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This is the archive for January 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yesterday’s post included the latest information on efforts to preserve the Shepherdstown, West Virginia battlefield. Today, I’m devoting this space to Chapter Three of “Charge!!,” the history of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry. The 118th, which had been in service for only three weeks, was exposed to combat for the first time at Shepherdstown on September 20, 1862 and nearly drown in the turbulent waters of war's baptismal font.

The day was bright and clear. The sun shone with mellow Autumn radiance. Dew glistened on grass and leaf, and the old Potomac, calm and placid as if it has never known strife, visible for a considerable distance, swept on its course tranquilly. The landscape, varied with its valley and hillside, its meadows and woodlands, sprinkled with barn, house and garden, was peacefully picturesque in the refreshing sunlight of a soft September morning. There were no harbingers that by noonday the regiment should suffer casualties severer for a single combat than probably ever fell to the lot of soldiers, even in the heaviest battles of the war.

An early breakfast was interrupted by orders to move. The meal completed, the [First] brigade [First Division, Fifth Corps] started in the direction of the river. With a few hurried personal preparations, some of the men removing their shoes and stockings, the column at 9 A.M. began the passage of the stream at Blackford’s Ford. There was a good deal of pleasant shouting as the troops splashed through the stream, and the roars of laughter greeted those who, less fortunate than their fellows, stumbled and fell headlong into the water.

Just before the head of the column entered the ford, a brigade of Sykes’s regulars appeared upon the thither side, marching back again from the same reconnaissance with which [Col. James] Barnes’s [1st Brigade] movement was intended to generally co-operate. The columns passed each other midway in the river. The regulars gave the information that there was “no enemy in sight.” It was evidently twittingly said to encourage the volunteers, whom they held in no very high esteem, for at that time their rear skirmishers were actually engaged.

Though it was clear that the situation was a grave one, yet the 118th Pennsylvania was permitted to mount the cliff with its front entirely uncovered. No skirmish-line protected its advance until its right company was detached, and when it was deployed the enemy were pressing so hard that its deployment answered no purpose. The commanding officer had a right to expect that, thrown out in a direction where an engagement was imminent, he would find himself at least covered by skirmishers well out in front of him.

The similar surroundings – high bluffs in front, a wide river in the rear – recalled the Ball’s Bluff disaster vividly.

The brigade took the road that followed the base of the bluffs; and, as the head of the regiment approached the ravine or glen which led to the summit, a staff-officer dashed up hurriedly to Colonel Barnes, who rode at the time beside Colonel [Charles M.] Prevost, and reported the enemy approaching in heavy force. Some vigorous action being instantly necessary, turning to Colonel Prevost, Colonel Barnes said: “Can you get your regiment on the top of the cliff?” “I will try, sir,” was the prompt reply, and dismounting, he conducted the head of his column into the narrow, unfrequented path that led through the glen.

At this time not more than one-third of the regiment was across the river. General Barnes rode into the water and said to them: “Men, hurry up – you are wanted on top of the hill.” In a few moments they were all across. As they climbed the hill by the narrow path, they found near the top, a battery wagon, with its four horses still in harness, that by some chance had fallen from the path, which was here just wide enough for it. It had caught on some trees and brush and hung between the path and the bottom of the ravine. The horses, tired of rearing and prancing, were quivering and suffering from their vain attempts to extricate themselves. Ricketts, noble, generous soul, fitted to be a victim in the coming contest, could not restrain his impetuous humanity, and jumping from the ranks he cut the traces of the struggling animals and released them from their peril. The wagon had evidently belonged to a Confederate battery.

From the top of the bluff it was open country for a mile or more, with occasional cornfields; then the fields changed to forest, and a wide belt of timber skirted the open lands. Farmhouse, barn and hay-stack dotted the plain, and to the right in the distance were the roofs and spires of Shepherdstown.

The report of the staff-officer that the enemy were approaching in force met with ocular confirmation. In front of the timber the musket-barrels of a division massed in battalion columns, gleamed and glistened in the sunlight. To the right, not half a mile away, a whole brigade was sweeping down with steady tread, its skirmishers, well in advance, moving with firm front; and ere the head of the regimental columns had scarce appeared upon the bluff, they opened a desultory, straggling fire.

The teachings of the battalion-drill near Sharpsburg on the day previous now practical application. In tones indicative of an urgency that demanded speedy execution, the voice of the colonel rang out with clear deliberation: “On right by file into line.” Company E, with Lieutenants Hunterson and Lewis, was promptly deployed as a skirmish-line. Advancing but a short distance, it was soon severely engaged, and, unable to resist the heavy pressure, very shortly fell back upon the main line.

