Thursday, March 19, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Fighting Means Killing: Soldiers View Their Work

978-0-7006-2628-1Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat, Jonathan M. Steplyk, University of Kansas Press, 294 pp., 14 illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, 2018, $29.95

Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat is quite possibly the first book-length study of soldiers' attitudes toward killing on the battlefields of the war. Others, such as Brent Nosworthy , Earl Hess, Gerald Linderman and others have addressed the topic within chapters. David Grossman's On Killing (1995) is offered by Steplyk as his model. Psychological conditions and mental health outcomes held and owned by battlefield soldiers are compared and contrasted with both the civilian and military training they received.

The author notes that the average soldier struggled to sublimate learned civilian resistance to provoking enemies' death on the battlefield. American society's culture and religious practices, generally speaking, provided barriers to combat effectiveness.

Like other historians, the author notes that hand-to-hand fighting was rare. Death by bayonet was more rare than death by sharpshooters which was less likely that death by massed muskets and artillery.  Steplyk believes that sharpshooters were somewhat tolerated and not hated outcasts on the battlefield.
He argues soldiers, at times, went to demanding lengths to limit, even avoid, killing, even to the point of putting themselves in jeopardy. 

Steplyk thoroughly considers the mortal and moral problems of race related massacres of surrendering troops. Participants, who justified these massacres, he concludes had their reasons and motives, which were both ideological and racial.

Throughout the book, firsthand sources are relied upon by the author. He provides the foci of when, how and why soldiers withheld their fire and at other times directed the fire of their immediate comrades in arms. Informal structures of parley, truce, and accepting surrenders are described as the soldiers experienced them. He author balances primary and secondary sources as he considers the wartime motivations and post-war justifications by the veterans. Readers who have thorough knowledge of the war's troops and battles, along with readers who are less immersed in American Civil War history, will find the text accessible and intriguing.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Primary Souce: 45th Pennsylvania' Hospital Steward's Report on South Mountain

  “It’s too damned hot here” – A medical history of the 45th Pennsylvania’s first battle

A common theme in Civil War history is examining how soldiers described their first experience in combat. Many referred to this with the period phrase “seeing the elephant.” After experiencing their first combat, however, those who survived lost that naïve excitement they first carried into combat.
The same also applies to the medical teams that accompanied their regiments into their first battle. For the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first blood came at the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. The regiment had spent almost its entire first year of the war in coastal South Carolina, and lost many more men to disease than it had to Confederate bullets or shells. The men spent their days drilling, building fortifications, and performing other hard labor as necessary.
In the regimental history for the unit, published in 1912, Hospital Steward James A. Myers described the first time the 45th Pennsylvania’s medical personnel went into action and the chaotic first taste of combat.

Full Text Link:National Museum of Civil War Medicine

 Image: James A. Meyers, Hospital Steward, 45th PA. Image taken from regimental history on

Friday, March 13, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Lee Is Trapped And Must Be Taken

"Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863, Thomas Ryan, Savas Beatie Publishing, 342 pages, 33 illustrations, index, bibliography, $32.00, 2019. 

 A remarkable accomplishment of scholarship. Using scores of enlisted men's letters and reflections, commissioned officers' reports, newspaper, and civilian recollections Ryan and Schaus offer a fast-paced, day-by-day account of the decisions and the happenstances of the Army of Northern Virginia's flight from Gettysburg Battlefield as the Army of the Potomac attempts to catch the fast-moving Rebels. 'Lee Is Trapped and Must Be Taken' is now must-reading alongside Brown's 'Retreat From Gettysburg', and Wittenberg's/Petruzzi's/Nugent's 'One Continuous Fight'.

 Front cover

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

News From The National Archives: Did the Confederate Government Pay Slaves?

Confederate Slave Payrolls Shed Light on Lives of 19th Century African American Families

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

refer to caption

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 4, 2020 — For all of March 1862, a man named Ben cooked for the Confederate military stationed at Pinners Point, VA, earning 60 cents a day that would go to his owner.A few months later and 65 miles away,  Godfrey, Willis, and Anthony worked on “obstructions of the Appomattox River” at Fort Clifton.

