Friday, July 15, 2016

New and Noteworthy--At Gettysburg Was Barksdale's Charge The Real High Water Mark of the Confederacy?

Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Phillip Thomas Tucker, Casemate Publishi8ng, 2013. Pp. 313.
Review by CiarĂ¡n Dean-Jones For Michigan War Studies Review, July 1, 2016.
Portions of Dean-Jones review:
....In Barksdale’s Charge, Phillip Tucker (PhD, St. Louis Univ.), a former historian for the US Air Force, reexamines the Battle of Gettysburg (1–3 July 1863). Southern mythology has traditionally given Gen. George Pickett’s Charge (3 July) pride of place in its remembrance of the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Tucker offers a different view:
In truth, Gettysburg was decided not on the famous third day of the battle, but on the previous after-noon…. [T]he charge of General William Barksdale and his 1,600-man Mississippi Brigade … came closer to toppling the Army of the Potomac than any other Rebel offensive effort of the war…. [I]n one of the great inequities of American history, Barksdale’s Charge has long remained in the shadow of “Pickett’s Charge,” thanks largely to the dominance of the Virginia School of history. (1, 3)
 Tucker indicts Longstreet and Lee for not supporting Barksdale’s troops. “Longstreet, who had never wanted to launch the tactical offensive this afternoon, was not only more pessimistic but out-right defeatist. He ordered no troops to follow up behind Barksdale” (176). Lee’s overconfidence in his corps commanders compounded the problem, since he “failed to closely supervise and manage the offensive effort, especially in supporting Barksdale’s dramatic breakthrough…. Lee possessed no strategic reserve to follow-up [sic] on Barksdale’s success, or any other that might be achieved that day” (176). By contrast, Meade and his artillery chief Henry Hunt made good use of their reserves during the Second Corps’ retreat up Cemetery Ridge. “Unfortunately for the Mississippi Brigade, the Army of the Potomac … benefited from the availability of a powerful artillery reserve, unlike Lee’s Army, which had made the fatal error of abolishing its artillery reserve corps just before invading the North” (213).
Barksdale’s Charge tells a tale of immense valor at the brigade level frustrated by the ill-coordinated tactical decisions of division and corps commanders: “while the army’s commander and his top lieutenant had been badly outgeneraled on July 2, the Mississippi Brigade had not been out-fought by any unit on either side” (244). Hood wrote after the war, “Thus it was that the 21st Mississippi Regiment bore the Stars and Bars to the very farthest point reached in the enemy’s line on the bloody field of Gettysburg” (243). Meade wrote in his after-battle report that “Sickles’ unauthorized advance to the Peach Orchard was ‘an error which nearly proved fatal in the battle’” (259). Phillip Tucker has demonstrated in detail the truth of these judgments.
The entire book review is at:   Michigan War Studies Review, July 1, 2016

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

News---Gettysburg NPS Begins Rehabilitation On Ziegler's Grove, Ziegler's Ravine and Re-Construction Hancock Avenue Gates

The 1923 Hancock Avenue gateway at Taneytown Road, then and now

Rehabbing Cemetery Ridge, The Fields of Gettysburg Weblog, May 21, 2015

Construction is beginning in mid-July 2016 on $1.5 million dollar project to rehabilitate Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park.  The nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation  will provide a grant of $900,000 to match National Park Service funding of $600,000 for this stewardship project.  

Then and Now: The 1923 Hancock Avenue gateway at Taneytown Road
This photo was taken on May 20, 2015 at the site of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road.  The footing of the old stone gate is clearly visible today. The Hancock Avenue entrance gates that were built in 1923 will be rebuilt .  There were earlier gates of different designs.  In 1882, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association created an opening in the stone wall on the west side of Taneytown Road for access to Hancock Avenue.  The first version, in 1889, was a wood and wire gate.  A later version, in 1896, included iron fencing (see photo) from the original fence that had surrounded Lafayette Square Park in Washington, D.C. – the same iron fencing that now forms the boundary between Evergreen Cemetery and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The park’s monument specialists have the majority of the historic stones need to rebuild the 1923 gateway. The 1896 version of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road used pieces of the old Lafayette Square fence from Washington, D.C. which is closely associated with Daniel Sickles.

The 1896 version of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road used pieces of the old Lafayette Square fence from Washington D.C.Ziegler’s Grove and Ziegler's Ravine

During Pickett’s Charge, the left flank of General Pettigrew’s division engaged Union forces in Ziegler’s Grove.  Because Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery was located in Ziegler’s Grove it was heavily shelled during the pre-assault bombardment, inflicting numerous casualties on the battery’s infantry support, the 108th New York, and other nearby infantry units. This project will allow us to replant the missing portion of Ziegler’s Grove.  We plan to plant approximately 125 trees including Black Cherry, Shagbark Hickory, Black Gum, White Oak, Red Oak, Tulip Poplar and Honey Locust.

Documentation for reestablishing this ravine comes from a number of sources, including a grading plan in the National Park Service files showing the area before the Cyclorama building parking lot was developed. In addition, archaeology helped establish the exact location of a portion of the original Hancock Avenue during testing completed by the park when we replaced a water line extension in 2006.

