Thursday, October 16, 2014

The California Brigade (Civil War Trust article)

In 1913, veterans of the California Regiment returned to the angle where they fought off the approaching Confederates of Pickett's Charge. (Library of Congress)
The California Brigade


When the Civil War broke out, residents of the west coast wanted to have a presence in the eastern theater. However, with nearly 3,000 miles separating the state of California and the Army of the Potomac and no railroad connecting the west coast to the east, sending a brigade of infantrymen across the wild country would be an ambitious goal. Instead, a group of Californians asked Oregon Senator Edward Baker to head east and raise a brigade in the name of California.

Read the full article HERE.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Internet Research – Proceed with Caution

Did Iowa send more troops into Union armies, per capita, than any other state? I have no idea.

Internet research is becoming more and more viable as access to reliable information expands exponentially. Nowadays one can easily access a broad array of digitized primary source material and supplement it with indispensable reference works like the Official Records. And yet, the internet researcher must be more vigilant and discriminating than ever—because sadly, unreliable information may be expanding at an even greater clip.

Consider the astonishing example of a Virginia fourth-grade textbook which relied on ahistorical, neo-Confederate propaganda on the internet to perpetuate the fiction that thousands of black men fought in Confederate armies. 

If one of the major tenets of Lost Cause mythology—that the war was not about slavery, which is ultimately what the myth of Black Confederates aims to underscore—can fly so easily under the radar and even find its way into state-sanctioned texts, we can safely assume that more innocuous misinformation takes root on servers every day with nary an objection from the public. I was reminded of this recently when trying to find a quick and dirty confirmation of a claim I had read somewhere—the claim that the state of Iowa sent more soldiers per capita into Union armies than any other state of the Union. It seemed like a simple enough assertion to corroborate, but not so fast. A Google search on the subject instantly uncovered a virtual warren of interconnected rabbit holes. . . Click on the state names below to link to the online sources for each quote. 

IOWA:Nearly 80,000 Civil War military men were from Iowa, the largest number of soldiers per capita of any state participating during the war.”

Fair enough, but then I remembered that Dave, one of my friends in the Civil War Forum, made a similar claim about Vermont. 

VERMONT:Vermonters believed passionately in the war. The state contributed more soldiers per capita than any other Northern state but Michigan.”

Any other state but Michigan?  Maybe Vermont is Number Two. 

MICHIGAN:Michigan sent 90,000 men to fight in the Civil War including specialized regiments of sharpshooters and engineers, and more cavalry per capita than any other northern state.”

Just more cavalry? What about Ohio. Surely Ohio was a major contributor.  .  .

OHIO:Faber’s claim was that more than 300,000 Ohioans served in the Civil War and that the per capita enlistment was the highest in the nation. The Ohio Historical Society, the state’s official archive, backs his claim. On the Truth-O-Meter, it rates True.”

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "what about Maine?"

MAINE:Maine contributed more soldiers per capita than any other state to the Union Army during the Civil War.” 

I know a webmaster in Illinois who takes issue with that claim.

ILLINOIS:By war's end, Illinois sent more men per capita into the army than any other state.”

That's all well and good, but New York was the most populous state in the Union, right?

NEW YORK:New York sent more troops per capita than any other state in the Union to the Civil War.”

Kansas and Missouri each stake a claim, but they’re probably counting soldiers who went South as well.

KANSAS: Per capita, Kansas sent more soldiers to fight in the Civil War than any other state” — MISSOURI:Missouri sent more men to war, in proportion to her population, than any other state. The total number of Missouri Volunteers who served was 199,111.”

I'm tired of the history of the Civil War giving such short shrift to the Cornhusker state. 

NEBRASKA:I am informed that, in proportion to population, Nebraska sent more soldiers into the army than any state in the union. The aggregate was 49,614 according to a report at the provost marshal general, without counting the medical corps or Red Cross enlistments.”

I’m going to settle this once and for all, and you can take this one to the bank:

CALIFORNIA:In all, over 17,000 Californians would join as soldiers; this is the highest per-capita total for any state in the Union.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

$1.99 Kindle download: 37 historians discuss the Civil War

This first volume in the series contains transcripts of 37 Question and Answer sessions conducted over many years in the Civil War Forum on CompuServe. The guests are among the most prominent historians in their field, each with particular areas of expertise. Many of them signed on to discuss the research and writing of one of their (then) latest books, or to lend insights about the Park Service battlefields on which they have built their careers.

Download the Kindle edition HERE.

Here is a list of the included guests, in alphabetical order, and a general idea of what they discussed:

Stacy Allen (Shiloh); Edward Ayers (misc. Topics); Jean Baker (Mary Todd Lincoln); Ed Bearss (misc. topics); Mark Bradley (Battle of Bentonville); Kent Masterson Brown (Lee's Retreat from Gettysburg); Victoria Bynum (Free State of Jones); Chris Calkins (Siege of Petersburg; Retreat to Appomattox); John Coski (Museum of the Confederacy; the Battleflag); David Eicher (Civil War in Books); Michael Fellman (Robert E. Lee; William T. Sherman); Gary W. Gallagher (Robert E. Lee, etc.); D. Scott Hartwig (Gettysburg); John Hennessy (Second Manassas); Harold Holzer (Abraham Lincoln); Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr., (Battle of Bentonville); Terry Jones (Campbell Jones, LA Tigers); John A. Marszalek (William T. Sherman); William Marvel (Andersonville; CSS Alabama vs. USS Kearsarge); Richard McMurry (War in the West); James M. McPherson ("Drawn with the Sword"); Steve Meserve (Mosby's Confederacy); William C. Miller (Jed Hotchkiss); Jim Morgan (Battle of Ball's Bluff); Michael Musick (Researching at the National Archives); Alan T. Nolan (Robert E. Lee); James Ogden (Battles of Chickamauga & Chattanooga); Harry Pfanz (Battle of Gettysburg); Brian C. Pohanka (misc. topics); Gordon Rhea (Overland Campaign); Gene Salecker (Sultana Disaster); John Simon (Ulysses S. Grant); Craig L. Symonds (Joe Johnston; Pat Cleburne); Emory Thomas (Robert E. Lee); Jeffry Wert (George Custer; James Longstreet); Terry Winschel (Vicksburg Campaign); Steven E. Woodworth (Jeff Davis and his Generals).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has made three more Civil War-related collections available online (including Clara Barton and Charles Reed)

From Michelle Krowl at the Library of Congress: 

I wanted to let you know about three Civil War-related collections in the Manuscript Division that have recently been digitized and posted to the Library of Congress website. They are chock full of primary source material that may be helpful for classroom use, student papers, scholarly articles, dissertations, books, or just for general interest.

Each collection can be accessed in several ways. Each has its own online presentation site, but can also be accessed through online collection finding aids that are available in html and pdf format. (Sometimes it can be easier to find specific items or types of material through the finding aids.) Original materials can be found through the “Collection Items” tab in the online presentation, and the “Digital Content Available” links in the container lists of the finding aids. All of the collection material is the same regardless of how it is accessed, but two of the online presentations have additional essays, as well as updated related resources.

When you open up the web page with bibliographic information for that set of original materials, you’ll want to either click on the photo of the item (sometimes it is a photo of the file folder) or the “enlarge xx images” link under the photo (both are on the left side of the page). Both will launch the viewer through which the material can be seen.

The new online collections are:

Clara Barton achieved historical fame as a nurse during the Civil War, as an international relief worker following the war, and as the founder of the American Red Cross in 1881. All of these activities are reflected in Barton’s extensive collection of personal papers. Of particular interest to students of the Civil War is Barton’s correspondence with family members like Martha Elvira Stone, the pocket diaries in which she noted the names of soldiers she encountered in hospitals, records of the Office of Correspondence with the Friend of the Missing Men of the U. S. Army, documents relating to the identification of Union soldiers buried at the Confederate prison of Andersonville, and Barton’s war lectures.
Online presentation     Finding aid in html     Finding aid in pdf

The Gresham material in the Lewis H. Machen Family Papers includes family correspondence before, during and after the Civil War. The highlight of this section of the collection is the seven Civil War-era diaries kept by LeRoy Wiley Gresham from 1860 to his death in June 1865. LeRoy, a native of Macon, Georgia, kept a diary entry nearly every single day of the war, beginning when he was about 13 and ending at his death at the age of 17. He notes what news he is hearing, the prices of things purchased for him, and generally what life is like for a teenager on the home front during the war. The reason LeRoy does not enlist in the Confederate army is that he was a long-time invalid, and the diaries also reflect the symptoms of his health problems (the exact origin of which are not specified) and what remedies he uses for treatment and pain management.
Online presentation     Finding aid in html     Finding aid in pdf  (Containers 29-32)

The papers of Civil War soldier and artist Charles Wellington Reed, who served with the Ninth Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery, includes approximately seven hundred sketches and correspondence relating primarily to the Civil War. The letters are often prefaced by drawings which further illustrate not only the rigors of military life, but also the amusing and mundane aspects. The contents of the letters and corresponding sketches well document the ways in which soldiers adapted to seasonal changes in the weather, how they amused themselves, and the routines of camp life in the Army of the Potomac.
Online presentation     Finding aid in html     Finding aid in pdf

Other collections with manuscript materials are available at:, while the legacy collections still part of the American Memory portal are available at:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kansas City Southern

. . . heading east out of Vicksburg across the Big Black River (April 2014). I was singing that old Gene Clark tune in my head for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Battle of Atlanta -- 150 years ago (yesterday)

One of a string of battles in Sherman's Campaign for Atlanta, this July 22, 1864 clash is the only one called the Battle of Atlanta. The Civil War Forum toured the field on 2008. Below are photos of the approximate sites where a general officer on each side was killed—the Union's James Birdseye McPherson, and on the Confederate side, William H. T. Walker. Four days after the battle, Sherman wrote home to his wife Ellen, "I lost my right bower in McPherson."