Monday, January 30, 2006

The War Against New England

The News & Observer out of North Carolina has an article on the raid carried out by Confederate Agents on St Albans, VT on October 19, 1864. Although the loss of life was small (1 Killed) and the destruction of property was less then planned the symbolic nature of the raid was meant to be an attack directly against the people of New England. Bennett Young the leader of the raid recalled on his commanders saying that "It is right that the people of New England,and especially Vermont, whose officers and troops have been foremost [in waging war], should have brought to them some of the horrors of warfare."

St. Albans was not the only time in New England saw Confederate agents in action. There was a similar raid on a bank carried in Calais, Maine. In Maine's largest city Portland Confederate saliors commandeered a US Revenue Service Cutter called the Calab Cushing. The best account of these and other actions by Confederates in Maine and along the Maine coast can be found in Confederates Downeast by Mason Philip Smith.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Is there something missing?

A new Civil War Museum opened today in Texas. Called the Texas Civil War Museum. This privately owned and run museum has over 300 war related artifacts and The United Daughters of the Confederacy, Texas Confederate Collection which includes a number of Civil War Flags. According to the website “these combined collections make this the largest Civil War museum west of the Mississippi River.”

One newspaper report describes how Northern artifacts are on the North Side of the building and Southern artifacts are on the south side. They have a web site that gives a historical overview of the Civil War from a Texas perspective. There is also a link to some suggested educational activities. I give them credit for making education a primary mission; however in looking over the suggested lesson plans something seem to be missing. It is as if the issue of slavery and race have been excluded from any suggested learning activity. I am not from Texas but I have been to the Dallas/Ft.Worth area a number of times and it strikes me as a diverse area so it is surprising that the “largest Civil War Museum” west of the Mississippi River would not deal with the role of race in the Civil War more completely.

I will be going to Dallas again in February and plan to make time in my schedule to visit. Maybe my initial impression is wrong but from what I can get from their website I am afraid I am not. Luckily some students have dedicated educators like Kevin Levin who give their students a more complete view of the issues surrounding Secession, the Civil War and Reconstruction .

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Collecting Source Material and Organization

Yesterday it snowed 10 inches here in Central Massachusetts. After a Friday and Saturday of close to spring like weather winter has returned. Over the weekend I was able to win an eBay auction for a collection of letters from a soldier in the First Maine Heavy Artillery. I probably paid too much but when things like this come up I figure I need to grab them. If the seller had only been willing to provide copies I would have been satisfied but that was not the case so I had to bid. Luckily my wife understands and since I only really go out on a limb when it comes to this regiment I was able to swing it financially. Over the years I have amassed a good collection of primary material on this regiment both in generosity of individuals who have provided photocopies, my own searching through archives and in certain cases my purchases of items for sale. The biggest expense so far where the microfilm copies of the regimental and company books from the National Archives. I figured it was cheaper to buy the copies then make multiple trips to Washington. Now if I could get a hold of an inexpensive microfilm reader or better yet come up with way to pay to have the film scanned and put on CD-ROM I will be all set.

About a year ago I purchased a copy of Citation. For those of you who don't know Citation is a bibliographic and research note organization program. It has made my collection and organization of my research notes alot easier. It has the ability to be easily integrated with Microsoft Word so the inserting of footnotes and the creation of bibliographies can be accomplished rather quickly in a wide range of academic styles. I only wish I had found this product alot sooner especially when I was doing my Master's thesis on the First Maine Heavy Artillery.

More on Regimental Histories

One topic that has come up recently on some of other ACW blogs is regimental histories. Here is my two cents. In my collection of about 700 ACW volumes there are a number of regimental histories. My most valuable in terms of dollars are the original regimentals from Maine Regiments. One of my goals is to have a complete collection for each of the Maine Regimental Histories that were written. I do this out of a desire to collect and preserve. I enjoy reading them but I know that their portrayal of actual history can be some what skewed.

While the original regimental histories may be flawed historically I think they are a good starting point to understand the experience of the basic military unit that soldiers most closely identified with. In many cases it was the original regimental histories that became more of a monument for the survivors to recall their service and remember their comrades. In most cases these histories were not written by trained historians and as a result they lack the elements of critical analysis.

Edward J Hagerty in the preface to his Collis’ Zouaves writes about the value of original regimental histories.

