Saving History Saturday: New Archaeology At Georgia Battlefields

Dr. Ryan McNutt, an anthropology professor at Georgia Southern University, will be leading a project to explore two skirmish sites from Sherman’s March in Jenkins and Burke counties. Up to this time, little archaeology work has been done at sites along the 1864 campaign route. The new project, funded through the American Battlefield Protection Program’s Battlefield Planning Grant, is aiming to give students a hands-on experience, boost history tourism in the local counties, and uncover more details about the Civil War history in Georgia’s southeast region. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Monocacy Battlefield (Virtually)

Hey, we’re keeping an eye on the official announcements, and we’re getting closer to being able to get back to exploring more historic sites in person! But we thought we’d keep it “virtual” for another week or so and spotlight a few more great resources out there.

Today, we journey to Monocacy Battlefield in Maryland—thanks to the online resources provided by the National Park Service. Be sure to check out the cool graphic tours they’ve created in addition to the more traditional “walk through” photos and videos. Continue reading

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Invading the North and Protecting the Capital

lee-fullsize1

General Robert E. Lee

On June 5, 1862, as he settled into his new command of the Confederate army outside Richmond, Robert E. Lee contemplated his next moves. For starters, he put his men to the shovel building defensive fortifications—a course of action that earned him immediate derision from nearly everyone. Men began to call him “Granny Lee” and the King of Spades.” Undeterred, Lee urged them to keep working.

He also considered the other pieces available to him on the chessboard. In the Valley, Stonewall Jackson had not yet scored the twin victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic, but the series of wins he’d already notched had drawn considerable attention.

On that fifth day of June, Lee put some of his thoughts on paper for President Jefferson Davis. The dispatch, I think, offers some interesting insights about Lee: Continue reading

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The Second Seminole War as a Civil War Training Ground

BurningoftheTownBy Cecily Nelson Zander

In the popular narrative of the coming of the Civil War, the U.S.-Mexico War is often identified as the military crucible through which many of the war’s most famous battlefield leaders first passed—gaining lessons in leadership and combat operations under the watchful eyes of commanding officers Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. In the course of working on my dissertation, however, I’ve come to wonder whether it wouldn’t behoove more Civil War historians to cast their eyes back to the Second Seminole War to understand how men such as William Tecumseh Sherman, George Henry Thomas, Joseph E. Johnston, and Robert Anderson learned to be soldiers and wage long, multi-faceted wars.

Fortunately for Civil War historians, the study of the Second Seminole War is in the midst of a robust revival. While John K. Mahon’s History of the Second Seminole War (published 1967) remains the best treatment of military operations during the war, C. S. Monaco’s The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression (2018), pushes historians to consider how settler colonialism and the push for American empire drove soldiers and officers to adopt aggressive tactics and wage a war of occupation that targeted both the Seminole Nation (including non-combatants) and African American maroon communities, as well as the environment. A quick glance at recent works published in Civil War history reveals studies of the environment, of refugees, of occupation, of the limits of war (and the transgressions against them); in other words, if soldiers were thinking about these issues during the Civil War, it likely wasn’t for the first time. Continue reading

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Private McAlpine’s Horse

My own twice-great granddaddy 43-year-old David Jackson McAlpine left Jackson, Tennessee, in October 1861, for a $100 bounty. He probably needed the money. He and Miss Eliza Wells–married on Christmas Eve in 1839–had sixteen children at the time and one to be born in early 1862. With him went a horse. He and the horse joined the 5th Kentucky Cavalry, Company B, under Colonel David R. Haggard. Haggard felt he should organize the local Unionists as a measure of protection against the threat of Confederate forces in Tennessee.

Wherever there was a McAlpine, there was sure to be a horse. Horses were a family passion. Granddaddy Mac listed his job in each census as “farmer,” but his heart was in breeding horses (and children). Family stories have come down that McAlpine bred a certain kind of horse–a combination of a Morgan and a Standardbred. It was said that a Morgan, an American-bred horse, could “pull a plow all day in the fields on Saturday, drive the family carriage to church on Sunday and carry its master to work on Monday.” Standardbreds, also an American breed, brought more height, strength, and flash to the Morgan line. Apparently, Granddaddy Mac liked flash in a horse. Nowadays, this kind of horse is referred to as a “heritage breed,” but I suspect they were just McAlpine pets. I cannot find the name of the one Granddaddy Mac brought with him, but this horse shows up in every company muster roll, “Pay due for horse and horse equipment since last paid,” until August 10, 1864. The image below is someone else, but neither this rider nor my ancestor has shoulder straps, and the horse looks as if he worked hard. Alas, my relatives took very few photographs.

The 5th Kentucky Cavalry was a hard-working group. It participated in every battle from Chickamauga to the siege of Atlanta, which included participation in Union Cavalry General Judson Kilpatrick’s Raid and other actions under “Kill Cavalry” from early July into August 1864. Kilpatrick did not kill my ancestor, but he may have killed the horse. All company muster rolls after this time no longer mention any horses related to Granddaddy Mac. On May 3, 1865, he and the rest of his pards mustered out and went home. Continue reading

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“To destroy this kind of theology”: Federals in the Fox House

Fox House Front Porch May 2020

The front porch of the Fox house today. The brick building in the background was a school house Rev. Fox operated.

