Monday, December 25, 2006

Memorable Christmas gifts and "thank you" notes of the American Civil War

General Sherman to President Lincoln
(Telegram offering Savannah, Georgia as a Christmas present)
—transcription of above—

December 22, 1864
Dec 25 Dec. 25, 1864.

Savannah Ga Dec 22. 1864
Via Ft. Monroe Va Dec 25.

I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah with 150 heavy guns & plenty of ammunition & also about 25.000 bales of cotton.

W. T. Sherman

Major Genl

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Writing less than a year after the Civil War ended, Mark Twain had occasion to see a demonstration of the considerable skills of officers of the Signal Corps—the unsung masters of battlefield communication

It’s more or less a lost art in this age of satellite communications, but the two in this account would make for some unbeatable charades partners. Here's Twain's account of the demonstration in a West Coast newspaper:

from the Territorial Enterprise, February 1866


Saw something the other night which surprised me more than my late investigations of spiritualism. It was some examples of the methods the United States Signal Corps [used] to telegraph information from point to point on the battle-fields of the rebellion. The Signal Corps "mediums" were Colonel Wicker, of the Russian Telegraph Expedition, and Mr. Jerome, Secretary of Mr. Conway of the same, both of whom were distinguished officers of Signal Corps throughout the war. Besides these two gentlemen there are only two other members of the corps on the coast.

In the late war a signal party was always stationed on the highest available point on the battle-field, and by waving flags they could telegraph any desired messages, word for word, to other signal stations ten miles off. At night, when torches were used, these messages have been read forty miles away, with a powerful glass. The flag, or torch, is waved right, left, up and down, and each movement represents a letter of the alphabet, I suppose, inasmuch as any villainous combination of letters and syllables you can get up can be readily telegraphed in this way with a good deal of expedition. These gentlemen I speak of sent messages the other night with walking-sticks, with their hands, their fingers, their eyes and even their moustaches! It is a little too deep for me.

One sat on one side of a large room, and the other at the opposite side. I wrote a long sentence and gave it to Jerome he made a few rapid passes with his right arm like a crazy orchestra leader, and Colonel Wicker called off the sentence word for word. I confess that I suspected there was collusion there. So I whispered my next telegram to Jerome the passes were made as before, and Colonel Wicker read them without a balk. I selected from a book a sentence which was full of uncommon and unpronounceable foreign words, pointed it out to Colonel Wicker, and he telegraphed it across to Jerome without a blunder. Then I gave Jerome another telegram; he placed two fingers on his knees and raised up one and then the other for a while, and the Colonel read the message. I furnished the latter with the following written telegram:

"General Jackson was wounded at first fire."

He went through with a series of elaborate winks with his eyes, and that other signal-sharp repeated the sentence correctly. I wrote:

"Thirteen additional cases of cholera reported this morning."

The accomplished Colonel telegraphed it to his confederate by simply stroking his moustache. There must be a horrible imposition about this thing somewhere, but I cannot get at it. They say that when they are in lecture rooms and parlors whence they are not close enough to speak to each other, they telegraph their comment on the company with their fingers, on their moustaches, or by gently refreshing themselves with a fan.

The signal Corps was one of the most important arms of the military service in the late war. It saved many a battle to the Union that must otherwise have been lost. Yet many of the officers of the army did not believe in its efficiency, regarded it as an ornamental innovation, and bore it strong ill-will. At the battle of Winchester, the officer in command after General Shields was wounded, had pressing need of reinforcements. The reserve were in full view six miles away. The Acting General asked a signal officer if he could order up a brigade. He said he could.

"Then do it," said the General; "but," said he, "to make everything sure, I will dispatch an orderly for the reinforcements." The signal officer set his flags waving, and telegraphed: "Send up a brigade on the double-quick." Before the orderly was a hundred yards off, the anxious General gazing through his field glass, saw a brigade wheel into the plain, peel their coats and knapsacks off and throw them down, and come sweeping across on the double-quick. "By G--. here they come!
send back the orderly," said the General "but I didn't think it could be done.

[reprinted in The Washoe Giant in San Francisco, edited by Franklin Walker, (George Fields, 1938), pp. 131-33; reprinting the Golden Era, FEB. 18, 1866]
Photo at top: Union signal station at Antietam, Library of Congress.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war."

— Sherman to the mayor of Atlanta

In July of 1864, W. T. Sherman's blue columns, after flanking Joe Johnston out of one position, then another, from Chattanooga to the outskirts of Georgia's largest city (with a few futile head-on assaults thrown in for good measure
Pickett's Mill, Kennesaw), joined a series of battles in and around Atlanta.

John Bell Hoodthe "gallant Hood"took over for Joe Johnston, and fulfilled Richmond's expectations within days by striking the Federal armies. Hood aimed to hit the Army of the CumberlandSherman's largestwhile it was engaged in crossing Peachtree Creek, but too many Federals had crossed before Hood's men were in place, enough to quash Hood's hopes in the July 20 battle.

The Battle of Atlanta (July 22), and Sherman's movement west and southwith more fighting at Ezra Church and Utoy Creekstretched Hood to the breaking point. Finally, the August 31-September 1st fighting at Jonesboro sealed the deal, cutting off the last rail lines into Atlanta and rendering Hood's position untenable.

Six days later, Sherman initiated one of the most interesting exchanges between two opposing generals, I like to think, in the annals of military history. I do wonder how many instances there are in history of two army commanders, in discussing the disposition of a civilian populace, take the time and trouble to argue the reasons for the war itself. The correspondence between Sherman and Hood starts polite, and becomes increasingly acerbic, reminiscent of some internet message board arguments today, where barely masked disdain flares up into a a series of bitter accusations, before both sides, satisfied with their own impenetrable righteousness, agree to disagree and move along.

It's worth taking a few minutes to read the Sherman/Hood messages (and that with the city officials who appeal to Sherman to rethink his orders). This site has gathered them into a clean, chronological read, and of course, they can be read at any of the sites that give access to the Official Records, such as Cornell's wonderful Making of America venue.

Originally I posted this correspondence as a combination of paraphrasing, and highlighting some of the great lines (e.g., Sherman's "Talk thus to the marines, but not to me, who have seen these things..."), but it looked silly to me upon re-reading. So I've included the complete exchanges, minus Sherman's note to Halleck, defending his decision to force the evacuation of Atlanta.

