A Slapdash War

Historian Bruce Catton

A common theme among authors I have read this term who have written about the experiences of Civil War soldiers is the informality with which the war was conducted. Historian Bruce Canton called it

slapdash.”

Now there’s a word we don’t use much today. I looked it up. Here’s Princeton’s take:

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Slapdash

adjective – marked by great carelessness; “a most haphazard system of record keeping”; “slapdash work”; “slipshod spelling”; “sloppy workmanship” [syn: `haphazard]

adverb – in a careless or reckless manner; “the shelves were put up slapdash”

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It started with loose regimental recruitment methods. Drill and discipline were a far cry from today’s standards. Gerald Linderman, in his book Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, spoke of the common practice of men within a community signing up together so pre-war relationships were undoubtedly difficult to set aside. Winter quarters; soldiers in front of their wooden hut, Catton supported this indicating that “in the average regiment of officers were people whom the enlisted men had known all their lives.” Election of officers by the men was a practice that continued long into the war and contributed to the problem. Even though recruits pledged to obey their officers, informality remained the rule. Catton’s quote of an Indiana soldier illustrates this point perfectly.

We had enlisted to put down the rebellion and had no patience with the red-tape tomfoolery of the regular service. Furthermore, the boys recognized no superiors, except in the line of legitimate duty. Shoulder straps waived, a private was ready at the drop of a hat to thrash his commander – a thing that occurred more than once.

“Regular army” officers shared frustration with this lack of regard for authority on both sides as it wasn’t unique to one army or the other. Catton noted astutely that men “could be led anywhere, but they could hardly be driven at all.”

A very fine lecture by Gerald Linderman covering more on this topic can be found here.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Embattled Courage

W. Bruce Catton, America Goes to War: The Civil War and Its Meaning in American Culture, (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press), 51.
Gerald E. Linderman,
Embattled Courage: The Experiences of Combat in the American Civil War,
(New York: The Free Press, 1987), 40.
slapdash. Dictionary.com.
WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/slapdash(accessed: November 19, 2007).

Why Men Fought in the Civil War

Men who hurried to sign up for the armies of the North and South in the early years of the American Civil War, joined – to varying degrees – for the follow reasons: out of a sense of duty and honor to country (whether North or South), to feel and prove oneself “manly,” a trait tied closely to notions of courage, and in search of adventure and the glory and excitement of battle. Historian James McPherson’s readings of thousands of letters written by soldiers revealed that duty and honor were closely linked to “masculinity” in Victorian America and war presented an opportunity to prove one’s self a man.[i]

In the South, the ideas of duty and honor were most prevalent in the upper classes while such notions were less class specific in the North. Some men from both sides shared a sense of shame in “not” serving and this need to carry one’s self well remained a motivating factor for many of the men who actually “did” the fighting.
D.W.C. Arnold Private in Union Army

Money was not an apparent motivation for joining the military. Most men – and their families – sacrificed economically as a result of their service. Many gave up the best years of their lives, if not life itself. Later in the war, when recruits were harder to find, motivations broadened. Money may have become more of a factor and was certainly such for those who scammed the system to obtain more than one signing bonus.

Regardless of what brought men to war, their performance as soldiers varied. A good many served well. Others discovered within themselves a lack of courage and joined the ranks of men who shrank into the shadows during battles, assuring themselves safety from injury or death but not from the stigma of “coward” and “shirker.” As the war dragged on, survivors began to change their perspectives on what constituted courage and cowardice as well as their notions of the proper conduct of war.
Photo of D.W.C. Arnold, a private in the Union Army. Photo from The National Archives [Ref. 111-B-5435
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Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree
[i]James M. McPherson. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 25.

On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration

I am returning in this post to a topic covered previously here on the discovery and recovery of the Confederate submarine, CSS H. L. Hunley, found in 1995 in the waters off Charleston, S.C. The Friends of the Hunley chronicled the archaeological discovery process which uncovered something very interesting. It was the “ID Tag” of Ezra Chamberlin. This created somewhat of a mystery because Ezra was a member of the infantry of the Union Army. What would the ID Tag of a Union soldier be doing in a sunken Confederate submarine?

