Looking Back, Looking Forward

ECW welcomes guest author Mike Busovicki

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Pittsburgh, PA: POW/MIA vigil, September 18, 2021.

All warriors want to know their efforts were not in vain and the deprivations they endured were worth the outcome.  As the Civil War metamorphosed into a great insatiable beast, devouring ever more resources, lives, treasure, and innocence, those involved in that conflict inevitably asked, “What is this all for?”  Faced with endless rows of graves and ever-growing casualty lists, what answer could possibly suffice?  Entire towns might be in mourning when their local militia marched off as part of a volunteer regiment and suffered catastrophic losses in a horrific battle.  The country was engulfed in a vast sea of heartbreak.  What were the limits we were able to sacrifice?

President Lincoln unquestionably felt the same cold comfort in his own answers to that question as well, for he dedicated his entire address at Gettysburg to framing that question another way – What principles do we hold as imperative in America?  Is this fight anything less than a renewal of the foundation of this nation?  Must we resort to arms every time we diverge from those principles?  How do we prepare for additional hardship as the contest of wills grinds on interminably?  Though he elucidated the answers to those questions so thoroughly and succinctly, even Lincoln felt doubts that mere words could cover the scope and the scale of the matter.  In the text of one of the most indispensable speeches in history, the great orator confesses that “the world will little note, nor long remember” their attempts to answer what the great struggle signified and what cost they were willing to pay for it.

Continue reading

Posted in Common Soldier, Memory | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Waud’s Sketchy Spotsylvania (part four)

Alfred Waud

(part four in a series)

I’ve been tracking Alfred Waud across the Spotsylvania battlefield, trying to figure out why one of his sketches, “Advance on Spotsylvania,” bears the date “May 9” although it depicts events from May 10. The first three posts have laid out the breadcrumbs that led me to the conclusion that the sketch is simply misdated.

As I suggested in part three of the series, I have one other reason to think Waud didn’t make the sketch until sometime on May 11. This is more of a hunch, though, based on my experience and instincts from my former life as a journalist. “Advance on Spotsylvania” was never converted to a woodcut and published. (Part one of the series lays out the sketches and which ones subsequently made it into publication.) That suggests to me that it was crowded out by other news.

Let’s look more closely at the order in which the woodcuts appeared. Continue reading

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Newspapers, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Stuart’s Promotion Prank

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. Photo courtesy the National Archives.

It’s pretty well documented that General J.E.B. Stuart liked to make jokes and play pranks on his peers and subordinates. Recently, I came across another one in the reminiscences of Thomas S. Garnett who served as a courier for the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Headquarters: Continue reading

Posted in Common Soldier | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A Young Woman in Washington State Upholds the Legacy of Union Army Veterans in 1914

ECW welcomes back guest author Richard Heisler

Ester Boyer around 1920.

Ester Boyer was a schoolgirl just 15 years of age living in Washington State in 1914. Miss Boyer lived a bit northwest of Seattle in the small town of Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. She had been born and raised there in the presence of her grandfathers, Civil War veterans Lawrence Boyer of the 177th Pennsylvania Infantry and Samuel Clark Black of the 151st Illinois Infantry. Despite being several decades and thousands of miles removed from the scene of the great national conflict of the 1860’s, Ester was sympathetic to the legacy of the Civil War and the veterans she’d grown up surrounded by. 

Continue reading

Posted in Memory, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Gold In The Fields

Autumn is coming. There were so many beautiful golden shades in the fields at Third Winchester Battlefield around the battle anniversary over last weekend.

It reminded me of this section from Stephen Vincent Benet’s long poem, John Brown’s Body:

Autumn is filling his harvest-bins
With red and yellow grain,
Fire begins and frost begins
And the floors are cold again.

Continue reading

Posted in Photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

J. Johnston Pettigrew, Author

Gettysburg movie poster (IMDB)

In the blockbuster movie Gettysburg, which hit the big screens in 1993, there is a moment in the film  of an exchange between Confederate Generals James Longstreet and J. Johnston Pettigrew on July 3rd. For those reading this that are aficionados of the film (and the book it derived from, The Killer Angels, by the late Michael Shaara) you are very familiar with the scene I am referring to.

For those that are not, the scene has Longstreet in conversation with the three division commanders, Pettigrew, Isaac Trimble, and George Pickett about the plan of operation for the attack on the Federal lines that became known to history as the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.

Longstreet and Pettigrew exchange pleasantries and the former makes mention of a book the latter wrote. The North Carolinian Pettigrew instructs a staff officer to retrieve a copy and with his compliments present it to Longstreet. The South Carolinian Longstreet responds with a quip about a lack of time to read it that day.

Re-watching the movie for the umpteenth time, the thought finally struck me, what book did Pettigrew write? Continue reading

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Campaigns, Emerging Civil War, Leadership--Confederate | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Reconsidering Barlow’s Knoll

The First Division of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac arrived in Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1, 1863. Only 29 years old, Brigadier General Francis Barlow commanded the division. He resented the men he commanded, writing home of his “indignation & disgust of the miserable behavior of the 11th Corps,” unfairly blaming them for the loss at Chancellorsville. There, the corps was assigned a position that they could not hold against overwhelming Confederate forces. The same thing would happen again on July 1.

As the division moved into the fields north of town, Barlow spotted Blocher’s Knoll, which now bears his name, a small, raised hill one mile from his assigned position. Without orders, he moved his division to take it. Major General Carl Schurz, acting commander of the corps, had ordered him to hold Third Division commander Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig’s flank. Without telling his commander, Barlow decided to advance his line. Technically he may have followed the letter of the order, as he deployed near Schimmelfennig’s skirmishers, but it absolutely ignored the intent. This new position was significantly longer than his initial one. This is the only real raised position in the area, but new Confederate arrivals would soon make this position untenable.

Continue reading

Posted in Battles, Memory, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Question of the Week: 9/20-9/26/21

Who gets your prize for grumpiest personality during the Civil War era? Why?

Posted in Question of the Week | Tagged | 19 Comments

The Iron Brigade of the Cumberland at Chickamauga (Part Two of Two)

General Willich’s Sword at Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center

The anonymous author of the pamphlet Willich at Chickamauga continues with the resumption of the battle on September 20, 1863:

What a glorious morning ushers in this Sunday, Sept. 20th, 1863, and shines as fair a sun as ever gladdened this hemisphere. It is the Almighty’s decree that on this day of the week we shall rest from labor, but the free-will of an accursed portion of this people has it by their acts this day shall be known in passing history as the second day of the massacre of Chickamauga? For action, engagement or battle, this clash of fierce deadly passion is not. Continue reading

Posted in Battles, Emerging Civil War, Immigrants, Leadership--Federal, Primary Sources, Western Theater | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Week In Review: September 13-19, 2021

Monday, September 13:

Question of the Week had a Maryland Campaign theme.

Kevin Pawlak wrote about the unlucky lost order.

Chris Mackowski posted a collection of blog posts related to the discovery of Special Orders 191. Continue reading

Posted in Week in Review | Tagged | Leave a comment