Monday, April 19, 2010

Did You Know?

Occasionally, I like to flip randomly through one of my Civil War reference books. Recently, I was looking through Ezra J. Warner’s, Generals In Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959) when my eye was caught by a reference to the Indian Territory in the entry about Brigadier General Frank Crawford Armstrong. Much to my surprise I learned that he was born at the Choctaw Agency (Skullyville) in the Indian Territory in November 1835. I’m not aware that any other Confederate general was born in the Indian Territory; Stand Watie was born in Georgia.

Armstrong was not a Native American, so how did Armstrong happen to be born in the Indian Territory? His father, Major Francis W. Armstrong, was appointed as the Choctaw Agent West of the Mississippi in 1831, and he died just a few months before his son, Frank, was born. An interesting article about Major Armstrong appeared in The Chronicles of Oklahoma many years ago along with an article about Frank C. Armstrong.

Frank Armstrong received a commission in the regular army after accompanying his step-father, General Persifor F. Smith, on an expedition into New Mexico in 1854. According to the Ezra Warner book, Armstrong participated “in the battle of First Manassas on the Union side, but resigned on August 13, 1861” (p. 13). If this is the case, was there any other Confederate general who served on both sides during the war?

Following his resignation, Armstrong returned to the trans-Mississippi and served “on the staffs of Generals McIntosh and Ben McCulloch; and he was a few feet away when the latter met his death at Pea Ridge” (p. 13). Later, he became colonel of the 3rd Louisiana Infantry. When I read that, I pulled out my copy of W. H. Tunnard’s A Southern Record: The History Of The Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry (1866; reprint ed., Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1988) to read references to Armstrong. Tunnard stated “Who does not remember the handsome, gay and dashing Frank Armstrong? …Colonel Armstrong was an old army officer, hence a strict disciplinarian. Of fine personal appearance and commanding bearing, he looked what he really was, every inch a soldier. When the men were on duty he required and expected a strict observance of every military regulation and order. There must be no laxity in any particular. Yet when the men were free from duty they could approach Colonel Armstrong with the assurance that they would be treated as gentleman and equals. He was always affable, kind, and courteous in his intercourse with the men….Such was the officer chosen to lead the regiment. One whom the men learned to honor for his soldierly qualities, and love with an idolatry second only to their devotion to the lamented McCulloch” (p. 168).

After only a few months with the 3rd Louisiana Infantry, Armstrong was detached and served as a cavalry commander in the western theater for the remainder of the war. He returned to the trans-Mississippi following the war and even served on the Dawes Commission in the early 1890s. He died in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1909.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Iowan Discusses Marching

Currently, I am reading Andrew F. Sperry’s, History of The 33d Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment, 1863-6 (1866; reprint ed., Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1999). The 33rd Iowa spent much of the war campaigning in the trans-Mississippi, and I am finding Sperry’s book to be accurate as well as entertaining. Since I have written several postings about marches in the trans-Mississippi, I found the following passage that chronicles one of the regiment’s marches during the Little Rock campaign in August 1863 to be interesting. I have italicized the portion that I found to be of most interest.

“The heat and the hard marching together, were too much for any ordinary powers of endurance. Men would fall out of the ranks and tumble down at the side of the road, by dozens and almost by hundreds. All such stragglers would have to come on after us, of course; but that is much easier than marching in ranks. In fact, marching with a regiment is one of the hardest ways in the world of getting along. A man may walk forty miles a day, alone and at his own gait and time, as easily as he can march twenty-five miles a day in the army. And a sick man, who can not march fast enough to keep up with the regiment, is frequently permitted to walk on ahead. This may be called a peripatetic paradox—that a soldier who can not march fast enough to keep up with his regiment, should rest himself by marching on ahead of it, yet such is often the case” (p. 46).

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Confederate Casualty

So many soldiers died during the Civil War that it is a bit difficult to comprehend the large scale of human suffering in that time period. Has anyone ever calculated the number of people directly affected by the deaths of soldiers during the war? It seems to me that a significant proportion of American families spent at least part of the war in mourning.

