Maine at War: A Conversation with Writer Brian Swartz (part two)

Maine at War blogger Brian Swartz stands at Lookout Point on Lookout Mountain. With either his wife, Susan, or their son, Christopher, in tow, Swartz has visited many Civil War battlefields east of the Mississippi River. (Photo courtesy of Chris Swartz)

Part two of a four-part series

I’m talking this week with Brian Swartz, a former writer and editor for Maine’s Bangor Daily News. While with the paper, he started a regular column and blog called Maine at War. He belongs to Richardson’s Civil War Round Table in Searsport, Maine and for the past two years has chaired the Bangor Historical Society committee that organized Drums on the Penobscot: A Civil War Experience.

Yesterday, Brian explained the origins of his work, and we began to get into the particulars of how he pulls his material together.

Chris Mackowski: You talk about old newspapers. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at old editions and I just find them to be fascinating sources of soldier letters, particularly—and as sources they’re often overlooked. I’ve gone through old editions of the Bangor Whig & Courier and found gold nugget after gold nugget.

Brian Swartz: I will agree with you there. Obviously, you and I have researched some familiar pages. I find that I ignore the reports from the battlefield and the general press accounts. They’re inflated and inaccurate. But when you read the soldier accounts. . . . The soldier either sent the letter directly to the paper or a proud mother or father asked the paper to publish a letter. The nuggets that are dropped in, a paragraph at a time in these pages, take you so incredibly close to the war.

I am wrapping up research I’m doing for book two of my “Maine at War” book series. I just wrapped up Brandy Station, and that included a visit about a week and a half ago to Fleetwood Hill for the first time since the Civil War Trust [now American Battlefield Trust] had acquired it and knocked down that house that was on top of it. In my research, I found a letter published in a paper written from a trooper in the 1st Maine Cavalry. He participated in that charge up and over Fleetwood Hill, and his observations about what the regiment did afterwards—it was almost like riding alongside him on a horse. It was incredible, and it was in a newspaper.

Chris: Do you have particular papers that you prefer over others?

Brian: Yes. The Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, the Portland Daily Press, the Maine Farmer, which was out of Augusta, dedicated to agriculture in Maine and had a four-page issue every week that often had excellent material like letters and reports and such from people that were involved in the war, as well as some astute political observations. There was the Eastport Sentinel Downeast. And when I have time, I go to research the Lewiston newspapers from the period.

I should mention one more paper: the Republican Journal in Belfast was a pro-Democrat, anti-Lincoln administration newspaper, and it gives delightful insight into the other side of the coin.

Chris: You also mentioned that you spend a fair amount of time in the state archives. I know they’ve got a really neat collection of stuff. Are there any particular treasures there you appreciate?

Brian: In researching the 5th Maine Infantry, I came across the commanding officer’s report of the regiment’s participation in the Chancellorsville campaign, particularly in their effort to get past the Confederate defenses on Marye’s Heights at the battle of Second Fredericksburg. And then they went out and fought the battle of Salem Church. It was very well written and very detailed. I cannot remember that officer’s name, but it comes across that it really bothered him that his regiment was so shot to pieces.

There are so many treasures. The one that I found recently that I just finished writing up: Freeman McGilvery was promoted to major in late 1862 or early 1863, and that opened up the captaincy of the 6th Maine Battery, which he had raised. The lobbying that went back and forth in the letters to the state house in Augusta is very interesting, almost to the point of being hilarious in the commentary between the men and some of the officers.

Then of course there are Sarah Sampson’s and Isabella Fog’s letters, who were both women from Maine that became volunteer nurses. Whenever volunteer nurses arrived, they usually dedicated themselves for the rest of the war serving as nurses. Both them wrote letters that are on file in the state archives.

Chris: One of the things I think is really neat about your blog is that you do have a lot of that civilian aspect—the home front, the contributions of Mainers in Maine during the war—which I think is an aspect of the war that tends to get overlooked in favor of the mud and blood and battlefield stuff. What do you think it was like to be in Maine, so far away from the front lines during that time?

