Preservation Opportunity in the Western Theater

Our friends at the Civil War Trust sent along this announcement and opportunity to preserve more battlefield ground in the Western Theater. Continue reading for more information about this opportunity and how you can get involved.

“With the exception of Virginia, no state endured more significant Civil War battles than Tennessee. It was in Tennessee — during the war’s early stages — where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant first gained national recognition by demanding and securing the “unconditional surrender” of a Confederate army at Fort Donelson. In 1863, the nation’s gaze was again fixed upon the Volunteer State as Union and Confederate troops vied for control of Chattanooga. And it was in Tennessee that Gen. John Bell Hood launched a last-ditch effort to strike back at the Yankees, resulting in inconceivable suffering at Franklin and ultimate defeat at Nashville.

In recognition of the state’s importance during our nation’s defining conflict, you and I have already saved 3,491 acres in Tennessee, allowing future generations to walk the ground where history was made.

Today, we have the opportunity to save an additional 15 acres at three battlefields in Tennessee: Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry (near Chattanooga), and Franklin. We will be adding to the 639 acres we have already saved at these three battlefields—more tiles in the mosaic of Tennessee’s rich Civil War heritage. Thanks to a magnificent $21.17-to-$1 match, you and I can save this land—worth a combined total of $1.5 million—for just $73,250!

Help us build on our previous successes in Tennessee and save these three Tennessee battlefields.

’Til the Battle is Won,

Jim Lighthizer, President
Civil War Trust

P.S. Please join our efforts to save 15 acres at Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry, and Franklin. 

“Because You Was Always True To Me”: A Union Soldier & His Sweetheart

Dear Friend… I should like to sean [have seen] you before I enlisted, but I thought that you had something against me. But if I have said anything against you, I hope you will forgive me, for I thought that we used to be as good friends as could be found. I hope that you will not have any hardness [of] feelings against me, and I hope we may both live to see one another once more…[i]

That’s how Peleg Bradford, Jr. wrote his first preserved letter to his sweetheart in October 1862, several months after he left home and enlisted. He had joined the 18th Maine Infantry Regiment which mustered into service on August 21, 1862, and was assigned to build and defend Washington’s fortifications. In January 1863, the regiment transformed into the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery and continued on fort duty around Washington until the Overland Campaign in 1864.

Bradford’s letters give a glimpse of a realistic “Civil War romance,” challenged by distance and threatened by physical wounds. Due to a full blog schedule yesterday [Valentine’s Day], these primary sources and observations will continue the discussion of romantic relationships during the 1860’s conflict for another day.

Age twenty when he enlisted, Peleg Bradford, Jr. had spent his youthful years working for his father on the farm, trying to make enough money to care for his mother and eight siblings. Bradford’s father struggled with alcoholism, making life difficult for the family. Throughout his Civil War letters, he tried to make sure his mother had enough money and advised her on some financial decisions. Troubles in childhood had educated young Bradford and taught him what he valued and wanted for his own future. The separation from family and friends during his enlistment, also helped him focus on his future plans.

One of his plans was to get married, but – unsure of his sweetheart’s feelings – he took his time before declaring his intention. Throughout 1862 and 1863, Bradford wrote to occasionally to his “dear friend” who was Cynthia McPherson, usually just informing her of his good health, the weather, and news about mutual friends from their hometown – Carmel, Maine.

Drawing, Army Encampment, 1862, by Winslow Homer. Camp scenes like these would have been familiar to Bradford as he wrote his letters to Miss McPherson.

In May 1863, Bradford commented on a friend’s wedding and made the observation to Miss McPherson that “I think that if the war lasts three years, theair [there] will not be any chance for me to get a woman.” In the same letter, he sends “respects” to her parents and tells her to let Mr. McPherson know how much he likes soldiering. In the saga of preserved letters, this is the first open hint at marriage and courting topics, starting by trying to impress the girl’s parents. Later, Bradford sends newspapers from Washington for Mr. McPherson. He never asked his other correspondents – Mother, Father, brothers, and sisters – about Miss McPherson, and some phrases imply they might have approved the match at first.

The letters went back and forth, and then the heartsick moment of all long-distance relationships happened in December 1863:

An 1864 painting by Winslow Homer.

