Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last Night I Had a Dream


Last night I had a dream.

When I looked to my left, I could see a long line of Confederate infantry stretching as far as I could see.  When I looked to my right, it was the same.  In front of us were what appeared to be a very strong line of Federal works.  Our rifles were loaded, bayonets fixed.  I heard a single cannon shot.  Then we received the order to advance.  

From somewhere behind, I heard the band playing.  The sound seemed somewhat out of place.  The strains of "Dixie" floated through the air.  The only other sound was the steady tread of our feet.  The earth shook with the sound of 20,000 footsteps.  In front of us, there was nothing but open ground between us and the enemy.  As we marched, scared animals darted in front of us towards the Yankees.  Our battle lines were bathed in a sea of red as our flags marked the place of each under sized regiment making the attack.  

So many were gone.  The blood of our comrades stained dozens of fields from Shiloh to Chickamauga and from Perryville to Murfreesboro.  Those of us who remained did so, not out of any dedication to a cause, but out of dedication to one another.  Gone were the cheerful days in which we marched off to war, thinking one Southerner worth ten Yankees.  Instead, we discovered that these Yankees could put up one hell of a fight.  They had gotten the better of us on numerous days, but this day would be different.

The bands began to play "The Girl I Left Behind Me" as we continued to move forward.  Perhaps that was a fitting song for the occasion.  Given the strength of the Federal works, it looked as though lots of us would leave wives and sweethearts behind by the time the sun finally set.  In front of us we could see the advance line of the Federal troops.  They were in a precarious position, but we also knew what lay behind them.

The order was given to charge bayonets!  The Rebel yelled sounded from thousands of throats as our line surged forward.  As we did, the bands, their notes still audible over the sounds of the battlefield, began to play "The Bonnie Blue Flag."  We were close enough to make out the faces of our Northern opponents.  Many looked scared, uncertain as to what to do their officers yelling orders for them to hold fast.  They leveled their rifles and then all hell exploded in our faces.

Today, Dear Readers, marks the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.  20,000 men of the Army of Tennessee made that brave, ill advised, and oft forgotten charge on that beautiful November afternoon.  Over 6,000 of them would be killed or wounded by the time the smoke cleared.

On this, the anniversary of the battle, let us never forget the brave men who made the charge, nor the equally brave men who opposed it.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict.

Postscript:  My ancestors were with the following regiments in this fight:

1st Louisiana Infantry
10 Texas Cavalry (dismounted)
14th Texas Cavalry (dismounted)
33rd Alabama Infantry
24th Texas Cavalry (dismounted)
1st Tennessee Infantry
48th Tennessee Infantry
9th Tennessee Cavalry
19th Tennessee Cavalry

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The War's Defining Moment

Dear Readers,

When pondering the Civil War, as I often do in my spare time, my mind is drawn to certain events which I think define the war, or at least they do in my mind.  Among those topics which my mind seems drawn to are the Irish Brigade assaulting Marye's Heights, Stonewall Jackson standing, well, like a stone wall, Pickett's Charge (of course), George H. Thomas at Chickamauga, and the Peach Orchard at Shiloh.

Those are just a few.  The war was made up of moments like these, too numerous to count and too numerous to include in a simple blog post.  Since I am a historian of the Western Theater, the single event that sums up the war for me is the Confederate assault at Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864.  Most of the men who made the attack were veterans.  They knew what happened to infantry who assaulted fixed positions, yet they went anyway.  This was a point where the Lost Cause really was, yet they went anyway.  Oh to be a witness to that gallant charge as they moved forward, flags flying, bands playing.  The Army of Tennessee marched into immortality, yet few but the serious Civil War student even know the truth of what happened on that fateful November afternoon.

That, dear readers, sums up the entire war in my mind, both the gallantry and the carnage.  So my question to you is this: What, if any, single event defines the war for you?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who wishes all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Civil War: The Untold Story Interview


Today we have a very special post.  I had the good fortune to interview Chris Wheeler, producer/director of the upcoming Civil War documentary The Untold Story.  It focuses on the Western, yes, you read that correctly, the Western Theater!  You may see a trailer for it here.

1.     Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself and the project?

