Seminar Time: 2018

September 20, 2017

It is almost time to start public announcement of the 2018 CCNMP Seminar in the woods. A full announcement will follow, but just to let everyone know:

The dates for next year’s programs will be Friday March 9 and Saturday March 10, 2018.

We will again have a bus for Friday, and will be on foot (car caravan) for Saturday.

I am also happy to announce that the group raised considerable funds last year. $500 was donated to the Civil War Trust, to be spent on land acquisition in the Chattanooga Area, and we also gave $500 to the Jewel Monument Fund, which is a special fund administered by the Friends of the Park intended to aid monument restoration and repair.

 

 

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“There is a day when I will get revenge from deserters.”

September 8, 2017

 

On September 8, 1863, Braxton Bragg abandoned the city of Chattanooga to Union forces without a battle. He hoped that this evacuation would be temporary, and that as soon as Rosecrans were defeated, his men would return.

I think this was a more dangerous and difficult decision than is usually realized. Despite an influx of new troops over the past few days, the Army of Tennessee’s morale was in a precarious state. Memphis and Nashville were already in Union hands, and had been since 1862. Knoxville was abandoned on September 1, with Bragg’s decision to pull Buckner south to join him instead of oppose Ambrose Burnside’s invading Federals coming from Kentucky.

And now Chattanooga, the last of Tennessee’s significant cities, would be given up as well.

Capt. Julius Gash commanded company D of the 6th North Carolina Cavalry, a part of Buckner’s command. His men were from Western North Carolina, and thus not overly committed to the Confederate cause in any case; abandoning East Tennessee hit them hard.

On September 5 – three days before Chattanooga was ordered evacuated – Gash wrote a letter home, expressing both his frustration and the perilous, fragile state of his regiment’s morale.

I quote parts of it below:

Charleston Tenn,

Sept 5th 1863

“Dear Col.”

“There are a good many troops at this place moving about but I have no idea if they intend fighting at this point. The infantry is all moving below [Chattanooga]. There will be a big two-horse fight somewhere in the country (but I know not when it will come off) upon which depends the fate of Tennessee and in fact has something to do with the fate of the Confederacy. I am strong in the faith that we are destined to be victorious in the pending battle. 

The officers of our command played the Devil generally while they were at the [Cumberland] Gap. Myself among the rest. We were a little fearful we could be gobbled up at the Gap & sent all our trunks to Knoxville for safekeeping and now the Yanks have possession & as a matter of course they are all ‘gone-up’ for ninety.

My company papers, receipts, muster-rolls and all gave up. I don’t care a D[am]n. My company has about gone up too! All deserted or at home without leave. Twenty-five men of our Regt started home about a week ago, but were nearly all apprehended! Two of my company among them. Gen. Buckner says he intends to shoot every man of them, and I do hope to God he will. 

Beard’s battalion and ours have been consolidated and formed the 66th N. C, Regt. [6th NC Cavalry] Both battalions can make about two good companies. There are now from both battalions 35 men in arrest who Buckner says he is going to have shot. 

Since the big stampede two of my men have deserted. Dick Osteen who had just returned from home, and the last man I would thought of deserting; and John C. Edney, who was a liut [Lieutenant] in Balums’ Co[mpany]. You know him very well, I guess. Dick was very much alarmed at Loudon. He told some of the boys that day if another Cannon ever got a chance at him it would be smart and sure enough that night he ‘took up his bed’ and skedaddled. 

I have learned during this war that there is no confidence to be placed in white men. I’ll swear men have deserted my company who I had the most implicit confidence in and men too who have been for near twelve months good soldiers as I thought was in the Confederate Army. I wish I could express the contempt I naturally cherish for a deserter, and men who will at this particular time desert. I do candidly think they ought to be shot. I think it is nothing more than what they justly merits. 

Why! Confound a man who is void enough of principal to desert his country in so perilous a time as now. Should all things work together for good and I live to see this difficulty adjusted. There is a day when I’ll get revenge from deserters, mark it. You are probably tired of this subject and so am I, for when I think of deserters I get so mad it bothers me to keep from saying Cuss words. 

