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Friday, December 23, 2016

During the last three months I had a book to read each week for class and ended up not being able to read for fun. One book may not seem like much but I then had to write a 5-page paper on it and be ready to discuss it in class – a bit stressful to say the least. I ended up with a list of books that I wanted to read but didn’t have time to – and now getting around to them.




While I’ve read a few books already, this one has been the most interesting. “The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won” by Edward H. Bonekemper III looks at the Lost Cause at a granularly level, separating it into chunks and sub chunks and dissects it to show just how false it is. Using a combination of source material, Lost Cause history and contemporary studies he does a remarkable job presenting the truth for those brave enough to accept it.

Reading the reviews can be sad and funny at the same time – and the author has responded to a few of them – such as this one

Saturday, May 22, 2010


From Sanitary Commission fairs held in major cities throughout the North, to the Christian Commission providing hot coffee, religious tracts, and writing paper, to circles of women and children picking lint, rolling bandages, knitting socks and mittens, and through care packages and letters, private citizens did their best to ensure the wellbeing and morale of soldiers at the front. Gettysburg, in particular, tugged at the heartstrings of those at home and they responded with compassion and generosity both in large and small ways to meet the needs of the more than 20,000 who had been wounded and were lying in hospital beds.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Whether it was personal bias or truly an objective conclusion, some observers of the aftermath of Gettysburg concluded there was a stark contrast between Union and Confederate soldiers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


There's more to report on the 2010 Gettysburg Seminar, but those stories will have to wait for another day, or two, or five. In the meantime, while you're drumming your fingers in anticipation, here's a book to consider adding to your collection or downloading to your eReader.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Touch the Elbow continues its tough line of questioning in Part Two of an interview with Jim Schmidt, author of "Lincoln's Labels."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The October 15th interview with Tom McGrath, author of "Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign," went over so well, Touch the Elbow decided to it again. No, not with Tom, who's threatening never to speak with us again (only kidding), but this time with Jim Schmidt, whose "Lincoln's Labels" is definitely worth reading.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Today we're talking to historian Tom McGrath, author of "Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign." Morning Tom.

TM: Nice to be here.

Let’s start with a really tough question. What in the heck happened to the Red Sox during the playoffs?

TM: I can't believe the Red Sox tanked so quickly. I am still in denial.

I won't press you any more on that one, so we'll move on to a question I think everybody likes hearing the answer to. Where did your interest in the Civil War come from?

TM: Well I have always had a deep interest in History. I think growing up near Boston during the Bicentennial had a lot to do with it, and my earliest interest was the American Revolution. Then when I was eight I visited Gettysburg for the first time, and that visit really stuck with me. And of course the late eighties and early nineties saw a new wave of Civil War popularity, which rekindled my fascination with that period. But beneath it all there is something intangible that draws me to that period, something I can’t really explain. But it’s an irresistible force, kind of strange in a way.

You grew up in Massachusetts and I lived in New England for a number of years. Is my perception that New Englanders have basically forgotten the Civil War a fair one?

TM: I wouldn’t say that they have forgotten the war, but I think New Englanders, and much of the North for that matter, view that war in a very different way. It’s much easier for New Englanders to compartmentalize the war, both today and even back then. The war was a service performed to preserve the Union. Men went off, did their time, and the majority returned home and resumed life as it was. People on the home front supported the war in a number of ways, but the war did not consume society. For Southerners, however, the war came to them, there was no way to avoid it. The war left deeper scars that I think the South is still struggling with in many ways.

Does the average Bay Stater know, for example, who Senator Charles Sumner, or Generals Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks, or Gov. John Andrew were? These were, after all, pretty influential people for the time.

TM: That’s a difficult question to answer, but I can tell you this; I used to live around the corner from Nathaniel Banks’s home. It has been converted into an insurance office. But there are a number of Civil War sites that have been preserved and are highly popular; Fort Warren in Boston Harbor and the St.-Gaudens Memorial to the 54th Massachusetts immediately come to mind. And almost every town square is adorned with a Civil War monument or cannon, along with the names of men who served or died. The Civil War is definitely an integral part of New England’s rich history.

Let’s talk about the book, "Shepherdstown, Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign." There are lots of topics you could have chosen to research and write about. What drew you to Shepherdstown?

TM: It began out of simple curiosity, really. I came across the site while hiking and read the War Department tablets at the intersection of Trough Rd. The whole area has an almost haunting allure about it with the towering cliffs, the abandoned mill ruins, and the old canal bed. I wanted to learn more about what happened there and was surprised at how little had been written about it.

My initial idea for a writing project was actually far less ambitious. I was planning on writing a magazine article about Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and their “baptism of fire” at Shepherdstown. As I began researching though I came to realize that they were just a small part of a much bigger picture.

How much time did you spend first researching and then writing the book?

TM: I actually began researching the battle around 1998 or so. Much of the initial research entailed trying to track down first hand accounts from the participants. I would comb through catalog descriptions of some of the major repositories around the country and then request copies from selected diaries and letters. It was really hit and miss. Sometimes I would come up empty, for example the soldier was ill during the campaign or there were missing entries. But other times it was like hitting the lottery. Some left rich descriptions of their experiences, often times while they were still on the battlefield. I also traveled quite a bit, to places like the US Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA, The Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia, The Massachusetts Historical Society, and Antietam National Battlefield to name a few.

It was a lot of fun trying to put these pieces together, and once the bigger picture began to come into focus it was really exciting. I guess you could say there was a point where I became a bit “obsessed” with the battle, not quite Richard Dreyfus Close Encounters of the Third Kind obsessed, but definitely preoccupied. And it was during this time, between research and writing the manuscript, that I saw the “For Sale” signs go up on the battlefield. But that’s a whole other story.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when you planned out the book? I mean, was it written specifically for the Civil War crowd, or did you have the general public in mind also?

TM: I can’t say that I had a specific audience in mind, but I did have two criteria I tried to adhere to. First I wanted to try to tell a good story, one that would keep the reader’s interest. Second, I wanted to ground everything with factual evidence. Dr. Tom Clemens, a history professor at Hagerstown Community College and President of Save Historic Antietam Foundation, was generous enough to read the entire manuscript, and he made some valuable suggestions. I am extremely grateful for his efforts with the book. I was also very fortunate to find a publisher who saw the value of this story. Patrick Schroeder, the owner and publisher of Schroeder Publications attended Shepherd University, so he was very familiar with the battle and the battlefield. He and his wife Maria did a fantastic job on the publishing end. I couldn’t be happier.

Most people are under the assumption that McClellan simply let Lee slip across the Potomac unmolested following the battle of Antietam, that there was no battle at Shepherdstown. You’ve tried to rectify that with your book, which can rightfully be called the definitive book on the battle. Why was Shepherdstown virtually ignored by historians?

TM: This is THE question isn’t it? My simple answer is, “I have no idea.” Possibly the fact that the events at Sharpsburg on the seventeenth were so horrific might have something to do with it. What also surprised me was how harrowing the story of the people of Shepherdstown was. They were caught squarely in the wake of this campaign. This little town was literally overwhelmed with the wounded of Sharpsburg, and for days it was a Hell on earth. I think this story needs to be explored in more depth, and hopefully some historian will do so. These people were nothing short of heroic.