We have been producing historical documentaries for more than 20 years.  Some may remember “How the West Was Lost,” a 13-part series that aired on Discovery.  We’ve also produced films on the Korean War and John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission.  Additionally, we have produced Visitor Center films for more than 25 National Park sites.  These sites also include many of our National Battlefields.  That is how we began this journey of producing “Civil War: the Untold Story.”

2.    Why did you choose the Western Theatre as your subject?

In 2010, we began producing the new film for Shiloh National Military Park.  The next year, we began production on a new film for Chickamauga & Chattanooga NMP.  In 2012, we began working on the new film for Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.  Through the process of creating films on these specific battles, we began to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the Western Theatre. While this story is well-known amongst historians, we felt it was relatively ‘untold’ to most Americans.  The National Park Service kindly gave us permission to use the battle scenes created for the Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Kennesaw films. Having access to this footage became the impetus to produce a series that looks at Civil War through the lens of the Western Theatre.

3.    What is one of the biggest challenges in making a Civil War documentary?

From a business perspective, the biggest challenge has been raising the dollars needed to create a quality 5-hour series. From an editorial perspective, the biggest challenge is: trying the get my head around the volumous and complicated story of our Civil War.  It’s difficult to fully understand a single battle such as Shiloh, but even more difficult when trying to put these battles into context of the larger story of the Civil War. Fortunately, we have had excellent guidance from historians from the National Park Service as well as distinguished professors from major universities.  Another challenge has been trying to edit down all the stories to 5 hours.  It’s not nearly enough to fully tell the story of the Civil War. We will be criticized for not including certain battles or events, something that I think is understandable.  But the reality of producing any film comes down to dollars.  If we had a larger budget, we could produce something more comprehensive.  As it is, we have had to make difficult choices regarding what to include, and what not.

4.    What would you like for viewers to take away from watching Civil War: The Untold Story?

Our primary storylines are:

a.    Looking at the war through the lens of the Western Theater – the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Instead of what was happening in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, our series features such as battles as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta.
b.    Telling the story the African American experience is an important goal.  Every hour devotes time to the African American experience - from enslaved, to ‘contraband,’ to emancipated, to fighting to defend freedom
c.    The Southern Civilian experience.  The entire Western Theater was fought in southern states.  Thus, the war experience was much different – and in many ways more personal – than for those in the North.  In Western Campaign, cities like Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta were destroyed.  Civilians become caught in the crossfire between the large armies of the Union and Confederacy.  Perhaps the most graphic example is at Vicksburg, where hundreds of civilians build caves to protect themselves from Union artillery. In the Western Theater, thousands are displaced. Many have their homes plundered or destroyed.  As Dr. Amy Murrell Taylor puts it: “No longer was the war something far, at a distance, something that was on some remote battlefield.  What it showed is that that kind of distance between home front and battlefield had collapsed, that really, there wasn’t much of a distinction anymore and the war was now literally on people’s doorsteps.”  So the war experience for those in the South in dramatically different from those in the North.
d.    Abraham Lincoln – for the millions that saw Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” we think our series can be regarded as a ‘prequel.’  Spielberg’s film begins in January 1865, around the time our series ends. Those watching our series will gain a great understanding Lincoln’s trials during the war. 
As producers, we acknowledge that this is a painful story to hear, even 150 years later.  In many ways, the wounds are still fresh. Ultimately, we hope that our film can help promote healing in a nation that is arguably as divided as we were in 1861.

5.    As best you can, please describe the process that went into making The Untold Story?

It begins with devoting a great deal of time to researching the story.  From the research emerges an outline, then a first draft script.  A team of historians then review the scripts and give us feedback.  The script is revised.  Concurrent with the script process is the planning of battle recreations.  The filming of these scenes if very much like creating a feature film.  Makeup and special effects are important tools used to create authentic and dramatic battle scenes.  Once filming is completed, we revise the scripts to best incorporate our visuals.  Our team of historians review the revised scripts.  We then begin the editing process.  Maps and other graphics are created.  Original music is composed.  One of the last tasks is recording the voiceover of our narrator, who in this case is Elizabeth McGovern, one of the stars of “Downton Abbey.”

6.    Without spoiling it for the viewers, is there any particular part of your documentary that you find particularly moving?

