Saturday, November 29, 2014

Odds and Ends

From Clark, Histories of Several Regiments and Battalions . . .

I plan to slow down my (already slow) blogging over the next few months to devote a little more time to research and writing.  I'm currently in the early stages of a project involving the Confederate operations in 1864 to recapture key positions in eastern North Carolina.

For now, here are a two posts I've been meaning to put up recently:

Tour of Grant's Sixth Offensive at Pamplin Park:   

On Friday, October 17, I had the great fortune to conduct a tour with Will Greene down at Pamplin Historical Park as part of the 18th Annual Symposium there.  We covered Grant's Sixth Offensive at Petersburg, the main subject of my book Richmond Must Fall. Will Greene possesses a vast knowledge of the Petersburg Campaign and it was a great to see him in action on the tour. We enjoyed the rare opportunity to visit some of the key sites involving the operations on October 27, 1864 and were able to share the day with a bus full of friendly, highly knowledgeable, and engaged companions.     

Journal of Southern History:  Review of Richmond Must Fall 

The August issue of The Journal of Southern History has a nice review of Richmond Must Fall  by Robert R. Mackey author of The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865 (OU Press, 2004).  This review, published in one of the most highly-regarded journals in the field, was great to see.  Here are a few excerpts.

"Newsome's clear prose and organization, which make a fairly complex series of battles into a logical, effective, and highly readable tome, are the highlight of the work. . . . Overall, Newsome has added to the growing body of knowledge of the Civil War by covering in detail this important but often forgotten campaign in the fall of 1864. The author's extensive use of source materials is impressive and should be a model for other scholars in the field, and his adroit use of first-person accounts is excellent." - Robert R. Mackey, The Journal of Southern History

Monday, October 13, 2014

Puget Sound Civil War Roundtable

I had a great time talking to the Puget Sound Civil War Roundtable last week.  Seattle is one of my favorite places, so when they contacted me about speaking, I jumped at the chance. My presentation covered the Petersburg Campaign with a focus on the battles in October 1864.  The meeting was welcoming, informal, and, well, fun.  The Q&A session demonstrated the depth of knowledge in the room.   

Pat Brady, the program coordinator, kindly took me to lunch before the meeting.  Among other things, we discussed his ongoing Cold Harbor campaign book project.  From the sound of it, this should be a substantial, thorough work, backed by years of dogged research and thoughtful reflection.  During our chat, we touched on Grant's expectations for the May 1864 campaign, Lee's offensive-defensive approach, Meade's strained relationship with Grant, and the challenges of writing a battle study.  It was a great time and a great trip.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 1864: Waud's Sketch at the New Market Road

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the October 7, 1864 fighting along the Darbytown and New Market Roads, here's a look at a sketch drawn by combat artist William Waud that day.

Waud, W. "The battle of the Darbytown Road," (LOC)
On October 7, 1864, Robert E. Lee launched an offensive in Henrico County to regain ground lost to Union forces a week before. In essence, Lee sought to recapture Fort Harrison, a key stronghold in the lines east of Richmond. The Confederate operation began encouragingly when Charles Field's infantry division, aided by South Carolina cavalry, routed August Kautz's Union horsemen positioned at Dr. Johnson's Farm near the Darbytown Road. After this modest victory, Lee's force pushed south and attacked Union infantry positions at the New Market Road.  Once again, Field's men led the way. However, the effort ultimately failed.

Before Field's battle lines pressed the assault, a fierce artillery duel occurred between the rebel First Corps guns of Porter Alexander and Union Tenth Corps batteries hurriedly wheeled into new defenses edging the New Market Road. William Waud was there to witness these events and prepared this sketch looking north from behind the Union guns toward the approaching Confederates.

Detail (left half of drawing)
Detail (right half of drawing)

The map below shows Waud's approximate location, along with his view from behind the Tenth Corps line. The area depicted lies about six miles southeast of downtown Richmond. Fort Harrison, Lee's target for the operation, is about a mile southwest of the map's bottom left-hand corner. Waud's position was probably near the intersection of the modern day Gregg and Lammrich Roads, just north of the New Market Road. Lammrich Road roughly tracks part of the Union defense line on October 7, 1864. To the north, the Johnson House site (shown on the map below) sits today on Henrico County's Dorey Park. The Richmond airport is about a mile north of map's top edge. 
Waud's perspective from behind the Union guns  (LOC)

The eyewitness sketches of Waud and his fellow combat artists provide rare windows into the Civil War battlefield. On close examination, this particular drawing furnishes some interesting details about the fighting on October 7, 1864.