At this point Lieutenant Davis, the acting assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, on his way to the right to withdraw other regiments specially assigned to him to retire, observing that the 118th was making no movement to withdraw, but actually becoming engaged, called up the ravine to Lieutenant Kelly, the officer nearest to him, to “tell Colonel Prevost, Colonel Barnes directs he withdraw his regiment at once.” The duty of communicating the order to the 118th to withdraw had been delegated to an orderly, a duty which he appears never to have discharged. This information Kelly promptly communicated to his captain, Bankson, who directed him to immediately report it to Colonel Prevost. He went along the line, and finding the colonel in front of the center – the left was not yet in place – advised him of what he had personally been told.

“From whom did you say you heard this?” inquired the colonel.

“From Lieutenant Davis, of the staff of Colonel Barnes,” replied Kelly.

“I do not receive orders in that way,” was the colonel’s sharp reply: if Colonel Barnes has any order to give me, let his aid come to me,” and he continued to conduct the formation, the business he was engaged in when Kelly interrupted him.

The formation had been completed only to the colors when the action commenced in earnest. “Before one-half the regiment had gotten into line, with the river in our rear, the enemy began to fire upon us, advancing by battalions in all directions.” From the beginning the fire of the enemy was tremendous; the rush of bullets was like a whirlwind. The slaughter was appalling; men dropped by the dozens.

To be continued…

Steve, co-researcher for the 18th Mass. and driving force behind The Civil War Research Guide advised that Stackpole Books is going to take advantage of technology by offering the book in electronic form. Ebooks are one technology I admittedly haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to, even though they’ve been around for nine years. When it comes to electronic gadgets I’ve got the entire scene virtually covered, with the exception of video games. Forget “Grand Theft Auto IV,” which has sold 8.5 million copies, “Guitar Hero III,” which has racked up $690,000,000 in sales, or the 2007 and 2008 versions of Madden football, which together have combined for over 14 million cash cow transactions; hand over the dice (shake ‘em once, shake ‘em twice), and give me the deeds to Boardwalk and Park Place anytime.

What to make of the Ebook. In five years of daily riding on the DC Metro rail system, the only Ebook I’ve ever seen was in an advertisement on a platform. The DC metropolitan population is both well heeled and well educated. However, paying attention to commuters will show the number one activity while riding the rails to and from work is sitting or standing in silence, followed by text messaging on cell phones, listening to MP3 players, reading a free abridged edition of a newspaper, reading supermarket bestsellers, talking to someone on the phone, talking to a fellow passenger, and last, but least, reading a serious book.

Personal observation aside, an estimated one million Ebook readers have been sold, led by Amazon and Sony products. Each buyer will, in turn, reportedly shell out an additional $120 to $150 on reading material. Whereas there were problems associated with the earlier readers, current models are reported to be extraordinarily lightweight, have clear and crisp “print,” while screens project a paperback sized image. Best of all, the average sized book can be downloaded onto the reader in a minute or less.

I wonder, though, if there’s a lot of hype behind those sales numbers. The sad fact is that Americans don’t read. It’s been documented that two per cent of the population purchases eighty per cent of the books. You can do your own personal survey by asking anyone how many books they’ve finished since leaving school, high school or college. The numbers will probably be abysmal. Think about this, too. A book attains best seller status in the U.S. when it reaches 30,000 copies sold, while Holland , with only a little over sixteen million residents, requires 100,000 in sales.

Amazon offers over 230,000 Ebook titles and the number is growing fast, with an average cost of $10 per download. Most of the books I looked at fell into the $18 to $20 category. Google, on the other hand, has scanned more than 1.5 million public domain books, all of which can be downloaded onto a computer or cell phone for free. I’m not sure I’d advocate reading a book on a 1 ¼ x 1 ½ inch screen, but stayed tuned because when the G4 network becomes reality in the next few years we’ll all have the opportunity to watch hi-def television on our cell phones.

So, what’s out there if you’re interested in buying an Ereader and want to purchase books on the Civil War? Amazon offers “543” titles, while eBook advertizes 211 books from the Civil War era. Among the first twelve titles listed by Amazon are “This Republic of Suffering,” James McPherson’s “Tried by War,” “Battle Cry of Freedom”, James Swanson’s “Manhunt”, “Lincoln on Leadership” by Donald Phillips, Anthony Pitch’s “They Have Killed Papa Dead”, and four different versions of “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriett Jacobs. Take note of this last fact, because it, and other repeat titles, reduces the actual pool of titles offered.

