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January, 2007

16 Jan 2007, by

I Hate Mud

I hate El Nino. It means that, while the weather here is mild in the winter time, it’s a soggy mess.

In the past fifteen days, we’ve had 4.3 inches of rain here in Central Ohio. That on top of the second or third wettest fall on record, and the wettest December ever. There is river and small stream flooding all over the state as a consequence of all the rain and nowhere for the water to go. Needless to say, my back yard, which does not drain well under the best of conditions, is a bottomless sea of muck.

Aurora is a year old today, and she has all of the youthful exuberance of any puppy. She loves to run and play, and she particularly loves running in the back yard. The problem with that is that golden retriever puppy + thick mud = incredible mess. And, the ground is so saturated that every time that she goes out, she comes back a muddy mess, even when she just goes out, does her business and comes right back. Mix in Nero, who is two years old and equally exuberant, and it makes for a hell of a mess.

On Saturday, she had to have six baths. On Sunday, it was another six. We spent all day, both days, bathing dogs, doing loads of towels, and mopping floors. Needless to say, it was NO fun. I’m not sure my back has yet forgiven me, and Susan’s knee just loves it, as you can imagine.

Tonight, we are celebrating. It’s going to go down to 17 here tonight and stay cold for at least a week. That means that the mud bog will freeze solid, and hopefully stay that way for a few days. I never thought I would be so happy to see really cold weather in my life. 🙂

I hate El Nino. And I REALLY hate mud.

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Hat tip to Mike Koepke for bringing this to light…

In late October 1864, Sterling Price’s Missouri raid reached modern-day Kansas City. Price was repulsed at Westport and then along the banks of the Big Blue River. I spoke to the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable in March 2005 and had an opportunity to tour the battlefields with Kansas City lawyer Dan Smith. With my interest in Alf Pleasonton and in cavalry operations in general, this was a natural for me. However, the tour was just a week or so after I had arthoscopic surgery on my left shoulder, and I was still in a sling and not an especially happy camper, but I really enjoyed my tour.

Most of the Westport battlefield is preserved in a municipal park in a very nice residential area of Kansas City, although the entire battlefield is not in the park. You can definitely see the lay of the land and get a pretty good idea of how the terrain impacted the fighting. Westport was Samuel Curtis’ infantry against Price’s main body and Marmaduke’s cavalry.

The Big Blue fight was primarily a cavalry fight between Pleasonton’s cavalry and Shelby’s Confederate horsemen that lasted over parts of two full days. The Confederates won the first day’s fighting, and the Union the second, when Pleasonton, in what was probably his finest moment, drove the enemy horsemen off. There were about 3,000 casualties between the Big Blue and Westport fights, and Price was driven away, his raid a failure. Thus, the fights at Westport and the Big Blue are the critical events of Price’s Raid.

Unfortunately, very little of the Big Blue battlefield has been preserved; most of it is an industrial park, and a highway cuts through the middle of it. About all that’s really preserved is the actual river crossing site, which is completely pristine. There is very little interpretation there, other than a few strategically placed cannon and a couple of roadside historical markers. It is, consequently, very, very difficult to get a good understanding of the terrain and how the fighting played out.

Fortunately, Dan Smith is leading the charge to preserve and protect the Big Blue battlefield. Fortunately, about 240 acres has come into public ownership, and one of the buildings blocking the view to the river has been razed. They plan to raze at least one more building, and hopefuly two. The local preservation group has an admirable agenda: “The plan seeks to open and restore the vistas across the battlefield to conditions existing in 1864 to provide a sense and feeling to the visitor of the historic context of the site,” the group’s development plan says.

The group hopes to raise $300,000 in private donations, $300,000 to $500,000 in city capital-improvement dollars and $1 million to $1.5 million in federal money. They hope to have an interpretive center and to bring attention to an important battle.

I commend Dan Smith and his group, and wish them nothing but the best in their efforts. I hope that they succeed and preserve an important battlefield site that easily could have been destroyed forever. And for those who have an interest in the Trans-Mississippi, and in Price’s Raid in particular, a trip to Kansas City to visit these two battlefields is a must. They are well worth a visit.

