October, 2010

31 Oct 2010, by

The banzai run

Last week featured another of my infamous banzai runs. On Thursday night, I was scheduled to speak to the Hagerstown Civil War Roundtable, so I drove over that morning. Now, it’s about 350 miles from my house to the meeting place/hotel, so it took me about 5.75 hours to make the drive. I went straight to the Antietam National Battlefield, where I met up with fellow blogger and friend John Hoptak. This was my second visit to Antietam in two weeks. Along with three friends, I had spent a weekend stomping the battlefield with old friend Dr. Tom Clemens just ten days earlier.

John and I spent most of our time together hiking the portion of the battlefield where the Ninth Corps fought. First, we walked the newest trail, which leads to the spot where the Ninth Corps attack formed up, and to a new overlook high above Burnside’s Bridge on the Union side. We then walked most of the Final Attack Tour trail. That ground is remarkably difficult ground, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about that part of the battlefield from my last two visits. First, and foremost, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the fact that Burnside’s men had it much rougher than I ever imagined. There really was no option but for his men to storm the bridge that bears his name–trying to wade the creek would have slowed his men’s approach and they would have had to have crossed a slippery creek bottom in leather-soled shoes, and the banks of the creek would have become impassable, slipper quagmires in no time flat. They would not have been able to scale those banks. The way that the Ninth Corps finally carried the bridge was really the only viable option.

I also never realized how difficult the terrain that the Ninth Corps had to traverse to reach its final positions during the battle. The closest terrain I’ve ever seen is at Perryville–it’s one ridge and valley after another, and they’re usually quite deep. It’s up and down, up and down, and often steep. Because the Otto farm–where most of the Ninth Corps fight took place– was in private hands until recently, it was impossible to come to a real appreciation for the terrain. Now that I’ve walked that ground, I’ve really come to appreciate how the terrain drove the action, and I’ve also come to realize that the ordeal of the Ninth Corps has been badly overlooked by the public for many years. Too many people think that the battle ended with the storming of Burnside’s Bridge, but that fails to account for the ordeal of the rest of the Ninth Corps, or the good fortune of Robert E. Lee’s army in having A. P. Hill’s Light Division arrive just in the nick of time to repulse the lead elements of the Ninth Corps from the streets of Sharpsburg that day.

Like the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, I don’t have a good handle on the confused, chaotic, bloody fight in the West Woods at Antietam. So, at my request, John and I walked the West Woods trail. I had never walked that trail previously, and I now have a little better understanding of how things played out in the chaos of the West Woods. I still have a long way to go before I feel like I really understand what happened there, but I came away with a much greater appreciation of that fight. The woods are much wider than I ever realized–they’re not a narrow band like the East Woods–and there are deep ravines that run through the woodlot that are not evident or visible from the road.

That night, I gave my presentation to the Civil War Roundtable, which was attended by old friends Ted Alexander and Stephen Recker. I gave my talk on the retreat from Gettysburg. The venue is particularly appropriate, because the hotel/convention center is actually on a portion of the battlefield for the July 10, 1863 Battle of Funkstown, which I featured prominently in my talk.

Friday morning, I did some talking head stuff for a video on the role of the City of Hagerstown during the Civil War. The film is primarily intended to be a marketing piece for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and I spent my time discussing both the Battle of Hagerstown (July 6, 1863) and the wounding of Ulric Dahlgren during that fight. The film is scheduled to premiere on the next anniversary of the battle, and I hope to make it to that premiere. I will keep folks advised as I know more about it. After spending an hour or so filming, I changed clothes, made a brief stop at one of the fabulous Wonder Book and Video stores in Hagerstown, and then drove the 350 miles home.

In all, I was gone for 34 hours. I spent 11-11.5 of those 34 hours driving. I drove 700+ miles. I hiked more than four miles on Thursday afternoon over some difficult ground. I gained a better appreciation of a portion of the Antietam battlefield that not enough people get to see, and I spent some time with some good friends. It was quite a trip, but boy, was I tired by the time I got home.

