Archive for March, 2010

Going Home…

March 27, 2010

One of the mainstays of Civil War clich├ęs is the concept of the young man fighting, and sometimes dying, in his own farmyard. It’s cliched, of course, because it’s true. Southerners – mostly Confederates but let’s not forget the thousands of Southerners in blue, as well – routinely found themselves marching and fighting in their own neighborhoods.

Chickamauga is no exception. For Company I, 2nd Battalion, First Confederate Regiment, Jackson’s Brigade, Cheatham’s Division; the battlefield was home. Originally recruited as Company I, 3rd East Tennessee, then re-designated Company H, 26th Tennessee; the company was transferred to the 1st Confederate (Georgia) on November 8th, 1862.

According to Walker County historian James A. Sartain, Company I contained a number of familiar names: a Snodgrass, two Brothertons, a McDonald, a Kelly, a pair of Brocks, and two Dyers. All of them, along with many of their neighbors, had been sworn to service in 1861 by Captain James Clarke Gordon while he stood on a large rock outside his father’s mansion at Crawfish Spring. However, the First Confederate regiment is one of the more confusing units in the Rebel army. Company I was not the only transfer; it seems that the regiment had its origin in a unit first known as the 36th Georgia, and there may have been two company I’s that merged. Then the regiment was split, half staying at Mobile and half joining Bragg. James C. Gordon was by this time a major and commanded the half that joined Bragg.

In any case, only some of those locals can be found in the unit’s Consolidated Service Records, or CSRs. (These days, the CSRs can be used online, via, for a very reasonable monthly or annual fee.) What records do exist make for some interesting reading.

None of the locals I found suffered injuries in the battle. Perhaps because so many of them had been re-assigned as guides, they avoided the heavy losses suffered by the bulk of the battalion: Gordon led 194 men into the fight, and lost 83, or 43%. Sartain relates the story of John Brock, supposedly slightly wounded in the head while fighting on his own farmstead; but Brock’s CSR suggests that he was furloughed for a head wound after Stone’s River, not Chickamauga.

Gordon himself is an interesting study. His father was a Unionist, at least discretely. Wilder described him as such during the campaign. James C., however, fought the war as a Confederate, rising to Lt. Colonel in command of the regiment by the end. It appears that his brother William L. Gordon enlisted as a lieutenant, rising to Captain.

The younger Gordons might not have had pro-Union feelings, but it is possible that others did. At the very least, once the gloss had worn off the novelty of soldiering, many of the privates decided to leave the fight before the very end.

I found the CSRs of seven of those listed in Sartain’s history, named above, as well as a third Brotherton. Of these 7 originals, James L. Brotherton, Thomas Brotherton, John Brock, and Charles L. Snodgrass are all listed as “deserters” in the summer of 1864. That’s an interesting notation, because several of them were actually captured in May, as shown on Union records, but listed as Deserters by their company commander in June or July. It is possible that this means they went over to the Federals voluntarily, but that has to remain speculation.

However, James Brotherton enlisted in the Galvanized Yankees (Federal troops recruited from Rebel prisoners to fight Indians) in October, 1864.

Thomas Brotherton tried to enlist as well, but was too sick – he was rejected and subsequently took the oath of allegiance and was released on October 26th, 1864. However, he was apparently so sick that he re-entered prison – Camp Morton, in Indianapolis – where he died on November 6th of that year. Interestingly enough, the Camp Morton authorities record his re-entry as being recaptured as an escaped prisoner from Rock Island.

A younger Brotherton – W. J. – joined the company on November 24th, 1863. He deserted on January 26th, 1864. The battle of Missionary Ridge was apparently enough soldiering for him.

John Brock is listed as a deserter on 1 July, 1864, dying of sickness at Rock Island that November.

Y. B. Brock shows up on the muster rolls briefly, only in 1864, with the notation that he was “never paid.”

Charles L. Snodgrass deserted in Walker County in the summer of 1864, was shipped to Louisville by the Federal authorities, and on December 28th, 1863, ‘took the oath’ and was released north of the Ohio River.

George W. Kelly (or Kelley) was promoted to sergeant, and last appears on a muster roll for August 31st, 1863. It is possible that he was a casualty, given the abrupt termination of his CSR, but there is no indication of it that I have found.

There is only one Dyer listed in the regiment, D. W. He is found in company K, not company I. He deserted “near Chattanooga” on September 11th, 1863, took the oath of allegiance at Stevenson Alabama, and was released at Nashville, upon condition that he go north of the Ohio River. I don’t know if this Dyer is a Chickamauga Dyer.

