Monday, November 30, 2009

Shiloh Campaign

The Shiloh Campaign Edited by Steven E. Woodworth

Eastern theater battles have long been the beneficiaries of essay filled books. Gary Gallagher has edited roughly a dozen of these books. Now the Western theater is getting the same treatment as Steven Woodworth has embarked on a series of books through Southern Illinois University. Each book will be a collection of essays from some of the leading Western theater historians. The first book in “Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland” is The Shiloh Campaign. It is a pretty balanced collection of essays. There are three which focus on the Union, three on the Confederates and two are on battle events that clearly affected both sides.

In the first chapter John R. Lundberg intends to give a recap of Albert Sidney Johnston’s actions in the Shiloh campaign, beginning roughly with the fall of Fort Donelson. Lundberg believes that Johnston has been unfairly criticized for his actions during this time period. Although the essay is good at recapping Johnston’s activities I do not fully agree with his assessment that Johnston had shown a vast improvement in his abilities as a commander. Of course his performance in the Shiloh campaign was better than his performance during the Forts Henry-Donelson campaign, his performance there was below par. So while he was making an improvement he was still not living up to Jefferson Davis’ earlier assessment of his abilities. Lundberg says that Johnston “might conceivably have become as great a field commander as Lee or Jackson.” This seems doubtful given his performance so far. Lundberg is most likely right though when he says “His death at Shiloh lengthened the odds against Confederate success in the West and thus ultimately in the war as a whole.” Of course that is only right because the commanders who replaced Johnston over the next three years did not achieve great results. We’ll never know if Johnston would have done much better.

Stuart’s defense of the Union left is one of the lesser known actions of the battle but it gets covered here by Alexander Mendoza. He does a good job explaining the flow of battle but his times do not coincide with the times listed on the markers and monuments on the field. He credits Stuart with holding his main position til 3 pm, but all the markers say the position was held until 2 pm. If his times are to be believed then Johnston was killed in the rear of Stuart’s position.

Timothy B. Smith provides an excellent essay on the Hornets’ Nest in memory, basically how several key figures have shaped our understanding of the Hornets’ Nest in the context of the battle. The main figure at work here is David W. Reed, first historian of the park , who fought in the Hornets’ Nest with the 12th Iowa. Smith argues, convincingly, that the main fighting occurred on either side of the Hornets’ Nest. While it seemed to those Union defenders that they were holding off repeated charges, they were actually facing a small part of the Confederate army while the rest of the army fought elsewhere. Once the rest of the Union army had retreated to the final line at Pittsburg Landing the Confederates focused more attention on this last pocket of resistance. Smith points out that the final line was essentially finished by 4:30, so there was no need for Prentiss and WHL Wallace to stay in the Hornets’ Nest as long as they did. In other words, since the main fighting was elsewhere and the final defensive line was ready at 4:30 the defense of the Hornets’ Nest cannot be the most important action of the day; and yet due to the efforts of Reed it is considered one of the most important parts of the battle.

Lew Wallace’s march is one of the mysteries of the battle. Wallace was a competent general, who had shown some talent earlier in the war and would later turn in respectable performances. Steven Woodworth tackles Lew Wallace’s march well, as he works through the troubled time line created by non-standardized times between commanders. Woodworth is of the opinion that Wallace’s removal from the army had less to do with the speed of the march and more to do with the lack of urgency displayed when it was made clear to Wallace the dire predicament that the army was in.

Gary D. Joiner does a good of explaining the activities of the two Union gunboats. He also briefly talks about how the gunboats used the slope of Dill Branch to deflect their shots towards the Confederate lines. A greater explanation of this would have been helpful as it seems to me that deflecting shells would not have been any more effective than using a higher gun elevation.

The only old essay used is one by Grady McWhiney in which he attacks Beauregard’s “Complete Victory.” McWhiney argues that the Confederates had a chance to break the final line and that the attack was worth trying. Beauregard however decided against making a final attack, even though he had not seen the position and had no way of knowing if the battle was truly won. That did not stop Beauregard from sending off a telegram to Richmond proclaiming a complete victory, which would come back to haunt him.

Charles D. Grear provided an essay on Confederate soldiers’ reactions to the battle but this covered mostly the same topics that Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves dealt with in Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh.