The Civil War regimental history as genre has undergone a gradual metamorphosis in the 132 years that have passed since the end of that conflict. Books detailing the exploits of Civil War regiments began to make their appearance soon after war's end, but the vast majority of them were their appearance soon after wars end, but the vast majority of them were published between the years 1880 and 1910. By then, the passage of time had largely dulled the vivid sense of wars horror. Events could be written about with less passion and more impartiality, less criticism and more charity. The histories were typically written either by a former soldier from the ranks of the regiment or by professional writer engaged by the regiment's survivors. The results were varied.

Some were histories only in the loosest sense of the word, and many were merely panegyric testimonials to the heroic deeds of the regiment. Almost universally, however they were composed equally of nostalgia and propaganda. The resulting concoction usually tended to overlook any serious shortcomings of the men or of the regiment as a whole. Desertion was rarely mentioned. Poor performance was rationalized.


Thus, when evaluated in light of other primary source information, some late nineteenth-century regimental histories are more useful to scholars for the information discerned to have been omitted than for what they actually contain.


My opinion what make a regimental history historically valuable is the possession of a critical eye that takes a scholarly, academic approach to present both the good and the bad. Some modern day treatments of regimental histories are almost as bad historically the ones written by the veterans themselves. In my opinion most the histories in the H.E. Howard series Virginia Regiment fall into this category. However as readers of the ACW we have the good fortune to have had some really good regimental histories emerge over the past couple of decades. Some of my favorites include the following.

Hagerty, Edward J. Collis Zouvaes: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War. LSU (1997)

The author takes social history approach with tables and charts that provide insight in to the economic and societal make up of the regiment.

Wilkinson, Warren. Mother May You Never See the Sights I have Seen: The Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, 1864-1865. HarperCollins (1990)

This author provides a very well researched and very good written history of the 57th Massachusetts during the last year of the Civil War. The author also spent a lot of time on the regimental roster.

Keating, Robert, Carnival of Blood: The Civil War Ordeal of the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery. Butternut and Blue (1998)

I like this regimental because it is one of the first modern accounts to deal with the experiences of the heavy artillery during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns. The author does a really good job describing how this regiment broke under fire only to redeem itself at Cold Harbor with a tremendous loss of life.

Miller, Richard, Harvard's Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. University Press of New England (2005)

A well written history of a well known New England regiment that that was made up of Harvard Men and New England Fishermen. I like how this author described the ethnic and cultural background of the men and how these differences played out during the regiment’s term of service.

Dunkleman, Mark H. Brothers One and All, Esprit de Corps in a Civil War Regiment. LSU (2004)

Although not technically a Regimental History of the 154th New York I think the author really does a good job in laying out what being a part of a Civil War Regiment ment to it’s members.

I am currently reading John J. Fox III’s Red Clay to Richmond, Trial of the 35Th Georgia Infantry Regiment, CSA. Angle Valley Press, (2004) which won the 2005 James I. Robertson Jr. Literary Prize for Confederate History.

This book uses a lot of primary material and has a lot of detailed maps. One the features I really like are pictures of some of the battlefields as they appear today. The author does a good job pointing out some of the major topographical elements that influenced the course of action during the battles the 35th took part in.

While there is always talk that there is no fertile ground left to cover in the Civil War, I think these authors have used fresh approaches to prove that there is still much ground to cover and new stories to tell.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Exploring Civil War Court Martial Records

One of the areas of the Civil War I have a particular interest in is Military Justice. From my perspective I think looking at court martial records gives a unique and deeper insight to the relationships, cohesiveness and dynamics of Civil War Regiments. My focus and background has been on regiments from Maine. In my own research on the First Maine Heavy Artillery I have been able to uncover 5 Court Martials against members of the regiment. None of these cases is mentioned in the regimental history written by Horace Shaw and Charles J House in 1903 but thanks to the work of Thomas Lowey, MD and The Index Project. I was able to find the reference numbers to these records and then request copies of the files from the National Archives.

The The Index Project has built a database of the court martial records within the National Archives. For a modest fee they will do a look up by regiment and provide the reference numbers so any one interested can ask for copies from the National Archives. I think anyone who is doing research on a Civil War Regiment needs to consider looking at the Court Martial records.


Dr. Lowry has also published at least two books on Union Army Court Martial which highlight some selected cases against Union Army Colonels and Army Doctors . Dr. Lowry is also noted for his book on sex and the Civil War . Dr. Lowry is scheduled to be a guest on Civil War Talk Radio January 20.