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13 Jan 2007, by

400 Posts

This marks the 400th post on this blog since it was started in September 2005. I never figured it would be around long enough to reach anything close to 400 posts, but here you have it. It’s now been nearly a year and a half since I launched this little project of mine and created a my own little corner of the Internet for me to rant. I hope that my readers have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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For those of you not familiar with the works of Roger D. Hunt, I thought I would take an opportunity to introduce you to some of the most valuable reference works on the Civil War out there.

Roger D. Hunt (along with his late friend and collaborator, Jack Brown) has specialized in compiling the biographies, necrology, and photographs of the Union brevet brigadier generals and regimental colonels. In the capacity, Roger has published three books to date. Each one of these books is one of the most useful resources in my library.

The first book was titled Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue, which is an alphabetical compilation of every Union brevet brigadier general. The book includes a brief biographical sketch of each officer, the date of his death and place of his burial, and for about 95% of them, a photograph.

When he finished that work, Roger started on an even more ambitious project: documenting the regimental commanders of every Union regiment. The series is titled Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War. To date, two volumes have been published. The first, published in 2001, covers the New England states. The second, devoted just to the regiments of the State of New York, was published in 2003. The books follow the same format as Brigadier Generals in Blue, with the primary difference being that there is often more than one photograph included for the regimental commanders being profiled. These two books were published by Schiffer Books. These two volumes are oversized, and were published on Baxter paper. My only real complaint with them is that they were expensive, at $59.95 per book.

However, Schiffer apparently decided that there is not a sufficient market for these books, because it’s not going to be publishing any more in the series. It’s too bad, because the volumes published to date are handsome, well-done books. Since it’s been several years since the second book was published, I assumed that there would be no more.

I spoke to Roger this evening, and he told me some very good news. Roger informed me that Stackpole Books will be publishing the next volume in the series, which will cover the Mid-Atlantic states, including my home state of Pennsylvania. I will eagerly await its publication.

Roger Hunt has done some spectacular work on these officers, and I commend his work to you. He’s also a real gentleman, someone who is always willing to help and who is always willing to share the fruits of his labors. I called him a couple of days ago to ask his assistance on tracking down some information on the ever-elusive Col. William H. Boyd of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and, as always, Roger responded promptly, and with precisely the information I was looking for.

It’s also worth noting that Roger has amassed an awesome collection of images, and that he has donated most–if not all–of them to the United States Army Military History Institute’s photographic archive. Many of these images are not available elsewhere, and have been made available to researchers like me through Roger’s generosity. I doubt that there are many good recent Civil War books out there that don’t include at least one of Roger’s photos. His photos grace the pages of many of my books.

In my humble opinion, no serious Civil War library should be without these books, and I cannot say enough good things about them.

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A certain right-wing knuckle dragging Fascist decided to take a personal shot at me in the comments to this blog because he doesn’t like my politics. Disagree with me all you want and engage me in a dialogue, but don’t take personal shots at me because you think I’m wrong. That’s not acceptable, and I won’t have it. I told him that in an e-mail, and the response was to call me an anti-American leftist because I happen to disagree with this Administration’s policies pretty vigorously. When I responded to him, his latest was to say, “So, along with being anti-American you are a hypocrite.” Nice, huh? Classy, obviously well-thought out, and so eloquent to boot.

In response, I will permit one of the five greatest American presidents–and a Republican, I might add–to speak for me. These are Theodore Roosevelt’s words, not mine:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

And then, there’s this, by no less than Thomas Jefferson:

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Letter to William Stevens Smith (November 13, 1787), quoted in Padover’s Jefferson On Democracy.

Where I sit, there’s really nothing more that needs to be said.

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I just watched Skippy’s lame-ass justification for his failed Iraq war and policy.

Let’s recap, shall we?

