Civil War News Review

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Being a guide at Antietam is very similar to being a history teacher, the difference being that every day, the students are new. Similar to my former students, they come from varied background and ethnic groups. Their knowledge varies from little to nothing or to total immersion in the subject. Every time I go out on the field, I learn something new, something unexpected. For instance, a week or so ago, I took a couple to South Mountain, Fox’s Gap in particular. The lady in the party, earlier in her career had worked as a geologist. She found the cornerstone to Wise’s Field and the foundation of a stonewall on the Confederate right flank. All these years I had conjectured about those fields’ locations and finally, hidden on the forest floor were a few of the answers- literally under my feet.

Last week a gentleman and his son from South Carolina wanted to explore Fox’s Gap in depth because he had a relative there – Major Rice of the 3rd South Carolina Battalion. The regiment lost 145 of 160 men on the afternoon of September 14, 1862. Using two different interpretations of troop locations, we literally measured each one with a measuring wheel and believe we found where the battalion was slaughtered on that dreadful afternoon. It was a tremendous experience!

Another time, at the Cornfield at Antietam I took the great-great granddaughter of Henry Klinefelter (Battery B, 4th U.S.) to the approximate location of the 12 pounder Napoleon that he fired into the Confederates at point-blank range. She gave me a photo of him at the 1937 Gettysburg reunion. He lived to be 100 years old.

Earlier this year a met the great-great grandson of 4th Sergeant John Kahoe, 125th Pennsylvania. I showed the approximate location of where the sergeant and several comrades helped the dying General Joseph K. Mansfield from his horse along the Smoketown Road. We walked the rout of the regiment from the east woods to the Dunker Church and had a marvelous time piecing the action together. 

When I get depressed and self-centered, I need to take the time to appreciate the privilege I have of introducing individuals to their past, and learning about the war from the descendants of the men who fought at Antietam. The blood ties of the Civil War run very deep even to this very day. What a blessing to work on such hallowed ground. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Unfortunate Death of General Jesse Reno

 Friendly fire has been a recurring problem throughout history. This incident occurred on the evening of September 14, 1862 at Fox’s Gap, Maryland. Ever since I first published an article about Jesse Reno’s death in the June issue of Civil War Magazine historians, including a very prominent one, have discounted the entire story. One said that Reno would never have ridden toward the front without a large entourage; another said that when Reno mistakenly told General Orlando Willcox that he had been shot by his own men; another dismissed the account of one of Reno’s orderly’s printed in the National Tribune as hearsay. 

What evidence supports the real story behind Reno’s death?

1.       On September 17, 1862, while waiting to assault the Lower bridge, Private Albert A. Batchelder ( Company C, 6th New Hampshire) wrote his father, while griping about army sutlers and the poor condition of Maryland farms, “Gen. Reno was killed by a Massachusetts Regiment by mistake he was in front of the lines.”

2.       Professor Gabriel Campbell, former captain, Company E, 17th Michigan, wrote Ezra Carmen on August 23, 1899 helped carry the general off the mountain on a blanket when they encountered General Willcox. Campbell heard Reno tell the general, “Willcox, I am killed. Shot by our own men.”

3.       Campbell then explained his interpretation of the event by writing, "This implies that Gen. Reno did not, in the gathering darkness, satisfy himself that the rebels were so close at hand…he thought the shooting random and not intentional. Possessed of the conviction that the rebels were not there, it was the necessary inference that he was killed by his own men.”

4.       He said he saw Reno on horseback, about half a length in front of his aides.

5.       On July 6, 1883, in the National Tribune, in an article titled “How Reno Fell,” Sergeant Alexander H. Wood (Company L, 6th New York Cavalry) one of Reno’s two orderlies reported what Private Martin Ficken, the orderly riding by Reno’s side saw.

6.       Ficken and the division surgeon, Doctor Calvin Cutter, flanked him within arm’s reach. It was about 6:00 p.m. and the fields on the eastern side of South Mountain were getting quite dark. The brand new 35th Massachusetts was coming out of the woods into the fields on both sides of the Old Sharpsburg road and were lighting lanterns and shouting for their scattered regiment to reform. Reno was in Wise’s field south of the road behind the 21st Massachusetts and the 51st New York.

