Civil War News Review

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Medal of Honor Recipients at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

Joint resolutions in Congress in July 1862 and March 1863, created the Medal of Honor to recognize soldiers for meritorious conduct “above and beyond the call of duty.” The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps awarded the medals. Soldiers did not win them. They never were, nor are intentionally “won” by anyone. As a matter of the record, the Medal the recipient has to be recommended for it. At the time, a person could submit his own name for it and, in the case of the 27th Maine during the Gettysburg Campaign, 300 men received it for staying beyond the expiration of their term of service to assist in the national emergency. Considering the way the war was going for the Union in late 1862, reenlisting apparently constituted heroism.  During the War, the Marine Corps did not allow officers to receive it, because the Corps expected its officers to behave superbly upon the field.  The majority of the recipients received their medals long after the war. They also received them posthumously, which never appeared in the citations.
During the Civil War, men qualified for the Medal of Honor if:
1.      They captured a Confederate flag
2.      Captured a Confederate officer and/or his horse
3.      Saved their regimental flag(s)
4.      Exhibiting extraordinary bravery.
The Medal went to 63 enlisted men and officers for their part in the Battle of Gettysburg: 9 on July 1; 22 on July 2; 32 on July 3. 
            The following received the Medal for their actions at Gettysburg during Longstreet's attack :
1.      Corporal Nathaniel M. Allen, age 23, Company B, 1st Massachusetts – saved the flags of his regiment from capture - awarded March 29, 1899.
2.      Private Casper R. Carlisle, age 23, Company F, Independent Pennsylvania Light Artillery- saved a gun from capture – awarded December 21, 1892.
3.      Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, age 35, 20th Maine – displayed great heroism and tenacity in holding his position on Little Round Top and for advancing to the forefront on Big Round Top – awarded August 11, 1893.
4.      Corporal Harrison Clark, age 21, Company E, 125th New York – Took the flag from the dead color bearer and carried it forward – awarded June 11, 1895.
5.      Captain John B. Fassitt, age 27, Company F, 23rd Pennsylvania – As a staff officer, he rescued an abandoned battery with the assistance of a regiment which he personally led into action and he engaged in close combat with a Confederate infantryman – killed in action at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia on May 12, 1864, his medal was posthumously awarded on December 29, 1894.
6.      Sergeants George W. Mears, age 20, (Company A), John W. Hart, age 25, (Company D), and Sergeant Wallace W. Johnson, age 21, (Company G) with Corporals Chester S. Furman, age 21 (Company A), J. Levi Roush, age 25, (Company D)  and Thaddeus E. Smith, age 16, (Company E), 6th Pennsylvania Reserves – charged a log cabin near the J. Weikert farm and captured a squad of Confederates who were harassing the regiment as it advanced.  In the process they rescued three prisoners from the Confederates.  
    Award dates: Mears (February 16, 1897); Hart (August 3, 1897); Johnson (August 8, 1900); Furman (August 3, 1897); Roush (August 3, 1897); Smith (May 5, 1900).
7.      Sergeant Thomas Horan, age not given, Company E, 72nd New York – captured flag of the 8th Florida – awarded April 3, 1898.
8.      Second Lieutenant Edward M. Knox, age 22, 15th New York Light Artillery - rescued his guns by hand after the Confederates had overrun his position – awarded October 18, 1892.
9.      Captain John Lonergan, age 24, Company A, 13th Vermont – recaptured an overrun battery, and captured 83 Confederates in the Codori house – awarded October, 28, 1893.
10.  Sergeant Harvey M. Munsell, age 25, Company A, 99th Pennsylvania – gallant and courageous conduct as the color bearer – awarded February 5, 1866.
11.  Sergeant James A. Pipes, age 23, and Lieutenant James J. Purman, age 23, both Company A, 140th Pennsylvania – both were severely wounded while attempting to rescue a wounded comrade. Purman lost his left leg. Pipes received his medal for Gettysburg and for helping to stop a flank movement at Ream’s Station, Virginia, which cost him an arm. Pipes’s award date was April 5, 1898 and Purman’s October 30, 1896.
12.   First Sergeant George W. Roosevelt, age 20, Company K, 26th Pennsylvania – severely wounded while capturing a Confederate color bearer and his flag – award July 2, 1887. He lost a leg.
13.  Bugler Charles W. Reed, age 22, 9th Massachusetts Battery – rescued his wounded battery commander, Captain John Bigelow, at the Trostle farm – awarded August 16, 1895.
14.  Major General Daniel E. Sickles, age 42, III Army Corps , commanding - conspicuous gallantry upon the field and  encouraging his men after being severely wounded – awarded October 30, 1897. He lost his right leg below the knee.
15.  Private Charles Stacey, age 20, Company D, 55th Ohio – advanced ahead of the skirmish line to locate Confederate sharpshooters and remained in that place until his company retired – awarded June 23, 1896.
16.  Color Sergeant Andrew J. Tozier, age 25, Company I, 20th Maine – stood at the advance of the color company after the line had been pushed back and maintained his fire with ammunition he picked up from the ground – awarded August 13, 1898.

The U.S. Civil War, as far as I know, is the first war for which a large number of the battlefield monuments are dedicated to the rank and file soldiers and their company or regimental grade officers. The men cited above did not deliberately or consciously become heroes. They responded valiantly and selflessly as so many of their comrades did because the lives of those around them meant more than their own. Not given to bragging, they did their duty because it was their duty.  It has been my experience, having known men who received combat awards, that they felt their departed comrades deserved the recognition and the medals more than they and they behaved as they had been trained.  They believed they did their duty – nothing more.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Facts, Ma'am, Just the Facts (Part 2 of 2)

(These comments and maps are based upon my forthcoming book: Stand To It And Give Them Hell!  (Savas Beatie: June 2014) It is currently being offered at an introductory price on
1.      At 8:30 a.m., Colonel Hiram Berdan (1st U.S. Sharpshooters), under orders from General Birney, approaches Col. Elijah Walker (4th ME) at his picket reserve at the Rodgers house on the Emmitsburg Road.
a.       He tells Walker to take his regiment with the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters to reconnoiter the woods along Seminary Ridge.
b.      Walker argues it would be suicide to do so because a division, much less 2 regiments, could not dislodge the number of Confederates hidden in there.
c.       Berdan concurs
2.      Berdan, however, reports to the division commander, General Birney, that Walker’s assessment of the Confederate troop strength is not credible.
3.      Birney dispatches an aide to Ward’s brigade to bring up more men.
4.      Ward sends the 3rd Maine to the Millerstown Road and the 99th Pennsylvania to the Stony Hill in support.
5.      Simultaneously, Birney’s aide de camp, Capt. Joseph C. Briscoe with Colonel Berdan places four companies of the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters in the Emmitsburg Road where the Millerstown Road intercepts it from the east.
6.      Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., the Berdans, with the 3rd Maine in support, head west toward Pitzer’s Woods where they initiate a nasty skirmish with regiments from Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabamians.

 Base maps by Steven Stanley of Gettysburg.      Text and content by John Michael Priest                              

7.       The skirmish is over by 10:00 a.m., and shortly thereafter, Col. Jacob Higgins (86th New York, Ward’s brigade) dispatches a captain and 25 men to tear down the fences west of Trostle’s to the Emmitsburg Road.
8.      10:00 a.m., Major Tremain returns from Army headquarters, his request for artillery on Little Round Top ignored by Meade.
9.      10:30 a.m., Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham advances his brigade to the Trostle house.
10.  11:00 a.m., Sickles rides to Army headquarters and argues with Meade that he can defend the Emmitsburg Road.
11.  Meade refuses to let General Gouverneur K. Warren with sickles to examine the ground.
12.  Meade, at Sickles’s urging, has Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt accompany sickles to the Peach Orchard.
13.  Sickles explains to Hunt that from his current location, he cannot use his artillery
14.  Hunt, while on site:
a.       Tells Sickles that the position will expose the III Corps to enfilade
b.      But that the ground provided a lot of traverses which could protect the men.
c.       Putting the II Corps there would overextend its lines.
d.      Tells Sickles to conduct a reconnaissance not knowing that while Sickles had already done so.
15.  Hood rides off to investigate the artillery fire coming from the vicinity of Culp’s Hill.
a.       Noon, Ward moves to the Devil’s Den and Houck’s Ridge, and the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters fans east and south to protect the left of the III Corps.
b.      The rest of the III Corps advances onto the ridges west of the Trostle house.