Dear Friend,

As I have not written you for along [a long] time, I will improve a few moments in writing to you. I am well and hope theas [these] few lines will find you the same. I should written to you before, but I got a letter from Carmel, and they told me that you was agoing to get married, and so I thought that if it was so, I would stop writing to you, but I thought that I would write you this letter to know about it.

I always thought well of you, and had maid [made] up my mind that when I got home that we would get married, if we could make things agreeable all around. I must now close, so good by.[ii]

Bradford wrote his slightly desperate, slightly hopeful letter on December 13, and by the 27th. he had received a reply from Miss Cynthia and wrote back to her. She had clearly refuted the rumor and wanted to know who had started it; her soldier responded:

…I will tell you who wrote that you was going to get married if you will promise me that you will not tell, for it is all past now. I will not tell you in this letter, but I will tell you the next time that I wrote. I suppose why they wrote that you was going to get married was to make trouble betwixt us, but since I read your letter, I know that it is all a dam [damn] lie, and I should not believe it now if my mother should write it, because you told me that you was not and whatever you tell me, I can believe, because you was always true to me Cynth.

I alwaysed loved you, and if you will be true to me, I will be true to you, and when I get home, we will get married, and then let them say what they will. The time will soon pass away when I shall be at home. We will write often, and the time will soon pass away. It is about a year and half longer that I have got to stop out here. I wish that I was home with you this winter instead of being out here…[iii]

With their engagement informally settled, Peleg Bradford and Cynthia McPherson corresponded more regularly and clearly enjoyed their communications; his letters often included repeated promises to “be true” and that he had always loved her. He started taking her advice about not re-enlisting (though that was his preference, too) and asking her opinions. In April 1864, it seems that Bradford got leave to return to Maine after his father died, and during that visit to Carmel, they were formally engaged, if their implied new relationship stage in the letters is correct.

With just months left in his enlistment, Bradford had yet to see battle. That changed during the 1864 Overland Campaign when the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery suffered some of the heaviest casualties of any unit in the Army of the Potomac. Bradford made it through his first skirmish with only a bullet’s “scratch,” but on June 7th, he was seriously wounded in the right knee, forcing a hospital amputation of that leg. And the future he had anticipated changed.

Drawing, Soldier Giving Water to a Wounded Companion, 1864, by Winslow Homer

The first preserved letter he wrote to Cynthia after the injury implies that she had already heard about the wounded and amputation (probably from Bradford’s mother) and had written to him at the hospital:

Dear Friend,

I now improve a few moments time in writing to you. I am sitting up, but I don’t know how long I can sit up. You wanted to know how my leg got along. It is getting along first rate…

…Oh Cynthia – God knows how much I have suffered since I lost my leg, but it is getting along first rate now. I would like to write you a good long letter, but I can’t. I can only write short letters, so goodbye for this time.

From your ever true friend[iv]

Bradford wrote at least one other short note to Cynthia before penning a longer letter on August 20, 1864, addressing a serious subject:

Love’s Melancholy by Constant Mayer, 1866

…Perhaps you think that I have forgotten you by not writing to you oftener, but I have not. I think of you every day, but I hope you will not think hard of me as where I am at the present time [the hospital], but I hope the time will soon pass away and I can be at home with you, for I shall always hold the promise that I made when I was at home last spring, but as I am not, it would be better for you to brake [break] that promise, for when I made that promise I was a hol [whole] man, but I am far from it now.

I am not speaking of this any thing more than I think it is my duty, as I will do as I say, and that you know I will not say any thing more about it this time until I get home, and then we will talk the matter over and make it all right.

Someway I am asking to leave it all to with you, whatever you say I will do. That is a fair deal, is it not[?] Don’t get angry at what I say, will you[?]…[v]

Knowing that the loss of a leg changed his future abilities to provide for and care for a wife, Bradford honestly let Cynthia know that she could break their engagement and he would not hold it against her. His suspicion that she might be angry about the subject suggests he knew she would still want to marry, but he felt honor-bound to give her a way out, if she had changed her mind.

Happily, Miss Cynthia McPherson refused to break the engagement and welcomed her soldier home when he was released to go home to fully recuperate. Recovered, he returned to Washington to finish out his service commitment, taking Cynthia’s advice to not leave the military early since it might alter future benefits.

