Question of the Week: 10/26-11/1/20

Sarah Bierle has been working on a blog series about historical legends, and she wants to know:

What are your favorite legends or legendary moments from the American Civil War? Do you find it difficult to tell where facts end and legends begin in some interpretations of your favorite?

8 Responses to Question of the Week: 10/26-11/1/20

  1. I guess is depends what definition of “legend” we’re going with. If we’re talking tall-tale stuff like myths and misconceptions or moments of “OMG, that was epic!” and it creates a fantastic reputation out of the person who did it. If we’re talking the former… I can’t think of anything because I usually dump that type of information as soon as I learn it to make room for important things. If we’re talking the latter, I’ve always gotten a kick out of John Pelham’s actions at Fredericksburg in 1862 or any of the “Gray Ghost” escapades by John Mosby.
    But yes, it can be difficult to sift through what’s been exaggerated and what the truth is regarding events or people. It’s like the telephone game where the story changes a little when it passes from person to person until it’s unrecognizable and still generally accepted by the public for sensational reasons. In a post-war example, the legend of Kit Carson was exaggerated and he reportedly hated it. They named a county after him in Colorado anyway.
    The key to the truth, I think, is in primary sources dated very close to the time the event took place, or from people very close to the legendary figure in question. (sorry for the long missive)

  2. I know it has been long debunked, but I always get a kick out of Stonewall’s supposed ‘obsession’ with, and for, lemons. That he had a wagon, or wagons, filled with nothing but that ‘precious’ fruit for his consumption alone was always a great ‘tall tale’ to me.

  3. Here’s three:

    1) The outcome of the CW hinged on which side won at Gettysburg, Even if Meade had lost the battle, the Army of the Potomac would have retreated in decent order, as it had done after other defeats. Vicksburg still would have been occupied by Yankees and 30,000 Rebs would have surrendered. Grant still would have taken over the AofP, and the North would have eventually won. It might have taken a bit longer. Or maybe the war would have been brought to a faster finish. If Meade had lost, Grant might have replaced him as commander of the AofP in the late summer of ’63, instead of the following year. If so, Grant might have defeated Lee earlier.

    2) Grant was a butcher. Actually, his many victories in the Western Theater during the first half of the CW resulted in relatively light casualties. Only in the Eastern Theater did his casualties mount. Conversely, Lee’s casualties were heavy during the first half of the war. Only after he went on the defensive with entrenchments during the last year of the war were Lee’s casualties light, compared to the enemy’s.

    3) Sheridan’s ride atop Rienzi to turn defeat into victory at Cedar Creek. No doubt Sheridan’s appearance bolstered his troops, but there is a real question whether it turned the tide of the battle. Early’s Rebs had pretty much shot their wad by the time Sheridan appeared..


  4. Confederate cavalry provided much fertile material for legends. Sheritta has already mentioned “Grey Ghost” Mosby. There was also “Master of Disguise” John Hunt Morgan and “Wizard of the Saddle” N. B. Forrest. Sometimes forgotten is former cavalry officer Albert Sidney Johnston, whose three-month ride across the desert from California to Confederate Texas would have become the stuff of legends… had General Johnston survived the war.

  5. How about the legend of the lost Confederate gold that supposedly disappeared somewhere around Washington, GA in May of 1865? From what I understand, there are many people still searching for it today!

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