Artillery: Finding An Artillery Manual

In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln observed, “Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” He referred to a religious situation, but I meant no disrespect when this quote came to mind as I looked at a secular book in the archives last week. The book wasn’t just secular. It was a manual of instruction for making war. Making war with artillery in effective, terrifying ways. And this book of war – like others written even earlier – was studied by officers on both sides of the American conflict.

Both sides read the same manual, loaded similar cannons, and each pulled the lanyards, hoping to send death crashing into their countrymen.

In the reading room at the Huntington Library, I placed the fragile book on the padded book holder. I knew it was an artillery manual, with text originally written and prepared by U.S. Officers and published by the War Department in just prior to the Civil War, but the cover surprised me. In fading embossing, it read: Property of State of Virginia.

RB 107441, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Gingerly, I opened the cover. The interior book plate warned that the book belonged to Virginia and was endorsed by the state adjutant general, William H. Richardson who was in that office in the decades leading up to the war. There may even be clues about who had the book during the war from the possible signature across the book plate.

Did the State of Virginia “steal” the text and publish their own version of the manual? Or did they obtain War Department copies, change the cover, and make them available? I’m certainly curious to learn more… There is more handwritten text in the front of the book, but not all the writing was easy to read and it’s not dated, making it unclear when the notes were added. More to examine on another research trip for certain. Also, it doesn’t help that pages one through twenty-four are completely missing from the book, including the front pages that should have had the publisher information.

RB 107441, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Beyond those little mysteries to be further explored at a later date, I found it curious that a book authored by Henry J. Hunt, William H. French, and William F. Barry on field artillery tactics instructed Confederates during the war. These military officers and tacticians intended to write a manual to guide the United States Army’s field artillery batteries, but it coached the Rebels, too.

This particular book – Instructions for Field Artillery – was the go-to guide for Union artillerists during the conflict, but – at least one copy and probably quite a few more were in the hands of Confederates. This book with its cover and interior book plate suggests both sides may have been referring to the same artillery manual – just on opposite sides of the battlefields.

Just what was in the Instructions for Field Artillery? Every. Single. Thing. anyone could need or want to know about artillery. Seriously, I think if the equipment for a battery was laying in an open field and some untrained soldiers waited nearby, anyone who could read could prepare a trained field artillery battery, given enough time and practice. The details in this book amazed me!

Here are just a few things covered in the text:

  • How to pack the boxes and cassions – item by item, with details about the weight of each box
  • How to make paint to refinish the gun carriages
  • How to care for horses
  • Precise instructions for drilling; marching, positions, saber drill, positioning cannon, unlimbering – then the actual steps for loading and firing
  • How to aim
  • Which types of ammunition to use
  • How to limber
  • How to move the cannon by hand
  • How to change an ammunition chest
  • How to change a wheel
  • Instructions for riding the horses, including how to bridle, saddle, lead out, hold the reins, dismount, unsaddle, and unbridle
  • Detailed directions for equestrian military drill
  • Instructions for jumping – ditches or bars
  • How to harness the horses to pull the cannon and cassion
  • Detailed directions for the driver
  • Drills and exercises for a battery and a section
  • Marching, columns, getting into lines, all kinds of maneuvers
  • Notes on knot tying
  • Bugle calls
  • And much more!

As we head into the last week of the Artillery Series, watch for sections from this primary source manual. I’ve picked a few pages to share, and it should provide useful information as we continue the quest to understand more about Civil War Artillery.

You’ll be able to read original sources from the manual that instructed Union artillerymen and officers and gave hints to at least a few Confederate cannoneers as well. In at least a few cases, they were reading the same manual but wearing different uniforms and believing in different causes.


Instruction for Field Artillery, 1860, RB 107441, The Huntington Library,
San Marino, California. Link to record.