Now at the extreme of Civil War military justice were military executions. I came across this listing of Union Army Executions in chronological order. Two things really struck me about this list. One was the number of executions that took place in New Hampshire Regiments which was 17. The 5th NH had 8 and the 2nd NH had 6. I haven’t done statistical breakdown but there were only 3 executions attributed to Maine Regiments so the rate of executions in NH regiments seems a little high. The second thing that struck me was that out of the 267 executions accounted for 25 of them were carried out between June 1865 and June 1866 after the war had ended, Of those, based on the listed regiment 19 of these soldiers were in black units.

From my perspective this just goes to show that there are still many elements of the Civil War that remain to be more fully explored.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"Hangover" may not be the right term but the effects are long lasting

I was in my local Border’s yesterday and I saw Eric Foner’s new book Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. I did not pick it up opting instead to buy Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. Today however on Salon.com there is an extensive commentary/review on Foner’s book by Andrew O'Hehir regarding the far reaching implications that the failure of Reconstruction has had to this day. The article does a good job highlighting how through the needs of political expediency in the 19th century full realization of Civil Rights for all Americans has been delayed 150 years and is still a struggle today. The author does makes some sweeping and I think awkward connections between the racial/political divisions of the late 19th Century to the current “red state vs. blue state” cultural/political divisions we are seeing today, however I think O’Heier does good job in laying out an argument that shows how the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction are still being felt today.

Thanks Mom and Dad and Gerald Linderman

Work has picked up a little bit from the holiday lull so I have to spend a little more time focusing on the here and now as opposed to talking about the Civil War. Kevin Levin posted recently on how he came to develop a passion for the Civil War. For Kevin it was a visit to Antietem and Stephen Sears’ Landscape Turned Red. His post caused me to do a little self reflection on the roots of my interest.

Excluding actions by Confederate Agents there are no Civil War battlefields in New England but on almost every town common there is a Civil War monument. The number of monuments spread throughout the region indicates the widespread impact the war had on the region down at the local level. It was the experience of these individual soldiers from the towns and cities of New England that really interested me. My parents must have recognized this because for Christmas I received copy of The Rebel Yell and The Yankee Hurrah. I thought John Haley’s description of his experience was fascinating. This book really started my quest to read and collect all I could about the experience of Maine regiments and soldiers. Today I think I have a pretty good collection of books on Maine in the Civil War including a handful of original regimental histories. Better yet I developed a good handle on what has been published and what is available in regards to manuscript materials on Maine regiments.

The other book that really got my interest in the Civil War ignited was Gerald Linderman’s Embattled Courage. What Linderman did to describe the influence, motivation and process of memory of the common solider was really eye opening too me. This book started a deeper interest trying to understand how men from plucked from civilian life faced the horror of combat. Linderman’s thesis is that as the war progressed the soldier’s never lost their courage but evolved in how they approach the tactical environment they were faced with. According to Linderman by the Spring of 1864 soldier’s had developed the enough perspective to recognize that strict application of the accepted military tactics that called for close order formations and massed charges were outdated. The men had learned to apply tactical variations to orders they were given and seek cover.

From my perspective you can see a lot of what Linderman describes in looking at the experience of the Heavy Artillery Regiments during the Spring of 1864. Coming from the defenses of Washington most of these regiments lacked any practical combat experience and while well drilled were unprepared to face the realities of the battlefield in 1864. One of these regiments was the First Maine Heavy Artillery which went on to set the dubious record of the highest number of battle causalities in a single engagement for all Union regiments on June 18, 1864 at Petersburg, VA.

Friday, January 13, 2006

What's in a name?

Interesting article on Gazette.net about a self described Civil War fanatic's attempt to get a local park name changed to better reflect the historical name of the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. Is fanatic a new term for Civil Buff?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Civil War History on eBay at what price?

I love finding things on eBay as much as any one, however there is one thing that does concern me about seeing Civil War items up for bid. I have seen a lot of related civil war items broken up and sold on an individual basis. Case in point over the past week there have been a handful of items related to the 16th Maine up for bid as individual items. One of the items is a list of equipment the regiment lost at Gettysburg. Knowing the history of the 16th Maine at Gettysburg this document has some significance. My concern is that breaking up theses collections could scatter these links to the past all over the place. The danger is they could be lost forever. In a perfect world I would love to see every related collection of CW letters or related manuscript material kept together and sold as a group or at least before it is sold have the manuscript material photocopied and deposited with a historical institution.

