August, 2006

Time for another installment in my periodic series on forgotten cavalrymen.

Born on March 8, 1836, Matthew Calbraith Butler came from a prominent Greenville, SC family. His grandfather and father were U. S. Congressmen, his uncle was a U. S. Senator from South Carolina, and his mother was related to Commodore Matthew C. Perry and to War of 1812 naval hero Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry. His wife was the daughter of South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens, and was related to Sen. John C. Calhoun. He was educated at South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), and had no formal military training at all.

Butler became a lawyer, and was elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1860. He resigned his elected office with the coming of war in 1861. Butler received a commission as captain in the cavalry detachment of the Hampton Legion, where he first became acquainted with, and eventually became the protege of, Wade Hampton. Butler then received a promotion to colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry in August 1862; Hampton’s younger brother Frank was the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. He led his regiment in action at Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Stuart’s Second Ride Around McClellan in October 1862. He was fearless. “It used to be said his skin glanced bullets,” wrote one of his troopers, “and that it required a twelve-pounder to carry away [his foot].”

At the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, Butler’s regiment of South Carolians, fighting mostly alone, held off an entire division of Union cavalry for much of the day. However, while Butler was conferring with Capt. Will Farley, one of Stuart’s favorite scouts, a well-aimed shot by Union horse artillery killed Farley, Butler’s horse, and carried Butler’s foot clean off. For most men, losing a foot would have ended their military career, but not Butler.

In September 1863, Butler returned to duty, with a fresh promotion to brigadier general. He was sent to South Carolina, where he assumed command of a newly-formed brigade of mounted infantry. In the spring of 1864, that brigade joined Hampton’s division, and it bore the brunt of the brutal fighting at Haw’s Shop on May 28, 1864, and then at Trevilian Station on June 11-12. By then, with Stuart dead, Hampton was in command of the Confederate cavalry by virtue of seniority, and as senior brigadier, Butler took command of Hampton’s division. In that capacity, he was magnificent at Trevilian Station, prompting Hampton to say, “Butler’s defense at Trevilian was never surpassed.”

In recognition of his fine service, he was promoted to major general in September 1864, assuming permanent command of Hampton’s division. When Hampton went to South Carolina in 1865 to try to defend his home state against William T. Sherman’s invaders, he brought Butler’s division with him. Butler performed good service during the Carolinas Campaign, and was with Joseph E. Johnston’s army when it surrendered at Bennett Place in April 1865. “From the fall of Columbia to the surrender of Johnston at Durham, Butler was ever at the front, harassing and impeding Sherman’s advance,” recalled one of his staff officers.

After the war, Butler, now dead broke after losing everything during the war, resumed his law practice and his political career. “I was twenty-nine years old, with one leg gone, a wife and three children to support, with seventy slaves emancipated, a debt of $15,000, and in my pocket, $1.75,” he recalled years later. Butler was elected to the South Carolina legislature again in 1866, and made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1870. He served three terms in the United States Senate from 1877 to 1895, serving alongside his old mentor Hampton, although the two old horse soldiers eventually had a falling out.

After losing the Democratic nomination for Senator in 1895, Butler resumed practicing law, although this time in Washington, D. C. In 1898, with the coming of the Spanish-American War, Butler, along with several other former Confederate cavalry generals, donned the blue uniform of the United States Army, accepting a commission as a major general of volunteers at the age of 62. With his disability, Butler never commanded troops in the field, but he served ably in supervising the evacuation of Spanish troops from Cuba after the American victory.

He then returned to his home in Edgefield, SC, and practiced law again until his death in Columbia, SC on April 14, 1909. He was buried in Willow Brook Cemetery in Edgefield. He and his old mentor, Hampton, never repaired their relationship before Hampton’s death at age 84 in 1902.

