Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia


My Civil War Blog

This is the post excerpt.

A picture says a thousands words — here is an example. This is the official portrait of Jacob Cox as Governor of Ohio. He was elected in 1865 while still in the Volunteer Army. He chose to be pictured as what I call the consummate “citizen-general.” A self-trained military man, Cox the private citizen had an outstanding military career in the Civil War, but then chose to return to civilian life. In the painting he wears his dress uniform as a two-star Major General, but in his hand is his commission as Governor. On the table behind him is his commission as a general, his sword and scabbard, and his binoculars. The latter are symbols of what he has left behind, but also reminders that they are available if the nation calls again. This is among the reasons why I put this picture on the cover of my biography of Cox, “Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era.” The book is available via amazon. com. See also my web-site,

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       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.”


Varina Davis and the Confederacy

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.”

Susie King Taylor, Black Educator and Memoirist

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

“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. “

A Real Civil War Female Soldier

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

“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.

All of the books are available at

Here are the cover pages. Enjoy!

Monument Avenue Revisited

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.


My new book, Civil War Women: Underestimated and Indispensable, is now available for purchase in both ebook and paperback form at:

The book is the fourth in my series, “Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time,” and it includes biographies, pictures, and related material about 50 prominent women of the era. 

Readers will know many of them, including Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sojourner Truth.  But others who are less -known but played critical roles in breaking barriers and ending slavery are included:  Dr. Mary Walker, Kady Brownell, Sister Anthony O’Connell, and Susie King Taylor.  And there are some who took a different viewpoint, including Varina Davis and Rose Greenhow. 

Here is the cover of the book:  Enjoy!

The Confederacy’s “Dirty War”

My book, Civil War Rogues, Rascals, and Rapscallions includes biographies of three men who were key actors in an aspect of the Civil War which many know little about: the “Dirty War.”  Orchestrated by former Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson, these tactics included chemical warfare and land mines.  Here are excerpts about Thompson and his fellow dirty warriors from the book, which is available at:

“While still serving in James Buchanan’s Cabinet, Thompson blatantly put his pro-Confederate views into the public domain.  While serving as Secretary of the Interior, he visited his native state of North Carolina to try to persuade it to join the Confederacy.  In a public letter, he wrote that the North was poised to subjugate the South and destroy slavery.  In 1864 Jefferson Davis asked Thompson to create a Confederate Secret Service office in Canada to coordinate a “dirty war” against the Union.  Once there, Thompson recruited Northern agents to perform a variety of acts of sabotage.  These included spreading yellow fever, burning New York city, poisoning that city’s water supply, rescuing Confederate POWs from a prison in Ohio, and possibly assassinating President Lincoln.   Fortunately, in part because of the blundering of the participants and in part because of Northern suspicions of Thompson, all these efforts, except the assassination, failed. “


“Gabriel Rains graduated from West Point in 1827 and served in the army until the beginning of the Civil War.  During his service in the Seminole War, he reportedly experimented with explosive booby traps, experience which would serve him well later.  Rains did not resign from the army until July 1861, but soon afterward he was given a Brigadier General’s commission in the Confederate army.  During the Peninsula campaign in 1862, he experimented with anti-personnel mines and time bombs. 

“Over the next two years Rains would implement development and placement of land mines both in harbors and on battlefields.  He also composed instructional materials for a variety of mines, including submarine mortar batteries and shells, vertical wood torpedoes, dart grenades, torpedo boats, Demi-john torpedoes, copper torpedoes, and magnetic electric torpedoes.  By the end of the war reportedly over 2000 “Rains mines” had been deployed.  The final mission of his bureau was to blow up the White House in April 1865, but that venture failed.”


“In September 1863, Richard McCulloh, a Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Columbia University, resigned his position.  His stated reason was that “It should encite [sic] no surprize [sic] that one born and reared a Southerner, prefers to cast his lot with that of the South.”  Soon afterward he joined the Confederate clandestine operations network and began working on creating chemical weapons, as sanctioned by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

“McCulloh worked assiduously on a variety of chemical weapons.  At a demonstration for Confederate congressmen in February 1865, he produced a “phial containing a colorless fluid.”  He claimed that if it were thrown from the gallery into the House of Representatives, it would kill them all in five minutes.  However, the war ended before McCulloh’s formula (which has never been found) and poison could be used.  After the war he was hired to be a professor by a former Confederate leader who was a University president:  Robert E. Lee.”

Below are pictures of the book, Thompson, and Rains. 


My new book, Civil War “Political Generals” of the Blue and Grey includes an article (excerpted below) about this man, controversial in his day as he is in ours.  He is pictured on the top right corner of the book, which is available at:

“Hampton was born in Charleston, South Carolina into a wealthy planter family with a strong military tradition.  His pre-war “career” consisted of managing the family’s plantations and money, though he did serve in the state assembly from 1858-1861.  When the war began, he enlisted as a private, but then used his wealth to finance “Hampton’s Legions,” several companies of infantry and cavalry and all their weapons.

“Hampton’s Legions’ first combat was at First Manassas, and now Colonel Hampton was wounded while stemming a Union advance at a critical time.  The Legions fought in several battles during the Peninsula campaign, where now Brigadier General  Hampton was again wounded, at the Battle of Seven Pines.  Next he was named as JEB Stuart’s chief subordinate in the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry, and he played a supportive role at Antietam. He spent the next several months on cavalry raids, missing the major battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

“At the Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, and at Gettysburg a month later, Hampton was wounded.  He was promoted to Major General, but did not return to the war until November because of his recuperation.  During the Overland campaign, after Stuart was killed in May 1864, Hampton took over the cavalry command of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The untrained Political General excelled, especially at the Battle of Trevilian Station when he fended off Sheridan.  In January 1865 he was promoted to Lieutenant General and transferred to South Carolina to recruit soldiers and to defend against Sherman’s March to the Sea. “

His statue in the Capitol Building in Washington is one of two from South Carolina.  The other is of John C. Calhoun.  The controversy over these statues and those of others like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis continues.