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Gettysburg: The Film, The Books, The Battle

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Little Round Top Union Breastworks

Little Round Top Union Breastworks (Source: The National Archives) Brady

Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.

My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.

Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I’ve been enjoying the perspectives of several ACW bloggers on their top ten books on Gettysburg which Brett over a TOCWOC has nicely organized for us here.

Check them out. Very much worth perusing.

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Next Course – Civil War Strategy and Tactics

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I just registered for my next course,  Civil War Strategy and Tactics, which will start March 2nd. Book list looks terrific and is on order. It’s also loaded on my virtual bookshelves which you can access by clicking on any of the books. I’ve updated “the courses” page here.

Course Description: This course is a study of the American Civil War with emphasis on operational contributions of Union and Confederate military leadership. Students examine Civil War battles on two levels: the strategic doctrine as formed by the major commanders and tactical developments that affected the conduct of battle at a lower echelon of command. Special emphasis is on the interplay between these levels in order to gain a comprehensive view of strategy and tactics in both armies from 1861-1865.

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Manet and the American Civil War – 5: The Sea Battle Between The Kearsarge and the Alabama

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Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here, 3 here, and 4 here. In posts 3 and 4, I introduced the captains and vessels of one of the most famous naval engagements of the American Civil War, the sea battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsarge. And now to the battle…

Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, in their fascinating book Manet and the American Civil War, do an excellent job of sifting through sources for a non-partisan view of the events of Sunday, June 19, 1864, a view without the “spin” of media. [2]

"The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]
The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. Contemporary line engraving, depicting an early stage in the battle. Alabama is on the right, with Kearsarge in the left distance. Courtesy of F.S. Hicks. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

The C.S.S. Alabama anchored in the Cherbourg roads, “a huge sheet of calm water sheltered from Channel currents by a breakwater,” on June 11, 1864. It had stopped to disembark 40 captives taken during raids on U.S. merchant ships and to refuel. Captain Semmes asked permission of “Vice Admiral Adolphe-Augustin Dupouy, head of the naval district headquartered in Cherbourg,” to have the Alabama undergo repairs in the naval doc. [3] The offer was denied and the request withdrawn. Semmes was now well aware that Captain Winslow and his U.S.S. Kearsarge had come after the Confederate raider and was hovering offshore in wait. While the French attempted diplomatic maneuvers, Captain Semmes informed Samuel Barron, “his senior officer in Paris,” that he intended to fight Winslow. [4]

“On the morning of Sunday, June 19, Alabama left the Cherbourg roads followed by the French navy flagship, Couronne, and accompanied by a steam yacht flying the Union Jack and a British yach club flag. Alabama fired the first shot. Having elected to fight starboard to starboard, Alabama and Kearsarge then steamed in interlocking circles five to seven times as the current pushed them west. Alabama sank, and Kearsarge returned to anchor on the land side of Cherbourg’s breakwater.” [5]

This from George Terry Sinclair, a native of Virginia sent to Europe in 1862 to buy ships for the Confederate Navy, in a letter to his immediate superior, Samuel Barron.

“After some exchanges at long range, they passed each other, using their starboard batteries. They then passed & repassed, always using the same battery (which Semmes had told me was his intention) after passing the seventh eighth time, I observed Semmes make sail forward, and stand in, and I thought I saw smoke issuing from the ship.” [6]

He was told by another observer that “Alabama ‘went down with her colors flying…the Flag… was the last thing to disappear.’ Sinclair’s own view of the climactic moment had been obscured by a house.” [7]
 

Charles Longueville. Combat naval (L’Alabama coulant sous le feu de Kearsage [sic]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.

—-
[1] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 31.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 28-29.
[4] Ibid., 31.
[5] Ibid., 28, 31.
[6] Ibid., 31-32.
[7] Ibid., 32.

Manet and the American Civil War – 1

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A recently received a gift of a book that I am thrilled to add to my library. It is, Manet and the American Civil War published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [which I had the opportunity to visit for the first time this year], and Yale University Press. It is co-authored by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “an independent art historian based in London” and David C. Degener, an independent researcher based in San Francisco.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Click on image to be directed to my bookshelf listing.

 Manet and the American Civil War

  • Published on: 2003-06-10
  • Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Yale University Press, New Haven and London
  • ISBN: 0-300-09962-2 
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 86 pages
  • The book’s primary focus is the battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama. This from the front flap which provides an eloquent introduction to the book which I could not better….

    “On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulonge-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Edouard Manet.  Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after being ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulonge whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French paintings.”

    In part 2, more on Edouard Manet followed in subsequent posts about the two ships and their encounter across the Atlantic.

    Note that I have added a shelf to my online library titled “Civil War Art and Artists.” You can access that shelf here. I will shortly cross-reference this book on the Naval History shelf as well.

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    Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War

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    One of the concepts Millett and Maslowski mention in their book, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, is the Fabian Strategy. It refers to an approach by one side in a military conflict who avoids big decisive battles in favor of small engagements designed to wear the opposition down, reducing their will to fight and their numbers by attrition.

    The term is attributed to Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (ca. 280 BC-203 BC), a Roman commander who used the technique in fighting Hannibal during the Punic Wars. He harassed Hannibal’s army through small engagements and cut off their supply lines but avoided getting pulled into a decisive battle. Needless to say, the strategy requires time to succeed. Because of this, it also requires the support of the governing powers on the side that adopts it because there is no decisive showdown event. In Fabius Maximus’ case, the Romans politicians listened to his detractors (peer commanders) and replaced him with men who would confront Hannibal head on. They were resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Cannae (pictured right). The Romans eventually went back to the method of battle avoidance and harassment as designed by Fabius and eventually succeeded in driving Hannibal back to Africa.

    The Fabian Strategy was used during the American Revolution by Continental forces against the British. While politically unpopular, Washington agreed to adopt it. Interestingly, the idea for its use NathanBedfordForrest.jpgcame from Nathaniel Greene.

    I’d be interested in thoughts from my readers on use of the Fabian Strategy during the American Civil War. While I have yet to study in depth the exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured right), my sense is that this kind of harassment of the enemy was a forte of his Tennessee Cavalry. I’ve also heard the phrase  “removing the Fabian” associated with Sherman’s march through the south. No doubt this refers to the ferreting out of harassing guerrilla-type forces.

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    Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part II

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    Continuing from the post Death and Injury on the Battlefield Part I here, this post deals with battlefield injuries.

    Confederate Wounded at Smith's Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862Those who were injured on the battlefield first had to either remove themselves or hope they would be helped to a field hospital, usually a tent, house, barn or shed marked by a red flag and located as close to the line of battle as possible.[i] There they might find a surgeon and one assistant surgeon, although there was only one of each per regiment. Getting the large number of wounded to the field hospital was challenging. “Three days after the second battle of Manassas, in August 1862, 3,000 men still lay where they had fallen. The first casualties were not moved until September 9th.”[ii] It wasn’t until after the battle of Antietam that the Union Army established an ambulance corps for removing the wounded from the field.[iii] Amputation

    If shot by a Minie ball, a soft lead bullet fired from a rifle musket, a soldier’s wound was likely to be large because these .58 [caliber] bullets would deform and tunnel on impact.[iv] “Dr. E. I. Howard of the Army of Northern Virginia described the effects of Minie Ball on bone: ‘… wounds of bony structure inflicted by this missile are characterized by extensive fissuring and comminution such as was rarely, if ever, seen when the old smooth Bore musket was the weapon of the soldier.”[v] Amputation was the rule for gunshot or shrapnel wounds that involved major blood vessels or large bones. “Roughly 50,000 amputations were performed by both sides during the Civil War, compared to around 4,000 in the First World War.”[vi] Men shot or severely injured in the abdomen or chest wounds almost always died and so were rarely treated.

    Erysipelas, pyaemia (clots in the veins) septicemia and hospital gangrene were the four major hospital diseases. Erysipelas, or St Anthony’s Fire, was a common problem. This was several years before Lister’s discovery of germ theory. Surgeons operated in unsanitary and unsterile conditions. The lower incidence of wound suppuration in destitute Confederate hospitals has been attributed to the fact that they closed wounds with horse-tail hair which was first boiled, whereas the Northern Army used surgical silk which, although a better product, was not sterile.[vii]

    Those who worked in military hospitals did so at great personal risk. Many of them contracted diseases themselves and perished. Common in the literature is record of the absolute despair that existed there. This would, no doubt, make for a great story in and of itself at some point in the future.