We’re going to send another 21,000 troops over there, thereby escalating the war in the hope of imposing our definition of democracy and settling a civil war through military means, propping up a puppet government that has no popular support along the way (never mind that with an all-volunteer army that’s already stretched too thin, we’re really jeopardizing our national security in order to pursue a failed policy)….

We’re going to spend zillions of dollars trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by trying to give them jobs when this is about political power and revenge for years of abuse at the hands of the ruling majority…in other words, the hearts and minds can’t be won…..

Many of the generals continue to think that there is a military solution to a civil war that this country is not a party to….

The U. S. government continues to fail to realize that it is, in fact, a civil war, and not an “us versus them” threat to U. S. national security, and that if we fail in Iraq, the rest of the dominoes in the Muslim world will fall to the Communists….oops, I mean Islamic terrorists….

The president has just gambled his presidency on an ill-advised and ultimately doomed military fiasco in the mistaken belief that political and sectarian differences can be settled militarily and that the people will welcome democracy with open arms….

Oh, my God….I just realized that it’s 1965 all over again!!!!

And the outcome is destined to be just the same as it was then….just like in 1965, we’re going to feed lots of fresh meat into the meat grinder, all but wrecking the U. S. military and economy in the process, and for what?

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose–the more things change, the more they remain the same…..

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I’ve just discovered–and added a link for–John Maass’s excellent blog, A Student of History, and commend you to it.

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And, last, but certainly not least, here is the report of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, commander of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, of August 22, 1863:

In compliance with instructions received from the headquarters of the 3d division, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the engagements near Gettysburg, July 3d, 1863:At an early hour on the morning of the 3d I received an order, through a staff officer of the brigadier general commanding the division, to move at once my command and follow the 1st brigade on the road leading from Two Taverns to Gettysburg.

Agreeable to the above instructions my column was formed and moved out on the road designated, when a staff officer of Brigadier General Gregg, commanding 2d division, ordered me to take my command and place it in position on the pike leading from York to Gettysburg, which position formed the extreme right of our line of battle on that day. Upon arriving at the point designated I immediately placed my command in position, facing toward Gettysburg. At the same time I caused reconnaissances to be made on my front, right, and rear, but failed to discover any considerable force of the enemy. Everything remained quiet until 10 A.M, when the enemy appeared on my right flank, and opened upon me with a battery of six guns. Leaving two guns and a regiment to hold my first position and cover the road leading to Gettysburg, I shifted the remaining portion of my command, forming a new line of battle at right angles to my former line. The enemy had obtained correct range of my new position, and was pouring solid shot and shell into my command with great accuracy. Placing two sections of Battery M, 2d Regular Artillery, in position, I ordered them to silence the enemy’s battery, which order, notwithstanding the superiority of the enemy’s position, was successfully accomplished in a very short space of time. My line, as it then existed, was shaped like the letter L. The shorter branch formed one section of Battery M, supported by four squadrons of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, faced toward Gettysburg, covering the Gettysburg pikel the long branch composed of the remaining two sections of Battery M, 2d Artillery, supported by a portion of the 6th Michigan Cavalry on the left and the 1st Michigan Cavalry on the right, with the 7th Michigan Cavalry still further to the right and in advance, was held in readiness to repel any attack the enemy might make coming on the Oxford road. The 5th Michigan Cavalry was dismounted and ordered to take position in front of my center and left. The 1st Michigan Cavalry was held in a column of squadrons, to observe the movements of the enemy. I ordered fifty men to be sent one mile and a half on the Oxford road, while a detachment of equal size was sent one and a half on the road leading from Gettysburg to York, both the detachments being under the command of the gallant Major [Peter] Weber [of the 6th Michigan Cavalry], from time to time kept me so well informed of the movements of the enemy that I was enabled to make my dispositions with complete success. At 12 o’clock an order was transmitted to me from the brigadier general commanding the division, by one of his aides, directing me, upon being relieved by a brigade from the 2d division, to move with my command and form a junction with the 1st brigade on the extreme left. On the arrival of the brigade of the 2d division, commanded by Colonel [John B.] McIntosh, I prepared to execute the order. Before I had left my position Brigadier General Gregg, commanding the 2d division, arrived with his entire command. Learning the true condition of affairs in my front, and rightly conjecturing that the enemy was making his disposition for vigorously attacking our position, Brigadier General Gregg ordered me to remain in the position I then occupied.