The final essay concerns the relationship between Grant and Sherman. Brooks D. Simpson blows a few holes in popular Grant stories from the post-Shiloh time frame. The first being a Lincoln story that he had arranged for Halleck to come to Pittsburg Landing after Shiloh to shield Grant from criticisms, when the facts show that Halleck intended to come to Pittsburg Landing once Buell’s army arrived. The other part of this Lincoln story is that he supposedly said “I can’t spare this man, he fights,” but Simpson points out that immediately after the battle Lincoln did ask Halleck if Grant was negligent. We can infer that Lincoln might not have spared Grant if Halleck had answered yes. The second story to get a more critical look is about Sherman convincing Grant to stay with the army. While Sherman might have given that pep talk Halleck also asked Grant to delay leaving the army, a week later Grant would again command an army. Simpson also reminds us that had Sherman turned against Grant in the aftermath of Shiloh it might have meant the end of Grant’s career as Sherman was very well connected politically. Instead Sherman leaped to defend Grant and might have saved his career.

I have one complaint about the book, there are only three maps in the entire book. There is a general overview map in the introduction and two detailed maps in the Hornets’ Nest chapter. I constantly was referring back to the overview map as I read sections. Not every chapter needed maps but some, such as the essays on Stuart’s fight and Wallace’s march, would have been much better with maps. Then there are minor issues with the book, such as there is no essay on Buell’s forces or coverage of the second day of battle.

This review also appears in the December issue of Civil War News.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Update on Shiloh presentation

I'm currently working on a presentation for the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table in which I'll discuss the fighting around the crossroads at Shiloh. Sherman and McClernand do a masterful job of holding back the many Confederate brigades that are sent against them. I think the fighting here was more important than the better known places like the Sunken Road, but generally the historiography has not ranked it as highly.

To get a better grasp of the fighting I'm reading a ton of official reports. Just now I was reading Major Franklin H. Clack's report of the activities of the Confederate Guard Response Battalion (in Anderson's Brigade). After giving a good account of the capture of a battery he then sums up the rest of the day's action with:

"From this time, sir, until the close of the day I am unable to describe the various localities in which you led us to the attack. We made several other successful charges, being ordered from one part of the field to the other, where our services were most needed."

That really does not help me in placing the unit on the field anywhere else. Oh well. Luckily the placing of one regiment is not a big deal for me, I would have liked to pin point every one but knew going into the project that was impossible.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Big news

There are times when great news can be shared with just a few words, this is one of those times. My wife is pregnant!!

Its still pretty early, due date will be mid July, but my wife said its okay to spread the news. Its been tough keeping the news quiet as long as I have, which truthfully has not been very long.

I'm super excited. Right now I can't think of the words to describe how excited I am.

Expect a post every so often over the next several months to have some sort of update on her progress.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Turchin's Chickamauga

Awhile back I stumbled across a potentially really interesting find. I requested John Turchin's Chickamauga through interlibrary loan, with the intention of xeroxing the entire book. Since then google books has made this unnecessary.

The interesting find is that inside the cover was a notation that this copy once belonged to William Rosecrans, commander of the Union army at Chickamauga. But as I read the book I found four pages that had hand written notations on them. They are in pencil so they are not the clearest copies. All the notations center around the time when Wood's Division moved out of the lines on September 20, right before Longstreet assaulted that very spot and turned the tide toward Confederate victory.

This is page 112 with the simple notation, "mistake"

Page 116 with the notation, "[?] Sheridan [?] way to shore up the left of our lines"

Page 127 with the notation, "this is a weak argument to expect a [?] [?]"

Page 128 with the notation, "this is a great mistake"

Is it Rosecrans' handwriting? I have no idea. I only offer it up as an interesting quirk of research. I did find this letter by Rosecrans to allow for some handwriting comparison. My initial reaction is that it does not eliminate the possibility that the writing in the book is Rosecrans'. I'd like to think it is Rosecrans' writing, it seems like an odd hoax to make.
I also posted this pictures on the Civil War West Yahoo discussion group when I found it a few years back. The pictures there might be a bit clearer, I think I scanned them differently back then.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

I would like to thank all of our veterans who have protected us through our great history. As a Civil War buff and blogger I deal with soldiers every day. Whether that's reading about what they did in their own words or by others, or looking at the battlefields that they fought on, and many other ways.

I had a few relatives who fought in the Civil War.

Jacob Goll, 24th Wisconsin, Co. C. Enlisted 1 August 1862. Murdered 25 October 1864 at Marietta, GA.

Friedrich Goehring, 9th Wisconsin, Co. A. Enlisted 17 September 1861. Mustered out 3 December 1864.

