O. Lee Sturkey is the author of Hampton Legion Infantry C.S.A., a new entry in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set published by Broadfoot Publishing. He has been a student of the Hampton Legion for over 25 years, making Mr. Sturkey a perfect candidate to write a book on a portion of the unit. The endnotes in this book are fabulous. Even the rosters are annotated, a feature not found in the other three initial books in this new series. In fact, Mr. Sturkey dedicates over 300 pages of a 900+ page book to notes! I recently conducted the following interview with the author via email.
BRS: Mr. Sturkey, thank you for agreeing to an interview with TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.
OLS: My pleasure. And I go by Lee.
BRS: Lee, feel free to tell us a little bit about yourself. When, where, and how did you become interested in the Civil War?
OLS: Very briefly, I am a native of rural South Carolina, a 1965 graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in history, and later a law degree. My undergraduate concentration was in, of all things, English history, though my senior thesis was on the military campaign for Columbia, S.C., mostly because of the availability of research materials. I spent 5 ½ years on active duty with the Navy following graduation.
My family always have been students of history, but strangely enough, much of my interest was focused on areas other than the Civil War. My interest in the War was always there, but I more or less nibbled around the edges until after I got out of college and really began to read.
I remember reading all of Bruce Catton’s books on the war, starting while I was in junior high school. And after college, I learned from Shelby Foote that retelling history need not be a dry recitation of facts. Better than any historian of the War, he was able to give it a sense of purpose. My only objection to Foote is that he promised a bibliography in his final volume, which did not materialize.
BRS: Why did you become interested in the Hampton Legion? Twenty-five years is a long time to be studying one unit. Did you have ancestors serving with the Hampton Legion?
OLS: My Grandpa Sturkey (and his three brothers and future brother-in-law) was in the Legion infantry. My father was his youngest child, born in 1899 when Grandpa was 62. But his stories were never part of the family lore. I suspect that he, like so many combat veterans, found it far too painful to retell stories of the war. At any rate, in the 1970’s, I made a copy of his file from the Compiled Service Records, which of course are pretty much bare-bones. When I began trying to trace the Legion’s history in conventional sources, it just more or less disappears after 1862, except a stray reference here and there. And there are a lot of holes in the Official Records for 1863 and 1864. So I began digging, and it snowballed from there.
It was not until after I put together a roster of the Legion that I realized Grandma Sturkey’s older brother was in the Legion. And then I found that a maternal great grand uncle transferred in to the Charleston company late in the war. Finally, I have discovered that two grand aunts married nephews of Legion members. South Carolina is a little State, and the names keep bumping into each other.
BRS: Some readers of TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog may be unfamiliar with the differences between a “legion” and other units such as a regiment, company, or battery. Would you care to briefly explain what those differences are?
OLS: The basic combat organization of infantry and cavalry in the Civil War period was the regiment. The regiments were of course grouped into brigades, customarily of three to five regiments. Artillery batteries or cavalry companies (or squadrons) were not organic to infantry regiments. Legion formations, in the true sense, were organizations of combined arms, infantry, artillery and artillery. But due to the limitations of 19th Century firepower (and to a lesser degree, to logistics and mobility), those combined formations did not works well together. A Legion was not numerically strong enough to have a decisive impact on Civil War battlefields, and the cavalry was almost always needed in brigade sized or larger formations, to operate on the flanks and to scout.
The Hampton Legion never operated together as a combined unit in combat, although the infantry and cavalry did participate in some scouting operations in the winter of 1861-62. It was formally dissolved in August 1862, but the component parts had been operating independently since March.
BRS: This particular volume in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set focuses exclusively on the Hampton Legion infantry. In a recent interview with Tom Broadfoot, the publisher mentioned that you had already had a manuscript prepared for the unit. Do you also have manuscripts prepared for the Legion cavalry and artillery, or does your interest primarily lie with the infantry?
OLS: This is one of the few times Tom is mistaken. In the early 1980’s I had begun to do some basic research which formed the nucleus for my eventual narrative. I ran across Col. Harold B. Simpson’s Hood’s Texas Brigade: A Compendium; since the Legion Infantry was a constituent part of the Texas Brigade for about five months, he included an abbreviated roster. I found a good many omissions-he used only the Compiled Service Records, so starting then I began to put together a more complete roster, using not only the CSR’s, but also pension records, newspaper casualty reports and rosters, and whatever else I could put my hands on. By 1990 the rosters were pretty much complete, but I continued to tinker with them for the next fifteen years, adding information here and there as I ran across it.
I’ll digress with a little story. I worked on a development project for a number of years with a very dynamic fellow whose background was in economic planning. He used to say that the problems with planners was that they wanted to plan and plan, but never could get to the implementation phase – they always wanted to refine their documents one last time. I was that way with the narrative. I put off writing because I wanted that next great source. It was a terrible case of writer’s block.
