Home Run Derby Star Captain “Jack” Wildey–Part 1

When John Hay and George Nicolay drove their rented buggy over to Camp Lincoln to say hello to their friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, they found him wearing his “blouzy red shirt” and enjoying that New York favorite: Base Ball. Most New York firefighters played the game, and among those involved was Ellsworth’s aide-de-camp, Captain John “Jack” Wildey.

Baseball found on the Shiloh Battlefield

Wildey played ball before he became a Fire Zouave. He played for the New York Mutuals, named for his own Mutual Hook and Ladder Company Number 1. The Mutuals were formed in 1857 and played amateur ball at the Hoboken Grounds, their home grounds. Many firefighters and city employees played in a variety of New York teams, but the Mutuals were reckoned the best. It was perfectly normal for a handmade ball, a bit larger and softer than today’s baseball, to be found in the knapsack of an 11th New York Fire Zouave.

Captain Wildey was the person with Colonel Ellsworth the night before he was shot in Alexandria. Colonel Ellsworth asked Captain Wildey to come to his tent after 1:00 AM to help him dress for his first mission as a commanding officer.  Ellsworth had laid his uniform out on the camp bed. Ellsworth stood quietly as if thinking over his choices, and then said to Captain Wildey, “I was thinking in what clothes I shall die.” Wildey laughed and tried to cheer him up with a few joking words, but Ellsworth just shook his head, saying nothing for a moment. Then, smiling, he went to his trunk and opened it.  He withdrew an entirely new uniform, tagged and packaged from the tailor.  “If I am to be shot tomorrow, and I have a presentment that my blood is immediately required by the country–it is in this suit that I shall die.” Wildey helped him put on the new uniform, and within moments Ellsworth was his normal confident self.  Wildey wound the red silk officers’ sash around Ellsworth’s narrow waist.  And as discussed, this was the uniform in which Ellsworth died early on the morning of May 24.

Unit cohesion was difficult after losing Ellsworth, but leaders like (acting) Lt. Col. Noah Farnham, Major Charles Loeser, and Capt. Jack Wildey kept the Fire Zouaves together long enough to make it to the battleground of First Bull Run. The reputation of “Ellsworth’s Zouaves” was initially tarnished by regular Army officers testifying before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. It remained thus until recently, as historians such as Lesley J. Gordon (A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War and “I Never was a Coward” pamphlet), and Harry Smeltzer (Bull Runnings blog) have gone back to primary sources to look for another, truer, interpretation. Ellsworth said before he went to New York City that he wanted the New York firemen because they were men who could go into a fight immediately. This would prove especially true for Captain Jack Wildey.

“Ellsworth’s Zouaves”

July 21, 2861 is the date that the Battle of First Bull Run was fought. There is much to the battle, but the Fire Zouaves were only involved in the afternoon attempt to defend Union batteries on Henry House Hill. Control of the field around Henry House Hill changed hands several times, but ultimately the South held sway. There was some small fighting in which the guns changed hands a couple of times, but because the horses that had pulled them lay dead in their traces, it was impossible for anyone to remove the captured pieces from the field.  Finally, by 3:15 PM, after just over an hour of combat, the Confederate forces easily took possession of the Union guns and the 11th New York, among others was dispersed in retreat. The 11th did not “run like little girls or scared rabbits,” but they did not stay in retreat either. Many of them looked around the battlefield, identified another unit that was still fighting, and rushed to join in. Wildey joined in with the men of the 69th New York, who were having a bad time of it. Their leader, Colonel Michael Corcoran was taken prisoner and the Henry House Hill batteries had been taken. Still, they fought on. During this last encounter with the Confederates, the beautiful green flag that was held so proudly over Irish heads was taken. Who got it back?

Wildey and the B’hoys help take back the colors

At the fight at Bull Run, when the flag of the glorious Sixty-ninth Regiment  was wrested from them by a superior force of the enemy, Jack Wildey rushed forward at the head of his brave men, and after a bloody contest, in which he killed two men,–one a rebel officer, whose sword he took from him as a trophy,–recaptured the flag, and after marching four miles he restored it to the gallant corps from whom it had been taken.

New York Herald, July 27, 1861

Nevertheless, the Federal troops had been demoralizingly routed and, to make things worse, many ninety-day northern militia enlistments were about to expire. Some heroes were immediately needed. As Wildey’s fame spread northward he became a hero, especially in New York. The gallant Captain Wildey was called home to New York City, ostensibly to recruit more soldiers. However, Tammany Hall leader William Magear “Boss” Tweed had other ideas. He needed Wildey to represent Tammany in an upcoming city election.

To be continued . . .

The Good Death of Private John Ide: U.S. Sharpshooters at Yorktown, Part 3

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Rob Wilson for Part 3 and the final “chapter”of this mini-series.

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the U.S. Sharpshooters and their role at the Siege of Yorktown.

Candles, honoring the soldiers buried in the national cemetery light one of the paths up to where the heroes are buried.

“Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”

Numbers, 23:10, often quoted in Nineteenth Century funeral sermons

On March 26, 1862, Private John S. Ide mailed a lengthy description he’d written about the first days of the Army of the Potomac’s Peninsula Campaign to the Claremont [N.H.] National Eagle. His hometown newspaper printed the letter— in which he confidently predicted he would soon be marching “on to Richmond”— on April 3. Two days later, during the fierce daylong fight that launched the Siege of Yorktown, Ide was shot dead as his 1st Regiment, United States Sharpshooters (U.S.S.S.) engaged with Confederate infantry.

The story of Private John Ide at Yorktown did not end with his death on April 5. A week or so afterwards, U.S.S.S. Sgt. George A. Marden saw Ide’s letter about the campaign in a copy of the April 3 Eagle that had been mailed to the regiment’s camp. Realizing Ide’s family and friends probably knew little, if anything, about how he had died, Marden sat down to write a letter-to-the-editor about his fallen comrade for publication in the newspaper. “I thought a few items in relation to [Ide’s] death that might be of interest to his friends,” he wrote at the beginning of a long tribute to the soldier’s courage, his “righteous” service to the Union and his noble death. The Eagle published the sergeant’s letter on April 23.[i]

A photograph of George Marden taken in 1861, prior to his enlistment in the U.S. Sharpshooters (Courtesy of Rauner Library Special collections Archive, Dartmouth college, Hanover N.H.)

