March, 2015

September 14, 2014

It will soon be time to post the information for the 2015 CCNMP Study Group. We have dates (March 6-7, 2015) and plenty of topics, but here is a question for you – What does everyone think of expanding the Study Group’s purview to the battle of Resaca, May 1864?

One topic suggested last year was to look at Confederate Logistics, including how Resaca fit into Bragg’s supply circumstances in September 1863. For the better part of a week, Resaca was Bragg’s railhead. Resaca’s defenses were first erected during this time frame, and it was garrisoned by militia and state troops.

But if we go to Resaca, it seems a shame to ignore the new state park, and the very interesting battle fought the very next spring. Almost nothing has been written on Resaca, and it is well worth a look.

So I would like to solicit some feedback – what do you think?

War is Hell . . . and adventure tourism

September 5, 2014

On this day 151 years ago, September 5, 1863, two great armies were stirring in North Georgia. William S. Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland had successfully crossed the Tennessee River, while in Chattanooga, Braxton Bragg was at last aware of his peril. 

And yet, war is as much waiting as it is marching and fighting. With time on thier hands, men find ways to occupy themselves. By sightseeing, for example. 

 Generals were not immune to playing tourist. On September 5th Rosecrans indulged his scientific proclivities and explored Hill’s Cave (now modern-day Cave Spring, Georgia.) During this adventure, he had a bad moment. “The General’s rather bulky form became wedged in a narrow passage. and for a few minutes it was a question whether the campaign might not have to be continued under the next senior general…He seemed pretty well frightened.” Fortunately, Rosecrans was extricated without harm, and the campaign would continue as intended. Supposedly Rosecrans left his name written on the wall there, as well.

 Also on the 5th, party of officers from the XXI Corps, including the corps chief of staff Colonel Lynn Starling and Major General Horatio Van Cleve made a point of visiting the cornerstone marking the boundaries of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. At the age of 53, Van Cleve was one of the oldest generals in the army, but he took a boyish delight in recording his trip to the stone, included in a letter to his wife: “Sept 5th 12 M,” he wrote, “I am now in the state of Georgia. Sept 5th, 12.2 M. Now in Alabama. Sept 5th 12.4 M. Now in Tennessee.”

It’s all fun and games until someone gets stuck in a cave.


The Chickamauga Campaign: Book update.

August 31, 2014

Time to check in. The book is nearly done with layout, and will soon go to the printer. Mr. Savas and I did have a conversation today concerning one issue – length. I seem to be a bit wordy. As it stood, the tome was pushing 800 pages. That’s a lot.

For those of you wishing to keep score, Scott Hartwig’s new book, “To Antietam Creek” weighs in at 794 pp – and Johns Hopkins, his publisher, priced the thing at $49.95. That’s a lot.

So we will tweak a couple of things to make sure the product matches the pricing. We are shooting for closer to 700 or 750 pp. We are working on the narrative flow, ending the action with the close of battle on the 19th. This means volume 2 will begin with the overnight conferences in both armies, as they prepare for battle on the 20th. I was conflicted about where to put those chapters, since they are really transitional pieces between the 19th and the 20th. The need to watch our page count helped tip them into Volume 2.

We are also trying to avoid excessive duplication in things like the bibliography. I hoping to to explore a creative alternative to putting the same bibliographic information in all three books – that seems very wasteful. Maybe we will make it abvailable online, or as a download, for the first two volumes. Ultimately, of course, the full bibliography will be in Volume 3.

This gestation has been a lot longer than I expected. But then, the research and writing took damn near 16 years. What else should I have expected? I don’t want to put a time frame on publication just yet, but we are really in the final stages.

I hope this book lives up to expectations. It certainly lives up to mine, and then some, but then, I might be a bit biased.

Leet’s Farmhouse

August 22, 2014

Leet's Farmhouse

I came across this photo some time ago. This is the house of Arthur Leet, of Leet’s Spring, scene of a sharp action between John T. Wilder’s Federals and John Pegram’s Confederate cavalry a week before the Battle of Chickamauga. Union and Confederate casualties were laid out on the porch.

I confess I don’t know if this an image of how the house looked at the time of the battle, or a postwar structure (in whole or part.) It is a somewhat grander affair than the more primative cabins found on the battlefield. Of course, Arthur Leet was fairly well-to-do by 1863, North Georgia standards.

Researching Atlanta

August 20, 2014

I have begun to spend some serious time digging through archives for the Atlanta Campaign. Previously, I have visited the University of Texas at Austin, the Bentley Library at University of Michigan, the Tennessee State Library and archives, and a couple of smaller sites. 

Most recently, I spent two days at Carlisle, at the hugely impressive US Army Heritage & Education Center.