The enemy was soon after reported to be advancing on my front. The detachment of fifty men sent on the Oxford road were driven in, and at the same time the enemy’s line of skirmishers, consisting of dismounted cavalry, appeared on the crest of the ride of hills on my front. The line extended beyond my left. To repel their advance I ordered the 5th Michigan Cavalry to a more advanced position, with instructions to maintain their ground at all hazards. Colonel Alger, commanding the 5th, assisted by Majors Trowbridge and Ferry, fo the same regiment, made such admirable dispositions of their men behind fences and other defenses as enabled them to successfully repel the repeated advance of a greatly superior force. I attributed their success in a great measure to the fact that this regiment is armed with the Spencer repeating rifle, which in the hands of brave, determined men, like those composing the 5th Michigan Cavalry, is, in my estimation, the most effective fire-arm that our cavalry can adopt. Colonel Alger held his ground until his men had exhausted their ammunition, when he was compelled to fall back on the main body. The beginning of this movement was the signal for the enemy to charge, which they did with two regiments, mounted and dismounted. I at once ordered the 7th Michigan Cavalry, Colonel Man,, to charge the advancing column of the enemy. The ground over which we had to pass was very unfavorable for the maneuvering of cavalry, but, despite all obstacles, this regiment advanced boldly to the assault, which was executed in splendid style the enemy being drivem from field to field until our advance reached a high and unbroken fence, behind which the enemy were strongly posted. Nothing daunted, Colonel Mann, followed by the main body of his regiment, bravely rode up to the fence and discharged their revolvers in the very face of the foe. No troops could have maintained this position; the 7th was, therefore, compelled to retire, followed by twice the number of the enemy. By this time Colonel Alger, of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, had succeeded in mounting a considerable portion of his regiment, and gallantly advanced to the assistance of the 7th, whose further pursuit by the enemy he checked. At the same time an entire brigade of the enemy’s cavalry, consisting of four regiments, appeared just over the crest in our front. They were formed in column of regiments. To meet this overwhelming force I had but one available regiment–the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and the fire of battery M, 2d Regular artillery. I at once ordered the 1st to charge, but learned at the same moment that similar orders had been given by Brigadier General Gregg. As before stated, the 1st was placed in column of battalions. Upon receving the order to charge, Colonel Town, placing himself at the head of his command, ordered the “trot” and sabers to be drawn. In this manner the gallant body of men advanced to the attack of a force that outnumbering them five to one. In addition to this numerical superiority, the enemy had the advantage of position and were exultant over the repulse of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. All these facts considered, would seem to render success on the part of the 1st impossible. No so, however. Arriving within a few yard of the enemy’s column the charge was ordered, and with a yell that spread terror before them, the 1st Michigan Cavalry, led by Colonel Town, rode upon the front rank of the enemy, sabering all who came within reach. For a moment, but only a moment, that long, heavy column stood its ground; then, unable to withstand the impetuosity of our attack, it gave way into a disorderly rout, leaving vast numbers of their dead and wounded in our possession, while the 1st, being masters of the field, had the proud satisfaction of seeing the much-vaunted “chivalry,” led by their favorite commander, seek safety in headlong flight. I cannot find language to express my high appreciation of the gallantry and daring displayed by the officers and men of the 1st Michigan Cavalry. They advanced to the charge of vastly superior force with as much order and precision as if going upon parade; and I challenge the annals of warfare to produe a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry than the one just recounted. Nor must I forget to acknowledge the individual assistance rendered by Battery M, 2d regiment of artillery, in this charge. Our success in driving the enemy from the field is due, in a great measure, to the highly efficient manner in which the battery was handled by Lieutenant A. C. M. Pennington , assisted by Lieutenants Clark, Woodruff, and Hamilton. The enemy made but slight demonstrations against us during the remainder of the day, except in one instance, he attempted to turn my left flank, which attempt was most gallantly met and successfully frustrated by Second Lieutenant J. H. Kellogg, which company H, 6th Michigan Cavalry. We held possession of the field until dark, during which time we collected our dead and wounded. At dark I returned with my command to Two Taverns, where I encamped for the night.