7.       According to Ficken a lost soldier from the 35th Massachusetts, upon entering the field, stumbled upon the riders and yelled, Rebel Cavalry!” He aimed his musket at the general, as Ficken yelled, “Don’t fire!” The gun discharged. Almost immediately, six shots rang out from the woods across the road from the northwest.

8.       The startled 35th Massachusetts across the road to the north opened fire in the darkness into the backs of the 51st Pennsylvania, which was lying along the eastern side of the “wood road” – Appalachian Trail, facing the woods.

9.       Reno turned toward Ficken and gasped he was wounded. Reno dismounted. While Cutter tended to Reno, Ficken ran into the regiment behind them and got a blanket.

10.    While they put the general on the blanket to carry him to the base of the mountain, Sergeant Wood led their horse off the field behind them.

11.    At the northeastern corner of the field they transferred the general to a stretcher at which point Willcox approached him and Reno told him he been shot by his own men.

12.    The general’s staff told the two orderlies not so speak about anything they had seen.

13.    According to Ficken and Cutter, the bullet had glanced off Reno’s sword hilt and glanced into his chest below the heart.

14.    Just last week I found a letter written by General Samuel Sturgis published in the New York Times, November 30, 1878. He did not see Reno get shot. His account came from one of his two staff officers who saw Reno fall from the saddle. One of them said he helped get the general out of the field.

15.    Sturgis said that either Dr. Cutter or a Dr. Watson said the bullet was fired close at hand and from behind.

16.    Sturgis was not with the general when he died nor was he present when the doctors examined the wound.

 While I believe Reno died from "friendly fire", I would prefer that my readers draw their own conclusions.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maryland! My Maryland!

When the Confederate “army” of around 40,000 invaded Maryland in September 1862, the Marylanders greeted them by holding their noses and handing them their shoes.

The New York Times, as I recollect, reported that they smelled so bad that one could not put two of them in a 14 X 14 room with the windows open in a strong breeze and stay in the same room because they smelled so bad. 

The residents of Middletown caught wind of them coming toward the town from a mile away and shut their windows to block out their tangible stench. 

One North Carolinian wrote that he wished someone were there to wash his clothes because he had not done so since leaving home.

In Frederick, a young woman while standing along the sidewalk commented to her beau, a Confederate cavalryman, “John, how can just dirty, ragged men fight so well?” he replied, “Well, Molly, we don’t put on our best clothes to kill hogs.”

A contemporary photograph of the Rebels in Frederick shows that the Confederates wore consistently inconsistent uniforms. Much like McDonald’s ice cream cones, no two were the same.

Marylanders called them, “Dirty, stinking Rebels.” The Rebs cherished the image. Like the lice, the image of starving, poorly dressed soldiers dressed as motley farmers stuck to them throughout the war.

The Rebel army invaded Maryland singing Maryland!  My Maryland!, which, ironically, our very liberal state, still retains as its anthem.

After they left, some comic penned the following parody of the anthem, which, in the light of the pervasive political correctness, should probably be adopted by “The Old Line State.”

The Rebel feet are on our shores.
Maryland! My Maryland!
I’ve smelled them half a mile or more.
Maryland! My Maryland!
Your searchless throng are at our doors,
Your drunken generals on our floors.
What now can sweeten Baltimore?
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to our noses’ dire appeal,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Oh, unwashed Rebs, to you we kneel.
Maryland! My Maryland!
If you can’t purchase soap, oh, steal
That precious article, I feel
Like scratching from the head to heel.
Maryland! My Maryland!

You’re covered thick with mud and dust,
Maryland! My Maryland!
As tho’ you’ve been upon a bust!
Maryland! My Maryland!
Remember, that it is not just
To have a filthy fellow thrust
Before us till he’s been scrubbed fust!
Maryland! My Maryland!

I cannot see thy blushing cheek.
Maryland! My Maryland!
It’s not been scrubbed for many a week.
Maryland! My Maryland!
To get thee clean, the truth I speak
Would dirty every stream and creek
From Potomac to Chesapeake!
Maryland! My Maryland!