Thursday, September 17, 2020

General Lee’s Headquarters at Sharpsburg


   A week ago, I had a chance to visit to Sharpsburg and the Antietam Battlefield. For the first time, I sought out General Lee’s Headquarters. It is a beautiful spot, in a grove of old trees, with a monument and plaque, and it is located on Main Street or Shepherdstown Pike. However, looking at several different maps may lead one to conclude that Lee’s headquarters seem to be elsewhere.

   Lee arrived in Sharpsburg early on the morning of September 15. He first surveyed the ground from the Pry farm, crossed Antietam Creek, and moved to a hill near the Lutheran Church Cemetery, where he was joined by Longstreet, and then Stuart. Later that day, Lee set up his headquarters, but the location is not certain. William Owens, a member of the Washington Artillery, wrote that Lee spent the night in a house on the edge of town, with Longstreet using the same structure. (Owen, In Camp and Battle with the Washington Artillery, 139) Ezra Carman, writing after the war, tells us that Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson held a war council at the home of Jacob A. Grove “at the southwest corner of the Sharpsburg town square.” (Clemens, The Maryland Campaign, 2:30). Scott Hartwig writes that Lee spent the night of September 15 “camped in a small woodlot about three questers of a mile west of the center of Sharpsburg.” (To Antietam Creek, 596)

      Lee was mobile on September 16, riding over the field, meeting with generals, positioning troops. It seems that his daylight headquarters were on Cemetery Hill, now the site of the National Cemetery. Later that day, Lee moved back to the wooded lot on the western edge of town. This spot was Lee’s headquarters for the remainder of the battle. However, just where was this spot? Was it the location traditionally known as Lee’s Headquarters on Main Street?

Maps from the time period show many different sites. The recently-found Elliott map (1864, New York Public Library), places Lee’s Headquarters well south of the Shepherdstown Pike.


The Robert K. Sneden map (Library of Congress), also war-time, places headquarters at the S.D. Piper farm. The Piper farm was located off what is today Snyder’s Landing Road.


Another Sneden map (Library of Congress),  shows the headquarters just outside of town.


The Atlas of the Battle of Antietam (1904, Library of Congress), places Lee’s headquarters about where the marker is today.


Finding and documenting the location of any Confederate commander’s headquarters site is a challenge. While generals and staff officers frequently tell us that they met a commanding general, they frequently do not tell us where.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia update


   And just like that, the manuscript has been submitted to the publisher. Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia was a lot of work, a lot of reading. I read somewhere around 350 sets of letters, diaries, and a handful of reminiscences, along with something like fifty secondary books, such as Confederate Supply, War Stuff, and An Environmental History of the Civil War. Although the manuscript is only 60,000 words, I believe this one was the hardest yet. There was no real guide or template. If you are working on, say a regiment at Gettysburg, there are a host of secondary books that give you the necessary background. With Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia, I really did not have that. Yes, Confederate Supply and the biography of Lucius Northrop were helpful (very helpful at times), they cover the Confederacy as a whole.

   The chapters that comprise the final manuscript include a prologue that looks at pre-war foodstuffs; Army-issued Food and Food in camp; Food from Home; Food on Campaign and in Battle; Food and the Plight of the Sick and Wounded; Feeding Robert E. Lee and the High Command; Camp Servants; and, Food, Morale, and Memory.

   Now the wait begins. Maybe by this time next year we’ll have a book!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Johnson County, Tennessee’s one Confederate Company

 Johnson County is tucked far up into the corner of east Tennessee, boarded by North Carolina to the east and Virginia to the north. In 1860, the population was just 5,018 people. If you are looking for a detailed history of Johnson County and the War, you are not going to find one. In fact, other than the Jingling Hole that I wrote about previously, the only bit of information readily available is that Johnson County, which provided a company of men to the 13th Tennessee Cavalry (US), was a pro-Union County. That may be true (much research still needs to be done. I suspect that Johnson County was more dissident that pro-Union.) However, Johnson County also supplied a company to the Confederate army as well.

Johnson County, Tennessee, in red.

