Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Urban Battlefield Preservation

Efforts to preserve the Franklin, Tennessee, battlefield have been much publicized, but there has been an even more extensive preservation project in Kansas City, Missouri. A column by Daniel L. Smith in the latest issue of Civil War News details attempts to preserve the site of the Battle of Westport. The battle took place from October 21-23, 1864 and was one of the largest battles in the trans-Mississippi. Smith discusses preservation challenges there: “Today, the Westport battlefield is located entirely within the urban confines of Kansas City. It is as if the City of Philadelphia had been placed on top of the Gettysburg battlefield.” The Monnett Battle of Westport Fund is a nonprofit organization that has played a key role in preserving and developing the battlefield for visitation. Today, there is a visitor center that overlooks Byram’s Ford, and there is a “mile-long corridor along the Byram’s Ford Road across the battlefield, containing more than 200 acres.” The Fund is named for the late Dr. Howard N. Monnett, a native of Kansas City and an expert on the battle.

Many events, including a reenactment, are scheduled for October 23-26 to mark the 150th anniversary of the battle. The Battle of Westport website has a lot of helpful information such as brochures for a self-guided auto tour and a walking tour.

(All quotes were from the October 2014 issue of Civil War News.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fired At The Battle Of Pilot Knob 150 Years Ago

There are few Civil War artifacts in my collection—mostly I have books, books, books. Possibly there are too many books in my house, but I do enjoy them. About ten years ago, I decided to acquire a solid shot, but these are not readily available here in Oklahoma. On a visit to see relatives in Tennessee, I acquired a solid shot at an antique store in Franklin. When I purchased it, the storeowner told me that he had documentation concerning where the cannon ball was found, and it turned out to be from Pilot Knob, Missouri, the site of a significant battle on this date 150 years ago. (The massacre at Centralia also occurred on this date 150 years ago.) So, the cannon ball was brought back to the trans-Mississippi where it has sat on display in my den. It has also made some forays to my classes where my students have enjoyed looking at it and picking it up. Here is my 12-pound solid shot:

Is it Union or Confederate? At one time I did a bit of research and determined that it was more likely to be a Confederate solid shot.

Over the years, I have taken many artifacts to my classes and have noticed how they always lead to questions. In the case of this solid shot, a couple of immediate questions are where was the solid shot manufactured? Which unit fired it? And artifacts are great spurs for the imagination. Yes, this solid shot would certainly have a story for us.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"This oddly assorted unit...": Polignac's Texas Brigade

In 1964, the Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association published a slender volume by Dr. Alwyn Barr titled Polignac’s Texas Brigade. While paging through it earlier today, I was reminded of the high quality of Barr’s research and how he was able to pack so much information into only seventy-two pages. The brigade had a colorful career neatly summarized by Barr in the following:

“Much of the brigade was recruited from the partially Unionist inhabitants of North Texas, who held many different views on the war and generally lacked the war spirit found in most other portions of the state. Three regiments were raised as cavalry and later dismounted to serve as infantry; another was a consolidated command composed of Texans who had escaped from the capture of Arkansas Post in 1863.Finally, in 1863, the brigade received as its commander the only foreign citizen to become a Confederate general, Prince Camille de Polignac. This oddly assorted unit served under ten commanders, in ten major engagements, and through long periods of skirmishing and hardship in Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, Louisiana, and Texas. Yet the members of this command, which at various times included approximately five thousand men, left virtually no printed records of their service” (p. xv). Texas A&M University Press reprinted the book in 1998 and included an extra preface that described additional resources that had surfaced about the brigade.

Those Texas soldiers were astonished when the dapper Polignac became their commander in the fall of 1863, and they promptly called him “Polecat.” The blurb on the back of the book calls Barr’s book a “little masterpiece of Civil War history,” an accurate assessment in my opinion.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Great Preservation Opportunity

This week, I was sent information about an opportunity to save the site of the battle of Elkins’ Ferry near Prescott, Arkansas. On April 4th and 5th, Confederate troopers under General John S. Marmaduke battled parts of General Frederick Steele’s army during the Camden campaign. So far, $625,000 has been pledged toward the effort to purchase 448 acres of battlefield property; $325,000 more is needed. To make a tax- deductible donation to this great cause, check out the Elkins’ Ferry website

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.