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Confederate soldiers splashing across the Potomac River in early September 1862 jubilantly bellowed out the tune “Maryland, My Maryland” as they marched into the Old Line State. Just months earlier, with the war escalating around the Confederate capital of Richmond, this feat seemed impossible. As the Southern army placed its collective foot on the soil of Maryland, one of the Confederacy’s early war aims was about to be realized.
Recognizing Maryland’s status as a border state caught between North and South, the Confederate Congress issued a series of resolutions on December 8, 1861 about the state’s status and their desire to join it with their fledgling nation. “[I]t is the desire of this government, by appropriate measures, to facilitate the accession of Maryland, with the free consent of her people, to the Confederate States,” the Congress resolved. Confederate successes in the summer of 1862 now made this goal a possibility.
Despite the joyous mood of the Confederate soldiers entering Maryland, Robert E. Lee, commanding those soldiers, remained skeptical that Maryland’s citizens would return the favor in kind. “I do not anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf,” Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis on September 7. The general sought Davis’ assistance days before, requesting that the President send former Maryland governor and Southern supporting exile Enoch Lowe to rouse Marylanders to the Confederate cause.
Himself excited by Confederate fortunes north of the Potomac River, Davis told Lee to issue a proclamation to the people of Maryland declaring “the motives and purposes of your presence among them at the head of an invading army.” The President then listed out a blueprint of eight resolutions and statements Lee could draw from for the proclamation he ultimately issued on September 8.
Jefferson Davis’ enthusiasm for Confederate advances in the summer of 1862 did not end with the stroke of his pen, however. Seizing on Lee’s request for Enoch Lowe to aid the Confederate effort in Maryland, President Davis decided to accompany Lowe to the Potomac River as far north as Leesburg. Perhaps Davis could join his troops in Maryland next.
A “special train” carrying Davis and Lowe left Richmond on September 7 and made its way to Rapidan Station, where Davis notified Lee of his journey. Davis’ September 7 correspondence with Lee is unfortunately lost to history. Thus, his true intentions in traveling north are unknown. Southern newspapers theorized the purpose of Lowe’s visit, though: “placing Maryland within the political association of the Confederate States.” Correspondents in Richmond could only surmise what the departure of Davis truly meant.
Robert E. Lee also could not divine Davis’ reasons for heading north. Regardless, the general did not believe Maryland was a good place for his commander-in-chief. “While I should feel the greatest satisfaction in having an interview with you,” Lee said, “I cannot but feel great uneasiness for your safety should you undertake to reach me.” The trek would be “very disagreeable,” the general warned. It would also expose Davis to the risk of capture by Federal patrols ranging throughout northern Virginia. Exercising extreme caution in this case, words alone on paper would not do for Lee. To further convince Davis of the dangers plaguing his northern excursion, Lee sent his staffer Walter Taylor to intercept the President before he reached Leesburg.Taylor departed the Confederate camps outside Frederick, Maryland at midday on September 9. That night, he slept at the Harrison home in downtown Leesburg, which served as Lee’s quarters shortly before crossing into Maryland. Walter Taylor reached Warrenton on September 10 and found that his journey was for naught: Davis turned around on September 8, headed back to the Confederate capital.
Enoch Lowe continued his efforts to bring Maryland into the folds of the Confederacy even though Davis no longer traveled with him. It is possible that Walter Taylor met Lowe and the two traveled to Winchester together. From the Shenandoah Valley town, Lowe continued to champion Maryland’s supposed dormant Confederate sympathies. “He said Maryland, long disappointed, had been perfectly taken by surprise on the entrance of our army, and that when it was seen to be no mere raid, 25,000 men would flock to our standard, and a provisional government would be formed,” wrote one eyewitness. The lofty goal of 25,000 Marylanders rising to fight under the Confederate banner never materialized, as Lee predicted. Perhaps as few as 200 men signed up with the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate foray into Maryland failed to fulfill Southern hopes for a fourteenth star on its flag.