Research by forensic genealogist Linda Abrams provided a plausible solution to the mystery as outlined in a story on the Friends of Hunley site. It’s a good read. The suggestion is that Chamberlin died at the Battle of Fort Wagner, a.k.a. the First Assault on Morris Island. His body was likely ransacked by Confederate troops and his ID medallion taken as a souvenir. This was common practice on both sides.

Interestingly, the remains of the Hunley crewman wearing Chamberlin’s medallion were identified to be those of Confederate Corporal J. F. Carlsen who can be placed at Morris Island during the Union’s second attack. His facial reconstruction is available at the link above. Whether he took the medallion from Chamberlin’s body or traded for it is unknown.

That Civil War soldiers wore identification medallions (Dog tags) like the one belonging to Private Chamberlin was news to me. My research confirmed that they were not issued by either government. According to an essay by Edward Steere posted on the U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Center, there were no graves registration units to formally identify and bury battle dead. “Burial was, of necessity, performed by fatigue parties from the line. … Little or no provision could be made for any systematic interment of remains during a campaign of rapid movement.” Burying the dead at Fredericksburg, Va., after the Wilderness Campaign, May 1864. Photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 111-B-4817.

As in any war, the bodies of the victors were treated better than those of the vanquished. It is well known that battle dead in the Civil War were often buried in pits or unmarked graves. Use of coffins, like those pictured here at Fredricksburg after the Wilderness Campaign, was unusual.

Men began to take responsibility for their own identification. Those of means could order ornate identification medals or pins. Some purchased less expensive medallions from sutlers, merchants following the armies. Made from coins or other metallic disks, sutlers charged a small fee for stamping into the metal a soldier’s name and unit among other things. Some men without other identification simply wrote their names on paper and pinned it to their shirt prior to going into battle. Shockingly, Steere estimates that only 30 percent of soldiers who died in the Civil War were identified.

Of additional interest:

  • Mike Brown has an excellent history of Civil War Dog Tags and pictures of several varieties on his website.
  • Replica ID tags can be purchased from Civil War memorabilia shops like Memorial Brass.
  • The modern process for embalming began during the Civil War as grieving families wanted to have the the bodies of their oved ones returned home for burial.

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Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Capturing the Civil War: The Photographic Record

I am thoroughly impressed with the photographic record of the American Civil War. In my ongoing search for “primary sources,” I have been exploring the National Archives and The Library of Congress. The photographic collections at both are simply excellent. Long time historians in the field are no doubt quite familiar with these. For me, humble graduate student, these are a real find. And as we all know, this kind of photographic record sets the American Civil War apart from previous wars. Because I want to have easy access to photographs, I’ve created a photographs “category” on the right nav bar. The following are the best two sources I’ve found to date.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].
The collection includes 1,118 photographs of “scenes of military personnel, preparations for battle, and battle after-effects.” Both Confederate and Union soldiers of officer and enlisted ranks are represented. Also in the collection are albums of CDVs (carte-de-visite) – with over 200 visiting card photos representing a “who’s who” of the time of the Lincoln presidential administration.

Many of the photos have been attributed to Matthew Brady who supervised or collected them and showed – for the first time in history – the horrors of war. More on him in a future post. Amazing fellow.

The photo above was taken in Charleston Harbor, S.C. and is of the deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret. It is categorized as “Photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy — the Federal Navy, 1861-1865” [Call Number: LC-B811- 3412].

The National Archives: Pictures of the Civil War
Photos in this collection are organized as follows:
Activities – Army Life, Army Units, Cavalry, Civilians, Communications and intelligence, Councils, Engineering, Foreign Observers, Generals in the Field, Medical, Morale, Navies, Ordnance, Photographers and Their Equipment, Prisoners and Prisons, Quartermaster and Commissary, RailroadsConstruction of telegraph lines 1864
Places – Battle Areas, Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Environs
Portraits – Abolitionists, Artists and Authors, Confederate Army Officers, Confederate Officials, Enlisted Men, Federal Army Officers, Federal Navy Officers, Foreign Diplomats, Government Officials, Women

Lincoln’s Assassination

The photograph above captures the “Constructing of telegraph lines, April 1864.” It was photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Reference number 165-SB-62.
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Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

In Search of Primary Civil War Sources

A short post for today. I’ve been busy locating and cataloging  “primary sources” related to the Civil War for my reading and research. It’s also the focus of an assignment due at the end of next week. I’ve started a new filter for sorting inks to those sites that I’m finding.

