Friday, April 20, 2018

Meeting General Lee

Someone emailed me years ago, looking for a day-by-day account of a specific Confederate ancestor. This correspondent, I imagine, had no idea how far-fetched that request actually was.  Unless your ancestor kept a diary, you might be lucky to have a one-or-every-two-month glimpse into his personal life. And even then, those muster roll sheets don't tell us much about the day-to-day lives of these men.

R. E. Lee
Recently, I was reading Timothy H. Smith's The Story of Lee's Headquarters (1995) and found a brief mention of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane. While the account is very short, it adds a little to the personal story of Lane at Gettysburg. Lane, following the death of Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch, was promoted to brigadier general and assumed command of the Branch's old brigade. But how many times did Lane and Lee interact during the war? Technically, Lane reported to his division commander (A. P. Hill, then William D. Pender, and finally Cadmus Wilcox). There are only three documented encounters between Lane and his corps commander, Stonewall Jackson - twice during the tearing up of the railroad in October 1862, and then in the dark woods the evening Jackson was mortally wounded by Lane's men. Of course, these men saw each other more frequently. But those encounters seem to have been lost to history.

While working on General Lee's Immortals, I came across a letter by Lane to the editor of the Richmond Times. Lane really just repeats what wrote in his official report, but does add an interesting little tidbit: on July 3, Lane writes, "Gen. Lee appeared in front of my line, reconnoitered the enemy's position, and, when he was about to leave, he remarked that, 'he needed more troops on the right, but he did not know where they were to come from.'" (The Indicator April 23, 1867) This is the second encounter between Lane and Lee.

James H. Lane
Surprisingly, mentions of encounters between Robert E. Lee and Jane H. Lane are few and far between. Lane wrote of dropping by Lee's office in Richmond in May 1862, as his regiment was being transferred from Kinston to Gordonsville, asking about better arms for the 28th North Carolina. They were obviously together on the afternoon of May 12, 1864, when Lee directed Lane to capture the Federal battery enfilading Confederate lines. Lane also records an encounter with Lee twice when Lane returned to the Army of Northern Virginia after his wounding. It was at this second encounter that Lee gave Lane some peaches sent to Lee by admirers. Lane shared the fruit with his own staff.

Then, in Smith's The Story of Lee's Headquarters, we find another encounter: Mrs. Thompson, who lived in the house we all know as Lee's Headquarters, "returned [from the Seminary] unmolested to the bullet-riddled and shell-ripped home, to find General Robert E. Lee, General A.P. Hill, General James Longstreet, General William Pendleton and General James Lane, along with" numerous staff officers." (84)  Wow! That puts Lane with the top brass of the Army of Northern Virginia (save General Ewell). Now, if this account was written about July 1, well, I might have some qualms about its authenticity. There were other brigades between Lane and the Thompson house headquarters. However, if it deals with the evening of July 2, or July 3, or July 4, then it could be true. Lane would have been in charge of the Light Division. I don't really know more about the account except that it appeared in print in 1968 in an account written by Eugene Sickles.

Lee's Headquarters
Robert E. Lee's circle of contacts was both large and small. He would have frequently been in contact with his own staff, his corps commanders, and certain members of their staff. A lowly brigadier general like James H. Lane never would have wandered over to army headquarters just to have a chat. It was against army protocol.

Would I have put the account of Lane being with Lee, Hill, and Longstreet in General Lee's Immortals? Maybe. But it would probably have been in the same place I found it... in a footnote.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Finding A. P Hill

   A few days ago, a friend and I visited the site of AP Hill's death in Petersburg, Virginia. It had been several years since my last visit. The locals in the area do a great job keeping the area clean. If you have never visited, it is located near Pamplin Historical Park, in the back of a small subdivision, off A. P Hill Drive.

   There are conflicting accounts of just who found Hill's body, but, I guess I am getting ahead of my story. Early on the morning of April 2, Hill was at Lee's headquarters in Petersburg when the Federal breakthrough occurred. Hill rushed from Petersburg south, attempting to find and rally his men and possibly seal the breach. He had two couriers with him: William H. Jenkins, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, and Sgt. George W. Tucker, 12th Virginia Cavalry. The latter was Hill's chief courier. The three had captured two Federal infantrymen, whom Hill sent to Lee under Jenkins. Hill and Tucker rode on. A mile or so later, they came upon more Federal soldiers. Two ducked behind a tree and aimed their rifles at Hill and Tucker, both of whom had their pistols drawn. Tucker rode a little ahead and demanded the two surrender. Hill advanced beside Tucker, echoing the demand to surrender. The two Federal soldiers, members of the 138th Pennsylvania, fired. Hill was killed, and Tucker, as ordered, rode back to Lee's headquarters. (This summery came from James I. Robertson, Jr.'s General A. P. Hill: The story of a Confederate Warrior.)

