April, 2007

Robert E. Lee’s adjutant, Col. Walter Herron Taylor, had some interesting insights on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. I’ve owned a copy of Taylor’s published war-time letters for some time, but it just never occurred to me to bother checking them. Thanks to old friend Teej Smith for pointing out to me that there is a treasure trove in this book for the student of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. Taylor is the officer standing on the right side of the Matthew Brady photograph of Lee taken in Richmond shortly after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox; the officer on the left side of the photo is Lee’s oldest son, Maj. Gen. George Washington Custis Lee.

I knew that Dahlgren’s column of the raid nearly captured an even greater prize than Jefferson Davis–Robert E. Lee. Lee was a passenger on the last train to get through on the Virginia Central Railroad. Here’s Taylor’s take on it: “As I told you, the General was influenced by my intemperate telegram to postpone his return to the army until Monday, thereby running great risk of capture, as the train upon which he travelled was the very last one that made the trip, the enemy reaching the railroad but a few hours after the rain had passed.” Good stuff.

Even better stuff: In April 1864, a few weeks after Ully Dahlgren was killed during the raid, Robert E. Lee was directed to inquire of George Gordon Meade whether the kidnapping and assassination of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were, in fact, the policy of the U. S. government. Lee enclosed photographic copies of the Dahlgren Papers with his letter as evidence of the plot. A week or so later, Meade responded that it was not, and included a letter from Judson Kilpatrick disavowing Ully Dahlgren. Here’s Taylor’s very interesting take on these events.

“The General was directed some days since to inquire of General Meade if he or his Government sanctioned what Dahlgren had proposed and ordered in his address to his troops; this morning the answer came & it is to the effect that neither [General] Meade, [General] Kilpatrick nor the authorities at Washington ordered or approved the burning of Richmond, the killing of Mr. Davis & his cabinet or anything else not rendered necessary by military causes. That rascal Kilpatrick in his letter says that the copies (photographic) of the address which we sent were verbatim copies of an address which Col Dahlgren had submitted to him & which he had approved in red ink except that they lacked this approval and had that about burning the city & killing the high officials, thereby intimating that we had forged these copies & interpolated the objectionable exhortations. The low wretch–he approved the whole thing I am confident now. [General] Meade’s disclaimer is much more decided and candid–that I had expected.”

Taylor certainly had the measure of his man when it came to his assessment of Judson Kilpatrick. Wretch is certainly an appropriate word, and so is rascal. 🙂

Adding this material to the Dahlgren bio only further enriches it. One of these days, I need to finish the thing and declared it done, but I keep finding material like this every time that I think that I’ve got it wrapped up.

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Tonight was the monthly meeting of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable. I’ve been a member on and off since the very first meeting of the group in the spring of 1999. I come and go; I spend so much time talking to Roundtables that it’s difficult for me to motivate myself to go to meetings. As an example, I am speaking to the New Orleans CWRT a week from tonight and the Austin CWRT the next night. That’s a lot packed into not a lot of time. I make maybe 20% of the group’s meetings. It has to either be a friend speaking or a topic that REALLY interests me to get me to go. Tonight was the first meeting I’ve been to in months.

Why go tonight, you ask?

Because old pal and writing partner J. D. Petruzzi was our speaker this evening. J. D.’s sister lives here in Columbus, and the invitation from the CWRT afforded him an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, as his sister and brother-in-law just built and moved into a brand new house that J. D. hadn’t yet seen. He gave a really good talk on Col. Elijah Veirs “Lige” White, the Confederate partisan turned effective cavalry commander. White’s one of those really interesting forgotten cavalrymen who contributed quite a bit to the Confederate mounted arm during the second half of the war.

It was a great talk, and the room was packed. We sold some books, had a nice dinner, and since he will be in town until Saturday, I will get to hang out with him a bit more while he’s around. It’s always great to see J. D., and I was glad to hear his talk tonight.

The “action” photo of J. D. doing his presentation was taken with Susan’s cell phone camera, so please accept my apology for the less-than-perfect picture quality.

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I’m an avid supporter of battlefield preservation. I’ve worked extensively with the Civil War Preservation Trust and will always be stout advocate for battlefield preservation causes.

To date, most preservation work has focused on the Civil War, which is understandable. Fortunately, Congress has recognized that battlefields of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 are equally threatened and that they face the same pressures and threats that Civil War battlefields face.