On October 7, 1866, Peleg Bradford and Cynthia McPherson married. It seems to be the beginning of a happy life together; they had eight children. Bradford built a sawmill and was active in local government.

The account of Peleg and Cynthia’s wartime romance is simple, almost understated. But they were sincere, and through rumors, long distance, and physical injury, their relationship survived and grew stronger. Their concerns about constancy and injury reflected situations facing many couples during the Civil War, but happily their love triumphed. In a progressing, written intimacy traced through details and the names “dear friend” to “Cynth,” the preserved letters chronicle the straightforward wooing and proposal of this Union soldier. Prior to the war, in the months in camp, journey to the battlefield, and transfer into the hospital wards, Peleg Bradford was lucky (and he knew it) because his love “was always true to me.”


[i] Bradford, Peleg. Melissa MacCrae and Maureen Bradford, editors. No Place for Little Boys: Civil War Letters of a Union Soldier, Goddess Publications, Brewer, ME: 1997. Pages 9-10 – October 8, 1862

[ii] Ibid., Page 64 – December 13, 1862

[iii] Ibid., Page 66 – December 27, 1863

[iv] Ibid., Page 91 – July 13, 1864

[v]Ibid., Page 98 – August 20, 1864

The Yankee Soldier and the Belles of “Secession Proclivities”

An image from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863 (no known restrictions)

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Rob Wilson

With mid-February approaching, I went hunting for a North-South romance story to share on Valentine’s Day. In his well-researched study of Northern troops, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, Bell Irwin Wiley writes that wartime encounters between Federal soldiers and Southern women occurred, some ripening into romances, and even post-war marriages. There were stories out there. But where to look?

The first stop in my search was close to home. While researching a file of my Yankee great grandfather’s war letters for a different story, I’d noted that he’d written about a series of his visits with a group of unmarried women living in Sharpsburg, Maryland. All three, George A, Marden reported, were of “Secession proclivities,” one a Virginian with two brothers fighting in the service of Jeff Davis. My ancestor was single and a 23-year-old lieutenant at the time, late in October, 1862. His regiment, the Army of the Potomac’s 1st United States Sharpshooters (U.S.S.S.) Regiment, was camped near the town. I sat down for a close read of his October correspondence, hoping for a story worthy of St. Valentine.

Although Marden’s interest in female companionship was palpable in his writing, I found no evidence of a Sharpsburg romance. Yet the letters do not disappoint. They offer up an engaging story of a lonely Union soldier, far away from his native New Hampshire, attempting a normal social life while camped in a region set on the Virginia border that, he wrote, was “well tinctured with Secession.” The correspondence also provides a sometimes over-the-top demonstration of the condescending opinions and sarcastic attitudes about Dixie that Wiley found in many of Billy Yank’s journals and letters, especially in the writings of soldiers from New England. Reading Marden’s letters, it’s interesting to watch his interactions with the fair belles let some air out of his inflated prejudices and biases towards most things Southern.

An image from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863 (no known restrictions)

As his story unfolds, Marden’s unit is facing delays in their plans to march into Virginia and, ultimately, to the Army of the Potomac’s winter camp, in Falmouth. His October 25th letter describes how he and his brigade’s Assistant Adjutant General (A.A.G.) ventured into Sharpsburg the evening before, “to spend the evening in Maryland Society.”  The Adjutant, Marden explained, “had made the acquaintance of several young ladies and they invited him to bring me over and dine, take tea, and spend the evening.”

The letters do not identify the women or party hosts by name, nor do they offer any explanation of how Federal soldiers might have been welcomed in a town where so many citizens learned towards the Confederate cause. Perhaps the head of the household owned a business in town and wanted to co-exist and traffic with the Federal side.

Although he was grateful for his invitation to attend the event, initially Marden was most ungracious in his appraisal of the town.

