Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Few More Thoughts on Civil Discourse

As you may have seen, Kevin Levin has responded to my previous post and I thank him for taking the time to clarify a few things.

He and I are certainly on the same page when it comes to keeping the discussion all “about the history.” I was further relieved by Levin’s admission that, “I agree with Jimmy that many of the comments that followed the post are troubling for the reasons he cites.

After these preliminaries, Levin rehashed his objections to the video in question, stating that “the views of the three individuals in this video ought to be taken on their own merit and I find them lacking in certain ways.

Fair enough.

As I made abundantly clear, I also found the video lacking and based my objections on the tone of the post and its commenters.

Predictably, some of those commenters chimed in with some unfortunate remarks that make me question if they even bothered to read my original post or if they just responded to Levin’s summation.

One person stated: “Mr. Price implies that a non-Chrsitian, or anti-Christian consensus dominates the discussion of Civil War history, as though this field has become the particular province of who? Jews, atheists, and Wiccans?”

Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question because I implied no such thing in the first place.

Another commenter proclaimed that “some Christians are beginning to adopt the SCV’s ‘looking for victimhood’ mode of operation. Just as it is wrong for any group to be pilloried based on vague generalizations, it is equally wrong for any group to interpret any criticism as an unfair attack on their beliefs.

If this person was referring specifically to me, I defy them to find one scintilla of this victim mentality in any of my published work.

I won’t hold my breath.

Conversely, an anonymous commenter here at Freedom by the Sword said that they “tried to respond the one of Harrigan’s comments at Levin’s blog, but was censored.” If true, this is troubling.

In sum, my objections from the start were purely in regards to the hostile tone and some of the alarming insularity on display in Levin's original post. Any speculation beyond that misses the point entirely. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Civil Discourse: A Memory?

In our increasingly polarized society there seems to have been a shift from a “live and let live” mentality to a vigorous prosecution of “thought crime” – no longer can we agree to disagree, but anyone who strays from what is considered the cultural mainstream is called out and proverbially tarred and feathered for not keeping in lockstep with the rest of us.

This creeps into the Civil War history community from time to time, usually in fairly innocuous ways. While I’m used to the usual back and forth about the merits of the newest ACW titles or the constant drumroll of snarky comments related to the latest gaffes of the “heritage” movement, I was more than a little troubled by the tone of a recent post over at Civil War Memory that features members of the history department of Liberty University.

The video explores the “enduring legacies” of the American Civil War and was put on Vimeo by an L.U. film student who apparently asked different members of the faculty to describe what they imagine to be the war’s major legacies.

The result can be seen here.

Levin states that the video is “just all around really bad,” and if he is referring to the overall watchability and quality of the film, I’m with him (but keep in mind this is the result of an undergrad film project, for crying out loud). But the vitriol aimed by Levin and the dozens of folks who took the time to leave their own acerbic musings is aimed at what the professors interviewed in the film said about how the war still affects the country to this day.

It would be one thing if these professors were wearing Dixie Outfitters shirts and talking about how tariffs were the real cause of the war and that slavery had nothing to do with it. But the views espoused by the faculty were not terribly out of the mainstream. Certainly not ideal or complete, but we aren’t even privy to everything these people said to the film student during the interviews.

For this reason I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but not so with Levin and his cohorts. For instance, Prof. Robert Ritchie is scorned for reducing “the war down to sectional differences.” Not exactly League of the South type stuff here.

Or consider Prof. Chris Jones, who said that slavery was the main cause of the war but goes on to say that modern Americans are being “enslaved” by the Federal government. He also cites a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that states that the idea of secession is still popular in today’s modern political climate. That might not be your particular outlook on life, but it’s not a harebrained conspiracy theory.

All of this leads to a dubious claim that these professors make the causes and impact of the Civil War “impossible to understand.”

And the comments? Wow.

Rather than attack what these professors actually said about the war, the commenters (not Levin himself) launch into a diatribe about the credibility of Liberty University itself. James Harrigan, who teaches at UVA, says Liberty is “not an actual university” while commenters on the blog and the blog’s Facebook page chime in with comments calling L.U. a “fake school” and suggesting that the professors quoted got their PhDs from the University of Phoenix. See the original post for more of this lowbrow fare.