Herman Haupt: Reopening The Rail Lines To Gettysburg

Herman Haupt

“I am now at Hanover Station. A bridge is broken between this place and Littlestown. I will proceed at once to repair it, and commence to send off wounded; then return and take the Gettysburg Railroad and commence repairing it. It will be well to make a good hospital at York, with which place I expect in two days to be in communication by rail. Until then, temporary arrangements can be made for the wounded. I learn that the wire is intact for nine miles toward Gettysburg. I will have it repaired and communicate any information that I can obtain.[i]

General Halleck received that message from Herman Haupt on July 4, 1863, and felt reassured that railroad lines to Gettysburg would be restored soon. Haupt – one of the best men for the job – had won the trust of Lincoln, the cabinet, and high ranking officers. If anyone could get the trains to the war zone in Southern Pennsylvania, this civil engineer would do it. Interestingly, Haupt had lived in Gettysburg for about ten years and knew the area well.

Herman Haupt, born March 26, 1817, grew up in Pennsylvania and attended West Point. Graduating in the Class of 1835, Haupt served in the military for only three months, resigning to start a career in railroad engineering. The following year he arrived in the Gettysburg area, searching for a route for the iron horses over South Mountain to Hagerstown. Haupt spent the next ten years in Gettysburg, teaching at Pennsylvania College, writing an engineering book, building a house on Seminary Ridge, and starting a family. He left Gettysburg to accept the powerful and strategic role of General Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. By 1861, Haupt had built six major railroad lines and had been recognized as a leader in the field of civil engineering.

As it became clear the divisive national conflict would last longer than ninety days and Union armies grew exponentially, the system of supplying the military network was in shambles. Quartermasters knew they needed supplies but did not always have the knowledge to coordinate large scale efforts to keep the wagon trains moving and the railroad cars rolling. In 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton reached out to Herman Haupt, asking him to take control of army transportation. Haupt seemed reluctant and laid down a list of requirements, including stipulations that he would avoid all work on the Sundays for religious reasons and he would not accept a military commission or draw pay, allowing him to carry on personal business without reference to the military. Surprisingly, Stanton agreed – probably because he desperately needed someone to bring order to the situations. Haupt accepted the rank of brigadier general, but – as agreed upon – did not take a commission or pay.

Railroad cars!

Under Haupt’s direction, the railroads and transportation systems improved, a remarkable feature considering the Confederate’s continual attempts to disrupt the lines. When tracks were destroyed, Haupt rushed crews to repair the damages. He even gained President Lincoln’s approve and commendation for the construction of Potomac Run Bridge in May 1862. “That man Haupt has built a bridge…about 400 feet long and nearly 100 feet high, over which loaded trains are running every hour, and, upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but beanpoles and cornstalks.”[ii] Though slightly exaggerated, the bridge had been constructed by common soldiers who had no previous engineering skills. Haupt drafted the design, gave the orders, and watched two million feet of raw lumber felled from the nearby woods transform over the course of nine days into the bridge he envisioned.

Haupt quickly became a vital player in the Civil War, evidenced by his brief departure. Irritated by General John Pope who decided to put quartermasters in charge of all supply transportation, the civil engineer packed his bags and headed home to Massachusetts. Several days later, the War Department was proverbially on its knees begging him to come back. The telegram read: “Come back immediately; cannot get along without you; not a wheel moving on any of the roads.”[iii] Haupt’s skill and authority had been appreciated and recognized.

Thus, the man who studied the maps and heard the reports of rail damage during the Confederate Invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863 was well qualified, trusted by officials, and in a position to solve the problems. In Washington City on June 28, Haupt learned his West Point classmate George Meade now commanded the Army of the Potomac and decided to do a little scouting as he checked on the state of rail lines in southern Pennsylvania. As the armies clashed at Gettysburg, Haupt arrived in Westminister which was twenty miles from the fighting and the closest point of undamaged railroad tracks. No trains arrived however, and military officers rushed about, shouting the supplies they needed, waiting for Haupt to work a miracle.

Haupt sent them away for a few moments. “I asked them to give me a few minutes to think, and to escape the crowd I crept into a covered wagon and hid myself.”[iv] When he climbed out of the wagon, Haupt had a plan. The trains might not get to Gettysburg in time to transport battle supplies, but it was vital to get the lines open to bring the wounded out and get medical supplies and rations to the survivors.