The above chain of events exemplifies the ways in which Civil War soldiers on both sides often responded to a comrade’s death. The final link in that chain was the letter attempting to comfort the family. Many of the nurses, chaplains and doctors who attended those dying of wounds or illnesses in hospitals wrote similar testimonies. Marden’s long letter to the Eagle was more than a message of condolence. It also described Ide’s death and burial, casting them in the light of the so-called “Good Death.” This long-established Christian construct provided guidelines for dying, burial and mourning which were widely followed in the North and the South.

The sharpshooter’s letter, however, conveyed few of the hallmarks of an antebellum Good Death. Like many of the authors of the condolence letters that historian Drew Gilpin Faust examines in her book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Marden had to adjust his words to the war’s brutal realities. The bloody conflict— which killed an estimated 750,000 Union and Confederate soldiers— was changing the ways Americans understood and viewed death. What the wartime letters said and did not say, Faust asserts, indicate major shifts in American traditions regarding dying and memorialization. The letter Marden composed— which is excerpted below and was not part of Faust’s study— highlights some of the changes.

Up until 1861, ninety-five percent of the nation’s deaths took place in the home and were attended by a dying person’s family. The assembled watched for the physical signs of a Good Death, indicators that many religious pamphlets and popular books, poems and songs interpreted as signs that a soul was heaven bound. Key clues included a calm demeanor, last words voicing an acceptance of dying, and a declaration of faith in the Almighty. A peaceful countenance at the moment of passing further signaled that eternal glory awaited. A period of mourning and a proper burial, with family participating, were the final elements of a Good Death. [ii]

Relatively few men dying on the battlefield had the opportunity to utter last words that was afforded this idealized Union soldier. (From a detail of an advertisement for sheet music published in “National Songs of War” in 1895. Library of Congress).

The war completely disrupted these home-based traditions. Soldiers perished hundreds of miles away from their homes. The dying might have a reflective moment in the care of a comrade, chaplain or nurse, or be in a place where last words, affirmation of faith and acceptance of death could be witnessed. Think of Stonewall Jackson’s last hours, when the general proclaimed he was grateful to die on a Sunday and later, with his wife nearby, uttered those often-quoted final words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” But tens of thousands of soldiers— from privates to generals— died on chaotic battlefields or in crowded hospitals, far from their loved ones, many buried in mass or unmarked graves.  As a federal chaplain quoted by Faust told his regiment, no one in their time “had ever lived and faced death” imposed with such “peculiar conditions and necessities.”[iii]

Private Ide’s instant demise in Southern Virginia— from a Confederate marksman’s Minié ball passing through his head— is just one example of the “peculiar conditions” that challenged the standards of the Good Death. Sgt. Marden’s message to the people of Claremont reveals how those challenges were addressed, through a type of letter Faust describes as a new genre of American writing.[iv]

Many men died instantly, in the Civil War’s “peculiar conditions” of battle, essentially robbed of their opportunity for a Good Death. Tens of thousands more soldiers died in agony or delirium in hospitals.  (Drawing of the Battle of Williamsburg, no artist attribution, public domain, available at www.wpclipart.com.)

Marden recently had been transferred from the 2nd U.S.S.S. Regiment to the command staff of the 1st and may not have known Ide. Writing his letter, he probably drew from what he had heard about the slain soldier from comrades. The church-going soldier likely could have conjured up antebellum imagery for a “proper” death. Yet, Marden apparently adhered to what Faust writes was the “honesty [and] scrupulousness in reporting” exhibited by many letter writers. There is little evidence of a traditional Good Death in the letter excerpt below.[v]

Ide was a brave and faithful soldier, and was always ready to do his duty. He greatly desired to get into active service, and when the sharpshooters were ordered to advance, and were placed in position to pick off the rebel gunners… his trusty rifle was often heard speaking destruction to the foe… 

From 10 o’clock in the morning until 9 in the evening the fight raged unabated. Shell grape and shots from rifle pits were poured upon the sharpshooters, but they never flinched, and returned it with compound interest… Of the two [killed] Ide was one. He was shot through the head while aiming at the foe around the corner of a house. It was about four P.M. His body was got into the house and Lt. Col. Ripley, taking Ide’s [loaded] rifle, remarked that he “had a license to shoot that man” and brought him down at the first fire. The enemy then commenced to shell the house and it was impossible to bring away the body until after dark, when it was taken away and buried.[vi]

The kind of emphasis Marden places on Ide’s courage and other military virtues is common in wartime condolence letters. Faust writes that, as the war progressed, a soldier’s “duty to God and duty to country blurred, and dying bravely and manfully became an important part of dying well.” This kind of conduct and carrying on while under fire took the place of acts that had “traditionally prepared the way for the Good Death.” The sergeant does take care to describe the time, place and manner of death, and how the body was carried and buried by comrades. In a time when thousands of families were left with few or no details of how their soldier died, Marden was making Ide’s family and friends virtual witnesses to his passing and burial. Knowing that the men of Company E— Ide’s surrogate family in wartime— had attended to the fallen Sharpshooter provided some sense of a conventional Good Death.[vii]

Corpses of Confederate soldiers, collected by Union troops in front of Dunker’s Church after the 1862 Battle of Antietam. Their deaths in the chaos of the fighting— far from home and the usual antebellum deathbed— and their eventual burial in mass graves contradicted the standards for a traditional Good Death. (Photograph by Alexander Gardner, September, 1862, Library of Congress).

Towards the end of his letter, Marden writes: “Thus fell Mr. Ide with his armor on, and in the thickest of the fight. He could not have died a nobler death, and his comrades will always remember how his example stimulated them, and while they have a country to be saved will pray that if they are to die, ‘their last end may be like his.’”

