The General

Eric J. Wittenberg is an award-winning Civil War historian. He is also a practicing attorney and is the sole proprietor of Eric J. Wittenberg Co., L.P.A. He is the author of sixteen published books and more than two dozen articles on the Civil War. He serves on the Governor of Ohio's Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, and often consults with the Civil War Preservation Trust on battlefield preservation issues. Eric, his wife Susan, and their two golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.


On May 28, I posted here that the time had come for the creation of a Virginia state Civil War battlefield park in Culpeper County. The idea is catching on, and we need your help to make it happen.

This article by Clint Schemmer appeared in the June 12, 2015 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star newspaper:

Virginia considers creating state park at Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain battlefields
By Clint Schemmer

Friday, June 12, 2015 12:00 am
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

If the stars align, Culpeper County could be the home of a new state park.

State and local officials are tossing around the idea of creating a park to preserve and spotlight Culpeper’s two most significant Civil War battlefields—Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain.

Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, confirmed this week that there have been “very preliminary” discussions about the proposal.

To become a reality, a park “would have to have support from the local government, local General Assembly members and a majority of the assembly,” Cristman said in an interview.

His department already runs parks focused on Civil War sites at Sailor’s Creek, High Bridge and Staunton River.

“We have experience in operating and managing these kinds of parks,” Cristman said. “Should the General Assembly and the governor decide it’s appropriate, that is definitely within our mission.”

Joe McKinney, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, said he has heard that Gov. Terry McAuliffe is interested in the idea.

“The state park system has the resources to protect these battlefields here in Culpeper and draw more people interested in history to come see them,” McKinney said in an interview.

The foundation, a nonprofit group that owns 38 acres near Fleetwood Hill—heart of the 1863 cavalry battlefield—supports the idea, though McKinney noted that there will be many nuts-and-bolts details to sort out.

He said he thinks the foundation’s Graffiti House, an antebellum home in the village of Brandy Station, could serve as a visitor center for the park.

The foundation and another nonprofit, Friends of Cedar Mountain, maintain battlefield land as living memorials to the men who fought and died there.

The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress to pinpoint America’s most important Civil War sites, classified the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields as representative of “the principal strategic operations of the war.”


Culpeper Supervisor Steve Walker, who operates Fountain Hall bed-and-breakfast, supports the park notion.

“I think it would be a very positive thing for Culpeper, definitely helping to develop more tourism opportunities,” Walker said. “My only concern is when the state got involved, whether it would restrict farmers or hunters.

“But from a personal perspective, I think it’s a great idea. It would draw more people to enjoy our multiple, different tourism sites in the county—wineries, distilleries, Civil War and Revolutionary War sites, and great restaurants.”

Culpeper Supervisor Bill Chase also favors the idea.

“At first blush, it sounds good for the state to hold the land and make it more of a tourist attraction than it is now,” Chase said. “I’d much rather have it under the state than the way it is now.”

But he added: “The devil is in the details, and I’d have to see them before I would wholeheartedly support it.”

The Civil War Trust, which preserves 1,901 acres of the Brandy Station battlefield and 164 acres at Cedar Mountain, likes the state-park thought.

“The trust believes that a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain state park is an idea worth pursuing,” Jim Campi, the trust’s director of policy and communications, said in an interview. “It would be beneficial to have a state park in the region to memorialize the two battles as well as encourage tourism.”

Campi declined to comment on the national nonprofit group’s discussions with state officials, other than to describe them as preliminary and productive.

Glenn Stach, a preservation landscape architect in Warrenton, said the Virginia Outdoors Plan, a long-range planning document, identifies the region between Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County and the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers as one without a state park.

“It’s been on the radar for quite some time as an opportunity, with an underserved population in the vicinity,” Stach said.

The McAuliffe administration is identifying places to create new parks for the 80th anniversary of the state park system next year, Stach said.

Diane Logan, president of the Friends of Cedar Mountain, said the Culpeper nonprofit strongly supports the concept of a state park and sees it as a economic development opportunity.

“Heritage tourism is clean development that does not require huge infrastructure costs to the local citizens,” Logan said. “Heritage tourists typically stay longer at a destination, spending more money at local businesses, including on meals and lodging.”

If the park happens, the Cedar Mountain battlefield would be promoted in state literature and its tourism efforts, she said.


Virginia historian Clark B. Hall, who has spent decades working to preserve Brandy Station from development threats, said the park would focus national attention on Culpeper.

“This country doesn’t have a park dedicated to cavalry, that hugely important offensive and defensive component of Civil War warfare,” Hall said. “This would be the place.”

Fought on June 9, 1863, the Battle of Brandy Station opened Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg Campaign and proved the mettle of Union cavalry.

