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September, 2012

Old friend John Hennessy has written a very interesting post on the Mysteries and Conundrums blog, wherein he addresses the positives and negatives of doing in-depth historical Internet research. I’ve been the beneficiary of John’s largesse–he has shared many of the cavalry-related newspaper articles that he has found with me, including as recently as last week when sent me an entire run of 22 articles by a trooper of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry that appeared in a long-defunct newspaper from Vevay, Indiana called the Vevay Reveille. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of transcribing them all and posting them here.

John is, of course, absolutely correct. Internet access to newspapers–some of my favorite sources, by the way–makes it possible to search for this material almost endlessly. But, as John also correctly points out, you definitely hit a point of diminishing returns, usually sooner than later. Quotable quotes are great, of course, but spending hours pouring through stuff for a single quotable sentence becomes a real question of diminishing returns. At some point, you have to decide, “I’ve fought the good fight on the research. It’s now time to put pen to paper and see what I can do with this story.” That means quitting the research process–and accepting the inevitable truth that you will never find EVERYTHING on a Civil War subject–and taking your best shot at writing whatever it is that you’re going to write about. That’s a very difficult thing to do, because you WANT to find everything, but the truth is that you won’t.

When we were writing One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, the amount of material available on sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive meant that we spent hours and hours and hours searching for material. It meant that we used over 1100 sources in writing the book, but it also meant countless hours of searching, reams of paper and several toner cartridges printing, and then incorporating the material. Don’t get me wrong–I am EXTREMELY proud of what we accomplished with that book, and with the extent and amount of research we invested in it–but I never imagined that we would end up looking at and citing to more than 1100 sources when we started the project, and had that mountain of material not been so readily available, we never would have used as much as we did. We finally had to say “enough” and pull the plug on the researching because we realized that we had hit the point of diminishing returns.

As John correctly points out, the availability of these materials only makes it tougher to know when to call it quits on the research. It’s a fight I constantly fight.

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The following report of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign, written by its temporary commander, Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, does not appear anywhere in either the Official Records or the Supplement to the Official Records. Preston wrote this report during the retreat from Gettysburg on the same day that the nasty fight at Funkstown occurred. It was published in the Rutland, VT newspaper on August 8, 1863, and differs from the report that appears in the Official Records. It was one of the new sources that I employed in preparing the second edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. Since it is not available to the public, I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

Boonsboro, Md., July 10

P. T. Washburn.
Adj. and Insp. Gen. of Vt.,

Sir:

I beg leave to make the following report of engagements of the 1st Vermont Cavalry with the enemy in Maryland and Pennsylvania, from June 30 to July 8, 1863. At Hanover, Penn., June 30, aided in repelling an attack by General Stewart’s forces. Cos. M and D, under Capts. Woodward and Cummings, charged through the town, repulsing the enemy and capturing many prisoners. The rest of the regiment supported a battery until the enemy were driven from the field.

At Huntersville, Penn., July 2, in an attack upon the left of Gen. Lee’s army, this regiment was deployed as skirmishers, and subjected to a severe fire from the enemy’s batteries.

July 3, in the attack made by Gen. Kilpatrick on the right flank of the enemy at Gettysburg, this cavalry had the advance. Cos. A, D, E and I, dismounted, were deployed as skirmishers and soon drove the enemy’s skirmishers back of their main lines. The contest was continued by the opposing batteries and dismounted carbineers until 5 o’clock P.M., when Gen. Farnsworth, commanding the brigade was ordered to charge the enemy strongly posted behind stone walls and in the woods, which proved to be Maj. Gen. Hood’s division of infantry. With the 1st Va. Cavalry on the left and the 2d battalion of the 1st Vt. under Maj. Wells on the right, Gen. Farnsworth dashed forward closely followed by his men, leaping one stone wall under a severe fire. Our force drove the enemy in all directions. They then passed over another stone wall and through the enemy’s skirmish line and toward the Rebel batteries and succeeded in piercing the enemy’s 2d line, where many of our dead were found. I moved to the support of the 2d Battalion, with the 1st under Capt. Parsons, and a part under Capt. Grover. On the hill between the two walls we encountered a fresh regiment of the enemy, sent in from the right to intercept the retreat of our first column and to re-establish their lines. The struggle for this hill became most desperate but was at length carried by our boys with severe loss, the greater part of the enemy being captured. Our loss this day in killed, wounded and missing, was 75 men.

July 4th, we marched 50 miles to the rear of the enemy, and on the morning of the 5th at Lightersville, Md., captured one hundred prisoners, a drove of cattle and several wagons, and marched to Hagerstown the same night, twelve hours in advance of Lee’s army.