Butler was a fine soldier, especially considering that he had no formal training. Butler, recalled one eyewitness, “showed no emotion as he scanned the field of battle” armed with only a silver riding crop, calmly taking in the situation and carefully planning his response. One observer noted of him, “so fine was his courage, so unshaken his nerve, that, if he realized the danger, he scorned it and his chiseled face never so handsome as when cold-set for battle, never showed if or not his soul was in tumult.” Butler was the sort of leader who sat his horse quietly while shot and shell stormed around him and other men ran for shelter.

His men loved his common touch. “Often did I see him after the fatiguing events of the day lying upon the ground with no shelter but the vaulted sky above, sharing the hardships with his men, ever hopeful, ever ready to lead his sadly diminished ranks where an effective blow might be struck,” remembered one of his soldiers three decades after the war. By 1865, Butler was known as “Hampton’s Right Bower,” a proud title indeed.

I first became familiar with Butler’s often overlooked service in the Civil War during my study of the Battle of Trevilian Station. The more I learned about Butler’s magnificent defense on both days at Trevilian Station, the more impressed I was. Butler was a fine soldier who deserves more attention and more recognition than he has received.

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21 Aug 2006, by

Website Launch

In the never-ending hope of selling more books, J. D. Petruzzi and I have developed a web site to try to sell copies of our book on Stuart’s Ride. Please check out our new web site.

Of course, the site exists for one reason: shameless self-promotion. 🙂

Having said that, it was just launched yesterday, and the content for it is still being developed. Please check back regularly.

And thanks for tolerating our shameless self-promotion.

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I’m often asked why I continue to write books about the Civil War. Surely, they say, with the thousands of books that have been written on the subject, what could possibly be left to cover?

The answer, amazingly enough, is plenty. I’ve always tried to choose topics that others don’t. Take a look at my studies of Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid or the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads if you need examples of what I mean here. From my perspective, the more obscure, the better. There are, of course, exceptions: our forthcoming book on Stuart’s ride during the Gettysburg Campaign is a topic that has been covered previously, but we’ve brought a completely different approach to the subject that will set our book apart from any other treatment of it.

There are a surprising number of major gaps in the body of literature. Although the world most assuredly does not need yet another book on Pickett’s Charge, there are significant holes in the modern coverage of the war that definitely need to be filled. Here are a couple of examples.

The most notable example I can come up with is one that’s been discussed here before, the lack of a really detailed study of the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 and 1865. This campaign lasted nearly ten months, and saw brutal, hard-fought combat. Andy Trudeau’s The Last Citadel is the only book devoted to the entire campaign, but at 514 pages, it obviously does not go into real depth on any single aspect of it. Dick Sommers wrote his mammoth book Richmond Redeemed in 1981, but it covers only Grant’s fifth offensive in the summer of 1864. Will Green’s Breaking the Backbone of the Confederacy deals only with the breakout from Petersburg in April 1865. H. E. Howard has published a number of volumes dealing with small pieces of the campaign, usually of uneven quality, that deal with small bits and pieces of the campaign such as Ream’s Station, the Wilson-Kautz Raid, Globe Tavern, etc. However, other than Andy Trudeau’s book, there is no true study of the campaign. This is a gap that must be filled. I remain hopeful that a scholar of Gordon Rhea’s caliber will step up and write a series of books on the campaign that will document it as well as Gordon documented the 1864 Overland Campaign.

Jubal Early’s Valley Campaign encompassed the months of July-November 1864. However, no published history of the campaign has covered the first two months of the campaign in any detail. Jeff Wert’s fine book From Winchester to Cedar Creek really covers the fighting between Sheridan and Early and does not cover the early phase of the campaign in any detail. Tom Lewis’ The Guns of Cedar Creek likewise gives this period short shrift.

I just finished reading the second half of Scott Patchan’s landmark study on the first portion of Early’s Valley Campaign. Patchan deserves every bit of the praise that this book will generate. He’s covered this period in exhaustive detail, giving the best account of the Second Battle of Kernstown–the critical event of this period–yet written. He likewise touches on the burning of Chambersburg and the resulting crushing defeat of McCausland’s cavalry at Moorefield a couple of days later yet tackled. This book fills a gap that has remained unfilled for far too long, and Scott is to be commended for doing such a fine job of it.

