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Friday, January 05, 2007

A little over a month ago I mentioned finding some information that helps clear General James Barnes from an article by Al M Gambone on General Samuel K. Zook titled, DATE WITH DESTINY ... and DISTORTION: The death of Union General Samuel K. Zook, which itself was based on his book, …if tomorrow night finds me dead… The Life of General Samuel K. Zook.

I contacted Al, asking if he remembered anything else that might help me clearing up Jimmy’s name and although he told me he didn’t off hand, he offered to send my a copy of his book. Not only did he send it to me right away - he wrote a really nice inscription too.

At this point I want to give Al a big PUBLIC THANK YOU!

Although he didn’t remember off hand – his book just made my day. Specifically pages 42 – 44 and a few endnotes that go along with it.

Jimmy is going to be cleared of some major injustice and in large part due to Al and his book. I have a bit more work but this little bit goes a very long way!

Do me a favor and help me thank him by buying his book or one of his many others.

Before finding these specific pages, I did my normal thumb-through to preview the book. It has some great maps and lots of pictures of the cast of characters and the stages they played on. Plus the writing I have read so far has been top notch. I especially like how Al – for the most part – starts with the battle that leads to Zook’s death, works his way back in the war and then goes to what happens after the war. (Donald – I told you starting with the end could work for the 18th).

Need more prompting? Both Frank A O’Reilly and John J Hennessy have quotes of support that appear on the jacket.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I’ve been spending a good bit of time this Christmas break searching for original sources dealing with the 18th, specifically with regiments that it fought against. It can get a bit tiring staring at the computer and I have found myself with a severe case of computer blindness on several occasions – staring straight at the computer and seeing absolutely nothing.

Times like that, I either stop completely or look for other things of interest. Lately it has been looking for information on General James Barnes.

You may remember the post in November when I discussed finding some information that cleared his name a little bit. During the post, I mention that there are a few blemishes on General Barnes’ name that I feel are unwarranted and I hope to disprove them and clear a good man’s name. If I am unable too, then I at least have given it my all.

One of the blemishes is that Barnes’ division had a good, strategic post but as first Historicus put it:

Barnes' division, of the Fifth Corps, suddenly gave way

This was later followed by another Historicus letter, quoting General Birney,

He (Barnes) moved to the rear from three to four hundred yards, and formed in the rear of the road which passed from the Emmettsburg Road to the Round Top

In Birney’s official report, he claims that

But during the hottest of the fight he withdrew this force, saying that his men could not see to fight in the woods, and formed them some three hundred yards farther in the rear.

Not quite as damning but still pretty bad.

The question on why Barnes moved seems to be glossed over in most books and articles, with Historicus’ version generally being received as gospel.

When members of the 18th Massachusetts Reenactment group had dinner with me this summer, Tom Keenan of the group brought up that he felt that General Barnes, must have seen Confederate troops coming up from the side that others did not – which would have imperiled his own troops.

This is something that is mentioned in Barnes’ official report but does not seem to be picked up on by others.

After some time, during which the firing was very heavy, the enemy showed himself in great force upon our right flank. He had penetrated through the unguarded space there, and commenced pouring in a destructive fire from the advantageous position he had gained, and without changing my front there were no means of checking his advance toward my rear. Colonel Tilton, commanding the First Brigade, which was on the right, was immediately directed to change his front to the right, and the order was at once executed, deliberately, yet promptly, and in good order. Colonel Sweitzer, commanding the Second Brigade, on the left of the First, was immediately notified of this change upon his right, and directed to fall back in good order, and to take up a new position a short distance in his rear, for the purpose of co-operating in opposing this heavy attack upon the flank

Last month while looking through books at a local bookstore, I found a similar conclusion proposed by an author but with no real indication of where this conclusion came from.

Then while on a break, I came across a book from New York – Historicus’ presumed identity of General Daniel Sickles’ home state no less. New York at Gettysburg by William F Fox, published by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga

two fine brigades of Tilton and Sweitzer were withdrawn while Kershaw was making his attack. These troops withdrew to a position in rear of the road, Tilton taking position there in support of Bigelovv’s Battery. Tilton was ordered to withdraw because one of Kershaw s left regiments, which was advancing towards the open space between the knoll and the Peach Orchard, threatened Tilton’s right flank.

That seems a bit better until the author plays Monday Morning Quarterback -

But any withdrawal on this account proved unnecessary, as this regiment of Kershaw’s was driven back, with terrible loss, by a canister fire from Bigelow and Phillips.

Of course, you will never guess who was the chairman of the Monuments Commission - yes, Jimmy’s friend, General Dan Sickles. Was the unneeded withdrawal statement thrown in because of Sickles? We will never know but we have a bit more knowledge on why Jimmy decided to pull his brigades back.