I can personally attest that these representations are not accurate because I actually spent two years at Liberty University from 1998 – 2000 and during that time I took two Civil War courses. One was a survey course which had as its main text McPherson’s Ordeal by Fire and also included Thomas’s Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience. Nothing by Clyde Wilson, sad to say.

The other course was a Civil War literature class taught by Kenneth Rowlette (who also runs the university’s well-regarded National Civil War Chaplains Museum) with readings that included Ambrose Bierce and Stephen Crane and more recent books such as Cold Mountain and Jacob's Ladder.

Can you just smell the vast Christian Right conspiracy? Somebody call the mayor of Houston!

I digress.

The point is that in no time during my two years at L.U. did I encounter the crude caricatures envisaged in these comments.

It is unfortunate that Christians are increasingly lampooned as science-hating mindless sycophants who have no place in a discussion about history. I’m not implying that that is what Levin was going for, but the feeding frenzy that ensued shows that he certainly left the door open for what passes as civil discourse nowadays.

I can think of several Christians, such as Steven E. Woodworth (who also happens to be part of Liberty University’s distinguished adjunct faculty) and Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor and chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College, who maintains the excellent Faith & History blog, who have made stellar contributions to Civil War history.

To quote another Christian historian, John Fea, “We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues.”

It is especially difficult for this dialogue to take place when you’re pre-judged by your religious views.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Battle of First Deep Bottom: In Stores Today!

I am happy to announce that my second book, The Battle of First Deep Bottom has hit shelves nationwide today!

This work is a much different animal from my first book on New Market Heights, in that it chronicles events on the north side of the James River from late June of 1864 thought the end of July.

I was fortunate enough to team up with Steve Stanley again for the maps and Hampton Newsome penned an excellent forward.

And if you’re interested in learning more about all of the fighting that took place north of the James in 1864, be sure to check out my article in the latest Hallowed Ground that covers it all!

Upcoming Appearances:

October 9thBull Run Civil War Round Table: New Market Heights Lecture

October 26th – Costco, 1401 Mall Dr. Richmond, VA 23235: Battle of First Deep Bottom book signing

November 9thHenrico Theater: Screening of “Glory”

Friday, September 26, 2014

New Market Heights-A-Palooza: It Begins!

Well hello there, sorry for falling off the face of the planet (again)! I do have a decent excuse, though – over the past three months I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my second book.

So even though this post is primarily about New Market Heights, take a quick minute and order a copy of The Battle of First Deep Bottom (don’t worry, the Federals attack the New Market Line in this one too…they just lose.)

Now that I’ve got those preliminaries out of the way, a quick look at the calendar will tell you that this Monday is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Market Heights. As you may have heard, Henrico County is holding a re-enactment of New Market Heights and other actions that took place north of the James this weekend! I’ll be there tomorrow and Sunday selling and signing books, and the county was even kind enough to give me a whopping 30 minutes to speak about the battle tomorrow afternoon at 2:15 p.m.

Then, once the weekend is over, I’ll be helping lead real-time tours of the core battlefield on Monday morning September 29th. These 2-hour tours will begin at 6:00 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.

Needless to say, I’m ecstatic that New Market Heights is receiving this amount of attention and I’m cautiously optimistic that these events will help raise attention about the heroes on both sides who fought there and maybe even generate some public outcry about the current plans to turn the battlefield into a community college.

I hope you’ll take the time to come on out to a unique Civil War battle re-enactment and a very rare opportunity to walk on the hallowed ground where 14 African American Union soldiers won the Medal of Honor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Campaign Before Richmond Symposium: June 20th, 6-9PM

This Friday, June 20th, I will be speaking at the “Campaign Before Richmond Symposium” at Deep Bottom Park. The event will be held in a large tent near the historic site of the Deep Bottom bridgehead on the 150th anniversary of when it was established, so this is a unique opportunity to learn more about Grant’s famous “double-enders” on the site from which they were launched.

I have the honor to speak alongside Doug Crenshaw, Robert E.L. Krick, and Hampton Newsome on a panel moderated by Jack Mountcastle, former Commander of the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

The event will last from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. 

