Research and Writing

21 Jun 2010, by


One of the myths that J. D. Petruzzi and I tried to dispel in our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg is the criticism that Jeb Stuart failed to take steps to provide intelligence to Robert E. Lee during his ride to Gettysburg. That criticism is not well-founded, as Stuart did, indeed, forward significant intelligence to the Confederate authorities.

We know this because a June 27, 1863 dispatch from Stuart, reporting that the Army of the Potomac had moved north toward Leesburg and the Potomac River and had abandoned its base of operations at Fairfax Court House, was published in John Beauchamp Jones’ excellent 1866 book A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary. As the title suggests, Jones worked in the Confederate War Department, and saw these dispatches as they came through. Jones included the language of the dispatch in his book in its entirety. We quoted it verbatim in the book and cited to Jones’ book as the source.

So, we know for a fact that the report was received by the Confederate War Department, and we know for a fact that the report is available for use by researchers in a prominent and well-known source.

Yesterday, while searching the online archive of the Richmond Dispatch newspaper, I found the article below, which was published in the July 2, 1863 edition of the paper:

Capture of Fairfax C. H.–Hooker’s army.

The following official dispatch was received at the War Department Tuesday night:

Headq’rs Cav. Div.,
June 27, 1863.

General S. Cooper:

I took possession of Fairfax C. H. this morning at 9 o’clock, together with a large quantity of stores. The main body of Hooker’s army has gone towards Leesburg, except the garrison of Alexandria and Washington which has retreated within the fortifications.

Very respectfully,
Your ob’t serv’t,

J. E. B. Stuart,

Major General.

So, the dispatch obviously was published in the newspaper verbatim, meaning it was published in two common, well-known sources. I acknowledge that I didn’t know about its being published in the newspaper before yesterday, and J. D. didn’t either. Nevertheless, the Richmond Dispatch has long been fertile ground for Civil War researchers, and that fact is no secret. Indeed, anyone working on the Eastern Theater of the Civil War proceeds with their projects at their own peril if they don’t at least check the Dispatch, the Richmond Times, and the other handful of daily newspapers that were published in Richmond during the Civil War.

What I really don’t understand is how, with this dispatch having been published in two prominent, conspicuous places, all of the researchers who have looked at Stuart’s Ride in the past, including the likes of Douglas Southall Freeman, could have missed it. It’s truly a mystery to me. And it makes me wonder if it was a deliberate choice to miss it.

As Alice said to the Cheshire Cat, “It gets curiouser and curiouser.”

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Thanks to help from several of you, and especially from fellow Buckeye Chris Van Blargan, the mystery of Paul von Koenig and of his brother, Lt. Gen. Goetz Friedrich Wilhelm Ulrich, Freiherr von Koenig, has been solved. Lt. Gen. von Koenig was a cavalry officer–he commanded a German cavalry corps during World War I, and was awarded the Blue Max in 1915, which was Imperial Germany’s highest military decoration.

Paul von Koenig was apparently something of a soldier of fortune who was wounded in combat five times while fighting in Mexico before the Civil War. He and his brother Robert von Koenig both fought during the Second Bull Run Campaign, and Paul von Keonig became good friends with future president James Garfield in New York City during the fall of 1862. I also have von Koenig’s service records coming from the National Archives.

I will now be able to give this brace and capable officer the sort of detail and tribute that he deserves when I start writing my work on the Battle of White Sulphur Springs in a few weeks. I am extremely pleased about that, and grateful to all of you who helped me to unravel this particular mystery. Thank you for your help. I am in your collective debt.

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One of the more enduring and more intriguing puzzles associated with the Battle of White Sulphur Springs is finding information regarding Capt. Paul von Koenig, who was killed in action on the first day of the battle, August 26, 1863. Koenig was killed while leading a flank attack of elements of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry on the afternoon of the first day. In 1914, Col. James M. Schoonmaker of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry arranged for a monument to be placed on the spot where Koenig was killed and buried. Although the monument has been moved (and I don’t know whether Koenig’s body was, although I assume it was) because the field where it was originally placed is now a strip shopping center, it is still there on the battlefield to this day.

Why Koenig was there at all is the mystery I am trying to unravel. I have been unable to dig up much about him at all. Here’s what I know: Paul von Koenig was a German baron who came to the United States at the beginning of the war with a brother. He was commissioned as a captain in the 68th New York Infantry, a largely German unit that ended up as part of the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At the time that he was commissioned in 1861, von Koenig was 25 years old. And that’s 100% of what I know about this man.