The local civilian superintendent of the railway begged Haupt to take over, willing to step away from the nightmare. The un-commissioned general took charge, bringing in his own railroad crew of four hundred men and a supply train with railroad ties, track, and tools. Over twenty miles of single track and several bridges had to be built or repaired before a welcome whistle could pierce the air at Gettysburg. He posted guards to keep Southern sympathizers from messing with the repaired tracks and issued orders to get supply trains moving to Westminister. Thirty trains a day arrived at that point, ensuring the Army of the Potomac had rations arriving which could be moved by wagon toward Gettysburg.

By 11p.m. on July 4, 1863 – hours after Haupt sent the original message to Halleck – he followed up, reporting that the bridge near Oxford would be in working order the next morning. In a race to save lives, Haupt was just seven miles from Gettysburg, having already repaired about eighteen miles of track. The following morning Haupt arrived in Gettysburg (by buggy) to evaluate the situation. Ironically, it was Sunday when he arrived in the town where he had lived for a decade, a day he had bargained not to work. However, necessity and extreme situation at Gettysburg prompted Haupt to revise his principles just for that day. He worked on Sunday, bringing the trains closer and closer to the horrible scenes.

The entire Gettysburg area was one vast field hospital with wounded lying in every structure, in the fields, in the woods, and directly in the rain. By this time, Jonathan Letterman’s battlefield medical system called for injured men to be moved from the field hospitals to larger hospital facilities; the railroads were key to this process, and Haupt had worked toward this goal for days.

By July 7, 1863, just three days after the fighting ended, Haupt’s crews had brought the railroad tracks to the outskirts of Gettysburg. The bridge over Rock Creek which ran east of town still needed repair (the Confederates had burned it on June 26th), but Haupt, confident the military quartermasters in Gettysburg could oversee that final project, headed back to Washington to report on the situation.
Two days later Haupt returned to Gettysburg to make sure everything ran smoothly and found the still-unrepaired bridge, stacks of desperately needed supplies pushed off the trains in the fields, and 4,000 wounded men waiting for transportation by rail car. Livid, Haupt seized control of the rail line from the civilian operators, oversaw the repairs at Rock Creek Bridge, and set up a time table for the trains.

Gettysburg only had a single track in and out of town, and Gettysburg was the “end of the line.” Haupt and the other military officers who oversaw the operations after he left set up a train schedule to effectively bring in the cars, off load the supplies, and place the wounded in the cars.

Haupt stayed with the Union Army only two months after his work at Gettysburg. Frustrated by the pressure to accept commission, pay, and orders, he went back to Massachusetts, leaving the military to figure out its own transportation problems. Haupt believed he had been a victim of politics, but perhaps his effectiveness and power had frightened some in the government. Though not his intention to cause a problem, Haupt showed he could solve logistical problems without the army and without bureaucracy when he brought the trains to Gettysburg. With his military partnership over, Haupt launched into the next part of his career, publishing reams of engineering and technical papers and eventually becoming manager of the Northern Pacific Railroad, overseeing the completion of the rail lines to the west coast in 1881. Throughout his brilliant and recognized career, one of Haupt’s greatest triumphs remained quiet in the pages of history.

If Herman Haupt had not started working on the railroad tracks before the fighting even ended in Pennsylvania, the loss of life could have been worse than it was. His efforts to bring food, medical supplies, and an effective evacuation method to the battle area literally saved lives. The railroad cars rocked, swayed, and jerked over the miles of track Haupt and his men had laid or repaired, and thousands of wounded men on their journey from the horror fields and overcrowded medical facilities at Gettysburg did not know who to thank for their comparatively swift evacuation. Similarly, in the rows and rows of books about Gettysburg, few pages are devoted to the work of this remarkably tenacious civil engineer.


[i] Gerard A. Patterson, Debris of Battle: The Wounded of Gettysburg. (1997), page 37.

[ii] Ibid, page 34.

[iii] Ibid, page 34.

[iv] Ibid, page 35.

A Review of Masterpiece’s “Little Women”

Over Memorial Day weekend I binge-watched the new version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Though my review was delayed due to history conference coordinating, I’m delighted to share a few thoughts on the new show. I suppose I could critic from the literary perspective, but this is a Civil War blog, so let’s talk about the Civil War and how it’s featured in this production.

Little Women (2018) promotional photo – left to right: Amy, Meg, Jo, Beth

Haven’t seen the show or read the book? Spoilers ahead – now you’ve been warned!

