Friday, December 27, 2013

Civil War "Firsts"


The Civil War had a lot of "firsts".  Some were firsts just for the United States while others were firsts for military history/society as a whole.  For an exhaustive list of those firsts, check out the list provided by Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War here.  I have not gone through that list in detail and so I cannot comment on the accuracy of everything provided, but it does provide some food for thought.  During the course of the Civil War, the nation first experienced conscription, resistance to conscription, aerial reconnaissance, a Presidential assassination, and combat between ironclad vessels just to name a few.  Many people have called the American Civil War the first modern war.

But what do people mean when the say that?  If you take modern to mean the weaponry used, then it certainly was by the standards of the time.  As we discussed above, we certainly did have some innovations. However, part of the reason for the casualty rates is due to the fact that the tactics did no adapt to the weaponry until the latter part of the war, and even then we had the occasional lapse (ie; Battle of Franklin).  That said, a soldier from Grant or Lee's army who served in the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond would certainly have recognized the type of fighting that took place later during World War 1.  But does that fact alone make the Civil War "modern"?

Others have spoken of Sherman waging "Total War" on his March to the Sea. The dictionary defines total war as "a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territories or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued; especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded."  Sherman did not "make war" on the civilian population in Georgia in the same way that we would do to Germany or Japan in the 20th Century.  Yes, his objectives were not fully military in nature to the extent that he wanted to destroy the ability of the South to wage war, but he did not intentionally set out to kill civilians and though yes, some private homes were destroyed, there is not, to my knowledge, any written order to his troops telling them to burn every home they came across.  If Sherman waged total war in Georgia, what then do we call our practice of firebombing Japanese cities during World War 2?  Are each of those examples total war, just taken to a higher degree (no pun intended)?

I happen to think that Winston Churchill was a wise man.  In 1901 while speaking on the floor of the House of Commons, he said "The wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings."  I know that Mr. Churchill was an adept student of history.  Perhaps he looked back to our Civil War as a reference when he made that statement.  We certainly proved that it was true, at least in our country.  And World War 1 proved that he was right as well.

So whether you agree or disagree as to how modern the Civil War was or to whether or not Sherman waged total war on his March to the Sea, I think we can all agree that Americans between 1861-1865 became very proficient at killing each other on a wide scale which has become almost unfathomable to us today.

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

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Santa Claus Came to Town


Sorry for the long lag in posting.  I have been feeling a little bit under the weather of late.  But the show must go on.  Santa Claus came to visit me yesterday.  (We do our Christmas on the 24th since so that my son can have Christmas with me and then go back to his mother's house that night so he can have Christmas there on the 25th.)  Naturally I got a lot of New Orleans Saints items.  However, I also acquired several new Civil War books.  (Plus some Amazon gift cards that I can use to buy some more!)  You know, I was expecting switches and a lump of coal this year though to be honest, I expect that every year.  So these books will be what I am reading over Christmas Break.

1.  Sickles at Gettysburg by James Hessler.  This is another book about America's favorite scoundrel, Daniel Sickles.  I am two chapters in thus far and it is really good.  The author is a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg and a d--n good writer too!

2.  Miracles and Massacres by Glenn Beck.  I am not a Glenn Beck fan.  But I thought that this book might contain some interesting stories that I can work into my classes.

3.  Bags to Riches by Jeff Duncan.  Another non-Civil War book.  This one relates how the New Orleans Saints helped the city rebound in the aftermath of Katrina.

4.  Into the Fight: Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg by John Michael Priest.  I read this one last night.  It is incredible.  He is the author of one of my favorite Civil War books, Antietam: The Soldier's Battle.  I am happy to say that Into the Fight continues that fine tradition.  It gives you almost a minute by minute account of Pickett's Charge from the point of view of the men who actually did the fighting.  At times brutal and at times humorous, I cannot recommend this book enough.  (The caveat to that is that the book may be a tad bit confusing for the casual Civil War reader since it sort of assumes some knowledge of the battle on the part of the reader.)