What was the best available source of information on the battle prior to your book?

TM: By far the best published sources were the History of the 118th Pennsylvania and Inside the Army of the Potomac. The latter is comprised of the wartime letters of Capt. Francis Donaldson of the 118th Pennsylvania. Donaldson was not afraid to speak his mind, and he wrote with such great detail. The book was edited by J. Gregory Acken who did an outstanding job.

A good account of the controversies surrounding the evening of September 19th can be found in Hal Bridges’s book "Lee’s Maverick General: Daniel Harvey Hill."

There were two phases to the battle, one action that occurred on September 19th and the main battle on the 20th. Essentially what happened on the 19th?

TM: The morning of September 19th began with the discovery by Union pickets that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had withdrawn from its line of battle around Sharpsburg. Union cavalry were pushed out in several directions and eventually found the last of the Confederate troops crossing at Blackford’s (Boteler’s) Ford. Union troops of the Fifth Corps were rushed to the front along with the batteries of the Artillery Reserve.

Positioned along the bluffs of the Virginia (now West Virginia) shore were 33 guns and two infantry brigades under the command of William Nelson Pendleton, who was assigned the task of guarding the ford against a crossing by the enemy.

Throughout the day Union pressure built up, and at dusk two regiments, the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters and the 4th Michigan, charged through the river and captured 4 cannon and a number of prisoners. That evening the Federal troops returned to the Maryland side.

What’s your impression of how well William Nelson Pendleton, as chief of Confederate artillery, performed on the 19th and did his performance dictate the events of the following day?

TM: That’s funny you asked that because when I went back and read my first draft I couldn’t believe how hard I was on him. So I revised that entire section of the manuscript and tried to render a more objective depiction. And when I let the evidence speak for itself he does not come off very well. There were several complaints from other Confederate officers, but the most damning evidence in my view came from his own pen. On two occasions in the immediate aftermath of the battle he reported that Yankee cavalry had crossed the river and captured his guns. Now the nearest Yankee cavalry that evening was probably 5 or 6 miles to the rear, and they certainly did not cross the river. This tells me that Pendleton had clearly lost touch with what was happening under his command. I believe he left the scene of battle far too early for a commander.

As to the second part of your question, yes his actions almost entirely dictated the events of the 20th. But it wasn’t so much his performance at the river; it was what he did next. As he began his frantic search for Lee that evening he told several officers that the entire Artilllery Reserve, all 44 guns, had been taken by the enemy. In those dark woods news like that had a chilling effect. As a result three Confederate divisions would be put on the march back to Shepherdstown. It was these men that would run into a lone Union brigade of Regulars and initiate the battle and bloodshed of the 20th.

Can you set up the battle on the 20th for us, contrasting and comparing both the Union and Confederate perspective?

TM: On the morning of the 20th two brigades of the Fifth Corps under Fitz John Porter, were directed by McClellan to cross in to Virginia on a reconnaissance-in-force. A brigade of Regulars crossed first and proceeded up the Charlestown (now Trough) Road. A second brigade of volunteers under Col. James Barnes crossed about an hour later. Barnes’s assignment was to march up River Road into the town of Shepherdstown. The whole purpose of the mission was to scout the area and report back any information regarding the location of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Did Union soldiers cross the Potomac expecting a fight?

TM: No, in fact many of the soldiers remarked on the carefree mood of the men as they waded through the river. Those feelings would quickly dissipate once shots rang out. Contact with the enemy was a complete surprise that morning.

Why do you think James Barnes’ First Brigade from the First Division of the Fifth Corps was selected as the infantry’s main reconnaissance force?

TM: I think they were chosen because they were close at and they were fresh. They had been held in reserve during the Battle of Antietam. It was a simple assignment really. And they were only one half of the reconnaissance force. The first to cross was the Second Brigade of Sykes’s Second Division, made up entirely of Regulars under Maj. Charles Lovell, who had a far more precarious task of marching out into the countryside. Their job was made even more difficult by the absence of cavalry. It was the Regulars that bumped into A.P. Hill’s entire division about a mile from the river and safety. It’s interesting to think what would have happened had these two brigades been reversed. Lovell’s skillful leadership avoided what could have been a complete disaster for his men.

The seven regiments in the First Brigade under Barnes’ command had one completely untested Regiment, the 118th Pennsylvania, and another, the 18th Massachusetts, that had fired their weapons only once in combat, twenty days earlier at Second Bull Run. Didn’t this place the Union forces at a distinct disadvantage in the event they were attacked?

TM: At this point in the war the Army of the Potomac had a number of new regiments, a result of that summer’s massive recruitment campaign. The advantage of brigading these new regiments with seasoned ones was that it allowed them to gain experience surrounded by veterans. But, yes, the flip side of this scenario was that they often proved to be the weak link in the chain.

In the case of Barnes’s brigade at Shepherdstown, however, I think the 18th Massachusetts performed remarkably well under difficult conditions. I high think it highly probable, based on the evidence, that during the hasty retreat the 18th Massachusetts took up a second position in the ravine to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the brigade. They suffered 14 casualties, including 5 dead in the process.

The inexperience of the 118th Pennsylvania’s high command did prove to be costly, but the bulk of the regiment did not just break and run. I think this fact in many ways is testament to the general character of the Union volunteer as a whole. But again, no one was expecting a battle that morning at Shepherdstown. It was a chance meeting. This brigade just happened to get caught in a bad place.

Did this really make any difference in the outcome of the battle, particularly when they ultimately came up against battle-hardened Confederate brigades and regiments?

TM: I don’t think it made that much difference due to the way the battle unfolded. Yes, Dorsey Pender’s men were hardened veterans, but when they made initial contact Barnes’s brigade outnumbered them more than 2 to 1. The 18th Massachusetts put pressure on their right while the 13th & 25th New York suddenly appeared on their far left. Pender was so concerned he sent back for support. It was only after the majority of Barnes’s brigade withdrew and Archer’s three brigades advanced that the odds shifted in the Confederates’ favor.

What sort of Union presence did A.P. Hill expect to find opposing him? After all he had a whole division at his disposal.

TM: I’m not sure any of the Confederate high command knew what to expect. There was no clear information coming back from the front, only that “something” had happened at Shepherdstown. I know Jackson perceived that a real threat to the army’s rear existed. And he was prepared to resolve the matter with blunt force.

Would someone be wrong in thinking the battle lasted about five minutes and was little more than a skirmish?

TM: Yes, in fact Captain Joseph Collingwood of the 18th Massachusetts reported that his men stood their ground for a half hour and expended 50 rounds of ammunition. Also, once the Federal troops withdrew to the Maryland shore the shelling of the Confederate line lasted the entire day.

If there remains any doubt, just take a look at the regimental battle flags and monuments of some of the regiments that fought there. You will see the name “Shepherdstown.” They didn’t do that without reason. In short, it was the largest and bloodiest battle fought in West Virginia.

When it was apparent the odds were against them, James Barnes gave the order for his entire command to withdraw? Every regiment complied, save the 118th Pennsylvania who stood their ground. This incident is steeped in controversy. What’s your best take on why the 118th didn’t withdraw?

