Friday, July 22, 2016

On the road

I've not been out much lately-- trying to finish the Branch-Lane book and talking with a publisher about a new project. I do have a few dates in the next few weeks where I will be on the road:

July 30 - Ft. Fisher (below Wilmington)
August 2 - SCV Camp Fayetteville, NC
August 5/6 - Emerging Civil War Conference in Fredericksburg, Virginia
August 13 - Civil War Weekend at Tryon Palace State Historic Site (New Bern)

I hope to see you out and about! 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Who was Elbert?

In my last post, I copied a few lines from a scribe who simply signed his letter "ELBERT." Who was he? What interest did he have in the war going on in between Laurel Valley in Madison County and Flag Pond, then in Greene County? How was he trying to influence public opinion?

In the 19th century, authors were not required to sign their letters to newspapers. This might give an author an opportunity to be more honest, writing without fear of retaliation. One of the most famous cases in United States history of a newspaper correspondent not using his real name would be Benjamin Franklin's Silence Dogood letters. But while Franklin was simply adopting a persona that allowed him to express rather shocking and thought-provoking sentiments without getting personally involved, others had less lofty reasons for using pseudonyms; such anonymity could allow a person to libel someone else without fear of retaliation.  Since newspapers were not yet subject to legal punishment for such defamation, wronged parties might instead attack those they felt had impugned their characters.

After posting pieces of the article, I went back and looked for other letters from "ELBERT." Using, I found none.  I also looked through volume 2 of the papers of Zeb Vance, but I found none signed "ELBERT." Maybe one day we can find his identity.       

There are, of course, some who would totally discount the claims that ELBERT made, that the citizens of Flag Pond and Shelton Laurel were truly innocent victims, and not also perpetrators in an ever-escalating cycle of crime and violence. A reading into the history of the area quickly shows that the Laurel Valley area was one of the most lawless communities during the war. To quote the editor of the Asheville New in May 1862: "To say that the late difficulties in Madison were 'more imaginary than real,' is to write down the authorities of the counties of Madison and Buncombe, with Gen. Erwin as their head, a set of asses."    While that editor could, himself, be just as biased as ELBERT, these accounts do add further complexity and layers to an ugly chapter of history.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Does this change your perspective on Shelton Laurel?

Recently, I found this piece, written in April 1863, about the Laurel War. Does it change your perspective? For a long time, the running story is that the bad Confederates kept the good Union people from getting salt. The good Union people raided the salt stores in Marshall one evening, breaking into a few stores and homes for good measure. The worst thing they did was to take blankets from the beds of sick children.  Soon thereafter, Confederate forces marched into Shelton Laurel, captured fifteen men and boys and marched them toward the Tennessee line. Before they had gone far, the Confederates lined them up and executed them. The youngest was 13. While there was some outcry, justice was never served on the Confederates. (This is the short version of the story.)

However, the piece below was written in April 1863 and appeared in a Raleigh newspapers:

"By this time [winter 1863], all who had volunteered from that country [Laurel], had deserted, and brought off their guns and ammunition, and commenced organizing companies, under the command, as they declared, of a Yankee officer, sent from Lincoln's government for that purpose. A company was raised of one hundred men, and they commenced robbing and plundering private houses in a settlement called "Flag Pond," in Washington county, Tennessee, taking money, guns, clothes, meat, and every thing they could carry away, making women and children strip off their shoes, socks and clothes for them, and left many families almost destitute of clothing, bedding or provisions. I did not learn that salt was the object of the thieves. Boys from ten to fifteen years of age were engaged in these robberies, and a gentlemen told me, whose house they robbed,        that they were the most active rogues in company. I did not hear of any salt  being taken.
The next depredation was committed at Marshal, Madison county, N.C., where they not             only took salt, but they broke open store houses and dwelling houses, and carried off everything that they could take away. They broke into A. E. Bair's dwelling house, a large, well-furnished boarding-house, and robbed it of all the blankets and other bed furniture. They also entered Col. L. M. Allen's dwelling house, and abused it at a great  rate-robbing it of all its furniture, and, I have heard made Mrs. Allen even strip off her under clothes, shoes and stockings for them to carry away. I did not hear that they got any salt there. On the same night, some distance from marshall, they entered A.           Farnsworth's house, robbed it of beds, furniture, and clothes, and emptied bed ticks of their contents, in order to pack their stolen goods in the ticks. I did not learn that those "independent, high minded" men packed any salt from there in the bed ticks." (Semi-Weekly Standard [Raleigh] April 17, 1863)

