The Decisive Battle of the Civil War: Another Nomination – Part 1

By David A. Carrino
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2010, All Rights Reserved

Part 1 of a 4-part article


William T. Sherman

One of the much debated topics about the Civil War is which battle was the decisive battle. Much effort and time have been expended in support of one or another Civil War battle for this distinction. A great deal of energy and thought have also been devoted to the point of view that no Civil War battle merits this title. Herein is offered another nomination for this designation as well as the case for this contention. Note that the choice of the word “contention” is intentional, because the battle which is proposed as the most decisive is not one which is likely to be selected and which is instead likely to provoke disagreement. Rather than championing this battle as the most decisive, the intent is to provide a different and hopefully thought-provoking point of view about a little-known Civil War battle, the ramifications of which are greater than the apparent insignificance of the battle. The battle in question is Rocky Face Ridge, the opening battle of William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. This battle is nominated as the decisive battle of the war because it set the pattern for the entire Atlanta campaign, and the Atlanta campaign, as argued below, was the most significant military action in ensuring the completion of the Union victory.

The Atlanta Campaign: The Curtain Rises

Rocky Face Ridge is in northwest Georgia, 30 miles southeast of Chattanooga, and is one of the folds of land which, like Missionary Ridge to its west, jut upward like sharp pleats in the terrain. In fact, Rocky Face Ridge is the easternmost of this series of elevations and, as such, stands as the last topographical barrier to the flatter terrain to its southeast, in which the city of Atlanta is situated 100 miles away. Interspersed within these hundred miles are three major rivers which an invading army would have to cross on its way to Atlanta: the Oostanaula, the Etowah, and the Chattahoochee. Rocky Face Ridge is pierced by three main gaps, which are named, north to south, Mill Creek Gap (known to the locals as the Buzzard Roost), Dug Gap, and Snake Creek Gap.

From Chattanooga to Atlanta and through Mill Creek Gap ran the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the line on which the Great Locomotive Chase took place in 1862 and to which were connected other railroads that ran all the way to Union supply depots in Nashville. Four miles east of Rocky Face Ridge was the town of Dalton, through which the Western & Atlantic ran and into which also ran the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad from the north, the latter railroad lying east of Rocky Face Ridge. Approximately ten miles south of Dalton along the Western & Atlantic was the town of Resaca, which was situated on the Oostanaula River and almost directly east of Snake Creek Gap. Rocky Face Ridge and the towns east of it comprised the area from which Sherman’s drive to Atlanta would begin, and it took no great military insight for Sherman to envision the Western & Atlantic as a supply line which would be available to him all the way to his objective.

Joseph E. Johnston

At the same time, Sherman’s adversary, Joseph E. Johnston, was using that same railroad to supply the army which he commanded, the Army of Tennessee. Johnston had been named to command of this army after its disastrous performance at Chattanooga. The battle of Chattanooga was the culmination of lengthy and widespread disenchantment among both officers and enlisted men toward the Army of Tennessee’s previous commander, Braxton Bragg. Johnston restored the morale and confidence of this army and now had it deployed in a formidable position on Rocky Face Ridge, which Johnston correctly recognized as an advantageous location to block the advance of Union forces into Georgia toward the enticing objective of Atlanta.

Johnston had at his immediate disposal the two corps of William Hardee and John Bell Hood, each approximately 20,000 men, deployed to the left and right (south and north), respectively, of the Buzzard Roost and, hence, of the railroad which Johnston anticipated Sherman wanted to cling to during an advance on Atlanta. Johnston’s 5,000 cavalry under Joseph Wheeler were positioned east of Rocky Face Ridge and north of Hood’s corps to guard against an advance along the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad around the northern end of Rocky Face Ridge. The southern end (left) of Hardee’s corps extended to Dug Gap, which allowed this passage to be stoutly defended, but Snake Creek Gap, five miles further south, was not defended. In addition to the approximately 45,000 troops in the Army of Tennessee, Johnston also had available to him the 19,000 men under the command of Leonidas Polk, who were currently in Alabama, but who were available to join Johnston in the event that he needed them. Their availability was due to the fact that Nathaniel Banks no longer demanded attention from any Confederate forces east of the Mississippi River, although Johnston still had to convince the authorities in Richmond that Polk’s force was needed in Georgia. Polk was in Alabama because, almost three months after his suspension by Johnston’s predecessor, Bragg, Polk had been sent west and eventually replaced the man who was brought east to succeed Bragg and who was now requesting that Polk, along with the 19,000 troops under his command, be sent east to Georgia.

This was the situation and the force which were Sherman’s immediate concern as he contemplated his thrust at Atlanta. When Ulysses S. Grant was appointed general in chief of all Union armies and attached himself to the Army of the Potomac to direct its thus far fruitless attempts at eliminating Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, Sherman was placed in charge of the western theater, for which the focus by this time in the Civil War had become the southeast. Sherman’s force was composed of three armies: the Army of the Cumberland, 70,000 strong under George H. Thomas; the Army of the Tennessee, 25,000 strong under James B. McPherson; and the Army of the Ohio under John M. Schofield, which at 19,000 troops was in reality a corps. Sherman had these forces deployed with Schofield on the left (north), Thomas in the center, and McPherson (whose army Sherman called “my whiplash”) on the right (south). This arrangement of the three armies was to be used for most of the drive to Atlanta.

Sherman’s plan to dispossess Johnston of his formidable position took into account its stoutness. In a foreboding phrase in a letter home, Sherman gave his assessment of the Confederate defenses and the likely outcome of a direct assault by his men against “the terrible door of death prepared for them in the Buzzard Roost.” Accordingly, Sherman intended Schofield to feint from the north along the East Tennessee & Georgia and Thomas to assault frontally, but only as a means of holding Johnston in place, while the main thrust would be delivered by the whiplash McPherson. McPherson was to move from Chattanooga under cover of Taylor’s Ridge, which lies between Missionary Ridge to the west and Rocky Face Ridge to the east. Then McPherson was to move eastward through Taylor’s Ridge at Ship’s Gap, which lies south of the Dug Gap end of Johnston’s line, then through the town of Villanow, and finally through the undefended Snake Creek Gap to emerge in rear of the Army of Tennessee for a strike at Resaca to cut Johnston’s supply line.

On May 4, 1864, the three Union armies commenced their coordinated movements against the Army of Tennessee. While Schofield’s force was stalled by Wheeler’s cavalry, and Thomas’ men met expectedly stiff resistance, McPherson’s intricate movement came off precisely as planned, and on May 9 the Union Army of the Tennessee found itself east of the Confederate Army of Tennessee and a mere five miles from Resaca. McPherson reported this in a dispatch to Sherman, who was with Thomas’ army. McPherson also reported in the dispatch that the only enemy forces so far encountered were some rebel cavalry. Sherman was at dinner when this news reached him, and he pounded the table in triumphant jubilation and shouted, “I’ve got Joe Johnston dead!”

McPherson’s Missed Opportunity

Leonidas Polk

As it happened, Joe Johnston still had a good deal of life left, both literally and figuratively, and the latter was due as much to serendipity as skill. On the same day that Sherman set his plan and his forces in motion, Johnston convinced Richmond to send Polk’s 19,000 troops to join the Army of Tennessee as a third corps, and its immediate assignment was to reinforce Resaca once it moved there. The first contingent of these troops, a brigade of 2,000, arrived in Rome on May 5 and then at Resaca two days later, where these men took position along with the small equally sized garrison in entrenchments which Johnston had had constructed there. As McPherson’s force closed in on Resaca, these rebel troops took them under fire, which stopped McPherson in his tracks to assess an enemy infantry force which he had not expected to encounter. After considering his situation, unsupported and out in the open in rear of the enemy and confronting a force of unknown size, McPherson decided that the most prudent course of action was to return to the safety of Snake Creek Gap, and by the end of the day on which he had emerged from the gap, he was back in it in a much more defensible position than the exposed one near Resaca.

When Johnston was informed of the appearance of a large Union force near Resaca, he ordered the movement of Hood with three divisions to reinforce the 4,000 troops who had disquieted McPherson into withdrawing. On the following day, Confederate reconnaissance indicated that Sherman’s whiplash had relinquished its threatening position near Resaca and cloistered itself in Snake Creek Gap. This led Johnston to believe that McPherson’s movement had been a feint, and this supposition caused Johnston to order Hood to leave one division at Resaca and move the other two to Tilton, which is between Rocky Face Ridge and Resaca and from which these divisions could be sent to meet a threat at either place.

In the meantime, Polk and his 19,000 men were arriving, which gave Johnston both comfort and more troops to reinforce Resaca. Because the attacks against Rocky Face Ridge had all but ceased, Hardee and eventually Johnston began to suspect that Sherman was planning to reinforce McPherson for a stronger attack from that direction. In an attempt to determine his adversary’s intentions, Johnston sent Wheeler’s cavalry around the north end of Rocky Face Ridge for reconnaissance. Wheeler reported that Sherman’s entire force appeared to be moving southward, perhaps through Snake Creek Gap for a junction with McPherson. Johnston decided that his stout position on Rocky Face Ridge was no longer tenable, and on May 12 the Army of Tennessee withdrew from the ridge and evacuated Dalton.

Thus it was that Sherman used maneuver more than assault to accomplish his immediate goal of dislodging Johnston’s force from its formidable position on Rocky Face Ridge. However, a few days earlier when Sherman pounded his fist on the table, he envisioned much more. The disappointment over this stung Sherman, in part because it had come after such a height of expectant jubilation and in part because it was due to a failure by his protégé, McPherson, who had been appointed Sherman’s replacement in command of the Army of the Tennessee when Sherman assumed command of the entire conglomeration of Union armies after Grant moved east. Sherman had such high regard for McPherson that he once remarked about him, “If he lives, he’ll outdistance Grant and myself.” Stung by the disappointment over McPherson’s failure, Sherman stung back. When Sherman met with McPherson in Snake Creek Gap during the concentration of the Union forces there, Sherman told his protégé, “Well, Mac, you missed the opportunity of your life,” although Sherman might have been more impressed with the prescience of his comment had he known how little life McPherson had left. In his memoir, Sherman could accurately state, with the assuredness of hindsight, that for McPherson and his opportunity at Resaca, “Such an opportunity does not occur twice in a single life.”

What Might Have Been

Had McPherson not succumbed to trepidation and missed the opportunity of his life, it is certainly possible that the Union fruits of the battle of Rocky Face Ridge would have led history to categorize it as a truly decisive battle. Even though Polk’s force was close to joining Johnston’s army, the juncture might have been prevented if the Army of Tennessee had been caught between the two Union forces. While this would have left Polk’s force looming in the area around Sherman’s armies, it is not inconceivable, in light of the relative strengths and of Johnston’s cautious nature, that Polk and his men would have simply hovered uselessly near Sherman’s horde, uncertain of what to do, in the same way that Johnston had done outside Vicksburg as John C. Pemberton’s Army of Mississippi was inexorably ground into submission.

