Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Last Civil War Veterans

The Last Civil War Veterans is an enthralling chronicle of the military and civilian lives of the last surviving Civil War veterans living in the United States. Frank L. Grzyb turned a well-researched listing of the oldest soldiers into an entertaining and engrossing book.

Grzyb organizes by allegiance (Union, Confederate, Border States, and Territories). Grzyb presents the biographies under the subheadings of "Regimental Brief" and "Veteran's Brief." Regimental Brief presents a summary of the soldier's wartime assignments and engagements. Veteran's Brief relates the veteran's life as a civilian in Reconstruction America. The stories include the veteran's picture as an old man.

The stories contain several common themes:

  • The last veterans lived over one hundred. 
  • Most of them outlived their wives and many were married several times.
  • Nearly all of the veterans were teenagers when they joined the war.
  • After the war, most of them returned to or became farmers, factory workers, or common laborers.
  • The men were remarkably healthy and only a few suffered from battle wounds. 
  • The veterans were revered in the community and celebrated at state and national events. 

A few of the veterans were found to be frauds. Some men proclaimed their service to obtain pensions, while others sought the fame associated with being the state's oldest Civil War veteran. The author includes an Appendix with a collection of the longest living survivors from various battles, historic events, and circumstances.

Mr. Grzyb is the author of six other books and numerous articles on the Civil War for newspapers and magazines. He is a member of the Rhode Island Civil War Round Table.

The Last Civil War Veterans is a fine addition to your Civil War library that reveals how men who survived the war became peaceful citizens.

You can order The Last Civil War Veterans from McFarland on their website ( or by phone (800-253-2187).

Title: The Last Civil War Veterans 
Author: Frank L. Grzyb 
Publisher: McFarland 
Pages: 208 
Price: $35.00 Soft Cover

Monday, May 16, 2016

General C. F. Smith at Gettysburg

Maj. Gen. C. F. Smith
Major General Charles F. Smith did not fight at the Battle of Gettysburg. His name does not appear in the many books on the battle and national park. No monument commemorates his contribution to the Union victory. However, acknowledged or not, General Smith was there.

The Battle of Gettysburg

One hundred and twenty-one general officers fought at Gettysburg. Sixty-eight commanded Union units and fifty-three led Confederate troops. Of the 121 generals, sixty-two or fifty-one percent received their commissions at the US Military Academy at West Point, NY.

Artillery Practice at West Point
C. F. Smith served as an assistant tactical instructor (June 25, 1829-September 1, 1831), adjutant (September 1, 1831-April 1, 1838), and Commandant of Cadets (April 1, 1838-September 1, 1842) at the Academy. He was tactics instructor, drill master, and role model for many of the young men who led the northern and southern armies in the Civil War. Of the sixty-two West Point graduates at Gettysburg, Smith taught twenty-nine during his thirteen year tenure at the Academy. That's forty-seven percent of the West Pointers and twenty-four percent of the total. An additional seven officers served under General Smith in the Utah War where he conducted instruction in Tactics. This brings the total to thirty-six men or fifty-eight percent of the West Pointers who Smith helped become future generals.

Maj Gen. John Reynolds
Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock
Ten of the fourteen union major generals were West Point graduates. General Smith taught nine of the ten offices as cadets at the Academy. On the Confederate side, fourteen of the fifteen officers who were major generals or higher were West Pointers. Smith taught six of them at West Point and two of them during the Utah War. Eighty-three percent of the officers at Gettysburg who were major generals or higher were former cadets at the Military Academy and C. F. Smith taught seventy-one percent of these.

Major General Charles F. Smith did not fight at the Battle of Gettysburg, but his former students earned a place of honor on that sacred ground.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Harriett Tubman Replaces Andrew Jackson

Harriett Tubman

In the introduction for "a roundtable discussion on women, people of color, and the country's newest currency," the writer contrasted Andrew Jackson with Harriett Tubman.

Jackson was a slaveholder who infamously sent thousands of Cherokee Indians to their death along the Trail of Tears. Tubman was a slave who escaped and served as a spy for the Union during the Civil War, freeing other slaves using the Underground Railroad. The enslaver has been replaced by the slave, and the United States currency library just got one tick less male. 