The phrase in quotes is the only religious reference in the letter. It is paraphrased from the Bible, Numbers, 23:10: Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. Rather than using a passage that testifies to Ide’s faith, his abiding belief in eternal salvation, or some other traditional indicator of a Good Death, Marden uses the Old Testament to present the image of a noble warrior dying righteously. Many Union and Confederate condolence letters and funeral sermons go even further, declaring fallen soldiers as Christian martyrs.[viii]

Faced with brutal realities of war, Faust writes, many kept to the traditional tenets of a Good Death as best they could. At the same time and on both sides of the battlefield, she continues, many began adhering to “a newly religious conception of the nation and a newly worldly understanding of faith.” Marden’s letter is one example of this redefinition. Another one of many Faust cited is a Confederate infantryman’s letter to the father of a slain comrade. No indicators of a Good Death are offered, just the consolation that the man’s son had “died in full discharge of his duty in the defense of his home & Country.”  For many, a soldier’s ultimate sacrifice for his Cause— whether he wore blue or gray— had become an act of “holy dying.” The norms of the Good Death had changed and would never revert to their mid-century standards.[ix]

End of series.

Thanks to Arthur Ruitberg for sharing his digitized copies of the letters written by John Ide and George Marden that I cited above.

[i] George Marden, letter to the Claremont National Eagle (Claremont N.H., published April 24, 1862)

[ii] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York; Alfred A. Knoph, 2008), 14-22.

[iii] Ibid., 15; Dr. Hunter McGuire, “Death of Stonewall Jackson” (Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. 14, 1886. [For the full text of  McGuire’s description of Jackson’s death, go to  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05.0271%3Achapter%3D9;

  1. Clay Trumbull, War Memories of An Army Chaplain (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1898) 39, quoted in Faust, xiii. [Regarding Jackson’s words about crossing the river, his wife, Mary Anna, thought he likely was “reaching forward across the River of Death, to the golden streets of the Celestial City, and the trees whose leaves are for the healing of nations[.] It was to these that God was bringing him, through his last battle and victory; and under their shade he walks, with the blessed company of the redeemed.” If that was Stonewall’s meaning, his indeed was a Good Death. See Mary Anna Jackson, Life and Letters of “Stonewall” Jackson by His Wife (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1995), 471, quoted in “Stonewall Jackson’s Last Words” Chris Mackowski, ECW, Dec. 21, 2016.]

[iv] Faust, 15

[v]  Ibid., 30-31.

[vi]  Marden, letter to the Claremont National Eagle [Marden writes the fighting began at 10 a.m., while many other sources claim it started at 11. He may have been referring here to exchanges of fire between some Sharpshooters and Confederate cavalry that took place prior to the extended combat involving the 1st U.S.S.S. and Confederate infantry.] 

[vii] Faust, 25.

[viii]  Marden, letter to the Claremont National Eagle. [Marden’s letters indicate he was an abolitionist who had been brought up in and was an active member of the Congregational Church. He could have heard the Numbers verse from any number of sermons or eulogies by clergy. The abolitionist ministers of that era leaned heavily on the imagery of the fight to save the Union and end slavery as a just war and righteous cause sanctioned by God. To get a sense of the imagery of holy sacrifice and martyrdom on battlefield, glance through some of the Civil War funeral sermons for Massachusetts soldiers collected by the Harvard University Library archives: https://guides.library.harvard.edu/hds/civil-war/hds/civil-war-funerals.]

[ix] Faust, 25-26.

Trial by Fire for the U.S. Sharpshooters at Yorktown, Part 2

Confederate fortifications and cannons such as these guarded Yorktown and greeted the Army of the Potomac on April 5. Sandbags and, in this case, cotton bales were used to protect gun crews during the siege. (Library of Congress)

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Rob Wilson for Part 2 of his mini-series.

To read Part I of this series, about the U.S. Sharpshooters’ 1st Regiment and their role on first day of the Siege of Yorktown, click here.

Carefully choreographed Confederate cannon salvos and rifle fire greeted the Army of Potomac III Corps troops nearing Yorktown on April 5, 1862.  “We were in exact range, and the rebels knew exactly what elevation it required to hit those cross roads, and could put the shells right to the spot,” remembered Pvt. Henry Harrington, one of the 1st Regiment U.S. Sharpshooters (U.S.S.S.) leading the column. While taking cover under a fence, Sgt. George Marden saw grisly proof of the enemy’s accuracy. “One Cavalry man got off his horse… and a cannon ball cut him into two and cut his horse’s jaw off,” he reported in a letter.[i]

The troops, engaged in Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, were marching to attack Richmond. But well-fortified Yorktown stood in their way. First Division Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter ordered the men of the 1st U.S.S.S. ahead to probe and harass the enemy positions. They were deployed by the Sharpshooter’s leader, Lt. Col. Hiram Berdan, who, according to his official report, instructed the men “to guard the roads against cavalry… and to watch the movements of the enemy, and also in groups of from one to one hundred, to pick off gunners and protect batteries.” Meanwhile, Porter positioned federal artillery batteries and two brigades to return fire, screen for infantry and cavalry attacks and support the Sharpshooters.

The U.S.S.S. were on the Union right flank on April 5, attached to the 1st Division of Brig. Gen. Heintzelman’s III Corps on Yorktown Road. The 1st Division did much of the fighting. Sharpshooters in their front. The force advancing inland on Lee’s Mill Road, IV Corps (Brig. Gen. Keyes) reconnoitered the Confederate positions before them and held back, fearing an attack would be costly. (Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW)

The men of the 1st cautiously approached battlements that, noted Depew Swartout, were “built in the shape of a half moon,” providing Confederates an excellent field of fire. Incoming artillery fire mostly was high, but their foes “kept throwing shot from their fortifications with the Enfield rifle and musket,” he continued. The marksmen returned fire with their Colt 5-shot revolving rifles and highly-accurate target rifles, some creeping to just 400 yards from enemy positions.[ii]

Although not to scale, George Marden’s hand-drawn map of the approach to Yorktown accurately details the lay of the Confederate line and some major landmarks. He notes where he was when the first shot whistled low over his head (middle oval, above) and landed (lower oval), the locations of the Sharpshooters’ positions over the course of the fighting, and the locations where some “Sharps” were wounded and where a comrade from his native state of New Hampshire was killed by an enemy marksman (See uppermost oval, marked “Ide killed”). (George Marden Civil War letters, April 6, archived at Rauner Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.)

