Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A New Mahone Biography?

William Mahone (LOC)
Over at the Civil War Memory blog, Kevin Levin recently posted some interesting news about a new William Mahone biography.

Mahone stands as one of the war's more intriguing figures.  A native Virginian and prewar railroad executive, he failed to shine at brigade command through the first few years of the war.  However, in 1864, he enjoyed significant success at Petersburg, leading his division in a series of sharp counterattacks against Union offensives. After the war, Mahone resumed his railroad career and became a major figure in Virginia politics.  Among other things, he emerged as a key leader of the Readjuster Party, an unlikely coalition of white and black Republicans.  His reformist political activities nudged him out of the pantheon of Confederate heroes erected by Lost Cause architects.

Near the end of his life in the 1890's, Mahone shared his recollections of several battles with George S. Bernard of Petersburg - the reminiscences covered Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, the Weldon Railroad, Burgess Mill, and Appomattox.  These accounts, most of them unknown until recently, were published in Civil War Talks.  

Mahone was a prolific correspondent and his papers are housed in several locations, including the Library of Virginia and Duke University.  The Mahone collection at Duke is massive, large enough to discourage even the most tenacious researcher. To date, the only lengthy Mahone biography is Nelson M. Blake's work, published in 1935. Since then, scholars have touched on Mahone and the Readjusters.   For example, Jane Dailey examined the turbulent world of late 19th century Virginia politics in Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia (UNC Press, 2000).  A few years ago, Kevin Levin wrote an essay titled "William Mahone, the Lost Cause and Civil War History" for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  However, an updated full-length biography is sorely needed.

Happily, a recent dissertation written by John F. Chappo when he was at the University of Southern Mississippi is under review at an academic press, as noted by Levin's post and Chappo's own webpage.  Let's hope things work out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Richmond Must Fall in The N.C. Historical Review


Some of my NCHR back issues
The April 2014 issue of the North Carolina Historical Review (NCHR) has a nice review of Richmond Must Fall.   Over the last several months, I've explored the back issues of this journal, poring over several excellent articles about the Civil War in eastern North Carolina.  So, I was happy to see a review of my book tucked into the pages of a recent edition.  Michael W. Coffey, of the N.C. Office of Archives and History, prepared the piece, which furnishes a concise and comprehensive overview of the book.  The review also emphasizes that Richmond Must Fall extends beyond its focus on military strategy to address the political issues looming over the fighting in October 1864, the impact of the battles on local civilians, and the USCT prisoner controversy that ignited at the time.

Coffey concludes:  "Richmond Must Fall is a worthwhile addition to the field of Civil War military literature, not only in covering a neglected portion of a complex campaign, but also in illustrating its importance to the political side of the war . . . . [It] thus successfully integrates several diverse topics into a readable and useful narrative about a particular crucial phase of the war."  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Panel At Deep Bottom Park

I enjoyed my time at the Campaign Before Richmond Symposium on Friday, June 20 at Deep Bottom Park. The weather cooperated, giving us a pleasant, thunderstorm-free evening. Sam McKelvey, manager of the Dabbs House Museum, did a great job setting up the venue and organizing the event. Jack Mountcastle, former U.S. Army Chief of Military History, moderated the proceedings. Jimmy Price, author of a great book about the Battle of New Market Heights, started things off with a talk about First Deep Bottom in July 1864. He is currently finishing up a book on that campaign. Next, Doug Crenshaw, who has penned a nice work on Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin's Farm (which he kindly gave to me at the event), covered the actions outside Richmond in late September 1864 with an informative presentation guided by excellent maps and photographs. Both Doug and Jimmy's books, published by The History Press, provide well-written, compact narratives of these lesser-known episodes of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.

Robert E. L. Krick, historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, lent his insight into the careers of five Confederate commanders important to the 1864 campaign:  Richard Anderson, Charles Field, Victor Girardey, Robert Hoke, and John Gregg. Bob is a fantastic speaker and wasn't afraid to offer his unvarnished opinions of these figures. Let's just say Anderson and Hoke did not fare well. Bob is also author of Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia, a must-have reference I've leaned on often in my work. Finally, it was great to chat with some of the attendees before and after the event.  They really knew their stuff.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

150 Years Ago: The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery

June 18, 1864:  Assault of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery

The scene outside Petersburg, June 18, 1864. The Hare House on hill at left marks the location of attack conducted by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery regiment.  Later, it became the site of Union Fort Stedman.  Bradford's (Confederate) Battery unlimbered off to the right on the high ground north of the river during the fighting on June 18. LOC (W.Waud)

Fred C. Lowe (1st Maine Heavy Artillery)

"Our regiment went into the charge with 900 men (some of our officers think we had only 850 men in line).  We charged in three lines of battle, four companies of each, the regiment being commanded by Major (afterwards Bvt. Brig. Gen.) Russell B. Shepherd.  In five minutes 632 men and officers were killed and wounded of whom 210 (whose names I read at the dedication of the monument) were killed and died of their wounds.  The casualties of the regiment were in excess of those officially reported.
-- Fred C. Lowe, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery (from letter to George S. Bernard quoted in P.C. Hoy, "Of the Siege of Petersburg:  Some Interesting Recollections of an Officer in Bradford's Battery" in Civil War Talks)


P.C. Hoy (Bradford's Battery)

"Here we were ordered to unlimber and immediately open fire upon the enemy's infantry, who were then in heavy force assaulting our lines on the south bank of the river, all the way it seemed, from the river southeasterly towards O.P. Hare's residence . . . we could not distinctly see the men in the assaulting [column] . . . but, from the smoke and heavy musketry, we could hear, we knew that a hard fight was in progress.  Our position was excellent, about eight hundred yards from the right flank for the Federal attacking column, and our guns quickly enfilading the right flank of the line with shells . . . ."  
-- P.C. Hoy (from Hoy's recollections in Civil War Talks)




Monday, June 9, 2014

150 Years Ago: The Petersburg Campaign Begins

It's a good day to share some nuggets about the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.  On June 9, 1864, Union forces under Benjamin Butler, including more than a 1,000 cavalrymen led by August Kautz, tested the lines surrounding a lightly-defended Petersburg in the first combat of what would become the months-long Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.  In the city's defense, a small band of militia and citizens rushed to the parapets along the Dimmock Line and repelled the Union attack.

August V. Kautz (LOC)
August V. Kautz: "many blunders"

In the 1890's, William Carr, a former instructor at the Petersburg Female College and a participant in the June 9th engagement, published a letter about that day in the Petersburg Daily Index-Appeal.  In preparing his account, Carr contacted August V. Kautz seeking information about a specific movement during the fight.  Kautz, an aging veteran residing in Annapolis by that time, had suffered his share of failure in 1864.  In response to Carr, Kautz wrote in part:

"I have no recollection of the movement you mention and it was perhaps some stupid movement of which there were others on that occasion . . . There were many blunders perpetrated in that eventful year in and around Petersburg . . . ."  - August V. Kautz, March 14th, 1898  (Both Carr and Kautz's letters appear in Civil War Talks)



Raleigh E. Colston: "no mention . . . of my name"

Raleigh E. Colston (LOC)
Petersburg's defense was orchestrated, in part, by Brigadier General Raleigh E. Colston, who was in the city at the time waiting for a new assignment.  Colston organized the defense and led the soldiers and civilians, the "old men and young boys," in their successful stand against Kautz's probe at the Jerusalem Plank Road.  June 9th became a day of remembrance for many of Petersburg's citizens.  After the war, Colston wrote a long account of the fight, which appeared in the fourth volume of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War and is reproduced at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  However, in a private letter to George S. Bernard in 1895, an ailing Colston wrote:

 "I confess that I have felt hurt that in the commemoration of the fight of June 9, 1864, which have taken place in Petersburgh [sic] year after year, no mention whatever has been made of my name in the City papers or the addresses delivered, so that it might be imagined that I was not there at all." - Raleigh E. Colston, October 7, 1895 in Civil War Talks 


