Search

Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

Education and Preservation

Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station: The Problems of Command and Strategy After Gettysburg, from Brandy Station to the Buckland Races, August 1 to October 31, 1863

 Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station is an outstanding book that answers the question: what did Lee and Meade do when both armies were in Virginia after returning from Gettysburg? It will be remembered that Longstreet with two divisions was sent West to reinforce Bragg, leading to Chickamauga, and some may remember the Union countered by sending the XI and XII Corps to reinforce Rosecrans. This left two depleted armies facing each other in Northern Virginia. 

   Lee resolved to take advantage of the situation by trying to replicate the Second Manassas Campaign – and he was partially successful, driving Meade all the way back to Centerville. However, miscues by A. P. Hill and skill mixed with some luck on Meade’s part thwarted Lee’s designs, and by the end of October, 1863, the armies had returned to their previous locations. This book is the story of that campaign.

   The author has done a great job – excellent description with plenty of maps allow you to see exactly what both sides intended and how they executed those intentions. I highly recommend this book as an exposition of both the tactics employed and the campaign strategy (operational art to us Army guys). Great read!

 

Reviewed by John Scales

“This Place Matters”

Tuesday, April 30, 2pm
205 Eastside Square

Mayor Battle and local officials will kick off Huntsville’s 2019 annual historic preservation campaign, which runs during May. He will proclaim that “This Place Matters” at the formerly-hidden, mid-1800s brick sidewalk.

The Huntsville-Madison Historical Society and The Historic Huntsville Foundation partnered with city departments and Berry Baugh Allen of Baugh Art, to design, fabricate, and install a modern viewing structure. It replaces the heavily weathered box that stood over the old sidewalk since 1974.

High school students from the theater department of Randolph School will mingle as characters from Huntsville’s early days, in honor of the Alabama Bicentennial, 1819-2019. A short tour of the ornate lobby of the former Elbert H. Parsons Law Library may be available as time allows.

The public is cordially invited.

Questions? Carol Codori, 256-293-0075 or carolcodori@att.net





The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi

Dr. Timothy B. Smith, the author, wanted to tell a good story, describe the events in a social context, and include the operational considerations that fully illustrate the significance of the achievement.  He achieved his objectives.

John Wayne’s cavalry adventure “The Horse Soldiers” was entertaining but not exactly correct. Dr. Smith, also the author of “Champion Hill: Decisive battle for Vicksburg”, explains the considerations and analysis leading to the operational faints and distractions orchestrated in Northwest Mississippi and North Alabama to confuse the Confederate commanders in Mississippi and Richmond allowing Grierson to execute the primary mission; destroy and disrupt the Mississippi Southern Railroad resupply of Vicksburg that passed through the rail hub at Newton Station and distract Confederate action from Grant as he crossed the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg.

Mr. Smith includes a number of simple yet clear maps of the area of operation, essentially Mississippi, that aid understanding the complexity of the operational situation and the audacity of Grierson’s challenge. He provides an interesting character study of Grierson and other officers and men participating. He describes the task organization of the cavalry and detachments and the missions they were assigned and executed on their trek through Mississippi. All topics essential to a complete study of military operations. Readers will also enjoy the prologue that describes journalists, individual participants, Union military leaders, and even the Confederate response to the raid. The author also describes the impact of the raid on the lives of some soldiers for the remainder of the war and in life, providing testimony to how the hazards of war linger with its participants. 

This book will not only impress cavalry enthusiasts, but anyone with a serious or casual interest in Civil War operations and the personalities that experience it.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863

This exceptionally well-researched and written book provides a tremendous view of the opening tactical actions of the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia 19-20 September 1863 from the Federal’s perspective.  The author, Eric Wittenburg writes a detailed account of the actions of two major units involved in the opening stages of the battle: Minty’s cavalry and Wilder’s mounted infantry brigades.   His bibliography is extensive and demonstrates the use of a wide breath of applicable resources.  

