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The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta

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Bonfire

Bonfire

The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta
Marc Wortman
ISBN 978-1-58648-482-8
Pub date: 08/11/09
Price: $28.95/36.50 Canada
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
464 pages

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The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s  The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.

Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:

War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)

Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.

A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)

From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.

I look forward to a thorough reading.

Marc Wortman

Marc Wortman

Author Marc Wortman, see his website here,  is a freelance journalist of some acclaim. He received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from Princeton University.

An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.

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The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History

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Battle of the Crater

Battle of the Crater

I have happily received a review copy of John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. I can be counted among those whose interest in this remarkable 9 hour battle was piqued after watching the mesmerizing opening sequence of the film based on Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Scenes of The Battle of the Crater in the trailer of Cold Mountain, a film by Anthony Minghella

It would be hard to find a similar military event in history that paralleled this one in terms of overwhelming potential for success run amok. Schmutz’s use of an opening quote about the July 30, 1864 battle by Ulysses S. Grant perhaps says it best…

The loss in the disaster of Saturday last foots up about 3,500, of whom 450 men were killed and 2,000 wounded. It was the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war. Such an opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.

- Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to Major General
Henry W. Halleck, August 1, 1864.

According to Schmutz, his interest in the Battle of the Crater began with the discovery that he had “two direct ancestors in the battle, one with the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, which at the last minute, and without any preparation or forewarning, was chosen to lead the assault, with disastrous consequences.” (Preface) This seed germinated into one of the first studies to take a broad-brush approach to the battle, examining the events leading up to it, the country’s mood in its now third year of civil war, brutality committed against black troops, atrocities perpetrated by both sides, first-hand accounts, and the impact of the battle “on the body politic of both sides.”

Schmutz appropriately gives readers a sense for war in the trenches that were part of the Siege of Petersburg.

As both sides dug even deeper entrenchments and more infantry obstacles, the rolling farmland east and south of the city was soon churned into scenes resembling a moonscape. These tandem ramparts ran for twenty-six miles, crossed two major rivers, and traversed parts of four Virginia countries, from White Oak Swamp, east of Richmond, across Bermuda Hundred and south of the Jerusalem Plank Road below the city. No campaign of the war quite equaled the siege of Petersburg, which was the object of the longest military action ever waged against an American city. More battles were fought and more lives lost there than in the defense of any better-known Southern cities such as Richmond, Vicksburg or Atlanta. (p. 40)

Henry Pleasants

Henry Pleasants

The excellent chapter titled “The Earth Movers,” reveals how Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants and the men of the 48th Pennsylvania, many of them coal miners, accomplished what Meade’s engineers mockingly called impossible, the building of a lengthy tunnel without detection by the Confederates. Receiving literally no support from Meade or his men, Pleasants overcame every challenge with ingenuity and innovation. As an example, he used a combination of miner’s bellows and fire to create draft to circulate air through a shaft built into the tunnel wall. This bit of creative thinking, the details of which are a must read, became what Schmutz called Pleasants’ “greatest engineering feat.” (p. 61)

The Crater

The Crater as it appeared in 1865. The Union soldier seated at the end of the tunnel gives an idea of the size of the Crater. National Archives.

Of note, Schmutz provides an impressive set of references in his appendices, something I always value in a book of serious history. These include:

  • Organization of Opposing Forces on July 30, 1864 including Union and Confederate Corps, Division, and Brigade, and in some cases Company commanders and officers
  • Casualty counts by Corps, Division, Brigade and Unit
  • Medal of Honor Recipients and Confederate Roll of Honor Recipients by Corps including a brief statement about why they received the award
    Union Officers Killed or Mortally Wounded by Corps, Division, and Brigade
  • Full and extensive Chapter Notes
  • An impressive Bibliography which demonstrates the extent of primary sources used in Schumtz’s research

I greatly look forward to fully reading this book and fully expect that a Highly Recommend will be forthcoming.

Kevin Levin has recently provided a review of The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History on H-Net here.

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Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865

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Zoom of The History of the Union Army

History Shots Union Army

History Shots History of the Union Army

Larry Gormley of History Shots kindly agreed to let me review the series of “information graphics” he has created that focus on military history. This post begins a brief series that I’ll do on all three, two depicting information about the opposing armies in the American Civil War: History of the Union Army and History of the Confederate Army, and a third on U.S. Army Divisions in World War II.