#1 Alexander's Guns:  On the left, in the distance across a cornfield, smoke rises from the tubes of Porter Alexander's guns at the Kell House. Alexander had driven his batteries south from Darbytown Road using a maneuver known as "fire advancing by half battery." In essence, half his guns fired while the other half leapfrogged past. At the Kell property, Alexander halted, unlimbered all his pieces, and began firing at the Union line. The day after the battle, a Union cavalryman examined the spot and found that the rebels had dug small holes for cover.
#1  Alexander's guns at the Kell House

#2.  Tenth Corps Artillery:  At the bottom center, Waud drew four guns from the Union Tenth Corps artillery brigade commanded by Richard H. Jackson. Jackson deployed several batteries for the fight behind newly erected works just north along the New Market Road. Waud did not identify the unit depicted in the drawing.  During the battle, Union artillerists used two unusual "Requa" guns, which had twenty-five .58 caliber barrels mounted in a row at the top of a platform. However, these do not appear in the drawing. In addition, the Federals wheeled two pieces from Battery D, 1st U.S. Artillery out into the cornfield in front of the works seen here. Those guns received much attention from Alexander's men.
#2. Tenth Corps artillery

#3.  Corn Stalks:  Waud etched in some corn stalks only several feet behind the gun crews along the new line, revealing just how new these works were.
#3. Corn stalks just behind the Federal works

#4.  Union Infantry:  On the lower right, infantry of the Tenth Corps crouch behind the works, waiting for the Confederate attack. The federal fortifications stretched to the right of the sketch only for a short distance. The position taken by the Tenth Corps troops extended much farther. Thus, much of the Union battle line fought without cover in largely wooded terrain. The men shown here are likely from Colonel Francis B. Pond's brigade, which contained regiments from Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

#4. Infantry from Pond's Brigade

#5.  Lee's Men Darbytown Road:  In the distance, through a gap in the trees, Waud has labeled the Darbytown Road, where Lee's forces overran Kautz's weak cavalry force at the Johnson Farm that morning. If you look closely at the base of the tree line in the distance, it appears Waud has penciled in Lee's infantry gathering for their attack. Given the open ground and formidable Union artillery presence, the Confederate infantry veered toward the woods to the right (of the drawing) and into a difficult swamp, which caused much delay in the advance. Today, trees and houses block this view but the sketch reveals how open this part of the Henrico landscape was in 1864.
#5. The Darbytown Road and Lee's infantry

#6.  Recently Cleared Field:  The sketch also shows the area in front of the trenches recently cleared by Union troops.  Federal skirmishers used the stumps and felled trees for cover as Field's men advanced. The Texas brigade, from Field's division, found the slashing difficult to navigate for it poked at their "eyes, faces, bodies, and clothing."  
#6. Recently cleared field of fire

#7.  Confederate Attack:  Following the artillery duel, Field's attack emerged from the woods to the right and along a front that extended far to the right of the sketch's frame. Thus, the battle lines stood facing each other in woods covering much of the area to the right. 
#7. Woods from which Charles Field's Confederate division emerged
Many of the Union regiments in this battle carried Spencer repeating rifles. These weapons proved decisive, crushing the Confederate attack and quickly ending the offensive. Waud also drew this sketch (below) of the open fighting in those woods during the Confederate attack. 

"The fighting was done in thick woods. Our men shewn[sic] in this sketch are armed with the Spencer Rifle." (W. Waud, LOC)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zebulon Vance Papers: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy"

The Papers of Z.B. Vance, Vols. 1-3
I couldn't resist the sale.  As a result, these three volumes showed up at my door recently. Published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, the titles are the result of decades of work by historians Frontis W. Johnston, Gordon McKinney, Richard M. McMurry, and Joe A. Mobley. Johnston edited the first letterpress volume, which appeared in 1963.  McKinney and McMurry worked to transfer all the Vance Papers onto 39 microfilm reels.  Mobley then assumed responsibility for the project in 1991 and piloted the 2nd (1995) and 3rd (2013) letterpress volumes to publication, bringing the published collection through 1865. Mobley also wrote an excellent biography of Vance in 2005, which focuses on the war years. (War Governor of the South: North Carolina's Zeb Vance in the Confederacy (Univ. Press of Florida)).

