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!