Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Gap - part 3

There were several minor details of the order that could have prevented the immediate execution of the order. There are other issues surrounding the issuing of the order but those are not important for this discussion. If Brigadier General James Garfield hadn't been too busy with other orders he could have informed Rosecrans that there was no gap. If Wood had taken a few minutes to verify the order and inform Rosecrans that the order was based on faulty knowledge the order could have been rescinded. If Wood had informed Rosecrans that there was a sizeable force in his front that he was skirmishing with the order could have been rescinded. In any respect the order was followed to the letter and was executed immediately.

Rosecrans was a temperamental man during this campaign and twice he had rebuked Wood. On September 6 Major General Thomas L. Crittenden had ordered Wood to make a reconnaissance to the base of Lookout Mountain. Wood felt that this would expose his division and ignored the order on the pretext that Crittenden "fixed no hour for the movement." Then Wood pulled his division back two miles. Later Crittenden sent two staff officers to Wood's headquarters to check on events which Wood interpreted as spying. He exploded at Crittenden who told him the recon order came from Rosecrans to which Wood replied, "I cannot believe that General Rosecrans desires such a blind adherence to the mere letter of this order." The next day Wood did send Colonel Charles G. Harker to Lookout Creek. Rosecrans responded to Wood that he "was disappointed that your reconnaissance was not made earlier" and that he was still uninformed of the strength and location of the enemy. This was the first rebuke and compared to what would be coming this was mild.

At Chickamauga around 9 AM of September 20 Rosecrans came across Wood's division about a third of a mile from the front. He was supporting Major General James S. Negley when he really was supposed to replace Negley but there had been a mix up in written orders. Wood had only received oral orders to take this position and obviously those orders had not been clear. Rosecrans lost his temper (he had been in a foul mood for the last few weeks) and yelled at Wood, "What is the meaning of this, sir? You have disobeyed my specific orders. By your damnable negligence you are endangering the safety of the entire army, and, by God, I will not tolerate it. Move your division at once, as I have instructed, or the consequences will not be pleasant for yourself." Wood was speechless. There have been many versions of the story since but every source traces its roots to Henry Cist's book, The Army of the Cumberland. Cist was not actually at the battle and his book has no footnotes to indicate where he got the story from. To be fair to Cist not many history books in 1882 had footnotes. Prompted by the release of Cist's book Wood wrote a letter to the New York Times explaining that there had never been a rebuke on September 20, that his only meeting with Rosecrans was very brief;

Gen. Rosecrans asked me, without heat of language or manner toward me, so far as
I observed, why I had not moved earlier. I replied that I had moved
promptly on the receipt of the order. He said the order had been sent some time
before. I replied that I knew nothing as to when the order was dispatched
from his headquarters, (be it remembered the order reached me through the corps
commander,) and reiterated that I had moved promptly on the receipt of the
order. Gen. Rosecrans made no further comment on the preceding movement of
my division, and added: “Hurry up and relieve Gen. Negley on the line.”

Rosecrans only mentioned that peremptory orders were given in his official report. Perhaps Rosecrans did not want to provide the details of the incident so that he could focus on more important events of the campaign, or perhaps the incident was not noteworthy as Wood's letter indicates.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Gap - part 2

"The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible; and support him."

On the afternoon of September 20, 1863 Union Brigadier General Thomas John Wood committed an act under orders that directly led to the defeat and near destruction of the Army of the Cumberland. He followed orders even though he knew that it would cause problems that could be avoided. He did this mainly out of spite. Wood was aware that there were Confederates in his front, what he was not aware of was that they were about to attack. When Wood pulled his division out of line he did so just moments before Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet launched his assault. With no Union defenders in their way the Confederates easily made their way into the Union rear. The Union army put up a brief defense on their right but soon all that was left of the Union army was Major General George Thomas' men on the army’s left. Thomas then conducted a masterful defense, stretching his lines along Snodgrass Ridge. At nightfall Thomas retired to Rossville. The next day he withdrew into Chattanooga where Major General William Rosecrans and the rest of the army was waiting. The Chickamauga campaign was over. There is no changing those events, however, it is interesting to wonder what might have happened if Wood had exercised the discretion that his rank accorded him.

This is not alternative history in that there will be no discussion of imagined events. This story will focus on the defensive possibilities of the ridge line that runs north from the Widow Glenn house site through Lytle Hill and along the western edge of Dyer Field and the Dyer Ridge defensive line. I do not believe this ridge line has a name, although it is technically a continuation of Missionary Ridge. I will use the designation Lytle Hill-Dyer Ridge. Rather than discuss fake charges against these defenses there will be a discussion of the defenses and only a guess as to what might have transpired differently there. The suspension of belief required for this discussion is that Wood would stay in position rather than fill an imaginary gap and create a real gap. There are many possible ways this fateful movement could have been prevented.