Some Sharpshooters sheltered in a ditch to the right of the road to Yorktown. Others on the right positioned themselves near woods along Woolsey Creek (designated “Inlet” on Sgt. Marden’s map, above). On the left flank, a peach orchard, two abandoned houses and a fence afforded the soldiers cover. “[Two] companies with target rifles were up behind a fence and kept one fort still about three hours, by shooting the rebels as they came up to load,” Henry Harrington wrote, describing a U.S.S.S. tactic used very effectively during the siege. “The swab was put in one gun and no rebel dared go and get it for about two hours.”

Yorktown’s defenders, Harrington noted, gave as good as they got: “The boys [in the peach orchard] say that it gave them a queer feeling to hear the rifle balls ‘pat’ ‘fizz’ into the peach trees only a few feet from them.” Sheltered on the left, in a house near the peach orchard, William Wells and his Company F comrades were driven away when “bullets from the rebel rifle-pits on the left got to whizzing about our ears pretty thick.”[iii]

One of those bullets struck U.S.S.S. Private John Ide in the head. Ide, in Company E, was the first Sharpshooter to be killed on the campaign, and some of his comrades’ letters recounted the death and how the regiment’s second-in-command avenged it. “Lieut. Col. [William Y.W.] Ripley, who stood near, caught up the fallen man’s rifle, and before the rebel [who had shot Ide] could get back to the pit, put the ball through him,” one soldier wrote.

Company F moved right of the road and lay low, reported Wells, with “the balls and shells tearing through the air over our heads.” Describing the kind of wily maneuvering repeated all day and during future U.S.S.S. engagements, he wrote that some managed “stealing away on the sly to get a crack at the rebels.”[iv]

1st U.S.S.S. marksman Truman Head (a.k.a. “California Joe”) at Yorktown. Head and other Sharpshooters frequently deployed on their own or in small parties, where they would lay concealed for hours and fire on Confederate positions. (Harper’s Weekly, 1862 Aug. 2, p. 492., Library of Congress)

The federal units, backed by artillery, fought through the afternoon, firing on positions on the fortifications and engaging infantry and sharpshooters sheltered in rifle pits outside the Confederate’s defensive earthworks. As the artillery fire continued, one 1st Regiment man was surprised to be able to see some incoming rounds. “One 32 pounder burst in the air and a piece… whined along 50 ft. above me in plain sight,” he wrote. At one point, cavalry rode from behind the enemy’s fortifications to attack the Sharpshooters along the road and cut off their comrades in the orchard, remembered Capt. C.A. Stevens, “[but] a Union shell exploded in their midst and scattered them hurriedly, while well-aimed rifle bullets helped to hurry them back to cover.”

Early that evening the fighting took a sudden and unexpected turn. As Marden described the event, which was reported in other Sharpshooter letters and diaries, “…the sun [over Yorktown’s fortifications] got round so that our men could not see to fire at the rebels.” Most of the guns fell silent and, to the Yankee’s amazement, the Confederates “got out a band and played Dixie and the Marsellaise” from behind the earthworks.” The brief peace ended abruptly, he continued, when the Southerners suddenly “gave a cheer and immediately shot their shells booming into the S.S.” Incensed, Col. Berdan ordered men into a field to return fire. The move proved costly when “a volley of grape wounded seven… [and] the company double-quicked back,” wrote Marden. “At this the rebels jumped upon the parapets and commenced to cheer.”[v]

Sharpshooter “Living History” reenactors Michael Tita (left) and Arthur Ruitberg, of Company C, 2nd U.S.S.S, at an event at Yorktown. Special thanks to Arthur, who generously shared his research into the Civil War letters and journals of the men of the 1st U.S.S.S.

The Union side responded. It was back to the business of war.

Officers praised the performance of federal infantry and artillerymen engaged that day, directing special accolades to the Sharpshooters. On behalf of Porter, a staff officer issued a letter to Berdan, commending the regiment’s marksmanship and bluntly asserting: “Your men have caused a number of the enemy to bite the dust.” Yorktown’s defenders also received compliments. “There never was better firing than was done by the rebels that day,” observed Harrington. Another Sharpshooter, rattled by the continual cannon and rifle, wrote that he “did not think half of us would come off the field alive.” Yet the enemy’s big guns could not aim low enough to hit men close to the battlements and a very high number of their shells were duds, some actually plowing under soldiers without harming them. As a result, only two 1st Regiment men were killed. According to Porter’s official report, the day’s casualties for the 1st Division were four killed and 31 wounded.[vi]

Some of those new to an intense artillery bombardment wrote they were not eager to repeat the experience. “I never can get used to the whistle of a shell and hope that I shall not have to take the same position that I had Saturday while I am in the service,” Cyrus Hardaway of Company D declared. “The position that we held all day [400 yards from the battlements] has made lions of the Sharp Shooters but I had rather not be a lion than go through with it again.”  At least one man was critical of sending a small force against such well-protected and positioned guns. Depew Swartwout, who had survived “minie bullets [that] came pattering like hail stones” on his forward position, reflected in his diary on those wounded and killed in the fighting and wrote “I thought it was rather a bad waste.”

That night, McClellan decided his next moves. His second troop column, on the road further to the south, had encountered the defensive line running across the peninsula, much of it on the dammed and flooded Warwick River. Observers there cautioned against a frontal attack. Believing his enemy had significant troop strength, the general opted for siege tactics, calling up his big guns from Ft. Monroe. In reality, the men in Gen. McClellan’s two troop columns that day vastly outnumbered the 15,000 Confederates spread thin along their 16-mile-long Warwick Line.[vii]

Battery, No. 4, near Yorktown, mounting of 10 13-inch mortars, each weighing 20,000 pounds. (Matthew Brady, Brady’s Album Gallery, Wiki Commons).

The Sharpshooters’ initial combat trial had ended and, by all accounts, the men had acquitted themselves well. The two sides cared for their wounded and buried their dead, the 1st U.S.S.S. mourningPrivate Ide and Private David Phelps of Company H, who was mortally wounded by shrapnel. The business of April 5 was not entirely concluded, however. A Sharpshooter from Ide’s home state of New Hampshire would compose a long letter to his slain comrade’s home town newspaper. More than a note of condolence, the letter was written to praise Ide’s soldierly virtues and to assure Ide’s family and community that their soldier had served his country well and died an honorable death, the kind of “good death” that was such an important facet of Civil War-era society. [viii]

To be continued…


[i] Henry Harrington, April 13, 1862 letter to the Cherry Valley Gazette (NY State Historical Association archives, Cooperstown, NY) [n.b.: Unless otherwise indicated, all correspondence and other soldiers’ writing quoted in this article dates to 1862); George Marden, Civil War letters, April 6 (Rauner Special Collections Library archives, Dartmouth College, Hanover N.H.).