Atlanta, Ga., September 20, 1864.
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C.:
GENERAL: I have the honor herewith to submit copies of a correspondence between General Hood, of the Confederate army, the mayor of Atlanta, and myself touching the removal of the inhabitants of Atlanta. In explanation of the tone which marks some of these letters I will only call your attention to the fact that after I had announced my determination General Hood took upon himself to question my motive. I could not tamely submit to such impertinence, and I have seen that in violation of all official usage he has published in the Macon newspapers such parts of the correspondence as suited his purpose. This could have had no other object than to create a feeling on the part of the people, but if he expects to resort to such artifices I think I can meet him there too. It is sufficient for my Government to know that the removal of the inhabitants has been made with liberality and fairness; that it has been attended by no force, and that no women or children have suffered, unless for want of provisions by their natural protectors and friends. My real reasons for this step were, we want all the houses of Atlanta for military storage and occupation. We want to contract the lines of defenses so as to diminish the garrison to the limit necessary to defend its narrow and vital parts instead of embracing, as the lines now do, the vast suburbs. This contraction of the lines, with the necessary citadels and redoubts, will make it necessary to destroy the very houses used by families as residences. Atlanta is a fortified town, was stubbornly defended and fairly captured. As captors we have a right to it. The residence here of a poor population would compel us sooner or later to feed them or see them starve under our eyes. The residence here of the families of our enemies would be a temptation and a means to keep up a correspondence dangerous and hurtful to our cause, and a civil population calls for provost guards, and absorbs the attention of officers in listening to everlasting complaints and special grievances that are not military. These are my reasons, and if satisfactory to the Government of the United States it makes no difference whether it pleases General Hood and his people or not.
I am, with respect, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.
[Inclosure No. 1.]
In the Field, Atlanta, Ga., September 7, 1864.
General HOOD, Commanding Confederate Army:
GENERAL: I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go south and the rest north. For the latter I can provide food and transportation to points of their election in Tennessee, Kentucky, or farther north. For the former I can provide transportation by cars as far as Rough and Ready, and also wagons; but that their removal may be made with as little discomfort as possible it will be necessary for you to help the families from Rough and Ready to the cars at Lovejoy's. If you consent I will undertake to remove all families in Atlanta who prefer to go South to Rough and Ready, with all their movable effects, viz, clothing, trunks, reasonable furniture, bedding, &c., with their servants, white and black, with the proviso that no force shall be used toward the blacks one way or the other. If they want to go with their masters or mistresses they may do so, otherwise they will be sent away, unless they be men, when they may be employed by our quartermaster. Atlanta is no place for families or non-combatants, and I have no desire to send them North if you will assist in conveying them South. If this proposition meets your views I will consent to a truce in the neighborhood of Rough and Ready, stipulating that any wagons, horses, or animals, or persons sent there for the purposes herein stated shall in no manner be harmed or molested, you in your turn agreeing that any cars, wagons, carriages, persons, or animals sent to the same point shall not be interfered with. Each of us might send a guard of, say, 100 men, to maintain order and limit the truce to, say, two days after a certain time appointed. I have authorized the mayor to choose two citizens to convey to you this letter and such documents as the mayor may forward in explanation, and shall await your reply.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding.
[Inclosure No. 2.]
September 9, 1864.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN.
Commanding U.S. Forces in Georgia:
GENERAL: Your letter of yesterday's date [7th] borne by James M. Ball and James R. Crew, citizens of Atlanta, is received. You say therein "I deem it to be to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove," &c. I do not consider that I have any alternative in this matter. I therefore accept your proposition to declare a truce of two days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction. I suggest that a staff officer be appointed by you to superintend the removal from the city to Rough and Ready, while I appoint a like officer to control their removal farther south; that a guard of 100 men be sent by either party, as you propose, to maintain order at that place, and that the removal begin on Monday next. And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

[Inclosure No. 3.]
In the Field, Atlanta, Ga., September 10, 1864.
General J. B. HOOD, C. S. Army, Comdg. Army of Tennessee:
GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of this date [9th], at the hands of Messrs. Ball and Crew, consenting to the arrangements I had proposed to facilitate the removal south of the people of Atlanta who prefer to go in that direction. I inclose you a copy of my orders, which will, I am satisfied, accomplish my purpose perfectly. You style the measure proposed "unprecedented," and appeal to the dark history of war for a parallel as an act of "studied and ingenious cruelty." It is not unprecedented, for General Johnston himself, very wisely and properly, removed the families all the way from Dalton down, and I see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted. Nor is it necessary to appeal to the dark history of war when recent and modern examples are so handy. You, yourself, burned dwelling-houses along your parapet, and I have seen to-day fifty houses that you have rendered uninhabitable because they stood in the way of your forts and men. You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town that every cannon shot and many musket shots from our line of investment that overshot their mark went into the habitations of women and children. General Hardee did the same at Jonesborough, and General Johnston did the same last summer at Jackson, Miss. I have not accused you of heartless cruelty, but merely instance these cases of very recent occurrence, and could go on and enumerate hundreds of others and challenge any fair man to judge which of us has the heart of pity for the families of a "brave people." I say that it is kindness to these families of Atlanta to remove them now at once from scenes that women and children should not be exposed to, and the "brave people" should scorn to commit their wives and children to the rude barbarians who thus, as you say, violate the laws of war, as illustrated in the pages of its dark history. In the name of common sense I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner; you who, in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war, dark and cruel war; who dared and badgered us to battle, insulted our flag, seized our arsenals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of peaceful ordnance sergeants; seized and made "prisoners of war" the very garrisons sent to protect your people against negroes and Indians long before any overt act was committed by the, to you, hated Lincoln Government; tried to force Kentucky and Missouri into rebellion, spite of themselves; falsified the vote of Louisiana, turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships; expelled Union families by the thousands; burned their houses and declared by an act of your Congress the confiscation of all debts due Northern men for goods had and received. Talk thus to the marines, but not to me, who have seen these things, and who will this day make as much sacrifice for the peace and honor of the South as the best born Southerner among you. If we must be enemies, let us be men and fight it out, as we propose to do, and not deal in such hypocritical appeals to God and humanity. God will judge us in due time, and He will pronounce whether it be more humane to fight with a town full of women, and the families of "a brave people" at our back, or to remove them in time to places of safety among their own friends and people.
Major-general, Commanding.
[Inclosure No. 4.]
ATLANTA, GA., September 11, 1864.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN:
SIR: We, the undersigned, mayor and two of the council for the city of Atlanta, for the time being the only legal organ of the people of the said city to express their wants and wishes, ask leave most earnestly, but respectfully, to petition you to reconsider the order requiring them to leave Atlanta. At first view it struck us that the measure would involve extraordinary hardship and loss, but since we have seen the practical execution of it so far as it has progressed, and the individual condition of the people, and heard their statements as to the inconveniences, loss, and suffering attending it, we are satisfied that the amount of it will involve in the aggregate consequences appalling and heart-rending. Many poor women are in advanced state of pregnancy; others now having young children, and whose husbands, for the greater part, are either in the army, prisoners, or dead. Some say, "I have such an one sick at my house; who will wait on them when I am gone?" Others say, "what are we to do? We have no house to go to, and no means to buy, build, or rent any; no parents, relatives, or friends to go to." Another says, "I will try and take this or that article of property, but such and such things I must leave behind, though I need them much." We reply to them, "General Sherman will carry your property to Rough and Ready, and General Hood will take it thence on," and they will reply to that, "but I want to leave the railroad at such place and cannot get conveyance from there on."
We only refer to a few facts to try to illustrate in part how this measure will operate in practice. As you advanced the people north of this fell back, and before your arrival here a large portion of the people had retired south, so that the country south of this is already crowded and without houses enough to accommodate the people, and we are informed that many are now staying in churches and other outbuildings. This being so, how is it possible for the people still here (mostly women and children) to find any shelter? And how can they live through the winter in the woods? No shelter or subsistence, in the midst of strangers who know them not, and without the power to assist them much, if they were willing to do so. This is but a feeble picture of the consequences of this measure. You know the woe, the horrors and the suffering cannot be described by words; imagination can only conceive of it, and we ask you to take these things into consideration. We know your mind and time are constantly occupied with the duties of your command, which almost deters us from asking your attention to this matter, but thought it might be that you had not considered this subject in all of its awful consequences, and that on more reflection you, we hope, would not make this people an exception to all mankind, for we know of no such instance ever having occurred; surely none such in the United States, and what has this helpless people done, that they should be driven from their homes to wander strangers and outcasts and exiles, and to subsist on charity? We do not know as yet the number of people still here; of those who are here, we are satisfied a respectable number, if allowed to remain at home, could subsist for several months without assistance, and a respectable number for a much longer time, and who might not need assistance at any time. In conclusion, we most earnestly and solemnly petition you to reconsider this order, or modify it, and suffer this unfortunate people to remain at home and enjoy what little means they have.
Respectfully submitted.


