Surviving Andersonville

landonThe story of James William Landon of the 5th Iowa Cavalry is the subject of my latest New York Times Disunion post. An excerpt:

“During the daytime we hid in the brush and swamps and during the night we would travel,” Landon explained. “About five days of this kind of retreat elapsed when I was wounded by a rebel. We were crossing over a ridge pursued by four men in rebel uniform. They were anyhow four hundred yards behind when one of them fired the shot that wounded me. Though we knew that the enemy was after us we did not know that they were so close until the report of the gun was heard.”

Read the full story.

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Reflections on the New York Times’s “Disunion” Blog

Disunion will come to an end in 2015, according to Clay Risen, who edits the popular New York Times blog. This is perhaps the biggest news item announced during the panel held Friday afternoon at the Southern Historical Society’s 2014 meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

IMG_4382Organized by Blain Roberts of the California State University at Fresno, the panel included her husband, Ethan J. Kytle, also of the California State University at Fresno, Clay Risen, Staff Editor, Op-Ed, New York TimesSusan Schulten of the University of Denver, Kate Masur of Northwestern University and me.

The two-hour discussion started with brief presentations by the panelists, followed by a Q and A from the live audience and twitter (#sha2014). Subjects ranged from basic questions about the blog and thoughts about how scholars can benefit by this format to a strong plea by historian Masur for Disunion to continue on and examine the Reconstruction era.

Megan Kate Nelson, writer, historian, culture critic, and author of the blog Historista, tweeted the panel. She accurately summarized my role in Disunion:

Not tweeted but mentioned in my opening remarks is the importance and relevance of the portrait photographs of the Civil War period to the country’s visual record.

10626295_966761333352034_7770915906265575458_oI thoroughly enjoyed my visit and was honored to participate. My stay in Atlanta was brief but active. One of my favorite moments was catching up with Bob Brugger of The Johns Hopkins University Press. Bob is my editor, and he was manning the Hopkins Press booth in the exhibitor area.

I will miss Disunion after it wraps up next year, and am very curious to know how Risen will bring it to a conclusion.

The Plot to Kill Jeff Davis

kingstonSamuel Tilden Kingston, an assistant surgeon in the Second New York Cavalry who accompanied his comrades on the ill-fated Kilpatrick Raid against Richmond, is the subject of my latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion. Kingston rode with a 500-man column commanded by Col. Ulric Dahlgren, who was killed in action. Papers reportedly found on his body ordered the assassination of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet. Kingston fell into enemy hands when he remained behind with wounded troopers. He was sent to Libby Prison and condemned to death as a felon. An excerpt:

Dahlgren’s body, which had been unceremoniously dumped in a muddy grave near the place he fell, was disinterred and put on display in Richmond. “Large numbers of persons went to see it. It was in a pine box, clothed in Confederate shirt and pants, and shrouded in a Confederate blanket,” reported The Richmond Whig on March 8, 1864.

While this circus played out on the streets of the capital, Kingston and his white cellmates were informed that they had been condemned to death as felons for their role in the alleged assassination attempt. “This news appeared to have a very depressing effect on Dr. Kingston,” noted Lieutenant Bartley, a fellow prisoner.

Kingston’s cough and cold worsened, and he lost his appetite. On March 21, as he lay near death, the Confederates removed him from his cell and sent him North. He survived the trip home, and with good food and care came back to life. He eventually returned to the regiment, was promoted to full surgeon, and served in this capacity until the end of the war.

Read the rest of the story.

A Literary Minded Veteran and His Dog?

A gent sits with his legs crossed and holds a book, perhaps an indication that he has an interest in literature, or may be an educator or publisher. The approximate date of this image (circa 1862-1864), and his relative youth (military age) increase the chances that he (and maybe his dog) served in the Civil War. This photograph was taken in the studio of G.J. Wood of Syracuse, N.Y., and is new to my collection.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Literary-Minded Gent and His Dog

New Jersey’s ‘Mutinous’ 33rd

toffeyNow available on New York Times Disunion is the story of John James Toffey and how he came to receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry when he saved a skirmish line at Chattanooga.

An excerpt:

The order to begin what came to be known as the Battle of Orchard Knob (or Indian Hill) was given about 3:30 a.m. Toffey recalled, “We were ordered to charge a very strong position on the extreme right of the rebel line. It was well fortified and surrounded by dense woods, while in front there was an open field over which we had to charge.”

Confederate infantry and sharpshooters concealed themselves in the woods and in rifle pits dug into the banks of Citico Creek, and arranged themselves under cover of a railroad bridge and nearby buildings.

The Southerners opened up a murderous fire almost immediately after the 33rd started forward — no more then 20 paces according to one account. Rebel lead struck the Jersey boys with deadly accuracy. The Confederates, Toffey noted, “were directing their attention to the officers.”