I’m not going to rain on the Ereader’s parade. Instant gratification, like technology, is sometimes a wondrous thing. I can even see myself buying one in the future. But, somehow, just somehow, in a world fraught with uncertainties, pitfalls, and the constant push and pull of life’s other obligations and distractions, there’s something reassuring about flipping pages by hand. But I guess that’s the same thing audiophiles said when talking about vinyl.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great news from the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association via this email sent to me on Saturday, January 24th. This news follows a decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court upholding a developer’s right to build houses on the site of the September 19th and 20th, 1862 battle involving three brigades from the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac and A.P. Hill’s Division, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an appeal. Those were dark moments, when horrific visions of "little houses on the hillside, little houses made of ticky tacky," filled everyone's head. People didn’t lose faith and in the future their faith may be rewarded.

Dear SBPA Member:

On Sunday, January 18, the United States Senate passed S.22, the "Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009".

Included in the "Act" was a section that authorized the National Park Service to conduct a Special Resources Study of the Shepherdstown Battlefield. The study is to: 1) determine the national significance of the battle and the site; and, 2) to determine the suitability and feasibility of adding the Shepherdstown site to either the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or the Antietam National Battlefield. The "Act" also authorizes the appropriation of such sums necessary to carry
out the study.

SBPA thanks Senator Byrd and his staff for their continued effort to save and preserve the site of the 1862 Battle of Shepherdstown. We anxiously await action by the United States House of Representatives.

We apologize for delivering this news 6 days late but several of us were out of town until Thursday evening and were only able to confirm the news on Friday afternoon.

Thank you for your continued support.
-SBPA Board of Directors

For more information on the continuing struggle to preserve the Shepherdstown Battlefield, click here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This excerpt from James Ford Rhodes’ “History of the Civil War 1861-1865,” describes the reaction of a Union officer entering Vicksburg shortly after its fall.

A Union officer, noting on the iron stairway of the Vicksburg court-house the name of a Cincinnati manufacturer moulded on it, exclaimed:

“Confound the impudence of the people who thought they could whip the United States when they couldn’t even make their own staircases.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yesterday’s Blog included an email interchange with Hazel, who had contacted us requesting help in obtaining information on some of her ancestors who had fought with North Carolina regiments. One of those men was William Mauney, a Private in Co. H of the 37th North Carolina, who was held as a Prisoner of War at Point Lookout in Maryland.

James Barnes, who commanded the 18th Massachusetts from its muster on August 24, 1861 until his promotion to Brigade Commander on July 14, 1862, was in charge of Pt. Lookout from July 1864 until the facility was closed in 1865 and thus William Mauney would have been under his charge.

Who knows, but is it possible that Mauney, who took the Oath of Allegiance on June 29, 1865, appears in this undated photo showing Confederate prisoners taking that oath at Point Lookout, while James Barnes, seated behind the desk on the right, looks on?

To see a larger version of the photo click here.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

It’s late and I know I’m going to regret this in a couple of hours when I have to get ready for work. I have a feeling I’m going to be doling out a lot of money to Starbucks later in the day.

We’ve had a flurry of queries over the past few days, not all of which have been related to the 18th Massachusetts. I love giving out information when we have it and especially love digging for it when don’t.

We had this email yesterday from Jim, who lives in Pennsylvania.

I am the great-grandson of Albert A. Darling, corporal, Company C, 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. My mother, Mary Darling Ingram, was the daughter of his son, Louis Clifton Darling. According to his discharge papers he transferred to the 18th from the 3d Massachusetts (a regiment raised on three and nine month enlistments) and from the 18th to the Veteran Reserve Corp. General Order No. 321 dated September 26, 1863 confirms his transfer to the then "Invalid Corp." The roster on your website gives the date of transfer to the VRC as Feb. 1, 1864. He served as a corporal in Company C of the 9th Regiment of the VRC, reenlisted on April 9, 1864 and was discharged November 17, 1865. His age is listed as 19 on your roll, 20 on his reenlistment papers in 1864 and 23 on his discharge papers in 1865. This is about as much information as I have from official army documentation.

Family lore has it that he was wounded while serving with the 18th and partially disabled. This is confirmed by documentation relating to his admission to an "Old Soldiers Home" in his old age, which lists him as suffering from the effects of a head would caused by shellfire. Family lore also says he enlisted while underage, lying about his age, which may explain the discrepancies in his age in the documentation.

Do you have any additional information about Corporal Darling's service such as the engagements he participated in, his wounds etc. or can you suggest a source on additional information?

Sometimes we’re only able to a little information about a veteran of the 18th, but in Jim’s case we were able to provide a fairly significant amount.

Albert Andrew Darling: born April 9, 1842 at Woonsocket Falls, RI, the son of Timothy and Patty (Pickering) Darling.

He was a 19-year-old Shoemaker from Plympton, MA, when he enlisted on April 16, 1861 and was mustered for three months service on April 23, 1861 as a Private in Co. H, 3rd Mass. Infantry. He was mustered out of military service at Boston on July 22, 1861.