Nevertheless, even without the elimination of the Army of Tennessee, the battle of Rocky Face Ridge can rightly be considered much more important than its obscurity and apparent insignificance suggest. This is the battle which set the tactical pattern for most of the battles of the Atlanta campaign, in terms of both the deployment and the use of each of the three armies under Sherman’s command and also with regard to Sherman’s use of maneuver more so than assault to drive Johnston’s forces backward toward the Union objective. Because the Atlanta campaign and the eventual Union capture of Atlanta led to the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War could continue until the North emerged victorious and the Union was restored. In spite of the lost opportunity at Rocky Face Ridge and Sherman’s resulting disappointment, one important objective had been attained: the dislodging of the Army of Tennessee from its stout position. Although there had been some serious fighting, primarily by Thomas’ men in their holding action, the overall Union losses were small (estimated at fewer than 900), and it was maneuver rather than assault which had accomplished the expulsion of the Confederate army.

In addition to driving the Army of Tennessee out of its formidable position on the ridge, the maneuver by Sherman placed Johnston’s army in relatively open and less defensible terrain, where Sherman’s superior numbers could be used to greater advantage. Johnston realized this, and his plan (which in reality was more a yearning) was to catch Sherman in motion when the Union commander had made an error and exposed his forces, or part of them, to attack. The odds of this were not good, but Johnston felt that, in light of the two to one numerical superiority of Sherman’s forces, the odds were not good from the Confederate perspective in any situation. Johnston correctly reasoned that the best chance for driving Sherman’s large force away lay in cutting the railroad supply line. To this end, Johnston urged the Confederate government to move Nathan Bedford Forrest from northern Mississippi to middle Tennessee where the Wizard of the Saddle could work his destructive sorcery on Sherman’s railroad lifeline.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

For various reasons, Forrest was never given that task during the Atlanta campaign, which left Johnston to deal with Sherman’s horde without the benefit of the best weapon to strike the best blow to stop or at least slow the Union advance on Atlanta. As a result, Johnston was left with only his yearning for an opportune error by his adversary. While the Confederate commander waited for this and, in his mind, took action to increase the chances of it, his tactics during the Atlanta campaign consisted of a gradual slow withdrawal toward Atlanta with recurrent occupations of strong defensive positions in the hope of enticing Sherman into a ruinous assault. Save for once during the campaign, Sherman refused to be coaxed into it and instead used maneuver rather than attack to move closer to his objective of Atlanta.

Thus it was that the lesson which Sherman learned at Rocky Face Ridge was applied throughout the Atlanta campaign. Certainly this strategy was made effective by the necessity of Johnston to defend Atlanta. Nevertheless, Sherman was astute enough to realize that, as at Rocky Face Ridge, maneuver was not only the safer and less costly option, but also the more effective course to reaching his objective. The capture of that objective, Atlanta, is what led to the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and the continued prosecution of the war to restore the Union. Hence, it can be said that the battle of Rocky Face Ridge, because it was the place where Sherman developed the tactics which would be used to bring about the capture of Atlanta and the re-election of Lincoln, was the decisive battle of the Civil War.

Continue with Part 2 >>

History Briefs: 2009-2010

By Mel Maurer, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2009-2010, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: From 2007 to 2011, Mel Maurer filled the position of Roundtable historian. During Mel’s tenure as historian, each Roundtable meeting opened with a ‘history brief’ presented by Mel, each ‘brief’ providing a small glimpse into a less-explored corner of the story of the Civil War. This page collects the history briefs from the 2009-2010 Roundtable season. Following Mel’s tenure as historian, his successors likewise presented history briefs at the beginning of each Roundtable meeting. Their history briefs are also on the Roundtable website, each history brief on a separate web page.


September 2009

September 1862: Union forces under General George McClellan hold back the invading forces of General Robert E. Lee at the battle of Antietam in Maryland. Some words of those days:

General George McClellan, upon being handed the battle plan of General Lee:

“Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”

John B. Gordon

Confederate General John B. Gordon fought there and had these memories:

“The first volley sent a ball…through the calf of my right leg. On the right and left my men were falling…like trees in a hurricane….Higher up in the same leg I was again shot; but still no bone was broken….I could not consent to leave them in such a crisis….I had a vigorous constitution and this was doing me good service…. A fourth ball ripped through my shoulder.

“I could still stand and walk, although the shocks and loss of blood had left but little of my normal strength. I remembered the pledge to the commander that we would stay there till the battle ended or night came. I looked to the sun – it seemed to stand still.

“I then attempted to go myself, although I was bloody and faint….I had gone but a short distance when I was shot down by a fifth ball which struck me squarely in the face….I fell forward and lay unconscious with my face in my cap; and it would seem that I might have been smothered by the blood running into my cap…but for the act of some Yankee who…shot a hole through the cap which let the blood out.

“I was borne on a stretcher to the rear.”

Author David H. Strother wrote of the battle in an article in Harper’s Magazine in 1868. It included these words:

“Many were found to be so covered with dust, torn, crushed and trampled that they resembled clods of earth and you were obliged to look twice before recognizing them as human beings.”

Union General Jacob Cox (and later Ohio governor) had these words on Antietam in 1882:

“McClellan estimated Lee’s troops at nearly double their actual number…for the rooted belief in Lee’s preponderance of numbers had been chronic during the whole year.

“The result was that Lee retreated unmolested on the night of the 18th and what might have been a real and decisive success was a drawn battle in which our chief claim to victory was the possession of the field.”

Source:
Eyewitness History of the Civil War by Joe H. Kirchberger

October 2009

It’s October 1862 when “victory” at Antietam is cause both for the release of President Abraham Lincoln’s great proclamation and further doubts about the leadership qualities of General George B. McClellan.

George B. McClellan

Here are some words of that time:

October 1st – The Whig, a newspaper in Richmond, commenting on the Emancipation Proclamation said:

“It is a dash of the pen to destroy four thousand millions of our property, and it is as much a bid for the slaves to rise in insurrection with the assurance of aid from the whole military and naval power of the United States.”

October 4th – Maria Daley’s diary entry:

“McClellan, Pierrepont says, is popular because he keeps his soldiers out of harm’s way as much as possible. I think too he said, there were 34,000 on furlough at the last battle. No wonder he says McClellan is popular with 18,000 stragglers – the rebels shoot their stragglers so they have none.”

October 13th – Lincoln in a note to McClellan:

“You may remember my speaking to you of what I called your over cautiousness? Are you not over cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?”

Late October – General Henry Halleck in a letter:

“I am sick and disgusted with the conditions of military affairs here in the east and I wish myself back in the western army. With all of my efforts, I can get nothing done. There is an immobility here that exceeds all that any man can conceive of. It requires the lever of Archimedes to move this inert mass. I have tried my best, but without success.”

November 5th – McClellan later in his memoirs:

“Late at night I was sitting alone in my tent writing to my wife….Suddenly someone knocked on my tent pole and upon my invitation to enter there appeared Burnside and Buckingham both looking very solemn….After a few moments Buckingham said to Burnside: ‘Well General, we had better tell General McClellan the object of our visit.’ I said I would be glad to learn it where upon he handed me the orders of which he was the bearer. I read the papers with a smile, immediately turned to Burnside and said: ‘Well Burnside, I turn the command over to you.’”

Source:
Eyewitness History of the Civil War by Joe H. Kirchberger

November 2009

November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln is re-elected president, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. Lincoln carries all but three states with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes. He tells his supporters, “I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work will be to the lasting advantage, if not the very salvation, of the country.”

During the early days of this month, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman set in motion his plan to devastate the South with his March to the Sea. He would leave Atlanta with 62,000 men and only 20 days’ supply of rations to begin an overland campaign, without further supply or communications, to live off the land as they moved toward Savannah and the Atlantic Ocean. His army would subsist from the farmland and plantations along the way as they destroyed rail lines and ruined industry used in the Southern war effort.

Sherman’s March to the Sea: “a monsoon of destruction”

Sherman wrote of the beginning of the march in his memoirs saying:

“We stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of July 22nd and could see the copse of trees where McPherson fell. Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a pall over the ruined city….Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of ‘John Brown’s soul goes marching on;’ the men caught up the strain and never before or since have I heard the chorus of ‘Glory, glory halleluiah’ done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.”

Georgians were horrified at the potential destruction and the seeming inability of Confederate armies to do anything about Sherman. The Southern press viciously attacked him in these words:

“It would seem as if in him all the attributes of man were merged in the enormities of the demon, as if Heaven intended in him the depths of depravity yet untouched by a fallen race….Unsated still in his demonic vengeance he sweeps over the country like a monsoon of destruction.”

As the soldiers marched, they sang a wide variety of songs, but not the one that would define the March to the Sea to later generations, which was written months later: “Marching through Georgia.” It’s said that Sherman hated that song. However, it would become such a universal anthem that the Japanese troops sang it as they entered Port Arthur, and British troops sang it in India – it was hugely popular during WWII.

With all due respect to Sherman:

Bring the good old bugle boys, we’ll sing another song
Sing it with spirit that will start the world along
Sing it as we used to sing it, 50,000 strong
While we were Marching through Georgia
Hurrah, hurrah we bring the jubilee
Hurrah, hurrah the flag that makes you free
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea
While we were marching through Georgia.

Source:
The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David J. Eicher

December 2009

In closing out this bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln we remember December 1862 – the last month that millions of Americans would legally be enslaved in our country. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would free them on the first day of the new year.

James C. Conkling

In August of that new year, Union supporters in Springfield, disgruntled with Lincoln and his proclamation, asked him to speak at a rally on September 3. Lincoln could not attend, but wrote a letter (really a speech) to be read at the gathering by his long-time friend, James C. Conkling.

The letter was sent with a brief note which read, “I cannot leave here now. Herewith is a letter instead. You are one of the best public readers. I have but one suggestion. Read it very slowly. And now God bless you, and all good Union-men.” (Though the complete text of Lincoln’s letter is not included here, all of Lincoln’s original spelling and grammar have been left intact.)

Here are some words from that letter-speech:

“There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say: You desire peace; and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways. First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise. I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible.”

“Now allow me to assure you, that no word or intimation, from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief.”

“But to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you do not. Yet I have neither adopted, nor proposed any measure, which is not consistent with even your view, provided you are for the Union.”

“You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional – I think differently. I think the constitution invests its Commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war.”

“But the proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life.”

“You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistence to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes.”

“I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives….If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive – even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”

“The signs look better….Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time….And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they strove to hinder it.”

“Still, let us not be over-sanguine of a speedy final triumph. Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result.”

“Yours very truly
A. Lincoln”

January 2010

Until tonight, with this “Joust at the Judson,” as history gets rewritten, when Americans think of debates, they think of Lincoln-Douglas and maybe Kennedy-Nixon.

Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas seven times in 1858 during their campaign for the U.S. Senate from Illinois – winning the debates overall but losing the election.