Brian: If you had a direct connection with the military, like a son, husband, cousin, uncle, father, etc., who was going to war, it was difficult, especially depending on where you lived.

In the larger cities, there seemed to be more of a support network for women who saw their household income threatened because the man who was providing the money went to war. Thirteen dollars a month [a private’s pay] isn’t going to cover much. If you go out into the outlying towns, it became more serious, in the sense that now if a family has lost a father and son that went off to war, now mom is home, usually with younger children. How is she going to till the fields, chop the firewood, cook, and raise the kids? It was tough.

The lack of communications really made that loneliness more acute. The military was good at getting the mail to and from the soldiers and, in many families, the women wrote frequently. Say there was an elderly father left behind, or a middle-aged father: he would write to his boy that went off to war. Friends would write to soldiers.

But the press accounts about battles would come back before any news about casualty lists, and that would lead to a lot of fear. I sensed that particularly in the pages of the newspapers. People just worried.

There were many others who didn’t care that the war was going on. Some merchants did well, especially manufacturers of wartime goods and people who owned steamers and sailing ships that the war department would lease or rent—however they paid for that.

There was an aspect where it was almost like Vietnam, which was also concurrent to my growing up. For those who had a connection to the war, the war was going on. For the rest of us who had no family over there, it was just a story on the evening news, and I sensed that the Civil War could have been that way in Maine, again particularly in the larger towns and cities. If you had a physical connection to the war, it was happening. If you did not, it was just a press account in the newspaper, or maybe a story told at the general store or something.

————

Brian’s blog successfully captures the soldier’s-eye view of Maine at war, on the home front and on the front lines. “I really appreciate what the man at the regimental level did,” he says in tomorrow’s segment. We’ll explore that further, and we’ll talk about the things Brian has learned from those men by spending so much time reading their accounts.

Civil War Medical History at Ellwood

Check out this exciting opportunity at Ellwood on the Wilderness battlefield by our friends at the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield this weekend.

Civil War Medical History at Ellwood
 
(Note: This event is in conjunction with our dinner at the Generals Quarters on June 15. There are a few tickets left so hurry and make your reservation if you have not already done so! You may RSVP on our website below.)
 
Saturday, June 16, 2018 
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
and 
Sunday, June 17, 2018
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
 
Special presentation at 1:00 P.M.Saturday, June 16.
(Please bring a lawn chair!)
 
Guided Walking Tours on Saturday, June 16, at 11:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.
 
Civil War Medical History Event at Ellwood Manor!
Please join us on Saturday and Sunday, June 16 – 17, 2018, for demonstrations by Living Historians regarding medical practices during the American Civil War.  Medicine and surgery methods are a captivating – and often misunderstood – aspect of the Civil War. Living Historians representing the 2nd Corps Hospital Unit (CSA) will be on site all day Saturday, and until 3:00 PM on Sunday, to talk with visitors about various facets of the Civil War medical and hospital procedures and address some of the common misconceptions of the care and treatment of Civil War soldiers.
Special programs will also be offered on Saturday, June 16.  Join us at 1:00 P.M. for a presentation discussing the wounding of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Civil War Medicine in general, and Ellwood as a Confederate Convalescent Hospital following the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863.  Jackson was the most famous of the thousands of wounded Confederate soldiers treated at the Wilderness Tavern and Ellwood hospital complex during and immediately after the fighting at Chancellorsville. After the vast majority of the casualties were evacuated to points further south days after the battle ended, those so badly injured that they might not survive the trip remained at Ellwood for up to several months. Please bring a comfortable lawn chair and a bottle of water to ensure your comfort at the presentation.
Guided walking tours to the Wilderness Tavern hospital site and the Wilderness Crossroads will also be offered on Saturday at 11:30 A.M. and approximately 2:30 P.M., following the 1:00 P.M. program. General Jackson’s left arm was amputated near the tavern after his wounding at Chancellorsville. The tour takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes and begins at the small fence just behind the house.  It is approximately 1.5 miles in length over unpaved terrain. Visitors will see parts of historic road traces of the Orange Turnpike, Germanna Plank Road, and the Ellwood Carriage Road, as well as crossing over the Wilderness Run on a solid wooden footbridge.  Sturdy walking shoes and appropriate hiking clothes are recommended, as well as using sunscreen, insect repellent, and bringing along a bottle of water.
Friends of Wilderness Battlefield will be available to assist visitors with possible ancestral connections with the Battle of the Wilderness or to Ellwood, in the Heritage Program Tent on the grounds.
The historic structure Ellwood will be open from 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. and FoWB interpreters will be available to talk with visitors and answer questions.
All programs are free and open to the public.
Ellwood Manor is a circa 1790 house within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  The cemetery contains the grave of Confederate General  “Stonewall” Jackson’s amputated arm from the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the house was a Federal headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness.  Ellwood Manor is owned by the National Park Service. Friends of Wilderness Battlefield is pleased to steward the property in partnership with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. For more information or directions, please visit us at the following link:
 