At the helm of North Carolina’s war effort during much of the conflict, Zebulon Baird Vance presented an imposing figure with his six foot, two-hundred pound frame, and his tuft of thick, black hair. He was a natural, engaging politician, whose charm and wit were difficult to match. He was also a commanding speaker. Historians have found an enigmatic figure in Vance. Initially a unionist like many in the upper south, he strongly embraced the Confederate cause once the bell of secession rang. As Governor during much of the war, he often quarreled with authorities in Richmond. He took issue with Confederate policies that limited individual rights in his state as well as with measures that hamstrung North Carolina's efforts designed, in his view, to win the war. His frequent clashes with President Jefferson Davis have led some over the years to label him an obstructionist to the Confederate war effort.

Z. B. Vance
However, despite appearances, Vance remained a Confederate nationalist throughout the conflict and kept his eye on the broad picture and his focus on preserving the Confederacy's defining institution.  In an unpublished autobiography prepared after the war and brought to light by Joe Mobley a few years ago, Vance candidly explained, “I concluded therefore to go with my state and to fight - not for secession - not for the Confederate States [as] an object desirable in itself - but to avert the consequences - the abolition of Slavery." See Mobley, Joe A., “Zebulon Vance: A Confederate Nationalist in the North Carolina Gubernatorial Election of 1864,” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 4 (October 2000).  Thus, his many disagreements with officials in Richmond appear to reflect discord about tactics, not overall goals.  Indeed, his platform during the 1864 gubernatorial election was sometimes referred to as: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy."

These volumes are heavy. I look forward to spending more time with them over the next few months.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Family Reunion Tour in Richmond

"I know it's in here somewhere . . ."
In July, we attended a family reunion down in Richmond.  This year, I found myself on the weekend's program, leading a tour of some of the Civil War battlefield sites in Henrico County.  We walked through the fall 1864 battles beginning our discussion at Fort Harrison and finishing up at Dorey Park along the Darbytown Road.

Our small band included some Rogers, some Hoheisels, a Paule, and a Goin. Among other things, we talked about Benjamin Butler, the bad and the good; the dysfunctional command partnership of Charles Field and Robert Hoke; and the heroics of Joseph Banks Lyle on the Williamsburg Road.  It turned out to be quite an enjoyable couple of hours. I had a blast.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A New Mahone Biography?

William Mahone (LOC)
Over at the Civil War Memory blog, Kevin Levin recently posted some interesting news about a new William Mahone biography.

Mahone stands as one of the war's more intriguing figures.  A native Virginian and prewar railroad executive, he failed to shine at brigade command through the first few years of the war.  However, in 1864, he enjoyed significant success at Petersburg, leading his division in a series of sharp counterattacks against Union offensives. After the war, Mahone resumed his railroad career and became a major figure in Virginia politics.  Among other things, he emerged as a key leader of the Readjuster Party, an unlikely coalition of white and black Republicans.  His reformist political activities nudged him out of the pantheon of Confederate heroes erected by Lost Cause architects.

Near the end of his life in the 1890's, Mahone shared his recollections of several battles with George S. Bernard of Petersburg - the reminiscences covered Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, the Weldon Railroad, Burgess Mill, and Appomattox.  These accounts, most of them unknown until recently, were published in Civil War Talks.  

Mahone was a prolific correspondent and his papers are housed in several locations, including the Library of Virginia and Duke University.  The Mahone collection at Duke is massive, large enough to discourage even the most tenacious researcher. To date, the only lengthy Mahone biography is Nelson M. Blake's work, published in 1935. Since then, scholars have touched on Mahone and the Readjusters.   For example, Jane Dailey examined the turbulent world of late 19th century Virginia politics in Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia (UNC Press, 2000).  A few years ago, Kevin Levin wrote an essay titled "William Mahone, the Lost Cause and Civil War History" for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  However, an updated full-length biography is sorely needed.

