The first five books in my series, "Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time," are now available for pucharse. They are:"CIVIL WAR UNSUNG HEROES;" "CIVIL WAR WOMEN: UNDERESTIMATED AND INDISPENSABLE;" "CIVIL WAR POLITICAL GENERALS OF THE BLUE AND GREY,"CIVIL WAR ROGUES, RASCALS, AND RAPSCALLIONS" AND "CIVIL WAR TRAILBLAZERS AND TROUBLEMAKERS" SEE THE BLOG POSTS
Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of seven more Civil War books -- with more to come!!
“Arma Virumque Cano.” With those words the epic poet Virgil begins The Aeneid as he sings of the achievements of his hero, Aeneas.
The Civil War too had its heroes, of whom many have sung, from Lincoln and Grant to Sherman and Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman. But behind the scenes there were many more heroes who were unsung, who remained in the background and only emerged much much later in the writing of history. Montgomery Meigs, the great Quartermaster; George Sharpe, the founder of modern intelligence gathering; and Gustavus Fox, who made the U.S. Navy a formidable force are among those chronicled in my new book, Civil War Unsung Heroes and Other Key Actors “Behind the Scenes.”
The book also discusses those who were not necessarily heroes as such, but who played key roles nevertheless “behind the scenes.” Charles Francis Adams, Sr. , Ambassador to Great Britain, helped assure that nation’s neutrality. On the other side, Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy, played a weak hand very skillfully.
The book, the latest in my series, “Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time,” is available now in paperback and e-book format at:
The family and I spent an enjoyable day on Monday Nov. 16 visiting the new National Museum of the Army, which opened officially November 11. The museum is located on the grounds of Fort Belvoir, VA., about 16 miles souith of DC. Access is by timed entry, and for the moment, even though they are keeping the numbers limited, getting tickets is relatively easy: https://www.thenmusa.org/
Given the broad canvas it tries to paint, the museum inevitably makes only a broadbrush approach to several issues. For example, Reconstruction and the military occupation of the Confederacy is given, literally, one paragraph on a descriptive poster. By contrast, recent events, e.g. the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are covered in great detail, probably because they are fresh in people’s minds and there are thousands of artifacts available for display.
Nevertheless, given the limitations, the museum succeeds in giving the visitor an overall understanding of the army and its evolution, traditions, and objectives. The hundreds of images, artifacts, and movies (some contemporary, some new) are a visual feast. As a result, this is a truly modern museum, a multi-media approach which may not satisfy the traditionalist, but will give the broader audience what it is looking for — information and understanding.
The Civil War section is fairly comprehensive, but it lacks many elements which could have made it better. For example, while there is a small display about medicine in the war and its problems, nurses and their important role are not even mentioned. Also, and this is a personal gripe, this section does not note that in fact 98% of the men who fought for the Union were not in the army per se. They were in Winfield Scott’s misguided creation, the “The U.S. Volunteers.” Over time the regulars and volunteers were effectively merged, but senior officers from the regulars always had two separate ranks. On the other hand, the volunteer officers only had one and were always treated as second-class leaders who would never, they knew, be given a field command over a West Pointer.
I highly recommend a visit, which I know you will enjoy. And if you have time, the Marine Museum in Quantico is just about 20 minutes drive further south on I-95.
Below is a picture from the Civil War exhibit on the artillery and one of me in front of the building.
I spent much of the day yesterday, November 5, getting a personal guided tour of the many “I didn’t know that” sites of the Gettysburg battlefield and environs from Civil War maven and author, Scott Mingus. Many thanks, Scott!
I had visited Gettysburg several times before, but getting “off the beaten path” under the leadership of this skilled and knowledgeable historian has significantly enhanced my understanding of the whys and wherefores of this epic battle. I even have a (slightly) better appreciation of why Dan Sickles acted as he did when disobeying orders on July 2, 1863!
Scott and I are planning a reverse voyage to Antietam, where I will lead him “off the beaten track.” It will be a major struggle to match yesterday’s great experience, though I hope that at least a few times Scott too will say, “I didn’t know that.”
Here’s a picture of the two historians at the end of the day.
When the Civil War began, Catholic nuns were operating some 25 hospitals in the United States. Thus, they were the single largest pool of experienced nurses in the United States at the time. Of the approximately 4000 women who served as nurses on both sides, an estimated 650 were Catholic nuns. At first many were met with anti-Catholic prejudice, and supervising nurse Dorothea Dix was particularly negative. But over time their selfless service gained them their reputation as among the best Civil War nurses.
