Two “Keys” and 47 Years

On September 14, 2014, the nation will pass a milestone anniversary. 200 years prior, Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a poem, which later, when adapted to music, would be come the United States of America’s national anthem.

The action that Key witnessed was the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, a star-shaped fort that guarded the water approaches to Baltimore, Maryland, named after a Maryland signer of the Constitution and the third Secretary of War, James McHenry.

Throughout the night of September 13, 1814, the fort and its defenders withstood constant shelling from the British fleet, and when dawn broke on September 14th, the flag still fluttered above the ramparts. Coupled with a setback at the battle of North Point in which British General Robert Ross was killed, the Americans, aided by Maryland militia, safely defended the city and harbor. Continue reading

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Emory Upton in Upstate New York

UptonStatue03Batavia, New York, sits midway between Buffalo and Rochester along the busy New York State Thruway. Western New Yorkers know it best for its racetrack, Batavia Downs, a half-mile track that features live harness racing July through December.

But I best know Batavia as the birthplace of Emory Upton, a Civil War officer whose name I evoke every time I take people across the battlefield at Spotsylvania Court House. When I tell Upton’s story, I make it a point to mention his hometown because it’s kind of in my neck of the woods. I feel a kind of residual hometown pride.

I had never actually been to Batavia before last week, though, although the Thruway has taken me “thru,” as its name implies, on several occasions. I was there last week to speak to a room full of Civil War enthusiasts at Genessee Community College, situated atop a high open hilltop just outside of town. It was an artillerist’s dream, I imagined, had any artillerist a reason to set up cannons there.  Continue reading

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Review—Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

O'Connell-coverToday we are pleased to welcome guest author Derek D. Maxfield with a review of Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman (New York: Random House, 2014).

He is perhaps the most eccentric general of the Civil War. With his red hair, piercing eyes, and fidgety manner, William Tecumseh Sherman has been called a prophet by some and madman by others. But whatever the label, Sherman was one of the reasons the Union was preserved.

The latest brave soul to try to get to know Sherman is Robert L. O’Connell. His new book, Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, is aptly titled and well done. O’Connell seeks to come to terms with the general topically, instead of the standard chronological approach. The book is divided into three main sections: “The Military Strategist,” “The General and His Army,” and “The Man and His Families.” It is a veritable “three ring circus,” as O’Connell sees it, but “it’s too distracting to watch all simultaneously,” so he utilizes a sequential, topical method. The chief complaint about this approach is one O’Connell himself acknowledges in his introduction: many areas of overlap that can make the book seem repetitive. The three compartments he creates are almost impossible to separate neatly. Take, for instance, the influence of his surrogate father, Thomas Ewing. This man is ever-present in every sphere of Sherman’s life—personal, public and private. Ewing cannot be contained by compartments any more than cats can be herded (O’Connell xxi). Continue reading

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“Victory at Chancellorsville!”

We received tonight some great news from our friends at the Civil War Trust. We’ll let Mark Coombs, the Trust’s manager for state and local relations, share it with you himself:

Dear Friends of Preservation,

We did it!

On Tuesday night, thanks to your help, the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the “Legends of Chancellorsville” proposal detailed here by The Free Lance-Star. This project, which will conserve roughly 480 acres of core battlefield land at Chancellorsville, is not only a victory for preservation, but a tribute to the power of partnerships.  Continue reading

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“Never forget”: Remembering Antietam on 9/11

dunkerchurchIt has become my custom on 9/11 to think back to a different day during a different September when America suffered an even more catastrophic loss of life. As I explained two years ago, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 17, 1862, have become inextricably linked in my mind. In recognition of both events—and as a continuing cautionary tale against forgetting either of them—I offer a repost of a reflection I put up during ECW’s first year, Remembering 9/11 and the Lesson of Antietam.