To use an old cliché: “The rest is history,” or is it?  Examine the information and compare it to the traditional impressions of Sickles’s unauthorized advance.
 Base maps by Steven Stanley of Gettysburg.      Text and content by John Michael Priest   

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just the Facts, Ma'am, Just the Facts (Part 1 of 2)

Controversy followed Daniel E. Sickles throughout his career and his life.  Whether it be the murder of Barton Key before the War or his financial misconduct as the chair of the New York Monument Commission, he had a way of rising from the depths of scandal unruffled.  The story of his ill-advised advance  to the Emmitsburg Road still generates arguments about his rationale and the quality of his generalship.  Beginning with this first installment in a series of blogs you will have a chance to examine the evidence in chronological order and form your own conclusions about Major General Sickles.
These comments and maps are based upon my forthcoming book: Stand To It And Give Them Hell!  (Savas Beatie: June 2014) Which is currently being offered at an introductory price on
1.      Evening, July 1, 1863, most of the III Corps is bivouacked north east of the Trostle house and in the immediate vicinity of the George Weikert house on Southern Cemetery Ridge.
2.      July 2, 1863, before dawn, Captain George G. Meade, Jr., aide-de-camp to and son of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade (Army of the Potomac), arrives at Sickles’s headquarters in the immediate vicinity of the G. Weikert House.

Base maps by Steven Stanley of Gettysburg.      Text and content by John Michael Priest                       

3.      He orders Sickles to:
a.       Extend the III Corps further south to Little Round Top
b.      And to relieve Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s division of the XII Corps and leaves sickles to obey the directive.
4.      Sickles does not comply.
a.       He later he later said he had no idea of Geary’s exact location
5.      An hour later, shortly after sunrise (4:30 a.m.), and aide from Geary arrives at III Corps headquarters and
a.       Informs Sickles of Geary’s location
b.      Asks him to send an officer to inspect the position
c.       And asks for Sickles to immediately move troops to the designated area.
6.      Sickles replies that he:
a.       Would “attend to it in due time
b.      And does nothing.
c.       Geary leaves 2 regiments on Little Round Top and moves the rest of his command to Culp’s Hill.
7.      Several times, between daylight and 8:00 a.m., Sickles dispatches his aide, Maj. Henry E. Tremain to Army headquarters at the Leister house where he requests:
a.       Meade to authorize the III Corps to move to the Emmitsburg Road to deny Lee access to it
b.      And to provide a cavalry screen to protect the supply trains as they arrive from the south.
8.      Meade does not respond and Tremain returns to Sickles without orders.
9.      In the meantime, at 7:30 a.m., Sickles sends Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward’s brigade west to the edge of the woods west of the John Weikert house.
10.  Between 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., Captain Meade visits Sickles at the Abraham Trostle house (new III Corps headquarters) to check on Sickles’s compliance with his earlier directive.

Base maps by Steven Stanley of Gettysburg.  Text and content by John Michael Priest                       

11.  Sickles responds that he had not “understood” where he was to relieve Geary.

12.  At 8:00 a.m., Ward deploys the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters south across the Millerstown Road. Several companies swing west along the eastern side of the Wheatfield and the woods on Houck’s Ridge.  Two companies face south across Plum Run to the crest of Little Round Top, relieving Geary’s 2 regiments.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Recent Unpleasantness

In response to my first post on “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” A. P.’s comment about the War being the War of NORTHERN Aggression prompted me to write this entry. When I taught high school U.S. Civil War I initiated a discussion about why this horrendous bloodletting went by so many names.   While many of these are very well known by the avid Civil War students, I also realize that, for the most part, Civil War history – military history, in general - gets very little attention in the classroom.  My granddaughter, an academic student, did not know that our state song, Maryland My Maryland, originated during the War and that it was a Confederate song.  She did not know who Confederates were; did not know which side represented what issues; did not know who won the War.  Shocked but not really surprised, I realized that the CORE curriculum does not emphasize or value our heritage.  History teaches us about who we have been and who we are.  The present cannot separate itself from the past. For instance, I cannot help but notice the unnerving similarities between the political and social divisiveness of the 1860’s with those of today.
How do the names associated with the Civil War reflect those divisions?  I will present the list with my explanations of them and you can draw your own conclusions.
1.      The Civil War – In a lot of my readings, both North and South, this appears as one of the most common names for the conflict.  Lincoln said it best when he said that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.”  From the very beginning, both sides recognized that the war tore the very fiber of this country apart.  It went beyond sectionalism, beyond the states’ rights argument, beyond the slavery issue.  

2.      The Brothers’ War – A civil war is a war between and among families which transcends racial and gender differences.  Southerners fought for the North.  General George Thomas, and Col. Benjamin F. “Grimes” Davis, haling respectively from Virginia, and Mississippi served with distinction in the Union Army.  Northerners joined the Confederacy.  Generals Bushrod Johnson (OH), John C. Pemberton (PA), and Daniel Ruggles (MA) served with the Confederacy.   John Gibbon had relatives in the Confederate army as did Mary Lincoln. 

