ECW BookChat: A Fine Introduction to Battle by Joe Owen

I was pleased to spend some time recently with a new boom by Joseph Owen, A Fine Introduction to Battle: Hood’s Texas Brigade at the Battle of Eltham’s Landing, May 7, 1862, published by Fox Run Publishing (find out more about it here). 

CM: The book is called “A Fine Introduction to Battle,” but readers of your work will know this isn’t your first time writing about Texans in the Civil War. Why are you so fascinated by them?

JO: They were elite fighters, and every regiment from Texas, in the Eastern Theater, Trans-Mississippi, and Western Theater were a valuable part of a brigade. The generals from Texas, such as Hiram Granbury, A. S. Johnston, Jerome B. Robertson and others, gained reputations as leaders who led their regiments into battle and in some cases at the cost of their own life.

CM: Can you give us a quick run-down of your previous books?

Joe Owen

JO:

  • Texans at Gettysburg: Blood and Glory with Hood’s Texas Brigade is the letters, articles, diary entries and interviews with the soldiers of the 1st, 4th, 5th Texas and 3rd Arkansas about their actions and memories of the battle.
  • Texans at Antietam: A Terrible Clash of Arms, September 16-17, 1862 is the letters, articles, diary entries and interviews with the soldiers of the 1st, 4th, 5th Texas, 18th Georgia and Hampton’s (SC) Legion about the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) on September 16-17, 1962.
  • Lone Star Valor: Texans of the Blue and Gray at Gettysburg is the letters, articles, diary entries and interviews of soldiers both Union and Confederate that fought in other regiments besides Hood’s Texas Brigade who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and settled in Texas after the Civil War.
  • A Fine Introduction to Battle: Hood’s Texas Brigade at the Battle of Eltham’s Landing, May 7, 1862. The book is about Hood’s Texas Brigade, 1st, 4th, 5th Texas and 18th Georgia, first battle in the Civil War. The battle took place during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
  • (Upcoming book – scheduled release January 2022,) Unceasing Fury: Texans at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863, with co-author Scott Mingus Sr. This is the story spun in an outstanding narrative of the Texans, not just Hood’s Brigade, but all Texas Regiments, at the battle. Soldiers from all these regiments told their story about the battle, which was just as bloody as Antietam and Gettysburg.

CM: That collection of titles reflects the larger fascination people have with Texans in the Civil War, in general. The Texans seem to have captured a part of Civil War imagination. Why is that?

JO: Texans were not only known as fierce fighters, but also were “rough and ready.” Most soldiers who were born in Texas were fighting Indians, Santa Anna’s Mexican Army, outlaws, etc., before the Civil War. The men knew how to use a knife, fire a pistol or rifle, and could fight almost “no holds barred.” Many other soldiers came to Texas from different states and countries. The men who were not native-born Texans had to adapt quickly to a rough environment outside large cities (Galveston, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Waco, etc.,) or their lives would be in great peril. General Robert E. Lee said of “his Texans,” that “they always get me out of the tight spaces.”

CM: One of the things I love about your books is that you include a lot of primary source material—newspaper coverage, letters, and such—that really let your Texans speak for themselves. How do you manage all that material?

JO: A LOT of hours going through databases such as Portal to Texas History, which is one of the best historical databases in the United States. It is run by the University of North Texas and has digitized newspapers and rare-books, photographs, and videos of early to modern Texas history. Other sources include newspaper databases, online sites that have letters, and many hours in university archives such as Baylor, Rice, University of Texas, and Hill Jr. College located in Hillsboro, Texas, which is known as the archive for Hood’s Texas Brigade.

CM: Eltham’s Landing is not a battle most people know about. Can you give us a quick run-down?

JO: Eltham’s Landing was a comparatively small fight—more than a skirmish but less than a battle. It was fought during George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of 1862. It was also Hood’s Texas Brigade’s first battle. Hood’s Texas Brigade was the rear brigade of Joseph E. Johnson’s Army of Northern Virginia. Union forces were trying to seize supply wagons and also cut off the Army of Northern Virginia from their “retreat” of Yorktown.

Hood’s Texas Brigade was successful in driving of the Union Army and drove them to the banks of the Pamunkey River. Union Gunboats on the river fired their cannons at the Texans and Georgia so the Federal soldiers could seek refuge on the gunboats. The battle was fought on May 7, 1862 and it started the reputation of John Bell Hood’s Texans being tough and hard fighters.

CM: Brigade commander John Bell Hood was nearly killed during the battle. What sort of implications might that have had for the Civil War down the road?

JO: General Hood was extremely fortunate not to have been killed by Union pickets during the morning of May 7, 1862. A picket who was hiding jumped in the middle of the road and aimed his rifle at General Hood. A quick-acting soldier named John Deal of the 4th Texas raised his rifle and shot the Federal before he could fire his gun. Ironically, General Hood ordered his soldiers not to load their guns before the march. He wanted them to load them after they reached Confederate lines. Thankfully, Private Deal ignored the order.

The implications was that if General Hood had been killed, the morale of the Texans would have sharply declined. Texans knew and loved General Hood because he was considered a Texan because he was stationed in Texas before the Civil War as part of the famous U. S. 2nd Cavalry led by Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston and Colonel Robert E. Lee. Hood personally led his old regiment, the 4th Texas, at the Battle of Gaines’s Mill and was nearby at other battles, such as Second Manassas , Sharpsburg, and was again leading the Texas Brigade at Gettysburg. However, he was seriously wounded during the beginning of the famous assault of the Round Tops and Devil’s Den.

General Hood’s history in the battles in the western theater were less fortunate. He was an excellent brigade and division commander, but as corps commander, but many felt and still feel he was not suited for corps command. Many blame Hood on being on laudanum, an addictive opiate, because of his wound at Gettysburg and the amputation of his leg at the Battle of Chickamauga, and thus he led the Army of Tennessee to defeat during the battles of Atlanta and again at Franklin. However, this was a false accusation disproven by Stephen “Sam” Hood, a descendent of General Hood. Sam Hood was able to find many previously unknown letters from Hood and other soldiers that show Hood was not addicted to laudanum. Sam has also effectively proven that Hood was not entirely to blame for defeats in 1864, that other mitigating factors were present such as poor decisions by popular generals, faulty tactics at the brigade level, etc.

If Jefferson Davis had not relieved Joseph E. Johnston and placed Hood in command of the Army of Tennessee, who knows if he would have been victorious in major battles west of the Appalachians?

CM: What’s the big takeaway for the Texas Brigade from Eltham’s Landing?

JO: It began the reputation of Hood’s Texas Brigade being elite fighters. The Texans were nervous before the battle because they had never fought in one before. After the battle, however, the knew they could handle combat with confidence in their tactics and fighting.

And here are a few short-answer questions: 

CM: What was your favorite source you worked with while writing the book?

JO: Portal to Texas History Database—one of the best if not the best databases of primary and secondary sources in the country today.

CM: Who, among the book’s cast of characters, did you come to appreciate better?

JO: Jerome B. Robertson and Evander Law. Both excellent generals. Robertson led the Texas Brigade at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. He and Evander Law (of Alabama,) who took over Hood’s division after General Hood was wounded at Gettysburg and again at Chickamauga, did not get along with Micah Jenkins. Jenkins was a friend of James Longstreet, and Robertson and Law suffered the consequences.

CM: What’s a favorite sentence or passage you wrote?

JO: General Robert E. Lee’s admiration for his Lone Star boys was best summed up while watching a military parade next to a European observer.  As the Texans marched past, the observer pointed out the torn backs of their uniforms. “It does not matter,” Lee replied. “No one sees the backs of my Texans.”   

CM: What modern location do you like to visit that is associated with events in the book?

JO: Gettysburg. I visited twice. Once in 1995 briefly, and in 2016 when I spent a week there. I would like to go back and spend much more time. I would like to go over the march of the Texas Brigade from the Emmitsburg Road up to Little Round Top in detail the next time I am there. I would also like to go to Miller’s Cornfield at Antietam.

CM: What’s a question people haven’t asked you about this project that you wish they would?

JO: “Why were Texans so admired by Robert E. Lee, Gustavus Smith, Stonewall Jackson and other generals?”

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3 Responses to ECW BookChat: A Fine Introduction to Battle by Joe Owen

  1. John Pryor says:

    I always felt the Texans had the same communal battle fury attributed also to the Vikings and the Polish Winged Hussars. I was fortunate enough during a ramble around the Peninsula a decade ago to have tripped across markers to Eltham’s Landing. Cannot wait for his collaboration with Scott, whose quiet pride in his scholarship is a welcome antitode to other more effusive self promoters.

  2. Lyle Smith says:

    Definitely the frontier life had something to do with their soldiering. The state only had 600,000 people in it in 1860, and there were federal forts all up and down the frontier line to try and keep the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa away. Traveling great distances was also normal. Tough folks.

    I have an ancestor that was in the 13th Texas Cavalry (eventually part of Walker’s Greyhounds). Born in Louisiana, but migrated to northeast Texas before the war.

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