Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Name, Rank, and Serial Number

For the past couple of days, I've been reading "My Dear Friend: The Civil War Letters of Alva Benjamin Spencer, 3rd Georgia Regiment Company C," edited by Clyde G. Wiggins, III.  Spencer was in the band and, while he witnessed the horrors of the war, was not often on the front lines. But he does give us some clues about the inner workings of the army. At the time of the Overland Campaign, they were members of Anderson's division, Hill Corps.

Related image
James Longstreet

On April 22, 1864, Spencer penned a letter to his sweetheart back in Georgia.  He was writing from Camp "Jennie Hart" on Madison Run. "A few days since we received orders from Genl. Lee," Spencer wrote, "that should any of the brave soldiers of this army be so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the enemy, they should not tell to what brigade, division or corps they belonged; but simply give their names, company and regiments; also prisoners should not talk with each other in reference to anything connected with the army.'" Like all good soldiers, Spencer and his compatriots tried to determine what the order meant and came to the conclusion that "Longstreet's corps is undoubtedly at Charlottesville." (110)

Those of us who grew up right, watching old war movies on Saturday afternoons, recall POWs only giving their name, rank, and serial number. Of course, Confederate (and Union) soldiers did not have serial numbers. I've tried to find Lee's order, but I've not had much luck yet.

Longstreet and most of his corps were shipped to Georgia in September 1863 (passing through North Carolina). He was instrumental in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, and the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. After a failed attempt to re-capture Knoxville, he spent the winter of 1863-1864 in east Tennessee. With the opening of the spring campaign in Virginia, Lee wanted Longstreet back with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee actually planned to use Longstreet to attack the Federals positioned across the Rapidan River (see Lee to Davis, April 25, 1864, Official Records, Vol. XXXIII, 1282-83). Based upon Spencer's letter home, Lee was trying to keep Longstreet's movement a secret.

Name, rank, and regiment. I don't recall reading this in any other source. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Now taking orders! Kirk's Civil War Raids!

Two books out in one year? Yes sir! I actually never planned to have two books come out within three General Lee's Immortals to be released in the fall of 2017, and Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge to come out in the summer of 2018. That is not the way things worked out, and I'm ok with that. It just means that I am going to have a supper busy 2018!
months of each other.  I expected

There are books on just western North Carolina and the War (Inscoe and McKinney's Heart of Confederate Appalachia) and on just East Tennessee (Fisher's War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee). Kirk's Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge bridges the gap between the areas, tracing the movements of guerrilla bands and regular soldiers as they operated between the two states.

There are a host of characters involved. Union colonel George W. Kirk takes a leading role, but Brig. Gen. Robert B. Vance, Col. John B. Palmer, Col. William H. Thomas, Maj. Gen. George W. Stoneman and others appear at frequent intervals. Kirk's Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge also covers some of the pivotal events of the War in the mountains, including the Marshal and Shelton Laurel Raids of January 1863, Folk’s raid on Fish Springs, and the skirmishes around Gatlinburg, Greenville, Elizabethton, and Asheville. Of course, Kirk’s activities in Warm Springs, Camp Vance, and as a part of Stoneman's raid are also covered.

Signed copies are $20, shipping included. Release date is March 5. Please visit my website to order your copy today. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Who shot Jackson?

Ok. That one is pretty easy. Almost everyone agrees it was the 18th North Carolina Troops who shot Jackson. It was not their fault: it was dark; Jackson should not have been out in front of his men that close to the front lines, etc., etc. Scott Ellis recently asked me a much harder question: what company of the 18th North Carolina shot Jackson? We don't actually know, which leads to a much harder, technical question: how were companies deployed in a line within a regiment?

Image result for illustration from Hardee's Light infantry
from Hardee's Light Infantry Tactics (1861). 

Some basics: A standard infantry regiment during the war was composed of ten companies. Each company was composed of 100 men, at least early in the war. By mid-1863, it was probably half that. Each company, once a regiment was created, was given a letter designation - A through K, skipping the letter J because it looked too much like the letter I. Traditionally, when ten independent companies were gathered at a training camp, they were given permission to form a regiment and elect their colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major. Then the independent companies were given letter designations. It would be nice to assume that Company A was the oldest company in the regiment, Company B the second oldest, etc., but that does not appear to be true. In looking at three regiments, the 16th North Carolina, 26th North Carolina, and 37th North Carolina, the companies are not lettered chronologically. It is possible that the Company lettering was based upon when they received permission to organize from the governor. (That would take more research to prove.)

We could then assume that Company A would be the first company in line, followed by Company B, Company C, etc. But that's not the way the period manuals laid out the regiment. The very first paragraph in the 1861 edition of Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics... by W. J. Hardee reads: "A regiment is composed of ten companies, which will habitually be posted from right to left, in the following order: first, sixth, fourth, ninth, third, eighth, fifth, tenth, seventh, second, according to the rank of captains." (5) The last little phrase "according to the rank of captains" is what makes this confusing.

Going back to the 37th NC, the regimental line, based upon the seniority of the captains, should look like this on November 20, 1861 (this is from the right): A, E, C, G, K, H, D, I, F, B. That changes on November 21. Capt. William M. Barber (Company F) is promoted to lieutenant colonel and Capt. John G. Bryan (Company G) is elected major. Their successors are now the junior captains in the regiment. 1st Lt. James Reed replaces Captain Bryan, and Pvt. Charles N. Hickerson replaces Captain Barber. Since Hickerson is elected from the ranks, he is the junior captain of all the company commanders in the 37th NC. Now the companies are in line, from the right: A, E, C, G, K, I, D, F, H, B. Usually, the companies on the far right and far left are designated flank companies, or skirmish companies. At times, they are armed with rifles, while the rest of the companies are armed with smoothbore muskets.

Now, this raises a serious question that I have never been able to answer. During the war, when captain turnover was frequent, did the companies change position in the line? I could see this in the old US Army, prior to war. Companies were rarely together to begin with, often stationed at various posts some distance away. Looking at the 37th NC on May 1, 1863, right before the battle of Chancellorsville, the companies should be, from the right, A, E, H, I, D, G, F, K, B, C. And even this may not be right. Captain John Hartzog of Company A was originally elected as captain on August 27, 1861. He resigned and went home on July 15, 1862, but was re-appointed as captain of Company A on February 9, 1863. Does his previous rank come into play?

The reason I use the 37th NC for an example is this: I actually have a listing of companies in line. Noah Collins, in his post-war writings, lays out the company line in late 1861 (from the left): D, B, E, C, K, I, H, G, A, F. As you can see this is nothing like how it should be, according to the rank of the captains.

Along those lines, has anyone ever seen another account of a Confederate regiment where the companies were designated in line? I've been reading letters, diaries, and regimental histories, and I don't recall seeing this any other place.

So, to go back to Scott Ellis's question, no, I don't know which company of the 18th NC shot Jackson. I'm not sure we will ever know the answer to that question. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Stoneman's 1863 raid

We here in North Carolina talk a great deal about Stoneman's 1865 raid through the western parts of North Carolina. His troopers fought numerous skirmishes and one pitched battle (Salisbury). Unable to destroy the bridge over the Yadkin River on the Rowan-Davidson County line, Stoneman turned back toward the west, moving toward Statesville, Taylorsville, and Lenoir. Stoneman himself returned to Tennessee with about 1,000 prisoners, while the majority of his command moved further west. Stoneman's moving through the western parts of North Carolina most likely played a role in the decision of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and his surrender to Sherman in late April 1865.

George Stoneman
Yet there is another Stoneman's Raid. On the surface it did not amount to much and, at times, is seen as a failure. Maybe there is more to this raid than meets the eye.

In April 1863, Joseph Hooker puts the Army of the Potomac in motion. His plan is to move swiftly over the Rappahannock River and force Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia out of their Fredericksburg entrenchments. Of course, we know that Lee divided his army, met Hooker, split the ANV again, and won a decisive victory over the Federals. (Short summary.) Part of Hooker's plan was to send his cavalry, under the command of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, on a long distance raid against Lee's supply lines.  Cutting these lines would help force Lee out into the open. Hooker famously wrote to Stoneman on April 12: "Let your watchword be fight, and let all your orders be fight, fight, fight."

Stoneman's Raid began on April 28. Plagued by bad weather, portions of Stoneman's command were not on the south bank of the North Anna River until May 2. There were several skirmishes, some of the railroad tracks were torn up, depots burned, and telegraph lines cut. Stoneman returned to Union lines on May 8. Hooker was not pleased with Stoneman's results (Hooker and the Army of the Potomac had already retreated). "If Lee had been severed from his base of supplies, I certainly should not have retired across the River before giving him an old fashioned struggle for the ascendency," Hooker wrote after the war. In his eyes, it was Stoneman's fault that Chancellorsville was a lost battle.