So, although not completely clearing General Barnes, another bit of information comes out from the present, backed from some period sources.

Another baby step towards clearing Jimmy – I hope I get to take a few more…..

Friday, November 03, 2006

I’ve mentioned previously, I am out to clear General James Barnes’ tarnished name. I may not succeed but I will do everything possible to see it happen. Tonight, I took a little baby step forward towards the goal.

The best place to start is the beginning, unless it is a mystery, then you start at the end. I’m not sure what to call this so let’s start with what is fact and not up for any discussion.

  • James Barnes was classmates with Robert E Lee at West Point
  • He spent some time in the army and then worked on Railroads
  • When the Civil War started, he was appointed to lead the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a bit of an anomaly as he was one of the few Colonels who had actual military experience
  • He would lead the regiment, brigade and finally a division at Gettysburg
  • He was injured the second day and pulled off the field
  • After he recuperated, he was the Military Governor of Norfolk under Butler and then in charge of the prison at Point Lookout, Maryland.

Everything else is a mess.

If you take a look at what most websites describe General Barnes they would do so in the following manner (or worse) “He did not perform well at Gettysburg”.

Unfortunately, with much in the Civil War History, it seems one person writes something and so many others copy and then even more copy the first copiers. In this case, it was a letter to a newspaper from someone who courageously gave their name as Historicus (in itself was a ripoff of a Roman historian) to the New York Herald. The letter was critical of General Meade and several of his generals, while at the same time praised the actions of General Sickles. General Meade was very critical of Sickles in his official report so many have assumed that it was Sickles who wrote the letter.

Since Meade could not prove this, he was advised to let it blow over and be forgotten, unfortunately, most have not forgotten what was in the letter as it has been used against General Barnes for a century and a half.

Civil War Home has a great page on the controversy and I would highly suggest you taking a look at it. You can also view General Barnes’ reply to the Herald

On some other day, I’ll have a better summary but I wanted to give a brief background before sharing something new.

There were several accusations against James Barnes actions, all equally damning. Even so, one that has really irked me is the insuation that Barnes’ division laid down in order to let men willing to fight go forward into the lines:

"An alarming incident, however, occurred. Barnes' division, of the Fifth Corps, suddenly gave way; and Sickles, seeing this, put a battery in position to check the enemy if he broke through this gap on our front, and General Birney was sent to order Barnes back into line. 'No,' he said; 'impossible. It is too hot. My men cannot stand it.' Remonstrance was unavailing, and Sickles dispatched his aides to bring up any troops they met to fill this blank. Major Tremaine, of his staff, fell in with General Zook, at the head of his brigade (Second Corps), and this gallant officer instantly volunteered to take Barnes' place. When they reached the ground, Barnes' disordered troops impeded the advance of the brigade. 'If you can't get out of the way,' cried Zook, 'lie down, and I will march over you.' Barnes ordered his men to lie down, and the chivalrous Zook and his splendid brigade, under the personal direction of General Birney, did march over them and right into the breach. Alas! poor Zook soon fell, mortally wounded, and half of his brigade perished with him."

Barnes would reply in his letter:

All this is pure invention. No such occurrence as is here related took place. There is not a particle of truth in it. No order was given to me by General Birney. None was received by me through any one from General Sickles. I did not see or hear from General Zook. I did not meet him in any way. I did not know he was there, and the article above referred to is the first intimation that I have had that any one pretended that any such event took place. There was no order to advance-no refusal; no order to lie down given to the command by me or by any one else to my knowledge; no passing over my command (I should be sorry to see any body of men attempt to do such a thing in my division); nothing of the kind occurred that ever came to my knowledge, and I think I should have heard of such a thing before this late day if it, or anything like it, had taken place; the whole story is untrue in every particular, and my astonishment at now hearing of such a thing for the first time may possibly be imagined.

Unfortunately Historicus would raise his ugly head again and send a reply to the Herald to answer General Barnes’ defenses:

As General Barnes denies all this roundly, under his own signature, it is proper I should give the names of those who cheerfully came forward to corroborate in every point the facts I stated. I refer General Barnes, first to the letter of General de Trobriand, in the Herald of March 29, where he states that a portion of Barnes' division fell back and took position in his rear, and that in spite of his remonstrance they finally withdrew altogether without being engaged. This confirms what I alleged; but I have positive testimony in a private letter from General Birney, which he will not object I am sure, to my using. When he saw Barnes withdrawing his troops before they had received a shot, he remonstrated at Barnes' leaving a dangerous gap in his line, as well as abandoning the good position. It was of no avail, for Barnes retired. I copied the following from General Birney's letter:-
"He (Barnes) moved to the rear from three to four hundred yards, and formed in the rear of the road which passed from the Emmettsburg Road to the Round Top. When Zook's Brigade, the first one brought to me, came up, Barnes' troops (being in the way) were, at my request, ordered to lie down, and the Brigade from the Second corps passed over their prostrate bodies into the fight, under my command, relieving de Trobriand's left. A portion of the troops of Barnes were afterwards detached and fought splendidly under another commander. I mentioned the conduct of General Barnes to his corps commander General Sykes, and also to General Sedgwick, that night, after the Council; and Sykes told me that Colonel Sweitzer who commanded one of Barnes' Brigades, had reported the same thing."

Soon after General Meade would ask President Lincoln for a Court of Inquiry to clear his actions at the battle. President Lincoln would respond

…It is quite natural that you should feel some sensibility on the subject; yet-I am not impressed, nor do I think the country is impressed, with the belief that your honor demands, or the public interest demands, such an inquiry. The country knows that at all events you have done good service; and I believe it agrees with me that it is much better
And at this point General Meade and General Barnes would stop trying to defend themselves. Unfortunately, so many of the original historians would take Historicus’ letter as the pure truth, it would be repeated by those that would follow.

Unfortunately, President Lincoln was a bit off with this one as it never did quite blow over and history has seemed to take Historicus’ side of the affair as truth and has been repeated so often by so many historians who did not further their research, it has become gospel.

Until one Al M. Gambone would write a book about General Zook - if tomorrow night finds me dead ... The Life of General Samuel K. Zook, Another Forgotten Union Hero (Baltimore, Maryland: Butternut and Blue, 1996) and follow it up with an article on Military History Online DATE WITH DESTINY ... and DISTORTION: The death of Union General Samuel K. Zook where he puts forth the following:

Tradition tells us that as Zook led his men into the Wheatfield, they found the ranks of General Barnes strewn on the ground. That condition caused Zook to holler: "Get out of the way [or] lie down and I'll come over you directly." Barnes' men then reportedly did lie down and Zook's men "did march over them and right into the breach." This entire scenario can only be viewed as typical Civil War hyperbole. Imagine for a moment that you are one of Barnes' men. You are in a thick, blue woolen uniform, men are shooting at you - trying to kill you, you are hot, frightened [or at least worried], you have a loaded rifle and someone is telling you they intend to send men and heavy horses to walk over you. I don't think so! ... [This leads me to my favorite saying ... be careful of that which you read, hear or see about the American Civil War]

Someone in Zook's brigade recorded the following as they actually entered the Wheatfield. This plus all the facts surrounding Zook's access, demonstrate that the earlier entry-story is a figment of Sickles' invention.

... we marched forward to the attack ... alongside the mountain, the tumult was deafening ... We were enveloped in smoke and fire, not only in front, but on our left, and even at times on the right.
So it looks like we have some solid evidence to knock out the troops had to lie down so others could fight and I am quite happy for it.

Granted there are still a lot of other things that need to be looked at, like General Barnes pulling his men off early – but I am taking this one baby step at a time.

Hopefully I’ll be running soon and General Barnes will have a much better reputation and I will be able to sleep a bit better, knowing I was able to help an innocent man.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Every time I think I have reached a state of writer’s block for the blog (which in itself will probably make a future blog post) something happens in my life that seems to give new ideas, thoughts and direction.

Thursday night was one of those occasions.

I had the privilege of dining with three fine gentlemen from the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Reenactment group – Tom Keenan, Bill Sherburne and Doug Ozelius. As a group, they take annual battlefield vacations, following movements of specific Massachusetts regiments at battlefields in both theaters.

This year they visited Gettysburg and Vicksburg and made a slight detour to Charleston on their way back to Rhode Island and Massachusetts to have dinner with me.

I was amazed at their knowledge of the unit, something I have only experienced with two other people – Donald and Steve - and more importantly ecstatic to see there devotion to righting some wrongs done to the history of the 18th and its first commander, James Barnes.

We started the evening with a toast General Barnes, so it should not have surprised me that he would dominate our discussion. Although we were all over the place, from the letters of Joseph Collingwood, our perception of Joseph Hayes, what really happened at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, the inherent hardships of researching the 18th and my personal favorite, the 18th was the unit that made it closest to the wall at Fredricksburg – we kept coming back to Barnes and his actions at Gettysburg on July 2nd.

Donald has been researching this for sometime, with the goal to clear James’ name. Long ago he came up with what we feel is a sound theory and had found several sources that seem to back it up. At the same time, the 18th has been looking at it from a slightly different angle.

Thursday, it became clear that we needed to merge our efforts and finally clear General Barnes’ name. At one point Tom Keenan stated that the group had become General Barnes apologists – I countered we were about to become Apologetics.

Going forward, we will present posts on how history views Barnes and why it is seen this way; what we feel happened and the sources that help us reach this conclusion. We may fail miserable or triumphantly accomplish the impossible, either way we will give it our best shot.

I just hope you enjoy the ride!