The NYMAS Newsletter
Special Civil War Issue
A Publication of
The New York Military Affairs Symposium
© 1999 NYMAS & The Authors
Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of
Northern Virginia, 1861-1865,
by J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr.
So much has been written about the Civil War that there would seem to be no new ground to be broken. This book, however, does that. One of the most neglected aspects of the Civil War is the manner in which commanders actually exercised command over troops in battle. A matter challenging for even so great a captain as Napoleon, became even more so when one adds to the existing mix the factors that shaped Civil War combat, improved weaponry and its necessary corollary, tactical dispersion. The key element here often becomes not only the commanders themselves, but also their staffs. Yet this element of the Civil War has long been ignored, with some minor exceptions (among them the modest efforts of this reviewer).
Buff facings and Gilt Buttons attempts to fill this gap in our knowledge, at least in terms of the Army of Northern Virginia. The book has much to recommend it. Bartholomees has done a very good job of sifting through the various regulations, etc., issued by the Confederate government dealing with the issue of staffs and shows clearly how theory quickly parted company with actual practice. Bartholomees' organizational approach through the book's first five chapters is well taken, as it gives us a clear picture of a staff's organization and the duties of each staff officer. This is particularly important when it comes to the major task each of these officers was to some degree engaged in, namely the day day administering of the army's needs. In addition, the book covers staffs at every level ranging the lowest (brigade) to the highest (army).
The book does have its share of flaws. The major problem concerns the research. Bartholomees admits in the preface that he limited his research to printed sources and secondary works. Even a short trip to North Carolina, where the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina and the Duke University Library are conveniently located within driving distance of each other, would have yielded much useful material. Particularly important are Sandie Pendleton's letters and Francis Dawson's papers to name but a few. A look at William Whann Mackall's papers would have allowed some brief comparative comments with the Army of Tennessee.
The flaws in the research effect the book most in the chapters on staff authority and relations between the commander and the staff in battle. Bartholomees may have underestimated the role that corps staffs played in Robert E. Lee's selection of corps commanders to replace first Jackson, then later Longstreet, Stuart, and Ewell. A speculative argument to this effect can be plausibly made from the contemporary evidence. As for the staff in battle, the author tends to rely heavily on some very dubious sources, especially Henry Kyd Douglas' memoirs and the entirely unreliable Heros von Borcke, about as dubious a source as can be found.
Bartholomees opens his book with the proper caveat that this is not for the casual reader. It does assume that the reader will already be familiar with the broad history and the major personalities of the Army of Northern Virginia. For the well read student of the Army of Northern Virginia, however, this book, despite its flaws is a must. It certainly ranks as one of the more original approaches in Civil War scholarship to be seen in some time.
Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865, by J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. xv, 352 pp. $29.95. ISBN: 1
"I intend to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."
--Ulysses S. Grant
The Medal of Honor Regiment
The Medal of Honor was once awarded to an entire regiment, the 27th Maine. This came about in a curious, but eminently bureaucratic, fashion.
It seems that the 27th Maine was scheduled to be mustered out of the service in the middle of the Gettysburg Campaign. President Lincoln authorized the award of the Medal of Honor to any man in the regiment who temporarily remained with the colors until the danger was passed. Now by modern standards this would seem wholly inappropriate. However, it was not necessarily beyond the intent of the original terms under which the decoration could be awarded, which essentially amounted to outstanding soldierly conduct.
But of 864 men carried on the regimental rolls, only 311 volunteered. And as things turned out, even these volunteers took no part in the campaign, and were soon mustered out with the rest of their regiment.
Since there existed no official list of the 311 men who had offered to serve beyond their enlistment's, the War Department blithely authorized each of the 864 men in the regiment to receive the Medal of Honor.
When, in 1916, a board was convened to review the suitability of all prior awards, the 864 given to the men of the 27th Maine comprised the bulk of the 911 awards which were disallowed and rescinded.
Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond, by Steven H. Newton. Lawrence, Ks.,: University Press of Kansas, 1999. xxiii, 278 pp. Illus, maps, append, notes, bilio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0-7006-0921-0.
