Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blunt v. Hindman: Sparring After Prairie Grove


Union Major General James G. Blunt and his Confederate opponent, Major General Thomas C. Hindman engaged in some verbal and written sparring after the battle of Prairie Grove. On December 12, 1862, just four days after the battle, Hindman sent the following note to Blunt:

“I send the bearer, Lieutenant Lawrence, to the battlefield, for the purpose of making a plat of it and the approaches to it. I request that you grant him the privilege, under such restrictions and obligations as you may see proper to impose. This courtesy to me on your part, if extended to me, will be reciprocated whenever occasion may offer.”

Blunt replied sarcastically:

“Your request, contained within, is a very modest one, and will be granted, provided you allow me to send an artist to your present camp to sketch it and the approaches leading thereto. Such little courtesies must be reciprocated.”

Hindman failed to respond.

Quotes are from the Official Records, v. 22, pt. 1, pages 81-82.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Naming A Battle


After the battle of Agincourt in 1415, English and French heralds who had observed the battle met with King Henry V, and they selected a name for the battle. In all but one instance during the Civil War, informality reigned when it came to choosing a battle’s name, with each side selecting their own name oftentimes for a battle. So we are left often with multiple, and frequently confusing, names for the same battle. Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing, Manassas/Bull Run, Sharpsburg/Antietam, Oak Hills/Wilson’s Creek are just a few examples. So, what is the one exception during the Civil War? The one time when opposing generals agreed upon a battle’s name?

On December 8, 1862, Major General James G. Blunt met his defeated foe, Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman. The two men discussed the disposition of the wounded, decided upon a truce, talked about paroling prisoners, and agreed upon the name of the battle that they had fought the day before. The name, as determined by Blunt and Hindman, would be Prairie Grove.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Making the Transition to Civilian Life


Every now and then I read books relating to the western theater, or, more rarely now, the eastern theater. While reading B. F. Magee’s, History of the 72d Indiana Volunteer Infantry Of The Mounted Lightning Brigade (1882), I came across a passage that struck me as expressing such a universal sentiment that I decided to share it. Magee’s regiment served throughout the war in the western theater and for most of that time in the “Lightning Brigade.” His regiment was stationed near Macon, Georgia, on May 21, 1865, when the following occurred:

“…as we lay there till 3 o’clock in the morning, we again went over the whole ground of the war, and discussed the effect of peace upon ourselves and upon the country, and upon our chances of making a living when we got home; and so far as making a living was concerned, we unanimously agreed that it would be better for us to stay in the army. We were all farmers, and this was the case with three-fourths of the regiment; and we had been away from our accustomed labor so long that we would not know where or how to take hold. Harvest had already commenced where we were, and we knew that the time for making a crop or engaging in any other kind of business for the year had just now gone by, and we knew it would be almost a year before we could get into any kind of business that would bring us a living; and in our whole squad we do not think there was a man who seemed anxious, or even glad, we were going home” (pages 612-613).

Until I read this passage, I had not really thought of how the war’s end in the springtime impacted soldiers who had agricultural backgrounds. Many regiments that served in the trans-Mississippi, both Union and Confederate, were mostly comprised of farmers and agricultural workers; perhaps their thoughts were similar to those of the men of the 72nd Indiana at the end of the war.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"I never dreamed that a man so made up could be off his base..."


James H. Gillpatrick responded on April 27, 1888, to Albert C. Ellithorpe’s letter about James G. Blunt with his own ideas about the cause of Blunt’s insanity. This letter is also from the Ellithorpe Family Papers at the Kansas Historical Society.

“…And again, as I supposed, you give a good suggestion as to the possible, or presumable cause of the Generals’ mental decay. I had always thought that the placing of Genl. Schofield in command over Genl. Blunt had very much to do with his despondency and final break up. But I agree with you that the startling and tragic affair at Baxters Springs, May well have made his mind diseased.

I think you will be sure to do the best possible thing for Mrs. blunt in your affidavit, Let me call your attention to this—his morbid idea of writing a history of his campaigns and the war—He worked at it day and night in Washington just and Long before his break down. I thought he was off but as you say never dreamed that a man so made up could be off his base until the crash came…”

Gillpatrick’s comment about Major General John M. Schofield is intriguing. Blunt’s and Francis J. Herron’s victory at Prairie Grove caused a jealous rage in Schofield, the commander of the Army of the Frontier. Just weeks after the battle, Schofield tartly informed his department commander, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, “The operations of the army, since I left it, have been a series of blunders, from which it narrowly escaped disaster where it should have met with complete success. At Prairie Grove Blunt and Herron were badly beaten in detail, and owed their escape to a false report of my arrival with re-enforcements” (Official Records, vol. 22, pt. 2, 6). It didn’t help his attitude when officials rewarded Blunt and Herron with promotions to major general. Blunt and Schofield ended up sparring with each other for years. Fortunately, Blunt never read Schofield’s damning postwar comment that Blunt was “’probably the lowest specimen of humanity that ever disgraced a general’s stars in this or perhaps any other country’” (William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, p. 334, note 8).