Truly Yours,

Jule.” 

To me, Captain Gash’s letter illustrates the precarious morale precipice the Army of Tennessee skirted in early September. Yes, Gash’s company was probably not composed of ardent secessionists to begin with, but clearly they were losing even lukewarm enthusiam for the war.

If Bragg had suffered a defeat at Chickamauga, would his army have come unraveled? Arguably not, since the Army of Tennessee did rebound after Chattanooga – but what if they had a Chattanooga wihout the tonic of Chickamauga just two months before?

Slavery is Doomed!!

August 1, 2017

I have long been interested in the evolution of Union soldier opinion on the question of slavery. The Army of the Cumberland, being largely composed of Midwesterners, contained fewer men in the ranks who might be considered initially inimical to the Peculiar Institution when they enlisted. New England, after all, was considered the bastion of abolitionism in the United States.

That’s not to say  that there weren’t regiments imbued with anti-slavery fervor. The 92nd Illinois was certainly an “abolitionist” regiment, for example; as was the Norwegian 15th Wisconsin and most of the German units. A number of Quakers also left their faith to join what they considered a higher cause, as well.

The 27th Illinois was not such a unit. The regiment was raised in southwestern Illinois, near Saint Louis and along the Mississippi River. In general, the men fit the classical pattern of early-war Union troops: motivated to restore the Union but not caring all that much about Slavery.

Captain John F. Glenn commanded Company F of the 27th. Glenn was Irish-born, his birth date in the 1850 census given only as “abt [about] 1838. His family emigrated in the 1840s, possibly because of the Potato Famine. He enlisted as a sergeant, 22 years of age, and was promoted to Captain in January 1863, after the battle of Stones River.

Bu the summer of 1863, however, Glenn’s opinions on slavery had changed considerably:

Capt. John F. Glenn, 27th Illinois Infantry

 

Bridgeport, Ala. August 15, 1863

My dear Sister,

Yours of the 9 inst was received about ten minutes since. I was pleased [to] learn that you was at the time of writing well but I was not pleased at that part of your letter where you sympathize with the vile traitor Valandigham. “He is a much abused man” you say. I deny it and assert that if justice had been done he would have been in eternity. Have you read his speeches of the past two years? 

Within a few yards of my tent stands the gallows where on thirty two Union Tennesseans were murdered for being devoted to the Union and the old flag. Their wives and children can be seen at any time at this place or rather in the neighborhood. I can point you to the graves of old grey haired men who because they would not inform where their sons were that was hid in the mountains, were taken out and shot down like dogs. 

I have seen poor helpless women who were taken out of their houses tyed up stripped and whipped for expressing their loyalty to the old flag. When I look round and see such scenes as these and then remember that such vile damnably villains as the wretch they call a man –  Valandigham – has friends and sympathizers who call themselves Americans it makes me blush with shame for the honor of my country. For God sake if you know what you are about do not befriend this devil and his case. 

Slavery is doomed!! And all the powerrs of Hell can not prevent it!! This Union will be restored!! I fully believe it to be the Divine Will and His Will will be done in spite of the low vile Rebles of the North or South. It may reuqire years to do it but it will be done….

What a pitty that the pet institution of a few damned fools of the North is a “poor case.” I was a strong proslavery man when this war began but I would be false to every sence of honor and justice if I remained so after seeing what I have. 

Goodby

John F. Glenn

Interestingly, Glenn doesn’t really comment on the effects of slavery on the slaves themselves – he is more about ending slavery as a means to an end – but it also seems clear that he wouldn’t accept “the Union as it was” either.

Note: The John Glenn papers reside at the Abraham Lincoln Library, Springfield IL. Transcription originally prepared by Dr. William G. Robertson.

