Short Takes

by Fred Ray on October 5, 2016 · 0 comments

A tour around the web for Civil War topics…

A look at a recently acquired archive of Civil War telegraph messages, thought to be lost. As the article points out, there is quite a bit of similarity between the telegraph messages of the 19th Century and today’s text messages. Some are ciphered and the code has not yet been broken. They are crowdsourcing the project to digitize and decipher them if you wish to join in.

Also from Slate, a short bio of aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe and his balloons.

From Smithsonian, a look at Newton Knight and the “Free State of Jones,” the subject of a recent movie by that name. One detail I found interesting was that Knight was not forcibly conscripted but joined voluntarily in 1861, then deserted. That fits the general pattern of bushwhackers here in western NC. Recent scholarship has established that almost all of them were Confederate deserters who had enlisted voluntarily and had then left for one reason or another.

Now for some videos. Cap and Ball takes a look (and shoots) some CW-era weapons.

The 1855 Colt Root percussion revolving carbine was essentially an overgrown revolver that saw limited service in the war. Berdan’s men were equipped with them initially but wanted the Sharps instead. Still, as you can see, it’s quite a good shooter.

While we’re on repeaters, he tries out a repro of an 1860 Henry repeater.

And, from a different channel, a comparison of the Henry and the Spencer by The Gunny (R. Lee Ermey) himself.



Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

First they came for Nathan Bedford Forrest….

by Fred Ray on September 26, 2016 · 5 comments

I normally don’t do much on contemporary politics, but unfortunately political correctness is starting to have a real effect on public life and Civil War studies. The latest craze is what might be called the historical cleansing of America of all symbols which might offend the usual suspects. It started with Confederate monuments, but it hasn’t stopped there. The latest one is former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney. His statue stands outside the Maryland State House, and has been targeted for removal by the usual group of activists. Taney, however, was no Confederate, but remained loyal to the Union until his death in 1864. His crime was to have written the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which formally recognized slavery and denied that anyone of African ancestry was a “person” under the Constitution. Taney was one of the country’s top legal minds and thought this might settle the question, but instead it simply inflamed it. Only three years later, a group of Southern states seceded to form a nation of their own.

Taney personally had no brief for slavery and thought it a pernicious institution. A slave owner himself, he had unilaterally freed them and provided for the support of those too old to work. However, he strongly believed that under the Constitution this was a matter for the states and not the federal government. When the war began it was Taney who acted as the guardian of civil liberties against the encroachments of the Lincoln administration. However, was a sick man and unable to devote much time or energy to it (he died in 1864). I’ve always wondered what might have happened if he had been in better health. As it was, there were rumors (never substantiated) that Lincoln had gone so far as to prepare a secret warrant for his arrest.

Another non-Confederate to be recently targeted is Andrew Jackson, presumably because he was a slave owner and especially because of the Indian removals. However, these worthies should also remember that it was Jackson who forced South Carolina to back down during the 1832-33 Nullification Crisis. There are also rumblings about Thomas Jefferson.

The latest action against the Confederacy is brought to us by the City of Alexandria, VA, which wants to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway as well as to remove of the statue of a Confederate soldier there.

All this brings to mind the old and rather bitter joke current in the former Soviet Union—that everyone knew exactly what the future would be, because Comrades Marx and Lenin had laid it all out and it was a matter of historical inevitability that could not be changed. No, the problem was the past—that was what kept changing. Every few years the history books would be rewritten to accommodate the latest shift of the political winds, and individuals who had fallen out of favor were excised from the pages and airbrushed from photographs as if they had never existed. I never thought I’d see it here, but we certainly seem to be headed that way ourselves.

UPDATE: The latest target for removal is Christopher Columbus. Perhaps we should all go back to Europe. And of course there is that perennial favorite, Gone With the Wind, which I think would be done only over Ted Turner’s dead body.

As for Lincoln and Taney, if you’d like an unbiased look the two, the writing and impact of Dred Scott, and the habeas corpus cases, I recommend Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President’s War Powers. Lincoln pretty much invented “war powers” out of whole cloth—no other president had claimed such sweeping authority. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that gives the president the power to unilaterally suspend habeas corpus and arbitrarily arrest civilians.

I took a look at that a couple of years ago in relation to the president’s war powers and the laws of war, including the Lieber Code. Some of the measures Lincoln took or approved of were quite shocking.



Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

Review: Civil War Infantry Tactics by Earl Hess

by Fred Ray September 18, 2016

Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness by Earl J. Hess Hardcover: 368 pages 6.1 x 9.4 inches ISBN-10: 0807159379 ISBN-13: 978-0807159378 Publisher: LSU Press (April 13, 2015) Earl Hess has added yet another tome to his ever-growing list of Civil War books. His latest is devoted to infantry tactics, which I must […]

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Civil War Fought by Grasshoppers

by Fred Ray September 15, 2016

A friend send this from the recent NC State Fair. Funny, but even funnier is that both flags are Confederate. Made by a school kid, don’t know what grade.

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Author Interview: Dennis Rasbach, Author of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign

by Brett Schulte August 30, 2016

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared earlier today at The Siege of Petersburg Online and has been cross-posted here. Medical doctor Dennis Rasbach became interested in his ancestor’s unit during the Civil War.  In the course of his research, he realized the 21st Pennsylvania (Dismounted) fought in a brigade from the same division as that […]

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Pegler on Sharpshooting, Capandball on Lorenz and Needle Gun

by Fred Ray August 28, 2016

Martin Pegler, prolific author and former Senior Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, has published a series of articles in American Rifleman on sniping and sharpshooting. The first starts with the introduction of the rifle and goes into the early 19th Century. The next one covers the period starting roughly with the […]

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Blackford at Seven Pines

by Fred Ray August 24, 2016

Johnston continued to retreat until he was literally under the spires of Richmond. On May 31 he finally made his move at Seven Pines. The flooded Chickahominy River had split the Union army, leaving two corps isolated south of the river, which Johnston planned to strike with nearly his entire force. While the plan was […]

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