Monday, September 23, 2019

Building a Civil War Medical Library

    When I wrote the chapter on brigade medical care for General Lee’s Immortals, I relied upon five  books (secondary sources) to provide the background for that chapter. Those five were Cunningham’s Doctors in Gray (1958); Humphrey’s Marrow of Tragedy (2013): Schroeder-Lein’s The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (2008); Calcutt’s Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals (2005); and, Green’s Chimborazo: The Confederacy’s Largest Hospital (2004). That’s not to say there are not other texts that I have that were influential. There are others, like biographies on Kate Cummings, Dr. Mary Walker, and Doctors in Blue. But those five, along with the primary sources gleaned from the writings of members of the Branch-Lane brigade, allowed me to craft a really good chapter that has gotten some attention.

   In the upcoming Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia project, I set out to have a chapter on foodstuff connected to the hospitals that served Robert E. Lee’s army. As I did with the chapter on brigade medical care in General Lee’s Immortals, I want to push our understanding of this aspect of Confederate military history. So it is time to grow my library once again, both with primary sources and secondary literature.

   I started with Frank Freemon’s Microbes and Minie Balls: An Annotated Bibliography of Civil War Medicine (1993). This book is divided into two sections. The first covers articles and books written by people (mostly) connected to the medical department. Of course, since I write primarily Confederate history, I took note of several Confederate texts that bear further exploration. At the same time, there were several secondary texts that I would also like to examine. These include: Alfred Bollet “Scurvy, Spruce, and Starvation: Major Nutritional Deficiency Syndromes During the Civil War” Medical Times (November 1989); Frank Freemon  “Administration of the Medical Department of the Confederate States Army, 1861 to 1865.” Southern Medical Journal (1987); Harris Riley, Jr., “General Robert E. Lee: His Medical Profile.” Virginia Medical Monthly (1987); and John Stevens “Hostages to Hunger: Nutritional Night Blindness in Confederate Armies.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly (1989).

   Three other books I have recently added to my ever-growing library include Frank Freemon’s Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War (1998); Ira Rutkow’s Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine (2005); and Shauna Devine’s Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science (2014). I’m not sure any of these will lead to information on my narrow topic, but, overall, I hope to gain an even greater understanding of medical practices during the war.

   Coming next, we’ll look at primary sources dealing with the Army of Northern Virginia and Confederate hospitals.

   Do you have a favorite medical resource? Care to share?

(PS. I also have Confederate Hospitals on the Move, Two Confederate Hospitals and Their Patients: Atlanta to Opelika, and Civil War Pharmacy.)

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Generals and their Farmyard Animals

   I sometimes wonder how many Confederate generals kept livestock close by during the war. We know that there were horses and mules, used by officers, artillery, and to pull wagons, but actual livestock?

Robert E. Lee
   The most famous of these stories would undoubtedly be Robert E. Lee and his chicken. This story first appears in A, K, Long’s Memoirs of Robert E. Lee (1886). Long served on Lee’s staff. According to Long, the headquarters staff (or maybe just Lee), had received a mess of chickens. Lee’s cook, Bryan lynch, “Discovered that she daily contributed an egg, spared her life.” The chicken :selected the general’s tent to make her daily deposit… Every day she would walk to and fro in front of his tent, and when all was quiet, find a place under his bed, and deposit her egg; then walk out with a gratified cackle.” The hen went with Lee all the way to Gettysburg and back. During the winter months of 1864, Lee “had a distinguished visitor to dine with him” and Bryan, Lee’s cook, “finding it extremely difficult to procure material for a dinner, very inhumanly killed the hen, unknown to any of the staff. At the dinner the general was very much surprised to see so fine a fowl; all enjoyed it, not dreaming of the great sacrifice made upon the altar of hospitality. When she was missed and inquiry made, Bryan had to acknowledge that he had killed her in order to provide something for the gentlemen’s dinner.” (241-242)

William N. Pendleton
      But there other stories as well of generals keeping livestock close at hand. Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton was sent to inspect the artillery of the Army of Tennessee, near Dalton, Georgia, in the late winters months of 1864. He noted in a letter home that he had stayed at Johnston’s headquarters cottage. One morning, “After washing, etc., we shared breakfast with the general’s mess. Very good; real coffee, and butter made from the general’s own cow, toast, corn-bread, etc.” (315) Not only was there someone milking the cow, but for Johnston, churning butter as well.