These women are one of the subjects of my new book, “Civil War Women: Underestimated and Indispensable,” and the nursing nuns certainly fit into that definition. Below is an excerpt from the book, about one nun, Sister Anthony O’Connell, who is pictured on the front cover of the book, bottom left. The book is available at:
“Sister Anthony was among the most active and famous nun/nurses. She was in charge of “St. John’s Hostel for Invalids” in Cincinnati when she and many other nuns went to help the Union trainees outside that city in 1861. Later she served at the Battle of Shiloh, where her take-charge attitude and forceful commitment to aid the men reportedly earned her the title which was given to many Civil War nurses, “Angel of the Battlefield.” She and her nuns worked at many others battles and also on hospital ships. According to one source, members of the Grand Army of the Republic would strew flowers on Sister Anthony’s grave every Memorial Day. “
One of the great advantages for the Confederacy was that Jefferson Davis’s government did not allow public opposition. Popular unity behind the war effort was firmly enforced, and those speaking out against the war and secession were firmly dealt with. Lincoln wasn’t as fortunate. Many in the North, and especially in the Democratic party, led by men such as Clement Vallandigham, loudly and legally opposed every policy he implemented. For the most part they were not punished for expressing their views, though Vallandigham was an exception.
Following is an excerpt from my book, “Civil War Rogues, Rascals, and Rapscallions” about this King of the Copperheads. Vallandigham’s photo is on the center right, and the book is available at:
“Vallandigham was an Ohio lawyer and newspaper editor before being elected to the House of Representatives in the late 1850’s. There he became a strong advocate of states rights, including the right of secession. In 1859 he had an “interview” with John Brown after the latter’s raid of Harpers Ferry. He clearly hoped to find out who in Ohio had aided the raid but did not succeed. Instead, according to his biographer, ‘Perhaps he sensed in Brown a spirit akin to his own – that of the uncompromising idealist who follows his chosen course regardless of the consequences.’
“In the early years of the war, Vallandigham railed against Lincoln and the war to little avail. In May 1863, however, he was arrested by order of commanding General Ambrose Burnside after giving an anti-Union speech. He was convicted, controversially, in a military court, and Lincoln had him banished to the Confederacy. He made his way to Canada, from which he campaigned for Governor of Ohio in the election of 1863. He lost overwhelmingly. While in Canada he took additional steps to oppose the Union. He became the leader of the pro-Confederate group “Sons of Liberty” and consorted with Jacob Thompson, the Confederates’ Canada-based leader of their “dirty war” efforts.
“Vallandigham came back to the U.S. in 1864 and was not re-arrested. He used his still-considerable influence to write a “Peace Plank” in the 1864 Democratic Party platform, which likely helped in Lincoln’s re-election. After the war he tried and failed to gain re-election to the House and Senate and was drifting into obscurity when he accidentally killed himself in 1871.”
Both Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln had connections North and South. Lincoln’s were her Kentucky relatives, some of whom fought for the Confederacy. Davis’s were her New Jersey forebears and her education in Philadelphia. Davis reportedly referred to herself as a “half-breed” because of those connections; and her olive complexion led some Southerners to refer to her as a “mulatto” during her troubled days as first lady of the Confederacy. Her picture is on the front cover (bottom center) of my book, “Civil War Women: Underestimated and Indispensable,” and the following is an excerpt from the article about her. The book is available at:
“Born in Natchez, Mississippi, Varina was only 17 when she was first courted by the much older Jefferson Davis. They had a lengthy, but difficult marriage, partly because she was an intelligent and strong woman, while he insisted on making all decisions for the family. Her happiest years were when they lived in Washington when Davis was a Senator and Secretary of War. During that time she began to express controversial views, maintaining that slaves were human beings and that everyone was, in some way, a “half-breed.” According to diarist Mary Chesnut, in 1860 Varina said that she feared Lincoln’s election would lead to secession, “and the whole thing is bound to be a failure.” But she kept these views mostly to herself because, her biographer wrote, “she found it hard to face the conclusions that flowed logically from her observations.”