TM: I think it was a combination of factors including terrain, confusion, and inexperience. And of course there is the “fog of war,” an expression that aptly describes the difference between reacting to the moment and analyzing events with the luxury of hindsight. The 118th PA’s colonel, Charles Prevost, received the order to withdraw from a lieutenant of his own regiment who had heard it from one of Barnes’s aides. I think Prevost was concerned with the reputation of his regiment had they prematurely retreated their first time under fire. To me this explanation makes sense when considering the situation at the time.

Everything that could have gone wrong for the 118th Pennsylvania seemingly did, starting with defective Enfield muskets. How in the heck did they get their hands on them and why didn’t their officers know beforehand they were defective?

TM: In the early part of the war the Federal government had trouble supplying the huge numbers of recruits with weapons. U.S. manufacturers simply could not produce enough rifles for the entire army and so the War Department looked to Europe. The Confederacy, however, had beaten them to the punch and already contracted for large numbers of rifles. As a result European manufacturers were hard-pressed to keep up with the demand, and a number of rifles were sub par. The problem was compounded for the men of the 118th by the fact that they did not realize their British-made Enfields were defective until they were under fire. They had been in the army for less than a month and not yet shot their rifles.

What shape were the 118th in when they finally did begin withdrawing? Could they have effected a safer retreat or were they overmatched and outmaneuvered?

TM: The main problem that befell the 118th was that once the rest of the brigade withdrew, their flanks were unprotected, “in the air” as they say. Pender’s North Carolinians simply drove in on them in three directions and there was nowhere to go but back.

Did the 118th retreat in good order or did panic set in?

TM: Once Pender’s Brigade charged it was every man for himself. I think panic and self-preservation went hand in hand. What made the retreat so difficult were not only the cliffs to the rear, but the fact that both ravines were subject to crossfire from above. Archer’s, Lane’s, and Brockenbrough’s men had lined the top of the ravine where the 13th and 25th New York had been. Also, during the artillery bombardment a tree had been knocked down, further hampering the retreat. It was really a nightmare scenario.

Is it true that large numbers of the 118th were killed by friendly fire?

TM: There were at least three men killed instantly and one mortally wounded when a shell exploded in one of the lime kilns. It is pretty powerful to visit that site today and know that three men left this world in that exact spot and in such a gruesome and tragic manner.

Confederate eyewitness accounts said the Potomac ran red and the bodies of blue coated men filled the river. Are those accounts accurate regarding the Union retreat?

TM: A.P. Hill wrote a highly exaggerated account of the “slaughter” that took place in the river. That being said, a number of men were killed during the crossing. I think what made the sight all the more striking was that these deaths were highly visible, almost as if in a sports arena. Thousands of men witnessed the frantic retreat, and many left accounts of what they saw. It is obvious that the pure spectacle of that day left vivid impressions in the minds of those that were there.

Why, when they could see what was happening to the 118th Pennsylvania weren’t Union troops ordered forward to assist? I know this may be second guessing, and I’m certainly not a military tactician, but why couldn’t artillery have been used to effectively cover an advance?

TM: Events were unfolding so quickly, and by the time the 118th Pennsylvania were retreating it was too late to send infantry support across. Confederates lined the opposite bluffs and completely commanded the ford.

Despite some incidents of “friendly fire” the Federal artillery did an excellent job of covering the Union retreat. Their efforts undoubtedly saved hundreds of men from becoming casualties that day.

Speaking of Union artillery fire, A.P. Hill wrote in his battle report that Union cannon fire at Shepherdstown was the heaviest and most effective he had experienced to that point in the war? Was that a valid assessment on his part, or pure puffery?

TM: In this case A.P. Hill did not exaggerate. One of the things that really struck me during my research was the number of accounts that made reference to the Federal artillery fire of September 20th, so much so that I included them in an appendix to the book. The shelling of the Confederates that day was relentless. Stonewall Jackson, one not easily impressed, even made reference to it in his report.

Describing and making sense of a battle has to be a daunting task, particularly because descriptions from individual combatants are so myopic, i.e. their own sense of what happened was based on what they saw directly in front of them. How were you able to pull the battle of Shepherdstown together so that it made sense not only to yourself, but to your reader as well?

TM: One of the advantages I had when trying to piece this battle together 140 years later is that it was, and is, such a rigidly defined battlefield. There were several distinct landmarks such as the mill, the dam, and the Charlestown Rd, that provided specific reference points in the action reports and accounts. Within these parameters the fact that the men’s accounts were so narrowly focused actually worked to my advantage, illuminating certain parts of the battle during certain phases of the action. Once the pieces start to click with one another, the bigger picture began to come into focus.

Did any of the Union or Confederate regiments wrap themselves in glory at Shepherdstown?

TM: Honestly, I can’t think of one regiment that didn’t do their duty. Of course there are always individuals who shirk or cower under fire, but on the whole the majority of these men were veterans and acted as such. Even the 118th Pennsylvania performed remarkably well until it was too late.

I believe one of the great “forgotten charges” was executed by A.P. Hill’s men across those open fields, under the constant barrage of incoming artillery fire. I think it is safe to say that most, if not almost all of the Confederate casualties of the 20th were inflicted by artillery. And the eyewitness accounts speak to the sheer bravery of these men.

In conducting your research was there any story about Shepherdstown that you found especially poignant?

TM: Yes. Colonel James Lane related a story that occurred on the afternoon of the 20th. After the Union soldiers had withdrawn Lane came across a North Carolinian who had taken a bullet in the back. The young man pleaded with Lane to tell his family he had not been a coward. He shortly thereafter died from the wound. I think this story speaks to the grisly aspect of battle, stripped of all delusions of glory and romance. What struck me was that Lane recalled this story years after the fact, yet another example of how Shepherdstown resonated with the men who fought there.

There seem to be amazing similarities between Shepherdstown, Balls Bluff, and Drewery’s Bluff. Your thoughts on this.

TM: Well Donald, as you and I know from the personal experience of wading through the Potomac, water obstacles can raise hell when trying to conduct military operations, which is why they provided such a great barrier for Civil War armies.

You’ve developed close ties to the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association. What’s that fight all about anyway?

TM: A few years ago a real estate developer purchased 122 acres of part of the core of the Battle of Shepherdstown. The ground is the site of the Osborn Farm whose Civil War buildings still stand today. He hopes to build 152 houses on the property, which would just obliterate a large key chunk of this pristine battlefield. The SBPA has been challenging the developer in the hopes of making the site a historic battlefield park, possibly even part of the Antietam National Battlefield. They have managed to save 84 acres of battlefield land so far, which is a tremendous accomplishment. But the loss of this ground would be heartbreaking.

So, what would you personally say to the developer to get him to change his mind about building houses on the battlefield?

TM: Honestly I don’t know. Unfortunately there are some people that don’t appreciate our nation’s past. Just look at the recent decision to build a Wal-Mart on the Wilderness battlefield. I just hope that this story has a happy ending. Hopefully some higher powers are at work here to see that this all works out.