I once was able to get a seller to make me photocopy of some letters related to my research once I explained to him my interest and before he broke up the collection. I don’t want to deny anyone the right to make a living or get a return on an investment I just get worried about how much history we can lose when profit is the only real concern.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Vicksburg's Long Shadow - A Review

I just finished reading Christopher Waldrep’s Vicksburg’s Long Shadow, The Civil War Legacy of Race and Remembrance (Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield: 2005) Cloth 304 pages, Bibliographic Essay, Chapter Endnotes, Index. $26.95

Other than an introductory chapter on some of the major military engagements of Vicksburg’s Campaign, including the conflicting accounts of black troops at Milliken's Bend, Waldrep has not written a military history of the Vicksburg Campaign. Instead the author attempts to use the history of Vicksburg’s Civil War Battlefield to show how the Federal Government surrendered whatever “weak and timid vision” it had of the Civil War as an act of racial justice. By citing examples of state memorial dedications where “racists proclaimed their creed”, where the National Park Service celebrated Robert E. Lee’s birthday and organized segregated Memorial Day and Forth of July celebrations, and the Government’s intervention in keeping the Lost Cause alive when many white southerners lost interest, Waldrep portrays an image of Vicksburg that casts a long and far reaching shadow on racial relations and national memory coming out of the Civil War. (pg 291)

Using the development of the Vicksburg National Military Park as a central backdrop Waldrep traces the evolution of national memory towards the war, sectional reconciliation, and how in the end, although a Union military victory, final northern victory coming out of the Civil War was only achieved by embracing almost every element of southern white society towards race.

Waldrep devotes a chapter to discussing the meaning of reconstruction and the Civil War pension system as evidence that any “utopian dream” of a national system that defended the civil rights of all citizens was torn to shreds by the end of the nineteenth century. To Waldrep the reality of lynching by white mobs, the pass system, compulsory labor and the application of white based moral standards in determining pension worthiness, were all evidence of how the legacy of Reconstruction became one that promoted the lost cause and social welfare, not equal rights. As Waldrep writes the National bureaucracy proved more capable of providing social security through pension payments than in aggressively promoting equal rights.” (pg 94)

If I have one detraction from this book I would have like to seen more numerical evidence to support Waldrep’s claim of discrimination in how pension eligibility was determined between white and black veterans. Waldrep states that “black Civil War veterans found it harder to collect their pensions, and then did their white counterparts,” and he states that 92% of white veterans made at least one successful application, while 75% of blacks had comparable success.” To his credit Waldrep states that a deeper examination of how black Vicksburg veterans actually fared in the pension system is something that needs deeper examination. (pg 86)

Not all coming out of Vicksburg’s Civil War landscape was bleak in regards to the progress of racial relations. The contribution of black soldiers to the Union victory could not be completely overshadowed. Black soldiers were buried within the National Cemetery, and while even in death they were segregated the establishment of this place of honor gave black veterans a lasting and tangible place to commemorate their sacrifice and recall the promise of emancipation. It was a federally protected status that could not be taken away by white southerners. Waldrep recalls that inclusion in the National Cemetery was the one privilege blacks had over white southerners after the Civil War and that they made the most of it. For decades after the war black veterans would come to Vicksburg and read Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and would use their place within the National Cemetery to be included in the commemorative events that recognized Union veterans. Black veterans would not be denied their place at the table no matter what southern white society and the federal government did to move away from the ideals of emancipation and civil rights. (pg 82)


Trying to encapsulate the entire impact of the Civil War and the pursuit of national meaning by focusing on battlefield is risky but Waldrep does an admirable job in pulling his thesis together. One of the best jobs I think Waldrep does is tracing how the effort to memorialize the Civil War at Vicksburg was directly tied into the issues of the day facing the nation. Waldrep does a good job in positioning the 1917 Reunion at Vicksburg to highlight how the organizers including the Federal Government put the need promote sectional reconciliation and patriotism in the face of impending war in Europe over the need to promote the ideals of emancipation and racial justice. As Waldrep writes at the reunion “speaker after speaker ignored racial disharmony to hail the nation’s sectional unity, suggesting that geographic reconciliation made an effective war effort possible.” (pg 227)

In a possible parallel to the decline in the popular appeal of the Civil War today, Waldrep highlights that as the reality of the First World War came to the United States it drove a decline in the desire to memorialize or celebrate the memory of the Civil War in the 1920’s. As Waldrep writes “in the 1920’s, turning the Civil War into ‘an affair of moonlight and romance’ seemed more revolting than ever before” as the “realists saw the war as grim, hard, and bloody.” (pg 250)