Abraham Lincoln

It was on June 16,1858 in Springfield, Illinois that the state Republican party unanimously nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the United States Senate. The Republicans had garnered statewide support for Lincoln, with an unprecedented 95 individual county Republican conventions endorsing him.

On the evening of his nomination, Lincoln gave his acceptance speech. As his audience listened intently, he began this famous talk with these words:

“We are now into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

“In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

Words – no doubt like those of tonight’s debaters – that will live forever.

March 2010

Sure and begorrah, ‘tis a grand month to remember the glorious Irish Brigade in the Civil War.

The Irish Brigade of the Union army was an infantry brigade, authorized by the United States secretary of war in September 1861. All but one of its five regiments were of Irish origin. Its first regiment was the 69th New York Infantry, called the “Fighting 69th.” They were known in part for their famous war cry: “Clear the way!”

At the First Battle of Bull Run, the 69th served under the command of Colonel William Tecumseh O’Sherman, and was one of the few Union regiments to retain cohesion after the defeat. After Bull Run, Thomas Francis Meagher, the Captain of Company K, applied to have the 69th New York Volunteer Militia reorganized into Federal service as the core unit of a larger brigade composed predominantly of Irish immigrants. Meagher (an escapee from imprisonment as an Irish Rebel in England) was promoted to brigadier general and designated the brigade’s commander.

In addition to creating a strong fighting force, the formation of the Irish Brigade served three Union purposes:

  1. It warned Britain that there could be Union-supported consequences in Ireland if Britain intervened. (Most of the brigade’s members were known Irish revolutionaries.)

  2. It served to solidify Irish support for the Union. Many Irish were naturally predisposed to support the Confederacy due to their sympathy with struggles for independence.

  3. It solidified the support of the Catholic minority for the Union cause. Having their own paid Catholic chaplain implied a social acceptance for Irish Catholics, which had eluded them in the antebellum period.

Their chaplain was Fr. William Corby, CSC, a Holy Cross priest and future president of the University of Notre Dame. He became famous for his giving absolution to the troops of the Irish Brigade before the battle of Gettysburg.

The brigade fought well, earning praise for hard campaigning during the Seven Days battles. After Malvern Hill in the summer of 1862, while other units were transferred to northern Virginia to fight under Gen. John Pope, the Irish Brigade remained on the Peninsula with Gen. George B. McClellan.

On September 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam, command confusion led to the Irish Brigade facing the center of the Confederate line, entrenched in an old sunken farm road. The brigade again acted conspicuously, assaulting the road – referred to after the battle as “Bloody Lane.” The green became the red.

Although unsuccessful, the brigade’s attack gave supporting troops enough time to flank and break the Confederate position, at the cost of 60% casualties for the Irish Brigade. The brigade would then suffer its most severe casualties in December at the battle of Fredericksburg, where its fighting force was reduced from over 1,600 to just 256 men.

It fought in the northern battleground at Fredericksburg, where they assaulted the sunken road in front of Marye’s Heights. Coincidentally, one of the regiments manning the sunken road defenses was also a predominantly Irish regiment. It was at Fredericksburg that Lee allegedly gave Meagher’s regiment the name “Fighting 69th.”

The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

In May 1863, the brigade sustained further casualties at the battle of Chancellorsville and in July, at Gettysburg, the brigade of 600 men distinguished itself further in the Wheatfield. It has a monument on the Loop on the battlefield.

The “Fighting 69th” also fought in World War I as part of the Rainbow Division. The Medal of Honor for bravery was awarded to several regiment members. By the time World War II came, the Irish influence in the regiment had diminished somewhat, but the regiment served with distinction in the Pacific theater as part of the 27th “New York” Infantry Division.

The Fighting 69th has been a unit of the New York National Guard since 1947. The 69th Infantry also served with distinction in Iraq from 2004-2005. It fought in and around Baghdad, most notably securing “Route Irish” and the surrounding area of Baghdad suburbs.

The Irish Route is an MSR – a Main Supply Route – between Baghdad and its airport. The designation “Route Irish” follows the common practice of naming MSRs after sports teams – in this case the “Fighting Irish” of the University of Notre Dame.

Father Corby would be proud.

Raise your glass to the Irish Brigade!

2008-2009 History Briefs >>
2010-2011 History Briefs >>


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Grant’s Troops Cross the Mississippi and Movement toward Jackson

By Daniel J. Ursu, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2020-2021, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the December 2020 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


Ulysses S. Grant

Picking up where we left off at the end of November’s history brief, during April of 1863 Union General U. S. Grant’s troops had marched south along the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River to rendezvous with Union Admiral Porter’s fleet and cross to the eastern shore in the vicinity of Grand Gulf. Specifically, McClernand’s corps of about 10,000 troops would board the transports after Porter’s river ironclads destroyed the Confederate batteries atop the cliffs defending the town. Mr. Ed Bearss, former Chief Historian of the National Park Service and renowned expert on the Vicksburg Campaign, characterized it as follows in his book Fields of Honor, “By April 28, Grant’s troops and Porter’s fleet are ready to undertake what, for that time and place, is a formidable amphibious operation.”

In that “formidable” operation, Porter’s gunboats attacked the batteries on the morning of April 29, but were unsuccessful in knocking out a sufficient number of the rebel guns and indeed suffered damage from Confederate return fire. Porter’s losses numbered about 20 killed and 60 wounded after fighting through the morning and into the early afternoon.

As a result, it was decided to attempt to cross further downstream, and that evening under cover of darkness, Porter’s entire fleet safely bypassed Grand Gulf and met McClernand’s troops a few miles further south on the west bank of the Mississippi. Fortuitously, Grant, who had only unreliable maps of what he might encounter south of Grand Gulf, was assisted by discussion with a former slave who under questioning was determined to be a reliable source of information with motivation to help. To wit, Grant was advised that a good road ran east of the ungarrisoned town of Bruinsburg to Port Gibson which, despite its name, was an inland town about five miles east of Grand Gulf. From there, they would be able to assault the Confederate positions at Grand Gulf from behind.

To raise the best possible confusion in the mind of Confederate General Pemberton, commanding Confederate troops at Vicksburg, Grant asked one of his corps commanders and friend, General Sherman, to create a diversion to the north of the bastion. Sherman recorded in his Memoirs, “I received a letter from General Grant, written at Carthage, saying that he proposed to cross over and attack Grand Gulf, about the end of April, and he thought I could put in my time usefully by making a ‘feint’ on Haines’s Bluff, but he did not like to order me to do it, because it might be reported at the North that I had again been ‘repulsed, etc.’ Thus we had to fight a senseless clamor at the North, as well as a determined foe and the obstacles of Nature. Of course, I answered him that I would make the ‘feint’, regardless of public clamor at a distance, and I did make it most effectually using all the old boats I could get about Milliken’s Bend and the mouth of the Yazoo, but taking only ten small regiments, selected out of Blair’s division, to make a show of force.”

At the crack of dawn on April 30, McClernand’s whole corps plus a couple of extra brigades boarded the transports and moved downstream to Bruinsburg, where they disembarked to the elation of General Grant who logged the following in his Memoirs, “When this was effected I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. Vicksburg was not yet taken it is true, nor were its defenders demoralized by any of our previous moves. I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. But I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labours, hardships and exposure from the month of December prior to this time that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishment of this one object.” Indeed, Grant was now in the full throes of all he had sought during past numerous failed attempts including direct assaults, canal digging, and chaotic maneuvers down the Mississippi Central Railroad as he endeavored to overcome fortress Vicksburg. At last, Grant’s troops were threatening Vicksburg from its south on dry land on the east bank of the mighty river.

The landing site at Bruinsburg for the 24th and 46th Indiana Infantry, who waded ashore through the mud and up a steep bank to reach the eastern shore of the Mississippi River
The area has been much improved since 1863, but it is still very difficult to reach, with parts of the road gravel or dirt.

Good road at Bruinsburg or not, this part of Mississippi was still difficult terrain. Grant stated in his Memoirs, “The country in this part of Mississippi stands on edge, the roads running along the ridges except where they occasionally pass from one ridge to another. Where there are no clearings and the sides of the hills are covered with a very heavy growth of timber and with undergrowth and the ravines are filled with vines and canebrake almost impenetrable.”

One of the good roads leading from the Bruinsburg landing site to Port Gibson
Even today, there are many impediments along the road, such as fallen trees.

In Port Gibson there were about 6,000 Confederate troops under the command of Brigadier General J.S. Bowen, who had requested reinforcements. Pemberton declined. Accordingly, Bowen was vastly outnumbered by Grant’s troops, who rapidly marched to meet their outposts by May 1. Nevertheless, Bowen resisted with enough resolve that Grant, himself, went forward to organize the assault. But by the evening, Bowen retreated and Grant allowed his men to rest two miles outside of town. He wrote to his superior General Halleck in Washington, D.C. that his soldiers were “well disciplined and hardy men who know no defeat and are not willing to learn what it is.” The following morning, they advanced northeastward, threatening to cut off Grand Gulf. The garrison there, realizing the threat, pulled out and scurried toward Vicksburg. This left Grand Gulf and its river landing facilities to Porter’s fleet, who promptly occupied it. Henceforth, Grant’s corps under McClernand immediately continued northeastward.

Meanwhile, Grant established headquarters in Grand Gulf and began to secure it as a base. General Halleck in Washington had been expecting Union General Banks, who was now campaigning with a sizable force further southwest in the region of the Red River and its tributaries, to link up with Grant and together assault Vicksburg from due south. However, Grant, understanding the geography, knew that under these circumstances Banks was essentially out of the Vicksburg theater and would be long delayed. Grant, exuberant from his recent successes, would not be delayed and wrote in hindsight, “I therefore determined to move independently of Banks, cut loose from my base, destroy the rebel force in rear of Vicksburg and invest or capture the city.”

Grant knew that Halleck would not agree with this unconventional strategy, but also knew that by the time letters could travel back and forth to Washington he would be well in motion. Grant’s only other potential Union human obstacle would be his friend, General Sherman, who was now on the way from Milliken’s Bend and who indeed omnisciently wrote Grant: “Stop all troops till your army is partially supplied with wagons, and then act as quickly as possible, for this road will be jammed as sure as life if you attempt to support 50,000 men by one single road.” Grant retorted: “I do not calculate upon the possibility of supplying the army with full rations from Grand Gulf. I know it will be impossible without constructing additional roads. What I do expect, however, is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee and salt we can and make the country furnish the balance.” As history shows, by the time of Sherman’s March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, he would in fact become an ardent convert of Grant’s “live off the land” approach.

On the Confederate side, General Joseph Johnston, who had been put in command of the Western theater by President Davis in November of 1862, confronted a difficult situation. He had two main armies, the one in Vicksburg under Pemberston and the other in Tennessee. They were too far apart to offer mutual support. Additionally, bedlam and chaos had been sown by Union General Grierson’s cavalry raid in central Mississippi. His horsemen disrupted logistics, supplies, railroads, and communications and put what troops could have been sent efficiently to help Pemberton out of position while responding to the rampage.