So many of these places now allow digital photography of documents, which is a godsend to researchers. I now have nearly 2,000 digital images (jpegs and pdfs) of documents pertinent to the campaign, including hundreds of letters and diaries. 


Now, of course, all I have to do is sort them out… should be a snap.

Franz Sigel goes to New Market.

July 31, 2014

And now for something completely different…

Franz Sigel

It’s time to talk about Franz Sigel.

“What!” you exclaim? “Why on earth do we want to talk about Franz Sigel?”
Two reasons. One, he was the Union commander at the Battle of New Market, which I – being a graduate of VMI, have a vested interest in. After all, I escaped the “I” on numerous weekends over the years to do living history at New Market, so I do have a soft spot for the place. The second reason is a little more convoluted. John C. Breckinridge, who commanded a division at Chickamauga, commanded the whole Confederate army (which was only slightly larger than his old division) in the Shenandoah Valley that May 15th, 1864. I am interested in the subsequent careers of all the men who survived that bloodletting.

One of my side projects for the past couple of years has been a book on New Market. Yes, I know that Charles Knight came out with an excellent book on the battle just a few years ago. Charles’s work expanded the point of view to include a broader perspective than just the VMI Cadet’s role in this battle, and he succeeded – his book is well worth reading.

But, I feel that Franz Sigel gets short shrift. Maybe not as short a shrift as the diminutive German received at the hands of William C. Davis, in that historian’s own fine study of the same battle, now several decades old; but short shrift none-the-less.

Sigel tends to be universally dismissed as an idiot. And let’s face it, after years of studying Braxton Bragg, I know what that sort of dismissal looks like. My gut warned me to reject the notion: too pat, too easy, too dismissive. There is more at work here.

So I started to read the primary sources. Some very interesting things struck me. First and foremost, Ulysses S. Grant’s hand in this campaign is quite evident, and not for the better. Sigel was chosen for command of the Department of West Virginia without Grant’s input, and the new general-in-chief was none too happy about that. So Grant meddled. Initially, he approved a two-pronged scheme of maneuver, with General George Crook moving down the valley from the southern end, and Sigel marching up the valley from the northern end. Then Grant changed his mind, sending a Union officer named Edward O. C. Ord to West Virginia with orders to effectively replace Sigel, adding a third maneuver column from Beverly, and relegating Sigel to admin and supply duties.

This might not have been so bad had Ord been capable. Instead, Ord was a schemer, a careerist, and a moral coward. Ord hated the idea of having to serve under Sigel, and more importantly, once Ord got a look at the troops he was to command, he realized how unprepared for operations they actually were. Within a few days, Ord fled the department and begged Grant to be relieved, fearing that he might get stuck with the responsibility (and the blame) if things went wrong.

Grant, having already disrupted Sigel’s plans once, now did so again. He acquiesced to Ord’s request. This left Sigel in the lurch. Troops gathered at Beverly now marched back from whence they came, though awful weather, wasting weeks of important time that could have been spent in badly needed training.

And that was just the first of the multiple rugs pulled out from under the feet of Franz Sigel.

Missing Pieces

July 10, 2014

Even after all this time and effort, there are at least three organizations involved with the Chickamauga campaign which remain almost entirely unknown quantities. My files contain glimpses of these commands, but only that – glimpses. They are shadows, acting off-stage, or in the wings. We never get to see them center stage.
All three of them have to do with reconnaissance. Two of them are Confederate formations, one is Federal. All of them almost certainly played a role in the campaign between September 8th, when Bragg departed Chattanooga, and September 18th, when the battle actually began.

The first of these is the informal scout detachment drawn from John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. By 1863, virtually every Union brigade and division had a mounted scout detachment, drawn from the command at large. Evidence of those Union scout detachments appears from time to time in the Official Records, usually garnering only a passing mention.
Wilder’s scouts had a more important role than most, given the parent brigade’s direct attachment to Army HQ, and the sorts of independent missions Wilder was usually selected to undertake. Unfortunately, despite the great amount of information we have on Wilder, there is almost nothing on the scouts. Even Richard Baumgartner’s outstanding “Blue Lightning” tome has no details.

The second group belongs to Joe Wheeler’s cavalry corps. Wheeler had an “elite battalion” drawn from his corps, a special detachment he used for scouting and important missions behind enemy lines. Where they spies? Commandos? Deep cover operatives? We don’t know. Given how badly Wheeler failed in intelligence gathering throughout the campaign, I tend to think they weren’t really tasked with scouting – I suspect they were more like Forrest’s escort company, a formation Wheeler kept close and used as his personal combat force, but that is only a guess.

The third group, also Confederate, is potentially the most interesting to me, because I know the least about it. In August 1863, in addition to calling out the Georgia State Line, the State of Georgia mobilized several home-guard cavalry regiments and battalions. The unit formed in Walker County was the 6th Georgia Cavalry Battalion, Georgia State Guard. The first five companies of this battalion were raised in Walker County. Company E, also known as the Pond Springs Cavalry, were local men right in McLemore’s Cove.