   George W. Tucker survived the war, and in 1899, wrote a detailed account of the affair that appeared in the Southern Historical Society Papers. Tucker writes that the "Fifth Alabama Battalion, skirmishing, found the General's body, which was still slightly warm, with nothing about it disturbed." Tucker's claim was repeated by Robertson in his biography of Hill, adding that the 5th Alabama Battalion was acting as headquarters' guard. According to Crute's Units of the Confederate States Army, the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion was assigned to Hill as his provost guard sometime after Gettysburg.

    One of the Federals, Cpl. John W. Mauk wrote in 1899 that "Shortly afterwards I told Comrade Wolford that I would go and see what the officer had with him. I went a short distance, and saw what I took to be a skirmish line advancing. I went back and got part of the men on the hill, perhaps ten or fifteen, and deployed them as skirmishers for self-defense. The advancing line came within hailing distance. I ordered them to halt, which they did. Then I said: 'Throw up your arms, advance, and give an account of yourselves.' On being questioned, they said they had captured some rebel prisoners and were taking them to the rear. Six or eight were carrying guns, and were dressed in our uniform. About as many were without guns, and wore rebel uniforms. I took their word, and let them go. Turning round they asked me if a man had been killed near there. I told them an officer in the swamp. They went off in that direction. I had no suspicions at the time, but afterwards thought this was a Confederate ruse to get the body of the man I had just killed." (Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. 27 34-35)

A. Wilson Greene speculates in The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion, (Second Addition), on the matter, writing "The stratagem of pretending to be a Federal detachment escorting captured Confederates seems a plausible way to navigate a country swarming with the enemy. The question as to how the Alabamians obtained Union uniforms must remain open." (264)

   But wait, there's more. An article appeared in The Southern Home, on May 5, 1870, years before a mention of the 5th Alabama Battalion, giving us a different account.
      "Gen. A. P. Hill - We have recently learned some particulars of the death of this distinguished officer from Mr. James Cody of Lincoln county, a gallant soldier of the 11th N. C. Regiment, who lost an eye in the service of his country. Mr. Cody says that a citizen named Kennedy reported to the Confederates that Gen. Hill had been killed, and a small party, consisting of himself, Lt. Col. Ursin [Eris Erson] of the 52nd [NC] Maj. Collins, Capt. J. M. Young, Capt. Daniel Hanes, and a Sergeant of Lane's Brigade, found the General near a branch lying on his back, his right arm grasping his revolver in the branch. The pistol had been discharged twice. The Confederate party captured the seven Yankees concealed in a little thicket, who had shot the General. They placed his body on a horse and removed it back to our lines. Mr. Cody thinks that General Hill was reconnoitering alone when fired upon, or, if attended, he was deserted when the fire opened."

   The challenge is this: where was the 5th Alabama Battalion posted when Hill was killed? Did they actually have time to learn of Hill's death and procure Federal uniforms and go in search of the General? All writers seem to agree that Hill's body was brought in a short time after his death. We know where Lane's brigade and the 11th and 52nd North Carolina of MacRae's brigade were originally posted: not far from where Hill's body was recovered. Capt. J. M. Young is probably James M. Young, Company K, 11th North Carolina. I don't easily see Major Collins, or Capt. Daniel Hanes, and there were many sergeants in Lane's brigade. James Cody also served in the 11th North Carolina. I wonder who the citizen named Kennedy was?

   Maybe there is more to the story of the recovery of Hill's body that we previously thought. In writing General Lee's Immortals, I stuck to the original script, stating that the General's body was recovered by the 5th Alabama Battalion. But I did make mention of that sergeant from Lane's brigade in a footnote.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Two new projects...

Pvt. John W. Towson, 39th Batt. VA Cav.  

   A lot of times, I'll show up at an event, give my talk, answer a few question, and at some point, get the inquiry "what are you working on next?" Unless I have a contract, I'm usually pretty hesitant about what's coming next. And I'm not sure why. It's not like there is a whole lot of idea-stealing in the history world. I suspect people want to know if I'm going to be working on a history of their ancestor's regiment or their favorite battle or campaign.

   So, I have two new projects under contract. Two? Am I crazy? Probably....

