“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Major Williard G. Eaton and the 13th Michigan Infantry

January 15, 2017

Civil War tourism is often about connections. Certainly it is for me.

The field pictured below was taken at Bentonville North Carolina in October, 2016. It is a fairly innocuous image; it could be of anywhere, in any number of states.

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But I find it a significant place. Here Major Willard G. Eaton of the 13th Michigan Infantry was killed on March 19, 1865, a scant month before Appomattox and Durham Station brought the Civil War virtually to an end. A few skirmishes and an additional surrender or two were still in the future, but the major fighting was over.

Eaton, nominally still a major, had been the acting colonel of his regiment since February, and was leading it forward into action at the moment of his death.

I need not describe his role at Bentonville, the North Carolina state park website has done a fine job of that here:

Besides, this blog is devoted to all things Chickamauga. And Chickamauga is where I first met Major Eaton.

The 13th Michigan faced a brutal fight in that earlier action; blooded on both September 19 and 20, 1863. They entered the battle on the afternoon of the 19th down in Viniard Field, facing off mainly against Hood’s Texans. They suffered a heavy loss that day, including the wounding of Colonel Joshua Culver. Eaton assumed command.

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the 13th Michigan monument, Viniard Field

Eaton and his men faced their toughest moment the next day, in Brotherton Field. The 13th Michigan belonged to Buell’s Brigade, of Tom Wood’s division; it was their fate to be caught in the very center of the maelstrom that was the Confederate breakthrough, shortly before noon on September 20.

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Brotherton Cabin and Field

They were not in line. Instead, they were moving to the left, marching in column, with the brigade battery (the 8th Indiana light artillery) just to their west.  the 26th Ohio was close by.

When struck, the 13th and 26th fronted, and opened fire. the 26th Ohio then began a fighting retreat back through the timber and towards Dyer Field. Eaton and the 13th made a gutsy move. Eaton  ordered a charge  – directly into the teeth of Bushrod Johnson’s advancing Confederate brigade (currently commanded by Col. John S. Fulton) which outnumbered the battered 13th by a ratio of about four to one.

There are plenty of such moments in the war where the men simply refuse to advance, into what looks like the very jaws of death. In this case, that didn’t happen. The 13th followed, 130 bayonets strong, and slammed into Fulton’s ranks. Surprisingly, the Rebels gave ground.

Eaton was not indulging in reckless heroics. He had a plan. As Fulton’s men fell back, Eaton ordered the 13th to break off their charge and fall back, firing; emulating the 26th Ohio.

the 13th Michigan’s charge bought enough time for both the Wolverine regiment and the 26th Ohio to retreat in an organized fashion. They came to rest on the west side of Dyer Field, supporting a Union gun line. There they would face another desperate fight, outnumbered and almost alone, until they finally were forced to fall back through McFarland’s Gap.

The 13th Michigan took 220 men into action at Chickamauga. Losses were 106 killed wounded or missing. they almost certainly would have been higher (especially in captured) if not for Major Eaton’s cool nerve on the battlefield.

 

2017 Study Group Update

January 2, 2017
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The 2016 Study Group facing a withering fire near Kelly Field

Hello all,

As of January 1st, sign-ups for the March 10-11 2017 Chickamauga Study Group are progressing well.

We have 21 reserved on the bus, out of 55 available seats. Since we usually get between 45 and 50 attendees, we are nearly halfway.

I also note that there are several familiar names who have professed an interest in going, but have not yet signed up. Don’t be Peter Procrastinator,  the guy who has to follow along behind the bus in his rental car because he forgot to get his check in on time!

For the details, follow this link: https://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/ccnmp-study-group-2017-seminar-in-the-woods/

Remember, all the money raised outside of necessary expenses (Bus rental and a little photocopying) goes towards preservation or National Military Park needs. Last year the $900 we donated was split between preserving acreage at Dalton through the Civil War Preservation Trust, and contributing to the Friends of the Park’s monument repair fund.

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Thank you, and see you all soon.

What’s in a name?

December 29, 2016

I’ve been on a short hiatus; the season has been busy. But I have some things lined up that should be appearing soon. until then, a bit about naming…

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If you’ve heard of Chickamauga (and if you haven’t, how did you get here?) then I bet that t he very next phrase you saw or heard was “River of Death.” One follows the other, it seems, like day after night. Or maybe not.

No one really seems to know. But today I saw this article, written by Chuck Hamilton:

“Chickamauga does not mean “river of death”, or “bloody river”, or “dwelling place of the chief”, or ‘the stagnant stream”.  It is definitely not Cherokee, even the Cherokee themselves have always said that, nor is it likely Muskogean.  It almost certainly came from the closest allies of the Cherokee in the wars of the later 18th century, the Shawnee.”

Here’s the whole article, via The Chattanoogan.com

I find this sort of local history fascinating.