Frederick Illian, 37th Wisconsin, Co. G. Drafted 21 October 1864. Mustered out 27 July 1865.

Henry Kneibes, 6th Wisconsin, Co. I. Drafted 21 October 1864. Mustered out 14 July 1865.

Peter Reis, 107th Ohio, Co. F. Enlisted 22 August 1862. Died 10 July 1863 of wounds received at Gettysburg on July 2nd.

My connection to Peter Reis is not direct. My dad's mother was Luella Goll, her mother was Caroline Illian, and her father was Lewis Illian. Lewis' father was Friederich Illian, the same Illian listed above in the 37th Wisconsin. At that same time his brother-in-law, Heinrich Kniebes was also drafted and served in the 6th Wisconsin. Both men were 44 years old and lived on the same farm (owned by Friederich Illian). Friederich's mother and father in law also lived on the farm and when he was drafted were probably a big help to Friederich's wife, who had seven children aged 15 years to 14 months old to take care of. One of Friederich's daughters, Catherine, married Wilhelm Reinheimer. Wilhelm's aunt Elisabeth was married to Peter Reis. Like I said the relation is not direct at all but a line can still be traced.

Additionally, Robert Meisinger (my grandfather) served on the USS Hope and USS Thistle during WW2. His father Louis served in the 150th Machinegun Battalion (Rainbow Division) in WW1. My GG Uncle Alexander Kurtz was in the Coastal Artillery in WW1 headed to Europe when a submarine sunk his troop transport ship and he was killed. A few years my uncle gave me Alexander's hunting shotgun and one of Alexanders' brothers engraved the stock with the particulars of his death.

I also have veterans who did not see war service. John Kurtz, my great grandfather and Alexander's brother, served in the Wisconsin National Guard during WW1. My father, Gary Kurtz, served in the Colorado National Guard (originally enlisting in the Wisconsin National Guard) for over 20 years. Part of his unit was sent to the Persian Gulf the first time around but luckily he was not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chatfield Story

Yesterday I was wandering through my library looking for a new book to start. Nothing was catching my eye and then in the mail I received my next book to review for Civil War News. At first glance its nothing too special, "The Chatfield Story," the letters and diaries of private Edward L. Chatfield of the 113th Illinois. But it turns out that private Chatfield moved to Colorado after the war and farmed some land near my parents' current house. The nearby reservoir is named Chatfield and one of the major streets in the area is named Chatfield as well (as well as a high school, although in that case they are simply using the name Chatfield and did not directly name it after the man). So now a simple collection of letters and diaries takes on much more interest for me. I'm going to dive into this one tonight and look forward to learning more about the man whose name abounds in the area I live in.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maps of Chickamauga

The latest release in the amazing Savas Beatie "Maps of ... "series is the Maps of Chickamauga, by Dave Powell and cartography by David Friedrichs. I received my copy the other day and it is another amazing volume.

The basic concept for each book is that when the book is laid open the right side page has a map and the left side page has the text that explains the actions on that map. The book is in a large format (7X10) so the maps are nice and big and there is quite a bit of text accompanying each map. This is not simply a paragraph or two but a full page of text. If you just read the text and never looked at a map you would have a good understanding of the battle but the maps really seal the deal.

The other way to get the most out of these map books is to refer to those maps while reading one of the highly detailed battle histories that are out there. For instance with this book you would pair it with Peter Cozzens' This Terrible Sound. Cozzens' book does have a good number of maps for a battle history but Powell and Friedrichs probably have 10 times the maps, with more detail. Also the problem with a book like Cozzens is that often when you need a map you've already passed it so you need to flip back to the map. Now you just need to keep a second bookmark in the map book so that you keep pace in that book as you read the detailed battle history. (I don't mean to pick on Cozzens, I'm just using him as an example since the latest map book is on Chickamauga, all battle histories suffer from this problem, its not the fault of the author, its just that none of them have upwards of 100 maps in them).

When the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table does a battle study we always have a ton of maps in a binder. When Chickamauga comes around again on our schedule we can just use this book instead of creating a massive binder of maps. Okay, I'll probably still create a massive binder of maps, but I really wouldn't need to.

Earlier Ted Savas provided me with a few low resolution images from the book. If you click on them they'll be a bit better.

Ted also informed me that Powell and Freidrichs are currently working on a book on Chattanooga/Knoxville (and attendant satellite actions). And that Bradley Gottfried is keeping the series going in the Eastern Theater with the Maryland Campaign coming out next. The map series will also include several books on the Trans-Mississippi theater campaigns.


