Robert H. G. Minty plays a critical role in my current book project, which is a detailed tactical study of the first day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18, 1863. Consequently, I have spent quite a bit of time studying him and his role in the Civil War since I decided to tackle the September 18 project, and was interested in him before the thought of tackling this project ever entered my mind. Minty is a fascinating fellow who had more than his share of foibles, but who nevertheless was one of the finest cavalry officers of the war. After the end of the Civil War, he abandoned his wife Grace and took up with her younger sister Laura in a very scandalous relationship. That tawdry story factors into the nonsense addressed in this post.
In a story that appeared on the website of WZZM, the ABC affiliate located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two Michigan men make the outrageous claim that Minty stole $2 million in Confederate gold at the time that Minty’s cavalrymen captured Jefferson Davis:
Confederate gold treasure may be in Lake Michigan
ROOTS TO A CIVIL WAR MYSTERY – CONFEDERATE GOLD TREASURE – MAY BE IN LAKE MICHIGAN
Brent Ashcroft, WZZM
MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) — Could there be roots to one of the Civil War’s most enduring mysteries in Muskegon, Michigan? That’s what two local treasure hunters strongly believe and they have four years of research that they feel proves it.
Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe were diving in northern Lake Michigan in 2011 and found the remains of a shipwreck, they believe, could be “Le Griffon”, which sank in 1679. The funny thing is, the pair weren’t searching for shipwrecks at the time of their 2011 find.
They were searching for a much bigger treasure – lost Confederate gold from the Civil War.
Both Kevin and Frederick have decided to go public with their research, which reveals West Michigan could be home to this 150-year old mystery.
The beginning and the ending of this story starts and ends in Evergreen Cemetery in Muskegon. What unfolds in-between could lead to solving one of our country’s greatest mysteries.
“It’s a great treasure story,” said Frederick J. Monroe, an accredited scuba diving instructor and treasure hunter from Muskegon. “All the evidence is pointing toward right to what I’ve been told.” He first found out about the take from a friend in 1973.
“He brought to my attention about his grandfather on a deathbed confession,” said Monroe, who added that the individual offering up the death bed confession then said, “There’s $2 million of gold bullion sitting in a box car (at the bottom of Lake Michigan) and there’s only three people that know of it, and two of them were already dead.”
Monroe says that story has stuck with him for over 40 years and when he connected with Kevin Dykstra, he shared the story.
“I started to search and search,” said Dykstra.
His searching triggered a massive research project, which Dykstra believes reveals how the lost Confederate gold treasure found its way to Michigan nearly 150 years ago.
Civil War Gold Theft
STEALING $2 MILLION IN GOLD BARS
Dykstra says his research began when he learned that in 1892, boxcars were beginning to go across Lake Michigan on car ferries. He then discovered that some box cars were pushed off the ferries, during bad storms, to keep the ferries from sinking. At that point, he felt the death bed confession may have some merit, but more research was needed.
“If there was $2 million of gold bullion at the bottom of Lake Michigan, it had to be missing from somewhere,” said Dykstra. “I needed to figure out where this gold was missing from.”
Dykstra started digging into the Confederate gold with Confederate President Jefferson Davis moving towards the south into Georgia after fleeing the Union troops in 1865.
“Some marauders got a hold of the gold at some point and stole it,” added Dykstra.
As he was researching this poignant moment in American history, Dysktra came across a name.
“I started focusing on one particular colonel; his name was Colonel Minty, who was actually in charge of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, who caught Jefferson Davis down in Irwinville, Georgia,” said Dykstra. “If Robert Minty had anything to do with the Confederate gold, he would have had to commit treason to take it,” added Dykstra.
Dykstra then uncovered that Colonel Minty was wrongfully court-martialed in 1864, ending his advancement in the military.
“Now, I have motive,” said Dykstra. He believes that Colonel Minty and his accomplices buried the Confederate gold treasure near Lincoln County, Georgia, which is where legend states it was buried.
Dykstra then began to research Robert Minty’s career after his military court-martial. He found that the colonel retired to Jackson, Michigan where he resumed working for the Detroit Railroad. Dykstra then followed Minty as he accepted several positions with other rail companies, leading him to eventually become superintendent of freight for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, which was down in the southeastern corner of Georgia.
“The Atlantic and Gulf Railway passes right by where the gold was taken; I feel at this point, I have this man on the run,” added Dykstra.
So, in 1876, eleven years after the gold was stolen, Dykstra believes while working for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, Minty dug the gold treasure up and began heading north with it, using the rail system. And then…
“I uncovered a horrible train accident in Ashtabula, Ohio,” said Dykstra.
Moving the Gold to Michigan
GOLD GOES MISSING AGAIN
On December 29, 1876, a railroad bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio collapsed, causing eleven boxcars to fall into a river gorge. 159 passengers aboard the train plunged into the river below. 92 were killed.