   A few you know (family and a few old friends) that when I was a kid, I was diagnosed as having ADHD. I could be the poster child for ADHD. Thankfully, my folks chose the Feingold diet and not the drugs for the treatment. (I'd probably be better off if I was still on the diet, or any diet!) So how does a person who has ADHD write books? I mean, we're easily distracted, right? Well, yes, we are, and look! an airplane! It seems at times like my brain is like the browser on your computer. I'll have a dozen tabs open and I will be constantly flipping through them. I compensate by working on multiple projects at a time. In fact, I often have four or five projects going at once. Some days, I might only work on one or two. Other days, I work on all of them. Many people would state that they could never get anything done like that. Well, since I have twenty-three books in print, I guess that odd strategy is working for me.

   Yesterday, I put two contracts in the mail for two new book-length projects. I've been working on both of them since I finished the proofs for Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge, and both having me diving deep into the history of the Army of Northern Virginia.

   The first is a history of the 39th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, better known as Lee's Headquarters Guards or at times, Lee's Bodyguards. At times, this battalion of four companies was also known as Richardson's Battalion of Scouts, Guides, and Couriers. As these names imply, they did not function as a traditional cavalry command. Instead, they were attached to the staffs of various Confederate generals, like Jackson, Pickett, Early, and of course, Lee. Their primary mission was to act as couriers, but they also scouted, escorted prisoners, rounded up skulkers, established headquarter sites, etc. Of course, this will not be a traditional regimental history (like the others I have written) since they did not function like a regular cavalry command. I already have several thousand words on paper. This project will be published by the History Press and is due in to the publisher later this year.

   Contract #2 is something I've had floating around for a long time. When I first started writing (almost twenty-five years ago), I kept a list of things or subjects that I came across and that I felt could use an article or a book-length treatment. On that list was an idea to do something about Food Stuffs in the Confederate army. That idea is coming to fruition. I just signed with Savas Beatie (who did a great job publishing General Lee's Immortals) to publish Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia.  (My working title is Hard Crackers and Crackers Hard: Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia. "Hard crackers and crackers hard" comes from a July 1862 letter from a member of the 53rd GA). I have been doing background reading on this paroject for the past six or seven months, and have somewhere around fifty sets of letters under my belt and tons of citations/notes. The chapters include food issued by the army, food from home, food on campaign, and food in the hospital, with appendixes on feeding the generals and feeding camp servants. Like almost all of my other projects, this one will tackle the issue from the boots up, examining how the men in the ranks felt about their fare, how it affected their morale, while at the same time looking at how the Confederate government in Richmond contracted for the food, and transportation issues involved getting it to the rank and file in camps. I am really looking forward to working with Savas Beatie on this project, due to them in the summer of 2019.

Am I abandoning my study of North Carolina and the War? Not at all. There are a few connections with the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry and the Tar Heel state (Alvis W. Daniels and Walter M. Rawlings were two members of the battalion who came to North Carolina after the war). Of course, all of my research into the 37th North Carolina and the Branch-Lane brigade made a good starting point for the Feeding the ANV project. I also have two on-the-side projects that deal with local North Carolina counties and the war, but more on those later.

Two new projects... it's the only way I stay sane......

Friday, March 30, 2018

War Department Papers Captured in Charlotte

Post-war image of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse
    To my knowledge (limited, I know), there has only been one article ever written on Confederate War Department papers. Dallas D. Irvine wrote "The Fate of Confederate Archives: Executive Office" and it appeared in The American Historical Review in July 1939. Irvine talks a great deal about the Papers of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, but for the next few lines, I would like to focus on the papers other than those of the Executive Branch.

   Irvine tells us that the papers of the State and War Departments were boxed up and sent away from Richmond. The State Department papers were sent away prior to the evacuation on April 2, 1865. William J. Bromwell, "disbursing clerk," was in charge. The papers were first taken to the Danville Female College, but Bromwell later loaded them back on the train and took the State Department papers to Charlotte. In Charlotte, "the containers were placed in packing crates marked with his [Bromwell's] initials and stored in the courthouse." Later, in fear of a Federal raid, they were removed to the "country" under the care of Mr. A. C. Williams" (826).  Bromwell wrote to Judah P. Benjamin on April 5, so I would assume they were in Charlotte and then the "country" by this date.