Here's a page of text and the accompanying map.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wisconsin Yankee in Confederate Bayou Country: Halbert Eleazer Paine

A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General by Halbert Eleazer Paine. Edited by Samuel C. Hyde, Jr.

Union General Halbert E. Paine is a figure one rarely encounters in Civil War literature, except for one particular incident. Paine began his career with a brief stint as quartermaster for the 2nd Wisconsin but was quickly promoted to colonel of the 4th Wisconsin. The 4th Wisconsin was first sent to Washington DC, spent some time on the Eastern Shore of Maryland before being sent to the Gulf of Mexico as part of General Benjamin Butler’s force set to attack New Orleans.

Paine seemed to run have afoul of Brigadier General Thomas Williams from the very beginning that the 4th Wisconsin was attached to Williams’s brigade. At first the issue was Williams’s insistence that his brigade use his own tactical formation, the "Order of Combat." Paine described “Order of Combat” as an “interesting performance” and “an invention of Gen. Williams, who, being absolutely ignorant pf tactics, as of everything else worth knowing, sought to make this scheme take the place of the entire system of tactics.” Apparently the movement from the company lines into “Order of Combat” was not that difficult, it essentially made a formation that was two companies wide and four deep (Paine made no note of where other two companies would be). But Williams did not create an order to return the men to their previous formation.

Eventually the problems between Williams and Paine would be far greater than opinions on drill ground movements. The issue of what to do with the escaped slaves that flooded into Union camps became an early problem for Union commanders. Ironically Butler was one of the first to confront this issue head on as he refused to return slaves to their owners (the Fugitive Slave law was still on the books at that time). His reasoning was that the slaves would materially aid the Confederacy, whether this was working on fortifications or working on plantations to allow white men to build fortifications instead. This would eventually become the Contraband Act.

On June 5, 1862 Paine was faced with this very issue while in Louisiana. A slave owner, and a lieutenant from Williams’s staff, came to Paine’s camp to collect an escaped slave. Paine refused to allow the men to do this, citing a recent Act of Congress that forbade officers from returning slaves to their masters. Paine also stated that many of the slaves furnished information about Confederate dispositions and that they were likely to be killed if returned to their masters. Coincidentally on June 4th Paine had started writing formal charges against Williams for breaking an article of war, namely the very Act of Congress that Paine referenced in his refusal to allow the alleged master to search his camp for his slave. Paine was soon put under arrest by Williams for refusing to obey his order concerning the fugitive slave.

For the first 7 weeks of his arrest Paine remained with his regiment and would be temporarily released from arrest when his men were ordered on a scouting mission. By the end of July Paine grew tired of this and asked Butler if the charges against Williams had made their way to his desk yet. This must have prompted Williams to write Butler asking that the temporary releases end and Butler soon ordered Paine to report to New Orleans. Butler tried to smooth the issue but Paine wanted his day in court. There would be no court martial though as Williams was killed August 5th at the battle of Baton Rouge. Butler sent Paine to Baton Rouge to take command of Williams’s brigade as Paine was the senior colonel in the brigade.

Paine turned in fine service at Baton Rouge, and then during the 1863 Bayou Teche and Port Hudson campaigns. At Port Hudson he was severely wounded in the leg. He would end up losing the leg (remarkably his diary does not refer to which leg was amputated). His diary stops there but he did end up returning to duty commanding troops in the defenses of Washington DC. He would be promoted to brevet Major General at the close of the war.

The format of the text is a bit odd in that it is mainly in a diary format but was actually written in 1901. It is not clear in the introduction if Paine kept a diary that he later reworked or if he did this all from memory. It would seem to be the former as some diary entries are as simple as “I received an order from Gen. Williams to hold a lottery, to determine the rank of captains.” Also knowing that this diary was written nearly forty years afterwards has to make us suspicious of some of his comments about leaders. Forty years later it was clear that Butler was not a great general but in the spring of 1862 Paine might not have had all the negative thoughts that he records in this diary. Perhaps his first impression of Williams was positive, but within a year there would be enough bad blood between the two that Paine would never be able to admit his earlier favorable opinions.