He enlisted for a second time at Carver, MA on Sept. 17, 1861, being recruited by C.S. Hanard, and was mustered into the 18th Mass. Infantry on Jan. 14, 1861 as a Corporal with Company C. Per regimental records he was 5 ft. 9 in. with a dark complexion, black eyes, and dark hair. Darling was engaged with the Regiment in the Peninsula Campaign, including the Seige at Yorktown, and Second Bull Run.

Darling suffered a shell wound to his head at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862. During the Regiment's retreat, he suffered additional injuries to his back and left side, when he was trampled on while lying unconscious.

He was admitted to Carver Gen. Hospital, Washington, DC, from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1862, when he was transferred to the Convalescent Camp in Alexandria, VA. Darling was granted a ten day furlough from the hospital in Nov. 1862, but did not report back as required until April 20, 1863. On Jan. 4, 1863 he was reduced to the rank of Private and subsequently forfeited all pay and allowances due to his absence without leave from the regiment, for the period Nov. 26, 1862 until April 1, 1863. Regimental records state he returned on April 20, 1863.

He was subsequently transferred to the Company C, 9th Veteran Reserve Corps on Feb. 1, 1864, serving as a Color Bearer at Camp Frey, Washington, DC from March 17, 1865 and from October 31, 1865 was on duty at Clark Barracks. He was mustered out of military service at Washington, DC on Nov. 18, 1865.

Following his military service, Darling, was employed as a Fireman and Cobbler, residing in Plympton until 1871 when he removed to Bridgewater, MA. He later resided in Brockton, MA until 1874, Franklin, MA until 1877, Blackstone to 1881, Holliston for 12 years, Boston, and the Soldier's Home at Togus, ME. Darling was a member of the Powell T. Wyman, Post No. 6, Grand Army of the Republic, Holliston, MA. Darling was married twice. His first wife Esther H. Jones, who he married at Middleboro, MA, died at Bridgewater, MA in 1877. He married for a second time to Martha A. Pray, a widow, at Providence, RI in October 1877. They were the parents of Albert A., born at Lynn, MA on July 9, 1879; Gideon, born June 20, 1882 at Blackstone, MA; Clarance, born March 11, 1884 at Franklin; Edwin, born July 1, 1886 at Dorchester,; and Louis Clifton, born Sept. 9, 1891 at Holliston.

Darling filed for an Invalid Pension on July 24, 1890 and was granted benefits of $8.00 per month under Certificate #: 547337, due to disabilities caused by a shell wound of the head, rheumatism, and varicose veins of the right leg. Between 1901 and 1915, Darling had periodic residencies at the National Soldiers' Home in Togus, ME He died in North Searsmont, Maine on April 3, 1917.

I also had this recent exchange with Hazel, who lives in North Carolina.

From Hazel:
Where would I possibly be able to check a roster on "The Battle at Shepardstown." I just recentley was told that one of my ancestores was captured during this.

From Donald:
Thanks for your query on a prisoner list from the Battle of Shepherdstown. If you can provide the name of your ancestor and any additional information you might have I can probably provide you with the answer you're looking for. If you know the Regiment he served with it'll make the search faster. However, if you don't know, the State will do.

There were very few Confederates taken prisoner at Shepherdstown. Most of the Union prisoners were from the 118th Pennsylvania, the 13th New York, and the 25th New York, and most of them were paroled fairly quickly, i.e. about ten days after the battle.

From Hazel:
Thank you so much for being willing to help me. I know his name was Peter Mauney or Mooney. It is said he served with a unit out of North Carolina. I have found these relatives:
Calab Mooney - Pvt. Co. I "Mecklenburg Rifles"
Christopher Mauney - Pvt. Co. D "North Carolina Defenders"
Manassas Mauney - Pvt. Co. D "North Carolina Defenders"
William Mauney - Pvt. Co. H "Gaston Blues."

I found these on the internet (just this info, no records) but haven't yet found Peter. Supposedly he was captured on or near Sep 11th and died on the 13th from wounds he received.
Any help you might be able to give would be so greatly appreciated.

From Donald:
Well, you kept me busy for a little while with your query, but I have lots to report back on. I found all your relatives on “Civil War Data" ( ), which is a paid service I subscribe to. The cost is $25 a year, $10 for a one time guest pass, but in most cases not worth it if you’re only searching for one, two, or a few people. In my case it has been invaluable.
Here’s what I’ve found and I believe the first name highlighted in bold is your ancestor.

Peter Mauney: born in Cleveland County, NC, he was a resident of Gaston County when he enlisted and was mustered on the same day, July 30, 1861, as a Private in Co. B, of the 28th North Carolina Infantry. He was one of five men from the Regiment killed at the Battle of Shepherdstown on September 20, 1862.