Grant would soon have closer to 40,000 troops to work with. But for the time being he was outnumbered by Pemberton, 32,000 to 20,000. On May 3 Grant was in need of Sherman to move rapidly to Grand Gulf with his corps and cross the Mississippi via Porter’s fleet to strengthen Grant’s offensive. He wrote Sherman, “It is unnecessary for me to remind you of the overwhelming importance of celerity in your movements…there must be no delay on account of either energy or formality.”

Ed Bearss

While waiting for Sherman, Grant sent substantial reconnaissance parties to cross the Big Black River to fool Pemberton into thinking that he would soon move directly on Vicksburg. Being outnumbered for the moment, Grant’s novel idea was to pin Pemberton to Vicksburg and instead take a more circuitous route to the center of the state and the capital of Jackson, where resistance would be light, and sever the rail connection between Johnston’s other army in Tennessee and Vicksburg. Sayeth Mr. Bearss in Fields of Honor, “Grant however, decides on a daring move – a hook to the northeast, where he can threaten the state capital at Jackson and defeat and disperse the Confederate forces assembling there…When Sherman arrives at Grand Gulf, Grant orders the army to move out. He now has his army of maneuver: McClernand and his four divisions, Sherman with two divisions, and McPherson with two divisions…The confederates are dug in on bluffs looking south; they expect an attack against Vicksburg, coming north from Grant’s Hankinson Ferry bridgehead on the Big Black.”

Between the 6th and the 12th of May, Grant put his troops in motion northeast on the road to Jackson via Utica and Raymond. On May 9 his spearhead was a few miles east of Utica. The well-organized advance was met with little opposition, while Pemberton held his soldiers closer to Vicksburg in expectation of a direct assault from Grant. The whole Union army progressed rapidly but in a controlled way, while each corps rested in turn within close proximity of each other to maintain contact if help were needed. At one point Grant pushed two of the three corps northward to keep the Confederate command guessing; would he be rounding toward Vicksburg for an assault or proceeding to cut the railroad between Vicksburg?

On May 12 McPherson’s lead division, pushing for Raymond, came under fire from a Confederate brigade with about 10 pieces of artillery. The Union’s lead brigade was under the command of former politician, Major General John Logan. He proved adept on the battlefield, turning out his men in a neat line of battle and attacking with full vigor. Soon the rebels were in flight with about 400 casualties and approximately the same number taken prisoner to Logan’s 70 killed and 340 wounded.

The Raymond battlefield
The Confederates tried to ambush McPherson’s men here by attacking out of the tree line. They were driven back with heavy losses.

Learning this, Grant made another decision. Again from his Memoirs, “I decided at once to turn the whole column toward Jackson and capture that place without delay. Pemberton was now on my left, with, as I supposed, about 18,000 men; in fact, as I learned afterwards, with nearly 50,000. A force was also collecting on my right at Jackson, the point where all the railroads communicating with Vicksburg connect. All the enemy’s supplies on men and stores would come by that point. As I hoped in the end to besiege Vicksburg I must first destroy all possibility of aid. I therefore determined to move swiftly towards Jackson, destroy or drive any force in that direction and then turn upon Pemberton. But by moving against Jackson, I uncovered my own communication. So I finally decided to have none – to cut loose altogether from my base and move my whole force eastward. I then had no fears for my communications, and if I moved quickly enough could turn upon Pemberton before he could attack me in the rear.”

Next month we will learn whether Confederate Generals Pemberton and Johnston can decipher Grant’s intentions from his maneuvers and pull their divided forces together to parry the thrust!


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History Briefs: 2010-2011

By Mel Maurer, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: From 2007 to 2011, Mel Maurer filled the position of Roundtable historian. During Mel’s tenure as historian, each Roundtable meeting opened with a ‘history brief’ presented by Mel, each ‘brief’ providing a small glimpse into a less-explored corner of the story of the Civil War. This page collects the history briefs from the 2010-2011 Roundtable season. Following Mel’s tenure as historian, his successors likewise presented history briefs at the beginning of each Roundtable meeting. Their history briefs are also on the Roundtable website, each history brief on a separate web page.


April 2011

I have to admit that there was a time in my life, when I heard that slaves escaped the South by an Underground Railroad, I thought they all took the subway. (Not really.)

I believe that most people, when they hear the term, “Underground Railroad,” think of the great lady I wish to honor tonight: Araminta Ross. Well, that was her birth name. She later took her first name from her mother, Harriet, and her last name from her husband, John Tubman.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland around 1820. During a ten-year period during the 1850s, she made many trips into the South and escorted, or conducted, over 300 slaves to freedom, once bragging to Frederick Douglass that “she never lost a single passenger.”

As a slave, Harriet became a house servant at age 6 and then at age 13 became a field hand. While in her early teens, she stood up to an overseer to protect another slave. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound weight striking Harriet on the head. She never fully recovered and had spells for the rest of her life in which she would fall into a coma-like sleep.

She married Tubman around 1844 and then in 1849, afraid that she, together with the other slaves on the plantation, were to be sold, Harriet decided to run away. She escaped one night with some assistance from a friendly white woman. She made her way to Pennsylvania and soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister’s two children to freedom. She again made the dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. She went to save her husband on her third return, only to find he had taken another wife, so she found other slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.

After this, Harriet returned to the South again and again. She devised clever techniques that helped make her “forays” successful, including using the master’s horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn’t be placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading south if she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Harriet even carried a gun which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided to turn back, telling them, “You’ll be free or die.”

By 1856 her capture would have brought a $40,000 reward from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and pretended to read it. The ploy worked to fool the men.

Harriet made trips to slave country 19 times by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her 70-year-old parents. She eventually became known as “Moses.” Frederick Douglass said in a letter to Harriett, “Excepting John Brown…I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.” And John Brown, who conferred with the person he called “General Tubman” about his plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she was “one of the best and bravest persons on this continent.”

During the Civil War Harriet worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913 at around the age of 93 – one of the most courageous women in our history.

Source: information from internet sites.

May 2011

In 1861, when the 6th Massachusetts Regiment arrived in the capital after the Baltimore riots, this lady, a worker at the Patent Office, organized a relief program for the soldiers, thus beginning a lifetime of philanthropy for Clara Barton.

Clara Barton

When she learned that many of the wounded from First Bull Run had suffered not from lack of attention but from need of medical supplies, she advertised for donations in Worcester, Massachusetts and started an independent organization to distribute these supplies. It was so successful that the following year the U.S. surgeon general granted her a general pass to travel with army ambulances “for the purpose of distributing comforts for the sick and wounded, and nursing them.”

Then for three years she followed army operations throughout the Virginia theater and in the Charleston, South Carolina area. Her work in Fredericksburg, Virginia hospitals caring for casualties attracted national attention. She also formed her only formal Civil War connection with any organization when she served as superintendent of nurses in Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s command.

She also expanded her concept of soldier aid, organizing a program for locating men listed as missing in action. Through interviews with Federals returning from Southern prisons, she was often able to determine the status of some of the missing and to notify their families.

Clara was born on December 25, 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children in a middle class family. She was educated at home and at age 15 started teaching school. Her most notable achievement before the war was the establishment of a free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Though she is remembered as a nurse and eventually as the founder of the American Red Cross, her only prewar medical experience came when for two years she nursed an invalid brother.

By the end of the war Clara had performed most of the services that would later be associated with the American Red Cross, which she founded in 1881. She resigned as head of that organization in 1904, retiring to her home at Glen Echo, outside Washington, D.C., where she died on April 12, 1912.

Summarized from Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War edited by Patricia L. Faust. (Click on the book link to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

2009-2010 History Briefs >>

No Horse of Mine

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: This short story first appeared in the October 2015 Charger.


Sam was his name, or at least that’s what he told people. Not that too many asked, not these days, not when they saw his eyes.

He had once worn gray and cheered the Confederacy as loudly as anyone, but victory was no closer now than it had ever been. The war was the war, all-encompassing, and the news lately had been grim: Stonewall dead, Lee marching back downcast from Gettysburg, food riots in Richmond, niggers fleeing north by the thousands. If he was honest with himself – something that didn’t come naturally, not these days – he had to admit that he really didn’t care much anymore.

He had seen things and done things that he wouldn’t even have been able to imagine before the war. Terrible things, and too many of them, yes. He was not proud of it. He was a young man by years, not even yet twenty-three, but he had grown old, far too old, far too quickly after the deaths of his parents and sister. He had been away when it happened, on a now forgotten errand to Somerset, and through his tears upon returning had found nothing to tie their murders and the ruination of their farm to those clad in either gray or blue. Freebooters, deserters, ruffians, and vagabonds of both sides came through the area regularly by then; it could just have easily been either. As a Southerner, of course, it suited him to blame the Lincoln men, but in his heart he could not be sure.

Sam had joined a cavalry regiment and been proud of his new uniform, determined to repay the Federals in blood and iron for what he had by then convinced himself they had done, but four battles – each worse than the one before – had changed him; had dissuaded him from the virtues of patriotism and martial ardor. The incompetence of his officers, the wretched food and shoddy supplies, the filth and boredom of military life, and most importantly the horrors of the merciless battlefield had further set his thoughts adrift. It had all made him question his oath, the Cause, all of that, and had finally led him to decide to go his own way.

And so he had. There came a night, on a two-man patrol with a corporal he’d long hated, not far beyond the Confederate lines near Ensworth, that he had shot the other man and ridden off into the darkness. From then on he would fight for himself and no other. From then on it was his war alone. All alone.

Upon due reflection, what he decided upon was a sustained practice of horse thievery. That, he figured, would do nicely. That would be his war.

Sam had called upon the remote farms and ramshackle country houses of Dobbs County for almost three months now, taking what he wanted and knocking down anyone who got in his way. Sometimes a glare was enough for him to have his way, or the display of his pistols, but sometimes it wasn’t. He had been cursed at, and shot at, had endured cold and rain, and changed mounts as the occasion arose, which was often. He had not eaten well, but there had been enough. The lice bothered him, and he knew he smelled, but that was of no importance to him.

He was tired enough of his own skin and of the privations of life in the wilderness that he had not particularly minded the threat of death when it presented itself forthrightly to him. If he died, he died, and he had grown almost comfortable with the thought. He was not a fool; he avoided the armed and uniformed men of both armies with the same disinterested skill. When he nevertheless inadvertently met up with them, or with the farmers or townsfolk of the county who had come over time to hate and fear him, sometimes the bullets whizzed past and he had found something almost whimsical in the sound. Death came his way now and then, yes, it surely did, and he dealt it out to others as the need arose, which it occasionally did.

It was not yet his time to die. It just wasn’t. He knew that in a way he did not understand, but nevertheless accepted with calm and without pride, for he was not a prideful man. He had a talent for horse thievery, though, which surprised him at first, before he came to take it for granted.