 

Target Practice

July 5, 2017

The tricky thing about muzzle-loading rifle muskets is that they are so hard to shoot accurately at distance. Although sighted to 800 or 900 yards, Joe Civilian couldn’t just pick up a Springfield or Enfield and hit anything with it. Even hitting much closer targets took training.

Two factors went into this training: range estimation and actual live fire at known distances.

Range estimation was crucial, because if you didn’t know the distance to your target, you didn’t know where to set your sight – especially on the Enfield, which had a more detailed and complicated sight than the simpler Springfield leaf sight.  The Enfield had 100 yard gradients and a sliding crosspiece, while the 1861 Springfield merely had leaves that could be raised or lowered for close, medium, and long range.

Enfield Sight

Springfield Sight

Why was range so critical? If the shooter estimated a target at 500 yards, but it was actually 400 yards distant, a wrong setting could actually lob the minie ball completely over the heads of the approaching enemy battle line. This problem only got worse the greater the range, since the actual beaten zone (that area within the lethal strike zone of the incoming round) shrank over distance.

So I take great interest in reading an account from a Civil War Soldier actually discussing range training, even in passing.

Take, for example, this transcription of a letter from one Hezekiah Rabb of the 33rd Alabama Infantry, written May 23, 1863, at Wartrace Tennessee:

550 yards is one of the longer distances I have seen referenced in such letters. The 33rd Alabama served in S.A.M. Wood’s brigade of Cleburne’s Division, and there is some corroborating evidence of range training in other units of the Army of Tennessee at this time, but usually more in the context of creating the Whitworth Sharpshooter detachments.

 

The Other Rock of Chickamauga?

May 30, 2017

Friends,

As some of you know, while the Chickamauga Blog remains my own project, I also post over on Emerging Civil War.

This particular post seems equally worthy of both sites, and so I am going to post the beginning of this post here, and then link it to the full post over at ECW. I think this little tidbit is particularly fascinating, I hope you all do, too…

 

Brotherton Field, Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park

One of the joys of research is turning an unexpected corner to find out something new. That happens every so often, and when it does, I always get a little buzz of excitement. Most recently, that buzz came when I stumbled across the name William W. Burns in the official records.

General W. W. Burns, 1862

Now, Brigadier General William Wallace Burns was not exactly completely unknown to me: I knew he was a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac in 1862, serving in the Second Corps under generals Sedgwick and Sumner; and later, a divisional commander in the Ninth Corps during the Fredericksburg campaign. He distinguished himself as a first-rate leader and capable fighter in the Seven Days’ battles of Savage Station and Glendale. He took a severe face wound at Glendale, not returning to the army until the fall, when he was stepped up to divisional command.

But I was surprised to see him mentioned in a January 1863 dispatch sent by Union Major General William Starke Rosecrans to the War Department, inquiring about Burns’ availability for a command in the west. Burns was one of “several good officers” Rosecrans desired to have join his own command, the Army of the Cumberland.

Interesting.

The rest of the story…

Memorial Day: One Soldier

May 28, 2017

 

I took Killian the Research Hound for a walk this morning. In a departure from our usual practice of hitting one of the local walking trails, we went to Union Cemetery in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It’s not an overly large place, just a few acres, but it does have the Veterans Memorial pictured above. (forgive the quality – I took the image one-handed while convincing the Research Hound to sit still for a minute.)

Union Cemetery is the resting place of perhaps 100 veterans, of all wars; a couple dozen of them from the Civil War. There is a contingent of 36th Illinois men buried here – always a favorite regiment for me – but this is the grave that caught my eye:

This is the stone of the fascinatingly-named Private Demon (also spelled Deman, or Demman) F. Allen, Company G, the 44th Illinois Infantry. Allen was mustered into Federal service at Chicago (Camp Douglas) in September 1861. He re-enlisted as a veteran in February, 1864 near Chattanooga. He mustered out with the regiment on September 25, 1865.