“There’s no other spot like it,” Hall said. “This is supremely beautiful battlefield land and to see it become a state park, that would be the cat’s meow.”

Paul Hawke, chief of the National Park Service’s American Battlefields Protection Program, was also enthusiastic.

“This is an excellent opportunity to save, and open to the public, two important Civil War battlefields that have long been overlooked,” he said.

The park idea has been talked of by some local residents for a long time, since at least 2000.

But a keystone fell into place in 2013 when the Civil War Trust bought the southern crest of Fleetwood Hill, site of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s headquarters before the battle, and several other properties associated with the famous ridge, Campi said.

“We needed to have Fleetwood Hill because it was the epicenter of the battle, the jewel of Brandy Station,” he said.

Friends of Cedar Mountain

Virginia State Parks

Brandy Station battlefield at the Civil War Trust

Cedar Mountain battlefield at the Civil War Trust

We need your help to make this happen! If you support this initiative, please write letters of support to the editor of the Free Lance Star and to legislators in Virginia. Now is the time.

To horse!

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IMG_0380A nifty gift just arrived in the mail from my friends at the Civil War Trust. It’s a brick. And I’m thrilled to have it.

You might ask, why? What’s so exciting about a brick?

This brick comes from Tony Troilo’s McMansion that blighted Fleetwood Hill for far too long. When the house was demolished, I asked that the Trust save me a single brick from the house as a souvenir of the fight to save Fleetwood Hill, and this is that brick. I have the perfect place for it in my home office, and every time that I look at it, I will smile, because of what it means. Its presence in my home office means that the McMansion no longer blights Fleetwood Hill, and that the view from Fleetwood Hill is once more unfettered.

So, you see, this is not just some ordinary brick. It’s a very special brick, bought and paid for by the blood of the soldiers who fought, bled, and died on Fleetwood Hill, and by the folks who donated the money to make the acquisition and demolition of the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill possible. And because it’s a very special brick, it will forever occupy a special place in my heart and in my home office.

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With many thanks to Clark B. “Bud” Hall, who not only provided me with these two images, Bud was also the one who identified the historic image as being of Fleetwood Hill when it had been mislabeled for years as being a camp in other locales.

Fall, 1863The first image was taken in the fall of 1863. Here’s what Bud had to say about it:

The view is north, and this is the attack perspective of the 1st Maryland Cavalry as Wyndham’s Brigade attacked Fleetwood on June 9.

The house was “Fleetwood,” built in the 1700’s by John Strode, and was in 1863 the tenant home of farmer Henry Miller. The fruit orchard visible in the ’63 image was destroyed (for firewood) during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, 63-64. During that winter, the Miller home would be the headquarters of Maj. Gen. William French, 3rd Corps.

The road in the center of the ’63 image is easily discernible today as it leads to Brandy Station Station, a half mile away, and behind the photographer.

June 1 2015 v2The modern image was taken on June 1, and is exactly the same view and perspective. The small structure that looks like a gazebo is the historic well on the crest of Fleetwood Hill, which is enclosed to prevent folks from falling in.

It bears repeating that the view of Fleetwood Hill, unfettered by the McMansion on the hill, is a thing of beauty to be treasured.

To see larger versions of either of these two images, please click on them.

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UnknownWith many thanks to Dave Roth, the publisher, for giving me permission to reprint it here, here is Rob Grandchamp’s extraordinary review of “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour that appears in the current issue of Blue & Gray Magazine. I’m humbled by such a wonderful review, which is the finest review any of my books has ever gotten.

Award winning historian Eric Wittenberg, who has had a lifelong fascination with Union General John Buford, has researched and authored this tome. It combines the sharp research and intellect that he brings to his work, extensive use of primary manuscript sources, as well as the maps and images that Savas Beatie’s works are known for.

Wittenberg begins with a brief biography of Buford and an overview of his First Cavalry Division. The book is heavily illustrated with photographs, and includes many never before seen images. In addition, highly detailed maps throughout the text show the position of Buford’s men in this battle. Arriving in Gettysburg on June 30, 1863 Buford carefully surveyed the ground and determined to hold a series of ridges west of the town in order to delay the Confederates and allow the Union infantry to get into position. Wittenberg notes that Buford’s tactics on the morning of July 1 are still taught to cadets at West Point as a classic example of the use of cavalry (now replaced with wheeled vehicles, but still employing the same concepts).