It was early October – he could not rightly say the exact date, having had neither the opportunity nor the need to consult a calendar in some time – but a crisp autumnal afternoon in any event, and he knew it was time to get himself another horse, for this old mare was becoming lame. He thought maybe he might get himself some food, and a spot of whiskey would not be unwelcome.

He was making his way towards the Carpenter farm, well away from the Widow Marsden’s place, when he came across two niggers on a back road. He had plainly come upon them unawares, the fall of his horse’s hooves too soft to be heard in the thick dust of the road. They were carrying knapsacks, were these two men, and were filthy, as was he, and their eyes widened when they saw him. He was too tired to find it comical, as he had in his former life, what now seemed like ages ago.

“Who are you?” he asked them, in the old and customarily peremptory tone of command, now once more taken up as a matter of course, of a Southern man talking to a darkie.

One looked at the other, and they wordlessly seemed to communicate something in that instant. Sam repeated, still more harshly, “Who are you?”

“I’m Fred,” said the taller one, “and this here’s Eustace, suh.”

“Fred and Eustace. I don’t know you, but I don’t reckon I would. Where you from, boy?”

“We’s from Kingston, originally, suh. But now we’s goin’ to Boyle’s Crossing.”

“Is that so? Who’s your master?”

The eyes on the tall one, Fred he said his name was, narrowed just a little. Just a little, but enough that Sam noticed it. “We don’t got no master,” he replied with something passing for dignity. “We’s free.”

“Yeah? You got any papers to show that?”

“Yes, suh.”

“Let me see them.”

Fred straightened a little. “Well, suh, why do you want to see them?”

Eustace was looking at Sam, staring at him really, and Sam didn’t like it. He said, “Never you mind that, boy. You see this uniform? I’m a Confederate soldier, and I ain’t supposed to let no slave property high-tail it north when it ought to be back on the plantation, doing what it ought to be doing. You hear me? This here road heads north, don’t it? So if you’re free, let me see those papers.”

Fred seemed to consider that for awhile. “Well, suh, you know what, I think I’ll decline. Respectfully, of course.” Eustace smiled a little and nodded. He didn’t take his eyes off Sam.

Sam laughed and spat on the ground. “I don’t give a damn for your respect, nigger. To hell with that, and to hell with you. But I’ll see those papers or kill you on the spot. It’s all the same to me. Runaway slaves as good as dead if I find ‘em.”

“We ain’t runaways,” Eustace said, finally speaking up, but Sam thought he was lying. Knew he was. The black man went on, “You just a no-account deserter, and we don’t have to show you nothin’.”

That was more than Sam could bear, although – and maybe especially because – it was true. But they didn’t know that, and he’d be damned if he’d concede the point. He drew a pistol, his favorite, the big Navy Colt, dark and heavy in his hand, and immediately felt a kind of calm that was yet still angry enter his veins. He pointed the weapon at the two darkies. Fred, it gave him a little thrill of satisfaction, flinched to see it. Eustace just kept staring and staring at him, like he was going to knock him off his horse by the sheer directness of his gaze.

“You want to watch your mouth, boy, and quit staring,” Sam said sharply. “Watch that mouth or I’ll close it for you once and for all. Now let me see your papers.”

The two looked at each other again and, after what seemed like an intolerably long time, Fred said quietly, “No, suh, I don’t think we’re going to show you our papers. Why don’t you just leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone, what do you say?”

But Sam shot him where he stood, and when Eustace, with a cry, began reaching into his knapsack, Sam shot him too, and they both fell and Fred was still moving so Sam shot him again, shot them both, made sure they were dead, which in due course they both were.

He was not a prideful man, as heretofore stated. He went through their blood-spattered clothes and their knapsacks, finding three Yankee dollars, and some apples, and some neatly wrapped yellow cheese, and a hunk of bread, as well as some other things, odds and ends of no use to him. He took the money, and he put the food away for the moment, still in hopes of finding a better meal at the Carpenters’. Eustace, he found, had a big knife in his knapsack, and he thought maybe the nigger had been going for it when he shot them. There were some papers, but he didn’t trouble to look at them, there now being no particular reason to do so.

Not three minutes later he mounted up and rode on, leaving the dead to the flies and the scavengers. The autumn sun began dropping to the horizon, and somewhere not far distant a bird called. He did not look back.

Several weeks later, it was getting colder day by day, and Sam could tell that the snows were not far off. He had moved out of Dobbs County and into what was new territory for him. He had had the sense now and then that he was being watched, that unfriendly eyes were marking his comings and goings. He did not want to become so known as a presence in the backwoods and farms in those parts that his movements might be anticipated, and that he might then run into an ambush or a patrol, taken unawares despite his precautions.

So he left Dobbs County and found himself in the adjoining Jessup County, relatively unfamiliar territory to him. He hadn’t been in Jessup much at all before the war and was uneasy in having to learn his way, but by now he had some confidence in his ability to live wherever he found himself.

The day came when his horse was beginning to wear out and he knew that he again needed a new mount. He found an isolated farmhouse and, by careful scouting, determined that a man, a woman, and what appeared to be their teenage daughter lived there. There were three horses in the barn. He needed food, too, so he decided to take the direct approach, as he had so many times in the past. He rode up, dismounted, and kicked in the door, pistol in hand.

The three were at the table together. They were plainly alarmed but said nothing.

“Get me some food,” he ordered the lady of the house, a thin, stringy-looking woman who looked like she’d never smiled once in her entire damn life. She stood up. The husband, a small man, older, with tiny eyes and a thick beard, and the daughter, freckled but not ever likely to be called pretty, were still sitting at the kitchen table, watching him as carefully as could be. They said nothing, so he went on, “Give me some food in whatever you have to carry it in, and be quick about it.”

“All right, mister,” the lady said, slowly opening a drawer and then a cupboard, filling a small sack with hard bread, dried corn, and some peanuts. She handed the sack to him, glancing uneasily at his gun as she did so.

He weighed the sack in his hand; it would do. He could see they didn’t have much, and he retained at least some tiny residual shred of human charity, such that he didn’t want to clean them out entirely. “All right,” he said. “Don’t none of you come out of the house for ten minutes, now, you hear?”

They all nodded like marionettes; the father’s eyes narrowed a little as he did.

Sam went back outside, closing the door behind him; it swung on just one hinge now. He led his horse quickly to the barn, selected what looked like the best of the horses there, and transferred his saddle, blanket, and other gear to it.

He was just finishing when he heard a sound, a small sound, not far away. He turned to see the husband there with a shotgun. “You ain’t taking no horse of mine, mister,” the man said in an even voice, and at once pulled the trigger.

Sam was already moving, throwing himself behind a beam, onto the uneven dirt floor, hitting hard and rolling. The roar and the stink of the shotgun blast filled the barn. The man had fired where he had just been and had plainly missed. Sam drew his own gun and came up shooting. He missed, too, the first shot, but the second and maybe the third hit the man in his side, and he fell without a sound, fell like a dropped hammer.

Sam didn’t check him. Unsure what the wife and daughter might be up to by then, he figured he ought to be taking his leave of the place, and did just that. As he galloped back down the road, he thought he heard screaming somewhere behind him, and then another bang, a rifle from the sound of it. Instantly he felt the impact on his upper right back, knocking him forward, almost out of the saddle, as if a giant had walloped him in some ill-conceived gesture of companionship and good cheer.

Far from it. He had been shot. He gave the spur to his horse and kept going, as the pain hit, as it sunk in, wave upon wave of agony radiating out from his wound. He kept going and left the farm behind.

Sam rode along for a long time – he didn’t know, couldn’t tell through his pain, just how long – and eventually the sky began to turn orange, then red. He hurt, he hurt real bad. He heard nothing more behind him, but on he rode just the same. His new horse, as if resentful for its master’s killing, fought him as they went, and he used the reins and spurs harder than he might have otherwise. His back hurt terribly and he wanted shelter, but found none until night had come to the woods around him. At last he came to a closely growing group of trees that, he hoped, would shield him from hostile eyes. He tied the horse to a tree, wincing, almost screaming, as he did so, and eased himself to the ground, onto his stomach. He was very hungry, starving even, but his fatigue and pain won out, and he fell into an uneasy sleep.

He awoke to a long rumble of thunder. He did not feel at all rested. It was still dark, and he was dimly aware that he was soaked to the skin. A steady cold drizzle of rain fell on him, and in a flash of lightning he saw the horse not far away, where he’d tied it, looking as forlorn and weary as he himself felt. The thunder sounded again and he pulled his wool coat around him, hurting far too much to rise and get his raingear from the saddle.

The storm went on and on, and he eventually drifted back to sleep, never free of the fiery pain of his wounded back.

The next time he woke, it was with a start, almost a jolt, instantly aware that he was not alone. He was on his back now, and hurt even worse. His hand went to his pistol, but a booted foot stepped on his wrist and he could not draw the weapon.

“Watch out there, son,” said a cavalry trooper in Federal blue, three yellow chevrons on his sleeves, bearded and grizzled. He reached down and took the pistol away. “Don’t think you need this just now.”

Sam started to get up but became dizzy from the pain. He slumped back, wet and hurting. He saw that it was not long after sunrise. The Yankee sergeant was with four other men, each in blue, all ragged, unshaven, and smelly. They had carbines slung over their shoulders, and sabers hung at their sides. Three remained mounted; one, a gangly youth, stood nearby, holding his carbine at the ready with a nervous alertness.

“He looks mighty pale,” the youth said.

“Reckon he’s been shot,” said another. “Bleeding out. I know the look.”

“You been shot, son?” the sergeant asked, not unkindly. Sam nodded. “Whereabouts? Where on you, I mean?”

“M’back,” he whispered.

“Where?”

“My back,” he said, more distinctly, finding that it hurt even to talk now. “Here.” He tried to gesture but found, to his mild surprise, that he couldn’t.

“Is that right?” the sergeant said. “Well, let’s see.” He patted Sam down for other weapons, taking his other pistol and his knife, and lifted his shoulder. Sam screamed in pain, flushing a bird from a nearby bush. The sergeant held his shoulder up off the ground for what seemed like forever, looking him over. Sam nearly passed out from the agony before the sergeant let him back down. “Yep, you were shot but good, son. Why’d somebody want to shoot you?”

Sam licked his lips. “Don’t know.”

The sergeant chuckled softly. “Oh, I reckon you do. I surely do. Couldn’t have been on account of you’re that horse thief we keep hearing about ‘round here, could it?”

Sam shook his head. It hurt and he stopped.

“This your horse here?” The cavalryman nodded at the tethered beast.

Sam nodded, and gasped a little. That hurt, too, even worse.

“How long you had it?”

“Awhile now.”

“How long?”

What should he say? “Dunno. Six, seven months, maybe.”

“Uh huh. Is it branded?”

Sam didn’t know; there hadn’t been time to check. “I… I forget.”

“Not the kind of thing you’d be likely to forget, having a horse that long, is it?” one of the other troopers said.