This battalion has no presence in the published official Records. You can find a few traces of it in the Georgia state records, but no hint as to what they did, how many men were activated, or where they went.
Today, if you go to the Cove Methodist Church and walk in the little cemetery there, in addition to the Widow Eliza Glenn’s grave, you will see a half-dozen or so men of the 6th Battalion buried here.

I wish I knew more about them.

Maybe someday.

Grant and Thomas

July 4, 2014
from Horace Porter's "Campaigning with Grant"

from Horace Porter’s “Campaigning with Grant”

On October 23rd, a very weary Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Chattanooga. He rode to the headquarters of Major General George Thomas, newly promoted to command the Army of the Cumberland, and replacing William S. Rosecrans. Thomas, who had turned down command of this very army a little over twelve months previously, accepted his new assignment without protest. He understood that the Federal government would not let Rosecrans remain in charge, and also that they would brook no additional recalcitrance on Thomas’s part.

Grant, who was still injured from a fall, had to be helped from his horse and brought inside. He was wet, muddy, and tired from the difficult ride over Walden’s Ridge, the only way into the beseiged city of Chattanooga.

The conventional story has it that Thomas was cold, aloof, and even rude to Grant. I have half a dozen biographies of Grant, including both the much cherished Bruce Catton works and my favorite recent biography of the man, by Brooks Simpson. They all pretty much relfect this same narrative.

As noted in the picture, only a few men were present for this seminal meeting, and fewer still left us a detailed discription of the incident.

The most influential of those descriptions comes to us from James Harrison Wilson, one of Grant’s staffers, a brash young Colonel who in later years would have his own reasons to dislike Grant. Perhaps because of this subsequent animosity, historians tend to take Wilson’s words at face value. In any case, it is Wilson’s account that leaves us with the impression that Thomas received Grant so poorly.

Horace Porter’s “Campaigning With Grant” contains the other significant account. In reading it, I am struck by the fact that Porter did not seem to sense anything like the same tension or animosity between the two men, though he does provide many of the same details (wet uniform, puddle under the chair, Grant warming himself by the fire, etc.) Wilson offers.

Charles A. Dana, in what is an otherwise detail-rich memoir – see, for example, his description of Rosecrans’s council of war on the night of September 19, 1863 – merely describes Grant’s arrival in four words: “wet, dirty, and well.”

I have no reason to doubt that there was friction between Grant and Thomas, but I find myself questioning Wilson’s underlying assumptions anyway. Brain Steel Wills, in his first-rate biography of the latter (“George Henry Thomas; As True as Steel”) has a detailed discussion of this meeting, and provides an interesting observation. The fault might well lie more with the two staffs than with the two generals. Thomas’s military family might have resented Grant, coming in as the new man, to tell them how to wage war in Chattanooga – though again, Porter’s memoir fails to convey any such resentment, and he was on Thomas’s staff at the time. Equally, Grant’s staff was famously protective of their boss, especially John Rawlins – even to the point of jealousy towards other officers.

George Henry Thomas was a famously taciturn man, a reputation guarded by his wife even after his death, when she destroyed his letters and papers. As a result, we will likely never know exactly what Thomas was thinking as Grant drew rein on Walnut and Fourth Streets, Chattanooga Tennessee on the night of October 23rd. But for history’s sake, I wish more than just one account serves as the basis for this oft-described tension between the two men.

Excerpt: Bragg vs. The newspaperman…

July 1, 2014

The decision to evacuate Chattanooga was a very difficult one for General Braxton Bragg – it signaled defeat, and he knew it, however much he might try to put a good face on things. Just before he left, however, he had an interesting encounter. I wish I had been in the room that day…


This is a description of that meeting, taken from Chapter Four of “A Mad Irregular Battle” 

“Bragg left the city on September 8, but not without one last confrontation. Back in July, when he first arrived in the city, Bragg established his headquarters at the Brabson House, a two storey brick mansion on East Fifth Street. On September 7th, the widow Brabson held a farewell tea for the departing general, whom she knew well; Bragg had headquartered there in 1862 as well. That party must have been a gloomy affair, and sparsely attended. Civilians had been leaving for days, with all the trains south to Atlanta crowded with refugees and their valuables.