Posted in Battles, Emerging Civil War, Memory | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Coming Up This Weekend

This weekend C-SPAN 3 will be airing the first of the Emerging Civil War Symposium lectures from this past August. On Saturday, at 6 PM & 10 PM, Eric Wittenberg’s lecture about the Battle of Trevilian Station will air. Eric was the keynote speaker of our August event.

Also this Saturday, Kristopher D. White will be speaking at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. White will be kicking off the library’s “Second Saturday Civil War Lecture Series.” This month’s topic is “Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: the Battle of Antietam.” We hope you can join us for this free event.

2014-08-16 12.15.16

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“The Very Essence of Nightmare”—The Battle of Plymouth, NC, and the Destruction of the CSS Albemarle, pt. III

Charles Flusser (1832-1864) (US Naval Heritage Center)

Charles Flusser (1832-1864) (US Naval Heritage Center)

We are pleased today to welcome back guest author Sam Smith
part three in a series

As the Albemarle approached Union Navy Captain Charles Flusser was rapidly making dispositions to meet the it. He chained the USS Southfield to the USS Miami, fastening the gunboats into a V-shape that would force the Albemarle to either turn back or risk ramming her way through.

At 2 a.m., the Albemarle came into view. She cut a low, cruel silhouette on the moonlit river, throwing black smoke high against the purple sky. Union gunners opened on her with everything they had. When she was less than 100 yards away, a well-aimed shell, weighing more than 100 pounds, impacted directly on her side armor. It bounced off without effect.

“Down she came,” remembered Captain Charles Fiske, “without making a single hostile demonstration, relentless as fate, utterly disregardless of anything we could do, while we in a frantic rage fired our muskets and even pistols at her…. She was the embodiment of fate, the very essence of nightmare.”[i] Continue reading

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Shenandoah Subordinates: Introduction to a Series

Skirmishing the Shenandoah Valley in the early autumn of 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Skirmishing the Shenandoah Valley in the early autumn of 1864.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Part one in a series.

The decision to place Maj. Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan in command of the Army of the Shenandoah in August, 1864 came as a surprise to many in the North. Sheridan had never before directed an army in the field. Fortunately, Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant equipped Sheridan with a proven veteran force. It would be officers from Sheridan’s new command that would have to, whether they realized it or not, compensate for their chief’s inexperience when they met the enemy on the field of battle. Through the course of the campaign, various officers within the infantry, at the Army and Division level would find themselves playing a critical role at a critical moment that would influence the outcome of a battle.

Continue reading

Posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Books & Authors, Civil War Events, Emerging Civil War Series, Leadership--Federal, Memory, Personalities | 6 Comments

Support Battlefield Preservation at Chancellorsville

FlankAttackTowardBushbeck02An open letter to the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, who will consider tomorrow evening a proposal to preserve a portion of the Chancellorsville battlefield in exchange for zoning concessions

Dear Supervisors:

It might seem hyperbolic to say that Spotsylvania County supervisors have the opportunity “to make history” tomorrow night when they consider a rezoning proposal that would preserve a significant portion of the Chancellorsville battlefield. Such assertions can sound like quaint exaggerations or pithy catchphrases–but in this case, it is quite literally true.

The Chancellorsville battlefield itself is our greatest resource for understanding the battle–and in doing so, understanding our own history. What gets preserved and what gets lost affects what stories historians get to tell, and that in turn affects what people remember about those events. Land is tied to history. The shape of the battlefield affects the shape of the story. (For more on that, see my recent Emerging Civil War series “Shaping Chancellorsville.”)

Continue reading

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Hits of the Sixties!

m-11178-2Now that Sherman is marching through Georgia, albeit retroactively, I thought it time to discuss a little ditty that is guaranteed to make Confederate blood boil: Henry Clay Work’s Marching Thru’ Georgia. This song is still so inflammatory that the Band of the California Battalion, which played a concert last July at Fort Sumter, was asked specifically not to play it. Continue reading

Posted in Armies, Campaigns, Civilian, Common Soldier, Leadership--Federal, Memory, Reconstruction, Western Theater | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments