Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Battlefield biscuits and ham: Meet an Antietam citizen-hero

Martin Henry Eakle and the buggy he is believed to have used to take aid to Union soldiers at Antietam.
(Eakle family pamphlet)

Richard Clem's Civil War stories have frequently been featured on my blog. In this post, Clem, a lifelong resident of Washington County in Maryland, tells the story of a citizen-hero of the Battle of Antietam.

By Richard E. Clem

Richard Clem
For decades after the Battle of Antietam, the identity of a good Samaritan who distributed ham and biscuits to the troops there while fighting still raged apparently was a mystery outside his family. Like any other major battle of the Civil War, Antietam (called Sharpsburg in the South) had its share of ordinary people who gave comfort and relief to the wounded and dying who were far from home. Unheralded residents of Washington County and far beyond played a part in healing soldiers in the “vast sea of misery.” One individual, however, deserves special recognition for going beyond the call of duty. If the Medal of Honor were awarded to a civilian for courage, Martin Henry Eakle would be at the top of the list.

Originally called Buena Vista, Eakles Mill is one of the oldest settlements in Washington County, Md. The earliest records indicate the first home built in this remote area was in 1775. The 2010 census for this rural village shows a population of 27. Consisting of a half-dozen homes and one church, it rests at the eastern base of Red Hill, just below Keedysville and a short distance west of South Mountain. Similar to other communities in the county, Eakles Mill was settled around a water-powered gristmill. A sawmill or lumber mill was also operated at most of these locations.

Around 1850, a decade before the Civil War, Martin Eakle purchased the gristmill from David Keedy -- thus giving the area its present-day name. The power for this mill was supplied by Little Antietam Creek, a tributary of the famed Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg. After marriage to Catharine Amelia Snively and the birth of five children, Mr. Eakle decided to expand the milling business. Records state the successful miller delivered by “horse and wagon, flour, feed, etc. as far away as Burkittsville,” on the opposite (east) side of South Mountain.

At left, Eakle's gristmill appears in a circa-1898 photo. (Richard Clem collection.)
Circa-1901 photo of the scene above. Note how large tree has grown near the church since 1898.
 (Richard Clem collection)
PRESENT DAY: Site of Eakle gristmill. A house (left) rests on the old foundation of the mill. (Clem photo)
Early on the misty morning of Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day of the Civil War began. The Battle of Antietam resulted in more than 23,000 casualties. At Eakles Mill, only a few miles east of Sharpsburg, where the battle had raged since 6 o’clock in the morning, residents awoke to thunder of cannon. Rising early, Eakle went straight to his stable and hitched up a team of horses to a four-wheel buggy. He gathered several containers filled with water and stone crocks stuffed with biscuits as well as ham from his meat house. Some nearby ladies also donated homemade pies and cakes for the battle-weary soldiers near Sharpsburg. Leaving the protection of Red Hill and with no regard for his own safety, the 46-year-old Eakle steered his horses toward the sound of battle.

1877 Washington County map shows Eakles Mill, Md.
On the same morning, an 11-year-old boy, Aaron Snyder, watched Martin Eakle’s journey from the crest of Red Hill. Young Snyder, who lived on Marble Quarry Road (just south of Eakles Mill), had climbed the heights that morning to observe the battle. The Snyder family purchased flour, feed and other supplies from Mr. Eakle, and Aaron knew him quite well. From the high elevation, Snyder saw Eakle’s buggy disappear into the smoke hanging thick over the battlefield. Evidently, Martin’s route took him north along Red Hill toward Keedysville, and at some point he turned west to the road leading to Sharpsburg (Md. 34 today), crossing Antietam Creek at the stone Middle Bridge. By the time the humanitarian arrived on the battlefield, fighting on the Union right at the Dunker Church, the Bloody Cornfield and West Woods had subsided.

Driving the buggy onto the William Roulette farm, approximately where the old War Department observation tower now stands, Martin came in contact with Captain William M. Graham, Battery K, 1st U.S. Artillery. In all probability, by this time the Rebels would have been driven out of “Bloody Lane” or else Eakle and his horses probably would have been cut down by Southern infantry fire. However, a deadly duel was still very active following the withdraw from the sunken road as the Confederates were being repelled through Henry Piper’s cornfield by Federal artillery. While distributing his food and water, one of Eakle’s horses was wounded, perhaps by an exploding Confederate cannon shell fragment commonly known as shrapnel. After the bloody engagement, Captain Graham reported the battery’s loss: “17 horses killed and 6 more wounded.” The battery also lost at Antietam four men killed and five badly wounded. Ending his report, Graham noted:
... I feel called up to mention the conduct of a Mr. ___ who resides near the battlefield. This gentleman drove his carriage to my battery while under severe artillery fire, and carried off my wounded who were suffering very much for the want of surgical attendance, and distributed ham and biscuits among the men of the battery. He also returned a second time to the battery. One of his horses was wounded while performing this service.
Shadow of  War Department tower at Bloody Lane covers approximate location of Graham’s Battery, 
where Martin Eakle delivered aid to Union soldiers. William Roulette farmhouse and barn appear in distance.
Aaron Snyder went on to become a well-known and respected school teacher in the Keedysville- Eakles Mill area. One of Mr. Snyder’s pupils was a grandson of Martin Eakle. (Unfortunately, Eakle passed away two years before his grandson was born.) The Eakle family remembered Aaron Snyder telling the story about Martin: “He came through the artillery barrage untouched, but one of his horses was badly wounded.” The school teacher also related to his students that Mr. Eakle while on his compassionate journey carried a “small amount of good rye whiskey” to the Federal troops.

