Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Greetings from the Longhorn State!!!

As I mentioned in an earlier post I was going to make a trek over to the Texas Civil War Museum in Forth Worth when I came to Dallas on business. Well today was the day. Billed as the largest Civil War Museum west of the Missippissi I had to take time some tiem away form the to swing by and check it out. I found the static displays of artifacts tastefully done and well presented. Artifacts from both Union and Confederate soldiers and officers are showcased. I found the uniform displays to be the most eye catching including the full dress uniform for Benjamin Butler. There is also a good collection of flags from both sides. There were a few video screens showing artillery drills and the practice of medicine, but beyond that the displays well described but static. There is no attempt to place the war within a larger context of the issues of the period. I will admit that due to time I had to miss the 30 minute movie entitled “Our Home Our Rights – Texas in the Civil War” but the title seems to indicate how war is positioned as a conflict over state rights.

For those interested in seeing a large collection of Civil War artifacts from common soldiers then the museum is maybe worth the $6 admission. There is also a gift shop as well but I found the book selection to be a little lacking (no books on Hood’s Texas Brigade), but there were plenty of Confederate Battle Flag nick nacks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Top Ten List of Presidential Miscues

Happy President's Day.

The mishandling of the beginning and end of the Civil War mark the number one and number two presidential miscues. I would tend to agree with this list put together by presidential historians. I would put likely put Mr. Johnson’s missteps around reconstruction as number one. I am not sure Buchanan could have done much to curtail the coming of the Civil War but he could have tried. Andrew Johnson on the other hand let of the whole significance of the war slip away from an equality perspective. Yes slavery was ended but without firm government guidance one system of repression was replaced with another, the effects of which we are still feeling today.

Also on the list is Mr. Clinton’s Monicagate. Now I am not a fan of Mr. Clinton but to add this episode to the list is a little over the top. Yes he was the only elected president to be impeached but this episode in it self does not to me seem to belong on a top ten list of presidential errors. This does not mean to me Mr. Clinton should get off completely free. If I was making the list I would have put Mr. Clinton’s inaction during the Rwandan Genocide as a top ten mistake. When we had the ability to react sooner and possibly save lives we did nothing, and anywhere from 800,000 to 1 Million people were slaughtered in as little as 100 days. Mr. Clinton to his credit has expressed regret for not taking action.

My personal feeling is that we are in the midst of “top ten” presidential misstep with our current war and policy in the Middle East. I hope I am wrong but things do not seem to be getting better.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

In the news a 'civil war' within the SCV

Looks like the SCV is facing a 'civil war' of it’s own.

Social vs Military History? We need both.

Both Eric and Kevin on their blogs comment on the role of social history vs military history in regards to the Civil War. From my perspective I think you need to have both at least if you want to under stand the experience of the individual solider which is what I have an interest in. That is way I like to read letters from soliders because they provide a window into the social background of the soldiers and how this background affected their intepetations their military experience.

There is one published collection of letters from a solider in the First Maine Heavy Artillery (18th Maine) entitled No Place for Little Boys, Civil War Letters of Union Solider which contains the letters of Peleg Bradford. I have been reading this collection again because it reminds me that know matter what type of label or definition I or any other historian try to put on the soldiers of the Civil War these men were individuals with various political leanings, different views on race and many different reasons for choosing to fight. While many works have portrayed the men of the Union Army as liberators Peleg Bradford would not be one who would fit in to this category. Peleg who enlisted in August of 1862 was not a supporter of the war or of Lincoln’s politics.

“What does the Carmel folks think of this war now days? Are they as black as ever? If they are they had better cum out south and waid in the mud two or three months and then they will want the war to stop. I would like to see some of them long held Republicans out there, and I would like to see them sack a knapsack through the mud. They will stay at home and send poor devils on the fight.”

In a later letter he refers to Black Republicans and describes his dislike for blacks and how he and one of his fellow solider demanded respect from any they met.