Side trip to Sunbury

November 8, 2016

Recently, I was coming back from North Carolina, and stayed the night in Columbus Ohio. I got up early on a Monday morning, headed back home to Chicago, but I was determined to run by Sunbury first, to visit with General Rosecrans.

Rosecrans was born near Sunbury, in 1819.  The stone below marks the site of his boyhood home.

Rosecrans birthplace At Sunbury Ohio

A couple years ago, however, Sunbury decided to honor Rosecrans with a full equestrian statue, placed downtown on the town square.

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The light wasn’t great (I’m not the guy you ask to handle your wedding pictures in lieu of a professional photographer, either – that didn’t help) but I did get a few images of the General. He looks pretty good.

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A Bit on Volume 3

October 8, 2016

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This morning I dropped the last signed pre-order for The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume Three: Barren Victory in the mail. With every new release, I have a batch of books that need to be signed and sent off – I take it as a great honor that readers will pay that bit extra for the personal touch.

This year I shipped 60 books – 51 copies of Barren Victory, and 8 or 9 copies of older titles. Interestingly enough, this is about double each of what I signed and packaged for Vols. I and II.The trend line is positive.

 

Here is a picture of that shipping process, just commencing. Note all the boxes on the back wall, by the window; I’ll be needing warehousing soon. Also, the maps you see on that table beneath the books are of Moccasin Bend. I have been hard at work drawing troop movements for the next project, the Maps of Chattanooga. Need to speed that one up.

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This year I sent off books to three distant lands (four if you count Texas – just kidding) Norway, the Philippines, and the UK. The gentleman from Norway has ordered the previous volumes, as well; I assume he has a connection to Union Colonel Hans Heg, a native of Norway who was mortally wounded at Chickamauga. There is a statue of Heg in Lier, his birthplace, some distance southwest of Oslo. I’ve always been unable to successfully download a good picture of that monument, so instead, here is one from Madison Wisconsin, where the good Colonel stands guard over the capitol.

heg-statue

Those overseas books cost a pretty penny to ship, by the way – I am doubly impressed by the effort those folks made to obtain my work.

I trust that the sharp increase in signed-book order volume bodes well for overall sales. I know we did a brisk business at the park.

My thanks to all who ordered.

 

CCNMP Study Group 2017 Seminar in the Woods.

September 25, 2016

 It’s that time of year again…

through-the-woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission Statement: The purpose of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Study Group is to create a forum to bring students of the American Civil War together to study and explore those events in the fall of 1863 that led ultimately to the creation of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, as well as explore other nearby Civil War-related sites.

Tour Leaders:  Jim Ogden and Dave Powell

Date: Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11, 2017; By bus and car caravan.

All tours begin and end at the Visitor’s Center.

By Bus:

Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00: Battle of Resaca, May 14 – 15, 1864

On Friday we will expand our horizons to explore the nearby, brand new battlefield park at Resaca. We will move through Snake Creek Gap, and following McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, and will subsequently examine the fighting that raged across Camp Creek Valley, the area now west of modern Interstate 75.

Friday evening, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – Q&A Panel with Jim Ogden, Dave Powell, and Lee White.

 Site: Constitution Hall, 201 Forrest Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA

 Last year we held our first-ever free-form Q & A session. It was a success, one which we shall repeat going forward.

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Car Caravan – Saturday Morning, 8:30 to Noon: Breckinridge Repulsed!

 On Saturday Morning we will explore the Union counter-attacks that drove Breckinridge’s Confederate infantry out of the north end of Kelly Field, restoring the integrity of General Thomas’s Union position there, and consider the impact that action had on the rest of the Union army.

 

 

 

 

woods-division-20th-pm-146Car CaravanSaturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Breakthrough

 On Saturday Afternoon we will explore the conditions that created the infamous “Fatal Order,” sent by William Starke Rosecrans to divisional commander Thomas Wood; the roles of Generals Thomas and McCook in that order, as well as examining the advance of Fulton’s Brigade, Johnson’s Confederate division through the resultant gap in the Union Right.

 

 

 

 

Costs:

 Friday’s Tours will be by Bus. Pre-registration and Fee required: $45, due by February 1 2017.

 Sign-up after February 1 or on-site Fee (based on space available): $50 

 Saturday: no charge.

Fees raised in excess of our costs (as well as any donations) will be used to support the causes of battlefield preservation, interpretation, and renovation.

 In 2016 the Study Group donated $450 to the Civil War Trust, helping to preserve battlefield land around Dalton, Georgia; and $450 to the Jewell Monument fund, run by the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, for maintenance and restoration needs.

 Send to (and make checks payable to):

David Powell

522 Cheyenne Drive

Lake in the Hills IL 60156

This fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2017. Once we are committed to the bus, we will be charged the booking fee, no matter what.  

Please note that everyone is responsible for their own lodging, meals, snacks and incidentals.

Thank you, see you in March.