A lawyer for the developer reacted to efforts to preserve the Shepherdstown battlefield by saying, and I’ll paraphrase, just because some soldiers marched across a piece of land doesn’t mean we should save it. I’m curious as to your reaction.

TM: Well, since this is a family-friendly blog I won’t tell you my initial reaction. But, I think this statement is the absolute epitome of ignorance. I would like to show this individual the handwritten letter that Mrs. Ziba Martin received in October 1862 describing her husband’s death; “I saw him shot alongside of myself, that is a few feet from me. He was dead almost immediately. Musket ball through his head entering the forehead and passing out the back of the ear. Second day after the battle we recrossed the river and buried him just where he fell.” I would like to ask him if he would feel the same way if that had been his family member, not to mention the 160-plus other men that lost their lives on that ground.

Do you have a particular favorite among Civil War battlefields and what makes it so?

TM: My family has a camper at Gettysburg, so we visit there quite often (We call it our second home.) Every time I go there it feels like the first time, and I never fail to see or learn something new. And over the past few years the Park Service has done an incredible job of restoring the battlefield to its 1863 appearance with tree cuttings, fence building, and other changes. It’s just a beautiful place. I also love Antietam, which is probably one of the best -preserved Civil War battlefields in the country. I would love to see some of the battlefields out west someday. I have heard that Shiloh is amazing.

What are you currently reading?

TM: Well right now I am actually studying for my comprehensive exams, so I am reading so many books I’m embarrassed to say.

Excluding your book, is there a single Civil War title that you’d make mandatory reading for Civil War buffs?

TM: That’s a really difficult question to answer because the historiography is so diverse. For the political side Eric Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men is excellent, as well as Herbert Donald’s Lincoln and Paul Escott’s After Secession. For campaign studies I would recommend Edwin Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign and Joseph Harsh’s Taken at the Flood. And for soldier life nothing beats John Billings’s Hardtack & Coffee. But again this is a tough one because there is just so much great stuff out there dealing with this era. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably have a whole other set of responses!

What can we expect from Tom McGrath next?

TM: I have been considering doing a study of the town of Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War.

What makes Concord special?

TM: Well, much like Gettysburg, there is a palpable historical presence there. Not only was it where the American Revolution began, but it was a really significant spot during the nineteenth century too, a place of radical thinkers, writers, abolitionists, as well as ordinary Americans. I am curious to see what this historic town was like during the Civil War.

Any closing thoughts, beside people should buy and read your book?

TM: I encourage everyone reading this to get involved with the efforts of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association. Visit their website battleofshepherdstown.org, write your congressman, make your voice heard before it’s too late. We owe it to those that gave everything on those beautiful and, for now, pristine fields.

Thanks for your time Tom, I really appreciate it. One more thing before we close that I want to say to our audience. Buy Tom's book. It's that good.

TM: And thank you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Call it the Abner Doubleday theory of relativity, because it's amazing the number of people that are passionate about both baseball and the Civil War era. So, I ask how much better can it get than to read separate articles in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine, one being devoted to the most famous of all double-play combinations in the history of the game, the other a look at the raid on Harper's Ferry on the eve of its 150th anniversary.

For a ten-year period, from 1904 to 1913, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance formed the nucleus of the Chicago Cubs infield and, according to Bill James, while their individual accomplishments perhaps didn't merit their induction into the Hall of Fame, their collective contribution "won more games with infield defense than any other team in the history of baseball." Immortalized by the poetry of Franklin Pierce Edwards, "These are the saddest of possible words: Tinkers to Evers to Chance," their images appear on some of earliest and most valuable baseball cards in existence, those produced by the American Tobacco Company.

In the companion article, Fergus Bordewich, author of "Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America," encapsulates the John Brown saga, from early life to his death on the scaffold in Charles Town, Virginia in eight pages. Of significance is historian David Reynolds' assessment that a Democrat probably would have won the 1860 election had Brown and his raiders not struck at Harper's Ferry. The perception of Brown as "an irrational fanatic," who teetered closer to insanity than sanity, a view widely subscribed to through the larger part of the twentieth century, is discussed by John Stauffer of Harvard. "Brown was thought mad because he crossed the line of permissible dissent. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of blacks, and for this, in a culture that was simply marinated in racism, he was called mad." Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harper's Ferry, assesses Brown's impact on the American psyche by stating: "John Brown is still alive in the American soul. He represents something for each of us, but none of us is in agreement about what he means."



Wednesday, September 23, 2009



"Non-slaveholders of the South! farmers, mechanics, and workingmen, we take this occasion to assure you that the slaveholders, the arrant demagogues whom you have elected to offices of honor and profit, have hoodwinked you, trifled with you, and used you as mere tools for the consummation of their wicked designs. They have purposely kept you in ignorance, and have, by moulding your passions and prejudices to suit themselves, induced you to act in direct opposition to your dearest rights and interests...Why will you not see the realities? Why will you yeoman and artisans not throw off your thraldom? Do this and you can insist on emancipation followed by African resettlement; the preludes to Southern progress, wealth, and cultural distinction."

This challenge to the working class and poor dirt farmers of the South to throw off their economic, political, and social yoke didn't fly off the pen of an apostle of abolitionism based in the North. This challenge didn't originate in the mind of William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, Gamaliel Bailey, Charles Sumner, Charles Henry Langston, Lydia Maria Child, or Elijah Lovejoy, but rather was hurled at them by native North Carolinian Hinton Rowan Helper. His 1857 book "The Impending Crisis of the South," was considered so threatening to the existing social order, so sinister in purpose, so subversive of intent to spread discontent among the masses, he was forced to take his manuscript to New York City in order to find a publisher.

Helper was no hysterical screaming mimi. Naive and unrealistic in parts, yes, hysterical no. Utilizing statistics from the 1850 U.S. Census he produced table after table comparing Northern and Southern productivity in areas of agriculture, manufacturing, population growth, etc. to illustrate his point that slavery, rather than being a blessing to the South, was actually dragging the region down, retarding its growth and development, and in the end solely responsible for explaining the widening gap between a dynamic, burgeoning Northern economy versus a winded, emaciated South. With so much economic and political power resting in the hands of an aristocratic minority, long before Huey Long launched his populist appeal to Louisiana voters, Helper urged the common man of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, et al, to "Nail 'em up," to effectively grab back the guiding reins of their own destiny.

He even presented them with a blueprint. Number one on his priority list was to exclude slave holders from holding political office. Number two was to boycott any businesses owned by slaveholders. And if boycotts didn't squeeze them hard enough, then tax them through the roof for every slave they owned.

Non-slave holding whites, according to Helper, were at a distinct economic disadvantage when trying to compete against slave labor. His plan was not only to eliminate the economic and political clout of the planter class, but to eliminate competition for jobs. The slave system in Helper's estimation discouraged the emergence of skilled artisans, mechanics, and an industrial, manufacturing base throughout the South. By utilizing revenues realized through taxation of slave owners, mass deportation of slaves to overseas colonies easily could become a reality and the South could be drained of blacks within a few short years. Helper even did the math to support his hypothesis. With slaves gone, valuable and fertile land given over to cotton, sugar, and rice production would become available to yeomen as the planter class would, by virtue of a labor shortage, be forced to sell off large portions of their holdings at prices within reach of the common man.

