May, 2012

Today, on Memorial Day, a day when we remember and commemorate the sacrifices of the men and women who gave the last full measure of their devotion to allow us to live in a free country, we have a guest post by Scott Mahaskey. Scott has done some yeoman work to set the record straight on a forgotten member of my favorite regiment, the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, and when Scott shared his findings with me, I asked him if he would be willing to allow me to publish them here. What follows is what he sent along:

While paying respects at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, I made the following photograph. Nice light, but thought nothing of it until I realized while editing that the flag obscured Christian Gross date of death. Could it be found online? I cobbled together the following tale after 2 hours of research.

Meet Private Christian Gross of Company K, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. This historic cavalry unit earned the named “rush lancers” after their early use of 15 foot lances, replaced with carbines in 1863. Organized from companies raised in Philadelphia and Berks counties, Richard H. Rush was appointed colonel of the regiment upon authorization of Governor Andrew Curtin.

Private Gross mustered into service September 24, 1861, died June 8, 1864, of wounds received during battle May 30, 1864. The battle was likely the Battle of Old Church and part of Grant’s Overland Campaign against Lee. There, just south to Totopotomoy Creek in Hanover County, Virginia, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry narrowly survived an outflanking maneuver to be drawn into heavy dismounted hand-to-hand combat with South Carolinians.

A random ray of light lead to a rewarding Memorial Day epic. Thank you, Private Gross. Thank you all. — at Arlington National Cemetery.

After even further research, I updated the post to include the following:

Oh my – a Memorial Day mystery: Who is buried in the grave of Christian Gross? In his book, Rush’s Lancers, historian Eric Wittenberg published a roster of the 6th Cav in 2007. In it, the roster lists CHRISTOPHER GROSS as the soldier whose story is above. CHRISTIAN GROSS, the name of the tombstone and also part of the 6th Cav, is listed as ‘not accounted for’. I’ve reached out to the author for assistance. Maybe this ray of light wasn’t so random after all. Creepy.

Thank you, Scott, for both setting the record straight and for your allowing us to highlight a forgotten enlisted man otherwise lost to history. And thank you Pvt. Christian Gross for making the ultimate sacrifice to save the Union.

And thank you to all of the veterans, both living and dead, for your sacrifices as well. May they never be forgotten, and may they never be in vain.

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23 May 2012, by

You Stink Too!

So far, the response to You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players has been 100% positive, and sales have been brisk. Neither Michael nor I could be more pleased. Thank you to all of your for support.

We are now offering autographed copies for sale on our website. They make great Father’s Day gifts. Order now before it’s too late!

Yesterday, our publisher, the Kent State University Press, came to us and made a formal request that we agree to do You Stink Too! Pro Football’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players, and we have agreed to do so. The Press is sending us an advance contract, and we will begin work this fall. Michael and I are very excited with the reception for You Stink! and for the fact that our publisher has sufficient faith in us and in our ability to create a second book that will be as fun and entertaining s the first one was.

Stay tuned. We will keep you posted as to progress as we begin compiling You Stink Too!.

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It’s been too long since my last profile of a forgotten cavalryman. I’ve been meaning to do this one for a long time, but my regular readers know that events have intervened, preventing me from being as productive as I might otherwise want. However, it’s time to change that situation. Today, we profile Col. Othniel De Forest, who commanded the 5th New York Cavalry for the first half of the Civil War. De Forest is more notable for the odd end to his military career than for his exploits in the field.

Othniel De Forest was born in New York City on August 13, 1826. He came from a family of Dutch poltroons who helped to settle New York. His father was Charles De Forest, of Connecticut, and Catherine Burlock, of New York City. Othniel had three brothers, David, Alfred, Linson, and a sister named Kate. David and Othniel both attended a private boarding school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania named Nazareth Hall. Nazareth Hall was the central boarding school for sons of Moravian parents. Later it attained wide fame as a “classical academy.” This eventually led to the founding in 1807, of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, located in Bethlehem. In 1843, 17-year-old Othniel enrolled at Yale University, and graduated in 1847.

After graduation, he returned to New York City and took a job as a stockbroker, a position that made him a prosperous man who was well-known in the social and political circles of New York. He married Francis R. Nevins in 1851, and the couple had three children of their own, William (born 1855), Rebecca (born 1857), and Othniel (born 1862). Interestingly, the entire De Forest family—all of Othniel’s siblings and his parents—all resided in the same building in New York City. De Forest also maintained a residence in Philadelphia, presumably for professional reasons.

In 1861, with the coming of war, De Forest was involved in recruiting several units for the State of New York. In July 1861 he received authority from Secretary of War Simon Cameron to raise a regiment of cavalry, and subsequently to raise a brigade. He succeeded in organizing two regiments and a part of a third, when the Government determined to raise no more Cavalry. These two regiments were the 5th and 6th N. Y. Cavalry Regiments, which were also known as the 1st and 2nd “Ira Harris Guards” in honor of the powerful New York Senator Ira Harris, who was the patron of these units. In 1862, he raised another regiment that became the 12th New York.

On July 26, 1861, the 35-year-old De Forest was mustered in as the colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry. De Forest had no prior military training or experience, and had to learn the hard trade of being a cavalryman. His younger brother Linson also enlisted in the 5th New York, and was commissioned as a lieutenant. De Forest and the 5th New York served in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, prompting Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to write of De Forest, “As an officer, then and there, he showed much ability, and I do not hesitate to recommend him to the favor of the Dep’t.”