Captain Thomas S. Rumbough, Company E, 16th Battalion (Neal’s) Tennessee Cavalry, was assigned to supervise and organize a new cavalry company. Rumbough appears to be from Greene County, and was killed in the fighting on November 15, 1864, at Morristown, Tennessee. Rumbough’s role in organizing the company is not exactly clear. The Johnson County cavalry company was organized on September 7, 1862, in Taylorsville, now Mountain City. Lieutenant Barton R. Brown, Company D, 1st North Carolina Cavalry, was assigned to this new company and promoted captain. Including Brown, there were eighty-five men in this company. On November 1, 1862, they were mustered into service as Company F, 7th Battalion North Carolina Cavalry.  The 7th Battalion was under the command of Col. George N. Folk.

For the next few months, the 7th Battalion was in east Tennessee, charged with breaking up bands of disloyal men and bushwhackers in Johnson and Carter counties. In December 1862, they were near Blountville, and in February, in Jonesborough. June found the battalion under the command of General John Pegram. They proceeded into Kentucky, skirmishing at Simpson’s Ford and Monticello. Later that month, they followed in the wake of destruction of Carter’s Raid above Knoxville. Following this, they rotated between garrison duty at Big Gap Creek, and participated in raids into Kentucky.

On August 3, 1863, the 7th Battalion, along with the 5th Battalion North Carolina Cavalry, were consolidated into the 6th North Carolina Cavalry, with Folk as their colonel. The Johnson County’s company became Company A, 6th North Carolina Cavalry. There was much skirmishing the following month. The regiment followed the bulk of Confederate forces from East Tennessee to North Georgia and were involved in the battle of Chickamauga. The next few months were spent in Tennessee engaging the Federals. In February 1864, Folk moved the regiment to Weldon, North Carolina. They spent the rest of the war in eastern North Carolina, picketing places along the railroad. In May, they skirmished with Federal forces advancing toward Raleigh. Instead of surrendering, the regiment was disbanded at the end of the war.

So what became of the rank and file? It appears that the company records end in November 1864. Due to the scattered condition of the regiment, only a few received their paroles at the end of the war. These included Pvt. Thomas W. Arnold (Ridgeway, NC); Pvt. E.H. Dougherty (Greensboro, NC); Pvt. James H. Floyd (Greensboro, NC); H. T. Grant (Nash County, NC); James Greene (Greensboro, NC); Isaac Hayes (Nash County, NC); Pvt. William Johnson (Nash County, NC); Daniel Mast (Nash County, NC); Pvt. Thomas A. Roberts (Greensboro, NC); Pvt. John S. Smith (Greensboro, NC); Pvt. Thomas Sutherland (Nash County, NC); Pvt. Daniel Wagner (Nash County, NC); Pvt. Jacob Wagner (Charleston, WV).

Several men were captured during various engagements. These include Lt. Wiley F. Thomas; Pvt. James B. Blair; Pvt. William B. Brown; Pvt. James F. Edwards; Cpl. William F. Elrod; Pvt. Lula Glover; Pvt. P.H. Johnson; Pvt. Hiram Jones; Sgt. J.S. Mast; Pvt. Valentine B. Mast; Pvt. William C. Mast; Pvt. James Parker; Pvt. John C. Parker; Pvt. Thomas Potter; Pvt. G.W. Robinson; Pvt. David B. Wagner;

Pvt. William Lefler, captured at Philadelphia, Tennessee, October 20, 1863, died of disease at Fort Delaware on July 28, 1864. Orderly Sergeant J.N. McQuown died in a hospital in Marietta, Georgia on October 1, 1863, of unknown causes. Pvt. James B. Smith died at Camp Chase, Ohio, February 9, 1864.

Pvt. John Lunsford was captured at Philadelphia, Tennessee, October 20, 1863, and later took the Oath and joined the 2nd United States Volunteers. Pvt. James O. Moreland was captured at Monticello, Kentucky, June 9, 18633, imprisoned at Camp Chase and Johnson’s Island, took the Oath and joined the 93rd New York Infantry.

At least two soldiers were wounded:  Joseph F. H. Johnson, bugler, was reported absent wounded. Cpl. E.C.D. McEwen was wounded during the battle of Chickamauga, and apparently never rejoined his company. Pvt. D.C. Sutherland was reported missing in action following the battle of Chickamauga.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about these men. For those who have no parole information, were they sick in some hospital? Did they desert and go home? Or maybe they joined a Federal regiment? In time, it might be possible to dig through the various census reports and family histories and build a more complete picture of the lives of the men who formed Johnson County, Tennessee’s only Confederate company.


