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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Report of J. W. F. Hatton's Death Prior to Petersburg Campaign Greatly Exaggerated

I'm happy to announce that reports of J. W. F. Hatton's death prior to the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign were greatly exaggerated in Goldsborough's Maryland Line in the Confederate Army.  The Daily Richmond Dispatch for October 27, 1864 reports that a writ of habeas corpus was necessary to obtain his discharge after he completed his term of enlistment.  That excellent memoir in the Library of Congress is therefore correctly attributed.  One of the other Hattons in the battery must have been killed earlier.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Who Really Authored the Hatton Memoir in the Library of Congress?

There is a splendid account of the fighting on June 22, 1864, in a memoir in the Library of Congress ascribed to "J. W. F. Hatton" of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battery.  However, page 261 of Goldsborough's "Maryland Line in the Confederate Army" reports that J. W. F. Hatton was killed in action earlier in the war.  Fortunately, page 271 lists two other Hattons who may have authored the memoir:  R. H. S. Hatton and Joseph Hatton.

Does anybody know which Hatton authored the memoir?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Art of History

History is an art, not a science, just as war is an art rather than a science.  An historian would need all the facts to do history scientifically, and an infinite number of them slip away like tears in rain.  Relatively few facts remain for the historian to work with, especially if they pertain to the woods east of Richmond or south of Petersburg.

As a practical matter, historians rarely use all the facts at their disposal.  For example, as I write about June 22, 1864, I have access to at least a dozen diaries that I will probably not quote at all and may not even used in footnotes.  They do not provide any enlightening details.  Then there are the numerous accounts of the Yanks fleeing from the Confederate onslaught.  I will probably not use them all.  How many such accounts are necessary?  At some point, one reaches the point of diminishing returns.  Or take the Official Reports.  Who uses every fact set forth therein?  Nobody.

I used to think that writing history resembles assembling a puzzle, but like Leroy Brown's face, the puzzle has a couple of pieces gone.  The problem with this analogy is that a puzzle, when assembled, provides a complete picture and includes everything.  A more apt comparison is with a mosaic, where there are a lot of blank spaces between the shiny bits.  Another apt comparison is with a pointillist painting, which has a substantial amount of canvas between the colorful dots.  The art lies in the selection, organization and analysis of the shiny bits or colorful dots.

Then there is the drawing of conclusions from the facts, a totally different function.  For example, Gibbon wrote a wonderful factual history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  Trouble is, he failed to draw the correct conclusions from the facts he established.  He concluded that Rome fell because of barbarians and Christians.  The facts show that Rome fell because it divided against itself, and a house divided cannot stand.  The Romans faced worse in the third century A.D. than in the fifth, but in the third, even though they split in three, they all knew they belonged to one.  When Aurelian reconquered the other two parts, the Empire was reunited.  In the fifth century A.D., the Romans divided against themselves then sicced the barbarians on one another.  The Western Romans even established barbarians in their territory. 

The Romans essentially committed suicide for fear of dying.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Observations on Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg, Part III

Yet another misconception that has arisen about this offensive is that II Corps folded as soon as the Confederates attacked its left flank.  In fact, the two brigades in Barlow's return, the Irish Brigade (which formed the right angle with the front line) and MacDougall's brigade (at the end of the return) respectively stopped cold the Alabama Brigade and the Georgia Brigade of Mahone's Division.  Then Barlow stretched out a line of skirmishers from the left of MacDougall's brigade while Mahone deployed his Virginia Brigade against them.  The skirmishers could not stop the Virginians and then Barlow's men began to melt away, followed by Mott's front line and most of Gibbon's. 

In one of his reports after the blame game began, Barlow insisted that he could have done nothing to prevent the disaster.  Maybe.  If he had brought up Miles' brigade a little earlier, he might have positioned it at the end of the return where it could well have fended off the Virginia Brigade.  If Barlow had not sent Miles' brigade back to the second Federal line, which diverged from the first at an approximately sixty-five degree angle, a counterattack by Miles' brigade might have slowed if not stopped the Confederate onslaught.  On the other hand, it seems more and more likely to me that in the second line Miles' brigade fended off the advance of Lane's and/or Scales' brigades of Wilcox's division, not just the Georgians accompanying Maj. Mills of Mahone's staff.  It is hard to tell what might have happened if Miles' brigade not been there and if Lane and/or Scales had struck the second line of Mott's division instead.