His work is a fine example of the sort of works that are still out there, just begging to be written. So long as works of this caliber touch on these neglected portions of the Civil War, the health of its scholarship will remain robust. However, once we fall back on publishing nothing but the 79th book on Pickett’s Charge with nothing new being added, then there will be no reason to go on. At that moment, I will lament both the state of scholarship, as well as the overwhelming lack of interest in anything new among the consuming public.

Kudos to Scott. Keep up the good work, Scott. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing this one in print.

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17 Aug 2006, by

It’s Done!

I surprised myself and finished incorporating the letters into the final three chapters of the manuscript tonight and sent them off to the publisher. It is, at long, long last, finally and truly finished.

I know I’ve said this before, but the feeling is almost beyond description. I’ve been working on this for more than 12 years, and knowing that it is finally really and truly finished is beyond my words’ ability to describe.

Thanks for tolerating my constant ranting about this, but it’s been quite an adventure, and it’s finally time to move on.

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16 Aug 2006, by

Status Report

I’ve spent the last three evenings working on incorporating the letters into the manuscript of my regimental history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. I’m making good progress–even better than expected. I’m up to the eve of Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign–the Army of the Potomac is about to break its winter camp and take the field. That means that I am through 8 of the 12 chapters. I doubt I will finish tomorrow night, but I will definitely have it finished over the weekend and then, I can, at long last, put this thing to rest.

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Time for just a bit of shameless self-promotion.

J. D. Petruzzi and I have been informed by our publisher, Ted Savas, that our new book on Stuart’s Ride to Gettysburg will be available just after September 1. We also plan to have a Special Gettysburg Edition, limited to only 100, individually numbered and signed by J. D., me, and hopefully, Mark Grimsley (who wrote the Foreword). Shortly we’ll release details on how folks can get hold of one of those babies.

J. D. and I are also putting together a website devoted to the book. Information on that to come.

Please see the Savas-Beatie web site for additional information on the book.

Personally, I’m eager to see it in print after all of these years of working on it. I first got interested in Stuart’s Ride and the associated controversy nearly 15 years ago, early in my intensive study of Civil War cavalry operations, and I started gathering material almost immediately, and I spent the better part of those 15 years researching it and mulling things over. J. D. apparently was doing the same thing, and when we put our heads together, this book resulted. We hope you’re as pleased with it as we are.

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I’ve been busy. Beside my professional responsibilities, which are especially heavy at the moment with the still-ongoing transition to the new firm, I’ve spent most of the last two evening incorporating the good material from the letters into my Rush’s Lancers manuscript. I’m halfway through the manuscript, having gotten through six of the twelve chapters.

These letters are some of the best soldier letters I’ve ever read, and are definitely a major and important addition to the manuscript. They provide tons of additional details that really help to put additional meat on the bones of the manuscript. They go a long way toward rounding out the story and making the telling of this regiment all the more compelling.

I’m very grateful to my publisher, Bruce Franklin, of Westholme Publishing, who has been willing to put up with the disruptions to the production schedule by now granting me the latitude to add two full sets of letters to manuscript at quite literally the last moment.

I’m grateful to Bruce for permitting me to do so. The additions are tremendous and really add a great deal to the story. But for Bruce’s indulgence, I would not have had the opportunity add this excellent materail to my book, and would have a very different final product.

Stay tuned.

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I learned from Ted Savas last night that the Stuart’s Ride book is making good progress at the printer’s, and that is tentatively scheduled to ship on September 1. For those who’ve been waiting, it will only be a little bit longer. I can’tw ait to see this one in print.

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You may recall that when I got home from Richmond last month, I told you that another set of letters by a trooper of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry had surfaced, much to my shock and consternation. Fortunately, my publisher seems to have the patience of Job, because he agreed to push the thing back for the second time in order for me to add more primary source material to something that had already been submitted as a final product.

