January, 2006

Kudos to Drew Wagenhoffer for the post on his blog today.

Drew’s post brought to my attention a print-on-demand publisher that I had never heard of previously, Twin Commonwealth Publishers. Twin Commononwealth focuses on rare works from the Virginia and Kentucky, which is where the name comes from. This company has an exceptionally ugly and not particularly user-friendly website, but it has a really outstanding selection of extremely rare Civil War books to offer. In perusing the list of available titles, I found an extremely rare work on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid by Basil W. Duke that I have been looking for for quite a while. I promptly ordered a copy.

This company does print-on-demand reprints. The owners have scanned the original works, cleaned up the scans, and then uploaded them to a company called LULU, which prints, binds, and ships. According to the LULU web site, it takes about 10 days from placement of order to shipping.

Twin Commonwealth joins Ward House Books, which is a division of Higginson Books, in making these extremely rare books available again in a reasonable and affordable fashion.

We used to publish reprints of regimental histories. In the prior incarnation of my publishing venture, the defunct Van Berg Publishing, we did exclusively reprints. We reprinted three regimental histories: the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry, and the 9th Massachusetts Battery. It’s taken nearly 10 years, but the 6th Pennsylvania has nearly sold out, of a print run of 825 copies. We have less than 50 left. The 9th Massachusetts Battery, also known as Bigelow’s Battery, had an initial print run of 500 copies. We’re into a second printing of it, and it’s been pretty profitable for us. The 9th New York, on the other hand, has been a disaster. Due to spending two thousand dollars to have the book indexed, our per unit price meant we had to slap a $59.95 price tag on it, and we sold about twenty of the things. Even after VanBerg went defunct, we still have to sell it for a higher price than I might otherise like, and I still have several hundred copies of this dog in my garage that I would dearly love not to have to move when we move into the new house this summer.

Then, Ironclad has done one regimental history reprint, that of the 124th New York Infantry, of Devil’s Den fame. Again, it’s a good unit with a storied history, but these books just don’t sell quickly.

All of this led us to make a business decision not to do any more regimental history reprints. First, and foremost, there are too many competitors out there, such as Ward House, and we can’t compete. Second, they tie up too much of our working capital by not turning over quickly enough. Every book stuck in our storage facilities represents dollars that I don’t have available to devote to other projects. Finally, given our prior experience, we just don’t have a desire or appetite to do these any more. It’s just not good business for us at this point.

This brings me back to my original point.

I love regimental histories and old memoirs. At the same time, the first editions can be REALLY expensive, and they also tend to be pretty brittle due to age and the fact that printers were not familiar with the concept of acid-free paper in those days. My greatest fear is to spend a large sum on a first edition book, have to use it in my work, and then ruin it in the process. I would much rather buy a reprint, because who cares if you mess up a reprint? That’s not to say I don’t buy the first editions from time to time–I own two original edition copies of the 1868 regimental history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry–I do. Rather, much of my library is a working library, purchased because it bears some relation to my work. So, it just makes better business sense for me to use the reprints under those circumstances, and that’s precisely what I do. For this purpose, the more reprints, the better.

Consequently, I’m just thrilled that these companies are out there, filling the niche that guys like me need filled. I just got an order of eight regimental history reprints from Ward House a week or so ago, stuff just not available anywhere else (including the extremely rare history of the 6th New York Cavalry by Hillman A. Hall). These print-on-demand publishers have the wherewithal and the ability to do these books well and inexpensively, and I, for one, am tickled that they’re out there. Keep up the good work, guys, and much success to you.

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Today, I have some good news.

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the third and latest installment in Ironclad Publishing’s “The Discovering Civil War America Series”. For those unfamiliar with the series, the books in it are detailed tactical studies accompanied by a detailed walking or driving tour. The books focus on either smaller battles, or small portions of big battles. They are filled with lots of maps and illustrations. We’re very proud of this series, which has been universally well received. The first two books in the series were my Protecting the Flank and Jim Morgan’s excellent study of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, A Little Short of Boats. The books are done in softcover and are priced so as to be affordable.