Caleb Mooney: He was a 33-year-old resident of Gaston County, NC when he enlisted on August 15, 1862 at Iredell County as a Private and was mustered on that same day into Co. I, 37th North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded at Chancellorsville on or about May 1, 1863 and returned to duty on June 30, 1863, although it’s not stated where. He was captured and taken prisoner at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 and confined at Ft. Delaware, DC on or about July 7, 1863. He was held as a prisoner until taking the Oath of Allegiance at Ft. Delaware on July 7, 1865.

Christopher Mauney: born in Cleveland County, NC, he was a 39-year-old and residing in Cleveland when he enlisted in that town and was mustered into service on the same day, March 17, 1863 as a Private in Co. D, 37th North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 and returned to duty on or about Sept. 15, 1863. He died at Richmond, VA on July 26, 1864.

Manassas Mauney: He was a 20- year-old resident of Gaston County, NC when he enlisted in Iredell County and was mustered that same day, August 12, 1862 , as a Private in Co. D, 37th North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, returning to duty on or about June 15, 1864. He was taken prisoner at Gravel Hill, VA on July 30, 1864 and confined to Point Lookout, MD soon after. On August 8, 1864 he was transferred to Elmira, NY and held as a prisoner until taking the Oath of Allegiance on May 29, 1865.

William Mauney: a 30-year-old resident of Gaston County, NC, he enlisted at Iredell County, and was mustered the same day, August 12, 1862 as a Private in Co. H, 37th North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded at Deep Bottom Run, VA in 1863 (specific date unknown), wounded at Frazier’s Farm, VA. He deserted on or about January 5, 1863 (estimated date) and retuned to duty on or about August 15, 1863. He was taken prisoner near Petersburg, VA on April 2, 1865. He was confined at Point Lookout, MD on or about April 3, 1865 and paroled on June 29, 1865 after taking the Oath of Allegiance.

The 7th North Carolina, 18th North Carolina, 28th North Carolina, 33rd North Carolina, and 37th North Carolina were members of Stonewall Jackson’s Corps, A.P. Hill’s Division, Gen. L. O’B. Branch’s Brigade.

I found some links that may be of interest to you as well.

From Hazel:
Oh my goodness, you hit a gold mine. This is so great and believe me when I say "I appreciate it very much." You are right about the other Peter also. The name has been spelled about three or four different ways, these two are the most used. There is no way I can express my gratitude, it seems that a simple Thank You just doesn't cover it. BUT....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We had a momentary power outage, but we’re back today. Over the past week, and I’m not sniffling self-pitying woes, I had to deal with reformatting and restoring my hard drive, changing Internet Service Providers, the loss of heat for two days during one of coldest snaps to hit Washington in the last twelve years, not to mention devoting time to the NFL playoffs, reviewing transcripts of letters written by Richard Holmes of Co. D in our favorite Regiment, and Barak Obama’s inauguration. No, I didn’t attend any of the festivities in D.C.; too cold and too crowded for my liking. But I did lose out on something by not going, the flavor of experiencing a very historic event in person. That’s something you don’t get from television. My nutshell take on Obama’s eighteen and a half minute inaugural speech: it’s time to tighten our belts and roll up our sleeves, all in an effort to rebuild this country and its institutions and set it back on the path toward greatness as a Nation, at a time when we seem to have lost our way and sense of purpose, not only within our own borders, but in the world as a whole. Amen.

And while we’re on the subject of television, mark down two shows that’ll be broadcast on PBS in early February.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a documentary based on Michael Kaufman’s book American Brutus, will air on Monday, February 9th at 9 p.m. EST.

Looking for Lincoln, which will air on Wednesday, February 11th at 9:00 p.m., features Henry Louis Gates, Jr. dissecting “the myths that have grown up around Abraham Lincoln, and in doing so, addresses outstanding questions – about race, equality, religion, and depression – by carefully interpreting the evidence provided by people who actually knew the president."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I’ve been fascinated by the events that transpired in Roswell, Georgia during Sherman’s March to the Sea for years, though I’ve never pushed the search for information much beyond the Internet. When I first heard about Roswell I reacted with disbelief and thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding. This can’t be true.”

For those not familiar with the story, here’s a very quick overview. William T. Sherman ordered the town’s textile mill burnt to the ground, arrested the mill workers, both male and female, and evacuated them to the North, some as far as Indianapolis, where they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves. His rationale for this act embraced the idea that the workers were aiding and fermenting open rebellion against the National government. Few of those taken North ever made their way home.

A few days back a book catalogue arrived in the mail and one of the offerings was Michael Hitt’s 1992 book about Roswell titled “Charged With Treason.” I had never thought to do a book search before on Roswell, but found two additional books on the incident, “North Across the River,” written in 1999 by Beth Cook, and Mary Petite’s “The Women Will Howl,” published in 2007. I haven’t made up my mind yet as to which I’m going to order.