We are left so far with three possible explanations for Blunt’s insanity:
       Syphilis
       Psychiatric problems caused by the Baxter Springs Massacre
       Problems stemming from his stormy relationship with Schofield

His obsession with writing a book seems to have been a symptom rather than a cause of his affliction.

Unfortunately, there apparently are no surviving medical records pertaining to General Blunt, records that might shed more light on his condition and the causes of it. It’s interesting that neither Ellithorpe nor Gillpatrick even allude to the possibility that Blunt suffered from syphilis. Although Ellithorpe greatly admired the General, he was honest and straightforward in his wartime writings, and my impression is that he would have been willing to broach a sensitive topic.

At some point, I hope to track back and find out if possible who first suggested that Blunt’s insanity was caused by syphilis. The general had several enemies—did the suggestion that he suffered from syphilis come from one of them? Or, was there credible evidence that he visited “houses of ill repute”? No doubt there are other possible explanations for his insanity as well, and perhaps we will never know for certain what caused Blunt’s “crash.” What is certain is that his condition was a tragedy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"It haunts me night and day..."


Currently, I am editing the diary and papers of Albert C. Ellithorpe, an officer in the First Indian Home Guards. An intelligent and perceptive observer, it is apparent from his writings that he interacted often with Major General James G. Blunt.

Seven years after Blunt’s death, Ellithorpe learned that attempts were being made to secure a pension for Blunt’s widow, Nancy. On April 18, 1888, Ellithorpe wrote James H. Gillpatrick (or Gilpatrick), Blunt’s son-in-law and a former comrade of Ellithorpe’s, and offered to write a letter in support of Mrs. Blunt’s application. Ellithorpe’s poignant letter offers interesting insights into Blunt’s behavior and provides another explanation for Blunt’s mental breakdown. The following is the pertinent part of the letter from the Ellithorpe Family Papers at the Kansas Historical Society:

 “I never imagined that a man of so strong and positive a brain could ever have it turned or dethroned by any military adversity; but it seems that I, in my judgment, was mistaken, for while in the very heighth [sic] of his success, and while all his previous efforts in the field had been crowned with victory, I find after a certain event to be a changed man. From his buoyant and jovial disposition he became taciturn, and despondent at times, while many of his hours appeared to be spent in a moody, absent minded reflection. I often asked myself, what can be the cause of this great change in the generals appearance, his habits, social, and military, all changed. I soon however, discovered what seemed to me to be the cause.

While on his march from Leavenworth to take command of the army assigned to him in Southern Missouri and the Indian Territory, his little escort was attacked at Baxter Springs and you know the result of that massacre, for it was nothing else but a cold-blooded and wanton sacrifice of life by the Quantrell and Livingston Bands of marauders while he with only a few of his guard escaped. The records and history in the War Department have full particulars of this event. From this hour forward I found the General a changed man; moody, very reflective, while all of that former buoyance of spirit, and dash appeared to have left him. I frequently asked what trouble, or what anxieties depressed him; his answer invariably was ‘The Baxter Spring Massacre; I cannot throw it from my mind,’ said he; ‘It haunts me night and day, however much I try to throw it off, I can not, and I sometimes feel that I was to blame, and that the Government will blame me’. Said he; ‘I sometimes think that it was one of those events liable to occur in the fortunes of war, & that all the, care or caution of any man, could not prevent; then again, I feel, that, perhaps I did not exercise the care or caution which I ought to have exercised.’ This tradgedy [sic] or massacre, was the one great thing in my opinion, that commenced to affect, and finally resulted in [the] dethroning of the brain of our much loved General. From that time he appeared changed[.] His despondent hours grew upon him, and became more frequent; and from the close of the war to his death this, with other things, such as feeling that the Government Officials were against him, and that he was not properly appreciated for his acts and his services all contributed to worry, depress, and unnerve the man.”

Historians Kip Lindberg and Matt Matthews used Ellithorpe’s letter (and, like me, used it for a title) in their excellent article, “It Haunts Me Night and Day: The Baxter Springs Massacre” that was published in North & South, Vol. 4, Number 5, pages 42-53.

Next time: yet another explanation for Blunt’s decline.