[Inclosure No. 5.]
In the Field, Atlanta, Ga., September 12, 1864.
Representing City Council of Atlanta:
GENTLEMEN: I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my orders, simply because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only at Atlanta but in all America. To secure this we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war we must defeat the rebel armies that are arrayed against the laws and Constitution, which all must respect and obey. To defeat these armies we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, and that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter, and therefore deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month? Of course, I do not apprehend any such thing at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be here until the war is over. I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what I propose to do, but I assert that my military plans make it necessary for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it, and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority wherever it once had power. If it relaxes one bit to pressure it is gone, and I know that such is the national feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the National Government, and instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may. I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion such as swept the South into rebellion, but you can part out so that we may know those who desire a government and those who insist on war and its desolation. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home is to stop the war, which can alone be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
We don't want your negroes or your horses or your houses or your lands or anything you have, but we do want, and will have, a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and if it involves the destruction of your improvements we cannot help it. You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers that live by falsehood and excitement, and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters the better for you. I repeat then that by the original compact of government the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, &c., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi we fed thousands upon thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition and molded shells and shot to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, and desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can now only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success. But, my dear sirs, when that peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter. Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them and build for them in more quiet places proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta.
Yours, in haste,

Major-General, Commanding.
[Inclosure No. 6.]
September 12, 1864.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:
GENERAL; I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 9th [10th] instant, with its inclosure, in reference to the women, children, and others whom you have thought proper to expel from their homes in the city of Atlanta. Had you seen proper to let the matter rest there, I would gladly have allowed your letter to close this correspondence, and without your expressing it in words would have been willing to believe that whilst "the interests of the United States," in your opinion, compelled you to an act of barbarous cruelty, you regretted the necessity, and we would have dropped the subject. But you have chosen to indulge in statements which I feel compelled to notice, at least so far as to signify my dissent and not allow silence in regard to them to be construed as acquiescence. I see nothing in your communication which induces me to modify the language of condemnation with which I characterized your order. It but strengthens me in the opinion that it stands" pre-eminent in the dark history of war, for studied and ingenious cruelty." Your original order was stripped of all pretenses; you announced the edict for the sole reason that it was "to the interest of the United States." This alone you offered to us and the civilized world as an all-sufficient reason for disregarding the laws of God and man. You say that "General Johnston himself, very wisely and properly, removed the families all the way from Dalton down," It is due to that gallant soldier and gentleman to say that no act of his distinguished career gives the least color to your unfounded aspersions upon his conduct. He depopulated no villages nor towns nor cities, either friendly or hostile. He offered and extended friendly aid to his unfortunate fellow-citizens who desired to flee from your fraternal embraces. You are equally unfortunate in your attempt to find a justification for this act of cruelty either in the defense of Jonesborough, by General Hardee, or of Atlanta by myself. General Hardee defended his position in front of Jonesborough at the expense of injury to the houses, an ordinary, proper, and justifiable act of war. I defended Atlanta at the same risk and cost. If there was any fault in either case, it was your own, in not giving notice, especially in the case of Atlanta, of your purpose to shell the town, which is usual in war among civilized nations. No inhabitant was expelled from his home and fireside by the orders of General Hardee or myself, and therefore your recent order can find no support from the conduct of either of us. I feel no other emotion than pain in reading that portion of your letter which attempts to justify your shelling Atlanta without notice under pretense that I defended Atlanta upon a line so close to town that every cannon shot, and many musket balls from your line of investment, that over-shot their mark went into the habitations of women and children. I made no complaint of your firing into Atlanta in any way you thought proper. I make none now, but there are a hundred thousand witnesses that you fired into the habitations of women and children for weeks, firing far above and miles beyond my line of defense. I have too good an opinion, founded both upon observation and experience, of the skill of your artillerists to credit the insinuation that they for several weeks unintentionally fired too high for my modest field-works, and slaughtered women and children by accident and want of skill.
The residue of your letter is rather discussion. It opens a wide field for the discussion of questions which I do not feel are committed to me. I am only a general of one of the armies of the Confederate States, charged with military operations in the field, under the direction of my superior officers, and I am not called upon to discuss with you the causes of the present war, or the political questions which led to or resulted from it. These grave and important questions have been committed to far abler hands than mine, and I shall only refer to them so far as to repel any unjust conclusion which might be drawn from my silence. You charge my country with "daring and badgering you to battle." The truth is, we sent commissioners to you respectfully offering a peaceful separation before the first gun was fired on either side. You say we insulted your flag. The truth is we fired upon it and those who fought under it when you came to our doors upon the mission of subjugation. You say we seized upon your forts and arsenals and made prisoners of the garrisons sent to protect us against negroes and Indians. The truth is, we, by force of arms, drove out insolent intruders, and took possession of our own forts and arsenals to resist your claims to dominion over masters, slaves, and Indians, all of whom are to this day, with a unanimity unexampled in the history of the world, warring against your attempts to become their masters. You say that we tried to force Missouri and Kentucky into rebellion in spite of themselves. The truth is my Government, from the beginning of this struggle to this hour, has again and again offered, before the whole world to leave it to the unbiased will of these States and all others to determine for themselves whether they will cast their destiny with your Government or ours? and your Government has resisted this fundamental principle of free institutions with the bayonet, and labors daily by force and fraud to fasten its hateful tyranny upon the unfortunate freemen of these States. You say we falsified the vote of Louisiana. The truth is, Louisiana not only separated herself from your Government by nearly a unanimous vote of her people, but has vindicated the act upon every battle-field from Gettysburg to the Sabine, and has exhibited an heroic devotion to her decision which challenges the admiration and respect of every man capable of feeling sympathy for the oppressed or admiration for heroic valor. You say that we turned loose pirates to plunder your unarmed ships. The truth is, when you robbed us of our part of the navy, we built and bought a few vessels, hoisted the flag of our country, and swept the seas, in defiance of your navy, around the whole circumference of the globe. You say we have expelled Union families by thousands. The truth is not a single family has been expelled from the Confederate States, that I am aware of, but, on the contrary, the moderation of our Government toward traitors has been a fruitful theme of denunciation by its enemies and many well-meaning friends of our cause. You say my Government, by acts of Congress, has "confiscated all debts due Northern men for goods sold and delivered." The truth is our Congress gave due and ample time to your merchants and traders to depart from our shores with their ships, goods, and effects, and only sequestrated the property of our enemies in retaliation for their acts, declaring us traitors and confiscating our property wherever their power extended, either in their country or our own. Such are your accusations, and such are the facts known of all men to be true.
You order into exile the whole population of a city, drive men, women, and children from their homes at the point of the bayonet, under the plea that it is to the interest of your Government, and on the claim that it is an act of "kindness to these families of Atlanta." Butler only banished from New Orleans the registered enemies of his Government, and acknowledged that he did it as a punishment. You issue a sweeping edict covering all the inhabitants of a city and add insult to the injury heaped upon the defenseless by assuming that you have done them a kindness. This you follow by the assertion that you will "make as much sacrifice for the peace and honor of the South as the best born Southerner." And because I characterized what you call a kindness as being real cruelty you presume to sit in judgment between me and my God and you decide that my earnest prayer to the Almighty Father to save our women and children from what you call kindness is a "sacrilegious, hypocritical appeal." You came into our country with your army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women, and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race in any country in all time. I must, therefore, decline to accept your statements in reference to your kindness toward the people of Atlanta, and your willingness to sacrifice everything for the peace and honor of the South, and refuse to be governed by your decision in regard to matters between myself, my country, and my God. You say, "let us fight it out like men." To this my reply is, for myself, and, I believe, for all the true men, aye, and women and children, in my country, we will fight you to the death. Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies.
Having answered the points forced upon me by your letter of the 9th [10th] of September, I close this correspondence with you, and notwithstanding your comments upon my appeal to God in the cause of humanity, I again humbly and reverently invoke His Almighty aid in defense of justice and right.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,