The letters arrived today, and I was unable to stop myself from reading a few of them. Before I knew it, I couldn’t put them down. I spent most of the morning reading them, yellow highlighter in hand, working on them instead of billing hours as I’m supposed to be doing. I found them compelling as hell. They’re very descriptive and the Irish soldier who wrote them was blessed with a terrific sense of humor, as they’re filled with humorous anecdotes and chuckles.

I told Rick Carlile, the owner of them, that I think that they are good enough to be published, and that I hope that they do get published on their own merits separate and apart from what I’m doing with my regimental history project.

Tonight, I got started incorporating material from them into my manuscript. I actually managed to get through five chapters worth of additions this evening. Some chapters had only a couple of things added, while others had very substantial additions. The Stoneman’s Raid chapter had about a dozen new endnotes worth of material added into it. Tomorrow night, I start with the Brandy Station chapter, and it will have major additions to it. Obviously, it means that I’ve had to interrupt my work on Scott Patchan’s manuscript, as I have to get this thing turned in to the publisher no later than August 26, and sooner if possible. Since I’ve already held the thing up significantly twice, I am on a mission to get it done as quickly as possible.

It’s going to be worth the wait. My regimental history will be as complete as it can be, and it’s going to be a full telling of the story. Most of all, I think that I will have done justice to the memories of the men of Rush’s Lancers. Or so I hope.

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My friend Scott Patchan has spent about five years working on a manuscript on a long-overlooked but interesting period of the Civil War, the period of time between Jubal Early’s withdrawal from the Washington suburbs on July 13, 1864 until just before the Third Battle of Winchester, which was fought on September 19. Among the interesting events that took place during this time were thrashing of George Crook’s army at Second Kernstown, the burning of Chambersburg, the defeat of the Confederate cavalry at Moorefield, WV on August 7, and a lot of other similarly interesting events.

However, this period has received scant attention from historians. Perhaps it’s because this period lacks the drama of Sheridan’s Valley Campaign. Perhaps it’s because Horatio G. Wright and Crook aren’t compelling figures. Perhaps it’s because the combat that occurred was not major combat involving full-scale armies. For whatever reason, this time frame simply does not seem to attract attention.

Scott has put together a complete and compelling account of this period. I’d read, edited, and critiqued the first half of it a couple of years ago, and was really impressed by his thoroughness. Now, I’m working on the second half. I’ve reach the end of the Battle of Second Kernstown and Early’s pursuit of Crook’s beaten army.

Most of the time, I’m working on my own stuff. I rarely get to work on other people’s stuff, even though it’s something I really enjoy doing. The last time that I did something like this was the copy edit of Ironclad’s next book, which is titled The Battle Between the Farm Lanes: Hancock Saves the Union Center, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. Since our normal copyeditor was one of the authors of that book, it fell upon me to do the copy edit, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it.

I’ve read and commented upon approximately 110 pages of the second half of Scott’s manuscript since receiving it a couple of days ago. It’s got just the sort of tactical detail that I really enjoy, and it’s got great coverage of a tactically interesting but overlooked battle like Second Kernstown. I’m reading it for both style and content, meaning that I’m doing a full edit as well as looking for factual glitches or errors.

I’m pleased to say that this is going to be a terrific book once completed. It’s got just the right level of tactical detail while placing these events squarely in the context of the big picture, which is critical to understanding why these battles meant something other than some casualties and some interesting tactics.

It’s also providing a good break for me before starting with the tweaking of the Dahlgren manuscript. Taking a couple of weeks away from it before getting cranked up to edit it will ultimately do me good, as some space between drafts is always a good thing. Once I’ve finished with Scott’s manuscript, I will then get started with tweaking Dahlgren. Of course, along the way, I will probably have to interrupt both to incorporate that other set of letters into my Rush’s Lancers manuscript.

A historian’s work is never done.

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