Wednesday, October 31, 2007

James Longstreets wound. A foresnic study.

I found a great article on the forensics's of James Longstreets 1864 wound. It includes photographs, diagrams and a nice biography with references. Check it out:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Review #5 Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through his Private Letters

Elizabeth Brown Pryor calls Robert E. Lee's personal saga as one of the "most riveting stories of American history" because of its scope which ranges from a family tale to an national epic. Author Bruce Catton called the Civil War "the greatest and most moving chapter" in history and Lee was at the center of it all. Other than Lincoln, I don't think that any other Civil War figure has received as much attention as General Lee.

Douglas Southall Freeman's 4-volume work remains the best biography of Lee but the work is littered with Lost Cause sentimentality. Other Lee biographies have sprung up over the years along with the best post-Freeman assessment of Lee by Emory Thomas's 1995 book.Ms. Pryor took a unique approach on her Lee biography by avoiding the standard stance on the subject. Instead each chapter starts off with a piece of primary source material written by Lee, a family member or a friend. A few times more than one letter or document is presented. After that the author uses these manuscripts as a basis for the subject of each chapter. After presenting the primary source, Pryor writes an account on how that source fits in Lee's life and she discusses each in detail by backing up her statements with some of Lee's other writings.I have to say that it is one of the most interesting books that I have ever read because it includes primary source material that I have never read before. Moreover, the author presents a man who is more human than Freeman's "marble model" of perfection.

The book digs deep into Lee's character including ones that are virtually unknown. Lee's pioneering role in engineering science, his tense relationships with other men and his deep affection for women are explored in depth. Pryor does a brilliant job by explaining Lee's actions within the societal developments of the time. She accurately asserts that this made Lee one of the leading actors in the formation of the nation even though it cost him his own private happiness.If your looking for Lee worship in this book than think again. It is easy for any reader to see that Pryor respects Lee but she doesn't worship him. She is willing to openly explain Lee's faults and this sheds light on parts of Lee's character that have been rarely explored before. Did Lee cheat on his wife? Why was the love for his children so intense? Why did he choose to leave the army that he served for thirty-four years? Was Lee ambitious? Did Lee face depression or anxiety in his lifetime? Pryor handpicked Lee's own personal writings in which he portrays himself as a confused, passive, and vulnerable person who never had a premonition of fame or saw himself as a tragic figure. Her feelings on Lee are balanced, well-researched and some Lee cultists might find them offending.

If you agree with her assessments or not there is one fact that is perfectly clear. Robert E. Lee wasn't the "marble model" that history has painted him as. Lee was a human being who had strengths and weaknesses just like anybody else. Lee could lie, Lee could feel intense anger, Lee could be racist and all the other things that people detest. At the same time he could be a wonderful father, a brilliant commander and a good friend.History will argue that Lee was against slavery just like Jefferson or Washington. Pryor includes Lee's writings that speak of a man who saw whites as superiors to blacks and accusations of Lee beating his slaves is explored. Lee was also a womanizer who had more female friends than male and he hinted at having intimate relationships with many of them. Lee loved to flirt and he was very playful in his correspondence. Moreover, Lee was a bit of a dandy and this allowed ladies to notice him even more. He even appears to be a bit overconfident in his beauty as he sought to keep up on the popular clothing fashions of the time. Pryor's Lee jumps out of the page at you and is unlike any other Lee that you will meet in your Civil War readings.If you read her book you will no longer think of Lee as the stone icon. Instead you will know more about a complex, sometimes contradictory and even more fascinating figure. Lee made many tough decisions throughout his life buy leaving the Union army might have been his hardest choice. Through this decision Pryor explains that Lee's situation teaches more about him and brings to light something that we can learn about ourselves. "His decision" she writes "tells us something more: that following the heart's truth may lead to censure, or agonizing defeat--and yet be honored in itself." Doesn't that quote describe Robert E. Lee perfectly?