The book I’m currently reading is James Ford Rhodes’ 1919 Pulitzer Prize winning “History of the Civil War,” which recently made its way back into print thanks to Simon Publications. While the book was billed as the first objective analysis of the War at the time of its initial publication, Rhodes seemingly spends more time exploring Union political leadership and generals than their counterparts in the South, While offering some very unique opinions, insights, and perspectives, he steers a wide berth around battles and competing military strategies. Antietam, for example, is capsulated as follows:

"On this day [September 17, 1862] was fought the battle of Antietam, a day of “isolated attacks and wasted efforts.” Seventy-five thousand Union soldiers endeavored to overcome fifty-one thousand Confederates, Lee handing the inferior force in a manner “absolutely above criticism.” The Union loss in killed and wounded was 11,600, the Confederate about the same.”

Rhodes also contributed a three volume series on the Civil War, incorporated as part of his voluminous history of the United States. Based on what I’ve read thus far I’m adding those three books to my “must buy, must read” list.

When I’m done with the Rhodes book I’m going to open the pages to two other Pulitzer Prize winners, Margaret Leech’s "Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865," which claimed the prize for History in 1942 and David Donald’s “seminal” "Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War," which was selected as the crème de la crème of all biographies in 1961. From there it’ll probably be the Roswell book and after that it’s anybody’s guess. It could even be something like Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants. Imagine that thought emanating from a dyed in the blue wool Yankee.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

John Hennessey, who wrote "Return to Bull Run" and edited Thomas Mann’s memoirs, turning them into the book "Fighting with the Eighteenth Massachusetts," gave me a small bit of advice a couple of years ago. I was telling him about our continuing efforts to dredge up every single piece of information about the 18th. He looked at me and said, “At some point you have to stop,” meaning stop chasing and start writing.

Admittedly the writing stalled out after only a few pages, but the quest has continued. I suppose the quest will always continue. However, we’re resolved that 2009 will be the year we write “The End,” on the final page of our planned history of the 18th Massachusetts Volunteers, regardless of whether those words appear on page number five or page number 1,200.

Hennessey was right in a way, but we have a good excuse for not stopping our quest. And it comes down to this. Every time we’ve thought there was no more information to find on the 18th Massachusetts, we’ve found more. Or the more has found us. It’s bizarre. Hope fades and then all of a sudden, boom!, along comes something new. In the last month we’ve been told about a family in Massachusetts who has a collection of letters written by a member of Company G, have obtained another collection of nine original letters written by a member of Company D, and received a tintype and CDV of two other Regiment veterans. We have dying hopes of obtaining at least a part of a very large collection of letters written by Tom’s great-great-grandfather, Edmund Churchill. We’d need money to purchase the entire collection. Lots of money. The kind of money only a Powerball win can provide. I’ll tell you more about this in another blog.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but it seems that every time we’ve come to a dead end in a tunnel, somehow the right brick gets pushed by accident and a hidden door has opened. Len, who lives in California, found our Web site and sent us an email Monday evening telling us that he and his cousin wanted to share four years worth of letters written by their great-uncle Richard. Their great-uncle Richard was First Sergeant of Company D of the 18th Massachusetts.

I’ll be talking to Len by phone tonight. That’ll be pretty exciting as he’s already sent us a transcript of a letter written four days after the battle of Fredericksburg. The letter from Richard to his mother is fairly brief and primarily lists men from Company D who were thought wounded, killed, or missing. Richard himself had been wounded in the side, but downplayed the seriousness of the wound so as not to unduly alarm his mother. I, in turn, emailed Len information on each of the men mentioned in the letter as well as a copy of a CDV of Richard, so I guess that’s a pretty good beginning to what we all hope will be a story with a happy ending.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So you think slavery was a merely peripheral cause of the Civil War and the real cause was the South’s determination to maintain State’s Rights. Ho-kay, ten dollars to the first person who can name one Right of any Southern State that was being violated or trampled on.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Having attended the 2007 conference sponsored by the American Civil War Center and knowing they’d be holding another in 2009, I’ve been marking the days off my calendar for the past two years. Now the time’s at hand. The ACWC in connection with the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership has lined up the dates, March 12th to 14th, an international panel of scholars, the University of Richmond as a location, and a theme, "Lincoln and the South."

Historian after historian, including Shelby Foote, James McPherson, and James Ford Rhodes, have all begun their narratives of the War with Lincoln’s election and the resultant Southern reaction. Forget the shot fired by Citadel cadets across the bow of the “Star of the West” in January 1861, or the first missile that flew across Charleston harbor three months later. Lincoln’s election the previous November was effectively the shot that had Southern Firebrands wringing their hands in glee and ultimately led to war. Had Douglass, Breckinridge, or Bell triumphed at the polls it’s likely Congress would have hammered out another compromise agreement on the issue of slavery.