There is a House of Representatives (HR) bill (HR160) to appropriate money for a grant program to help State, Local, and Tribal government agencies and non-profit organizations to acquire and preserve Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield land (as currently enjoyed only by Civil War battlefields) , and a companion treasury commemorative coin mint bill to help finance it.

So far, they have both only been introduced on the House side:

Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act: HR 160 and the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefields Commemoration Coin Act: HR 158.

Please consider contacting your Representative and Senators to voice your support. Please encourage your friends, or members of your organizations to do the same.

Also, some of you may be aware of two pieces of federal legislation pertaining to the War of 1812 that are now before Congress.

Bill to create a War of 1812 and Star Spangled Banner Bicentennial Commemoration Commission: House of Representatives (HR) Bill 1389 and Senate Bill (S) 798.

Bill to create a Star Spangled Banner National Historic Train: HR 1388 and S 797.

I’m glad to see these neglected and often overlooked conflicts receive the sort of attention that they deserve. Battlefield land is battlefield land, and it is, as such, sacred ground. Anything that will help to preserve that sacred ground is a good thing.

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My regular readers know that I am a hockey nut. Susan and I made it to nearly half of the home games of our local NHL team this year. Watching NHL hockey is one of my favorite things to do in the world, and I just love watching it live.

Last night marked the end of the sixth season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. When the Jackets entered the league for the 2000-2001 season, they entered with another new team, the Minnesota Wild. Two years earlier, the Nashville Predators and the Atlanta Thrashers entered the NHL as expansion teams.

This year, the Wild finished 48-26-8, for 104 points and a playoff slot. The Predators finished 51-23-8, for 110 points and a second place finish in their division (which happens to be the same division as the Blue Jackets). The Thrashers finished 43-28-11 for 97 points, but they won their division. Not bad for three teams less than ten years old.

Our Blue Jackets, by comparison, finished 33-42-7, for 73 points. They finished fourth in a five team division, a scant two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks. They set an NHL single-season record for futility by being shut out 16 times. They had two players with twenty or more goals; the Anaheim Ducks (last night’s opponent) had five, including Teemu Salanne, who netted 48 goals this year and two last night. Last year, the Blue Jackets won 35 games and put up 74 points, meaning that they actually backslid this year instead of moving forward. They are the ONLY team in the NHL to have never made the Stanley Cup playoffs. Columnist Michael Arace’s piece in today’s issue of the Columbus Dispatch made the following point:

The Blue Jackets were 104-173-51 over their first four seasons. Then came the lockout. When it was over, there was a glorious opportunity to reform the team, create a winner and seize upon a new wave of support. The support was there; the victories were not. The Jackets were 35-43-4 last season.

They finished 33-42-7 this season.

They are 172-258-62 in their history.

They have built through the draft, signed veterans in an effort to win immediately and have rebuilt. They have done everything and hence nothing. They’ve steered themselves down the middle into mediocrity, or worse, rather than defining a clear course and sticking to it.

Pretty pathetic. The blame for this mess properly sits on the shoulders of one person, the team’s president and general manager, Doug MacLean. And it’s time for MacLean to go. The successes of the other expansion teams in a short period of time demonstrate that it can be done. There’s only one reason why it hasn’t happened here: atrocious management at the top. MacLean needs to go. If he doesn’t go, I will not attend a single game next year in protest.

And so it goes. The Philadelphia Flyers, for the first time in the 41 year history of the franchise, had the worst record in the NHL. This means that my two favorite teams are done for the season. It means that I have nobody to root for in the playoffs, so this year’s choice, in spite of Sidney Crosby’s incessant whining, will be the Pittsburgh Penguins. I hope they go far into the playoffs to help restore support for hockey in Pittsburgh, which has been a difficult relationship at best, and also to demonstrate just how far a team can go in just two years; two years ago, before drafting Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, the Pens were dead last in their division.

If a team with the oldest and worst arena in the game can do it, the Blue Jackets can, too. However, it will require dramatic changes in the top management of the company for it to happen. Let’s hope that team owner John H. McConnell does the right thing and drops the ax on MacLean quickly and hires someone to right this floundering franchise before it dies.

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Yesterday, I finalized a deal for office space. It’s not going to be a permanent thing, but it will do for now. It gives me a place to work and resources–conference room facilities, copier, fax, etc. The space is nice, and it will certainly do for now.