   Probably the most famous, or interesting accounts of Generals and livestock come from Maj. Gen. William Mahone. According to Westwood A. Todd, of the 12th Virginia Infantry, Mahone kept a flock of turkeys. “General Mahone, who throughout the war was not unmindful of creature comforts, had about Christmas time provided himself with several turkeys, which he was fattening in a pen just outside of his tent. Rash man that he was to leave those turkeys so exposed. When he stepped out of his tent Christmas morning with a view of selecting his roaster, his turkeys were all gone. Who stole Mahone's turkeys? was a favorite 'conundrum' in the Division the balance of the war."

William Mahone
   Moxley Sorrel, a member of Longstreet’s staff until the last few months of the war, recalled the Mahone “A cow was always by his quarters and laying hens cackled loud, besides many luxuries.” (277)

   So I wonder if other Confederate generals kept livestock penned near their personal quarters, and how that livestone was tended to while on campaign? Maybe time will tell.

Monday, August 12, 2019

He almost got away: Holcombe Legion and the night after South Mountain.

    Sometimes you just find accounts that make a person laugh out loud. As I was reading through an account by a member of Holcombe Legion (SC), I stumbled across one such account. William P. Dubose was adjutant of the infantry portion of Holcombe's Legion (he later served as chaplain). In September 1862, he had been ordered to take a small group of his soldiers and scout towards the battle field of the previous day at South Mountain, trying to ascertain if Federal troops are still around. Dubose has moved his men forward, and then leaves then while he scouts on ahead. He actually flanks a Federal line, coming up in their rear.
Private Jackon A. Davis of Co. E, Holcombe Legion (LOC)

   In the darkness, Dubose has not seen anything, when all of a sudden, he hears "Halt!"

   I stopped immediately, wondering whether it was the voice of the enemy or one of my own men in search of me. I could see one or two figures not more than twenty steps in front of me, but I could not distinguish the uniform. Robert Rutledge's cloak [which Dubose had borrowed] as a civilian's, with a c cape falling over the arms with slits in the side of the body for armholes. My arms were within the slits, holding the pistol [also borrowed]. I quietly cocked it and slowly moved over to the figures before me, which were between me and my own men. They made no movement as I approached and I hoped very strongly still that they were my men. As I approached to within a very few feet my immediate antagonist and myself, simultaneously recognized each other as enemies. He thought I was one of his own men. As he jerked up his gun, I was near enough to ward it off with one hand and with the other attempt to draw my pistol from without the cloak. In the necessary scuffle, the pistol being cocked, discharged itself prematurely. At once, thinking himself shot, with a load yell, the man dropped his gun and precipitated himself upon me. Instantly the woods were alive. My effort then was simply to get away. In the scuffle that ensued, I several times nearly did so, but my antagonist was a much larger and stronger man that I was, and I finally had to surrender to numbers."

Dubose was captured, and spent the next several weeks at Fort Delaware as a prisoner of war. This account was found in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Surprisingly, there appears to be no history of Holcombe Legion.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Purging the Army of Northern Virginia

   A couple of weeks ago, while filming a short interview with Chris Mackowski of Emerging Civil War (we were at the American Battlefield Trust's Teacher's Institute), I made a comment about the purging of officers from the Army of Northern Virginia after Robert E. Lee was assigned command in June 1862. I had never really counted until today, but fifteen men who were brigade or division commanders during the Seven Days battles were not with the Army of Northern Virginia when it surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 (this excludes those who died or were killed in action). Did Lee have these officers transferred on purpose? A good question.

Here are the fifteen and what became of them:

John B. Magruder - sent to Trans-Mississippi Department after the Seven Days.

William H. C. Whiting - reassigned to the Military District of Wilmington. Died as a prisoner of war in New York on March 10, 1865.

Richard Taylor - transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department July 1862.

Bradley Johnson - with the Army of Northern Virginia until 1864, when consolidation removed him from command. Finished the war as commander at Salisbury Prison.

D. H. Hill - shuffled back to North Carolina in February 1863. Commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee during the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Campaign. Had further run-ins with high command, but finished the war commanding a corps at Bentonville.

Boswell Ripley - bounced around between South Carolina and the Army of Northern Virginia. Commanded a division in the Army of Tennessee during the battle of Bentonville.

Robert Toombs - resigned March 4, 1863, after not getting the promotion he thought he deserved. Later served in the Georgia militia.

Howell Cobb - in November 1862, transferred in November 1862 to the District of Middle Florida. Later in the Georgia Militia.

Stephen D. Lee - November-December of 1862 transferred to Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. In mid-1864 was a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee.

Roger Pryor - brigade was broken apart in the spring of 1863 and Pryor resigned.

William S. Featherston - transferred to Vicksburg in early 1863, and later commanded a brigade in the Army of Tennessee

Ambrose R. Wright - wounded in 1864, and transferred to Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

John G. Walker - transferred to the Trans-Mississippi department after the Maryland campaign.