The latest book in the series has just been released. It’s titled No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar: Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, by Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky. Mark recently retired as a major after 20+ years in the Army, and Wade is a lieutenant colonel on active duty stationed at Fort Gordon, GA. Mark and Wade both became interested in the Battle of Averasboro while they were stationed at Fort Bragg, and their common interest brought them together to write this study. Mark is a member of the board of trustees of the Averasboro Battlefield Commission. There is also an excellent foreword by Mark L. Bradley, the foremost authority on the Carolinas Campaign.

The book features a detailed examination of the period spanning March 11-17, 1865, a critical period of Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign when Fayetteville fell, and then Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s men fought a magnificent defense in depth action at Averasboro that brought Sherman’s army to a screeching halt for an entire day. That delay, in turn, gave Joseph E. Johnston time to concentrate an army at Smithfield and then to formulate and execute a plan to try to defeat Sherman in detail that nearly worked at Bentonville. But for Hardee’s brilliant delaying action at Averasboro, Johnston never would have gotten the chance to fight Sherman on nearly equal terms at Bentonville.

The book includes lots of maps, drawn by Mark and Wade themselves, a detailed tactical analysis, and an excellent appendix on the importance of logistics in the Carolinas Campaign. There’s also a detailed walking/driving tour that draws upon the extensive knowledge of these two career Army officers. Of particular significance is their analysis of Hardee’s use of terrain in the conclusion.

I am particularly excited about this book, which is an excellent addition to our catalogue at Ironclad. I’ve walked the battlefield with both Mark and Wade, and I can tell you that they’ve done an excellent job with this volume. I hope that some of you will take the time to read and enjoy their work, as I don’t think you will be disappointed.

There are several more volumes in the Discovering Civil War America Series that we hope to get out this year. More on those as we get closer…..

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17 Jan 2006, by


I had previously announced here that my book on the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads would be out by the end of January. That will, sadly, be impossible.

At the suggestion of a friend, I decided to give a new cartographer his shot at the big time by having him do the maps series for this book (there are close to 30 of them). He got the maps done, but neither Ted Savas nor I had examined them in detail to determine their suitability for publication. I was focused on the accuracy of the maps, not on their format. Ted simply hadn’t looked at them. When he finally got the book completely laid out and went to put the maps in, he noticed that they had a lot of problems: wrong file format, erratic sizes, too busy, and many of them too small to show detail.

We went back to the cartographer to re-do them, and it’s now been about 75 days. We have about 2/3 of them from him re-done–and the new maps are fabulous, really first rate–but we’re still missing a bunch of them. The book obviously cannot go to the printer until we have them all. The book was supposed to be out at the end of October. Then at the end of January. Now, it’s likely to be the end of February, meaning that my co-authored work with J. D. Petruzzi on Stuart’s ride during the Gettysburg Campaign, which will be out at the end of June, in time for the anniversary of the events chronicled in the book, will be out a scant four months after Monroe’s Crossroads, instead of more than six months later, like we had planned. Interestingly, Ted’s already got a big chunk of the Stuart book laid out and it’s only the middle of January.

Aside from the embarrassment of having announced a release date that is no longer possible, I am extremely worried that the very close publication dates of the two books will somehow hurt the sales of one or both. I also fear that I will be criticized for releasing two books SO quickly. Of course, the Monroe’s Crossroads book has been in the works since the fall of 2001, and the Stuart’s Ride book represents about a decade of research. Never mind those things. Instead, it will be “that Wittenberg guy pumps this stuff out–like some other prominent cavalry historian we don’t respect,” and I fear that I will be guilty by association. It’s a no-win situation.

Needless to say, I am frustrated almost beyond words’ ability to describe. When I spoke to the cartographer today, it took all of my will power not to go ballistic on him. I know he’s doing the best he can, and the guy’s had some health problems, so I know it’s my fault for not being more understanding of his situation. That, unfortunately, doesn’t do much to limit my frustration and impatience with something that should have been completed months ago.

I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of things once I have more to report on this situation.

