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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

How Long did Hampton’s Beef Steak Raid Feed the Troops?

   In September 1864, Confederate cavalry commander Wade Hampton made a raid on a Federal herd of beef. It was a daring raid behind Union lines that helped fill a few empty Confederate bellies. One question might be: how long did the captured beef last?

   Pork was the preferable army ration. It was easier to process just about anyplace and transport, and, it would keep for longer periods. Yet once the salt began to become scarce, Confederate commissaries began to use more beef. Plus, beef could move with an army and be slaughtered near the troops. Both Confederates and Federals drove herds of cattle with their armies, both in the east and west.

   In September, a Confederate scout reported that 3,000 loosely guarded cattle were penned at Coggins Point, Virginia. When Hampton learned this, he gained permission from Robert E. Lee to attack. General Hampton assembled a force of 3,000 troopers, and set off on the morning of September 14, riding around the flank of the Union army. The following day, Hampton captured the cattle, along with hundreds of Federal prisoners, and began to drive back toward the Federal lines. There were some attempts to catch Hampton, but he returned to the Confederate lines with almost 2,500 cattle.

   The captured beef was soon being issued to the men in the trenches. We draw very good rations now. We get some good Yankee beef and some bacon and good flour,”  wrote a member of the 45th Georgia on September 24.[1] “Rations of beef issued,” highlighted a member of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry the next day.[2] On October 14, a member of the 18th North Carolina told the folks back home that “I have just eaten a harty brakefast beaf staek, soda bread, pure coffee well sweetened- honey &c. You may guess how my health is."[3] By October 23, a member of the 13th South Carolina would write that “We have eaten nearly all the beef Hampton captured recently in rear of Grant’s army.”[4] The South Carolina soldier went on to write that they were starting to get some beef from North Carolina. It might also be added that there were some provisions coming from the Shenandoah Valley, captured by Jubal Early’s men. Regardless, it might be safe to assume that the cattle captured by Wade Hampton were closed to be being exhausted by the end of October.

   The almost 2,500 beef captured lasted only a month, feeding the men in the Petersburg entrenchments. One unanswered question: did the Federals have other stock pens of cattle in this same time period? 3,000 head of cattle does not seem to have been adequate for such a large force. (Of course, the Federals were able to receive regulation rations of salt pork at this time.) Just one more little piece of the war.

[2] Hinson and Waring,  “The Diary of William G. Hinson during the War of Secession,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 75, No.  2, 111.
[3] Hancock, Four Brothers in Gray, 283.
[4]  Welch, A Confederate Surgeon’s Letters to his Wife, 110-111.