May, 2007

Tomorrow is time for another banzai run. I’m speaking to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehurst, NC. It’s an hour drive from here to there. I speak tomorrow night, and we’re going to stay in Pinehurst tomorrow night.

Our friend Teej Smith, who lives in Pinehurst, and who is the program chair for the CWRT, just had major jaw surgery two days ago, so she’s not particularly up to having house guests. Consequently, instead of staying until Saturday, we’re going to head to Greensboro on Friday for a tour of the Guilford Courthouse Revolutionary War battlefield and then start heading north. We will spend Friday night somewhere in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of Andy Griffith and the model for Mayberry, R.F.D., and then come home on Saturday. It’s another banzai run….

I will post photos from Guilford Courthouse once we get home.

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The great Battle of Brandy Station was fought on June 9, 1863. 12,000 Union cavalrymen splashed across the Rappahannock River at Beverly’s Ford and Kelly’s Ford to strike at Confederate cavalry thought to be near the town of Culpeper. They were surprised to find the enemy right across the river. Although the Confederate troopers were surprised by the bold attack, they rallied and held their own, keeping John Buford from taking the guns of the vaunted Stuart Horse Artillery. A fourteen hour battle raged, with Alfred Pleasonton, the Federal cavalry commander, eventually breaking off and withdrawing, leaving the battlefield in Stuart’s hands.

Pleasonton had received orders to march with his whole command and break up or disperse the large concentration of Confederate cavalry in Culpeper County, and he failed miserably. He also left the battlefield in Stuart’s hands, meaning that Brandy Station has to be considered a Confederate victory by any measure, both tactically and strategically.

Nevertheless, Stuart was excoriated by the Richmond newspapers for having been caught by surprise and for taking heavy losses in the long battle. Many amateur psychologists, most notably Emory N. Thomas, in his biography of Stuart, Bold Dragoon, have contended that Stuart’s surprise and angst over the criticism motivated him to want to do something spectacular to redeem himself, thereby triggering the “ride” during the Gettysburg Campaign. While I hope that J. D. and I have refuted that myth, there’s nothing like the letter that is the source of that theory. So, here’s Stuart’s letter to his wife Flora, responding to the allegations that he was badly surprised and badly beaten. Where something appears in [brackets], I’ve added an explanatory note to help put this letter into better context for you. Most of the officers he refers to in the letter, unless otherwise designated, were part of Stuart’s staff. The underlining is in the original. It makes for an interesting read.

Camp Farley
June 12th, 1863

My Darling Wife:

God has spared me through another bloody battle, and blessed with victory our arms. The fight occurred on the 9th between Brandy Station and will be called “Battle of Fleetwood Heights.”

We mourn the loss of [Capt. Will] Farley, my volunteer aide, killed, and [Maj. Benjamin S.] White wounded painfully. [Lt. Robert H.] Goldsborough was captured taking an important order to [Col. Williams C.] Wickham [,the commander of the 4th Virginia Cavalry]. I hope he was not hurt–he behaved most gallantly. General William H. F. Lee, with his whole Brigade, distinguished themselves, fighting almost entirely against regulars. I have no time for a detailed report to you. The papers are in great error, as usual, about the whole transaction. It was no surprise. The enemy’s movement was known and he was defeated. We captured three pieces of Artillery which the Horse Artillery now have. Lieutenant Colonel [Frank] Hampton [of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry] was killed–also Colonel Sol[omon] Williams [of the 1st North Cavalry] and a number of brave spirits who will be deeply mourned. Our entire loss does not exceed 500 killed, wounded and missing. Among the wounded are General William H. F. Lee, Lieutenant Colonel [Jefferson] Phillips [of the 13th Virginia Cavalry], Colonel [Matthew C.] Butler [of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry] (whose foot was amputated). It is considered certain that [Col. Benjamin F.] Grimes Davis (Yankee) was killed (he commanded a Brigade) and that [Col.] Percy Wyndham was wounded

Colonel [Pierce M. B.] Young [of the Cobb Legion Cavalry] made a splendid charge. Fitz Lee’s Brigade did not see much execution as it was but little engaged.

General [Robert E.] Lee reviewed the Division the day before the fight. I have not seen [Lt. Col. C. H.] Tyler since you left. [Col. Thomas L.] Rosser’s regiment [the 5th Virginia Cavalry] was absent. The Richmond Enquirer of the 12th lies from beginning to end. I lost no paper–no nothing–except the casualties of battle. I understand the spirit and object of the detraction and can, I believe, trace the source. I will, of course, take no notice of such base falsehood.

