Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering - Memorial Day 2012

"BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD" by Theodore O'Hara

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.


No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife

At dawn shall call to arms.


Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed

Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle's stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout, are past;
Nor war's wild note nor glory's peal
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore may feel

The rapture of the fight.


Like the fierce northern hurricane
That sweeps the great plateau,
Flushed with the triumph yet to gain,
Came down the serried foe,
Who heard the thunder of the fray
Break o'er the field beneath,
Knew well the watchword of that day
Was "Victory or death!"

Long had the doubtful conflict raged
O'er all that stricken plain,
For never fiercer fight had waged
The vengeful blood of Spain;
And still the storm of battle blew,
Still swelled the gory tide;
Not long, our stout old chieftain knew,
Such odds his strength could bide.

Twas in that hour his stern command
Called to a martyr's grave
The flower of his beloved land,
The nation's flag to save.
By rivers of their father's gore
His first-born laurels grew,
And well he deemed the sons would pour
Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother's breath has swept
O'er Angostura's plain --
And long the pitying sky has wept
Above its moldered slain.
The raven's scream, or eagle's flight,
Or shepherd's pensive lay,
Alone awakes each sullen height

That frowned o'er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground

Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land's heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from war his richest spoil --
The ashes of her brave.

Thus 'neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field,
Borne to a Spartan mother's breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred eyes and hearts watch by
The heroes sepulcher.

Ball's Bluff
Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep shall here tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her records keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor Time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Die Like Men by Tim Kent

John Bell Hood
Die Like Men is a chronicle of John Bell Hood's ill-fated Nashville campaign.  This fictional account provides readers a seat at the table with Union and Confederate commanders as they discuss strategy in battles at Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville.  Tim Kent's narrative takes us into battle with Confederate officers as they lead their men against Union troops at Franklin and defend against General George Thomas' forces at Nashville.  The ever present protagonist is John Bell Hood.

Kent portrays Hood as a man driven to succeed, but  Hood emerges as a sad, perhaps pathetic character whose Pollyanna view of the military situation is detached from the realities of the battlefield.  "Say what they want of me, Hood thought, but I am a good commander."  He faults his army for not having "the winning spirit."  Perhaps the  ultimate blow to Hood's confidence comes on their retreat to Alabama as his soldiers sing, "... but the gallant Hood of Texas played hell in Tennessee."  

Battle of Franklin
The novel captures the failure of generals to support their field commanders and vice versa.  Union General Schofield complains that Thomas won't come to his aid at Spring Hill and Franklin.  Thomas protests that Schofield is not attacking soon enough at Nashville. Hood frets over his officers' efforts to reach Spring Hill before the Union army.  Confederate commanders question Hood's grasp of reality and strategies.

George Henry Thomas
Die Like Men describes the bravery of Patrick Cleburne, John Adams, and Otho Strahl  at Franklin and Thomas B. Smith at Nashville.  We read of General Cheatham who left the battle to have a liaison with a local woman and Union General Wagner and Confederate General Brown who were rumored to have been drunk at Franklin.

The book is hurt by the hand-drawn battle maps.  A simple graphics program could have produced professionally looking images.  Some of the dialogue seemed to inconsistent with phrases and vocabulary of the Civil War era.  At times the generals spoke more like the common soldiers.  I would have liked to see more of the battles from the perspective of the men of Company B of the 35th Alabama Infantry.

Even with the above defects, Die Like Men is a good read that engages the reader as we follow Hood's campaign that seems to grasp failure from the jaws of victory.

We rate Die Like Men two stars

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Insubordination in the Civil War

U. S. Grant
In my studies of the Civil War, I am constantly amazed at the level of insubordination demonstrated by officers of various ranks in the opposing armies.   Insubordination is refusal by a subordinate to obey lawful orders from a superior commissioned or non-commissioned officer.  This also applies to orders issued by the President who is considered the Commander-in-Chief.   Insubordination is different from contempt. While insubordination deals predominately with not following the orders of a superior, contempt in the U.S. military involves the use of contemptuous words against certain appointed or elected officials. 

Albert Pike
Most of the headlines go to generals charged with insubordination.  This may be due to the greater visibility and consequences associated with their actions.  These infractions carry a variety of punishments from a reprimand to a courts martial. 

Andrew Gardner offered this comment from Joseph Glatthaar's book General Lee's Army.   In discussing insubordination in the Army of Northern Virginia, the author attributes some of this to the background of many southern aristocrats who lived in a society where they were not accustomed to being ordered or told what or how to do things. He posited that it was simply not ingrained in their culture at that time and that aristocratic men were more accustomed to having things suggested or recommended but not ordered to them. According to the author, the more industrial northern states and the more trade skill oriented individuals were less apt to take offense to receiving orders and direction from superiors. 

Joshua Chamberlain

George Davis shared ideas that came from Thomas Lowry's book Tarnished Eagles.  George comments that: "[T]here was a certain level of ego involved in the Federal officer corps, but it turned out that those most frequently prosecuted for violations were attorneys in their previous careers. Attorneys and politicians often made poor soldiers/leaders. It turned out that some of the best new leaders that emerged from the officer corps used to be TEACHERS."  The most obvious example is Joshua Chamberlain Another example is Grierson who, although he was kicked in the head by a horse and mistrusted horse, enjoyed future success as a cavalry officer and commander of the 10th US cavalry better known as the "Buffalo Soldiers."