You can read a little more about the war in this area here:

The Jingling Hole 

George N. Folk and the raid at Fish Springs.

Not that "hegemonic": Washington County, TN

Was it really Witcher's Cavalry?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Guerrilla War in Florida and North Carolina


At times we get caught up in the bigger War, epitomized by places like Chancellorsville or the Atlanta Campaign. There was, however, another war being fought while this bigger War was taking place. It was a much more personal War. Two events--the June 1864 Camp Vance Raid in western North Carolina and the July 1864 Bayport-Brooksville Raid along the Gulf Coast of Florida--are good examples of the episodes taking place in that "other" War.

Western NC, from 1865 map (LOC)

It might be argued that the Confederate conscription law hit North Carolina the hardest. Thousands of men had no desire to serve in the Confederate army. They simply wished to be left alone. Yet the law forced them into service. Two training camps were established, one in Raleigh, and eventually, one in the western part of the state near Morganton; this latter base was named Camp Vance. Once eastern Tennessee fell to Federal forces in the fall of 1863, Camp Vance became a tempting target. In the spring of 1864, a Tennessee Unionist, George W. Kirk, received permission to recruit his own regiment, and he devised a plan to capture Camp Vance. He led a force of around 120 men through the wilderness, and on June 28, surrounded and captured the Confederate base. Captured at Camp Vance were three companies of junior reserves, then in the process of organization, and an unknown number of men who had been held in the guardhouse (40-50 men, maybe). Kirk then set fire to the camp, burned a local railroad depot and train, and began his return up the mountain toward Tennessee. Along the route, he was forced to fend off several attacks by local troops. In one of these attacks, Kirk used some of the junior reserves as human shields and laughed about the Confederates shooting their own men. Upon crossing the crest of the Blue Ridge, Kirk played a part in burning the home of Col. John B. Palmer (58th NCT), and destroying the Cranberry Iron Works.  He eventually returned to east Tennessee with 150 prisoners, 40 slaves, abundant horses and mules and other plunder, and numerous recruits for his own regiment, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US). The men Kirk recruited for this raid were from western North Carolina. The guides he used were dissidents who were living in the area.  The men he recruited for his regiment were also from the area.  One of the most critical points about the regiment that Kirk raised, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US) is often overlooked: they did not join the United States army for some lofty goal, like preserving the Union. These men crossed over the Tennessee/North Carolina line long enough to join the Federal army, to get fed, clothed, and armed, and then slipped back across the border to raid the farms, homes, and businesses of local pro-Southern people. The 3rd NCMI (US) never functioned as a regiment until April and May 1865, when it became a part of Stoneman's Raid. Their war was much more personal, and it was almost always waged against former friends, personal enemies, and even family.

In some ways, the Brooksville-Bayport Raid bears many similarities to Kirk's Camp Vance Raid. The 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) was organized in late 1863 and early 1864 and consisted of pro-Union, or at least anti-Confederate, Florida men. Just who conceived the plan of a raid into Hernando County is unknown. On June 30, 1864, two companies of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) and two companies of the 2nd United States Colored Troops set out from Fort Myers. Their purpose was to disrupt the movement of cattle heading north toward the main Confederate army in Tennessee, and to the civilian market in places like Charleston. After disembarking near Anclote Key, the group moved inland. They were under the command of Capt. John F. Bartholf, 2nd USCT. There were, however, plenty of men serving in the two companies of Florida Cavalry who were from the very area through which they were marching. As in Kirk's Raid, there were several small skirmishes fought along the way.  Contesting the advance of the Federals were members of the First Battalion, Special Cavalry, at times referred to as the Cow Cavalry. At one point during the raid, Capt. Leroy G. Lesley (CS) rode out under a flag of truce and, according to a Federal officer, "induced Capt. Greene and myself [Lt. William McCullough] to desert the Union cause, and move back to Dixie." The Federals raided numerous farms along the raid route, including Lesley's, taking food and pretty much whatever else suited them. Several homes and/or outbuildings were burned, and salt works were broken up. The Federals never actually reached Brooksville, but they  turned back toward the west and, on July 11, reached the Bayport Inlet. The US Navy had arrived the day before. The Confederate cannon that could have been captured had been relocated a few days before-- to Brooksville.