Oct. 25, 1862, Camp near Sharpsburg

… The village is not one where the Dutch quality of cleanliness is cultivated to any extent. It must have a seedy appearance in the most peaceful of times. I think that is the normal state of all villages in this latitude, and the thrift of New England is very much missed… The inside view [of the host’s house] was somewhat better.  I was ushered into a comfortably furnished room wherein the musical tastes of the inmates were indicated by two pianos. There were three unmarried, and one married ladies, all of Secesh proclivities but sufficiently well bred to keep quiet and not introduce politics.  One is a clergyman’s daughter… She has two brothers in the rebel army, and was, besides being very pretty, what is rare in this vicinity, very intelligent and well educated. 

A photograph of Sharpsburg taken after the September, 1862, Battle of Antietam. The town, already reeling from the economic impact of the war, was damaged by misplaced artillery fire during the fighting. (From The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Two, Two Years of Grim War.)

Given the fact misplaced artillery fire had battered parts of Sharpsburg during the Battle of Antietam, Marden’s opening comments seem especially callous. Although he wrote that the evening had been spent “musically and pleasantly and I think I shall repeat the visit as occasion offers,” the Sharpshooter couldn’t resist firing off just one more snarky North-South comparison. “There are far better players and much better singers in Mont Vernon [his New Hampshire hometown],” he concluded.

The order to march further delayed, three days later the lieutenant and his friend headed to town once more, he wrote, hoping “to see my fair Secesh friends.” His description of this encounter opened with the same smug criticism evident in his earlier letter.

Oct. 28, 1862 3:00 p.m.

The Adjutant and I went over yesterday afternoon to bid [the women] what we supposed a final adieu. They were just going to the Secesh hospital, with some things for the wounded rebels. We were invited to go with them and went.  The hospital is in the old church… The ceiling has fallen down and the pulpit and other accoutrements of an Episcopal Church are all destroyed.  They don’t know any such sect as the Congregationalist [the Marden family’s Protestant denomination] here. It is all The Church [Episcopal] and Methodism. The churches are not a high style of architecture, and the more modern of them are guiltless of steeples (I suppose they do not own far in that direction.)…

Marden was a sharpshooter and his letters reveal interesting aspects about the lives of young Civil War soldiers.

Marden abruptly curbed his sarcasm, however, when describing his interactions with the wounded Southerners in the makeshift hospital.

The Secesh wounded are treated by a Union surgeon… There were about thirty wounded Rebs.  They seemed very comfortable… I stood surveying one prostrate North Carolinian, whose face was about as broad as the edge of a hatchet and whose eyes seemed to survey me with considerable interest.  I had on a new cavalry coat… and having just shaved and rode two miles in a brisk wind I presume I looked very rosy and doubtless a comfortable picture of health.  After looking me all over he exclaimed ‘By God, you look as if you could do a heap of totin’ yet.”  I couldn’t help laughing at this exclamation…  I afterward entered into conversation with him.  He enlisted some time last July and has only been in one battle in which he lost a leg.  He left a wife and three little children at home from whom he had heard nothing since he left.  He told the story in a trembling voice with a curse on the man who had brought him there, and a tear rolling down either cheek.  It was one of the saddest commentaries on this devilish war I have seen. Several red-legged Zouaves* were around shaking hands with their butternut opponents, and hoping they might never meet at Bull Run again, or anywhere else except on friendly terms. Yet a single blast of the bugle would have placed these would-be brethren against each other.

The Lutheran Church east of Sharpsburg, damaged during the Battle of Antietam. The Episcopal church which sheltered the wounded Confederate prisoners that Marden visited had been severely damaged. (1862 photo, Library of Congress)

Billy Yank surveys the opinions Federal soldiers held towards their foes. Many, Wiley found, thought the Southerners ill-educated, backwards and, partly because of slavery, barbaric. His research, however, also indicated Northerners generally admired the fighting skill and bravery of their foes. After the Battle of Malvern Hill, Marden certainly did. After the Battle of Malvern Hill, Marden certainly did, although he often directed the same critical condescension towards his military opponents that he aimed at Southern institutions and civilians. But his description of the meeting with the prisoners and his conversation with the wounded soldier struck a new tone— one of empathy and respect— that would be repeated in future writing about his war experiences and encounters while in Dixie.

The Yankees escorted the women back to Sharpsburg, expecting this would their last encounter. But the delay continued, and the two soldiers visited again the very next day. The topic of the war, apparently avoided at their earlier meetings, entered the conversation, followed by politics. Rather than debate and proclaim the sanctity of the Union cause— as Marden had done, with gusto, in previous encounters with Southerners, and would do in the future— the Sharpshooters struck a conciliatory note.