Much of the book covers Buford’s actions on the first day at Gettysburg. Through a series of breakdowns in Confederate leadership, and with superb use of the terrain and their breechloading carbines, the eight regiments of Buford’s command were able to hold the ground against an overwhelming Confederate offensive. The descriptions of this action are the most detailed and descriptive this reviewer has ever seen. The maps highlight the action, allowing the reader to view the text down to the company and regimental level. In addition, the well placed footnotes allow for further serious scholarship. It is evident that Wittenberg has done his homework, as the book contains many sources not previously seen by historians. Buford’s men held their positions until the I Corps arrived on the field, and continued to support General John Reynolds’ flanks until the corps retreated back to Gettysburg.

While most books that narrate the story of Buford’s men at Gettysburg end with his division being relieved at the end of the First Day, this book does not. On the morning of July 2, one of the brigades supported the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters and the 3rd Maine in a reconnaissance in force near Pitzer’s Woods on Seminary Ridge. This engagement is often overlooked, but Wittenberg provides a detailed overview of the brief fight at Pitzer’s Woods, which was the opening of the battle on the southern part of the line on the Second Day. After this engagement, army commander General George G. Meade wisely sent Buford’s worn out division back to Westminster, Maryland to guard the supply train and refit.

The main part of the book ends with a historiography of Buford’s legacy and his role at Gettysburg. Several important appendices are also present, including one on the Buford monument at Gettysburg, a driving tour of positions associated with Buford’s command, and a discussion about the long held thought that Buford’s men were armed with Spencer repeaters, rather than single-shot breechloading carbines, at Gettysburg. Wittenberg, through deep research, has finally determined that the command was not armed with Spencers until the fall, and that Buford’s eight regiments carried a miscellaneous assortment of carbines.

In conclusion, this book is typical of what we have come to expect from Wittenberg: meticulously researched, superbly illustrated, and well written. While many books have been written about the early morning fighting at Gettysburg on July 1, 1963, this is the first book that has focused solely on the very important role that John Buford and his First Cavalry Division played in the fighting. While often an unsung hero of the battle, this book has brought Buford’s role in the action back to life. It is one of the better books to come out of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. “The Devil’s to Pay” is an exceptional read and must-add to any Civil War collection.

It simply does not get any better than that, I am very grateful to Rob for his incredibly kind words about my labor of love. That is, without question, the single best review one of my works has ever received.

I do need to correct Rob’s statement about when Buford’s command might have been armed with Spencer repeaters. Rob incorrectly states that the First Cavalry Division was armed with Spencer carbines in the fall of 1863. The Spencer carbine only went into mass production in September 1863, and there were not sufficient quantities of them available to distribute until the winter of 1863-1864. When the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps took the field in the spring of 1864, it was largely armed with Spencers, but not before that time.

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FullSizeRenderHere is how Fleetwood Hill looks today, June 1, 2015. This view is taken from the Flat Run Valley, to the south of where Lake Troilo once sat. Thank you to all of you who made this view possible–and especially to Bud Hall, the Civil War Trust, and those of you who made large donations to make it possible, and thank you to Tony Troilo for deciding to violate federal law. No thanks are appropriate for, nor should they be given to, Useless Joe McKinney and the Board of Appeasers, who idly sat by and let it happen in the hope of not offending Useless Joe’s pal, Mr. Troilo.

Fleetwood Hill–the single most fought-over piece of ground in North America–is once more unfettered.

For a full-sized view, click on the image. Thanks to Clark B. “Bud” Hall for sending it along.

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My friend Craig Swain has a very thought-provoking post on his blog indicating that the time has come for the founding of a state battlefield park in Culpeper County, Virginia. I commend it to you.

One would be hard-pressed to find a place with more significant Civil War sites than Culpeper County, Virginia: Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford, Freeman’s Ford, Rappahannock Station, Stevensburg, the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, the Battle of Culpeper, and, of course, the crown jewel: the four battles fought at Brandy Station. There are advocacy groups for some of these battle sites such as the Friends of Cedar Mountain, who do a great job at their battlefield. Then there’s Useless Joe and the Board of Appeasers of the Brandy Station Foundation who pretend to care about preservation but really couldn’t care less. The Civil War Trust has very extensive land holdings in Culpeper County. Other parcels are owned by other groups.

It’s time for these parcels to be merged into a state park so that the Commonwealth of Virginia can become the steward of this land and can advance its interpretation. The Commonwealth already has a number of very well done state battlefield parks, such as the one at the Staunton River Bridge, or the terrific battlefield park at Sailor’s Creek State Battlefield Park. With its gorgeous views and beautiful rolling plains, a Culpeper County State Civil War Park encompassing the many sites in the county could truly become the Commonwealth of Virginia’s crown jewel when it comes to the state’s Civil War heritage.

Those of you who are Virginia residents: this is an idea whose time has clearly come. Please do what you can to encourage your state legislators to support this outstanding idea.