Minard as Inspiration

Gormley credits Charles Joseph Minard’s “statistical graphic” of Napoleon’s March to Moscow (interestingly published for the first time in 1861) as inspiration for his American Civil War graphics. Arguably the most famous effort to depict a military campaign in this unique way, Minard’s iconic work was reintroduced to modern audiences by statistical information guru, Edward Tufte in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. [1]

Graphical poster of Napoleon's March available for order at http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters

What Minard accomplished was the visual depiction of statistical data in a way that allows mere mortals to grasp it quickly.

“The aim of my carte figurative is less to express statistical results, better done by numbers, than to convey promptly to the eye the relation not given quickly by numbers requiring mental calculation.” [Charles Joseph Minard] [1]

John Corbett’s informative article, “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861,” points out that Minard incorporated six variables into him map.

“First, the line width continuously marked the size of the army. Second and third, the line itself showed the latitude and longitude of the army as it moved. Fourth, the lines themselves showed the direction that the army was traveling, both in advance and retreat. Fifth, the location of the army with respect to certain dates was marked. Finally, the temperature along the path of retreat was displayed. Few, if any, maps before or since have been able to coherently and so compellingly weave so many variables into a captivating whole.” [1]

Most startling in the work above is the comparative sizes of Napoleon’s army as it left France (tan colored stream at left of diagram) and then returned (black colored stream at left of diagram above) after having been decimated by the elements and lack of food. Michael Friendly’s Re-Visions of Minard also has a great deal of information on Minard including excellent graphics. The most powerful in my mind emphasizes the human element to Napoleon’s losses by replacing men with crosses. [2]

Revision of Minard's Map of Napoleon's March to Moscow

History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865

The statistics of the American Civil War, one of many histories that History Shots’ Larry Gormley and co-founder Bill Younker tackle, must have presented some interesting challenges. I think they handled them brilliantly and the results capture the spirit of what Minard attempted to accomplish in his 1861 work on Napoleon.

For this post, I want to take a look at the graphic titled: “History of the Union Army American Civil War, 1861 – 1865” which you can view on the History Shots website here. This will appeal to anyone trying to get their head around the key details of the war. The variables Gormley tackled graphically include:

  • key milestones
  • theaters of operation
  • the 31 Union armies and departments (the date of their birth, sources of recruits, expansion, contraction, merging, etc.)
  • the generals who commanded the armies and for what period of time
  • statistical details of the most important 95 battles
    • dates
    • commanding generals
    • number of casualties
    • the number of men “present for duty”
    • outcomes: win or draw

Each of the three major theaters of operation has its own swim lane and each army a unique color. The time element runs along an x-axis from left to right. The y-axis is largely size of army.  This allows for effective illustration of the relative size of each army, their swelling and contracting in size, where they combined efforts for specific campaigns and/or battles, and when men were transferred between theaters. Vertical lines represent major battles and are color-coded to reflect their outcomes: Union win (blue), Confederate win (red), or draw (blue and red).

Union Army Hot Shots

History Shots - History of the Union Army American Civil War 1861-1865

The History Shots website has an excellent feature that allows you to zoom in on any part of the diagram you want. I’ve taken the liberty of posting their full-on shot above and you can click on it to go to this graphic on their site. I zoomed in for illustrative purposes below on a section that shows the redeployment of soldiers from the Army of Southwest Missouri to Pope’s Army of the Mississippi and relative numbers of men moved.

Zoom of The History of the Union Army

But, in my mind, there is nothing that takes the place of having the map near at hand!

History of the Union Army would be an excellent tool to post in any classroom for students examining the American Civil War. Serious students of the Civil War will find it useful as an at-a-glance reference as well.

If research and production costs would permit, I would like to to see History Shots create versions of these information graphs in smaller hand-held format. I’d envision a collapsible folding version for each theater of operation. In fact, I would benefit from having graphical representations of each major battle. This would be different from traditional battle maps, of course, but a good companion reference to them. Choosing which variables to include and how to lay them out would be an interesting exercise. The following variables come to mind:

  • chronology (the timeline remains key)
  • opposing armies
  • major units and their flow in and out of the field
  • cavalry versus infantry
  • artillery counts
  • key commanders (including those below the general level)
  • deaths/casualties
  • key events during the battle (at Antietam, for example, the Sunken Road, the Lower Bridge, Snavely’s Ford)
  • etc.