In this engagement my command lost as follows: 9 officers and 69 men killed, 25 officers and 207 men wounded, 7 officers and 225 men missing; making a total of 542. Among the killed I regard Major N. H. Ferry, of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, who fell while heroically cheering on his men. It would be impossible for me to particularize in those instances deserving special mention; all, but officers and men, did their duty. There were many cases of personal heroism, but a list of their names would make my report too extended. To Colonel Town, commanding the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and to the officers and men of his regiment for the gallant manner in which they drove the enemy from the field, great praise is due. Colonel Mann, of the 7th Michigan Cavalry, and Colonel Alger of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, as well as the officers and men of their commands are ntitled to much credit for their united efforts in repelling the advance of the enemy. The 6th Michigan Cavalry rendered very good service by guarding bot my right and left flank; also by supporting Battery M under a very hot fire from the enemy’s battery. Colonel Gray, commanding the regiment, was constantly seen wherever his presence was most needed, and is deserving of special mention. I desire to commend to your favorable notice Lieutenants Pennington, Clark, Woodruff, and Hamilton, of Battery M, 2nd Artillery, for the zeal and ability displayed by each on this occasion. My thanks are personally due to the following named members of my staff, who, on many occasions exhibited remarkable gallantry in transmitting and executing my orders on the field:

Captain G. A. Drew, 6th Michigan Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant general.
First Lieutenant R. Baylis, 5th Michigan Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant general.
First Lieutenant Wm. H. Wheeler, 1st Michigan Cavalry, aide-de-camp.
First Lieutenant Wm. Colerick, 1st Michigan Cavalry, aide-de-camp.

I desire also to mention two of my buglers, Joseph Fought, Company D, 5th U. S. Cavalry, and Peter Boehn, Company B, 5th U. S. Cavalry; also, Orderlies Norvall Churchill, Company L, 1st Michigan Cavalry, George L. Foster, Company C, 1st Michigan Cavalry, and Benjamin H. Butler, Company M, 1st Michigan Cavalry.

Interestingly, Custer did not mention that Gregg also ordered the charge of the 7th Michigan. Perhaps he did not know it. In any event, on both instances, Gregg usurped Custer and gave the orders to charge directly to the regimental commanders. I also find Custer’s estimations of the strength of the enemy forces interesting; he underestimed their size and strength in both phases of his report.

Well, there you have it. That’s the whole series. I hope that you have found these interesting and useful; none of these reports appear in the Official Records, and Custer’s full report is exceedingly rare.

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8 Jan 2007, by

Link Deleted

Since it’s been something like 60 days since Andy Eitman last posted anything on Strike the Tent, I’ve deleted the link to his blog. If he resumes posting of any substance, I will consider reinstating the link. For now, though, it’s gone.

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My blogging software tells me the URL’s of the referring web sites when people visit this site. It gives me the last ten URL’s to visit the site. I occasionally check them just to see where folks are coming from when they visit. Tonight, I spotted a name of a site that I didn’t recognize: 110th Lancer, Chris Swift’s “tirades on cavalry and armor.”

Here’s the description from the web site: “110th Lancer is just stories about Armor and Cavalry from me, Christopher J. Swift, who spent 11 years in American Armor units. Some is historical some is just opinion.” As a veteran of the armored cavalry, Chris brings an interesting perspective to the study of cavalry operations, and is also interested in the National Lancers, which was a predecessor to the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.

As a student of Civil War lancers, I wasn’t aware that a portion of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry was originally armed with lances, or that it had any connection to lances. I learn something new every day. Thanks, Chris.

I’ve added a link to your blog.

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