July 6th, our division attacked the retreating enemy at Hagerstown. Cos. D and L dismounted here, drove the enemy from a strong position and occupied it; Cos. A and D held a portion of the town against a superior force until ordered to retire in the afternoon, when a portion being cut off, were secreted by the Union citizens until our forces reoccupied it on the 12th.

In the retiring of this division at night on the Williamsport Road in the face of Lee’s army, this regiment formed a part of the rear guard, and suffered severely from assaults made upon it by superior numbers. Twice we were nearly surrounded. Capt. Beaman, with the 3d squadron, whom I ordered to hold a strong position, being cut off was ordered to surrender. He coolly replied, “I don’t see it,” and leaped a fence and by a flank movement escaped with his nearly entire force. Capt. Woodward, of Co. M, a brave officer, was killed at the head of his men, strongly resisting the advancing foe. The charge was now made by Co. K, under Capt. Grover, upon the main column of the enemy, which aided materially in checking their progress. A battery was now opened upon us by the enemy in the direction of Williamsport, and being thus attacked in front and rear we drew off under cover of night to the Sharpsburg Road on the left.

July 8, Gen. Stewart with a large force attacked our cavalry at Boonsboro early in the morning. The 1st Vt. was held in reserve until the afternoon, then it was sent by detachments to various parts of the field to strengthen our lines. At sundown a spirited charge was made by the 2d battalion under Major Wells upon the retreating enemy, and the sabres were freely used on both sides. Were I to give you a list of the meritorious it would comprise the names of every officer and enlisted man engaged.

I remain your very ob’t serv’t,

A. W. Preston,
Lt. Col. Com’g 1st Vt. Cavalry

Here are a few notes on this report:

1. A small part of the microfilmed copy of the newspaper article addressing Farnsworth’s Charge–part of one sentence–is obscured and is difficult to read. I made my best guess at what it says and I think it’s correct, but I’m not entirely certain.

2. The Huntersville that Colonel Preston refers to is actually the town of Hunterstown, PA, which is approximately 8 miles from the main battlefield at Gettysburg. There was a meeting engagement there between Kilpatrick’s division and Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade there on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.

3. The Lightersville referred to by Colonel Preston is actually the town of Leitersburg, MD, which is located a short distance from Hagerstown. Kilpatrick sent the 1st Vermont in the direction of Leitersburg on the morning of July 5 to pursue a Confederate wagon train while the rest of the Third Cavalry Division went to Smithsburg, where it spent most of the day skirmishing with Confederate cavalry and horse artillery before retreating to Boonsboro, where Kilpatrick’s division joined Brig. Gen. John Biford’s First Cavalry Division.

4. The regular commander of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign was Col. Edward B. Sawyer, and Preston was normally second in command. Col. Sawyer was on medical leave, putting Preston in command of the regiment in his absence. Sawyer reported back to the regiment on July 10, 1863, the day that Preston penned this report. Sawyer’s return to duty may explain the otherwise odd timing of this report, considering that the campaign was still under way and that the armies were still north of the Potomac River on that date. Preston was killed in action on June 3, 1864 at Hawes Shop, Virginia. Preston was a good and brave soldier. He will soon be the subject of a forgotten cavalryman profile that I’m working on.

This photo is of the monument to the 1st Vermont Cavalry and sits near the spot where Elon J. Farnsworth was killed while leading the eponymous but unsuccessful charge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863.

This account of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry adds to our understanding of Farnsworth’s Charge by providing a different report, and it also adds to our understanding of the critical role played by the 1st Vermont during the retreat from Hagerstown to Williamsport after Kilpatrick was driven out of Hagerstown on July 6, 1863.

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On Thursday, September 20, I spoke to the Powhatan Civil War Roundtable. We were supposed to tie the speaking engagement to a visit with some Virginia friends, but the visit had to be postponed. That meant that Susan and I had to run-and-gun the trip. We drove out on Thursday and back on Friday. On the way back, we made a brief visit to the battlefield at White Sulphur Springs, where I paid my respects to Capt. Paul Freiherr von Koenig of William Woods Averell’s staff, who was killed while leading a flank attach on the afternoon of the first day of the battle. Susan took the photo that appears here. I am standing next to the monument to von Koenig that marks the spot where he fell. This monument was erected by Bvt. Brig. Gen. James M. Schoonmaker in 1914 (at Schoonmaker’s own expense) and occupies the sport where the German adventurer fell. Sadly, much of the White Sulphur Springs battlefield has been destroyed by the development of a shopping center on the spot. The monument to von Koenig rests just outside a Hardee’s fast food restaurant, and if one did not know that this shopping center sits in the middle of a battlefield, there is no way to know.

