Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zebulon Vance Papers: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy"

The Papers of Z.B. Vance, Vols. 1-3
I couldn't resist the sale.  As a result, these three volumes showed up at my door recently. Published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, the titles are the result of decades of work by historians Frontis W. Johnston, Gordon McKinney, Richard M. McMurry, and Joe A. Mobley. Johnston edited the first letterpress volume, which appeared in 1963.  McKinney and McMurry worked to transfer all the Vance Papers onto 39 microfilm reels.  Mobley then assumed responsibility for the project in 1991 and piloted the 2nd (1995) and 3rd (2013) letterpress volumes to publication, bringing the published collection through 1865. Mobley also wrote an excellent biography of Vance in 2005, which focuses on the war years. (War Governor of the South: North Carolina's Zeb Vance in the Confederacy (Univ. Press of Florida)).

At the helm of North Carolina’s war effort during much of the conflict, Zebulon Baird Vance presented an imposing figure with his six foot, two-hundred pound frame, and his tuft of thick, black hair. He was a natural, engaging politician, whose charm and wit were difficult to match. He was also a commanding speaker. Historians have found an enigmatic figure in Vance. Initially a unionist like many in the upper south, he strongly embraced the Confederate cause once the bell of secession rang. As Governor during much of the war, he often quarreled with authorities in Richmond. He took issue with Confederate policies that limited individual rights in his state as well as with measures that hamstrung North Carolina's efforts designed, in his view, to win the war. His frequent clashes with President Jefferson Davis have led some over the years to label him an obstructionist to the Confederate war effort.


Z. B. Vance
However, despite appearances, Vance remained a Confederate nationalist throughout the conflict and kept his eye on the broad picture and his focus on preserving the Confederacy's defining institution.  In an unpublished autobiography prepared after the war and brought to light by Joe Mobley a few years ago, Vance candidly explained, “I concluded therefore to go with my state and to fight - not for secession - not for the Confederate States [as] an object desirable in itself - but to avert the consequences - the abolition of Slavery." See Mobley, Joe A., “Zebulon Vance: A Confederate Nationalist in the North Carolina Gubernatorial Election of 1864,” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 4 (October 2000).  Thus, his many disagreements with officials in Richmond appear to reflect discord about tactics, not overall goals.  Indeed, his platform during the 1864 gubernatorial election was sometimes referred to as: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy."

These volumes are heavy. I look forward to spending more time with them over the next few months.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Family Reunion Tour in Richmond

"I know it's in here somewhere . . ."
In July, we attended a family reunion down in Richmond.  This year, I found myself on the weekend's program, leading a tour of some of the Civil War battlefield sites in Henrico County.  We walked through the fall 1864 battles beginning our discussion at Fort Harrison and finishing up at Dorey Park along the Darbytown Road.

Our small band included some Rogers, some Hoheisels, a Paule, and a Goin. Among other things, we talked about Benjamin Butler, the bad and the good; the dysfunctional command partnership of Charles Field and Robert Hoke; and the heroics of Joseph Banks Lyle on the Williamsburg Road.  It turned out to be quite an enjoyable couple of hours. I had a blast.

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)