For years the Eakle family (living in Keedysville) proudly showed the buggy Martin Eakle used on the mission of mercy. The historic carriage was once displayed in a Sharpsburg museum, but neither the carriage nor the museum no longer exists.

Known as a strong Southern sympathizer, Martin Eakle saw no wrong aiding members of a Northern artillery unit. The year 1863, however, offered Eakle good reason to reconsider allegiance to the Confederacy. On the road to Gettysburg in June 1863, Confederate General Edward Johnson commanded one of Stonewall Jackson’s old divisions. He sent what is believed a small mounted force to Eakles Mill with the following orders:

HQ Johnson’s Division
Near Sharpsburg Md.
June 21, 1863

Mr. Martin Eakle will at once proceed to grind flour for the Confederate States Army or his Mill will be impressed for that purpose.

Ed Johnson
Maj. Genl. Commanding

A copy of General Johnson’s dispatch remained for years in possession of the Eakle family.

Original orders  issued on June 21, 1863, by Confederate General Edward Johnson to grind flour
 for the Rebel army at Eakles' mill.  (Eakles family pamphlet)
Washington County land records reveal Martin Eakle sold property to the Washington County Railroad Company in 1866, one year after the Civil War. When the railroad (now a branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) was put through in 1867, it cut off the millrace and water supply to the mill, shutting down operations. At an unknown date, a steam engine was installed at the site, and as late as 1890, the mill was used to saw and plane lumber. When the present road went through Eakles Mill, Md., the deteriorating limestone structure is believed to have been destroyed. Today, a private residence rest on the old mill’s original foundation.

On May 7, 1878, Martin Eakle passed away just two months shy of his 62nd birthday. The body was interred in Fairview Cemetery at Keedysville. In 1899, Catharine Eakle was placed at her husband’s side in Fairview. After Martin’s death, the U.S. War Department tried to find the man “who came on the field of Antietam when bullets were flying fast!” Eager to honor this brave individual, the Federal government placed an ad in county newspapers. The effort proved unsuccessful.

Gravestone of Martin Eakle in
Fairview Cemetery in Keedysville, Md
"A kind husband and an affectionate 
father. How desolate our home bereft of
 thee,” read words on the tombstone.
And then on March 23, 1962, nearly 100 years after the Battle of Antietam, an article published in a Hagerstown newspaper reported the mysterious hero at Sharpsburg was Martin Eakle. A distant relative of the Eakles came forward and explained how the story was handed down. The family knew since the battle who the biscuit and ham distributor was on that bloody day.

The author is grateful for the privilege to have talked 24 years ago to several members of the Eakle family, who shared a small pamphlet describing Mr. Eakle’s heroic deed. It was said each family member received a copy. Compiled and printed by an unknown source, this 5- x 8-inch pamphlet included photographs and some material used for this article. The author would also like to mention his mother as a child lived in Eakles Mill for several years. As fate would have it, mom’s vegetable garden boarded on the mill property once owned by none other than Martin Eakle.

Hopefully, someday a marker will be erected on the Antietam battlefield near the old War Department tower to honor Martin Eakle, who was willing to sacrifice his own life there to help others -- even the enemy. Perhaps this article will serve as a beginning to launch such a project. As it was said at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day, Alexandria, Virginia, Time-Life Books, 1984.
-- The Boonsboro  (Md.) News, Boonsboro, Md., March 24, 1955.
-- Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, March 23, 1962.
-- Ernst, Kathleen A., Too Afraid to Cry, Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, Stackpole Books, 1999.
-- Murfin, James V., The Gleam of Bayonets, Cranbury, N.J., 1965.
-- Official Records, Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 343-344.
-- Reilly, Oliver, T., The Battle of Antietam, Sharpsburg, Md., 1906.
-- Schildt, John W., Drums Along the Antietam, Parsons, West Virginia, 1972.
-- Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red, New Haven,  Conn,; New York, 1983.
-- Williams, Thomas J. C., A History of Washington County, Maryland, Hagerstown, Md., 1906.
-- Illustrated Atlas of Washington County, Maryland – 1877, Unigraphic Inc., Evansville, Ind., 1975.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

'Hidden' Fredericksburg: Battle scars at Willis Hill Cemetery

Close-up of  damage, probably from Union artillery, on the stone pillar at Willis Hill Cemetery.
Like this blog on Facebook 

If you know where to look, traces of the Civil War may be seen throughout Fredericksburg, Va. There's soldiers' graffiti on the brickwork of this building on Princess Anne Street, artillery damage at this church blocks away, and on the stone pillar of infrequently visited Willis Hill Cemetery on Marye's Heights, more scars of war are visible. On Dec. 13, 1862, Union artillerists struck the cemetery and immediate area, knocking down the graveyard's red-brick walls, toppling tombstones and making life hazardous for Confederate medical personnel treating wounded there. At least one Confederate regiment formed near the cemetery before it charged down the Heights to the nearby Sunken Road. Of course, the battle scars at the cemetery today also could be a result of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, fought in early May 1863.

For much more on Willis Hill Cemetery, which is adjacent to the national cemetery, check out the interesting The Swale at Mercer Square blog here. The cemetery is private and not open for tours.

Entrance to Willis Hill Cemetery on Marye's Heights. War damage appears on the stone pillar at left.
A National Park Service marker gives a brief history of Willis Hill Cemetery.
       Google Earth: Willis Hill Cemetery (near top left)  is adjacent to national cemetery.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Journey in time: 'Stunning' 1891 Antietam images surface

The fence in the background runs along the Smoketown Road, the route the XII Corps 
took to the battlefield. (John Banks collection | Click on images to enlarge.)
On the back mounting of each image, Antietam veteran John Mead Gould wrote a detailed
 description. "The mulberry tree so prominent here has probably grown since the war," he noted on this one.

Like this blog on Facebook
 | See all 1891 Gould images on my SmugMug page.

At 4 p.m. on Sept. 18, 1891, Oliver Cromwell Gould, son of 10th Maine veteran John Mead Gould, shot an image of the East Woods at Antietam, where his father had witnessed momentous events 29 years earlier. Three days later, at 8 a.m., Oliver focused his camera on a nearby 10-acre field (above image) that included a prominent mulberry tree. In the far distance, a wooden fence stretched along the old Smoketown Road -- the route his father took to battle on Sept. 17, 1862.

A war-time image of John Mead Gould.
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
We know precisely when and where these historic images were taken because of the meticulousness of John Gould, who accompanied his 21-year-old son at Antietam and wrote details about each photograph in pen on the back mounting for each. "Camera ... on the knoll where the 128th Penn first stood," noted the 51-year-old former officer in neat handwriting about the first image. "In 1862 the woods extended a few yards west of the fence here seen."

Regarding the second image, Gould wrote: "The 10th Maine crossed the Smoketown road (as well as I can tell) about where the small bush is growing, to right of the mulberry tree. We came to 'front' there east of the road, then advanced down & up the gentle slope & deployed about in the shadow of the tree on the extreme right of the picture."

Believed lost to history, the rare photographs are among six to have recently surfaced in New Jersey -- the largest stash of Gould images yet to be discovered. A unique window into the early, post-war appearance of the battlefield, the photographs have excited Antietam historians, who are hopeful even more "Goulds" will be discovered. According to a detailed logbook kept by the former 10th Maine officer, Oliver Gould took at least two dozen images at Antietam in 1891, including shots of the iconic Dunker Church. Only one other 1891 Gould Antietam image, owned by a Virginia collector, had previously been discovered.

"The 1891 Gould images are truly stunning, as they offer an early, pristine view of Antietam battlefield that many of us never thought we would see, complete with the voice of a veteran pointing out particulars in a way we usually just dream about," said Stephen Recker, whose 2012 book, Rare Images at Antietam And the Photographers Who Took Them, documented historical images taken at the battlefield. Collaborating with 10th Maine expert Nicholas Picerno and preeminent Antietam historian Tom Clemens, Recker pieced together the story of the Gould images in his book.

A circa-1920 photograph of John Mead Gould, 
who died in 1930.
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
"But while we found the documentation for his 1891 images at Duke University," Recker noted, "it was those 'undiscovered' images that we really wanted to see." Gould's images were taken before the War Department greatly altered the lay of the land in 1895, when it added avenues for tourists to use to view the battlefield.

The Gould images once belonged to Irving B. Lovell, an uncle of Bill and Marie Trembley, who were first shown the photographs decades ago. In 2016, four years after the World War II veteran died at age 92, the Trembleys found the package containing the Antietam images in a closet while cleaning out Lovell's house and small cabin in Eastport, Maine. The photos weren't viewed by the couple again until November 2017, when Marie opened the large manila package with the words "Civil War photos" written in red marker on the side. When and where Lovell, who lived most of his life in New Jersey, got the images is unknown.