When we know all the circumstances of the order and its prompt execution it might seem a pretty big leap of faith to imagine a situation in which Wood decides to stay put and possibly anger Rosecrans again. It seems quite possible that Wood would have obeyed any order from Rosecrans due to the bickering between them, more on their strained relationship below. If their relationship had been better and Wood had felt like he had more discretion in obeying the order there were some very good reasons for Wood not to have instantly moved. In fact there are at least three reasons he should have stayed; the constant skirmishing of the morning, the fact that Wood knew there was no gap and that the order was written faultily.

Wood's withdrawal began the collapse of the Union army. It is possible to argue that the Confederates would have won the battle anyway, that Longstreet's attack would have succeeded due to the depth and strength of his column. It is also possible to argue that the Union could have held out long enough that Confederate General Braxton Bragg would withdraw. The Army of Tennessee had not achieved any decisive victories against the Army of the Cumberland. They had never forced them to abandon a battlefield in retreat as had happened in other battles in other theaters. In the two previous encounters that Bragg's army had attacked the Union army (commanded by Buell at Perryville and Rosecrans at Stones River), Bragg’s army had driven the Union from most of its positions but ultimately Bragg would decide to retreat. It was entirely possible that if Rosecrans could keep Bragg at bay for the rest of the day that Bragg would decide to retreat again. Those possibilities became mute when Wood received the fateful order.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Gap at Chickamauga

The topic of my August 9th presentation at the Rocky Mountain Civil War roundtable is the gap in the line at Chickamauga. Roughly two-three years ago I submitted this article to America's Civil War magazine and it was accepted. The publisher though said that the topic wasn't quite their normal fare so it would take awhile to figure out when to use it. Since its been so long I decided to dust it off and present it to the roundtable. I've since worked on it, fleshed out some things, and its a different article than what was submitted those years ago. I'm looking forward to presenting it so that I'll get some more feedback and can make further corrections. And then perhaps I'll resubmit the article and see if anything happens this time around.

I go into the relationship between generals William S. Rosecrans and TJ Wood, and how that effected Wood's decision. I obviously talk a bit about the situation in the battle at the moment Wood moved out of line. But one of the major focuses of my article is what might have happened. I don't mean it as revisionist history, just examining the troops available to both sides in that area, the terrain that could have utilized, things like that. Then try to come to some conclusions on what might have happened if Wood had not pulled out of line. I point out the reasons Wood had for staying plus the reasons he had for leaving.

Overall I think I make a pretty good argument that Wood should have stayed in line. And I think I give a fair description of what the defensive possibilities of Dyer Ridge were. In the confusion that drips the Union right after the gap is exploited by Longstreet we forget just how many cannon and troops Rosecrans had at his disposal. If he had been given time to form a line along Dyer Ridge I believe it would have held and made Chickamauga a Union victory.

Then just for fun I play around with how the war might have been different if Chickamauga had been a Union victory. The short version is that I think the war last just about as long as it really lasted. The main difference I see is that Grant probably is not made general-in-chief and spends 1864 in the west. Grant might spend his time with Rosecrans and allow Sherman to conduct his own campaign against Mobile and/or Montgomery. Then maybe Sherman marches towards Atlanta from the southwest. At the same time though one wonders how Meade would have done against Lee. Would he have followed the formula that Grant used in 1864 or would he have followed the pattern of the past few commanders of the Army of the Potomac; fight a big battle, retreat to lick wounds, then in 2 months try it all again. I don't know enough about Meade to know what he would have done. I guess I need to find letters from Meade from the winter of 1863-64 describing his strategy for the coming spring campaign.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm still here, just not as active this week

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. My grandma came into town last Wednesday and since then I've been busying working on the Rocky Mountain Civil War Roundtable symposium, my day job, getting my next roundtable presentation ready (I'm the speaker on August 9th), editing my Chickamauga manuscript to get it ready to send to a new publisher, hanging out with grandma, plus getting away from the work related stuff to spend time with my girlfriend. Tonight we're going to the Rockies game, just a busy two weeks while grandma is here. Didn't want anyone to think I'd disappeared, just been a busy beaver and will be for the next two weeks. But I'll try to get some posts about various thing up every few days. Just stick with me and things will return to normal soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Reading the Man by Elizabeth Brown Pryor

Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor

I enjoyed this book, with a few caveats. I thought it would have more full length letters in it. Instead each chapter opens with 1-3 letters and the rest of the chapter explains an aspect of Lee's life. Throughout the chapter other letters will be quoted, but only as a few lines. After I got over my disappointment at this not being a large grouping of Lee's letters I did end up liking the chapters on their own merits. A much more complex view of Lee is presented, something between the Lost Cause myth and the attacks that have been in vogue the last few decades. This was needed and Pryor's portrait of Lee is probably the most accurate, and complex, view of Lee we've ever had. For that the book is a must read.