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15 Jan 2006, by


Susan and I went to see the movie Capote tonight. Philip Seymour Hoffman gave one of the most remarkable performances I have ever seen by an actor. He transformed himself into Truman Capote. If he doesn’t win the best actor Oscar, something is dramatically wrong with the system.

You’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with the Civil War. Please be patient. I’ll get there.

I raise it because the focus of the film is how Truman Capote suffered for his art. He wrote what was probably the finest piece of true crime work ever published. He had to wait out two or three stays of execution, waiting for the final act of the drama he was documenting before he could finish his book, and the waiting tore him up, knowing what would happen once the saga did end. It literally brought about a paradigm shift. At the same time, the course of researching and writing this book took a tremendous toll on him, such that he never finished another novel or non-fiction work of any significance again for the nearly 20 years of the rest of his life. He died of alcoholism twenty years after the publication of his greatest work. The ordeal took so much out of him that it rendered him utterly unable to function as he had previously.

Now, I can honestly say that I have never suffered for my art quite like Truman Capote did. While I’ve certainly suffered with the pains and frustrations of what I do, it’s never caused me to lose direction of my entire life, and I sincerely hope that nothing I do ever will. I hope that I never end up a drunken stumblebum who literally becomes a charicature of himself like Capote did toward the end of his life, living on his past glories. Now, in fairness to Capote, he so immersed himself in the research for his book that he attended the hangings of the two killers, and it undboutedly took a heavy toll on him (which is part of the brilliance of Hoffman’s performance–he nailed the transformation of Truman Capote). Obviously, I can’t go back in time and participate in Civil War battles, so I won’t be victimized by that, and I’m not a military veteran (although I regret that I’m not. I’m a child of the 1970’s, and the very LAST thing that any of us wanted to do when I graduated from high school in the Carter Administration was enter the military, something that, with retrospect, I deeply regret today).

As a writer myself–although I would certainly never flatter myself by putting myself in the same category as Truman Capote–I could really appreciate what he went through to get it right. I’m constantly asking myself whether I’ve left some important stone unturned in the course of researching one of my projects, whether there’s something more that I could have done to tell the story better. I understand the struggle to find out how it will end, how it will come out. Sure, we know who won these battles, but the issue here is not so much who won, but how. What factors had to fall into line for things to turn out the way they did. It’s that analysis, understanding how all of that played out, is what presents the problem for me and causes all of the gnashing of teeth. As I sat and watched Hoffman’s/Capote’s ordeal unfold on screen in front of me, I could relate to almost every aspect of it. I found myself as emotionally wrung out as the character did by the end of the movie, carefully relating in my own mind the ordeal of every book I’ve ever written, including the inevitable feeling that it’s NEVER going to be finished. That part of Capote’s ordeal, I really understand and relate to.

I struggle for my art, although certainly not to the extent that Truman Capote did. I think that every writer worth his or her salt does to some extent. In the end, it makes me a better writer. Or so I hope.

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Old friend Dave Powell, knowing of my work on the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, passed along this article titled “Lancers and Dragoons” that he found in the November 14, 1863 issue of the ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL. It was so good that I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

“In our service, both regular and volunteer, as at present organized, we have nothing but cavalry; or rather, as that is the genuine term for mounted troops, we should say we have no distinctions of corps in that arm. During the Mexican war, and since 1838, indeed, we had dragoons, at least in name, and at one time a regiment of mounted riflemen. Soon after the war broke out they were all merged into the single cavalry corps. But of lancers, we have in the regular service made not a single experiment, and but a single one, that of Colonel Rush’s regiment, among the volunteers. The fate of that is well known; the steeds are not dust, but “the lances are rust,” “turned in to the quartermaster,” and unlikely to see the light again. The regiment, losing its old designation, is now the 6th Pennsylvania cavalry. And yet in the European services the lancers have been a favorite corps, and the lance a useful weapon. The philosophy of it in charging au fond upon infantry in line or square is evident. The bayonets of the infantry, added to the length of the horses’ neck, keep the trooper at such a distance that he cannot use his sabre; while the lancer, with a weapon from eleven to sixteen feet long, overcomes the distance, and impales the footman in spite of his bayonet. On this ground Marmont recommends it strongly against infantry, but he goes on to say “all other things being equal, it is certain that a hussar or chasseur will beat a lancer; the time to parry, and return the blow, (riposter) before the lancer who has thrown himself upon them, can recover himself for defense.”