The author of this post acquired the images in early January 2018.

A bright man who was good with numbers, Gould worked for his father's bank in Portland, Maine before the Civil War. In April 1861, he enlisted in the Portland Light Guards, Company C of the 1st Maine. The regiment served in the defenses of Washington, returning to Maine to be mustered out in August 1861. In September that year, Gould re-enlisted in the new 10th Maine for two years' service, advancing to sergeant major. Promoted to 2nd lieutenant, he served in the Valley Campaign in early 1862, and saw his first significant action at Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862.

General Joseph Mansfield, mortally
wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
(Middlesex County Historical Society)
But Antietam had by far the most dramatic impact on Gould's life. It was in the East Woods on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, that the 22-year-old adjutant was the first to reach a mortally wounded General Joseph Mansfield, shot while atop his white horse as he directed troops in his XII Corps. Gould was among four soldiers to carry Mansfield to the rear.

"Passing still in front of our line and nearer to the enemy, [Mansfield] attempted to ride over the rail fence which separated a lane from the ploughed land where most of our regiment were posted," Gould wrote to Mansfield's widow on Dec. 2, 1862. "The horse would not jump it, and the General dismounting led him over. He passed to the rear of the Regimental line, when a gust of wind blew aside his coat, and I discovered that his whole front was covered with blood."

Antietam was Mansfield's first and last battlefield command. The 58-year-old officer from Middletown, Conn., died the next morning.

After the war, Gould -- who became historian, treasurer and secretary for a Maine veterans' group -- was especially keen on documenting his regiment's role at Antietam. Seemingly no detail was too small. For years, he kept up a lively correspondence with veterans on both sides regarding Mansfield's wounding and death, troop movements and much more. In the 1890s, he provided hundreds of those letters to the Antietam Battlefield Board, adding significantly to the understanding of the battle. And, in 1895, Gould had published a pamphlet on Mansfield's death, noting minute details of the XII Corps' commander's demise.

Antietam map in John Mead Gould's 1895 published work on the mortal wounding of
General Joseph Mansfield. The East Woods, where the 10th Maine fought, appears at center.
Clemens, who edited a massive, authoritative history of the Maryland Campaign compiled by Union veteran Ezra Carman, believes Gould may be the greatest of all Antietam historians.

"He was only interested in the fighting in East Woods and who killed Mansfield, but wound up getting into a lot more than that," he said. "At one point there were six or seven different accounts of where Mansfield was killed, and Gould sorted them out, determining that at least three were people mistaking Colonel William Goodrich of the 60th New York for Mansfield. He really grilled his subjects, asking detailed questions, and his letters, which he routinely shared with Carman, are very helpful for details on fighting in the north end of the field."

In 1889, John Gould tried to document the battlefield photographically himself. Using the recently introduced Kodak camera, among the first cameras easy enough for amateurs to use, he shot images of the East Woods. The experience was unsatisfying -- and unproductive, too. The camera, Recker notes in his book, was cumbersome to use. It didn’t even have a view finder, an innovation that would come with the next version of the Kodak.

"Among the demerits of the work is the fact that I got 'rattled' & made 'doubles' & I forgot to make a note of what I was doing," he wrote to 128th Pennsylvania veteran Frederick Yeager in 1894. "So when I got my pictures from the printer I couldn't identify many of them. In truth the visit of 1889 was little more than an aggravation, but it resulted in determining me to go again ..."

A man, perhaps John Mead Gould himself, appears in the background of this image that shows
the position of two 10th Maine companies on Sept. 17, 1862. It was taken Sept. 18, 1891, at 2 p.m. 
This photograph, taken on Sept. 21, 1891, shows the site of the mortal wounding of  Joseph Mansfield.
And so John and Oliver returned to the battlefield in 1891 to photographically document the sites of the horrible events of mid-September 1862.

In the other four recently discovered Gould images, Oliver focused exclusively on the area of the East Woods, site of fighting the night of Sept. 16, 1862, and intense fighting the next day. In one of those photographs, someone -- probably John Gould himself -- wrote in the margin the position where Mansfield was mortally wounded. Ever meticulous, Gould noted on the back mounting an image number as well as the time the photograph was taken ("September 21, 1891, 5 p.m.") and position of his son's camera ("on enemy's ground 110 yards from the position of extreme right Co. H of 10th Maine”).

In another image, Gould noted the changes on the battlefield since the war. "Potatoes and corn take the place of great oaks, of which one only remains hereabouts as seen," he wrote about a photograph of what once was the East Woods. And on another, he wrote in the margins of the image the positions of the 128th Pennsylvania and 10th Maine. Leaving breadcrumbs for future historians to pinpoint the spot, he wrote on the back mounting of the image: "Camera in the three-cornered clover field ten paces from the Smoketown Road & about 100 yards west of where the East Woods were in 1862. The western face of the woods has been cut off."

