Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Review of Richmond Must Fall

A detailed, very positive review of Richmond Must Fall appeared recently at TOCWOC-A Civil War Blog. The author of the review, Brett Schulte, runs The Siege of Petersburg Online, a huge repository of sources related to the Petersburg Campaign, including many period newspaper clippings. I'm thrilled that someone with such deep knowledge of the campaign has given such high praise to Richmond Must Fall:

"This is an excellent book.  Newsome writes in an engaging style, always keeping the story moving along . . . Siege of Petersburg students, of the war in the east, and of the armies and their constituent parts will want to own this book . . . This book is highly, highly recommended."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sherman and Sokolosky

Over the holidays, I had the pleasure to chat with Wade Sokolosky over some coffee in comfortable Beaufort, North Carolina. Sokolosky, along with coauthor Mark Smith, wrote No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar, a well-regarded (and out of print) study of a portion of Sherman’s sweep through the Old North State late in the war. It was great to meet Wade and to learn about his research and writing. His current project covers the battle of Wyse Fork, which occurred east of Kinston during the 1865 Carolinas campaign.

During our discussion, we touched on Union strategy in eastern North Carolina throughout the war.  Among other things, we talked about the importance of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, a critical supply line for Confederate forces in Virginia. For much of the conflict, Union troops did not seriously threaten this rail line despite establishing a firm toehold in coastal N.C. in 1862. Instead, the garrisons at New Bern, Washington (N.C.), and Plymouth rarely ventured beyond the coast in strength and mostly limited their operations to the occasional raid. They also girded for Confederate offensives, which occurred in the spring of both 1863 and 1864. Throughout, the Union occupation relied on the navy's gunboats, which plied the sounds and rivers, and served as formidable floating batteries to protect the ground troops.

The challenges facing Union planners in North Carolina resembled those Grant confronted at Petersburg. For most of the campaign in central Virginia, Grant firmly tethered his offensive operations to his City Point supply base. However, in the spring of 1865, he unleashed a large infantry raid around the Confederate right flank and gained a decisive victory at Five Forks. Similarly, Sherman broke open matters that year in North Carolina when he arrived from Georgia with a 60,000-man force, which had operated for weeks without any line of communication to speak of. Once in North Carolina, he drew supplies and additional troops from the coast, including the ports at Morehead City and New Bern. With men and resources sufficient to push through to the rail junction at Goldsboro and then on to Raleigh, Sherman overwhelmed the weak Confederate forces in his way. In their book, Sokolosky and Smith provide some excellent analysis of Sherman's logistical operations during the Carolinas Campaign.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cyrus Comstock Diary

The other night, I dropped by the Arlington Public Library to pick up The Diary of Cyrus B. Comstock from interlibrary loan.  Comstock, a talented engineer, served in various roles during the war including stints as a key advisor to Grant.  Comstock's diary, edited by Merlin Sumner and published by Morningside in 1987, furnishes a sea of everyday details liberally sprinkled with shiny gold nuggets like this one from May 8, 1865 in D.C.: "On military commission for trial of conspirators . . . .  Wish I could get off.  They ought to be tried by . . . civil courts."   

Currently, I'm trying to dig up some material about Grant's proposed scheme to invade North Carolina in early 1864, a plan apparently drafted and developed by Comstock and William "Baldy" Smith at Grant's request in January of that year.  Though Comstock's diary proved helpful in my research for Richmond Must Fall, particularly for chronicling Benjamin Butler's behavior on October 27, 1864, it has not yielded the bounty I'd hoped for on my current search.  Nevertheless, it's nice to leaf through a copy again.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ransack Garret and Closet

On January 3, 1895, Joseph W. Eggleston stood before fellow veterans in Petersburg, Va. and recounted his experiences as a member of Lamkin’s Battery during the Civil War. In delivering his address, he contributed to a project begun by his colleague, George Bernard, several years before. In 1892, Bernard had published the personal recollections of dozens of former Confederate (and Union) soldiers in a book titled War Talks of Confederate Veterans. Bernard continued to gather material for a second volume that would include, among other things, Eggleston's story. Most of the second volume was eventually published more than 100 years later in Civil War Talks. Back on that night in 1895, Eggleston commenced his "war talk" before the A.P. Hill Camp of Confederate Veterans with this prescient insight:

“The present generation, our children, are too tired of our war talks and not far enough removed from the event of 1861-1865 to take sufficient interest in the history we made in those four years. They are neglecting to secure and preserve many things that would be of inestimable value to future generations. But after them will come our grandchildren who will ransack garret and closet for old books and papers bearing on those heroic days. They will appreciate the work done by the Geo. S. Bernard’s of the South in saving some of the material for future history.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Petersburg, Va. Col. Ira Spaulding's winter quarters. 50th NY Eng. LOC

Welcome to an infrequent blog about historical research and writing. I’d like to start by thanking everyone for their help in previous projects. I’m grateful (and pleasantly surprised) at the nice feedback Richmond Must Fall and Civil War Talks have received in various reviews and in comments from colleagues and friends. I also feel lucky to have collaborated with John Horn and John Selby on Civil War Talks. It has been a pleasure to get to know those two over the last few years and I look forward to the completion of their ongoing projects.

Here’s wishing everyone a great 2014!