To summarize his work Waldrep explores why the National Park at Gettysburg has emerged as the nation’s premier Civil War battle site and why Vicksburg was not destined to become the representative Civil War battle site. Waldrep discounts arguments that say Gettysburg had dramatic infantry movements, while Vicksburg evolvement into a siege lacked the drama to make this battlefield primary focus of the Nation’s Civil War memory. To Waldrep the primary cause for Vicksburg’s second place finish is that in abandoning ideals of emancipation the nation wanted to seek meaning for the Civil War in nonracial terms, to see it as a white man’s war. Gettysburg did not have black soldiers involved, it was fought on Northern soil and through Pickett’s Charge and it’s representation of the South’s “high-water mark” better supported the ideals of the Lost Cause. Because Gettysburg could more easily suppress the unwanted elements of the Civil War, namely elements of race it more easily grew in prominence because it was more adaptable in supporting regional reconciliation over racial emancipation. (pg 292)

If someone is looking for a book that highlights how the landscape of Civil War memory was continually sculpted and changed to meet the need to place meaning of the war within an accepted national context then I would recommend this book. Waldrep’s approach in using Vicksburg as the focal point for his description of the Civil War’s legacy on race, national memory and the balance of power between the states and the Federal Government is admirable and worthy of attention.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"Civil War Historian" - Is this history?

I looked at my mail today and in the pile of credit card offers was an invitation to subscribe to a new magazine called Civil War Historian . The title intrigued, especially the historian part. So I opened the envelope. Well my initial intrigue was short lived but I did decide to check out there web site. This magazine as their website describes “was founded to promote knowledge of Civil War-era life in America. Civil War Historian accomplishes its goal by producing a high-quality publication that supports those who reenact the lives of Americans who lived in this era. The nature of the publication is both informative and entertaining. Civil War Historian contains after-action reports of reenactments, reprints of period publications, and historical research articles, all of which are supported by exceptional color images and artistic page design. Civil War Historian's guiding principle and belief are the need to protect, preserve, and share accurate information about this momentous period in our history.”
As their mission statements indicates this magazine will cater to “those who reenact”. I do not want to knock reenactors. I have a lot of respect for them and was in fact one myself for a few years. What I do question is the choice of historian in the title. Any magazine that is going to contain after action reports of reenactments is not history as far as I am concerned.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who reenact are good people, who have a passion for the military/camp life aspects of the Civil War. Within reenacting people can find the level of authenticity that they are comfortable with. (i.e. counting the number of stitches on a button hole, to wearing modern day glasses on the battlefield) and that is what makes reenacting attractive to so many. Beyond the living history aspect of reenacting gives people a chance to sit around the camp with friends and many cases family and enjoy each other’s company. Some of my best memories were sitting around the campfire at night and just talking with guys in my unit. Most were avid ACW readers and could talk about the experience of CW soldiers, battles, weapons and uniforms. While I still treasure these memories I would be hard pressed to call what we talked about or our performance in the scripted battle scenarios the work of historians. It was fun and entraining and in some cases helped create awareness for a related CW cause like battlefield preservation, but was it really history? I don’t think it was but that is my opinion.For those who reenact this magazine looks like it will be useful but for those who want a larger perspective of the Civil War period in regards to its causes, the role of slavery, its impact on the nation, reconstruction and memory would be better served with other publications. However if I find one at my local newsstand I may pick up a copy.

What about Petersburg?

Happy New Year to everyone!! Between Christmas and traveling up to Western Maine Mountains for New Years my by ability to post has been a little limited. Both Kevin Levin and Eric Wittenberg bring up the topic of lack historical studies on the Petersburg Campaign. Petersburg is one of the more neglected larger campaigns in the East. There is a lot of fertile ground with this Campaign. My personal interest in the history of the First Maine Heavy Artillery draws me to the actions around Petersburg and makes me want to know more. The First Maine has a monument at Petersburg within the National Battlefield marking the site of their disastrous charge on June 18, 1864. The charge on June 18th did not end the struggles for the First Maine and for the next 8 months this regiment continued to march, fight and die through the engagements of Jerusalem Plank Road, Deep Bottom I and II, Burgess Mill, the Weldon Raid, Hatcher Run and a number of other smaller actions. I think the experience of the Heavy Artillery from Spotsylvania on through Petersburg is another one of those areas that should be further explored. This looks like it will be one of the topics covered during the University of Virginia’s upcoming Cold Harbor to the Crater Civil War Conference.
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