The promise of the award-winning series: “One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period—using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.”
A number of contributing authors have delivered on that promise. My job, from 2011-2014, was to share the soldier’s narrative. Not the famous and infamous generals and other high-ranking commanders (although they are most certainly be mentioned from time to time), but the experiences of the line officers and enlisted men who fought on the front lines and toiled behind the scenes of the Northern and Southern armies. Their stories were told from first-hand accounts in letters, diaries and newspapers, from their military service files and pension records.
COMPLETE INDEX OF CONTRIBUTIONS
- The Plot to Kill Jeff Davis (March 8): Samuel Tilden Kingston, an assistant surgeon in the Second New York Cavalry, accompanied his comrades on the ill-fated Kilpatrick Raid against Richmond. He fell into hands and was implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet.
- Captain Barnes and the Wilderness (May 6): The horrific fighting in the Wilderness decimated the 93rd New York Infantry. One of the regiment’s captains, Dennis Edwin Barnes, went out to provide comfort to those from his company who had fallen and were too injured too move.
- American Indians in Confederate Territory (June 23): Payson Wolf served in an all-American Indian company of the First Michigan Sharpshooters. On June 17, 1864, he and many of his comrades were captured in battle at Petersburg, Va., and sent to Andersonville Prison.
- Surviving Andersonville (Nov. 24): James William Landon and a number of his comrades in the Fifth Iowa Cavalry were captured during a failed raid on Atlanta during the summer of 1864. Landon’s prisoner of war experience included a stay in notorious Andersonville prison.
- ‘A Great Fight for Freedom’ (Jan. 3): William Dominick Matthews (pictured, right) grew up a free black man in Maryland, but prejudice and discrimination drove him to Kansas, where he found “a great fight for freedom” in progress. He went on to recruit a number of volunteers for the First Kansas Colored Infantry.
- Colonel Shaw’s Drummer Boy (March 5): The story of Alexander Howard Johnson, one of the youngest soldiers in the famed Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry, and its most talented drummer.
- Walt Whitman’s Boss (March 20): The story of Lyman Sawin Hapgood, a Boston abolitionist and Union army paymaster who gave the poet his first job in the capital, and took him on numerous field trips to pay federal forces.
- Samuel Noyes, Mountaineer (May 10): A frail student, Samuel Bean Noyes left school in 1862 and enlisted in the Twelfth New Hampshire Infantry. His officers did not consider him soldier material and assigned him to be a mail carrier. But after the regiment was decimated at Chancellorsville, Noyes was given a combat role—just in time for the Battle of Gettysburg.
- The Last 15 Feet at Vicksburg (May 23): A rousing war speech delivered in Chicago by businessman Joseph Cornwall Wright contributed to the formation of the Seventy-second Illinois Infantry. A year later along the front lines at Vicksburg, now Lt. Col. Wright led his regiment into an all-out assault against the formidable defenses of the stronghold city.
- Redemption at Port Hudson (May 31): After a shaky start in his first engagement at Plains Store, La., Lt. Col. James F. O’Brien of the Forty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry had an opportunity for redemption as commander of a “Forlorn Hope” against the formidable defenses of Port Hudson. O’Brien and his 200-man storming party assaulted the Confederates on May 27, 1863, with terrible losses.
- Pinned Down at Port Hudson (June 14): The massive frontal assault by Capt. Edward R. Washburn of the Fifty-third Massachusetts Infantry and other Union troops against the almost impregnable Confederate defenses of Port Hudson, La., ended in a sound defeat for the attackers.
- ‘A Gallant Officer’ (June 29): A Civil War widow’s long journey to bring home the remains of her husband, Amos B. Rhoads, a lieutenant in the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry killed in action in an attack on Shelbyville, Tennessee.
- A Regiment is Sacrificed at Gettysburg (July 2): Corp. James Brownlee of the 134th New York Infantry suffered multiple wounds during the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, during which he and his regiment paid a heavy price to buy time for the Union army to withdraw to higher ground south of town.
- An Orange Blossom in the Devil’s Den (July 6): Among the officers of the 124th New York Infantry killed in the horrific fighting at Gettysburg was Capt. Isaac Nicoll. How his Bible came to be captured by Confederates and later returned to his father is a testament to the patriotism of a Pennsylvania farm woman.
- ‘The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground’ (July 19): William Harvey Carney was born into slavery but rose to become one of the Union’s most famous soldiers after he saved the Stars and Stripes during the ill-fated assault by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry at Fort Wagner, South Carolina.
- A Slave’s Service in the Confederate Army (September 24): Silas Chandler, a slave who belonged to the Chandler family of Mississippi, went to war with to of the Chandler sons, Andrew and Benjamin.
- Out of Ammunition at Sulphur Springs (October 14): A Union guard’s doubt of a messenger’s frantic request had fateful consequences for Lt. Lester D. Phelps and his comrades in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry during a skirmish at Virginia’s Rappahannock River.
- Fighting Across the Rappahannock (November 11): The story of Lt. Charles Amory Clark and his comrades in the Sixth Maine who beat Robert E. Lee and his Confederates in a brilliant, brutal affair at a railroad station in Virginia.