Topics include:

James S. Price- First Deep Bottom
Doug Crenshaw – Chaffin’s Farm
Robert E.L. Krick- Key Confederate Personalities during the Campaign
Hampton Newsome- Richmond Must Fall: October Actions

Talks will be followed by a full panel Q&A led by Gen. Mountcastle.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Some Sesquicentennial Food for Thought

Well, tonight at the site of the Harris Farm the commemoration of the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House will come to an end. While I wish I had been able to attend more of the commemorative events, those I did have the pleasure of going to or helping to lead seemed appropriately somber and very well done.

I tend to fall into the camp of folks who believe that battlefields are no more or less hallowed on the anniversaries of when the battle took place versus any other given day. And, being blessed to live so near these fields of honor and horror, I have the privilege of communing with these sites whenever I wish.

Thus, I will leave the analysis of which tours were the best and which events were the most moving to those whose participation exceeded my own.


As some of you know, my other main area of study other than the American Civil War is the First World War, and I recently came across a quote from a book on that tragic topic that resonated with my inner reactions to the photographs that kept showing up on my Facebook page of hundreds of people crossing fields and forests that were once drenched with blood.

I leave this quote not as a criticism of others, but as a caution to myself:

“I fear I’d fallen victim to the exuberant nihilism of the battlefield enthusiast, and that soon I would be whooping with joy at coming across a trench in the forest, or a skeleton behind a barn. There is a sort of macho romance to the futility of war, an attraction to seeing things fall apart, born of the same impulse that makes setting fires or watching the wrecker’s ball such a fun pastime for so many men.” – Stephen O’Shea, Back to the Front:An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War I

Saturday, May 10, 2014

May 9 & 10, 1864: The War Returns to Beaver Dam Station

In the predawn darkness of May 9, 1864 Sheridan’s entire corps mounted and set out on their mission to take out J.E.B. Stuart and the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. Little Phil was taking his entire force with him, leaving no horse soldiers behind to help Grant at Spotsylvania Court House.

The corps created quite the spectacle, with a column that stretched 13 miles and took 4 hours to pass. One trooper recalled how “The clouds of dust, sent up by the thousands of hoofbeats, fill eyes, nose, and air passages, give external surfaces a uniform, dirty gray color, and form such an impenetrable veil, that, for many minutes together, you cannot see even your hand before you.”

The early part of the march was also the most dangerous, as the Yankee horsemen had to pass around Lee’s army before heading south. Four small rivers – the Ni, Po, Ta, and Mat – stood in their way, and the thought of being caught in the middle of crossing one of these streams gnawed away at Sheridan. When the last trooper rode his horse across the Mat, Sheridan found that “all anxiety as to our passing around Lee’s army was removed.”

While the corps crossed these streams unmolested, it did not go unnoticed, and Confederate scouts reported on Sheridan’s movements, with word reaching Robert E. Lee by 8:00 a.m. Since Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee were still entangled with the Federal infantry, it fell to Williams C. Wickham to keep an eye on the Yankees and tentatively pursue. Wickham’s cavaliers tangled with Sheridan’s rear guard at Jerrell’s Mill and Mitchell’s Shop, but the blue juggernaut kept moving at a steady pace.

When Sheridan’s column reached Chilesburg, the main body of Union cavalry camped on the north bank of the North Anna River, while George Armstrong Custer took his brigade and elements of Devin’s troopers over the river and on towards Beaver Dam Station on the Virginia Central Railroad.

Beaver Dam Station as it appeared in the early 20th Century.
The station was rebuilt in 1866.
Beaver Dam Station was named for the plantation of Col. Edmund Fontaine, once a president of the Virginia Central. The plantation itself was named for the creek which bisected it, and it just so happened that Flora Cooke Stuart – J.E.B. Stuart’s wife – was staying there at the time.

As darkness fell on May 9th, a thunder storm moved into the area. Custer’s men moved up to the station and encountered a large number of prisoners who had been captured at the Wilderness and Laurel Hill.

