The Anatomy of a Charge

Currier & Ives - The Battle of PetersburgRecently I have been researching various Civil War frontal assaults to help put the decisive April 2, 1865 storming of the Petersburg lines into perspective for my upcoming book Dawn of Victory. I encountered an interesting piece written August 15, 1864, by Ohioan Henry Otis Dwight, while in the trenches outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Harper’s Magazine published his article later that October and it paints a more somber picture of an attack against a fixed fortification than that supposedly experienced the following year by the Sixth Corps in Virginia. Yet the Vermont Phoenix still decided to reprint Dwight’s description of combat in the April 28, 1865 issue which featured its own correspondent’s account of the Breakthrough at Petersburg. Perhaps the editor hoped to remind a jubilant public flush with victory of the true face of battle.

One reads in the papers of the assaults on earthworks, of the repulses, and yet one does not know what is contained in these words—“Assault repulsed.” You make up your mind to assault the enemy’s works. You have formed a line of battle, with second and third lines behind you for support. You march forth filled with the determination to accomplish the object, yet feeling the magnitude of the undertaking. Two hundred yards brings you to the picket line, and here the operation commences. You dash across the open space between the two lines, you lose a few men and the enemy’s pickets, after making as much noise as possible, run back to their main works.

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Hood Remembered: Crossing the Tennessee

Today, ECW is pleased to welcome guest author Sam Hood. Sam Hood is an descendant of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and author of the forthcoming The Lost Papers of John Bell Hood. He has also written a biography of his ancestor, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General, based on those papers.

After the fall of Atlanta, Jefferson Davis visited the Army of Tennessee in Palmetto, Georgia, in late September, 1864. Consultations with army commander John Bell Hood and his senior subordinates resulted in a decision to send the Army of Tennessee on an offensive campaign, intended to arrest anticipated desertions and retain the effectiveness of the army. Davis unwisely revealed the plan during a public address on September 26. “Be of good cheer,” he encouraged the soldiers, “for in a short while your faces will be turned homeward and your feet will press Tennessee soil.” William T. Sherman responded that Davis “made no concealment of [his] vainglorious boasts and thus gave us the full key to his future designs.”

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Hood Remembered

Lt__Gen__John_B__HoodThe sesquicentennial of the Confederates’ ill-fated Franklin-Nashville campaign is kicking off as John Bell Hood moves his army north into Tennessee. Hood’s intent was to drawn William T. Sherman’s armies after him; instead, Sherman plunged into Georgia, leaving the problem of Hood to Army of the Cumberland commander William T. Rosecrans.

The situation was desperate. Things went amiss for Hood almost immediately.

In the 150 years since, history has not judged him well. Continue reading

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The Wind-Down of Photo Season

GapMarker-smThe view coming down Sterrett’s Gap catches me unaware. The panorama opens unexpectedly on my right: The Cumberland Valley laid out in a patchwork of browns and tans and auburns. In the distance, I can see Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and, it seems, all the way to forever—or at least the Mason Dixon line.

I have come up to the ridgeline of Blue Mountain to take a photo of the northernmost point of advance by Confederates during the Gettysburg campaign. A boulder-like monument squats next to the roadside just off Route 34, just north of a new traffic circle. Here, the cavalrymen of Albert Jenkins road north on a scouting mission as part of their screening efforts for Richard Ewell’s Second Corps.

The roads here at the top of the ridge are narrow, and following Sunnyside Drive eastward and downward, I find the mountainside steep on my left and a screen of fall-bare trees on my right. The vista opens suddenly, surprising me, making me gasp at the view—but the road is too narrow to offer a place to pull over and a white pickup truck is already trying to drive up my trunk.

I’m disappointed, but at least I got the photo I needed. Too bad, I think. The patchwork panorama was prettier. Continue reading

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The Letters of Surgeon William Child

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Dan Welch. Dan continues to chronicle the letters of a surgeon in the Army of the Potomac.

William Child.

William Child.