Then there were Grace, Silvia and Bella, among several women listed as laborers at South Carolina’s Ashley Ferry Nitre Works in April 1864, near the names of children like Sarah, Eugenia and Sampson.   

They are single lines, often with no last name, on paper yellowed but legible after 155 years, among thousands scrawled in loping letters that make up nearly 6,000 Confederate Slave Payroll records, a trove of Civil War documents digitized for the first time by National Archives staff in a multiyear project that concluded in January. Continued at  Full Text Link: National Archives

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Life During Wartime--Living, Dying and Surviving in Richmond, Virginia

Rebel Richmond Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital,Stephen Ash, University of North Carolina Press, 296 ppages,  illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, 2019.  $35.00.

Reviewed by Michael E. Woods (Marshall University) Published on H-CivWar (January, 2020)

A fresh-faced lieutenant screams from a hospital bed. Shopkeepers fence stolen goods, while an equally entrepreneurial embalmer smuggles deserters and draft dodgers out of town in coffins. Neighbors hear a confectioner lashing an enslaved girl with a leather strap; the next day, the four-year-old child is found dead. In a filthy shack near the wharves, a young prostitute dies alone from a laudanum overdose. These kinds of stories are rarely commemorated with monuments or dramatized in reenactments. But they are all Civil War stories, and they all find a place in Stephen V. Ash’s outstanding Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital

Richmond was a national capital and a target for attack, a commercial hub and a manufacturing powerhouse, a haven for refugees and a place of captivity. But although historians have thoroughly documented the city’s political and military histories, the experiences of its humbler residents, whose numbers swelled to more than 100,000 during the conflict, have received less attention. The purpose of Ash’s book is to explore “how ordinary Richmonders”—black and white, enslaved and free, male and female, rich and poor, civilian and soldier—“fared in the maelstrom of war” (p. 3).

Ash quite logically emphasizes Richmond’s uniqueness, but the city’s prominence in both history and historiography means that this book will fascinate not only local historians but also readers interested in everything from common soldiers and women’s history to class conflict and slave resistance.
Ash surveys life in wartime Richmond in a series of thematic chapters. The city’s diverse population was fractured along lines of wealth, status, and occupation, but most Richmonders faced an increasingly severe struggle to get by as neighbors multiplied and resources dwindled in what one local paper aptly called the “metropolis of the South” (p. 19).

Richmond’s population may have tripled during the war as bureaucrats, soldiers, refugees, impressed slaves, and drifters, driven by force or free will, crowded into the city. With housing scarce and rents soaring, civilians squeezed into rented rooms, hotels, and offices while soldiers and enslaved laborers lived in nearby barracks and encampments and a growing number of captives—including political prisoners and captured Union soldiers—languished in jails and camps. And although proximity to a rich agricultural hinterland had kept antebellum Richmond well fed, wartime disruption and overcrowding created a parallel crisis of sustenance. As with the housing shortage, public efforts to increase food supply met with mixed results: most Richmonders did not starve, but the poor and the wards of the Confederate government waged a desperate struggle for subsistence.
Unlike food and shelter, jobs were plentiful in a city where fierce competition for workers pitted private manufacturers against public-sector employers and the military. Even though Confederate officers detailed soldiers to work in factories and other productive enterprises, the labor shortage remained acute, so considerable numbers of enslaved people, free blacks, and white women and children filled the void. Of course, with so many strangers coming and going, old fears of insurrection and new apprehensions of disloyalty fostered an atmosphere of suspicion.

Deserters and Unionist agents did not topple the city’s Confederate power structure, but the prevalence of crime and immorality, coupled with resistance by enslaved people, made many affluent white Richmonders fear the worst. The outbreak of Richmond’s infamous bread riots in April 1863 seemed to portend a more general uprising of the city’s motley underclass, and for the last two years of the war, local officials mixed poor relief with paramilitary repression in an effort to keep order. The proximity of military force reassured Richmond’s elite, but the proliferation of military hospitals, complete with the sights, sounds, and smells of suffering and death, provided a constant reminder of the war’s costs.