I am personally moved by stories of African Americans like Emma Stephenson.  She was born into slavery, then emancipated by Sherman’s army.  Emma chose to join the Union army as a battlefield nurse.  If captured, Emma would be returned to bondage. So for her and other Africans Americans joining the fight, the stakes are high. 

I am also touched by the letters between Alabaman Joshua Callaway and his wife Dulcinea.  Like so many fighting for the Confederacy, Joshua Callaway does not own slaves.  But he joins the Confederate army to protect his family and his home from the invading Union armies.  Meanwhile, Dulcinea is left behind to care for their two small children and their property.  Everyday she is faced with the reality of receiving the news of the death of Joshua.

7.    Do you have any future Civil War projects planned?

While we do not have any planned, we would like to do additional Civil War projects. I’m very interested in the Trans-Mississippi Campaign.  I also think it would be fascinating to produce a documentary taking an in depth look at the collision course North and South were on before the war.  It could be a ‘prequel’ to Civil War: the Untold Story.  It really depends on whether we can raise the funding.  Creating these kinds of films is a very expensive endeavor. 

8.    When and where can people see your film?

The series is slated to be distributed to 360+ public television stations nationwide at the end of January.  Airdates and times will be up to the discretion of local public television stations.  There is a chance that the series release will be delayed until April.  The best way to find out is by joining our Facebook page at:

Through Facebook, we can keep everyone updated on the project status and also let folks know where and when the series will be airing. 

The Civil War Addict would like to say a special thank you to Mr. Wheeler for taking the time out of his schedule to do this interview.  Please visit their facebook page for more video previews and to stay up to date with all the latest news.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Bookshelf


Since we have been discussing the written word this week, I thought I would take a moment today to mention my current reading project.  I am (slowly) working my way through The Bloody Crucible of Courage by Brent Nosworthy.  You can find it here.  It is a fairly weighty tome, coming in at 752 pages.  That breaks down into 660 pages of text and 68 pages of notes/bibliography.  The remainder belongs to the index.  The author sets out to examine not just the fighting methods of the Civil War, but also place it alongside the combat experience of the soldiers.

It is a massive undertaking!  This book is not for the faint of heart.  Only serious Civil War students would enjoy this.  Mr. Nosworthy seeks to set the Civil War within the context of other military tactical and technological developments from Europe which took place before and after our Civil War.  To that end, I think he does a very good job.  Plus, he includes a lot of tactical maps which I love!  I could stare at a battlefield map all day.  But for those who want a really good examination of all matters tactical and technological, this is the book you'll want to read.

Dear Readers, do you ever find yourself reading a Civil War book and saying "D--n!  I wish I had written that!"  Alas, I do.  And all too often.  So I will leave you with this question, "What Civil War book are you currently reading?"

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who is happy to announce an upcoming special blog post featuring an interview with the producer/director of a documentary on the Western Theater that will air in the spring.  Stay tuned for more!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Writer's Life (Part 2)


In keeping with my previous post asking if you could write a Civil War book, what would it be, I decided to take a different approach with this post.  The Civil War has given us a veritable treasure trove of literature that grows every year.  I read an estimate that was published in 1997 saying that we had over 50,000 Civil War titles.  I'd love to know how much we have now.  I was at Barnes and Nobles the other day and I was actually surprised to see that the World War 2 section was twice as big as the Civil War section.  Though I hate to use the term, those are our two "popular" wars and in the past the local B&N has given them equal shelf space.  Does this mean that interest in the war is fading?

Some Civil War topics seem to get more attention than others.  Just compare the number of books on Gettysburg to the number of books on Franklin for an illustration of that statement.  So here is my question for you, Dear Reader, what Civil War topic do we NOT need another book about?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who apologizes for the short post, but I am headed off to be a guest speaker on Civil War Medicine in my little redhead's US History classes this morning.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Civil War Writer's Life


I've been a little nostalgic of late.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it is due to approaching holidays.  Or maybe it is due to the fact that I am not getting any younger.  For some reason I have found myself thinking a lot about my graduate school days.  I got my Master's Degree in History from here.  As anyone who has attended graduate school in any subject knows, it can be both the best of times or the worse of times (to quote Dickens).  I had a decent experience in graduate school, primarily because that is where I met my little redhead.  In fact, I met her in a Civil War class.  The teacher was lecturing about King Cotton and I reached over and took her folder and quickly sketched a picture of a cotton ball wearing a crown.  I guess there are worse ways to meet one's future spouse.  She still has the notebook too.  Of course, I took her to Dairy Queen for our first date and luckily that didn't end the relationship!