The basic premise of the book is that the two mounted brigades of Wilder and Minty “saved” the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863.  Although the army was defeated, it was not destroyed.  I think the author definitively proved his thesis in a clear, logical manner.  Much of the mounted forces’ actions happened in spite of the very confused, and almost panicked response by Major General Rosecrans to the discovery of General Bragg’s army in close proximity.  Rosecrans’s actions to consolidate his widely dispersed forces to meet Bragg’s imminent threat caused units to re-task organize on-the-move and conduct a withdrawal in contact, a less than desirable method of conducting operations.  

Colonel Robert Minty, a former British Army officer and extremely capable cavalry commander, led a cavalry brigade in Major General McCook’s XX Corps (cavalry).  Two of the three regiments were armed with carbines, the third was armed with Colt revolving rifles essentially making them “mounted infantry”.  Colonel Wilder, a former businessman, led a brigade of mounted infantry who were armed with the relatively new, breech-loading Spencer rifle.  While mounted infantry was not a new concept, it was first successfully employed in the Army of the Cumberland during the Tullahoma Campaign.  While Wittman claims Wilder “invented” the “concept” of mounted infantry, this is not exactly correct.  The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, later becoming the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, was formed in 1846, pre-dating Wilder’s unit.  Arguably, the U.S. Dragoons (1833) pre-date both of those organizations.  The concept had been around for a number of years.  Wilder’s real claim-to-fame was the arming of his mounted units with the new, multi-shot, Spencer rifle.

Both brigades had a complement of field artillery.  Minty had a section from the Chicago Board of Trade battery and Wilder had Eli Lilly’s battery (18th Independent Battery, Indiana Light Artillery) which was attached to Wilder’s unit giving both units their own direct support artillery responding to their commanders’ needs.

In mid-September 1863, McCook’s XX Corps was operating on a widely separated avenue of approach as the right wing of the Army of the Cumberland.  All of Rosecrans’ corps’s were out of mutually supporting distance based on his misperception that the Confederates were withdrawing to Atlanta.  Minty’s brigade had been detached from XX Corps to provide cavalry support to XXI Corps (Crittenden) on the far-left wing of the army.  Wilder’s brigade was nominally part of Reynolds division of Granger’s Reserve Corps, but because of their unique capabilities, were operating, almost at the discretion of Major General Rosecrans, forward of the army.  This had the potential for impacting command and control except for the excellent cooperation exhibited by both Minty and Wilder with each other.  As the battle developed, so did potential problems as commanders “jumped the chains of command”.  Major General Rosecrans was not beyond by-passing corps and division commanders to order division commanders (two levels down) what to do, a significant faux pas in the military.

Both Minty and Wilder recognized the threat posed by Bragg’s army consolidation in north Georgia during mid-September 1863.  Both these brigades immediately deployed against Bragg’s consolidation and north-ward advance with the intent to slow the Confederates.  Minty’s superior, Crittenden, refused to acknowledge Bragg’s threat until it was literally on top of him.  Rosecrans recognized the threat to his line of communication and ability to withdraw to Chattanooga but time was not on his side.  It was then that the mounted forces of Wilder’s mounted infantry and Minty’s cavalry proved their real value to the Army of the Cumberland.

Wittenberg makes an excellent analogy to modern tactical doctrine.  The deployment of Minty and Wilder’s brigades against Bragg on 18 September was, as aptly pointed-out by Wittenberg, in what are now considered “traditional” cavalry roles.  They acted as a “covering force” in modern doctrinal parlance.  Additionally, while the definition of security tasks have not changed substantially since WWII, Wittenberg does reference an Army manual twenty years out-of-date. The tasks performed by Minty and Wilder were “covering forces” cited by Wittenberg because they operated away from the main force, were designed to “buy-time” for the main body to maneuver, and they accepted engagement in decisive combat.  This is a significant topic of discussion with Army units that I frequently take to Chickamauga.  The difference between a “cover” and “screen” (or “guard”) tasks differ in a number of ways to those in Army units that must conduct these.  Wittenberg correctly assesses what Minty and Wilder did and correctly ties it to our modern doctrinal tasks.  

