Thursday, December 29, 2011

Civil War Northern Virginia 1861 by William S. Connery

When I began reviewing Civil War books, I realized that I might be faced with giving some of my reads less than a glowing review.  Sadly this is the case with William s. Connery's Civil War in Northern Virginia 1861.

There are several things I liked about the book.  It is obvious that Mr. Connery knows a great deal about the area's involvement in the Civil War.  I found his information on Mount Vernon and the efforts to maintain it fascinating.  I also liked his description of the Battle of Dranesville.  The book has a number of fine photographs that add to the narrative.

I present the following criticisms/suggestions in the hope that the author and publisher might consider a revised second edition.  What I found lacking was a good readable map of Northern Virginia.  The map included is impossible to read.  Yes, I could have opened a Virginia state map, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a self-contained book.  Maps would help me locate the various places described in the book.  A driving tour in an appendix would be a great addition. 

I wish the author had included a time line of events in Northern Virginia during 1861.  This would have provided a reference point for the events and places described. I had trouble finding a unifying format in the book. A county-by-county or a month-by-month framework would have helped immensely.

The most disturbing point of the book was the absence of footnotes.  True there is a bibliography, but the historian/scholar in me wanted to know exactly where these morsels of information came from. For example, I would have liked a reference for the casualty numbers for Ball's Bluff.

It is for the above reasons that we limit our recommendation to the rank of Brigadier General.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in the Civil War

Poem by Confederate soldier William Gordon McCabe describes his thoughts on Christmas Night 1862.

Santa Gives Gifts to Union Troops
T. Nast 1863
The wintry blast goes wailing by,
the snow is falling overhead;
I hear the lonely sentry's tread,
and distant watch-fires light the sky.

Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
The soldiers cluster round the blaze
To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of home and home.

My saber swinging overhead,
gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow,
and memory leads me to the dead.

1860 Vintage Christmas Card 
My thoughts go wandering to and fro,
vibrating 'twixt the Now and Then;
I see the low-browed home again,
the old hall wreathed in mistletoe.

And sweetly from the far off years
comes borne the laughter faint and low,
the voices of the Long Ago!
My eyes are wet with tender tears.

I feel again the mother kiss,
I see again the glad surprise
That lighted up the tranquil eyes
And brimmed them o'er with tears of bliss

As, rushing from the old hall-door,
She fondly clasped her wayward boy -
Her face all radiant with they joy
She felt to see him home once more.
Husband and wife separated by war
T. Nast 1862 

My saber swinging on the bough
Gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow
aslant upon my saddened brow.

Those cherished faces are all gone!
Asleep within the quiet graves
where lies the snow in drifting waves, -
And I am sitting here alone.

Antietam Luminary
There's not a comrade here tonight
but knows that loved ones far away
on bended knees this night will pray:
"God bring our darling from the fight."

But there are none to wish me back,
for me no yearning prayers arise
the lips are mute and closed the eyes -
My home is in the bivouac.

Best wishes for a joyous holiday season with friends and family.

Please pray for our troops defending our ability to enjoy our lives in freedom.

Source: "Christmas Night of '62" Civil War Trust.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dishonorable Discharge Origins

In compiling research for my biography of Major General Charles F. Smith, I came across a journal posting of a January 12, 1844 letter sent to Brigadier General R. Jones, Adjutant General of the US Army, suggesting that the US Army use a discharge similar to that used by the British Army.

"It has often occurred to me that the service would be benefited if a discharge somewhat similar to that granted in the British Army was given in ours. I mean to make it obligatory on the Comp. Commander to state that the man's genl. conduct has been good when such is the case and to cut off the space for character whenever it has been such as ought to prevent a re-enlistment.

"I am inclined to believe that owing to the want of some such evidence of character many worthless men have been re-enlisted who were discharged under the late law for reducing the army. For example: such men as a Capt. of Art. who not re-enlisted would go to the West & get into an Inf. Regt.; & such men as could not get a re-enlistment in the Inf. would come to the Seaboard & join the Art.

"I have 2 or 3 men who came from the Inf., & who I am satisfied would never have been re-enlisted by their former Co. Commander, judging them by their qualifications & conduct since joining my Comp.

"I make a copy of the form of discharge used in the British Service; also a form taken from this & from that now used by us, which I think might be used advantageously in our Service."