I could see all of the above as not only great additions to Civil War History student packets but as invaluable to those touring American Civil War battlefields. I realize there are some excellent guidebooks available but this could be a powerful supplement to those.

I am, needless to say, a fan of History Shots and the work Mr. Gormley and team have created. Highly recommend.

Next up: A Review of History of the Confederate Army and some Q & A with Larry Gormley.

—-

Note: If statistical graphics grab you, I recommend highly scholar John Corbett’s informative article at the Center for Spatially Oriented Social Science “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861” for more on Minard and a second work on Hannibal’s Peninsular campaign in the Second Punic War. Michael Friendly’s Re-Visions of Minard also has a great deal of information on Minard including excellent graphics. Fascinating is the work that has come out of a contest where today’s scholars have taken Minard’s Napoleonic study and added to or revised it in meaningful ways. Today’s technology/computing power allows for some manipulation of the data (3D as an example) but Minard’s work stands as iconic.

[1] Corbett, John, “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861,”  http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/58  accessed online, 8/15/2009.
[2] Friendly, Michael,  “Re-Visions of Minard,” http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/re-minard.html, accessed online, 8/15/2009.

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Military History Word of the Day: "Refuse"

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Refuse

Military. to bend or curve back (the flank units of a military force) so that they face generally to the flank rather than the front.

McClellan

refuse. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/refuse (accessed: August 08, 2009).

It is not surprising that McClellan did not immediately decide to employ his left wing under Franklin to relieve Harpers Ferry. In focusing on Frederick McClellanfor the past several days, the Federal right had not only advanced quicker and farther, but the left had angled northward toward Frederick. In consequence Burnside was now considerably nearer Harpers Ferry than Franklin. Moreover, McClellan needed to refuse his left flank along the Potomac until he learned the meaning of the rumor that Jackson had recrossed the river at Williamsport. Lincoln may have jumped to the conclusion that the Confederates were retreating, but the possibility of a turning movement could not be dismissed lightly.

1. Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood : Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 / [book on-line] (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1999, accessed 8 August 2009), 209-210; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102364919; Internet.

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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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American Civil War Artillery Demonstration, Antietam National Park

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Excellent demonstration of how a gun crew handled artillery during the American Civil War can be seen below.

Antietam Artillery Demonstration

Antietam Artillery Demonstration

Ranger Mannie Gentile has become an excellent film maker. His blog, My year of living Rangerously, remains one of my favorites.

Posted via web from Rene Tyree’s Lifestream

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Attack and Die

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CSA Dead

Confederate Dead, Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia

Currently reading… Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhitney and Perry D. Jamieson. Incredible statistics describing the carnage resulting from Confederate offensives against fortified positions.

attack

Excellent Description of the 2nd Battle of Corinth in "The State of Jones"

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In June 6th’s post I mentioned I was reading a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. This update: their description of the Battle of Corinth is outstanding, albeit gruesome. I will file the book in numerous places on my virtual bookshelves as it covers a great deal of ground: the experience of soldiers, rich versus poor in the military of the Confederacy, unionists in the South, the experience of slaves, etc., etc.

Battle_of_Corinth_II

This sample of the telling of the Battle of Corinth…

“[Brigadier General Martin] Green ordered the men forward. ‘With a wild shout,’ the Mississippians leaped across a railroad cut with the rest of the brigade. A command came to charge at the the ‘double-quick.’

It was the last order that could be heard, as at least fifty Federal guns opened fire on them. the trembling thunder of artillery was joined by the shrieking, concussive outbursts of shells and the short, almost muffled spat-spat-spat of Springfield rifles, hammers hitting soft gunpowder, followed by the metallic raking of ramrods. ‘The very atmosphere seemed filled with shot, shell, grape and canister,’ General Green reported.