Wittenberg does a great job of introducing the reader to the different commanders and key participants by the use of explanatory footnotes.  They add much to the book and add a great deal to the understanding of who these men were.  I give major kudos to his excellent notes.  The short biographies of these personnel makes for interesting reading and does much to add to the understanding of the people involved in this major battle.

The writing style is easy to read and Wittenberg’s organization is excellent.  The bane of editors are maps but I believe that there can never be too many.  A few more would have been excellent but the ones that are used are very good.  The period and modern images of commanders and locations are interesting although the modern photos are not the best printed quality.  I really like the driving instructions and the fact that GPS coordinates are listed for those not familiar with the battlefield.  They make the book infinitely more useable for those visiting the battlefield. The organization table showing the armaments of the different regiments is superlative.  However, photos and descriptions of the weapons would have been a nice addition for those who are not familiar with period weapons.

There are a few points that I disagree with, or, are minor editorial errors.  The claim that Bragg and President Jefferson Davis were life-long “friends” is not an interpretation that I agree with since Bragg left the US Army largely as a result of Davis’ treatment.  Infantry cartridge boxes carried 40 rather than 60 rounds, and Bragg’s offensive plans seemed to be more of a result of fragmentary orders than “carefully laid plan(s)”.

Wittenberg weaves the complex maneuver of both armies into a highly readable and logical story making this book a tremendous resource for the study of the campaign and battle of Chickamauga.  Overall, I rate this book as an A+ that does much to add to the understanding of the battle at Chickamauga and the war.  It is a “must read” for students of the battle.  

Reviewed by Ed Kennedy

“The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg — A History and Walking Tour

There were cavalrymen that historians and adventure writers have painted as icons of daring and adventure, Custer, Forrest, Morgan come to mind but competent leaders that didn’t capture the spirit of the horse because opportunity eluded them yet were respected and, in some cases, revered because they were competent. John Buford was successful and competent by all accounts yet researchers may be disappointed, Gettysburg enthusiast may feel more discussion was necessary with regard to his action on day 1 of the battle, but for most readers with limited knowledge of John Buford it will be satisfying and interesting. Once your study of the Civil War inches down from the principle leadership of legend to those that executed the hard parts, primary source information is sketchy at best. And, particularly if the subject died before the war ended. 

   The General, apparently, didn’t write much aside from dispatches and his contemporaries apparently, while recognizing his competence as a cavalry leader found nothing particularly noteworthy to applaud or complain about to their spouses or friends which leads one to believe he was a solder executing his mission with apparent success and not an opportunist, a noteworthy characteristic not always found in senior Civil War leaders. 

  Mr. Whittenburg produced a pretty clear, although sketchy, character study of the General, his decision-making process, and personal habits. And, he provides a sufficient analysis of Buford’s battlefield conduct to illustrate a bit of his command style. 

   Mr. Whittenburg is an attorney and attorneys are known for their research skills so the assumption is that the author found about as much as there is on John Buford today. It is a pretty quick and rewarding read, yet if you expect to learn of all the warts associated with his character, his failures and disappointments, more details must lie in some dusty archive awaiting discovery. 

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

mcilwain tv cwrt jan 2019.pdf

To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862

Although I was unable to attend the special December meeting of the TVCWRT, I was told the topic was well represented and the speaker really understood his topic. For those of you who also were unable to be there, the subject of December’s meeting was the Dunker Church at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Coincidentally, the subject of this review is the Maryland Campaign of 1862 as presented in To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862, a new book by Robert Orrison and Kevin R. Pawlak.