Custer’s men quickly neutralized the guards and liberated 278 prisoners. In addition to the prisoners, the Yankees captured 200,000 pounds of bacon, 1.5 million rations, and nearly all of the medical supplies for the Army of Northern Virginia.

After taking everything they could carry, they set fire to the buildings, derailed the trains, and tore up track for 10 miles in each direction. While this orgy of destruction was taking place, 150 troopers of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battalion charged in and rode around, shooting the place up before withdrawing.
While Stuart's men swept past Beaver Dam in pursuit of Sheridan,
Stuart was able to have a quick visit with his wife.
So quick, in fact, that he didn't even get off his horse.
In the morning, Sheridan’s men began to move again. From Beaver Dam, the route of march ran down to the settlement of Negro Foot and then on to Mountain Road, which crossed the South Anna and continued to Telegraph Road 6 miles above Richmond.

Sheridan later touted the importance of taking Beaver Dam Station: “The possession of Beaver Dam gave us an important point, as it opened a way toward Richmond on the Negro-foot road. It also enabled us to obtain forage for our well-nigh famished animals, and to prepare for fighting the enemy, who, I felt sure, would endeavor to interpose between my column and Richmond.”

Late in the morning of the 10th, Sheridan assembled the corps near Beaver Dam. As the Federals pulled out, some of Wickham’s men rode in and rounded up some prisoners – including someunfortunates who had just been liberated by Custer on May 9th.

By this point, Stuart united Wickham, Lomax, and the mounted James B. Gordon's Tarheels below Beaver Dam. Desperate to stop Sheridan before he reached Richmond, Stuart formulated a plan – he would try to ambush the Federals near Richmond, where Confederate infantry could theoretically come to his support. Thus, he divided his force: Gordon was tasked with following Sheridan and harassing his rear guard while Fitz Lee , with Wickham and Lomax, would hurry east to Hanover Junction and then descend Telegraph Road to intercept the main Federal body at the Mountain Road junction.

Fitz Lee later described the situation: “Discovering Richmond to be the object of the enemy, and knowing the entire absence of troops in the works guarding the western side, General Stuart determined to move upon the chord of the arc the enemy were advancing upon, and by outmarching them interpose our little force in the enemy’s front at some point contiguous to the city.”

Time was quickly slipping away for the Confederates…

Thursday, May 8, 2014

“Damn Stuart, I can thrash hell out of him any day”: The Origins of Sheridan’s Raid & the Road to Yellow Tavern – 150 Years Ago Today

150 years ago today, the violent explosion of two of the biggest tempers in the Army of the Potomac led to a massive mounted raid that, among other things, killed the talented Confederate cavalry chieftain J.E.B. Stuart.

After a month in charge of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry, 33-year-old Philip H. Sheridan reached a boiling point with 48-year-old Army of the Potomac commander George Gordon Meade. The dispute arose over the proper use of the army’s mounted forces and had been simmering beneath the surface from day one of Sheridan’s tenure in command of the Cavalry Corps.

Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

When Sheridan took command of the cavalry in late March of 1864, he immediately took issue with the way it was being utilized. The feisty young Irishman was dismayed at the poor condition of the horses, which were tired out from conducting extensive mounted patrols. Within weeks, Sheridan told Meade that this use of the cavalry was “both burdensome and wasteful” and suggested his troopers “ought to be kept concentrated to fight the enemy’s cavalry.”

Meade did not appreciate the free advice and used the cavalry as he pleased when fighting broke out in the Wilderness. He had assigned two of Sheridan’s three divisions to guard the trains that accompanied the army, and after a disappointing performance at Todd’s Tavern, both generals were ready to brawl.  The “goggly-eyed snapping turtle” was angry at Sheridan’s failure to clear Brock Road while Little Phil was angry at Meade for not supporting Wilson’s Division when it was the lone occupant of Spotsylvania Court House.