“During the Civil War Varina was a dutiful supporter of her husband, though Southern critics complained that she was not an enthusiastic advocate of the Confederacy. She accompanied her husband when he was captured after they had fled from Richmond. She advocated persistently and successfully for his release from Union imprisonment. Afterward, when Davis was frequently out of work, she endured years of turmoil, scandal, and financial trouble, and she adapted, as always. When Jefferson Davis died, Varina edited and published his memoirs. She moved to New York where she became an active newspaper columnist for the “New York World,” as well as friends with Julia Dent Grant. Julia invited her to the dedication of Grant’s tomb in New York, and the two women knelt together in prayer, a symbol of reconciliation.”
One of the least known but perhaps most admirable black woman of the Civil War era was Susie King Taylor. Following is an excerpt about her from my book, “Civil War Women” Underestimated and Indispensable.” Below the article is a photo of the book cover. Susie Taylor is there at the center left. The book is available via amazon.com:
“Susie King Taylor, teacher and nurse, achieved many firsts in a lifetime of overcoming adversity and helping elevate others out of slavery. As the author of Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, she was the only African American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences.” (National Park Service)
“Born into slavery in 1848 in Georgia, Taylor was educated clandestinely by a variety of people who violated the law against teaching slaves to read. In 1862 she fled to Georgia’s Sea Islands, which were occupied by Union troops. When the latter, supported by Northerners arriving to help the freedmen, realized that she could read and write, they asked her to set up a school. Though she was only 14, she taught 40 Black children and several adults.
“While there, she married Edward King, a NCO in the U.S. Colored Troops. She would accompany him for the next three years, acting as a “daughter of the regiment,” nurse, and laundress. She also taught the soldiers how to read and write in her spare time.
“She wrote her memoirs in the 1890’s, and they were published in 1902. In 2019 the Georgia Historical Society erected a historical marker near Midway, Georgia in her honor. “
It is estimated that about 500 women actually fought as soldiers in the Civil War. Most disguised themselves as men to be able to do this. There was one major exception, Kady Brownell.
Following is an excerpt about her from my book, “Civil War Women” Underestimated and Indispensable.” Below the article is a photo of the book cover. Kady is there at the top right. The book is available via amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HV4SSWK
“Unlike just about every other woman who fought in the Civil War, Kady Brownell was recognized as a full member of her First Rhode Island Infantry, as a color guard. She even designed her own uniform so that she could fit in with the other soldiers. The fact that her husband was in the same group made the decision by Governor Sprague to give her that status that much easier.
“During their training she joined the men in rifle drills, and she always carried a short sword at her side. At the First Battle of Bull Run “wearing a red sash with big tassels and letting her long hair flow freely over her shoulders and back, the color-bearer of the 1st Rhode Island advanced boldly with her men.” Despite the Union defeat, Kady was not one of the many Union troops who panicked and fled from the battlefield.
“Their 90 day enlistment over, the Brownells returned to Rhode Island. They then re-enlisted to serve again under Burnside, this time in North Carolina, although Kady would no longer be permitted to be an official member of the troupe. Reportedly, during the campaign at New Bern, she prevented a “friendly fire” incident by waving her bonnet to tell advancing Union troops that they were not moving toward the enemy. Later, while tending to the wounded, she learned that her husband had been shot. When he was sent home to recuperate, she went with him, and later they were discharged. Thereby Kady became the only woman to be officially discharged from the army. She later became a member of the major Union veterans group, Grand Army of the Republic, and in 1884 was granted a military pension.”
One of the “benefits” of the awful pandemic is that I have had much more free time to think and write about the Civil War. From the cancellation of almost all of my scheduled talks to Civil War groups this year to my furlough from the job, there was a great deal of time to fill.
The result was an idea I had when I was creating my book,”Civil War Trailblazers and Troublemakers.” That book highlighted 50 Civil War personalities, from Lincoln to Clara Barton, but obviously left out a few hundred more influential personages. So I decided to utilize my free time to write more books on this theme, a series entitled, “Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time.” So far I have completed four, and one more, tentatively titled, “Civil War Unsung Heroes,” is on the way.
The books are short, incisive summaries of the careers of 50 people, including their pictures, a relevant image (maps of battles, etc.), and books for further reading. As such they serve as introductions to not only these people, but the Civil War era itself.
We made a day trip to Richmond over the weekend, and we thought the readership would be interested in seeing what Monument Avenue looks like now. The statues are, in order, Arthur Ashe, Matthew Maury, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart, and Robert E. Lee.