Read the full story.

I first wrote about Toffey in my 2004 book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories.

Fighting Across the Rappahannock

charles-clarkThe story of Charlie Clark and his experience in the brilliant, brutal affair at Rappahannock Station, Va., is the subject of my latest New York Times Disunion post. This profile would not have happened without Andrea Solarz, who is Charlie’s great-great granddaughter. She generously shared from his unpublished diaries and letters.

An excerpt:

“Charlie Clark basked in the warmth of a budding romance on a cold autumn day in 1863. His friend and fellow lieutenant in the Union Army, Solomon Russell, had fallen for a Southern belle in war-torn Virginia. On the morning of Nov. 7, 1863, the officers left their camp in Warrenton to call upon her. They made their way to the home of the widow Rosina Dixon and found the focus of Russell’s desire: the 15-year-old Anna. Whatever words passed between the Yankee officer and rebel maiden went unrecorded, though Clark referenced the encounter years later in his reminiscences, noting that Russell “was deeply in love” with Anna.”

Read the rest of the story.

Latest on NYT Disunion: Out of Ammunition at Sulphur Springs

phelpsMy latest New York Times Disunion post tells the story of a Union guard’s doubt about a messenger’s frantic request, which resulted in fateful consequences for Lt. Lester D. Phelps and his comrades in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry during a skirmish at Virginia’s Rappahannock River. An excerpt:

A lone Union cavalryman sped away from the front lines through the Virginia countryside towards Warrenton on the afternoon of Oct. 12, 1863. He soon encountered federal provost guards, who ordered him to halt. The cavalryman relayed an urgent request: He and his fellow troopers had come under heavy attack by the enemy and, low on ammunition, they needed help immediately.

The provost guards doubted the veracity of the request. They had heard the same story repeatedly that day told by stragglers fleeing advancing Confederates. The provost had turned all of these shirkers away, and they were not going to make an exception now. They denied the request and sent the cavalryman back to the front.

Read the rest of the story.

New on Disunion: A Slave’s Service in the Confederate Army

24disunion-img-blog427I originally wrote about Silas Chandler, the slave who served two masters in the Confederate army, in African American Faces of the Civil War. In a new version posted yesterday on the New York Times Disunion blog, I’ve revised the story with a few additional details, including this paragraph that provides context about slaves who served Mississippi Confederates:

“In 1888, Mississippi established a state pension program for Confederate veterans and their widows. African-Americans who had acted as slave servants to soldiers in gray were also allowed to participate. Over all, 1,739 men of color were on the pension rolls, including Silas.”

Read the full story.

New on Disunion: The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground

William Harvey CarneyMy latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion is the story of Sgt. William Harvey Carney of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and how he came to say these immortal words at Fort Wagner.

An excerpt:

Carney climbed the rampart with the Stars and Stripes. “All around me were the dead and wounded, lying one upon top the other,” he observed, describing the scene. “It seemed a miracle that I should have been spared in that awful slaughter. When I recovered from my semi stupor, on account of the scenes of blood about me, I found myself standing on the top of the embankment, all alone. It were folly for me to try to advance, so I dropped on my knees among my dead comrades, and I laid as low and quiet as possible.”

Carney planted the bottom of the flagstaff into the ground as musket bullets and canister shots plowed into the earth near his feet and sprayed sand into the air. “I was almost blinded by the dirt flying around me and nearly distracted by the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying men about me. As soon as I could distinguish anything in the darkness, I could see dimly on one side a line of men mounting the ramparts and going down into the fort. I thought they must be our own men, but in the light of a cannon flash I saw they were the enemy.”

Read the rest of Sgt. Carney’s story.

New on Disunion: An Orange Blossom in the Devil’s Den

DisunionMy latest contribution is now available. The source of the story and the photo is Sean R. Otis, who made contact with me on my Facebook page. I am much obliged to Sean for his efforts.

An excerpt from the story of Capt. Isaac Nicoll:

Nancy and George Hoover looked on as rebels traipsed through the couple’s modest Pennsylvania farm during the days immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg. The disappointed, yet still defiant, Confederates camped in the fields around the Hoover homestead near Waynesboro, about 20 miles west of the battlefield.

On Monday, July 6, 1863, a band of officers entered the Hoover house and made themselves comfortable. Mrs. Hoover later told a local historian that they “were seated at Mr. Hoover’s table partaking of his hospitality, and discussing the great battle and pointing out the causes of their defeat and mistakes they made.”

At one point during the impromptu debate, Lt. Ransom W. Wood of the 20th Georgia Infantry reached into his coat and pulled out a Bible. He had picked the Testament from the pocket of a dead Yankee captain on the battlefield.

Read the full story.