Beginning with Thursday evening’s session reviewing Lincoln’s role as commander-in-chief, Friday’s agenda will delve into events leading up to the election of 1860, Lincoln’s election and the war years that followed. Saturday morning’s concluding session will examine the 16rh President’s hopes for binding up the nation’s wounds and his legacy from a Southern perspective.

The ACWC promises the 2009 conference will take an unconventional approach. “Traditionally conferences parade the presenters to deliver formal papers and then answer a few questions if there’s time.” The ACWC is “turning the tables. Our scholars will present overviews based on the themes of the session and then it will be up to our moderators [Charles Dew, Emory Thomas, and James McPherson] to begin a conversation with the scholars and the audience on the ideas presented.”

I haven’t mentioned all the scheduled events, but I want to add you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck at the 2009 conference. For more information and to register for Lincoln and the South, follow this link to the American Civil War Center.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I don’t know why, but I started thinking about George Booth, a member of the 18th Massachusetts’s Company A; maybe because it was early January; maybe because the wind was kicking up, making it feel colder then what was registered on temperature gauges; maybe because winter seems to heighten the blahs in nearly everyone. A clinical study conducted years ago concluded that light deprivation, caused by shortened daylight hours, triggered depression in a large number of people. Like most of the East Coast at this time of year, we start plunging into darkness in the D.C. area about five p.m. and remain that way for the next fourteen hours. Reduced daylight in a hostile and dangerous place that’s hundreds of miles from a wife and daughter will induce homesickness and melancholy in a lot of men, including, most of all, George Booth.

About five miles from the building I work in is a hill located in Arlington, Virginia, which is, in turn, a proverbial hop, skip, and four or five good sized jumps from Robert E. Lee’s former mansion. From August 1861 until the Army of the Potomac pulled up stakes the following spring, Hall’s Hill and surrounding environs were blanketed by a sea of tents, housing tens of thousands of Union soldiers, and their campfires as far as the naked eye could see. Hall’s Hill, home sweet home to the 18th Mass. and the other regiments in its brigade, allowed for a panoramic view of Washington, with Georgetown on the left, the Capitol dome on the right. There’s nothing left today to suggest a huge army once slept and trained there, as any traces suggesting a military presence were obliterated long ago by a Post-war demand for land and housing. But 147 years ago, Halls Hill, in spite of its close proximity to Washington, also stood on the fringe of Confederate occupied territory.

Booth was 33 and what William Alderman of Company I termed “a constitutional coward.” I don’t know if Alderman coined the term, but I’ve never seen it used anywhere other than in a newspaper column he wrote in the 1890’s. According to Alderman “there were men in the army who didn’t like the smell of gunpowder,” who were inherently timid, with a “nervous fear.” They sat around the campfires and “drank in the horrible details and hair-raising situations,” all of which “made life to them uncomfortable, and in one instance, at least, unendurable.” Booth, according to Alderman, became a target for those who got their jollies by floating false rumors of marching orders and battles that would erupt at sunrise.

In the fall and winter of 1861 there were probably more cows, sheep, and pigs mistakenly identified as Rebels by nervous Union pickets than at any other time in the War. Standing watch at night, peering into the darkness, nerves jangling with every unfamiliar sound, could and did unhinge more than a few. Standing watch in swirling snow and cold only heightened the twilight zone effect.

On January 3, 1862 Booth was one of 39 men accompanied by two officers assigned to picket duty five miles from the Regiment’s camp in what was described as “cold and disagreeable” weather. After standing watch that night the detail returned to camp mid-morning. Booth, who “had been in ill health and despondent for some time,” went into the guardhouse tent, drove a nail through the center pole, tied a string to the nail and trigger of his musket and placed the barrel against his chest.

Emily Booth, whose husband was the first recorded suicide in the Union army, would spend the next ten years fighting for a Widow’s pension. After enduring rejection after rejection, a Special Act of Congress enacted on March 3, 1873 awarded her eight dollars a month. Whether the pension provided consolation is open for speculation. Suicide raises questions, anguish, and doubts for those left behind. It leaves one even less prepared to accept the death of yet another. But death is passionless, it ignores previous suffering, and it doesn’t discriminate. It will take an only child, 12-year-old Mary, whose body is wracked and enflamed by typhoid, as willingly as it took her father five years earlier.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nothing as exciting as moving into a new house happened to me during the Blog hiatus, which 18th Mass. co-researchers Tom and Steve did, but I didn’t spend the last six months in total hibernation. It only seemed that way to anyone who may have been wondering about the dearth of postings, me included. Were a few people wondering what was up? The answer to that is, surprisingly, yes. The Civil War Top 100 keeps track of things like that and I snuck a peek not long ago and realized people were still visiting Touch the Elbow. This Blog is never going to approach the popularity of Wig Wags, Rantings of a Civil War Historian, TOCWOC, or Soldier’s Studies, but a few, faithful or not, kept going to the page, watching, and waiting for something to happen. It makes me feel humble and small when realizing people actually took/take the time to access this site in the push and pull of other interests and distractions.