Dykstra says he found a newspaper article that stated that one of the box cars in the Astabula disaster was carrying $2 million in gold bullion.
“People flocked by the thousands to try to find that gold,” said Dykstra. “No gold was ever found.”
Dykstra found that Robert Minty may have been connected to this accident.
“Sure enough, [Robert Minty] was the superintendent of construction on that railway [at the time of the accident]”, said Dykstra. “I believe that Minty needed a diversion, so with his credentials, I believe that he started a rumor of the $2 million at the bottom of the river gorge to keep everybody away from the gold that was en route at the time.”
And then he discovered Confederate gold had been seen in Michigan.
“I came across another newspaper article that talked about a piece of Confederate gold that surfaced at a coin show in Traverse City; three experts looked at the piece of gold and confirmed that it only could have come from the Confederate gold that was taken down in Lincoln County, Georgia,” said Dykstra.
His research never led him to being able to place Colonel Minty, himself, in Traverse City, but Dykstra says he discovered the next best thing.
“Robert Minty married Grace Ann Minty,” said Dykstra. Her maiden name was “Abbott.”
The Abbott brothers and sisters were living in Traverse City when the Confederate gold showed up at the coin show. Minty would eventually also marry Grace’s sister, Laura Abbott, and had four children with her. These facts led him to one final connection, that he believes, points the finger at Robert Minty as the man who stole the Confederate gold treasure and was able to get it up to Michigan.
“[Robert Minty’s] mother-in-law’s name is Thomas-Ann Sutherland, and Thomas-Ann had a son named George Alexander Abbott,” said Dykstra. “George’s sister, Grace Ann Abbott, was married to Colonel Robert Minty.”
This means that George Alexander Abbott was Robert Minty’s brother-in-law.
“George Alexander Abbott died in 1921 and was the person who did the deathbed confession to the friend of Frederick’s grandfather,” said Dykstra. “The story goes complete full circle.”
Wow. Tawdry, shocking stuff if true. Too bad it’s all supposition and bears no resemblance to reality. I asked Rand Bitter, who published a biography of Minty that compiled Minty’s many articles that he wrote for publication in The National Tribune, a popular veterans’ newspaper, to comment on the article that appears above. Nobody knows more about Minty and his life than does Rand. Here’s his response, which Rand has given me specific permission to share with you here:
This has generated quite a bit of back & forth amongst some of the “Minty group.” Some in the family are quite upset with the slander and poor research supporting it. For your amusement (if interested), I will cut & paste below some of my own commentary on the matter from those other emails.
But first, before that, I calculated that “$126 million” of gold today, in their “sunken box car full” conclusion, calculates out to about 6,250 lbs -or over three tons. I just wonder how many wagons Jeff Davis was dragging along behind him (never mentioned in the accounts) just to flee with over three tons (or a box car full) of gold. And how long did it take, and how many of Minty’s (Pritchard’s) men were needed to unload and bury that much gold before they could set off for Macon with their prisoners that morning? Accounts only mention some gold coins found in the holsters of the escorts – and unlikely to account for three tons worth. Finally, why didn’t Davis himself ever complain of Pritchard’s appropriation of so much value???
Below are excerpts of some of my earlier email comments:
… I found two videos on USAToday site. Guess they have an ear for the sensational. That group surely did jump to some spectacular conclusions based on a collection of random and faulty “facts.” Indeed, RHG would have most certainly have made a leap for his pen, had he ever encountered such allegations and fabrication of history. Perhaps you should go ahead and advise Mr. Ashcroft that he is free to contact Minty’s biographer to “verify” some of them. He probably won’t though, and he will probably get a big raise for landing such a scoop.
I watched a second slightly different version of the video on the USAtoday site, and have to laugh at Mr. Dykstra saying “At this point, I have this man on the run” (referring to RHG and this scheme).
One more interesting question comes to mine. how do they know the gold is “in a box car” and why on earth would the box car have been on a ferry out in the middle of upper Lake Michigan (off Frankfurt)? That is not even on a route to any major destination across the lake, and nowhere near or towards anyplace that RHG had any interest in. And why would they push it off into the lake – just so the state of Michigan can “go and get your gold?”
… Decided to take a closer look at the video again this evening, pausing to look closer at the “research documents” shown therein and find it interesting that the image of Thomas-Ann Abbott shown in the groupings at video points 1:56 and later at 5:30, is a direct lift of the lower quarter of page 533 from my Minty book with my exact text caption. So the researchers must have come across a copy of the book somewhere and perhaps know of me.
