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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The sad, cruel fate of war, or, the war-time life of Tod R. Caldwell.

   On May 11, 1865, Tod R. Caldwell wrote this letter to J. P. H Russ, W. R. Richardson "and others":

   Gentlemen: Your polite and kind invitation to attend and address a public meeting of the citizens of Wake County, proposed to be held this day in the City of Raleigh for the purpose of giving expression to our feelings on the occasion of our restoration to the Union and to the protection of the flag of our common county, has been received, and I must cordially thank you for the compliment. I deeply regret, however, my inability to be present, as I am compelled to hasten to my home in the west on important business which cannot be postponed. I shall nevertheless be present with you in sentiment and in sympathy and no one of the many spectators who will attend the meeting will hail with more delight that I do, the advent of peace and the deliverance of our people from the iron rule of tyranny and oppression. Let us all, then, with one accord, as good and loyal citizens, respect, and reverence, the glorious stars and stripes which are emblazoned upon our country's banner.
   Let us cherish it as our benefactor and deliverer from a worse than Egyptian bondage, and as a protector from insult and injury, both at home and abroad; let us return to our peaceful avocations determined to cultivate feelings of amity and brother's love toward the people of all sections of our country-to stand to and faithfully abide by the Union, the Constitution and the laws; and to stamp forever with the seal of our disapprobation, the miserable hearsay of secession, which has been the prolific source of so much distress and suffering to a once happy and prosperous people. 

While Caldwell might have kept a low profile in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains during the war years, the war came to his home as well. Caldwell had a son, John, who pleaded with his father for permission to join the army. Tod Caldwell finally consented, and John Caldwell enlisted in Company E, 33rd North Carolina Troops, on May 3, 1863. The younger Caldwell was just eighteen years old. He would serve a little less than two months in the Confederate army.
North Carolina Monument, Gettysburg. 

There are two stories regarding his death at Gettysburg. One takes place on the afternoon of July 2 on a picket line near Long Lane, or out in front of it. The other account has Caldwell dying on July 3 as Lane's brigade neared the Emmittsburg Road. There were several newspaper accounts of the death of John Caldwell published after the war. In one of those accounts, when the Governor was told of the events of the death of his son, "the Governor locked himself in his room and was all day in tears. He never told his wife" of the details "and told it only to his private secretary."

So as Caldwell sat in Raleigh, getting ready to head back to Burke County for "important business," he too well understood the "distress and suffering" of the war. His own family had been split, and his son, just 18 years old, was killed in the heat of battle in distant Pennsylvania.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reconstructing the War-time Life of Tod R. Caldwell

Flip open John G. Barrett's The Civil War in North Carolina and you will find just one reference, per the index, to Tod R. Caldwell. Barrett quotes Caldwell in a March 1864 letter to Gov. Zebulon B. Vance, complaining about "men professing to be impressing agents from Longstreet's army and elsewhere are getting to be as thick in this community [Burke] as leaves in Vallambrosa." Caldwell adds that scarcely a week goes by without a new and hungrier group. (240-41)
Who was Tod R. Caldwell? The short answer would be that Caldwell was the 1st lieutenant governor of the state of North Carolina, and upon the impeachment W. W. Holden in July 1871, became the 41st Governor of North Carolina.

Caldwell was born in Morganton in February 1918. In 1840, he graduated from the University of North Carolina, and studied law under David L. Swain. He was admitted to practice law before the Superior Court in 1841.  Caldwell served in the House 1842-1846, and in 1850, represented Burke County in the state senate.

In pre-war politics, Caldwell was a Whig and opposed the movement to take the state out of the Union, lobbying hard for the Conservative Union party. In June 1860, the Weekly Raleigh Register reported that Caldwell spoke at a meeting in Morganton advocating the nomination of Bell and Everatt, Constitutional Unionist, for president and vice-president of the United States. In September 1860, he wrote: "Trusting that every friend of our beloved country, and every foe of Black Republicanism, Disunionism and Secession, will rally as one man around the National standard of Bell and Everett, with the war cry of "Death to Sectionalism" on their lips, I take my stand ready to do duty among the honest rank and file of the country, who alone are its real defenders in times of danger...."

Once North Carolina left the Union, Caldwell had a choice to make. It appears that he was nominated as the Presidential Elector for the 9th district in October 1861. After this nomination, Caldwell largely disappears from the public record during the war years. There is one account in the Raleigh Weekly Progress, May 10, 1864, in which W. W. Avery and Caldwell got into a debate about who would win the Confederate Congressional district: Leach or Foster.