[Inclosure No. 7.]
In the Field, Atlanta, Ga., September 14, 1864.
General J. B. HOOD, C. S. Army,
Commanding Army of Tennessee:
GENERAL: Yours of September 12 is received and has been carefully perused. I agree with you that this discussion by two soldiers is out of place and profitless, but you must admit that you began the controversy by characterizing an official act of mine in unfair and improper terms. I reiterate my former answer, and to the only new matter contained in your rejoinder I add, we have no negro allies" in this army; not a single negro soldier left Chattanooga with this army or is with it now. There are a few guarding Chattanooga, which General Steedman sent to drive Wheeler out of Dalton. I was not bound by the laws of war to give notice of the shelling of Atlanta, a "fortified town" with magazines, arsenals, foundries, and public stores. You were bound to take notice. See the books. This is the conclusion of our correspondence, which I did not begin, and terminate with satisfaction.
I am, with respect, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

[photo at top left, General Sherman on horseback at Federal Fort No. 7, Atlanta, by George Barnard; top right, General Hood]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reenacting and Me

Over at the blog, My Year of Living Rangerously, Manny writes that he has "always been ambivalent about the hobby of reenacting." I know just what he means. I have had mixed feelings about the practice for as long as I've been involved with the larger community of Civil War enthusiasts. With apologies to my reenactor friends, it has always struck me as more than a little bit strange to dress up as 19th century soldiers and engage in mock battle. We've all got our particular pastimes, of course, any of which might make other people scratch their heads. Lots of these activities take up large chunks of our free time and disposable income. According to Dave Barry, "There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

Unlike reenacting, though, most other hobbies don't involve pantomiming horrific scenes of bloody slaughter. We all played war at some point. I recall many times as a child when my brothers, neighborhood friends, and I were called upon to neutralize some particularly stubborn Nazi pillboxes in the backyard, or to mop up the last of the Imperial Army holdouts down the block. We had trouble with the Lakota, too. But there's something fundamentally odd about grown men dressing up to replay the scenes of historic bloodshed, perfecting how they take a hit, mimicking agony, and playing dead.

I did mention that my feelings were "mixed." That is to say, I'm grateful for the opportunity to visualize a Civil War soldierto see a park ranger demonstrate loading and firing, for exampleand I think there's real educational value in so-called "Living History" scenarios as one might see at Colonial Willaimsburg, or Mount Vernon. As Manny said, referring to a grand review, there are moments when reenactors allow us to think, "So that's what it must have looked like." Really, I think he meant that begins to approximate what it must have looked like. But this only goes so far. Often as not, a reenactment may serve most to show you what it didn't look like. The celebrated use of reenactors as extras in Civil War films has failed to prove a boon to cinematic realism. Turner's use of reenactors in the movie Gettysburg was as much a distraction as an asset, projecting America's present-day obesity epidemic back to the summer of 1863. The Romanian extras of Cold Mountain (coached by Pohanka) looked more authentic on the silver screen.


Admittedly, my first interactions with reenactors colored my views of the hobby in a negative way. I remember the first meeting of the South Bay Civil War Round Table in San Jose, sometime in the late 80s. We had gotten the word out with various flyers, and the inaugural meeting, held in Ted Savas' living room, attracted something like ten people. Half of those were members of the local reenacting association, all impressively decked out in full uniform, portraying members of the 1st Virginia Infantry. Ted gave the talk that evening on, if memory serves, Chancellorsville. After a time, the reenactors were getting antsy, awaiting some mention of how the 1st Virginia contributed to one of Robert E. Lee's most glorious victories. And that was their first question when Ted had finished.

Ted's reply that the 1st was not present for the battle, they being part of Longstreet's command, and Longstreet being detached on his Suffolk expedition, was not received favorably. You'd have thought Ted had pulled a big leather riding glove off one hand and roughly slapped the lead reenactor across the face with it, such was the umbrage taken. The Q&A became a challenge and didn't end till Ted took the ranking living historian upstairs to consult the O.R. Membership in the Round Table took a hard dip in the 2nd month, but recovered nicely, in time.

The point of that long anecdote is that much of my bias toward reenactors initially stemmed from the sense that the time and effort put into learning about uniforms, and maneuvers, didn't leave any time for studying the Civil War (during that same time frame I also met a reenactor who could speak in great detail about CS and US uniform buttonsI think you'd have to say on an expert levelbut who had never heard of Joseph Hooker).