Ms. Pryor's fine book has brought to life a man who "did the best he could", at all things for which he took responsibility. His striving for excellence became both a blessing and a curse as he and his soldiers fought against terrible odds. I think it does and you will agree when you purchase or borrow Reading the Man by Elizabeth Brown Pryor.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shiloh versus Ken Burns

There are times when I can still hear David McCullough narrate Ken Burns The Civil War in my head. I almost know the series by heart because I listened to it on cassette tape as a kid. Yes I was a nerd. However, during the film McCullough states that the Battle of Shiloh had more deaths and all previous American Wars combined. This blog will go inside the numbers and see if Burns and his writers are correct in their assumptions. First lets take a look at the Battle of Shiloh and the casuality lists then I'll list the casualites of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican war.According to the website

"On the morning of April 6, 1862, Confederates commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston roared into Grant's encampment around Pittsburg Landing, beginning the bloodiest battle of the war. It would be remembered by the name of the little whitewashed church around which some of the fiercest early fighting swirled - Shiloh, a Hebrew word meaning "place of peace.""

According to the national park service the casulties at Shiloh were very high. The site lists 23,746 total casualities for both sides at Shiloh(US 13,047; CS 10,699). Total forces engaged Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Ohio (65,085) [USA]; Army of the Mississippi (44,968) [CSA].

Lets look at the three previous wars that the United States fought in.The Revolutionary War had 10,623 total casualties, the War of 1812 had 6,765, The Mexican War had 5,885. If you add those three together your grand total over three wars is 23,273. If you take Shiloh's total and the pervious was totals and subtract them The Battle of Shiloh had 473 more men fall. Not a staggering total but Burns and his researchers were accurate in their assessment. This backs up the historical argument that warfare had changed and the old tactics caused horrundes amounts of casualities.
It should be noted that the Battle of Shiloh lasted two days, The Revolutionary War lasted seven years, The War of 1812 lasted two years and the Mexican War lasted two years. So 746 more men fell in two days of combat versus eleven years of combat. Astonishing isn't it?Moreover, in the three previous wars a grand total of 8,428 men died while serving in combat. At Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing a grand total of 3,477 men died in just two days of combat. Thats a difference of 4,951 men which isn't alot when you think that the previous wars had over eleven years of time to build a big lead. These numbers just jump out at me and its hard to grasp but it is there and the rest is left to history.

CRS Report to Congress on American War deaths/wounds is here:

The page devoted to Shiloh, along with the map is on the PBS page:

The nps webpage on Shiloh is here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Forgotten battles of the Civil War: The Battle of Westport, Missouri, October 23, 1864

It is sometimes called the "Gettysburg of Missouri" and President Harry Truman (a native of Missouri) promoted it but so many of us have never heard of this battle. I talked about Sterling Price, his Missouri Expedition and the Battle of Pilot Knob in another blog. The Battle of Westport was the decisive victory in this campaign and it closed the doors of Missouri to the Confederacy.Price and his small band fought several small battles against Union forces until he realized that the cities of St. Louis and Jefferson City were too fortified to take. He moved his army to Fort Leavenworth and when the Union general commanding the area, Samuel Curtis realized this he moved the 1st Division composed mostly of volunteers regiments under the command of James Blunt and some Kansas militia to check Price's advance. The militia was organized into a 2nd division led by George Dietzler.

Curtis placed his 1st Division in a defensive posture along Brush Creek. He placed his 2nd Division of men on the right flank of the 1st. For those that don't know this Brush Creek flows through present day Kansas City. Seeing that Curtis was going to receive reinforcements Price hoped to strike before the extra troops arrived. His overall plan was a good as any general could create under the circumstances. To protect his flank and prevent Curtis' reinforcements from arriving too soon, Price placed a division under John S. Marmaduke across Byram's Ford. This would effectively block the reinforcements for the time being but would weaken Price's overall force.At dawn on October 23, 1864 Price attacked and drove the Union forces back. Curtis counter-attacked and he managed to force Price back across Brush Creek. During the next four hours the ground changed hands several times until a small brigade under Thomas Moonlight attacked the Confederate flank via a small ravine. Price ordered his men to fall back and reestablish a new defensive front. General Curtis smelled blood and ordered a attack just as his reinforcements approached Confederate general Marmadukes' division. With the Union army converging on three sides Sterling Price ordered a retreat.