Helper's book, needless to say, wasn't looked upon kindly by the planter class. His appeal was like a grenade tossed into a crowded room through an open window, an appeal which demanded their world be torn asunder. However, the audience for whom the book was intended failed to gain access to it. Its sale was, in fact, banned throughout the South and those copies that did surface were burnt in public. J.H.Claiborne, a Mississippi editor, grudgingly admitted that a book like Helper's and efforts by Northern abolitionists to encourage strife between the various classes were "closely watched, and year by year that watch had to be sharpened."

On the other hand anti-slavery factions in the North fell in love with idea of using "The Impending Crisis," as a weapon in their agitation against slavery. One group arranged funding to print a 100,000 abridged copies and, still later, a group of Congressmen, most without having read the book, lent their endorsement, urging Federal dollars be appropriated to allow for printing and distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies. This endorsement didn't go unnoticed by their Southern colleagues. Endorsing publication and using it as campaign literature in the 1860 Presidential election was in their eyes tantamount to endorsing Helper's suggestion that slave owners should be killed. John Sherman, brother of future Union General William T., effectively lost his bid to be named Speaker of the House for this very reason. He later said his endorsement of the book was predicated on Helper's agreement to delete objectionable passages. Helper was not a man of his word in this regard.

Helper's book, though, ultimately proved unsettling to most abolitionists. Whole sections of what is decidedly dull reading are overtly racist in nature, a hint of the venomous rage against Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans Helper was to vomit with increasing frequency in the post-war era as America marched in unified lockstep toward the 20th Century. Over time his roar grew to be a mere hoarse whisper as old divisions and wounds were patched up. Penniless, friendless, and as defeated in his old age as the institution he sought to bring down, Helper took the gas pipe in 1909.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


There's been a long standing debate about whether Abraham Lincoln, on being introduced to Harriett Beecher Stowe at the White House, actually posed the question, "Is this the little woman who made the great war?" Time doesn't stand still and neither do questions. The first the public heard about Lincoln's utterance was shortly after Stowe's death in 1896. Much later the question mark disappeared from view and in its place was the legacy of a comment: "So this is the little old lady who started this new great war." C'mon now, do you honestly think Abe would have called a woman two years younger than himself "a little old lady?" He did, according to one of Stowe's daughters.

I was watching a program on "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 2002, the 150th anniversary of the publication of her book, taped at her former residence in Cincinnati, now a national historic shrine. The comment that stuck with me most was when one of the panel members said, "Uncle Tom's Cabin is not what you think until you read it."

Stowe never set out to write the great abolitionist tract. In assessing her own work she felt she "painted slaveholders as amiable, generous, and just." Too, at the outset, she feared abolitionists would condemn the book as too forgiving of slaveholders. A Southern bred cousin tried to allay her fears when she counseled in a letter : "Your book is going to be the great pacificator; it will unite both North and South."

Full fledged Southern criticism of the book, in fact, didn't begin to take flight until abolitionists embraced the book as their own, though William Lloyd Garrison was not totally enamored with Stowe's idea that colonization of freed slaves was the key to peace and harmony. Still, Southern criticism rocked an unsuspecting Stowe back on her heels and "The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," appeared in an attempt to justify her characterizations of slavery as an institution. The idea that she was some naive housewife who knew not of what she wrote, however, neither got her book banned in the South and nor stopped Southerners from reading it. They lapped it up the same way that everyone else in the world lapped up its sad and melodic violin strains echoing joy, sorrow, death, honor, loyalty, a mother's love, pride, cruelty, and savage beatdowns. In a New York Times review published on June 23, 1853 and titled "Southern Slavery. A Glance at Uncle's Tom's Cabin, by A Southerner," who styled himself as "Walpole," actually heaped praised on Stowe's novel.

"It must be admitted that Uncle Tom's Cabin is a book which no one can read with indifference; not only in the non-slaveholding States of our country has it found favor; not only have twenty thousand copies been distributed within a few weeks through the North; not only has it received in England such a welcome as an American book never met before; not only has it been dramatized in France, and translated into the wide German tongue; but in the South it has been eagerly sought for; and planters - large slave-owners have, been moved to tears while reading its pages, or roused to indignation by its graphic sketches of wrong and cruelty. There can be no higher proof of the merits of the book as an artistic performance; for it is well understood to be an appeal to the civilized world against the social system of the Southern States."

You might have already guessed, but this is a lead in to the next post, which will deal with the one book Southern slaveholders considered truly dangerous, so dangerous to the peculiar institution steps were actually taken to try to quash its publication, and at least one man went on trial for his life when he attempted to distribute it in the South; a book, it turns out, written in 1857, not by a Northern abolitionist, but by one of its very own.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I thought I'd pull together a list of books from two categories of the Bibliography that were cited by the editors as being well worth the time and money when this two volume series was published in 1967 and 1969. Without doubt these assessments of each book's intrinsic worth still holds true fifty years later, because, after all, a great book remains a great book forever.

General Works:


The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (1960)
Comment: By far the best of the modern general picture-book histories; unique maps complement [Bruce] Catton's tasteful text.

Bruce Catton: The Centennial History of the Civil War (1961-1965)
One of the outstanding literary achievements of the Centennial years

Ellis Merten Coulter: The Confederates States of America, 1861-65 (1950)
Decidedly the best non-military study of the Confederacy.

Ellis Morton Coulter: Travels in the Confederate States, a Bibliography (1948)
An outstanding, essential bibliographical tool.

Alice Hamilton Cromie: A Tour Guide to the Civil War (1964)
A "must" volume for anyone touring Civil War sites.

Clement Ansley Evans: Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History (1899)
A still excellent reference work for the embattled Confederacy.

Douglas Southall Freeman: The Last Parade; An Editorial by Douglas S. Freeman of Friday, June 24, 1932 of the forty-second annual reunion of United Confederate Veterans (1932)
An immensely moving essay that honors Southern soliders and leaders and at the same time shows a broad understanding of the war.

Douglas Southall Freeman: The South to Posterity (1939)
The pre-eminent study of Confederate historical writing by a great practitioner in the field.

Willard Allison Heaps: The Singing Sixties; The Spirit of Civil War Days Drawn from the Music of the Times (1960)
In spite of several shortcomings, the volume remains the best general history of Civil War music.

Bertram Wallace Kern: American Jewry and the Civil War (1951)
The best treatment of the subject, but restricted largely to the Northern side.

Robert Lively: Fiction Fights the Civil War (1957)
By far the outstanding story of Civil War fiction.

Mary Elizabeth Massey: Bonnett Brigades (1960)
A poor title for a splendid book; all important facets of women in wartime have been covered in a scholarly and colorful manner.

Allan Nevins: The Statesmanship of the Civil War (1953)
A brilliant evaluation of Northern and Southern leadership.

Allan Nevins: The War for the Union (1959)
Two deeply analytical volumes that carry the war to May 1863; marked by such thorough research and scholarship that the volumes will stand for years at the peak of Civil War history.

Roy Franklin Nichols: The Stakes of Power 1845-1877 (1961)
Provocative and stimulating; a detailed interpretation by a recognized scholar in the field.