Before noon on May 8th, the time was ripe for the two men to unleash their pent up fury. Sheridan burst into Meade’s headquarters tent and lit into Meade. Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman gives the following account:
11:40 A.M. … Sheridan came now to Headquarters – we were at dinner. Meade told him sharply that his cavalry was in the way, though he had sent him orders to leave the road clear. S[heridan] replied that he never got the order. Meade then apologized, but Sheridan was plainly full of suppressed anger, and Meade too was in ill temper, S[heridan] went on to say that he  could see nothing to oppose the advance of the 5th Corps; that the behavior of the infantry was disgraceful &c. &c.
Sheridan went on to tell Meade that “such disjointed operations as he had been requiring of the cavalry for the last four days would render the corps inefficient and useless before long.” When Meade mentioned the danger posed by J.E.B. Stuart’s fabled Confederate horsemen, Sheridan brushed this off by boasting “Damn Stuart, I can thrash hell out of him any day.”

Sheridan stomped out of the tent, still steaming, and Meade figured he had better report the conversation to Grant. When Grant heard Meade recount Sheridan’s boast of being able to best Stuart, he gave his friend from the Western Theater permission to take his entire corps out to give it a try.

The orders were issued at 1PM and stated in part that “the major-general commanding directs you to immediately concentrate your available mounted force, and with your ammunition trains and such supply trains as are filled proceed against the enemy’s cavalry.” In addition to thrashing Stuart, Grant was also hoping that Sheridan would live off the land and ease the burden of supply on his army.

That evening, Sheridan summoned his division commanders – Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg, and Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson – to the Alrich Farm in Spotsylvania. He told them: “We are going out to fight Stuart’s cavalry in consequence of a suggestion from me. We will give him a fair, square fight. We are strong, and I know we can beat him, and in view of my recent representations to General Meade I shall expect nothing but success.” Initially, Merritt, Gregg, and Wilson were startled – it was virtually unheard of for the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry to go on the offensive! They soon bought into the idea when their new commander laid out his plan.

Sheridan planned to head south for Richmond, knowing that Stuart would have to follow him if he threatened the Confederate capital.  When his supplies gave out, he planned to resupply from the Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred. His main goal in all of this was to draw Stuart into a battle that would wreck the Confederate mounted arm.

That night the troopers prepared for their great raid – each trooper was given 50 rounds of ammo and 18 pistol rounds. Three days' rations of coffee, sugar, and hardtack were issued. One days' ration of beef and five days' worth of salt were also issued. Wagons were kept to a minimum and only ammunition was taken.

James Avery of the 5th Michigan Cavalry recalled, “That night we got little rest for the rumble and rattle of wagons and artillery as they passed along the stony street, disturbed our slumber, and besides this, the band struck up around twelve o’clock, which added to the din.” The troopers would be awakened and moving south before daylight.

The next day J.E.B. Stuart would learn of the raid and when he found out which direction they were heading, he took about 2,500 of his finest troopers on a hell-for-leather ride to intercept them.

It was a ride from which Stuart would not return. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Yellow Tavern Bus Tour Details

Well, it’s hard to believe, but we only have 16 days until the Yellow Tavern Commemorative Bus Tour on Sunday May 11th! I will be tackling half of the tour along with Sam McKelvey, the Site Manager for Dabbs House and Walkerton Tavern in Henrico County.

We have poured many hours of research into this tour, doing everything from driving the original route numerous times to consulting with experts such as Bobby Krick and Eric Wittenberg to make sure that the interpretations that we will be giving are as accurate as possible.

And if that doesn't convince you to come, consider that tickets are only $20 per person and include lunch!

Here are the details:

The bus tour will begin promptly at 9 am so please try to arrive a few minutes early. The meeting point/parking for the tour will be at the Confederate Fortifications on Brook Road. The address to the adjacent Martin's Grocery Store is 5700 Brook Road Henrico, VA 23227. You will see a large tour bus parked by the fortification.

The tour itself will be a mix of "on-bus" interpretation and scheduled debarkation stops. No hard exertion is expected but please bring comfortable shoes for short periods of walking and longer periods of standing. A box lunch will be provided.

