Author:

The General

Eric J. Wittenberg is an award-winning Civil War historian. He is also a practicing attorney and is the sole proprietor of Eric J. Wittenberg Co., L.P.A. He is the author of sixteen published books and more than two dozen articles on the Civil War. He serves on the Governor of Ohio's Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, and often consults with the Civil War Preservation Trust on battlefield preservation issues. Eric, his wife Susan, and their two golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.

Website: civilwarcavalry.com

Attention all neo-Confederates and Lost Causers:

Read it. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

From yesterday’s edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

y James Varney, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on December 22, 2014 at 12:18 PM, updated December 22, 2014 at 12:36 PM

It’s amazing how many Americans still don’t know what the Civil War was all about. Here’s a hint: it starts with an ‘s’ and it has the same syllables but fewer letters than “secession.”

This ignorance has cluttered my e-mail box since last week. While noting a legal battle over the image of the Confederate flag on Texas license plates, I had the temerity to state the only place I want to see the Stars & Bars is in a Civil War museum.

KevinLaserWriter, for example, wrote that his descendants fought as Confederates and that he is not a racist. I’ll grant him both points.

When he says the Confederate battle flag is “not a symbol of hate,” however, and when he refers to it as “my flag” I’m puzzled. Should I speak of the topic again, he admonishes, “please be educated first on what it represents.”

He’s right. People should know what it represents. Here is how Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, compared his nation with the United States:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas,” he said in 1861. “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Another e-mailer, a Starbuck apparently not connected with the Nantucket whaling Starbucks, said my writing “shows serious laps in your education.” Her ancestors, she wrote, “fought to keep his states right to succeed from the union of states.”

Fortunately, her ancestors were unsuccessful, but it is true they fought as enemies of the United States.

“That flag serves to educate yourself and others of the hidden truths, the ones that the northern parts wanted to hide,” Starbuck added. I should not address a topic I “know nothing about” until “you get an education.”

It’s true my Civil War teachers underplay the role, say, federal authority over intercoastal waterways played in causing Bleeding Kansas, or how John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid was prompted by a tax dispute.

Still, the idea those irked by the Confederate flag and its symbolism need an education cropped up repeatedly. It’s amazing how wrong I learned it.

One man, for instance, urged me to “try reading history and no the PC bull*&t they indoctrinate people with in liberal colleges.” If I did, he said, I’d realize the Confederate “soldiers who fought included blacks, Indians and Hispanics” because “the south was a more diverse place than the north.”

Others bolstered that point. “The battle flag represented the soldiers whom the majority were of middle or lower class and came from all walks of life,” rwwiv wrote. “They were Mexicans, native americans, blacks, Irish, French and Jews. Yes, the majority were Caucasian Americans but the confederate army was actually foreward thinking in civil rights and equality.”

This is all very different from what I was taught in the North. It may not be atypical, however. For a story in The Times-Picayune I once interviewed the historian James McPherson and he told me the notion slavery was not at the core of the Civil War is one he sometimes encountered in Princeton students from the South. Some of them saw slavery as an ancillary cause, McPherson said, and thus failed to see how Lincoln’s election and his perceived opposition to the Peculiar Institution triggered secession.

From Metairie, a woman wrote that she sees the Confederate flag as a “symbol of valor and bravery and Southern heritage.” It may be those things, but it will remain something I pointedly disparage when talking about “Southern Heritage” with my kids, two of whom were born in New Orleans.

“I see a symbol that represents people who were willing to fight for what they believed in – states’ rights and a very limited federal government,” she added. “Jefferson Davis said shortly after the war that ‘the Cause for which we fought is bound to reassert itself in the future, in some form or another.’ And, of course, it has…because the ’cause’ for which they fought wasn’t slavery and everyone at the time knew it.”

That’s incorrect. ‘The Cause’ on which the Confederacy and the war rested, chiefly, was slavery. Consequently, many contemporaries saw it as a racist abomination. Speaking of the surrender at Appomattox, Ulysses S. Grant wrote:

“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

I don’t think all the people e-mailing me are racists or bad people. I don’t know them. But the historical record is clear – it does not support the ideas peddled by Confederate apologists. The Confederate flag, therefore, isn’t something anyone should fly with pride.

Slavery was NOT some benign institution. Slaves did not eagerly fight for the Confederacy. And the Confederate battle flag REALLY is offensive to a large portion of American citizens. It’s not some attack on your “heritage”. It’s about understanding why others would be offended by it and trying to have some empathy for them. Stop trying to put a happy face on the abomination of slavery. You might actually have some credibility if you did.