A somewhat revisionist treatment of Joe Johnstons command of Confederate forces in Virginia in the opening phases of the Peninsular Campaign, until he was wounded at Seven Pines, 31 May 1862, which led to Robert E. Lees assumption of command.
Observing that heretofore treatments of the campaign were essentially dismissive, seeing Johnston as a relatively ineffective commander, and Lee as the brilliant savior of the Confederate capital, Newton proceeds to demonstrate that, in fact, Johnston was quite effective, marshaling considerable evidence to back his claim. Not only was it Johnston who created what would become the Army of Northern Virginia, complete with Longstreet, Jackson, and all the rest in its senior command slots, but Johnstons operations were much less costly in lives than Lees. Newton also very correctly observes that it was Johnstons victory at Seven Pines which essentially set the stage for Lees emergence as a commander during the Seven Days, which followed shortly thereafter.
The appendices are valuable, particularly one which addresses the problem of Johnstons manpower resources during the campaign. The work is well documented, and the footnotes are worth reading.
Although it is an important work, Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond does fail to address the question of what Johnston would have done if faced by a more aggressive and capable commander than the disappointing George B. McClellan.
-- A. A. Nofi
The Battle of Glorieta: Union Military Victory in the West, by Don E. Alberts. xvi, 226 pp. Illus, maps, append, notes, biblio. Index. $29.95. ISBN: 0-89096-825-X.
Know as The Gettysburg of the West, Glorieta was actually quite small perhaps 2,100 men, both sides together though of considerable strategic importance. The author has produced a readable, very satisfactory account of the battle in New Mexico that put an end to the Confederate attempt to expand to the Pacific Ocean. He fits it into the larger strategic picture, describes the mobilization of the forces involved, and treats the opening phases of the campaign effectively, albeit economically.
The discussion of the circumstances that precipitated the battle is satisfactory, and that of the battle itself excellent, with enormous detail.
There are several very good word-portraits of some of the principal commanders, including Union Maj. John M. Chivington, an erstwhile Methodist preacher who later went on to perpetrate the Sand Creek Massacre, and the Confederacys Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, a walking whiskey keg and one of the Confederacys worst generals.
The author has included a good deal of interesting material in the footnotes, which should not be missed.
The Battle of Glorieta is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the Civil War.
-- A. A. Nofi
Some Recent Regimentals
A Bright and Uncertain Hold: A History of the Sixty-Sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, by David T. Thackery. Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 1999. xvi, 321 pp. Illus, maps, append, notes, biblio., index. No price given. ISBN: 0-87338-609-4.
An extremely good regimental history. The author gives a very credible account of the history of the 66th Ohio, which included service in the Valley, with the Army of the Potomac in the Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg Campaigns, and then in the west from Lookout Mountain to the March to the Sea. But he goes further. The book also deals with the regiments roots, in Champaign County, Ohio, with life on the home front, and with the post war experience of the regiment and its community. Worthwhile reading.
The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War, by David M. Sullivan. Five volumes. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane, 1997-. Volumes are approximately xii,
373 pp. Illus, maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $40.00 each.
An exhaustive study of the Marine Corps from 1859 through the immediate post-Civil War period.
Though perhaps overly generous to the Corps two less-than-outstanding wartime commandants, the work is useful. It covers an enormous number of operations, the often clumsy administrative apparatus of the Corps, problems of personnel and recruiting, and much more besides.
Although not wholly satisfactory as a narrative history, due to frequent and excessively long extracts from documents, memoirs, and reports, and a lack of analysis, an extraordinary achievement.
Three Years with the 92nd Illinois: The Civil War Diary of John M. King, edited by Claire E. Swedberg. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1999. xii, 262 pp. Illus, notes, biblio., index. $24.95. ISBN: 0-8117-1599-X.
Although not strictly a regimental history, Three Years with the 92nd Illinois is certainly a valuable account of that distinguished regiment, a unit of the Lightning Brigade. Kings surprisingly well-account has been supplemented by some useful editorial annotations. The book will be of particular use to those interested in operations in the Western Theater.
