Saturday, March 11, 2017

An Impressive Carolina Atlas

The Old North State at War:  
The North Carolina Civil War Atlas 

by Mark A. Moore, Jessica A. Bandel, and Michael Hill
Civil War Atlas
(N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources)
I have no regrets about plunking down some cash for this stunning book. It is big. The pages are 11" x 17". The sprawling full-color maps, all 99 of them, are attractive and clear. They cover all military aspects of North Carolina's war, from the Union attack on Hatteras in 1861 to Johnston's surrender at Durham Station in 1865. There is much more to it than the maps though.

The concise narrative leads the reader through nearly every aspect of the conflict in the Old North State. In addition to the battles and leaders you would expect, there are special segments on various subjects such as manufacturing, guerrillas and bushwhackers, emancipation, North Carolina's Unionist regiments, naval matters, and home-grown opposition to the Confederacy. To accompany the different segments, the authors have prepared a host of tables, with a lot of information dug from census data, muster rolls, and elsewhere. These include, for instance, a detailed breakdown of the state's slave population, county-by-county secession votes, the state's textile mills, election results for gubernatorial and congressional contests, Union recruiting numbers, blockading actions, artificial limb claims by county, and North Carolina war deaths.

The Confederate Attack on New Bern, Feb. 1864 (N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources)

As for the Confederate campaign of 1864, the excellent maps in the Old North State at War include an overview of the campaign, Pickett's February attack on New Bern, James Martin's capture of the Newport Barracks, the battle of Plymouth,  and the ironclad Albemarle's operations. Looking over these maps, it is clear that the authors Mark Moore, Jessica Bandel, and Michael Hill have done a lot of diligent research here. They've pinpointed obscure events and locations, and clearly presented the campaign through the generous, tabloid-size maps.     

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Interview on Civil War Talk Radio

Image result for gerry prokopowicz
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Gerry Prokopowicz on Civil War Talk Radio recently. We discussed my book Richmond Must Fall, among other things. You can listen to the recorded program through the Impediments of War website or the Civil War Talk Radio podcast.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

From the National Archives: "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle"

Macomb, W.H., "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle" (first page), (NARA, RG 45)
During a recent visit to the National Archives, I came across a document (above) detailing one of the Union plans to attack the ironclad Albemarle. Drafted sometime in the latter half of 1864 by Commander William H. Macomb, the plan was not included in the Official Records and, to my knowledge, has not been published elsewhere. I've transcribed it below. The C.S.S. Albemarle (or the "Ram" as Macomb also calls it) was the key to the Confederate victory at Plymouth, North Carolina in April 1864. 
C.S.S. Albemarle (U.S. Naval Historical Center NH 57815)
During that operation, the armored gunboat descended the Roanoke River and wreaked havoc on the Union vessels guarding the town, allowing Robert Hoke's infantry to overrun the fortifications there. Several days after the Confederate triumph, the boat ventured out of Plymouth and down the river on its way to support an assault against New Bern. However, during a dramatic fight in Albemarle Sound on May 5, a swarm of wooden Union gunboats pushed her back to Plymouth.

Following this encounter, a long period of inactivity began. Commander Macomb arrived in June to head up Union naval forces in the area. Over the ensuing months, he prepared for another possible sortie by the ironclad and, at some point, drafted the plan reproduced here. The scheme involves five Union gunboats - the Oswego, Mattabesset, Tacony, Shamrock, and Wyalusing - and is similar to one drawn up for the May 5th fight. See O.R.N. Ser. I, 9:735-736 (Captain Melancton Smith's plan). In both cases, the architects (Smith and Macomb) sought to overwhelm the Albemarle with a large number of wood-clad vessels. At the time, no Union ironclad could operate in Carolina's shallow sounds. Ultimately, Macomb did not get the chance to implement his plan because the Albemarle never emerged for battle again. Eventually, Union forces attacked Plymouth directly in October. In one of the war's storied raids, the intrepid Lieutenant William B. Cushing destroyed the ironclad at Plymouth. Days after Cushing's exploit, Macomb's force captured the town. 


 "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle" 
(in case she comes out of the River) 
Macomb Papers

Plan of attack
The vessels are formed in the following order in line of battle – the Ram supposed to be going to the right. No. 1.
No. 1 (Detail), (NARA, RG 45) 1- "Oswego" 2- "Mattabesset" 3- "Tacony" 4- "Shamrock" 5- "Wyalusing"
 The “Wyalusing,” having the torpedo boats in tow with sufficient scope of line, will sheer as closely as possible, across the bows of the Ram, exploding her torpedoes and taking the lead in the line, as shown by diagrams No’s 2 & 3. If the attack is at night, she will hoist a red light when so doing. No. 2.
No. 2 (Detail)  (NARA, RG 45)
In case the “Wyalusing” does not destroy the Ram with her torpedoes, the vessels will pass round her (the Ram), again in the same line. When the Shamrock [intends?] the Ram, she will keep outside the line followed by the other vessels, so as not to make too short a curve, and run into the Rebel, or hoisting the “Jack” at the fore before so doing. If at night, she will hoist a white light. The position of the fleet at the time will be seen in No. 3.
No. 3 (Detail) (NARA, RG 45)

[Note to No. 3:] No. 3 “S” represents the position of the “Shamrock” when intending to ram. At other times her position is at 4.
The picket boats to keep out of action, but near enough to render any necessary assistance. When signaled, they are to come forward with a hawser and endeavor to foul the smokestack or propeller of the Ram.

Signals from the ship regulating the speed of the fleet will be made by means of the steam whistle as follows:
1= “go ahead slow” - if going slow “go slower”
2= “Stop”
3=  Back
4= “go ahead fast” – if fast, "go faster"

Friday, December 30, 2016

Et tu, King County Library System?

Whenever I'm shopping for a used book, I look for ex-library copies. They usually arrive in decent shape, encased in a nifty mylar dust jacket. Occasionally, the margins contain the amusing or even insightful scribbles of some discourteous library patron. So, I had mixed feelings when I recently found an ex-library copy of Richmond Must Fall offered for sale online. The price was decent and, in a few minutes, the book was in my cart and on its way to my house. It arrived at my doorstep with the words "King County Library System, WA" stamped prominently across the top edge.

I'm no library expert, but I figure books get the boot when they gather too much dust on the shelves. However, this copy has a few signs of life: small coffee stains on the fore edge and a less than tight spine. Western Washington is one of my favorite places. So I felt a little deflated that the good people of King County had demonstrated little appetite for a detailed, tactical study of Grant's sixth offensive at Petersburg - what's wrong with them? However, my faith rebounded and my spirits rose when I checked the King County online catalog and found three copies still circulating in their system. I am happy to take this fourth copy of their hands. Besides, the mylar is nice and shiny.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Petersburg National Battlefield Expansion
Petersburg National Battlefield - Fort Stedman (Source: National Park Service)

Boundary Expansion (Source:
On December 8, 2016, Congress passed legislation to significantly expand the Petersburg National Battlefield. This is big news, at least for those interested in the Petersburg Campaign. The bill authorizes the National Park Service to add more than 7,000 acres to the park's land. The Civil War Trust, which has done much to preserve land around Petersburg and elsewhere, released a detailed announcement. The new land includes parcels at Peebles' Farm, Five Forks, Reams Station, and the White Oak Road among many other locations. It also appears the expansion may include a part of the Burgess Farm along the Boydton Plank Road - the fields where the Burgess family barns stood and Brigadier General Thomas Egan deployed his division during the battle on October 27, 1864. I recently posted a little-known map of this area from the National Archives.