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pabooks500On December 3, I traveled to Pittsburgh to film an episode (my second) of Pennsylvania Cable Network’s “PA Books” programs on The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. I’ve been advised as to the air dates for my interview, which are: The program will air on Sunday, January 4th at 7PM. Additionally, it will air as part of PCN’s “Best of 2014” block on Monday, December 29th (2014) at 1PM. I hope some of my Pennsylvania friends will check it out on your local cable networks! It will also be available for download as a podcast on PCN’s website once the program airs on PCN.

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With appreciation to Peter Tsouras, who brought this to my attention.

One of the sadder moments of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid occurred when Col. Ulric Dahlgren ordered his column’s African-American guide, Martin Robinson, hanged because the column had had difficulty finding a workable crossing over the James River in Goochland County, on its way to Richmond. The unfortunate Robinson, scapegoated by Dahlgren, was hanged from a small tree, and his body was left there when the raiders moved on.

Pete Tsouras brought another episode to my attention today. I had missed this during my work on Ulric Dahlgren, which is unfortunate. It’s a tantalizing peek at a story that problem deserves further investigation. The following appears in Series 2 of the Official Records, vol. 6, part 1, pp. 1053-1054:

RICHMOND, March 15, 1864.

Brigadier General JOHN H. WINDER:

SIR: I have examined the papers in the case of one Tom Heath, a freeman of color, who was imprisoned in one of the military jails of this city on the 5th instant. Heath is a resident of Goochland County and is charged by a gentleman of the highest respectability and veracity with having acted as a guide to the enemy during the recent raid of General Kilpatrick and Colonel Dahlgren through Goochland. The only witness I learn against the accused is a son of Mr. S. D. Fisher, whose testimony, in the absence of other witnesses, would not be sufficient proof of the overt act of treason, although there is no doubt of Heath having adhered to the enemy, giving them aid and comfort. His offense is one of so grave a character that I regret to say he cannot, I fear, be successfully prosecuted for treason. The act of Congress of the 15th of February, 1864, providing for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases, will enable the Secretary of War to inflict the punishment of imprisonment upon the accused. He has clearly been guilty of the crime of communicating intelligence to the enemy, giving him aid and comfort and holding intercourse with the enemy without necessity and without the permission of the Confederate States, and he may therefore be imprisoned and denied all recourse to the writ of habeas corpus. As hard labor for the benefit of the Confederate States should be superadded to the punishment of imprisonment, I have no recommend the immediate reference of the papers in this case to Judge Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of War, who will issue the necessary orders for the imprisonment of Heath. The crime with which he is charged is one of such frequent occurrence that an example should be made of Heath. It is a matter of notoriety in the sections of the Confederacy where raids are frequent that the guides of the enemy are nearly always free negroes and slaves.
Respectfully,

P. H. AYLETT,

C. Sney.

[First indorsement]

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF HENRICO,

Richmond, March 18, 1864.

Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War.

JNO H. WINDER,

Brigadier-General.

[Second indorsement.]

MARCH 18, 1864.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY:

This man, a free negro, piloted Dahlgren in Goochland. But one witness can be had to prove guilt and Mr. Aylett asks to have him confined and put to labor, denying recourse to habeas corpus. Recommendation approved.

B. R. W[ELLFORD], JR.

[Third indorsement.]

MARCH 25, 1864.

Refer to Brigadier-General Winder to have him detained in custody and placed at hard labor work in a secure place and for other attention.

By order:

J. A. CAMPBELL.

I had never heard of this incident involving Tom Heath previously. He was apparently imprisoned and put to hard labor for the crime of guiding Dahlgren’s column on its way through Goochland County. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate anything further about him or his travails, but what an interesting episode this is.

There were two freed blacks who helped Dahlgren make his way through Goochland County. Martin Robinson paid with his life. Tom Heath was imprisoned at hard labor. Never let it be said that the war in Virginia was easy on civilians.

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Layout 1Here’s a quick update on the status of my new book, The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. As I write this, it’s ranked 4,221 out of the many millions of books sold on Amazon, and is sitting at number 1 on the list of Gettysburg books. That’s the highest ranking any of my books has ever had on Amazon. The first printing was sold out before it ever went to the bindery. Not even a month later, the second printing is nearly sold out too, and a third printing is going to be ordered very shortly. Since it’s selling like crazy, if you want a copy, be sure to order one from me or from my publisher, Savas-Beatie, LLC. Thanks to Ted Savas and to his marketing staff for doing such a great job with this book.