I had shared small portions of my rosters with Drs. Bob Krick and Bobby Krick, and Bob, I believe, alerted Tom Broadfoot to the existence the Legion rosters. Tom contacted me last spring and it went from there. I had to put together the narrative over the late spring and summer.
I did not put together a roster for either the two artillery batteries of the Legion, nor the four cavalry companies, except for those men from those units who formed a part of the Legion Field and Staff. Because those units operated independently from the Legion Infantry for most of the war, I don’t have a lot on their respective histories. There are two superb manuscript diaries/journals for Bachman’s German Artillery Battery.
BRS: The Hampton Legion infantry was reassigned to different brigades quite a bit throughout the war, unlike many units assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia. Why and how did this happen?
OLS: That was exactly the problem I ran into when trying to find out what Grandpa was doing when I first started. The infantry only (then only a six-company battalion) was engaged at 1st Manassas, operating independently. From August 1861 until after Seven Pines the Legion was brigaded under Wade Hampton with one North Carolina and two Georgia regiments. After Seven Pines, Hampton, upon recovering from a foot wound, was transferred to command a cavalry brigade, and the Legion infantry was assigned to Hood’s Texans. They were together through Antietam, and there is no question that the Legion’s leadership, as well as the rank and file, was more closely attuned to Hood’s aggressive offensive style than with any other infantry commander under whom it served.
In November 1862 Lee reorganized the brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia to try to brigade troops from the same states together, so the Legion was transferred to the infantry brigade of Micah Jenkins. The material of the brigade was excellent, but I am less than impressed with Jenkins’ leadership ability. But for some reason he had caught the eye of James Longstreet, and many of the transfers over the next sixteen months were clearly efforts made by Longstreet to give Jenkins divisional command, something which Jenkins was unprepared for, and in which he failed abjectly. I have tried to detail his shortcomings in my book. I cannot fathom what Longstreet saw in Jenkins, who had a mostly undistinguished record as a brigade commander.
Jenkins Brigade, with the Legion, was first in the otherwise all-Virginia division of Pickett, another officer with an essentially undistinguished record. After Fredericksburg, Jenkins was returned to Hood’s division for a short while, then back to Pickett, and then on independent duty along the Blackwater during the early part of the Suffolk Campaign. Longstreet made assignments during that campaign which essentially left Jenkins in de facto command of Samuel French’s scratch division. Finally, when the campaign ended, and Pickett marched to rejoin Lee, Longstreet detached Jenkins on the Blackwater, leaving Pickett’s divison undermanned for the Gettysburg Campaign. Maybe I ought to thank Longstreet.
I will digress a minute here. When I was about eight, I got a comic-type book which featured Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. I asked my mother if I had any relatives who had been in the War, to which she answered in the affirmative, without elaborating. I then asked what would have happened if they had been killed in the war. Her answer was a terse, “Then you wouldn’t be.” Sex education 101 wrapped up in a comic book. I wish I had that book now.
When Longstreet went west to reinforce Bragg, he managed to get Jenkins assigned to Hood’s divison, but Jenkins was the last infantry to entrain, so his brigade arrived the night the battle ended. But Hood’s wounding there put Jenkins in command of Hood’s fine divison, with the consequence that Jenkins botched the Brown’s Ferry/Wauhatchie battle, and subsequently virtually destroyed the combat effectiveness of Hood’s divison. Jenkins was just no good. John Bratton, the senior colonel of the brigade in the absence of Jenkins, loathed Jenkins, and with good reason. After Jenkins’ death at the Wilderness, Bratton restored the combat effectiveness of the brigade.
The Legion’s next assignment, to the cavalry as mounted infantry, will be covered in the next question.
BRS: I found it interesting (and had not previously made the connection) that the Hampton Legion infantry was converted to mounted infantry (or cavalry, which is truly correct?) in late 1863. Could you comment on how and why this happened?
OLS: The assignment was actually made in March 1864. As Lee was preparing for the Campaign of 1864, he worked to augment his jaded cavalry. And Jefferson Davis and Secretary of War James Seddon wanted a brigade of cavalry specifically to protect Richmond. Major Samuel Melton, an officer in the office of Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, recommended the transfer of the Legion to this brigade, command of which was given to Martin W. Gary, the erstwhile colonel of the Legion. Melton, in recommending the transfer and assignment to command, referred to Gary as a “thoroughbred fighter.” The order for the transfer was made within days of Melton’s eloquent recommendation, but Gary’s promotion to brigadier had been warmly recommended for some time.