[ii] Official Report of April 4-21, 1862 of Col. Hiram Berdan, Comdg. First United States Sharpshooters, April 21, 1862, in War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 3, Part I, ed. The National Historic Society (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 301-302; Official Report of Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter, U. S. Army, commanding division, of operations April 4—6, submitted April 23, in War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 11, Part I, ed. The National Historic Society (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 285-286; Capt. C.A. Stevens, Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters In The Army Of The Potomac (St. Paul, Minn.; The Price McGill Company, 1892, reprinted by Old South Books), 37-44, Depew Swartwout, Co.D, 1st USSS, 1862 Diary entry (private collection).

[iii] Harrington, April 13; William Wells, Co. F, 1st USSS, April 6, 1862 letter to the Green Mountain Freeman, Apr. 22 issue (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023209/).

[iv]  Stevens, 41; Harrington, April 13 [There are differing versions of the story of exacting revenge for Pvt. Ide’s death. Although the details slightly differ, all the letters I reviewed were clear that the enemy rifleman who shot Ide was killed or wounded by a rifle shot, and all but one version attribute U.S.S.S. Lieut. Col. Ripley with pulling the trigger. Ripley would be wounded later in the campaign at Malvern Hill and would be awarded a Medal of Honor for his valor that day.]; William Wells, April 6.

[v]  Stevens, 40; Marden, April 6 [Other soldiers at Yorktown on April 5 also reported the Confederate band concert that interrupted the fighting for a surreal moment.]

[vi] vi A.A.G. Fred T. Locke (in a letter written for Gen. Porter), April 8, published in The National Eagle, Claremont, N.H., April 24; Harrington, April 13; J.B. Delbridge, letter published in the Wolverine Citizen, April 19 (Michigan State University Library, Lansing, Michigan); Porter, April 23 report in the OR.

[vii] Cyrus Hardaway, Co. D, 1st USSS, April 8, 1862. http://external.oneonta.edu/unadilla/civil_war_letters/letters/images.asp (Used with the permission of G. William Beardslee). Swartwout, Diary entry; Stephen Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992) 40-43.

[viii] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York; Alfred A. Knoph, 2008), 7-8.

The Dead Angle

“The Dead Angle,” from Sam Watkins’ Co. Aytch, Chapter XII:

The First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee Regiments will ever remember the battle of “Dead Angle,” which was fought June 27th, on the Kennesaw line, near Marietta, Georgia. It was one of the hottest and longest days of the year, and one of the most desperate and determinedly resisted battles fought during the whole war. Our regiment was stationed on an angle, a little spur of the mountain, or rather promontory of a range of hills, extending far out beyond the main line of battle, and was subject to the enfilading fire of forty pieces of artillery of the Federal batteries. It seemed fun for the guns of the whole Yankee army to play upon this point. We would work hard every night to strengthen our breastworks, and the very next day they would be torn down smooth with the ground by solid shots and shells from the guns of the enemy. Even the little trees and bushes which had been left for shade, were cut down as so much stubble. For more than a week this constant firing had been kept up against this salient point. In the meantime, the skirmishing in the valley below resembled the sounds made by ten thousand wood-choppers. 

Well, on the fatal morning of June 27th, the sun rose clear and cloudless, the heavens seemed made of brass, and the earth of iron, and as the sun began to mount toward the zenith, everything became quiet, and no sound was heard save a peckerwood on a neighboring tree, tapping on its old trunk, trying to find a worm for his dinner. We all knew it was but the dead calm that precedes the storm. On the distant hills we could plainly see officers dashing about hither and thither, and the Stars and Stripes moving to and fro, and we knew the Federals were making preparations for the mighty contest. We could hear but the rumbling sound of heavy guns, and the distant tread of a marching army, as a faint roar of the coming storm, which was soon to break the ominous silence with the sound of conflict, such as was scarcely ever before heard on this earth. It seemed that the archangel of Death stood and looked on with outstretched wings, while all the earth was silent, when all at once a hundred guns from the Federal line opened upon us, and for more than an hour they poured their solid and chain shot, grape and shrapnel right upon this salient point, defended by our regiment alone, when, all of a sudden, our pickets jumped into our works and reported the Yankees advancing, and almost at the same time a solid line of blue coats came up the hill. I discharged my gun, and happening to look up, there was the beautiful flag of the Stars and Stripes flaunting right in my face, and I heard John Branch, of the Rock City Guards, commanded by Captain W. D. Kelly, who were next Company H, say, “Look at that Yankee flag; shoot that fellow; snatch that flag out of his hand!” My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued in the next two hours. Column after column of Federal soldiers were crowded upon that line, and by referring to the history of the war you will find they were massed in column forty columns deep; in fact, the whole force of the Yankee army was hurled against this point, but no sooner would a regiment mount our works than they were shot down or surrendered, and soon we had every “gopher hole” full of Yankee prisoners. Yet still the Yankees came. It seemed impossible to check the onslaught, but every man was true to his trust, and seemed to think that at that moment the whole responsibility of the Confederate government was rested upon his shoulders. Talk about other battles, victories, shouts, cheers, and triumphs, but in comparison with this day’s fight, all others dwarf into insignificance. The sun beaming down on our uncovered heads, the thermometer being one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and a solid line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns being poured right into our very faces, singeing our hair and clothes, the hot blood of our dead and wounded spurting on us, the blinding smoke and stifling atmosphere filling our eyes and mouths, and the awful concussion causing the blood to gush out of our noses and ears, and above all, the roar of battle, made it a perfect pandemonium. Afterward I heard a soldier express himself by saying that he thought “Hell had broke loose in Georgia, sure enough.”

I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this memorable day, every man in our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea, five score men. I mean from twenty to one hundred each. All that was necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their living men passing over the bodies of their dead. The ground was piled up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees. I learned afterwards from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord wood, twelve deep.