“I want you to write who (fought) at Town Meeting and which side beat. If I had been three I would have knocked some of them Black Republican’ heals over their heads. I am a great friend to a dam negro or a Republican. I love a negro so well that when I meet one, I make them to go outside of the fence and give me all the road. I was never born to turn out for a negro. Eugene Burrell when he meets one makes them get down on their knees and take off their hats. He says that he wants to learn them to take off their hats when they meet a gentleman.”

Peleg’s letters go against the well structured image of Mr. Lincoln’s Army of liberators and points out that there were racist feelings on both sides. His letters also show that these men were individuals and products of the society and culture they grew up in so as individuals they had many different virtues, vices and character flaws. I don’t think Peleg Bradford’s racist views should be seen as representative of soldiers in the Union or even within his own regiment but that do illustrate that these racist views existed. In contrast Captain Frederick Carr Howes also of the First Maine wrote that he viewed it as his duty to put down the rebellion and fight for freedom.

“God help our Country in this hour of greatest peril…no peace until Slavery is swept from the land and our Nation in truth shall be the 'home of the free, the land of the brave…My heart burns with me to do something in this great cause, to help establish the government on the basis of human freedom.”

The letters from Howes are not published and remain in a private collection.

For the record Peleg Bradford was wounded outside of Petersburg on June 17, 1864. His right leg was amputated but this wound most likely saved his life as he missed the charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery on June 18, 1864. Frederick Carr Howes on the other hand was one of the 142 men killed or mortally wounded on that day. To understand what happened to Howes and the other on June 18, 1864, I also need to investigate the military situation that put the First Maine into the situation where they were ordered to charge at Petersburg. This is the elements of military history come in. Issues like the development of field fortifications, military training, military tactics and the leadership competency of officers in the First Maine are all things I need to understand in order to be able to interpret the experience of this regiment.

For me getting to better understand the experiences of these individual soldiers, means trying to understand what perspectives they brought with them and how they were impacted by the war. For Peleg Bradford his war experience and wounding left him bitter.

“I want to get home as soon as I can for I want to dam a few of them Republicans and have them go to war and lose a leg and the see if they wouldn’t want the war to stop”


Peleg Bradford lived to become Selectmen for the town of Carmel and died in 1918. In addition his younger brother Owen, also with the First Maine Heavy Artillery was killed in October of 1864. If his views on race or his dislike of Republicans were ever tempered or changed is unknown.

The debate over a social or military history approach to understanding the Civil War will not end anytime soon perhaps never, but to me I think we need both if we are every going to fully understand this period.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Is the fame of Chamberlian on the decline?

Both Dimitri and Kevin in their blogs comment on a declining interest in the Civil War. From my own personal experience I have seen this as well. One of my favorite book stores is the 20th Maine in Freeport, Maine. At the height of the Civil War interest in the early to mid - nineties this store was open almost every day and had 3 full rooms of inventory. Being in Maine they were able to capitalize on the renewed interest in Joshua Chamberlain and by being in Freeport there was never a lack of shoppers. Well it is 2006 and the shoppers are still in Freeport, but the declining interest in the Civil War and I am sure the growth of Amazon (and others) has also eaten into the bottom line of the 20th Maine. The shop is now in one small room and has greatly reduced hours. I hope this store can hang on as it is the only reason I really like going to Freeport.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More Productive History Time

It is 11PM and I should be in bed but instead I have been playing around with my recently acquired copy of “The Complete Civil War DVD-ROM” published by Oliver Computing. I had a CD-ROM copy of the Official Records published by Guild Press of Indiana for a few years, but I wanted to upgrade to DVD-ROM from Oliver Computing because it gave me access not only to the ORs for the Army and Navy but also the Medical & Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. In printed form the Medical Records are very hard to come by and like the printed ORs can be complicated to search, but with this DVD format searching is a breeze. What I really like is that now with my brand new laptop (which I just received today thanks to my company) I can search the DVD then cut and past what I need directly into my Citation Software. This should allow me to make good productive use of my time when I am traveling. By using sets of keywords I can then combine these Official records with my others sources and produce note cards that can easily be on hand as I work through the material.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Random Thoughts

Kudos to Kevin Levin on an excellent post from his perspective on why the Civil War still matters.

