Saturday, September 10, 2016

Remembering Robert B. Vance

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the unveiling of a marker remembering Robert B. Vance in Crosby, Tennessee. The marker was installed by the Maj. James T. Huff Camp 2243, Tennessee Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

We seldom remember Robert Brank Vance. He gets lost in the shadow of his younger brother, Zebulon Baird Vance. Robert was born in 1828. He was a merchant in Asheville, a farmer, and a clerk of court in Madison and Buncmbe Counties. On September 11, 1861, Vance was appointed colonel of the 29th North Carolina Troops. The regiment moved from Asheville to Raleigh in October 1861, and then after the bridge burnings to Jonesboro, Tennessee, in late November 1861. The winter months were spent in Cocke County, Tennessee, and then along the East Tennessee and Georgia and East Tennessee and Virginia Railroads. On February 20, 1862, Vance and the entire 29th were ordered to Cumberland Gap, serving there until late April, and in east Tennessee until Bragg's Kentucky campaign. The 29th Regiment fought at Murfreesboro in December 1862/January 1863.

Vance was promoted to brigadier general on March 4, 1863. When the Department of Western North Carolina was created, Vance was tapped as its commander. Around the end of 1863, Vance was ordered to Raleigh. Before he left, he was ordered to make a demonstration into Tennessee, hoping to distract Burnside who was looking to engage with Longstreet. Vance and his command captured a supply train, but on their return and after a small skirmish near Crosby, Tennessee, Vance was captured. He spent time in the prisons at Nashville, Louisville, Camp Chase, and Fort Delaware. Vance was finally paroled on March 14, 1865, and returned to North Carolina.

After the war, Robert Vance served in the General Assembly and in the US House of Representatives, and then in the patent office. He was married twice: first to Harriet McElroy, and then in 1892, to Lizzie R. Cook. He died at his farm near Asheville and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville. His grave is right in front of that of his brother.

If you are heading down US321, towards Gatlinburg (from the east), take a moment, pull over, and learn a little more about the life of Robert B. Vance, and the skirmish at Shultz's Mill.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Branch-Lane brigade book off to the publishers...

Well, it's gone. I emailed the Branch-Lane manuscript to Savis Beatie this morning. No, I have no idea when it will be published. It took longer to write than I thought. But I think it is good. Detailed. And it’s even under my 150,000-175,0000 word estimate (just barely). Twenty years of research went into that one.

I can't really put my finger on just when I commenced my research into the brigade. Of course, it began when I started working on the history of the 37th NC regiment. That was my first book. But I don't have an actual date. It was in Boone, in the Belk Library at Appalachian State. And it was probably something like, "hey this regiment was local (two companies from Watauga County), and hey, there is no book about them." So, I set out to tell their story.

Given all the years that I have spent as an interpreter and reenactor, like the book on the 37th NC the Branch-Lane brigade history is written from the soldiers’ perspective. It is not a top-down approach, looking at grand maneuvers and the theories of war. Instead, it comes from the smoke-filled trenches and vermin- infested winter quarters that the soldiers shared with family and friends. As I've said all along, it is their story. I'm just trying to fill in the pieces surrounding them as they tell it.

Over twenty years, I've collected thousands of pages of material, many that never got used. When I started working on the 37th NC book, I found and photographed as many graves of members of that regiment as I could. I think I used two, maybe three in the final manuscript. So I've got maybe three hundred photos of graves that never made it. I took all of the primary source material that I collected and put it in six three-inch notebooks, one for every regiment, and one for the brigade. This does not include books of letters or diaries, like Harris's book on the 7th NC, or Speer's 28th NC letters which was published several years ago. At some point, I'll probably break down those notebooks, moving the contents to other notebooks for future projects. For now, they'll probably stay here next to the desk, the same spot where they've been for two and a half years.

But then, this project is more than just words. It's been a part of my life. I've visited every field where they fought, save Ox Hill (figured I'd probably just get arrested). I really can't tell you how many times I have driven Jackson's flank march, or stood next to the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, looking across that field (Lane's brigade was to the left of that piece of bronze and stone). I've been to the graves of Branch in Raleigh, and Lane in Auburn, and countless other cemeteries like the ones in Winchester and Spotsylvania. I've had the chance to portray members of the brigade at reenactments and living histories, like Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and seemingly countless other sites. And, on a few occasions, I've given tours, speaking about the brigade and its members at New Bern, Hanover, and at Pamplin Park.

It's kind of odd, sitting here, able to see the top of my desk. I've still got some filling away to do, but almost everything is back in its notebook. There they sit, waiting for me to pick it up, and trace down some source that I had jotted in my notes.

I'm going to take a little time off from the ANV. Not too much, but a little time. I've already got another ANV project on my mind, but I need to go and write something else in between (that is the ADHD in me). And when I get started on this new ANV project, I'll be building upon my research in the Branch-Lane brigade, it will be the foundation stone for this new idea (you'll probably not hear anything about this one until the first of the year).