Trial by Fire for the U.S. Sharpshooters at Yorktown, Part 1

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Rob Wilson.

The men of the 1st Regiment, U.S. Sharpshooters (U.S.S.S.) were tired and hungry as they slogged along the muddy road from their base at Ft. Monroe. It was April 5, 1862, and they were leading a long Army of the Potomac III Corps column towards Yorktown. The soldiers had marched hard the previous day, bivouacked the night on wet ground, gulped down a cold breakfast, and started marching again. Now, adding to the misery, an intermittent rain soaked their uniforms.

Yet the physical discomforts of this march were not the Sharpshooters’ foremost concern. The men were in Southern Virginia and moving into Confederate-held territory. Yorktown lay just ahead, through the rain and mist, and the river port was well fortified. Enemy resistance was guaranteed. In addition, most in the 750-man regiment had never seen combat. These Sharpshooters faced the kinds of existential questions any soldier confronts before his first battle. How might I react? Can I measure up? Will I live through the day?

All questions were soon to be answered. An artillery shell from a previously unseen enemy battery whistled by and plowed into a nearby field.  Another followed. And another. Eventually a barrage, accompanied by rifle fire. It was about 11 a.m.

The federal soldiers now scrambling for cover were on the first leg of the Peninsula Campaign. Their column—in concert with a second force moving on a parallel road 12 miles to the south— was heading for Richmond, now 60 miles away. In all, 67,000 soldiers commanded by Maj. General George B. McClellan were marching up a peninsula to attack the Confederacy’s capital. McClellan’s men recently had traveled south to Ft. Monroe by boat, and additional troops were arriving there to join the campaign. Before going further, however, the Yankees had to take Yorktown.[i]

Fortifications that crossed the peninsula blocked the Army of the Potomac’s march on Richmond. The U.S.S.S. were at the head of Brig. Gen. Heintzelman’s III Corps column as it approached Yorktown. The federal column advancing inland on the opposite side of the peninsula was led by IV Corps, under Brig. Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes. (Map by Hal Jasperson, Wiki Commons)

Many 1st Regiment letters and journals described the engagement’s opening shot. “I heard the report of a gun and a shell came sizzling along just over my head and struck about a hundred feet beyond us,” wrote Sgt. George A. Marden, one of those facing Confederate fire for the first time. “I don’t believe I shall ever forget that. I must say I made a reverential obeisance [bow], first to the right and then to the left and then to the centre” Another Sharpshooter’s letter described the sound of that first incoming round: “hooney whiz scream whiny rattle a shell right over our heads and down among the cavalry in our rear and the ball is opened.”[ii]

The “ball” would not end until about 9 p.m. The standoff in front of the Yorktown’s fortifications that followed— pitting McClellan’s forces against the Confederate Army of the Peninsula— continued until the town’s outnumbered defenders stole away, on the night of May 3. By successfully delaying the Union advance for a month, the Southerners enabled their comrades in Richmond to reinforce and fortify the city.*

A map of the battlefield on April 5, drawn by Capt. George Hastings, Company H, 1st U.S.S.S. (Missouri History Society, St. Louis, Mo., Lillie Devereux Blake Letters 1847-1886)

While the siege has been widely studied in Civil War literature, most accounts dismiss the April 5 fighting that preceded it as insignificant. As Sharpshooter George Hastings observed in a letter home: “It was not an action but amounted to no more than a reconnaissance in force, a more feeling of the enemy’s strength and ascertaining his position.”[iii]

Col. Hiram Berdan, founder and commander of the U.S.S.S. Although he successfully engineered the units’ organization, he proved a divisive and unpopular leader, one time burned-in-effigy by some of his men. He was court martialed in March of 1863 on a variety of charges, including abandoning his regiment and cowardice. He was found not guilty, and returned to his leadership post. Berdan would continue as a controversial figure, and for the rest of his time in the army was denied the promotion to general he so coveted. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs archive)

The day’s events deserve closer consideration. This “reconnaissance in force” was complex and dangerous. The engagement of April 5 measured the Sharpshooters’ skill and mettle while under fire. Examining who the men of the U.S.S.S. were, how they trained and how they performed in in the field— fresh off the boat from their Camp of Instruction in Washington— helps to explain why the regiment went on to play an important role in the siege, on the campaign and in future battles. The soldiers’ reflections— excerpted here from an assortment of letters, diaries, and memoirs— tell the untold story of April 5 at Yorktown. The soldiers’ writings candidly reveal how they individually responded when thrust into their first combat, as well as what they thought and felt in the aftermath of the fight.

While companies of sharpshooters were attached to some U.S. Army infantry regiments (such as the 22nd Massachusetts and the 16th Michigan), the 1st and 2nd U.S.S.S. were the only Army regiments consisting entirely of expert marksmen. The idea for the Sharpshooters originated with Hiram Berdan. Although he had no previous military experience, the successful businessman and nationally-recognized target shooting champion reasoned that regiments of skilled riflemen, armed with state-of-the-art, long-range weaponry, would inflict heavy casualties on the enemy. He proved an excellent salesman. After meeting with President Lincoln and gaining a letter of support, in June of 1861, Berdan’s proposal to form the 1st U.S.S.S. was approved quickly by the Army. Permission to start recruiting for the 2nd Regiment soon followed. The men were popularly referred to as “Berdan’s Sharpshooters.”[iv]

Each company within a U.S.S.S. regiment was raised in a single state. The 1st had ten companies, a total of about 750 men. The above poster seeks upstate New York men for Company D. (From The Civil War Letters of Cyrus J. Hardaway, http://external.oneonta.edu/unadilla/civil_war_letters/letters/images.asp)

To be admitted to a U.S.S.S. regiment, a hopeful recruit first had to land ten consecutive rifle shots within a target circle ten inches in diameter, firing from a distance of 200 yards. When training, the men learned tactics that broke with the army’s emphasis on using mass firepower. Rather than stand or kneel shoulder-to-shoulder to fire en masse, they maneuvered to maximize marksmanship skill. Companies broke apart into smaller units and individuals often took up solitary positions or acted as scouts. A newspaper article written as the Sharpshooters were forming stated that the men would be taught to operate on a battle’s “outskirts,” where they “will act independently, choose their objects, and make every shot tell.”

