Monday, December 31, 2018

George Bernard's Diary Entry: New Year's Eve 1865 "Many indeed are the difficulties before me. I have resolved to face them."

On New Year's Eve in 1865, George S. Bernard offered the following reflections in his diary. A former member of the 12th Virginia and a lawyer, Bernard had returned home to Petersburg at the war's end. Unable to find much work as an attorney, he served as a local editor for the Petersburg Express and taught mathematics at a nearby school. Eventually, he would build a successful law practice. Over the next several decades, he also engaged in reform-minded politics as an ally of and personal attorney for Readjuster William Mahone. Later in life, Bernard made significant contributions to Civil War history, publishing Civil War Talks of Confederate Veterans in 1892 and gathering material for a second volume that would not be published until 2012, Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans. In these books, he compiled dozens of soldier reminiscences that received wide praise in both the north and south for their candor and engaging detail.

But, in 1865, all of those accomplishments were years away. With a new year on the horizon, the 29-year-old Bernard offered the following thoughts:

George S. Bernard, 1837-1912
Sunday night, Dec. 31 1865 
            The eventful year of “sixty five” expires tonight. But few there are in the United States to whom the last twelve months have not brought much pleasure or much unhappiness. With myself it has been productive of much of both. Never perhaps, in the course of my whole life have my experiences been so varied. This little book would furnish abundant evidence of a chagrined fortune, but on tomorrow a new year will be commenced. At its end, if living, in how many particulars will my condition be better? Many indeed are the difficulties before me. I have resolved to face them.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Earthworks in Your Neighborhood: Richmond's North Side

In gathering research for a new project, I've been poring over Confederate and Union maps of Richmond's Civil War fortifications. Just for kicks, I matched a Corps of Engineers map with a current USGS topo map to identify the approximate, modern-day location of the old earthworks in Richmond's North Side. This was my neighborhood growing up - my family lived in Ginter Park until the late 1970's. In March 1864, Union forces targeted this portion of the Richmond defenses during the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid.
North Side Richmond: Confederate defenses depicted on modern topo map

Below is the relevant part of the Union engineer map from the Library of Congress. Federal cartographers completed this in 1867 under the direction of Major Nathaniel Michler and Captain Peter Michie of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Mike Gorman of the National Park Service has posted a larger-scale version of the Michie-Michler map at his website Civil War Richmond.
Detail from Union engineer map of Richmond with position of Union attack added (LOC)

Richmond's defenses were extensive. Throughout the war, Confederate officials expanded them gradually, eventually forming a vast network consisting of a ring of detached forts near the city surrounded by an Intermediate and Exterior (or "Outer") Line of earthworks. Several additional trench segments and detached batteries dug here and there augmented the principal lines. Most of the labor for these fortifications came from slaves impressed from their owners by the Confederate government. 

During the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid, a Union cavalry column overran the Outer Line at Brook Hill on the Brook Turnpike (now Brook Road) just north of where I-95 and Route 1 intersect today. The Union horsemen then headed south on the turnpike and threatened the Intermediate Line just south of today's Laburnum Avenue. After several hours of skirmishing, the column withdrew back north. The unsuccessful operation is detailed in Bruce Venter's book Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864

As a child, I had no idea my home stood at the site of a Civil War engagement. In heading down the Brook Road, the cavalry trotted past the future sites of Arby's, Azalea Mall, Willey's Drug Store and Johnson's Hardware on Bellevue Avenue - all the way to the home of piano instructor extraordinaire, Sarah Worsham Landrum (granddaughter of Confederate veteran and author John H. Worsham). The Intermediate Line ran close to, or perhaps even through, the Worsham property at the corner of Brook and Walton. 

Today, to my knowledge, only small traces of the works remain around the North Side. For example, a section of the defenses on Brook Hill has been marked and preserved. As I recall, there is also a small marker somewhere on Confederate Avenue near Brook Road at the site of the Intermediate Line. Perhaps, others have noticed additional traces hiding in plain sight.

Here is detail of the left portion of the map.

Here is detail of the right portion of the map.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Exciting News: The Fight for the Old North State

978-0-7006-2746-2 University Press of Kansas has posted the product page for my new book, The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864.  Description, release date, blurbs, etc. - check it out!                         

Monday, October 29, 2018

Selby on Meade: War Scholar Podcast

My friend John Selby, a professor at Roanoke College, recently spoke with Cris Alverez at the War Scholar podcast about his new book Meade: The Price of Command from Kent State University Press. John's take on Meade goes against the conventional grain and provides a more positive view of the Pennsylvanian than we are used to hearing. An interesting discussion - definitely worth a listen.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

More Books: Denmark Vesey's Garden, Reed's Combined Operations, and Chesson on Richmond

Between breaks in work on my North Carolina book, I've tried to read a few titles that do not prominently feature George Pickett, Benjamin Butler, or Robert Hoke. Here are some I've found particularly interesting:

Denmark Vesey’s GardenDenmark Vesey's Garden:  Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy
by Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts 

This book is getting a lot of well-deserved buzz. In a straightforward, accessible style, Kytle and Roberts trace how citizens of Charleston remembered slavery and commemorated the war. It begins with the 2015 murders at Mother Emanuel Church and then goes back to trace through the days of John Calhoun, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era - and then returns to the present. Among many other things, the book describes competing commemorations following the war, debates about monument construction and retention, and the interpretation of the past offered up by tour guides and museums. With Denmark Vesey's Garden, Kytle and Roberts join David Blight, Caroline Janney, Carol Reardon, Kevin Levin, and others in providing an important contribution to the study of Civil War memory.