When we last left William Child, assistant surgeon of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, he had the unimaginable task of writing a letter to his young children, trying to explain his absence, what war and being a soldier was like, and his hopes and aspirations for his children.  Days later, William wrote a reoccurring theme to his correspondence, a longing to hear from his wife. “Well here I am waiting anxiously for a letter from my wife,” he wrote.  “I think you must have forgotten that you have a husband – or think that he is not anxious to hear from his wife,” Child continued.  In the same letter, Child warned his wife that despite victory on the battlefield, “we are in a dangerous condition – not from the rebel armies but from a disunited North.”  He was also concerned of a Confederate attack on election day, “But I think the rebs will find a very hot breakfast prepared for them…[if] they will do it to prevent our voting.”  Child closed this letter with the confirmation of news he had been waiting for, the receipt of his commission to surgeon.

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The Lincoln Turkey Pardon–a 2011 reprint, updated!

November 26 marks another year in which a turkey receives a Presidential pardon, this time from President Obama. The 2014 turkeys (there are always two nowadays–one is an alternate in case something happens to the first) are from Ohio, and will live to gobble another day at the nationally recognized livestock facility at the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, home of George Washington.

For those out there who abhor farbism in any manner, the turkeys will NOT be seen by the public, as they are not appropriate for the historical setting of Mount Vernon itself. Only back-bred wild turkeys need apply for that particular job. Continue reading

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Tools of the Trade

Harpers Ferry

This gun line marks the location of A.P. Hill’s division on the morning of Sept. 15, 1862, during the final hours of the Battle of Harpers Ferry. The previous night Hill’s men had marched along the Federals’ left flank, dragged some 20 guns up a sheer-faced cliff, and positioned them to enfilade the Unionists in the morning.

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Hood and Forrest in Tennessee

The affair that eventually became known as Hood’s Tennessee Campaign, that cold agony of winter fighting and marching that remains perhaps the synonym for Civil War hardship, began on a sour note.

John Bell Hood’s frustrations were three. Firstly, his authority as army commander was curtailed by the appointment of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard over him as departmental commander—an appointment that did not become formal until October 12, 1864, but of which Hood learned from Confederate President Davis on September 28th. A second frustration arose from the fact that Hood’s efforts to tear up the Western & Atlantic Railroad, though at least partially successful, failed to either force Union General William T. Sherman to abandon Atlanta or divide his forces sufficiently as to offer Hood a chance to defeat them in detail. The third frustration stemmed from Hood’s inability to quickly cross the Tennessee River at either Guntersville or Decatur, Alabama, precluding any hope of any early strike against the all-important Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad Bridge at Bridgeport.

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Updated Speakers Bureau

SpeakersBureau2014-2015-coverThe authors of Emerging Civil War are pleased to announce that we have updated our Speakers Bureau. If your roundtable, historical society or museum is looking for a fresh perspective on an old story, we have a wide variety of interesting topics that are sure to fit your needs.

Click here to view a list of authors and their respective topics. To arrange for a speaking engagement, please contact us at

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The Western Federal

Today, we are pleased to welcome guest author Jim Taub.

As Joseph Polley, a sergeant of the 4th Texas Infantry, moved through the dense Georgia underbrush, the sounds and smells of battle overwhelmed his senses. The cracking of musketry and thunder of the artillery could be heard to their front. As the Texans began passing wounded soldiers of General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee near the clearing of the Viniard Field, the Western Rebels began taunting the recent arrivals from Virginia. Sgt. Polley reported hearing:

“them fellers out thar you ar goin’ up again, ain’t none of them blue bellied, white-livered Yanks an’ sassidge-eatin’ forrin hirelins’ you have in Virginny that’ll run quick at the snap of a cap- they are Western fellers, an’ they’ll mighty quick give you a bellyful of fightin.”

The mettle of the Federal soldier of the Western Theatre was something that was never in question. The man that Polley was passing might have been shouting the warning to the Texans to poke fun at their recent arrival transfer from the Army of Northern Virginia; however, there absolutely was a feeling by the men going into that fight near Chickamauga Creek that they weren’t fighting the “Yankees” of the Army of the Potomac anymore.

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