Friday, February 27, 2009

Shiloh Stories

Shiloh Stories: Fact, Fiction and Folklore from the Battle of Shiloh by Tony Hays

This is an odd collection of stories about the battle. There are some fictional sections but they are clearly marked as such. There are other sections that have quite a few footnotes. I don't think I agree with every section, some are based on oral history from county residents. The final three page section though is by far the most scandalous.

In it Hays lays out the case that Grant may have fathered a child during his stay at the Cherry Mansion. The facts being that there was a servant girl with a track record of promiscuity, that she bore a son nine months after the battle, that the son later was said to look just like Grant and that she said Grant was the father. Frederick Dent Grant visited Shiloh in the 1890s and met with this man, in fact he is rumored to have had his picture taken with him (of course the picture does not exist today). Also there is a story that Grant bought land near Savannah from his death bed and had it transferred to his illegitimate son. The child did own land near Savannah but acquired it from Edgar Cherry. But Grant would have likely bought the land through his old host. Basically its a lot of rumor with little verifiable behind it. Its interesting, but not important to the story of the battle. Apparently this is also the main reason that this book is not available for purchase in the park.

Overall I thought the book was an enjoyable read but I don't think I'd use it as a source without first checking it against other sources (which is truthfully a good method to use for nearly every source one encounters).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain
Edited by Jay Luvaas & Harold W. Nelson
The US Army War College Guide to Civil War Battles

If you are familiar with the War College Guides then you already know that this is a book you need to own. If you are new to the series here is a brief overview. Each guide, this is the seventh, traces the actions of a battle or campaign with the Official Records as your guide. The editors put you in the place where the action occurred and then let the commanding officers' reports explain the fight to you. When the Official Records are skimpy the editors also rely on excerpts from the Battles and Leaders series as well as some memoirs, but most stops of the tour are explained with the Official Records.

There are a few slight problems in this volume that detract from its overall value. At the stop for some artillery positions on Rocky Face Ridge the directions tell you to walk along a concrete path marked "Personnel Only" near the Georgia State Patrol office. It does not then explicitly say that following this path is fine so one is left to assume that it is okay to disregard the "Personnel Only" sign since it says to walk the path in the book. Personally I would have liked a little more clarification that it is okay to walk the path.

Another thing I did not like were the maps. There is too much variation in the maps. Some use shading to denote elevation while some use topographic lines. None of these lines are marked so while I can figure out relative elevations it would have been easier if a few topo lines had been marked with elevations. Other maps do not use shading or lines to denote elevation, they simply show streams and roads. I'm also not a big fan of using gray maps. A gray map seems more cluttered than a white map with the same information on it.

One final map complaint is for the Picket's Mill section. The overview map shows the park's trail system but the detail map that shows the troop movements lacks the trail info. While showing the trails might have made this a very cluttered map it would have definitely enhanced the tour experience. I cannot remember from the last time I was at Picket's Mill if the park trail map shows troop movements but even if it did it would make more sense to have all the info on one map so that you did not have to worry about orientation and scale differences between the two maps.

I was surprised that the editors did not include any of the battles of Atlanta in the book. These battles were not even treated as a side trip. The tour ends with the fighting at Kolb's Farm at Kennesaw Mountain. The way the editors deal with this is by saying this set "the stage for the next phase of the campaign for Atlanta, which is best studied in textbooks rather than on sites covered with modern development." I can see their point but on the other hand there are still things to see in Atlanta which even if they do not offer great views can still give some appreciation for the amount of ground covered and how Hood dealt with the encircling Union army. They have brought you this far so to suddenly stop the tour seems a bit odd. Of the seven books in the series Luvaas and Nelson were part of six. The seventh was done by Matt Spruill on Chickamauga. Since then Spruill has done other guidebooks along the same lines as the War College books but he has done some on those sites that apparently Luvaas and Nelson find too overdeveloped for worthwhile touring, namely Stones River and Chattanooga.

Despite my complaints about the maps and the lack of anything on Atlanta I do this this is a worthwhile addition to the traveler's library. No other guidebook will provide you with this sort of detail in touring the sites from Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain. I'm sure the next time I'm in northern Georgia I will get good use out of this book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Home library

I need some advice.