I took lots of photos during the trip with Tom Clemens, and I intend to post some of those photos here in the next couple of days. I will also go into greater detail about that trip then. I surely do love the Antietam battlefield.

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Thanks to Prof. Chris Stowe for bringing this to my attention.

A fourth grade textbook that has been published draws on neo-Confederate doctrine to claim that there were thousands of black Confederate soldiers with the Army of Northern Virginia, including two full battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson. The source for this drivel was the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization which has lost all credibility in its drive to try to find some good in slavery as a means of advancing the neo-Confederate agenda. Instead of doing real research, the idiot author parroted this swill–flagrantly false swill–and has promulgated it to unsuspecting children, who are going to think that this nonsense is historical truth. We have to take a stand against it, and all other neo-Confederate hooey.

From today’s issue of The Washington Post:

Phony history controversies will swell with Lincoln, Civil War anniversaries

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 10:06 PM

Voltaire said history is a pack of tricks we play upon the dead. He should have added that the living are victims, too.

Virginia fourth-graders are the latest targets of historical misinformation. A textbook distributed to students last month included the gross falsehood that two battalions of African American soldiers fought for the Confederacy under famed Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

This wasn’t just a minor factual error, like saying that Jackson lost his right arm at the Battle of Chancellorsville when any self-respecting Civil War buff knows it was his left.

The passage represents a deliberate distortion of history driven by a political agenda. It was foisted on kids by a sloppy author using Internet research who mistakenly drew from works done by Confederate heritage enthusiasts.

The latter like to promote the canard that large numbers of African Americans carried arms willingly for the South. The rebel revisionists do so because it helps cover up two historical truths that put their Lost Cause in a bad light.

One truth is that blacks at the time were overwhelmingly pro-Union, and they fought in large numbers for the North because they recognized that a victory by that side represented their best chance at winning freedom. The second, larger verity – which, to its credit, the schoolbook did make clear – is that sectional disagreements over slavery were the primary cause of the war.

Carol Sheriff, a Civil War expert at the College of William and Mary, discovered the error in her daughter’s copy of the offending book, “Our Virginia: Past and Present.” Sheriff clarified the facts in a Web chat Wednesday on

“As far as we know from the historical record, not a single black person participated in a battle under the command of Stonewall Jackson,” Sheriff wrote. “There is historical evidence that individual blacks, usually servants who followed their masters to the front, occasionally picked up guns in the heat of battle. But it was illegal in the Confederacy to use blacks as soldiers until the waning days of the war (early 1865). A few companies . . . were raised then, but none saw battle action, as the surrender followed shortly thereafter. Stonewall Jackson had died in 1863, so no black soldiers could have served under his command.”

Sheriff said that thousands of blacks worked as laborers for the Confederate army, most of them involuntarily, including under Jackson’s command. But that’s very different from agreeing to risk your life in combat on behalf of a government committed to your enslavement, as some Confederate apologists would have us believe.

Such arguments have been going on for generations, and they are about to become more public and acute. One reason is that Nov. 6 is the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln, which led to the war because it prompted Southern states to begin seceding.

That means the nation is entering a nearly five-year string of commemorations – Fort Sumter, the Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg, Appomattox – full of opportunities to revive the controversies over the Civil War. (It will also familiarize many people for the first time with the word “sesquicentennial,” for a 150th birthday.)

In addition, it so happens that 2010 is a time when the nation is sharply divided by ideological differences that in some ways parallel those of 1860. I’ve heard the comparison made by participants in the Glenn Beck rally in August and in an interview with a Virginia leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Both said resistance today to health-care reform and other alleged excesses of “big government” is reminiscent of the Southern states’ battle against what they viewed as Northern aggression. In a column in April, I quoted the Confederate veterans leader as saying the rebels of the 1860s “were fighting for the same things that people in the ‘tea party’ are fighting for now.”