I have learned that his is an ancient and ennobled German family; there is presently an incumbent Baron von Koenig in Germany, whom I have tried unsuccessfully to contact. The regimental history of the 14th Pennsylvania suggests that one of his brothers attended the dedication of the monument to him on the battlefield, and that the brother was a lieutenant general in the German army in the days immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, but I have been unable to verify that or learn the brother’s name if it is, indeed, true.

What I have yet to unravel is the mystery of the question why von Koenig was serving with W. W. Averell’s cavalry brigade in the first place, since he was an infantry officer. Further, the bulk of Averell’s brigade was made up of West Virginia cavalrymen, with one regiment of Pennsylvanians–the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry–and NO New Yorkers at all. Averell evidently trusted the young baron, because he spoke highly of him and evidently used him for important tasks during the time the two served together.

I will have von Koenig’ service records in a week or so, and can only hope that there might be some indication in them as to why von Koenig was serving with Averell. Often, pension files can be the source of really valuable information, but given that von Koenig was a German baron, I don’t expect there to be a pension file in his case.

So, I want to invite you, my readers, to see if any of you have ever heard of Capt. Paul, Baron von Koenig, and, if you have, if you have any information as to how he came to serve with William Woods Averell’s Fourth Separate Brigade in August 1863. Thanks–I hope someone knows something about this forgotten officer.

These are the stories/mysteries that keep me coming back to continue doing this sort of work, and solving them is always the most rewarding part of what I do.

UPDATE, MAY 11, 2010: Well, the mystery of why he was there has been solved. I just got von Koenig’s service records from the National Archives, and those service records provided the answer.

In September 1862, von Koenig was assigned to serve as the ordnance officer to Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz’s Third Division, 11th Corps. In March 1863, just after the formation of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, von Koenig was assigned to serve as an aide-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, then commanding the Army of the Potomac’s Second Cavalry Division. When Averell was relieved of command in May 1863 and sent west to take command of the Fourth Independent Brigade (the command he led at White Sulphur Springs), he took von Koenig with him.

That is the answer to the question as to why von Koenig was there. It was a really interesting puzzle to unravel. The next mystery, which I really doubt that I will be able to solve, is why von Koenig joined the staff of Averell in March 1863.

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Yesterday, I signed a contract with The History Press for a volume on Averell’s August 1863 Law Book Raid, which led to the August 26-27, 1863 Battle of White Sulphur Springs. Averell’s West Virginia and western Pennsylvania cavalry fought the infantry brigade of Col. George S. Patton in White Sulphur Springs, a couple of miles from The Greenbrier.

It’s never had any sort of a book-length study, and it’s probably overdue for one. Terry Lowry, who has done some good work on the Civil War in West Virginia, has agreed to show me the battlefield, and lots of people are helping me with it.

Unfortunately, the battlefield has been largely obliterated. A strip shopping center occupies most of the battlefield, and the three monuments that were previously in an open field are now in the parking lot to a Hardee’s fast food restaurant.

Stay tuned. I will keep everyone posted as to my progress. I’m nearly finished with the research.

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The first review of my biography of Ulric Dahlgren has been published in the new issue of The Civil War News:

Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren
By Eric J. Wittenberg
(January 2010 Civil War News)

Illustrated, maps, appendix, endnotes, bibliography, index, 318 pp., 2009. Edinborough Press, P.O. Box 13790, Roseville MN, 55113-2293, $29.95 plus shipping.

Col. Ulric Dahlgren gained lasting notoriety when he was killed leading a cavalry column in a disastrous raid upon Richmond in March 1864. Another column was led by the raid’s commander, Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.

Papers that the Confederates found on Dahlgren’s body stated that his objective was to liberate Union prisoners in Richmond. Considered a martyr in the North, Dahlgren was despised by the South because the papers also bore instructions to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and to “burn the hateful city.”

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid has been the subject of numerous books and articles, but until now the only “biography” of Ulric Dahlgren was written by his father, Adm. John Dahlgren. At long last a new perspective is rendered masterfully by Eric Wittenberg, the dean of Eastern Theater cavalry operations.

Like many biographers, Wittenberg provides a sympathetic view of his subject. This viewpoint is furthered by frequent quotations from Dahlgren’s father and from a lengthy eulogy. But objectivity prevails as the author combines these works with a wealth of other primary and secondary sources and his own insightful commentary.

Wittenberg demonstrates that Dahlgren was an ambitious young officer whose indiscretions in his final venture led to his premature death, just shy of his 22nd birthday. Although he was extremely capable and courageous, his career was advanced by extraordinary political connections.

Dahlgren’s brief life included early artillery training by his father, who invented the gun that bears his name. When the Civil War broke out Ulric Dahlgren fulfilled the duties of a staff officer and demonstrated daring and competence in artillery and cavalry duties.

During the battle of Gettysburg he captured valuable documents, and a few days later he lost a leg.

It was the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid, however, that won him immortality, infamy and a rendezvous with death.

In addition to a lively narrative, Wittenberg provides balanced and perceptive analysis of controversial issues such as the motives for the raid and the authenticity of the incriminating papers that Dahlgren carried.

The raid, he notes, had gross oversights that doomed it from the beginning, e.g., the poorly clothed, malnourished and sick Union prisoners were in no condition for a rapid escape, especially in harsh winter weather. And the Dahlgren papers? Wittenberg accepts their authenticity after meticulous research.

Since the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid and the Dahlgren papers are one of the war’s most fascinating mysteries, anyone who fails to read Wittenberg’s endnotes is deprived not only of documentary support but also of expository notes that are as revealing as the main text.

A few discrepancies crept into the narrative, e.g., on p. 145 it states that Dahlgren was the youngest full colonel in either army (the Army of Northern Virginia alone had at least five colonels who were younger); pp. 146-147 sound like two separate dates and presentations for his colonel’s commission; and p. 173 says that J.R. Dykes did not accompany Dahlgren as scout on the raid whereas p. 174 says that he did.

And some of the maps – all of which are excellent – should have been printed on a full page, rather than a half page. Readers also will encounter a section of the book with numerous typographical errors and conflicting spellings, e.g., Mattoponi/Mattapony River. But many of these slips are the editor’s, not the author’s, and do not diminish the book’s overall quality.

Wittenberg’s decision to write a biography of Dahlgren instead of a book on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid was an excellent idea. It provides an understanding of the colonel that heretofore was missing. This first-rate book is welcome for its scholarly research and its captivating reading.

David F. Riggs

David F. Riggs is a museum curator at Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown. He has a BA in history from Lock Haven University and MA in history from Penn State. His publications include Embattled Shrine: Jamestown in the Civil War and Vicksburg Battlefield Monuments.

It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. I couldn’t be more pleased. And it’s that sort of response that gets me fired up to do more. Thanks, David. And thanks to Jim Schmidt for bringing it to my attention.

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As I have mentioned here previously, my book manuscript on the Battle of Brandy Station is complete and is in the hands of the publisher. A couple of days ago, the publisher advised me that the book will released right around Memorial Day 2010, in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9. Stay tuned. More details to follow.

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I have finished my Brandy Station manuscript, and submitted it to the publisher over the weekend. I am waiting for my editor to let me know what the projected release date is, but I am told that there’s a reasonably good chance that they will get it out before the end of the year.

The manuscript features a walking/driving tour of the publicly accessible portions of the battlefield, 11 of Steve Stanley’s superb maps (published with the permission of the Civil War Preservation Trust), and about 50 other illustrations. It will also feature a foreword by Jim Lighthizer, the president of the CWPT, that discusses the fight to preserve the battlefield.

Part of my motivation in writing this book was that there be a good, reasonably detailed tactical overview of the battle, with good maps and an order of battle, that folks can purchase at the Graffiti House, which is the Brandy Station Foundation’s visitor center, and which can be used by the BSF as a fundraiser for its preservation efforts.

I’m going to take a month or so off from my Civil War research and writing duties–I am scheduled for a multi-day jury trial on September 1–and then I will begin working on the Yellow Tavern study in earnest once I get through that trial.

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Regular reader Art Fox left me this comment:

Hi Eric,

I read your blog almost daily. Am amazed at how you can manage so many book projects, magazine articles, appearances, in addition to a law practice. I am a semi-retired university professor, and have had only two books published in the past 6 years: Our Honored Dead Allegheny Co.PA in the American Civil War (2008,2009), and Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, 1860-1865 (2002,2004,2009), and will probably be working on my present project – They Served with Honor, Allegheny county Soldiers at The Battle of Gettysburg, a 150 Anniversary Commemoration – for the next 3 years. My question to you brother – Is how do you do it, what is your secret – Congratulations in what you have added to Civil War History.

Art fox, Pittsburgh

I thought I would answer his question.

Art, first, let me say thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them very much.

How do I do what I do? Hmmmm….good question. Some background will give you some insight.