3.      The War of Northern Aggression – This name implies that the South had the right to secede and be left alone, and that the North instigated the conflict by sending troops south to subjugate the Southern people.  One of those “uncomfortable” interpretations of the cause of the war, it is often associated with individuals, past and present, who still hear the guns quite loudly.  It still generates loud and sometimes vitriolic exchanges between modern day proponents on both sides of the issue.  Wars do not end just because the shooting stops.

4.      The War Between the States – This traditional Southern title implies that two confederacies were at war rather than a Federalist central government against an anti-Federalist confederacy of independent, sovereign states.  

5.      The War to Preserve the Union (or Constitution) – Succinct, and to the point, many Union regimental histories have this in their subtitles.  While it hardly seems provocative today, it assumes that the Federalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution was and it the right interpretation.  The Confederacy had its own constitution. Also.

6.      The War for Southern Independence  (The Second War for Independence) – George Washington adorned the Confederate government’s seal, in recognition that the South was following the example of the Founding Fathers in declaring its independence from a tyrannical government which had refused to recognize its innate rights.  Confederates tended to identify more with the Declaration of Independence which justified rebellion from the established government rather than the U.S. Constitution, which some scholars argued (still argue) did not allow rebellion. 

7.      The War Between the Blue and the Gray – Created postwar, during an era when the veterans were trying to mollify the lingering division created by the conflict, it symbolizes, for me, the beginning of an over simplification of the War.

8.      The War to End Slavery – Having been raised Southern during the beginnings of the Centennial, I was taught, quite wrongfully, that slavery had little to do with causing the conflict.  Very few regimentals even mention slavery as the underlying root of the killing.  While the Emancipation Proclamation and  the active recruitment of Black soldiers into the Union army changed the focus of the war, it has taken a terribly long time for people to deal honestly with the importance slavery and freedmen played in the war.

9.      The War of the Rebellion – Definitely a Union title, it seems to be one of the more prevalent ones assigned to the war, ranking right up there with the Civil war, and the War to Preserve the Union.  From a Federal perspective this bluntly says why many Northerners went to war – to put down a rebellion.

10.  The War of Secession – Self explanatory, it reflects the ultimate reason to dissolve the Union – States’ Rights.

While not all-inclusive, this list reflects some topics worth objective evaluation and discussion.   The causes of the Civil War are neither simple or easy to accept.   Maybe that is good.  That uneasiness should compel us to question and ask “Why?”  It saddens me these mean little or nothing to so many students today because history is not considered an important subject.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes (Part 2 of 2)

1.      Organize the accounts by regiment/brigade/division/corps/army.  Winnow out the accounts, which say nothing, or are too general. 
2.      Using the most detailed maps you can find, to plot out the regimental positions as described in the sources.  The reports of the monument commissions for the battlefields are a great place to start but keep in mind they might not agree with your findings based upon the eyewitnesses’s accounts.
3.      Walk the ground.  Examine the hollows, streams and hills described,  Look for evidence of old fencerows (hint: trees growing in a fairly straight line).
4.      Familiarize yourself with the tactics the cavalry, artillery, and infantry.  This helps me locate where a regiment or an artillery battery would have deployed as opposed to where the veterans placed the monuments.
5.      Organize the battle by time sequences.  Do not accept the argument that watches were unreliable.  Adjutants needed accurate watches to organize camp routines.  In their diaries, they often noted the times for every bugle call and duty assignment.  The army’s daily routine was organized around time pieces.
6.      Footnote everything.  Civil war enthusiasts can be nit pickers and vicious ones.  Document, document, document!  Use the footnotes or appendices to explain how you interpreted the incidents you recorded. 
7.      Do not fill your work with biographical fluff, explanations of how you arrived at your conclusions.  Keep your narrative straight forward, succinct and assertive. 
8.      Do not tell the reader what to conclude or think.  That is their responsibility, not yours.
9.       Write, as much as possible, without expressing a particular bias toward one side or the other but do not soften your descriptions of what they experienced or saw.  History cannot be what you want it to be. It must be what happened, even if it is offensive.  Political correctness converts history into the realm of fiction.  War brings out the best and the worst in the individual.
10.  Sparingly use the word “cowardice.”  A civilian’s concept of cowardice could be a practical option to survive to fight another day.  A retreat could actually be an advance in a different direction.
11.  Do not carve the evidence to fit into your premise.  Present the evidence and nothing more.  By doing this you will learn that maybe the emperor is not properly attired.
Thank you for reading this.  Again, this is how I approach interpreting a battle.  It is not the final word on the matter. Writing like teaching is an art, not a science.  No two people practice the craft same way.  The most important thing to remember is that the author be honest, concise and as objective as humanly possible.