After journeying from New Jersey to their new home, the photographs will soon be on the road again, to Antietam, where this story began long ago. We'll match up the images on the battlefield to shoot present-day versions of the six Gould photographs.

And, of course, we'll keep a lookout for other Gould images from 1891. Perhaps those historic images from this series will turn up in an attic or in a flea market near you.

This photograph shows the route of march by the 10th Maine onto the battlefield.
A  tattered backing on the above photograph includes Gould's detailed description of the image.
"Potatoes and corn take the place of great oaks, of which one only remains hereabouts as seen
 in this picture," Gould wrote on the back mounting of this photograph. After the war, many of
 the trees in the East Woods were cut down. (John Banks collection)
"The knoll of the 128th Pa. and position of 10th Maine in opposite edge of woods are shown by arrows,"
Gould noted of this image, taken near the East Woods. (John Banks collection)

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Gould, John Mead, Joseph K.F. Mansfield, A Narrative of Events Connected With His Mortal Wounding, Portland, Maine, Stephen Berry Printer, 1895.
-- Recker, Stephen, Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them, Sharpsburg, Md., Another Software Miracle LLC, 2012.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

At Franklin, Tennessee, stark evidence of a terrible battle

Inside this small outbuilding on the Carter plantation, bullet holes appear like constellations in a
 night sky.  The structure was used as a farm office by the Carters.  Read story here.
(Photo courtesy W W Bärenjäger Nicks)

Like this blog on Facebook

It's 9 a.m. on a frigid Saturday, and a lone visitor at the historic Carter house astride the Columbia Pike in Franklin, Tenn., stops to gawk. From a distance, he sees two ordinary-looking outbuildings on the old plantation. Up close, however, he discovers they're extraordinary. Riddled or pockmarked by bullets, the structures are mute witnesses to the carnage that occurred here on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1864, during the Battle of Franklin.

   PANORAMA: Click at upper right for full-screen experience.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

In Franklin, Tennessee, a walk through a Confederate cemetery

Confederate Cemetery at  Franklin, Tenn.  John McGavock's plantation house appears in right background.

Like this blog on Facebook
1,496 Confederates are buried in the cemetery on the old
McGavock plantation, according to the historical sign there.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 1864, the bodies of four Confederate generals killed during the Battle of Franklin a day earlier lay on the back porch of Carnton, the impressive plantation house of John McGavock. Blood stained the floors of his home, used as a hospital, and his vast property was a mass graveyard. Nearly 1,500 Confederate dead from the battle were later re-buried in a two-acre plot on McGavock's land, within site of his red-brick house. Those soldiers, many of them unknown, came from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and elsewhere in the Confederacy. The bodies of generals Patrick R. Cleburne, Hiram B. Granbury, John Adams, Otho F. Strahl were buried elsewhere. (The generals on the back porch story has been disputed. Read more.)

After the war, a national cemetery for Union dead originally interred in the Franklin, Tenn., area was considered, but local citizens were bitterly opposed. In a report from the quartermaster military division of Tennessee sent to Washington on June 6, 1866, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs wrote:
"The [military] board [of officers] states that the citizens of Franklin will do everything in their power to defeat the locating of a cemetery there and will not sell land to the government at any price. In case a location is taken forcibly, a guard of twenty (20) men will be necessary to prevent desecration. 
Montgomery Meigs
"The board, therefore, recommend that no national cemetery should be established at Franklin; the cost of removing the five hundred  (500) bodies to Nashville, where there is ample room, or Columbia, where land has been donated being trifling in comparison with the expense of maintaining a guard to protect them at Franklin. 
"Brevet Major General JL Donaldson in forwarding the above report states that Major General Thomas wishes to locate a cemetery at Franklin, as an important battle was fought there; but the people are hostile, and will not sell land for such a purpose. It will therefore be necessary to seize what is needed. But General Thomas does not feel authorized to seize land and therefore directs General Donaldson to submit the question to the Quartermaster General for the requisite authority of the Secretary of War. In case land cannot be had at Franklin, General Donaldson states the dead can be removed to Columbia, where land has been donated to the government. 
"In consideration of the facts that the cemetery at Franklin would require a keeper; that the number of bodies is not great, and that the graves will be liable to desecration from the hostility of the people, I would respectfully recommend that authority be not granted to seize land for a national cemetery at Franklin, Tennessee, but that the bodies of all Union soldiers interred there be removed to the national cemetery at Columbia, Tennessee. This will save the United States an expense of not less than a thousand dollars per year of keeping up a cemetery at Franklin without adding to the annual cost of the Columbia cemetery when once established." (Hat tip: Daniel Crone for pointing out Meigs report.)

On a frigid Saturday afternoon,  I walked among the rows of graves at the McGavock Confederate Cemetery -- the largest privately owned military cemetery in the country -- to shoot these photographs.