Sam didn’t look at him; didn’t respond.

The sergeant hawked up a gob of phlegm, a long, disgusting sound, and spat it on the ground. “Come to think of it, looks a lot like the horse Mrs. Spence said got stolen yesterday by a man she described as looking a lot like you.”

“That’s right,” said the youth, as if eager to please.

Sam said nothing.

“A man she thinks killed her husband, but who her husband shot and wounded ‘fore he died,” said the sergeant. “But I guess he got his licks in, huh?”

Sam didn’t like the sergeant’s expression, to say nothing of his words, and was silent. Didn’t seem to be any point in saying anything.

The silence stretched out.

“You’re in secesh uniform, armed, with a horse that ain’t yours,” the sergeant said at last. He looked at Sam a little longer, speculatively, then turned to the others. “Well, now, General Thomas don’t like no horse thieves, does he, boys? Or secesh deserters, murderers?”

They answered. “No, he surely don’t.”

“Nope.”

“Hell, no, Sergeant.”

One of the troopers still in the saddle said nothing, clearly bored with it all.

“I reckon I could just shoot you now, and nobody’d say boo,” the sergeant said, hefting Sam’s guns in his hands, “but I ‘spect you’re gonna die soon anyway, from the looks of things.”

Sam stared at him, tiredly hating the man but not able to do much about it.

The sergeant spat on the ground again and turned to Sam’s horse. He untied it and mounted his own horse, leading Sam’s behind him. With it went Sam’s provisions, his gear, his blanket, and with it, most likely, went the possibility of any kind of tomorrow. “Well, g’bye, then, Johnny Reb,” he said. “Nice talking to you.”

They rode off, and Sam just lay there. That seemed like the thing to do. He closed his eyes, alone with his wound, alone with his damn pain, the wave upon wave of it. He was cold and wet and unarmed and hungry, and something else he didn’t even want to think about. No. He wouldn’t.

Time passed, a long time. It was quiet.

Clouds passed overhead, then thickened. It grew dark once more. After awhile the rain started up again, a drop or two, then a dozen, then a cold, steady downpour, but he did not feel it. He was no longer in pain. He felt nothing, saw nothing, knew nothing. Alone and unmourned, he never would again.

The war kept on, of course, but then after awhile it stopped, too.

New Civil War Database Goes Online

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2005, 2007, All Rights Reserved

The National Park Service has announced that the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) website is now up and running. It features basic information on the service records of over 6 million Civil War soldiers and sailors, and the database can be found at www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm. Due to the sometimes erratic and duplicative record-keeping of the day, as well as reenlistments, the number of entries is greater than the number of those who actually served. The website also lists Federal and Confederate regiments and their battles.

NPS project manager John Peterson told The Civil War News that the 11-year project would have cost millions more had it not been for the committed volunteer work of the Mormons, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and amateur genealogists across the country. The NPS soon hopes to work with the National Geographic Society to provide online maps for all major battles, with additional information and even “interpretive sound bites.”

I recently tried out the new website and was impressed. I soon found two lineal ancestors who served in the Civil War, my great-great-grandfather, Col. William H. Vodrey of the 143rd Ohio, and his brother, Pvt. John W. Vodrey of the 46th Pennsylvania, Co. F. The website has citations to the Army’s official microfilmed records, as well as Union or Confederate designations, regiment and company, and often a notation of rank at both enlistment and at discharge. You may search by last name only, by first and last name, by state, or by unit. Alternate names are also provided in some cases, as are Medal of Honor citations.

I ran searches for some familiar names and found no fewer than 12 Abraham Lincolns (11 Union, 1 Confederate) and 55 Jefferson Davises (44 Union, 11 Confederate) who served in the ranks. The 84th Iowa Volunteer Infantry had both an Abraham Lincoln and a William Sherman. In fact, there were 183 William Shermans serving at all ranks during the Civil War, 20 of whom were from Ohio. Thirteen men named Phil Sheridan also served. The sole Ulysses S. Grant is listed not as lieutenant general and general in chief of the armies of the United States, but as colonel of the 21st Illinois (the future president’s first regimental command). There were 58 Confederate Robert Lees, but 84 Union ones. There were 616 George Thomases: 475 Union (only one of whom would win the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga” and my and a past Charger editor’s enduring admiration) and 141 Confederate. Three men named James Longstreet fought in the Civil War: two Union and one (rather better known) Confederate. There were 309 Thomas Jacksons from the North and 162 from the South, but only one has gone down in history as “Stonewall.”

Just for fun, I also checked on some familar Cleveland Roundtable names. There are records of 257 Maurers (but none named Mel), 551 Crewses (6 of whom were named Richard), 16 Zeisers (but no Dans), but alas, no Carrinos, Fazios, or DeBaltzos. An impressive 886 McClellands served in the war (but none with the first name of Warren), of whom 620 wore blue and 266 wore gray or butternut. There were no Lorittses (Lynn or otherwise), but a whopping 13,792 Thomases, 8,383 U.S. and 5,589 C.S. (none of whom was named Dale). There were 918 Bauers, of whom 863 bore arms for the Union and 55 fought for the Confederacy (none named Maynard, though). There were two Novaks, both of whom fought for the Union, but neither was named David. There was one Kuenzi (a Union soldier, whose first name wasn’t Hans), but no Terry Koozer (nine soldiers, all of whom wore blue, were named Koozer). There were 16 Kellons, but none named Anthony (or Tony). There were 2,559 men with the last name George. Of these, 1,554 fought for the Stars and Stripes and 1,005 fought for the Stars and Bars. Fourteen were named George George – all wore blue, and one is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

As of December 2020, Civil War sailors’ records were still in the process of being added. There are also searchable rosters of those held in the Confederate prison at Andersonville, GA, and the Union prison at Fort McHenry, MD. You can also search the burial records of Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg, VA. The Park Service hopes to someday expand these features to include all Civil War-era prisons and cemeteries.

The next time you’re exploring the internet, be sure to drop by. It’s well worth a look.


Editor’s note: The database has a webpage that provides an Overview of the website. The Overview can also be accessed by clicking on “Learn more.” on the home page.

A Report from the Field: The 18th Annual Sarasota Civil War Symposium

By John Hildebrandt
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2010, All Rights Reserved

There are relatively few Civil War sites in Florida, but for three days every winter, Sarasota is the center of the Civil War universe. This past January, my wife, Marie, and I attended the Civil War Education Society’s 18th Annual Civil War Symposium at the Helmsley Sandcastle Resort on Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida. For most of us, the Civil War is best studied on the field of battle—be it Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Fort. Sumter, or Vicksburg—but in the midst of an Ohio winter the beach on Lido Key is a better than fair substitute. This was our fifth symposium, spaced over the past eight years, and it has become a January tradition.

The event begins with a reception on Wednesday night. The symposium presentations run Thursday and Friday until mid-afternoon—allowing plenty of time for personal pursuits—and conclude by noon on Saturday. This year’s faculty was excellent, including Ed Bearss, William “Jack” Davis, Joseph Glatthaar, Gary Ecelbarger, Robert Krick, Charles Roland, Dale Phillips, and Terrence Winchell. Jeffrey Wert was a last-minute scratch. Each year the symposium attracts about 100 participants, Civil War enthusiasts from all around the U.S., though the biggest representation is from Florida and the Southeast. This year, Marie and I were the only representatives from the Buckeye State.

Jack Davis, longtime editor of Civil War Times and now a professor at Virginia Tech University, served as Head of Faculty, organizing the presentations and handling introductions. Robert Krick, a leading authority on the Army of Northern Virginia and the author of many books, opened the symposium with a presentation on Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory: Chancellorsville. The basic story of the battle is familiar, but Krick provided some interesting insights. Although Jackson is mainly identified with the famous flank attack which turned the battle in the Confederate’s favor, Krick argues it was Lee’s idea and Jackson was the person who executed it, albeit brilliantly. As evidence, he cites a post-war letter from Lee to Jackson’s widow in which Lee wrote, “it was decided,” a gentleman’s way of saying it was Lee’s idea, not her fallen husband’s. He also noted that Lee opened the campaign with a major mistake—allowing Hooker to maneuver into a position where he could seriously threaten Lee’s army—but managed to turn things around completely. Krick is an excellent presenter, with a dry wit and a folksy style.

Terrence Winchell, Chief Historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, gave an excellent presentation on the civilian experience during the siege of Vicksburg. He illustrated his talk with a number of photographs of Vicksburg residents. The civilian experience is often overlooked in books about the Civil War, and Winchell really brought home the tremendous suffering experienced by non-combatants involved in the siege of Vicksburg. He noted that just about the only time shooting stopped was when the Yankee soldiers stopped to eat. Of the city’s 1860 population of 5,000, about 1,500 were slaves. About 15 civilians were killed during the siege. Interestingly, the Confederate authorities made no attempt to evacuate the civilian population prior to the siege. Many civilians spent much of the siege in caves dug into the hills around the city. According to Winchell, six caves are still in existence, although all are in private hands and not accessible.

The famous Ed Bearss, retired Chief Historian for the National Park Service, gave a talk on the Battle of Monocacy and attempted to answer the question: did it really save Washington? In Ed’s view, the answer is a qualified “maybe.” Bearss is a master storyteller. After seeing him so often on TV, it was a real treat to see him in person. He did not disappoint.

After lunch there was a roundtable discussion on the best—and worst—of recent Civil War books. It was a lively exchange. Most everyone came down pretty hard on British historian John Keegan’s new book The American Civil War: A Military History. Keegan has a peerless reputation as a military historian—his The Face of Battle is one of the best books ever written about war— but his Civil War book is full of factual errors—too many to forgive in the opinion of all but one of the faculty, Jack Davis, who feels Keegan’s “unique insights” outweigh his problems with the facts. Terry Winchell lauded Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Jack Davis recommended Vicksburg, 1863 (Vintage Civil War Library) by Winston Groome, also the author of a great book on the 1864 Nashville campaign—Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville: The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War—and, of course, Forrest Gump. Winchell also recommended A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg, The Aftermath of a Battle by Greg Lococo. Robert Krick recommended Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig Symonds.

There was plenty of discussion during the Thursday evening reception around the hotel pool. The average age of attendees was what you would expect at a Civil War gathering, but there was a variety of backgrounds, Civil War interests, and life histories. Faculty members are open, friendly, and ready to talk. In the evenings you could find a number of attendees and faculty members gathered around the Tiki Bar to sip a libation, perhaps smoke a cigar, and press their point of view on John Bell Hood, the Battle of the Crater, or what would have happened at Gettysburg if Stonewall Jackson had been there. After each presentation there was lots of Q&A, even a few polite disagreements.