The results of the Battle of Westport were obvious. The overall result was a Union victory and Prices Missouri Expedition failed. The National Parks Service reports that around 1,500 men fell on both sides during the contest. Westport was the decisive battle of Prices Missouri Expedition, and from this point on, the Rebels were in retreat. Also, it marked the last time that a Confederate army invaded a northern state. Moreover, it was the last time that the United States itself was invaded by a "foreign" army. We've been safe ever since. The largest battle ever fought west of the Mississippi and its aftermath made the Battle of Westport the "Gettysburg of the Trans-Mississippi Department".A book written by Paul Jenkins in 1906 sought recognition for the Battle of Westport. The book was a minor success and it fostered interest in the battle and a preservation effort in the Kansas City area. In 1923 the city issued ordinances recognizing the site as a historical monument. This allowed the battlefield's supporters to lobby Congress who made the area a national military park in 1924. This did not protect the battlefield from businesses disturbing the battlefield by building factories and stores in the area. By 1962, two large factories existed on the land the battlefield was seriously endangered.In 1958 the national military park received a new supporter. Former President Harry Truman helped form the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City. This group created and funded several projects on the Westport battlefield but since much of the land was in private hands their efforts have been stymied. Today, the group seeks to restore the battlefield to its 1864 condition and further information is located at A wonderful video entitled Saving KC's battlefield is also located at this website. If you are a Civil War buff who is interested in battlefield preservation you have to watch that video. Donations are accepted as well.

As a useless sidenote both Curtis and Price would survive the war but neither man lived for long after its conclusion. Price died in 1867 and Curtis passed on into the next world in 1866. And the rest is left to history.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Abraham Lincoln and his view on Judism

We know how Lincoln felt about slavery but how did he feel about the most discriminated group in world history. Abraham Lincoln's dealings with the Jews was an issue explored in the 1909 book "Abraham Lincoln and the Jews," a self-published book by Isaac Markens. The book deals with Lincoln's views on Jews before and during the American Civil War.It recounts Lincoln's reversal of a law that allowed only Christians to serve as military chaplains and his rescinding of a notorious 1862 order by Gen. Ulysses Grant expelling all Jews from Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The book utalizes contemporary accounts, letters and other documents produced by our 16th President.Grant's order appeared in part motivated by anti-Semitism, but Jewish peddlers who roamed the region despite orders against such transience also frustrated him. Troops forced 30 Jewish families out of Paducah, Ky., under the order. Jewish leaders from the region appealed directly to Lincoln, who ordered Gen. Henry Halleck to tell Grant the order was unacceptable."The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which I suppose was the object of your order," Halleck wrote, according to Markens' account, "but as in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deems it necessary to revoke it." The book recounts the outrage Grant's order provoked in the U.S. Senate and in newspapers across the nation. Featured in a recent issue of Secrecy News, the publication of the Federation of American Scientists, the book is available at Google books. Just do a search for it, its free and its interesting reading.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