    Further reading:

    • For more on weapons carried during the American Civil War, see the previous post The Weapons they Carried here.
    • For good coverage of how amputations were performed during the Civil War, click here.

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    [i] Penny Johnston, “A Healing History of North and South,” History Today, January 1997 [database on-line]; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000399106; Internet; accessed 29 September 2007. [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., [vii] Ibid.

    Photo credits:

    Confederate Wounded at Smith’s Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862

    Cropped image of Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent – Gettysburg, PA, July 1863. LOC.

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    Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part I

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    On November 24th, I posted a piece on the impact of disease on soldiers in the Civil War [see "On Lice, Disease and Quinine" here]. The following discusses the other side of death during the war, the experience on the battlefield. Please be aware the the following is very graphic. [Photo to left: One of Ewell's Corps as he lay on the field, after the battle of the 19th May, 1864. ]Battle injuries in the civil war were horrific and many led to death. The journals of soldiers and photographs of the dead tell of injury and death caused by cannon balls, grapeshot, canister, musket balls, bayonets, clubbing and more. Men were decapitated, cut in two, blown apart, shot in head, body, and/or extremities, bashed in the face or skull, disemboweled, burned, dragged, drowned, and/or suffered broken bones. John Beatty provided a glimpse of the carnage typical on most Civil War battlefields in a journal entry describing his pass through the battlefield of Stone River in Tennessee, early in 1863.

    Dead Horses

    I ride over the battle-field. In one place a caisson and five horses are lying, the latter killed in harness, and all fallen together. Nationals and Confederates, young, middle-aged, and old, are scattered over the woods and fields for miles. Poor Wright, of my old company, lay at the barricade in the woods which we stormed on the night of the last day. Many others lay about him. Further on we find men with their legs shot off; one with brains scooped out with a cannon ball; another with half a face gone; another with entrails protruding; young Winnegard, of the Third, has one foot off and both legs pierced by grape at the thigDead Horsehs; another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer. Many Confederate sharpshooters lay behind stumps, rails, and logs, shot in the head. A young boy, dressed in the Confederate uniform, lies with his face turned to the sky, and looks as if he might be sleeping. Poor boy! what thoughts of home, mother, death, and eternity, commingled in his brain as the life-blood ebbed away! Many wounded horses are limping over the field. One mule, I heard of, had a leg blown off on the first day’s battle; next morning it was on the spot where first wounded; at night it was still standing there, not having moved an inch all day, patiently suffering, it knew not why nor for what. How many poor men moaned through the cold nights in the thick woods, where the first day’s battle occurred, calling in vain to man for help, and finally making their last solemn petition to God![1]

    Dead on Field

    Linderman posits that, even though the men fighting in the Civil War should have been more used to gore and death than those fighting in the next century, “when young soldiers first saw bullets, cannonballs, grapeshot, and canister strike others, their shock was profound. The first surprise was death’s suddenness,” a man alive and animated next to them one moment, and the next, lifeless and shattered. [2]Men splattered with the insides of the man next to them were even more impacted. Also shocking was the magnitude of death. It was not uncommon to see thousands of bodies after a single battle.[3]

    Battlefield Dead

    Many men died agonizing deaths after lying injured on the field for hours or days. Contributing to this were standing orders that prevented a man from stopping his forward motion to help a fallen comrade. Some men were also fearful that doing so would imply cowardice on their part. Also, rarely could a truce be made to remove the injured and dead from the battlefield. The resulting experience for the injured was atrocious. Methods and procedures that would allow for application of first aid and then rapid transport to field hospitals were simply non-existent.

    Buried and Not Buried

    Disposal of bodies was often done carelessly and with little decorum if at all. Given the magnitude and ghastliness of the task, it is little wonder. Depending on the season, bodies awaiting burial, or even after careless burial, bloated and decayed in the heat and could be eaten by animals and insects. [Photo at right depicts the burial of soldier on one side and while an enemy soldier is left unburied.]Next installment… “Injuries on the Battlefield.”

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    Photos from the Library of Congress

    [1] John Beatty, The Citizen-Soldier: The Memoirs of a Civil War Volunteer [book on-line] (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, accessed 28 September 2007), 211; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26979264; Internet.

    [2] Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experiences of Combat in the American Civil War, 124.

    [3] Ibid.

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