Need the one paragraph cliff-notes version of the story? Mr. March – an innovator who doesn’t make much money – and Mrs. March (Marmee) – a kind, wise, resourceful woman – have four daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Set in the 1860’s and into the early 1870’s, the story follows the girls as they learn how to be “little women” through humorous and serious life experiences and lessons. Laurie – the boy next door – joins in the adventures of life in countryside Massachusetts and falls in and out of love with the girls. Each girl has her own dreams and ambitions, but they will either conform or rebel against 19th Century society’s norms at different times in the story.

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women in 1868, and it’s loosely based on her own childhood. Alcott served briefly as a nurse during the Civil War and includes hints of the conflict in her famous novel, though focusing almost exclusively on home life and the challenges of growing up, making her story a classic for decades.

In Masterpiece’s adaption was released on public television in the United States in May 2018, is still available on the website with some restrictions, and will be available on DVD soon. Here are a few Civil War related things to watch for in the new three-part series:

Meg March – Little Women (2018) promotional photo

First, the Civil War is featured in this adaption and more prominently than in others I’ve seen. Yes, it does stray from the book in this regard, but I thought it really helped solidify the story’s setting. Instead of Mr. March’s mysterious absence from home, Masterpiece showed his work among the soldiers (presumably as a chaplain), his compassion to suffering soldier boy, his homesickness, and his time in a Union hospital. Showing this, helps to better illustrate some of Mrs. March and the little women’s struggles on the Massachusetts homefront, including limited financial resources.

There are also scenes where Marmee and the girls try to help a German family who’s struggling to survive the winter and illnesses. Taken in historical context, this is significant since the Civil War era was filled with prejudices against German-Americans; the March’s compassion and steadfastness to treat everyone by the Golden Rule stands out. Also significant is Jo’s wish to become a soldier and “follow Father to the field.” Little did she know that some girls did just that during the conflict.

In one scene, though, the Civil War themes are completely mutilated. Amy – the youngest sister – is attempting to cast her foot in plaster, one of her art attempts, while Meg – the oldest – perches on the bed, reading a newspaper. She comments on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff and then worries about Union conscription. It’s out of order since we’ve already seen one Christmas with Father away from home (presumably Christmas 1861) and Union conscription didn’t happen until 1863. Technically speaking, Meg wouldn’t be commenting on Ball’s Bluff like it’s recent news in summer 1862, and she probably wouldn’t be worrying about conscription at that time. Of course, I might be completely mistaken and it really came from an original newspaper that the actress or writing team had consulted.

John Brooke in uniform at the wedding after the war scenes (Little Women, 2018, promotional photo)

My favorite “tie to war” in this adaption of Little Women is when Mr. John Brooke appears in uniform and his service in the Union army! In other versions, he just wanders off to war. Masterpiece gives us the full benefit of the scene with Meg’s expressions when she sees that uniform and considers if she really wants to become engaged to a financially poor soldier boy who might die on a battlefield. (Spoiler: she says yes to his proposal!) And then we see him march down the lane. A compilation of scenes shows John marching, fighting in battle, getting wounded, and coming home – appropriately short for the scope of the film, but still a nice addition to understanding his character and the couple’s relationship.

Overall, I really enjoyed the new adaption and was pleased to see the Civil War take a stronger part in the setting of the story. Sure, there were some things that bothered me with new version, and some parts seemed a little rushed, but the acting was good and the costumes were pretty. They didn’t completely butcher the book and even made a few changes that I enjoyed (I actually liked Laurie in this version and didn’t hate Amy at the end).

Little Women (2018) – PBS promotional photo

From a historically-minded viewpoint, I think it’s important to see this adaption’s more prominent inclusion of the Civil War as a positive innovation to understanding this coming-of-age story. The Civil War opened doors and new experiences for many young women – including some of the March sisters – and it’s significant to use the conflict in the interpretation of Little Women’s setting and in its original author’s experiences.

Have you seen the adaption? What did you think?

Check out the Masterpiece Little Women website for more details, video clips, podcasts, and activities.

ECW Weekender: Pack’s Frozen Custard

“And that’s a good place to stop for frozen custard…” Our battlefield tour guide announced, nodding toward a small stand as we zoomed by on Route 211, heading to New Market Gap.