Moreover, there’s been a surge in activity, especially among conservatives, to adjust history teaching to reflect contemporary political positions. One prominent recent effort occurred in Texas in May. The state school board revised social studies standards to increase study of Confederate leaders and reduce emphasis on the Founding Fathers’ commitment to separation of church and state. Some wanted to stop referring to the slave trade and substitute a euphemistic phrase, the “Atlantic triangular trade,” but that idea was, thankfully, dropped.

The Virginia Department of Education has conceded its error in allowing the misleading textbook to be used in classrooms. On Wednesday, it sent an e-mail to school superintendents and history specialists warning them that the offending passage is “outside accepted Civil War scholarship.” The department said that it anticipates teachers “will have no difficulty working around one objectionable sentence” in using the book.

I don’t think that’s enough. A lot of teachers will neglect to pass on the message about the mistake. Also, many fourth-graders are going to have a hard time understanding that one part of the book is wrong but that they need to learn the rest.

The state should yank the book and replace it with an accurate one as soon as possible. It should also investigate why a review committee approved the book and what steps are necessary to prevent such mishaps from occurring in the future.

The First Amendment protects Confederate sympathizers’ right to write this nonsense. But public schools should take greater care not to help spread such myths.

Staff writer Kevin Sieff contributed to this column.

The author of this tripe claims that she stands by her research, which speaks volumes for her, as it’s well known that there were, perhaps, a handful of black Confederate solders at best. Kevin Levin has led the charge in efforts to combat the neo-Confederate canard of the black Confederate, and I commend you to the good work that Kevin has done on his blog to fight this good fight.

The bottom line is that those of us who take the truth seriously–not neo-Confederate hooey–MUST fight this fight every day. Keep up the good work, Kevin.

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Friends, we have a chance to create a new battlefield park at a place that’s near and dear to my heart, Monterey Pass, in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. From yesterday’s edition of The Waynesboro Record-Herald newspaper:

Monterey Pass Civil War battlefield in line for grant
Donations needed to match funds to create interpretive center

By Denise Bonura
The Record Herald
Posted Oct 19, 2010 @ 01:13 PM

Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. —

The Monterey Pass Battlefield Association is one step closer to preserving the history of the Civil War battle, thanks to a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

DCNR announced last week Washington Township will receive $41,900 of a matching grant if the remaining funds are raised to acquire nearly 1 acre of land near the Rolando Woods Park off of Charmian Road.

The battlefield association hopes to eventually create an interpretive center to tell the story of the Battle of Monterey Pass, the second largest conflict fought on Northern soil during the Civil War.

Collecting funds

Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher said the announcement is exciting news for the area. The township and the battlefield association began collecting donations earlier this year in hopes of receiving the grant. Christopher said more than $4,000 has been raised so far and donations have been sent from Louisiana, Florida, California, Michigan and Ohio, along with donations from township residents.

“We knew it was a matching grant and we felt we had a strong application, so we started collecting donations,” Christopher explained. “This is a wonderful opportunity to teach our young folks what happened in their own backyard. This piece of history took place right here in our hometown. I think that’s pretty exciting.”

“We have donations coming in from across the country,” John Miller, founder of the Monterey Pass Battlefield association, continued. “When you’re reaching across the country, that does say something. If the property is secured, it will be a great place for students to learn not only the importance of history, but the importance of natural resources.”

The battle

The Battle of Monterey Pass, fought July 4 and 5, 1863, began in Fountaindale as Confederate forces limped back to the South after the Battle of Gettysburg. It was the only battle fought on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“Every soldier that wrote about the Battle of Monterey Pass said the roads were overflowing with water,” Miller said in June. “Their rubberized boots and gum blankets didn’t even protect them from the elements.”

Forces from both sides had to wait for the lightning to illuminate the battleground to position themselves strategically and fire their weapons as they fought in the dark, according to Miller.

The Battle of Monterey Pass, resulting from the Confederate retreat from the Battle of Gettysburg that ended the day before, also was unique for another reason, according to Miller. It was fought in four different counties — Adams and Franklin counties in Pennsylvania and Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland.