To be fair, part of the problem was that the reenactors I first spent time around were members of fledgling organizations in California. Later, I met a broader spectrum of hobbyists around the country, including many who are more versed on the literature of the war than I will ever be. Brian Pohanka, for example, did lasting scholarship, and more than probably anyone, made people think of reenacting as a noble endeavor.


I would be interested in hearing what it is that motivates people to put the time and money into reenacting. The motivation that makes the most sense to me would be to take the study of the Civil War one step beyond reading and visiting battlefields. But even that, I think, would be a short-lived experiment, not an ongoing hobby.

The principle reason one hears, in my experience, is that reenacting honors the Civil War soldierhis service, his sacrifice. I can see that. But likewise, I can understand those who think it inappropriate. This past Veterans Day brought the widely-published lamentation of a Vietnam vet whose son is now in Iraq. In "Reenacting War," he writes that "I've never dealt well with Veterans Day. Perhaps it's because I knew too many men whose names appear on a black wall in Washington D.C." . . . . I do not believe people should 'play' war. I am upset by children with toy guns or sticksor adults with real guns and mock uniforms who 'pretend.'"

I don't have any right to question others' motivations, but it would be refreshing, for once, to hear someone say they just like to dress up, camp out, and play army.

Helping to educate the public, and children, is another reason given for participating in the hobby, but this rationale is sometimes problematic. The uniform, naturally, and unfortunately, embues the reenactor with an air of authoritysurely someone who goes so far as to dress in the uniform of a Civil War soldier will be an expert on the subject. It's a powerful thing to show kids, and adults, what an authentic uniform looked like, how the accoutrements were worn, and accessed. But they're not all students of the war, and fewer still are in the Pohanka league. I imagine it's fairly common to have "one-book-wonders" standing before classrooms of schoolchildren, pronouncing that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, a nugget that may remain with the children through all their days of learning. At the only reenactment I've ever attended, I stood by and listened to a reenactor explain to a spectator that slavery was incidental to the sectional divide, the spectator nodding in wide-eyed wonder at the revelation. An earlier entry in this blog highlighted a reenactor going into classrooms to say pretty much the same thing.

Reenacting is not a new thing. Kevin Levin has an interesting post on reenacting the Crater fight at Petersburg in 1937. But it really hit its stride in the decades since the centennial celebrations (along with Civil War publishing, and the explosion of Civil War Round Tables). I don't feel strongly enough about reenacting to say it's "right" or "wrong," as in the Veteran's Day editorial cited above. I am not a combat veteran, and have no emotional investment. It's just another hobby, except with black powder.

Photo credit: Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Image of a boy standing with rifles and a drum in a room in Chicago, Illinois, as part of Civil War reenactments on the 50th anniversary of the war, with events sponsored by the Chicago Daily News held in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I can see for miles and miles and miles

Pete Townshend

Take the Greek "pan," for "all," and stick it on "horama," meaning view, and you get panorama. So says Nicole, and with a smile that confident, I'm just going to take her word for it.

One of the most amazing things about the internet these days is unfettered access to photo collections at various repositories. I can get swept away for hours just randoming searching the digital offerings at the Library of Congress. This evening I got lost in the Panoramic Photograph Collection. Initially I was looking to see what they had in the way of panoramic Civil War images (the key words "civil war" will bring up 33 hits), and there are some good ones, particularly covering Gettysburg and Vicksburg, taken mostly in the early 1900s. The view at top is of the Round Tops at Gettysburg. It's worth visiting the site and viewing the images at full size (click on the image here, then click on it again at the LoC site to expand the view). To find other Civil War images, start at the PPC home page, and be sure to use the "search this collection" as opposed to the "search all collections" box, to restrict your search to the panoramas.

The breadth of what they're offering online is pretty impressive, though presumably a fraction of their holdings. The Panoramic Photograph Collection has some 4,000 images "featuring American cityscapes, landscapes, and group portraits." I spent about 90 minutes just searching for different places I've lived, and finding some stunning views I'd never come across before. One example: I lived in Evansville, Indiana for six years, and the riverfrontwhere downtown edges up to the broad sweep of the mighty Ohiowas one of my favorite places. There's just something about a big old river. It was there before cameras, and buildings, and it will be there after. I was happy to find this view of that oft-visited spot.

It is absolutely mesmerizing to see a frozen moment in time, of a very familiar place, but populated with people and buildings lifetimes removed from your own experience. The panoramic view has the effect of breathing more life into the scene, and the old black and white, grainy quality accentuates the feeling that one is looking through a mysterious window into the past.

I want to mention another site that's been around quite awhile, in case you're not already familiar with it, or you didn't have the processing power to tackle it on first encounter.
Adding some modern technology to panoramic views, the folks at Behind the Stonewall have produced over one-hundred 360-degree panoramic videos on Civil War battlefields (stitching together still snapshots into spinning images that can be controlledleft or right, slow or fastwith your mouse). They cover a number of battlefields to-date, and give especially good coverage to Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam, and Chickamauga, where the various panoramas are keyed to a map. The view window is small, but the images are sharpstill not recommended for dial-up, I'm guessing. I would like to give encouragement to sites like this one, which use the internet in creative, useful, and magnamimous

Below: written on front: "[Copyright] 1912, S.U. Bunnell, Pasadena, Cal., Largest trees on Earth series, #572."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Letters Home

One often reads that Civil War soldiers were the most literate in our history, a fact attested to by the voluminous letters, diaries, and reminiscences penned by participants, many of which are available to us in some published form, or preserved in various archives and repositories. Caches of soldier letters and previously unseen diaries routinely surface even today, and every Civil War publisher, I would wager, has a number of proposals in the hopper right now for previously unpublished material. So common are Civil War letters and diaries that publishers, thank goodness, are more discriminating than they used to be. The University of Tennessee Press' Voices of the Civil War series, under the masterful guidance of series editor Pete Carmichael, is as good as it gets in that department.

One also reads that the Civil War was the last in which soldiers' letters home were uncensored by the military. I'm not sure how true that iswhether, for instance, letters home in the Spanish American War were censoredbut certainly by WWI the army was cutting or blacking out certain references (I have a stack of letters that my grandfather wrote in WWI that were too innocuous to be edited, but bear the stamp of the censor's approval).

In some ways, with the current U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are harkening back to something akin to the Civil War era—we have a highly literate soldiery with nearly unfettered channels to communicate their experiences to the citizenry back home. During the Civil War, some soldiers acted as war correspondents for their hometown paper. Today, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have the internetemail and blogging—with unlimited readership.

In recent weeks, some of my fellow (Civil War) bloggers have been announcing the discovery or appearance of a flurry of Civil War blogs, and I would welcome them too, but can't keep up with them all. Instead, I wanted to make mention of a blog that has kept me mesmerized and riveted for weeks nowThe Sandboxwith it's well-written, moving insights, alternately horrific, funny, deeply touching, or pins-and-needles suspenseful, from the latest generation of Americans at the front.