5.  Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers by James Gannon.  This is a regimental history of the 6th Louisiana Infantry.  I am proud to say I am descended from some of the men who served in this regiment.  This is next on my list as soon as I finish the Sickles book!

6.  The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David Eicher.  I remember seeing some mixed reviews of this book when it first came out.  However, I believe in giving all Civil War books a chance.  I've seen some scathing reviews of books that I actually enjoyed.  To each his own.  I plan on reading this one in chunks as it is a large book.

7.  The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edwin Coddington.  I have heard that the Licensed Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg refer to this book as the "Bible" of the Gettysburg Campaign.  This was Dr. Coddington's magnum opus but he died shortly before it was published.  It has been a standard work on this subject for 50 years.  I really have no excuse for not already owning a copy.

So that is what Confederate Claus brought me for Christmas this year.  I am going to be busy over the break doing lots of reading.  That's fine, I don't really have anything else to do anyway.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who wishes all of you a Merry Christmas (or Winter Solstice if you prefer me to be politically correct)!

So what Civil War gifts did Santa Claus (or Confederate Claus) bring you?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Civil War Animals

Dear Readers,

Since college is out for Christmas break at the moment, I am spending time with my feline companions.  This has got me thinking about regimental mascots during the Civil War.  I read a very interesting article here that details many of the mascot stories from the Civil War.  Naturally, "Old Abe" the eagle is perhaps the best known, but there are many other stories out there.  Dogs seem to be the most common as they are, after all, man's best friend.  But there are others too.  I haven't seen anything about cats though, much to my dismay.

I have two questions for you today, Dear Readers.  1.  Who had the best mascot of the war?  2.  Does anyone know of any good stories about cats during the Civil War?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who lives with a hot redhead and the following feline friends:

Simon Diogenes Legree
George Armstrong Custer ("Autie")
Charles Dickens
Margaret Mitchell ("Maggie")
Bedford Forrest

Remember, as Mark Twain said "When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fire Bells in the Night


When I was eight years old or so, I was thumbing through a copy of Bruce Catton's The Civil War.  I believe it was published by American Heritage Press.  There was a Civil War timeline included in the appendices.  As I scanned through it, I came across the following entry for November 25, 1864: "Confederate agents try to burn New York City".  For some reason, that caught my eye, so much so that I put a star next to it.  And then I promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward several years (actually about two decades).  I again rediscovered the subject by virtue of research that I was doing on another topic.  Pardon the pun, but this rekindled the fire!  (He who would pun would also pick a pocket!)  I filled two notebooks while investigating this event with the idea towards writing a book about it.  But finally, someone beat me to it.  (See here.)  Not to be deterred, I had always thought this might translate better into a novel anyway.  For that matter, it would make one heck of a movie too!

Eight Confederate officers traveled from Canada to New York City full of promises that the Sons of Liberty (no, not the Revolutionary War ones) would rise up and help them take over the city on election day.  They promised that they had 20,000 armed men just waiting for the signal.  That signal would be a series of fires set by the Confederates at various points throughout the city.  Though hotels were the eventual target, the evidence suggests that the plot actually involved setting fires in other locations.

But the New York City authorities were ready.  They learned their lesson from the Draft Riots.  Certain measures were put in place to prevent any unrest and the "Sons of Liberty" backed out of the plot.  The Confederates decided to return to Canada but then they read stories in the paper about Sherman's March to the Sea.  Suddenly revenge became the motive.  They picked up "Greek Fire" from a chemist in Washington Square.  (Incidentally, the site of another famous fire.....the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.)

On the night of November 25, the men set a series of fires in hotel rooms across Lower Manhattan.  The fire department promptly put them out with very little damage.  The newspapers the following morning had descriptions of all of the men, yet they managed to slip out of the city and made it back to Canada safely.  Later on, one of them, Robert Cobb Kennedy, was apprehended as he tried to cross back into the United States.  He was put on trial, convicted, and hanged on March 25, 1865.