John Fremont
George also mentions that there were certain officers who created the conditions that led to insubordination.  At his headquarters in St. Louis, General Fremont was "protected" by "Fremont's Hussars," a group composed of Hungarian and Italian emigre officers. An American-born captain was prevented from seeing Fremont by a Major Zagonyi, and the captain remarked of Zagonyi that he was a "Hungarian humbug". The captain was prosecuted for insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, but the charge was later dismissed.

Insubordination should not be confused with contempt as so prominently displayed by George McClellan in regard to the Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln.  Arrogant, insolent, and slow footed, yes; but insubordinate?

Insubordination seems to be caused by a variety of circumstances:

  • Failure to grasp the larger strategic concept - J.E.B. Stuart before Gettysburg.  Lee's reprimand is as deadly as a courts martial.
  • Failure to understand the role of the unit relative to others on the battlefield - Dan Sickles advance into the wheat field at Gettysburg.
  • Physical and/or mental incapacity - the inability to obey orders due to a wound, drunkenness, or cowardice - Brigadier General James H. Ledlie 1st Division was forced into action at the Battle of the Crater.  Ledlie failed to provide proper orders to his men, personally see to their preparation, and was drunk during the battle.  
  • Refusal to obey an order because the order while lawful is stupid - results in an action that will cause the army to lose the battle, inflict casualties that will destroy his command, and/or is not consistent with the overall campaign strategy.
  • Personality conflicts - refusal to follow a superior's commands because of dislike, envy or other petty dispute  
  • Unclear command structure - confusion leads to inadvertent insubordination when junior officer has to choose which superior to obey. 
  • Arrogance - Some people just like to argue, like lawyers and politicians and this could lead to charges being brought by a superior officer who became frustrated with the bickering.
  • Political support - officers who won the position by virtue of pre-war elected positions (governors, senators, etc.), political friends (President, cabinet officers, congressmen), and/or wealth.  These officers know that they have a friend in high places and  
  • Communication problems - Grant and Henry Halleck after Fort Donelson.  Halleck removed Grant from command of the expedition up the Tennessee River to Corinth because Grant was not answering his telegrams and had gone to meet Buell in Nashville without permission. 
  • Escaping from arrest and trial - General Albert Pike deserted rather than face charges of mishandling money and material and charges that Indians under his command scalped soldiers during the battle of Pea Ridge. 
  • Disagreement with Superior on Campaign Strategy - Beford Forrest made death threats against Braxton Bragg because the latter refused to try to recapture Chattanooga after the battle of Chickamauga.  Bragg reassigned Forrest to  an independent command in Mississippi. 
  • Loss of Temper - Frustration and bureaucracy boil over as in the case with Fremont cited above. 
As you can see, I don't have examples for all the circumstances I listed.  Please feel free to suggest some cases to illustrate the points.  Thanks to George and Andrew for their contributions to this post.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Marching with Sherman by Mark H. Dunkelman

Sherman's March to the Sea
Marching with Sherman: Through Georgia and the Carolinas with the 154th New York is a daily chronicle of events that follows the exploits of the 154th New York Regiment from Atlanta through Georgia and the Carolinas.  The author draws on regimental histories, diaries, and letters of Union soldiers; accounts of southern women collected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; and interviews of ex-slaves conducted by employees of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration.  Dunkelman's efforts produced a compelling history of the soldiers' hardships and the ravages inflicted on southerners.

The men of the 154th New York were recruited from Cattaraugus and Chautaugua counties along the southwestern border with Pennsylvania. The boys came from small towns and farms and had more in common with their Confederate counterparts than the Union recruits from New York City and Irish immigrants.
The book is divided into five sections tracing the Union path of destruction:  Atlanta to Milledgeville, Milledgeville to Savannah, Savannah to Blackville, Blackville to Cheraw, and Cheraw to Goldsboro.  The route is nicely illustrated by George Skoch's maps. The book points out that while "The March to the Sea" gets the headlines, the campaign against South Carolina was even crueler.
Burning of McPhersonville
The book, which is the third one by the author in the series Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War, offers an array of stories illustrating the bravery and cunning of the "Steel Magnolias"  as they saved homes from destruction, concealed food, and protected family possessions.  The stories have familiar themes of vile bummers stealing food and killing farm animals, Union soldiers protecting the homes of fellow Masons, and families surviving on pieces of corn dropped by the foragers.  Dunkelman questions whether these stories are part of shared experiences or urban legends.   Another interesting aspect is the absence of information from the letters and diaries of the soldiers about the raids. They cite the burning cities and trauma inflicted on the land and its citizens, but don't provide details of their activities in this destruction.  This may be due to a lack of involvement by the 154th or embarrassment about what they did.  However, in the years following the war, the veterans of the regiment were proud of their participation in the historic march.
Dunkelman's history continues to the present day as he details how Southern anger increased to hatred of Sherman's Union invaders.  While Sherman's march was praised in the North and overseas, anti-Yankee feelings grew in the South.  Loathing of Sherman increased after the war as Southerners were able to fully comprehend the extent of the damage he had caused.  This revulsion was certainly aided by reconstruction.
The author concludes with his experiences in retracing his ancestor's path through the South.  The chapter, appropriately titled "Don't Bring Any Matches!" reveals gracious Southerners who wanted to share their family history and a minority of "neo-Confederates" who were unhappy about the author's presence in their community.
Marching with Sherman provides unique insights into the war on Southern civilians and offers perspectives from all who were affected by the historic march.
We rate Marching with Sherman  (3 out of 4 stars).