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200px-Jeb_stuartThe Buckland Races
A song by J.E.B. Stuart

Come listen to me, ladies,
A story I’ll relate.
Which happened in the eastern part
Of the Old Dominion State
Away down at New Baltimore,
On a day of Autumn bright.
The Yankee braggadocio
Was whipped clear out of sight.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

It was the “Buckland races,”
Far famed through old Fauqu’er,
With Stuart before their faces,
Fitz Lee came in their rear;
And such another stampede
Has never yet been seen.
Poor Kil led off at top speed,
And many a Wolverine.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Old Michigan saw sights that day
Which “Harpers” will never know,
When the Southern boys went on their way
And thrashed Kilpatrick so.
Past Buckland sped they, great and small,
Some drowned them in Broad Run.
We never yet made such a haul,
And never had such fun.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Come, ladies all, a hearty cheer,
Give three times three hurrah
For Southern lads, who never fear
To meet the foe in war.
A heart as true as any blade,
Is carried in each hand.
They’ll never forget the darling maid
They met at old Buckland.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

The source for these lyrics is an article that appeared in the May 1, 1864 edition of the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser newspaper. The article indicates that Stuart composed this little ditty just after he defeated Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Cavalry Division in the October 19, 1863 Battle of Buckland Mills, which is often called the Buckland Races, for the rapid pursuit of Kilpatrick’s badly routed troopers. The article also indicates that the song was dedicated to a Miss Annie H. of Buckland, married to the colonel of the 17th Virginia Infantry. Little did the newspaper editor realize that Stuart had just 11 days left to live.

It’s easy to take JEB Stuart lightly when you see things like this–the man loved music and singing, there is no doubt of that–but as I often say, this was one very serious, very capable, very professional soldier. They broke the mold when he was made.

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Last month, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the first annual symposium put on by my friends at Emerging Civil War. A camera crew from C-SPAN was there to record the entire program. I’ve just learned that my talk, which was on the Battle of Trevilian Station, will air twice on C-SPAN 3 twice this upcoming Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM as part of C-SPAN’s American History TV series. Please check it out!

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1882_pic_war_horseWith much gratitude to Al Eelman of Philadelphia, who was kind enough to share both this photo and the accompanying narrative with me. For a larger version of the photo, click the image.

I often tell the stories of forgotten cavalrymen. Today, I get to tell the story of a cavalryman’s horse, which is not something that I get to do very often. When I saw this photo and heard the story associated with it, I had to share it with you. Hence, I bring you this forgotten cavalryman story.

As some of you may know, a number of years ago, I edited and published a new edition of the memoir of the Appomattox Campaign written by Lt. Col. Fredric C. Newhall of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who served on Phil Sheridan’s staff. After the Civil War, Fred Newhall returned home to Philadelphia, and in 1882, he wrote the following letter about his long-time companion, Dick, who served throughout the Civil War with him. Dick was a wounded combat veteran of many a campaign in the field:

DICK
HE IS 27 YEARS OLD THIS SPRING. HE WAS RAISED IN NEW JERSEY, AND IS OF THE “MAY-DAY” STOCK. I BOUGHT HIM 8MO. 1861 ON ENTERING THE ARMY, AND RODE HIM ALL THROUGH THE WAR. HE WAS IN MANY CAVALRY ENGAGEMENTS, AND IN ALL THE PRINCIPAL BATTLES OF THE POTOMAC, EXCEPT CHANCELLORSVILLE, AT WHICH TIME HE WAS WITH ME ON THE CAVALRY EXPEDITION, KNOWN AS THE “STONEMAN RAID” WHICH OCCURRED WHILE THE BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE WAS GOING ON. I RODE THIS HORSE ALSO IN GENERAL SHERIDAN’S CAMPAIGN IN THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY AND IN THE LAST CAMPAIGN AGAINST GEN’L LEE, WHICH TERMINATED IN VIRGINIA, IN THIS CAMPAIGN HE WAS WOUNDED IN THE LEG IN THIS BATTLE. ON THE DAY OF LEE’S SURRENDER AFTER THE REBEL FLAG OF TRUCE WAS DISPLAYED, I WENT ON THIS HORSE TO FIND GEN’L GRANT AND CONDUCTED HIM TO APPOMATOX COURT HOUSE TO MEET GEN’L LEE. IN MAY 1865 I TOOK THE HORSE WITH ME TO NEW ORLEANS, AND ON THE TERMINATIONS OF HOSTILITIES IN THAT REGION, I RESIGNED FROM THE ARMY, AND BROUGHT THE HORSE HOME WITH ME.
F C NEWHALL

Here’s to Dick, a grizzled and forgotten combat veteran of the cavalry service of the Civil War who did his duty quite well.