The truth is I don’t have much information on Pvt. Allen. The 44th Illinois produced no regimental history, and and the regiment itself came from scattered areas of the state. Allen was living in Howard, Illinois a hamlet in Fulton County (mid-state) but he joined Company G which was raised in Winnebago County, on the Wisconsin line. When he re-enlisted in 1864 his residence was recorded as New Milford, which was in Winnebago County, just south of Rockford.

He applied for a pension in December 1884 on grounds of being an invalid. I haven’t found any evidence of his being wounded in action, but that is not uncommon for pension applicants; far more men applied on the basis if injury or disease than because of battle wounds.

I do have an interesting letter from Captain Alonzo M. Clark, who commanded Allen’s Company in action on September 20, 1863. The 44th was part of Laiboldt’s Brigade, which was unfortunately ordered by Major General McCook to charge down the slopes of Lytle Hill into the teeth of an oncoming Confederate division despite being improperly deployed. the 44th – along with it’s brother regiments the 73rd Illinois, 2nd and 15th Missouri, suffered severely.

 

Captain Clark didn’t describe that disaster in detail, but he did pen high praise for Colonel Wallace W. Bartlett. Clark noted that the 44th did not lose their colors, “and so long as her Col. stands to protect them she never will.”

Clark also provided some words about Major Luther M. Sabin, a former Captain of Company G:

“I will only say that his well know bravery and skill as an officer were fully developed, not only to his own regiment and company, but he will long b e remembered by  the 35th and 28th Illinois [Clark seems mistaken about the 28th, who were not at Chickamauga. He probably means the 25th.] and the 8th Kansas Infantry, who, in the confusion of the battle, had been separated from their commands, and stood in squads of from twenty to fifty, were addressed by the Major in a short and telling speech, urging them to remember Pea Ridge, Chaplin Hills and Stone River, and in defiance to the roar of the enemy’s artillery and musketry, rallied them around the colors of the 8th Kansas.”

I don’t know for sure if Private Demon Allen was one of those who rallied around the 8th’s flag, but I like to think he was.

Killian and I thank you for your service, Private Allen.

 

“a drink out of his enormous flask…”

May 14, 2017

I’ve been away a while. I’ve sort of been digesting the publication of Volume 3, and all the work entailed in the entire Chickamauga Campaign Trilogy over the past three years.

But historical stuff still catches my eye:

Whitaker, Miller Photo History

Back in 2010 I posted about Union Brigadier General Walter Whitaker, speculating on whether or not he was drunk on Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863.

At the time I concluded that I didn’t find the accusation credible, but I did note that there were other such accusations. One such charge was lodged against the Kentuckian at in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, November 24, 1863.

In that engagement, Whitaker’s brigade supported Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of the Union 12th Corps. Geary’s men swept the western and northern faces of the mountain clear of Mississippians belonging to Edward C. Walthall’s brigade, charged with defending Lookout’s lower plateau. Near the end of that fight, as Geary’s division bogged down near the Cravens House, Whitaker’s regiments charged through Geary’s line – mainly through the New Yorkers of Col. David Ireland’s brigade – to outflank a newly arrived brigade of Alabamians.

IMG_1747

The Cravens House

One of those New Yorkers was Lt. Albert R. Greene of the 78th New York, Aide-de-Camp to Col. Ireland at the time.

In 1890, Greene delivered an oration before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, describing the Battle of Lookout Mountain. His essential point was the Ireland’s men did all the fighting, barely mentioning even his comrades in the other two brigades of Geary’s division. As for “Whitaker,” said Greene, he “was drunk; not fighting drunk, but complacently so.” Far from charging through Ireland’s line to engage the Alabamians at the Cravens House, Greene merely stated that “Whitaker . . . had gotten onto the plateau somehow.” There Greene found them “on the plateau, with stacked arms, the men resting. I tried to explain our urgent needs, and implored him to lend us a single regiment. He replied that his troops had carried the mountain, and had gone into camp, and that the battle was over. I hastened to report to Ireland, who went to Whitaker, begging aid. But all the aid that Whitaker would render was to offer a drink out of an enormous flask that he had slung to him. The two had a very sharp quarrel; but the tipsy brigadier persisted that the battle was over . . .”