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This is a guest post by my friend Daniel Mallock which provides food for thought about the role of the historian….

Late in the evening several days ago I was watching an episode of “Chopped”. It made a strong impression on me.

“Chopped” is an hour-long cooking competition television show that pits four chefs against each other. There are three rounds, appetizer, entrée and dessert–there’s a ten thousand dollar prize for the winner. If the judges don’t like a chef’s dish he or she is eliminated from the competition, that is, “chopped.”

For the dessert round Chef Fed prepared an English custard tart and German Baumkuchen combination. A colorful fellow with a hybrid American/German/French accent Chef Fed, obsessed with the supposed “aphrodisiac” qualities of food, finally failed to seduce the judges with his cuisine. He was chopped.

The exit walk-off of a defeated chef can be an illuminating moment. Some are egotists who complain of the incompetence of the judges, some are humble and express appreciation for having competed; some few compliment the judges or their opponents. Chef Fed’s exit was a bit different. He said, “I really appreciate the opportunity to show the judges and everyone my world of flavors.” I am not a chef, but I thought that this was a beautiful thing. I switched off the television and prepared for sleep.

It was around half past midnight. Suddenly, I had a crisis of meaning.

An accomplished chef, Fed knew exactly what he was about, what his “world” was about: superior, delicious flavors, beguiling and comforting aromas, and beautiful, balanced presentation. I thought, “He is a chef–of course he knows his ‘world.’ But what is my world? What is the world of the historian, the student of history?” That I didn’t have a ready answer was troubling. I sat for a time and thought about it. This post, prompted by Eric’s kind invitation to write on the matter, is the result.

Marc Bloch is widely considered one of the greatest French historians of the twentieth century. His last book, “The Historian’s Craft,” goes a long way in defending the study and teaching of history and of explaining its value.

A professor at the Sorbonne Bloch was a WW1 veteran. When the Nazis invaded France he left his teaching position and joined the French army once again (a reserve officer at the age of 52). With the defeat of France and Nazi occupation Bloch swiftly lost his teaching career due to the fact that he was Jewish. It was during this period that he wrote “The Historian’s Craft” (the book was never finished). But Bloch was by no means retired; he had joined the Resistance. Captured and tortured by the Nazi occupiers Bloch was executed not long after D-Day.

An anecdote he included in The Historian’s Craft, is this one, about a visit that he and his friend Henri Pirenne (another renowned European historian of the last century) made to Sweden.

“I had gone with Henri Pirenne to Stockholm; we had scarcely arrived, when he said to me: ‘What shall we go to see first? It seems that there is a new city hall here. Let’s start there.’ Then, as if to ward off my surprise, he added: ‘If I were an antiquarian, I would have eyes only for old stuff, but I am a historian. Therefore, I love life.’ This faculty of understanding the living is, in very truth, the master quality of the historian.” (p.43)

Must a great historian, like Pirenne and Bloch, “love life?” The answer must be Yes.

The present is so fleeting, so swift and mercurial it is gone in an instant–and becomes the stuff of history. The future is a mist, little more than an expectation, a hope. History then is ever-expanding and as each day passes becomes more difficult to discern.

What of those who find no value in the study of history? How should a student of history respond when someone honestly asks, “What is the value of history?” Bloch has an answer.

“These condemnations offer a terrible temptation, in that they justify ignorance in advance. Fortunately, for those of us who still retain our intellectual curiosity, there is, perhaps, an appeal from their verdict.” (p.11)

Historians ought to be strongly opposed to ignorance. Isn’t the core of the historian’s work meant to eradicate such things?

We’re obliged to get to the bottom of things as best we can, to understand the living and the dead and the times in which they live and lived to the best of our ability. Certainly an honest, open-mindedness with a tempering of any bias is fundamental to the historian’s “world.” Opinions are more common than a bad cup of coffee, informed opinions–not so much.

The historian’s view must be an informed one. Our views and conclusions should be shaped by research and by a disciplined exclusion of personal bias (or tempering of it). With this self-discipline we can best legitimately weigh the merits of evidence that we examine. Aren’t we obliged to follow the records to whatever conclusion they lead? Aren’t we required to be flexible enough in our thinking so that if our conclusions (based on careful research and analysis) are unexpected ones, we can accept them?

A good portion of the historian’s “world” is the attempt at making sense of the confusion, conflicts, and conflicting views and opinions about people and events of the past. Our responsibility is all the more heavy when we find ourselves as researcher, compiler, transcriber, chronicler, analyst, judge and jury. Our strong views should be tempered by the knowledge that others just as diligent, just as scholarly, just as curious and careful as we, working with the same or similar sources may (and likely have) reached entirely different (and even completely oppositional) conclusions.