One-hundred and forty-six years ago today, Captain Theophilus Perry, the commander of Company F of the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted), was mortally wounded during the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. An attorney, 31 year old Perry’s survivors included a wife, a son, his father, his stepmother, a brother, five half sisters, and one half brother. His wife, Harriet, made her way back to her family home in North Carolina at war’s end and eventually remarried.

This part of the casualty record for the 28th Texas that appeared in the Galveston Weekly News on 10 May 1864 lists Theophilus Perry:

Such casualty lists were a regular, and dismal, feature of Civil War era newspapers. All too many families learned the truth of what Harriet Perry wrote in one of her letters: “war makes its widows by the thousand” (Harriet Perry to her sister Mary Temperance Person, 22 October 1862).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Predicting Battle Outcomes

For many years, I have heard of how fewer than 50 Confederate soldiers commanded by Lieutenant Dick Dowling held off a force of several thousand Union sailors and soldiers who were attempting to land near Sabine Pass, Texas, in September 1863. Amazingly the small number of soldiers stationed in Fort Griffin was more than ample to hold off the Union force; Dowling even had the luxury of sending two men off to return some dinner dishes to a local hotel!

How was victory achieved? “…battles are often won or lost before they actually take place. Bravery consists not only of knowing when and how to take a stand, but how to be prepared for conflicts before they occur. Hard work and careful preparation are the essential keys to success in war as in all other aspects of our lives” according to Edward T. Cotham, Jr., in Sabine Pass: The Confederacy’s Thermopylae (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, p. 196). This comment takes into account decision making far from the battlefield (often involving people who are not directly involved in the battle), defensive preparations, the choice of weapons to employ during the battle, supply issues, and many other factors. The battle of Sabine Pass is a fascinating case study of the factors that play a role in who wins and who loses a battle. Cotham ably details how expert Confederate engineering, defensive preparations by the Confederates, overaggressiveness by the Federal navy, the use of poorly armed Federal gunboats, and the failure to land troops in conjunction with the naval attack led to defeat.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Maps: Texas in the Civil War

While perusing the internet recently, I came across an interesting series of maps created by Dr. Donald S. Frazier, a professor at McMurry University. If you’ve ever wondered where particular Texas units were stationed during the war, then these maps will be of interest. His map series titledTexas in the Civil War depicts the location of each Texas unit during every quarter of the war; he also highlights the location of significant battles. Dr. Frazier drew the maps for my two Civil War books, Peculiar Honor: A History of the 28th Texas Cavalry and Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864. Regular readers of this blog will recall that a two part interview with Dr. Frazier appeared in September 2009.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Confederate Railroads in the Trans-Mississippi: A Cursory Glance

One of my favorite pastimes is visiting the university library and browsing. It’s fun to take down books and flip through them; part of the excitement is that you never know where this will lead! For example, on my latest library adventure I spotted a copy of Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina (Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2008) by H. David Stone, Jr. While thumbing through it, I noticed a map depicting railroads in the Confederacy; this map was originally published in Robert L. Black’s book, Railroads of the Confederacy (1952), the major source on the topic. Judging from the map, railroads were in the infant stage of development in the trans-Mississippi South when the war started. There was an interesting complex of railroads in the Houston and Galveston area as well as near Little Rock, New Orleans, westward from Vicksburg, and in the area between Marshall, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana. Although I had previously done some research on trans-Mississippi railroads while working on my Civil War books, it dawned on me that actually I know very little about railroads in the trans-Mississippi. After my library visit I conducted a search on the internet and came across an interesting website constructed by David L. Bright about Confederate railroads. Mr. Bright has a brief history of every Confederate railroad plus data about each railroad’s locomotives and other equipment. He even includes transcriptions of documents that relate to each railroad. Now I’m eager to dig in and look for scholarly articles and other materials relating to trans-Mississippi railroads. All of this from browsing through one book…