… Thanks for the amusement for the day. It would be interesting if Mssrs. Brent Ashcroft, Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe would pursue their research a bit further, and perhaps contact me to add some significant information. Thanks, Dani, for sending the articles and attachments [obituary, portrait, bio]. Let me add a few of my own comments and reactions:
1) Evidently [Minty brother-in-law] George A. Abbott made a deathbed confession [per his obituary] when he “died suddenly. “Mrs Abbott [being] in another room when she heard her husband fall, death having occurred instantly.” Interesting.
2) I believe that George probably held a grudge against Minty ever since [his sister] Grace was abandoned and they learned of the Laura situation in 1877. None of the Abbotts were too happy about the general or Laura thereafter.
3) The stories associated with Davis and the CSA gold never mentioned “bars” but rather coins. One account says Davis paid out some of the gold when he dismissed his confederate cavalry escorts a few days before his capture. Several other accounts mention that the renegade private James Lynch, who “possessed most of the coin” and took Mrs Davis’s valice and Pres. Davis’s horse (which he later shot when confronted by an officer) [see pgs 365, 370]. Several men mention Lynch as the thief of such things. One mentions Minty receiving a gold sovereign coin, from which a descendant says Grace had a necklace or pin made of it.
4) Court martial as a motive? Minty never really mentioned it much after acquittal – indeed he was later given brevet promotions to brigadier and major-general [not ending his military career], of which he seemed to care more about. To state “now we have motive” as the interview states, is pretty presumptive.
5) The Florida Atlantic & Gulf Railway (later Florida Central after 1868, then Jacksonville, Pensacola and Mobile in 1870s)? Minty was never employed by such a railroad, much less as “supervisor of freight.” In 1876 he was general superintendent of the SL&SE RR between Nashville and St. Louis. It is interesting, however, that during that time he was working with former General Wilson, under whose command Minty operated when Davis was captured. Also, Minty was never on a railroad that ran track through Georgia, Lincoln county or otherwise.
6) Ashtabula RR bridge disaster? That was in the far NE tip of Ohio in December 1876, the same time Minty was with the SL&SE in Nashville. He was not a construction superintendent with that Ohio RR (named Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway). Again, the researcher’s railroad data is quite faulty.
7) Confederate gold coin found in Traverse City? Well in late 1906, after Minty’s death, Grace was indeed in Traverse City, where several of her Abbott sisters were also staying. It may well be that Grace sold the gold coin necklace/pin due to poverty and needing the money. No descendant has mentioned seeing that item or knows of its disposition, so the story seems possible. In that period, Grace had very little means, and even all of her other children were still struggling financially.
8) If Minty had any access to the gold, it seems in light of his continuous financial difficulties, that he would have put some interest and effort into reclaiming it. The only really prosperous period in his life was the late 1860s in Jackson, where he was busy with several key railroad positions. There is no evidence that he ever had or knew anything about $2 million of gold in those days ($126 million today)! [the calculated 3.125 tons]
In light of what struck me as a flight of fancy when I first read the article–before consulting with Rand Bitter–and then in light of Rand’s comments, it seems clear to me that this claim is, at best, irresponsible and atrocious history and, at worst, libel. Whichever it is, anyone who runs across this nonsense should disregard it.Scridb filter
An article on the Graffiti House appeared in Saturday, January 24’s edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent.
The article discusses the fact that more soldier graffiti has been found at the Graffiti House. If you read the article, you will note that our old pal, Useless Joe McKinney, the president of the Friends of the Graffiti House–this should be the name of the organization, not the Brandy Station Foundation–never once mentions preserving the battlefield at Brandy Station. His sole focus is on the Graffiti House.
Please don’t get me wrong: the Graffiti House is an important artifact, and so is the writing on the walls. But this organization’s charter says that its purpose is: “The Foundation is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, with the primary purpose of protecting the historic rural character of the Brandy Station area of Culpeper County, Virginia, as set forth in the Articles of Incorporation dated March 6, 1989.” That’s all well and good, but the reason why the BSF was founded was to serve as the steward of the Brandy Station battlefield. The Brandy Station Foundation was once a proud battlefield preservation organization that played an integral role in saving the battlefield. However, under Useless Joe’s tenure as president, the BSF went from being the primary battlefield preservation organization in the area to appeasing those who want to destroy the battlefield.
It is a fact that the BSF stepped aside and allowed a local landowner to begin to develop critical battlefield into an illegal pond. When the bulldozers began moving earth to dam up Flat Run, the BSF stood by and did nothing. Instead, it took concerted action by former board members–who are now not even permitted to join the organization as members–to take it upon themselves to save Fleetwood Hill. It is a fact that the BSF issued this loathsome statement when that happened:
The strategic goals of the Brandy Station Foundation include “Preserv[ing] and protect[ing] the Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford Battlefields and related sites of historical significance for the appreciation and education of future generations.”