James Parton, a nineteenth-century biographer of Andrew Jackson illustrates the difficulties (that is, the muddle of the past) quite clearly. A person or event might seem to be one thing and/or its total opposite simultaneously.

“Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey a superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.” (James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, 1861, I:vii; quoted in Andrew Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson, 2003, xvi-xvii.)

One historian’s negative Andrew Jackson, or anybody else, is another’s hero (or both!).

Walt Whitman understood this inherent contradiction in humanity when he wrote the following in Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Making our way through the confusions of the past falls upon us, students of history. One of the benefits of good research technique and analytical skill is that our results/conclusions can be, as far as the limits of personal opinion and bias allow, verified, duplicated, and confirmed. Bloch again:

Corrupted by dogma and myth, current opinion, even when it is least hostile to enlightenment, has lost the very taste for verification. On that day when, having first taken care not to discourage it with useless pedantry, we shall succeed in persuading the public to measure the value of a science in proportion to its willingness to make refutation easy, the forces of reason will achieve one of their most smashing victories. Our humble notes, our finicky little references, currently lampooned by many who do not understand them, are working toward that day. (The Historian’s Craft, p.88.)

Our historian’s “world” then is about making sense of the past, being as honest as we possibly can, and deploying the finest and most vigorous research and analytical methods to reach conclusions that are as accurate as possible. In a sense we are guardians against ignorance and against the loss of knowledge, against the loss of myriad personal experiences and the total extinction of those who have gone before from the memories of the living. We’re open to discussion and are prepared, like any theorist working in the sciences, to have our theories challenged and if need be thrown down. The pursuit of truth cannot be about one’s ego.

Henri Pirenne was insightful and accurate in his characterization of the historian’s “world” as one built on a foundation of love of life. Perhaps those who are fully engrossed in the lives of the dead and in comprehending the influences of the past upon the present are in a particularly advantageous position to have a deep appreciation for life and for humanity. What is the value of full engagement in the events and people of the past if not to learn (and share) those lessons for the benefit of the living and the future?

History is not just about the darkness of the past, the pitch black of past times that we try to illuminate through our research and writings. It is also about coming to some understanding of the darkness and cruelty of evil, suffering, and inhumanity. What a challenge to describe the causes, consequences, and details of the abyss of past and present human savagery yet find in it all some cause for hope!

Certainly readers of history and those who follow events in the world of the living, too, are aware that evil deeds and evil-doers have never diminished. They and the miseries that they created rise and flow like some grotesque miasma through our lives and through the annals of history; the evil of some men and women, and their large and small cruelties and crimes, are the appalling pools that we all must wade through if we are to understand the past, and thus ourselves.

Suddenly, amidst the inhumanity, injustice, cruelty, violence, and hatred one finds a gem; a glistening thing of beauty, compassion, selflessness. We grab at it, wipe it off, put it in our pockets, and display it on the mantels of our work and souls to show everyone that, see!- we are not all so awful after all and, even further–that some who are awful can and have been redeemed.

The world of the historian then is a world of study, built necessarily on an approach to the past that is founded solidly on love of life and a disciplined self-honesty. We follow the truth as best we can and arrive at conclusions (and build explanations and theories) that are supported by evidence. But there are other things, too. There is hope.

The “world” of the historian must involve hope. The best histories show a true appreciation of life, of people, and of the difficulties they faced. And when (or if) they overcame their particular challenges, rise above some horror or war (or some other nightmarish thing) these folks ought to be celebrated; how they coped, how they persevered, how and why they may have failed, why they did what they did. If our subject(s) failed we should explain why, and talk about the cost and even speculate about if and how such horrors might have been avoided (or prevented or stopped or interdicted). Historians ought to be extremely sensitive to the errors and casualties of the past because helping the living to avoid the mistakes of the past is an important part of our “world.”

One of the finest American poets of World War Two was Randall Jarrell. He could write a novel, or a history, and tell an important story in only several lines that otherwise, in prose, might require several hundred thousands. This is the mark of the greatest poets. Much of poetry is about our human need and desire for connections. We need to know that we are not alone.

Here is the entirety of Jarrell’s poem called “Little Friend, Little Friend” (1945). It is encompassing, fundamental, brilliant.

. . . . Then I heard the bomber call me in: ‘Little Friend, Little Friend, I got two engines on fire. Can you see me, Little Friend?’
I said ‘I’m crossing right over you. Let’s go home.'”

Jarrell doesn’t tell us if the bomber and its crew (and their escort) survived. He only tells us that on that journey home the wounded crew in their burning plane was not alone. These haunting, disturbing lines are somehow triumphant, and comforting. The reaction of the stunned reader invariably must be… “I hope they made it home!” Isn’t it extraordinary that one of the finest poems of WW2 has only three lines?

Is there some aspect of the historian’s world that involves hope? The answer must be Yes.

If Pirenne and Bloch are correct in their affirmation of the value of humanity then, somehow, we must walk in the same path. The expression of the truth, the illustration and illumination of people and events, is an affirmation of humanity. If Pirenne and Bloch are right, and they are, that life is of the utmost value then it is part of our “world,” too, to affirm, explain, and defend this critically important concept.

The progress of humanity is built upon the successes and failures of previous generations. This is an undeniable truth of the linear quality of our too short lives. Understanding the near or distant past illustrates for the living lessons learned by those who have faced similar challenges; the continuum of humanity is built on lessons learned, forgotten, misunderstood, and ignored.

Since history is always active, that is, history is always being “made” or is endlessly occurring – it is almost impossible to understand wider issues, bigger themes in which we find ourselves, our fellows, our country and our planet. Events in which we are a part are sometimes so immense and long in development that only an understanding of previous events can provide crucial insights into those of the present. The greatest historians then, like Pirenne and Bloch, in studying, analyzing and writing of the past, and thus contributing to an understanding of people and events in the present time are in service to humanity. This works both ways: an insightful understanding of the living cannot help but assist in understanding those who are no longer alive. How can we talk about, write about, even judge people living or dead without trying our best to empathize with and comprehend people?

In another episode of Chopped a young woman chef named “Ashley” was unable to prepare pickled pig’s feet to the satisfaction of the judges. She was “chopped” in the first round. Chef Ashley said, “That’s why I love cooking, there’s always something new to be learned.” Like the Chef’s world of innumerable ingredients (and combinations), recipes, and styles, ours is an ever-expanding field of knowledge that must include a love of learning.

The “world” of the great historian is one of love of humanity and love of learning. If the historian has one but not the other, he or she then is something other than a proper historian.

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s introduction to Viktor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) summarizes the importance of hope. Frankl, a brilliant Jewish Viennese psychotherapist had been arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. In such an appalling place so high in the pantheon of sites of human cruelty and suffering hope could not readily be found in abundance–but it was there.

“He (Frankl) describes poignantly those prisoners who gave up on life, who had lost all hope for a future and were inevitably the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for.”

The historian’s “world” is also one of duty. We have a duty to our forebears to tell their stories and to learn from them as best we can. We have a duty to keep the memory of heroes and villains and the experiences of everyday people alive. And then we have to analyze it all, explain it, present it, and share it with others for their knowledge (and perhaps even entertainment). Someone must keep the light of the past burning; somebody has to read the old books, and cull the important bits from them. We’re meant to tell the stories and help the living as best we can by providing for them an illumination of the past!

One of the finest poems about the Civil War is Donald Davidson’s “Lee in the Mountains.” It’s a haunting, beautiful achievement. A segment:

And Lee is in the mountains now, beyond Appomattox,
Listening long for voices that will never speak
Again; hearing the hoofbeats that come and go and fade
Without a stop, without a brown hand lifting
The tent-flap, or a bugle call at dawn,
Or ever on the long white road the flag
Of Jackson’s quick brigades. I am alone,
Trapped, consenting, taken at last in mountains.

We may be feeble, tired, and even overwhelmed but there is that duty. There is that duty and pleasure to discover/rediscover and understand and to make it all relevant somehow for today. We absolutely must learn the lessons of the past; there is no other way to avoid, if at all possible, the old mistakes.

Lee and Jackson and Lincoln are gone, all now outside of time. The determined blue and gray soldiers and their bitter guns are silent sentinels now on battlefields across the land. Davidson’s description of Lee is a poignant thing. It’s an emotionally heavy poem, and for those who know the history, all the more so. Stonewall’s “quick brigades” are dispersed, disappeared. The poet can invoke them, but only the historian can tell their stories and, in a sense, “bring them back” out of the darkness and nothingness of time gone by. There is too much of events and character to be learned from all of these people to ever let them go to nothingness.

In a historian’s “world” nihilism is an impossibility.

In a September, 1870, letter to Charles Marshall, his former aide-de-camp, Robert E. Lee in summing up his many years of experience chose an inspirational message. The War had been over then five years. There was not much time left, and Lee was aware of his failing health. This quote and the promise of hope that it provides has not gone unnoticed since his death a month after he wrote it. Despite everything he had been through, the loss of the war and of the old South and the Confederacy itself, Lee focused on wider themes and concluded with a message of positivity that is now, much like the General himself, timeless and outside of time.

“My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them nor indisposed me to serve them; nor, in spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair of the future. The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

The present is a fleeting mist, the future but a dream and hope. What remains then is history; everything is history. It is the foundation of hope.