An Unusual Reference
Leaders of the American Civil War, A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary, edited by Charles F. Ritter and Jon L. Wakelyn. Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1998. xxxiv, 465 pp. Bibliog., index. $85.00. ISBN:
An anthology of short 7 to10 page essays on 47 notable figures from the Civil War, plus a thoughtful essay on what constitutes greatness, by 17 different authors, among them Herman Hattaway and Frank Vandiver. The selection is eclectic, including not only a sampling of notable political leaders and generals, but Walt Whitman, Varina Davis, and others less usually thought of a leaders of the Civil War. However, the essays are all quite insightful. Useful for serious students of the war.
--A. A. Nofi
And One Was a Soldier: The Spiritual Pilgrimage of Robert E. Lee, by Robert R. Brown (Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane, 1998. xviii, 125 pp. Illus, notes, biblio. $19.95. ISBN: 1-57249-118-3.
An interesting examination of the roots and development of Robert E. Lees well-known religious and ethical principles. At times quite insightful.
Certainly valuable for anyone interested in Lee, and useful for students of the war in general.
When the Devil Came Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans, by Chester G. Hearn. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. xiv, 260 pp. Illus, maps, notes, biblio, index. $26.95. ISBN: 0-8071-2180-0.
An unusually favorable biography of Butler, who was perhaps the most hated man in the South. The work by no means overlooks Butlers faults, but unlike several earlier biographers also touches upon the positive side of his character and his tenure in command at New Orleans. Worth reading.
Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory, by Timothy D. Johnson. Lawrence, Ks.: University Press of Kansas, 1998. xii, 315 pp. Illus, maps, append., notes, biblio., index. No price given. ISBN: 0-7006-0914-8.
Taking a more critical slant than John Eisenhower in his recent Agent of Destiny, Johnson, who traveled extensively in order to research the generals scattered surviving papers, makes several important observations about Scott, arguably the most professional American soldier or all time. One is that Scott learned from his mistakes. The other is more important, that Scotts Mexican Campaign was the medium through which men who would later command in the Civil War many of them listed in the appendix learned Jominian principles. Very valuable.
Civil War Generals in Defeat, edited by Steven D. Woodworth. Lawrence, Ks.: University Press of Kansas, 1999. viii, 240 pp. Illus, notes, index. 29.95. ISBN: 0-7006-0943-1.
A collection of essays about six commanders who have often considered to have proven wanting. The commanders are Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, George B. McClellan, Don Carlos Buell, Joseph Hooker, and John C. Pemberton. A seventh essay deals with problems at Gettysburg. Many of the essays are thoughtful and insightful. Valuable reading.
Gettysburg and the Brooklyn Bridge
There exists an interesting link between the Battle of Gettysburg, fought on July 1-3, 1863, and the Brooklyn Bridge, built between 1869 and 1883.
The bridge was designed by John A. Roebling in 1867 under the sponsorship of the Great East River Bridge Corporation. In 1869 Roebling died as a result of an accident while surveying the site and his son, Washington, assumed supervision of the project. During construction the younger Roebling's health was seriously impaired as a result of the bends and his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, acted as his factotum thereafter, personally supervising the work as Roebling watched through a telescope from a distant window.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, in 1863 Washington Roebling had been a lieutenant of engineers assigned to the Staff of Brig.-Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, and one of the genuine heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg. Roebling accompanied Warren on all his pereginations during fighting and was one of the officers with him on Little Round Top during the most critical hours of the battle. Emily Roebling was Warren's sister.
The Gettysburg connection does not end there, for Union Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, who commanded the XII Corps and the right wing, was a director of the Great East River Bridge Corporation and one of its principal stockholders. In addition, several of the engineers who worked on the bridge were veterans of the battle, as were many of the thousands of construction workers who helped build the bridge.
Offbeat, but Interesting
When Cannons Roared: The Civil War Behind the Lines, by John M. Taylor. Washington: Brassys, 1997. iv, 176 pp. Ills, maps, notes, index. $22.95. ISBN: 1-57488-150-7.
In 21 essays the author rummages through some of the most fascinating odd corners in the history of the Civil War. The essays range from the theft of some funds entrusted to U.S. Grant during the Mexican War, a matter which plagued him until mid-1862, to Lincolns provision of a substitute, and on to Grover Clevelands contentious decision to return Confederate battle flags to their home states.