"The soldier's character would be inserted only when recommendatory. If the general conduct of the soldier, while in the service, has been such as to give him no claim to having anything said in his favor, the space for character in the above certificate is to be cut off under the black line following the confirmation of the discharge, thereby leaving no opportunity for an addition to be made after the certificate is given to the man.

"When a soldier is discharged on account of disgraceful conduct that will appear in the body of the certificate."

I have not determined whether Smith's suggestion was endorsed by the US Army.  I would appreciate any information that readers might have on this subject.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanks for Your Interest

Thank you for reading our blog.

Allen shooting rifle
Salient Points has now exceeded 10,000  pageviews.

We have made over 122 posts since beginning in 2008.

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Please tell your friends and other students of the Civil War about our blog.

Thanks Again.

Allen Mesch

13th Amendment Restored

A rare copy of the 13th Amendment ending slavery has been restored for display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The 13th Amendment states:

13th Amendment in
National Archives
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The nearly 147-year-old document showed its age with "its surface creased and buckled, its inscriptions faded and an edge yellowed by old adhesive." Russ Maki, owner a paper conservation company in Chicago, restored the historic document for free.

There are at least 14 duplicate copies of the 13th Amendment signed by Lincoln. Congress passed it two years after his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and it represented the culmination of his efforts to end slavery. But he apparently stopped signing the duplicates after lawmakers complained he was overstepping his executive powers because constitutional amendments are passed by Congress and ratified by the states.

Please see "Rare copy of 13th Amendment signed by Lincoln restored for viewing at Illinois museum" and Thirteenth Amendment for more information.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Civil War at Perryville by Christopher L. Kolakowski

Braxton Bragg
The Civil War at Perryville – Battling for the Bluegrass State by Christopher Kolakowski describes the Confederate failure to gain control of Kentucky. Mr. Kolakowski has produced a well-researched account of the battle at Perryville, KY. The reader follows the day-long conflict on October 8, 1862 as the Confederate Army of Mississippi led by General Braxton Bragg drives the Union Army of the Ohio commanded by Major General Don Carlos Buell from the field.

Union Defense - Starkweather's Brigade
Kolakowski sets the stage for the engagement as Confederate forces under Bragg and General Kirby Smith conduct the Confederate Heartland Offensive. We follow Confederate forces through the Cumberland Gap and victories at Richmond and Munfordville as they gain control of most of the state. Finally the two armies collide over the farmland near Perryville. There the author describes the troop movements and flow of battle that ends with the climax at Dixville Crossroads. We learn about the Union’s stout defense at Starkweather Hill and the courage of both northern and southern forces to win the fight.

Don Carlos Buell
The author includes a discussion about the Buell Petition including a description of the meeting of officers written by Col. John M. Harlan of the 10th Kentucky Regiment. Harlan’s account indicates that the meeting took place after the Battle of Perryville. The officers present agreed to sign a petition to the President asking for Buell’s removal because the general had “lost the confidence of the Army of the Ohio.” The document was never sent because Harlan learned that Lincoln had removed Buell the day before.

The book contains numerous photographs and maps (see comment below). The narrative is sprinkled with first-hand accounts of the battle. I would definitely recommend reading the account before visiting Perryville.

I found the maps a little hard to read due to the size and orientation of the font. More distinctive coding on the units and movements would have helped considerably. I would have liked to see the unit sizes included with the order of battle information. The casualty figures for each unit would have been a good addition.

We gave this book a rating of two-stars or Major General. 

Christopher L. Kolakowski was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He received his BA in history and mass communications from Emory & Henry College, and his MA in public history from the State University of New York at Albany. Chris has spent his career interpreting and preserving American military history with the National Park Service, New York State government, the Rensselaer County (New York) Historical Society and the Civil War Preservation Trust. From 2005 to 2008, Chris was executive director of the Perryville Enhancement Project. During his tenure he added 152 acres of critical battlefield land and increased Perryville’s national profile. Chris works as a military historian in Atlanta, Georgia. The Civil War at Perryville: Battling for the Bluegrass State is his first book.

A pdf copy of this book was provided by Mr. Kolakowski.

Check out Mr. Kolakowski's interview by Civil War Trust.

Please see Perryville for pictures of the battlefield and other information on the battle. Also check out the Battle of Perryville on Wikipedia.