Ash has indeed brought “wartime Richmond to life as a city of flesh-and-blood men, women, and children of many sorts who responded in very human ways to extraordinarily trying circumstances” (p. 5). The success of this rich social history stems from diligent archival research. Ash delved into a variety of manuscript materials, including personal correspondence, the records of the Southern Claims Commission, church and hospital records, and letters received by the Confederate Provost Marshal’s Office and the Confederate Secretary of War.

These dusty files yielded a trove of poignant stories that demonstrate how Richmond’s diverse residents navigated a city shaken to its core by an increasingly revolutionary conflict. From the arrest of an African American bartender who allegedly spoke to a white man with “insolent and provoking language” (p. 175) to hospital matrons’ attempts to brighten their dreary living quarters, Rebel Richmond compellingly illuminates how Richmonders lived, labored, and died in a city where the war sometimes reached the suburbs and was never far away.

This book complements previous accounts of wartime Richmond by Emory M. Thomas and Ernest B. Furgurson, which relied (particularly in Thomas’s case) more heavily on published materials.[1] It also will provide opportunities for comparative analysis if read alongside other urban histories, such as Wendy Hamand Venet’s study of Civil War-era Atlanta and William Warren Rogers Jr.’s work on Montgomery.[2] Indeed, what Richmond shared with other Confederate cities may be as important as what set it apart. Richmond’s status as a political, industrial, and military center certainly made it a distinctly attractive target for Union strategists and a singularly powerful symbol of Confederate nationalism, and Ash quite reasonably underscores its uniqueness.

But many aspects of Richmond’s story had parallels in other Confederate cities. Union war planners coveted New Orleans and Atlanta; manufacturing boomed in Selma and Augusta; refugees streamed into Raleigh and Columbia. Rebel Richmond therefore underscores the centrality of cities to the story of the Confederacy. As Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers have pointed out, for all the obvious importance of Southern plantation agriculture, and for all the Lost Cause paeans to an agrarian way of life, cities were at the heart of the Confederate project, from the meeting of secession conventions to the manufacturing of war materiel and the marshaling of armies.[3] Rebel Richmond demonstrates this point brilliantly and poignantly. Regardless of where they came from or why they were there, Richmonders—all 100,000 or more of them—experienced an emphatically urban Civil War.

Bibliographic Notes:
[1]. Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate State of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971); Ernest B. Furgurson, Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
[2]. Wendy Hamand Venet, A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014); William Warren Rogers Jr., Confederate Home Front: Montgomery during the Civil War (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999).
[3]. Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, “Introduction: Historians and the Urban South’s Civil War,” in Confederate Cities: The Urban South during the Civil War Era, ed. Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): 1-23.
Full Text Source:

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Gettysburg: The Living and The Dead as Viewed by a Poet and a Photographer

GettysburgGettysburg: The Living and the Dead, Kent Gramm with photography by Chris Heisey, Souhtern Illinois University Press, 225 pp, profusely illustrated, 2019, hardcover, $29.95.

Reviewed by Matthew A. Borders, (National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program; review published by H0Civil War, January 2020.
I knew that this work, Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead, would be a challenge from the beginning. An artistic work, the book looks at the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere through a myriad of lenses, peoples, times, and writings. This is not, nor does it purport to be, another military history of the Battle of Gettysburg. That being said, it is set up in a manner that would familiar to anyone who has read military histories of the battle. Gettysburg has four distinct chapters, covering the first day of fighting with twenty separate entries, the second day with thirty-five entries and the third day with fourteen entries. It ends, as many histories of the battle do, with a chapter on the aftermath, which contains nineteen individual entries.

Each entry, be it a poem or short story, is accompanied by an image. This structure struck me not only as a familiar choice, but also possibly a deliberate one to help the reader. As most are already familiar with the three traumatic days of the battle, this structure seems designed to place the reader into the right mind-set of each day and its aftermath.

That may be the reason why I found the first chapter so jarring. Set up as it is, even with a snippet of the famous 1889 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain speech just before the table of contents to set the stage, the first chapter has little to do with the Battle of Gettysburg as the opening poems are broad enough to describe almost any conflict. This is not a bad thing, and in fact can bring the past and present closer together as it reveals shared passions, fears, and sorrows. As the chapter continues, however, Gramm also reveals much of himself. There are numerous references to the Vietnam War in this chapter (entry 8: Blood Trail, entry 9: 'Stang, entry 18: Stayin' Alive) and sprinkled throughout the book. The war is seen as a mistake and or something to be protested by the author.
Some of his stories go so far as to use the memory of historical figures from the Battle of Gettysburg as inspiration for these protests. There are several very well-written short stories in this chapter taken from the soldier's perspective and even one apparently real letter from a migrant worker in 1927 who worked in the orchards around Gettysburg. In all, this is a very scattered chapter that feels lacking in focus.

