Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What About The 39th Missouri Infantry?


The 150th anniversary of Centralia is approaching, which reminds me of the nearly forgotten 39th Missouri Infantry. Which Civil War infantry regiment suffered the most killed in a single engagement during the War? Most would readily answer that the 5th New York Infantry had that unlucky distinction with its 120 men killed at the battle of Second Manassas. Certainly, historian after historian has stated as much over the years. But, is it correct? Read through the following sample quotations on the subject:

Alfred Davenport: “No other regiment suffered an equal loss in so short a space of time, on the Union side during the war.” (Camp and Field Life Of The Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee Zouaves). New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1879; reprint ed., Gaithersburg, MD: Olde Soldier Books, 1995, page 286.)

William F. Fox: “One of the most remarkable losses in the war, both in numbers and percentage, occurred at Manassas, in Gen. Fitz John Porter’s Corps, in the celebrated Duryee Zouaves (Fifth New York), of Warren’s Brigade, Sykes’ Division….The deaths from wounds increased the number killed to 117, or 23 per cent of those engaged, the greatest loss of life in any infantry regiment during the war, in any one battle” (Regimental Losses In The Civil War. Albany, NY: Brandow Printing Co., 1898; reprint ed., Dayton, OH: Morningside, 1974, pages 27-28.)

John J. Hennessy: “During those ten awful minutes atop that ridge, the 5th New York lost nearly three hundred men shot—120 mortally. For a single infantry regiment it was the largest loss of life in any single battle of the entire Civil War.” (Return to Bull Run: The Campaign And Battle Of Second Manassas. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) page 373)

Thomas S. Bradley and Brian C. Pohanka: “The killed and mortally wounded that day numbered at least 120, the heaviest fatality in a given battle of any Federal Infantry regiment.” (Introduction to the Olde Soldier Books reprint of Camp and Field Life Of The Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee Zouaves), page number not listed.

Scott C. Patchan: “His regiment [5th New York], though, had suffered the greatest loss of men killed and wounded by an infantry regiment during the entire Civil War.” (“Second Manassas.” Blue & Gray. Vol. 29, #3 (2012), page 24.)

Ethan S. Rafuse: “Although they eventually managed to rally on Henry Hill, 120 of the approximately 500 men in its [5th New York] ranks had been killed. In the entire Civil War, no other infantry regiment would have more men killed in a single engagement.” (Manassas: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014, page 116.)

Alfred Davenport served in the 5th New York, and he only claimed that his regiment lost more men in a shorter amount of time than any other. However, when he wrote his history in 1879 there was not much comparative data available to him.

William Fox’s statement is odd because he actually listed another infantry regiment that lost more in a single engagement than the 5th New York. Tucked away in the back of the book Fox stated, “The 39th Missouri [Infantry] lost 2 officers and 120 men killed in a massacre at Centralia, Mo., September 27, 1864” (Fox, page 522). He clearly noted, then, that the 39th Missouri Infantry lost more men in a single engagement than the 5th New York Infantry, and yet he did not include the 39th Missouri in any of his comprehensive listings earlier in the book. Why he failed to do so is not something I can answer with any certainty. Fox’s book was probably the source that has led so many subsequent historians astray.

The number of men killed at Centralia and Second Manassas by the two regiments was quite similar, and perhaps more complete records would show that indeed the 5th New York lost more men than the 39th Missouri. For now, though, unless someone can prove otherwise, it appears that the 39th Missouri Infantry and not the 5th New York Infantry suffered more men killed in a single engagement than any other Union infantry regiment.

This is not an attempt to denigrate the services of the 5th New York Infantry but to simply correct the record. Both the part of the 39th Missouri engaged at Centralia and the 5th New York at Second Manassas found themselves in untenable positions and paid a heavy price. It’s about time that the sacrifices of both regiments are remembered. Please read my January 11, 2o12 posting about the 39th Missouri at Centralia if you’d like more information.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"...frauds of a most extraordinary character...."