When thinking about graduate school it has left me thinking about all of the Civil War papers that I have written both as an undergraduate and a graduate student.  You know, academic papers are kind of like ex-girlfriends in that you tend to only remember the bad ones!  Not all of the papers I wrote were about Civil War subjects.  I wrote a really good (or at least I thought) paper on the growing influence of politics on the German Army during the 1930s.  I wrote another one on slavery in Texas.  That one fell into the bad girlfriend category.  The professor agreed.  My favorite paper had to be the one I wrote on the impact of the terrain on the Battle of Shiloh.  I argued that given the conditions of their army that there was very little chance of the Confederates finishing off the Northern Army as the sun set on April 6th.  Others may disagree, of course, but it was my paper!

What amuses me to no end is that military historians like myself are often seen as the redheaded stepchild of the academic world.  (No offense meant to my wife!)  But if you look at the bookshelves at you local bookstore or take a gander at Amazon or Kindle, you'll note that military history sells very well.  There seems to be a huge disconnect between academic historians and the reading public.  I am okay with that.  Go ahead and write your massive tome on the impact of cotton underwear on farm prices in Central Alabama in December of 1862.  I'll stick to reading about the Battle of Shiloh.  Or Franklin.  Or even Gettysburg!

So I'll leave you to ponder this question, Dear Readers.  If you could write a Civil War book, what would it be?  (Let's stick with non-fiction for this one.)

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who is just happy he has time to read.

The Civil War Addict giving a tour of San
Jacinto State Park.  Sat. Nov. 16, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I Have Returned!


Just like General Douglas MacArthur (who's father was a Civil War veteran), I have returned.  All of you have my sincerest apologies for my dropping off the face of the earth.  Actually, I didn't really do that.  I'm still in La Porte.  But nonetheless, here I am.  I am teaching nine, yes you read that right, nine classes this semester including one that I have never taught before and it is literally kicking my ever living Irish-American butt!

Today I had the opportunity to lead a group of my students (and my wife's students) on a tour of the San Jacinto Battlefield.  For those of you who don't know, this is the spot where Texas won their independence from Mexico.  Today the park is surrounded by the lovely glow of chemical plants.  My first law enforcement job was with the State Parks and Wildlife Department and I was assigned there as a Park Police Officer.  (In some states they call them Park in the Park Rangers who carry guns.  Here we call them Park Police.)  I even got to live in a house on the park property!

So as I was wandering the battlefield today with the students, I remembered the last time I visited a battlefield and that happened to be Shiloh.  I believe if you look down in my earlier posts I referenced that trip.  That got me to thinking that I have really let my blog go to waste and I needed to remedy that.  Luckily I still remember my password!

I am teaching about the Civil War right now in my 1301 courses and to be honest, it is hard.  I've literally spent my entire life either studying or reenacting the war.  When you have gained such a body of knowledge about something it is often difficult to decide what to include in a class and what to leave out.  This is a basic US History survey course and so it doesn't call for a level of detail that one might want to include.  Many of my fellow colleagues run out of time and don't even cover the war at all.  That is a travesty if you ask me.  I move fairly quickly through the semester so that I can include ample time for studying what people far smarter than me have called the defining event in American History.

Here is how I cover it:

Class 1:  Election of Lincoln through First Manassas
Class 2:  1862 (Including fall of New Orleans, Shiloh, McClellan in Virginia, Antietam, The Proclamation)
Class 3: 1863 (Battle of Galveston, Gettysburg, Draft Riots, Sabine Pass)
Class 4: 1864-5  (Wilderness Campaign, March to the Sea, Franklin/Nashville, Appomattox)
Class 5: Civil War Medicine

I am a military historian and so I focus a lot on that, but of course we also draw in a little of the social history while we move along.  My students have always told me that my Civil War lectures are the best ones that I do, but that could also be because it is the end of the semester and they know that they'll be done listening to me beat my gums for 3 hours a week soon!

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who must apologize over and over again to all my readers for disappearing!