General Jesse Reno: A True American Hero

Reno, Nevada is named for him but very few people in American know who Jesse Reno was. Reno was a close friend of Thomas Jackson A.K.A. "Stonewall" and his family ties could be traced back to immigrants who came to the United States in 1700.Reno was born on June 20, 1823 in Wheeling, Virgnina (now West Virginia) to Rebecca and Thomas Reno. When Reno reached the age of 16 the family moved to Franklin, Pa. and within a few years Reno was accepted at West Point. His class at West Point was the famous class of 1846 which contained many men who would become key Civil War leaders. A.P. Hill, Thomas J. Jackson and George Pickett were the men that Reno stood next too in class and drill. Future Union generals George McClellan, John Gibbon also attended classes with Jesse. He was well liked and respected by his classmates, thanks in part to his easy going personality that stood out amongst the hard-nosed cadets that surrounded him.During the Mexican War Reno served faithfully within General Scotts army as an artillery officer. He served with distinction at the battles of Vera Criz, Cerro Gordo, and Chapultepec. The war brought even more prosperity to Reno because he recieved a brevet as captain for what was termed as for "gallant and meritorious conduct."After the war, Reno became a Professor of Mathematics at West Point and in 1853 he married Mary Blanes Cross and together they had five children between 1853-1862. After working in various military positions in Minnesota and Pennsylvania until 1857
Reno accompied future Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston around the state of Utah as chief ordinace officer.At the start of the Civil War the north saw West Point graduates as a scarce commidity. Future Generals Grant and Sherman were promoted because of the military educations that they recieved at "the Point". Reno was no exception and on November 12, 1861 he recieved Brigadier General commission. Reno was placed in charge of the Union troops whose assignment was to take Roanoke Island in North Carolina. On February 2, 1862 the Confederate garrison surrendered and the Union had one of its first heros. Jesse recieved a promotion to Major General for his success.Placed in command of the Army of the Potomac's Ninth Corps, Reno would rise to further fame. Reno led his corps in the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 29 to 31, 1862 but that would be his last major battle as corps commander.
After his victory at Second Mannassas, Confederate General Robert E. Lee saw the opportunity to invade the Northern states. Lee divided his command during the invasion and this opened the door for McCellan the divided rebel forces. South Mountain is often overlooked by the Civil War novice, overshadowed by the atrocities of the Battle of Antietam (near Sharpsburg), which took place three days later and resulted in a loss of 23,000 men. The Battle of South Mountain broke out on September 14, 1862 in the Fox's Gap and Turner's Gap areas after rebel gunners opened fire on union troops. Future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley participated in the battle and so did Jesse Reno. It is interesting to note that McKineley was assassinated in office on September 14, 1901, 39 years to the day of the battle. General Reno was killed almost as soon as he came up to the line occupied by his men at Fox's Gap. Reno's final words were "Tell my command that if not in body, I will be with them in spirit." and at age 39 he died.
Reno was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington D.C. Reno had two sons listed in Who's Who in America - Conrad a lawyer of Boston 1883 to 1912, author of the History of Judicial System of New England, and Jesse W. Reno, New York, engineer, did mining work in Colorado and electric expert in railway work; employed by the Edison Company. He invented the inclined elevator or moving stairway which is now known as the escalator.Reno was a great leader whose loss was felt by the Army of the Potomac and many subsquent campaigns in which his leadership could have made a difference. He is one of the many Civil War officers to die so young, so gallalently and too soon.
Some cool sources:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

History has always interested me because of the connection that historical people have before, during and after the events that made them important. Such is the case of General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston. Both served on opposite sides during the conflict, fought against one another for the prized city of Atlanta and Johnston surrendered his rebel army to Sherman in April 1865. I am not going to waste time with this blog speaking about the biographies of both men but I would rather engage you the reader on an interesting story between these former enemies.

Our Civil War was unlike any other in history. The high cost of life, the destruction and devastation ranks it among the toughest wars in history. But the unique thing about our Civil War is not about battles, weapons or supplies. Our war was about healing and despite this horrendous conflict many men who were former enemies went home and our nation didn't plunge itself into something worse. Over the long term scheme of things, peace was maintained and people began to rebuild their lives without further bloodshed. Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman were such men.General Sherman died in New York City on February 19, 1891. His body was transferred to St. Louis where the official funeral was held on February 21. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston who had opposed Sherman in Georgia and the Carolinias was there serving as a pallbearer. The day was very cold and Johnston, out of respect for Sherman, carried the casket outside without wearing a hat to shield his head. Old Joe had just turned 82 years old on February 3 and many friends asked him to wear a hat to keep warm. Johnston refused to disrespect Sherman stating "If I were in Shermans place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat."

This quote shows the respect that the two men had for one another and his final reunion is representative of the reunion that was occurring between the north and south. After Sherman was laid to rest Johnston caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and he died the following month. Johnston, a native Virginian was buried in Baltimore, Maryland. Sherman received several monuments in his honor including one in Washington D.C. Joe Johnston didn't received such acclaim and was vilified by Confederate leaders for not attacking Sherman. In 1912, Johnston received his first and only monument in Dalton, Georgia.

Monday, October 15, 2007

October 12, 1870, Robert E. Lee's last day

Just because I forgot to post on the 137th Anniv. of General Lee's death here we go. Lee suffered a stroke on September 28th from which he never recovered. Lee died from the effects of pneumonia, a little after 9 a.m., October 12, 1870, two weeks after the stroke, in Lexington, Virginia. According to history his last words were "Strike the tent" and that he revisitied Virginia battlefields in his dreamish state. The stoke made speaking nearly impossible for Robert E. Lee. This was backed up by Mary Lee and others who were present at Lee's bedside. It is likely that his famous last words were conjured up by Lee supporters and Lost Cause leaders.