However I also need to give this warning, there are some errors when Pryor talks about the war. After 1st Manassas she comments that the Army of Northern Virginia could have retaken its leader's home at Arlington. And it might have been able to capture Arlington, except it wasn't yet called that and it's leader was not yet Lee. There is mention of a Confederate General Carl Van Dorn, but I have not yet found a Carl Van Dorn, Pryor probably meant Earl Van Dorn. She says that Lee's resignation was part of the reason Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and I've never heard of this being part of Lincoln's reasoning for that. Pryor refers to Harper's Ferry as Lee's supply base during the 1862 Maryland campaign but since that was in Union hands until the campaign was nearly over that is wrong. Also she says that Burnside was relieved because of the battle of Fredericksburg, and while that surely played into Lincoln's thinking Burnside stuck around until after the disastrous Mud March. Basically when Pryor wrote about battle actions I cringed because I did not have enough confidence that she was right after those above mistakes. Luckily the book is mostly about the inner Lee, not the battle Lee.

Despite the battle mistakes I would still recommend the book, but I think the reader should be aware that the battle stuff is not as accurate. Does that throw the rest of the book open for debate? Yes, but I think when dealing with personality issues Pryor is on firmer ground. The huge mass of Lee letters, in the book its claimed the collection (which includes stuff written to Lee and other family members) runs over 10,000 pages, so it can be believed that Pryor is not making a statement with just one or two letters as support, but probably has many others to support her position. I have no problems accepting her interpretations on this front.

Disclaimer: I did not buy this book, it was sent to me for review.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Back to Writing

I previously posted that my Shiloh manuscript had gone down in flames due to one negative review, despite one very positive review. The negative reviewer though is in a position to mess things up if my publisher tried to fight him on the issue. So that's why the two reviews were not given equal weight. Its pretty clear to me that if I pursued the Shiloh manuscript with another publisher they would eventually run into the same road blocks and the project would die again.

Instead I have decided on another plan of attack. I was also working on similar projects for Chickamauga and Chattanooga (which both kinda died when the Shiloh project died). Both were completed and waiting review. I will now go back through and rework these two projects, using some of the guidelines given by both reviewers of the Shiloh manuscript. When these two books are in better condition I will send them off to other publishers. I have two in mind, one my friend Matt suggested and another that I know one of the principals at.

My idea in pursuing my projects in this order is that if Chickamauga and Chattanooga get published then doing Shiloh will be a no-brainer to continue the series. And at that point if the same negative reviewer says he'll block it he will look a bit sillier and the publisher will have two other books worth of backing to say that the series is a good idea despite his concerns and that they are gonna publish it. If he really wants to prevent the book from being sold at Shiloh, he is in a position to do that, but it would look silly to have that book sold at every other battlefield but not the own its intended for. Is all this possible? Maybe. When I was doing the Chickamauga and Chattanooga projects the park guys I talked to about it were positive to the idea. The best response I got to the project was from Terry Winshel at Vicksburg, but I currently do not have the time to do that one. I think if I had the time that one might be the easiest to get through the publishing process because Winshel is behind the idea. He'd probably give me lots of help researching plus he would be a logical person for a review and his review would be along the lines of how to make it a better book than if the project was viable.

The next few days are gonna be a bit busy around here but hopefully this weekend I'll be able to devote some time to the writing process again. Reread all that I wrote, figure out what areas to flesh out more, rework my maps, plus whatever other ideas pop into my head.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Blog stats

It seems like yesterday I started this little blog. (Today is actually day 84 and this is post #99) I thought it'd just a fun way to share some stuff I've done and am working on. And it has been. But I've been amazed at how well its been received.

Blogger has a little program that tracks how people came to my blog, and all sorts of other information about them. For instance I know that my blog has been viewed in 45 countries worldwide, which I find astounding. I can also see that every state in the Union has visited my blog, except for North Dakota and Mississippi. Colorado has the most visits, which is understandable since that's where I am and I'm probably getting a lot of hits from my fellow roundtable members. Rounding out the top 5 are Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia and California.