In other news the Confederate Flag Debate came to Massachusetts this week. A local Civil War buff was asked to remove the 3rd National Confederate flag from outside his home because of a complaint that someone found the flag offensive. Maybe it is just me but I can not figure out why would a 22 year old from Massachusetts would do this other then to draw attention to him self. I almost feel sorry for him because no matter how benign his intentions might be, to have his name and picture in the paper standing proudly by his flag outside some sort of historical context (i.e. reenacting, etc) could cast a long shadow. In the corporate world I live in this might be seen as a negative to potential employers who take diversity seriously.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

This Just In... War is Hell!!

Mike’s Civil War Musing’s talks about the buzz in the media on a study entitled “Physical and Mental Health Cost of Traumatic War Experiences Among Civil War Veterans,” that was published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The complete article is available download from the website for a small cost. Basically the article concludes “it is likely that the deleterious health effects seen in war conducted more than 130 years ago are applicable to the health and well being of soldiers fighting wars in the 21st century.”

I was intrigued by the some of the conclusions on the relationship between the causality rate in Civil War Companies and the increased incidence (51%) of post war physician-diagnosed cardiac, GI and nervous disease. According to the study “percentage of the company killed is likely a powerful variable because it serves as a proxy for various traumatic stressors, such a witnessing death or dismemberment, handling dead bodies, traumatic loss of comrades, realizing one’s one imminent death, killing others and being helpless to prevent other’s death.” I would like to see how this conclusion works out to individual regiments.

Some if the news accounts carry a statement by Eric T. Dean author of Shook Over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War, who used the same records in his research, but said he is skeptical that the “19th-century medical records could be made standard enough for the researchers' statistical analysis to be valid.”

I think regardless of the statistical revelations of this study, Dean’s book and other studies the conclusion should be pretty clear that war is hell and and it is hell that does not end when the fighting stops.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Can we blame the British for Slavery and not our American Forefathers?

The latest issue of North and South came last week. I really like approach the editor’s use in this publication to publish articles with footnotes. I don’t know why publishers for Civil War Times and America’s Civil War can’t do the same.

Another element I like in N&S is the Crossfire section. I think the editors do a good job letting the readers express their positions on controversial issues. Some of the ideas put forth by the readers are laughable but other arguments are well thought out.

This month the letter from Chip Bragg of Thomasville, GA a self described “Confederate Partisan” on Slavery and States Rights is a worthy read. What struck me about his letter was his blunt assertion that “weather one believes in the constitutionality of succession or the righteousness of Lincoln’s invasion of the South, there is no escaping the relationship between slavery and states’ rights, and thus slavery can’t be ignored as the major causative factor of the war.”

Bragg goes on to explain and rationalize that because slavery was such a perilous topic going all the way back to colonial times that Southerners and even the founding fathers are not to blame for slavery. The blame for slavery, at least as far Mr. Bragg is concerned, goes back to the British “who allowed and encouraged slavery and the slave trade on this continent for their own economic benefit.” Bragg indicates his thoughts were shaped by Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers. (I will have to make a point of reading Mr. Elllis’ book.)

I give Mr. Brag all the credit in the world for putting his position out there for all to see. His declaration that slavery can’t be ignored as a major cause of the war is goes against the Lost Cause rants that tend to pop up in almost any discussion on the causes of the Civil War. What troubles me about putting the whole blame on the British and their desire for economic gain is that it was this same desire for economic gains that the upper echelons of southern society wanted to preserve. It motivated them to do everything they could to manipulate the political process (with help from the North) to keep the status quo and thus continue this “peculiar institution”. When that wasn’t enough southern leaders, who saw the growing economic and political power of the North as a direct threat, worked to create an antagonistic climate around the argument of ‘State Rights’ that a larger portion of southern society could support.