A Confederate flag adorns a marker designating 51 South Carolina dead.
An unknown marker near an old gravestone and a tree stump.
The McGavock family donated a two-acre plot for the cemetery.
A close-up of a marker for Confederate unknowns from the Battle of Franklin.
Eighteen soldiers from Louisiana are among the 1,491 Confederates interred at the cemetery.
A more recent marker near an old marker for Confederate unknown.
Sixty-nine Georgia dead are among soldiers from nine Confederate states buried in the cemetery.
A marker for unknown. The privately run cemetery relies on donations.  Click here for more information.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Remembering The Journey of 2,000 Smiles

Jessie Banks and her dad on the steps leading to the Dunker Church at Antietam.

Like this blog on Facebook

At 9:06 Sunday night, I finally pulled my grimy car into our driveway in the frozen state of Connecticut. A five-day, nine-state journey was over. A weary body rejoiced. Daughter Jessie was successfully delivered to her new home in Nashville, Tenn., where she will begin her first professional job.

My final tally:

Hotel stays: 4.
Towns visited: Many.
Side trips to Civil War sites: 5.
Arguments with daughter: 0. (Stunning!)
Speeding tickets: 0. (Amazing!)
Road miles traveled: 2,200.

But this trip was so much more than miles traveled or number of places visited. I’ll remember it as The Journey of 2,000 Smiles.

Dad, Elvis and Jessie on Broadway in Nashville.
On Leg 1, father and daughter bonded over music. We sang together (loudly) Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reasonand Pearl Jam's "Alive." Sunglasses hid my tears as we listened to Neil Young's “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” She educated me on the greatness of Spotify, and I showed her a sliver of my world. In Sharpsburg, Md., my favorite place of all, we shot a selfie on the steps leading to the Dunker Church at Antietam. Later, at an impromptu lunch with a new friend there, she looked like a little pixie in her light-gray toboggan. Is she really 23? Wasn't she holding a teddy bear yesterday?

As we traveled down I-81 in Virginia, we marveled at the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in a diner in Harrisonburg, we discussed life. “I feel like I’m finally growing up,” she said. She cried over a text from her mom.

En route from Knoxville to Chattanooga, Jessie dickered on the phone with a rep from an Internet service provider.  As she grew frustrated, I restrained my urge to help. She did just fine. “Jessica,” the woman on the other end of the line said, “you’re going to do great.” She smiled and celebrated when the transaction was completed. I did, too. But letting go sure is hard.

Before a meal in a restaurant in Somewhere, USA, we held hands as we prayed for a friend of her friend. God, that was great.

After she picked up her car in Tuscaloosa, where she recently graduated from the U of Alabama, Jessie headed to the city of her dreams. Sheesh, she looked small behind that wheel. When we finally reached Nashville, we reveled in her great, new home. Trying to ignore the cold, we took a selfie with Elvis. And on Broadway that night, we enjoyed drinks and pizza, laughing much of the time.

When we parted the next morning, I cried a river.

A breathtaking view from Lookout Mountain.
There were plenty of tears -- and smiles -- on the return trip, too. At a barbecue restaurant on the backroads of Tennessee, the waitress -- she looked like a pixie, too -- looked at me funny when I told her I'd be just fine with the unsweetened tea. "I'm from the North," I said. "We'll just make it half and half," she replied with a smile.

On a frigid afternoon at Lookout Mountain, a chemistry student from China explained how to use an app to pay for my parking. Imagine that. And later, a biker wearing a sleeveless T-shirt -- imagine that -- and I admired the fabulous view.

On a deep-blue sky afternoon at New Market, Va., a docent kindly waived the battlefield entry fee. Too cold outside, she said with a smile. Later, at Fisher's Hill in Virginia, I climbed the hills, deftly avoiding clumps of cow patties, to see what the soldiers saw there on Sept. 22, 1864. The cows eyed me, warily.

On the long, last leg home, I had plenty of time to think -- about family, about life, about what's most important. Enjoy the journey, I concluded.

Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Hey, Larry David, my daughter loves the Civil War, too!

Jessie Banks and your humble blogger in front of the Dunker Church at Antietam.

Like this blog on Facebook

On the way to her first professional gig in Nashville, Jessie Banks and I decided we absolutely had to stop at Antietam. God bless her. During the drive from the tiny state of Conn., she endured a stream of dad jokes as well as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steely Dan, Pearl Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. Now on to see where the 15th Massachusetts was routed in the West Woods. She loves this stuff!!!! Take that, Cazzie David.

Cazzie David seemed to enjoy a 2015 visit to Manassas battlefield with her funny father, Larry.
(Instagram | @cazziedavid)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Gordon Rhea's passions: Overland Campaign and writing

Of Gordon Rhea's five Overland Campaign books, his Cold Harbor work is the only one MIA in my library.