Happily, a recent dissertation written by John F. Chappo when he was at the University of Southern Mississippi is under review at an academic press, as noted by Levin's post and Chappo's own webpage.  Let's hope things work out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Richmond Must Fall in The N.C. Historical Review

Some of my NCHR back issues
The April 2014 issue of the North Carolina Historical Review (NCHR) has a nice review of Richmond Must Fall.   Over the last several months, I've explored the back issues of this journal, poring over several excellent articles about the Civil War in eastern North Carolina.  So, I was happy to see a review of my book tucked into the pages of a recent edition.  Michael W. Coffey, of the N.C. Office of Archives and History, prepared the piece, which furnishes a concise and comprehensive overview of the book.  The review also emphasizes that Richmond Must Fall extends beyond its focus on military strategy to address the political issues looming over the fighting in October 1864, the impact of the battles on local civilians, and the USCT prisoner controversy that ignited at the time.

Coffey concludes:  "Richmond Must Fall is a worthwhile addition to the field of Civil War military literature, not only in covering a neglected portion of a complex campaign, but also in illustrating its importance to the political side of the war . . . . [It] thus successfully integrates several diverse topics into a readable and useful narrative about a particular crucial phase of the war."  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Panel At Deep Bottom Park

I enjoyed my time at the Campaign Before Richmond Symposium on Friday, June 20 at Deep Bottom Park. The weather cooperated, giving us a pleasant, thunderstorm-free evening. Sam McKelvey, manager of the Dabbs House Museum, did a great job setting up the venue and organizing the event. Jack Mountcastle, former U.S. Army Chief of Military History, moderated the proceedings. Jimmy Price, author of a great book about the Battle of New Market Heights, started things off with a talk about First Deep Bottom in July 1864. He is currently finishing up a book on that campaign. Next, Doug Crenshaw, who has penned a nice work on Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin's Farm (which he kindly gave to me at the event), covered the actions outside Richmond in late September 1864 with an informative presentation guided by excellent maps and photographs. Both Doug and Jimmy's books, published by The History Press, provide well-written, compact narratives of these lesser-known episodes of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.

Robert E. L. Krick, historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, lent his insight into the careers of five Confederate commanders important to the 1864 campaign:  Richard Anderson, Charles Field, Victor Girardey, Robert Hoke, and John Gregg. Bob is a fantastic speaker and wasn't afraid to offer his unvarnished opinions of these figures. Let's just say Anderson and Hoke did not fare well. Bob is also author of Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia, a must-have reference I've leaned on often in my work. Finally, it was great to chat with some of the attendees before and after the event.  They really knew their stuff.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

150 Years Ago: The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery

June 18, 1864:  Assault of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery

The scene outside Petersburg, June 18, 1864. The Hare House on hill at left marks the location of attack conducted by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery regiment.  Later, it became the site of Union Fort Stedman.  Bradford's (Confederate) Battery unlimbered off to the right on the high ground north of the river during the fighting on June 18. LOC (W.Waud)

Fred C. Lowe (1st Maine Heavy Artillery)

"Our regiment went into the charge with 900 men (some of our officers think we had only 850 men in line).  We charged in three lines of battle, four companies of each, the regiment being commanded by Major (afterwards Bvt. Brig. Gen.) Russell B. Shepherd.  In five minutes 632 men and officers were killed and wounded of whom 210 (whose names I read at the dedication of the monument) were killed and died of their wounds.  The casualties of the regiment were in excess of those officially reported.
-- Fred C. Lowe, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery (from letter to George S. Bernard quoted in P.C. Hoy, "Of the Siege of Petersburg:  Some Interesting Recollections of an Officer in Bradford's Battery" in Civil War Talks)

P.C. Hoy (Bradford's Battery)

"Here we were ordered to unlimber and immediately open fire upon the enemy's infantry, who were then in heavy force assaulting our lines on the south bank of the river, all the way it seemed, from the river southeasterly towards O.P. Hare's residence . . . we could not distinctly see the men in the assaulting [column] . . . but, from the smoke and heavy musketry, we could hear, we knew that a hard fight was in progress.  Our position was excellent, about eight hundred yards from the right flank for the Federal attacking column, and our guns quickly enfilading the right flank of the line with shells . . . ."  
-- P.C. Hoy (from Hoy's recollections in Civil War Talks)

Monday, June 9, 2014

150 Years Ago: The Petersburg Campaign Begins

It's a good day to share some nuggets about the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.  On June 9, 1864, Union forces under Benjamin Butler, including more than a 1,000 cavalrymen led by August Kautz, tested the lines surrounding a lightly-defended Petersburg in the first combat of what would become the months-long Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.  In the city's defense, a small band of militia and citizens rushed to the parapets along the Dimmock Line and repelled the Union attack.