On May 24, 1864, after Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps had crossed the North Anna River and then avoided a Confederate trap, Hancock’s men threw up lines of works to protect themselves. One of the lines near the front “took under its protection the house of a divine who must be a person of ‘culture and means,'” wrote John Haley of the 17th Maine.

The “divine” Haley referred to was Rev. Thomas Fox, owner of the two-story brick house “Ellington.” I’ve written about the Fox House before (see this post and this video tour).

By the time Haley arrived on the property, Fox had left his home deserted. “He and his family had found that his duty lay in another direction, and at the first gunshot had left precipitately,” Haley noted.

Inspecting the property gave Haley and his compatriots a decidedly negative view of Fox: Continue reading

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Lee’s Last Great Field Victory: A Reassessment of Cold Harbor

ECW welcomes guest author Nathan Provost.

Between June 4-7, the incessant bombardments by both sides forced the soldiers to create bomb shelters that brought some peace of mind. (Library of Congress)

On June 3, 1864, Federal soldiers waited anxiously to assault the seven-mile-long Confederate line near Mechanicsville, Virginia. The largest engagement of the battle of Cold Harbor was about to take place. Unbeknownst to them, they attacked at different places at differing times. Only the II Corps managed to briefly break through Confederate lines while others marched a few paces and stopped before the trenches. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Major General George G. Meade to coordinate a successful offensive against what he thought was a weakened Confederate army.  The II, XVIII, and IX Corps began their uncoordinated attack that morning. Regrettably, for these Federal soldiers, their assault failed by noon that day. Federal losses for June 3 amounted to 6,000 killed, wounded, and missing. Conversely, the Army of Northern Virginia lost 1,500 and scored a tactical victory over their Federal foe.

The Army of Northern Virginia once again drove off Federal forces at little to no cost. The Army of the Potomac did not achieve a single objective that morning. General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was in charge of coordinating the attack. The coordination was a disaster. The II Corps only briefly broke through Confederate lines on the left while VI Corps did not even make an attempt to break Confederate lines. Despite the failure on the front, he did not suspend his order. It was around noon that General Ulysses S. Grant, General-in-Chief of all Federal armies, personally rode to each corps commander to assess the situation. He found that no further progress could be made. He issued the following order to Meade, “Hold our most advanced positions and strengthen them. Reconnaissances should be made in front of every Corps and advances made to advantageous positions by regular approaches.”[1] Grant wanted to fight by siege tactics rather than sanguinary assaults. The Confederate line was not broken, but their opponent now entrenched themselves in place. Continue reading

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Free ECW Podcast: “The War Went On”

Check it out! We’ve got another free podcast for you this evening…

For Civil War veterans, the war didn’t end just because everyone went home. Chris Mackowski talks with historians Brian Matthew Jordan and Evan Rothera about their new book, The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans. Continue reading

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Yes, I Picked Benjamin Butler for My Fantasy Draft

ECW welcomes guest author Bryan Cheeseboro.

Benjamin Butler

Recently, I enjoyed “The Civil War Fantasy Draft” presented by The American Battlefield Trust on their Facebook page as part of their new Zoom Goes the History video series.  As we are under social distancing restrictions that have canceled sporting events, the “draft”- in the fashion of an NFL or NBA draft-featured eleven stay-at-home historians selecting their “picks” for their fictional armies.  The program was lots of fun and I think I learned a thing or two as well.  And just like any professional sports draft event, I imagine Civil War historians/fans were at home screaming at their laptops or other video devices with utterances such as “How in the world could you pick/not pick (insert Civil War general’s name here)?”

While many of my picks were selected during the draft, one was not; and I felt his omission was unfortunate.  My pick was Benjamin F. Butler.  This probably comes as a surprise, as many historians believe he was a poor general.  According to one source, Butler was “one of the most incompetent” of the North’s generals.[1] I won’t try and challenge Butler’s reputation as a battlefield commander, but what he could not do on the field, he achieved in other areas that contributed to the final United States victory in the war.

He was among the first responders to President Lincoln’s call for troops after Sumter.  His swift actions in April 1861 helped secure safe passage for troops en route to Washington City; and he took command in Baltimore by mounting guns on Federal Hill, which point towards the Inner Harbor to this day. Continue reading

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BookChat with Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver, authors of An Environmental History of the Civil War

Environmental History-coverI was pleased to spend some time recently with a new book by historians Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver. Drs. Browning and Silver are professors at Appalachian State University, where Browning is professor of military history and Silver is professor of environmental history. Together, they are the authors of An Environmental History of the Civil War, a new release from the University of North Carolina Press (click here for more info).

Drs. Browning and Silver were kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with me about their book.

1) We think of the war as a military event with huge social, political, and economic ramifications. Why is it also important to think of the Civil War as an environmental event?

The war was not just a military conflict, but also a biotic or an ecological event. The war fundamentally altered relationships between Americans and nature, leaving an environmental legacy that we still live with today. Adopting an ecological approach offers a holistic view of the war. Military strategy and battles were important, but so were a host of other factors (which shaped those military events), including disease, weather, the need for sustenance, animals, the biological reality of death, and the vagaries of terrain and natural vegetation.  Continue reading

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