Civil War News Review

For the newest review of Stand to It and Give Them Hell go to this site:
http://www.civilwarnews.com/reviews/2014br/nov/stand-priest-br111404.html?utm_source=Campaigner&utm_campaign=November_14_CWN_Newsletter_&campaigner=1&utm_medium=HTMLEmail

While you are at it, consider purchasing Mr. Jorgensen's excellent micro-history, Gettysburg's Bloody Wheatfield, which is now available in Kindle, Nook, and iTunes formats.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Primary Sources on the Internet


I use the Internet a great deal to find hard to obtain historical resources.  I have listed below those to which I refer.


This is an excellent source to find regimental rosters, and war related primary sources on every New York unit, which served during the Civil War. I have found it invaluable in identifying obscure documents  relating to the regiments about which I have written. Some photos are available of individual soldiers and regimental flags.


The Soldier and Sailor System consists of a searchable database for nearly every Union and Confederate regiment which was involved in the war.  It is a great way to identify men by state, company, and regiment and to find thumbnail regimental histories. This provides the researcher with only the individual’s company and ranks held throughout the war but does not indicate when he transferred or got promoted. It is a great place to start.  The U.S. Regular Army citations are the most incomplete.


Confederate Veteran is self-explanatory. For about 30 years the aging Confederate soldiers contributed memoirs and recollections to this serial magazine. A great deal of the material is devoted to perpetuating the “Lost Cause”, and meticulously recording the  obituaries of its members. Nevertheless, it does contain a great deal of good war time material. Check out the sources carefully.  As they got older the veterans tended to promote themselves to ranks they never attained during the conflict. This is also a great genealogical source.


The War Papers of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, with the exception of the Pennsylvania Commandery, are mostly downloadable. Part of the site also contain transcriptions of some of the articles which were cited in the index but not available through other sources. It contains a complete index for every volume.


The National Tribune, which later evolved into Stars and Stripes, began as the voice for Union veterans’ to press the government to pay them pensions. This index only covers this weekly veterans’ paper from 1871 through 1911, but the information within its pages are invaluable. The editors dedicated at least one page in every issue under the caption “Fighting Them Over”, for the old soldiers to record their recollections of the War and to argue over points of accuracy. It was the early version of  Facebook and ran into the 1930’s by which time the information became harder to find and less reliable.


If the reader wants to find downloadable published recollections, memoirs, and regimental histories this is the go to site. It is a great way to build up a research library of hard to find material. http://archives.org is another great site.


Exclusively dedicated to Pennsylvania’s regiments, a person can look up regimental rosters, diaries, published materials, prison records, in some cases, photos of soldiers.  It is a real gem.


For anyone studying Gettysburg who wants to go to the library in the battlefield Visitor Center, this is the source to use to identify particular regimental and biographical sources. I cannot recommend this too highly. The battlefield library also has a tremendous collection of hard copy regimental histories. Call in advance to make an appointment to use the library. The librarian is a tremendous individual to work with. You can bring a camera to photograph pictures and you may bring in a laptop computer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“Only”


In a recent web discussion about Gettysburg, a small controversy sprang up over the word “only.” The following does not minimize or denigrate any of the contributors’ comments. Rather, it prompted me to evaluate about how often the word appears in historical interpretation.

            As an interpreter/guide at Antietam, for instance, I have often used it to compare the casualties inflicted in the four major battlefield sites – the Cornfield, the West Woods, the Bloody Lane, and the Burnside Bridge. Approximately 8,000 casualties occurred in and near the Miller Cornfield in about two hours and twenty minutes. The West Woods claimed an estimated 5,000 in twenty minutes. Around 5,500 fell during the three and a half hour struggle over the Bloody Lane and the three and a half hour struggle for Burnside Bridge accounted for around 600 more. Ironically, the largest number of visitors visit the bridge, followed by the Bloody Lane, the Cornfield, and rarely, the West Woods. 

When explaining this phenomenon to guests, I find myself apologizing for using the word “only” when referring to the number of souls struck down per hour in the most frequented spots on the field. I tell them about the 6th Alabama losing three sets of brothers in the Lane and of the dying father who cradled his deceased son in his arms until death overtook him. I mention the unfortunate Colonel Francis Barlow who received a serious groin wound in the final assault on the Lane. I emphasize how easy it is to reduce battles to numbers and statistics to evaluate which side won, and which side did not. I remind them that the battlefield monuments are tombstones for those comrades who did not return home and not to the survivors.

Referring to the first paragraph, one contributor used “only” to refer to the length of time two brigades stayed in action in the Wheatfield and the low percentage of losses which they incurred. I did not take offense nor do I chastise the individual who punctuated the statement with “only.” From a general's perspective those two brigades might have suffered unacceptably low casualties. In most Civil War actions, the average brigade or regiment, if it was not resupplied with ammunition, would have exhausted most of its rounds in that time. In places like the Wheatfield and the Cornfield, where the opposing forces, because of the limited visibility from the powder smoke, fired into each other at very close ranges, regiments incurred very serious casualties, each one of whom had a name.


These casualty returns come from Tilton’s and Sweitzer’s Brigades, Barnes’s Division, V Corps in the Wheatfield. Bear in mind that Sweitzer went into the field twice. In all three actions, those units spent about 15 – 20 minutes in action. Tilton’s Brigade of four regiments, numbering 655 officers and men lost 19% (125 casualties): 6.25 men/minute. Switzer’s Brigade went into the fray with 1011 officers and men and after an estimated 40 minutes in action lost 420 men (42%): 10.5 men/minute. By Civil War standards, those were not high casualties as compared to our “modern” acceptable casualty rate. Nevertheless, they are just numbers. I write from the soldiers’ perspectives because they were and are not “only” numbers.