Also at some point today I will hit my 1000th unique visitor. I started the day with 995 unique visitors so it will happen sometime today. Those 995 people have visited the site 2478 times and viewed 4542 pages.

These numbers seem like a lot to me but I can tell from the referring sources that some other blogs are getting a ton more traffic than me. That's fine, I never really thought I'd get much traffic, I just wanted a place to write. I think writing is one of those things that you've got to do everyday, just to keep yourself sharp. The more you write the better you'll be and even a little bit everyday helps. As past readers know I recently had a setback on a publishing project. After mopping around a bit and lacking the proper motivation I'm now ready to dive back into that again. I had to think of a new way to attack the project, now I have my plan and I'm ready to go again. So in the near future I'll probably use this space more as a diary detailing the ups and downs of my plan of attack than for the battlefield tours that have so far been a staple. Of course my project ties directly into my touring so there will probably be things in the research that prompt a post on as aspect of touring.

Anyway thanks for joining me on this journey so far and hopefully you'll stick with me a bit longer.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Perryville Cemetery

After the battle the Confederate dead were left on the ground, or hastily buried. Much of the battlefield was on land owned by Henry P. Bottom (his house can be seen in my first post on Perryville along the banks of Doctor's Creek where the battle first began). Afterwards Bottom collected much of the Confederate dead and created a cemetery on his land. Mostly this was just to clear his land, not for some altruistic motive. In later years a monument was erected in the cemetery. There are only two headstones in the cemetery, both can be seen in the third photo.

The above pictures were taken in October 2006. The below picture was taken in April 2007. A few trees are missing now.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Maps of Gettysburg Review & Thank You

Last night at the Rocky Mountain Civil War Roundtable meeting my buddy (and blog reader) Ian D. gave me a copy of Maps of Gettysburg by Bradley M. Gottfried as a gift for the hard work I do for the roundtable (its a labor of love, I don't mind doing it, but thanks to Ian for the book).

When I got home I looked through it. Can't say that I really read it. I read some areas but I looked at nearly every map, and that's what this book is for anyway. The basic layout of the book is that the right side page has a full page map and the facing page has the text for the map. So there is no need to flip from page to page to understand a map. Of course reading more than one at a time does make the whole make more sense but its not mandatory. In other words you could open the book at random and be able to understand that map without seeing any other pages.

As the son of a cartographer I know a thing or two about maps, having been around them my entire life. These maps are pretty good. There are a few design elements I'm not crazy about but those are very minor details. I only have one complaint, no times are listed on the maps. I understand that firm times are not possible but it would be nice to know that the action being depicted is at roughly 2-4 PM on July 2nd. I don't think that sort of vagueness is impossible to ask for.

Overall I like the book and would recommend it to everyone interested in Gettysburg. I had read enough good things about it that I intended to buy a copy, Ian just beat me to it. Thanks again to Ian.

Union Mounument @ Perryville

There is one older monument at Perryville. It is very close to the Confederate cemetery and is for the Union army. The high ground in the distance behind the monument is Parson's Hill. Starkweather's Hill is towards the left and while it cannot be seen in this picture it can be seen from this spot.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Other Perryville Monuments

Perryville doesn't have many monuments, which I expected since it is a state park and was not preserved during the time the veterans were alive. Only one monument is for a particular unit, Donelson's Brigade monument from yesterday's post. There is a general monument for the Union, one for the Confederates in the cemetery and then two that are for the armies.

The two for the armies are very similar to each other, due to the fact they were erected at the same time. Each shows the order of battle for that army at Perryville. Not exactly the most exciting stuff to put on a monument but I did find it useful when I was there.

The Confederate's:
The Union's:
The back of each monument has this plaque. This is the one from the Union monument.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Bit of Humor

I love reading The Onion, (in print, online and their radio broadcasts). Today's radio update was about how Civil War enthusiasts burned Atlanta to the ground.
"Bob Gerhard, President of the Maryland Civil War Preservation Society, said, 'It was very exciting. We rode across the Chattahoochee from the west, just as General Sherman did in 1864.' "
Hear complete broadcast at:

Donelson's Brigade Monument @ Perryville

This monument seems pretty new, I didn't see a date on the monument but based on style and weathering it looks pretty new. Perryville does not have many monuments, I believe there are only 5 and they will be the subject of the next few posts.

