Thursday, November 12, 2015

Writing about Chancellorsville

For the past two months, I've been writing about Lane's brigade and the battle of Chancellorsville for two different destinations. The first treatment was the chapter for the Branch-Lane book. The second was an article, possibly for inclusion in a new issue of Civil War Regiments, about how James H. Lane wrote about the battle.

 The chapter in the Branch-Lane book is about 10,000 words. It is my belief that this will be the most widely read and scrutinized chapter of the book. Why? Well, it was Lane's brigade that shot Jackson. This episode of the war is one upon which a lot of ink has been spilt, possibly only second to the battle of Gettysburg.

Even after such an exhaustive study, I still have a few questions. Both the 7th and 37th Regiments voted to bestow upon a member of each company the "Badge of Honor." Would it not be great to know why their comrades picked each of these men? Just what did they do during the battle to earn this honor?

There were a couple of men who were promoted to a high rank on the field, men such as William Lee of the 7th NC. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Did this really happen on the field, or, did his promotion date to May 3, 1863?

And lastly, John Crayton , 28th NC, was killed in action. According to the Troops book series, "a medal was presented to his friends for his bravery." I wonder what it looked like, how many were struck, who were his friends?

The article I sent to Civil War Regiment takes a little different tack. Instead of looking at the role of Lane's brigade at the battle, I examined the way Lane wrote about the battle, starting with his official report, and then moving into the post-war years. He wrote a couple of newspaper articles about the role of his brigade, and corresponded with Henry B. McClellan, biographer of JEB Stuart, and with Augustus C. Hamlin, a Federal veteran who wrote a history of the battle of Chancellorsville. Lane's timeline of events never really strayed from his official report. He did, though, as time went on, add little details, like his conversation with Jackson on the Orange Plank Road, about the topography surrounding him, and about how dark it was.

A small example would be Lane to Hamlin about May 3, 1863. After being driven out of the captured Union lines, Lane pulled his men back, resupplied them with ammunition, and was then ordered to the far Confederate left.  Lane wrote that:
" The woods were on fire, shells, dropped loaded muskets & cartridges were exploding in every direction. The dead, Confederates as well as Federals, were on fire, & helpless wounded Federals-officers & men-begged to be removed from the approaching devouring flames but we could render no assistance.  On reaching Colquitt, we had to wait until the woods on his left was burnt over, before we could prolong his line. There we remained until the next day in the ashes & the charred scrubby oaks, & it was hard to tell whether we white or black, Federal or Confederate so far as the color of our clothes were concerned.  When we were ordered back, the troops in rear received us with boisterous laughter & cheer.  My brigade was in nearly every great battle fought by the Army of Northern Virginia, but in none did I ever witness so many harrowing scenes as I did at Chancellorsville."

No matter how many times I get to explore some of these topics, there is always some new angle to study, some new direction to consider, and big pile of questions I would love to have answered.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Five Missing Flags

I have written in the past about a set of missing flags from the Branch-Lane brigade. I understand missing a flag or two from a regiment, but five whole flags from a brigade issue?

It would appear that right before the Seven Days campaign began, in late June 1862, Branch's brigade was issued new battle flags. Nicholas Gibbon chronicles in his diary that the brigade received new flags on June 26, 1862. At the battle of Gaines Mill, the flag of the Seventh North Carolina passed through the hands of five color bearers, including Col. Reuben Campbell, who died with it in his hands.

In fact, I have probably a half dozen mentions of various regiments in the brigade and their flags prior to the famous issue that is so associated with the Branch-Lane brigade. And I found another one last night. According to an article in the Weekly State Journal, dated October 1, 1862, Branch's "body, as he himself would have wished it, was borne to its last resting place under the tattered and ball-riddled flags of two of his veteran regiments." I would assume that the brigade sent two flags to accompany the remains of Branch. I would assume that one of them belonged to the Thirty-third, seeing that Branch was the former colonel of that regiment. But, what flags were they?

It is unlikely that it was the 33rd NCT's state flag. It was captured, most likely, during the battle of New Bern in March 1862, and then donated to the Hall of History (now the North Carolina Museum of History) in 1917. It is unlikely that Branch's headquarters flag was one of the flags used. His flag was found in Winchester, Virginia, many years after the war, and donated to the Museum in 1920. It is possible that a First National belonging to the 33rd NCT might have accompanied the General's body. This flag wound up in Hyde County after the war. (All of these flags are in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History.)

Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., writes that the Richmond Clothing Depot was established in late 1861 and by May 1862, was making wool bunting flags from material captured at the former Federal navy yard near Norfolk, Virginia.  These flags, according to Howard Madaus, featured 13 stars and "substituted orange wool for the borders." The flags were 48 inches square. (see more here) "The first examples of these new battle flags were issued in May to troops of Gen. James Longstreet's Right Wing." A. P. Hill's division was a part of that right wing until Hill and Longstreet had a falling out and Hill was transferred to Jackson's command.