- New Jersey’s ‘Mutinous’ 33rd (November 26): John James Toffey of he Thirty-third New Jersey tore up an order to report to the hospital to fight alongside his comrades at Chattanooga. He would later receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry when he saved a skirmish line during the Battle of Orchard Knob.
- Sam Oliver Gets Married (Jan. 3): Lt. Col. Samuel Cook Oliver’s decision to marry in wartime revealed tension between he and his commanding colonel. Oliver later left his regiment, the Fourteenth Massachusetts Infantry, and joined another infantry unit. He became one of the large number of men wounded at Antietam.
- Captain Huse Gives the South ‘Old-Fashioned Hell’ (Jan. 25): Henry Howard Huse, an idealistic New Hampshire volunteer, finds himself in the Deep South at the intersection of war, politics, and the fabulous wealth of Louisiana plantation country.
- The Tumultuous Career of Captain Spalding (Feb. 4): J. Lewis Spalding served in three Union regiments, including the Twenty-ninth Connecticut Infantry, comprised of black enlisted men. His army career was hampered by his worst enemy: himself.
- Custer and His Roommate Part Ways (Feb. 15): How Lt. Col. James Porter Parker, a second-rate West Pointer, found himself on the opposing side of the war from his pal from Academy days, Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
- A Boy Sergeant Fights at New Bern (March 13): Sgt. James Wheaton Converse Jr. (pictured, right) of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry distinguished himself in action during in the Union invasion of coastal North Carolina.
- Private Comey Steals Away to Battle (March 24): Private Henry Newton Comey of the Second Massachusetts Infantry got his first taste of the horrors of war at Kernstown, Va., in early 1862—a rare Union victory against the forces of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Comey survived, advanced in rank to captain, and fought in some of the war’s biggest battles, including Gettysburg.
- Like Father, Like Son (April 9): John William Fenton joined the Union army during the Civil War and found a home in the 132nd New York Infantry. But a lapse in judgment cost him his military career—and set him on a path to redemption.
- Henry Scott’s Escape to Freedom (April 12): William Henry Scott vowed to break out of bondage at age eight. He got his chance in the spring of 1862, when a regiment of Union soldiers encamped near the plantation on which he toiled.
- Before the Storm (May 7): James E. McBeth of the 131st New York Infantry called for total war a year before Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman made it happen. McBeth explained, “War I am fully aware is a dreadful thing. But when once we are compelled to resort to the unsheathing of the sword, it should be hard words and harder works. The more bloody, the more humane for it is sooner over with.”
- Death on Virginia’s ‘Sacré’ Soil (June 9): Brash French immigrant Charles de Choiseul, the lieutenant colonel of the Seventh Louisiana Infantry, finds his fate on a Shenandoah Valley wheat field near the bucolic village of Port Republic.
- Left for Dead in Virginia (June 28): Hospital steward George T. Perkins of the Twenty-second Massachusetts Infantry fights for his life after he is grievously wounded while saving an injured comrade during the thick of the fight at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill.
- Tragedy at Butler’s Ditch (July 22): Along the Mississippi River in July 1862, a detachment of infantrymen led by Capt. Lorenzo Dow Brooks escorted a riverboat loaded with slaves being returned to their masters. The slaves were successfully landed. On the return trip tragedy struck the ship and Brooks, a popular officer in the Seventh Vermont Infantry.
- Robert Gould Shaw’s Gruesome Task (Aug. 12): The Boston Brahmin was dispatched to bring back the bodies of five fellow officers killed in action during the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Among the remains he escorted were those of William Blackstone Williams, one of the most accomplished captains in the regiment.
- Andy Milice’s Second Chance (Aug. 21): After a miserable experience in his first stint in the military, Indiana soldier Andrew Staley Milice uses President Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 call for army volunteers to repair his damaged reputation. Milice joins the Seventy-fourth Indiana Infantry and redeems himself.
- Father Waldo’s America (Sept. 7, 2012): President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War as seen through the eyes of Rev. Daniel Waldo, a centenarian veteran of the Revolution and onetime Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- A Gentle Giant Stays Behind (Sept. 15): The many sacrifices of Algernon Marble Squier, a towering Civil War medical man. His military service began as a hospital steward with the Ninth Vermont Infantry at Harpers Ferry, and ended as a contract surgeon with the regular army at a frontier fort in Kansas.
- The Yellow Doc Raiders (Oct. 22): Charismatic rebel leader Howell A. Rayburn and his merry band of guerrillas terrorized Civil War Arkansas. He began his war journey in Texas as a mounted infantrymen, but a bout of sickness in the Arkansas community of Des Arc led him to become a partisan ranger.
- Cold Steel and Crossed Sabers at Little Washington (Nov. 8): Charismatic Georgia trooper William Gaston Delony (pictured, right) fought his way across Civil War Virginia and gained a reputation as one of the boldest and most daring cavalrymen in the Army of Northern Virginia.
- The Bad Boy From Alabama (Nov. 30): Confederate soldier David Barnum made trouble on land but dreamed of heading to sea. His adventures in the Fifth Alabama Infantry and in the Confederate Navy brand him as a first-class troublemaker.
