November, 2006

I know that I have discussed this here in the past, but my work on William H. Boyd in the Gettysburg Campaign has pointed out yet another gaping hole in the coverage of the Civil War.

One of the most important aspects of the Gettysburg Campaign was the capture of Winchester by troops of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps on June 14, 1863. Ewell captured most of Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy’s division, and took possession of the important town in only a single day. His well-designed and well-executed plan resembled the handiwork of the late Stonewall Jackson, and suggested that Ewell would be a worthy successor to the lamented Jackson. Ewell took only a few hundred casualties in capturing Winchester.

Unfortunately, there is a huge, gaping hole in the body of literature regarding Second Winchester. There have only been two monographs published that address the Second Battle of Winchester, and both were published by companies with reputations for publishing spotty work. The first, published in 1989, is Charles S. Grunder and Brandon H. Beck, The Second Battle of Winchester, June 12-15, 1863, published by the H. E. Howard Company of Lynchburg, Virginia. The second, Larry B. Maier’s Gateway to Gettysburg: The Second Battle of Winchester was published by White Mane’s imprint Burd Street Press in 2002.

The Howard company published two series of books. One was a series of histories–primarily rosters–of all Virginia units, and the other was its Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series. These books are of extremely uneven quality. None of the regimental histories has a single footnote, which limits their value for the researcher. The books in the Battles and Leaders Series are especially hit and miss. Some of them are quite good. Some are simply atrocious. The book on Second Winchester is solid, but its battle narrative is only about 85 pages long, meaning that there’s not a great deal of depth there.

The Maier book is a classic White Mane book: no editing to speak of, poor production values, poor quality materials, and apparently no peer review. I have often said that if faced with the option of never publishing another word, or being published by White Mane, I would choose to never publish another word. I intend to do a detailed review of this book later this week, so I will limit my comments for now.

Suffice it to say that neither of these books provides the level of detail that this action deserves. With all of the books published on the Gettysburg Campaign, the Second Battle of Winchester remains a vast, gaping hole in the coverage of the Civil War and of the Gettysburg Campaign in particular.

This is just one of a number of similar gaping holes in the coverage of the war, but it provides an excellent illustration of the problem faced. Instead of yet another book on Pickett’s Charge, I would really prefer to see a talented historian tackle this action and give it the definitive treatment that it deserves. We would all benefit from such a study.

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I’ve had a couple of dozen articles on the Civil War and four scholarly articles on the law published over the course of my writing career. Writing articles is actually how I got started. When I started law school, I had already finished all of the course work for my master’s degree in international affairs (it was a four-year, dual degree program). During my second year of law school, I wrote my master’s thesis on a piece of legislation, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. I was able to use my thesis to satisfy my law school scholarly writing requirement. My thesis ended up being published in a law review, and that got me started with doing serious writing for publication.

I graduated from law school in 1987. By 1991, I’d had four scholarly pieces on the law published in various law reviews. At that point, I said, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” and realized that I was bored with writing about the law. Feeling the need to write in order to keep my incredibly restless–probably ADD-afflicted–mind busy, I decided to try my hand at writing something on the Civil War, with which I had a life-long fascination and a voracious appetite. Other than the legal writing that I do for my job, I’ve never written another scholarly piece on the law since then, at least in part because I can’t find something that interests me enough to invest the amount of time and effort required.

Hence, in 1989, I wrote an absolutely dreadful article about Joshua L. Chamberlain that was published in the long-defunct Civil War magazine. It was actually published in June 1992, the same week that Susan and I got married. Candidly, I’m not sure how it got published, because it’s not good, and I had not learned about how to go about doing primary source research.

The next one was on the Battle of Monocacy. In the spring of 1992, I made my first visit to the Monocacy National Battlefield, which had just become a national park. In fact, at that time, it was part of the Antietam unit and had not yet become its own park. There was absolutely no interpretation whatsoever available other than the handful of monuments put up by the vets. I knew next to nothing about the fight there, and decided to try to educate myself. I bought a couple of books and learned what I could, but it left me wanting more.

I learn by teaching myself. I teach myself by researching and writing; the process of immersing myself into a project forces me to learn the substance of the material. So, that’s how I learned the Battle of Monocacy. And my second article was then published.

And so on.

I had about a dozen articles published in various magazines before my first book was published in 1998. By then, I’d learned the ins and outs of doing primary source research, and was growing familiar with what worked and what didn’t work. I find that writing is like anything else–the more of it one does, the better one gets at it. For me, it was a matter of finding my legs and learning how to write history and not the boring legal arguments that have paid the household bills for the last 19 years. As I read my current stuff and compare it to that first article on Joshua Chamberlain, it’s shocking to see just how far my writing has come.

I’ve been very focused on writing books for a long time now. Those of you who either know me or who read this blog regularly know of my Gettysburg love-hate relationship. Try as I might, I continue to be drawn to this battle, and no matter what, I always return to it. I’ve always enjoyed writing stuff for Gettysburg Magazine, but for seven or eight years, I refused to do it due to conflict that I had with the former owner of the magazine that prompted me to declare that I would never write anything for it again for so long as he continued to own it. I actually had one article written on John Buford’s withdrawal from Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 that never got submitted for that reason. I wrote it specifically for that magazine, and then sat on it for years.

Since the former owner died earlier this year and the magazine has been sold to Andy Turner, the long-time editor of the magazine, things have changed dramatically. There’s no longer any reason for me not to write for Gettysburg Magazine. J. D. and I did an article for Andy on Corbit’s Charge at Westminster, Maryland that will appear in the next issue, and I have submitted that article on Buford’s withdrawal from Gettysburg that I’ve been sitting on for years. It also unloosed the series of article ideas that I’ve been sitting on for years. When I asked the new publisher about them, he liked all of my ideas.

So, I’m taking a little break from book writing to work on some of these articles that have been cluttering up my brain for too long. I will feel MUCH better once I’ve finally scratched those particular itches. I’m working on the first one, on the role of William H. Boyd and his Company C of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign. This is one of those projects that I’ve kicked around for years–and invested a lot of time and effort into researching–but which had no other viable outlet for publication other than Gettysburg Magazine. I’m enjoying finally indulging a story I’ve wanted to tell–and which has fascinated me–for years.

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Dimitri Rotov’s blog entry for today points out the launching of yet another Civil War blog, called Civil War Gazette. According to the blog’s owner, it is a webzine dedicated to telling the story of the common soldier. There is some good information there. I’ve added a link.

I’m just flabbergasted by the proliferation of Civil War-related blogs. That makes four new ones in the past week or so, and another one that I elected not to include. What’s the deal here? Why the sudden burst in activity?

Don’t get me wrong–it’s all good, and anything that spreads the word is a good thing. I’m all for adding to the body of knowledge. I’m just amazed by the sudden blitz of additions to the Civil War blogosphere.

Good luck to all.

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9 Nov 2006, by

Blog Mania

Blogging seems to be converting more and more enthusiasts. Just this week, I’ve learned of two more Civil War blogs that I’ve added to the links on the right.

Mark Wade has started his blog, which is called Maryland Rebel. Mark is a mainstay on the CWDG forum boards, and has decided to plunge into the blogging world. Knowing Mark, I expect good things from his blog.

The other belongs to Texan John Banks, who seems to have a particular interest in the 1862 Maryland Campaign. There are some very interesting items on John’s blog, and I look forward to continuing to enjoy his insights.

Welcome to the blogosphere, guys. Check out their blogs.

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We saw the orthopedic surgeon this afternoon. Just like the last visit, there was good news, bad news, and unwelcome news.

The good news: the swelling has gone down, and he wants Susan to start to exercise the leg some in order to make sure that she maintains some muscle tone in the leg. He wants her to be out of the immobilizer as much as she feels comfortable doing.

The bad news: there’s no doubt at all about the need for surgery. She will definitely have to have it repaired surgically. The problem is that it’s a re-do of ACL reconstruction on that knee, so the success rate is less than for a first time.

The unwelcome news: It’s going to be a couple of weeks before there will be room for her in the surgical schedule. We won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but it doesn’t look like he will be able to work her into the surgical schedule until the week after Thanksgiving, which means that she’s going to have to suffer with more discomfort, the immobilizer, and the crutches for a couple of weeks longer than either of us would like. If it was up to us, they’d do the surgery tomorrow and get it over with.

So, that’s the update. Not much has changed. We remain trapped in blown knee limbo.

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The big broom came out last night.  My own opinion is that after six years of having absolutely no checks and balances that led to Skippy Bush getting a blank check, the American electorate decided that it was time to restore checks and balances. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.

I find it interesting that my law school classmate Missy Hart, who had a Pennsylvania congressional district gerrymandered just for her, got broomed by 10,000 votes last night after a couple of terms rubber-stamping Skippy. I think that says a lot.

Here in Ohio, after sixteen years of incredibly corrupt one-party rule, the voters spoke. All statewide offices were decided yesterday: governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, and attorney general. The gubernatorial race was called within five minutes of the polls closing, and the Republican had conceded by 8:30. Only the Republican nominee for auditor won–she’s the first ever CPA to run for and hold the office, so I can see that one. Bob Ney’s protege–who defaulted on a $750,000 SBA loan last year, by the way–got less than 40% of the vote. Deb Pryce, the number four Republican in the house, barely squeaked by after a brutal and very ugly campaign.

We now have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. The system works–there will be checks and balances again. That can only be a good thing.

Best of all: Big Tobacco sank $5 million into a campaign to try to amend the state constitution to overrule home rule by making 21 local ordinances to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys unconstitutional. It lost huge–it only got about 35% of the vote. A statewide smoking ban in public places got 58% of the vote and passed big.

Now that the system of checks and balances has been restored, I can only hope that some of the flagrantly illegal actions of the Bush administration–covered up neatly by the Republican Congress–will come to light. 

And the very best part of it is that the attack ads have, at last, stopped.  What a delight to be able to watch TV and not have to hit the mute button every time a commercial comes on…..

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Old friend Harry Smeltzer, who dipped his toe into the blogging pool earlier this year when he filled in while Dimitri Rotov took a vacation, has taken the plunge. Harry has a brand-new blog called Bull Runnings, which is an adjunct to his digital history project on the First Battle of Bull Run. I’ve added a link to Harry’s blog.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Harry. Have fun.

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At long last, tomorrow is election day. When the negative attack ads started in June, it seemed like this day would never come. As I said last week, it couldn’t come soon enough.

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, please do your civic duty and vote tomorrow. The way I see it, those who don’t do their duty and vote have no right to bitch.

As for me, I intend to keep on bitching, so I will be there bright and early tomorrow morning exercising my constitutional rights (one of the very few constitutional rights we still have left, thanks to George W. Bush).

And, best of all, by this time tomorrow night, there will be no more attack ads…..

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The blogging software that I use tells me every time that a comment is posted to this blog. It’s really quite a nice feature, because it permits me to screen out unacceptable comments before they ever hit the website. It’s also quite nice, because it means that I can see just who’s visiting and leaving me comments.

This evening, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that a very old friend posted a couple of comments to the blog. We’ve know each other for 25 years now, and in many ways, we grew up together. We haven’t actually seen each other in more than 20 years, but we’ve stayed in touch over the decades, and it was really nice to see that my old friend not only found this blog, but also found indulging my rantings interesting enough to leave me a couple of comments. What a wonderful way to stay in contact with an old friend!

The power of blogging never ceases to amaze me, and the posting of the comments by my old friend serves as just another example of it.

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Here’s another in my series of infrequent tributes to forgotten cavalrymen. Most of them have been to men who should be remembered but aren’t, for whatever reason. This time, for a change, we’re going to focus on someone who has been forgotten for very good reason. He did next to nothing worth remembering, other than that his story is interesting. Hence, I decided to profile him.

Napoleon Bonaparte Knight was born in Dover, Delaware on December 7, 1840. He was born into one of the leading families of Delaware. He grew up in Dover, but was educated at Union College in Schenectady, New York, graduating in 1860 languages, medicine, and law. He was a member of the Theta Chapter of Phi Upsilon Fraternity. After graduation, he accepted a position as a professor of languages at a prominent Southern college, but, with the secession crisis brewing, it was obvious that he would not last long there.

Instead, he returned to Delaware, where he continued his legal training under the auspices of George P. Fisher, a prominent Unionist politician (and fellow alumnus of Dickinson College) who served as attorney general of Delaware from 1857-1860. Fisher was elected to Congress in 1861, received a colonel’s commission and was given the task of raising a full regiment of cavalry in the First State. Fisher appointed his young protege Knight as major in his new regiment. Knight was a mere 21 years old when he received his commission.

Knight was clearly an opportunist. At the beginning of the war, he was known as a “Jeff Davis Democrat”, and was known as an ardent secessionist who was quoted as saying that he wanted to put down the “Lincoln hirelings.” He briefly enlisted in a Confederate regiment at the beginning of the war, but soon deserted, declaring “the Union must and shall be preserved.” Instead, when his mentor Fisher received the commission to raise a cavalry regiment, Knight changed his stripes and joined the 1st Delaware Cavalry.

Although the 1st Delaware Cavalry organized at Wilmington on January 20, 1863, it was not a full regiment. Instead of the normal complement of ten horse companies, the tiny state could only raise seven undersized companies, which were later consolidated into four active companies. When Fisher was unable to recruit a full regiment, he resigned his commission in embarrassment, and the young Knight assumed command of the battalion. As of June 25, 1863, the 1st Delaware had seen very little action, serving mostly in the defenses of Baltimore.

Unfortunately for the Union cause, Knight’s martial skills did not match the legacy of his impressive name. The youthful major had very little combat experience, and that deficiency played a major role in the legacy of the 1st Delaware Cavalry. On June 27, 1863, Knight received orders to take two companies of the 1st Delaware to the important railroad town of Westminster, Maryland. The expedition to Westminster marked their first real foray into the field.

Knight took Companies A and C with him. On June 29, while Knight was “occupied” in the town pub, his men–perhaps 105 strong–made a gallant and daring charge into the head of Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade as it led the way for Stuart’s three brigades as they headed for the Mason-Dixon Line. The brave but foolhardy charge of the Delawareans–known to history as Corbit’s Charge, named for leader of the charge by the First Staters, Capt. Charles Corbit–held up Stuart’s advance for half a day, and killed two officers of the 4th Virginia Cavalry. Knight was too inebriated to join the charge, and was one of only a handful of men of the 1st Delaware Cavalry who was not captured.

This was the highlight of Knight’s military career–a fortunate escape from capture from a foolhardy charge that he declined to lead himself. “The war record of Colonel Knight is good, and his regiment, which saw the thickest of that long, sanguinary struggle, won many laurels but its excellent work for the old flag,” declared his obituary.

In 1866, Knight finished his legal studies, graduating form Albany Law School in New York. Then, in 1867, Knight settled in Salem, Oregon, where he immediately began to practice law. By 1868, his business had grown to such proportions that he took in, as his business partner, his former fellow-soldier and childhood friend, William P. Lord, who had served as a captain in the 1st Delaware Cavalry. They were very successful in the law business, and when they dissolved the partnership they had both become very well-to-do. Lord went on to be elected governor of Oregon.

In 1870, Knight married Miss Sarah U. Miller, a daughter of the late Gen. John F. Miller, and this union was blessed with three children – one son, Winter M. Knight, of Portland; and two daughters, Miss Portia Knight, an actress who starred in London, and Miss Sylvia, of Portland. In 1890, Mrs. Knight, who had been ailing for several years, died.

Knight was a Republican who served as a state senator in Oregon in the late 1870’s. In 1885, he was a candidate for U.S. Senator, and at one time lacked but one vote of the election. That vote was not secured, and the Legislature adjourned without electing. At that time the Democrats in that body all joined one wing of the Republican party in supporting Knight. Following adjournment, a special session was held and John H. Mitchell was elected Senator, effectively ending Knight’s political career.

In 1889, Knight added a business buying and selling livestock to his legal practice. However, in 1892, he sold his livestock business, and returned to Salem, where he resumed the practice of law, went to Klamath County, where he engaged in the stock business on a large scale, and during his leisure hours practiced his profession. In 1892 he sold out his live stock business, but remained in Klamath Falls until 1896, when he returned to Salem and resumed the practice of law. In May 1901, he went to London to represent his daughter in litigation, and then returned to Salem. He died of a heart attack on February 17, 1902, at the age of 61. His housekeeper found him dead, still seated in his chair, clutching a letter from his daughter Sylvia.

“Colonel Knight was an able lawyer, a genial, whole-souled, big-hearted gentleman, distinguished for his chivalrous conduct, and his demise is mourned by thousands of friends throughout the state,” declared his obituary. “He had his faults, but who has none? Let him, who is without fault, cast the first stone.”

Knight’s military career was short and certainly undistinguished. Indeed, his most lasting legacy is that he was too inebriated to lead the heroic but foolhardy charge that instead bears the name of Charles Corbit. Nevertheless, he is worth remembering. The end of his obituary, quoted above, certainly sums him up quite well.

Here’s to you, Maj. Napoleon Bonaparte Knight, who was too scared and too drunk to seize his opportunity for glory in Westminster that warm late June day in 1863.

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