Benjamin Hunger - relieved of field duty July 12, 1862, and spent most of the war as an inspector of artillery in the Trans-Mississippi department.

Theophilus Holmes - transferred to Trans-Mississippi department July 30, 1862.

Did Lee have some of these men transferred to get them out of his hair? All four most senior major generals in the army when Lee took command were soon elsewhere. While Margruder did an outstanding job fooling McClellan at Yorktown, there were numerous complaints leveled at him following the Seven Days battles, mostly for being drunk. He was very quickly assigned to the Trans-Mississippi Department, but on returning to Richmond to answer the rumors against him, he leveled charges against Lt. Col. R.H. Chilton of Robert E. Lee's staff. That surely did not help his cause.

William Whiting's feud was with Jefferson Davis They had butted heads in late 1861, declining command of a Mississippi brigade. Whiting was gone on sick leave, and when he returned, found his division under the command of John B. Hood.

Benjamin Huger feuded with Joseph E. Johnston over the Seven Pines battle. Johnston claimed that Huger was not ready to attack when ordered. Huger wanted charges preferred. Richard Taylor wrote that "Magruder is charged with incompetency and loss of head, and much blame attached to both his and Huger's slowness." (Davis, The Confederate General, vol. 3, 129)

Lee might have been trying to get rid of Theophilus Holmes prior to the Seven Days battles. There is a letter from Lee to the Secretary of War, dated June 19, 1862, stating that Lee "recommended General Huger's orders to be issued from the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office." (OR 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 609.)

Lee, of course, was remaking the Army of Northern Virginia. He wanted younger,  more aggressive commanders to take charge of his divisions.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Now taking orders

Friends, I am now taking pre-orders for signed copies of Lee's Body Guard: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. I expect to mail copies toward the end of next week (The official release date is July 29). The 39th Battalion was recruited to serve as scouts, couriers, and guides for Army of Northern Virginia staff. Members of the battalion were in service from the battle of Second Manassas, all the way to Appomattox. They witnessed Jackson's mortal wounding, and carried the flag of truce when Lee went to meet with Grant. This is my twenty-fourth book, and my fourth regimental. Signed copies are $20, including shipping. You can order via my website,  (please use paypal button), or via the mail. PO Box 393, Crossnore, NC  28616. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Visiting the Ox Hill Battlefield

   Over the years, I have had a chance to visit every battlefield where the Branch-Lane fought, walking the ground where they fought, save one: the battle of Ox Hill, or Chantilly. On a recent visit to Washington, D. C., I remedied that omission. I have checked that battlefield off my list and can say I've trod everywhere they fought, and marched, and camped.

    So why have I not visited the Ox Hill battlefield? Well, there is really nothing left. We'll come back to that.

   The battle of Ox Hill came at the end of the Second Manassas Campaign, and the beginning of the Maryland Campaign. Stonewall Jackson had swung around the flank and into the rear of the Federal army under John Pope. After capturing the Manassas Depot of August 27, Jackson fell back into a defensive position and waited for the Federals to attack. They did just that on August 29, and it was a hard fight for Jackson. Lee, with Longstreet's corps, came up later that day, and on August 30, attacked Pope's flank in the "largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war." The left flank of the Federals was crushed, and they started falling back towards Washington City. The battle of Second Manassas produced an estimated 22,000 casualties.

Monuments to the two Union generals killed.
   Even though they had borne the brunt of the fighting, Jackson 's corps was sent to follow up the attack. He hoped to cut off the Federal retreat and destroy Pope's army in detail. According to the National Park Service, by  "Making a wide flank march, Jackson hoped to cut off the Union retreat from Bull Run. On September 1, beyond Chantilly Plantation on the Little River Turnpike near Ox Hill, Jackson sent his divisions against two Union divisions under Kearny and Stevens. Confederate attacks were stopped by fierce fighting during a severe thunderstorm. Union generals Stevens and Kearny were both killed. Recognizing that his army was still in danger at Fairfax Courthouse, Maj. Gen. Pope ordered the retreat to continue to Washington. With Pope no longer a threat, Lee turned his army west and north to invade Maryland, initiating the Maryland Campaign and the battles of South Mountain and Antietam."
American Battlefield Trust map of the Ox Hill battlefield.
   Branch's brigade was involved early on in the fighting. They were ordered to deploy (with Brockenbrough's brigade) about five that afternoon (September 1), and moved off to their right. Rain soon began to fall in torrents. Capt. James S. Harris, 7th North Carolina State Troops, wrote that the two brigades "scaled a high fence on the right of the road, advanced through an open field and body of woods to a fence near the foot of a hill where the battle was immediately joined. In front there was a meadow, and beyond that, a large field of standing corn which rendered the exact location of the enemy's line uncertain, until by the smoke of the battle and growing darkness, it could be outlined by the flashes of his guns.... Finding his ammunition was nearly out, Gen. Branch applied to Gen. Jackson for help, stating that his 'guns were wet,' to which Jackson curtly replied, 'tell Gen. Branch I have no troops to send him, the enemy's guns are wet, also, and if pressed he must hold his position with the bayonet.'" Of course, Branch did hold, and other troops came up. But the darkness and rain, after two hours of fighting, brought the battle of Ox Hill to an end. The Federals were to escape into the defensives of Washington. Lee, knowing he did not have enough men to lay siege or assault the Federal capital, and not really being able to supply his men so exposed, moved off toward Maryland.
Current image of the battlefield. 