For awhile I've mulled the idea of having some sort of library stamp made for my home library. There are three routes to go that I've seen online. One is a sticker that I could buy in bulk as blanks and print myself. Another route is a rubber stamp (preferably self inking) that I'd have made. The other option is an embosser like the one shown here:

There are pros and cons to each option. With the sticker I could either go with something small and keep the text simple or go with something larger and have room for either a graphic or some other information. But this seems to be the least professional looking of the three options.

The stamp and the embosser are both things that I would have to decide how I wanted it to be for all time. Once I have it made I'm stuck with it until I tire of it enough that I'd get a replacement. The sticker allows the flexibility to change over time. I'm not sure I want to change but its something to think about.

Then there is the fact that all three options are permanent. Do I want to mark up my books in a permanent way? Right now I often write in pencil when I read the book or leave post-its inside the front cover with questions for future research. These can be removed quite easily. Then I've heard that as a book ages the embossed pages deteriorate worse than a stamped page.

Has anyone out there done this to their library? Any tips?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Once a Marine

From time to time I like to read something that isn't about the Civil War. Partly this is to remind myself that things have happened since 1876. I also do this to recharge the batteries a bit, as much as I like the Civil War sometimes I need to leave it for awhile to appreciate it more. In that vein the other day I picked up Once a Marine. Its the story of Gunny Sergeant Nick Popaditch. You might be asking who, but if you've seen the pictures of the Marine with a Marine Corps emblem on his glass eye you know who I'm talking about. I've seen lots of advertising for this book in magazines and on Ted Savas' blog, and finally decided to give it a try.

Gunny Pop is a Silver Star winner and first came to the public eye as "The Cigar Marine" when his tanks tore down the Firdos "Saddam" square in April 2003. The following year he was back in Iraq, and was severely wounded by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade). The RPG hit him in the head, messed up his hearing, vision, and smell. The book covers his recovery but much of the book deals with leadership issues, and what it means to be a good Marine. Then Gunny Pop is forced to struggle with how he can be a good Marine when he only has one eye, and that eye is not the best either. But he struggles to do what he can, and does make a difference as best he can. Its an amazing story, it hooked me right away.

Only the last fifth of the book is a detailed shoot-em-up memoir, the first part deals with his struggle to be an one eyed Marine, fight the system to stay a Marine, then fight to get his full benefits from the VA. The last section when Gunny Pop details what he did the day he won the Silver Star (coincidentally the day before his sever wounding) is amazing. It was amazing to read how the Marines actually get stuff done on the ground. I also wish Civil War veterans had written down the stories of what they did with this much attention to detail while the war was still fresh in their minds and not wait 20 years like many did. (Of course many did write it down immediately but generally if you find a memoir, not a collection of letters, it was written many years after the fact when memories were much more hazy.)

Gunny Pop's website is Thanks to Ted Savas for bringing this wonderful book to print. Next time Ted recommends a book I won't wait 3-4 months to take him up on it, I'll listen right away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fort Donelson National Cemetery

I always wander cemeteries when I visit a battlefield. The Civil War section is the low square stones in a circular arrangement. There are 670 Union soldiers here, with 512 being unknown. Incidentally the site of the cemetery was where the Union built their own fortification in 1863 after they abandoned the Confederate built fort.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Surrender & Escape

On the night of February 15th the Confederate high command faced a dilemma. They came to the conclusion that the escape route was no longer open (Forrest would scout it and determine that prompt action would still allow many men to escape but the high command was no longer listening to reason at that point). General John B. Floyd decided they must surrender but that he could not do it as he might end up facing a court due to his questionable practices as Secretary of War under Buchanan. He turned the command over to General Gideon Pillow. Pillow was also worried about surrendering so he turned the command over to General Simon Bolivar Buckner.

Buckner was an Old Army veteran and would do his duty no matter how difficult the particulars of it. The next morning Buckner wrote his old friend Grant a note asking what surrender terms he might get. Grant was with CF Smith at that moment, the two quickly hashed it out and Grant sent back his now famous reply, "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Buckner had no choice but to surrender and his response was, "The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose."

Before this exchange of notes Floyd and Pillow worked hard to get as many men out of the fort as they could, mostly using arriving river boats to get their men out of there. Forrest also famously pulled his troops out, as well as about a 1000 other men who took the initiative to go along.

Grant was now a rising star in the Union. He would become a household name and people would say that US Grant stood for Unconditional Surrender Grant, not Ulysses S. Grant (actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant).

Up the Cumberland River is Nashville. The fall of Fort Donelson doomed Nashville and it would be abandoned by the Confederates in about two weeks.