I will never compete on Chopped. I can find the best ingredients, prepare and present them with attractive colors, depth and balanced aromas and flavors. I can sauté, steam, stew, and simmer. I can select a good, appropriate wine. I can plate and serve a fine meal. I am not a chef, but I know how to cook.

Daniel Mallock is the author of the forthcoming book An Essential American Friendship: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and a World of Revolution (Feb. 2016)

Title quote from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865. (Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.)

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Part 2 of 2. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Joseph E. Johnston

Joseph E. Johnston

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, ever the good soldier, obeyed Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s order. He informed his adversary, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, that the civil authorities in Washington, D. C. had rejected their treaty on the grounds that Sherman had exceeded his authority. He informed Johnston that his sole authority to treat with him was to offer him the same terms that Grant had offered to Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Davis, opposed the surrender of Johnston’s command under the terms given to Lee, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape with the large force of cavalry attached to Johnston’s army. To his undying credit, Johnston disobeyed those orders and surrendered the nearly 90,000 Confederate troops remaining under arms on the same terms given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. The troops included men in the Carolinas, Georga, and Florida. Only after Johnston surrendered did the armies of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor and Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith finally surrender, too.

Johnston and Sherman meet to discuss the terms of Johnston’s surrender.

Johnston and Sherman meet to discuss the terms of Johnston’s surrender.

On April 26, 1865, just eight days after the execution of the putative peace treaty, Sherman and Johnston reconvened at James Bennett’s small log farmhouse near Durham, North Carolina, where they had negotiated their putative peace treaty, to complete the formal surrender of Johnston’s army. Initially, the two generals had trouble reaching an accord. Johnston was concerned that without adequate provisions in place, the disbanding Confederate army would turn into marauders and robbers—in other words, that anarchy would reign. Sherman persuaded Johnston that he need not be concerned about that, and eventually got the Virginian to agree to the same terms that Grant had given to Lee.

Sherman presented Johnston with a prepared instrument of surrender, and Johnston signed it:

Terms of a Military Convention, entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennitt’s House, near Durham Station, North Carolina, between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W.T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina:

All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.

All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboro, and delivered to an ordinance-officer of the United States Army.

Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate; one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation.

The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.

This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.

W.T. Sherman, Major-General

Commanding United States Forces in North Carolina

J.E. Johnston, General

Commanding Confederate States Forces in North Carolina

Approved: U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General

These were precisely the same terms as those accepted by Robert E. Lee for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. The difference was that Johnston surrendered all remaining Confederate forces still in the field—nearly 90,000 men.

With the execution of the instrument of surrender, Joseph E. Johnston and his 32,000 man army stacked arms in a ceremony reminiscent of the one wherein Lee’s army surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Rifles were stacked, and colors were furled, and then the defeated Confederate soldiers tearfully returned home. Their war was over.

In the years after the war, the War Department purchased the entire village of Appomattox Court House and turned it into a shrine. It’s now part of the National Park Service, with many of the buildings–including Wilmer McLean’s handsome home–having been reconstructed as replicas of the original structures. The Appomattox Court House National Park consists of 1800 acres and includes 27 original structures. It is amply monumented, and the small battlefield area–the fight was brief and aborted when Lee realized that Union infantry had arrived and that his plight was hopeless–is well interpreted. There’s even a small military cemetery on site, a large Eastern National Park & Monument Association bookstore with an excellent selection, and a visitor center with a nice museum.

In many ways, what happened at Bennett Place is more remarkable, and more important, than what happened at Appomattox. However, the Bennett Place episode has long been ignored in light of the more dramatic events at Appomattox. The Bennett Place surrender site is a North Carolina state park that occupies about four acres. The Bennett house burned to the ground in 1921, and a replica was constructed on the site. In 1923, a Unity Monument was placed on the site to commemorate this historic event. There is a recently remodeled visitor center with some museum exhibits, a movie, and some books for sale. The contrast is absolutely shocking when compared with the plush and huge national park at Appomattox. The Bennett Place site sits a couple of hundred yards from an Interstate freeway, nestled among houses, so there is no way that it could be expanded. And that’s all there is to commemorate the place where two of the great men of the Civil War era combined efforts to accomplish one of the most important and remarkable events of the American Civil War.

The Unity Monument with the replica of James Bennett’s farmhouse in the background.

The Unity Monument with the replica of James Bennett’s farmhouse in the background.

