Tag Archives: Civil War

Book Review

Baumgartner, Richard, Blue Lightning; Wilder’s Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga, Huntington, West Virginia, Blue Acorn

     Press, 2007, ISBN- 978-1-885033-35-2

“If the government would expend the large sums now used to induce men to enlist, in arming the men now in the field with this kind of weapon, the rebellion would be…speedily crushed.”  Richard Baumgartner begins his study of Wilder’s brigade at Chickamauga by discussing how and why the unit was equipped.  Colonel John Wilder was one of the few officers willing to take a chance on advances in weapons technology by equipping his men with the Spencer repeating rifle in 1863.  He also saw that his brigade was mounted, making it a unique part of the Union army in Tennessee.  Baumgartner’s book focuses on the pivotal campaign for Chattanooga and the important role Wilder’s brigade had in it.

Baumgartner’s study is richly detailed, well researched, and painstakingly documented.  The pages are filled with informative tables and rare photographs, giving the reader valuable insight into the more complex facets of Civil War era logistics.  Baumgartner, a former journalist, weaves together an efficient narrative, especially describing Wilder’s troops in complex combat scenarios.  The result is an effective book, but a book clearly intended for Civil War buffs.  Casual readers may find the subject matter too specialized and the scope too limited to invest the requisite time.

The author chooses not to put Wilder’s troops into the larger context of changing military weapons and tactics.  Focusing on the specifics of the Chattanooga campaign (Chickamauga was its decisive battle) Baumgartner relies heavily on his primary sources to expand the narrative.  At times quoting entire sections of diaries and letters, the book never leaves the Southeastern Tennessee countryside.  Serious students of the Civil War will applaud the painstaking research, but the scope may not attract the less avid reader.  Baumgartner could have broadened the appeal by using Wilder’s brigade as an example of how the Civil War was rapidly changing military doctrine.

Richard Baumgartner’s book will be a delight to Civil War and military history buffs.  The depth of the research and exciting battle narratives make it one of the better campaign studies in recent years.  Casual history readers may not be ready to invest the required time is such a narrow study.

Gordon Sheaffer

James Madison Preparatory School

2012

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Facts in Five

Gettysburg Address edition

 

  • Lincoln did not write the speech on the back of an envelope during the train ride to Gettysburg- he worked on the speech in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, making minor alterations after arriving in Gettysburg
  • “Under God”  is in the original speech.  Secularists enjoy speculating Lincoln omitted those words, but three separate newspaper transcriptions include them- the reporters were in the crowd that day.
  • There is no photograph of Lincoln giving the speech- the one known photo captures Lincoln returning to his seat after speaking… a recent discovery may show Lincoln before the speech. 
  • Lincoln composed the address without speechwriters.  This is one of the few Presidential speeches where this can be positively asserted. 
  • The exact spot of the address is still in doubt.  Scholars now acknowledge that both commemorative plaques in the National Cemetery are incorrect. 
November 19, 1863- nice hat, Abe

November 19, 1863- nice hat, Abe

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Honorable Man, Dishonored Legacy

R0bert E. Lee was an honorable man… White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was not wrong making this observation.  Unfortunately, Lee’s honor too often guided him down the wrong paths in life.  It was this misguided sense of honor that led him to fight for one of the worst causes in history.  Once the conflict was over, Lee behaved admirably in helping the Confederate forces put down their weapons and reenter Union society.

Traitor? Noble Warrior?

Lee advised his former countrymen-

It is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony…Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring [your children] up to be Americans.”

 

As the President of Washington College, Lee often dismissed white students who carried out violence against black residents… and did not tolerate “Lost Cause”  propaganda at the school.  A professor who regularly criticized US Grant received one of the famous, pointed Lee rebukes:

“Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university.”

 

 

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A Soldier’s Love

George McClellan said goodbye to his beloved… Army of the Potomac on November 11, 1862.  He cared deeply for their well being(much too deeply it turned out) and they repaid him with unwavering affection.  Lincoln had to make the decision- The “Young Napoleon” was fighting like the war could go on for decades.  But to his troops, he would forever be “Little Mac.”  He left them with this thought….

Little Mac

Little Mac

“In parting from you I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear to you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation’s history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom wounds and sickness have disabled—the strongest associations which can exist among men—unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.”

 

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Facts in Five

The Young Napoleon Edition

 

  • George McClellan’s father was a renowned physician and founder of the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia
  • McClellan graduated West Point ranked second in the vaunted class of 1846- his classmates included Thomas J. Jackson, Jesse Reno, Cadmus Wilcox, AP Hill, and George Pickett
  • Jefferson Davis was an influential mentor in McClellan’s life- sending him on secret reconnaissance missions into the Caribbean, and to the Crimea as our official observer during the Crimean War
  • Small victories in western Virginia would pave the way for West Virginia statehood- a profile of him in the New York Herald brought national attention to the “Napoleon of the present War”
  • Winfield Scott cautioned Lincoln against appointing McClellan General-in-chief in addition to his army command- Little Mac’s response was, “I can do it all” 
Not an ideal pairing

Not an ideal pairing

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Lincoln is Next

Progressive iconoclasts will not stop with Confederate monuments and statues… They have already started the campaign against George Washington.  It appears that no historical figure is safe in today’s climate of over-sensitivity, moral outrage, and political correctness.  In this world, historical figures must be judged with our 21st century sensibilities- we know better than our ancestors- backwards, slave owning, racists they were.  The Great Emancipator is next…

 

University of Wisconsin-Madison students want the statue of Lincoln removed from campus… for alleged crimes against humanity- ordering the execution of 38 Dakota warriors who murdered women and children in Minnesota, which violated a binding treaty between the two nations and was a horrific crime.  The complex conflict that resulted in the executions occurred in the middle of the Civil War.

Can we still call upon our better angels?

The iconoclasts will undoubtedly feel moral superiority in attacking Lincoln’s legacy… their misguided and naive reading of the historical record will lack all academic rigor- but they will get on the news and be able to label their opponents “RACISTS”

  • Lincoln wanted all slaves out of the country!  —  Lincoln briefly favored voluntary colonization, but not after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect   Lincoln explained, ” Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”
  • Lincoln never wanted to free the slaves! —  Foolish attempts to sully Lincoln’s achievements have always cited the Greeley letter of August 1862   but they fail to finish the darn thing, where Lincoln says, “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.”
  • Frederick Douglass knew Lincoln was overrated! —  Lincoln is often compared to Douglass and unfairly judged for not being a true abolitionist.  Trouble with this reasoning is that Lincoln was not elected chief abolitionist, he was elected President.  Frederick Douglass’s actual thoughts on Lincoln- “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”      

The hour and the man of our redemption had met in the person of Abraham Lincoln.”

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Wolf by the Ears

Jefferson wrote to John Holmes of the Missouri Compromise- “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

Wolf by the ears...

Wolf by the ears…

 Missouri’s admission to the Union as a slave state… threatened the tenuous balance- 22 states, 11 with slavery, 11 without.  Missouri was the first territory carved from the Louisiana Purchase to apply for statehood.  Jefferson’s vision of America as a land of small, republican farmers was in danger of devolving further into the plantation gang labor system dominating the tidewater south. 

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Henry Clay’s solution to the crisis is often reviled… by historians for perpetuating slavery and providing the United States the opportunity to conquer more land.  This New Left interpretation of history overlooks the contributions Clay made to our republic during its formative years.  His American System had revitalized the nation following destructive War of 1812.  Clay had convinced Madison, the National Bank’s most vocal critic, to recharter it in 1816.  He had rewritten the rules of the House of Representatives and established the post of Speaker as the force we know it today.  Firebrands bent on defending slavery at all costs- even peace and prosperity for all- could not be allowed to derail Clay’s vision.  The Missouri Compromise has to be studied from all points of view.

 

Clay’s Compromise saved the republic in 1820… arm-chair historians(like Jamelle Bouie @jbouie at Slate) are quick to condemn the Compromise as an extension of slavery- but what if the Civil War had started in 1820? Was there a leader like Lincoln on hand to defend the Union?  Would the people of the free states supported action against secessionists? If not for Clay, the slave-holding South would have emerged from this crisis in a stronger political position.  The Union may never have recovered and abolition would have been dealt a serious blow.

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