Your friends are all well except those referred to. I received a very affectionate letter from Mrs. Price about [Lt.] Thomas [Randolph Price, Jr.] leaving me [due to personality conflicts with Stuart, he was transferred to Jubal Early’s staff]. I will answer it in the right spirit but I do not regret that I did it. The very day you left I received marching orders but they were countermanded. I am now in a nice grove near the Review ground. I lost nothing whatever. The Examiner to the contrary notwithstanding. I believe it all originates in the Salt question. You must be careful now what you say. Give much love to all friends. [Maj. L.] Frank Terrill has reported to the War Department for orders. Captain [J. L.] Clark has been chosen as Captain of Gilmer’s Company, 12th Virginia Cavalry and I am free again. Weaver has returned from amongst the Yankees; they acknowledge themselves whipped badly. Davis killed, Wyndham mortally wounded. [Brig. Gen. Alfred] Pleasonton wrote to me and asked leave to bury his dead and care for his wounded. I replied that I had attended to both. He commands [Maj. Gen. George] Stoneman’s Corps now. Kiss Jimmy.

Your Own,

J. E. B. Stuart

P. S. Captured Buford’s aide [Capt. Joseph O’Keeffe].

This letter has triggered a vast amount of speculation. Read it and decide for yourself. For me, however, there is nothing in here that suggests that Stuart was anything but angry about the way he was portrayed in the newspaper accounts of the battle. I see nothing that suggests he was so bent out of shape as to feel the need to do something to “redeem himself”.

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12 May 2007, by

Hello and Goodbye

Rea Andrew Redd, who is a college librarian, announced the launch of his blog on the GDG today. Rea’s blog contains lots of really good and really useful reviews of Civil War books, mostly pertaining to the Battle of Gettysburg. Welcome to the blogosphere, Rea, and keep up the good work. I’ve added a link to your blog.

The last time John Banks had a Civil War-related post was in February. Consequently, I have deleted the link to his blog. Unfortunately, old friend Mark Wade, who was blogging as Mayland Rebel, has not posted in several months either. As a result, I’ve also deleted the link to his blog, although I will be happy to restore the link if Mark ever starts posting again, as his posts have always been good.

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143 years ago today, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps clashed with Fitzhugh Lee’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps a few miles north of Richmond at a place called Yellow Tavern at the intersection of the Telegraph and Mountain Roads.  After a long, hard fight, the men of Brig. Gen. Williams C. Wickham’s brigade began giving way in the face of a determined attack by George Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade.  Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, the Confederate cavalry chief, dashed forward to try to rally his troopers and received a mortal wound to the abdomen from one of the Wolverines.  Stuart died in Richmond the next day after a long night of suffering.  When Robert E. Lee heard of Stuart’s death, he wept and was heard to say, “He never brought me a wrong piece of information,” which was, perhaps, the ultimate compliment Lee could have paid the fallen cavalier.

Jeb Stuart was perhaps the finest all-around cavalryman ever produced by the United States Army.  Stuart had a real gift for the traditional roles of cavalry, scouting, screening, and reconnaissance, and did it better than anyone has before or since.  He was quite literally the eyes and ears of the army, and Robert E. Lee leaned harder on Stuart than on any other subordinate except perhaps James Longstreet.  I genuinely believe that this explains Lee’s being so disconcerted at Gettysburg–not because the cavalry wasn’t there, but rather because the man he depended upon most heavily for accurate information about the enemy was not there.  In May 1864, Stuart was 31, at the height of his fame and glory, and was known as the laughing cavalier.  He had a real zest for life, and he loved to sing, flirt with the ladies, and always had a good time.  His personal theme song, “If you want to have some fun, jine the cav’ry” certainly sums up his philosophy of life–fun.

At the same time, Stuart could be serious as a heart attack when he needed to be.  He was capable on the battlefield, and did a magnificent job handling a huge infantry corps at Chancellorsville after Jackson received his mortal wound.  In short, this man was flat out competent at virtually everything he did.

That’s not to say he was without flaws.  Prideful, ambitious, and always looking for an opportunity for personal glory, I tend to think that Stuart fell at just the right moment.  He tended to be prone to clash with subordinates who did not appreciate his personality (see Grumble Jones, Beverly Robertson, and even Wade Hampton for good examples of what I mean here), and was very sensitive to slights, both imagined and real. 