Basic Schedule (Subject to Change)

9:00- Leave Confederate fortifications
9:45-10:15 Beaverdam Station
10:15-10:45 The march to Richmond (on bus)
10:45-11-15 Action around Ground Squirrel Bridge
11:30-12 Lunch at Walkerton Tavern and actions on Mountain Road
12:15-12:45 Mid-day action at Yellow Tavern
1-1:45- Culmination of the Battle and the wounding of General Stuart
2-2:30- May 12 action and final thoughts
2:30- Program concludes back at the Confederate fortification

The program will conclude early enough for those interested in visiting the United Daughters of the Confederacy's Commemorative 3 p.m. program at the J.E.B. Stuart Monument. If you have any questions on the morning of the tour, a scheduled staff member will be available by phone at the Dabbs House Museum beginning at 8 am. The number for the museum is 804-652-3406.

There are still 15 spots available, so if you’re interested register now at!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quick Hits: 3/11/2014

Hello again!

While I realize things have been a bit slow here over the past few weeks, I wanted to make you aware of some random bits of news that need to be brought to your attention.

At the top of the list is a new blog from my friend Hampton Newsome, author of the excellent Richmond Must Fall and co-editor of Civil War Talks, both of which you should immediately add to your bookshelf if you haven’t already done so. His blog can be found here, and from the looks of things it will be one that you will want to check in with regularly.

Also, for those of you who live in Northern Virginia, Dr.Donald A. Hopkins will be appearing at the Old Manassas Courthouse on Friday March 21st to discuss his new book Robert E. Lee in War and Peace. Hopkins compiled every known image of Lee in one volume and offers exhaustive commentary about the background of each image. The talk begins at 7:00 PM and will conclude with a book signing. The event is free, so don’t miss out on what should prove to be an excellent event.

And while I’m on the topic of work, there will be two bus tours that I will be leading or helping to lead with Prince William County that are shaping up to be very special. On Saturday May 3rd I will be leading an all-day bus tour of Arlington Cemetery in honor of the 150th anniversary of its founding. The tour will include a tour of Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House and a driving tour that will highlight some of the notable burials within the cemetery. Along the way you will learn about lesser-known aspects of Arlington’s history such as Freedman’s Village, where former slaves experienced their first taste of freedom. Also, on June 14th I will be helping to lead a bus tour that will focus on the contributions of U.S. Colored Troops during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. The tour will focus on the initial clashes around Petersburg, the Crater, and will culminate in a tour of New Market Heights. Both tours are $80 per person (lunch included) and require reservations. For reservations, call Ben Lomond Historic Site at 703-367-7872.

Finally, on a more humorous note, a co-worker sent me this video of Stonewall Jackson planning a famous flank attack that must have been influenced by someone reading about the Seven Days Battles. Dick Ewell and A.P. Hill would undoubtedly have approved. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Olustee Diary: William Woodlin, 8th USCT

Anyone who has done research on United States Colored Troops will tell you that finding an original letter or diary from an African American Union soldier is akin to the discovery of Noah’s Ark. Primary documents from USCTs are scarce, which makes the diary of William P. Woodlin, held in the collection of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, a truly remarkable document. Woodlin belonged to the band of the 8th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry and accompanied the rest of the regiment on its expedition to Florida. He was present at Olustee, the 150th anniversary of which was commemorated yesterday. 
Woodlin's Diary. GLIAH

To recap, the Battle of Olustee was fought near Lake City, Florida, on February 20, 1864. It was the largest battle fought in Florida during the Civil War. In February 1864, the commander of the Department of the South, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, launched an expedition into Florida to secure Union enclaves, sever Confederate supply routes, and recruit black soldiers. Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour moved deep into the state and on February 20, his men met Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan's Confederates entrenched near Olustee. The federal forces attacked but were repulsed and fled to Jacksonville. Union forces of more than 5,000 men included the 8th USCT, the 35th USCT and the 54th Mass. Federal forces suffered 40 percent killed, wounded, or missing.