According to J. William Jones' Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee, his last words, on the day of his death, were:

"Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent."

Ken Burns film The Civil War uses Jones account. I do not know if Jones was at Lee's bedside and even if he was the family of Lee wrote of his passing. Again, Mary Lee and one of Lee's daughters wrote of Robert's death scene and neither of them make any mention of any last words. Furthermore, Lee's stroke caused Aphasia and this would have made communication impossible. Whatever you wish to believe General Lee died on his day. He was 63 years old or was he???? Read my other blog about General Lee's age at the time of his death.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Army of Northern Virginia versus the Army of Tennessee

The Army of Tennessee has gotten a bad rap in history. During the conflict it possessed low manpower and tended to have highs and lows in terms of morale. Meanwhile the Army of Northern Virginia tended to enjoy the fruits of victory and rose to the occasion on many battlefields. Today, I just want to take a look at both armies "win-loss-tie" records from the time that they were created until the time that they were surrendered to General Grant and Sherman. Of course I will not included all the engagements but rather focus on the major ones like Gettysburg or Stones River.

Army of Northern Virginia Created June 1862

Gaines Mill* 1-0
Malvern Hill* 0-1
Second Manassas 2-1
Sharpsburg 2-2
Fredricksburg 3-2
Chancellorsville 4-2
Gettysburg 4-3
The Wilderness 5-3
Spotsylvania 6-3
Cold Harbor 7-3
Petersburg 7-4
Petersburg to Appommattox** 7-5
Total Victories=7
Total Defeates=5
Total Ties=0
Winning Percentage & Record=58.3%, 7-5-0

Army of Tennessee Created Noivember 20, 1862 under the command of General Braxton Bragg

Stones River*** Tie
Chickamauga Win
Chattanooga Loss
Kennesaw Mt. Win
Peachtree Creek Loss
Battle of Atlanta Loss
Ezra Church Loss
Jonesborough Loss
Franklin Loss
Nashville Loss
Bentonville Loss
Total Victories=2
Total Defeates=8
Total Ties=1
Winning Percentage & Record= 20%, 2-8-1

*I didn't include all the Battles of the Seven Days here. I only included the two major battles of the campaign. Some argue that the Seven Days struggle was a tie but I will go with my opinion here.

**This includes the final battles of Petersburg until Lee's surrender. The Battle of Five Forks is included here.

***Some argue that the Battle of Stones River was a victory for the Confederacy. Some other historians argue that it was a tie. I will go with the latter rather than the former.

What does all this mean? What is my point here? I think that a lot of people put the Army of Northern Virginia ahead of the Army of Tennessee. The record of each army invites this as you see one army enjoying seven or more victories and the other enjoying only two victories. To put it simply the Army of Northern Virginia had just one commander as its leader from June 1862 until April 1865. This propelled Lee into becoming one of the greatest generals of all time. Meanwhile, the Army of Tennessee endured the commands of Bragg, Johnston, Hood, Taylor, Stewart and Johnston again. So from Nov. 1862 until April 26, 1865 the western army of the Confederacy had six command changes. However, despite having more defeats and lack of manpower the Army of Tennessee held out longer before surrendering at the end of April 1865. Both armies fought bravely but one had the discinction of having many more of its needs fulfilled. In many ways both armies were like two children. One child got all the latest gadgets, new clothes and was allowed to stay out later. The stepchild (Army of Tennessee) got the smaller room, the "hand-me-downs" and had to be home by curfew.

Over the years many books have been written about the army and I will include best of the best at the end of this blog. Personally, I have always had a special place in my heart for the Army of Tennessee. It was a good fighting force with men who sacrificed their blood, sweat and tears for the Confederacy. Just like the Union Army of the Ohio the Army Tennessee is rarely remembered except for its defeats at Franklin and Atlanta. I will write more about this army in a future blog. Until then goodbye.

Great books on the Army of Tennessee:

Connelly, Thomas Lawrence. Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967.

Connelly, Thomas Lawrence. Autumn of Glory; The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971.

Daniel, Larry J. Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Hood, John Bell. Advance and Retreat Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate States Armies. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs. The Pride of the Confederate Artillery The Washington Artillery in the Army of Tennessee. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

Horn, Stanley Fitzgerald. The Army of Tennessee. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.

Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations, Directed, During the Late War between the States. New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1874.