 Abraham Lincoln Papers - The Library of Congress

Please feel free to share if you have any suggestions. I’m amazed at the breadth of information. Well organized sites are preferred. So far – and not unexpectedly – national archives and universities have proved the best sources. I am very hopeful that projects to digitize important historical documents will continue.

Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as "Revolutionary"

[Note: This post is part of a series on The Civil War as Revolution which is available at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War, and Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as Revolutionary.]

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Indulge me while I – mull over and expound upon – one of Dr. McPherson’s essays in Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution.

If the mantel of “revolutionary” is worn by individuals who – because of their unique presence – drive transformational change, Abraham Lincoln must certainly be considered among them. Such a label might at first seem unfitting in that Lincoln was known for his conservatism. Indeed his early actions reflected caution and a desire for a limited, minimally disruptive war. His journey toward “revolutionary” took a big leap forward when the Border States ignored his repeated offers of graduated and compensated emancipation. His failure to sway them left him angry enough to, as McPherson phrased it, “embrace the revolution.” Lincoln’s “revolutionary” response? He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the final version of which was delivered on New Year’s Day 1863. With it came a new “revolutionary” charter for the war: forceful overthrow of slavery and the South with it.

Emancipation Proclamation
McPherson considers the enabling of black soldiers to fight and kill their former masters “by far the most revolutionary dimension” of Lincoln’s “emancipation policy.” And embrace it Mr. Lincoln did. Over 180,000 black soldiers would serve in Northern armies before the conflict ended. I must agree with Mr. McPherson’s conclusion that Lincoln evolved to fit the pattern of a revolutionary leader and became – once over his initial reluctance – arguably more radical than some of the founding fathers

Troops
District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln
Civil War photographs, 1861-1865 (Library of Congress)
Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

On Edward C. Pierce and CDVs

Harry Smeltzer over at Bull Runnings, in his kind mention of Wig-Wags yesterday, provides insight into the photo that tops my blog. He identifies it as being of “the Union signal station on Elk Ridge during the 1862 Maryland Campaign.” He points out that the officer in the photo (middle and seated) has been identified as one Edward C. Pierce. His CDV and story can be read “on the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) website along with the full picture which I’ve also uploaded here for your viewing. Officer Pierce’s vitae is an interesting one and includes participation on Little Round Top at which time he held the rank of Captain. He remained, even though offered promotion in other areas, in the Signal Corps throughout the war.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-B815- 633]
Elk Mountain, Md. Signal tower overlooking Antietam battlefield
O’Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882 photographer.

I will set my ego aside for a moment and admit that I had to look up the term CDV. This may be familiar to most of you but since I’m a humble graduate student, I had to do a little research. It turns out that a CDV, or “carte-de-visite” (French for visiting card), is a small albumen print that – if of standard size – would be mounted on a backing card of 2.5 inches by 4 inches. This made them a handy size to use as a “photographic calling card” and they were exchanged and collected in albums. Debra Clifford, the “Town Historian of Ancestorville,” has provided an excellent history of the CDV on the Ancestorville.com site and indicates that “a young Civil War soldier would proudly send his “likeness” home to a waiting beau, mother and family.” 

Albumen (al-bu-men) means, by the way, “the white of eggs.” I assume that egg whites were used to provide a glossy finish to the photo. The technique was developed and patented by Andre Disderi in 1854 and, according to Clifford, introduced in the United States in 1859 which positioned it perfectly for adoption by young men going off to war. “…CDV’s were produced in the millions. The ease of size and paper format of this newfangled photograph allowed the CDV to be sent through the mail, a great benefit from the heavily glassed and protected and cased ambrotype and daguerreotype photos that were previously available.”

This CDV is of Daniel Edgar Sickles is a part of a collection wonderfully preserved and presented for our virtual viewing on the American Memory section of the Library of Congress site along with some two hundred others. These make up the collection of John Hay who was a personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln and so had occasion to receive CDVs from an assortment of people of the era including “army and navy officers, politicians, and cultural figures.”