The Foundation does not support commercial or residential development on historic battlefield property, and in the past has opposed developers before governmental agencies and in the courts. This last occurred in 2005 when Golden Oaks, a development company, purchased eighteen acres on the western approach to Fleetwood Hill with the intent of subdividing the land and building a dozen dwellings. In that endeavor the Foundation was successful and the Golden Oaks tract is now protected.
However, in pursuing our goals, we are mindful that landowners have certain rights with regard to the property that they own. As a result, we believe that it is generally not productive to officially oppose common property improvements, particularly when those improvements are reversible. Also, we do not oppose landowners who conduct agricultural activities on battlefield property. We freely acknowledge that such improvements and agricultural actions may be contrary to the personal views of some of our members and supporters.
Frequently landowners are required to obtain permits before making improvements or undertaking certain agricultural activities. We view the permit process primarily as an issue between the landowner and the governmental agency exercising legal or regulatory authority over the matter. However, the Board of Directors is prepared to consider each matter individually, and to provide the Brandy Station Foundation’s official position to the appropriate governmental agency if warranted.
We of the Brandy Station Foundation believe that all people, even those whose opinions or actions we may disagree with, should be treated with courtesy and respect.
In other words, it’s more important to make nice-nice with those who choose to destroy the battlefield–so long as the damage done is “reversible”–than it is to protect the battlefield that the organization admittedly was charged with stewarding. And since that time, its primary focus has been on the Graffiti House, on ghost hunting, and on relic hunting on the battlefield and not on preserving the battlefield proper. Why not just change the name of your organization to what it should be: Friends of the Graffiti House, stop pretending to be a battlefield stewardship organization, and leave preservation of the battlefield to those who actually care about it?
The Don Troiani painting, “The Gray Comanches”, depicted above (to see a larger version, click on the image), represents the pivotal charge of the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry against the 6th New York Light Independent Battery that took place in Flat Run Valley, a battle venue that would have been destroyed by the planned recreational lake. In the background is Mount Pony, to the south, and the church steeple identifies the hamlet of Brandy Station. In other words, if the former board members had not stepped in–when BSF did not–this battleground would have been destroyed.
Is saving graffiti more important than saving real battlefield?
It is also a fact that the thwarting of the development of the illegal pond directly led to the purchase of the crest of Fleetwood Hill by the Civil War Preservation Trust last year. The BSF played no role in those events, other than by committing some of the very worst abrogation of its duty of stewardship imaginable. Instead, it felt that appeasing a wealthy landowner was more important than preserving the battlefield. For shame–the organization has gone from being the model battlefield preservation organization to the Friends of the Graffiti House with no interest at all in the battlefield it is supposed to protect.
How this corrupt organization still has any credibility at all is a complete mystery.
We’re still watching you, Useless Joe and the Board of Appeasers. We haven’t gone away.Scridb filter
I’ve known about this for months, but I was sworn to secrecy. I was involved in identifying these parcels and in determining their historic significance. I’m finally able to discuss some great news with you.
The Battle of Trevilian Station lasted two long, hot, bloody days. The two days’ battlefields were separate and distinct. A substantial portion of the first day’s battlefield has been saved. Pieces of the second day’s battlefield have been saved. Ad then an opportunity to purchase 52 extremely critical acres at Trevilian Station has emerged. Specifically, the 52 acres–four contiguous parcels of land–make up almost the entirety of the Union line of battle for the second day of the battle. Lt. Robert Williston fought his battery of horse artillery on this ground and earned a well-deserved Medal of Honor for his valor that day. Danne’s Store, occupied by Union sharpshooters, was set ablaze by a Confederate artillery shell. It sat on one of these critical parcels of land. These parcels also connect with the first day’s battlefield and mean that a very substantial portion of the core battlefield land at Trevilian Station has been preserved.
A large grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia makes this acquisition possible. It funds about 80% of the purchase price. The Trust is now looking to raise that remaining 20%. The parcels involved appear in yellow on the excellent Steve Stanley map that appears at the beginning of this article. Please click it to see a larger version of the map.
This is the release by the Civil War Preservation Trust:
Save 70 Acres at Trevilian Station!
As bloody combat raged for the second day at Trevilian Station, Lt. Edward Williston brought up Battery D of the 2nd U.S. Artillery to bolster a faltering line. Despite intense enemy musketry fire, Williston advanced, unlimbered his guns, and personally moved one 12-pounder into the line of fire. Round after round of canister plowed through the advancing Confederates. Enemy troops advanced right up to the muzzle of the gun, but Williston stood firm and ensured that the Union line held for as long as possible. For this act of “distinguished gallantry” in the largest and bloodiest all-cavalry battle of the war, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Civil War Trust now has the opportunity to save the very land where Williston bravely manned his guns on the second day of this crucial battle. With your help, we have already saved over 1,700 acres at Trevilian Station. Now, we can bridge the gap between two of those already-saved parcels of land with a further 70 acres of hallowed ground. Thanks to a $5.34-to-$1 match, we only need to raise $102,625 to ensure that the legacy of all who fought and died at Trevilian Station is preserved forever.