Sherman, William T. Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman. Library of America, 51. New York: Library of America, 1990.

Watkins, Samuel R. Co. Aytch: A Side Show of the Big Show. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Woodworth, Steven E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Modern war studies. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1990.

Woodworth, Steven E. Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

A great website on the Army of Tennessee and the Union army of the Cumberland is located here:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Robert E. Lee wasn't born on Jan 19th or was he?

This is my 50th blog and I am so happy with each and everyone of them. I hope that you are enjoying them too. Here is number 50:

The study of Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln had been my life's favorite pastime. Elizabeth Brown Pryor has recently published Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters and this has offered me insights to Lee's character. Its great stuff and I am sure that I will offer more blogs on it as I continue to read from my current position on page 58. (The book is 476 pages of excitement)Every Lee book and encyclopedia entry will tell you that Lee was born on January 19, 1807. Back in the days before birth certificates were the norm people recorded birthdates in family bibles. Elizabeth Brown Pryor published a letter from Lee that tells the reader that he might have been born on a different date.In his application to West Point Lee wrote a cover letter introducing himself. A letter stating a cadets age, studies and background were required by West Point officials.

In this document Lee writes "I completed my eighteenth year on the 29th of last January." Before furthering my discussion of this letter I have to state that it is dated Feb. 28, 1824. I also have to state that the Lee bible (according to research conducted by Pryor) dates Lee's birth as Jan. 19th 1806 with the "6" crossed out and a "7" put in its place.Did the person who recorded the date make a mistake and write 1806 instead of 1807? Pryor makes an error because she fails to point this out as a possibility. Since Lee was born in January and the year had just changed the person recording his birthdate might have assumed it was still 1806. I highly doubt that Lee changed the date himself because West Point wasn't in the habit of asking families for their bibles in order to confirm birthdates.

Pryor's explanation for the change "the family changed the date for unknown reasons" and her research indicates that West Point records confirms a 1806 birthdate. However, isn't this what Lee's letter said in the first place? I am not criticizing Pryor's research but these are just my thoughts on this topic. Why would Lee make himself one year older than he actual was? I think Liz Pryor hits the nail on the head in her commentary. Lee wanted to boost his age to give his application an advantage by making him appear more mature and responsible. Many teenagers today lack responsible habits and 19th century teens were no exception to that rule. Making oneself appear older can have its advantages and going to West Point in the 19th century is no exception to that idea. Pryor notes another interesting fact about Lee's letter. The family bible, West Point records and history all agree that Lee was born on January 19th. If you reread Lee's quote that I used he incorrectly states his birthdate as Jan. 29th. Harry Lee (Lee's father), was born on Jan. 29th and Lee's mistake here is worth noting.

Why did Lee write down the wrong date? Was he so excited about the application process to West Point that he wrote a "2" instead of a "1"? I doubt that we will ever find out the answer but the fact that this question exists intrigues me.Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book is amazing and you have to get a copy to read. Personally, I am waiting for the softcover version but I did go to my local library and managed to get a copy. I am enjoying the book and her end notes are awesome as well. I will review the book as soon as I finish it. Until next time America!

Quote of the day:"So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained."General Robert E. Lee, May 1, 1870

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ashokan Farewell

It is one of the most moving pieces of Civil War music that I have ever heard but it isn't a Civil War song. In 1984 filmmaker Ken Burns heard the Jay Ungar tune and used it in his 1990 documentary "The Civil War". The song is played 25 times throughout the eleven-hour series, including during the emotional reading of Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife in the first episode; it underlies almost an hour of film. The song is named for Ashokan, a camp in the Catskill Mountains not far from Woodstock, New York where Jay and his wife live. According to Jay, the name Ashokan comes from a Indian word meaning "great place to fish".

In 1982 Jay felt saddended over the end of the camping season and sought solace in his music. The return to normal life after spending a few months in the woods where intrapersonal relationships flourished bothered Jay. Mr. Ungar felt that technology and capitalism had made life stale and impersonal so he attempted to create a piece of music that best represented that feeling of loss. This is how the Ashokan Farewell was created. After spending time plucking away at his violin strings Jay produced a song that moved him so much that even he was speechless. He later stated "By the time the tune took form, I was in tears. I kept it to myself for months." The song was completed when Ungar worked with several other people to produce a guitar, bass and sting portion. He used the song on his next record in 1983 but the tune wouldn't reach national attention for another seven years.

