Monday, December 29, 2014

Leadership in the First Iowa Infantry

The First Iowa Infantry was a three months regiment that fought at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. According to A. A. Stuart’s, Iowa Colonels and Regiments (1865), an unusually high number of its soldiers went on to high-ranking positions in other regiments. Probably many of these men had innate military gifts, but the fact that they experienced combat early in the war probably gave them an advantage in obtaining higher rank. Stuart listed four men who were promoted to major, six went on to become lieutenant-colonels, one became a colonel, one (Charles L. Matthies) became a brigadier-general, and one (Francis J. Herron) became a major general. Pretty impressive!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Rest of the Story

Perhaps you are not guilty of this, but sometimes I become so fixated by a unit’s role in a single battle that I don't even consider what the rest of their service was like. For example, Captain Frank Sands’ 11th Ohio Independent Battery Light Artillery was wrecked at the battle of Iuka, Mississippi, with losses of 19 killed or mortally wounded, 32 wounded, and 3 missing. Over the Christmas holiday, I purchased a copy of Ohio At Vicksburg by W. P. Gault (1906). While looking through the book, I came across the sketch of the 11th Ohio and learned that the unit began its service in Missouri, and then after participating in the Vicksburg campaign it was transferred to Arkansas where it fought at Little Rock; “In this short but decisive engagement the battery expended about 100 rounds of ammunition” (Ohio At Vicksburg, p. 279). The battery served during part of the Camden Expedition, but its combat service essentially ended with the Little Rock action. The shuffling of Federal troops into and out of the trans-Mississippi would make a rather interesting study, in my opinion.

By the way, I purchased Ohio At Vicksburg at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas. If you are ever in the north Texas area be sure that you stop by the store because it has hundreds of Civil War books for sale plus nearly a half million more books in other categories. 

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:
       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.