In recent years, a number of “memory” studies have been published. Although much has been written about white veterans as well as African-American veterans, very little has been written about American Indian veterans. Both sides fielded regiments that consisted almost solely of American Indians. The Union 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Indian Home Guards consisted mostly of Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole Indians. The 1st Indian also had a small number of African-American soldiers, some of who also served as interpreters in the regiment. So what was it like to be a veteran of one of these regiments? For some American Indians and African-American veterans of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Indian Home Guards, it meant being victimized.

The Committee on Indian Affairs presented a voluminous report to the U. S. House of Representatives in the spring of 1872 that documented that “frauds of a most extraordinary character have been so perpetuated, as that eventually Congress may be called upon to make good losses sustained by the Indian soldiers through the wrongful acts of the said [John D.] Wright” (page 1). Mr. Wright was supposed to pay former soldiers of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Indian Home Guards bounties, back pay, and pensions. Since 28.8% of the men of these regiments died during the war, there were a sizable number of widows that were also eligible for payments. In June 1870, Wright had received $420,254.42 for this purpose but $283,517.38 was unaccounted for by the spring of 1872. If you want to learn more, read through the report, Alleged Frauds Against Certain Indian Soldiers, that is full of governmental correspondence and depositions by former soldiers and widows. Albert C. Ellithorpe served as one of the high ranking white officers in the 1st Indian Home Guard. In a September 1862 letter he commented that the men of the Home Guards units had "sacrificed all, rather than fight against our Flag..." It is sad, indeed, that some of these soldiers had difficulties in getting their rightful benefits.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Influential Books


Yesterday, Eric Wittenberg posted his list of ten influential books on his Rantings of a Civil War Historian blog. Inspired by his list, I decided to list history books that have influenced me throughout my life. Unlike his list, mine sticks only to history books; they are listed in the order that they were published.

Fox, William F. Regimental Losses In The American Civil, 1861-1865. (1898)
Those of you who are regular followers know that this is one of my all time favorite books. From the moment I received a Morningside reprint edition as a Christmas gift in 1978 I was hooked. There is an amazing amount of information about regiments (particularly Union ones) in the book, and Fox’s accounts of the “300 Fighting Regiments” have always fascinated me. This book helped foster an early interest in unit histories.

Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist. (1915)
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865. (1919)
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian and the End of the Confederacy, 1863-1866 (1925)

Abel’s trilogy was groundbreaking when it was published and still stands as the standard source on the topic. The books focus on the Five Civilized Tribes (Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole) and their plight in the Indian Territory. She dug deep in primary sources—in fact, her footnotes often take up more of a page than the actual text. Her books would be more useful now if some hardy scholar would modernize her citations. Since the early twentieth century, many of the collections that she used have been renamed and some have been microfilmed. Tracking down her resources can be quite challenging and sometimes requires great expertise in the subject area.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb. (1943)
Wiley, Bell Irvin, The Life of Billy Yank. (1952)

Look through Wiley’s endnotes sometime, think about the time period when he did his research, and be amazed. Dr. Wiley combed archives nationwide in a time when there was no internet, no photocopier, no personal computer…I salute you Dr. Wiley, for you were a truly indefatigable researcher. Wiley chronicled both the good and the bad traits of Union and Confederate soldiers in an evenhanded, understanding, and sometimes humorous manner.

Catton, Bruce. Mr. Lincoln’s Army. (1951)
Catton, Bruce. Glory Road. (1952)
Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. (1953)

I almost wore the covers off of my used copies of Catton’s “Army of the Potomac” trilogy when I was in high school. Catton’s writing skill is rightfully praised but have you ever studied his endnotes? For me, they opened the door to the many regimental histories that he used. My favorite of the trilogy is Mr. Lincoln's Army and its depiction of eager but raw soldiers as they learn about the true nature of war.

Pullen, John J. The Twentieth Maine. (1957)
When I was in junior school, I went to a “garage sale” at a local university and found a pocketbook copy of Pullen’s book for a dime. It was missing its cover, but my mom made a cardboard cover for it that I proudly decorated with colored pens. Feeling extra artistic, I also colored in many of the black and white drawings inside the book. Pullen analyzed the characteristics of a volunteer regiment that he considered to be made up of ordinary men, and, yet, they achieved extraordinary things at Gettysburg.