In August, I will have been in the practice of law for twenty years. The truth is that I have never particularly enjoyed it. When I was younger, it was a reasonably good outlet for my competitiveness, but I find that as I age, I am much less competitive than in my younger days. I simply don’t need that outlet any more. This whole situation has prompted me to reassess where I see myself headed, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m about done with being a lawyer. I just don’t have it in me any more, and I don’t find it rewarding any more.

So, I’m now in the process of figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. For six or seven years now, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting an MBA, and perhaps now is the time to do so. One way or the other, it’s time for me to develop a plan for making my escape from lawyering. I hope to be wrapping things up completely no more than 24 months from today.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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4 Apr 2007, by

Changes Afoot

Last August 1, I left one law firm to join another. The new firm was brand new and based on some interesting ideas and some interesting approaches to the practice of law, and those things appealed to me. I spent eight months there, and they were, for the most part, eight good months. Unfortunately, the economics there don’t work for me or our family, and I made the difficult but necessary choice to move on this past weekend. As it was the end of a quarter, it made good sense for me to make the move right away so I could start fresh right at the beginning of a quarter.

So, for the first time since 2001, I am, once again, a sole practitioner. I am in the midst of finding office space and making all of the arrangements necessary to hang out my own shingle again while I make some decisions about my future. It’s all-consuming and takes lots of work, but I’m getting there. I expect to have all of this wrapped up in the next couple of days.

Wish me luck. Once more into the breach……

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Army Magazine is the official publication of the Association of the United States Army. It is a well-respected publication directed toward the military professional. Our book was reviewed in the current issue, and the review is quite flattering indeed. The reviewer is a retired colonel with a Ph.D. who was a history instructor at West Point named Cole C. Kingseed.

Here is the review:

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi. Savas Beatie. 428 pages; maps; photographs; appendices; index; $32.95.
Reviewed by Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired

When a number of Southern historians and former Confederate generals examined the Gettysburg campaign to determine why the seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee suffered its first significant military defeat, most of the blame centered on Lee’s flamboyant chief of cavalry, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. In the opening weeks of the campaign, Stuart allowed himself to be detached from the remainder of the Confederate army and Lee stumbled into the ensuing battle without the benefit of the “eyes and … ears of his army.” In Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi thoroughly investigate Stuart’s role and conclude that no single person should be made “to shoulder the blame for the crippling Southern loss at Gettysburg.”

Both Wittenberg and Petruzzi are emerging Civil War cavalry historians, specializing in Eastern Theater cavalry operations. Wittenberg’s first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, won the prestigious 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award. Petruzzi is the author of numerous magazine articles on mounted operations and is editor of the popular [Brig. Gen. John] “Buford’s Boys” web site. Both are frequent visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around is actually two books in one. The first section examines Stuart’s controversial ride; the second part addresses the subsequent historical controversy as Stuart’s detractors and his defenders attempted to affix blame for Lee’s failure in the Gettysburg campaign. At the onset of the campaign, Stuart requested permission to leave sufficient cavalry with Lee and then to move the remainder of his force to “attain the enemy’s rear, passing between his main body and Washington … and to join our army north of the Potomac.” Lee unwisely acquiesced and moved his army north with the expectation that if the Union Army moved, Stuart would return to army headquarters to operate in the traditional reconnaissance role.

Contrary to the allegation by Michael Shaara in The Killer Angels that Stuart was “joy-riding” in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Wittenberg and Petruzzi assert that Stuart actually dispatched a courier to Lee, informing him that the federal army was moving north. That report never reached army headquarters, nor did it appear in the official records of the War of the Rebellion. Complicating further communications between Lee and Stuart, however, was the disposition of the Army of the Potomac, which moved north and severed Stuart’s communications with his commander.

Moreover, the Confederate cavalry force became hotly engaged even before it crossed the Potomac River. On more than one occasion Stuart’s mission was compromised and Stuart himself was nearly captured. By the time Stuart joined the Army of Northern Virginia on July 2, 1863, his march had consumed eight days, covered nearly 200 miles and included four sizeable skirmishes and two pitched battles. The Battle of Gettysburg had concluded its second day when Stuart’s cavalry reached Lee and the mounted force was completely exhausted.

