Friday, November 30, 2018

"A sort of clown": The Appearances of Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson in the Wake of the Maryland Campaign

     In times of war, nation's looks to their heroes. Few heroes ranked as high in the eyes of the Confederate citizenry in the fall of 1862 than Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and "Stonewall" Jackson. They carried the war successfully from the gates of Richmond to Abraham Lincoln's doorstep and beyond the Potomac. Southerners yearned for news of the three men and tried to picture their heroes in an age before personal portraits were universally circulated.
     The war correspondent of the Columbus (GA) Times penned the following descriptions of what Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson looked like following their campaign into Maryland. It was reprinted in numerous papers, but this article has been pulled from the November 4, 1862 issue of the Staunton Spectator (VA).

     General Lee has, I believe, won his way to everybody's confidence. In appearance he is tall, portly and commanding. His dress is usually a plain Brigadier's uniform, a black felt hat, with the brim turned down, and he wears a short grizzled beard all round his face. He has much of the Washingtonian dignity about him, and is much respected by all with whom he is thrown. At Sharpsburg I saw him on the field during the heat of the action. He was surrounded by his staff and a perfect squadron of couriers. He was engaged in calmly viewing the storm of battle, and giving orders in a manner of cool reliance. Aids and couriers were hurrying to and from the right, left and centre, and the whole disposition of forces seemed under his perfect control.

     General Longstreet is stout and fleshy, and of good height, and has a quiet courageous look. He seems full of thought and of decision, and his face makes an agreeable impression alike on new and old acquaintances. He is characteristically a fighting man--none can equal him in forcing a strong and well fortified position, and General Lee showed his appreciation of an old tried soldier, when he patted him on the shoulder after the late battle and said, "My old war horse!" In this engagement he was second in command of the army, and his old corps keenly felt the need of his able handling.

     I was surprised at Stonewall Jackson's appearance. He has been described as a sort of clown. I never yet saw him riding with his knees drawn up like a monkey, and his head resting upon his breast. He has a first rate face, and seems a plainly dressed Captain of Cavalry, with an unpretending Staff. His uniform is fine enough, certainly, for the hard life he leads. But the imagination, is piqued, you know, by the absence of pretension, as "a King in grey clothes." Stonewall can't like to come about the army much. The boys keep him bareheaded all the time. When they begin to cheer him he usually pulls off his hat, spurs his fine horse, and runs through, greeted with cheers every step for five miles.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"I leave my history with my country": Napoleon J.T. Dana and his autobiography

Napoleon J.T. Dana
     Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana has to be the most military name found on the Antietam battlefield. And he seemed to live up to that name. He was born at a military post, graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, seriously wounded in the Mexican War, and in 1861 became colonel of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. His men admired him, as he was a soldier's soldier. "We know that colonels such as he, 'like angel's visits,' are few and far between," wrote one Minnesota man upon learning of Dana's likely promotion to brigade command in the 2nd Corps.(1)
     Dana served admirably in brigade command as part of John Sedgwick's division on the Virginia Peninsula. In the swamps and quagmires there, he became ill with a fever at Harrison's Landing in July and reinvigorated his health in Philadelphia. He was well enough to retake command of his brigade in time for the Maryland Campaign. In the West Woods, Dana again fell with a serious wound, this time to the left leg, making him bedridden for the next two months.(2)
     When the Adjutant General's Office asked the generals of the Union Army for reports of their service in the war up to 1864, Dana submitted a succinct report detailing his experiences thus far. However, being the soldier's soldier, he ended his report as follows:
     I beg to remark that it is a delicate matter for a man to write his autobiography and I have aimed
     to do it in obedience to orders, as briefly and succinctly as possible. I could with much more
     pleasure and gratification write those of the brave soldiers who have fallen by my side. I leave my
     history with my country, which will also take care of the memory of those bloody graves. I can
     only say as I drop a tear on the sod that covers them, like Mark Anthony 
[Marc Antony], "My
     heart is in the coffin then with Caesar." There was many a Caesar among them.

