Recruiting the Regiment: “The drowsy lion must have time to collect itself.”

“At the time of my entry into the service, the war had been in progress about a year and a quarter,” wrote John Haley, then a 22-year-old resident of Saco, Maine.[1]

“In 1861 I concluded I had a duty to perform, but hesitated about embarking on this troubled sea. I feared I lacked those qualities which soldiers so much need. And so that year passed and still the matter stood status quo.”

But Federal setbacks at the gates of Richmond in June and July 1862 shook up that status quo. Northern governors urged Lincoln to call up more troops—a rallying cry cleverly engineered by Secretary of State William Seward—and on July 6, Lincoln obliged, asking the states for another 300,000 men.

“During the summer of 1862 the North at last removed its gloves,” Haley wrote. “The drowsy lion must have time to collect itself.”

Haley, too, had needed to collect himself, and now, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, his time had come. Continue reading

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From the Chickahominy to the James: June 4-14, 1864

In the aftermath of Cold Harbor, the armies led by Robert E. Lee and George Meade were at a strategic stalemate less than twenty miles from Richmond. The advantage though was to the Confederates. Lee still held Richmond and his army was in overall better shape. Despite some heavy officer losses, Lee’s men had high morale and with some exceptions his brigades were battered but still cohesive fighting units.

General Robert E. Lee

The Army of the Potomac, while not destroyed, had suffered a reverse that was even worse than the infamous charges at Fredericksburg. Their morale had plummeted. John West Haley of the 17th Maine wrote “we were tired of charging earthworks. Many soldiers expressed freely their scorn of Grant’s alleged generalship, which consists of launching men against breastworks. It is well known that one man behind works is as good as three outside the works.”[1] Surgeon Daniel M. Holt of the 121st New York wrote, “If losing sixty thousand men is a slight loss, I never want to see a heavy one. We, as a regiment, have almost ceased to exist, and if the next six months prove as disastrous to us as the last six weeks have, not a soul will be left to recite the wholesale slaughter which has taken place on the sacred soil of Virginia.”[2] Charles S. Wainwright, chief of artillery for V Corps, sharply criticized the frontal attacks as “a mere shoving forward of a brigade or two now here now there, like a chess-player shoving out his pieces and then drawing them right back.”[3] Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who was a little less critical, thought Grant “was like Thor, the hammer, striking blow after blow, intent on his purpose to beat his way through, somewhat reckless of the cost.”[4]

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Question of the Week: 6/14-6/20/21

It’s been a while since we’ve visited this fun question…

In your opinion, who had the best nickname during the Civil War?

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A Comprehensive View of the Overland Campaign, Part IV

Part of a Series – Part I and Part II and Part III

Forgotten Victories

Grant wrote to Halleck on May 26 stating “Lee’s army is really whipped.”[1] He found that Lee was unable to attack his positions at North Anna and believed that the Army of Northern Virginia was bound to break. As Grant maneuvered the Army of the Potomac farther south, David M. Gregg encountered the newly appointed Confederate cavalry commander, Wade Hampton, near Haws Shop. Desperate fighting occurred between the two forces all day on May 28 as each side attacked and counter-attacked without much success. It was not until luck paved the way for Union success. A Confederate soldier mistakenly identified a dismounted soldier as infantry, relaying this information to Hampton.[2] He ordered his men to fall back, but George Custer’s Michigan Wolverines pursued in force. Sheridan managed to score a tactical victory at Haws Shop, but Lee now knew that Grant was moving south to Bethesda Church.[3]

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Week In Review: June 6-13, 2021


Here’s a look back at our busy week! Continue reading

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Weekly Whitman: Hush’d Be The Camps Today

Walt Whitman was temporarily consumed with the assassination of President Lincoln, whom he felt to be the embodiment of the Union values he held so dear. He knew first-hand that the Northern troops who had so recently ended a long and deadly war were affected deeply. His poem “Hush’d Be the Camps Today” honors the love and respect the Union armies felt toward their leader.

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Recruiting The Regiment: A New State Answers The Call To War

ECW welcomes Lance J. Herdegen. 

News of the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 was announced from the pulpits of small-town churches and elsewhere on a peaceful Sunday morning in Wisconsin. “The effect…can hardly be told upon those who had persistently insisted…that no American would ever open fire upon an American flag,” one man remembered. A hired hand working on a farm in Juneau County said the mood of the citizenry changed almost at once: “War, war, war, was the theme of every fireside and gathering. The people felt that the secessionists had forfeited all their rights under the constitution by treasonably making war against our government.”

The hot words and excitement of morning gave way by afternoon to what one man called “a palsied numbness.” Sunday schools were “not well attended by the older boys that day,” he said. “They were out on the corners listening, thinking, and talking…. There was very little loud expression, and no boasting or cheers. The saloons were not patronized by even those who habitually frequented such resorts. There was a most ominous quietness among those who gathered on the streets… This semi-silence was more expressive than can be described.”

Wisconsin joined the Union just a dozen years before and the new state on the far-off frontier was allotted only one regiment of infantry in President Abraham Lincoln’s first call for volunteers. The 90-day 1st Wisconsin Regiment of Active Militia was quickly raised for the various militia companies, outfitted in militia grey uniforms, and sent to the war front in Washington. Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: A Summer of Restoration for the Kirkland Monument at Fredericksburg Battlefield

Statue memorializing Sergeant Kirkland’s heroism at Fredericksburg Battlefield.

The Sergeant Kirkland Monument within the boundaries of Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park and near the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights is an iconic symbol. Depicting the Confederate sergeant giving water to a wounded Union soldier, it’s a powerful reminder of both the incident in Fredericksburg’s battle history and of the compassion that was shown by some in the aftermath of combat.

This summer the Kirkland Monument is undergoing planned restoration by the National Park Service. So, if you happen to visit and see the dismantled statue, it’s actually good news. The base and pedestal is getting reinforced and the sculpture is getting cleaned and preserved. Yes, it’s all going to be put back together!

Here are some photos from earlier this week of the project’s progress and a close up of the new interpretive panel explaining the process and preservation goals:

Restoration in progress…

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Recruiting The Regiment: Discovering The Doctor In The Ranks Of The 2nd Virginia Infantry

Hunter McGuire (Winchester-Frederick Historical Society)

The young doctor was going back to Virginia when he believed his homestate was threatened. He had done it once before, leading a “secession movement” from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1859, taking over three hundred students with him from Pennsylvania to Richmond, Virginia. Controversy over that incident and the opportunity for employment took the rising surgeon to New Orleans for a brief period. However, as Virginia faced secession decisions and the possible march of Federal armies through the state, he left Louisiana and returned to the Shenandoah Valley and the town of Winchester.

Hunter Holmes McGuire had come back to defend his home. Anything else would have gone against his beliefs of states rights as evidenced by his post-war writings. Continue reading

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Civil War Savannah: The View from Two Parapets

On June 1 I defended my dissertation in History at Penn State. One week later, I turned my trusty Subaru Crosstrek south from State College and set my GPS for Savannah. What better way to celebrate six years of intensely studying the Civil War era than taking a vacation to see some Civil War sites? Savannah’s rich Civil War history offers a great deal for historians and buffs to enjoy–it was, after all, probably one of the best Christmas gifts Abraham Lincoln could have dreamed of receiving. Continue reading

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