August V. Kautz (LOC)
August V. Kautz: "many blunders"

In the 1890's, William Carr, a former instructor at the Petersburg Female College and a participant in the June 9th engagement, published a letter about that day in the Petersburg Daily Index-Appeal.  In preparing his account, Carr contacted August V. Kautz seeking information about a specific movement during the fight.  Kautz, an aging veteran residing in Annapolis by that time, had suffered his share of failure in 1864.  In response to Carr, Kautz wrote in part:

"I have no recollection of the movement you mention and it was perhaps some stupid movement of which there were others on that occasion . . . There were many blunders perpetrated in that eventful year in and around Petersburg . . . ."  - August V. Kautz, March 14th, 1898  (Both Carr and Kautz's letters appear in Civil War Talks)

Raleigh E. Colston: "no mention . . . of my name"

Raleigh E. Colston (LOC)
Petersburg's defense was orchestrated, in part, by Brigadier General Raleigh E. Colston, who was in the city at the time waiting for a new assignment.  Colston organized the defense and led the soldiers and civilians, the "old men and young boys," in their successful stand against Kautz's probe at the Jerusalem Plank Road.  June 9th became a day of remembrance for many of Petersburg's citizens.  After the war, Colston wrote a long account of the fight, which appeared in the fourth volume of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War and is reproduced at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  However, in a private letter to George S. Bernard in 1895, an ailing Colston wrote:

 "I confess that I have felt hurt that in the commemoration of the fight of June 9, 1864, which have taken place in Petersburgh [sic] year after year, no mention whatever has been made of my name in the City papers or the addresses delivered, so that it might be imagined that I was not there at all." - Raleigh E. Colston, October 7, 1895 in Civil War Talks 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Campaign Before Richmond Symposium, June 20

From W. Waud,"The Battle of Darbytown Road" (LOC)

On June 20, I'll be at Deep Bottom Park outside Richmond to participate in a symposium about military events in Henrico County during the last year of the war.  During my presentation, I plan to discuss the October 1864 battles at the Darbytown and Williamsburg Roads covered in my book, Richmond Must Fall. The program, presented by Henrico County and the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, will be held outdoors in the evening under a large tent.  I'm looking forward to joining fellow panelists John Mountcastle, Jimmy Price, Doug Crenshaw, and Bobby Krick for this event. Here is the full announcement from the Henrico website

Campaign Before Richmond Sesquicentennial Weekend, 
Fri-Sat, June 20-21, Deep Bottom Park

Fri, June 20, 6-9pm, Campaign Before Richmond Symposium. For ages 12+. Join notable historians discuss significant battles that occurred north of the James River for control of Richmond and Petersburg in the last year of the Civil War. Discussion is followed by a Q & A session. Program is outdoors on the picturesque banks of the James River. Presented by Henrico Recreation and Parks and the Richmond Civil War Roundtable. Free. Rain or Shine.

Scheduled Speakers: Moderator – Dr. John W. Mountcastle, Brigadier General US Army (retired); James S. Price, author of “The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword” and upcoming publication “Battle of First Deep Bottom”; Douglas Crenshaw, author of “Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm: To Surprise and Capture Richmond”; Robert E.L. Krick, author of “Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia” and numerous other Civil War publications; and Hampton Newsome, author of “Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864”

Sat, June 21, 9-11am or 6-8pm, Civil War Boat Tours- Tour the Civil War era James River. For ages 12+. Either enjoy our morning cruise or evening cruise. Information: (804) 652-3409. Preregistration required at $45.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bowery and Rafuse: Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign

This week I purchased the Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the most recent entry in the U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles, published by University Press of Kansas and edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan S. Rafuse.  Based on my initial glance, there is much to like in this mammoth (500 page) title.  Similar to other works in the series, the Guide furnishes a useful companion to those touring the battlefields of the 1864-65 campaign.  The book is not intended, however, to provide a detailed campaign narrative or a lengthy discussion of the whys and hows.    