Confederate efforts to bring another state under the country’s flag came off on October 4, 1862 in Frankfort, Kentucky but did not amount to much except a great deal of fanfare. Southerners held similar hopes for Maryland, but their dreams fizzled before there was a chance. The Charleston Mercury quickly denounced Davis’ trip north as nothing more than “merely for recreation and to have a quiet talk with the Governor [Lowe]. If Lowe is to be proclaimed Provisional Governor, it is to be hoped the people will rally to him, and our army keep in front of him, otherwise the affair will resemble the Provisional Government of Kentucky, which was rather a farce, tending to alienate rather than encourage the inhabitants.”
Establishing a provisional government in Maryland, it turned out, was the least of the Confederacy’s worries in the Old Line State in September 1862 and the Southern nation’s dreams of enticing more states to its cause and expanding its boundary to the Mason-Dixon Line never came to fruition. Maybe September 1862 represented the best odds for that to happen, or perhaps by then it was a foregone conclusion and Jefferson Davis, Enoch Lowe, and the Confederate Congress were only whistling into the wind.
Those of us who write about the Civil War for fun (rarely for profit) get our ideas from any number of sources. One never knows when or how some inspiration will occur. Driving to the store recently, I heard Leslie Gore’s great song from 1963, “She’s a Fool,” with that male background chorus chanting, “shag-a-doo-la.”
Hmmmm…wonder how the lyricist or studio producer thought of that? I mused, pulling into my driveway. See how one’s curiosity can be so easily piqued?
This random, most unscientific “process” is how I come up with the monthly bibliographic column I write for Jack and Peggy Melton’s national newspaper, Civil War News.
I had been a regular book reviewer for Civil War News since 2010, when Kay Jorgenson owned the paper and Ed Bonekemper served as Book Review Editor. Every now and then I had written a book-related article, such as my piece on recent studies in the western theater (CWN, November 2013). Jack Melton bought the paper from Kay in January 2016. The next month I saw the new proprietor at the Dalton Civil War Show and boldly asked him if he would consider letting me write a monthly column for Civil War News on my favorite Civil War books. He agreed.
So, why bibliography? When I was a student of his at Emory, the late great Bell Wiley taught me an appreciation for Civil War books. Dr. Wiley would give us his typewritten list of favored titles on various subjects, and for years I used it as a guide for what to look for in bookstores as I built my library.
Years later, I still remember the Sunday night when the publisher of Blue & Gray Magazine, Dave Roth, called me to say that his Book Review Editor, Rowena Reed, had left, and would I consider replacing her? Of course I said yes.
Then began two decades of bibliophilia as Dave’s BRE. My stint began with the July 1985 issue of Blue & Gray; over the years I had more than three score reviews published in the magazine.
Back in the ‘80s the local newspaper, the Journal-Constitution, actually had a good Sunday book section; sometimes I got assignments for it. My review of Tidwell, Hall and Gaddy’s Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, printed in January 1989, led me to revisit it in my “Critic’s” page in September 2017.
In 1996, my good friend Bob Maher invited me to speak at his Civil War Education Association seminar in St. Louis. I told him that I’d like to speak about books, and he agreed. I tossed around various titles for my talk: “The Civil War’s Best Books: God Knows What They Are”; “The Kodachrome Bookshelf: Snapshots of Civil War Classics”; and “100 Best Books on the Civil War: Yeah, Sez Who?” I finally settled on “From Cooke’s Books to Krick’s Licks: A Century of Reading on the Army of Northern Virginia.” My choices ranged from John Esten Cooke to Robert K. Krick (Bob was in the audience, and loved it).
Some of the works I mentioned in St. Louis have become “Critic’s Choices,” such as Cooke’s Wearing of the Gray (1867), to which I devoted my very first column in April 2016. I was thrilled when Jack told me that a reader in Alaska so liked my article that she was trying to find a copy of Cooke’s Wearing.