You can't stop reading this stuff. Nor should you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Art and Obligations of Criticism

Some book reviews are so harsh, so thoroughly biting and dripping with such disdain, you figure either the reviewer has peeled away all of a book's pretense and exposed the fraudulent core to sunlight, or else it's personalmaybe the author stole money from the reviewer at some point in the past, or treated his sister poorly. I'm not sure which is the case with Stephen Metcalf's scathing assault on Thirteen Moons, the new novel by Charles Frazier. He takes Frazier to task for "bad faith" with the reader, a damning indictment, indeed.

Reviewing fiction is a tricky thing, subjective by definitionsubject to wildly varying tastes and points of reference. We all have favorite novels that have been both praised and panned. Because of the marketing machine behind Frazier's new release, we can already find an assortment of reviews from major outlets. I read three in the first week, including a so-so critique at, and a generally positive endorsement in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewing non-fiction is another matter. The work is still subject to the reviewer's personal perspective, but things like accuracy and organization weigh heavily in the analysis. Some reviewers have vendettas, apparently, but generally speaking, a good reviewer who skewers a work of non-fiction does so with the spirit of a faithful guard dog, whose loud growls tip off the reader that his time and money are best spent elsewhere. Fangs are also bared to serve notice that a particular work does not deserve to share shelf space with worthwhile Civil War books. Sometimes the skewering is simply the natural response to being insulted as a reader, and consumer.

The expanding Civil War market of the 80s and 90s (now rapidly fading), and the advent of myriad self-publishing options and vanity presses, has kept the guard dogs busy. I should have mentioned at top that critiquing a book is a solemn endeavor, and just as surely as there are poor authors, there are poor reviewers, ill-equipped for the task, who do the reader and the author a disservice.

That said, few things are as satisfying to read or write as the authoratative annihilation of a piece of crap passing itself off as a work of serious scholarship. I wish I could find an old clipping I had from The Civil War News, many years ago, of a Richard McMurry review of The South Was Right, by Kennedy & Kennedy. It was deliciously dismissive of one of the worst books ever written on the subject, with all of the sarcasm and wit that has garnered McMurry fans and detractors for decades.

When I started this blog entry, I intended to spend some time musing about the responsibility (obligations) of the book reviewer, and where the best (Civil War) reviews might be foundthings I've spent some time thinking about as a former book review editor, and occasional reviewer myself. I have long loved the book review sections of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and such. The right reviewer for the right book makes for a great essay, smart and informative. Everything I know about some subjects, I read in the Sunday book review section.

But I've rambled enough for tonight, and will weigh in on the subject in a more focused way later, if I can think of a way to do it without sounding like a pompous ass. This entry made mention of skillful skewerings of a work of fiction that might not have deserved it, and a work of non-fiction that fairly begged for the coup de grace. But there's more to the art of critiquing Civil War studies than shish kebab. Sometimes just an honest overview, with commentary on the bibliograpy, suffices.

Photo: Washington, D.C. In the library at the United Nations service center. Boys are urged to take books back to camp with them. Bubley, Esther, photographer. 1943 Dec.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The year 1862 was a remarkably bloody time for the American experiment.

[Photo: "People escaping from the Indian massacre, at dinner on a prairie," Library of Congress, details below]

It's well nigh impossible for people today to conceive of how chaotic and unsettling things must have looked in the 2nd year of the war. All of the enthusiasm for a quick victory, and the anxiety of young men deeply worried that the war would end before they had a chance to participate, was played out and spent in desperate, gory killing fields that had nothing of romance or glory about them.


In April, at Shilohto cite an oft-repeated statisticcasualties in the 2-day battle exceeded the combined casualties for Americans in all previous wars (Mexican War, War of 1812, Revolution). In September, casualties at Antietam remain the single highest one-day total in American history. In 1862, the real "high tide" of the Confederacy swelled, and fell back, in all theaters of the war. It was the only year that Confederate armies made major offensive incursions across the board. The Confederate invasion of New Mexico fell short at Glorieta Pass in the Far West; in the Trans-Mississippi, Van Dorn's designs on St. Louis were thwarted at Pea Ridge in the Boston Mountains of NW Arkansas; in the Western Theater, Bragg's movement with the Army of Tennessee surged as far north as Perryville, Kentucky, before the great southward ebb; in the East, Lee's first invasion across the Potomac ended in stalemate at Sharpsburg. Add to all that Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the slaughter of the Seven Days on the Peninsula, and another, far-bloodier battle along Bull Run, and surely for many, the erstwhile, gung-ho sense of adventure dissolved into an uneasy feeling of apocalyptic dread.

If epic battles weren't enough, the close of 1862 was marked by a series of mass executions, signaling that whatever business was afoot in these disunited states, it was not business as usual. In a span of roughly 10 weeks, between mid-October and the day after Christmas, 1862, at least 60 people were executedsome in summary fashion, the rest after trials of a sort, but none in a way that makes anyone beam with pride today.

Most famous, perhaps, was the execution of 38 Sioux Indians on December 26, in Mankato, Minnesota, in the aftermath of the Sioux uprising there. Lincoln, to his credit, commuted the death sentences of over 250 Sioux, but the mass hanging remains the largest in U.S. history. The "Palmyra Massacre," in Palmyra, Missouri on October 18, was a simple case of murder. On that day, ten Confederate prisoners were ordered shot in an act of cold-blooded retaliation.

Less well known is the Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, also in October. There, 40 citizens thought to be overly sympathetic to Union war aims were executed (two others were reportedly shot while attempting to flee). It's a chilling thing to contemplate, and but for the scale, not unlike the internecine bloodshed already well advanced in Kansas, Missouri, East Tennessee, and other places.

Dark chapters, all, and all have been written about with varying degrees of success. For the latter event, most easily accessible is Tainted Breeze, by Richard B. McCaslin.
Lots of things have been written on the Sioux War in MinnesotaI still like an old (1961) booklet by Kenneth Carley, put out by the Minnesota Historical Society.

I'm not sure what might be reliable with respect to the Palmyra killings, though accounts of the event are included in any number of texts on the Trans-Mississippi. One can see the mass grave of the victims here.

[Photo at top by Adrian J. Ebell, created or published August 21, 1862. Library of Congress summary reads, “A Group of men, women, and children rest and eat during their flight from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota during the Native American Sioux uprising. Stephen R. Riggs sits near a woman who stands by a wagon." See image here.]

Monday, October 30, 2006

Potatoes in the Wheatfield?

Two potatoes, one in Union blue, one in Confederate gray, pause from the fighting long enough to endorse the culinary standards at Gettysburg's Hunt's cafe. [posted with permission].

Some think of commercial exploitation like this as sacrilege, but if that's the case, the student of American culture can hardly avoid acknowledging that blasphemy is as American as apple pie. If there's a dollar to be madeif it will cause curious travelers to take THIS EXITthen it is fair game, even if it involves an event most notable for unspeakable carnage and suffering. Civil War themes are a big draw, bolstering the kepi industry. Cha-Ching!