- ‘The Day the Stars Wept’ (Dec. 16): The life and death of Capt. George Washington Quimby, a Dartmouth graduate and peacetime school principal who commanded a company in the Fourth Vermont Infantry until a Confederate bullet struck him down during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
- The Precarious Position of Lt. Reese (Jan. 5): West Pointer Chauncey Barnes Reese’s first assignment takes him to Mobile Bay, where he oversees construction of federal Fort Gaines as Alabama withdraws from the Union and state militia capture the fort.
- Capt. Ramsey and the Birth of the ‘True Blues’ (Feb. 8): The day Jefferson Davis becomes president of the fledgling Confederacy in Montgomery, David Wardlaw Ramsey joins a newly formed military company, the Wilcox County ‘True Blues,’ and marches off to war with the rest of its regiment, the First Alabama Artillery.
- Lt. Harleston Brings on the Brick Dust (April 12): In Charleston Harbor, Lt. Francis Huger Harleston commands artillery on board the Floating Battery, described as a “curious monster.” It inflicts its share of damage on Fort Sumter.
- Nick Biddle and the First Defenders (April 18): Black army servant Nicholas Biddle becomes one of the Civil War’s first casualties as he marches through Baltimore on April 18, 1861, with 475 Pennsylvania volunteers.
- ‘Out of the Briars:’ (April 23): Alexander Herritage Newton (pictured, right), a free black man, follows the Thirteenth New York National Guard to war after the regiment responded to President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to suppress the rebellion.
- Private Barnes and the Saviors of Washington (April 25): Alfred Cutler Barnes and his regiment of dandies become the first Union troops to enter Washington after riots in Baltimore isolated the capital city.
- Pastor Witherspoon Goes to War (April 30): After the Mississippi minister preached a sermon on Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God,” Thomas Dwight Witherspoon enlists in the army and goes to war as much a holy crusader as an infantryman.
- Lt. Knox Carries on His Friend’s Legacy (May 25): Edward Burgin Knox stood at the head of his regiment in Alexandria, Va., when his good friend and colonel Elmer Ellsworth suffers a fatal gunshot after removing a Confederate flag from a flagpole on top of the roof of the Marshall House hotel. He carries on the legacy of the martyred officer.
- Capt. Hannum Attends the Philippi Races (June 3): Jehu C. Hannum, a Mexican War veteran, gets back into to the army as an officer in the Ninth Indiana Infantry, one of the first regiments organized in the state. Hannum participates in the engagement at Philippi, Virginia, considered by some as the first land battle of the Civil War.
- Sgt. Barney Longs for Home—and a Fight (June 10): A small-town Vermonter, Valentine Goodrich “Val” Barney, writes to his wife about the first big battle of the war and speculates on who is to blame for the Union defeat.
- The Campbell Rangers Hit Bull Run (July 21): Prosperous tobacco man John Dabney “Captain Jack” Alexander leads his Virginia cavalry company into the Civil War’s first major battle.
- The Capture of Ambrose Burnside’s Valet (July 22): How a bewhiskered officer lost his trusted servant, Robert Holloway, to Confederate enslavement—and how he managed to free him.
- Private Conant and the First Bull Run Prisoners (July 23): Wounded and captured at the Battle of First Bull Run, Marcus Conant of the Eleventh Massachusetts Infantry numbers among the first Union prisoners of war to roll into Richmond.
- A Recruit’s Quest to Join the Army (Aug. 28): Isaiah Goddard Hacker confronts the shifting health requirements for Union soldiers.
- The ‘Jack of Clubs’ Makes His Move (Sept. 2): How British immigrant Benjamin Bazin Hopkins (pictured, right) rose from a lowly teamster in the Fifth Illinois Cavalry to be a Union officer.
- Lieutenant Ingraham’s Short ‘Commish’ (Sept. 24): Aaron Hunt Ingraham, an enlisted man in the Forty-eighth New York Infantry, launches his own campaign to get an officer’s commission and a combat assignment.
- The Southern ‘Iron Man’ (Oct. 7): How a tragic death transformed Mississippi Unionist Thomas Binford Webber from a disgruntled private to a passionate Confederate officer.
- The Great Escape (Nov. 5): Union Pvt. John Wesley Pierson of the Seventh Iowa Infantry was captured in battle at Belmont, Mo., on Nov. 7, 1861. He spent five months as a prisoner of war, and later recounted his harrowing escape from ‘Secession Saloon.’
- Whistler’s Brother (Nov. 15): William McNeill Whistler, the artist’s brother and a modest doctor, struggled to find his way into the Confederate army. After he did, he became a fearless Confederate officer.
- Captain McCornal Trades His Brush for a Saber (Dec. 6): Morris McCornal set aside his pursuit of fine art to raise a company of troopers for the First New York Mounted Rifles. The sacrifice of his art to defend the Union had serious consequences for him after the war.
- A Soldier in the West (Dec. 26): Major George Washington Chilton of the Third Texas Cavalry fought against pro-Union tribes in the Southwest, as always in the front and center of the action.