The military actions at Richmond and Petersburg pose a stiff challenge to the editors of such a work.  Stretching over many months and scattered over dozens of locations, the campaign involved a dizzying series of complicated operations and hard-fought battles.  Any effort to catalog these events and organize them in a fashion useful to the visitor is a difficult one. However, in this case, it seems that Bowery and Rafuse have succeeded. 

The book features two parts. The first includes three segments covering events that took place within the Petersburg National Battlefield:  1) the initial Petersburg attacks in June 1864, 2) the Battle of Fort Stedman in 1865, and 3) the Battle of the Crater in July 1864.  The second part contains six separate excursions (i.e., driving tours) in and around Richmond and Petersburg, which lead visitors to the sites of various engagements - including several covered in Richmond Must Fall, such as the fighting at the Darbytown Road and Burgess Mill.

Each of these sections features a short introduction, a list of the key events, driving or walking directions, and lengthy excerpts from important official reports and other primary sources.  The excerpts from these first-hand accounts comprise the bulk of the book's text and provide colorful background that will enhance the experience for those visiting these battlefields.   

The numerous maps are terrific.  Prepared by Steven Stanley, they display modern and period road networks, topographical details including elevations and tree cover, fortifications, and the movements of the units involved in each engagement.  Though the small details sent me reaching for my reading glasses, these maps are handsome and, in some cases, provide tactical details not necessarily discussed in the text. 

Given the nature of the book, I would have liked to have seen a critical, descriptive bibliography (rather than a bare list of titles) to point readers to other sources on this sprawling campaign.  But that's a feeble quibble and I look forward to digging into the volume further. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

150 Years Ago: Stuart at Yellow Tavern (May 11, 1864)

Stuart Monument, Richmond, Va.
(Library of Congress)
"I looked to my left, in which direction Gen. Stuart was, and saw him wheeling his horse around and start towards the rear.  He sat so straight and so firmly on his horse that I doubted whether he had been shot, though I saw him only a moment . . . I asked [Norvell] Harris what made him think Gen. Stuart had been shot.  He replied that he 'saw the dust or lint fly from his coat where the bullet struck him.'  This made an impression on me, because I was not then familiar with the fact (not having been long in the army) that such an appearance of dust, or lint, often accompanied a bullet wound, though afterwards I noticed it frequently."

- Hill Carter, 1st Va. Cavalry, from Vaughan, B.B., "A Trooper's Reminiscences:  Wilderness to Yellow Tavern," in  Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Richmond Must Fall - Finalist for Harwell Book Award

I learned recently that Richmond Must Fall was a finalist for the 2014 Richard B. Harwell Book Award from the Atlanta Civil War Round Table. The two other finalists were Earl Hess's book on Kennesaw Mountain and Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg title. Guelzo's excellent work earned the prize. I'm honored my book was included in such company.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Browning: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron

I recently picked up From Cape Charles to Cape Fear, an excellent study by Robert M. Browning, Jr. about the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  Browning is a historian with the U.S. Coast Guard and has several other titles under his belt.   In From Cape Charles to Cape Fear, he provides a comprehensive treatment of naval activities in Virginia and North Carolina during the war, including offshore blockade operations and coastal gunboat activities.  Browning writes with a direct, clean style and delivers a well-organized narrative.

Among other things, the study furnishes a revealing analysis of the Confederate counteroffensive at New Bern and Plymouth in 1864.  In discussing these events, Browning notes the lack of cooperation between the Federal navy and army in North Carolina, particularly compared to efforts in the western theater.  He highlights the failure of Union forces, both on water and land, to destroy the rebel ironclads in N.C. before those vessels could float down the rivers and threaten federal coastal strongholds.  Browning also touches on the questionable decision to spread Union forces at multiple coastal enclaves, including Plymouth, Washington (N.C), and New Bern.  I'm happy to have added this title to my collection.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Waud's Combat Sketch at the Darbytown Road, October 27, 1864

Here's a look at an eyewitness sketch of the fighting outside Richmond on October 27, 1864. 
On that day, Grant launched his sixth offensive of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. During this operation, General Benjamin Butler's Army of the James tested Richmond's defenses east of the city, while George Meade's Army of the Potomac attacked the Confederate lines at Petersburg in an effort to seize the vital South Side Railroad.