Because of what happened at Yellow Tavern that warm May day, Stuart will be forever the gallant young hero, struck down at the height of his fame, a symbol of the Confederacy.  I suspect that had he lived, Stuart would have had a difficult time adapting to the changing and evolving role of horse soldiers.  By the spring of 1864, with its men armed with repeating carbines that laid down a great deal of fire power, and with new commanders, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps was becoming a potent offensive weapon and de-emphasizing the traditional roles of the cavalry, scouting, screening, and reconnaissance.  I don’t know that Stuart would have been able to adapt to these changes and maintain his luster.  Stuart symbolized the early days of the war–chivalry, fun, decorum–in other words, war as a grand adventure to be enjoyed.  Wade Hampton, a solid fighting man, adapted well to dismounted fighting that closely resembled infantry tactics, but I rather doubt that Stuart would have been able to make that transition cleanly or easily.  I suspect that, had he lived, much of the luster would have rubbed off.

When Stuart fell, some of the spirit left the Army of Northern Virginia forever.  Its Cavalry Corps would never be the same again.  Fortunately, Hampton was extremely competent in his own right, and he earned permanent command of the Cavalry Corps through his superb battlefield performance.  Make no mistake, though: it was no longer jine the cav’ry if you want to have some fun.  Hampton was a grim, serious warrior, and he had none of the sense of fun possessed by Stuart.   Hampton’s serious, hard-hitting style was a stark contrast to Stuart’s lightheartedness, but it was just what was needed at the time.  By May 1864, the war had become a stark war of attrition, and it was a very serious business.  It needed a serious response, and Wade Hampton was just the sort of hard fighter to give that serious response.  Like Stuart, Hampton was the right man at the right time.

Here’s to Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart, the legendary Virginia cavalier who redefined mounted operations, who received a mortal wound at the Battle of Yellow Tavern 143 years ago today.  

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Michigan attorney Jack Dempsey has started a new blog devoted to his state’s contributions to the Civil War.  Welcome, Jack.  I’ve added a link to your blog.

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Brian Dirck has a post on his blog today that includes some of the more brilliant responses received from his students during the recent final exam period:

Among my more creative exam answers: manifest destiny” was, according to one student, “Beyonce gone wild.” Abraham Lincoln had a “leery” relationship with slavery. Lee was a Union hero, Grant was a Confederate, and Sherman trashed Ohio during his march to the sea (or perhaps that was the Great Lakes?). The Confederacy “succeeded” rather than “seceded,” and antebellum America had a “sexual crisis” of epic proportions.

This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic. How is it that history has gotten such short shrift in high school curricula that someone would actually equate Beyonce with the doctrine of manifest destiny? I’ll tell you. It’s that ridiculous No Child Left Behind nonsense instituted by the moron in the White House that emphasizes test scores over actual teaching. And that, my friends, is the most pathetic thing of all.

All I can think about when I consider this is the bumper sticker I saw last week: Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot. ‘Nuff said.

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Texan Jim Schmidt, an old friend of mine, has decided to dip his toe into the blogosphere. He launched his new blog, Civil War Medicine (and Writing), today. Jim has done some very interesting work on labels and branding in the Civil War, and he works in the pharmaceutical industry. Consequently, I think that we can expect some interesting insights from Jim, particularly as they pertain to Civil War medicine. Welcome to the blogosphere, Jim. I’ve added a link to your blog.

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Old friend Jim Morgan, who heads the battlefield tourguide program at the Ball’s Bluff battlefield in Leesburg, Virginia, passed along some excellent news this morning. As Jim pointed out in his outstanding book on the battle, A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edward’s Ferry, October 21-22, 1861, the interpretive markers on the battlefield contain a lot of inaccuracies. However, due to insufficient funding, the county, which owns and operates the battlefield, has allowed the inaccurate signs to remain in place for far too long.

Here’s the good news passed along by Jim this morning:

The Northern Va Regional Park Authority finally has gotten some money to replace the old, incorrect signs on the battlefield. I’ve given them new, verified text and, by mid-summer, all new signs should be in place. We’re re-doing some of the trails to make them more “user friendly” as well and moving a couple of the signs to more appropriate locations along those trails. Good things happening at Ball’s Bluff.

That’s excellent news indeed, and will make the interpretation of a terrific little battlefield even better.

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In the early 1990’s, I met and became friends with Mike Phipps. At that time, Mike was trying to make a living as a licensed battlefield guide in Gettysburg. He’d done a hitch as an officer in the Regular Army, having gone through Ranger training and then service with the Old Guard. Mike left the Army to pursue a career in law enforcement, and then decided try guiding. Mike’s done a lot of research and writing on John Buford, and has written an excellent account of the fight on East Cavalry Field.