The most significant question that the authors explore is what impact, if any, Stuart’s absence from the Army of Northern Virginia had upon the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. Here, Wittenberg and Petruzzi’s analysis breaks down. Lee certainly was looking for a battle of decision to destroy the Army of the Potomac. Whether that battle occurred at Gettysburg or some other location is irrelevant. Wittenberg and Petruzzi conclude that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest Lee would have acted differently if Stuart’s horsemen had been present. Perhaps, but Lee certainly would have had a clearer picture of the disposition of the enemy’s forces and could have deployed his own army accordingly.

Recriminations against Stuart began as soon as the campaign ended, and it is here that Wittenberg and Petruzzi make their greatest contribution by tracing the evolution of the historiography surrounding Stuart’s controversial role in the Gettysburg campaign. Using contemporary accounts by veterans and correspondents, coupled with a plethora of books written by historians over the next hundred-plus years, the authors argue persuasively that no individual was solely responsible for the Southern defeat at Gettysburg.

As the title suggests, Wittenberg and Petruzzi believe there was plenty of blame to go around for Lee’s failed invasion. None of the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia performed to expectation, including its commanding general, who repeatedly issued discretionary orders to subordinate commanders who required more definitive direction. It is in this context that Stuart’s role must be considered, even though the cavalry leader had performed exemplarily in the army’s previous campaigns. Stuart was certainly operating within the letter of Lee’s order, but he failed to prioritize his tasks properly. Keeping Lee informed was a far more critical mission than the disruption of the Army of the Potomac’s rear area.

To their credit Wittenberg and Petruzzi examine the performance of Union cavalry in impeding Stuart’s advance into Pennsylvania. Vigorous opposition by little known cavalry leaders repeatedly cost Stuart valuable hours and kept him far behind schedule in his efforts to join Lee’s army at Gettysburg. According to the authors, “the plucky Federal cavalry deserve much of the credit for the delays that befell Stuart’s expedition.”

Another interesting feature of Plenty of Blame to Go Around is the book’s appendices. Collectively, they contain a detailed order of battle for each of Stuart’s cavalry engagements, as well as Stuart’s self-serving official report of the Gettysburg campaign. Many readers will also enjoy the final appendix, in which Wittenberg and Petruzzi outline a driving tour of Jeb Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg. In addition, current photographs and excellent maps greatly enhance the text.

In the final analysis, Wittenberg and Petruzzi have written the most comprehensive account of Stuart’s controversial ride. Readers may question the authors’ conclusions, but no study of Lee’s second invasion of the North will be complete without assessing their findings. Plenty of Blame to Go Around is investigative history at its best.

Coming from the likes of Colonel Kingseed, this is quite a compliment, and I couldn’t be more pleased with this review.

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Last Monday, I posted about my dilemma about what to do with my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. I asked you for your opinions on three options:

1. Seek a new publisher for it as originally written.

2. Do a complete rewrite that adds some of the new material that has surfaced in the years since the book was published, add a walking/driving tour, and tighten up the prose.

3. Bag the whole thing altogether, let it go out of print, and save the rework for the three-volume history of the cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign that J. D. and I are planning.

A total of 17 of you responded here, and J. D. chimed in by e-mail. 16 of you voted here. Here’s the break out:

1. Let the work stand and find a new publisher for it as is: 4 votes

2. Do a completely new edition: 7 votes

3. Let it go out of print and save the good stuff for the 3-volume set: 5 votes

J. D. voted for a new edition that includes Hunterstown, so that would be a total of 8 votes out of 17 for the completely new edition.

I’m pretty much leaning that way, too.

Here’s the next question for consideration: The book addresses three mostly forgotten actions that took place on the third day of the battle: Merritt’s fight on South Cavalry Field, Farnsworth’s charge and death, and the Battle of Fairfield. The original concept was to limit the work to strictly July 3 cavalry actions WITHOUT addressing the fight on East Cavalry Field. The Battle of Hunterstown very much fits with the theme of forgotten cavalry actions, but it occurred on July 2. If I add it, it will definitely change the structure of the book by expanding it to actions that happened on a day other than July 3.

Here’s a corollary question: If the decision is to expand beyond just July 3, do I also include the engagement at McConnellsburg between troopers of the 1st New York (Lincoln) Cavalry and Imboden’s brigade that occurred on June 29, 1863? This action has never had a detailed tactical treatment written. Does including this little-known action stray too far outside the pale of what I’m try to do with the rest of the book?

Again, please feel free to weigh in. Your input on these questions and your comments are invaluable and I really appreciate them.

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