An image from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863 (no known restrictions)

We conversed some about the war and I found as I expected that they all were of secession proclivities. They imbibed the usual idea that the south are fighting for their houses, and as we couldn’t agree we agreed to call it a horrible war and drop the matter with the most amiable wishes for each other’s success. They expressed much regret that we were not to winter near Sharpsburg which we cordially echoed, and you may hear a repetition of a rumor current not long since in regard to your most obedient servant.**

Marden hoped his journey south might be further put off, enabling other excursions to town. But the reality of war intervened. The command to march was issued the next day, prompting a final visit as the Sharpshooters began their march.

“I galloped in to say goodbye to the amiable females we had become acquainted with,” he wrote on November 1st. “They seemed sorry to see us go and I doubt not they were sincere.”

The soldiers marched off, reaching what would become their winter camp in Falmouth, Virginia, in late November. From there, they would participate in the December Battle of Fredericksburg. As far as I have been able to determine, November 1 was the last time Marden saw his “Rebel friends,” who, he observed “were bitter Secesh at heart.”  I’ll probably never discover if he had yearned for anything more than friendship, or if any of the belles had a romantic interest in the Yankees. I suspect the women, as Marden noted in the final entry about his Sharpsburg adventures, were mostly “sick of the war and were glad of anything to relieve the monotony of their life.”


*  Zouaves were Union soldiers whose regiments wore exotic red-legged uniforms of North African design.

** The meaning of the last sentence in this passage, with a reference to “a rumor current,” is a mystery to me. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I wonder if it might be an indirect Victorian era reference to the soldier’s romantic interest? What do you think? Please venture your interpretation in the “Comments” section, below.


George A, Marden, from his unpublished Civil War Letters, October 24, 28, 30, November 1, 1862 (Archived at Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover NH)

Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Civil War (Baton Rouge; Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2008; originally published in 1952) pp. 96-108; 346-361

Not the Same African Americans We Always See

Civil War Medal of Honor

I was watching a television show a couple of weeks ago, and the subject of Black History Month was mentioned. One of the characters complained that America always trots out the same four African Americans every year to stand in for all the other African Americans about which no one knows anything. I immediately realized that this also applies to the African Americans we celebrate from the 1800s. This year, I think we
should give Mr. Frederick Douglas, the 54th Massachusetts, Ms. Harriet Tubman, and Ms. Sojourner Truth a break, and learn about some other men and women who made significant contributions to the American Civil War. For instance, Andrew Jackson Smith.

On September 3, 1843, in Grand Rivers, Kentucky, a baby boy was born to a slave mother, Susan, and her master, Elijah Smith. Susan named him Andrew Jackson Smith. When young Andy was ten years old, his father put him to work on a ferry that transported people and supplies across the Cumberland River. Andy worked at this job for eight years.[1] When the Civil War broke out, Elijah Smith joined the Confederate military and planned to take Andy, who was now 19, with him as a personal body servant to make the rigors of campaigning less odious–less odious for Mr. Smith, anyway.

Smithland, KY

Andy was having none of it. He convinced another slave to run away with him, through pouring rain, to a Union regiment camped at Smithland, Kentucky, twenty-five miles away. At that time the Union First Confiscation Act of 1861 was in place. This act directed that slaves not be returned to their masters if those masters were in Confederate service. Major John Warner, of the 41st Illinois Regiment, hired Andy as a servant and took him along when the 41st returned to the regiment’s post in nearby Paducah, Kentucky.[2]

Major John Warner

On March 19, 1862, the 41st moved from Paducah to Pittsburgh Landing, in Tennessee. A month later the regiment took part in the Battle of Shiloh. During the fighting at the Peach Orchard, Major Warner had two horses shot out from under him. Although it placed him under fire, young Smith brought one and then another mount to Warner. As he helped Warner into the saddle, Andy was struck in the head by a “spent Minié ball that entered his left temple, rolled just under the skin, and stopped in the middle of his forehead.”[3] The regimental surgeon removed the ball, and after the battle was over, Warner obtained a personal furlough to bring Andrew Smith home with him to Clinton, Illinois. There Smith recovered from his wound and continued to work as Warner’s personal servant until he heard the news that President Lincoln was allowing black troops to join the Union Army.