The 5th New York Cavalry then became a mainstay of a cavalry brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford during the Second Bull Run Campaign of the summer of 1862. When the Army of Virginia was dissolved after the debacle at Chantilly on September 1, 1862, Buford’s brigade was assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C.

During the winter of 1862-1863, De Forest became commander of the 3rd Brigade, Cavalry Division, 22nd Army Corps, Department of Washington. He held this command from April 7-June 26, 1863. This brigade was primarily engaged in pursuing and fighting the guerrillas of Maj. John Singleton Mosby and his 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry. On June 26, 1863, De Forest left the regiment with an illness that kept him from active duty at the Battle of Gettysburg.

While De Forest was ill, the division was reassigned as the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The 5th New York was part of the 1st Brigade. On June 28, a staff officer, Capt. Elon J. Farnsworth, was promoted to brigadier general, and assumed command of the brigade. Farnsworth’s Brigade, and the 5th New York in particular, bore the brunt of the fighting at the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover. It also participated in the July 2 engagement at Hunterstown. Farnsworth fell while leading a futile charge against Confederate infantry and artillery on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry assumed command of the brigade until De Forest returned to duty on July 10.

When De Forest returned to duty on July 10, he assumed command of the brigade, which consisted of the 1st West Virginia, the 5th New York, the 1st Vermont, and the 18th Pennsylvania. He retained command of the brigade into the winter of 1863-1864, but then it all went bad. On March 29, 1864, De Forest was dismissed from the service for “presenting false and fraudulent accounts against the government” after a court martial.

The shamed former brigade commander returned home to New York and attempted to resume his former successful career as a stockbroker, but he never recovered from the ignominious ending to his once-promising military career. On December 16, 1864, after what was described as a “brief illness,” De Forest died of “congestion of the brain” at the young age of 37. He was buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Oddly, the dismissal was revoked March 14, 1866, and De Forest was posthumously restored to his rank as colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry to date to September 3, 1864, when his term of service would have expired.

Here’s to Colonel Othniel De Forest, forgotten cavalryman whose tarnished career ended up being not quite so tarnished after all. I really want to get to the bottom of this mystery about why De Forest was cashiered from the army, and, more importantly, why the dismissal was revoked posthumously. I will report back when I know more….

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I have spent a lifetime building a library. I have more than 1500 Civil War books. I have probably another close to 1000 books of other categories, most of which are history books. Many of them are first editions, quite a number of them are signed, there are a fair number of antique books, and a number of unique ones. My library is my prized possession, and is something that I am quite proud of. Some photos of the Civil War portion of my library can be found here. I have added some new books since those were taken last August. The collection grows constantly; I purchased three more over the weekend.

I also have no children, so there is no prodigal son to inherit it. I have no brothers and sisters. None of my nieces or nephews share my interest in military history. In short, there is nobody within the family for me to bequeath my library to when the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil.

That raises an important question. And it’s one that I have discussed with some others who are in the same position, including J. D. Petruzzi, who faces the same issues that I face. We all end up in the same place: we don’t know what to do with our libraries.

I can tell you what I DON’T want to happen to my library: I don’t want to donate it to a larger library where it will be broken up and only some of the volumes would be put on the shelves while others are disposed of. That is the very last thing that I want to happen to the library that I have so lovingly constructed over the course of my lifetime. Whatever happens to it, I want it kept together. I don’t want it pieced and parceled out. That’s completely unacceptable to me and is not an option under any circumstances.

I thought I had come up with the perfect solution. My alma mater, Dickinson College, is the beneficiary of the largesse of the Pohanka family, which endowed the Brian C. Pohanka Chair of Civil War History in Brian’s honor. Knowing that, and in keeping with Brian’s legacy, I thought it would be a perfect solution for me to bequeath my library to the history department at my alma mater, to be used in conjunction with the Civil War classes being taught there. It would be the perfect solution: I could honor Brian, my beloved Dickinson College could directly benefit, and my collection would be kept together as a cohesive unit. I even discussed this possibility with Bud Hall, who faces the same dilemma, and who was interested in paying tribute to Brian also. Perfect solution, right? Wrong. The College has no physical space in the building where the history department is located to house my library, meaning that it could not promise me that it would not end up being parceled and pieced out into the main college library, which, as pointed out above, is not an acceptable solution.

The other idea that I entertained for years was to leave it to the Brandy Station Foundation, but that was before the BSF stopped being a battlefield preservation organization and became the Joe McKinney appeasement society. And, after what the BSF did to Bud Hall, I would rather burn my books than see them end up there. There is less than a zero percent chance now that I would ever donate anything to that organization.

Finally, I could, of course, consign the whole thing to a book vendor and sell it. However, I doubt very much that I would recoup anything close to what I have invested in building it over the course of a lifetime, and it also means that it would be broken up and sold, like so many others. I have a book in my collection that was owned by Prof. Edwin B. Coddington, who wrote the “bible” on the Gettysburg Campaign. Obviously, his library was broken up and sold off piecemeal, and I don’t want to see that happen to mine.

This brings me back full circle: I have no idea what to do with this library of mine when the time comes. And so, I throw it open to you for suggestions. You know what my parameters are from the discussion above. No, I’m not going to donate it to one of you as an individual, so please don’t even suggest it. That will annoy me, and I don’t want to be annoyed. At the same time, I welcome legitimate, good faith suggestions, and promise to seriously consider all of them.

What are the rest of you with large collections of Civil War books planning to do with your libraries when that inevitable time comes?

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