“The battle (was) much larger than people think,” said Miller.


The next fundraiser for the project will be a presentation on the battle and the Civil War by Miller, renowned historian Ed Bearss and Ted Alexander, historian for the Antietam National Battlefield Association at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, in the Blue Ridge Summit fire hall.

The cost is $35 and refreshments will be served.

Christopher said there are already 40 people registered for the event, hailing from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York and Michigan.

Tax-deductible donations to help preserve the battlefield can be sent to the township office at 13013 Welty Road, Waynesboro, Pa. 17268. Checks should be made payable to Washington Township. Donations can also be sent via the Battlefield Association’s website.

On the Net
Copyright 2010 Waynesboro Record Herald. Some rights reserved

I know that times are tough, but this is really a very worthy cause. John Miller has worked long and hard to bring this about, and his efforts are about to really pay off. If you can spare a few dollars, please do, and help launch this new battlefield park.

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This post is a month overdue, and I regret that. I’ve been struggling with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and I have been trying to keep from typing as much as possible. I actually have been largely avoiding it, and it’s paid off, because the symptoms–quite painful and unpleasant, by the way–have abated some. The trade-off for that is that there just haven’t been any posts since September 30. Please forgive me for that.

Taken at the FloodProf. Joseph L. Harsh of George Mason University passed away on September 13. After overcoming modest roots in Hagerstown, Maryland, Joe dedicated his entire life to the study of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, and wrote an absolutely brilliant strategic analysis of the first Confederate invasion of the north. He then followed it up with two excellent companion volumes that are now the cornerstone of most modern analyses of the campaign. As a young graduate student, Joe helped Jim Murfin write his classic study of the Maryland Campaign, The Gleam of Bayonets.

Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t one to take care of himself, and he lived large. Consequently, he left this world too young, leaving his life’s work unfinished. Before a series of strokes robbed him of the ability to do the sort of deep analysis that he was known for, Joe had started on the accompanying analysis of the Union side. That he won’t get to finish it is really too bad, because his Confederate studies of the campaign needed that bookending to be complete.

I have my own debt of gratitude to Joe Harsh. About twelve years ago, Dr. John Hubbell, then the director of the Kent State University Press, and an old friend of Joe’s, invited both of us to give talks at a Civil War symposium that John had organized at Kent State. Prof. Bill Blair of Penn State University was also on the program (my talk there, by the way, was the first time I ever gave a talk on Stuart’s Ride in the Gettysburg Campaign, and we all know where that led). The night before, the four of us went out to dinner and had a perfectly delightful meal that featured sparkling conversation. I was just finishing up the writing of my book on Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid of June 1864, and we started discussing my conclusions about Sheridan’s conduct of the raid.

I explained how disappointed I was with my conclusions about Sheridan, not the least of which was that Sheridan was a very mediocre general, a pathological liar and a really bad human being. We discussed my conclusions at length, and Joe suggested that I put those conclusions in writing, and that got me thinking. By the time I got home the next day after the seminar, I had my book Little Phil mapped out in my head. The book is intentionally controversial and intentionally not objective, and says so, but a lot of people just don’t get that. We stayed in touch for a while after that dinner, I specifically discussed that with Joe, who loved that idea and encouraged it. Then Joe had the first stroke, and dropped off the radar screen. However, but for my knowing Joe Harsh, that book would never have been written, and for that I will aways be grateful. I likewise will always have warm memories of Joe, who impacted my work in a very real way.

We in the Civil War community are fortunate that Joe worked among us, and that he left such an excellent legacy of great work behind. We’re even more fortunate that Joe passed the torch the way Jim Murfin passed the torch to him. Although Joe’s books are great contributions and a brilliant legacy, his greatest legacy is in the form of his protege, my friend, Prof. Tom Clemens, who is carrying on Joe’s work, just as Joe carried on Jim Murfin’s work. Joe will be missed, but I’m glad to know that his legacy is in Tom’s very capable hands. I hope he rests in peace.

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