But did Stoneman's raid really work? Many soldiers in the Confederate army wrote of being on quarter rations following the battle of Chancellorsville. Tally Simpson (3rd South Carolina Infantry) even goes a step further. On May 10, 1863, he wrote home that "We are beginning to live hard as soon as we return[ed] to camp. Stoneman's raid reduced our rations no little. I am compelled to go hungry half of the time." (228)  William Stilwell (53rd Georgia Infantry) wrote home on May 13: "The whole army is on quarter rations. A lb. and a half of meat from six days-take it as it come-bone, skin, and dirt, and it was so rank that it can hardly be eaten..." (159) Toward the end of May, it appears that rations started flowing once again into the Confederate camps around Fredericksburg.

Kent Masterson Brown, in his remarkable book Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign (2005), outlines the extreme shortages faced by the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1863. If Lee's army did not move out of the war-ravaged central Virginia area, it faced certain collapse due to a short of food and forage. There are, of course, other reasons, not just Stoneman's raid early in May. There had been a drought in 1862, and too much rain in early 1863. But Stoneman's Raid, and the extra work it took to get the already taxed railroad back into working shape, certainly did not help the dire situation that Lee faced. By mid-June, the Army of Northern Virginia was on its way to the rich barns of Pennsylvania. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

New reference material from Savas Beatie

From time to time, I've made posts on growing a good library. If you have unlimited funds, then you can order away and stock you shelves with good books. I don't have unlimited funds, but I am always looking for good books that allow me to be better at what I do. Recently, Savas Beatie, LLC, released Richard A. Sauers' The National Tribune Civil War Index: A Guide to the Weekly Newspapers Dedicated to Civil War Veterans, 1877-1943. It is in three volumes.

A little background: The National Tribune was a newspaper that began publication in 1877 as a monthly newspaper "to help influence Congress" to help the Federal veterans with their quest in regards to a better pension for former soldiers. In August 1881, the newspaper became a weekly sheet, and began publishing articles by veterans. "We shall be glad at all times to hear from any of our soldiers or sailor friends who have matters of historical interest, incidents, or amusing anecdotes of the war to relate," the editor wrote in August 1881. By 1884, there were over 77,000 subscribers. Articles continued to appear in the National Tribune until 1943.

So, what does this have to do with Southern soldiers? While the majority of the articles that appeared with the pages of the National Tribune were written by former Union soldiers, articles were written from time to time by former Confederate soldiers. For example, volume 3 has a listing of articles pertaining to North Carolina soldiers. The one entry for the 28th North Carolina references an article that appeared on July 23, 1891. Using volume 1, I was able to see that this article pertained to the battle of Cold Harbor. Next, I went to newspapers.com (the articles are not contained in the three volumes - It is only an index), found the National Tribune for July 23, 1891, and searched "Cold Harbor." You can see the article I found here.

The majority of the articles are from Federal soldiers. The Southerners had Confederate Veteran and the Southern Historical Society Papers for their post-war writings. Yet, there are truly some gems to be found with the index. Richard Sauers' work is a fantastic addition to the libraries of those of us who spend our days poring through original sources looking for the smallest details to enhance our scholarship.

The three volumes are only available through Savas Beatie, and the first printing is limited to 100 sets (There were only 30 or set sets left when I ordered). I'm glad I ordered mine. They are a great addition to my library. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Most Recognizable Flags in the Confederacy?

18th NC flag, NC Museum of History 
Did the Branch-Lane brigade have the most recognizable flags in the Confederacy? Quite possibly. On the front cover of my new book is the "Branch pattern" flag of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. It is a standard 3rd pattern Army of Northern Virginia flag, with battle honors painted in a distinct white scalloped style. As far as I can tell, no other ANV infantry regiment ever had such a distinctive style flag. The flags of the 3rd, 13th and 15th South Carolina are similar, but not enough to attribute it to the same painter. The battle honors are not as bold.

Following the Seven Days battles, Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch was authorized to have new battle flags inscribed with the regiments' battle honors. The quartermaster was responsible for furnishing flags to the brigade. The flags of the 7th, 33rd, and 37th regiments were authorized to be emblazoned "New Berne, Slash Church, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Fraziers Farm, [and] Malvern Hill." The flags of the 18th and 28th regiments were embellished with "Slash Church, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Fraziers Farm, [and] Malvern Hill."

37th NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy
When the flags of the regiment were issued to the brigade in December 1862, the battle honors had undergone some changes. Instead of "Slash Church," the flags now had Hanover. Gaines Mill was now Cold Harbor. Other honors were listed as well, including Cedar Run, Manassas, Manassas Junction, Ox Hill, Shaprsburg, and Harper's Ferry.

