Wednesday, September 08, 2010
The Rowan Artillery
Recently, I took an interest in the Rowan Artillery (Co. D, 1st North Carolina Artillery [10th North Carolina State Troops]). I recently found a great primary source of the roll of the battery at the battle of Gettysburg. This led me to look at the roster of the battery, and to look for other primary sources, which led to a book that was recently released on the subject.
I’ll start off by saying that I really don’t like criticizing someone’s book – having written a few myself, I understand how difficult the process can be. That being said, Men of God, Angels of Death: History of the Rowan Artillery by Jack Travis (2008) needs some help.
The Rowan Artillery might be considered a bedrock artillery unit of the Army of Northern Virginia. The company was organized on May 18, 1858, and was called into service for twelve months on May 3,
1861. Soon thereafter, the battery was reorganized and placed under the command of James Reilly, the
former “keeper” of Fort Johnson. Lacking cannon, the battery was temporarily assigned as infantry to
the 4th NCST. By July 27, 1861, the men were in Manassas Junction, where they received two of the
captured Federal cannons from the late battle. The Rowan Artillery was placed in W. H. C. Whiting’s
Brigade, and wintered near Dumfries, Virginia. The battery was involved in the actions during the
Confederate retreat from Yorktown, and, as a member of Law’s brigade, the Seven Days battles.
Following the battle, Whiting was transferred, and the battery, now in B. W. Frobel’s Artillery Battalion, became a part of Hood’s division. The battery took prominent parts in battles like Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Fredericksburg. The year 1863 found the battery back in North Carolina, where it was engaged in the attack on Washington in April, and the siege of Suffolk. The battery rejoined the ANV in June 1863, and continued with the army to Gettysburg. Other battles followed, including Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor. The battery was then involved in the siege of Petersburg, and then retreated with the remnants of the ANV. Much of the battery was captured during the final days of the war in Virginia.
Travis’s work would have been better had it simply been a biography of battery commanders James
Reilly or John A. Ramsey. Had we just followed their lives, then we would have a good book. But Travis tries to interpose a history of the Rowan Artillery along the way. Travis claims to be a re-enactor and states in the introduction that this book is “written from a re-enactor’s point of view” (10). However, there is a fundamental lack of information on how a piece of artillery or a battery of artillery worked. There is no diagram of the positions of the different gunners, and no description of what jobs those different gunners performed. And hardly anyone on the battery, save Reilly or Ramsey, is ever mentioned. On page 65 is a description of some of the illnesses that plagued the army, like chronic diarrhea and dysentery, yet Travis never actually provides us with any examples of these illnesses among the members of the group. It only took a matter a minutes for me to discover that eighteen men of the Rowan Artillery died of disease during the war. Do you need to mention everyone? No. But a couple of examples like Pvt. William H. Black, who died of typhoid fever on October 10, 1861, or Pvt. Thomas H. Hardister who died of erysipelas on June 21, 1862, might have been nice. The next paragraph on that page deals with soldiers who paid social calls to “fallen doves” and contracted venereal diseases. However, I could not find any reference to any soldiers in the Rowan Artillery contracting such a disease.
There are a couple of places where the information is just in error. Travis writes on page 15 that Henry J. Hunt was teaching artillery tactics to Robert E. Lee at Fort Washita in present-day Oklahoma in 1853. Hunt might have been teaching artillery tactics at Fort Washita, but Robert E. Lee, in 1853, was serving as superintendent at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I could find nothing about him making trips to Oklahoma that year. On page 69, we have that Maj. John B. Barry was in command of the 18th North Carolina Troops when Jackson was shot on the evening of May 2. Well, Col. Thomas J. Purdie was in command of the 18th North Carolina Troops on the evening of May 2. Purdie was killed the following day and Barry then assumed command.
While Men of God, Angels of Death has a bibliography and a index, there are no notes. There is also no roster. Though I believe that you do not need a detailed roster in such a book, at least a list of names with those who died during the war is essential.
Well, there you have it. A book that I would not recommend to anyone. If the author ever attempts to write another book, instead of writing from a re-enactor’s point of view, how about a historian’s point of view?