Combined Operations in the Civil War
by Rowena Reed

This title, first published in 1978 by Naval Institute Press, should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in coastal military operations during the Civil War. Reed, a Dartmouth history professor who died early in her career, left us with a detailed, well-researched study of combined operations during the war. Over the years, the book has received criticism for overplaying George McClellan's strategic plans and, in particular, exaggerating his vision for operations against the the Confederate coastline. Whether you agree with Reed's take on Little Mac or not, the book is well worth your while. Not only does it thoughtfully discuss the broader strategic and operational issues associated with Union coastal efforts, it also delves into the important details of campaigns in North Carolina, on the Peninsula in Virginia, along the Mississippi, in and around Charleston Harbor, and at Fort Fisher. It has wonderful maps too. 

Richmond After the War, 1865-1890
by Michael B. Chesson

I stumbled on this title while looking for studies about Richmond during Reconstruction. Published by the Library of Virginia (the Virginia State Library) in 1982, it covers the economic, political, and social developments in the former Confederate capital during the latter half of the 19th century. Among other things, Chesson describes the turbulence of Reconstruction in the city, the struggles of black citizens against the rise of Jim Crow, the brief emergence of the Readjusters in Virginia, and the dedication of the Robert E. Lee monument in 1890. In reflecting on this period, Chesson argues that the growing attachment of Richmond's ruling majority to the culture of the Lost Cause in the 1880's and 1890's blunted the city's ability to modernize and prosper in the decades following the Confederacy's demise.  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

N.C. Book Update

The North Carolina book is moving along nicely. I recently finished making changes and corrections in response to the copy editor's review. The manuscript is now back with the University Press of Kansas for layout and will then be ready for proofreading. It looks like the final product will be over 500 pages long. I hope to pass along more updates - including the title - soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Visit to Franklin, Tennessee

The Federal line near the Carter House
My wife and I enjoyed a nice getaway last weekend in Nashville with some longtime friends. On our last day, we made it down to Franklin for some sightseeing. With my friend Aaron Cohen navigating, I tramped around a few of the battlefield sites there including Windham Hill, Fort Granger, and the Carter House. At the Carter House Visitor Center, I had the good fortune to chat with James Knight, author of several titles on the Civil War in Tennessee. He was nice enough to sign a copy of his book on Hood's Tennessee Campaign for me. I learned later that he has also written about Bonnie and Clyde. At Fort Granger, Amy Glover, a California transplant exploring the site with her family, kindly snapped the picture of me below. Fort Granger is an impressive work, towering over the Harpeth River and surrounding countryside. The maps don't do it justice. 

Author James Knight and your blogger.
Fort Granger

Friday, July 6, 2018

Another Visit to Plymouth, North Carolina

Fort Compher site, Plymouth N.C.
Recently, I had the chance to make another visit to Plymouth and explore the sites of some of the more obscure fortifications there - most of which are long gone now - and check out some other locations around the town. As I've worked on my North Carolina book, I've had the good fortune to benefit from the vast knowledge of local historian Jimmy Hardison. For decades, Hardison has examined every nook and cranny of the battlefield and made many incredible finds, some of which are on display in the Port o' Plymouth Museum. I've also received extensive assistance from the public historians at the museum, namely David Bennett (now with the Virginia War Museum) and the current curator, Elizabeth Freier. Harding, Bennett, and Freier have patiently fielded emails and phone calls from me over the last few years. I greatly appreciate all of their help.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The 1864 New Bern Expedition: Abram P. Haring's Medal of Honor Letter

Abram P. Haring's Medal of Honor File- NARA
My North Carolina book from University Press of Kansas [UPDATE- now available: The Fight for the Old North State] includes several chapters on the often overlooked Confederate expedition against New Bern in early February 1864. During the first hours of that operation, a handful of Union soldiers led by young First Lieutenant Abram Pye Haring of the 132nd New York delayed a large Confederate force along a narrow stream known today as Bachelor Creek. Decades after the war, Haring would receive the Medal of Honor for his remarkable stand that day.

As part of my research, I looked at Haring's files in the National Archives and, among other things, learned that Haring, on his own behalf, applied for the Medal of Honor ("Medal of Merit" as he called it) in an 1890 request to General Thomas Vincent in Washington. Here is a transcript of that letter.

◈   ◈   ◈   ◈   ◈
Abram P. Haring (

New York, June 13, 1890
Genl. T. M. Vincent
A. A. G., U. S. A.
Washington, D. C.

I beg to call your attention to the following statement and if consistent for the award of a Medal of Merit I should be pleased to be put in the way of getting it. On February 1, 1864, I was in command of the out post picket with 11 men on the reserve at Bachelors Creek [also called Bachelor or Batchelder's Creek] near Newberne, N.C. When attacked in force by Confederates under Genl Pickett. We held the position for two hours before we was reinforced by three companies of our regiment. The attack and resistance was principally during the first two hours – we were outnumbered by thousands – finally flanked and compelled to retire.
Haring's 1890 Letter, NARA RG 94

The resistance first made, defeated the object of Genl Pickett – i.e., the capture of Newberne and is now published for the first time to my knowledge by Townsend, titled “Honors of the Empire State in the War of Rebellion“ pages 348 + 349 – also Vol 41 page 136. 
For the same action I believe Genl Innis N. Palmer who was in command of Newberne, was promoted to full Maj Genl. U.S.A. I enclose a copy of [the] order issued by colonel comdg regiment.
I may add that I was wounded Mch 8, 1865 in battle near Kinston, N.C.

Respectfully yours,
Abram P. Haring
Late 1st lieut Co. G
132nd Regiment N.Y. Vol Infty