Greene went on to insist that Ireland’s men never saw any relief, that no other troops supported them during the battle, and further, that Ireland had no idea that there were even any troops deployed to support them.

All in all, curious charges.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of their commander’s degree of inebriation, the historical record is pretty clear that Whitaker’s men were engaged at the Cravens House. They certainly suffered losses in about equal proportion: Geary reported 138 casualties out of about 2400 engaged; while Whitaker’s 6 regiments lost 82 men out of roughly 1450 engaged. (Even Geary’s own reported noted 52.) The regimental reports clearly reflect a spirited fight. Several regimental accounts mention Whitaker being in the thick of that action.

IMG_1717

It is impossible to square Greene’s account with the Official Records or the histories of those regiments who participated in the fight. It’s true that neither Geary nor Ireland give Whitaker much mention in their own reports, but some of Ireland’s regiments do a better job of describing Whitaker’s involvement, and the regimental reports from Whitaker’s brigade offer considerable detail as well.

IMG_1736

And herein lies the trouble with Greene’s anecdote, as colorful as it is. Greene is clearly mistaken on virtually every detail of what happened at the Cravens house. He reserved full and complete credit for all the fighting to Ireland’s men, ignoring almost every other Federal on the mountain. His account is easily refuted by copious evidence to the  contrary. And if he is so wrong about all those details, why should we assume he is spot on with regards to Whitaker’s drunkenness? Especially since it is not supported by any other account?

Now I suspect that Whitaker had a reputation for being a man who liked his bourbon – he was a Kentuckian after all. But so did many other officers; It was an era when drinking was much more acceptable – as long as you did not appear incapacitated.

It is interesting to note that in his modern work on the 6th Kentucky Infantry, the regiment Whitaker commanded before stepping up to a brigade, historian Joseph Reinhart found no accounts of Whitaker being intoxicated.

So what prompted Greene’s claims? Well, there was the matter of two Confederate cannon captured at the Cravens House, first by Ireland’s men, and then by two regiments of Whitaker’s line. Cannons were always trophies, and time and again, we see post-battle disputes arising between rival claimants. Then there is the matter of Easterners Vs. Westerners; Geary’s 12 Corps men came west to “save” the defeated Army of the Cumberland troops, who later strongly insisted that they did not need any “saving.” Rivalries can be persistent.

IMG_1725

The Trophies

So once again I am left with the same conclusion: I really don’t know if Whitaker was too drunk to command his men effectively on November 24, 1863; but I don’t feel Greene’s account accurately describes what happened at the Cravens House either.

Such are the small mysteries and loose threads of history’s tapestry.

 

CCNMP Study Group Update

January 30, 2017

Dear Study Group:

First if all, let me say thank you!

As of today, January 30, Friday’s Bus is SOLD OUT. 

If you have questions about whether or not you have a reservation, stay tuned. Check your bank to see if your check has cleared; I have only cashed the checks of those with confirmed spaces. If I receive additional reservation requests going forward, I will contact you personally to inform you that there is no additional space.

If you still want to attend Friday’s tour, I suggest the following:

Join the group at 8 am on Friday, at the Visitor’s Center. At that time, I will know of any cancellations, and will let folks know if there is additional space. Even if there is not space, you can still follow the bus in your personal vehicle, and meet us when we stop for interpretation. We will be spending a lot of time dismounted on the Resaca battlefield, so you will still be able to enjoy the stylings of Mr Jim Ogden and my own, less articulate contributions.

Saturday is of course, free and open to all.

this is the earliest we have ever filled the bus, and I am grateful for everyone’s continued interest in the group.

 

“Git! The Woods are full of Yanks!”

January 29, 2017

“Git! The woods are full of Yanks!”