In theory at least the lance is admirable, but in practice, it is unwieldy and awkward, and, if useful at arms-length, is by no means so serviceable in a melee as a sabre. We were told by one of Rush’s men, on asking how he liked the lance: “The officers like it, but the men do not, and the officers wouldn’t if they had to use them.”

While granting that the weapon has not had a fair trial in America, we are inclined to think it better for show—a forest of spears and pennons—than for use. It is, however, but just to say that this is an individual opinion; for Lord Ellesmere, writing in the Quarterly Review for June 1855, declares his opinion—and it was not an ignorant one—“that the lance is by far the superior weapon, in the hands of a horseman bred and trained to its use.”

Dragoons, in the best appropriation of the word, are mounted infantry; men who use their horses only to get over great distances rapidly, and then dismount to fight. We are glad to see that this arm is being renewed in our service, and it will be especially valuable for reconnoissances, and sudden dashes at point which if taken should be held. Cavalry, as such, only capture and turn over to infantry. Well-drilled dragoons will both capture and hold.

In so vast a service as ours, with such various and manifold demands upon our skill, ingenuity and cleverness, it is worth considering whether a reorganization of our cavalry would not be an excellent movement; dividing it into several arms and distinctions of service.”

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I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing of Robert J. Younger, the owner and publisher of Morningside Books and Gettysburg Magazine. Those of us who care about Civil War books and Civil War history owe Bob Younger a great debt.

Sweet Old Bob, or SOB, as he liked to call himself, was an irascible, difficult fellow. I seriously doubt that I’ve ever met a more stubborn man than Bob. He had a retail store but didn’t want people coming into it. Go figure. If he liked you, he would give you the shirt off his back. If he didn’t like you–and the list of Bob Younger’s enemies is enormous–forget it. If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t sell you a book. If he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t sell you a book. He didn’t care if it was costing him business.

I’ve actually been in both camps. I started out as a favorite of his, and then, as the bearer of bad news, I became the enemy. A group I led tried to buy Morningside a number of years ago, and due to the health of Bob’s business, we couldn’t finance the deal with a bank, and the transaction died on the vine because he wouldn’t seller finance the entire deal. Instead of recognizing that he had a role in the deal dying–it was the health of his business, not anything I did or said, that caused multiple lenders to decline to do the deal–I became the bad guy and hence an enemy. Never mind the fact that his magazine had published five of my articles and that I was one of his mainstays. Never mind that I spent $1500 a year buying books from him. It didn’t matter. I was now one of the enemy. I never published another word in his magazine after that.

In spite of all of that, Bob made it possible for dozens of otherwise out of print books to become available again. He virtually invented the Civil War book reprinting business himself, and did some books that are still not available anywhere else, even to this day. The regimental history of the 8th Illinois Cavalry is just one that comes to mind immediately. His reprints included the Officials Records (both army and naval), the Confederate Veteran, the Southern Historical Society Papers, and lots of the Neale books. An old printer, Bob often did the printing himself and by hand. He also brought out some quality new titles under the Morningside imprint such as the James E. Taylor Scrapbook of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, which is one of my favorite books. His books were never pretty to look at, but I don’t buy books because they’re pretty. I buy them because of what’s in them, and he published some good ones, such as Ed Bearss’ trilogy on the Vicksburg Campaign and also Ed’s study of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads.

Bob was also responsible for Gettysburg Magazine. Although the quality of the articles has gone down in the past several years, it still remains the premier publication for those interested in the Gettysburg Campaign. It was entirely his baby, and I can’t help but wonder what will happen to it now that he’s gone. I hope that it will live on.

So, although I had my issues with Bob, I never lost my respect for him. I recognize his place in this book business of ours, and I had to recognize his passing.

Rest in peace, SOB. I wouldn’t want to be St. Peter today….I imagine you’re giving him hell just like you did with the rest of us.