Donelson's Brigade formed to the left of Stewart and Maney on the Confederate right. They were involved in the attacks on Parson's and Starkweather's Hills that were subject or previous posts. The monument says that the 16th Tennessee lost about half its force in a few minutes at the beginning of the attack. Their total losses for the day were 41 killed, 151 wounded and 7 missing; 199 total, though no opening combat strength is given. The other regiments in the brigade lost about 30-40 men total so the 16th Tennessee definitely saw the brunt of the fighting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Perryville - Cleburne's Assault

I am interested in Patrick Cleburne. Probably most Western theater enthusiasts share my interest to some degree. I don't think he was flawless, just interesting. I've even made a side trip to Helena Arkansas to see his gravesite. In any respect at Perryville Cleburne turns in another solid performance. All day long the main Confederate plan, and flow of the battle, was for the units to attack en echelon moving towards the left. The fighting started on the right over by Parson's Hill and slowly moved towards the Confederate left. Late in the day this started to pay dividends as the Confederates were able to find flanks with their fresh attacks. Even later in the day this will start to unravel for them as the Union reinforcements will also find Confederate flanks.

This is the Union view of Cleburne's attack. Below the crest of the ridge is Doctor's Creek that we saw much earlier as the scene of some opening combat. The road (whose name currently escapes me) that Cleburne's men advanced along can be seen on the right side of the picture. And here's a view without the sign, and that isn't as washed out due to sunlight (though the sun was still mainly in my eyes).
And here's what Cleburne's men advanced towards. The Union position was along the high ground. This also was at angles to the fighting of the morning.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Perryville - Starkweather's Hill

Watching the rout of Terrill's Brigade off of Parson's Hill, Starkweather made the next stand on the next ridgeline, which became Starkweather's Hill. Here he formed 12 cannon with his brigade, plus remnants of Terrill's. Maney and Stewart eventually took Starkweather's Hill but in the process were severely battered.

Here are two views from Starkweather's position. The cornfield can be seen at the bottom of the hill.
And when Starkweather was driven off the hill the Union just ended up making a stand on the next ridgeline, which is seen here.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Perryville - The Cornfield

A view of Starkweather's Hill with the cornfield visible in the swale along the road. The corn has been cut back in this picture so it is just the brown area surrounded by green.

Another picture from when there was corn looking back towards Parson's Hill.

The fighting in the Cornfield has a special pull for me because the 21st Wisconsin was engaged there. I didn't have a relative in the 21st, but all Wisconsin regiments have a special connection for me. The 21st was a brand new regiment and this was their first combat. They used the corn to hide and delivered a volley in the face of the 1st Tennessee, eventually capturing that flag. I have seen that flag in a museum in Nashville. The 21st was pretty beat up in the assault but it helped buy some time to strengthen the line on Starkweather's Hill.

Here is part of the marker in the cornfield.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Perryville - James Jackson

Near Parson's Battery, Brigadier General James S. Jackson, commanding a Union division, was killed. Here is the simple Kentucky state historical marker. Starkweather's Hill can be seen in the background of the top picture.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Perryville - Parson's Battery

The Confederate attack on Parson's Battery was a difficult one, but they would eventually take the position. In the slight valley between their jump off position and the battery was a fence line that caused them some problems. It slowed the assault and was well within artillery range. Here's a view along a reconstructed fence.
And the view from the same spot looking up the hill at the battery.
A different sort of cannonball now litters the field. At Chickamauga earlier that week (this picture was from my fall 2006 trip) one of these had fallen on top of the truck cab and severely startled me. Luckily it didn't dent the truck.
As you can see here Parson had great fields of fire and would have been able to blast any approaching infantry. The fence line can be seen just over the end of the cannon barrel.
Once Parson's position was captured the Confederates found themselves with a new problem: a new ridge line behind Parson that would soon be called Starkweather's Hill. Despite being generally out manned and outflanked in key areas the Union was able to cobble together a pretty good defense because they always seemed to have another ridge line to fall back to.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Perryville - attack on Parson's Battery

The Confederate attack started in this vicinity on October 8, 1862. The Confederate right, consisting of the brigades of Donelson, Stewart and Maney started out from here. These pictures form a panoramic taken from the marker for Maney's attack. Stewart was on Maney's left and that plaque can be barely seen just below the tree line on the high ground on the left third of the first picture. Donelson was even farther to the left and cannot be seen from here (Donelson's monument will be included in a future post).
Stewart's brigade would have advanced across this ground moving towards the right to attack Parson's Battery on the high ground, which is now known as Parson's Ridge.
And the view directly across at Parson's Ridge. The few cannon in place now are obscured by the trees along the fence line.
The next post (maybe later tonight or tomorrow) will show the view Parson had of the attacking Confederates.