No one does the Roadside Attraction like American
s do. We may not have invented it, but certainly we were able to broaden the definition of "attraction"and unselfconsciouslyto include everything from 2-story outhouses to the World's Largest Rubber Stamp (for the record, in recent years the world's largest rubber stamp title has moved here).

To amuse myself, I recently searched the ever-interesting Roadside America site for some Civil War-specific destinations. We've all been appalled at the state of Civil War-era medicine. For those of you whose imaginations are lacking, you may want to take in a reenactment of the first reported Civil War amputation, in Philippi, West Virginia, assuming they're still putting on the "show."

If you're passing by Elberton, Georgia, make time for a visit to see "Dutchy," the Yankee Confederate, one of those ubiquitous, town square memorials that was torn down in disgust after only two years. Might have been the unfortunate Federal overcoat.

If your family vacation checklist reads somet
hing like this: 1) Grand Canyon, 2) Yellowstone, 3) Mount Rushmore, 4) Replica Head of William Quantrill, you're in luck. The first three, you can find on your own. The fourth one is here. Is that a bottle of catsup?

This image from a vintage postcard shows the "Lincoln Oak"
in Albany, GA. Maybe some local reader will weigh in on whether the tree is still there, or has subsequently been trimmed to resemble Jimmy Carter.

Georgia has its odd-shaped trees, but truly, Illinois remains the land of Lincoln. Where else would you expect to find the "World's Largest and Ugliest Abe Lincoln Statue"?
One astute observer commented that, "from the highway it appears that Abe is making an obscene gesture with his finger." For my money, the Charleston, Illinois Lincoln statue has the same essential, frighten-the-children quality as the cartoonish Nathan Bedford Forrest statue alongside I-65 south of Nashville.

Happy trails.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"People don't ask you questions like that about your wife"

—John Y. Simon's response to my first question. . .

Lately I have been mining the transcripts of various author Q&A sessions held in the Civil War Forum over the past ten years, featuring 40-some guests, as I collect the material together into some web-friendly format. Here are a few juicy tidbits I came across this weekend.

One thing that I asked of nearly everyone, often the first question, was whether there was anything in their studies that surprised them, or caused them to rethink their understanding of a person, a battle, or event. I love the idea of a scholar or researcher making discoveries, or experiencing revelations, or epiphanies. Here are a few examples of answers to that question by Jeffry Wert, William Marvel, Scott Harwig, and John Simon. And for the fun of it, I've tagged a couple more quotes onto the end, by Terry Winschel and Richard McMurry, just to tweak the sensibilities of those students hopelessly stuck in the Eastern Theater.

Jeffry Wert
, author, among other things, of books on Custer, and Longstreet, spoke with us on January 30. 1997.

Q. We'll start off with a question about Custer. Did you have any preconceived notions about George A. Custer that your research on the man caused you to rethink?

A. (Jeffry Wert): I probably had most of the preconceived ideas that most people had about Custer, and dealt with him in my first book, but now three things strike mereally changed with my research on Custer: 1) was his zest for life; 2) was the regard that his men held for him during the Civil War. I was surprised by the depth and the breath of it; and 3) was Little Big Horn, but that resulted from my lack of knowledge prior to it. My ideas on how it unfolded, and why he did certain things, changed considerably. We don't know all the answers, but his actions make sense -- not all of them, but numbers of them do.

Q. I would like to ask a similar question about James Longstreet, Lee's "Old
Warhorse." How did your understanding of the man evolve during the course of your research?

A. (Jeffry Wert): I wish there had been more personal material, first of all, but they seem to have been destroyed in the fire that consumed his house after the war. But with that said, I found him to be a better general than I thought he would be. I think he was very much of a realist about war, far more than other Southern generals. Despite his post-war politics, most of the men who served under him never lost their respect or admiration for the man. And, finally, I was surprised at the dissension among the Army of Northern Virginia officer ranks, particularly among 1st Corps officers, in their perception of alleged favoritism towards Virginians.

William Marvel, author of Andersonville, The Last Depot, and many other titles.

Q. During the course of your research on Andersonville, were there any
discoveries or realizations that substantially changed your understanding of Civil War-era prisons, and prisoners?

A. (William Marvel): Yes. Specifically, the degree to which the suffering on the Southern side was much less as a result of deliberate maltreatment than was originally thought. And also how much worse the treatment of Confederate prisoners by Union soldiers was, than was originally believednot that the Union guards were particularly malicious, but they were much more stern and tended to shoot much more frequently for minor infractions than I was led to believe by the rather cursory secondary works on the subject.

And at Andersonville in particular I was impressed by the efforts that
were made to meet the needs of the prisoners. It was generally believed that the Confederates tended to force the Union prisoners into such actions as crossing the dead line so they could be shotfor sport, virtuallyand that the prisoners were starved deliberately. In fact, only on a few occasions was food deliberately withheld from them, and most of their suffering resulted from the general poverty of the Confederate government. The only administration policy to withhold food from prisoners was actually exercised by Union prison authorities, in retaliation for the perceived deliberate starvation of their own prisoners in Confederate hands.

D. Scott Hartwig
, then chief historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, joined us on Thursday, July 18, 1996:

Q. In your capacity as historian at the Gettysburg battlefield, I imagine
you've had the opportunity to tramp all over that hallowed ground. Can you think of any discoveries you've made, or revelations you've had, which resulted from a more intimate knowledge of the topography of the battlefield?

A. (Scott Hartwig): Sure, lots of themthis would be the case with any battlefield that you're able to spend a lot of time on. When you can walk a field from many different angles and approaches, you learn the subtleties of the ground. When you start to understand those, the battle begins to become understandable, and you can fill in details that the soldiers who were there may not have mentioned. Last year I did a program on the attack of Laws' brigade on Little Round Top, and the Confederates all mentioned that Union sharpshooters were posted behind a stone wall, near the Slyder Farm, and I couldn't find the stone wall. There wasn't one, and I looked and looked and looked, and I kept walking down the line where the wall would have been, and there it was. I found the remnants of it. So there was confirmation, to me, that there had been a wall there, and that the wall had been removed after the warfor unknown reasons. That's just one example.

John Y. Simon
, speaking on September 29, 2000, is the editor of the The Papers of U.S. Grant.

Q. Dr. Simon, welcome. You've been editing "The Papers" since 1962. Are you getting tired of Grant yet, or still finding new information, or new sides to the man?

A. (John Simon)
I've never thought that I understood the man fully, and for that reason I've never become tired of him. People don't ask you questions like that about your wife, and I've been married to her for a long time. Grant's a very real person, and one with many dimensions to him. There's still more to learn and I'm eager to do it. We're into the presidential years now, but I'm still fascinated by the Civil War period. And there are documents that we haven't found yet, but those that are coming to light, almost daily, cast new perspectives on Grant.

Q. What do you think, based on your readings of his correspondence, may be the biggest misconceptions about Grant? Was there anything that you were surprised to learn, or which slowly changed your perception of him?

A. (John Simon)
Well I've been increasingly impressed by what a good writer he is. He has the capacity to express what he's thinking in the clearest possible form. He's a maker of memorable phrases. One of our interesting discoveries many years ago was when he wrote the famous line about fighting it out on this line if it takes all summer, he originally wrote, "If it takes me all summer." Then he went back and crossed out the word "me." He's conscious of just who's doing that fighting, and knows that that word "me" is inappropriate. Normally, the words just flow out as they did in the celebrated letter that he wrote at Appomattox, but when necessary he revised what he was writing.

Bonus Stonewall had nothing on Grant question:

Terry Winschel
, chief historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, joined us on December 5, 1996.

Q. How do you think Grant's movements from the time that he crossed the
Mississippi till he invested Vicksburg compare with Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign?

A. (Terry Winschel): Grant's movements after he crossed the Mississippi River were bold, decisive, and kept his opponent unbalanced, and in that regard compare quite favorable with Stonewall Jackson's movements in the Valley. They demonstrate that Grant was master of the situation, and was a bold and aggressive officer. In a 17-day period, Grant's army would push deep into Mississippi, encounter and defeat Confederate forces in five engagements, and drive Pemberton's army back into the city's fortifications.

It is a brilliant campaign that is studied by professional soldiers to this date, and Grant's campaign for Vicksburg is highlighted in the chapter on offensive operations in the army's current field manual FM100-5.

Gettysburg is fascinating-but-irrelevant question:

Richard McMurry
, author of Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History, speaking with us on Thursday, August 1, 1996

Q. Thank you for being with us tonight. In your book Two Great Rebel Armies, and elsewhere, you have made the pointconvincingly, I thinkthat the war was won and lost in the West. I wonder if you would start us off this evening with a summary of that argument, for the benefit of any Virginia-centric members who may be in attendance.

A. (Richard McMurry): I think the best way to answer that is just to ask people to look at a map, and to ask where the armies were in 1861, 1862 1863, 1864, 1865. If you do that you will see that the armies that started out in 1861 in Missouri and Kentucky were in Tennessee, Mississippi in 1862 and 1863. They were in Georgia in 1864. They were in the Carolinas in 1865. And where were the armies that started out in Virginia in 1861? Or to put it another way, the Federal armies captured, if memory serves me correctly, 9 of the 11 Confederate state capitals. The western armies captured 8 of them, including Columbia, South Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina, which means that at the end of the war, the western Union armies were about 160 to 170 miles from Richmond. What it amounts to is that Western battles and campaigns produced results. Eastern battles and campaigns produced stalemates. And I would just summarize it all by saying that no battle fought east of the Appalachian Mountains had any military impact on the outcome of the war.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Behind every great caricature, there's a great caricature

"Many say, they would almost worship you, if you would put a fighting General, in the place of McClellanThis would be splendid weather, for an engagement. . ."
Would-be National Security Advisor Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 2, 1862.

Some good advice from the First Lady (though I don't imagine Ambrose Burnside is who "they" had in mind). Full transcript of the letter is here; an image of the letter itself is here: Mary Todd Lincoln remains something of an enigma, or a caricature, in a way that's rarely challenged. Her eccentricities and illnesses later in life are, I think, often projected on her personality retroactively, as if she were always that way. As if the unspeakable losses she suffered wouldn't have put anyone's sanity or daily demeanor to the test.

Civil War history offers many caricaturesthe hero, the scapegoat, the scoundrel, the marble mansome so comfortable we never question them, others are so well embraced, they have achieved the status of assumed truth. But the truth is never so simple, and not surprisingly, the people who have studied particular individuals in any depth invariably paint a more complex picture. So it is with Mary Todd Lincoln, and her relationship to the president, which is sometimes seen as one in which the president is merely tolerating an unstable spouse, while privately reflecting on his lost love, Ann Rutledge (John Y. Simon wrote a thorough essay on the subject of Lincoln and Rutledge that can be read here).

When Jean Baker, a biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln, participated in a Q&A in the Civil War Forum on June 9, 1998, I asked her what the biggest misconceptions are today regarding Mrs. Lincoln. She replied:

certainly the biggest misconception is that Mary Todd Lincoln was a terrible wife and mother, which was a devastating criticism of a 19th century woman. It's a hard stereotype to beat down, even though there's a lot of evidence to the contrary. Certainly Mary Todd Lincoln had a temper, and she was very strong-minded, and had a lot of independent ideas, and when she got to the White House, tried to arrange things in a way that few of her predecessors had done. So, I think this is the image that the American people have of her, as undermining her husband, often embarrassing him, because she spent a lot of money.

But I think that's the wrong way to think about her, and I think that's what my research certainly indicated to me. I found her forceful, interesting, intelligent, and to turn the stereotypes upside down, a very supportive wife, and an excellent mother. The evidence for this is clearit exists in the relationship that Lincoln had with his wife. There are not a lot of surviving letters between the two, but the ones that we do have are clear evidence of a very warm, loving, and certainly sometimes tempestuous relationship.

As far as a mother, Mary Lincoln was totally engaged with her children. She played games with them, she dressed up as characters from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. She gave parties for them, and we're all familiar with birthday parties today for kids, but in the 19th century, and especially in the small provincial capital of Springfield, Illinois, mothers were mostly much less engaged than Mary Lincoln.

So, to sum all this up, I think that we need to get beyond the image of Mary Lincoln that was promoted by her arch enemy, William Herndon, whom many of you will remember was [Lincoln's] law partner in Springfieldwe need to get beyond his view of her, as he once called her the "hellcat of all time." And it's his image of her in a biography of Lincoln that he wrote that has really stamped her reputation as an impossible mother and wife. And that's something that I think is wrong.

Likewise, when Harold Holzer, who has written much highly-regarded material on Lincoln, fielded questions in the Forum on August 26, 2000, he commented on the damage done to Mary's reputation by this same arch enemy, saying Herndon was

an invaluable source on their law practice together, but less reliable on his controversial 'interviews,' which were probably skewed to shine positive light on the people he liked, and do harm to those he didn't. For example, he hated Mary Lincoln (though she probably hated him first). [He was] presumptuous in that he gave the ridiculous public lecture after the assassination claiming Ann Rutledge was the only woman Lincoln ever loved, brutally hurting the widow. Even if we believe (and I'm not sure) that Lincoln did once love Ann, he certainly loved Mary later, and ardently.

Another participant in the session queried Holzer about Lincoln as suitorwhat it was about him that appealed to Maryasking "what attracted her to him? As you say, he was marrying upto her family, certainly, he could well have appeared as 'undesirable' from a marrying standpoint." I interjected that it must have been the hat, but Holzer offered more:
That's a very good question indeed. The answer must be that Mary deserves lots of credit (she doesn't often get) for seeing something in Lincoln that few, maybe none, of his contemporaries perceived in 1840: that he could 'go places.' He was brilliant, he probably wrote her great letters (they didn't survive, of course), and she was after a big future, and saw it, wisely, in him. Then there's the hat, as David says.