Alexander Hamilton
Jackson was a late substitute for Alexander Hamilton, who may or may not have been saved by the Broadway musical bearing his name. Replacing Hamilton with Tubman would have been ironic because Hamilton was one of the few men on US currency who owned no slaves and hated slavery.

If being a slaveholder would have gotten you kicked off paper money, we would be replacing many of the nation's founding fathers. Consider those patriots honored on American currency.

Andrew Jackson
George Washington, who graces the one-dollar bill, was a slave owner as was Thomas Jefferson, on the two-dollar bill, and Andrew Jackson on the twenty. On the higher denominations, Ulysses S. Grant, on the fifty, and Benjamin Franklin on the one-hundred dollar bill also owned slaves. Adding to Franklin's suitability was the fact that his newspaper ran advertisements for slave sales. James Madison, whose face once graced the discontinued $5,000 bill, owned slaves. Woodrow Wilson, who supported eugenics, was slated to appear on never issued $100,000 bill. That leaves William McKinley on the $500 and Grover Cleveland on the discontinued $1,000 bill as two other non-slave owning presidents.

Abraham Lincoln did not own slaves and eventually championed freedom and equal rights for African Americans. However, he also supported the idea that Freedmen should be retuned to new colonies in Africa.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
There are so many women deserving of the honor attached to being placed on the currency. The list featured on is impressive. I would like to have seen two sets of currency printed with women and men sharing the spotlight. I would have chosen suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Candy Stanton to replace Andrew Jackson. How about a foursome of the first ladies of Civil Rights, Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks, on the hundred? On second thought, perhaps Tubman was the best choice for her work in Civil Rights and Women's Suffrage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Greatest General in the Civil War

Gen. U. S. Grant
Students of the Civil War argue about which general was the "best" or "greatest." Some people select U. S. Grant because he commanded the winning army. If you are south of the Mason-Dixon line, you probably choose Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson. After those three, the candidates include William T. Sherman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, James Longstreet, George Gordon Meade, or George Henry Thomas.

I thought about the sports quote, which says that the coach is so good that he can take his opponent's team and beat his old team. So I thought about applying this to generals. Could U. S. Grant have won with Lee's troops and vice versa?

Gen. R. E. Lee
If the north won with Grant, the north would have been victorious with Lee. Lee was smarter than Grant and perhaps more daring. Lee would have pursued a bold strategy to end the war as he tried to do with the Confederate forces. Remember that Lee was the US military's first choice to lead the Union Army.

If Grant switched places with Lee, he would have also suffered the same fate. Which leads us to consider whether any general could have won the war for the south (see Lost Cause)? It seems doubtful that any general could have won a prolonged war for the south. If the Confederate forces would have attacked and captured Washington in April 1861, the south could have won the war. The longer the conflict lasted, the stronger the north became and the weaker the south grew. A prolonged guerrilla war might have turned the tide for the Confederacy, but few commanders had a taste for that strategy. Such a campaign would need some hope of success and a well-organized resistance. The one man who could have conducted such a campaign, Nathan Bedford Forrest, declined the opportunity. He realized that his men were exhausted from four years of war and needed to return to their homes and families.

Gen. W. T. Sherman
Could any general have won the war for the north with its manpower and economic superiority? We have ample evidence that other generals could not win the war. Lincoln's selection of generals proved this true. Lincoln found a general who was willing to fight and suffer setbacks. Grant realized that the only way to defeat the south was to annihilate its armies. He did this with great effect. Sherman could have done the same thing as he demonstrated with his total war tactics. The partnership of Grant and Sherman won the war. Could Lee and Jackson have achieved the same results? It seems a good possibility.

Gen. T. J. Jackson 
What about a trio of leaders? The south had their big three in Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. The north never had a big three --- perhaps Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan or Grant, Sherman, and C. F. Smith.

My choices are:

  • For best general - Robert E. Lee over U. S. Grant 
  • For best leadership pair - Lee and Jackson in a close contest over Grant and Sherman 
  • For best trio - Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet over Grant, Sherman and Sheridan, but a tie with Grant, Sherman, and C. F. Smith 

What are your thoughts?