So my next question is this: are there surviving examples of first bunting issue flags for other regiments in Hill's Division? I've not found any.

The search continues.... 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Pender?

  For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on the Chancellorsville chapter of the Branch-Lane book. In all the accounts that I have read, this one question keeps bothering me: why Pender?

Once Jackson is wounded (by the 18th NCT, of Lane's brigade), General A. P. Hill sends out Capt. Benjamin W. Leigh, an aide-de-camp, to find an ambulance and a surgeon. Leigh returns with Dr. Richard R. Barr, assistant surgeon, 34th North Carolina Troops, a part of Pender's brigade. Now, I understand how difficult it would have been for Leigh to find someone - it was dark, the woods thick (in places), confusion reigned supreme. Given the events, I imagine that finding someone was a chore, although Leigh seems to find Barr quickly. But, was there no surgeon or assistant in Lane's brigade, or Heth's brigade behind them? Pender's brigade was even further back.

And that leads me to my second “Why Pender?” question: Lane writes to A. C. Hamlin in 1892: "Genl. Pender rode into the woods, calling for me. When we met he advised me not to advance, as Genl. Jackson had been wounded, & he thought by my command." If the map in Sear's Chancellorsville is correct, how does Pender know? Heth's brigade is stacked in front of him on the Orange Plank Road. Does Leigh run into Pender looking for a surgeon? Once again, Leigh has to pass through Lane's lines, through Heth's brigade stacked on the road, just to find Pender and his brigade.

I looked at Willis'a biography on Pender. He, and several other sources, have not only Doctor Barr on hand quickly, but General Pender as well. Was Barr following Pender, kind of like a staff officer? Willis writes:  "A staffer sent by Hill to locate a doctor stumbled into Dorsey Pender as he came forward to make his own assessment of what had happened" (207-8). I also looked through Pender's letters, but he makes no mention of the encounter.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Looking for John Polk

   In Volume 8 the North Carolina Troops books series, on page 148, we find this:
Polk, John -----
Negro. Served as "body guard to Colonel Samuel Lowe" of this regiment.

Who was John Polk? Was he a slave owned by Colonel Lowe? A freeman? Inquiring minds want to know more.

I've been writing today about free persons of color and slaves attached to the Branch-Lane brigade. Talk about an area in which there is a total lack of research. There are, I believe, a couple of reasons for this gap. First, people seem more interested in adopting positions than actually doing the research to confirm or refute their ideas. The positions run the gambit from "There were no blacks in the Confederate army," to "There were no blacks willingly serving in the Confederate army," to "There were tens of thousands of blacks willingly serving in the Confederate army." Second - it's not easy to find good sources, especially when the "National Narrative" is already against you. Why is this? I believe the reason why we don't find more mention of black men serving right alongside white men in the ranks is this: it was not an uncommon practice prior to the war. They worked in the fields together, in towns together, often attended church together, and, given that the majority of slave owners only owned one or two slaves, often lived in the same house together.

On a couple of occasions here on this blog, I've talked about the Cozzens/Cossens/Cousins brothers. They were free people of color who voluntarily served in Company B, 37th North Carolina Troops. In one letter from another member of the 37th NCT, I have a list of men messing together. The Cozzens are included in that list. This clearly was no big deal to the writer of the letter.  While this is scant evidence of the theory that I proposed above, it is a start.

So just how many free men of color, or slaves, served in or simply served Confederate regiments? That is impossible to say. But I did a little sample. There were 139 men who served in the officers corps of the 37th NCT. Officers were, historically, better educated and wealthier and could afford slaves. I took the officers of two companies from Watauga, B and E. Out of the twelve officers in Company B, nine were from Watauga. In Company E, seven out of eleven were from Watauga. According to the slave census, only one officer in Company B owned slaves - Jonathan Horton. He owned five, and could possibly have brought one from home. Likewise, in Company E, only one man, William F. Shull, owned slaves. He owned three, and could have brought one from home. If that tally is true for every company, then there might have been one slave brought from home for each company. Of course, that slave would be attached to his master, and possibly his master's mess mates.  It is possible that this number would be greater in a regiment recruited earlier in the war. I've not written about a regiment recruited early in the war (yet), so I'm not sure. You might easily add three or four more for the field and staff. I also have some records of soldiers renting servants. But, they often do not specify whether they were renting slaves or freemen. So, maybe fifteen slaves or servants tending to their masters in a regiment?