Suddenly it seemed as if they were in a rainstorm of blood. Horses plunged and caterwauled, and men screamed incoherently. There was something about such a charge that forced the breath from men’s throats, almost reflexively, without their even knowing it. As one Mississippi soldier recorded in his diary, ‘I always said, if I ever went into a charge, I wouldn’t holler. But the very first time I fired off my gun, I hollered as loud as I could, and I hollered every breath until I stopped!” (p. 33)

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn (Army of West Tennessee) was later court-marshaled for his neglect in taking care of logistical details and forcing his army to march and fight the Battle of Corinth with insufficient water and food. The charges were dropped.

Earl_Van_Dorn

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn

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Civil War Naval History Fact of the Day

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The U.S. fleet grew from 90 to 670 ships during the four years of the Civil War and from 7,500 to 51,500 sailors.

Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory And Defeat, (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 139.

"The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]

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Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor from MIT World

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Always on the hunt for opportunities to inform my understanding of history, I’ve hit a gold mine. In addition to my fascination with the Civil War, I am equally passionate about maritime history and am a degreed engineer. Those three fields of study converge in a fascinating symposium hosted by the DeepArch Research Group in Technology, Archaeology and the Deep Sea at MIT in April 2003 which they have made available for viewing on MIT Earth (TM).

The symposium, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor gives us an opportunity to hear from the senior archaeologist on the recovery of the C.S.S. Hunley, Maria Jacobsen. For those of you familiar with Civil War Naval history, the CSS Hunley will not be a new name. For those not, its story is nothing less than remarkable. A Confederate submarine, it was lost after driving a mine into the hull of USS Housatonic, detonating it, and sending the ship to the silty bottom of Charleston Bay in five minutes. But the Hunley was lost as well, only to be found, recovered, and excavated in the last decade or so.

I have made it through the first presentation on the Hunley (wow) and hope to watch the second half of the symposium on the Monitor. But for now, this from the MIT site:

Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor

Moderator: Merritt Roe Smith
Maria Jacobsen
David A. Mindell PhD ’96
Brendan Foley PhD ’03

About the Lecture
In the last few years, archaeologists have recovered two of the Civil War’s most ingenious inventions: the Union ironclad warship Monitor and the Confederate submarine Hunley. In this symposium panelists discuss the newest technology projects that have brought these inventions to light from the sea depths, and what they can teach about technology and the Civil War.

cwhightech

"Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and the Monitor" from MIT World

Submarine CSS H. L. Hunley [1863-1864]

  • Submarine built by Horace L HunleyCSS Hunley
  • First submarine to destroy an enemy ship
  • All three crews died aboard although several from the first crew were able to escape.
  • Lost off of Charleston after sinking the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo
  • Remains discovered in 1995 by NUMA
  • Recovered August 8, 2000

Photo credit: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph [#NH999]

You may be interested in previous posts I’ve made on the Hunley. My first was the following:

On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration

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Battle of Gettysburg – Franklin Haskell's Account

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Franklin Aretas Haskell (1828 – 1864)

Franklin Aretas Haskell (1828 – 1864)

I recently listened to a audio version of Franklin Haskell’s account of the the Battle of Gettysburg. Written in his own hand to his brother several weeks after the battle, it would not be published until 1898. This important primary work is available in both written and audio format today. The audio version can be downloaded for free from most public libraries who offer such services.

Haskell was, at the time of the battle, aide to General John Gibbon. Lt. Haskell played an important role in defending the stone wall after it was breached by Confederates. His criticism of Daniel Sickles’ action during the battle is nothing short of scathing.

Other selected first person accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg can be read on the National Park Service’s “Voices of the Battle” site here. Included on the site is an account of the battle by General John Gibbon.

gibbon1

General John Gibbon

Haskell was later commissioned a Colonel and commanded the 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He was killed during the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia on June 3, 1864. He had briefly assumed command of the brigade after its commander, Colonel H. B. McKeen, (Eighty-first Pennsylvania), was killed. Within minutes of assuming command, Colonel Haskell was felled by a bullet to the temple.

H. B. McKeen

H. B. McKeen (1835 - 1864)

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The Civil War in Missouri – Top Notch Website

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There are some terrific sites out there about the American Civil War. The Civil War in Missouri is one of the best.

the-civil-war-in-missouri

Among my favorite features in the historical section is a collection of “Animated Battles” that combine audio, film of enactors, and battle maps with action depicted by moving units, fires that blaze, and the sounds of hoof beats and rifle fire. Very cool. This is a great site for students.

battle-of-island-mound21

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