The weapon the Sharpshooters were promised when they enlisted— the breech-loading Sharps Rifle— was very accurate and could be loaded and fired three times faster than the muzzle-loading rifles used by Union and Confederate infantry.  For a variety of reasons, however, the Army did not procure the Sharps Rifles for the U.S.S.S. in time for the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign. Berdan’s men instead were issued Model 1855 Colt 5-shot .56 caliber revolving rifles.** These weapons also had a higher rate-of-fire than infantry muzzle-loaders.[v]

All the men in the 1st Regiment’s Companies E and C and a smattering of Sharpshooters in other companies carried their own long-range target rifles. Many of these heavy but deadly-accurate muzzle-loaders were equipped with a telescopic sight when they were manufactured. The Morgan James Rifle was one of the more popular weapons, but a variety of target rifles were used.[vi]

The 1855 model .56 caliber Colt five-shot revolving rifle. (Photo courtesy of Art Ruitberg)

A Morgan James target rifle, equipped with a telescopic sight. (Photograph from the U.S. Military Academy Museum, West Point N.Y.)

U.S.S.S. uniforms also were different from standard Union issue, dyed green instead of blue. In woods and fields—where the unit often operated— the green clothes served as camouflage. On an open battlefield, they stood out amongst their blue-jacketed comrades, making them easy to identify in the heat of battle and to assign where needed most.[vii]

As the Yorktown siege progressed, Confederate soldiers took note how effectively the green coats wielded their special rifles, and the men of the U.S.S.S. became priority targets. It was common knowledge, one 1st Regiment soldier wrote, that “the rebels will give no quarter to Sharp Shooters.” Some of the marksmen minimized the dangers of being picked off by “dressing so [the enemy] cannot tell us from the infantry,” he continued. Later in the war, the southern press would start referring to the marksmen as snakes in the grass and green demons. One newspaper article would editorialize “they are nothing but murders creeping up & shooting men in cold blood & should receive the fate of murders.”[viii]

The soldiers posing in the black and white photograph above, taken in Falmouth, Virginia, in 1862, are from Companies F and G, 2nd U.S.S.S. The men are holding Model 1855 Colt revolving rifles. (Richard Woodbury Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute).

When that first Confederate artillery shell flew overhead at Yorktown, the Sharpshooters were in what one of the men wrote was the “post of honor,” at the head of the march.  The 1st Regiment quickly transitioned from being first in the column to first into the fight. The special skills and tactics that the men had trained to master at their Washington D.C. Camp of Instruction finally were about to be tested.[ix]

To be continued…


* There is not space here to examine the dynamics of the Siege of Yorktown. Briefly, McClellan’s massive seaborne invasion force had started landing at Ft. Monroe in late March. By mid-April, the Army of the Potomac would have 120,000 men in Southern Virginia. The two inland-bound columns on April 5 encountered a 16-mile-long chain of defensive works that spanned the peninsula, from Yorktown to the James River. Although the Confederate commander at Yorktown, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder, ultimately would be reinforced, on this day he had only 15,000 men to defend his entire line. Magruder tricked the Yankees into thinking they were the ones outmanned and outgunned, pushing McClellan to opt for siege tactics. For more information on Magruder’s successful ploy, see To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992), by Stephen Sears, pp. 35-39.

The color photograph— of a member of Company C, 2nd U.S.S.S. Living History and Reenactment group— was taken 150 years later, at a 2012 event in Gettysburg. The green uniform, Sharps Rifle and equipment are replicas of authentic U.S. Sharpshooters clothing and gear. (Photo from www.berdansharpshooters.com/pw2012a/)

** Although the Colt rifles had a higher rate-of-fire than muzzle-loading rifles, their revolving cylinder could overheat and “chain fire” in multiple cylinder chambers, injuring the soldier holding it. The Sharps Rifles were delivered just after the siege of Yorktown ended, in early May, to the delight of many Sharpshooters, who carried the weapons for the war’s duration. The Colt and Sharps rifles not only fired faster than standard-issue Springfield rifle-muskets, they also were more than three times as expensive. As a result, relatively few were distributed to Union troops.


[i] Stephen Sears  To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992) 35-37.

[ii] George Marden, U.S.S.S., Civil Car letters, April 6 (archived in Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth college, Hanover, N.H.); Charles Seaton, 1st U.S.S.S., Co. F, U.S.S.S., Private Collection.

[iii] George Hastings, Co. H, 1st USSS in a letter to “Lillie,” April 12, 1862 (Missouri History Society, St. Louis, Mo., Lillie Devereux Blake Letters 1847-1886) http://mohistory.org/collections?text=George%20Hastings&collection=Lillie%20Devereux%20Blake%20Papers,%201847-1986&images=0).

[iv] Hiram Berdan, letter to Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, June 13, 1861 (quoted in Roy Marcout, U.S. Sharpshooters: Berdan’s Civil War Elite (Mechanicsville PA: Stackpole Books, 2007), 9.

[v]  Roy M. Marcot, U.S. Sharpshooters: Berdan’s Civil War Elite (Mechanicsville PA: Stackpole Books, 2007) 8-12; Correspondent, New York Post, June 4, 1861, quoted in Marcot, 9; Lt. Col. William V.W. Ripley, Vermont riflemen in the war for the union, 1861 to 1865 A history of Company F, First United States sharp shooters (Rutland,VT; Tuttle & Co., 1883, reprinted by Leonaur Ltd, 2011) 2-8.

Marcot, 55-59.

[vi] Marcot, 57

[vii] Ibid., 33-36

[viii] J.B. Delbridge, April 19, 1862 letter to the Wolverine Citizen, Flint MI (Michigan State University Library archives, Lansing, Michigan); Richard Pindell, “The Most Dangerous Set of Men,” Civil War Times Illustrated, August, 1993, p.46, quoted in Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York; Alfred A. Knoph, 2008) 42-43; Petersburg newspaper originally quoted in William Green’s letter to his mother, transcribed in William H. Hasting’s Letters from a sharpshooter : the Civil War letters of Private William B. Greene, Co. G, 2nd United States Sharpshooters (Berdan’s) Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865 (Historic Publications, Belleville, WI) 226.