In the Branch-Lane brigade, I have identified twenty-three men who served as teamsters during the war, a position traditionally occupied by black men. But so far, I have not been able to identify any of them as either free men of color or as enslaved. The research continues.

Back to John Polk. The scant amount of information we have simply says he was a "Negro" and that he was Samuel Lowe's "body guard." The record does not tell us if he was a cook, or teamster, or  if he was slave or free, or even how long he served.

I went and looked in the US Census. Samuel Lowe was from Lincoln County. I found a John Polk, age 35, in the 1860 Gaston County census. He is a freeman, and lists his post office in the King's Mountain area.

There is a John Polk in the 1870 US census for Cleveland County, North Carolina. He is listed as a black man, age 49, living in the home of Abe Polk, age 59. He was from North Carolina, and could read and write.

Of course, I have no idea if these are the same men, or even if this is the right John Polk. I also searched for Samuel Lowe as a slave owner on Heritage Quest. I could not find him listed.

People often mention the plethora of books about the war. Save for a literal handful, like Bell Wiley's Southern Negroes, 1861-1865; Durden's The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation; Blackerby's Blacks in Blue and Gray: Afro-American Service in the Civil War; and Barrow, Segar, and Rosenburg's Black Confederates, it appears that everyone is willing to just adopt some position, dig in, and hurl "bum shells" at those who disagree. That is a terrible shame, as men like John Polk deserve to have their stories told. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Branch-Lane update

Despite all of the traveling this summer, I've made some progress on the Branch-Lane manuscript. I've been working on a chapter about daily life. The first part of this chapter actually walks a reader through what a normal (non-campaign) day was like. I covered things like sleeping arrangements, roll call, food, drill, guard mounting/pickets, dress parades, and down time, while Sundays brought inspections and church services. The rest of the chapter deals with other aspects of daily life, like writing and getting letters from home, camp fun, gambling, snowball fights, music, visitors in camp, hygiene, and accidents. Yet to be included are sections on getting paid and clothing. Handled in other chapters will be the whole medical aspect (there was a sick call every morning), and military disciple.

In the past, I have integrated the daily life into the chronological sequence of the book.  I thought with the Branch-Lane brigade book that I could probably better explain what life was like by keeping it all together. I guess you, the readers, will tell me what worked better.

In writing a brigade history, I have found scores of illustrations from their letters to illustrate the various points. That's great. But, at the same time, I can only use a couple out of maybe ten or more. It is a challenge, but I hope you will enjoy what I've come up with. The Daily Life chapter will probably be the largest chapter in the book.

It is my hope to have the Daily Life chapter finished up by the end of the week. Then it is on to Chancellorsville. I image this will be the most challenging, considering the number of things written regarding the mortal wounding of Jackson.

Onward and upward.... 

Friday, July 31, 2015

On the road in August

Things are slowing down just a little over the next month. If you are out and about, please come join me!
August 1 - Ft. Fisher - 2:00 pm
August 4 - Pvt. Lorenzo Bennett Camp SCV, Bennett Place, Durham
August 6 - 47th Regiment NC Troops Camp, SCV, Wake Forest
August 7-9 - Emerging Civil War Conference, Fredericksburg, VA
August 10 - Big Ivy Mountain Guard Camp, SCV, Barnardsville
August 11 - Tour for the Beech Mountain Club
August 13 - Southminster Retirement Community, Charlotte
August 17 - Mitchell County and the Civil War, Spruce Pine Public Library, 6:30 pm
August 18 - Col. John B. Palmer Camp, SCV, Burnsville
August 20 - Moses Wood Camp, SCV, Gaffney, SC
August 24 - Avery County and the Civil War, Public Library, Newland, 6:30 pm
August 25 - Gen. William Kirkland Camp, SCV, Chapel Hill

August 31 - Yancey County and the Civil War, Public Library, Burnsville, 6:30 pm

Monday, July 27, 2015

Putting little pieces together

I've been working on the story of the band of the Thirty-third regiment today. It is at times frustrating that someone can write an entire book on the band of the 26th NCT, and yet I can only come up with a paragraph on the band of the 33rd NCT. Both bands primarily came from Forsyth County.....

I have said many times that the work I do is like a massive jigsaw puzzle, except I will never have all of the pieces. And that is just what it is: pieces. For example. Julius F. Stauber served in Company I, 33rd North Carolina Troops. He was an original member of the band. In August 1862, he died of disease in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia.

It appears that many of band members in the 33rd NCT were members of Bethania Moravian Church. Their pastor during the war was Jacob Siewers. He recorded in his diary on December 12, 1862: "Samuel Stauber returned this afternoon with several others from Virginia with their deceased sons." The 1860 Forsyth County Census shows a Samuel Stauber with a son named Julius.

Pieces.... That is all I have. Just pieces.....