1. Warner, Generals in Blue, 111; Moe, The Last Full Measure, 106.
2. Welsh, Medical Histories of Union Generals, 89-90.
3. Napoleon J. Dana, Roll 1, U.S. Army Generals' Reports of Civil War Service, M1098, RG 94, NARA.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

World War I sparked the memory of a Civil War hero's funeral

Colonel William B. Goodrich
With the centennial anniversary of the armistice effectively ending World War I having recently passed, it seemed fitting to stumble upon the article reproduced below from the September 21, 1918 issue of the Watertown Daily Times (NY). The article is titled "Funeral of Civil War Recalled."

     Canton, Sept. 21.--The receipt of casualty lists from the United States army in France recalls that 56 years ago tomorrow the body of Colonel William B. Goodrich, of the 60th New York State Volunteers, who was killed in action in the battle of Antietam arrived here for burial. Accompanying the body was the pony which Colonel Goodrich had taken with him when he left Canton to enter the war.
     Colonel Goodrich was 41 years of age at the time he was killed, and was one of the most prominent residents of the village, a street here having been named in honor of him. The older residents remember the crowd of people that congregated at the station when the body was brought back for the funeral. The colonel, who was a man of large physique, met his death at the hands of a Confederate sharpshooter, who picked him off as he was standing by the side of his horse in the open.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Did Alexander Gardner photograph Charles Tew's corpse in the Sunken Road?

     Charles Tew's story is compelling. Daniel Harvey Hill called him "one of the most finished scholars on the continent, and had no superior as a soldier in the field."(1) Indeed he was. Tew graduated first in his class from the South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel today) in 1846, became superintendent of the South Carolina Arsenal Academy in 1854, and founded his own military school in Hillsborough, North Carolina in 1859.
Charles Tew, courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History
     Colonel Tew commanded the 2nd North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Antietam. This regiment occupied the left of George B. Anderson's brigade in the Sunken Road. During the fight, Anderson, Tew's superior officer, was wounded and carried from the field. Word reached Tew of his ascendance to command. Immediately upon receiving it, Tew fell with a bullet to the head, mortally wounded. He later died on the battlefield.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Which Federal Brigade suffered the most casualties (proportionately) at Antietam? An Imperfect Analysis

   Civil War arithmetic is never an exact science--let's get that out of the way first. Hence, the information below is likely an imperfect analysis of the posed question: which infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac suffered, proportionately, the greatest number of casualties on September 17, 1862?
The attack of Fairchild's Brigade was sketched in the battle's aftermath

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Postscript to the 156th Antietam Anniversary

   Another Battle of Antietam anniversary has come and gone. In case you missed it, the Antietam Brigades blog was on the battlefield for much of the day with real-time Facebook live videos and posts. Unfortunately, the afternoon sections were rained out.
   In case you missed any of them, check out all of the links below: Image may contain: grass, sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Antietam Eve: The Night of September 16, 1862

   "The quiet that precedes a battle has something of the terrible in it," wrote an Ohio soldier recalling the night of September 16, 1862.
The Antietam sunrise on September 17, 2012.
   That night in the fields and woodlots surrounding Sharpsburg was an awful night for those who experienced it. The soldiers on the front lines suffered from a drizzling of rain. Occasional musketry volleys and random shots punctuated the soothing sounds of the water falling through the tree canopies. Those farther back from the scene of the impending action felt an eeriness in the air. But all on that battlefield knew what the next day would bring--tenacious conflict. Each soldier reflected on what tomorrow could bring. For the Confederacy, one more victory might bring its independence. For the United States, one more loss could spell the end of its nationhood.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"The numbers of cannoneers is so small"

Lt. Edward Williston (courtesy of Norwich University)
Lt. Edward Williston commanded Battery D, 2nd United States Artillery at the Battle of Antietam. While at the National Archives, I found this revealing letter about the issues Williston's battery encountered on the Antietam battlefield due to a shortage of men in the battery. The letter is transcribed as it was written, typos and all.

Edward Williston to Robert [Garvin?], September 21, 1862, Entry 4434, Record Group 393, Part 2, National Archives.

