Question of the Week: 6/21-6/27/21

What is your favorite letter written in the Civil War era? And why is it your favorite?

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“Dear Papa…I wonder how you still can be so good to me”

Josiah Gardner Abbott, c. 1870

Josiah Gardner Abbott (b. 1814) had a busy professional life as one of Massachusetts most successful attorneys and a regular civil servant in the offices of county judge, state representative, and state senator, but he made time to influence the lives of his eleven children as evidenced in his soldiers-sons’ letters. His sons Edward (Ned) and Fletcher (Fletch) volunteered for military service first and Josiah Abbott secured them officer commissions in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

His third son, Henry, proclaimed he had no “warlike tastes” and that there was “nothing -more odious than the thought of leaving home & profession for the camp.” However, Henry decided “I should be ashamed of myself forever if I didn’t do something now.” Josiah initially advised Henry to not volunteer, telling him that “two are enough to be shot out of one family.” Eventually, Josiah recognized Henry’s need to do something to save the Union and helped him to get a lieutenant’s commission in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

As he worried about his sons, the war, and the political homefront intrigues, Josiah Abbott also regularly got the inside stories about battle and camp. The published correspondence between Henry and his father points to a deep confidentiality and a father-son relationship growing and changing as experiences shape their thoughts and their family bonds. At times, Josiah is almost like the confessor, receiving the fears, dreads, and troubles of his son. Other times, Henry is gently correcting or advising his father on the true opinions of the soldiery and how it might influence the home front politics. In September 1863, the salutations of Henry’s letters change from “Dear Papa” to “Dear Father”, though he explained, “You see I have given up ‘Papa.’ It sounds too young in formal writing, but you may be sure that it isn’t because my feelings are any more formal.” Continue reading

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Week In Review: June 13-20, 2021

Another full week of historical content! Recruiting regiments, Overland Campaign, Battles of Petersburg, battlefield tours, Juneteenth, and more…

Sunday, June 13:

In the evening, Nathan Provost posted Part IV of his Comprehensive View of the Overland Campaign.

Monday, June 14:

Question of the Week highlighted nicknames of Civil War leaders.

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Weekly Whitman: “O Captain! My Captain”

Once one of the most popular poems in America, schoolchildren were required to memorize “O Captain! My Captain” at least into the 1950s. When Walt Whitman wrote this poem, it was received quite well and is one of the few rhymed works in his canon of work. The book used to illustrate today’s offering is the newest version of the work. It is beautifully illustrated, contains excerpts from other poems, and has a child-friendly biography of both Lincoln and Whitman. It contains timelines as well. With as much attention as is taken by authors/illustrators Robert Burleigh and Sterling Hundley, perhaps “O Captain! My Captain” is still one of America’s most beloved poems. Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: A New Federal Holiday

This is an angle of “saving history” that I don’t think we’ve covered in this blog column before… In case you haven’t seen the news, as of Thursday, June 17, 2021, the United States has a new federal holiday: Juneteenth. Celebrated on June 19, this holiday has roots in Civil War history and commemorates the day—June 19, 1865—when enslaved families in Texas learned that they were free. Community celebrations of this event started in Galveston, Texas, in 1866.

Juneteenth celebrates emancipation and African American culture and has been observed in various ways through the decades. Some of the traditional local commemorations have included reading the Emancipation Proclamation, historical and cultural displays or performances, and family gatherings. Continue reading

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Book Review: On Juneteenth

On Juneteenth 
By Annette Gordon-Reed
Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2021, $15.95

Reviewed by Jon Tracey

Thanks to current discussions of inequality and increased reflection on the past, Juneteenth has grown from a Texas tradition to one that has garnered attention across the nation. This week, it has even become a federal holiday. Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth presents the event’s uniquely Texas origins, since June 19th, 1865 marked Major General Gordon Granger’s announcement of emancipation in Texas, while also hinting at national significance. Best known for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, for which she received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in History, Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and an accomplished writer. This book, however, is a departure from traditional history books; it is part memoir, part Texas history, and part reflection on heroic myths.

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Petersburg Day Four: Saturday, June 18, 1864 

Having rested throughout June 17, George Meade’s energy returned. He made preparation for a full attack along the entire front on June 18. Yet, the attack would not be easy. II and IX Corps had already taken heavy losses. Burnside advised against an attack while Hancock was too ill to continue and passed command of II Corps to David Birney. As such, Meade pinned his hopes on Gouverneur Kemble Warren’s V Corps turning Beauregard’s right flank.

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ECW Weekender: Woodville, Virginia

I used to always think of Woodville as only a very small hamlet along Route 522 (Sperryville Pike) marking about three-quarters of the way from Culpeper to Sperryville. The place where the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour, and a Civil War Trails sign points to a side road and the direction of some interpretive panels. Usually, I was in a hurry, sighed at the speed limit, and thought to myself “someday, I’ll stop and read the signs.”

Well, a couple of weekends ago I was heading back from the Shenandoah Valley, and it wasn’t dark yet. Perfect time to stop and check out the history on the Civil War Trails signs. Like most lesser-known places, it turns out that Woodville has some great history! Continue reading

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Echoes of Reconstruction: An Immigrant Defender of Black Freedom

74th New York Volunteer Infantry Flank Marker

ECW is pleased to welcome back Patrick Young, author of The Reconstruction Era blog

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and no American military conflict was more impacted by immigrants than the American Civil War. Roughly a quarter of the United States forces were immigrants, giving the Union a decided manpower advantage over the Confederacy. This month I want to talk about an immigrant who came to America before the Civil War, served in the United States Army, and continued to serve his adopted country after the war.

When Felix Brannigan wrote to his sister in the summer of 1862 he probably did not think that anyone outside of his immediate family circle would see his soldier’s letter home. Brannigan was part of the Union Army of the Potomac that had failed days earlier to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The Irish immigrant had heard that a series of Union defeats was pushing President Lincoln towards the emancipation of the slaves. Brannigan denounced this possibility in the most racist language possible in what he assumed was a private note to his loved one. He could not know that it would be reprinted more than a dozen times in history books. Continue reading

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Petersburg Day Three: Friday, June 17, 1864 

George Meade’s June 17 battle plan conformed to Francis Barlow’s suggestion for a flank attack. The proposed attack would be carried out by Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps, namely the divisions led by Robert Potter and James H. Ledlie. Potter had a good reputation, but Ledlie was a drunk and a coward. One member of his staff confessed that “He was a good soul, but a very weak man, and no more fit to command a division than half the privates under him.”[1]

James Ledlie

Burnside ordered Potter to take Hickory Hill, an exposed piece of high ground held by a Tennessee brigade. Ledlie was to follow Potter’s attack and exploit any breakthrough. Several ravines cut into the hill and provided cover to any attacking force that could reach them. Barlow had driven out the Confederate pickets on June 16 and Potter managed to place his men that night. Continue reading

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