Early in the morning on the 27th, Butler and his staff rode west along the Darbytown Road and set up headquarters at Dr. Johnson's house, which stood on what is now Dorey Park.  Just to the north and west of the house, Alfred Terry's Tenth Corps troops, more specifically the men of Adelbert Ames's division, deployed to push against Richmond's defenders to the west. 

Looking north from Dr. Johnson's house, English-born artist William Waud captured the scene:

Waud, "Battle of Darby Town Rd. Gen'l Butler & his staff," Library of Congress

Waud, along with other artists during the war, created hundreds of sketches, which, in the absence of combat photography, provided first-hand impressions of the battlefield. William's older brother, Alfred, also created many well-known drawings during the conflict.  In 1864, both brothers worked for Harper's Weekly, published in New York.  In fact, the Library of Congress catalog identifies Alfred, incorrectly in my opinion, as the artist of the piece displayed here.  In my view, William is likely the artist because: 1) he prepared other sketches outside Richmond and Petersburg that day, including one at Dr. Johnson's house;  2) his brother Alfred had been in Washington, D.C. as recently as October 23rd after several weeks in the Shenandoah Valley; and 3) Alfred frequently wrote his initials on the bottom right hand corner of his work - initials missing from this drawing. 

Left (West) Half of Sketch
Right (East) Half of Sketch
Waud appears to have prepared his sketch from the second floor window of Dr. Johnson's house, looking north toward the Darbytown Road, which runs through the middle of the drawing immediately in front of the stand of trees on the right.

LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 632.7

 This particular drawing reveals a trove of information about the October 1864 battles in this area.  It displays the location of the Union skirmish line on the 27th, supporting artillery that morning, key landmarks north of Darbytown Road (most notably the "Gerhardt" house), and the landscape surrounding Dr. Johnson's Farm (or "Plainfield").  The sketch not only uncovers valuable details about the October 27, 1864 operation, but also shows the ground over which other battles occurred earlier that month.  In an October 7 engagement at the Darbytown Road, Robert E. Lee's infantry swept over August Kautz's cavalry division, pushing the Union troopers toward the viewer in Waud's sketch and south to the safety of the Union lines on the New Market Road.  In addition, on October 13, the Union Tenth Corps conducted a costly reconnaissance advancing right to left across this scene in an effort to locate new Confederate trenches to the east.

Is this sketch entirely accurate?  Probably not.  It was not uncommon for the battlefield artists to take liberties with the scenes they rendered due perhaps to time constraints or the desire to create drawings that their editors would want to print.  In fact, the scene here probably depicts a composite of events that occurred over the course of the morning.  For example, it is unlikely that Butler, not one to rush forward, rode out with this staff so near the heat of the skirmish line, as suggested in the sketch (see #1 below).  Any excursion conducted by Butler probably occurred later in the day, after the Union troops had pushed further west (i.e., to the left of the sketch). 

Waud often scribbled copious notes on his drawings to help the engravers and editors back north.  Here are four of the more notable messages from the sketch:

#1 "Butler's Staff & Body Guard"

#2  "1st Connecticut Battery - Capt. Clinton"

#3  "Our skirmish firing at the rebels in the woods; the Gerhardt-House"

#4  "Cavalry going out to support the Battery (over coats - on)"

A correspondent from the New York Times also witnessed the day's events from Dr. Johnson's house and provided the following description, which augments Waud's sketch:

"From the upper windows of Dr. Johnson’s house, a very fair view of the skirmish line could be had. Our pickets were lying behind a small breastwork, about one hundred yards from the edge of trees, and all day long a desultory firing was kept up. There was nothing very exciting in all this. One becomes even tired of watching the little puffs of blue smoke that invariably follows the sudden rising of one of the crouching black specks whom we know to be men lying down along the distant parapet, as well as of noting the little clouds of gray dust that are thrown up by the rebel bullets which strike the ground in front of our boys, who are snug under shelter of the ridge of earth."  - New York Times, October 31, 1864.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review of Civil War Talks in The Journal of Southern History

"There can be no doubt . . . that Newsome, Horn, and Selby have assembled a rich collection of war reminiscences that will appeal to scholars and enthusiasts alike."  