When the day was over, Woodlin took up his pencil and scrawled the following in his diary:
20th    We rec'd our rations last evening and got underway about ½ past 6 A.M. at a quick step on the left of the division, passed Sanders Station about 11 A.M., about 12 m: {as near as could be learned} from B's Plantation; we had a very rapid as well as fatiguing march; passed through a dead turpentine forest.  after this halt we were ordered forward, & soon could hear the roar of  Canon & the rattle of Musketry ahead of us, we were hurried up to the line of battle at the double quick and our Reg was place in the center and rec'd the hottest fire that was given ; The Col. fell the Major  wounded a Capt,  & several lieutenants.  the band and Drum Core went up to the front ahead of the Cavalry and were exposed to a very hot fire:  for a while when we fell back to the R. R. until we were in danger of being taken by a flank movement of the Rebs:  we got away however and had another station for a while:  when we were again move a mile farther from the Battle field, which was in the front of Lake City.  we built some fires there, & were halted by the Division Dr. for a while after which we moved on untill we reached the station.  we left in the morning & PM  blew the scene of action nearly worn out with fatigue & cold.  we reached there about 1 A.M. that night and stayed untill daylight.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Checking Back In

Well hello there! I apologize for the prolonged absence, but life and work have eaten up the majority of my time as of late. Still, even though there hasn’t been much activity on the blog, I have been hard at work on some projects and events that I thought I’d bring you up to speed on.

If you live in the Manassas area, I will be giving a lecture  and book signing next Thursday (February 27th) about New Market Heights at the Old Manassas Courthouse at 7 PM. The Old Manassas Courthouse was the site of the 1911 Peace Jubilee, so it is a great setting for a talk on the Civil War.
I was also supremely honored to be invited to speak to the Union League of Philadelphia’s Civil War Round Table about New Market Heights on September 24th. As you may recall, the Union League houses the original Don Troiani painting Three Medals of Honor as well as many other priceless works, so I am eagerly anticipating being able to soak in the atmosphere of this legendary site!

From Philly, I will turn my gaze south to Henrico County where I will participate in a whole host of commemorative activities put on by the County and Richmond National Battlefield in honor of the 150th anniversary of the fighting around Chaffin’s Farm. As you may have heard, from September 26 – 28 Henrico County will be hosting a re-enactment of New Market Heights and Second Deep Bottom called Campaign Before Richmond 1864. I’ll be bouncing back and forth between the re-enactment and the events taking place at Fort Harrison and then I’ll be giving real-time walking tours of the New Market Heights Battlefield on the actual anniversary. Needless to say, I will be in serious need of a vacation by October 1st!

And speaking of Henrico County, I also wanted to let you all know that I will be helping the county’s Historic Preservation & Museum Services Division give what looks to be the only commemorative tour related to the Battle of Yellow Tavern, where legendary Confederate cavalier J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. This will be an all-day bus tour on the actual anniversary (Sunday May 11, 2014) and will cover sites such as Beaverdam Station, Ground Squirrel Bridge, Walkerton Tavern, and the site of Stuart’s wounding among others. Check the county’s even website for updates on how you can be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime event!

While this is certainly enough to keep any mortal busy, I am also putting the finishing touches on my second book, which will cover the First Battle of Deep Bottom. Fingers crossed, it should be out in time for the anniversary.

I have tried to keep up with other Civil War news and chatter from around the blogosphere (as long as it doesn't relate to the Virginia Flaggers – I’m OVER it) but the above-mentioned concerns have kept me from devoting as much time as I’d like. I did notice that there was some hub-bub over Dr. Allen C. Guelzo being the co-winner of the Lincoln Prize, but since I don’t subscribe to the fallacious notion that Gettysburg was the most important end-all-be-all crucial high water mark in all of Western civilization…I don’t really care. Congrats to Dr. Guelzo!

I’ll check back in tomorrow with a post on the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

“Recklessness galore, gallantry mere more, disgrace in store, Seymour; Union General Commanding”

NOTE:  This post originally appeared on The Sable Arm on February 20, 2011. It has been reposted in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee.

Thus was described the Battle of Olustee, fought on February 20, 1864, by a quick-witted officer in Co. K, 7th Connecticut Infantry. While the battle itself was not one of the finer military exploits produced by the Union war effort during the American Civil War, it did display the fighting prowess of the African American soldiers who fought there.

In early 1864, Federal forces launched their largest military operation in Florida that was a result of both political and military considerations. With the presidential election coming up in November the Republicans hoped to organize a loyal Florida government in time to send delegates to the Republican nominating convention. In addition to the political objectives Major General Quincy Gillmore, stated that the expedition was necessary to “procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, Timber, Turpentine, and the other products of the State… cut off one of the enemy's sources of commissary supplies.”