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220px-Alonzo_CushingThe soldier in the image is Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who is set to receive a Medal of Honor on September 15, 2014, 151+ years after his death at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Of the following facts, there is no dispute or doubt: Alonzo Cushing was a brave and very capable young soldier who died as a hero. Cushing, although horribly wounded, stood to his gun and pulled the lanyard, blasting canister into the faces of the Confederate soldiers of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s brigade at point-blank range at the climax of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. He was an incredibly brave young man who died a hero’s death doing his duty. These facts are not in dispute. I admire Alonzo Cushing.

Having said that, I have real problems with him receiving a Medal of Honor now, 151 years after the fact. There were plenty of opportunities for the War Department to honor him in the years after the war, but it did not do so. 1520 Medals of Honor were awarded for valor in the Civil War. Many of them were politically motivated, like the one awarded to Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who instead should have been the subject of a court-martial. Many were not really earned or deserved. Many were. A number of them were even revoked. But Alonzo Cushing was not deemed worthy of being awarded a Medal of Honor by his peers. That fact is also beyond dispute or controversy.

Again, this is not to take anything away from Lieutenant Cushing or his courageous stand at the guns on July 3, 1863. But I have real problems with his being awarded a Medal of Honor today. Is this really the sort of precedent that we want to set? Isn’t this a slippery slope that will open up a big can of worms? Doesn’t this open the door for the advocates of any soldier who did something brave to demand that that soldier also be awarded a Medal of Honor even though his peers did not believe his feats worthy of one? That’s my real concern with this Medal of Honor being awarded to Alonzo Cushing, whose valor certainly deserved recognition.

As unpopular as this statement might be, my humble opinion is that if the veterans–Cushing’s peers–did not deem him worthy of a Medal of Honor, who are we to question the wisdom of their judgment? I think that we should just have left well enough alone. The precedent that this Medal of Honor sets is not one that should have been set.

Despite my objections, I nevertheless congratulate Lieutenant Cushing and his supporters who spent so many years fighting to win the Medal for their hero.

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Layout 1Time for some shameless self-promotion. Over the weekend, I signed off on the page galleys for my newest book, The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. The file has been sent to the printer, and in about five weeks, my publisher, Savas Beatie, LLC, will have books.

This is, in many ways, the culmination of my life’s work. I began researching what started out as a bio of John Buford not long after Susan and I got married din 1992. This study of John Buford at Gettysburg has been percolating all that time. The book will feature 17 of Phil Laino’s excellent maps (including two that have never before been mapped) and more than 80 illustrations (including three images that have never before been published). I’m really excited to finally see this in print after all of these years.

The book will sell for $32.95 plus $3.95 for shipping. I will also be offering a special collector’s edition that contains a special signed and numbered bookplate that will make for a perfect gift for $75.00. Shipping is free for the special edition. I am taking pre-orders for signed copies beginning tonight. Those interested can pay one of three ways: by PayPal, by credit card, or by check. If you wish to pay using PayPal, please use the email address eric_at_civilwarcavalry.com (I have stated the address that way so that bots don’t pick it up as easily). If you wish to pay by credit card, please send me an email to that address, and include your name, address, credit card number, expiration date, CVV on the back (the three-digit or four-digit code), and the billing address. If you want to pay by check, please send me an email at that address, and I will provide you with a mailing address.

Thank you for your interest in my work, and I hope everyone enjoys the book, which has been a LONG time coming.

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I received the following challenge:

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t over think it. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just books that have impacted you in some way.

So, here goes, in no particular order:

1. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. This was the one that started it all for me. Bruce Catton’s wonderful prose and THE coolest maps ever made.

2. William Manchester’s marvelous The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968. My master’s thesis was a direct result of having read this book.

3. Carlo D’Este, Patton: A Genius for War. Simply put, THE finest military biography that I have ever read.

4. Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. An epic study that not only taught me a lot about the Confederate side of the Civil War, it also introduced me to the Lost Cause.

5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Yep, I’m a nerd. This proves it.

6. Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge too Far. This epic study of the wretched, miserable failure that was Operation Market Garden is one of the finest campaign studies ever written.

7. Alan T. Nolan, Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History. This groundbreaking book directly led to the publication of one of my books.

8. Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels. Full of factual errors but one of the finest pieces of historical fiction ever written, this book was the introduction to the Civil War for many a person.

9. John Hennessy, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. This is THE best Civil War campaign study I have ever read, and I aspire to doing as well some day.

10. Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Moses was the most powerful man in New York, but his ego and downfall brought about the bankruptcy of New York in the 1970’s. This epic biography taught me the art of biography.

There are, of course, many, many other worthy candidates for inclusion on such a list–in fact, limiting the list to ten entries really unreasonably limits things. But these are the ten that come to mind without overthinking it, and I think that this list is a worthy one.

Feel free to leave your own lists here in the comments. It should make for some interesting discussion.

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