[ix] William Sankley, Co. B, April 7 letter to the Albany Evening Journal, April 15 issue (Library of Congress, retrieved at www.fultonhistory.com); Capt. C.A. Stevens, Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters In The Army Of The Potomac (St. Paul, Minn.; The Price McGill Company, 1892, reprinted by Old South Books), 37-38.

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

Brian Swartz and 96th Penn Inf monument at Gettysburg

Brian Swartz, who writes the Maine at War blog, stands beside the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Gettysburg in early May 1863. Describing Gettysburg as his “Lourdes Shrine,” Swartz visits the battlefield every year. (Photo and shadow courtesy of Susan Swartz)

conclusion to a four-part series

In wrapping up yesterday’s segment, Brian Swartz, author of the Maine at War blog, mentioned Tom Huntington’s new book, Maine Roads to Gettysburg. “He has done Maine history quite a service in articulating the stories of those particular units,” Brian said. But of course, when people think of “Maine” and “Gettysburg,” there’s generally one figure who comes to mind.

Chris Mackowski: Since you mention Gettysburg, I have to pop the Chamberlain question. Do you have any thoughts about Chamberlain? 

Brian Swartz: He was heroic and a natural-born leader. I think he had the heart of a warrior. Obviously he was at least somewhat of a tactician, and an effective governor, but his ability to write—he was a prodigious writer after the war—is what let him overshadow the tales of other Mainers. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine saved the left flank of the Union army at Little Roundtop, but there were other Maine units that suffered as bad, if not worse, and other Maine officers who were just as brave, some of them in somewhat more difficult situations.

I’m thinking of Colonel Elijah Walker and his 4th Maine, down on and around Devil’s Den. The 17th Maine was down on the wheat field. I was just there a little bit over a week ago, and if you walk it back and forth, you still can’t really get a sense of the violence of the combat there. There was the 19th Maine over on Cemetery Ridge, plugging the hole with their charge on July 2nd.

And then of course Charles Tilden and the 16th Maine’s sacrifice on Oak Ridge on the afternoon of July 1st. Tilden, to me, of all the Maine officers at Gettysburg, is the one that to this day is the most overlooked. Part of his problem was that he wasn’t a prodigious writer. He was a very enigmatic individual. It’s difficult to find information on him or letters he’s written and other material he’s cited in post-war. Maine at Gettysburg probably contains the most original Tilden-based material there is that I’ve found.

Chris: You mentioned you were just at Gettysburg and went out to Brandy Station. How often are you able to visit the battlefields?

Brian: I try to go to Gettysburg every year. It would be the equivalent of my Lourdes shrine, and to me is an annual pilgrimage.

Chris: Do you have other battlefields that you like particularly?

Brian: Antietam. I love Washington County, Maryland. If you’re heading westbound on I-40, there’s a spot where, just as it crests South Mountain, you can look to the west and see the valley before you with all the farm land with the different colors and such.

Antietam, to me, is a very haunted place, and it’s a very small, compact battlefield. During my research for volume one of my “Maine at War” book series, I spent a considerable time there tracing the movements of the 10th Maine and also the 7th Maine and their advance to the Piper Farm.

I like Brandy Station. Manassas. Shiloh is one that I particularly enjoy of all the battlefields east of the Mississippi. There are only a few minor battlefields that I still need to visit on this side of the river. Shiloh to me is a battlefield where, if you remove the monuments and are there on a fine April morning, it could be the opening moment, the opening volley. It’s so well preserved.

Chris: I feel that way about Spotsylvania. If you take away those few monuments, it feels like a step back in time.

Brian: I just had the pleasure three or four years ago to walk Laurel Hill. I’ve been out to the Mule Shoe over a half-dozen times over the years. This time we stayed in Fredericksburg for a few days, so I parked and followed the trail up to the top of Laurel Hill, which we would not even call a hill here in Maine—it was just a little rise actually.

Fredericksburg, the Slaughter Pen farm, I walk out there and follow the route of the 16th Maine. You’ve got what can be a really noisy airport right next door to you, but it really helps you appreciate what Tilden and all his boys and the other Union troops went through as they were charging out across that farm towards the Confederate-held hills.

Chris: Let me back up to something you said just a second ago just to shine a little light on your “Maine at War” book series. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Brian: Maine at War, volume one—the book is titled, From Bladensburg to Sharpsburg. It opens with the duel in which Congressman Jonathan Cilley of Thomaston was shot and killed. The reason I open with that is that his young son became Jonathan Prince of the 1st Maine Cavalry. He’s one of my favorite Maine characters out of all of them who served in the Civil War. After the opening chapter, which covers the duel and the aftermath of what that does to the Cilley family, the book covers Maine’s involvement in the war from early April 1861 to November 1862. I take different characters, and I weave their stories in.

It tells the story of particularly the army, because I had great difficulty in finding letters and reports and such of Navy personnel. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I am focused primarily on the Army soldiers and such and their families back home. I cover from basically the first regiments in Maine to the 16th Maine Infantry and their march from Antietam to Fredericksburg, and how they became known as the Blanket Brigade. That’s what ends the book.

That book is due out sometime this fall, I’d say maybe later in the fall. It’s being published by Maine Origins Publishing out of Brewer. Volume II is going to cover Fredericksburg, possibly through Gettysburg. There’s quite a bit of material for me to read through there. That is probably half-written.

I mentioned earlier, I just finished up the battle of Brandy Station. That took quite a bit of research, quite a bit of coordinating and, even though I knew quite a bit about the Civil War campaigns and such, I find that when I try to write up a particular battle chronologically, I have to do additional research to get everything in the correct order. It’s very easy to make a mistake.

Chris: Good luck with that. I look forward to picking up a copy, for sure. Before we wrap up, is there anything I’ve not asked you that I should have?

Brian: I guess I’d just like to say I really enjoyed telling the story of Mainers involved in the Civil War, and in using their stories, educating readers about specific moments or battles in the war.

Gettysburg: it wasn’t just Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. We have hundreds, if not thousands of acres out there on which Maine soldiers fought: in Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, Appomattox Courthouse. I wrote a series on that, which was very eye-opening for me.

I just like telling the stories, and I always like hearing from readers if they like something, or disagree with it, or whatever, I really like hearing from the readers.


You can reach out to Brian directly at visionsofmaine@tds.net. And don’t forget to check out his blog, Maine at War.