In February, 1864 Gillmore received approval for his plans to occupy Jacksonville with a large force and to extend Federal operations over much of northeast Florida. About 6,000 troops from Gillmore's Department of the South were selected for the operation and on February 7th these troops took Jacksonville. One week later Gillmore met with his subordinate, Truman Seymour who was not held in the highest of esteem by his men. One soldier later described the situation: “The Florida expedition was intrusted to the command of General Truman Seymour, considered by more than the rank and file, as an eccentric West Point crank who aped only Napoleon in prowling around camps at night to watch the men on duty, but he lacked the genius of his prototype in the performance of his own duty.”

Gillmore ordered that defensive works be constructed and appointed Seymour commander of the newly-created District of Florida. On February 19 he assembled his troops in preparation for a movement against the Confederates the next day.

The next day saw confused fighting and when some of Seymour’s white units broke, he sent in the untried men of the 8th United States Colored Troops. The 8th had trained at Camp William Penn in Pennsylvania but had “little practice in loading and firing” their weapons, according to the regimental surgeon. Lt. Oliver Norton of the 8th recalled that after standing up to the murderous fire, his men had to withdraw:

As the men fell back they gathered in groups like frightened sheep, and it was almost impossible to keep them from doing so. Into these groups the rebels poured the deadliest fire, almost every bullet hitting some one. Color bearer after color bearer was shot down and the colors seized by another. Behind us was a battery that was wretchedly managed. They had but little ammunition, but after firing that, they made no effort to get away with their pieces, but busied themselves in trying to keep us in front of them. Lieutenant Lewis seized the colors and planted them by a gun and tried to rally his men round them, but forgetting them for the moment, they were left there, and the battery was captured and our colors with it.

Around this time the two units that were bringing up the rear – the 54th Massachusetts and the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers (35th USCT) – arrived on the scene. The 54th raised its sarcastic battle cry “Three cheers for Massachusetts and seven dollars a month!” and went on line. One eyewitness said that they “fought like tigers” while the 1st NCCV “went up into the field, halting and firing fiercely, with its right well forward, so as to form an angle of…120 degrees with the line of the Fifty-Fourth.” With the two black units holding the field, Seymour decided to form a new line farther to the rear and withdraw his other units, which left the 54th and 1st NCCV terribly exposed to the Confederate fire. With their comrades pulling back, there was nothing left for them to do but to withdraw in good order.

The casualties reported by the three black units at Olustee tell the tale better than any eyewitness account ever could. The 54th lost 13 men killed, 65 wounded, and 8 missing. The 1st NCCV (which had officially been redesignated the 35th USCT, yet still clung to its old name) lost 22 killed, 131 wounded, and 77 missing. And, finally, the poor 8th USCT lost 49 killed, 188 wounded, and 73 missing. The Federals as whole would lose 26.5% of their men, making Olustee proportionally the third bloodiest battle of the entire war.

To make matter worse, Olustee was one of the many sanguinary fights in which the Confederates committed atrocities after the fighting had ended.

William Frederick Penniman of the 4th Georgia Cavalry leaves the following account:
In passing over the field, and the road ran centering through it, my attention was first attracted to the bodies of the yankees, invariably stripped, shoes first and clothing next. Their white bodies looked ghastly enough, but I particularly notice that firing seemed to be going on in every direction, until the reports sounded almost frequent enough to resemble the work of skirmishers. A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, "What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on". His reply to me was, "Shooting niggers Sir. "I have tried to make the boys desist but I can't control them". I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, "That's so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the niggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Billow, and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finis the job". I rode on but the firing continued. The next morning I had occasion to go over the battle field again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from palace to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.

The defeat at Olustee ended the Union’s effort to organize a loyal Florida government in time for the 1864 election. Jacksonville would remain in Union hands until the end of the war, although the cost for such a gain was incredibly steep. Still, the positive long-term gains achieved after Olustee can be attributed in large part to the African American soldiers who fought and bled there 150 years ago this week.