   So, why have I never visited the Ox Hill battlefield? Probably because only 4.8 acres (out of 300) are preserved as a park. The rest of the battle was lost to development in the 1980s. And it was a fight to have those 4.8 acres secured from development.  It was that second fight at Ox Hill that led to the founding of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites. This group later merged with the American Battlefield Protection Foundation to become the Civil War Preservation Trust, then renamed the Civil War Trust, and more recently, the American Battlefield Trust. Over 50,000 acres of battlefield land has been preserved. I've been a member for probably 20 years, and I am a charter member of the American Battlefield Trust.
   The position where Branch's brigade fought is in a condo development, probably along Sleepy Lake Drive. There is really not anything to see. But we were staying in Chantilly, and it was only a couple of miles away, on a late Saturday afternoon, and worth a visit to me so I could cross it off the list.
   In preserving 50,000 acres of battlefield land, the American Battlefield Trust is doing an amazing thing. I don't always agree with them (Danville was not the last Confederate capital), but I am proud to be a member. Let me encourage you to check them out (click here).

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Another type of courier

For the past several months, I posted several times on the role of couriers, mounted couriers, within the Army of Northern Virginia. Of course, this has coincided with my work on Lee's Body Guard, my new history of the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Recently, while reading a set of letters from William C. McClellan, a member of the 9th Alabama Infantry, I found another reference to couriers, a different type of courier.

Pamplin Historical Park
McClellan and the 5th Alabama were stationed near "Louis House" in January 1862. In a letter home to his father that month, McClellan talks about being on guard duty. Usually, every morning, several details were made from the troops in camp. Some were detailed to work on fortifications, others to gather wood, and yet others for guarding various structures. McClellan writes on January 22 that "we have 30 guards every day, guard mountain [mounting] at 8, o'clock. there is 2 orderlies selected from the guard who have the cleanest guns and present the most Soldierly appearance. one of the orderlies waits on the Col. the other reports to The Adjutant. I am almost certain to be one of the orderlies. I have nothing to do but sit by old [Col. Samuel] Henrys fire and chat [with] him during the day and make one trip to Wilcoxs head quarters a half mile off to carry the daily report." (John C. Carter, ed., Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama, 130)

A few notes about guards, gleaned from the Confederate Regulations, are useful. Camp or garrison guards were to serve for twenty-four hours. They were often notified the evening before that they had been selected for guard duty. That morning, the fell in and were inspected by their company's first sergeant, then marched to the regimental parade ground. The guard detail was formed by the sergeant major, inspected, and then turned over to the adjutant. It is not just privates serving in this detail, but an officer and NCO's as well. The men are then inspected a second time, and the musicians paraded. The old officer of the guard then passes along old or standing orders to the new officer of the day. Then comes the process of visiting each post and replacing the old guard with the new guard. Guards are supposed to be replaced every two hours.

There are a few things to unpack from McClellan's letter. McClellan was on guard detail, probably the men who guarded the camp stockade or jail. This is different from being on picket detail, although the formation of the picket detail was probably done at the same time. As the war progressed, entire companies, or at times regiments, were detailed as pickets for several days at a time. McClellan tells us that out of the thirty guards, two are selected to serve as orderlies. He does not elaborate on further responsibilities (probably anything the colonel or adjutant needed them to do). McClellan's letter does not mention being rotated every two hours. After delivering the daily report to the general's headquarters (Cadmus Wilcox, in this case), McClellan simply sat by the colonel's fire and chatted with the colonel (and presumably, whoever else came along).

Regimental commanders do not typically have aides or couriers who are appointed to their staffs. Generals, on the other hand, do. Brig. Gen. James H. Lane used two of his younger brothers in this role during the war. I imagine that if the army was active, but still in camp, say preparing for a march, that the daily orderly could get tired trotting back and forth between regimental and brigade headquarters.

McClellan's story is just one more little piece of the story.