While some of the essays deal with truly obscure matters, of no great consequence, several throw interesting light on some events and persons. The most notable such essay is one devoted to the extraordinarily vituperous correspondence between Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, during the 1850s, which offers revealing insights into both mens personalities.
The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil, edited by Cyrus B. Dawsey and James M. Dawsey. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1995. xiii, 273 pp. Illus, maps, notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0-8173-0944-6.
An interesting look at one of the odder footnotes to the Civil War, the successful attempt by some un-Reconstructed Southerners to establish a colony in Brazil.
The series of ten essays and one original document, embodies the proceedings of a conference on the subject. The presentations are uneven, with too much stress on the religious influence of the migrants not without a touch of anti-Catholicism in one instance and not enough on the evolution of the community and its integration into Brazilian society.
Nevertheless, there is some excellent material here.
The Lincoln Mailbag: America Writes to the President, 1861-1865, edited by Harold Holzer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. lx, 236 pp. Illus, notes. ISBN: 0-8093-2072-X
The Lincoln Mailbag, includes over a hundred letters to Lincoln during the Civil War, along with filing instructions made by the presidents secretaries. Some letters come with the presidents reply attached. There is a short introduction which explains how the presidents mail was handled, and there are occasional annotations to clarify obscure points in some of the letters.
The letters are from all sorts of people, politicians, soldiers, housewives, fugitive slaves, children, and so on. Very few of them are vituperative in nature, which does not seem reasonable. An amusing often interesting work.
Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasures, by W. Graig Gaines. Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Publishing, 1999. 240 pp. Append., notes, biblio, index. $18.95.
A highly amusing guide to alleged treasure troves of the Civil War. Many of the stories are rooted in folk lore, and some of them are highly dubious (for example, many of the dollar figures handed down by tradition are very inappropriate for Civil War-era pay rolls). But they are often a lot of fun.
An interesting look at some of the ways in which the Civil War has insinuated itself into American folk culture.
The Amazing Civil War, by Webb Garrision. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1998. 285 pp. Illus, notes, nidex. $9.95 paper. ISBN: 1-55853-585-3.
A collection of hundreds of anecdotes, trivia, and odd facts about the Civil War, most of the accurate. The range is excellent, such as substitutes, northerners who fought for the South, cowardice, mysteries, and more. Great fun for the Civil War aficionado.
Other Leaders, Other Heroes: West Points Legacy to America Beyond the Field of Battle, by James R. Endler. Westport, Ct: Praeger, 1998. xx, 229pp. Illus, notes, biblio, index. $35.00. ISBN: 0-275-96369-1.
As its subtitle says, this is about they ways in which West Point graduates have served the nation other than as soldiers. There are explorers, engineers,
lawyers, government officials, physcians, scientists, and more in here, even the publisher of Cosmopolitan.
Although not focussed on the Civil War, Other Leaders, Other Heroes will certainly be worthwhile reading for anyone interested in that conflict., for herein will be found many of the heroes of the war in unusual roles.
War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869, by Noel C. Fisher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1997. 250 pp. Illus, maps, tables, notes, biblio, index. $24.95. ISBN: 0-8078-2367-8.
A scholarly look at one of the more neglected aspects of the war, guerrilla and terrorist operations behind the lines, with a particular focus on one of the most neglected theaters, Unionist East Tennessee. The author ties the wartime violence in the region into the pre-war politics of the region, and demonstrates how both were rooted in the differing socio-economic system prevailing in the area.
War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861, by Thomas Goodrich. Mecanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1999. viii, 296 pp. Maps, illus, notes, biblio, index. Price not given. ISBN: 0-8117-1921-9
A not very effective history of Bleeding Kansas. Goodrich relies heavily on excerpts from memoirs, diaries, and other personal testimony to tell the tale. While this leads to often vivid, and occasionally graphic, treatment of some events, it does not make for a seamless read. There are too many such passages, hardly a page does not include at least a paragraph or two. In short, although there are some interesting observations, the work is not a seamless read.
The Coffee Rebellion
Although coffee was common in the ante bellum period, Americans real addiction to coffee really began with the Civil War.