   According to Irvine, the papers of the Quartermaster's Department were shipped to Lynchburg, Virginia. All 128 cases of them were captured there. Records of the Exchange Bureau were left in Richmond, along with the records of the Engineer Bureau and from the office of the chief paymaster. The War Department papers were hurried out of Richmond on the night of April 2, 1865, and taken to Charlotte. There were reportedly 81 crates of documents. When Jefferson Davis chose to leave the Queen City, the papers of the War Department were turned over Gen. Samuel Cooper.

   Other papers from the War Department were destroyed, including the records of the Surgeon General, Commissary General, Signal Office, and Army intelligence Office. Other records still missing to this day include those of the Engineer Bureau, Ordnance Bureau, Niter and Mining Bureau, Office of Foreign Supplies, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Engineer Bureau papers were reported as abandoned in a railroad car in Greensboro. The ordnance records might have made it as far as Charlotte. It was reported that some records were destroyed at Fort Mill, South Carolina, possibly including the records of the Naval Department.
Some of the "Rebel Archives." Photo by Lee Spence. 

   The State Department records mentioned above, according to Irvine, were retrieved by Bromwell after the war and brought to Washington, D.C., by Confederate colonel John T. Picket. Picket put the papers up for sale in 1868, and they were finally sold to the US Treasury Department in 1872. In 1906 and 1910, they were transferred to the Library of Congress.

   An interesting paper trail for the War Department records can be found in the Official Records. After the surrender at the Bennett Place, Joseph E. Johnston made his way to Charlotte. Cooper notified Johnston of the papers, and on May 8, Johnston wrote from Charlotte to Maj. Gen. John Schofield: "It has just been reported to me that the archives of the War Department of the Confederate States are here. As they will furnish valuable materials for history, I am anxious for their preservation, and doubt not that you are too. For that object I am ready to deliver them to the officer you may direct to receive them." (OR 47, 3:443)

   Schofield finally responded on May 12, writing from Raleigh. He informed Johnston that he was sending "Lieutenant Washburn, of my staff, to receive the War Department papers... I fully share your desire for their preservation, as they will be invaluable to history, and will take care that they be properly preserved for that purpose." (OR 47, 3:483).

   When C. P. Washburne came calling on the evening of May 14, Johnston was out, but replied to Washburne's note that the documents had already been turned over to the local post commander. However, Johnston agreed to meet with Washburne the next morning. An observer noted that the papers were stored in a building on main street, "in a cellar-a dark, dismal spot... wagons were procured, and the boxes containing the documents conveyed to the railroad" and then taken to Raleigh. There were 83 boxes "of various sizes, from an ammunition box to a large clothing chest... They were also of all shapes. Some of them are rifle boxes, and many of them resemble the ordinary army mess chest." 

   Washburn wrote Col. W. M. Wherry on May 14 from Charlotte that he had the "rebel War Department documents" and would start for Raleigh at 7 o'clock the next morning (OR 47, 3:497). The papers were shipped via rail to Raleigh.

   US Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wrote to Schofield on May 16: "Please turn over to Colonel Cutts, to be brought here immediately, all the rebel War Department papers and correspondence recently captured by you, and all papers or correspondence relating to the rebellion or the operations of the rebel Government in Richmond... Also give Colonel Cutts transportation and every facility to get here with the papers as speedily as possible" (OR 47, 3:510).  At the same time, Schofield writes to Henry Halleck: "I have all the archives of the late rebel War Department, including all the army muster-rolls, officers' reports, captured flags, &c. They amount to about two car-loads" (OR 47, 3:511). Halleck fired back on May 16: "Box up all captured Confederate papers, flags, &c., and send them to C. A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War... Preserve every paper, however unimportant it may appear. We have the key to their ciphers. Important links of testimony have been discovered here of the Canadian plot." (OR 47, 3:511-12)

   There were several notes passed between Stanton, Halleck, and Schofield on May 17. Halleck informed Stanton that the boxes, "weighing ten tons" would set out that evening. Stanton wanted the papers shipped via rail, but that was not to be. Schofield then prepared a manifest of what he was shipping:  

   Halleck then notified Stanton that the papers "left Raleigh on the evening of the 17th." They were presumably shipped via rail to New Bern "or Beaufort," placed on the steamer John Tracy, and sent to Fort Monroe. Schofield sent a member of his staff, Colonel Treat, with the documents.  (OR 47, 3: 534)

   Stanton was trying to connect Jefferson Davis with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The papers soon arrived in Washington, D.C., but the connection between Davis and John Wilkes Booth eluded not only Stanton, but also historians up until this day.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts

A week or so ago, I picked up a copy of D. Michael Thomas's Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts: Confederate Special Forces, released by The History Press on March 5, 2018. Thomas's tome follows a group of Confederate cavalry, made up of men from other regiments, detailed to gather information on the movements of the Army of the Potomac in late 1862 through 1865. The group, unofficially known as Hampton's Iron Scouts, raided Federal picket posts and clashed with Federal cavalry patrols, earning praise from Confederate leaders and the enmity of Federal officers. Probably their most famous role came in the September 1864 Beefsteak Raid. The scouts were the ones who found the cattle, notified Hampton, and guided his cavalry force toward their prize.