Gazette665’s Third Annual Civil War Conference Report

Interest in the American Civil War continues to grow and flourish in Southern California, evidenced by Gazette665’s annual conference. Last Saturday (June 2, 2018) over eighty people gathered for this event, hosted at the Temecula Conference Center. 

The 2018 speakers were David T. Dixon, Bruce Smith, Daniel T. Davis (ECW member), Heather St. Clair, Nick Smith, and Sarah Kay Bierle (ECW member). They spoke on a variety of topics related to the conference theme, 1863: Battling For Freedom. Battles, leadership, politics, riots, women and battlefield medicine, and USCT were some of the historical niches explored throughout the day.

Speakers (left to right): Bierle, Dixon, Davis, N. Smith, B. Smith, St. Clair

This year Gazette665 partnered with several groups – Temecula Valley Historical Society, On-Site Living History, Baily-Denton Historic Photographers, and Union Balloon Corps Living History – to present historical displays and invite further conversation.

The event started early in the morning with coffee and conversation on the patio. Opening remarks launched the morning sessions which featured three presentation. Lunch hour offered the guests a catered meal from Panera Bread and the opportunity to have longer discussions with the speakers and display presenters. The conference shop remains ever-popular, and Emerging Civil War books are always a big hit! The afternoon sessions featured three more lectures, and the event concluded with closing remarks and a special announcement.

Daniel T. Davis (from ECW) shares about George A. Custer at Gettysburg

If you’re thinking about attending this annual event in 2019, there’s good news for you! The date has been set: June 1, 2019. The theme will be 1864: Fighting To Survive.

Gazette665 is a private company dedicated to encouraging history education through through quality publications and classy events. As of June 2018, the company has published 3 books and over 565 blog posts. Currently, Gazette665 is preparing to publish more books, developing more historical presentations, and planning new events for the Southern California communities.

I Am Proud To Be Associated With Such Brave Men: Wesley Merritt, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and the Brandy Station

Wesley Merritt as a general officer

Introduction to a series

One of the things I enjoy the most as a historian is the process. Searching for the pieces and putting the puzzle together through constant analysis, discussion and refinement. Interpretation can turn on a dime. It can seem like a chase that will never end.

Recently, through the efforts of an ECW colleague on the West Coast, I was able to procure a copy of Capt. Wesley Merritt’s report of the Battle of Brandy Station. At the time, Merritt commanded the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Maj. Charles Whiting’s Reserve Brigade. It was an incredible surprise to see the file when I opened it in Dropbox.

Merritt’s report was not included in the volumes of the Official Records compiled in the post-bellum years. The document was written one day after the battle, on June 10, 1863, which means that Merritt’s memory was exceptionally fresh. Upon examination, the details in the report are fairly consistent with the Recollections Merritt provided to Theophilus Rodenbaugh for inclusion in From Everglade to Canyon, the Second’s regimental history. Most importantly it provides insight on a pivotal engagement that took place 155 years ago. Using the report, this series will trace Merritt and the 2nd U.S. through the course of the battle. Unless indicated, all quotations from Merritt are from his official report.

The fourth child in the marriage of John Willis Merritt and Julia Anne de Forest, Wesley Merritt was born in New York City on June 16, 1836. A lawyer affected by financial issues, John moved his family to Lebanon, Illinois in 1840 to take up farming. He eventually became a newspaper editor in the village of Salem. Young Wesley initially prepared to follow in his father’s first profession, however in 1855 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He finished twenty second in a class of forty-one cadets in 1860. Upon graduation, Merritt was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons in Utah. From July 1, 1861 to January 1, 1862, Merritt served as the regiment’s Adjutant. In February, 1862, he became an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke. Promoted to Captain on April 5, 1862, Merritt fought in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ battles. That fall Merritt was assigned to the defenses of Washington. On April 1, 1863, Merritt accepted the position of Ordnance Officer on the staff of Brig. Gen. George Stoneman, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps. When Stoneman took a leave of absence shortly after the end of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Merritt briefly joined the staff of his successor, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Growing tired of administrative work, Merritt longed to be back in the saddle with his troopers. He returned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on June 1.

Formed in the spring of 1836, the 2nd U.S. Dragoons served in Florida, Mexico and on the Great Plains in the ante-bellum years. During the Mexican War at Resaca de la Palma on May 9, 1846, Capt. Charles May’s squadron assaulted an enemy artillery position. Before the assault, May famously implored his men to “remember your regiment and follow your officers.” The subsequent attack captured several batteries and a Mexican general. On August 3, 1861, Congress reorganized the mounted regiments of the United States Army. The 2nd Dragoons became the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. As the senior officer present, Merritt assumed command. He would not have to wait long until he led his men into action.

Shortly after his victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to consolidate his cavalry in Culpeper County, west of Fredericksburg. This concentration was soon discovered by the Union horsemen. Concerned that Stuart was about to turn his right flank and launch a raid toward Washington, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered Pleasonton to launch an expedition to destroy Stuart’s force.

On the evening of June 8, Merritt’s regiment, along with the 1st U.S. Cavalry, 5th U.S. Cavalry, 6th U.S. Cavalry and 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which made up the Reserve Brigade in Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Right Wing, bedded down opposite Beverly Ford on the north bank of the Rappahannock. Pleasonton planned to send Buford over the river early the following morning and head for a nearby stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Brandy Station. There Buford was to rendezvous with Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division, which was to cross the Rappahannock several miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. With Col. Alfred Duffié’s division covering their left, Buford and Gregg were to move on to Culpeper and engage Stuart. The next day, Merritt would lead his Regulars into battle.

 

 

J.E.B. Stuart and the Question of Corps Command

JEB Stuart

In the days after his victory in the Chancellorsville Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee faced a number of critical decisions, among them the reorganization of his Army of Northern Virginia. The death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on May 10, 1863 had left a void at corps command. There were a number of officers, including Maj. Gens. Richard Ewell, Ambrose Powell Hill and Richard Anderson in the running to replace Jackson. Another name which may have been the most intriguing was the commander of Lee’s cavalry division, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Over the course of the last month or so, I’ve been trying to locate primary evidence regarding Stuart’s consideration for corps command. The search is far from over, in fact in may never be over, but I wanted to share what I have found so far and offer my thoughts on the matter. I also invite our readers to share any primary sources on the subject for additional research.

When Jackson fell victim to friendly fire on the night of May 2 at Chancellorsville, command of his Second Corps eventually fell to Stuart. The cavalry chief turned in a splendid performance the following day and his efforts eventually led to a Confederate victory. Stuart returned to command of the mounted division on May 6. Following Jackson’s death on May 10, rumors regarding his replacement began to circulate through the Confederate ranks.

Stuart’s own headquarters was not immune to such innuendo. Captain John Esten Cooke, a relative of Stuart’s wife, Flora, and member of his staff recorded in his journal a brief discussion he had with the gray cavalier. According to Cooke, Stuart related a story told to him by Col. Thomas L. Rosser, the commander of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, “that Jackson on his death bed had expressed a desire that he…should succeed him in the command of his corps.” Stuart then told Cooke that he “would rather know that Jackson said that, than have the appointment.”

Interestingly enough, Rosser  did not visit Jackson during the final six days of his life. Additionally, the statement from Jackson has not been corroborated by those who were with him as he passed away his last hours in Thomas Chandler’s plantation office near Guinea Station. That isn’t to say those that were closest to Jackson were not impressed by Stuart’s performance. Jackson’s cartographer, Jedediah Hotckiss, praised Stuart for his actions at Chancellorsville in a letter to his wife written on May 19. Hotchkiss, however, does not mention the potential of Stuart taking over Jackson’s corps. Stuart also mentioned the camp rumors in a letter to Flora. “There has been a great deal of talk of my succeeding General Jackson,” he wrote, “but I think without foundation in fact.”

On May 20, Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis to propose a reorganization of his army. This restructure revolved around the creation of a third corps. Stuart’s name is not mentioned either as a replacement for Jackson or as a new corps commander. It does appears from a letter written by Lee to Stuart on May 23 that Stuart offered his thoughts on who should succeed Jackson.

That’s not to say Stuart did not covet a third star and a promotion to Lieutenant General, a grade synonymous with corps command in Lee’s army. Stuart stood fourth on the seniority list of Major Generals behind Ewell (January 24, 1862) Hill (May 26, 1862) and Anderson (July 14, 1862). Such a promotion, vaulting Stuart over three other officers, could create discontent and friction within the army. Lee was in the midst of planning his second Northern invasion where cooperation and cohesion among his subordinates would be critical to the operation’s success.

Still, rumors regarding Stuart’s consideration for command persisted. It appears one of the chief purveyors was Brig. Gen. William Dorsey Pender, a brigade commander in Hill’s division. “I hear that Gen’l Jackson is thought to be in very serious condition”, he wrote to his wife, Fanny, on May 9. “He has pneumonia…he will be a great loss to the country  and it is devoutly hoped that he may be spared to the country. Some think in his absence Stuart will be made Lt. General, but I hope not.” In another letter two weeks later, Pender wrote, “it is rumored that Stuart has tendered his resignation because they will not give him this corps, but I cannot think him so foolish.”

Stuart’s elevation to the corps level had the potential to upset Pender’s own rise within the army. Pender’s direct superior, A.P. Hill, was Jackson’s senior division commander and stood to receive the Second Corps. If Stuart were given Jackson’s corps, Hill would remain at the division level. On the other hand, Hill’s elevation would create a vacancy for his division. Pender,  stood second on the seniority list among Hill’s brigadiers behind Henry Heth. It should be noted that Pender shared his appointment with fellow brigade head James Archer. Heth, however, presented problems of his own.

“If A.P. Hill is promoted, a major general will be wanted for his division,” Lee wrote  in the aforementioned letter to Davis. “Heth is the senior brigadier in the division. I think him a good officer. He has lately joined this army, was in the last battle, and did well. His nomination having been once declined by the Senate, I do not know whether it would be proper to promote him.” In the subsequent reorganization, both Heth and Pender were promoted to Major General and received a divisional command.

But at end of the day, the discussion may be a moot point. In August, 1863, Lee recommended that Stuart’s cavalry be restructured as a corps. Davis approved the measure and Stuart finally received his corps command in September. It should be noted that Stuart was not promoted to Lieutenant General upon the reorganization, which might be worth looking into at some point as well.

All things considered, there appears to be little evidence that Stuart was a major contender for an infantry corps after Chancellorsville. Still, the search goes on and the process continues.

A Leg of Stuart’s Ride: The Clash at Linney’s Corner and Death of William Latané

A Freeman Marker related to Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan south of Haw’s Shop along Totopotomoy Creek

After speaking at the old Museum of the Confederacy on Friday afternoon, I spent this past weekend with family in Richmond. Clear skies and temperatures in the 70s gave way to cold rain Saturday and snow that evening (there was a coating  on my truck Sunday morning). Despite the weather, I did take an opportunity to get out and do a little battlefield tramping, or driving. While I did not have time to follow Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan in its entirety, I focused on the area south of Haw’s Shop which witnessed the only major fighting during the expedition and the birth of a Southern myth.

On June 13, 1862, a day after Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart left the outer defenses of Richmond on his famous ride, a squadron from Col. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee’s 9th Virginia Cavalry clashed with elements from the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Edward Leib. The commander of the 5th U.S., Capt. William Royall had dispatched Leib from the regiment’s camp at Old Church to picket the roads and watch for enemy activity in the direction of Hanover Court House.

Leib reached the outskirts of Hanover Court House that morning and observed Stuart’s column. He immediately sent a courier back to Royall for orders and withdrew to Haw’s Shop. Royall subsequently directed Leib to return to camp. The Federals had not gone far when some of Leib’s pickets warned of Confederates passing through Haw’s Shop. Leib immediately formed his men south of the road and dispatched a contingent under Lt. William McLean to the south bank of Totopotomoy Creek.

Lt. William Robins’s squadron from the 9th Virginia led Stuart’s advance. Initially stopped by Leib’s troopers, Capt. Samuel Swann’s squadron came to Robins’ aid and managed to push the 5th U.S. back across the stream.

Leib and McLean reformed their men on high ground near Linney’s Corner. Joined by Royall, they awaited the inevitable Confederate advance. Reaching the front, Stuart ordered Capt. William Latané’s squadron of 9th Virginia forward. The ensuing charge broke Royall’s line, leaving the Union captain wounded and Latané dead, struck in the chest by four bullets.

This historical marker stands along the ridge near the area where 5th U.S. Cavalry reformed after being driven across Totopotomoy Creek

Latané, a native Virginian, was born on January 16, 1833. In the fall of 1851, he entered the University of Virginia to study medicine, however, he eventually transferred to Richmond Medical College and graduated in 1853. At the outbreak of the war, Latané was elected third lieutenant in the Essex Light Dragoons, which eventually became Company F of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Earlier that spring, Latané was elected the company’s captain.

When the smoke and dust had settled around Linney’s Corner, Latané’s body was taken by his brother John to Westwood, the home of Dr. William Brockenbrough. With her husband serving in the Confederate army, Dr. Brockenbrough’s wife, Catherine directed John to the home of her niece, Summer Hill. There, Latané was interred and remains in the family cemetery. A Freeman Marker, along with a headstone stand at Latané’s final resting place. The cemetery, however, is inaccessible to the public and Summer Hill is a private residence. Please respect owners’ rights.

Summer Hill

Latané’s death and burial soon became part of Confederate and Lost Cause lore. John R. Thompson penned a poem about the event which appeared in the July-August issue of Southern Literary Messenger. Late in 1864, Richmond artist William Washington had locals and members of Mrs. James West Pegram’s School for girls model for The Burial of Latané. After the war, The Southern Magazine distributed a copy of work to each yearly subscriber. “By pen and brush”, reflected William Campbell, a member of  Latané’s old Company F, his former commander was “enshrined…in the hearts of the people of our Southland that it will endure as long as men are admired for devotion to duty and and for risking their lives upon the perilous edge of battle in defense of homes and country.”