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11 Jan 2006, by


Drew Wagenhoffer asked me if I would post some of my experiences in collaborating with other authors. Since it’s an interesting topic, I thought I would accommodate Drew’s request.

By way of background, I have had nine books published of which I am the sole author or editor. The tenth is about to go to the printer. I have had one book published of which I edited a journal that someone else compiled but did not have the expertise or resources to edit properly. I was asked to review this manuscript for publication by Brassey’s, saw the potential, but realized it needed a lot of work. When I made suggestions as to what needed to be done, the publisher asked me if I would undertake the process of editing and annotating the manuscript, and I agreed to do so. Considering that it never started out to be a collaboration, or even a project that I expected to undertake, it worked out quite well. Jean Husby, the compiler, pretty much let me have carte blanche with the editing and with maps and photos, so for all intents and purposes, it wasn’t really even much of a collaboration.

That leaves several other projects wherein active collaborations have taken place. The first, and longest-lived, was the biography of John Buford I’ve been working on with a friend. My friend is a terrific writer. However, he moves slowly, and he has young children and job that requires a lot of travel. Thus, while I’ve had a functional draft of my half together for a long time–it needs polishing, as it was written ten years ago, when my skills weren’t as honed as they are today–it’s been a LONG haul. I don’t talk about it much, as I get tired of answering the inevitable question of when it will be done. The answer is that I have no clue. And I don’t like saying that, so I avoid the topic. If my co-author wasn’t such a good friend and such a good writer, I would be pretty bitter about it. Now, I’m just kind of resigned to it.

Then came my regimental history of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. I had been working on gathering material for it for years. Then, I heard that Ed Longacre had proposed a history of the Lancers to Combined Books. Since I knew that there wouldn’t be a market for two new histories of this unit, I suggested a collaboration to Ed. The deal was that we would primarily use the trove of primary source material that I had accumulated, and I offered to take the more difficult half, covering up to and including Brandy Station (June 9, 1863). Once I was done, I would then ship the box of files to Ed, and he would do his half. I went ahead and wrote my half, and then waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, Ed informed me that due to other commitments, it was going to be another couple of years before he would have time to work on the thing, and said that out of fairness, he thought the right thing to do was to pull out of the project, so as not to hold me up. And with that, it was done. But it meant that I had to do the other half of the book, which I have since done, and it’s now nearly finished, subject to some final searching at the National Archives that is underway as I write this. There’s a trade-off here: on the plus side, the entire book now is done my way, to my standards. On the down side, I had to do the other half, which I hadn’t expected, and it actually proved more difficult to do the second half than did the first. Go figure.

So, those two experiences haven’t been so good. That now brings me to the current collaborations. The first one, with old friends Mike Nugent and J. D. Petruzzi, is a very tactical study of the retreat from Gettysburg. With that, we had very clear delineations of who was responsible for what as the primary author. Then, when those things were done, we circulated drafts among ourselves for input from the others. It worked out very well and went very easily. That book, which is part of Ironclad Publishing’s “The Discovering Civil War America Series”, will be published this year.

The other is the book on Stuart’s ride during the Gettysburg Campaign that I did with JD, and which will be published by Savas-Beatie in June. That one was a dream to do. First, and foremost, JD’s writing style is very, very similar to mine, so it makes blending our work together very easy. Second, it was easy to divide up the work, and we then gave each other input on each other’s work. Third, we have the ability to communicate, and it makes it easy to get over the rough spots. Fourth, neither of us has an ego about this stuff–you can’t be thin-skinned–so we can be blunt and honest with each other. It’s gone so well, in fact, that we have other collaborations in the works: a bio of Alfred Pleasonton, a volume on the Battle of Monocacy for “The Discovering Civil War America Series”, and one on Price’s Missouri Raid, also for the series. I enjoy working with JD a great deal.