According to the compiled service records, the flags arrived in camp in early December 1862. Captain George S. Thompson, quartermaster for the 28th Regiment, signed for his regiment's flag on December 4, 1862. The statement reads "One Battle Flag with inscription." That's an important little fact. I would take it to mean that the flags arrived in camp, from Richmond, already painted with their battle honors. Obviously, there was some discussion from the time that Branch requested the flags, until when they were actually painted (after September 1862) with someone at the Quartermaster's Department.

28th NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy 
The brigade, now belonging to James H. Lane, carried these flags through the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The 18th NC lost its flag at Chancellorsville. Glen Dedmondt writes in his book, The Flags of Civil War North Carolina, that A. P. Hill's division was issued new flags in June 1863. The 7th NC obviously stuck their "Branch" flag back in a wagon. Their new flag was captured on July 3, on the slopes of Cemetery Ridge by a member of the 1st Delaware Infantry. The 28th North Carolina also lost a flag, but not the new one. Their Branch flag was captured on July 3. Dedmondt believes the 33rd NC carried its new flag through the Gettysburg campaign, until it was captured at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864.

33rd NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy
So the Branch pattern flag of the 18th was captured at Chancellorsville, and that of the 28th at Gettysburg. The 37th North Carolina's Branch flag was captured on April 2, 1865, as the Federals overran the breastworks below Petersburg. The 33rd North Carolina's Branch Pattern flag was supposedly in Battery Gregg as the fighting took place. It was captured at some point after April. So what became of the 7th's Branch pattern flag? The 7th NC had been ordered back to North Carolina in February 1865, to try and help round up deserters. Instead of surrendering their flag, the men cut it up, each taking a piece of it home with him. This seems to be a common practice with Army of Tennessee regiments.

Pieces of all three flags survive. A fragment of the 7th NC's Branch pattern flag is at the North Carolina Museum of History, along with the 18th NC's Branch pattern flag. The Branch pattern flags of the 28th, 33rd, and 37th Regiments are at the Museum of the Confederacy.

7th NC flag fragment, NC Museum of History 
Back to my original argument. I would say that the Branch pattern flags of the Branch-Lane brigade are the most distinctive depot-issued flags of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Thanks to Charlie Knight of the North Carolina Museum of History for help with this post. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Help save one of the Bethel Regiment's flags!

Preserving flags is no small undertaking. A wool bunting flag can cost several thousand dollars. A silk flag, $20,000. States and museums rarely have that kind of money lying around, so it is up to individuals and groups to raise the funds to have the flags sent to conservators for preservation. When it comes to silk flags, time is of the essence.

Friends in the McDowell Men, Camp 379, Sons of Confederate Veterans, have taken it upon themselves to raise the funds to preserve the flag of Company E, 1st North Carolina Volunteers, the Buncombe Riflemen.

The Buncombe Riflemen were organized on December 20, 1859, in Asheville, North Carolina. Locals were afraid that other fanatics, like John Brown, would follow in his footsteps, raiding government property, kidnapping local citizens, and inciting civil insurrection. Later, the name of the private militia company was changed to the Buncombe Rifles. With hostilities looming between the North and South, the Buncombe Rifles were ordered to Raleigh in April 1861.  The flag above was reportedly made by Miss Anna and Sallie Woodfin; Miss Fannie and Mary Patton; Miss Mary Gaines, and Miss Kate Smith. The flag was made from silk dresses belonging to the young ladies, and was presented to the company by Anna Woodfin. Capt. William McDowell accepted the flag on behalf of the company.

The Buncombe Rifles became Company E, 1st North Carolina  Volunteers, on May 13, 1861. It is believed that Company E became the color company of the regiment, and that this flag flew over them as they fought the Federals at the battle of Big Bethel, Virginia, in June 1861. That distinction would make this banner the first flag to see land combat operations during the war. Later, the General Assembly authorized the regiment to inscribe the word "Bethel" on the flag. The first North Carolina Volunteers was mustered out of Confederate service on November 12, 1861. The flag now resides at the North Carolina Museum of History.

Charge of the 5th NY at Big Bethel. Note flag at upper left. 

Due to the fragile nature of silk flags, if steps are not taken soon to stabilize and conserve this banner, it will be lost to history for good. Please visit Camp 379's website for more information, including how to donate to help preserve the flag of the Buncombe Riflemen.