Thomas Henry Williams: Lincoln and his Generals (1952)
A superb study of Lincoln's relations with the dozen leading Union field commanders.



Biographies, Memoirs and Collected Works


Roy Prentice Basler: The Lincoln Legend (1935)
An important and successful study of the national legend that has been created about Lincoln in literature.

Lenoir Chambers: Stonewall Jackson (1959)
A comprehensive, definitive biography of Jackson; well-written and based upon careful use of a wide array of source material.

Godfrey R.B. Charnwood: Abraham Lincoln (1916)
A balanced and thorough one-volume biography; still an excellent work in spite of its age.

William Edward Dodd: Jefferson Davis (1907)
Sympathetic in tone, yet judicious in judgement; still regarded as among the best Davis studies.

David Herbert Donald: Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960)
The first volume of what will prove to be a definitive study.

Clifford Dowdey: Lee (1965)
An outstanding study, well-balanced, analytical, and although without documentation based on an intensive use of primary and secondary sources.

John Percy Dyer: The Gallant Hood (1950)
A fine, well-balanced and critical study of the jealous and often impetuous Confederate commander; based on an imposing array of sources.

Charles Winslow Elliott: Winfield Scott, the Soldier and the Man (1937)
The most scholarly study of "Old Fuss and Feathers;" likely to stand unchallenged for many years to come.

Douglas Southall Freeman: R.E. Lee, a Biography (1934-35)
A classic example of the biographical form; exhaustively researched, vividly written, balanced, judicious and definitive in its portrayal of the Confederacy's greatest soldier.

Ulysses Simpson Grant: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (1885-86)
Written frantically while in a race with death, these recollections rank with the best of the Civil War period.

Robert George Hartje: Van Dorn (1967)
An excellent biography of the enigmatic Southern general.

William Henry Herndon: Herndon's Lincoln (1889)
In spite of exaggerations and erroneous conclusions, Herndon has contributed more than any other author to our knowledge of Lincoln.

Dorothy Kunhardt: Twenty Days (1965)
By far the best volume on the assassination of Lincoln; the illustrations alone are worth the cost of the book.

Henrietta Melia Larson: Jay Cooke, Private Banker (1936)
An excellent biography of the well-known Union financier.

Horace Montgomery: Howell Cobb's Confederate Career (1959)
A brief but excellent study of the eminent Georgian who chose to serve the Confederacy in a military capacity.

James Garfield Randall: Lincoln, the President (1944-55)
A definitive scholarly biography, encompassing more than the title indicates; probably the best and most complete study of Lincoln's life.

Richard Taylor: Destruction and Reconstruction; Personal Experiences of the Late War (1879)
Regarded as the finest of the Confederate memoirs, Taylor's story covers only the war and immediate postwar periods.

Benjamin Platt Thomas; Abraham Lincoln, a Biography (1952)
The best one-volume biography of Lincoln; well balanced, critical and scholarly, the book is written in fine moving style.

Benjamin Platt Thomas: Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War
(1962)
A definitive study of a controversial figure; balanced and judicious, although generally sympathetic to Stanton.

Glyndon Garlock Van Deusen: William Henry Seward (1967)
By almost every standard the best biography of Lincoln's Secretary of State; the product of exhaustive research.

Frank Everson Vandiver: Mighty Stonewall (1957)
An excellent definitive study, based on exhaustive use of primary sources; written in a clear, polished and sometimes pictureresque style.


Friday, September 18, 2009

A recent acquisition arrived through the mail a couple of days ago, an acquisition that's going to make choices in the selection of future Civil War reading material that much simpler.

"Civil War Books, A Critical Bibliography," was the brain child of the United States Civil Centennial Commission. By 1963, with an estimated 30 to 50,000 separate Civil War titles, the one book that went begging, according to the Commission, was "an annotated, critical bibliography of the major works in the field." Into the breech stepped Allan Nevins, James I. Robertson, Jr., and Bell Wiley, who were appointed as editors of the project. Nevins and Wiley were charged with organizing and promoting the project, while Robertson had responsibility for overall management. The trio, in turn, recruited fifteen historians nationwide, whose primary task was to visit major depositories and compile information on their holdings. That data, written on thousands of index cards, was then forwarded to the Washington-based Robertson who painstakingly edited, condensed, and achieved uniformity for each entry.

The first of two volumes was published by Louisiana State Press four years later, the second following in 1969. Arranged by bibliographical category, selections were limited to books and pamphlets, while manuscripts, articles, doctoral dissertations, and masters theses were excluded except in very select categories. When all was said and done 2,700 titles were cited in Volume I, while over 3,000 found their way into Volume II.

It's clear that the selection of those titles was geared toward assembling the broadest perspective of the war as possible and that merit played a secondary role. In other words, the good, the bad, the very worst, and the very best titles spanning the course of a hundred years were all given their due. Robertson's whittled comments which accompanies each title ranges from praiseworthy, to dismissive, to brutal and cutting.

Volume I includes the following categories:
Military Aspects - Mobilization, Organization, Administration, and supply
Military Aspects - Campaigns
Military Aspects - Soldier Life
Prisons and Prisoners of War
The Negro
The Navies
Diplomacy

Volume II features:
General Works
Biographies, Memoirs and Collected Works of Important Leaders and Key Personalities

and similar sections for the Confederacy and the Union encompassing:
Government and Politics
State and Local Studies
Social and Economic Studies

Lets see. I'll pick a category at random from Volume I and then a couple of titles. How about...Military Aspects - Campaigns:

Abbot, Willis John: Battlefields and camp fires (1890).
Title description: A narrative of the principal military operations of the civil war from the removal of McClellan to the accession of Grant.
Comment: A popular, overwritten story of operations from the beginning of the Second Manassas campaign through Chattanooga and the bombardment of Fort Wagner.

Bellah, James Warner: The campaign of Chancellorsville, a strategic and tactical study (1910)
Comment: A masterful study -- one of the very finest ever written on an American campaign; thoroughly documented and notably impartial.

Jones, Virgil Carrington: Eight hours before Richmond (1957)
Comment: A popularly written, somewhat thin but readable story of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid.

Paris, Louis Philippe Albert d'Orleans: The battle of Gettysburg (1912)
Comment: Excellent detailed chapters on the campaign, taken from the Count's massive four-volume work on war.

Ok. Now we'll turn to...Soldier Life

Anderson, Ephraim McD: Memoirs: historical and personal; including the campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate brigade (1868)
Comment: One of the better Confederate narratives; written by an upper-class Southerner and strongly revealing for social conditions in the Confederacy.

Andrews, Andrew Jackson: A sketch of boyhood days of Andrew J. Andrews, of Gloucester County, Virginia, and his experience as a solider in the late war between the states. Written by himself. To which are added selected poems by the author. (1905)
Comment: Shallow reminiscences written too long after the war; the author was a member of the Richmond Howitzers.

Calvert, Henry Murray: Reminiscences of a boy in blue, 1862-1865 (1920)
Comment: Another of those memoirs written years after the war and without benefit of mind-refreshing sources; reconstructed conversations and interpretation drown out the few facts presented.