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-MSS-44297-33-116 (b&w negative)]
Photographer: Sarony, Napoleon (1821-1896)
Collection:
James Wadsworth Family Papers

The Siege of Charleston – The Stone Fleet

“The Siege of Charleston” is a fascinating chapter in The Lost Cause: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (see previous post) by William C. Davis, and provides excellent information about naval operations in the area over the course of the war. I found of particular interest that Lincoln packed a couple of fleets of aged merchant and whaling ships with granite and floated them into the mouth of the harbor where he had them intentionally scuttled. The obvious intent was to foil those who would run the blockade. I found conflicting references as to the utility of the tactic. Davis indicated that the bottom was soft and so they sunk into the muck and accomplished little. But other sources indicate that the main channel off of Morris Island was blocked for at least some period of time. But that didn’t sufficiently slow blockade runners and so a second Stone Fleet was launched in early 1862 and its twenty ships sunk.

The good folks over at sonofthesouth.net have provided a copy of the December 14, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly which features a story about and a sketch of the fleet “as seen by the brig Castillian on Nov. 21.” Dubbed by Harper’s as “The Rat-Hole Squadron,” the story chronicles the sorted history of one of the whaler’s headed for the bottom.the-stone-fleet.jpg

Herman Melville’s poem titled “The Stone Fleet” published in December, 1861, names several of the ill-fated ships. You can read it in its entirety on Print Read. He wrote prolifically about the Civil War and this and other war-related works can be found in Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.

Herman Melville

 Herman Melville

Harry Smeltzer over at Bull Runnings has pictures of the Charleston Harbor in a post on his blog that’s definitely worth a look-see.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Civil War books filling every nook and cranny

A couple of weeks ago, I had to purchase a new bookcase for all of the Civil War books I’ve purchased. This is troubling in that I’m only in my first graduate course on the topic. OK book purchasing is a serious addiction of mine and always has been. Ask anyone who knows me.

Note on my “the courses” page the list of required books for my classes and then the very long list of “recommended” books. The latter are in the syllabus as…”in case you have extra time.” I DO try to make the time although I never have enough. But I manage to buy most of the recommended books just in case. I must be the “target market” of Civil War publishers.

The encouragement to purchase the bookcase came from those who live in my household and became concerned by the stacks of books in walkways. Go figure. Unfortunately, the bookcase wasn’t big enough and it has four shelves!

Straight talk on soldiers and presidents

Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Modern War Studies) The Lost Cause

I’m reading The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy by William C. Davis. The approach Davis has taken is to profile the primary players in the conflict – foibles and all. W. C. presents a fascinating portrait of Jefferson Davis which borders on being psychoanalytic. It helps to explain why Davis and his generals had such poor relationships, the exception being Lee who was a master at determining how to handle the man and won his loyalty and friendship. Three of Lee’s practices stood out. First, he kept Davis informed on a daily basis – unlike Beauregard and Johnston. Second, he asked Davis for his opinion, which stroked his ego. Third, he stayed away from the press and didn’t criticize Davis behind his back. Lee’s peers struggled with either their own self-importance or lack of ability and found outlet by back-biting in the press.

All in all a very good read largely because Mr. Davis pulls no punches. Also worth the read because of the details provided; case in point, the sinking of the “Stone Fleet” at the mouth of the harbor leading into Charleston. This strategy by the Federals to block traffic in and out of the harbor failed miserably due to the soft mud bottom into which the fleet – whose holds were filled with granite – sank.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

To blog is to organize

And so I’m learning that pulling together a blog allows me to organize materials and thoughts. This is especially true for all things “school.” Having a virtual place to organize my reading lists – whether required or “desired” is very nice. And why not open a bookstore while I’m at it featuring all of the books I’m reading. Done! with Amazon.com. Pretty easy.

Note to self. Must learn frames and CSS.

Study block

A paper is due this weekend. Usually studious, and cognizant of the fact that I have a day job, I know I should read during every spare minute and write as I go. Instead, I’ve built this blog site. Enough said.

From le chateau du bois

23 October 2007 11:25 P.M.

Cold, wet, lovely fall is finally here. In our globally warmed world, the trees have barely changed color. But we’re to have a frost tonight. Oh for a bowl of Larry’s chili!

To the books…I am as usual behind on my reading. “The Conferederacy as a Revolutionary Experience” by Emory M. Thomas. A paper due by Sunday.

Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience