:  A History, an unsolicited download from Microsoft wiped the entire manuscript and all my legal work from my laptop.

Thank God for Carbonite!  By Friday evening, everything was back.  I had my files backed up otherwise, but not as well.

I'm not plugging a specific product, but two good friends have lost substantial work for want of back-up.  Get those files backed up!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Addendum to The Petersburg Canon, Part 1: Histories Dealing with the Entire Campaign

Originally, in Part 1 of the Petersburg Canon, I mentioned three general campaign histories and two two-volume works dealing with the campaign Southside.

There is a substantial work on the fighting on the York-James Peninsula--The Peninsula.  This is volume 2 of Henrico County, Field of Honor, written by Louis Manarin and published by Henrico County.  (Volume 1 covers the fighting in 1862, volume 2 the fighting in 1864.)  I disagree with many of the opinions expressed in volume 2 about the fighting in August 1864, but it is possible that the author may be right about them and I may be wrong.  The production values in this book are unparalleled--glossy paper, color photographs and color maps.  Furthermore, it fills a gap in the canon by covering virtually all the fighting on The Peninsula during the Siege.  It is unusually expensive, but it belongs on the shelf of every Siege of Petersburg aficionado who can afford it. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Addendum to The Petersburg Canon, Part VI: Grant's Fourth Offensive--the Weldon Railroad, August 1864

Another thing I would do if I had it to do over again writing The Siege of Petersburg:  The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, is to illustrate the book more methodically--not just with more maps, but with more photos and drawings.  As I illustrate The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, I've come across some helpful websites for illustrations.  There is http://www.petersburgproject.org/, where I found the following drawing of the Gurley House from the Diary of Francis W. Knowles:



There is https://www.history.navy.mil/, where I found helpful pictures of ships and naval actions (the ship is USS Thomas Freeborn and the action is First Drewry's Bluff):



There are also websites for Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War, and Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.  These are so easy to find that you just have to put those titles in your search engine to come up with the websites.  The Library of Congress and the National Archives are also readily available, as is the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part VIII: Grant's Sixth Offensive, October 1864

The third of the three consecutive books on the Siege of Petersburg that each cover one of Grant’s offensives is Richmond Must Fall, by Hampton Newsome.  This book covers Grant’s sixth offensive at Petersburg, and indeed a little more—some of the aftermath of Grant’s fifth offensive.  Hampton captures unforgettably the dismal atmosphere of late October 1864.  He provides us with detailed accounts of the fighting on October 7, October 13, and—most importantly—October 27, 1864, Grant’s last grasp at Richmond before the November election.  The maps he has drawn are excellent.  His opinions are judicious.  Richmond Must Fall belongs on the shelf of every student of the Siege of Petersburg.  I only wish he had allowed me to be of more help to him, though I doubt I could have been as much help to him as he has been to me.  Hampton drew the maps for my book The Siege of Petersburg:  The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.  He has drawn the maps and diagrams for my next book, on the 12th Virginia Infantry, which fought at Burgess Mill south of the Appomattox on October 27.  He read the manuscripts of both these books and provided very sensible editorial advice—he’s an outstanding editor as well as a masterful writer.  I hope I have not diverted him too much from his own work—his next project is a book about the Confederate counteroffensive on the North Carolina coast in the spring of 1864.  He really knows his stuff about the Siege of Petersburg, because he took the lead in editing (with John Selby and myself) Civil War Talks:  Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans (2012), possibly the most important book on the siege since Bernard’s War Talks of Confederate Veterans (1892).  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Tip on Illustrations

An observation.  I'm working on the illustrations for my history of the 12th Virginia.  I have come across enough portraits of soldiers (of which I was unaware) while looking for other things that I may have to google every soldier in the roster--all 1532 of them.  If you are writing a biography or a history of an action or a campaign, you may want to google every soldier you mention in your text.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part VII: Grant's Fifth Offensive, September 1864


                A single book covers the next of Grant’s offensives at Petersburg, his fifth.  This book is Richard Sommers’ Richmond Redeemed.  It still sets the standard for scholarship among books on the Siege.  Dr. Sommers looked up practically every source, published and unpublished, in his research for this book.  He did it the old fashioned way, by writing to or visiting many, many repositories.  He did not have the benefit of the extensive digitalization of sources in the past few years.  Hats off to Dr. Sommers!  I have thought long and hard about how an amateur historian can attain the standard Dr. Sommers has set, and the only path that seems practical to me is to narrow the scope of the project to the point where the research can encompass all available sources.  That means focusing on a brief, limited action or on a small unit.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part VI: Grant's Fourth Offensive--the Weldon Railroad, August 1864

After the four books on the Crater come three books, each on one of the following three offensives.  I wrote the book for August, which follows next.

I can criticize my own book easier than anyone else's.  My goal was to make people feel the heat and humidity at Second Deep Bottom, the chaos of Globe Tavern, the desperation of Second Reams Station.

As I work on other projects and improve as an historian, I see more things I could have done.  If I had it to do over again, I'd start by describing the failed Confederate attempt at destroying the Deep Bottom bridgehead.  ;This would involve the navies.  Cornell has a handy website.

I've described my errors.  Pond's brigade charged five deep, not eleven deep, at Fussell's Mill on August 16, 1864.  The Wilson-Kautz Raid affected Confederate rail transportation until mid-July 1864, not September 1864.

I'd also draw more upon newspaper accounts and manuscript sources available online.  Hampton Newsome, an outstanding editor, encourage me to look at newspapers more than I already had in regard to the book I'm completing on the Petersburg Regiment, the 12th Virginia Infantry in Weisiger's Brigade of Mahone's Division.  Here's an example of what I would have found:

Privates George William May of the Petersburg City Guard and Alexander M. Miles of the Petersburg Old Grays, in Petersburg that day, learned that the regiment was going out to fight.  They grabbed their Enfields and hotfooted it out of town together to join the 12th.  Rushing into the belt of woods north of the Globe Tavern clearing swept by Colquitt’s and Clingman’s brigades, they joined the pandemonium prevailing there as small bands of soldiers of both sides rushed this way and that, capturing, escaping and recapturing one another.  In the thicket, May and Miles saw a party of Federals advancing towards them.  Thinking that retreat would lead to death while standing and fighting would result in captivity, the two Virginians ducked behind some trees and conferred.  They resolved on bluffing the bluecoats.
When the Unionists arrived within hearing, May stepped forward and demanded their surrender.  He told the Yanks that he had a regiment behind him while another was bearing down on their flank.  Some of the Unionists threw down their arms immediately, but the officer leading them hesitated.  Hidden in the underbrush, Miles made enough noise to suggest a lot of Confederates advancing.  The threat of overpowering numbers silenced the officer.  The whole party lay down their arms and marched in double file to where May stood.  May placed himself at the head of the column.  Miles came out of the timber and posted himself at the column’s rear.  The two Virginians led the Northerners within Confederate lines.  They had taken prisoner a captain, a lieutenant and twenty-five privates whose chagrin knew no bounds when they discovered the deception.[1]

I'd also ask Hampton for more of his excellent maps.






[1] The Daily Confederate (Raleigh, N.C.), August 26, 1864; The Chattanooga Rebel (Griffin, Ga.), September 3, 1864.  Both versions mistakenly name George Henry May instead of George William May, both of whom belonged to the Petersburg City Guard, but George Henry May had died on May 22, 1863 from his Second Manassas wound.  Henderson, 12th Virginia Infantry, 140.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thanks, Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table!

Thanks, Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table, for the pleasant reception you gave my wife and me Thursday night, March 23.  My talk was on the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, on August 19, 1864, during the battle of Globe Tavern.  Mahone's brigade, of which the 12th was a part, squared off against White's (formerly Ledlie's) division of IX Corps in a very intense fight east of the main struggle.

We had arrived the day before at Winter Park, just north of Orlando, after stays at Jekyll and Little St. Simon's Islands.  Winter Park is a very pleasant town that has a museum which includes the largest existing collection of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who made the stained glass windows that commemorate the Confederate dead in Petersburg's Blandford Church--the brick church on Crater Road (formerly Jerusalem Plank Road).  One of my wife's ancestors contested title to some of the church's property prior to the Revolutionary War, but lost.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part V: Grant's Third Offensive at Petersburg

There are four main books on The Crater, the culmination of Grant’s third offensive at Petersburg.  They all cover, in varying degrees of detail, Hancock’s thrust north of James River to threaten Richmond and draw Confederates away from the Cockade City, maximizing the chances for success when the mine was exploded.

The first is “The Horrid Pit,” by Michael Kavanaugh and William Marvel.  This book was written before the internet brought so many original and published regimental sources so accessible but it is still an excellent introduction to the subject.

I thought Richard Slotkin’s “No Quarter” was particularly disappointing for its many errors, given that it came from a major publishing house.  It brings little to the party.

John Schmutz’ “The Battle of the Crater” brings to light some new unpublished material, but it still needs significant editing.

If I were limited to reading one book about The Crater, it would be Earl Hess’ “Into the Crater,” which has particularly good maps and brings new unpublished material to light. 

There is still plenty of unpublished material on The Crater that has not been integrated into a major book on the subject.  A systematic search of newspapers probably would bring more to light.  A definitive book on this terrible struggle has therefore not yet been written.

My take on The Crater is that the layout of the June 18 Confederate line affected the battle significantly.  Meade was right that Pegram’s Salient was a poor location for the mine because the salient stood between two higher points.  Grant appears to have failed to convey to Burnside the experience gained from mines exploded at Vicksburg.  Meade’s interference with Burnside’s plan and Grant’s support of Meade after letting Burnside go so far violated fundamental principles of management.

Next—beyond the Crater.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part IV: Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg

Grant's second offensive, which involved the most ambitious movement of the entire siege, lacks its own book.  Despite that, two books cover actions that form part of Grant's second offensive.  I found them compelling enough that I set out to write a book on the same scale.

The books I speak of are Dr. David F. Cross' A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad: The Vermont Brigade, June 23, 2864 (Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), and Capt. Greg Eanes' 'Destroy The Junction,' The Wilson-Kautz Raid & The Battle for the Staunton River Bridge:  June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864 (Lynchburg, Va.:  H. E. Howard, Inc., 1999.    

Dr. Cross' book adopts the strategy of focusing very narrowly to master the material.  I think it succeeds.  The book focuses on the ordeal of the Vermont Brigade of VI Corps on June 23, 1864, and thereafter in Southern prison camps.  I find the book, its sources and its maps very helpful.  

Captain Eanes' book reads as an eyewitness history.  It seems repetitive at times but grows on you.  The maps could be better, but the sources are most helpful.  Eanes corrects the story that the Wilson-Kautz interrupted rail traffic to Richmond for months; instead, trains to the Confederate capital resumed within about three weeks.  

Two or three books on a similar scale remain to be written.  The first one or two would be on the fighting west of the Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21 between II Corps and the Confederate cavalry and on June 22 between II Corps and Mahone's Division.  II Corps performed as poorly as it did in August, which is very poorly indeed.

The other book, if a book indeed is merited rather than just an article, would be on the abortive Confederate attack of June 24, 1864, near where another Confederate attack took place on March 25, 1865.  

The Cross book and the Eanes book were written before internet research sites truly blossomed.  Anyone writing about June 21, June 22 or June 24 should look closely at the many public domain memoirs and unit histories as well as invaluable newspaper sites such as newspapers.com and chroniclingamerica.com.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part III: Grant's First Offensive at Petersburg

There are two books one must read on Grant's first offensive at Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.

The first was by Thomas Howe, The Petersburg Campaign:  Wasted Valor, June 15-18, 1864, written in 1988.  It provides a solid introduction to the fight and is particularly focused on debunking the theory that Grant's soldiers were too traumatized by attacking earthworks during the Overland Campaign to assault them at Petersburg.  The maps are good.  There is not as much manuscript or newspaper material as one expects nowadays.

The second book on Grant's first offensive is much more recent, by Sean Chick:  The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.  In substance, this book represents an advance beyond Wasted Valor.  For one thing, the maps are better.  But in this day of digitalized research, much more could have been done with manuscript and newspaper material.

There is room for another book on Grant's first offensive that utilizes digitalized research better.  Many, many regimental histories, personal memoirs and letter collections are available online now.  Newspapers galore are available at chroniclingamerica.com (the Library of Congress newspaper archive) and newspapers.com.

Likewise, there is room for another book on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign because both Roberson's Back Door to Richmond and Schiller's Bermuda Hundred Campaign were written before the digitalization of so many sources eased the scholar's burden.   

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part II: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign and Butler's Attack on Petersburg


Prelude:  The Bermuda Hundred Campaign

Two books cover much of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, which lasted from May 5, 1864 until arguably as late as June 15, 1864, when Grant and the Army of the Potomac arrived at the gates of Petersburg.

William Glenn Robertson.  Back Door to Richmond:  The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, April-June 1864.  Newark, Del.:  The University of Delaware Press, 1987.

Herbert M. Schiller.  The Bermuda Hundred Campaign.  Dayton, Oh.:  Morningside House, 1988.

These two books, both excellent, complement one another in their approaches.  The former is more of a view from a distant perspective, while the latter gets a little bit deeper into the thickets.  Both have splendid maps.  They cover a campaign in which Petersburg was ripe for the taking at first but not the objective until the opportunity to walk into the Cockade City had passed.

Butler's Attack on Petersburg

One book covers Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler's June 9, 1864 attack on Petersburg.

William Glenn Robertson.  The First Battle for Petersburg:  The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864.  El Dorado Hills, Ca.:  Savas Beatie, 2015.  This is an expanded version of  The Petersburg Campaign:  The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys June 9, 1864  (Lynchburg, Va.:  H. E. Howard, Inc., 1989).

This is the only book on a battle that seems insignificant in terms of numbers but was critical because it alerted the Confederates to Petersburg's vulnerability and led them to reinforce it enough that the Federals could not just march into the city on June 15, 1864.  It covers the June 9 fight in vivid detail.

 


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Coming in August: "Judgment at Appomattox" by Ralph Peters

Ralph Peters, who brought to life the siege of Petersburg in his novel The Damned of Petersburg, will have out the fifth and final novel of his eastern theater cycle, Judgment at Appomattox.  The book will cover the period from Fort Stedman (March 25, 1865) to Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  The other titles of the series are Cain at Gettysburg, Hell or Richmond, and Valley of the Shadow.  I expect to have the same difficulty setting down Judgment at Appomattox as I did its predecessors.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part 1: Histories Dealing with the Entire Campaign

There are really only three histories that cover the entire campaign.  They complement one another, because each takes a different approach.

Hess, Earl J..  In the Trenches at Petersburg:  Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat.  Chapel Hill, N.C.:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009.  This book takes the most original point of view and focuses on the fortifications.  The author would have done well to study siege warfare during other periods, but just the writing about the fortifications is worth the price of the book.  One of the book's insights is that the field fortifications delayed Confederate defeat in that Federal troops who should have been training to fight spent their time digging instead.

Horn, John.  The Petersburg Campaign:  June 1864-April 1865.  Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Books, Inc., 1993.  An interpretative, analytical, traditional approach--except for excerpts from the diaries of Pvt. George S. Bernard of the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, at the heart of much of the fighting Southside (south of the Appomattox River).  Long on tables, short on maps.

Trudeau, Noah Andre.  The Last Citadel:  Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864- April, 1865.  El Dorado Hills, Ca.:   Savas Beatie, 2014.  An eyewitness history of the siege.

There are two histories that focus on the fighting Southside, a very substantial part of the siege.  Because one of these histories focuses mainly on the Federal side, and the other on the Confederate side, these volumes complement each other.

Bearss, Edwin C., with Suderow, Bryce A.  The Petersburg Campaign.  2 Vols.  El Dorado Hills, Ca.:  Savas Beatie, 2012.  These volumes build on Mr. Bearss' studies of the main actions Southside.  They focus mostly on the Official Records and the Federal side of things.  

The other history has quite a history of its own.

Bernard, George S., ed.  War Talks Of Confederate Veterans:  Addresses delivered before A.P. Hill Camp of Confederate Veterans, of Petersburg, Va., with ADDENDA giving Statements of Participants, Eye-Witnesses and others, in respect to Campaigns, Battles, Prison Life and other War Experiences. Petersburg:  Fenn & Owen, 1892.  Bernard and his comrades would write articles, publish them, seek comments from their fellow soldiers, and publish the results.  This volume is critical to the understanding of the battle of the Crater, among other fights--not all of them around Petersburg.

Newsome, Hampton, Horn, John and Selby, John.  Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans.  Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 2012.  Bernard originally compiled and edited this book.  He was ready to publish it in 1896, essentially as volume 2 of War Talks Of Confederate Veterans.  Something happened and the manuscript disappeared.  It showed up at a flea market in 2004, where it was purchased for fifty dollars.  Later it was sold to the History Museum of Western Virginia for fifteen thousand.  This volume covers the battles of Globe Tavern (August 1864) and Burgess Mill (October 1864), among others--again, not all of them around Petersburg.





Saturday, February 4, 2017

Was Atlanta Really the Last Chance for the Confederacy? Or Did It Have Another Chance in 1865?

In beginning a draft of a book on the extraordinary maneuvers and events at Petersburg on June 22, 1864, I compared Grant's progress to Sherman's and assessed Joe Johnston as a poor choice for commander of the Army of Tennessee if the goal was to retain possession of Atlanta.

At least one reader of my circulated comments on Johnston thought I didn't understand what Johnston was up to.  What do you think he was up to?  A purely Fabian strategy of abandoning Atlanta to preserve the Army of Tennessee?  

I'm interested because I recently read Stanley Horn's The Decisive Battle of Nashville and the author (no relation to me) asserts that the Federal government would have run out of money to prosecute the war by the summer of 1865.  If that were the case, a Fabian strategy might have been viable.  It's still pretty clear that President Davis wanted Atlanta held, but Johnston might have done well to give up the city to preserve his army if the Federal government was going to run out of money in the middle of 1865.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Congratulations Brett Schulte on your Wonderful Website, Beyond the Crater

Anybody starting to write a book about almost any aspect of the Siege of Petersburg would do well to start by looking at Brett Schulte's www.beyondthecrater.com.  This wonderful website puts many, many resources at one's fingertips.  It contains Official Records, newspapers, battle summaries, unit histories, maps, unpublished materials, Battles & Leaders, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States war papers, National Tribune, Military Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Southern Historical Society Papers, Confederate Veteran, other postwar publications, and orders of battle.  A stop at The Siege of Petersburg Online (another name for the website) will really get you started.  Congratulations Brett!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Pleasant Time at the Orange County (California) Civil War Round Table

My wife and I had a pleasant time at the Orange County (California) Civil War Round Table last Tuesday night, January 17.  I talked about the fight between around 600 men from Weisiger's Virginia Brigade and about 150 men from Colquitt's Georgia Brigade against approximately 1,120 men from White's division of IX Corps.  The fight took place on August 19, 1864, off by itself on the eastern side of the Globe Tavern battlefield.  A participant called it "The No Name Battle."  David Zieve, a college classmate I had not seen in 45 years showed up for the meeting.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another Correction to "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864"

On page 310, I mistakenly wrote that Hampton and his cavalry departed Petersburg for South Carolina in 1864.  Correct of course is that they departed in 1865.

Mea culpa!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

More on the Civil War Naval Museum

I took pictures of most of the exhibits at the Civil War Naval Museum December 23.  To see them, click here.  Then click on any of the pictures for a full screen view.  My favorite was the picture of CSS Jackson, a rare photo of a Confederate ironclad in Confederate service.