While I have read deeply into the Army of Northern Virginia's history, the role of scouts is something I have not read much about (probably because, outside of Mosby, there is not a lot of information on the subject). Thomas has done a superb job of scouring various sources to put together a history of a neglected branch of the Confederate army. He not only details their exploits, but provides brief biographical pieces on many of the scouts. Hampton's Iron Scouts were largely men from South Carolina regiments, but there were a few from other commands. Thomas identified these Tar Heels: William M. Waterbury, 3rd NCC; James M. Sloan, 1st NCC; Julius S. Harris, 1st NCC; and George J. Hanley, 1st NCC.

If you are interested in the fringe elements of the Army of Northern Virginia, then Thomas's Wade Hampton's Scout's is recommended. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Name, Rank, and Serial Number

For the past couple of days, I've been reading "My Dear Friend: The Civil War Letters of Alva Benjamin Spencer, 3rd Georgia Regiment Company C," edited by Clyde G. Wiggins, III.  Spencer was in the band and, while he witnessed the horrors of the war, was not often on the front lines. But he does give us some clues about the inner workings of the army. At the time of the Overland Campaign, they were members of Anderson's division, Hill Corps.

Related image
James Longstreet

On April 22, 1864, Spencer penned a letter to his sweetheart back in Georgia.  He was writing from Camp "Jennie Hart" on Madison Run. "A few days since we received orders from Genl. Lee," Spencer wrote, "that should any of the brave soldiers of this army be so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the enemy, they should not tell to what brigade, division or corps they belonged; but simply give their names, company and regiments; also prisoners should not talk with each other in reference to anything connected with the army.'" Like all good soldiers, Spencer and his compatriots tried to determine what the order meant and came to the conclusion that "Longstreet's corps is undoubtedly at Charlottesville." (110)

Those of us who grew up right, watching old war movies on Saturday afternoons, recall POWs only giving their name, rank, and serial number. Of course, Confederate (and Union) soldiers did not have serial numbers. I've tried to find Lee's order, but I've not had much luck yet.

Longstreet and most of his corps were shipped to Georgia in September 1863 (passing through North Carolina). He was instrumental in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, and the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. After a failed attempt to re-capture Knoxville, he spent the winter of 1863-1864 in east Tennessee. With the opening of the spring campaign in Virginia, Lee wanted Longstreet back with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee actually planned to use Longstreet to attack the Federals positioned across the Rapidan River (see Lee to Davis, April 25, 1864, Official Records, Vol. XXXIII, 1282-83). Based upon Spencer's letter home, Lee was trying to keep Longstreet's movement a secret.

Name, rank, and regiment. I don't recall reading this in any other source. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Now taking orders! Kirk's Civil War Raids!

Two books out in one year? Yes sir! I actually never planned to have two books come out within three General Lee's Immortals to be released in the fall of 2017, and Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge to come out in the summer of 2018. That is not the way things worked out, and I'm ok with that. It just means that I am going to have a supper busy 2018!
months of each other.  I expected

There are books on just western North Carolina and the War (Inscoe and McKinney's Heart of Confederate Appalachia) and on just East Tennessee (Fisher's War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee). Kirk's Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge bridges the gap between the areas, tracing the movements of guerrilla bands and regular soldiers as they operated between the two states.

There are a host of characters involved. Union colonel George W. Kirk takes a leading role, but Brig. Gen. Robert B. Vance, Col. John B. Palmer, Col. William H. Thomas, Maj. Gen. George W. Stoneman and others appear at frequent intervals. Kirk's Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge also covers some of the pivotal events of the War in the mountains, including the Marshal and Shelton Laurel Raids of January 1863, Folk’s raid on Fish Springs, and the skirmishes around Gatlinburg, Greenville, Elizabethton, and Asheville. Of course, Kirk’s activities in Warm Springs, Camp Vance, and as a part of Stoneman's raid are also covered.

Signed copies are $20, shipping included. Release date is March 5. Please visit my website to order your copy today.