Here’s Trust President Jim Lighthizer’s letter regarding this acquisition opportunity. I very much appreciate the very kind words that Jim says about my role in all of this and about my work:
Save 70 Acres at the Trevilian Station Battlefield
A MESSAGE FROM JIM LIGHTHIZER, CIVIL WAR TRUST PRESIDENT
Dear Friend and Valued Member,
I am sure you are aware of the phrase, “Getting the biggest bang for your buck.”
And I hope that, over the years, you have come to see the Civil War Trust as unique among other non-profit organizations in being able to make your donation dollar go farther than anyone else.
Well today, I need to brief you quickly on a situation that doesn’t just give you a big “bang” for your buck…
… no, it gives you a “ribcage-rattling-horse-artillery-boom” for your buck.
Today, to build on our tremendous past success at the Trevilian Station battlefield, will you help me turn every $1 donated today into $5.34 of crucial hallowed ground?
SAVE TREVILIAN STATION
Every $1 donated
multiplies into $5.34
Or, more specifically, will you help me raise just $102,625 in the next 45 days so that I can turn it into $587,000 and save 70 additional key acres of endangered hallowed ground at the Trevilian Station battlefield in Virginia…
…bringing to more than 2,000 acres the total amount of land preserved forever for future generations at this crucial Civil War battleground?
Before you answer, please look at the battle map I have for you, and let me walk you through a brief retelling of the history of this site:
June 11 and 12, 1864: The Battle of Trevilian Station was the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War.
The casualty rate for two days of fighting in scorching heat was 60 percent higher than at Brandy Station (which included some infantry troops), fought a year earlier and only 32 miles to the northeast.
Union Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer and his command of Michigan troopers, at one point finding themselves completely surrounded, saved themselves only through good luck and hard fighting, surviving what historian Eric Wittenberg has called “Custer’s First Last Stand.”
And the victory won there by Confederate Major General Wade Hampton (former cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart was just barely cold in his grave) prevented Union General Phil Sheridan from making a strategic link with forces in the Shenandoah Valley, which could have forced Lee out of his Petersburg / Richmond defenses, possibly ending the war much earlier.
Ed Bearss, the preeminent Civil War historian of our time, says that “this battle was as important in the ’64 campaign as Brandy Station was in the ’63 campaign.”
Eric Wittenberg is the leading historian on this battle – and on most aspects of the cavalry in the Civil War – today. When I recently asked him to comment on the tremendous significance of this transaction to this battlefield, he jumped at the chance, saying:
“Although the Battle of Trevilian Station was fought over two days on two separate battlefields, the opportunity to acquire a 70-acre critical piece of pristine ground – the land immediately around Danne’s Store – is a major accomplishment by the Civil War Trust. This ground saw heavy fighting during the second day of the battle, but more importantly, it is a ‘bridge’ providing a crucial, unbroken link between previously separated wings of the second-day action, thus ensuring that no interloper can place a development between in this space and obliterate its significance. Acquisition of this land also means that the entire main Union position during the second day’s battle will be preserved.
“That makes this parcel of land as critical as any other parcel that has been acquired at Trevilian Station. That the Trust has already lined up more than $484,000 in matching funds (a $5.34-to-$1 match) only makes it easier for me to encourage anyone who can do so to make a contribution so as to facilitate the preservation of this critical and pristine piece of battlefield land for future generations.”
Trevilian Station Land Tract
70-acre tract of land the Civil War Trust has the opportunity to preserve at Trevilian Station. (Douglas Ullman)
Here are the details so that you can make an educated decision:
The Trust has successfully negotiated the purchase of a 70-acre tract of land that joins together key previously preserved parts of this battlefield – as Eric said – areas of heavy action on the second day of fighting… consider it a “land bridge.”
As I mentioned before, the fair-market purchase price for this hallowed ground is $587,000, or about $8,400 per acre – a good price for that part of Virginia, but still expensive. (Trevilian Station is located almost exactly between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley, on the Virginia Central Railroad, so it was of key strategic importance to both armies in 1864.)
Development is already encroaching upon this battlefield… self-storage operations, a lumber yard, auto repair and body shops, etc.
And as much as it pains me to tell you this, it is the truth; if the Trust had to pay the full $587,000, even as important as this land is, I think my counsel to the Board of Trustees would be for us to walk away. Now that would be a knife through my heart, but I hold it as my duty to spend your money like it was my own, and there are a lot of places where $587,000 would save even more hallowed ground. But fortunately, we don’t have to pay full price. Not even close.
In this case, utilizing federal and state matching grants, we have $484,375 of the total amount already in process – that’s fully 82.5% of the transaction already fully funded, just waiting for us to raise the final 17.5% of the money.
