Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Confederate Music – a quick primer


Robert E. Lee once remarked that “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”[1] Lee was referencing the brass band of the 26th North Carolina Troops which serenaded the general several times during the war. Yet brass bands were not the only type of music encountered by Confederates during the war. There were the drum and fife corps, the brass bands, and the informal music encountered around the campfire.

Field Music – Kautz, in his Customs of Service (1864) hits the nail on the head when he writes “The law with regard to drum-majors is obscure.”[2] That might be said of the enlistment of musicians as a whole. Confederate regulations state that those recruits “found to posses a natural talent for music, to be instructed (besides the drill of the soldier) on the fife, bugle, and drum… boys of twelve years of age and upward may…be enlisted for this purpose.” “Regiments will be furnished with field music on the requisitions of their commanders.”[3] It would appear that most infantry regiments had a drum and fife corps, while artillery and cavalry commands had buglers. It would seem that the position was appointed from the ranks. And in most cases, there appears to be no more than a handful of musicians at any time. They were typically not boys. In the 16th North Carolina, there were 24 men listed as musicians; the youngest was 18 and the oldest 35. In the 18th North Carolina, there were some boys, (12-16 years old), but they were later discharged. These musicians were some of the hardest working men in the army. Everything was regulated by a drum call: there were calls for assembly, first sergeant’s call, reveille, retreat, tattoo. Drumbeats were used to keep step while on a march, set the pace for a double-quick march, signal a halt, and could be used in battle to command both skirmish lines and regular battle lines. Concerning the latter, it is seldom that we find reference to firing by drums during a battle. Bugle calls, especially for the cavalry, were far more useful.

Brass band of the 26th North Carolina

Brass Band – the band was different from the field music. It would almost seem that one regiment in a brigade (a brigade was typically composed of four to five regiments) would have a brass band. The purpose of the brass band was more to provide entertainment and as a morale boast, over the field music. Bands often performed in the evenings, serenading the men, and the generals. According to Oliver Lehman, a member of the band of the 33rd North Carolina Troops/Lane’s brigade, the brass band played every morning at nine for guard mounting duty, at dress parade about sunset, and for reviews. Also, when the weather was favorable, the band played for an hour every evening.[4]  Many of these bandsmen were “professional” musicians. Lehman came from the same Moravian community that produced members of the band for the 26th North Carolina.

Camp Fire Music – the various states and communities across the continent were a musical people. People sang at home, at taverns, at churches. And the soldiers brought that musical heritage with them. They sang church songs, and tavern songs, and quite a few made-up songs themselves. Fiddles, fifes, and maybe a banjo or guitar were commonly employed. Soldiers spent an enormous amount of time in camp, and the scratch of a fiddle could be heard many evenings as the soldiers sang about the war, about home, about loved ones they had not seen in months or years. At times, musicians would form bands and put on concerts and minstrel shows for their fellow soldiers. A couple of songs, like “Home Sweet Home” and “Lorena” made some soldiers so home sick that it was rumored they were banned from camp. Probably the most famous musician in the Confederate army was Sam Sweeny, one of three musician brothers well-known before the war. Sweeny was on the staff of JEB Stuart, following the general around and plucking tunes on his banjo.

Sam Sweeny playing banjo in camp. 

All of these types of music could boost morale among the soldiers. Writing from Florence, Alabama, November 17, 1864, Captain Thomas J. Key, 28th Battalion Georgia Artillery, wrote that “The whole earth resounded and echoed with music this morning before the rising of the sun. Band after band commingled their soft and impressive notes, melting the hearts of some and buoying up the spirits of others.”[5] Many could probably join with Captain Key, extolling the virtues of a well-played song in camp, on the march, or in battle.

[1] Clark, NC Troops, 2:399

[2] Kautz, Customs of Service, 76

[3] Confederate Regulations, 393.

[4] O. J. Lehman, "Reminiscences of the War Between the States." 1862 to 1865." The Union Republican, October 19, 1922.

[5] Cate, Two Soldiers: The Campaign Diaries of Thomas J. Key, CSA, December 7, 1863-May 17, 1865, and Robert J. Campbell, USA, January 1, 1864-July 21, 1864, 150.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Expanding Freeman’s Confederate Bookshelf


   In 1939, Douglas Southall Freeman gave a series of lectures at Alabama College. These lectures were “an informal historiography” to the writings of Confederate history. There was probably no better person to provide this glimpse than Dr. Freeman. He had already finished his four-volume Pulitzer-winning R.E. Lee, and was hard at work on Lee’s Lieutenants. Later, his lectures were edited and published as The South to Posterity.

  Through these nine chapters, the subject of what had been written to that date was examined. Freeman examines letters penned home during the war, along with books and journals published in that frame of time. Chapter II covers those items written “while the ashes still smoldered,” (31) like Alexander Stephen’s Constitutional View of the Late War, Alfred Bledsoe’s Is Davis a Traitor, and Robert Dabney’s Life and Campaigns of Lieut. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson. Chapter III looks at tomes published on the life of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Of course, Freeman would have intimate knowledge of the subject, having spent years working on his own four-volume study.