The book is part of the Emerging Civil War Series, from Savas-Beatie Publishers, offering easy-to-read overviews of some of the War’s most important battles and stories. The series received the Army Historical Foundation’s Lieutenant General Richard G. Trefry Award for contributions to the literature on the history of the U.S. Army. More information can be found at www.emergingcivilwar.com. 

To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862, is precisely what the title describes, a guide. It is, in fact, a driving and, occasionally, walking, tour guide of the entire campaign, which lasted from early September to November of that year during which several actions and skirmishes occurred, including, of course, the battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland, along the banks of Antietam Creek. Each chapter focuses on the movements and locations of the Confederate and Federal armies as they moved and counter-moved across western Maryland and northern Virginia that autumn. Although it would be a daunting task to visit and describe every location, the authors have given readers a book that definitely hits the more important ones and even takes them to a few out-of-the-way spots and hidden gems along the way.

Each tour stop or key military action is shown on maps by Hal Jespersen (five driving tour maps and nine troop movement/battle maps) and each chapter is peppered with photographs of key figures, monuments, and locations you will see along the way. Points of interest are described in detail along with an admonition to respect the rights of private homeowners who live in historical structures. Picture captions provide historical and interesting information on the subject. Every point along the trip is provided with turn-by-turn driving directions, typically starting at a visitor center or location important to that chapter’s focus, and each tour stop includes GPS coordinates.

Most of the tour routes follow the actual roads traveled by the opposing armies and you’ll find that the paths of these armies crossed in more than a few places. Accordingly, although a site may be listed in more than one chapter, the point of view is that of the units visiting at the time, so the reader doesn’t get the same information and, possibly, learns something new each time.

Getting back to my introductory paragraph, the Dunker Church at Sharpsburg was, interestingly, mentioned only briefly in the text. First noted in the narrative as the target of General Hooker’s men the morning of September 17, and then in a photo caption, the plateau surrounding the church was said to be “artillery hell” for General Stephen Dill Lee, who had posted 15 guns in the area and lost 85 men from his battalion to the severe fire of the Federal guns pounding his position. Even though it’s not a focal point of the tour, the church was (is) located in the center of many important landmarks familiar to students of the battle including the Cornfield, East Woods, West Woods, and Bloody Lane. 

To Hazard All definitely lives up to its purpose; an easy-to-follow guide to the important, and some “hidden”, sites associated with the Autumn 1862 Maryland Campaign. Scattered across 120 miles of western Maryland, the history and natural beauty of the area cannot be denied. Readers living in the region can use this book as an easy “day-tripping” guide, and for those living farther afield, the text offers readers an introduction to the area’s features. If you decide to visit, To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862, is a great place to start.

 

Reviewed by Lee Hattabaugh

The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President

President Lincoln was reviled by many in the Confederacy, being considered the cause of the Civil War and the personification of all the wrongs the North had perpetrated on the South.  As the war ran on, and particularly in its waning days, many concluded that his assassination was warranted.  These feelings came together on the evening of April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth shot the president at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward had also been targeted that fateful night.  President Lincoln died the next morning.  The would-be assassin targeting VP Johnson lost his nerve, and Seward was only wounded.

Anger and hatred flared in the North, and federal efforts to find and bring the conspirators to justice were intense.  Booth was shot resisting arrest in a barn on Garnett’s Farm in King George County, VA on the morning of April 26, 1865.  In the ensuing days and weeks scores of others were arrested (including co-conspirator David Herold who was with Booth when he was killed.)  Having had the slightest contact with the conspiracy was grounds.  In the end, all were released except for eight.  Of these, each was found guilty of participating in the conspiracy.  Four were executed by hanging, three were given life prison sentences, and one sentenced to six years.