Several years ago, Mike decided to go back into the Army. He joined the National Guard and later enlisted in the Regular Army. This time, he went in as a sergeant and not as a captain, which is the rank he held during his first stint of duty. Mike did one tour in Iraq and then had some health problems, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to go back on active duty. Fortunately, he recovered and re-deployed to Iraq last month.

I got the following e-mail from Wayne Motts by way of my friend Greg Biggs today:

My Friend SSGT Michael Phipps
By Wayne E. Motts
06 May 2007
Twenty-one years ago as a nineteen year-old licensed battlefield guide candidate, I had the pleasure to meet Mike Phipps an officer in the United States Army and like me a student of the Battle of Gettysburg. Mike and I took the guide test together and as classmates have guided on the Gettysburg Battlefield for two decades. After leaving the military for a career in law enforcement, Mike re-entered the Pennsylvania National Guard and as a soldier in the 109th Infantry Regiment spent three months in Iraq last year. After being relived of active duty, he decided at age forty-nine to enter the regular army again. Earlier this year, he reported to Fort Hood, Texas and was assigned to the First Cavalry Division.

On 5 April 2007, Mike arrived in Iraq for his second combat tour. Two days after he reported to a base between Bagdad and Anbar Province his convoy passed over two one hundred and thirty pound mortars buried under the ground. Luckily these IEDs (improvised explosive device) failed to detonate. They were later safely detonated by coalition forces. From the time of his arrival in country until today, Mike spent most of his time on combat patrols as a member of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 5th United States Cavalry Regiment. He constantly reminds me that as a “Black Knight Trooper,” he shares a common history with Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The old 2nd United States Cavalry Regiment, later designated the 5th United States Cavalry in August 1861, was commanded by Lee from 16 March 1861 to 25 April 1861. This was Lee’s last command in the old army.

At 2:00 PM EST, 6 May 2006, Mike called me from a hospital bed in Iraq. He was wounded in action while on a combat patrol at 10:00 AM Bagdad time this morning. As one of a five -man team, he had just exited a house when insurgents showered his group with automatic weapons fire. Mike was struck in the side of the left shoulder blade with the round passing out of his body. His fellow patrol members took him to safety. Fortunately there were no other casualties among his comrades. When he spoke to me he was lucid and in good spirits. He will remain in the hospital at Bagdad for sometime and then be transported to Landstuhl Air Force Base. The prognosis is not known at this time. I will get his address when he lands somewhere more permanent.

In times like this, it is well to remember the daily challenges, concerns, and worries of our lives, while annoying, mean little. I know all of you will join me in keeping Mike in your thoughts and prayers. He passes on his good wishes

So, not only is Mike a student of Civil War cavalry operations, he is on active duty as a cavalryman in the modern Army, serving in a great regiment with a storied history. Mike is also the first Iraq casualty whom I know personally, and that puts a completely different face on things. Hopefully, he will recover quickly and will bear no permanent effects of this combat wound.

Please join me in sending good wishes for the speedy recovery of a fellow cav guy. Get well soon, Mike, and come home safely.

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Family legends are amazing things. Stories get passed down through families generation after generation, and they become the gospel truth whether they have any basis in fact or not. Some of them are really amazing. Based on these family legends, people persuade themselves that they’re related to famous people when there simply is no evidence that such is true.

Today, I got an e-mail from an acquaintance in Australia who passed along an e-mail from an individual, wanting to know whether I could help answering the question. Here’s the gist of it:

My husband is a descendent of Philip Henry Sheridan by Mary Jane (some say Mary Ann) Hankins of Ohio–his wife during the Civil War. Their son Will, who took his step-father’s Johnson name, and daughter Emma, were born during the war.
Mary Jane met the train every day for quite awhile after the war, but Sheridan had other plans, and, later, anothr family.
A few years ago, someone read an account of Sheridan’s wife and infant visiting his camp in Tennessee, but couldn’t remember any further info. Neither have I been able to locate any records. (Tried to check Ohio online.) Can you help?

This is particularly interesting, because Sheridan only ever married once, at 45 years of age in 1875. In short, he never had a wife during the Civil War. Now, I suppose it’s possible that he could have had illegitimate children, but there is absolutely no record to suggest that he was married during the war, and there is likewise nothing I’ve ever seen to suggest that he had any children other than his son Philip, Jr., who was born in 1880 and only lived to the age of 37. I had to tell my friend from Australia the truth, which is that there’s no way that this family legend could be true.

Where people get this stuff is really a mystery to me, and how they’ve managed to convince themselves that family legend is true is even more remarkable. I wish I knew where it comes from, but it frustrates me to no end. I hate to burst people’s bubbles, but the truth is much more important to me than coddling someone’s illusions of familial grandeur.

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