My friend, in the world of battlefield preservation, it just doesn’t get much better – or easier – than this. If, in your personal business, retirement plan or private investing, you could turn $1 into $5.34, earning a 534% return on your dollar, wouldn’t you jump at that chance?
To restate the obvious, to get these 70 acres at Trevilian Station for an investment of just $102,625…I think you have to agree that we’re getting some serious bang, boom, crash and pow for our buck!
And we are protecting our previous investment by preventing future development that would mar forever the land we have already saved.
Over the years, we have been doggedly building upon our previous successes there, clawing land away from developers one acre at a time.
As you can clearly see from your map, we are making enormous progress. But this next 70-acre acquisition is crucial; it joins the two separated sections of the second-day’s battlefield, preventing forever development in the heart of this hallowed ground.
I cannot stress to you enough how important this is. Two hundred years from now, when people come to learn about this battle, it is imperative that the battlefield not be split in half by gas stations or warehouses, or otherwise paved over by rapacious developers who care nothing for our past and its heroes.
Would you come away from Shiloh with the same appreciation for that battle if there was a housing development between the Hornet’s Nest and Pittsburg Landing? How about if there was a complex of self-storage units between the Wheatfield and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg?
Again, don’t just take my word for it… here are a few closing words of wisdom from historian Eric Wittenberg on the incredible importance of this land:
“In short, these 70 acres are a linchpin to the entire battlefield at Trevilian Station. Seldom do such important parcels come on the market at a reasonable price, and this acquisition, combined with the Trust’s prior success, means that the entire Union line will be owned and preserved.”
SAVE TREVILIAN STATION
Every $1 donated
multiplies into $5.34
New scholarship on Trevilian Station now evaluates this battle as a pivotal moment in General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 strategy. A clear Union victory here would have undoubtedly hastened the end of the war. But after two days of brutal fighting and nearly 2,000 casualties, the Confederates held on, and hard war would grind on for another 10 brutal months.
I know this letter is getting long, but you should also know that Union Lt. Edward Williston unlimbered four guns of his horse battery directly on this property and fought from this position for the rest of the day. Years later – quite appropriately – Williston was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his conduct, fighting his guns at point-blank range all day.
That makes this unique site even more important to preserve, so that the next generations coming up behind you and me will have a place where they can learn about the courage, valor and gallantry of an American soldier.
You can make that happen, and I can multiply every $1 you send today by $5.34. I really need to raise our $102,625 portion of this terrific match as soon as possible, hopefully in the next 45 days.
Please, be as generous as you can today, and accept my deepest appreciation, in advance, for all that you are doing to help preserve our nation’s rich history and heritage.
Most sincerely yours,
P.S. Let me close with a short but meaningful excerpt from Eric Wittenberg’s Trevilian Station book, Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station:
“…nothing is more moving or more poignant than standing among those quiet rows of small stones marked “unknown”… The silent graves of the Confederate and Union dead… provide the most striking and most important reminder of the ferocity of those two days in June 1864. The final resting places of soldiers who fought and died at Trevilian Station bear mute witness to the sacrifices made by the hot, parched horse soldiers of both sides who clashed in the largest all-cavalry battle of the American Civil War.”
Isn’t that exactly why we must save this land? Please let me hear from you today.
P.P.S. Please allow me a moment to make a shameless plug: Visit the Civil War Trust’s website to learn more about the Trevilian Station battlefield, and your role in saving it! Don’t miss a moment of the Civil War Trust’s battle to save hallowed ground all across America! Go to www.civilwar.org/trevilianstation15 to see maps, photos, articles and more!
Make an informed giving decision – read the rich history associated with this battlefield, the men, the maps, the flags, the photographs – and decide for yourself if you want to be part of the team that is working to save this site forever. Then, click on the “Donate Now” button to make your gift quickly and securely, helping the Civil War Trust ensure that we can utilize the state and federal matching funds. You will receive an e-mail confirmation of your gift in seconds. Thank you!
Please help us save this important battlefield land. If you would like to donate, please use this link. Thank you for your support.Scridb filter
I found a fascinating publication while poking around on the Google Books site. Gen. Antoine Fortuné De Brack, a French cavalry general, published an outposting manual for use by the French cavalry. The third edition of his book was published in 1863, and was later translated and published by the United States Army in 1893. The introduction to this fascinating little volume contains General De Brack’s description of the importance of a light cavalryman:
One must be born a light-cavalryman. No other position requires so much natural aptitude, such innate genius for war, as that of an officer of that arm. The qualities which make the superior man–intelligence, will, force–should be found united in him. Constantly left dependent on himself, exposed to frequent combats, responsible not only for his own command, but as well for that which he protects and guards, the employment of his physical and moral powers is continuous. The profession which he practices is a rude one, but the opportunities of distinguishing himself are presented daily–glorious compensation which the more richly rewards his labors by enabling his true worth to become the sooner known.
The French cavalry in the first half of the Nineteenth Century was the finest the world had ever seen, and this description is fascinating.
I can’t help but wonder whether Dennis Hart Mahan, who wrote the U.S. manuals for cavalry, was aware of this little volume and whether he incorporated it into his teachings.Scridb filter
One of my favorite projects of mine, and one of the projects I am most proud of, is my 2009 biography of Ulric Dahlgren, Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. The book has been universally well received. Unfortunately, the publisher, Edinborough Press, lost its distributor, and even though I have always had inventory of them, it has not been available through Amazon or otherwise for quite a while now. Sadly, Edinborough’s efforts to obtain a new distributor have not been successful.
Dan Hoisington, the publisher at Edinborough, has graciously agreed to revert the publication rights to the book back to me, and I have struck a deal with my favorite publisher, Savas-Beatie, for the book to become generally available again. One of the many reasons why I love working with Savas-Beatie is its really outstanding distribution network, so the prior problem should not arise again.
In very short order, Savas-Beatie will make an eBook version of it available in all digital formats (Kindle, iPad, Android, Nook, etc.) for download. A 6 x 9 trade paperback of the book will be available later this year at a price yet to be determined. Once I know the date and the price, I will let everyone know.
In the interim, hardcover copies of the original edition of the book will continue to be available through me for the original price of $29.95, and are available either signed or unsigned. Please contact me directly to purchase those.
And Ted Savas and I are working on bringing back another old favorite of mine that has been out print for far too long. Stand by for important news on that soon…..Scridb filter
Thanks to John M. Priest for the excellent review of The Devil’s to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour that appeared in the December issue of The Civil War News:
“The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour. By Eric J. Wittenberg. Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 286 pp., 2014, Savas Beatie, www.savasbeatie.com, $32.95.
Until the publication of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and the public release of the movie “Gettysburg,” only students of the Civil War had known anything about Brig. Gen. John Buford and his Federal cavalry division at Gettysburg.
Eric Wittenberg in “The Devil’s to Pay” has separated the real story from the popular one and has brought to life John Buford and his stalwarts who bought precious time until the Union infantry could arrive on the battlefield.
A West Point graduate, the Kentucky-born Buford had relatives who fought for the Confederacy. Ironically, a fellow classmate, Gen. Henry Heth, would open the Confederate attack on July 1 against Buford and his troopers.
Wittenberg meticulously describes the ties within the Buford family that the war tore asunder.
From there he goes into the opening shots by the cavalry on June 30 and carries the story through the end of July 2 when Buford’s division was relieved of duty.
He finishes the narrative with an analysis of Buford’s performance on the field and a detailed walking/driving tour of the cavalry positions on the field.
This book, which I could not put down, has completely changed my perspective on the role of Buford’s cavalry on July 1 and 2.
Without giving away everything I learned from this carefully crafted work, I will share a few of the generally unknown “gems” that I mined from its pages.
A.P. Hill, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia’s Third Corps, and his division commander Heth had decided the day before the battle to engage what they believed to be local militia despite orders not to bring on a general engagement.
Buford’s men, through very effective scouting as they approached Gettysburg, had gathered enough intelligence to inform Union Gen. John Reynolds of what to expect before the infantry advanced on Gettysburg.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Devin’s cavalry brigade engaged Gen. Robert Rodes’ division of Richard Ewell’s 2nd Corps before the Union 11th Corps arrived on the right of the Army of the Potomac. There is so much more to glean from this narrative that makes it worth exploring.
Wittenberg has skillfully filled a historical void in the Gettysburg story and has defined what really happened to Buford and his cavalrymen on that fateful July 1.
While historians have portrayed Buford as a visionary cavalryman, the author has cleared away the mythology surrounding him and has preserved for future generations an honest assessment of a solid, no-nonsense professional officer and the troopers who followed him.
The numerous citations from letters, memoirs and diaries, both military and civilian, make the action come alive. The flowing narrative involves readers in the heat of battle.
After reading this book, Gettysburg visitors should be able to stand before the monuments along the cavalry line and vividly remember the men they represent.
“The Devil’s to Pay” is essential reading for everyone, Civil War enthusiasts and novices, interested in the Battle of Gettysburg or Civil War cavalry.
John Michael Priest
I am humbled by Mike’s kind words and appreciate them a great deal. Please be sure to check out Mike’s latest, Stand to It and Give Them Hell: Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced it from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863, which is quite a good book in its own right.Scridb filter
I apologize for not having posted much recently. I’m deeply immersed in writing mode, working on my latest book project, which addresses the first day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18, 1863, with a particular focus on the covering force actions conducted by Col. Robert H. G. Minty’s Saber Brigade at Reed’s Bridge, and Col. John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade at Alexander’s Bridge. I’ve written about 120 pages so far, and it’s coming right along. But it’s been pretty much all-consuming.