 It was probably at the same time that Caldwell attended a rally in Morganton in which W. W. Avery nominated Zebulon Vance for re-election as governor of North Carolina. After several speakers, Caldwell asked to address the crowd, "and so thoroughly exposed these Vance leaders and Confederate officer-holders, that Mr. Avery himself was forced to come to the rescue." After Avery spoke for half an hour, Caldwell "then took him in hand and trimmed him in good style, especially in relation to his activity in bringing on the war and then in being so successful in keeping himself out of it. He also told him that two years ago he and his party were denouncing Gov. Vance in the most unmeasured terms, but now--all at once--he had a marvelously proper man, and was their first choice for Governor."

For the most part, it seems that Caldwell lay low during the war years. In his application for presidential pardon, penned in Burke County on July 25, 1865, he wrote that he was "opposed to the late Rebellion from its inception to its termination, but that, to avoid levies in the armies of the so-called "Confederate States," he accepted the officer of Solicitor for the county of Rutherford.... Your Petitioner would add that he canvassed his section of the state and opposed, upon the hirelings, the doctrine of secession and disunion to the best of his ability, and exacted every effort to prevent the call of the State  Convention which passed the ordinance of Secession; -that, during the existence of the said Rebellion, he actively opposed the David Usurpation -- indeed, so much so, that he was threatened by the Rebel leaders with the destruction of private property and personal violence." Caldwell was pardoned on August 14, 1865.

Caldwell's pronounced Unionism soon propelled his political prospects. Not only did he become president of the Western North Carolina Railroad, Caldwell became an aid to Governor Holden in July 1865.  He  represented Burke County in the Constitutional Convention In October 1865. He was recommended as a candidate for the US House in November 1865.

Caldwell went on to become the first lieutenant governor of the state of North Carolina. When Holden was impeached in 1871, Caldwell ran for governor in 1872 and barely won by a margin of 2,000 votes. While in office, he fell ill of a gall bladder attack, and died on July 10, 1874. 

So why my interest in Caldwell? At the Avery Museum, we have a desk that belonged to the governor. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Charge of General Lee (or did he?).

It is a familiar scene for those of us who study the War. General Lee, concerned about repairing the breach, twice appeared at the head of Confederate troops, prepared to lead them into the heat of the battle. At the Wilderness, it was at the head of the Texas brigade. During the morning fight at Spotsyvlvania Court House, almost a week later, it was Gordon's brigade of Georgians.

Yet, is there a third account that has gone unreported in the annuals of history.

Spotsylvania Court House marker
On the afternoon of May 12, Lee appeared along the line near Heth's Salient. He sent some of the Sharpshooters from Lane's North Carolina brigade forward to ascertain if a Federal battery was supported by infantry. Based upon the intelligence gathered, Lee chose to attack and capture the battery, and roll up Burnside's flank, if possible, relieving the pressure on the Mule Shoe. Lane's brigade, supported by Weisiger's brigade, moved out into the woods , capturing the battery and striking the flank of a new division of Burnside's men being launched towards the Confederate lines. Lane's attack was successful to a degree: the Federal guns were captured, although there was no way to bring them off the field, and Burnside's attack crumbled. Lane might have accomplished more if Weisiger had not become lost in the woods, firing into the rear of the North Carolinians.

Did Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, lead Lane's attack?

Two post-war accounts lean in that direction.

Brig. Gen. James H. Lane wrote about his near capture on June 30, 1983: "That afternoon [May 12, 1864], in obedience to orders from General Lee and under his eye, we crossed the works and entered the oak woods, from which we drove the enemy's skirmishers, and attacked Burnside's corps in flank as it advanced to assault the salient. The General and staff and all of the regimental foot officers were on foot."

Two points about this account. One: Lane writes that they were under the "eye" of General Lee. That simply could mean that Lee watched the brigade advance over the works and into the woods, or that Lee had accompanied them further. Two: All throughout the article, Lane refers to himself in first person. "I was with that part of the line which swept over the Federal battery," he writes. Yet Lane tells us that "The General and staff and all of the regimental officers were on foot." He does not write "[I] and [my] staff and all of the regimental officers."

The second account comes from Octavious Wiggins, a lieutenant in the 37th North Carolina, and was written in 1903. Wiggins chronicles that the men were under artillery fire as they move over the works and into the woods. He then writes: "General Lee was riding very close to us at the time" that the attack started. (Clark, North Carolina Regiments, Vol. 2, 666.)

A third account, written by William W. Chamberlaine, a staff office under Lee, seems to dissuade me of the idea. He writes that as the attack was going forward (totally leaving out Lane, who did the lion's share of the work), Confederate artillery opened fire on Burnside's men, and Lane's brigade got caught up in it. Chamberlaine writes that "soon we saw General Lee galloping on the road towards us. Shells were dropping in the road, but he reached us in safety. He directed General Early to have the Batteries cease firing." Chamberlaine's account was published in 1912.

Three accounts: two that lend support to the idea that Lee was close by Lane's brigade during the attack, and third stating he was not. Sure wish I could find something from 1864 to confirm either account.