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Part 1 of a two-part series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in Wilmer McLean’s parlor in the hamlet of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 several days later. Lee had been trying to outrace the pursuing Union armies in an attempt to link up with Johnston’s army near Weldon, North Carolina. Once Lee’s army surrendered, there was no reason for Johnston to continue the bloodletting—it was over, and the wise old Confederate general knew it. Johnston, also horrified by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and worried about potential recriminations stemming from it, was eager to end the war. The wily old Virginian had a great deal of respect for his adversary, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, and he saw an opportunity to not just end the fighting, but to end the war itself. Sherman, weary of the butchery, also wanted the same thing.

Bennett Place

Bennett Place

Johnston proposed a meeting between the two army commanders to treat for peace, and they selected James Bennett’s modest farmhouse, near Durham, North Carolina, which was approximately halfway between the positions of the two armies. As one of Sherman’s staff officers put it, “two great men came together in the heart of North Carolina, intent, with true nobility of soul and in the highest interest of humanity, upon putting a stop to the needless sacrifice of life.”

As Sherman was preparing to leave for his conference with Johnston, he learned of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln via telegram. He swore the telegraph operator to secrecy to keep word from reaching the men and jeopardizing the meeting.

On April 17, the two army commanders entered the little Bennett house and began hashing out the terms of not just the surrender of Johnston’s army, but for peace and the restoration of the Union. Each commander arrived with his staff and a cavalry escort. Sherman informed Johnston of the assassination, and the Virginian said that the president’s death “was the greatest possible calamity to the South.” Sherman offered Johnston the same terms offered to Lee by Grant. However, Johnston believed the purpose to cease the fighting so that the civil authorities could make peace. He proposed to surrender all remaining Confederate forces in the field, and idea that Sherman eagerly embraced, as he wanted to avoid a long guerrilla war.

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina, Johnston’s chief of cavalry, and the highest-ranking Confederate cavalry officer, and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, Sherman’s cavalry commander, accompanied their commanders to the peace conference. Both officers had transferred from the Virginia theater of operations, and they had tangled many times. Hampton was a patrician, reportedly the richest man in the antebellum South. Kilpatrick, small, ambitious, and with an unsavory reputation, were two entirely opposite personalities.While their men mingled and chatted, Hampton and Kilpatrick instead engaged in a loud and ugly argument that led to “both parties expressing a desire that the issue of the war should be left between the cavalry.” Their row had grown so loud that Sherman and Johnston had to interrupt their important discussions to separate their quarreling subordinates. A few minutes later, the two respective contingents mounted up and rode off after scheduling another meeting for the next day to finalize their discussions. Johnston needed time to communicate with the Confederate authorities. Hampton remained at headquarters the next day to avoid another ugly confrontation with his old adversary.

Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick

Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick

The next day, April 18, Sherman and Johnston met again. Johnston wanted to have the advice of General john Breckinridge, the Confederate Secretary of War, and an experienced attorney and politician, as to the legalities, so he invited Breckinridge to attend the meeting. Sherman initially opposed the presence of a civil official of the Confederacy, but agreed to permit the Kentuckian to remain once Breckinridge agreed to act solely in his capacity as a major general. Pausing only to take a sip of whiskey, Sherman began writing. The two commanders then signed a remarkable document:

Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement, made this 18th day of April A.D. 1865, near Durham Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Army of the United States in North Carolina, both present:

The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the commanding general of anyone to its opponent, and reasonable time – say forty-eight hours – allowed.

The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide by the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordinance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be used solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively.

The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State governments, on their officers and legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The re-establishment of all Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

In general terms – the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.

W.T. Sherman, Major-General,

Commanding Army of the United States in North Carolina

J.E. Johnston, General,

Commanding Confederate States Army in North Carolina

This remarkable document, if ratified, would not only ensure the surrender of Johnston’s army, it would end the war and restore the authority and civil government of the United States in the former Confederacy. It marked Sherman’s and Johnston’s attempt at statesmanship. Sherman then ordered the halting of hostilities by all troops under his command.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis quickly accepted these generous terms. However, the civil authorities in Washington, D. C., still enraged over the assassination of Lincoln, declared that Sherman lacked authority to treat for peace. Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant, Sherman’s superior officer, ordered Sherman to abrogate his treaty and to inform Johnston that he could only offer to Johnston the same terms that Grant had offered to Lee at Appomattox. Their remarkable efforts came to naught.

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15 Mar 2015, by

Back in print!!!

UnknownI’m excited and very pleased to announce that one of my favorites of my titles, 2006’s The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign is back in print after being out of print for four or five years. The folks at Savas-Beatie have just released a softcover edition of the book just in time for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle, which was fought on March 10, 1865. For those attending the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Bentonville next weekend (March 21-22) or the 150th anniversary of Johnston’s surrender to Sherman at Bennett Place on April 18, I will have copies of both editions available for sale there. Signed copies are also available by contacting me directly.

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