Arming the Army of the Potomac on the March: A Case Study

     In September 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan not only faced the task of expelling Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army from Maryland but also of organizing and arming an army with which to do that. The Army of the Potomac was literally being built on its march towards an as yet unknown battle along Antietam Creek.
     Some corps and divisions fared better than others in the previous campaigns. The 1st Corps was in particularly rough shape as it trudged into Maryland. To resurrect it and restore its fighting spirit, McClellan appointed Joseph Hooker to command the corps. Of the troops under his command in September 1862, McClellan confided to his wife that the 1st Corps troops were "the only doubtful ones." They "are in bad condition as to discipline & everything else," he reported. "Hooker will however soon bring them out of the kinks, & will make them fight if anyone can."(1)
James B. Ricketts
     James B. Ricketts' 2nd Division especially needed a hand. In the recent Northern Virginia campaign, one member of the division speculated, "Our division probably done more marching than any other." The situation within the division was so bad that Ricketts' surgeons banded together and approached the commanding general with the ominous assessment that, in their opinion, "the division was physically unfit for duty."(2)
     The expediency of the dire situation forced by Lee's invasion into Maryland in September 1862 forced the Federals' hand. McClellan had to make use of what he could with what he had. The army's artillery arm was not in good shape. "Many had not been refitted since the August campaign; some had lost more or less guns; others were greatly deficient in men and horses, and a number wholly unserviceable from all these causes combined," wrote Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt, the man responsible for sorting out McClellan's artillery.(3) Certainly, one of those batteries Hunt dealt with was that belonging to Capt. James Thompson's Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Visiting the Graves of Anderson, Branch, Garland, and Starke

     George B. Anderson, Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, Samuel Garland, and William Starke are all names of Confederate general officers forever connected to the Maryland Campaign. The four generals were killed or mortally wounded during the operations in Maryland, one at South Mountain (Garland) and three at Antietam. I have made it a point to visit all of their graves on my travels throughout the years, and I have passed by the battlefield monuments noting their deaths numerous times. Below are some of the pictures and information on the Army of Northern Virginia's four general officers that died as a result of the campaign.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Army of the Potomac Armament project is complete, mostly!

     I have just posted my research to discover what type of firearm each regiment of the Army of the Potomac carried during the Maryland Campaign. You can download the full spreadsheet and read the findings and methodology under the "Army of the Potomac Armament" tab.
     This is an ongoing project and requires your assistance to complete. If you have sources that differ from what the spreadsheet says, please get in touch with me and let me know.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Antietam at Arlington

     Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the pleasure of spending a day at Arlington National Cemetery with the goal in mind of seeing as many graves related to the Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign as I could. Along the way, I stumbled upon many other graves of historical (especially Civil War) interest, as one is apt to do in Arlington. Below is just a sample of graves of soldiers who participated in the Maryland Campaign. It is not a comprehensive list--there was not enough time to see them all. Some of them I planned on seeing while I happily stumbled upon others.
     Enjoy your Memorial Day and do not forget what this day really means.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Shamed at Sharpsburg: The Court Martial Case of Alfred Ransom Courtney

A postwar portrait of Alfred Ransom Courtney
(courtesy of George Seitz,
As September 17, 1862, wore on, Robert E. Lee realized he would need as much help as he could find. Robert Chilton, a staff officer of Lee's, wrote a dispatch in the midst of the battle to artillery chief William Nelson Pendleton, requesting “fifteen or twenty guns, suitable for our purposes…with a sufficiency of ammunition.” Lee stressed to Pendleton: “We want ammunition, guns, and provisions” as the battle intensified.[1]
One artillery officer who had plenty of capacity to help Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in this respect on September 17 commanded a battalion of artillery (four batteries)—Maj. Alfred Ransom Courtney. The 28-year-old major’s roots in North America dated back to 1620. “With an ancestry in whose veins flowed Scotch and English blood so pure,” wrote one of Courtney’s associates, it was no surprise that Courtney “developed in a high degree characteristics of intelligence, integrity and courage.” Courtney passed his bar exam before the Civil War began. He became a lieutenant in one Confederate battery at the outset of the war before receiving command of his own battery in July 1861.[2]