Much like the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg itself, which saw the longest period of fighting, stretching well into the night on some parts of the field, the second chapter is the longest. It is also where I feel the book finds its focus. Of the thirty-five entries, again mostly poems and short stories, the majority focus on the Battle of Gettysburg or its participants. It is also where we start to see a large helping of one of the subthemes of Gettysburg, the supernatural. This had been hinted at since the beginning of the book, but over a third of the entries of this chapter have to deal with ghosts or spirits tied to or trapped on the battlefield, for any number of reasons. Some are trying to communicate with the living to dissuade us from repeating the follies of history, some are still fighting the battle, and some are searching for fallen loved ones. This a theme that is hard to escape in Gettysburg, as the town itself is awash in ghost tours of dubious quality and historic accuracy.

The best aspect of Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead is the bravery of the author to tell his stories and poems through a broad range of voices. Both Union and Confederate soldiers are portrayed, sometimes with sympathy towards their enemies, often with the passions and hatreds of the war on full display. We hear the voices of women—those caring for the wounded, watching over the dead, pining for the lost, or educating the current generation. Veterans both old and new are written about, as are former rangers, battlefield guides, museum curators, and even a reenactor in one story. I will admit I was surprised to see the author use an African American dialect in two of his entries, a bold decision and a commendable effort to include the whole story of the region. The story that spoke to me the most, however, and which in today's climate of intolerance struck me deeply, comes nearly at the end of the work, entry 85: North and South (pp. 207-09). Two fathers, one from Wisconsin and one from North Carolina, tour the battlefield together, discussing fatherhood, loss, and the war. Both are products of their regional bias, neither having really dealt with anyone from the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line. This story ends with two men having a better understanding of the other and a promise to memorialize a loss from a much more recent conflict. I sincerely hope that this story, presented from the perspective of a writer, is the fulfillment of that promise.

It would be a mistake to review Gettysburg: The Living And The Dead without touching on the beautiful photography of Chris Heisey. The images are as diverse as the stories and poems themselves, and sometimes suffer from the same out-of-place feeling that some of the writings have. Every poem or story has at least one image attached to it. Most of these are dramatic shots of the battlefield landscape or the monuments on it. Entry 31: War Means Fighting (pp. 79) is one such example of an oddity, as it has a praying mantis on page 78 to accompany the story. Surprisingly, almost a quarter of the images are wintry shots of the battlefield or monuments, and there are numerous autumnal landscape shots. Considering the sweltering July conditions in which the battle was fought, the snow-and-ice-covered images are beautiful, if unexpected.

While I had some concerns reading this work, I am glad I did. Our cultural landscapes, even our most studied, such as Gettysburg National Military Park, have meant and continue to mean different things to different people. While I may not understand all of the author and the photographer's perspectives and choices for Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead, it is obvious that they care deeply for this historic landscape, the history that happened here, and its visitors.

Citation: Matthew A. Borders. Review of Gramm, Kent; Heisey, Chris, Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020. URL:

Monday, January 13, 2020

News: The most intact Grand Army of the Republic Post is located in Carnegie, PA

2162165_web1_sig-CarCar-011620 Carnegie Carnegie Corner: Remembering veterans of long ago
For Union Civil War veterans, April 1865 started a time of healing and renewal. We often forget that there were no social safety nets for these men who so nobly served the call to arms to defend the Union. Not until 1930 was there a Veterans Administration as we know it today.
Some things never change. Politicians made empty promises to “care for those who have borne the burden, his widows and orphans.” Immediately following the end of the war, there was little political pressure to see that these promises were kept. Consequently, on April 6, 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was founded in Decatur, Ill., by former Union officers to serve as a united voice in holding the government accountable to make good on those promises.