I have no doubt the Mr. Bragg’s letter will generate responses from all sides and that is what makes N&S such interesting reading every month.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hardscrabble Historian works to get the facts right

NJ.com has an article on William Styple a Civil War Historian and author from Kearny, NJ. Styple as the author describes is a hardscrabble historian who prides himself on being accurate is not a fan of popular historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin who don’t spend the time to get the facts right. I think Styple has done a good job bringing some previously unpublished sources to light. One of my favorites is Our Noble Blood, The Civil War Letters of Major-General Regis de Trobriand. Belle Grove Publishing (Kearny, NJ 1997)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Marvel’ous’ debunking of a myth, Lee and the Appomattox Campaign

Last ight I picked up Primedia’s Appomattox Commemorative Issue from the editors of America’s Civil War and Civil War Times. William Marvel has two articles that critque the Lee’s actions and decisions during the retreat to Appomattox. In his article “Many have offered excuses for the Confederate retreat to Appomattox” Marvel breaks down the myth that claims Lee faced “6 to 1 odds” in terms of relative troop strength during his retreat to Appomattox. By Marvel’s calculation he estimates Lee had at least “72,000 to as many as 79,000 men” within his ranks between March 25 and April 9. According to Marvel it is estimated that Lee suffered 26,000 casualties for the same time period. Taking into the account the 3,000 desertions in March as reported by Lee’s staff and the 28,000 Confederate soldiers that surrendered at Appomattox there are close to 20,000 Confederate soldiers that somehow disappeared during the campaign. Referring to the regimental and brigade returns form March 1 to April 9 in the eight infantry brigades from Virginia their was a 75.4 percent reduction in strength and in the nine North Carolina brigades there was a 64 percent loss of strength. According to Marvel these reductions in troop strength prove that many Confederate soldiers “took off for home” realizing that the war was lost. The fact that both Virginia and North Carolina units showed the highest degree of loss indicates that many soldiers who were closer to their homes then soldiers from the other states opted to return home on their own before the Army of Northern Virginia actually surrendered. Even with these losses Marvel points out that Lee was still able to a mass close to 45,000 men at Amelia Court House by April 5. With 45,000 troops Lee still had almost as many troops as he did after Antietam and during his retreat from Gettysburg. Instead of facing 6 to 1 odds as the mythology claims Lee actually faced more manageable odds of 2 to 1.

I think Marvel has shown that the belief that Lee was forced to surrender because his army was vastly out numbered but still “unconquered in spirit” was nothing but a myth put forth by believers in the Lost Cause.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Rookie" Regiments

I got my information package in the mail today for the UVA’s Civil War Conference: Cold Harbor to the Crater: Grant vs Lee. I have never attended one of UVA’s programs before but this one caught my eye because one of the topics has to do with “rookie” regiments and their experience at both Cold Harbor and Petersburg. A lot of these “rookie” regiments were Heavy Artillery units that were taken from the defenses of Washington and sent to the front in the closing days of the Spotsylvania Campaign. The level of casualties suffered by these regiments during Grant’s overland Campaign and the opening days of the Petersburg Campaign has always struck me as more than just coincidence.

A major theme in my work on the First Maine is that having spent almost two years in Washington this regiment although very well drilled in marching and infantry formations was encumbered with the same reliance on traditional battlefield tactics that the armies had 1861. Commanders and even the soldiers themselves came to realize that many of the close order formations taught by Hardee’s and others had to be adapted on account of rifled muskets, artillery improvements and the development battlefield entrenchments.

While soldiers and commander in the field learned and developed their tactics to account for the changing battlefield environment regiments like the First Maine and other heavy artillery regiments did not have the benefit of this battlefield experience. When these regiments faced their first engagements they were using outdated tactics that were of little use on the battlefields of 1864. Their lack of practical battlefield experience coupled with the desire of field commanders to leverage their large size in difficult situations (like charging entrenched Confederate positions) earned for these Heavy Artillery Regiments a record in blood that many veteran units could not match in 3 full years of war.
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