Friday, September 02, 2016

Hard times after the war.

Recently, I was looking through the records of the African-American Freedmen's Bureau, attempting to flesh out my knowledge of a local family who were Unionists, and slave owners. While that quest was unfruitful, I did find an interesting piece.

Like most of the South, North Carolina was in a state of flux after the war. People were trying to figure out and adjust to whatever the new normal was. I often tell the story of Harvey Bingham, former member of the 37th NCT, and after mid-1863 major in the 11th Battalion, North Carolina Home Guard. Bingham did such a good job after the war, rounding up deserters and conscription-dodgers, that he was forced to move from the area. He relocated to Statesville and opened a law school. While looking through the Freemen's Bureau records, I found another case, albeit from a different angle.

On May 19, 1866, Lt. P. E. Murphy, the Freemen's bureau agent in Asheville, wrote to Col. Clinton Cilley in Salisbury. His main question concerned with what to do with children who were under 14 and were orphans, or had been abandoned by their parents. But he had another problem. Murphy writes: "There is a colored woman here with four small children who is very destitute and the people about will not give her work for the reason that her husband gave some information to our troops when they came in here. The husband was obliged to leave this place and is now in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she wants to get to him. Is there any means by which she could be helped[?] Her name is Adelaide Walker."

Next, I looked in the 1870 census for Buncombe County, but no Adelaide Walker. Maybe she finally made it to Chattanooga. Maybe she remarried, or, maybe she died.


It is not possible to know how many times the story above was repeated in North Carolina in the years right after the war: Confederate soldiers returning home to discover loved ones dead or farms burned; Union soldiers unable to deal with the strife the war generated with their pro-Confederate neighbors and family; or people simply wanting to put the past behind them. They all left, taking their stories with them. 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

War-time photos of James H. Lane

As I sat working on captions for photographs for the Branch-Lane book today, I got to wondering about how many war-time photos there are of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane. Auburn University has several post-war photographs, including one of Lane in his general's coat with the button covered, but how many war-time images are there? I could only find three. The first you will sometimes find reserved, but I believe it is the same photo. Did I miss any?


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New Bern and the Civil War

Back last year, I wrote a column on how Greensboro and Guildford County were the most written-about locations in North Carolina during the war. With five books on the subject, I still hold to that. But New Bern, I believe, is the most-illustrated part of North Carolina during the war.


New Bern, scenes of battle, 
Harper's Weekly, April 19, 1862. 
Following a battle just south of the town, Federal forces captured New Bern in March 1862. They held it for the remainder of the war, and often used it as a staging area for raids toward the east. Even though parts of New Bern were burned during the Confederate retreat, large portions of the colonial capital survived.


New Bern, Craven Street, ca. 1863  in the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Masonic Hall, New Bern, ca. 1863  in the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Middle Street, New Bern, ca. 1863  in the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



New Bern, reception of Edward Stanley, 
Harper's Weekly, July 19, 1862. 
There were wood-cut illustrations of the battle of New Bern, along with scenes of the city itself, over the next few years in various newspapers from the North. And, there were photographs as well. Photographer E. J. Smith visited the two in 1863. The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives at UNC-Chapel Hill has 27 carte-de-visite prints attributed to Smith taken in New Bern. These, coupled with the newspaper illustrations, make New Bern the most illustrated place during the 1860s. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Squabble over Light Division command at Gettysburg

At the recent Emerging Civil War symposium, I was chatting with Gettysburg Guide Matt Atkinson, and he told me of an account of generals squabbling over who should lead the Light Division after Pender's wounding on day 2 of Gettysburg.

So I tracked down the source: Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander, Confederate War Correspondent. Alexander was born in Georgia, a graduate of the University of Georgia, a lawyer and newspaper reporter. He was the war correspondent for the Savannah Republican. The book was edited by William B. Styple and contains 200 letters that Alexander wrote for various newspapers.
William Dorsey Pender


On July 4, 1863, Alexander wrote a very long piece on the battle of Gettysburg. He goes into detail about the attack on the Confederate right on July 2. Alexander writes: "Mahone, on the other hand, declined to proceed unless Posey and Pender's division on his left should do so at the same time. Upon this fact being made known to Pender he rode forward to examine the ground, when he received a wound and was disabled. The question then arose amongst his Brigadiers as to who was the senior officer, and this point was not settled until about sunset." (164)

William Dorsey Pender took command of the Light Division after the promotion of A. P. Hill following the battle of Chancellorsville. In the reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Light Division was reduced from six to four brigades. Brian Wills, in his recent biography of Pender, makes no mention of Mahone in connection with day 2 at Gettysburg. Pender was ordered to support Rodes or Anderson's divisions if the "attack became general." But the attack never quite happened, and Pender was left to supervise skirmishers to his front. According to Wills, in an effort to get a better view of the terrain, Pender "rode the lines" and "dismounted and perched atop a boulder, from which he hoped to give himself a better vantage point." While on this boulder, a "Union shell suddenly burst nearby" and a piece of shell "tore into Pender's thigh." (233-34)

Lane would write that he observed Pender riding to his right late in the day on July 2.