In 1990 Ken Burns released a documentary about the Civil War that took him nearly five years to complete. Burns sought a picture that utualized the photographs and music of the period. However, for the shows theme song he picked Ungar's Ashokan Farewell and used it throughout the film. The recording is heard twenty five times throughout the eleven hour film. In fact, the Ashokan Farewell plays for a grand total of 59 minutes and 33 seconds! The song outplays any other tune that Burns used which is surprising because it is not vintage Civil War era music.

I am not a musically orientated person but I have to say that Ashokan Farewell is one of the best pieces of music that I have ever heard. Jay's intent to create a piece of music that expresses his sense of loss and change really comes out. I usually think of the Civil War, its battles, its tragedy when I hear the song. Also my thoughts tend to shift to loved ones who have passed on because that is what the Ashokan Farewell is all about saying goodbye. Today, Jay and his wife have a great website where you can purchase the tune and other great pieces that they have made over the years. Check it out when you get a chance it is well worth your time.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Grant....a butcher?

Some of the great blood baths of the war came as Grant drove on Richmond in the spring of 1864. Mary Lincoln called Grant a "butcher" and she state that she could lead an army better than Grant. Here are the numbers of Grants Overland Campaign against Richmond:

The Federal toll:The Wilderness, May 5-7: 17,666 Spotsylvania, May 10 and 12:
10,920 Drewry's Bluff, May 12-16 4,160 Cold Harbor, June 1-3: 12,000
Petersburg, June 15-30 16,569 These total 61,315, with rolls of the missing incomplete.During the Battle of Cold Harbor the 25th Massachusetts lost 70% of its fighting force which amounted to 310 men. What the Mrs. Lincoln didn't realize is that beating Robert E. Lee was no easy task. Sacrifices had to be made and Grant felt that the best way to win was to attack the Army of Northern Virginia and win the war off attrition. His enemy was protecting itself behind entrenchments and only assumed the offensive a short distance from its defensive shields. In his report Grant stated that the offensive was the only course of action that he could take because the enemy was unwilling to attack him directly. The ever aggressive Lee backed down from the offensive and sought to protect his dwindling forces. The Confederate commander hoped that bloody repulses would fuel anti-war sentiment in the north and hopefully the north would give up. Grant had no choice but to attack.This blog isn't meant to defend U.S. Grant but if you look at the losses sustained it should shock you. To think that over 60,000 men were lost in just two months of fierce struggle is hard for the mind to comprehend. General Meade wrote his wife "The papers are giving Grant all the credit of what they call successes; I hope they will remember this if anything goes wrong."

Grants reputation as a "butcher" followed him after the war and with Confederate historians he fared no better. After all, his armies had battered, starved and defeated the Confederacy for good and there was no love lost for Grant in the hearts of the Confederacy. T. Harry Williams, Military Historian wrote at Grant was "a master of global strategy." The general saw that to defeat the Confederacy the war had to be taken to the Lee's army without let up. Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain stated that Grant was "necessary" as a physical force to end the war. Only he saw how the Confederacy was to end and his ability to ignore advice and criticism set him apart from all possible commanders at the time. He had no political motivation to end the war but rather a fierce resolve to make peace. I think Grant hated war as much as anybody and his behavior towards Lee at Appommattox shows this. He truely felt that "malice towards none" was crucial to healing the wounds of war and reuniting the nation. Without Grant the war might have turned into a bloodier and longer conflict than it already was. Perhaps Shelby Foote said it best when he said "Grant, he's wonderful". Thank god for General Ulysses S. Grant.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Union regiment called the 1st Alabama Cav.

Growing up in history class it seemed like the entire south was united under the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. As with all wars there are people who are for it and there are people who are against it. Few realize that every southern state had sent regiments to serve in the Federal army excluding South Carolina. Northern Alabama was pro-Union and when the Confederate Congress issued the first draft call in American history many southerners were outraged. For many Confederates the war was about a people fighting against an oppressive government that passed too many laws to control localities.