The most recent issue of The Journal of Southern History has a great review of Civil War Talks from Andre M. Fleche, author of The Revolution of 1861.  Fleche's piece goes to the heart of the project and effectively captures our goals in putting the book together.  He begins by discussing George Bernard's effort in the 1890's to publish first-hand accounts from Civil War veterans in Petersburg and elsewhere. Bernard's work resulted in the 1892 book, War Talks of Confederate Veterans, as well as in the compilation of additional material for a second volume that never reached publication. Fleche commends our detective work in digging up that missing second volume one hundred years later, which, in his words, is a "collector's trove of previously unpublished Bernard papers."

In addition to this background, the review relates the broad scope of Civil War Talks, which spans much of the war in the east.  The volume contains detailed accounts of Norfolk at the war's start, recollections of the 1862 Richmond and Antietam campaigns, little known stories of William Mahone's brigade at Gettysburg, eyewitness accounts of J.E.B. Stuart's mortal wounding during the Overland Campaign, and much material about the fighting at Petersburg.  The book also includes Mahone's own correspondence with Bernard about Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, the Weldon Railroad, Burgess Mill, and the Appomattox Campaign.

Fleche's review also touches on the book's implications for issues of historical memory.  He notes that the reminiscences of Bernard and his colleagues, typical of many soldier accounts, focus on battles and camp life, and generally avoid the broader issues underlying the war, such as slavery.  Some of Bernard's contributors hit on themes voiced by many Confederate veterans, including the notion of the "loyal slave" and the "independence and individuality" of the Confederate soldier. Fleche also mentions Bernard's wartime statements about the "subjection" of the southern states and the "invasion" of Virginia's soil.  Later in life, however, Bernard became somewhat of a reformer, taking a different tack from many of his fellow Confederate veterans.  Among other things, he supported the Readjuster Party, a black-white political alliance in Virginia, and advocated merit-based civil service reform, free from considerations of race and party.

Here are some more excerpts from the review:

"The result is a rich collection of primary sources on the military history of the Civil War that, at times, also speaks to issues of historical memory . . . . The editors do an excellent job of clearly but unobtrusively guiding the reader through the documents . . . .  The working historian will certainly appreciate the richness of the collection . . . .  Military historians will find the collection particularly useful."   

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bandy Field and Green's Farm

In 2003, I drew this sketch after a visit to Bandy Field, a small nature park in Richmond, Va. several blocks from my parents' home.  Situated off Three Chopt Road in the West End, the field sits on a low, uneven ridge running south from Glenside Drive along Three Chopt and ending at Cary Street Road near the James River.  Maps from the Civil War era show that Richmond's defenders constructed several detached, irregular earthworks in the vicinity of Bandy Field (see maps below).  These positions formed part of Richmond's outer defenses.  My notes from the sketch read: 

 "2/03, Nearby resident, who owned house adjacent to field, said College Hills development occurred around 1952 and that substantial Confederate earthworks were destroyed to make way for houses at A & B on the map.   Traces of earthworks remain at the triangular shaped parcel on the western edge of Bandy Field as marked by C.  Earthworks are currently unmarked and difficult to distinguish.  Homeowner said earthworks extended north  to A, B, and Z  and were quite substantial before home sites were cleared - apparently it was more than just a trench line.   Resident also mentioned that there is an old African-American cemetery at F.  This cemetery is unmarked and has a Spanish-American veteran buried in it."

Union engineer map of Richmond (Michler, Mitchie), 1862-1865, CW 632.8, LOC

Bandy Field also marks the general location of the fight at "Green's Farm," which occurred on March 1, 1864. During Colonel Ulric Dahlgren's raid on Richmond, a Union cavalry column pushed south along Three Chopt Road and encountered local defense forces in this area.  In the ensuing engagement, Dahlgren's troopers brushed aside members of the Richmond Armory Battalion but eventually were halted at Hick's Farm on the Westham Plank Road (now Cary Street Road). The original house at Green's Farm (also known as "Huntley") remains today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. More about Bandy Field can be found at the Friends of Bandy Field website.

Confederate map found on the body of General John Chambliss in Aug. 1864,  CW 642.5, LOC