I’m also working on a collaboration with Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky, the authors of Ironclad’s new book on the Battle of Averasboro (which is supposed to ship from the printer today or tomorrow) on a study of the March 8-10, 1865 Battle of Wyse Fork, which is also sometimes known as the Second Battle of Kinston, NC. Mark and Wade will be the primary authors of this one, with some contribution from me. Talk about a neglected battle. 🙂 This one is still in the research phase, and I have yet to even visit the battlefield. That will happen some time this spring, as soon as we can identify a date that works for all of us (Mark has a new job after retiring from the Army, and Wade is a lieutenant colonel on active duty).

At the same time, I continue to do stuff on my own. The Dahlgren bio is strictly my work, and I’ve also signed a contract for a book on John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 Ohio and Indiana Raid that will be exclusively my work. For me, it’s all about finding the right mix.

I hope that answers your question, Drew.

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Ethan Rafuse, author of the excellent McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the War for the Union, posted such an insightful, useful, and educational comment in response to my post on Second Bull Run that I decided to give Ethan the spotlight and make his comment a main post here. Enjoy.

“Pope does deserve better. I do not necessarily agree that he in particular was in over his head in Virginia–after all, what Union general wasn’t before 1864? To be sure, there were many unpleasant aspects of Pope’s personality. But more weight should be given to the fact that the summer of 1862 was perhaps the most complicated time politically, militarily, and personally of the war for the North. I also think Pope is a victim of the fact that we are too quick to blame the generals in the East for military failure; but where is the problem? The generals change both in name and character, from the conservative McClellan to the radical Pope to the squishy Burnside to the aggressive Hooker to the cautious Meade, but there are two constants: inability to achieve decisive success and the character of the civilian leadership. Moreover, it should be noted that, in general, Union military success was usually in equal measure to how far a particular theater was from Washington. This is not, of course, to say that the Union generals did not make errors and create their own friction. They all did, but the “what fools they were” school of Civil War historiography provides an inadequate picture of the war.

But back to Pope. In order to get the job of commanding the Army of Virginia and do it effectively, he really had no choice but to conspicuously demonstrate his sympathy with the anti-McClellan crowd in Washington. In the process, however, he antagonized much of the officer corps and effectively commit himself to conducting operations aggressively, even though caution would have served him better. Sometimes what you got to do to get the job compromises your ability to do the job when you got it. Moreover, he was saddled with subordinates (Sigel, McDowell, Banks, Porter, Heintzelman) who were questionable for varying reasons, facing an Army of Northern Virginia that was truly at its peak, and had a somewhat unclear mission. Was concentrating the Armies of Virginia and Potomac the paramount priority (certainly McClellan and his associates believed this to be the case), or was seizing and creating opportunities to fight and beat the Confederates as Pope promised? And at a critical point in the campaign, when Pope needed guidance on this point and the ability to exchange information with his superiors, his communications were cut. But despite this, he skillfully thwarted Lee’s maneuvers (aided at first by the orders seized at Verdiersville, luck that the Union created by authorizing Buford’s raid) along the Rapidan and Rappahannock, conceived a sound plan for dealing with Jackson’s raid on Manassas Junction, and I think generally made the best decisions he could based on what he knew. True, he left Thoroughfare Gap open to Longstreet, dismissed evidence of Longstreet’s arrival, and developed his plans on 29-30 August based on faulty perceptions of the situation. But leaving Thoroughfare Gap relatively open was not necessarily fatal, and the latter is at least understandable. The officers advising Pope of Longstreet’s presence the morning of 30 August were Porter and Reynolds, both of whom were part of the McClellan crowd and Pope’s suspicion of this clique had been reinforced in recent days by Porter’s actions and warnings from the ever-noxious Kearny. Even then, were it not for McDowell’s awful blunder on the afternoon of 30 August, it seems unlikely that Longstreet’s assault would have achieved as much as it did. And even then, Pope was still able to get back across Bull Run and link up with the two corps of the Army of the Potomac that (after much unseemly foot-dragging by McClellan, another factor that must be taken into account) had finally marched out from the Washington defenses. In the process, Pope inflicted a significant beating on Jackson’s command and Longstreet’s that in the cold light of attritional analysis (which makes it possible to even see a silver lining in the Fredericksburg debacle), was worth something to the Union cause.