Many northern Alabamians refused to serve and Governor Frank Shorter of Alabama sent conscription parties to find and enlist the men who refused to serve.To avoid the draft meant jail and even death so Shorter thought that many unwilling southerners would just drop their objections without raising a fuss. The make matters worse the Confederate government and army had been unable to protect southern farms in the area from bushwackers and robbers. These thieves served on both sides during the conflict and usually stole livestock and burned homes to the ground after robbing them blind. To defend their families and property the Northern Alabamians began to filter into the Union lines and form regiments. It was from this stream that the 1st Alabama Cavalry was born.The 1st had almost one-thousand soldiers occupy its ranks during the Civil War including men from other states within the Confederacy besides Alabama. The unit filled traditional cavalry roles of the time; scouting, raiding, reconnaissance, flank guard and screening the army on the march. The troops had no regimental flag of its own but earned a good reputation while serving in many forgotten skirmishes and engagements. During the battles at Dalton, Resaca and Kennesaw Mountain in the Atlanta campaign the 1st saw its first major action and proved its value to the Federal army.Praises from Union generals blanked the reputation of the 1st Alabama Cavalry. "The best scouts I ever saw" said one Union officer. Another stated that their service was "invaluable" to Federal successes in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.

These men were so famous and effective that General Sherman chose them as his personal escort during his famous "March to the Sea". However the regiment would gain its greatest victory in 1865 as the war drew to a close. On March 10, 1865 the 1st Alabama Cavalry fought rebel forces near Monroe Crossroads in North Carolina. A surprise attack by famed Confederate cavalry commanders Wade Hampton and Joseph Wheeler shocked the 1st as the sun rose in the east. After a three hour and bloody conflict the 1st Alabama Cavalry was able to drive the Confederates off the field until help arrived. The Confederates lost 103 dead and many more wounded at a cost to the Federals of 18 dead, 70 wounded and 105 missing.After overseeing the surrender of the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston the 1st was mustered out of service in October 1865. The official website of the regiment reports that "In three years service the regiment lost 345 men killed in action, died in prison, of disease or other non-battle causes; 88 became POWs and 279 deserted. There is no accurate count of wounded." After the war many former soldiers of the 1st faced rejection and criticism by their loyal Confederate neighbors. This bitterness like the 1st itself is largely forgotten today. I highly recommend that you visit the website below and become more acquainted the 1st and its adventures. The site had photos of its members, pictures of its members gravestones and tons of other information. Its colonel is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Today, many of its decedents run a reenactment group that educates people about the 1st and its storied history.

Further Reading on the 1st Alabama: Todd, Glenda McWhirter. First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A.: Homage to Patriotism. Bowie, Md: Heritage Books, 1999.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Robert E. Lee for President??????????????

As I am approaching the final pages of Lee: The Last Years by Charles Flood I found something that I didn't know before. It is a little known fact but the New York Herold didn't endorse U.S. Grant for President because they were a Democratic newspaper. Back in the day, certain newspapers supported candiates and although this hasn't changed in today's world it was more implicit in 1868.The Herold couldn't come up with a general that could beat Grant in the election of 1868. After their effort went unsatisified they printed an article that nominated Robert E. Lee for president. "We will recommend a candiate...General Robert E. Lee...He is a better soldier than any of those they have thought upon and a greater man." This statement occured just thirty-eight months after Lee had hung up his sword at Appomattox Court House.Lee had molded an army from scratch, baffled Northern armies for four years and his defeat was due to the sheer numbers that Grant forced upon the Army of Northern Virginia. This is the true beginning of Lee becoming a national hero and symbol on the Northern front. In many ways, the Lee cult led by Jubal Early weren't the first to raise Lee to such a high pedestal. What the Herold didn't understand was that Lee's citzenship had not been restored and he could not become the President of the United States. I have never found any document written by the general that states his position on the matter. Grant's reputation was slightly tarnished by a corrupt presidency that was not his fault.What would the Presidency of Robert E. Lee have been like? It is hard to say because he was a general and not a politican. He was a conservative who wanted to keep things as close to the prewar era as he could. That doesn't mean that he didn't understand that society was changing and was going to continue to racially evolve. Lee did not consider the media a friend. When speaking of the war he wrote "We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers." I suppose after enduring George Bush's presidency I can safely say that Robert E. Lee would have been a better fit. Oh well, I guess what might have been is forever lost to history.