Wednesday, May 11, 2011

4th Michigan Infantry

The 4th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War. By Martin N. Bertera and Kim Crawford. Photographs, index, 560 pp., 2010, Michigan State University Press,, 517-355-9543, $44.95, cloth.

Sometimes our Civil War reading is so focused on battles and commanders that we forget to think about the inner workings of the regiment, which is what nearly every soldier dealt with. The 4th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War puts the focus back on the regiment. The 4th Michigan did not leave a record of bloody battle after bloody battle. Instead it managed through good luck to miss most of the horrible engagements that reduced regiments into company sized skeletons of their former selves.

The 4th Michigan served in the Army of the Potomac from the beginning at First Manassas up until the beginning of the siege of Petersburg. Not enough men had reenlisted for the unit to continue so the veterans were transferred to the 1st Michigan to complete there service at Appomattox. During that time the regiment was engaged in four battles, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg and the Wilderness. Remarkably they lost their commanding officer killed or mortally wounded in three of those fights. At the other battles of the Army of the Potomac though they missed major combat, sometimes acting as a rear guard, being posted to a quiet portion of the line or being part of an uncommitted reserve.

One area the book excels at is discussing the politics of command. While not all officers were politicians they were generally politically connected. At times members of the officer corps did not get along and tried to get others removed from the regiment. This is a somewhat little looked at aspect of volunteer regiments that this book covers quite well.

One failing of the book though is a lack of maps. Often the regiment’s location would be described in great detail but without a map those details do not mean as much. For some battlefields I know well enough or have books of maps so that I could match the text to the map but I much rather prefer books that include their own maps.

All in all this is a very good book. The authors provide a great amount of detail on all aspects of the regiment, from their time in battle, to the relationships between officers and the governor, and on the common soldiers as well. Normally it seems that the best regimental histories focus on regiments that saw a ton of combat or whose service was unique in other respects like geography. This regiment does not meet either attribute but the quality of the writing made this an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Reviewed for Civil War News

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Rebel’s Recollections

A Rebel’s Recollections. By George Cary Eggleston with a new forward by Randy Bishop. 360 pp., 2010, Pelican Publishing,, 504-368-1175, $14.95, paper.

A Rebel’s Recollections was originally published in 1875 when George Cary Eggleston compiled a series of essays he had written about his service. Eggleston was a native of Indiana but inherited a plantation in Virginia prior to the war. His service in Virginia allowed him to observe Stonewall Jackson, Robert R. Lee, JEB Stuart among others, and Eggleston provides some insightful commentary of prominent Confederate leaders. The sections that cover the Confederacy’s financial woes and the supply situation are at times humorous but also melancholy.

There is no discussion of battles, nor of marches. Eggleston focused more on what a soldier thought and how he coped with the declining fortunes of the Confederacy than with bullets and gunpowder.

This new reprint is well done, utilizing high quality, clean scans of the original book. The new forward sets the stage for the topics Eggleston will cover, and teases at interesting tidbits that are to come.

Reviewed for Civil War News

Monday, May 2, 2011

Alfred Mathews and my new cousins

The other day I made an interesting connection through the blog. A fellow researcher had found the grave site of Alfred Edward Mathews, a Civil War artist I've blogged about previously (here, here and here). To refresh your memory I first came across Mathews when studying the 14th Wisconsin at Shiloh. Mathews made a sketch of them capturing a battery and I used him as a source for the event and location (though location was hard to pinpoint). But there were always mysteries with his story, for one thing he shouldn't have been at Shiloh but over the course of years researching this I've come to the conclusion that Mathews was never with his regiment and believe he really was at Shiloh, getting there a few days ahead of his regiment.

Mathews continued in the Western Theater as an artist and his drawings were considered highly accurate by the people who had been there. General Ulysses S. Grant personally commended him for his battle sketches, illustrations, panoramic depictions of the War in the deep South, and topographical work. On August 9th, 1863 Grant wrote Mathews, “I have examined the lithographs of views taken by you of the ‘Siege of Vicksburg,’ and do not hesitate to pronounce them among the most accurate and true to life I have ever seen. They reflect great credit upon you as a delineator of landscape views.” When Mathews later toured the country with his lithographs he carried endorsements from Generals Thomas, Sherman, Logan, Rosecrans, Pope and McPherson, as well as Grant.

The park service has one of his drawings as a plaque in the Stones River national cemetery as he depicted the action of the battle that occurred on that ground. They also sell two of his lithographs in the park store (or at least they did when I last toured Stones River, they may sell more or none now).