   Freeman labeled Chapter IV “Controversy and Apologia,” an examination of the “savage controversies of the war” in which former generals engaged via post-war writings. Familiar names abound: Jubal Early, Joseph E. Johnston, John Bell Hood, Fitz Lee, James Longstreet, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard. And of course there are the journals and newspapers where these new battles were waged: The Southern Historical Society Papers, Century Magazine (Battles and Leaders), Philadelphia Weekly Times, New Orleans Republican. Chapter 5 gives a history of the publication of the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Commonly referred to as the Official Records, or ORs, this 128-volume set, published by the United States government, radically changed the scholarship, both North and South. While there are gaps and materials found later, researchers had tens of thousands of documents written during the war at their fingertips. Chapter VI looks at the war through the writings of women. Freeman mentions Judith McGuire’s Diary of a Refugee, Phoebe Pember’s A Southern Woman’s Story, and Mary Chesnut’s A Diary from Dixie, among others. Chapter VII examines the writings of those from overseas, while Chapter VIII looks at more sentimental treatments of generals. Freeman wrote that by 1900, Confederate veterans had forgotten the diseases that ravaged camps, the lack of water on long marches, the “hunger of Vicksburg,” (171), and, the “ghastly picture of Malvern Hill on the morning after the battle,” (170). Freeman considered these books “charming and therefore dangerous reading.” (172)

   Finally, Dr. Freeman concluded with “Yet to be Written.” Freeman hoped for new biographies on James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnson, Richard Ewell, Joseph E. Johnston, and A. P. Hill. “The greatest gap in Confederate military history. . . concerns the Army of Tennessee,” wrote Freeman. “Scarcely less is the need of a comprehensive book on the Confederate service of supply. The work of the Mining and Nitre Bureau, of the Ordnance Bureau and of the Quartermaster’s office remains to be described in satisfying detail.” (199-200) Freeman believed there still needed to be books on blockade running, Southern-railroads, economics of war-time farm management, Southern women and the war, the psychosis of war.

   So, how do we stack up? What holes have been filed in Freeman’s Confederate bookshelf? Freeman would probably be pleased to know that Stanley Horn wrote The Army of Tennessee (1941), followed by Thomas L. Connelly’s two volume set on the Army of Tennessee, released in 1967. Added to this is Larry J. Daniel’s Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee (1991) and Andrew Haughton’s Training, Tactics and Leadership in the Confederate Army of Tennessee (2000). There are, of course, now biographies on Richard Taylor, Joe Shelby, Joe Wheeler, Gideon J. Pillow, Matthew Butler, Patrick Cleburne, Nathan Bedford Forrest, States Rights Gist, William H. T. Walker, even Braxton Bragg. (Ok, some of the above list is more Trans-Mississippi than Army of Tennessee.) There are, of course, many battle studies of the Western Theater, from Cozzens, to Powell, to Bradley. Freeman never really dives into that discussion, as his criteria is a strictly Confederate bookshelf.  

   There are biographies on all of the generals that Freeman mentions, even A.P. Hill. Actually, there are two on Hill, and many on Joe Johnston. There are even biographies on some of the division and brigade commanders as well, like William Dorsey Pender, Daniel Harvey Hill, Robert Rodes, Stephen D. Ramseur, “Extra Billy” Smith, Matt Ransom, Roger Pryor, William Wofford, Joseph B. Palmer, W.W. Loring.

   Freeman did not really feel qualified to essay on naval aspects of the war, but that field has improved as well. Hamilton Cochran’s Blockade Runners of the Confederacy (1958) and Stephen R. Wise’s Lifeline of the Confederacy (1988) have recently graced my own desk. There are even a couple of studies on Confederate marines: The Confederate States Marine Corps (1989) by Ralph Donnelly and Biographical Sketches of the Commissioned Officers of the Confederate States Marine Corps (1973) by David M. Sullivan.

   Readers may find books on several different Southern railroads, but a good general history is Robert C. Black III’s The Railroads of the Confederacy (1998). Along those lines would be R. Douglas Hurt’s Agriculture and the Confederacy (2015); Ella Lonn’s Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy (1965); Harold S. Wilson’s Confederate Industry: Manufactures and Quartermasters in the Civil War (2002); and Richard Goff’s Confederate Supply (1969). Ella Lonn also wrote Foreigners in the Confederacy (1940). Bell Irvin Wiley released The Life of Johnny Reb in 1943. Wiley published several other important works, including Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (1938), The Plain People of the Confederacy (1943), and Confederate Women: beyond the Petticoat (1975). I would also add to this list The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861-1865, William Robinson, Jr.’s Justice in Gray (1941), Jack Bunch’s Military Justice in the Confederate States (2000), Kenneth Radley’s Rebel Watchdog: The Confederate States Army Provost Guard (1989), J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr.,’s Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 (1998), and H.H. Cunningham’s Doctors in Gray (1958) There are undoubtedly other books that should be added to this list, probably some that I have owned and read, that simply did not cross my mind while putting together this list. (Please feel free to add them in the comments).

Freeman in his study. 

A question we now need to consider is this: what areas still need to be covered? What is still in the “Yet to be Written” category? I think there is a lot of work still to be done on the Confederate medical corps. There are some really good books that look at both sides, but we really need a book on the army- level medical corps. I believe that there are huge gaps in state-wide and regional coverage or place histories (for example, there is still no book on Raleigh and the war). A lot of the state-wide books we use were written 50+ years ago, although Virginia did a great job with their five-volume set released during the sesquicentennial. We also really need more books on the Confederate Congress and Congressmen/Senators. That is really just a hole in the scholarship. They translate to the state level as well. There are many books on North Carolina governor Zebulon Baird Vance, but none on the state’s general assembly or supreme court.

   To be honest, there are not a lot of us out there writing solely Confederate history. There are some really good area-specific histories being written, just not much strictly on Confederates. A biography on some general appears every couple of years, usually a rehash of something done in the past, maybe a regimental every year, but that’s about it. In today’s society, where so much primary source material is available online, there should be more. But alas, there is not. Thankfully, scholars have filled in many of the gaps in scholarship pointed out by Douglas Southall Freeman.

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!