            One man who hadn’t yet left town was Henry Watterson, the brash young editor of the Chattanooga Daily Rebel. Bragg had been much critiqued by southern newspapers since Perryville, none more vociferously hostile than Watterson’s Rebel. Worse yet, Watterson often published important details of troop strengths, movements, and intentions, all of which Bragg was sure Rosecrans was reading with great interest. For a time that summer, Bragg banned the paper from being sold in military camps. This was a financial disaster for Watterson, who was selling 10,000 copies a day with the army in town, and he appealed the decision. Watterson claimed to have been a Confederate soldier, serving under Leonidas Polk and Nathan Bedford Forrest. After the war he would boast of being a staff officer under Polk, of service with Forrest in 1862, and of being Joseph Johnston’s ‘Chief of Scouts’ in 1864. In fact, he was probably an imposter, since no Confederate records show him as serving.  Physically he was poorly suited for army life, weighing in at a slight eighty pounds and troubled with poor eyesight.

            He was also an unusual sort of fire-breathing Rebel. Son of a Tennessee Congressman, he spent much of his life in the north;  was schooled in Washington, D.C., lived in New York City, and stood on the inaugural platform with Abe Lincoln in 1861. He initially “believed that secession was treason'” when he returned to Tennessee in 1861. He would eventually adopt the southern side of the conflict as his own.

            He was a gifted writer and journalist, who, by the age of 22, had worked for major eastern papers. He made contacts easily, which provided him with sources inside the army. That inside information, presented with verbal flair and acid wit in the columns of the Daily Rebel made the paper immensely popular with the troops. Faced with Bragg’s ban, Watterson approached Colonel Alexander McKinstry, who was positively disposed towards Watterson because of his claimed service with Forrest, and who was now heading up Bragg’s Bureau of Intelligence. They struck a deal. Watterson agreed to let McKinstry approve what he printed, and further allowed McKinstry to use the paper to plant whatever false rumors Bragg wanted, in exchange for permission to keep printing. This arrangement apparently satisfied the irascible army commander, for the Rebel remained in circulation.

            That afternoon, Watterson appeared at the Widow Brabson’s, brash as ever. The latest retreat and the panic infecting Chattanooga were fuel for the young incendiary. He commented loudly on “Bragg’s almost supernatural ineptitude.” Bragg, of course, was in the room. Watterson, never having met him personally, didn’t recognize the general. They met now. Bragg confronted Watterson, and the two exchanged “pointed words.” Abashed, Watterson soon made himself scarce. Shortly thereafter Bragg left for La Fayette.”


Watterson and the Daily Rebel would set up shop again in Atlanta. 


Checking In

June 29, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted. Time for an update.

First, the status of Volume One of “The Chickamauga Campaign,” titled “A Mad Irregular Battle.”

We have finished what you might call the developmental editing stage, where we go through the book chapter by chapter to ferret out anything that needs amplification, clarification, etc. That process has taken a while, but we are now in layout, on our way to publication. Since I have been wildly optimistic in the past about publication dates, I will not offer any new predictions here – other than to say, “soon.” Savas-Beatie has produced a lot of titles in the past year or so, so I know they are busy, and can only guess how long it will take to get this book into print and in your hands.

In between, I have been working ahead on the second volume in order to speed up that aforementioned developmental editing, which should mean that Volume II – “Glory or the Grave” should not be all that far behind.

As for exact dates, I refer you to my estimable publisher for that information.

The completion of Volume I has also marked a transition point in my own career – it closes the book (so to speak) on nearly fifteen years of continual research into the Battle of Chickamauga. This is part of why posts here have been sparse. I am not sure how much more I have to say just on Chickamauga.

So I think I am going to use this post to mark an important transition.

I am interested in pursuing a new overarching research and writing project concerning the Civil War. Casting about, I don’t see all that much opportunity in the Eastern Theater. I am working on another maps book, on Chattanooga, and I will pursue various Maps projects as they come up. But I want something larger to focus on as well, some reason goading me into visiting libraries and collecting those letters and diaries.

That project is the Atlanta Campaign. There is surprisingly little written about Atlanta. Certainly Albert Castel’s “Decision in the West,” But his work came out in 1992. There have been a spate of recent battle books on Kennesaw, Peachtree Creek and the battle of Atlanta proper (July 22) but, compared to the attention garnered by the war in the East or even battles like Shiloh, not a lot of effort is being exerted on Atlanta.

So I have begun to collect on the subject. This is a massive undertaking, given how many men were involved, and my preliminary work into archival libraries suggests that there are many hundreds of potential primary source accounts. That should keep me happy for a long while.  

Ultimately, I hope that this work produces something similar to “The Chickamauga Campaign”  – a multi-volume study of Atlanta that draws on a vast number of primary accounts. But we shall see.

What it means for this Blog is that I am going to follow the Armies southward, posting questions, thoughts and ideas here as they come to me. At the very least, Chattanooga and Atlanta will become fair game for posts, maybe other things as they come up.

I am also going to try and resume a more frequent posting schedule here by posting some short excerpts from Volume I, just to let readers see what they can expect when they finally crack the spine of “A Mad Irregular Battle.”



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