Sarah and her mom at Pack’s Custard

The next day – after I had dragged my mom all over New Market battle ground for the third day in a row – we both decided we needed a break from driving, hiking, consulting maps, and taking notes. We pulled into the parking lot at Pack’s Frozen Custard and had a treat!

Travelling through the Shenandoah Valley this holiday weekend or later in the summer? We found a place you’ll want to visit between battlefields and historic sites. And since I highlighted the place for frozen custard in Fredericksburg, it seems only fair to share this “secret” too!

How to get there?

Here’s the closest address: 185 Lee Hwy, New Market, VA 22844

Here are the local directions: If you’re in the town of New Market, head north on Route 11, as though you’re leaving town. Make a right turn on Route 211 (you’ll see the highway signs). Start looking on the right. Pack’s Custard is a small stand in the parking lot, near an antique store. If you get to the bridge or Smith’s Creek, you’ve gone too far.

My mom and I can recommend the Black Raspberry and Vanilla swirl…and the Chocolate and Vanilla swirl. No, we didn’t have two custards on the same day! We were delayed in New Market on our final day in the area and decided to try more custard flavors after visiting the local library.

Be advised that Pack’s Frozen Custard has afternoon/evening hours. Currently, the stand is open from 12noon to 9:30 pm. Check their Facebook page or Google listing for more details!

New Market Gap (Photo was actually taken a north and west of Pack’s, near the 54th PA monument)

As you enjoy a treat, don’t forget to admire the view and consider the historical happenings to the east. It’s a picture perfect view of New Market Gap in Massanutten Mountain. This area was part of Stonewall Jackson’s “playground” during the 1862 Valley Campaign and a strategic location for any defender or invader of the Shenandoah Valley. Massanutten Mountain runs from Strasburg up to Harrisonburg, creating the Luray Valley to the east. New Market Gap was really the only practicable way to move an army westward out of the Luray Valley or eastward across Massanutten to the Blue Ridge and on to eastern Virginia.

In May 1864, Union cavalry descended from New Market Gap and skirmished with Confederate reserve cavalry near Smith’s Creek and in the big grassy fields you see at the base of the mountain (visible from Pack’s). This cavalry action helped set the stage for the Battle of New Market, fought on May 15, 1864. The fight resulted in a Confederate victory for General John C. Breckinridge, disastrous defeat for Union General Franz Sigel, and immortal fame for the Corps of Cadets from Virginia Military Institute.

Got the idea there’s a lot of history to explore in this area of the Shenandoah Valley? And don’t forget there’s yummy frozen custard too! It’s time to plan a little road trip…

A Young Mother At Gettysburg

Georgia McClellan, on the left (no known restrictions)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms!

In honor of the day, I wanted to share some an account of motherhood in Gettysburg during July 1863. Since this is a day of celebration, no sad war stories from me today – rather a remembrance of women’s courage and mothers’ dedication and care for little ones…and a reminder that motherhood and all its joys and challenges continues no matter what happens.

June 26, 1863, is remembered in Gettysburg military history as the day Confederates came to town. Mothers worried about their children’s safety, hurrying them inside. Many civilians claimed it was day they’d never forget. For one young woman, though, it was an especially memorable day, even before the Rebels charged through Gettysburg. That day she held her precious, healthy baby for the very first time.

About half-past two, twenty-one year old Georgeanna “Georgia” Wade McClellan gave birth to a son, but an hour later, shouts, pistol shots, and frightened cries disturbed her much-needed rest as Confederate raiders dashed passed her home on Baltimore Street. War disrupted what should have been sweet, quiet moments with her baby. Though, her family initially kept the details from her, Georgia’s brother – Sam Wade – had been captured by the Confederates as he tried to escape and get the family’s horse to safety; Georgia’s mother and sister berated the raiders outside the house and eventually got Sam returned but didn’t have such luck with the horse.[i]

John Louis McClellan, no known restrictions.

John Louis McClellan – Georgia’s husband and the new baby’s father – served in the 165th Pennsylvania Infantry during 1863, and he was away in Virginia in June. John and Georgia had married on April 15, 1862, and happily John would return home, mustering out of his unit at the end of July 1863. Still, when her baby was born and in the days afterward, Georgia depended on her mother and other family members to care for her, while she rested and adjusted to looking after her infant son.