I also found it interesting that after the war he toured the West (what the Civil War crowd might call the Far West, Colorado, Wyoming, etc) and did many more sketches. He lived in Colorado for most of the rest of his life until his death in 1874. What I didn't include in my other posts because it wasn't necessary for the story is that his final resting place is a bit uncertain. He was initially buried near where he had been working on a fish hatchery along the Big Thompson River. One story then had the Loveland GAR post moving his remains to a cemetery in that city around 1882, and for some reason his grave is not marked there.

Another story had his remains remaining in the Big Thompson Canyon until 1939 when a highway work crew unearthed his body. For some reason one of the workers took the skull home and returned it later but he could not find the casket so he buried it in the vicinity. One aspect of this story is the claim that his head is one one side of the highway and his body on the other side, though I would imagine the worker would have remembered what side of the highway the body was buried at and would have at least gotten the head on that side of the road.

The 1961 biography I read suggested that the Loveland GAR story was correct as the sources there were from credible men (state politicians and high ranking GAR officers). The author, Nolie Mumey, did not explain why the highway story did not make as much sense instead saying that it was a mystery and either story could be correct. And that's what I believed, that Mathews could be in either place. If thinking critically I guess I'd have to say that the highway story seems more correct to me as why wouldn't the Loveland GAR mark the grave? They were prompted to rebury him because of a story about the sad shape of his original resting place so since they knew who they were going after it would have been easy enough to mark his grave. Its not like they suddenly came upon an unidentified soldier. But I pretty much left the mystery alone.

And then the other day I got an email through the blog (you'll see it in the comments section on one of the posts) from a Susan Kniebes saying that she had found the grave. Over the next few days she sent me more info about the grave, including a picture and GPS coordinates. Susan and her husband Duane are working on with the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies and the U.S. Geologic Survey to find, GPS pinpoint, and document all of the graves in Colorado. They are covering Larimer County burials. They have also turned this into a book project where they give more background of the individuals and other items of interest in the area. For example Mathews was buried near the old Mont Rose Inn's orchard so they included info about the Mont Rose Inn in their chapter.

After a few days of corresponding with them I asked if they might know more about the Kniebes family. My great great great grandmother was Elizabeth Kniebes. I only have info about her parents and a brother. Duane responded that two Kniebes families came from Zusch, Germany in 1840. One settled in southwest Michigan (his family) and the other went to Wisconsin (which could be mine as the time and location is right). So in a weird twist of fate two cousins separated by several generations ended up in Colorado and both connected with a Civil War soldier and artist that neither has any other connection to.

Duane also informed me that the grave was located in such a spot, and unmarked, that if the land owner decided to build there the grave would be easily destroyed through no fault of the landowner. He would think he was building his garage in a nice spot and never know he had built it over a grave. Which got us started on trying to properly mark Mathews grave.

Of course this raises the issue of where is he really buried. My new cousins are already running with the ball and have contacted the Loveland cemeteries to see if they have records from 1882 indicating Mathews reburial there and have also contacted a historical society that has the GAR posts' records in hopes that maybe something there reveals the truth. Also I'm sure there will be a search of Loveland newspapers from 1882 as it seems like something they would have reported on. If he's already in Loveland then its as simple as getting a headstone from the VA.

If it appears that Mathews is still in Big Thompson Canyon then we can get a headstone for the spot he is now. The landowner has been contacted and apparently is fine with having a Civil War grave on their property. So as long as we can determine Mathews is still there then we can get the VA to provide a headstone.

As far as I know there is little at the canyon site to confirm its Mathews. We know the casket found in 1939 was oak and should be missing a head. But I do not recall reading if Mathews was buried in an oak casket. The 1939 story didn't mention any clothing and we do know generally what Mathews was buried in so that might solve it. But all that involves a lot of digging which might not actually have anything in the hole. And if we find the casket we might only be able to confirm that the head is missing.

One potential source for solving the mystery is that in 1884 the Loveland GAR post ordered one of its members to correspond with Charles Mathews, Alfred's brother in Ohio who was editor of the Ohio Democrat. Perhaps the correspondence is in the GAR post's file or maybe its in a collection in Ohio (private or public). I'm hoping that the GAR files have the info we need. Even if they admit that they could not find him in 1882 it would point to the canyon site as the right spot. Of course if they say they found him but were short of funds for a proper headstone then they probably would indicate where they had buried him.

I imagine this is going to be a lengthy process, chiefly because we first need to confirm where he is really buried but I'll update the progress here from time to time.