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Campaign Before Richmond Symposium, June 20



From W. Waud,"The Battle of Darbytown Road" (LOC)


On June 20, I'll be at Deep Bottom Park outside Richmond to participate in a symposium about military events in Henrico County during the last year of the war.  During my presentation, I plan to discuss the October 1864 battles at the Darbytown and Williamsburg Roads covered in my book, Richmond Must Fall. The program, presented by Henrico County and the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, will be held outdoors in the evening under a large tent.  I'm looking forward to joining fellow panelists John Mountcastle, Jimmy Price, Doug Crenshaw, and Bobby Krick for this event. Here is the full announcement from the Henrico website





Campaign Before Richmond Sesquicentennial Weekend, 
Fri-Sat, June 20-21, Deep Bottom Park

Fri, June 20, 6-9pm, Campaign Before Richmond Symposium. For ages 12+. Join notable historians discuss significant battles that occurred north of the James River for control of Richmond and Petersburg in the last year of the Civil War. Discussion is followed by a Q & A session. Program is outdoors on the picturesque banks of the James River. Presented by Henrico Recreation and Parks and the Richmond Civil War Roundtable. Free. Rain or Shine.

Scheduled Speakers: Moderator – Dr. John W. Mountcastle, Brigadier General US Army (retired); James S. Price, author of “The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword” and upcoming publication “Battle of First Deep Bottom”; Douglas Crenshaw, author of “Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm: To Surprise and Capture Richmond”; Robert E.L. Krick, author of “Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia” and numerous other Civil War publications; and Hampton Newsome, author of “Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864”

Sat, June 21, 9-11am or 6-8pm, Civil War Boat Tours- Tour the Civil War era James River. For ages 12+. Either enjoy our morning cruise or evening cruise. Information: (804) 652-3409. Preregistration required at www.henricohistoricalsociety.org. $45.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bowery and Rafuse: Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign



This week I purchased the Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the most recent entry in the U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles, published by University Press of Kansas and edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan S. Rafuse.  Based on my initial glance, there is much to like in this mammoth (500 page) title.  Similar to other works in the series, the Guide furnishes a useful companion to those touring the battlefields of the 1864-65 campaign.  The book is not intended, however, to provide a detailed campaign narrative or a lengthy discussion of the whys and hows.    

The military actions at Richmond and Petersburg pose a stiff challenge to the editors of such a work.  Stretching over many months and scattered over dozens of locations, the campaign involved a dizzying series of complicated operations and hard-fought battles.  Any effort to catalog these events and organize them in a fashion useful to the visitor is a difficult one. However, in this case, it seems that Bowery and Rafuse have succeeded. 

The book features two parts. The first includes three segments covering events that took place within the Petersburg National Battlefield:  1) the initial Petersburg attacks in June 1864, 2) the Battle of Fort Stedman in 1865, and 3) the Battle of the Crater in July 1864.  The second part contains six separate excursions (i.e., driving tours) in and around Richmond and Petersburg, which lead visitors to the sites of various engagements - including several covered in Richmond Must Fall, such as the fighting at the Darbytown Road and Burgess Mill.

Each of these sections features a short introduction, a list of the key events, driving or walking directions, and lengthy excerpts from important official reports and other primary sources.  The excerpts from these first-hand accounts comprise the bulk of the book's text and provide colorful background that will enhance the experience for those visiting these battlefields.   

The numerous maps are terrific.  Prepared by Steven Stanley, they display modern and period road networks, topographical details including elevations and tree cover, fortifications, and the movements of the units involved in each engagement.  Though the small details sent me reaching for my reading glasses, these maps are handsome and, in some cases, provide tactical details not necessarily discussed in the text. 

Given the nature of the book, I would have liked to have seen a critical, descriptive bibliography (rather than a bare list of titles) to point readers to other sources on this sprawling campaign.  But that's a feeble quibble and I look forward to digging into the volume further.