I fear I have not done the topic justice here.  There is a lot more to it than what I have time to write.  One of the men, John Headley, wrote his memoirs "Confederate Operations in Canada and New York" which is available for a free download here.  It makes for some interesting reading, but take it with a grain of salt!  Also, the OR's contain a lot of information too.

One of these days, I'll finish the novel.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

War and Remembrance

Dear Readers,

I have reached the end of my first semester since I made the decision (or actually my back made the decision) to end my law enforcement career and return to the classroom.  To me, final exam week is always a melancholy experience.  You know, the first day of class is like a first date.  It can go really good or really bad.  (And is usually awkward!)  The last day of class feels like a break up, though not in a bad sense.  You get to know your students over several months and realize that most of them you won't see again.  That feeling always makes me a little sad.

This has got me thinking about what the end of the war must have felt like for the veterans.  Many of them spent as many as four years of their lives fighting alongside men who must have felt very much like brothers to them by the time it was all over.  They lost many of them along the way too both to combat and the ever present threat of disease.  And then one day it ended.  How did they part ways?  Was it as simple as a handshake and a "See you in hell"?  The fact that many of the companies were raised in certain geographic locations meant that they would perhaps see each other in civilian life sometimes.

But that raises another question.  How could someone who went on Pickett's Charge or fought at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania simply go home and farm again like nothing had ever happened?  Yet so many of them did.  After the war, the men on both sides formed veterans associations.  The Northern veterans and their Grand Army of the Republic proved to be a potent political force in the post-war world.  The United Confederate Veterans were important in their own right in the south.  My great-grandmother always talked about the UCV men that she knew as a child.  She said they were "fine old men".  Of course, when she knew them they were 40+ years removed from the war.  She told me once that those she knew were all very old and had the long white beard which it seems that many Confederate veterans adopted.  But she also said that you couldn't let their age fool you.  They were tough, very tough.  Their legs had carried them thousands of miles.  Their shoulders carried heavy burdens.  And their eyes had seen far too much.

One of my favorite songs from this period is "Long Ago" which you can listen to here.  I don't know all of the back story on this song, but I do know that it was written by a Civil War veteran.  I think it sums up the feelings of a lot of Confederate Veterans quite well.

And if I may end with some thoughts of a different kind.  To any of my students who may be reading today's blog post, I would like to say this.  It has been a long semester for us all.  I've been dealing with back pain, PTSD issues, and a crazy schedule.  You made it all worthwhile.  Over the past few months we've shared laughter and even the occasional tear.  Some of you have opened up to me about issues that you are facing and I have done the same.  I can honestly say that I feel that I am a better person for having gotten to meet all of you.  This semester I have had the best classes that I have ever had in all my years of being an adjunct.  Thank you for not only making that happen, but for also showing me what was important in life.  Remember that no matter what happens to you in life, I'll always be in your corner.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who has come to realize what my purpose in life truly is thanks to my students.

One of my Civil War Ancestors.
A "Fightin' Fool" of the 8th Ohio!
And a native son of Ireland!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flags of Our (Great-Great-Grand) Fathers

Dear Readers,

I must confess that I was at a bit of a loss for the topic of today's post.  So I did what I normally do when I get a case of blogger's block, I turned to my little redhead for advice as to what to write about.  She suggested that I write a bit about flags during the Civil War.  I had to promise her that I would at least mention some of her ancestors in a favorable light in this post, so please look here for a picture of the regimental flags for the Ninth Illinois Infantry.  She had three ancestors who served in this regiment.  (Unlike the rest who avoided service entirely!)

Though Gods and Generals is far from being an Academy Award worthy movie, I must confess that I did really like the opening scene where we saw one battle flag after another.  The song in the background was also good.  The movie went steadily downhill from there.  The flags meant something to the soldiers.  They represented their regiment, brigade, or corps.  Units could be identified by their banners.  When speaking of Cleburne's Division flag, General Sherman is quoted as saying "That flag meant fight!"  (And he should know!)  Who among us would want to hold a position if we saw the green banner of the Irish Brigade moving towards us?  Or Hood's Texas Brigade?