The highlight of Friday morning’s session was a presentation by Charles Roland, retired professor of history at the University of Kentucky and the author of many Civil War books, including a well-respected biography of Albert Sydney Johnston. A World War II veteran (like Ed Bearss), Roland is an excellent presenter. But he gave himself a tough assignment: “Slavery and Secession in the Eyes of a Contemporary Southern Moderate.” He read an 1860 letter from a Louisiana planter to his old college friend, a businessman in Indiana, offering a rationalization for both slavery and secession. The letter was fictional, written by Charles Roland and created to provide the perspective of a reasonable, moderate, educated Southern man doing his best to calmly and logically explain to a dear friend why slavery was a good thing and secession, though regrettable, was legal and necessary. Roland is Southern by birth and speaks in a careful, but beautiful, drawl. Close your eyes and you are transported back to 1860. The letter is very well written—a credit to Roland—and in its context you can understand why and how people like this fictional planter rationalized human bondage and secession.

Gary Ecelbarger, author of several Civil War books, including Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders) and The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination, followed Charles Roland with a presentation on how Lincoln managed to win the 1860 nomination against some very long odds. As was the custom in 1860, Lincoln was not in attendance at the convention. In fact, none of the candidates was present. Judge David Davis, Lincoln’s unofficial campaign manager, was the person who really masterminded the strategy that gave Lincoln the nomination. His plan: trash Seward (the leading candidate); spread the message that Lincoln was not interested in the VP slot; push the idea that Lincoln was the ideal compromise candidate; and make sure Lincoln gets 100 votes on the first ballot (he got 102). It worked.

Robert Krick gave a spirited talk on a little-known but very interesting ANV officer, General Roswell Ripley. Krick titled his talk: “General Roswell S. Ripley…‘A big fat whiskey drinking loving man.’” A colorful character who managed to irritate and offend both Beauregard and Joe Johnston, Ripley fought at Antietam and Gettysburg, wrote a very good history of the Mexican War, and thought Robert E. Lee was a buffoon. A strange man who graduated with U.S. Grant from West Point in 1843 (where he ranked fifth in his class), nothing has ever been written about him. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Richmond.

Rounding out Friday was a presentation by Jack Davis on “Numbers, Nonsense, and Secession.” He made the point that, although “statistics are enormously dangerous things,” they can also tell the truth in a way nothing else can. The focus of his talk was using statistics to dispel the notion—often promulgated by Lost Cause adherents, both contemporary and historical—that slavery was not the cause of the war. As he points out, all you have to do is look at the contemporary writings, speeches, letters, newspaper articles, etc. of the time to know the war was about slavery and really nothing else. In 1860, virtually all Southern leaders wholeheartedly endorsed slavery. He noted that 65% of all Southern farms used slaves, and the truth is probably closer to 75%. He stated that 31% of households in the 11 states of the Confederacy had one or more slaves.

On Saturday morning, Dale Phillips, Superintendent of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana, gave a presentation on the Red River Campaign of 1864. Outside of the Civil War community—and even among enthusiasts—the campaign is little known. It was a disaster for General Nathaniel Banks and the Union army and showed how a much smaller force, if properly led, can beat a larger one. The campaign ended Nathaniel Banks’ career. Confederate General Richard Taylor saved the Red River Valley of Louisiana and Texas and its cotton and cattle for the Confederacy. Phillips also told an amazing story about a Union soldier from upstate New York who was wounded in the campaign and later died of dysentery in a hospital in New Orleans. The soldier is buried in the national cemetery there. Recently, the family visited the cemetery and asked to see the grave. They told cemetery officials they wanted a new headstone. When the family looked at the headstone, they noticed that the first name was different. They wanted to change it to the soldier’s real name: a female name. This soldier was a woman, the oldest of 11 children, from a farm in New York State, who went off to fight for the Union in 1862. For two years she kept her identity a secret. Her descendants recently discovered a box of her letters and papers. She had been a brave soldier who fought in many battles. In the end, they decided to put the soldier’s male name on the new headstone to honor the cause that she served and the men she fought and died with. Phillips told an amazing story, and told it well.

Also on Saturday, Joseph Glatthaar, the Alan Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, gave a presentation titled “New Insights on the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Perspective.” Two years ago, Glatthaar published a landmark study of the ANV using a unique statistical sample he developed with the help of a professor of political science at the University of Houston. They created a representative sample of 600 ANV soldiers, then Glatthaar sliced and diced the data from a number of perspectives: age, birthplace, economic status, enlisted vs. officer, slave holder vs. non-slave holder, education level, branch of service, year of enlistment, religious affiliation, marital status, and casualty status by year, branch of service, state of birth, etc. This statistical analysis was the basis for his 2008 book General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse. Glatthaar shared many unique insights into Lee’s army. Approximately 200,000 soldiers served in the ANV during the 4 years of its existence. Of those, 25% or 50,000 were killed in action or died of disease, a sobering statistic. Killed and wounded by branch of service is interesting: infantry – 41.0%, cavalry – 19.3%, artillery – 22.0%. An officer in the ANV was 2.5 times more likely to be a casualty than an enlisted man. Infantry constituted 92.4% of those KIA. Glatthaar used a number of charts and graphs in his presentation, since he was presenting numeric data. It was not your typical Civil War presentation.

The symposium concluded with a roundtable discussion among the faculty on some of their “most memorable moments” on the Civil War trail. Charles Roland believes Shiloh is the best-preserved Civil War battlefield, mostly an accident of location as “it was out of the way in 1862 and it is out of the way in 2010.” He considers it the most beautiful of all battlefields. For Dale Phillips, it is Chickamauga, what he calls “a soldier’s field,” and noted that outside of Gettysburg it has the most monuments of any Civil War battlefield. Ed Bearss told the story of leading a bus tour at Gettysburg in the late 1970s. It was raining and no one wanted to get off the bus. Then out of the back of the bus came a shout: “I’ll show you how to do it.” It was a Marine, Vietnam veteran, and double amputee. He got off the bus and with his crutches set off to walk Pickett’s Charge. He walked the entire field, even dragging himself over the fence at the Emmitsburg Road, where he fell to the ground, then got up and walked to the top of the ridge. Terry Winschell loves to visit Shiloh, Pea Ridge, and Antietam, which he believes are the best preserved of the major battlefields. “Parks belong to the veterans,” he said. “We need to keep faith with the veterans who fought at these places.” Jack Davis noted he did not visit Shiloh until 1991. He arrived late in the day and walked the park alone, until he met up with an inquisitive fox that followed him along.

Representatives of Broadfoot Publishing also attended the symposium and put together a nice display of Civil War books for sale, many of them specialty titles. They also carried a number of books from faculty members (and at good prices). Don Ernsberger, author of a new book on Gettysburg, Also for Glory: The Pettigrew – Trimble Charge at Gettysburg July 3, 1863, the story of Pickett’s Charge from the perspective of General Isaac Trimble’s and General James Pettigrew’s brigades, was also at the symposium offering his book for sale. I was able to connect him with a good friend whose ancestor fought with the 7th North Carolina, a regiment that “made it to the wall” at Gettysburg.

Most attendees register for all sessions, but there is the option to pick and choose. My brother, Robert, who lives in nearby St. Petersburg, drove down for the day to attend the Friday session. The CWEA is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, and operated by Bob Maher, a well-known organizer of Civil War tours. The CWEA typically organizes and leads upwards of 35 battlefield and campaign tours a year, many, if not most, focusing on the Civil War as well as the Revolutionary War, the Indian Wars, and even World War II. Given my day job—I work every weekend late April through October—I have not had the opportunity to participate in many battlefield tours. The cost for the full program at this year’s symposium was $435.

The Helmsley Sandcastle is an interesting property. Built in the 1950s or early 60s, it is a charming piece of Old Florida, now surrounded by high rise hotels and condo buildings. (There is a Ritz Carlton next door.) One expects to see Connie Stevens or Troy Donahue lounging around the pool. Prices are reasonable, and food and service are good. The Helmsely is located on Lido Key, just a short walk from the famous Lido Beach. A short walk in the opposite direction takes you to a scenic state park at the tip of the key. A slightly longer walk, or a very short drive, is Armand Circle, a fashionable retail and restaurant area. It is truly a delight, lots of unique shops, great little restaurants, and very pedestrian friendly.

If your spouse or significant other is not all that interested in our shared passion, there are lots of other activities available. Marie enjoys reading by the pool, walking the beach, knitting by the pool, and shopping at Armand’s Circle. She does join the group for the Thursday evening pool reception. The symposium has been held at the Helmsely for 18 consecutive years, and is booked for next year’s event: January 19-22, 2011. It often sells out. If you are interested in attending, contact the CWEA at www.cwea.net. It would be great to share next year’s symposium with some fellow members of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


Click on any of the book links on this page to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.

A Visit to the National Civil War Museum

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007, All rights reserved
(Adapted from an article originally appearing in The Charger)

Next time you’re in the mood for a Civil War-themed road trip, consider a visit to the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

A large statue of a Confederate soldier providing water to a wounded Union soldier is just outside the handsome brick museum. You enter the building through a spacious lobby, with a gift shop to your right and a curving staircase to the second floor. My friends and I had lunch at the “Monitor and Merrimack Café” on the second floor. Try as we might, we saw no artifacts or pictures indicating why the snack bar was named after the two famous ironclads.

The museum’s exhibits are laid out in roughly chronological order, beginning with slavery, conditions in the country just before the war, and the firing on Fort Sumter. The dozen-plus galleries, covering over 27,000 square feet across two floors, are roomy and comfortable. Signage for the weapons, clothes, personal effects, and other artifacts is generally clear and understandable, but was missing in several places on the day of our visit. Signs bearing the caption “A War of Firsts” are sprinkled throughout the museum, discussing the military, social, and technological innovations of the Civil War.

The museum focuses on the common soldier of both North and South, and not so much on particular battles or leaders. With the exception of Gettysburg, most battles are only briefly described in individual plaques of text without maps. Video monitors and large maps describe the broader strategic issues of the war. There are also several short films which illustrate topics such as the use of artillery and infantry drill. Actors on film show the reactions of various members of American society to the war – a freed black in the North, a slave woman, a young Southern cavalryman, an older Southern farmer, a Northern editor, a Northern woman, and a Union infantry officer. You may also listen to samples of Civil War-era music near a display of period drums and instruments. Downstairs, interactive kiosks provided by the Civil War Preservation Trust allow one to check military records and look up various Civil War historical information. The records are by no means complete; neither of my ancestors in blue were listed, but the CWPT hopes to have all Civil War military service records completely online in the next three years.

Unfortunately, the museum gives short shrift to the naval war, and especially to the river warfare of the western theater. The best exhibits are those on the weaponry of the Civil War (with one large gallery dedicated to rifles, swords, daggers, pistols, and various accoutrements); the experience of black Americans before, during, and just after the Civil War; the grisly practice of battlefield medicine; and the efforts of both North and South to come to terms with the war afterwards through Reconstruction, revisionism, and selective memory. Frederick Douglass is prominently quoted: “We are sometimes asked in the name of patriotism to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life, and those who strove to save it – those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.” Even today, the debate continues. Although the museum strives for balance, and generally succeeds, Southern partisans will be displeased to see that the very first exhibit is on the importance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War. Jefferson Davis also doesn’t get nearly as much attention as Abraham Lincoln.