Another of my faves is J. William Jones’ Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee (1875). At St. Louis, my text (this was before everyone used PowerPoint) included the story Jones tells from Lee’s years as president of Washington College. Lee frequently called students into his office for misbehaving, and talked to them so tenderly, in a fatherly way, that the boys almost always ended up crying. One brash young lad, however, bragged to his friends that when he was called in, old man Lee would never get him to show such weakness, saying, “I will talk back at him, and get him to laughing the first thing he knows.” Not long afterward, this young student was indeed summoned to the president’s office, and some of his friends gathered outside to hear what happened. When he came out, sure enough there were traces of tears on his cheeks. They all asked why: “How did you come out?” “Did he scold you severely?” The lad replied, “No, I wish he had. I wish he had whipped me. I could have stood it better. But he talked to me so kindly, and so tenderly, about my mother, and the sacrifices which she, a widow, is making to send me to college, and of how I ought to appreciate her love, and do credit to her, by diligence in my studies, and correct deportment—that the first thing I knew I was blubbering like a baby. I promised him that I would do better hereafter, and I tell you, boys, I mean to do it.” (I wrote on Jones’ Reminiscences in April 2017.)
I like bringing back into currency these old chestnuts. It’s gratifying to learn that our readers like it too. Michael Harrington of Houston sent me an e-mail awhile back. “I’ve thought for years we should review occasionally some select older books as well as new publications,” he wrote; “it is a real service to our readers, not all of whom are deep readers of CW historiography.” More recently, John Sinclair of Baltimore wrote Jack, “Steve Davis’ fascinating essay on Richard Harwell’s In Tall Cotton [about which I wrote last March] breathed life into an overlooked classic that might cause some to give it a second look rather than write it off as ‘outdated.’”
It’s even finer when the author of one of these “overlooked classics” learns of my selection of his work for my page. After I wrote about John Hennessy’s Return to Bull Run (1993) in May 2016, John e-mailed me a word of thanks. “It’s been 23 years since I wrote the thing,” he added, “and yours is probably the first review of it in15 years.”
Breathing youthfulness into old books kind of reminds me of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”: “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”
Growing up, my mother always claimed that she had “eyes in the back of her head” in which she could see myself or my two siblings acting mischievously. No matter how much I looked and stared, I could never locate that mysterious set of eyeballs. Not until I was much older did I realize the quote was not to be taken literally but figuratively. My mother, like countless mothers before and many more to come in the future, had “mother’s intuition.”
This phenomenon has been studied by experts in their respective fields and is completely out of the scope of this author’s specialties or the basis of this post. Yet, conducting research on Florida troops, I came across the following account, which dabbled in “mother’s intuition” and like the “eyes in the back of her head” has planted itself firmly in family lore.
On February 20, 1862 in Tallahassee, Florida, a 31-year old native Floridian enlisted in Company K, of the 5th Florida Infantry. He was elected 1st Lieutenant and had two brothers. Isham and Walter served under him in the same company. He left behind a wife, Laura and a plantation that had substantial wealth for that time in northern Florida, with a population of African-American slaves numbering 118 prior to the war.
Lt. Joel C. Blake was with the 5th Florida as that regiment entered the fray at Gettysburg, one of the 321 men still with the unit. As part of General Robert E. Lee’s plan of attack on the 2nd of July, the Florida Brigade, part of General Richard Anderson’s Division of General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps would strike toward the Union center. The Floridians would move out when the Alabamians under General Cadmus Wilcox initiated their advance.
Stepping out for the advance shortly after 5:00 p.m. the Florida Brigade, including the 2nd and 8th Florida Infantry Regiments, crossed the Emmitsburg Pike and slammed into Union artillery and elements of Union General Daniel Sickles’s Third Corps.
Billowing small arms and artillery fire left smoke and haze masking the field. Unbeknownst to the Floridians a Union regiment, the 19th Maine, lay in the field in front of the brigade. The devastating fire rippled through the Floridians. The two sides traded volleys before Wilcox’s advance came astride the Floridians right flank. Yet, the firing continued and with the heat, confusion, and casualties taking their toll on the command, the acting brigade commander, Colonel David Lang, ordered a retreat.