Catton, Bruce. American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. (1960) Like many others, I pored over the hundreds of illustrations in this book, and those maps…very cool!

Frassanito, William A. Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day. (1978)
Frassanito’s photographic books are obviously labors of love and models of detective work. This one is my favorite because of his vignettes of ordinary soldiers who fought at Antietam. These humanize the book and show clearly the tragedy of war.

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle (1983).
A graduate school professor urged us to read this book, and I’m glad that I took his advice. Keegan called for a “bottom up” focus on the common soldier rather than the traditional “top down” military history approach. His case studies of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme written in the “bottom up” style were illuminating.

Shea, William L. and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (1992)
Shea and Hess’ close study of the battlefield and their use of resources all across the country resulted in a nearly perfect campaign study. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a treat!

Hood, Stephen M. John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. (2013)
As an historian, I regard this as a cautionary tale as Stephen Hood showed how many historians have not only drawn conclusions based on faulty interpretations, but some have been overly influenced by the works of other historians. This book has reminded me to step ever more carefully when interpreting primary sources and to not be so blindly trusting of secondary sources.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

One More Time: Diary of an Enlisted Man


In an earlier posting, I mentioned that one of the trans-Mississippi classics is Lawrence Van Alstyne’s, Diary of an Enlisted Man (1910). Although it does show some signs of postwar embellishment, his account has a number of strengths. Van Alstyne enlisted in August 1862 and was assigned to Company B of the 128th New York Infantry. In December 1862, the regiment was transferred by sea to Louisiana, and a few months later they participated in the Port Hudson campaign. In the fall of 1863, Van Alstyne received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant and became part of the 90th U. S. Colored Infantry. Although he served in the Port Hudson campaign, he was in a commissary role at the time and did not often come under fire. The 90th was in the Red River campaign but saw little active duty. The lack of combat duty, though, does not mean the diary is boring. His entries about camp life are well done such as the following snippet about a common soldier complaint:

“July 18, 1863….One of the boys borrowed a pair of shears and I guess they will wear them out. The best thing though was a fine-tooth comb, which has been in constant use to-day. That too was borrowed. I am ashamed to tell it, but when I got the comb I pulled out five lice from my hair the first grab….Body lice we don’t care for. We just boil our clothes and that’s the end of them. Their feeding time is when we are still for awhile, but at the first move they all let go and grab fast to our clothing” (p. 155).

My favorite chapter was his account of traveling back to Louisiana after a leave. The ship he traveled on was loaded with conscripts, and some of them proved to be pretty tough characters. Van Alstyne, along with other soldiers, helped bring the situation under control. At one point, he wrote, “I grabbed the tough by the collar with one hand and with the other jammed the muzzle of a cocked revolver against his ugly face, telling him to climb that ladder or die. He was a coward after all and went on deck as meek as you please, where I handcuffed him to the rigging and went back after more” (p. 278).

Descriptions of the country he traveled through and the civilians that he encountered are well done, and his recruiting duties in Louisiana for the 90th U. S. Colored were sometimes lively. Many of the African-Americans that served in the unit were bilingual, knowing both French and English. Diary of an Enlisted Man is a fine read, and it’s a shame that a modern edition of the book has never been published.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

One of the Oldest Civil War Monuments


Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence, Missouri, has one of the nation’s oldest Civil War monuments. Admittedly, I knew nothing about this monument until I read a short article about it in the August 2014 issue of Civil War News. The monument memorializes the men of the 2nd Colorado Cavalry that were killed on July 6, 1864, at Grinter’s Farm near Independence. That day, Captain Seymour D. Wagoner led twenty-three men of Company C on a patrol, and they rode right into a trap set by George Todd, a guerrilla leader. Captain Wagoner and seven of his men were killed and three of the guerrillas were wounded. A stagecoach that had been captured earlier in the day by Todd’s men was used to carry away the wounded guerrillas.

Remarkably, the monument was erected only ten days after the skirmish! It is believed to be the “oldest Civil War monument west of the Mississippi and third oldest in the country” (Civil War News, August 2014, p. 19). I’m going to visit this monument the next time I’m in Independence!