One of Pope’s problems in history and memory, as I argue in a footnote in McClellan’s War, is that the Radical Republicans did not make the kind of effort to rehabilitate him that they would for Fremont and Hooker–in part because they found a new hero in the latter. As Hennessy pointed out in his incomparable book, Second Manassas was, next to Gettysburg, perhaps the most controversial campaign during the decades after the war. I do not think it is fair to say that Second Manassas has not generated recent interest or does not receive respect; I just think Hennessy did such an outstanding job that there has been no point revisiting it in a major way–although Joseph Harsh does so superbly in Confederate Tide Rising.”

Kudos to Ethan for such an excellent, educational, and insightful post that answers a lot of questions about why the Second Bull Run Campaign so often seems to get short shrift. Thanks for writing, Ethan.

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Every now and again, I like to feature unknown and forgotten cavalrymen. This is one of those opportunities.

Seymour Beach Conger was born in Plymouth, Huron County, Ohio on September 25, 1825. His brother Everton Judson Conger was born in Montorse, Pennsylvania on April 25, 1834. With the coming of war in 1861, the Conger brothers both ended up with commissions in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry (USA), which later became known as the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry. Only one squadron (2 companies) of the 3rd West Virginia typically served with the Army of the Potomac.

By the fall of 1862, Everton was a captain and Seymour was a lieutenant. On October 25, 1862, Everton led 30 troopers on a scouting expedition in the vicinity of Bristoe Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, and was badly wounded. The next day, Capt. Ulric Dahlgren led a mission to try to find out what had happened to Everton Conger, and Dahlgren found Conger with four serious wounds. Dahlgren made it back, reported Everton Conger’s location, and the captain was located and brought back safely.

After recovering, Everton Conger ended up receiving a commission in the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry, serving as its lieutenant colonel. In that capacity, Conger worked closely with Lafayette Baker, the regimental colonel and head of Lincoln’s secret service. After Lincoln’s assassination, Everton Conger led the cavalry expedition that ultimately captured David Herrold and that brought John Wilkes Booth to bay, so that Boston Corbitt could fire the shot that killed Booth. Conger lived to the ripe old age of 82, dying on July 12, 1918.

Even though he was only 31 years of age when he caught Booth, 63-year-old Harrison Ford is set to play him in a feature film that is supposed to be released in 2007 titled Manhunt. While I’m a big fan of Ford, I’m very skeptical about his ability to play a man half his age convincingly. We shall see. At the same time, it is kind of exciting to see a good Civil War story being given the “star” treatment. I just wish that they had chosen someone closer to Conger’s age to play him.

After Everton Conger was wounded, his brother Seymour received a promotion and ended up commanding the squadron of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry that was part of Col. Thomas C. Devin’s First Cavalry Division brigade. In that role, Conger’s men performed good duty at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. On August 7, 1864, Seymour Conger died of combat wounds suffered in action.

The Conger brothers are largely forgotten to this day. I’m glad that Everton’s role in bringing Booth to bay will be played up in Manhunt. Because there was only a single squadron of the 3rd West Virginia attached to the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, Seymour never got much of a chance to make a name for himself, but his service was dutiful and competent.

Here’s to two horse soldiers who are deserving of recognition.

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8 Jan 2006, by

Second Bull Run

The Second Battle of Bull Run was fought August 28-30, 1862. I have, for a long time now, found this battle to be particularly compelling and especially interesting. As Ulric Dahlgren was the acting chief of artillery for the Army of Virginia’s First Corps during the battle, addressing it renewed my interest in this campaign. I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a book that would be called “Pope’s Horsemen: The Union Cavalry in the Second Bull Run Campaign”, and may yet do so; the research for it is largely finished.

The opening engagement is often treated as a separate battle, the Battle of Brawner’s Farm, also sometimes called the Battle of Groveton. In this action, Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s brigade of western soldiers (Indiana and Michigan troops) earned the name the Iron Brigade, and Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, Stonewall Jackson’s ranking division commander, was badly enough wounded that it cost him a leg. The main battle opened the next day, with Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia launching uncoordinated, piecemeal attack after uncoordinated, piecemeal attack against Jackson’s Corps, which was using an unfinished railroad cut near the 1861 Bull Run battlefield, as a natrual breastwork. One of Pope’s attacks briefly punched through the line, and was driven back, and the day’s fighting ended up with the opposing forces in pretty much the same positions they had held at the beginning of the day.