So, for a third time I ask, does this change your perspective on the supposed Shelton Laurel Massacre? There is so much more to this story. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Thinking about books.

As I near the completion of the Branch-Lane manuscript, I think back about some of the secondary sources that have come out since I finished my first foray into the world of the Army of Northern Virginia in 2005. There have been some fantastic books released in the past 11 years, books that tremendously helped with the pursuit of writing a brigade history. Here are a few of them, not in order of importance, but in the order that I used them.

Probably the first outstanding book would be David S. Hartwig's To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of 1862 (2012). Hartwig's tome only covers the actions prior to the battle of Sharpsburg, all in 808 pages of detail-rich prose.

Tom Clemens has worked wonders on an old manuscript, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (2010-2016). There will be three volumes total. They were originally written by Army veteran Ezra Carman. The level of detail is great! Carman corresponded with both his fellow Union veterans, and Confederate veterans as well.

In the Gettysburg world, Kent Masterson Brown's Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania is an incredible read. Brown's tome provides us with the most complete (to date) look into the way that Lee's army worked (or maybe at times, did not work), as it traveled to Gettysburg, and then worked its way back across the Potomac River.

Along those same lines, but with a different take, is Eric Wittenberg, Michael Nugent, and J. D. Petruzzi's One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army (2011). This book is detail rich, and combined with Brown's books above, along with Coddington, and the works of Pfanz, really complete the Gettysburg story.

The second and greatly expanded edition of Richard J. Sommer's Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg, the Battles of Chaffin's Bluff and Poplar Springs, September 29-October 2, 1864 (2014) is fantastic. Almost 700 pages are devoted to four days, a part of the Petersburg Campaign that often gets lost in Grant's various attempts to take the Cockade City or capture Richmond.

Also a second edition is A. Wilson Greene's Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion: The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign (2008). The original edition was really good. The level of detail added to the last two weeks or so of the Petersburg campaign is fantastic.

Falling on the heels of the breakthrough on April 2, 1865, was the battle of Battery Gregg. John Fox's Confederate Alamo: the Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865, (2010) covers the afternoon of fighting on April 2. It is surprising that no one had ever looked at this battle in detail.

There you have it - thousands of pages of some of the best releases on campaigns in the eastern theater of the war, published since 2005. 

Sunday, May 08, 2016

North Carolina Civil War County Histories, 2016 edition.

Friends, it's been almost two years since I've had reason to update the list I keep (and share) of works pertaining to North Carolina and the Civil War, county studies. McFarland recently released Robert C. Carpenter's Gaston County, North Carolina, in the Civil War. I look forward to getting a copy and reading it very soon.

If there is anything I have missed, any-stand alone book on a county or small geographical area, please drop me a line (or comment here) and help me get the list as up-to-date as possible.