First, and foremost, while I am good at my day job, I often do not find it rewarding and often find myself asking what the hell I was thinking getting into the legal business in the first place. The practice of law can be very frustrating and very stressful, and I welcome having an escape for a couple of hours each night when I am in serious writing mode. Being able to lose myself in events that happened 140+ years ago is a great release for me.

Second, I haven’t got children to chase after. While my friends are going hither and yon hauling kids to activities–time consuming and often exhausting–I don’t have that particular encumbrance. My kids have four legs, and if I play with them for 15-20 minutes, they’re happy and good for the evening. That means I have plenty of time to write and not a lot in the way of distractions.

I also have a very short attention span. I find it nearly impossible to just sit and do nothing, and I likewise find it nearly impossible to just sit and watch TV. I need to have something to do pretty much all the time (the truth is that I think I have a pretty bad case of ADD, but they didn’t really know what it was when I was a kid in school), and it usually needs to be something that keeps my mind active, or else I go totally bonkers. What better way than writing?

My short attention span also means that I have to finish a project and move on. That stems, in part, from how I have to write at work. I write all day, every day, at work. Consequently, I’ve learned to be efficient in my writing. I’ve never been one to labor over a single sentence for hours on end. I would rather get it down on paper and then work on it.

Researching and writing is how I really learn something. If I want to really learn about something, I research it and I write about it; doing so forces me to really learn it. That’s why nearly all of my projects start out as things that interest me; if others find them interesting, all the better, but most of what I write about is to satisfy my own curiosity about things.

I am also very fortunate indeed to have a spouse who not only understands this compulsion of mine, but who supports it wholeheartedly. There is simply no way that I could get done what I get done without Susan’s unflinching support. She understands and appreciates my compulsive need to write, and she supports it. She understands the expenditures involved in doing the research, and she supports them. She understands the investment of time and the level of intensity that’s involved with my writing, and she not only supports it, there are times when she reminds me that I’m not being as productive as I should be. Bottom line: without Susan’s unwavering support, none of this would be possible. She just wishes that the venture was more profitable and that we got a better return on the financial investment.

Finally, I have a great deal of inflexible personal discipline. When I am in writing mode, I write at least 2 hours per night, at least three nights per week. If I do that, the results just flow. That’s part of my compulsion to get things finished and then to move on to the next project.

Some might think I’m nuts. Perhaps I am. But this work is how I relax after a long day at the office, and being able to immerse myself in events of the past is how I keep whatever semblance of sanity that remains….

Thanks again for writing, Art. I hope this little stream-of-consciousness rambling of mine has given you the insight you were looking for.

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After the favorable response that my post on Henry Washington Sawyer of last week, I realized that this story was so compelling that I had to tell in full detail. Consequently, I have proposed to Dana Shoaf, the editor of both America’s Civil War and Civil War Times, an article that tells the story in detail. I spent most of the afternoon working on it today, and think that the full version is a very compelling story.

I will keep you posted as to progress. Hopefully, Dana will like it and will want to run it in one of the two magazines.

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19 Jul 2009, by

New Project

I just signed a contract with The History Press for a second installment its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. The first, of course, is my Brandy Station project, which is just about finished. The manuscript is pretty much done, subject to some feedback from old friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall. I had a nearly finished manuscript that was looking for a publisher when I signed that contract.

This project, however, is completely different. This one starts from scratch, and will be titled The Battle of Yellow Tavern: Jeb Stuart’s Last Battle, and will be a study of Phil Sheridan’s May 1864 raid on Richmond, with particular focus on the May 11, 1864 Battle of Yellow Tavern, where Jeb Stuart received his mortal wound. It will cover the raid, including Beaver Dam Station, Yellow Tavern, and the fight at Meadow Bridges on May 12. It will also address Stuart’s death, funeral, and burial at Richmond’s famous Hollywood Cemetery, and will include a driving tour.

The problem with Yellow Tavern is that the entire battlefield has been obliterated. An Interstate highway cuts right through the middle of battlefield, and that which was not destroyed by the freeway is now either a commercial development or a couple of different residential subdivisions. The monument to Stuart’s wounding is stuck between houses and looks like it’s actually in someone’s yard (which it is, to be honest). The tavern itself is long gone. The only part of the original battlefield that remains intact is the intersection of the Mountain and Telegraph Roads. It’s a testament to what happens when no foresight at all is exercised and a battlefield is permitted to be obliterated. Perhaps it can provide a lesson to all of us of the importance of foresight with respect to battlefield preservation.

I have already undertaken gathering primary source material, and will keep you all posted as to the progress of the project as my research proceeds. This is another of those projects that I have always wanted to tackle, so this is another of those labors of love for me.

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