Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Confederate Leadership in Flux

   The soldiers called it the Virginia Quick Step or the Tennessee Trots. It would be unlikely to find some Confederate soldier who did not suffer some complaint of dysentery or diarrhea throughout the war. At Chimbarazo Hospital in Richmond, there were 10,503 cases treated there throughout the war, or, one sixth of all admissions. For one out of ten, it was deadly.[i] What is the difference between dysentery and diarrhea?  Margaret Humphreys writes “Dysentery was diagnosed in cases with fever, bloody stools, and tenesmus, colonic and rectal cramping that caused a continuous urge to defecate. Absent the blood and cramping the case was categorized as diarrhea…”[ii]

What happens when the same maladies hit the ranks of the high command? How incapacitated were some of these generals? Finding detailed information about some of these generals is a hard task. Unless they wrote home of their conditions or were bad enough off to be relieved of command, we really don’t know. But there are a few cases. Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch wrote home of suffering from dysentery from June through at least early August 1862. During the days leading up to the battle of Cedar Mountain, Branch was being hauled around in an ambulance. Only as his brigade was called upon to go and stabilize Jackson’s left did Branch drag himself out to take command. Bull Paxton, commanding the old Stonewall brigade, wrote home in January 1863 that he was unwell, and had been since August the proceeding year.[iii] E. Porter Alexander suffered through the summer and fall, and doctored himself with a mixture of chloroform, brandy peppermint, and laudanum. [iv]
Bull Paxton                                   L.O. Branch

Probably the two most interesting cases concern Robert E. Lee and Richard Ewell. Of course, these two men are not your average, run-of-the-mill soldiers. From June 1862 until the end of the war, Lee commanded the principal Confederate army in the east, while Ewell was one of his top lieutenants, taking over Jackson’s corps after the death of the latter in May 1863.

Lee’s first recorded bout with dysentery came at Gettysburg. Two different officers, including W. W. Blackford of Stuart’s staff, noted that Lee was ill. Combine this with whatever heart ailment Lee had during the campaign, and we have a very sick commander. The second round was worse. On May 23, 1864, during the Overland Campaign, Lee was ill once again with “bilious dysentery.” Charles Venable, writing in 1873, lamented the opportunity that slipped away: “in the midst of these operations on the North Anna, General Lee was taken sick and confined to his tent. As he lay prostrated by his sickness, he would often repeat: ‘We must strike them a blow—we must never let them pass us again—we must strike them a blow’”.[v] We know that Lee, prostate in tent, missed a grand opportunity to wreck a portion of Grant’s army.

Richard Ewell’s case actually cost him his command, sort of. By the time of the Overland Campaign, Ewell was not performing the way Lee wished. Ewell was reported sick on May 26, and while he reported personally to General Lee at the end of the month, Lee refused to reinstate Ewell to command. The Second Corps was now under Jubal Early. Ewell protested, even meeting with Jefferson Davis, but to no avail. Ewell never regained active field command.

There are probably many other cases of dysentery or diarrhea and Confederate generals. Mild cases were something seldom mentioned in letters or official reports. Given how one case in particular changed the course of the war, maybe the “bloody flux” should be given more consideration.    

[i] Wiley, Life of Johnny Reb, 252.
[ii] Humphrey, Marrow of Tragedy, 99.
[iii] Paxton, Letters, 72.
[iv] Welsh, Medical Histories of Confederate Generals, 4
[v] Venable, “The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg,” 535.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Stonewall Jackson’s Lemons

   Have you ever been to Stonewall Jackson’s grave in Lexington, Virginia? Ever noticed all of the lemons near his headstone? Henry Kyd Douglas, an officer on Jackson’s staff, told us that lemons were Jackson’s favorite fruit, and could be seen during the battle of Gaines Mill sucking on one throughout the day. “Immediately a small piece was bitten out of it and slowly and unsparingly he began to extract its flavor and its juice. From that moment until darkness ended the battle, that lemon scarcely left his lips except to be used as a baton to emphasize an order..." Douglas wrote. (Douglas, I Rode with Stonewall, 103)  The Virginia Military Institute’s web page on Jackson states that there are two other accounts of Stonewall having a lemon on this day. That’s really not a lot to go on. Where did he get lemons from?
   There are few accounts, beyond Douglas, of Jackson enjoying lemons. Probably the best way to secure them was to capture them from the enemy. A. J. Emerson wrote an article that appeared in Confederate Veteran in 1912 about Jackson sucking on lemons during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in March-April 1862. When someone asked about how Jackson acquired lemons, the answer was “from his commissary.” “Our commissary hasn’t any lemons” was the response. “Old Jack got ‘em from his other commissary.” “What other commissary?” “Banks. Yes, Old Jack draws all our rations from Banks.” Of course, “Banks” is Federal General Nathaniel Banks. The writer believed that Jackson captured Banks’ commissary wagons every couple of days, supplying himself, and his men, with provisions. (58)
   Richard Taylor provides another post-war account in his Destruction and Reconstruction. Taylor, in 1862 near New Market, had his men in camp, and sought out Jackson. He found the general sitting on the top rail of a fence. “Just then my creoles started their band and a waltz. After a contemplative suck at a lemon, ‘Thoughtless fellows for serious work’ came forth [from Jackson]. I expressed a hope that the work would not be less well done because of the gayety. A return to the lemon gave me the opportunity to retire. Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.” (50)
   In 1906, an old Veteran wrote to Harper’s Weekly “I remember a little incident that occurred at Harper’s Ferry when Stonewall captured the place. He was receiving a report upon the number of prisoners taken, when a soldier pushed forward, a crate filled with lemons in his arms, and presented them to the General. Jackson’s face beamed. “My man,” he said, smilingly, if you only joined yesterday, and if you don’t do another thing hereafter, you’ve rendered mighty good service in this war.” (1690)
      Of course, lemons were brought through the blockade throughout the war. On January 1, a store in Raleigh, North Carolina, advertised having 50 cases of lemons for sale. (Raleigh Register January 1, 1862). The Confectionary Store in Staunton advertised lemons for sale in March of that year. (Staunton Spectator March 11, 1862) Even as late as December 1865, the stores in Wilmington, North Carolina, advertised lemons for sale (The Wilmington herald December 30, 1865)
   Getting lemons from the enemy was obviously a way to supply Jackson with the fruit. Heros von Borke wrote of Stuart’s capturing the smoldering ruins of the Federal depot at White Hall. Among the debris were cases of lemons. The Virginia Military Institute, on their Q&A page about Jackson, lists two other accounts, one from Colonel Raleigh Colston, and another from a cavalry trooper, maybe the trooper who even delivered the lemons from White Hall.
   When it comes time to separate fact from fiction, we really only have one war-time account of Jackson and his lemons. That would be during the battle of Gaines Mill. Maybe in time some other war-time accounts will surface.