Georgia still convalesced in bed, recovering strength after her recent labor and delivery, when battle exploded in and around the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Georgia’s mother and siblings took refuge at the McClellan home, and they moved the bed, the baby, and the invalid mother to the downstairs parlor for safety. Still, the house stood in the way of artillery and sharpshooters; one missile – artillery shot – crashed through the house and penetrated into the brick wall.[ii]

Early in the morning of July 3, 1863, mother and baby were almost miraculously spared when, according to a later account approved by Georgia, “about seven o’clock the Confederate sharpshooters again began firing at the north windows of the house. Every pane of glass was soon broken, one bullet on entering the front room struck the southwest bed post, then hit the fireplace or wall, finally falling on the pillow at the foot of the bed toward which Mrs. McClellan and the child had been turned as a measure of safety…”[iii]

Detail from William-Adolphe Bouguereau artwork “Premières caresse”(1901)

From primary sources, we can piece together an image of a young mother caught in the war’s horrible storm. Her baby – less than a week old – heard the sounds of destruction and probably wailed in fright. Though terrified by the battle and seemingly too weak to care for herself, Georgia McClellan looked after her son, probably sheltering him with her body, trying to hush his cries, and tending to his infant needs. It’s an image from Gettysburg often overshadowed by the battlefield happenings or the fate of Georgia’s sister, Mary Virginia Wade. An image of motherhood and a mother’s protecting, nurturing role in the midst of one of the worst battles in history.

Courage takes many forms in life and history. Perhaps an underestimated glimpse of courage is personified in Georgia McClellan: a mother’s courage. To shelter, protect, love, and cherish a child no matter what conflicts rage outside.


Young Mrs. McClellan and her son – Lewis Kenneth McClellan – survived the battle and the unsanitary aftermath at Gettysburg. After the war, the reunited McClellan family moved to Iowa, and throughout her life, Georgia actively supported temperance and other social reforms.[iv]



[i] Conklin, Eileen F. Women at Gettysburg, 1863, Revisited. Thomas Publications, 2013. Page 140.

[ii] Ibid, Page 143.

[iii] Ibid, Page 143.

[iv] Find A Grave – Georgeanna McClellan

James Keith Boswell Remembered

May 3, 1863. The day had dawned with a promise of battle, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Jedidiah Hotchkiss with a message to General J.E.B. Stuart. Hotchkiss rode along a familiar route, one he had traversed in the deep darkness of the previous night, bringing news to Lee that General “Stonewall” Jackson had been wounded.[i] As mapmaker and topographical engineer for Jackson, Hotchkiss had played a major role in scouting the routes which had been used the previous day to launch a flank attack against the Union XI Corps which had slowed only with the night’s darkness.

Sunlight at Chancellorsville, near the site where Hotchkiss returned.

Worrisomely absent, James Keith Boswell – Jackson’s Chief of Engineers and Hotchkiss’s military superior and friend – had not emerged from the woods. Realizing that Lee’s orders to Stuart had become obsolete as the fighting unfolded throughout the day and overcome with exhaustion, Hotchkiss halted near the place where Jackson, A.P. Hill, and their staffs had met friendly fire the last evening. He had to find young Boswell. Though the young man sometimes irritated Hotchkiss with incessant mooning over an unsuccessful courtship and worried him with frantic promises to do something extreme in battle to win his lady’s favor, the mapmaker sincerely cared about his comrade. Hotchkiss moved along the turnpike and then he saw James Keith Boswell “some 20 steps in advance, by the roadside…”[ii]

This young man – born November 18, 1838 – had been trained as a civil engineer and, prior to the war, had constructed railroads in Missouri and Alabama. When the war began, he returned to his native state, Virginia, and offered his services in her defense. At first, James Keith Boswell served on General Magruder’s staff, but General Thomas J. Jackson specifically requested his transfer, and Boswell arrived in Winchester, Virginia, during the last week of February 1862.