By 1900, about 7,000-plus GAR Posts were scattered across the U.S., providing a place for veterans to turn to for fellowship, networking and, if needed, charity. Think of it as today’s American Legion or VFW Posts for veterans of the Civil War. The GAR founded soldiers’ homes and were active in relief work and in gaining more liberal federal pension legislation. Orphan schools were founded in Pennsylvania to care for and educate the children of veterans.

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie has been documented by scholars as probably the most intact GAR Post in the country. In a 1911 catalogue, veterans from the post wrote “… we leave for our children and their children, this room full of relics, hoping they may be as proud of them as we are, and that they may see that they are protected and cared for all time.” It’s a responsibility to our veterans that we don’t take lightly. We are honored to tell their stories, display their artifacts and educate the public on what they accomplished for our nation.

The Capt. Thomas Espy GAR Post 153 is open to the public, free of charge, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday. Private tours can be arranged by appointment. A lecture is held every second Saturday of the month. The Jan. 11 talk begins at 1 p.m. and is on the Battle of Philippi, W.Va., with speaker Jon-Erik Gilot. Light refreshments are served. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 412-276-3456, ext. 9.

Diane Klinefelter is the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall Espy Post curator.

Text source: Tribune and Review

Friday, January 03, 2020

New and Noteworthy: The Entrepreneurs Who Save the Union

Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation, Jeffry D. Wert, DaCapo Press, 228 pp., 16 pages of b/w images, 2018, hardcover $30.00, paperback $24.00. 

Review Author: Len Riedel, Blue & Gray Education Society

Civil War Barons is a relatively short and tight book. At 209 pages, it is an easy read in any circumstance. I have known and respected Jeff Wert for some time. A former history teacher in Pennsylvania, Jeff long ago earned the respect of the Civil War community, and his frequent publications since then always are well researched and written. With more than 10 books and far more articles on his résumé, you cannot say you are well read on the war unless you have read some of his works—especially his book about James Longstreet. So it was with reasonable expectation that I opened the cover and dove in.

The literature of the Civil War has produced any number of thematic derivatives, and so this work by Jeff was a new and, as it unfolded, intriguing angle about civilian support for the war effort. I have long maintained that we cover the period before the war and after the war because people just were not there when the shooting started, and they didn’t go to a remote island after the war ended. Jeff shows in a compelling fashion how key people in a variety of innovative ways built the support infrastructure that made the Union war effort successful. The names are generally familiar: Vanderbilt, Armour, Borden, Carnegie, Deere, Squibb, Parrott, Weyerhaeuser, and many others.

Jeff offers mini biographies on his subjects that describe how each one came from a position of strength or failure to address the challenge and opportunities presented by the Civil War. The stories of condensed milk, canned meats, lumber, wagon building, artillery, rapid fire weapons, farm instruments, and medical advances work together to help the reader understand how each and every contribution accumulated to provide the resources needed to win the war.

It seems that in our studies we far too often take for granted these support elements, and yet the evolution of repeating rifles, the construction of multiple gunboats in just over 90 days, and the ramping up of shoes mechanically stitched to meet the needs of the growing army are miraculous in their adaptive and functional performance. I recall being a youngster in the 1960s and buying U.S. Savings bond stamps two and three at a time, and yet here is the story of Jay Cooke who revolutionized fundraising from the public as a whole by selling bonds. It is simply amazing to contemplate.

Not all turn out well, and not every person was a good guy. Some were simply ruthless and made money far in excess of what they would ever need or spend in their lives. Many overextended themselves or were unable to sustain their success after the war. Others extrapolated their processes and changed to meet the demands of the following Gilded Age. Some were selfless in the face of national need, and others were successful rapscallions. What struck me was how these developments unleashed American capitalism in all of its raw power and lifechanging potential.
I am a better informed person as a result of this work. It is not mentally taxing, but, frankly, Jeff’s genius in the selection of his topic has filled a significant niche that one could live without, but if you happen upon it you will have an epiphany. I think this book is worth your time and would give it a solid 3.5 stars, maybe even 4, on a 5-star scale.

Image Source:  A canning food factory (1898) | Wikipedia
Review Source:  Len Riedel, Blue & Gray Education Society