Andrew Jackson Smith

Major Warner gave Smith the money necessary for the trip to Boston, Massachusetts to enlist with the Massachusetts Colored Volunteers. On May 16, 1863, Private Andrew Smith was mustered into the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, Company B. Along with sister regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, they fought in five military engagements. Smith was in the army when the black soldiers found out that they would be paid less than white soldiers, and would have to pay a “clothing allowance” as well. Colonel Alfred Hartwell of the 55th protested all the way up to Secretary of War Stanton himself. Hartwell threatened to resign unless the pay issue was resolved. It was settled in August 1864 and by October everyone was paid fairly.[4]

By November 30, 1864, Smith had been promoted to corporal in the color-bearing unit of the 55th Massachusetts. On that day both the 55th and the 54th Massachusetts participated in the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina. Andrew Smith Bowden, Smith’s grandson, spoke of this at his grandfather’s Medal of Honor service in 2001:

                        When the battle began, you kept your eye on those flags.  And when the  flag went forward, you went    forward. And when the flag went back, you went back. Those men who carried those flags were extremely important, and as you might expect, were prime targets.[5]

The two units came under heavy fire while crossing a swamp in front of an elevated Confederate position. Rebel fire killed or wounded over half of the officers of the 55th and at least a third of the enlisted men in the full regiment of a thousand men. When the 55th’s color bearer was killed, Andrew Smith took up the Regimental Colors and carried them through the remainder of the fight. Smith’s regimental commander, Colonel Alfred Hartwell, recommended him for the Medal of Honor almost immediately after the battle. However, it was not until Smith’s family made a concerted effort that the medal was awarded to him posthumously, 137 years later.

Andy Smith, veteran

Andrew Jackson Smith was promoted to color sergeant and left the army after the war. He returned to Kentucky where he invested in property. He died on March 4, 1932, at the age of eighty-eight. Several people tried to get Smith’s medal awarded to him during his lifetime; he was nominated again in 1916, but the politics of racial unrest denied him once again.

Smith’s daughter receives her father’s medal

Smith’s grandson, Andrew Bowman of Indianapolis, Indiana, became determined that his grandfather would receive his Medal of Honor. Bowman spent several years collecting records, conducting research and working with government officials and a history professor at Illinois State University in order to make his grandfather’s public recognition a reality.  Smith’s records were found in the National Archives, where they had been since the end of the Civil War.  On January 16, 2001, 137 years after the Battle of Honey Hill, Sergeant Andrew Jackson Smith was recognized for his actions. President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to his 93-year-old daughter, Caruth Smith Washington, along with several Smith descendants during a ceremony at the White House. I shall let Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who spoke at the ceremony, have the last word:

                        A wrong righted 137 years too late is a wrong righted nonetheless. This day has been a long time coming. But, with the dedication of his family and the Illinois State University History Department, Sgt. Andrew Jackson Smith’s contribution has finally taken its rightful place in history.[6]


[2] Ibid. and

[3] Quote is from medical records.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., words spoken by Smith’s grandson at Smith’s Medal of Honor ceremony on January 6, 2001.


A VMI Cadet Goes Ice-Skating

Cadet Stanard

On the evening of March 22, 1864, eighteen-year-old Beverly “Jack” Stanard huddled in his cold barracks room at Virginia Military Institute, writing to his mother. That particular evening he found plenty to complain about:

…Well, Mother I guess you will wonder why it is, that I am writing with a lead pencil. The reason is just this, we are upon the eve of freezing up. It has been one week since we had a particle of heat. (There not being a stick of wood at the V.M.I.) You know what a change has taken place in the weather – today it is snowing hard, and a cold wind blowing, and still we are having the same duties to attend to, both academic & military. It is outrageous, for the boys can’t study a bit…[i]

Ironically, just weeks before, this same cadet had expressed his enthusiasm for cold weather and winter sports. During winter break and a free Saturday, he had enjoyed venturing into the freezing air to go ice-skating, leaving readers (and maybe his mother) to wonder if the complaints were genuine or a series of excuses for his lack of interest in studying. A frequent plea throughout Cadet Stanard’s letters echoed a desire to leave the safety of Virginia Military Institute and join the Confederate army. Yet, understandably, his widowed mother wanted to keep her youngest son out of the conflict and away from battlefields. Reluctantly, she had enrolled him at the military school in Lexington, Virginia, hoping to further his education and prevent him from enlisting.