Among the most interesting items on display are the pen used by Gov. Henry Wise of Virginia to sign John Brown’s execution order; Abraham Lincoln’s leather hatbox; slave collars and identity tags; Gen. George Pickett’s commissioning papers as a Confederate general; the only known U.S. field ambulance still in existence; Gen. George B. McClellan’s saddle; Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s field desk and writing set; Cmdr. William Cushing’s 1851 Navy Colt revolver (which he carried during the daring nighttime raid in which he sank the rebel ironclad Albemarle); Gen. Robert E. Lee’s hatband and 1847 Bible, both captured by Union troops during Lee’s retreat to Appomattox; leather gauntlets from both Pickett and Lee; a scrap of fabric from the dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln the night her husband was shot; and a piece of wallpaper from the Petersen House, to which the mortally wounded president was carried from Ford’s Theatre.

The National Civil War Museum is about a six-hour drive from Cleveland, in the Reservoir Park neighborhood on the eastern edge of Harrisburg. Allow yourself three to four hours to see all of the exhibits, although you could easily spend more time there. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, and is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.


Directions to the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA: Take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to exit 19 and follow Route 283 north to Interstate 83 north. At exit 30, go about 2.5 miles west on Route 22/Walnut Street, staying on Walnut Street when Route 22 bears to the right. Turn left at the Parkside Café into Reservoir Park. Follow the signs; the museum is at the top of the hill. Parking is free. Admission: $13 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $11 for students and children. A family pass is $48.

More information is available on the museum’s website (www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org) or by phone at 866-BLU-GRAY (866-258-4729) or 717-260-1861.

Visiting the New Lincoln Library and Museum

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2006, 2007. All Rights Reserved

Last summer (2006), I visited the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL. My companions on the trip were Mel Maurer and his grandson, Eric. We had a great time and hope to go back again. Anyone interested in Lincoln will find Springfield and its many Lincoln-related sites well worth the trip, but the museum is the center of it all. It strikes a nice balance between mass-market appeal and scholarly discussion of the Civil War president.

There was already a line when we arrived, and an even longer one when we took a lunch break. A staffer told us that the site has been very busy ever since it opened. As you enter the museum, you find yourself in a large lobby with a replica of Lincoln’s Kentucky childhood log cabin to your left. This is where you should begin your tour. The cabin is set in a grove of (artificial) trees, with birdsong and forest sounds playing from hidden speakers. A strikingly lifelike mannequin of young Lincoln sits on a log stump, looking off into the future. As you enter the cabin, you see a snoring family in bed, while a teenage Lincoln reads by firelight, nuzzled by a dog. (All of the mannequins throughout the museum were very lifelike and convincing; you almost expect to see them move, breathe and speak to you.) A few more steps bring you to a dry goods store, where a much taller and craggier Lincoln is chatting with a pretty girl.

Farther along, in an emotional and powerful display on slavery, a demonic-looking auctioneer splits up a slave family. There’s an exhibit on Lincoln’s varied legal practice (with his two boys batting inkwells around the office, much to the displeasure of Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon). There is also an exhibit of Lincoln’s unsuccessful but celebrated 1858 campaign against Stephen Douglas for a U.S. Senate seat.

In a mock control room, Tim Russert hosts a clever “Campaign 1860” video, showing competing TV ads which might almost have been aired by the political combatants that year. A somber display then shows Lincoln leaving Springfield for the last time after winning the presidency.

Your next stop will be the White House, a scaled-down facade of which opens onto the same lobby through which you entered. There are replicas of Lincoln, Mary, and their three boys standing in front, well-placed for a photo opportunity with your friends or family. Arrayed near the White House’s south portico are simulacra of Gens. George McClellan and Ulysses S. Grant, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, and John Wilkes Booth. (You could easily throttle or spit upon Booth, but I doubt the museum staff would appreciate it). The first White House room is dedicated to the first lady and her many dresses, and replicas of other prominent society women’s dresses of the 1860s. This contrasts well with a somber display about the first lady’s all-consuming grief after the death of her son Willie in February 1862.

You then pass through a funhouse-style display of anti-Lincoln cartoons and editorials, including video displays of a torrent of criticism of Lincoln. Just about everyone piled onto the President at one time or another, including abolitionists, Southerners, border staters, slaves and free blacks, East Coast elitists, Democrats, and Radical Republicans.

My favorite part of the whole museum was a wonderfully detailed replica Cabinet Room, showing Lincoln and his senior advisors in a spirited discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation. You get a distinct sense of the personalities involved and the difficulties Lincoln had in exerting leadership.

There is, as you might expect, a large exhibit space on the Civil War, itself. Three soldiers from each side are profiled, and their military careers and ultimate fates are described. An interesting computerized map of “The Civil War in Four Minutes” shows the ebb and flow of Union and Confederate military operations; the steady pressure maintained by Federal forces in the West is particularly noticeable.

Several specially commissioned paintings reveal highlights of Lincoln’s administration, including a terrific (and accurate) image of the Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865, as the clouds part and sunlight dramatically strikes the President. All too soon, however, we enter a chamber depicting Ford’s Theatre and hear the fateful dialogue of Our American Cousin before we see the martyred president’s coffin lying in state in the Illinois capitol. All these years later, it is still a sobering experience.

There are many other small exhibit spaces throughout the museum, and you don’t have to follow a chronological path through the 16th chief executive’s life. One exhibit area displays various treasures of Lincolniana – one of his stovepipe hats, an autographed copy of the Gettysburg Address, Willie Lincoln’s battered scrapbook, and some of the first lady’s gaudy jewelry. There are also several multimedia presentations. We saw “Ghosts of the Library,” about the value and usefulness of history today, and “Lincoln’s Eyes,” about what the great man’s eyes show about his lively personality, inner strength, and long suffering. An interactive kiosk with taped interview excerpts with noted Lincoln scholars is called “Ask Mr. Lincoln.” My favorite was the anecdote that Lincoln preferred a lively church service; he once told a friend that he liked preachers “to look as if they’re fighting bees.”

While we were there, a temporary exhibit called “Blood on the Moon” retold the story of the assassination conspiracy. A highlight was the Landau carriage, in which the president and first lady rode to Ford’s Theatre, and the bed in which Lincoln died on April 15, 1865. A series of photos left no doubt that when Steven Spielberg finally makes his long-awaited movie about Lincoln, Leonardo DiCaprio really ought to be cast as Robert Todd Lincoln. The resemblance is striking.

A children’s play area, snack bar, and well-stocked gift shop round out the museum experience. At the library across the plaza, there was an interesting display of Lincoln mementos and curios and a photo exhibit of VIPs who’ve visited his tomb, including Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

Mel was sure that this trip would convince me that the sixteenth President of the United States was the greatest of all. I admire Lincoln more than ever, but pride of place must still, in my humble opinion, go to the first president. Maybe when Mount Vernon opens its new visitors center in a few years, I can take Mel there and bring him around to my (obviously correct) point of view…?

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is operated by the state of Illinois and officially opened on April 19, 2005. The drive to Springfield takes about eight or nine hours. The restored Lincoln home is nearby, as are his tomb, law office, and the old state capitol; each is well worth a visit. You could easily spend all day in the museum and library alone, however, so be sure to leave yourself enough time for a good visit.


Related link:
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The Changes at Gettysburg

By Dick Crews
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2005, All Rights Reserved

Civil War buffs such as ourselves like to argue about the most important battle of the Civil War. Tourists who vote with their feet and their dollars like Gettysburg – by far. Gettysburg receives over 1,800,000 visitors per year. No other battlefield receives over a million visitors per year.

Why is Gettysburg so popular? Certainly it has advantages, such as being close to the big cities on the East Coast. Vicksburg, my favorite battlefield, is way out along the Louisiana-Mississippi border. However, Antietam is also close to the East Coast and has less than half the number of yearly visitors as Gettysburg.

I believe it is because non-Civil War buffs can relate to the battlefield using the old childhood game of king of the hill. Stand on top of Little Round Top and holler, “Rebs, come and take it if you can.” Then stand at the Angle and holler, “Listen, Mr. Confederate. If you want to cross that open field for a mile to attack me while I fire 100 cannon and 5,000 rifles at you, go right ahead.”

To test my theory, next time you visit Gettysburg, go to the west side of town. Note the number of people visiting the railroad cut and McPherson Woods. Except for the tour buses, you will find very few visitors to this area, which is the first day of battle at Gettysburg. Why so few? I believe because it is so confusing. Union forces held the area in the morning of July 1, 1863, then the Confederates pushed them out, then more Union troops came at midday and pushed the Confederates back, then more Confederate troops arrived in the afternoon and pushed the Union troops back through the streets of Gettysburg and out to the hills east of town. You followed that, right?

This is too confusing for the non-Civil War buff. However, he understands king of the hill at the Angle and Little Round Top. Consequently, the average tourist takes the family to see the battle of Gettysburg at the Angle and Little Round Top. He goes home and tells his friends, “Oh yeah, I took the family to see the battle of Gettysburg.”

Gettysburg is changing in ways that visitors can understand and in ways that relate to us Civil War buffs. First, tourists are supposed to have a new visitors’ center by 2009. The natives told me the center would cost 90 million dollars, and they have 60 million now in hand, so construction will start in the spring. The projected completion date is 2009. Well, we will see. This building has been controversial since its inception. The question, as usual, is who pays? In the beginning it was supposed to be 75% private money and 25% public funds. Now it looks like 75% public funds.

Your question might be why do we need a new visitors’ center? There are three reasons. First, the present building is seventy years old and looks it. Second, the present building is small and without the humidity and temperature controls needed to display many battlefield exhibits that the Park Service now has in warehouses. Last, the Visitors’ Center, Cyclorama, and their parking lots are in the middle of the battlefield.

Now let’s discuss what is happening for us Civil War buffs. First, the monument on Pickett’s Charge for the 8th Ohio has been dignified. You might remember that the monument sat in the front yard of a seedy motel. The Park Service bought the motel and tore it down.

Second, the big change for us Civil War buffs are the trees the Park Service is removing around Little Round Top. People tend to think that in 1860 the landscape was a large forest. It was just the opposite. With the average family using wood for heating and cooking, the landscape had few trees. The trees on Little Round Top had been cleared in 1860 and the wood sold to the federal government.

Gouverneur Warren taking advantage of the clear view from Little Round Top

Now you can stand where Gouverneur Warren stood on Little Round Top and see the Confederates approaching. How do you know? Because with no trees in the way, now you can see clearly the monuments to the Alabama and Texas units in the fields to the left. Looking the other way, you can see all the way to the Angle. You can also see where Sickles moved the 3rd Corps. Good grief, Dan Sickles, what were you doing way out there?

The weekend tourists will not notice this small change, but you, the Civil War enthusiast, will enjoy this clear view immensely.


Related link:
Gettysburg Field Trip – September 2008