A state historical marker for Forrest's escape.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smith's Attack

While the Confederates tried to break out of the siege Grant was away from the army discussing with the navy what the next step would be. The navy was too battered to be of much use so Grant knew he'd have to finish the job alone. Upon his return to the army that afternoon he found out the extent of the damage and that an escape route had been cleared. Grant resolved to counter attack and win back what had been lost. In many places his men were able to recapture most of the lost ground, this was also because the Confederates had decided to return to their lines, get some rest and make their escape the next morning.

On Grant's left he ordered CF Smith's division to assault the lines closest to the fort, this area had not been part of the earlier fighting. The Confederates had pulled men from this area to make the breakout attempt, so Smith's men faced a much smaller force and were able to drive the Confederates back from these outer works. In the pictures you'll see a cannon, that cannon represents Jackson's Virginia battery and it had been pulled from the line earlier.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My recent absence

Since last Thursday I have not been feeling well. Staring at a computer screen gives me a headache. This weekend I found out I have bronchitis. I'm doing better but writing is still a difficult task. I will resume regular posting in a few days

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Seeing the Elephant

Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh by Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves

This is one of my favorite Shiloh books. It examines how green troops reacted to their first brush with combat. Both armies were primarily made of men who had never been in combat before with the exception of some men who fought at Fort Donelson (almost exclusively Union troops) and a small group that were at Belmont.

Frank and Reaves had a wealth of source material, in all they used 381 letters and diaries covering 160 units. The first third of the book covers how the men became soldiers. The second third deals with the battle directly. The last third tells what the men thought of their performance, as well as how outsiders viewed their performance.

This book has a ton of anecdotal quotes but its much more than that. I know I'm not doing a fantastic job of describing the book but if you want to know how fresh troops dealt with their first big battle this is the book. Especially if you want to know about how the dealt with Shiloh. But the themes expressed in the soldiers' writings would translate well to other instances of green troops seeing the elephant. If your focus was First Manassas I'm sure you could find plenty of similar experiences between Shiloh soldiers and Manassas soldiers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confederate Outer Works

This series of photos takes us along the section of Confederate works near the Wynn Ferry Road. This is where the main breakout effort will take place, and succeed, on February 15th. The first position is French's Battery, at the time a four gun battery. This battery was placed here to prevent the Union from using Erin Hollow to pierce the Confederate lines. Maney's Battery is farther to the west (I have no digital pictures) and protected the other side of Erin Hollow.

Now we are near the Wynn Ferry Road. The attacks in this area pushed McClernand's Division back and opened the Forge Road. The way was now open for the Confederate army to escape from the siege. Instead the Confederate high command decided to return to their lines and have the men march out the next morning. Grant had been away conferring with the navy but returned in the afternoon, ordered a counter attack and secured most of what was lost. Forrest's scouts would find out that night there was still one road open but it was obvious that it would be closed at first light the next morning. Returning to the trenches assured the Confederate army of capture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Texas Monument

The other monument at Fort Donelson is for the two Texas regiments who fought here, even though one of them fought here a year later.

The 7th Texas Infantry was part of the force that cleared an escape route for the Confederates before the high command gave up the effort and doomed the garrison to capture. A year later, 3 February 1863, the 8th Texas Cavalry fought here as part of General Wheeler's attack on Dover. That attack failed but the 8th Texas performed its job well, keeping Union reinforcements away from Wheeler's force.

This monument is similar to other Texas monuments in that it was placed during the centennial celebrations, this one actually was placed in 1964, not sure why they didn't hit the 1862 or 1863 anniversaries.

Story of Shiloh by Eisenschiml

The Story of Shiloh by Otto Eisenschiml

Otto Eisenschiml's book on Shiloh is not that interesting as a battle book is concerned. He covers the battle in about 45 pages. He hits the main points and even devotes some time to Colonel Thomas Worthington's complaints of Sherman.

But what sets this book apart is that Eisenschiml tells of his 1925 trip to the park when he spent three days touring the battlefield with superintendent De Long Rice. He also met Augusta Inge, who secretly gave Albert Sidney Johnston his last meal by slipping some sandwiches and cake into his jacket and would also clean his dead body upon its return to Corinth. He also found a little book by Rice in a Corinth bookshop and gives Rice some good natured ribbing the next day why Rice had not told him about the book. These stories are the true worth of this book. These people must have made quite a mark on Eisenschiml as he then gives little biographies of them.

Eisenschiml was from Chicago so one day he paid a visit to Chicago sculptor Frederick C. Hibbard, who designed and sculpted the Confederate monument at Shiloh. As this book was published by the Chicago Civil War Round Table he also included a list of all the round table's presentations, at this point they were only 5 years old, that was 63 years ago. One curiosity of the book is that in the front Eisenschiml wrote, "This book is not copyrighted. Any portion of it may be quoted or reprinted without restrictions." Maybe I should make a few hundred reprints so that more people could read this book.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Confederate Monument

Fort Donelson does not have much in the way of monuments. In fact I can think of only two monuments in the park. Considering how this battle helped decide the fate of the war it seems odd that it lacks a monument to Grant's army.

The oldest monument is this one to the Confederate soldier. I've read that the monument rests on top of a mass grave. I've also read that the mass grave is just near here and the NPS is not sure where it is exactly.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Upper Water Battery

Since I first started going to Fort Donelson they have added guns for the upper water battery. This battery was intended more to disrupt a landing party than to drive off the gunboats. The Union never got close enough to try to land a force to assault the water battery. If there had been a landing the guns in the water battery could not have depressed their muzzles enough to hit the attacking force. But these guns would have been placed just right to sweep the slope in front of the water battery and would have caused much destruction and confusion.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shiloh: Bloody April

Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword

This is a book I have mixed feelings about. On one hand it is the most detailed study of the battle (although the recent arrival of Cunningham's dissertation for the 1960s ranks a close second). But I've found errors in it, somewhat substantial errors. So if I was wondering what the 77th Ohio did I would use this, along with the Official Records, but I would not trust what I read here 100%. I would make sure to double check everything, which is a good practice anyway but sometimes its nice to use something and know you don't have to worry if its right or not.

My main problem with the book is on his day two chapters. I found this while researching the 14th Wisconsin, which only fought on the second day. Sword credited them with capturing Cobb's Battery near Woolf Field. When I tried to find out more about this I found that Cobb's Battery had been captured the day before by the 11th Illinois, 12th Illinois and 11th Iowa. There is even a tablet on the battlefield saying this. Sword does include that event in his book but then he talks about the 14th Wisconsin, 13th Ohio and 9th Kentucky capturing it again on the second day. I think what he means at that point is that they captured the abandoned guns as nearly all of Cobb's horses were killed (forgetting that there are sources that say during the night Cobb found enough animals and men to drag away the guns). But even that is a problem because the 14th Wisconsin was no where near that place on the second day. I think that ranks as a pretty substantial mistake. Sword has mixed up a variety of locations and times, and he stands alone in placing the 14th Wisconsin in that area on that day.

That is what makes me wonder about everything I read in there. Some day I hope to have the time to produce my own manuscript on Shiloh of comparable length and see just how much I agree with what Sword, and all the other Shiloh historians, have written.

I own a first edition, a reading copy I had picked up earlier, and his revised edition. The revised edition primarily offers a long appendix on Albert Sidney Johnston and where me might have died. Sword thinks the location is wrong and places it the next ravine north of where everyone else says it was. He does make some good points but overall I do not agree with this assertion either.

My final complaint is that Sword refers to Shiloh as the Pearl Harbor of the Civil War. He does this outside of the main text area. I understand his surprise reference but Shiloh was a tactical surprise on the same level as Cedar Creek in Virginia in 1864. This was not that rare an occurrence though the frequency was not that great either. Pearl Harbor was a strategic surprise that the Civil War lacks. The firing on Fort Sumter came as no surprise, both sides knew it was coming soon. The actual moment may have surprised some people but very few people were not surprised it happened in April 1861.

Water Battery

On Valentine's Day 1862 the Union navy tried to do to Fort Donelson what they had done a week earlier to Fort Henry, reduce it by bombardment. This time though the fort was better situated and the Confederate guns won the day. Grant would have to find another way to capture the fort and its garrison.

The park has done a good job of recreating the battery with a full complement of guns. There were eight 32 pounders on wooden carriages and one 10 inch Columbiad on a metal carriage. The Columbiad's pivot point is in the center of the carriage while the wooden carriages pivoted at the front. Not a particularly important fact but something I found interesting.

As you can see one time I was there as they did work on the guns of the battery.

I put this picture in so you could see how little the Union gunboats had to shoot at. I'm sure it was hellish to load the guns during the bombardment but there is also plenty of cover for the men.