The Light division consisted of Lane's North Carolina brigade, Brig. Gen. Edward L. Thomas's Georgia brigade, McGowan's brigade, under Col. Abner M. Perrin, and Scales's brigade, under Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales. At the time, right to command was based upon seniority of rank, or, who had held that rank the longest. Lane's promotion to brigadier general dated to November 1, 1862. Alfred Scale's promotion was dated June 13, 1863. He was also wounded on day 1 and replaced by Col. William J. Lowrance. Now to Edward Thomas, whose promotion to brigadier general also dated to November 1, 1862.

So, if there is an argument, it is between Lane and Thomas. If I understand the ranking question, next, the generals would have looked at who was at the previous grade the earliest. Thomas was promoted colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry on October 15, 1861. It was his first command of the war. Lane served as major and then lieutenant colonel of the 1st North Carolina volunteers, and was promoted to colonel of the 28th North Carolina Troops on September 15, 1861. Lane was clearly senior to Thomas.

There is a lot of discussion about the Light Division not coming to support of the troops doing battle on the evening of July 2. Was that Lane's fault? What we really lack is a timeline. When was Pender wounded? When did Lane learn that he was in command? Just how aware was he of where the other brigades were posted, and of the plan for the day?

There are two things that throw the whole debate over seniority into question. Lane writes in his official report of the battle of Gettysburg that "Capt. Norwood, of Genl. Thomas's Staff, that Genl. Pender had been wounded & that I must take command of the division..." If Lane and Thomas had been arguing over who had seniority, then there was no need for a staff officer to inform Lane of who was in command.

The second piece comes from Peter Wellington Alexander. He recants the whole story. On July 26, 1863, Alexander writes: "I was led into an error in regard to the cause of the delay of Pender's division in going into the action on the second day at Gettysburg. The delay did not arise from any squabble among the brigadiers after his fall as to seniority in rank. On the contrary, that point had been settled at Fredericksburg to favor of Gen. Lane, to whom Pender turned over the command immediately after receiving his death wound. (178)


I wonder if Alexander witnessed any of this......... 

Monday, August 08, 2016

Two Great Attacks

This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the Emerging Civil War conference in Spotsylvania, Virginia. The theme for the event was "Great Attacks of the Civil War," and that got me to thinking: what were the great attacks in the Civil War in North Carolina?

Now it would be easy to put the assault of Hardee's and Stewart's men at Bentonville, or Ames' Division at Fort Fisher. But what came to mind are two much smaller affairs, that had greater repercussions.

The first of my two "Great Attacks" takes place in 1861. Forts Clark and Hatteras were constructed either side of Hatteras Inlet not long after North Carolina left the Union. They were meant to keep the Federals out of the Pamlico Sound. On August 28, 1861, Federal naval ships bombarded Fort Clark. Unable to return fire due to the range, Confederate forces fled to Fort Hatteras. Fort Clark was captured, and the Union naval vessels turned their attention toward Fort Hatteras. After several hours of intense bombardment, the fort surrendered, and 700 Confederates became prisoners of war. The loss of these two installations opened the Pamlico Sound to the Union navy and army. Roanoke Island fell in February 1862, the battle of New Bern was fought in March 1862, and Fort Macon fell on April 26, 1862. Later, Federal soldiers set out on raids against Kinston, and battles were fought at Wyse's Fork (this is a short list), all because these two small forts fell in August 1861.


George Kirk
My second pick is on the other end of the state. In June 1864, then Capt. George W. Kirk led a small band of men, about 120, mostly from the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US), on a raid against Camp Vance just east of Morganton in Burke County. The capture of the camp and the skirmishes (maybe three or four), fought between Kirk and various home guard elements as the Federals attempted to flee back to east Tennessee, are minor in the grand pantheon of Civil War battles. However, Kirk's Raid showed many that with the Confederate abandonment of east Tennessee, the back door to the heart of the Confederacy was wide open. Federal raiding parties could move through the area, and even into upstate South Carolina and the mountains of north Georgia. More importantly, family began to write their loved ones in the army in earnest, imploring them to come home and offer some level of protection against the murdering parties stripping the countryside blind. Kirk's Raid kicked into high gear a war-within-a war in western North Carolina, and caused further desertions among the Tar Heel Confederate soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee.


So there you have it: the loss of Forts Clark and Hatteras and Kirk's Raid, my two "Great attacks" in North Carolina in terms of effectiveness. What would your great attacks be?