With those words, mounted troopers from the 10th Confederate Cavalry pounded back into the morning sunlight of the fields around Jay’s steam Sawmill, disrupting the remainder of Brig. Gen. Henry B. Davidson’s cavalry brigade.

jaysmilllookingnorth1

the site of Jay’s Mill

The Yanks in question belonged to Col. John T. Croxton’s brigade, advancing through the timber towards Jay’s Mill. The time was approximately 7:30 a.m., September 19, 1863. Though the previous day, September 18, had already seen substantial fighting, and there had already been significant skirmishing prior to 7:00 a.m. on the 19th, this particular encounter has often been erroneously pegged as the “beginning” of the battle of Chickamauga.

The Chickamauga Study group has walked this ground many times, and explored many of the stories surrounding that fateful engagement.

But there are always more stories. After all, roughly 130,000 men were engaged at Chickamauga.

1st-georgia-cavalry

1st Georgia Cavalry monument

This story is about two of those people – Benjamin F. Hunt and William R. Hunt, both members of Company F, the 1st Georgia Cavalry. They were father and son; Benjamin was 43 at the time of the battle, his firstborn son William, a stripling at 17.

The Hunts lived in the small community of East Armuchee Valley, Walker County, in Georgia. According to the 1860 Census they were farmers; Benjamin, his wife Susan, five boys and two daughters. In the 1860s, Armuchee was pretty remote, located in the far southeast corner of Walker County. Today it is still quite rural, and one of the prettiest spots in northwest Georgia – reminiscent of another very scenic locale: McLemore’s Cove.

Benjamin F. Hunt enlisted in the 8th Georgia Infantry Battalion as a private, but he was elected to major in May 6, 1862. He then served in that capacity until he resigned on March 30, 1863. Hunt offered no specific reason for his resignation, noting only that “Circumstances rendered it necessary.” Presumably this meant problems at home, though he was absent sick for a time in August 1862.

Perhaps it was because his oldest son, William, was also absent from home. William joined the cavalry in March, 1862, despite being only two months past his 16th birthday. This left Susan alone at home with six children, several of whom were still infants or toddlers.

Benjamin presumably spent that summer at home in Walker County; where he would have been aware of the looming Union invasion of North Georgia. A man named B. F. Hunt sold a large quantity of oats and 120 pounds of bacon to the Confederate Army that summer, receipted at Dalton and Catoosa, respectively.

What is known that he re-enlisted for “three years or the war” on August 4, 1863; joining the 1st Georgia Cavalry, then stationed at Sweetwater Tennessee – about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville. He enrolled in Company F, alongside his son, as a private.

Benjamin could have just as easily joined one of the home-guard cavalry companies that were being called into service that August, answering the Governor’s mobilization order; several such were organized in Walker County.

On September 19, the 1st Georgia was serving in Davidson’s (until recently, John Pegram’s) brigade of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. Davidson’s command included the 10th Confederate, 1st and 6th Georgia, 6th North Carolina, and Rucker’s Tennessee Legion; all cavalry. Most of the 1st Georgia was dispatched not to face Croxton, but up the Reed’s Bridge Road to deploy as skirmishers against Ferdinand Van Derveer’s Federal brigade. The 1st Georgia numbered about 295 men that day;  they suffered 10 identified casualties. 3 men were killed, 7 wounded. Benjamin Hunt was one of the wounded, which proved mortal. He died that night.

hunt-grave

On September 20th, 17-year old William brought his father’s body home, a 42 mile journey from Jay’s Mill to Armuchee.  Susan’s subsequent pension application stated that Benjamin’s body was “pierced through and bloody.” He was buried in the family cemetery in Villanow, Georgia.

William survived the war, but by only  few years. He died in 1870, aged 24; of consumption.

Susan lived until 1899, survived by only 3 of her seven children.

Thanks go to Dr. Keith Bohannon for information about the Hunts and the inspiration for this post.

 

 

Chickamauga Study Group quick update:

January 19, 2017

Just a quick note – the Study Group now has 36 sign-ups. We are slightly ahead of last year. Don’t forget to send that check!

See you all in March