My only issue with the text is that Hyde says Paine’s original manuscript had many more details of the feud with Williams. Hyde says he removed the extra chapter to avoid repetition and also to make the manuscript as a whole better. I think though that this should have been included because this dispute is how most readers have heard of Paine, not for his service in the Baton Rouge, Bayou Teche and Port Hudson campaigns. This is especially true because there is a wonderful regimental history on the 4th Wisconsin (A History of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and Cavalry in the American Civil War by Michael Martin). If someone wanted to learn about the movements of Paine and the 4th Wisconsin they would be better served by that book than this one. With that in mind I think Hyde would have been well served to explore the Williams-Paine feud more closely. Despite that absence the book is still a very enjoyable read.

This review originally appeared in October issue of Civil War News

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chickamauga Memorial by Tim Smith

A Chickamauga Memorial: The Establishment of America’s First Civil War National Military Park. By Timothy B. Smith

Over the past few years Timothy B. Smith has established himself as one of the leading authorities on the initial preservation of Civil War battlefields in the 1890s. He has previously written about the formation of Shiloh (This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park) and the initial period of preservation (The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890's and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks). Now he has tackled the first battlefield that became a National Military Park, Chickamauga.

Even though battlefield preservation efforts began very early in some instances it wasn’t until the 1890s that the effort began seriously. In 1888 two Union veterans of Chickamauga, Henry Van Ness Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer, toured the battlefield and decided that Chickamauga should be preserved. There were already efforts at Gettysburg to preserve that battlefield but what Boynton and Van Derveer’s idea different is that they wanted to preserve the entire battlefield. Gettysburg’s efforts were focused only on saving Union positions, while the newly hatched plan for Chickamauga was preserve both sides’ positions.

Boynton was in a unique position to make this happen. He was the Washington correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette, founder of the Gridiron Club and friendly with many national politicians. He also was a staunch defender of the Army of the Cumberland, and had written a rebuttal against William T. Sherman’s memoirs. When Boynton returned home from his battlefield tour he threw himself into the effort to create a national military park at Chickamauga, which also intended to include sites in Chattanooga. He started with articles in Cincinnati Gazette, which were eventually published in book form. He also lobbied politicians to spend federal money on creating the park, another new way of preserving a battlefield.

When his efforts to convince Congress to pass legislation creating the park they turned to Boynton to write the bill. With no guide to follow he created a bill that needed few changes and would also be the template for future battlefield park legislation as four other battlefields became national parks in the 1890s. Boynton was then selected as the first park historian. From this position Boynton would greatly influence how the story of the battle was told. No plaque or monument could be placed during his watch without his approval. The fight on Snodgrass Hill took on greater prominence in the Chickamauga story and it was no coincidence that Boynton’s regiment, the 35th Ohio, had fought there. There were obviously controversies over positions but Boynton almost always prevailed.

Interestingly the way Boynton preserved both battlefields was different. At Chickamauga the entire battlefield was purchased, sometimes through condemnation proceedings. At Chattanooga only land along roadways with some small side parcels was preserved. This was done primarily because Chattanooga had grown in the intervening years and huge parcels of land could not be purchased. This method was first copied at Antietam and became known as the Antietam Plan but Smith argues, quite correctly, that it should be called the Chattanooga Plan. Within both units of the park both methods of preservation were utilized. Since the 1890s preservation efforts, nationally and locally, mainly followed the Chattanooga Plan. In recent decades preservationists have gone back to Boynton’s original idea of preserving huge tracts of land.

It was not long after Chickamauga became a park that the Spanish-American War began. The US Army needed areas to train and garrison soldiers before sending them to Cuba. Chickamauga became one of these sites. Over 70,000 passed through the park on their way to the war. Their presence damaged roads and left a mess behind. A few years later the Army would build Fort Oglethorpe just north of the park. The park was still used for maneuvers but the total impact was lessened. The park was again used as a staging ground for World War One, with 60,000 troops using the park. Trenches were dug on Snodgrass Hill to simulate the trench warfare the men would see in Europe. In 1933 FDR transferred the park to the Interior Department and it would not be used by the troops for World War Two.

Smith’s book in some respects can be considered a biography of Boynton as Boynton was the prime moving force in the early days of the park. From 1888 until his death in 1905 there probably was no other man who was more active in park activities than Boynton. In fact one wonders if Smith might write a biography of Boynton sometime in the future.

I have one minor complaint about Smith’s book. It is that he ends the story with the 1933 transfer to the Interior Department. He does a brief recap of events at the park since then but I wish there was more. I do understand it however as Smith’s goal was to write about the formation of the first national military park and that story is over by 1933. I think this book is a worthwhile addition to anyone with an interest in Chickamauga, or who has visited our national battlefield parks and wondered how it all got started.
This review also appeared in the November issue of Civil War News