There were other local men in other units, of course. Most famous was Larkin Poe, a teamster in the 5th Georgia Cavalry, who found his home in ashes the day after the battle. He finally located his family, refugees in the hills north of the Snodgrass farm with about two dozen other local citizens.

This is really only an outline of the men of Company I (or K) who found themselves embattled on their own family homesteads that September, and there is much more to be discovered by a determined historian/genealogist. the beauty of the internet is that sometimes, questions beget answers. As for the local boys of Chickamauga, I have far more questions than answers…

Women and War, Politics and Bedfellows

March 21, 2010

That Jefferson Davis is some piece of work…

No, not the guy in Richmond. I’m talking about Jefferson C. Davis, Union Brigadier General. You know, the guy who personally killed a Yankee Major General and got away with it. The other Davis barely got his hands dirty.

For those who might not be awareof the incident (though, since it’s one of the favorite stories of the war, if you read any ACW history I don’t see how you couldn’t be) on September 29, 1862, Jef. Davis shot William “Bull” Nelson in the lobby of the Galt House in Louisville, KY. The offense was a matter of honor, and essentially trivial by modern standards – Davis flipped a card in Nelson’s face, for which Nelson slapped him; all stemming from Nelson ordering Davis out of the department a few days previously. Davis grabbed a gun, Nelson died minutes later.

Davis was indicted, but never tried, and served through the war, essentially out on bail. The indictment was quashed in 1864. Davis of course had powerful friends, (Oliver P. Morton comes to mind) and Nelson was widely regarded as a bully, so many folks thought Nelson deserved it.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. At Chickamauga, Jefferson C. Davis was a divisional commander in McCook’s 20th Corps (where possible, I prefer not to use the roman numerals for corps – it’s not accurate to the period.) Davis’ men were routed off the field at Stone’s River, and hence carried a stigma from that defeat. Never mind that they actually mounted a pretty good fight before they broke, or that they were outflanked and had little choice, all everyone remembered was the rout.

This led to tension between Davis and his senior brigadier, William P. Carlin. Carlin thought Davis’ report of the battle slighted him, and wrote a lengthy rebuttal, touching off a slow simmer of feud between the two men. Carlin would later confide to William T. Sherman that he felt like he was “under command of an enemy.”

Nor was this all. Colonel Hans C. Heg was heading up another of Davis’ brigades in 1863; Heg didn’t like Davis either. Heg, you see, was friendly with Carlin, and even more importantly, was a staunch Abolitionist. Davis, by contrast, was not. In fact, there were rumors going around that Davis was spreading copperhead attitudes. Certainly Davis disliked army commander William Starke Rosecrans’ welcoming attitude toward emancipation – and black soldiers – and made his opinions known. In January 1863, Heg and Davis quarrelled, with Heg telling Davis off in no uncertain terms. Describing the incident to his wife, Heg wrote later that he had no intention of going “into another battle under his command.”

Naturally, these were the two men whom Davis led into the fight at Viniard Field at about 2:15 p.m. on September 19th, 1863.

So why does the title of this post talk about women?

Because for the first part of the campaign, from the time that Davis’s men crossed the Tennessee River on August 29th until September 12th at Alpine – and in blatent contravention of army orders – Marietta Davis and her friend Clara Pope accompanied the general in the field. the women were given every courtesy. There were parades, musical serenades in the field, and inspections. The command spent four days at Valley Head, staying at Colonel Winston’s manor, where Marietta was quite active. For one thing, she visited Hans Heg several times – trying to win the Colonel over by charm? Hegt found her “a young, fine, intelligent woman, but not handsome.” No comment on whether or not he softened towards Jef.

By the way, Davis deliberately took to signing his name “Jef.” to distinguish him from that fellow in Richmond.

What I find most interesting about all this is that Marietta’s friend, Clara, was the wife of John Pope. You know, John Pope of Second Bull Run fame, whom Samuel Sturgis didn’t care a “pinch of owl dung” about.

General Pope was, among other things, a Republican and eventually an abolitionist. He would pursue reconstruction agressively after the war, and apparently really believed in Civil Rights for the black population. He and Davis developed a strong friendship from serving together in Missouri early in the war, a friendship that obviously lasted. Davis had other radical friends: notably Morton, Governor if Indiana, who was hardly a Copperhead.

Davis’ command was again mauled at Chickamauga. His division was cut to peices on the 19th and, outnumbered nearly 5 to 1 on the 20th, routed of another battlefield. Davis, however, was in the thick of it all, and his reputation as a fighter was sustained. He eventally rose to command a corps under Sherman, though official promotion came slowly, doubtless due to that little matter of killing a fellow General in 1862.

Davis is also famous for one other incident of the war: Ebenezer Creek. In December 1864, already frustrated with the clouds of former slaves dogging the steps of his command and slowing progress, at Ebenezer Creek Davis deliberately shed his column of women, children, and the infirm, allowing only able-bodied contrabands who could be of use to the army to cross the pontoon bridge, and then immediately taking that bridge up so as to leave the rest to recapture by Wheeler’s Rebel Cavalry. Even within the army, outrage spiked. Davis was called a monster and a fiend by men in his own command. His supporters pleaded military necessity, but still, the incident rankled.

Davis viewed himself as a hard-bitten soldier, and left few excuses for his conduct, so we don’t have any evidence of his own thinking beyond the extant orders. But we do know that iron resolution to duty cut both ways; when he was appointed military commander of Kentucky in 1866, many Republicans feared that Davis would prove a lenient, even pro-Rebel administrator.

He was not. Orders were orders, and he enforced his with the same ruthless efficiency that left split families apart in Georgia. He pressed state authorities – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to allow Negro testimony in the courts so he could more vigorously prosecute crimes committed against them. He was directly involved in creating Negro schools across the state, advancing Black educational oportunities, in a very successful program.He created a Freedman’s hospital, and fought for Black Civil Rights. His tenure in this post was short – only 8 months – but at the end of it Oliver O. Howard freely admitted he was wrong to fear Davis’ appointment.

Davis went on to other duties – in fact, the army seemed to be his whole life. He served in Alaska, and in the Modoc War. He was active in Reunion affairs. In fact, his health was already fragile when he attended the Army of the Cumberland Reunion in Washington DC in 1879, where the statue of George H. Thomas would be unveiled. Returning from that trip, Davis died at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago on Sunday, November 30th, 1879. His old friend Phil Sheridan was in attendence.

A successful Study Group 2010 weekend

March 15, 2010

I’ve been away too long again. Sorry, time is ever fleeting.

I just got back from the annual Chickamauga Study Group tours, held this weekend every March. Once again, we had a great time, and once again, rain was the theme.:)

We had between 35 and 40 people each day, including a number of new faces, which was great to see. I don’t raise a lot of money with these tours, but we do charge a fee for the bus on Friday, so we do see some income – any excess is donated to the park in the form of library aquisitions. Last year we added about fifteen volumes to the library. This year, we have $320 to spend, and I hope to add something a little special. More on that when I know it will happen.

In the meantime, it was a great stomp. I think we gave some folks a little food for thought concerning General Bragg, though we didn’t go easy on him by any means. Saturday morning’s exploration of Cleburne’s attack was, I thought, also a solid success.

For the first time ever, I had to break away on Saturday afternoon to get home to Chicago – personal reasons intruded. My father had a pace-maker installed, and while he now appears to be fit as a fiddle, he gave us all a bit of a scare earlier. Fortunately, everything is OK, and of course, with Jim Ogden leading Saturday afternoon’s tour, the Study group was in good hands.

On another personal note, I would like to thank Jim for all the work he has put into these tours. Jim is the Park Historian, and he is a cultural resource unto himself. He is also a first-rate presenter, so no one will get bored on an Ogden tour. I like to think that the Study Group offers Jim a chance to do something a bit different than most of the tours and staff rides he leads: to zero in on just a segment of the battle and share that wealth of knowledge that more comprehensive tours don’t have time for.

Much to my surprise, we had press coverage on Friday, as a staff reporter and a photographer from the Chattanooga Free Press showed up. Apprently they found details of our little expedition on the web, and so we got a nice write-up in the Saturday morning edition of the paper.

Ah, sweet fame – it must be my fifteen minutes…

Seriously, I was pleased that the park and the group received the attention. It has long been my opinion that Chickamauga-Chattanooga has been one of the more under-appreciated parks in the system, considering its size and legacy. Moreover, while visitation is important, the right kind of visitation is doubly important. I’m not trying to sound snobbish. I want the parks to be widely used for their historical purpose of education and memorialization, not just as large recreation areas. Recreation is fine, but it’s still a battlefield. Ergo, a press piece noting a group there to study the field in depth is greatly encouraging.

Here is a link to the article.