The flags that my great-great-great grandfathers fought under were varied, as is the location and regiments of their service.  Most of them served under Polk's Corps (later Cheatham) in the Army of Tennessee.  As such, they had an easily identifiable Corps flag until the standardization of battle flags in the Army of Tennessee.  After that, only Cleburne's men were allowed to keep their own flag.

I, of course, also had ancestors who served in Cleburne's Division.  Their flag, like the above is distinctive.  Each regiment would, of course, add their unit and list the battles that they participated in if they so desired.

If we turn our attention to the Eastern Theater, I had some relatives in the 6th Louisiana.  Part of Hayes' "Fighting Tigers".  

And lest I be accused of Confederate bias, I would also like to mention my ancestors in the 8th Ohio Infantry.  Now how an Irish immigrant ended up in Ohio is beyond me, but he did nonetheless.  He and his brothers enlisted in the 8th Ohio at the beginning of the war.  They served in most of the battles in the Eastern Theater as part of the famed Gibraltar Brigade.  They assaulted Bloody Lane at Antietam, managed to outflank Pickett's Charge, and saw action in the Overland Campaign.  In fact, they reenlisted during the midst of that one!  So here too is their flag.

I think it would really be cool to one day have a room in my house decorated with all of the flags from the various regiments in which my ancestors served.  But I have two hurdles to overcome.  One is getting replicas of all of those flags.  The other is my little redhead.  But a man can dream, right?  As suggested in the comments, when I am ready to undertake this task, I just might visit the Alabama Flag Depot.  It looks like they do some very nice work!

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Wilderness of War

Dear Readers,

For the last week or so I have been working my way through Gordon C. Rhea's series about the Overland Campaign.  I finished the first volume which is about the Battle of the Wilderness and have now turned to the second volume concerning Spotsylvania.  I'm not sure what drew my attention in that direction, other than the fact that I haven't read his series before.  When I teach about the Civil War, the last lecture day covers 1864-5 which includes those campaigns plus the March to the Sea, etc.  Maybe that is why.

You know, Grant's casualty rates in that campaign were staggering.  I can't help but thing that we would never allow a general today to lose soldiers at the rate that Grant did.  My how times have changed.  I guess it stirs up the old debate.  Was Grant a good general?  Yes, he lost large numbers of soldiers but he still bled Lee's Army dry.  Of course, the flip side to that is tactically, he seemed to follow a relatively simple plan, "Hey Diddle, Diddle, Straight Up the Middle!"

I have ancestors who fought on both sides during that campaign.  Let me rephrase, I have ancestors on the Confederate side and ancestors on the Union side.  They stayed loyal to their respective causes until the end. Unlike some of the ancestors of my little redhead who seemed to favor whichever side was winning at that particular moment.  My Union ancestors were not "Yankees" in the traditional sense of the word as they all hailed from the Emerald Isle, as did my other ancestors who wore the gray.  Still, they collided in some of the worse bloodletting this country has ever seen.

I often wonder what kept my Irish Confederate ancestors in the ranks at a time in which they had to have known that the cause was lost.  Before you tell me that slavery was why they stayed in the ranks so long, I would suggest that you look into the types of jobs available to the Irish in New Orleans at the time.  They left Ireland to escape English oppression only to end up fighting here in a hopeless war in the land of the "free".  Did they ever have second thoughts about why they came here?  I can only imagine that they stayed the course because of a combination of pride, comradeship, and the desire to not let their families down.  But who knows, really.  They arrived here with nothing and the war also left them with nothing.  (Other than a few of them that were nice enough to donate a limb or two to the Cause.)

My Irish-Union ancestors had their enlistments expire in the midst of the Overland Campaign.  They could have gone home!  But they chose to reenlist and see the war through to the end.  Plenty of other men did too.  Was that an endorsement of Grant's generalship or was that simply a desire to finish what they had started?  I wish I could say one way or the other with certainty, but I feel it was more the latter than the former.

Sorry to break slightly off topic, but here is my question for you, Dear Readers.  Was Grant a good general or simply a butcher who cared nothing for the lives of his soldiers?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who should be grading papers instead of writing blog posts.