Like this blog on Facebook

At a dinner with a Civil War expert last summer, I asked him for a scouting report on Gordon Rhea, whose excellent book on the Battle of the Wilderness, first published in 1994, I had just completed. (I read slowly.) "Great guy ... extremely knowledgeable ... attorney ... terrific battlefield guide ... down to earth," he told me. He emphasized the down-to-earth description.

Gordon Rhea
During a recent road trip to Antietam and South Mountain, I caught up with Rhea on Civil War Talk Radio podcasts here and here. In the November 2017 podcast, the 72-year-old historian discussed with host Gerald Prokopowicz his fifth and final Overland Campaign book, On To Petersburg, Grant and Lee June 4-15, 1864. (If you're not counting, that's 2,506 pages by Rhea on the most crucial period of the war.)

I was impressed with the well-spoken Rhea's knowledge and especially by his passion for writing. That's no accident. 

"When I was in college," he told me via e-mail, "the professor who guided me in writing my history honors thesis insisted on a clear and interesting writing style. I have taken to heart his admonition that history must be interesting to read, or no one will read it."

In an e-mail Q&A for my blog, Rhea also writes of the battlefield spot he finds most moving, his hope the National Park Service and relic hunters can work with each other, the greatest myth about the Overland Campaign and more.

Winslow Homer's "Skirmish in the Wilderness" evokes the "dark mood of a confused battle," Rhea says.

Winslow Homer's painting "Skirmish In the Wilderness," in the collection of the New Britain (Conn.) Museum of American Art, appears on the cover of your first Overland Campaign book, The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864. Why was that chosen, and what reaction do you have when you see it?

Rhea: For each of my books, I have tried to select art by a painter of the Civil War generation who best captured the mood of the narrative, Winslow Homer's painting of the Wilderness fighting certainly meets that objective. It evokes the dark mood of a confused battle in a thick woodland where neither soldiers nor generals knew where the enemy might be, a battle of ghostly figures against ghostly figures.

For my book about Spotsylvania Court House, I chose Julian Scott's painting of the death of General John Sedgwick, who was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. Like Homer, Scott served during the Civil War, and his painting evokes an authentic contemporary mood.

Finding a painting for my book about the North Anna River proved more difficult, as no artists who had experienced the Civil War chose that battle for a painting. However, a modern artist in Fredericksburg -- Donna J. Neary -- painted an excellent piece entitled "Even to Hell Itself" depicting Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Chandler trying to rally his troops during General James H. Ledlie's ill-fated attack at Ox Ford. Ms. Neary courteously permitted me to use her fine piece for my cover.

For my Cold Harbor book, I returned to Julian Scott, this time using his painting of Theodore Lyman attempting to deliver a message across enemy lines to facilitate the removal of dead and wounded soldiers from the Cold Harbor battlefield.

As with my North Anna book, I could find no paintings of the movement across the James River and the initial assault toward Petersburg. An impressive black-and-white image is an 1897 drawing by Benjamin West Clinedinst depicting Grant watching the Army of the Potomac crossing the James. The drawing appeared in Horace Porter's Campaigning With Grant, and LSU Press used modern technology to colorize if for my cover.

From left, generals James Wadsworth, John Sedgwick and J.E.B.Stuart. Each died from battle wounds.

In your Wilderness book, I was fascinated by the story of the death of Union General James Wadsworth, who was shot in the head and died behind Confederate lines. Of the deaths of soldiers you have told in your books, which story resonates most with you?

Rhea: The story of Wadsworth's death is certainly moving, as are the circumstances of John Sedgwick's death. Perhaps the most heart-rending deathbed scene is that of Jeb Stuart, who was brought back to Richmond following his mortal wounding at Yellow Tavern and died before his wife could reach his side.

Given the access to materials online today, how is the research process different for you for your most recent book compared with the process for your first Overland Campaign book published in 1994?

Rhea: I began working on my Wilderness book in 1986. Then, of course, there were no online resources, so I spent considerable time traveling around the country visiting archives and gathering material. Bob Krick at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park had done a wonderful job collecting primary sources, and I spent several days working through that treasure trove of information. I also received assistance from researchers such as Bryce Suderow, who introduced me to the world of Civil War-era newspapers. Back then, they were accessible only through microfilm or in the jurisdictions where they had been published.

The Internet has eased the difficulty of researching somewhat, although not entirely. Many Civil War-era newspapers are now online, as are older books and some letters and diaries. While many major repositories have put indexes online, to see the actual documents you generally have to visit the repositories. In short, researching the Civil War still requires lots of travel.

 Higgerson Farm, one of the few clearings in the Wilderness. "One cannot fathom the true nature
 of a battle without walking the ground," Gordon Rhea says.
                  WILDERNESS PANORAMA: Where Vermont Brigade made its stand.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

You believe it's essential to walk the ground of a battlefield before writing about the fighting there. Tell us about that. 