Pope was so focused on the enemy in front of him that he refused to believe intelligence reports that indicated that Maj. Gen. James Longstreet’s Corps had passed through Thoroughfare Gap and was moving on his flank. Brig. Gen. John Buford, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ active and extremely competent chief of cavalry, sat on a bluff at Gainesville and personally counted Longstreet’s battle flags as they passed. Buford reported this intelligence to Brig. Gen. James Ricketts, who passed it to Irvin McDowell, who pocketed it. For reasons that are unclear, McDowell waited for six hours to give this intelligence to Pope.

The next day, Pope renewed his attack, sending 12,000 men of the Fifth Army Corps against the center of Jackson’s line. In extremely fierce hand-to-hand combat, the Fifth Corps attack was repulsed. By then Longstreet’s Corps was on the field, and not long after the repulse of the Fifth Corps attack, Longstreet launched a counterattack that rolled up Pope’s flank and drove his army from the field in a disorganized rout. By September 5, Pope’s Army of Virginia had ceased to exist and Pope was on a train to Minnesota, where he spent the balance of the war fighting Indians.

Robert E. Lee suffered no major casualties in the Army of Northern Virginia’s officer corps, Ewell being the highest ranking casualty. On the other side, two of Pope’s division commanders were killed in a confused fight in a raging thunderstorm at Chantilly the next day (September 1). Second Bull Run was probably Lee’s greatest victory; there was no other instance where an army ceased to exist as a consequence of a battlefield defeat (other than through surrender, such as at Vicksburg). Yet, Pope’s army was that soundly beaten.

What I’ve never quite understood is why this battle gets little respect and even less attention. Perhaps it’s because Pope was such a dislikeable fellow, described by Lee as a “miscreant”, and hated by his own men. Perhaps it’s because it did not really involve the Army of the Potomac or any of its principal commanders. Perahps it’s because the battle was fought on the same ground as the July 1861 fight occurred. Perhaps the total destruction of all but four acres of the Chantilly battlefield adds to it. Perhaps it’s because the Army of Northern Virginia fought a mainly defensive battle. However, it’s hard to argue the merits of what Lee achieved or the significance of the battle, which engendered panic in Washington. In my humble opinion, it was Lee’s greatest victory, overshadowing even Chancellorsville, which cost him the services of Stonewall Jackson and led to the wounding of A. P. Hill in the same errant volley. Yet, Chancellorsville (which is a campaign and battle that also fascinates me) gets far, far more attention, both in terms of visitation and the number of pages of published works devoted to it than Second Bull Run could ever hope to achieve.

In addition, the Second Bull Run Campaign has produced one of the finest Civil War campaign studies ever published in John J. Hennessy’s excellent Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. John’s book really is one of the best studies of a full campaign I’ve ever seen; it’s hard to imagine anyone ever doing a better job of it than he did. And while John’s book is universally respected (and rightfully so), it hasn’t done much to generate a lot of interest in this battle, either.

Interestingly, the men of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s First Corps–which later became the much-maligned Eleventh Corps–did some of the hardest fighting on the two days of the main battle at Second Bull Run, including a desperate last stand on Henry House Hill. Yet again, they get no respect for this fight, either.

Also, the massive push to save Stuart’s Hill from development required Congressional intervention and the purchase of the land at an exorbitantly high price. This particular preservation fight focused a great deal of attention on the plight of Civil War battlefield land perservation, in light of the loss of the Chantilly battlefield. Even the loss of the Chantilly battlefield had an unforeseen but very favorable outcome–it led to the creation of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, the successor organization to which is today known as the Civil War Preservation Trust, in response to the destruction of all but four acres of the Chantilly battlefield.

I wish I could understand why this battle and campaign doesn’t get the respect and attention it deserves, but I can’t. I can only hope that some day, it does finally receive the respect it really deserves.

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