Alamance County
Alexander County
Alleghany County
Anson County
Ashe County - Martin – Ashe County’s Civil War (2001)
Avery County
Beaufort County
Bertie County - Thomas – Divided Allegiances: Bertie County (1996)
Bladen County
Brunswick County
Buncombe County
Burke County
Cabarrus County
Caldwell County
Camden County
Carteret County - Kell – Carteret County During the Civil War (1999)
Caswell County
Catawba County
Chatham County
Cherokee County
Chowan County - Dillard – The Civil War in Chowan County (1911)
Clay County
Cleveland County
Columbus County
Craven County
Cumberland County
Currituck County
Dare County
Davidson County
Davie County
Duplin County
Durham County
Edgecombe County
Forsyth County
Franklin County
Gaston County - Carpenter - Gaston County, North Carolina, in the Civil War. (2016)
Gates County
Graham County
Granville County
Greene County
Guilford County
Halifax County
Harnett County
Haywood County
Henderson County - Garren - Measured in Blood (2012)
Hertford County - Parramore - Trial Separation: Murfreesboro, North Carolina, and the Civil War (1998)
Hoke County
Hyde County
Iredell County
Jackson County
Johnston County
Jones County
Lee County
Lenoir County
Lincoln County
Macon County
Madison County
Martin County - McCallum - Martin County During the Civil War (1971)
McDowell County
Mecklenburg County - Hardy - Civil War Charlotte (2012)
Mitchell County
Montgomery County
Moore County
Nash County
New Hanover County
Northampton County
Onslow County - Manarin - Onslow County and the Civil War (1982)
Orange County
Pamlico County
Pasquotank County - Meekins - Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War (2007)
Pender County
Perquimans County
Person County
Pitt County
Polk County
Randolph County
Richmond County
Robeson County
Rockingham County
Rowan County
Rutherford County
Sampson County
Scotland County
Stanly County
Stokes County
Surry County - Perry - "North Carolina Has Done Nobly": Civil War Stories From Mount Airy and Surry 
County. (2013)
Swain County
Transylvania County
Tyrrell County
Union County
Vance County
Wake County
Warren County
Washington County - Durrill - War of Another Kind (1994)
Watauga County - Hardy - Watauga County, North Carolina, in the Civil War (2013)
Wayne County
Wilkes County - Hartley - To Restore the Old Flag (1990)
Wilson County
Yadkin County - Casstevens – The Civil War and Yadkin County (1997)
Yancey County

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


   If you have spent much time on battlefields, then you are aware of witness trees, trees that were around during the battle and somehow survived not only the storm of shot and shell of battle, but also the blows of the lumberman's ax decades later. My personal favorite would be the Sycamore next to Burnside's Bridge on the Antietam battlefield.

   Recently, I was standing in the heart of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, right next
Gerrard Hall

to Gerrard Hall, and the idea came to me: these are survivors, just like the Witness Trees. Surprisingly, there are not a lot of surviving homes from the area. Yes, we could probably put together a long list of several hundred, or maybe a thousand structures here in North Carolina, but really, that is a small number considering that the 1860 population of the state was just over 992,000. Say an average of six people lived in each house (a number I pulled out of thin air), that should give us around 165,000 homes.

Burke County Courthouse
   Some of these sites are public buildings, like Gerrard Hall, the South Building, Old West Residence Hall,  Old East Residence Hall, and Person Hall. (There are also the New East and New West buildings, but were they finished before the war?)

   Some of these buildings are state historic sites, like Stagville in Durham County, the Harper House on the Bentonville Battlefield, and the State Capital in Raleigh.

   Others are local history museums, like the McElroy house in Burnsville, the Carson House in Old Fort, Fort Defiance near Lenoir, and Latta Plantation, near Charlotte.

   And some are still private residences, places that are still making memories for the families who call them home and who take considerable time and expense to keep them up.

Slave houses, Historic Stagville
   Over the years, I've had a chance to visit many of these places, sometimes as a simple guest, touring the house and grounds, and at other times, as a interpreter, trying to keep the history alive and passed on to future generations. 

Friday, April 01, 2016

On the Road 2016

Winter break is over, folks, and it is time to hit the road. Please feel free to come out and join me at one of these events. I'll be talking about North Carolina as the last Confederate Capital.

April 5, 2016 - Burlington, NC - Fisher Camp, SCV. They meet at F&W Cafeteria at exit 143, 6:00 pm.

April 6, 2016 - Fayetteville, NC - NC Civil War History Center. Meeting will take place at the Cumberland County Public Library, 7:00 pm.

April 10, 2016 - Whiteville, NC - Columbus County Volunteers Camp, SCV. They meet at Peace Baptist Church, at 2:00 pm.