Mixing with the screams of dead and dying men on the fields of Gettysburg was one from the capital of Florida. It was just as loud and heart-wrenching as it came from a mother.
According to family tradition…or lore…Joel Blake’s mother was sitting down for supper when she was seized by panic. A vision or “mother’s intuition” brought a startling realization racing through her mind. With dread seeping into her voice, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, my Joel is dead!”
She was right. Lt. Joel C. Blake had fallen in the advance on July 2nd. To add even more anguish, the young man’s remains were never identified, as they were reported to be “completely mutilated” and could never be found.
Blake was one of the thousands of sons that fell at Gettysburg. His mother was one of thousands who felt the keen loss of a beloved child. Whether the account is family lore or “mother’s intuition” may be irrelevant. The human aspect is what makes this account so relevant.
March came in like a lion and seemed to go out like one, too—at least around here! So, while we did get the March ECW newsletter out, we didn’t get a post up about it here at the blog. If you didn’t get the chance to see the newsletter, you can check it out here. Or, if you expected to get one but didn’t, check your spam folder.
If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter mailing list, follow the hypertext link to the March issue, and then you’ll see there’s a button at the top of the page that’ll let you sign up.
In the March newsletter:
- Editor-in-Chief Chris Mackowski reflects on the April Fool’s Day, Easter, and Passover, all rolled into one—and what our studies of Civil War history teach us about the complexities of contradiction
- News about our first ECW Pop-Up Tour, with Kevin Pawlak and Dan Welch at Antietam on May 26
- A profile of ECW contributor Caroline Davis
- News about our latest book releases
- The latest news and notes from our contributors—what they’re up to and what they’re publishing
For more than two decades now, I’ve taken a special interest in Women’s History Month. Some people might consider that to be an unconventional choice for a guy, but as the father of a daughter, I felt a responsibility to make sure my little girl knew she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up.
For a while, she even wanted to be Stonewall Jackson. And one of his most famous aphorisms has served as one of her own personal mottos: “You may be whatever you resolve to be.” She’s 24 now, and a police officer, and I’m feeling pretty good about her ability to make her own way in the world now, thanks to her own resolve.
But two decades of promoting female role models for her has left an indelible mark on me, as well.
While my daughter might no longer need those role models, other young women do, and I think that’s especially important in the field of Civil War history. Military history, in particular, is male dominated, as are many components of public history. So is the membership of many Civil War roundtables. (And look at the male-to-female ratio of ECW’s own line-up of authors, even.) I’m not saying that’s a bad thing—just a reality of the field.
But that’s why it’s still important to hold up female role models.
This year, I took time to talk with four women who work in various fields in Civil War history
- Elizabeth Heffernan, executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (preservation)
- Caroline Janney, associate professor of history at Purdue University (academia)
- Mary Koik, editor of Hallowed Ground magazine (publishing)
- Emma Murphy, park guide at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (NPS)
Those interviews offered a more in-depth way for me to follow up on profiles ECW ran last year, which we’d invite you to revisit if you’d like. Correspondent Emily Losito profiled:
- Krista Costella, education manager at Ft. Negley in Nashville
- Andrea DeKoter, chief of interpretation at Richmond National Battlefield
- Paige Gibbons-Backus, site supervisor for Ben Loman Historic Site in Prince William County, Virginia
- Kristen (Trout) Pawlak, former director of the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis (Kristen has since moved on to the Civil War Trust)
- Beth Parnicza, historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, who’d been on detail at Harriet Tubman National Historic Site
I also want to invite you to look at some of the profile we’ve done of our own ECW contributors
- Sarah Kay Bierle, the managing editor of emergingcivilwar.com
- Caroline Davis, ECW blogger
- Hannah Gordon, managing editor of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series
- Meg Groeling, ECW blogger
- Jennifer Mackowski, ECW’s chief financial officer
- Julie Mujic, member of our “Engaging the Civil War” Series editorial board
Somewhere out there, I hope a little girl is wondering about the Civil War in the same way my own daughter did once upon a time—and that she has the chance to meet one of these outstanding women and see them as a role model.