Uncovering the facts von Koenig’s life story-and the story of how he died–and telling it in an appendix to my book on the Battle of White Sulphur Springs is, perhaps, the single piece of my historical work of which I am most proud (it turns out that Paul von Koenig became good personal friends with future President of the United States, Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, which is one of the things that got me interested in Garfield’s service in the Civil War). I owe a great debt to the current Baron von Koenig, whose name is Dominik, and his son Florian, for helping me to put meat on the bones of this otherwise forgotten soldier.

We also stopped at the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in the lovely old town of Lewisburg, West Virginia. The church and its cemetery are pictured here. For those unfamiliar with the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, the law library in the Greenbrier County Courthouse in Lewisburg was the object of Averell’s unsuccessful raid at the end of August 1863. There was one grave that I wanted to visit there, of an officer of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, who was killed during the fight at White Sulphur Springs. Along the way, we found the grave of another officer of the 22nd Virginia who played a significant role in the Confederate victory at White Sulphur Springs.

This is the grave of Maj. Robert Augustus Bailey, who was a Lewisburg native. Nicknamed “Gus,” Bailey was born in Lewisburg in 1839. He was the son of prominent Circuit Judge Edward P. Bailey, which made his defense of the law library all the more notable. Gus Bailey became a lawyer himself and was practicing his trade in Fayette County in what became West Virginia when war came. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, he served as a captain In the 142nd Regiment Virginia Militia, 27th Brigade, 5th Division. With the coming of war, Bailey became captain of the Fayetteville Riflemen in Charleston on June 6, 1861. The Fayetteville Riflemen eventually became Company K, 22nd Virginia Infantry. The regiment was commanded by Col. George S. Patton, a prominent attorney from Charleston.

On August 26,1861, Bailey led a small scouting party to determine the feasibility of placing artillery to shell the Federal camps at and near Gauley River Bridge. Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd implemented Bailey’s plan during the fight at Gauley River Bridge in November 1861. Bailey was promoted to major on November 23,1861, and often commanded the 22nd Virginia (or elements of it) in various battles, receiving particular notice for his bravery at Fayetteville, (West) Virginia, September 10,1862. On March 1, 1863, he was major in command of the Department at Lewisburg, (West) Virginia. He led a battalion of the 22nd Virginia at White Sulphur Springs, and played an important role in the Confederate victory there.

Bailey was trying to rally his defeated men at the November 6, 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain when he was mortally wounded. After saving the regimental colors, he was waving the flag when struck by the ball that took his life. He lingered for five days before dying, and was then buried in the Old Stone Church cemetery in his hometown of Lewisburg. Bailey played an important role in the story of the Confederate victory at White Sulphur Springs, and I just happened upon his grave serendipitously. I’m glad I found it and was able to pay tribute to a gallant Southern soldier who received his mortal wound while doing his duty.

Lt. John Gay Carr served in Co. H of the 22nd Virginia Infantry. He was known as “Gay Carr” to friends and family. Carr was born in Albemarle County, Va. in 1830, but had lived in Kanawha County (in what became West Virginia) for many years before the war. He joined Patton’s Kanawha Riflemen as a private in May 1861, and was promoted to lieutenant. He served gallantly in all of the battles of the 22nd Virginia–an active, hard-fighting regiment–until he was killed in action at the age of 31 at White Sulphur Springs on August 26, 1863. He was described as “a promising young man, had exhibited the noblest qualities of a soldier both in the ranks and as an officer, and his death was deeply mourned by his comrades and the people of his home county.”

Carr’s friend, regimental adjutant Lt. Rand Noyes, wrote, “In this battle the gallant Lieutenant Gay Carr, of the Kanawha Riflemen…fell with a bullet through his brain…in whose memory I learn a monument has been erected…in Lewisburg, which was the War Home of the 22nd Virginia Regiment. There were many other brave and gallant men who fell victims of death on this severely contested battlefield and whose memories deserve the richest pandits of tongue and men.”

In 1904, his friends contributed funds to raise the handsome tree trunk monument that stands silent sentinel over his grave in the cemetery of the Old Stone Church, which is pictured herein.

You can see larger versions of the four images that appear in this post by clicking upon them if you so desire.

The story of the Civil War in West Virginia has long gotten short shrift, but it was truly a civil war there, with neighbors fighting each other to the death. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend any of Terry Lowry’s excellent works on the battles fought in the Mountain State.

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Seven years ago today, September 23, 2005, I made the first post on this blog. 1,263 posts later, I’m still here. And I have no intention of going anywhere. We’ve talked about a lot of different things here, and we’ve debated a lot of issues. I’ve enjoyed every minute of that.

Thank you to each and every one of you who takes the time to visit this blog and to indulge my rantings. Although I have never met many of you in person, I’ve come to view many of you as friends. I value the relationships that I have developed with people here, and I greatly look forward to continuing those relationships as we move forward.

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Chutzpah: unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall; audacity; nerve.

Or, this is how the great Jewish writer Leo Rosten put it: “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

I have a new definition of chutzpah, which appears on the home page of the website of the Brandy Station Foundation. That website indicates that the “Brandy Station Foundation Fall Picnic” will be held on September 29, 2012, “ATOP HISTORIC FLEETWOOD HILL”.

Let’s recall, shall we? This is the same Brandy Station Foundation that stood by and did absolutely nothing when the bulldozers began destroying “historic Fleetwood Hill” to build Lake Troilo, despite the president of the organization having advance knowledge that this critical piece of battlefield land was about to be devastated. This is the same Brandy Station Foundation that, instead of acting to fulfill its obligation as the steward of the land, issued a policy that said that destroying portions of the battlefield is acceptable if it’s done by a landowner there. This is the same Brandy Station Foundation that, instead of finding a way to purchase Fleetwood Hill from its present owners, stepped aside and then had the unmitigated gall to criticize the Civil War Trust for not acting quickly enough. This is the same Brandy Station Foundation that filled its 2011 annual report with bragging about its participation in ghost hunting and paranormal activity and not in battlefield preservation. This is the same board of the Brandy Station Foundation that has taken a once-great preservation organization and made it wholly and entirely irrelevant. And this is the same board of the Brandy Station Foundation that refused to allow the founder and multiple-term past president of the organization to renew his membership, claiming that he is somehow detrimental to the aims of the organization.

But yet, these people think holding a picnic on land that the BSF neither owns nor controls somehow excuses the horrific breaches of fiduciary duty perpetrated by this board and somehow justifies their rampant malfeasance.

And that, my friends, provides me with a completely new definition of the word “chutzpah” to use going forward. It’s the very definition of unmitigated effrontery and nerve, and it’s a real slap in the face to those who really care about preserving this battlefield.

Once again, I call for the resignation of Joseph McKinney and the Board of Appeasers before they further marginalize the BSF and render it completely and totally irrelevant.

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10 Sep 2012, by

Collaborations

People occasionally ask me why I have been involved in so many collaborations over the course of my writing career. I’ve done two different books with my good friend J.D. Petruzzi (one of which also included our friend Mike Nugent). Michael Aubrecht, and we have two more books in the works (one on baseball and one on football) that we’re going to do together. I recently announced an upcoming collaboration with Prof. Brooks D. Simpson on the role of future President James A. Garfield in the Civil War. I’ve also got collaborations in the works with old friend Scott Mingus, Sr. on the Second Battle of Winchester, and one with yet another old friend, Scott C. Patchan, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

This is a lot of collaborative work on a wide variety of subjects. And that’s my entire list of pending projects at the moment, and all are collaborations. Why is that? That’s a reasonable question.

There are a variety of reasons.

First, and foremost, I am not a professional historian. I’m an amateur. That gives me the luxury of working only on those projects that I want to work on, and none that I have to work on. The truth is that I have always written about what interests me. If others find those things interesting, all the better. But when I choose a topic/project, it’s because it’s what I find interesting. So, this means that I have no “publish or perish” issue to contend with. Fortunately, my friends often share an interest in those subjects, which is what makes the collaboration possible.

Second, I thoroughly enjoy the give-and-take of collaborating with a friend. I find it to be both stimulating and fun. And it gives me a new way of interacting with someone whose opinions and intellect I respect and admire.

Third, I find that the old cliche that “two heads are better than one” is absolutely a true statement. One of the beautiful things about working with these accomplished historians is that I get to discuss/debate/hash out a lot of interesting issues with people whose opinions I respect a great deal. I enjoy that immensely. And hopefully that process leads to better history.

Fourth, with 17 books in print and a couple of significant awards on the mantle, I have proven that I can research and write a decent Civil War history book. It means that I’ve earned my spurs and now have some credibility as a result. Because I do this for fun, I don’t have to write another word for the rest of my life if I choose not to, and if I never write another word, I will still be the proud author of a large body of work that people seem to like. This gives me the luxury of picking and choosing what I want to do and with whom I do it. It’s entirely possible that I may not do another solo project again the rest of my life, and if I do, it will be because something appeals to me enough to get me to invest the money, time, and effort required to write one of these books as a solo project.As I sit here now, I cannot predict whether that will happen.

So, that’s the answer as to why I’m involved in so many collaborations. For those of you who enjoy my historical work and are interested in it, please don’t be surprised by the number of collaborations that will be forthcoming, or by the lack of solo projects. And I hope that you enjoy all of those collaborations.

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