Interspersed with Cadet Stanard’s observations, humorous stories, requests for money, and arguments to enlist, some accounts of ice skating in the winter months appeared, illustrative of the popularity of this sport during the Civil War era.

Virginia Military Institute

At first the frozen river seems tragic to this teen and his friends who would be deprived of their food boxes from home, due to the forming ice. His reports on the Maury’s River conditions began on January 3, 1864:

I had looked forward before Xmas with much pleasure to the arrival of two boxes belonging to my roommates which were to have come by the packet boat but it has not as yet made its appearance. And judging from the looks of the river which I can plainly see from my window, and which is entirely frozen over, that it will not do so for some time to come…[ii]

Frozen river? Time to ice skate!

Then two weeks passed before he wrote to Mother again:

It has been so long since I wrote that I guess you have been uneasy about me again, thinking I might be sick – Quite to the contrary, for the last week have been having a good time skating. The river was frozen over beautifully for miles, as we were not doing any studying, the Examination being just over, we were all allowed to go. I wish you could have seen the river[.] It looked like a flock of black birds was on it. I never saw boys seem to enjoy themselves more, could play bandy, fox & goose and many other games, to afford us amusement. Sandy P & Sisters & some other ladies were down to see us. Sandy seemed to be a very awkward skater, and would get some pretty falls, sometimes, which added to my fun. I think he is Stuck up quite much. I hav’nt spoke to him yet. [iii]

While reporting on his “good time,” Cadet Stanard also shared some hints to the social aspect of ice-skating, noting some of the town civilians came to watch and participate. Certainly, it created a scene less formal (and probably a little more wild) than skating in New York Central Park, and it also gave Cadet Stanard a chance to laugh at a local war hero. Research reveals Sandy P’s identity; during January 1864 Major Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton, a staff officer in the Army of Northern Virginia’s Second Corps and the son of General William N. Pendleton, visited his family in Lexington as a destination on his wedding tour (honeymoon).[iv] Unimpressed with the officer, Cadet Stanard delightedly observed him slipping and crashing on the ice.

Happily for the Virginia Military Institute cadets, the Maury River froze again in February, offering an opportunity for winter fun and a little flirtation with the girls:

Since my last letter nothing much of interest has transpired to disturb the monotony of the V.M.I soldier boy’s life – or daily routine of exercises, save the freezing up of the river, which has afforded us a little fun skating. Yesterday being Saturday, it did not interfere with our duties or studies, so all could go that wished. I went down to the river in the morning myself, ‘though not with the intention of skating, as I had a sore back and then I was minus a pair of skates, mine being broken, but the ice was so beautiful that I could not resist the temptation, so borrowed a pair from one of the boys – and spent the rest of the morning on the ice. It was really elegant fun, could go down the river as far as you wished. There were a great many ladies on the ice, who seemed evidently to think there was more fun in falling down than standing up, but unfortunately in the hight [height] of their enjoyment, one of them (frisky) fell rather too hard and almost broke her nose. Poor girl, I guess it will spoil her beauty spot and I know will teach her a lesson how to run on ice again. The fall of this unfortunate lady, of course, intimidated and some what marred the pleasure of the remainder of the party. My friend Miss LP was among the no. [number] and was looking as rosy as usual.[v]

What better way to get attention than tumbling on the ice to look helpless and possibly enlist the sympathy or aid of some handsome teens? At least that seems to be the tactic employed by these young ladies of Lexington. Although Cadet Stanard did not seem impressed with the girls’ lack of skating skills, he enjoyed watching at his particular friend, Miss Hughella “Lella” Pendleton, one of Major Pendleton’s sisters. From other letters, it seems Miss Pendleton was Cadet Stanard’s crush, but it’s not clear if he ever said anything or if she was even aware of his interest.

Melting ice signaled spring and meant campaign season was beginning again.