Child, William: A history of the Fifth regiment, New Hampshire volunteers, in the American civil war, 1861-1865 (1893)
Comment: One of the better regimental histories; composed for the most part of letters and diary excerpts by several members of the unit; covers fully the Eastern campaigns beginning with McClellan's advance up the Peninsula.

One more, this time from Volume II. (The sound of pages flipping) No....No....Okay: "The Union, Economic and Social Studies."

Andreano, Robert, ed.: The economic impact of the American Civil War (1962)
Comment: An excellent study of the subject.

Grossman, Jonathan Philip: William Sylvis, pioneer of American labor; a study of the labor movement during the era of the civil war (1945)
Comment: This study -- as much a history of the molders' union as a biography of Sylvis -- is valuable for insights into labor movements at the time of the war.

Olmsted, Frederic Law: Hospital transports. A memoir of the embarkation of the sick and wounded from the peninsula of Virginia in the summer of 1862.
Comment: An excellent description of transports, by a master writer of that day; reveals forcefully the Union tragedy of the Peninsular Campaign.

Pivany, Eugene: Hungarians in the American civil war (1913)
Comment: Biographical sketches of some of the 800 Hungarians who served the Union

Woolsey, Jane Stuart: Hospital days. Printed for private use. (1870)
Comment: One knowledgeable writer has termed this scarce work "perhaps the best book about the Civil War by a woman writer."

In the short time I've spent flipping through both volumes over the past couple of days I've id'd book after book I'd be interested in reading and those I should probably avoid. I haven't checked prices on Abebooks.com or Google Books to see if those in the public domain have been scanned yet. Both efforts will come later. For now it's just plain fun to turn the pages and read what's written


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The only time I've ever purposely destroyed a book was back in high school, when I cut out a hole large enough to secret a pack of cigarettes. You had to know my father. Even though he smoked a pipe and cigars and kept a spittoon handy for juice from a plug of tobacco, he was evil incarnate when it came to his kids and cigarettes. My brother can swear to this, although he'd probably rather forget it. When he was caught with a pack, as punishment, he had to swallow the juice from the plug he was forced to chew. Me, I was smarter than my brother, until the day I was caught walking home from school taking a drag from a butt. There was a lot of yelling on my father's part. I mean he was royally pissed off, but fortunately I wasn't subjected to the tobacco juice treatment. I guess what made it even worse in my father's eyes was that I had asked him for permission to smoke a couple of weeks earlier. We had actually had a calm and rational discussion about the subject. At the end he simply said "No." And that in his mind was the end of that, except in my mind I was never asked to promise I wouldn't smoke.

Now I'm thinking of purposely destroying another book, but this time around it doesn't have anything to do with wanting to hide something. Too, I hope if the authors read this they'll understand. No, I'm not intending on destroying my autographed copy of "The Complete Guide to Gettysburg" by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley. I'm thinking of buying a second copy, ripping the cover off, punching holes, and then placing the pages in a loose leaf binder. I know, that's nuts. I know that's a waste of a good book. However, knowing me and my propensity for spilling things, I figure I'd have what would amount to a soft cover edition of the book that I could easily cart around Gettysburg and not worry about whether it got messed up or not. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally pretty careful with hard cover books, but I also know "The Guide" is going to be put to good practical and repeated use. So, in apology to David and Steven, if they take exception to my plan, I might, maybe, think about swallowing some tobacco juice, or they could spare me that fate by issuing a soft cover edition.

A lot of bloggers have already written reviews on the book. The best endorsement I can give it entails two words: No, not, "Boycott WalMart," although you should do that, too, but, 'buy the book.' That's three words, not two, but you get my drift. The narrative by David is unified and very well written, the maps and photos by Steven simply excellent. Quite simply, and, yes, I'm repeating the same word in consecutive sentences, if you're heading to Gettysburg, don't leave home without it.

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By the way Amazon, where's my copy of Eric Wittenberg's latest book that I pre-ordered?



Sunday, August 16, 2009



I'm now in the midst of reading the third installment of Allan Nevins' eight volume "Ordeal of the Union" series. This one is titled "The Emergence of Lincoln: Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos 1857-1859." Good stuff that Nevins. Actually, in my opinion, more than just good stuff.

I wanted to share Nevins take on Stephen Douglas, because, short of reading a full length biography, it's the best summation of the Little Giant's role in American politics I've read, and also gives some idea of the Nevins' style of writing. Am I dropping a hint that people should consider buying these books? I haven't got a clue why anyone would think I was pushing Nevins on them. I mean, I'd no sooner recommend him then tell you a copy of "The Complete Gettysburg Guide" by J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley is on its way.


"As a parliamentary combatant, the most impressive figure in the country was Stephen A. Douglas. A dozen years younger than Seward, five years junior to [Jefferson] Davis, he was still in his early forties when Buchanan was inaugurated; yet he was a political veteran, for he had been elected State's attorney in Illinois at twenty-one, and had been in Congress in Tyler's time. No man excelled him in riding the storm. He had been in the thick of the struggle for the Compromise of 1850, had labored ambitiously for the Presidential nomination in 1852 and 1856, and had given the country the most controversial measure of the decade in his Nebraska Bill. Indeed, ever since the day when, an ill-educated stripling of twenty with hardly enough law to write a simple instrument, he had hung up his shingle in the Morgan County courthouse, he had been ceaselessly fighting his way forward. He had two elementary articles of faith: he believed in the growth of the country - believed that, as it had pushed across the Mississippi, the plains, and the Rockies to the Pacific, it must continue to expand, either north or south; and he believed in popular self-government. When he flung himself into battle it was with tigerish ferocity. In an early run for Congress he had so enraged his opponent, the stalwart John T. Stuart, that this Whig candidate tucked Douglas' head under his arm and dragged him around the Springfield square. John Quincy Adams had stared in amazement when the five-foot Illinoisan, roaring out one of his first speeches in the House, had stripped off his cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and with convulsed face and frantic gesticulation had "lashed himself into such a heat that if his body had been made of combustible matter, it would have burnt out." [Carl] Schurz watched him end his sentences like cannon balls, crashing and rending, into his opponents' ranks. Few were the Senators who dared stand against him.

"Yet Douglas's limitations were as striking as his gifts. His conduct was sometimes deplorably lax. Charles Francis Adams has left a graphic vignette of the man invading a sleeping care in 1860, whiskey bottle in hand and half drunk, to try to drag Seward out to address a Toledo crowd. One day Douglas might be leading his party in the Senate, the next be found with his arm about the neck of a crony in a Washington saloon. Deeply versed in political history, he was ill-informed in almost all other fields of knowledge. He had read little but lawbooks, debates, and government manuals, and had seldom found time for that deeper type of reflection which produces statesmen. A marvellously effective floor debater, he had no real power of abstract though, and no ability to present such general ideas as are associated with Hamilton and Jefferson, Calhoun and Webster. He had never produced a genuine state paper. While he grappled friends to him with hooks of steel, he taught them to act on practical expediency rather than far-reaching principle.