James Keith Boswell (no known image restrictions)

Described as “an excellent, good-natured, honest Presbyterian” who was “well off, has a sweetheart in Fauquier [county] where the Yankees are, and he talks much about her,”[iii] Boswell became an integral part of Jackson’s staff and part of the younger clique of officers at Second Corps Headquarters. Historian James I. Robertson described Boswell as “one of Jackson’s most reliable staff officers”[iv] and his knowledge, creativity, and steadfastness to duty led to important roles in Jackson’s campaigns.

At the beginning of the 1862 Shenandoah Campaign, Boswell informed Jackson that Winchester was indefensible[v], eventually leading to the military decision to abandon this prominent town in the lower end of the Valley. Later in the campaign, just before the Battle of Port Republic, Jackson ordered Boswell to find a bridge and prepare a direct route to move sick and wounded soldiers to Staunton for proper medical attention. Finding the bridge gone and the river swollen by recent rains, the young engineer improvised and persuaded Captain C.R. Mason and his pioneers to construct two boats which he used to ferry the casualties across the river.[vi] The Seven Days Battles brought numerous challenges for Jackson, the staff, and the soldiers; Boswell lived at the center of the chaos, often sent to try to find roads or ordered to guide Jackson to various points.[vii] Then, during the march to Second Manassas in August 1862, he led the advance units of the Second Corps directly to the battlefield and into position.[viii]

Boswell admired his commander, noting in his journal that General Jackson was “one of the most pleasant men as a commander who could be found in the Confederate army. …Very reserved, not particularly companionable, but always extremely affable and polite.”[ix] Jackson, in return, clearly trusted his Chief Engineer, relying on his judgment frequently during the 1862 campaigns. To his fellow staff officers, Boswell was “genial, energetic, ever-faithful.”[x] However, he had the habit – entertaining or irritating – of taking spare time to make sure his friends knew about his romantic interests in Miss Sophia DeButts Carter and could apparently talk endlessly about her and his wonderings if she really loved him.[xi] Still, Jedidiah Hotchkiss and the others genuinely liked Boswell and cared about him as a comrade.

Jackson wasn’t the only general aware of Boswell’s talents as an engineer, guide, and problem-solver. Early in 1863, General D.H. Hill needed help with fortifications, and Boswell arrived to his aid. The task lasted about a week and tested the staff officer’s patience. Boswell recorded his thoughts privately in his journal: “He [Hill] thinks every point where he visits last the most important to be finished without delay.” Furthermore, Hill “interferes as usual and insists on acting as engineer. I am disgusted and will let him take his own way.”[xii]

Jedidiah Hotchkiss, one of Boswells friends (no known image restrictions)

About that same time, Boswell’s friends managed to get him a furlough to go see Miss Carter, hoping he would settle – once and for all – if she loved him. Unfortunately for all, Miss Carter refused James K. Boswell’s proposal, and he returned to camp, brokenhearted, searching for his rivals, and vowing to do something heroic to make her love him. Hotchkiss worriedly recorded Boswell’s exuded feelings and rants throughout the early spring, saying Boswell “felt very bitter toward Col. Carter [one of his supposed rivals for Miss Carter’s affections] calling him a coward and denouncing him about as vigorously as a good and consistent Christian, that my friend undoubtedly was, could well do. During the night he was constantly grating his teeth and breathing out threatenings as to what he would do. In his saner moods he said he would go into the next battle in such a way as to win promotion and that he would yet prove to this young lady that he was more worthy of her hand than the white livered colonel.”[xiii]

Thus, with a solid military staff officer record, an overwrought romantic nature, and slightly disturbed mind, Captain Boswell had approached the vast tangle known as The Wilderness with his general as Union General Joe Hooker paused the advance and seemed to invite attack. On the evening of May 1, 1863, Boswell and Major Thomas Talcott – one of General Lee’s aides – scouted close to the Union’s center and along the enemy’s left flank. They both concluded no attack could be made there and a frontal assault seemed to invite Confederate disaster.[xiv] Armed with this important knowledge, Lee and Jackson puzzled through the evening, eventually planning a Jacksonian flank attack on the Union right.