Even in this age of easy access to digital research, you can’t get everything. Things get digitized too late to be of use. Or they don’t turn up in keyword searches. Or sometimes, you just plain miss things.
Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is not only a member of the Federal bench, he’s also very interested in the life and career of Capt. Thomas Drummond of the 5th U.S. Cavalry, a former U.S. Senator from Iowa, who was killed in action at the April 1, 1865 Battle of Five Forks. Judge Sargus brought a source to my attention that escaped me during both rounds of research for both editions of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, and which I really wish I had had when doing them. Since I didn’t have them, but because they are so interesting, I want to share them with you here.
First is a letter by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, to Congressman (and former Brigadier General) John F. Farnsworth, the uncle of fallen Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth. Pleasonton’s toadying with John Farnsworth was largely responsible for the removal of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel from command of the cavalry division that became the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division not long before the Battle of Gettysburg (Stahel outranked Pleasonton and would have been entitled to corps command by virtue of that seniority). That toadying was also largely responsible for Elon Farnsworth’s promotion from obscure captain to brigadier general. After Elon Farnsworth fell leading the eponymous charge, Pleasonton sent this letter to John Farnsworth, who appears in the photograph below:
Headqrs. Cav. Corps Army of the Potomac
July 6th, 1863
Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:
I deeply regret to announce to you the death of Brig. Gen. Farnsworth, late Captain 8th Illinois Cavalry. He was killed while leading a charge of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry in the recent battle of Gettysburg. His death was glorious. He made the first grand charge against the enemy’s infantry–broke them–when found, his body was pierced with five bullets, nearly a mile in rear of the enemy’s line.
He has been buried in the [Evergreen] Cemetery in Gettysburg, and the grave is properly marked. The enemy stripped the body to the undershirt–an unheard of piece of vandalism, as the General was in his proper dress.
Accept my warmest sympathy. You know my estimate of our late friend and companion in arms. We have, however, a consolation in his brilliant deeds in the grandest battle of the war.
Very truly yours,
Pleasonton could afford to be gracious–the Army of the Potomac had won a major battle, and his cavalry had done well. And he owed a large debt to John Farnsworth.
Elon Farnsworth was wearing a brigadier general’s shell jacket lent to him by Pleasonton when he fell. Pleasonton was correct in saying that Farnsworth was “in his proper dress” when he fell.
The second letter was written by Capt. Thomas Drummond, which is why it caught Judge Sargus’ attention.
Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:
You have already heard of the death of your nephew, Gen. E. J. F., killed in the action on the 3rd. I was with him not five minutes before he fell, gallantly charging the the enemy’s infantry at the head of two of his regiments. His body was brought in last night, and at 3 a.m. of the day, I buried him with one of his captains, each in a good, rough box, in the Gettysburg Cemetery. He was shot through the pelvis, and had two balls through the left leg, one of which shattered his ankle.
Farnsworth’s loss is mourned by all. He had just got his star, and fell in a gallant endeavor to prove to his new men his right to wear it. While by the light of a single lantern I dug his grave, instinctively the lines of Sir John Moore’s burial at Corunna came in my mind.
“We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the moonbeam’s misty struggling light,
And our lanterns dimly burning.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone in his glory.”
Capt. and Prov. Marshal Cavalry Corps
John Farnsworth came to Gettysburg later that month to retrieve the remains of his nephew and to take them home to Rockton, Illinois, where they were buried in Rockton Cemetery. The photo to the left is the monument on Elon Farnsworth’s grave. You can see a larger version of this image by clicking on it.
Prior to seeing this source, I had never seen anything that said that Farnsworth had been shot through the pelvis, or that his ankle had been shattered by a ball. Given that he was mounted when shot by infantry, who had to aim high to hit him, it makes sense that these wounds would have been sustained in the bottom half of his body, and and that there would have been no evidence of him having shot himself in the head, as some claimed.
I’ve always claimed that Elon Farnsworth was the ONLY Union general to fall behind enemy lines while leading an attack during the entire Civil War, and Pleasonton bears out what I’ve always said. It really is a shame that the monument that the veterans of Farnsworth’s brigade had wanted to erect to him was not put up, as he is the only Union general officer to fall on the field at Gettysburg who does not have a monument of some sort to him on the battlefield.
Thanks to Judge Sargus for bringing this fascinating material to my attention. I only regret that I didn’t have it to include in my book.Scridb filter
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.Scridb filter
On 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.Scridb filter
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.
P. H. AYLETT,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF HENRICO,
Richmond, March 18, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War.
JNO H. WINDER,
MARCH 18, 1864.
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.
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.
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.Scridb filter