One of those caught up in the sweep was an Alabama firebrand lawyer, George Washington Gayle, former Democratic state legislator and US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama– the “Million-Dollar Man” whose involvement in the assassination Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr. studies in this book.  Conventional histories portray Gayle as a tangential figure, certainly sympathetic to efforts to bring President Lincoln down, but not a direct player.  Mr. McIlwain sees Gayle’s role differently – less tangential and more direct.  What was Gayle’s contribution to the assassination of PresidentLincoln? It revolved around his publication in a local newspaper, the Selma Dispatch, in December 1864 a call – an advertisement – for contributions towards raising $1 million (and towards which he contributed the first $1,000) for the express purpose of paying for the assassination of President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson, and Mr. Seward by the following March 1, 1865.  Serious intent?  Did it substantively contribute towards the actual assassination? You must read the book to find that out, but I will saythat Mr. McIlwain provides substantive argument and wellreasoned conclusions.  

This is a substantive yet concise read.  It provides history at the personal level of the growth and development of the Secessionist movement and, ultimately, the assassination plot, principally as that history developed in South Carolina and Alabama, with the focus on Gayle within the pantheon of local politicos and activists all along the way.  Mr. McIlwain’slawyerly experience and training shines through with his meticulous attention to detail and masterful reliance on period newspaper reporting and commentary for flavor and contemporary context.

It eventuated that Gayle was apprehended by federal authorities and held in prison pending trial by military tribunal – a trial that never came.  For various reasons analyzed by Mr. McIlwain, the trial was delayed.  Then, in an interesting turn, President Andrew Johnson authorized his parole from the prison at Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia.  The terms of his parolerequired him to return to Alabama for trial by a civil court rather than a military court (which was falling out of favor as the venue of choice).  President Johnson finally pardoned him in full on April 27, 1867, before the civil trial could be arranged.  It turned out to be quite a ride for Mr. Gayle, and quite a tale described by Mr. McIlwain.  Enjoy!

Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr., has been practicing law for more than three decades in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This is the third book Mr. McIlwain has written.  The other two were Civil War Alabama (co-authored with G. Ward Hubbs; Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2016) and 1865 Alabama: From Civil to Uncivil Peace (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017).  He has also published several articles in a variety of history journals.

Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President of the TVCWRT, now continuing to support by being part of the Stage Crew. His work history spans almost 45 years of military and civilian service to our country.  He retired from NASA/George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on December 27, 2014.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hood College, Frederick, Maryland; is a former president of the Huntsville chapter of the National Contract Management Association, and is a life member of the Special Forces Association.  He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.  He is a dedicated bibliophile, and is a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.

October 11th Round Table Meeting — Atlanta Campaign Logistics

Greg BiggsGreg Biggs, a great friend of the Round Table and a frequent contributor to our understanding of all aspects of the Civil War will be here on Thursday, 11 October. His topic is: “The question was one of supplies” – The Logistics for William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Greg led us on two tours in as many years focused on the Atlanta Campaign a few years back. There will be some in the audience that will recall the fantastic insight into the campaign. 

 

Greg Biggs has been a student of military history for over 45 years. His study includes the Spartans through modern times. His Civil War articles have been published in Blue & Gray magazine, Civil War Regiments journal, North-South Trader, Citizen’s Companion and local publications. He also has an essay in the recent book on the Tullahoma Campaign and is working on first-person accounts of that campaign as well as a unit history of the 83rd Illinois Infantry.  Greg is a Civil War flags historian and has consulted with a number of museums and authors and has presented flags programs to the Museum of the Confederacy and the National Civil War Museum among others. He has also assisted the Civil War Trust in securing flags for their website.  Greg lectures across the country on Civil War topics, primarily on flags and the Western Theater and he throws in a little Revolutionary War too. Greg leads tours of the Fort Donelson Campaign, the Tullahoma Campaign, the Atlanta Campaign and where The River Campaigns Began: Cairo, IL to Columbus/Belmont, KY for Civil War groups, individuals and U.S. Army Staff Rides. He is the president of the Clarksville Civil War Roundtable and an officer of the Nashville CWRT. He lives in Clarksville, Tennessee with his wife Karel, a 7th Grade science teacher, and their four cats named for Confederate cavalrymen.

 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