Though ice-skating provided a pleasant reason to weather the winter cold and reduced the monotony of classes and exercises, the fun couldn’t last forever. As the ice melted, the ground thawed, and spring rains began, Cadet Standard impatiently wrote to his sister:

Do you not candidly think I ought to be in the Army[?] I am over 18. I think I have been very obedient in remaining here as long as I have, and only done so because I hated to go contrary to the wish of a fond and devoted Mother. I think Mother might very willingly give consent now, that the prospect of the war ending soon is very great…[vi]

He would not receive the opportunity to enlist. On May 10, 1864, the Corps of Cadets received orders to join General John C. Breckinridge as a reserve unit to defend the Shenandoah Valley from General Franz Sigel and his Union columns. Five days later, at the Battle of New Market, the Virginia Military Institute Cadets entered combat. After the battle, Cadet Stanard’s young comrades found him near the Bushong House.“We had come too late. Stanard had breathed his last but a few moments before… Poor Jack – playmate, room-mate, friend – farewell!”[vii]

And yet, on those freezing winter days of ’64, as the boy’s skates glided forward on the ice it was an exhilarating carefree moment. The war – even thoughts of it – seemed far away as he poked fun at a “stuck up” officer. The thought of battlefield death probably never crossed his mind as he spied on the girls and complained to home about the cold conditions for studying. However, after the ice cracked and conflict returned to The Valley, these moments of fun came to an end. The boy grappled with the reality of battle, finding courage to move forward into combat, alongside the friends who had “never enjoyed themselves more” than on the frozen Maury River, shadowed by the castle-like walls of Virginia Military Institute.


[i] Standard, B., edited by J.G. Barrett and R.K. Turner, Jr. Letters of a New Market Cadet, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1961. Letter: March 22, 1864 (page 46)

[ii] Ibid, Letter: January 3, 1864 (pages 28-29)

[iii] Ibid, Letter: January 17, 1864 –date is possibly wrong according to the footnotes in the book (pages 31-32)

[iv] Bean, W.G. Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1959, pages 182-186.

[v] Stanard, B., edited by J.G. Barrett and R.K. Turner, Jr. Letters of a New Market Cadet, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1961. Letter: February 21, 1864, (pages 40-41)

[vi] Ibid, Letter: April 8, 1864 (page 50)

[vii] Knight, C.R, Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market, Savas Beatie, 2010, page 221.

General Orders Number 6: The Creation of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps

Joseph Hooker

The opening months of 1863 marked the beginning of a season of change for the Army of the Potomac. Major General Ambrose Burnside, who had directed the disastrous Fredericksburg Campaign and subsequent “Mud March”, had been replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. With a profound appreciation of his command’s condition, Hooker instituted a series of reforms to help improve the army’s morale and restore it to fighting condition. A system of furloughs was implemented, rations improved and corps insignia adopted. But on February 5, 1863, 155 years ago today, Hooker issued General Orders Number 6. This directive would have a lasting impact on the army in the months and years to come.

Paragraph 3 of the order stated: “The cavalry of the army will be consolidated into one corps, under the command of Brigadier-General Stoneman, who will make the necessary assignments for detached duty.”

Under previous commanders, the Union horsemen had been parceled out to the various corps and later grand divisions. Although Burnside and his predecessor, George McClellan, had maintained separate brigades, reserves and divisions throughout their tenures, the troopers lacked overarching cohesion. Under General Orders Number 6, for the first time, the mounted arm would operate under the direction of one commander who reported directly to army headquarters.

The commanding general’s choice to lead the corps was a logical one. A West Point graduate, George Stoneman brought experience with cavalry and at the command level to the post. Prior to the war he had been assigned to the 1st U.S. Dragoons and 2nd U.S. Cavalry. During his time with the dragoons, he had served as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Adjutant, positions that would improve his administrative skills, a trait that were invaluable to a corps commander. Stoneman had also been McClellan’s cavalry chief, a position he held for over a year and more recently, the head of the III Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

George Stoneman

Hooker’s directive had finally placed his horsemen under a similar organizational structure as their Confederate counterparts. The order marked a new chapter in the history the Federal mounted arm. It was the genesis of the Union cavalry’s ascendance to superiority in the Eastern Theater.