"Above all he was an improviser. His whole genius backed by irresistible person force, was for meeting practical situations with some rapidly devised measure, taking little thought of ultimate consequences, and trusting to the country's growth for remedying all defects. He had improvised as State's attorney and judge when he knew little law and no jurisprudence. He had improvised as a young Congressman supporting Polk and the Mexican War. He had improvised policies and bills; above all the reckless measure, the worst Pandora's box in our history, for organizing Kansas Territory. As he improvised he battled implacably, for he loved nothing more than political combat. The great weakness of the born improviser is that he oversimplifies the problem he faces and forgets that remote results are often far more important than the immediate effect. The great penalty paid by the born fighter is that he gradually accumulates a phalanx of enemies. Douglas by 1857 was a doughty champion, famous for his power to give and take blows, but he still had to reckon his final bill of profit and loss.

"The best trait of Douglas was his faith in the expansive energies of the American people. Europe, he had said, is one vast graveyard. "Here everything is fresh, blooming, expanding, and advancing. We wish a wise, practical policy adapted to our condition and position." He must be credited, too, with a fervent belief in the masses - in democracy. But he had a number of less happy traits. One was his chauvinism, for he constantly inveighed against the "tyranny" and "aggressions" of European nations, and showed no appreciation of our cultural debt to older lands. Another was his readiness in debate to twist logic, darken counsel, and even misstate facts. Still another was his constant exaltation of material considerations and depreciation of moral factors; the slavery question, he said on the eve of the Civil War, is exclusively "one of climate, of political economy, of self-interest." Finally, he often suffered from his headlong impetuosity.

"In 1857 the brightest pages of his brilliant career lay before him. His successful fight against a proslavery constitution for Kansas was to be one of the most gallant episodes of the time; and in 1860 he was to play a more farsighted and heroic role than any other Presidential candidate. But he lacked the capacity to plan, the patient wisdom, and the conciliatory gifts of a great national chieftain."


Thursday, August 13, 2009


Back on March 4th I had written a post about a visit to the African-American Civil War Museum in D.C. and had mentioned research conducted by Juanita Patience Moss regarding African-Americans who had served with white Union regiments. It was fascinating stuff, because, to paraphrase Stephen Ambrose, there was nothing else like it in the world. In all the reading I had done, including digesting three books on African-American service during the war, there was nothing in the literature to suggest blacks had served outside segregated regiments or had done more than perform manual labor as civilians for the army.

Flash back to July 15, 1998. Juanita Patience Moss was a member of the audience at a symposium held three days before the unveiling of the "Spirit of Freedom" monument in Washington to honor African-Americans who fought for the Union. Not only was the curtain to be raised on an 11-foot statue, but panels inscribed with the names of 209,145 soldiers and sailors were to be forever available for viewing by the public. Panel members felt good, the audience felt good. Finally, at long last, members of the Corps d' Afrique, United States Colored Troops, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, 8th Connecticut Infantry, and U.S. Navy were getting their due.

When the microphone was handed to Juanita during the question and answer period, panel members reacted with silence before one member finally rallied and, in response to her asking, "What about the black men who served with white regiments?," said matter of factly, "There weren't any." When Juanita produced documents showing her great-grandfather, Crowder Patience, had served as an undercook with the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, the nay sayers stuck to their guns. After all, how could they as experts on the African-American experience during the Civil War, the culmination of combined years of research, not be in the know? Ridiculous question, ridiculous hypothesis, and without doubt the documents in her possession were questionable at best. That, in a nutshell, was why Crowder Patience's name wasn't included on the memorial.

Juanita took the 'lady, you're all wet' rebuff in stride, convinced that if her great-grandfather had served in a white regiment there were others who had done the same.

While General Orders Number 143 authorized blacks to serve in segregated regiments, General Orders Number 323, issued on September 23, 1863 by order of Edwin Stanton, stated:

"That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause to be enlisted for each cook (two allowed by section 9) two undercooks of African descent, who shall receive for their full compensation $10 per month and one ration per day; $3 of said monthly pay may be in clothing.

"For a regular company, the two undercooks will be enlisted; for a volunteer company, they will be mustered into service, as in the cases of other soldiers. In each case a remark will be made on their enlistment papers showing that they are undercooks of African descent. Their names will be borne on the company muster-rolls at the foot of the list of privates. They will be paid, and their accounts will be kept, like other enlisted men. They will also be discharged in the same manner as other soldiers."

The key operative words here are "enlisted" and "soldiers," both of which appear twice, and "company muster rolls."

So what did Juanita find in the intervening years between 1998 and 2004 when she conducted research through the aid of the National Archives, Carlisle Barracks, the 30 volume "Roster of the Union Soldiers 1861-1865," Ancestry.com, "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," the African-American Civil War Museum, the "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865," assorted histories and books, and site visits to numerous historical societies and libraries, as far as she could possibly take it, she found proof of men like Amos McKinney and Simon West serving with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, and four grandsons of Sally Hemmings in uniform with the 73rd Ohio Infantry, the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, and 1st Wisconsin Infantry. In total, the tedious work of laboring through countless military service records, allowed her to identify over 2,000 African-Americans clearly identified in writing as "Col'd."

Pages 75 through 112 of "Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments During the Civil War," published by Heritage Books, contains an alphabetized list of all those identified through her research. The list specifies the Regiment, branch of service, State, and Company. Of personal interest is the name of Bruce Anderson who served with Co. K of the 142 New York Infantry and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Pages 114 through 154 list these same soldiers arranged by State, starting with Alabama and Arkansas, working its way through Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania in the middle sections, concluding with Vermont, West Virginia, and finally Wisconsin.

The individual service records of these men show that while many were restricted to duty as undercooks, others served as teamsters and blacksmiths. A large number were exposed to combat and in those cases shell and bullet wounds are well documented. Some had the misfortune of being introduced to Andersonville, while others simply disappeared from all public record when they were captured, their fate sealed by a return to bondage.

The news of Amos McKinney's service being recognized by the Veteran's Administration with a government issued headstone on July 11, 2009 at Decatur, Alabama, which recently circulated on the Internet and a few Civil War related blogs, was preceded a year earlier by a similar ceremony held at Highland Park Cemetery in Warrensville, Ohio, which honored the aforementioned Simon Samuel West. Juanita's great-grandfather Crowder Patience, however, beat them both, when he was laid to rest in West Pittson, Pennsylvania in 1930. This former North Carolina slave, who later marched as a proud Civil War veteran, pensioner, and member of the Grand Army of the Republic in Memorial Day parades in his adopted home town, was fittingly recognized with a headstone and G.A.R. marker shortly after his internment.

Juanita's journey began when she discovered Crowder's military papers in a small tin kept by a great-aunt, who, during the 103 years of her life, had shared only fragments of her father's life. She confessed she had little information herself. "Juanita, back in those days we didn't ask our parents a lot of questions." It's history lost for the sake of stifling natural curiosity, while maintaining obedience and a respectful distance from those who brought you into the world.

Juanita is hoping that someone will pick up where she's left off. Maybe, just maybe, those efforts will someday pay off and 2,000 plus additional names will be added to a memorial on U Street Northwest, once known as "The Black Broadway," that serves as the main artery for a neighborhood named in honor of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.