General Jackson by John Adams Elder (Image by © The Corcoran Gallery of Art/CORBIS)

May 2, 1863, unfolded as Jackson’s Corps moved through the Wilderness and to the attack position. Boswell moved along the lines “constantly seeking for information, regardless of danger all along the enemy’s front.”[xv] About suppertime, the gray-clad troops burst from the woods, racing toward the Union’s XI Corps lines and rolling them back in a panicked retreat. The Confederates pressed on until nightfall slowed the advance. Desperate to continue the pursuit and seeking a way to cut off some of the Union retreat, Jackson and part of his staff went forward to see what was happening.

Meeting General A.P. Hill and his staff on the Plank Road, Jackson quizzed Hill, anxious to know when he would advance and if he knew the land between Chancellorsville and U.S. Ford. Hill admitted his lack of familiarity and asked for a guide. Turning to Boswell, Jackson ordered him to accompany General Hill, then finished giving advance orders for the attack.[xvi]

As Jackson and his group moved further down the dark road, groping into a sort of no-man’s land between the armies, Boswell rode with A.P. Hill, following Jackson at a little distance. Minutes later, Jackson tried to re-enter Confederate lines. Friendly fire blazed along the battle line, hitting Jackson’s group and bringing Hill’s staff under fire. Jackson – the “famous” casualty of the night – was not the only one from Second Corps Headquarters to fall that evening. In the same volleys that felled Stonewall, James Keith Boswell – Chief of Engineers – took three bullets. One wounded his leg. The other two struck him full in the chest, tearing through his engineering sketchbook in his breast pocket, penetrating his flesh – killing him instantly.[xvii]

On the morning of May 3, 1863, Jedidiah Hotchkiss found Boswell “along the roadside.” Dead. There would be no happy ending. There would be no more scouting adventures or evening gatherings with his friends. There would be no reversal of Miss Carter’s feelings by Boswell’s courage in battle.  But perhaps Boswell had found satisfaction in the final instant, believing she might really care for him at last. Hotchkiss noted, “I found him looking perfectly natural, a smile on his face.”[xviii]

James Keith Boswell was later reburied in a marked grave in Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery

Finding an ambulance, Hotchkiss removed Boswell’s body from the battlefield and, with  Reverend Dr. Lacy, laid the staff officer to rest near Ellwood Manor, in the family graveyard. “I…wrapped his overcoat closely around him putting the cape over his head, and buried him thus, in his marital dress, lowing him to his resting place in a shelter tent I picked up on the field of battle, and then spreading it over him. Mr. Lacy made a noble prayer and we finished our sad duty just as the moon rose over the distant hills of his own loved native country. …We wept freely as we left his manly form to await the last trump. He was a Christian and has gained by the exchange of worlds.”[xix]

James Keith Boswell – the irrepressible romantic, the innovative problem solver, a trusted officer, and sincere friend – died on Chancellorsville battlefield in the same volleys that wounded his commander. Yet, most history books mention him only in passing or not at all. The Second Corps headquarters lost leaders and promising men at Chancellorsville; most notably, of course, Jackson who overshadows his young officers Crutchfield, Boswell, and many others.

Reading about Boswell’s brief life, love affair, and military actions, the tragedy of war is fully realized. This twenty-three year old officer should’ve had his whole life ahead of him. Instead, Boswell’s life ended short on a dark battle night along a lonely turnpike and even his memory would eventually be overshadowed by the other casualties.


[i] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[ii] Ibid, page 115.

[iii] Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Macmillan Pub. 1997. Page 328.

[iv] Ibid, Page 328.

[v] Ibid, Page 328.

[vi] Ibid, Page 427.

[vii] Ibid, Pages 487, 491, 547.

[viii] Ibid, Pages 547-549.

[ix] Ibid, Page 681

[x] Douglas, Henry K. I Rode With Stonewall. University of North Carolina Press. 1968. Page 211.

[xi] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 102-104.

[xii] Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Macmillan Pub. 1997. Page 678.

[xiii] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 105.

[xiv] Lively, Matthew W. Calamity at Chancellorsville. Savas Beatie, 2013. Page 26.

[xv] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[xvi] Lively, Matthew W. Calamity at Chancellorsville. Savas Beatie, 2013. Pages 48-49.

[xvii] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[xviii] Ibid, Page 115.

[xix] Ibid, Pages 117-118.