Looking toward the the National Cemetery along the old commemorative walkway, this shows the dip known as Ziegler's Ravine.  Hancock Avenue cuts across the far side of the ravine.  The 88th Pa. Marker, in its original location is on the left.Looking toward the National Cemetery along the old commemorative walkway, the photograph shows the dip known as Ziegler's Ravine.  Hancock Avenue cuts across the far side of the ravine. The 88th Pennsylvania Marker, in its original location, is on the left.  The profile of Ziegler's Ravine will be especially noticeable to those driving on Hancock Avenue as the road will proceed down a dramatic dip and then come back up for an approximately six foot change in elevation. The NPS will also rebuild some stone walls near Hancock Avenue and along commemorative walkway that was surfaced with crushed stone.

This posted has been edited from the Text Source: From The Fields of Gettysburg

Monday, July 11, 2016

New and Noteworthy---Bushwacking the Bushwackers and Stealing from the Cotton Smugglers

The Notorious Isaac Earl and His Scouts: Union Soldiers, Prisoners, Spies, Gordon L.Olson, Eerdmans Publishing, 300 pp., 74 illustrations and maps, bibliographic notes, index 2014, $22.00 (paper),
reviewed by Paul Springer for HNet
Gordon L. Olson served as the city historian in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for decades, and in that capacity, he produced several well-received works of local history. With his most recent work, Olson is tackling a subject beyond his normal stomping grounds, but he has done an enormous amount of meticulous research in his effort to examine Isaac Earl, a Union soldier who earned a notorious reputation in Louisiana during the Civil War. Earl and his small, independent command operated as a rudimentary form of special forces, acting alternately as cavalry regulars, armed partisans, spies, and scouts; they had an outsized influence over the course of events in the region during the Union occupation of the southern portion of the state. 
Olson does an admirable job investigating all of the myriad forms of warfare practiced by these daring pioneers and placing it into the context of the vicious backcountry war raging through the area.  Earl and the three dozen men under his command offer a fascinating subject for study; his story is proof that there are still limitless stories to tell from a subject, the American Civil War, that some scholars considered exhausted decades ago. His special scouts unit was formed primarily to conduct economic warfare against Confederate partisans operating in the region. 
In particular, Earl’s men were empowered to seize contraband; to eliminate, or at least seriously curtail, smuggling across the Mississippi River; and to hunt the bushwhackers guilty of attacks against both Union forces and Southern collaborators who sought to cooperate with the occupiers. In this regard, Earl’s forces were remarkably successful, capturing more than one million dollars in contraband, including nearly one thousand bales of cotton, as well as dozens of Confederate prisoners. They also proved extremely effective at developing useful intelligence regarding Confederate movements in the area and ferreting out spies within the Union lines. Earl is portrayed as a larger-than-life Civil War hero, who terrorized his enemies; repeatedly escaped from captivity; and in the end was gunned down by a cowardly enemy who refused to follow the basic concepts of chivalry, or even common decency. 
There is a certain degree of sensationalism in the account, but Olson does an admirable job of parsing the fact from fiction to portray Olson in a clear and convincing fashion.Olson has a very easy, smooth writing style, the product of decades of effort within the profession. It is bolstered by a clear organization and a wealth of sources. This work is clearly the product of decades of effort, a labor of love performed when official duties would allow. The result has very believable conclusions, based largely on excellent primary sources. 
It is clear that Olson is enamored with the subject of his study. Unfortunately, however, a certain tinge of hero-worship intrudes upon the narrative from time to time, which leads to a certain overstatement of the importance of Earl’s effect on the outcome of the war. In particular, Olson tends to argue that Earl acted entirely out of professionalism and a sense of duty, as did all of the men under his command. The alternate explanation is that some, perhaps most, of Earl’s scouts acted largely out of a desire for plunder, as their official sanction essentially allowed them to operate as free agents, confiscating any private property that they might deem contraband of war. Olson’s armchair generalship can be a bit cloying at times, and a broader examination of the secondary literature might have clarified some of his discussions regarding the overall influence of Earl’s unit on the war in Louisiana. 
In the end, though, Olson resists the urge to push his views too forcefully on the reader and seems content to present the case as he sees it, leaving room for some dissent. Olson’s narrative touches on a number of important subjects. Perhaps most notably, it reminds the reader that guerrilla warfare was the norm in many areas behind the formal lines of battle, not just in Missouri where it has been most thoroughly covered. This study demonstrates the importance of the economic aspects of the conflict, a concept that often disappears into the operational histories of the war, but that might have been just as important as battlefield activities in determining the eventual outcome of the conflict. 
In particular, the effort to control and patrol the entire length of the Mississippi River, a goal that Earl’s scouts pursued relentlessly, is a fundamental part of the story. In addition, the key roles that can be played by small, independent units, particularly those armed with the latest forms of technology, is a recurring theme that has only become more important in modern warfare. The nature of the “shadow war” fought by Earl and his antagonists, when contrasted with the large-scale battles more commonly covered in Civil War works, reminds the reader of the wide variety of violence practiced during the conflict. Further, the roles played by spies, informants, sympathizers, and collaborators, as well as the ability of African American slaves to affect the outcome of the war, are major elements of this narrative.
Overall, this is an excellent biography of a man who had largely fallen into obscurity. At times, Olson includes a bit of redundancy in his narrative, as if determined to show every fact he encountered in years of research, but in a study of this type, a certain degree of reemphasis can be forgiven. This study is an excellent work and would be a worthy addition to the shelf of any individual interested in the Civil War, particularly in Louisiana; the antecedents of special forces; or the irregular aspects of the Civil War. Olson is to be commended for his work in putting Earl back into the discussion of Civil War heroes.