Rhea: One cannot fathom the true nature of a battle without walking the ground. The lay of the land explains much about what happened and what did not happen. Years ago, I led a tour of the Wilderness battlefield for the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command. My audience included veterans of Vietnam and of the first Gulf War. After the tour, we gathered around a table and talked about the differences and similarities between modern warfare and warfare in the 1860s. The modern-day warriors were most impressed with the difficulty of managing and maneuvering Civil War armies. Without aerial observations or electronic communications, it was impossible to know if the enemy was 50 miles away or just over the next ridge. And with battle lines stretching for miles, precious minutes -- even hours -- were consumed getting important information to headquarters and receiving instructions back from headquarters. These modern warriors were very impressed that Civil War commanders were able to get anything right with such primitive intelligence gathering and communications systems.

Post-war image looking from Bloody Angle, the battlefield spot that "always moves"
 Gordon Rhea, toward the McCoull farm.

Of the major Overland Campaign battlefields, I find Cold Harbor to be the most haunting, especially where the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery fought. Is there a place on any of the battlefields you have written about that "haunts" you?

Rhea: The Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Court House always moves me. This was the scene of the war's most vicious, prolonged, face-to-face intense combat. Several years ago, I wrote a book entitled Carrying The Flag that told the story of Charles Whilden, who carried the flag of the 1st South Carolina during the Confederate counter-offensive to retake that stretch of earthworks. I can't help thinking about Charles, an aging conscript who suffered from epilepsy, whenever I visit the site.

Rhea says relic hunters were "very useful" to him at the 
Wilderness. Above, remains of Union trenches on 
National Park Service property at that battlefield. 
Relic hunting is illegal on NPS property.
The old-timers who live near battlefields -- relic hunters and the like -- often are a rich source of information. Did any provide you with information that aided your storytelling and how were they helpful?

Rhea: I have found relic hunters to be very useful, particularly at the Wilderness battlefield. The only way to accurately determine the position of the various lines in much of that dense woods is to find relics from the battle. Much of the battlefield is outside National Park Service property, and I have spent many hours with relic hunters who showed me where they had determined the battle lines to have been based on the unexpended ammunition (often dropped by soldiers firing and loading as quickly as they could) and expended rounds. I wish that the Park Service could reach an accommodation with relic hunters, permitting them onto NPS lands on designated days on the condition that they share with the park the identity and location of their finds. Seems to me that both parties would benefit from such an arrangement.

What's the greatest misconception about the Overland Campaign?

Rhea: That Ulysses Grant was a butcher who never maneuvered, and that Robert E. Lee possessed the extraordinary ability to accurately predict Grant's next move. As my five books on the campaign demonstrate in detail, Grant relied on a mix of attacks and maneuvers to bring his wily adversary to bay, and Lee frequently misjudged Grant's next move, often putting his army in peril.

Ulysses Grant and
Robert E. Lee.
Excellent narrative storytelling is difficult. Describe your writing process.

Rhea: It takes a long time and is very painful. I prepare folders for each brigade involved in the battle that I am writing about, and put in each folder excerpts from the pertinent published material, such as regimental histories, memoirs, and newspaper accounts, as well as archival material, including letters, diary entries and the like. From that I can construct what happened, who attacked whom, and what it was like to be there. I write on a computer, so I am able to insert new material as I find it as I go along. Unlike some authors, I cannot get it right the first time. I do multiple drafts, and once I am finished, I print out the chapters and read them both single-spaced and double-spaced, working to get the language right. When I was in college, the professor who guided me in writing my history honors thesis insisted on a clear and interesting writing style. I have taken to heart his admonition that history must be interesting to read, or no one will read it.

Of the books you have written on the Overland Campaign, which one do you step back and say "Dang, I really nailed that one"? And why is that?

Rhea: I have enjoyed them all. When I began writing about the Overland Campaign, I ventured into uncharted territory. There was only one modern book on the Wilderness (Ed Steers' piece) and none about Spotsylvania, the North Anna, Cold Harbor or the movement to the James River.

If you could ask Ulysses Grant or Robert E. Lee one question about the Overland Campaign, what would it be?

Rhea: I would ask each of them if, knowing what we now know, would they have fought their campaign differently. Would Lee still have tried to hold the line of the Rapidan River, or would Grant now wish he had followed the strategy that he initially advocated -- to first sever Lee's supply lines by advancing from the coast into North Carolina, then pursue Lee as he retired, most likely westward? Also, I would very much like to know Grant's candid opinion whether he would have wanted someone other than George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac, and someone other than Benjamin Butler commanding the Army of the James.

Finally, what is the greatest void in Civil War writing today?

Rhea: While much has been written about battles, there is still much to be said about the home fronts. We have seen some excellent recent studies of the impact of the war on homelife in the Confederacy, but I can't recall any modern studies about how the families of soldiers from the North fared and evolved.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.