At some point in the future I’ll be writing about things both related and unrelated to the 18th Mass. Volunteers. One topic, for example, will detail my short experience as one of over 1800 volunteers in the “Adopt A Position” program at Gettysburg, where I’ve assumed a caretaking role for the 18th’s monument located in “The Loop.” I’ll write about a grave in Idaho, about descendants of 18th Mass. soldiers who have contacted us, about the recent acquisition of a collection of letters, of the ongoing chase for another batch in another collection, and about some of the books I have or will be reading. With regard to the latter, it seems like I’m retreating backwards on copyright dates rather than keeping up with what’s current. There’ll be a piece or pieces on efforts to save an obscure battlefield in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, an effort that’s near and dear to my heart; a swallow your pride and pass the hat campaign to raise money for another worthwhile cause; a visit to Mary Surratt’s grave; and the haunting specter of listening to Pete Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” while rain beat down in torrents on the roof of a car parked in the middle of a fog shrouded battlefield.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Back in July, after I had posted a July 4th entry titled “Happy Birthday,” Tom pointed out to me that the next piece would be the 400th post to appear on Touch the Elbow. I wrote Tom that since he started Touch the Elbow he could have the honor of writing number 400. He wrote back saying, “No, you can have the honor.” I responded “No, I insist.” Well, this went back forth for the next six months, because Tom and I are both gentlemen with impeccable manners. We both give up our seats on public transportation to little old ladies who’ve fallen in the aisle and can’t get up; ensure Boy Scouts get across the street safely; hold doors open on first dates; are kind to our web footed friends; and say “Excuse me” when we belch. All in all it became like a staring contest. In the end though Tom flinched and wrote about eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day and the trials and tribulations of inhabiting a new house. Now I can get back to what I’ve been meaning to write for the past few months. Happy Labor Day! Happy Columbus Day! Happy Halloween! Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! And most of all, Happy Boxing Day Canada!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The first real battlefield I enjoyed in person was Wilderness. It is pretty much exactly as it was when the two armies first fought, besides the road being paved and a nice barn like structure for visitors.

Donald and I visited it together and really enjoyed walking the steps of the 18th - who also had the first KIA of the battle.

One of the things I remember most was the field itself. Donald and I stepped out of the woods and walked down a slight incline and then up to where the Confederate lines were. While both on the maps and by car it didn’t seem too long. Walking it was another story. I can only imagine what the soldiers felt as they were exposed on the open field walking towards the enemy.

While the blogosphere has been going nuts over the new Wilderness Campaign, this time Wal-Mart and local leaders versus a grass roots group trying to stop them; it hasn’t been picked up much by the national media.

Tonight though, Fox News has a great report on it. While “Kathy Griffen says the D-Word…” is the most read on the site, this article is still on the front page and should start to get more traffic as the day goes on. It gives some great background, while also showing what leaders are willing to do for tax money.

It all reminds me of a story attributed to Winston Churchill:

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

CNN did not seem to have anything, while MSNBC did.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Here is a great article on the restoration efforts of the Hunley Lab on cannons from the CSS Alabama.

With all of the cutbacks that have happened in the South Carolina State Government, I am happy to see that the Hunley Lab is still working. At one point it was targeted by some folks who thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money but that didn’t pan out.

I love the bit about finding a jawbone connected to one of the cannons and how it probably got there.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

It has been about six months since our last post.

To put it bluntly, we have been a bit slack. Of course there were reasons.

Mine were simply crazy (and if you have followed me on Facebook you know this already) – I had bought a lot to build a house on; the developer said in the closing and mls that there was water and sewer. As we started building we found out there wasn’t the promised water and sewer. The pipes had been laid, just hadn’t been approved by the state.

While we should have been in sometime in April or May, we didn’t get in until the week before Christmas. Let me tell you, if you want a kick in the pants, stand in front of your basically complete house that only needs water and realize that you can’t move in. Now repeat that for seven months. Yeah it sucked.

This morning I started making New Years Hoppin’ John and drinking out of my 18th Massachusetts coffee mug and realized that I should start writing again.

I was hoping to write a bit more about the Gullah Culture and how it affects the new year with the making of Hoppin’ John (for luck) and Greens (for money) but the family is waking up and I will need to spend some time with them.

Instead, here is an article on Hoppin’ John

Finally, if you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, feel free to request a friend or link – I’d love to create a Civil War “community” using the social media out there.