While the organizers of these two raids might have stated lofty goals on paper - the capture of Camp Vance and the destruction of railroad bridges for Kirk's Raid, or the disruption of the flow of cattle for the Bayport-Brooksville Raid, what was accomplished was much more personal, more bitter. These were raids conducted by "union" men who had been run out of the areas that they called home. While the war was far from being won in the summer of 1864, these local Unionists seized upon the recent gains in east Tennessee and the lack of protection in Florida in order to exact a measure of revenge on their former neighbors.

In the long run, the raids did benefit the Union's war aims. Kirk's raid demonstrated just how open western North Carolina was to attack, while the Bayport-Brooksville Raid deprived the Southern Confederacy of much-needed supplies. Both raids further added to the demoralizing effects the war was having on the Southern people.  

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Do Monuments Teach History?

North Carolina Monument, Gettysburg
   There have been a couple of articles floating about the past couple of weeks about how monuments really don’t teach history to people. If you are looking for an in-depth description of the battle of Gettysburg, with the various movements and turns over four days, the Pennsylvania monument nor the North Carolina monument are going to do it for you. You will need to turn to Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign or the books by Phanz or Wert on each day of the battle to get that painstakingly detailed level of study that can truly help you understand that battle. But on the other hand, I believe these monuments are far more important than any class a teacher or professor can offer. What the monuments can do, better than a detailed study, is capture the imagination of a young person.
   Probably the first historic site I ever visited was the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. I was probably seven or eight or nine years old. I have no recollection of any of the talks by the park rangers, nor do I remember any display panels that I have might have paused in order to read, but I do remember the place.  I remember crawling on a cannon (probably discouraged then, too), standing on the parapet and straining to look out into the Matanzas River, trying to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. It was the place that captured my attention, and probably helped fuel my passion for Southern history.
Otway Burns Monument, Burnsville
   Fast-forward thirty or so years to Gettysburg, at the North Carolina monument that so magnificently shows the struggle, the anguish on the faces of Tar Heel soldiers as they strive to punch a hole in the Federal lines on Cemetery Ridge. I was once standing, talking to some friends about those memorable minutes on July 3. Up pulls a minivan. Door flies open, and out pours a little fellow, maybe five or six. He was in awe over the size of the monument and had a zillion questions which his parents really could not answer. (I wonder what it was like at the Virginia monument right down the road?) I have seen this scenario repeated time and time again – at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in the rocket garden at Kennedy Space Center, and at monuments great and small in little towns spread out across the landscape.
   Monuments are great places to begin a conversation. Let’s go visit the statue to Capt. Otway Burns in Burnsville, North Carolina. We can stand at its base and I can tell you about the life of Burns, about how he was a privateer during the War of 1812 (anyone remember that one?), and about the struggle to get new counties formed in the western part of North Carolina. Burns’s vote in the General Assembly to establish this new county cost him the next election but got the town named for him. Or, we can head to the campus of Appalachian State University and sit on a log next to the statue of Daniel Boone. Right over there, across the road from the monument, was the cabin of Benjamin Howard, a cabin that Boone used as he was hunting in the area. You can see the ridge rising above the town, and Boone would have been able to use that ridge as a guide. You follow that ridge (named Rich Mountain) and you can get to the gap that will lead you into Tennessee, and on toward Cumberland Gap, and Kentucky. Boone was a complex man, a frontiersman, a politician, struggling to co-exist with the Natives, and was probably a wee bit crazy.
Daniel Boone Monument, Boone
   We all know that people in the United States don’t visit historic places as they once did. It is too complicated. Too many forms to fill out for a field trip for those in elementary school, and in university classes, those people who made us who we are today, with their complicated lives that don’t seem to mesh with the morals (or lack thereof) of people in the twenty-first century, are not in vogue. Why should we study Gettysburg, or Burns, or Boone?
   As monuments to Founding Fathers and Civil War soldiers are ripped from the ground, we lose the ability to have places to start those discussions. We lose the ability to pique the interest of the young and old alike. Sure, we can bring it up in a classroom. But given the level of historical illiteracy in this country right now, how is that working out?
    You may totally disagree with my assessment. And that’s ok. Please feel free to move right along. But my opinion is based upon my own personnel observations. The thousands of monuments that grace our historical landscape still have a great deal to teach us, and those places can be touchstones that lead to deeper understanding.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia update

   Friends, we have a manuscript! 152 pages, 61,785 words, and 300 sources. Actually, that happened about a week ago. I’ve read it twice, the Mrs. has read it once. I’ve been working on formatting the notes, and it still has a couple more readings to go before it will go off to other readers.