During the war the troops were wont to brew a pot just about any chance they found the time to do so, and usually took it coarsely ground, very strong, very black, and with a liberal dose of sugar. Often during operations it was not uncommon for many of the troops to subsist on just coffee and hardtack.
The official coffee ration for a Union soldier during the Civil War was 28 pounds per year, enough to brew about a pint a day. The annual issue for a Confederate soldier was supposed to be 20 pounds. In both armies coffee was always issued in the bean, and often green, so that the troops had to roast it themselves. While some of the troops had small coffee mills, the common method of grinding the beans was to crush them with a rifle butt. So important was coffee that some models of the Sharps carbine actually had a small coffee mill built into the stock.
The Confederacy began experiencing a shortage of coffee by late 1861. This led to recycling of the grounds until they were played out. On one memorable occasion in January of 1862 troops of the famed Washington Light Artillery formally cremated the last of their overused coffee grinds, while jokingly claiming that they had no grounds for complaint.
During the many informal truces that were concluded in the course of the war Confederate troops would often trade tobacco for coffee. As this did not bring in a lot of coffee, many ersatz concoctions were developed, using well-roasted peanuts, acorns, rye, wheat, chicory, and various other things either in combination or by themselves.
One Civil War recipe for coffee reads take one-third measure of green coffee and begin roasting it in the normal fashion. When lightly browned add two-thirds measure of wheat or rye, stirring and roasting it all together until dark. Grind or pound well. Use one measure of this to eight measures of boiling water, stirring well. When done, add a few drops of cold water to lay the sediment. In a pinch, omit the coffee.
Other Recent Works of Interest
Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War, by Maury Kelin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. xii, 496 pp. Illus, notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 0-679-44- 747-4.
Although focusing on events in Washington, Days of Destiny is essentially a history of the U.S. on the eve of the Civil War, the 157 days that began with the election of November 8, 1860, and continued on through the Secession Winter to the surrender of Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861. There is a lot of political machination, a number of secret missions, and some interesting people to be found here, in a readable, sometimes thoughtful narrative. A good book.
Academy on the James: The Confederate Naval School, by R. Thomas Campbell. Shippensburg, Pa.: Burd Street, 1999. xii, 283 pp. Illus, maps, append, notes, biblio, index. $39.95. ISBN: 1-57249-130-2.
An interesting look into the Confederacys naval academy, and the role it played not only in training officers for the fleet, but in the defense of Richmond. The appendices reproduce a number of important documents. Valuable for students of the Confederate Navy.
Website of Note:
Lincolns Own Yarns and Stories
This site brings together an enormous collection of the Presidents tall tales, off the cuff remarks, jokes, wise cracks, and observations on life, politics, society, war, and just about everything you can thing of. There are many amusing stories, quite a number of valuable word portraits of notable persons, and much else besides. A great many of these bits deal with the Civil War, including soldiers stories, presiential observations about various generals (some especially juicy ones about McClellan), and comments on the political situation.
NYMAS Membership News
Member James F. Dunnigans new book, Dirty Little Secrets of the Twentieth Century, will be published by William Morrow shortly.
Boardmember and Executive Secretary Dr. Kathleen Broome Williams has recently returned from a trip to Saipan. She brought back lots of interesting pictures, and reports it was both fascinating and highly productive. I was awed by the quantity of WWII stuff still around, from beer and sake bottles in hard-to access caves, to bullets and shells and hand grenades lying around. Tons of Japanese bunkers still in amazingly good shape, and rusting equipment, tanks, AA guns etc., etc. Worth the trip. Her article, Scientist in Uniform will be published in the Summer 1999 issue of The Naval War College Review, and is also available online at the NWC website: http:///www.nwc.navy.mil/-press
The revised paperback edition of NYMAS Boardmember Wayne Sarfs book The Little Big Horn Campaign, will be released by Combined Publishing early this fall.
Boardmember Dr. Albert A. Nofi, has accepted a position with The Center for Naval Analyses, in Alexandria Virginia. His The Underground Railroad and the Civil War and Spies of the Civil War, intended for younger readers, will be issued by Combined Publishing later this year.
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