   There are seven chapters, plus the introduction, prologue, and bibliography. They are:

Prologue:  Pre-war Foodstuffs
Chapter 1: Army Issued Food/Camp
Chapter 2: Food from Home
Chapter 3: Food on campaign and in battle
Chapter 4: Food and the plight of the sick and wounded
Chapter 5: Feeding Robert E. Lee and the Confederate High Command
Chapter 6: Camp Servants
Chapter 7: Food, Morale, and Memory

   Over the past two and a half years I have learned a great deal. While there are other books on food, such as Smith’s Starving the South and Hurt’s Agriculture and the Confederacy, there is nothing quite like Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia on the market. This tome looks at one specific place and one specific army, for four years. I’m really excited about this one. (If I am wrong and there is another book on any specific Civil War army and food out there, please let me know.)

   In the next month or so, it will probably be off to the publishers. And then the waiting game begins. It usually takes at least a year for it to make the rounds (editor, layout, proofreader, etc.) and become an actual book. And in the turbulent times in which we live, it might just take longer.

   Time to start thinking about the next one…

Monday, June 08, 2020

Two Bad Maps in the Peninsula Campaign

   It is sometimes easy for us to sit back and relish in the campaign maps that we have available at our fingertips. I have a large notebook full of maps from the American Battlefield Trust, and on my shelves are books with maps of campaigns like Antietam and Gettysburg. (Savas Beattie is producing some fine map volumes these days.) But for commanders during the war, this was not often true. Two faulty maps during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 changed the course of battle.

   Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan commanded the Federal Army of the Potomac. Appointed commander following the disastrous route at First Manassas, McClellan built a fine army – over 100,000 men, well armed, well equipped. After his first plan of circumnavigating the Confederate entrenchments near Manassas by taking a route down the Chesapeake River to Urbanna fell apart due to the repositioning of Confederate forces, McClellan chose to land his army at Fortress Monroe and move quickly up the Peninsula and capture Richmond. The first part of his plan worked well, for a day. Then he quickly discovered that the map he was studying was incorrect. McClellan believed that the Warwick River paralleled the James River. McClellan had even considered moving gunboats into the Warwick River to protect his left flank as he advance toward Richmond. Instead, the Warwick River flowed more across the Peninsula, and, the Confederates had built extensive works behind the river. Plus, the foliage on the Confederate side blocked the view of McClellan’s scouts, and he had no idea just how many Confederates were on the other side. McClellan called for a siege. It took a month to construct works and haul heavy cannons into place. All the while, his men were getting sick in the swamps that surrounded them. The force that McClellan faced on April 1: 13,000 Confederate soldiers. That inaccurate map cost McClellan a chance to quickly move on Richmond, and it cost him men and material.

   But there is another case of a poorly drawn map. This one cost the Confederates. After the wounding of Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston at Seven Pines on May 31, Robert E. Lee was placed in command of the newly styled Army of Northern Virginia. Lee developed a plan in which Stonewall Jackson’s force would leave the Shenandoah Valley and arrive on the battlefield below Richmond. Once in position, he could flank the Federals while other Confederate divisions’ assaults pressured the front. Yet on day one of the offensive, June 26, Jackson sat at Hundley’s Corner, two and a half miles north of where he should have been. This intersection was not on his map. According to Stephen Sears, “Jackson apparently reasoned that it would be late before he could reach the scene and to move blindly would be dangerous in any event. He elected to put his army in bivouac for the night and await the new day to set matters straight.” (To the Gates of Richmond, 199) Jackson’s bad map proved costly to the Confederates. Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch and his brigade, the link between Jackson and the rest of the Confederate army, after receiving word from Jackson earlier in the day that he was close (he was not), marched toward Mechanicsville. Skirmishing broke out. A. P. hill believed that everything was in place and launched his attack. As the day worn on, other Confederate divisions became involved. Several attacks were repulsed, and Lee lost somewhere around 1,500 men. The only positive outcome was that the Federals abandoned their position on that night.

   Two events, the same campaign, two mad maps.