The Legion Mounted infantry was truly mounted infantry; they continued to be armed with bayonets, and used the horses in scouting and picketing, and for mobility to and from the battlefield. In almost every occasion when they were engaged, they fought on foot. The only exception I can find is a final charge by a mixed group of the Legion and the 7th S. C. Cavalry at Appomattox on the morning before the surrender. The 24th Virginia, a fine unit assigned to the brigade, also fought afoot; the 7th S. C. Cavalry was used on a couple of occasions in a true cavalry role, but for the most part it too fought dismounted.
BRS: In my recent review of Hampton Legion Infantry C.S.A., I mentioned that the book could have used maps showing the location of the unit in its various battles and campaigns. What are your thoughts on maps in Civil War books in general and unit histories in particular?
OLS: The lack of maps is a valid criticism, and even a few would have greatly enhanced the book. I have continued to play around with the manuscript, and have made some revisions and additions. If book sales ever justify a reprint, I will ensure that maps are included in a second edition.
I always appreciate maps, from the detailed ones (which come from the Ezra Carmen manuscript) used by Priest in his solid – no excellent — work on Antietam, to the useful but simple maps in Shelby Foote’s epic history. Maps give the reader some idea of the ground. One thing I appreciate is the feel for the ground, and maps are the best way to try to convey that sense of topography. I have tried to walk the ground on which the Legion fought, but urban sprawl and commercial development make some of it impossible. You can get close to the ground fought over at Wauhatchie, but the field where the Legion fought is inside of a high fence surrounding a chemical plant. And the suburbs and the Richmond Airport have forever changed the ground at Fair Oaks and Nine Mile Road. But nothing can compare with walking the route at Antietam from the West Woods into the clover field and along the Hagerstown Pike to the edge of the corn where the Legion fought, or into the corn in the wake of the 5th Texas.
BRS: You mention the strength of the unit where known and use an educated guess when the exact figures are not available. All too often I see regimental histories gloss over this information or not mention it at all. As a wargamer, I appreciate this attention to detail. If more authors of unit histories shared your interest in this particular information, those looking to put estimate unit strengths for wargames or other ventures would be much better off. What are your thoughts on this topic?
OLS: I am not a wargamer; I have often been interested, but just never have taken it up. But I completely agree with you that the tabulation of unit strengths is extremely helpful in understanding the limitations imposed on unit commanders as they went into battle. Figures for Confederate units are always hard to come by, and that becomes increasingly more difficult as the war progressed. So many reports for 1864 are missing, and there is virtually nothing in the official reports for 1865. I got a very helpful boost by using forage receipts found for some of the men in the CSR, and also scattered applications for furloughs which gave the strength of particular companies late in the war. There aren’t many, but the few which are there substitute for missing morning reports.
I also had two very valuable company reports. Robert Turner, the acting first sergeant of Company B left a diary and memorandum book for most of 1864 and early 1865, from which he help prepare the bimonthly returns; it encompasses a period which is mostly unreported in CSR. And in Company E James R. Huff left a detailed record of who was present and absent for each of the fights of the company through January 1864. It tells who was detailed in the rear, who skulked, and who was barefooted, among other things. But it becomes increasingly difficult to determine Confederate strength as the war progressed.
BRS: The Hampton Legion Infantry missed the better portion of the Gettysburg Campaign. What were they up to in this time period?
OLS: I mentioned this in outline form previously, but I’ll expand it a little. Longstreet and Jenkins schemed to leave the latter in independent command on the Blackwater when Pickett returned to the Army of Northern Virginia following Chancellorsville. Jenkins was detached, without formal War Department approval, but once he was there, Harvey Hill, the department commander, violently objected to his detachment, arguing that the troops were needed to protect Richmond and Petersburg. Lee made repeated applications for the return of Jenkins’ brigade, which with five regiments was the strongest brigade in Pickett’s division, and which had not (with the exception of the Legion) been meaningfully engaged in combat since Second Manassas. But Hill had the ears of the men who counted most, those of Davis and Seddon, so Jenkins remained inactive. Jenkins’ scheming for independent command took him out of play when it mattered most. The Legion was engaged in a little skirmish east of Richmond in early July, losing one unfortunate solider mortally wounded “in the privates.” It was the only combat death in the Legion between Antietam and Wauhatchie.
BRS: Speaking of Gettysburg, Many unit histories of those units which participated in the war in Virginia quite of “gloss over” the fighting after that famous battle. The typical unit history shoves the usual “Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor-The Crater-Five Forks-Appomattox” refrain into only one or two short chapters. Luckily, your book covers the battles of 1864-1865 in just as much detail as the more famous fights up to and including (in the Hampton Legion Infantry’s case) Chattanooga. The Hampton Legion Infantry played an important role as a part of Gary’s Cavalry Brigade in checking Union thrusts north of the James River through a good portion of the summer and fall of 1864. What are your thoughts on the Petersburg Campaign and its relative lack of coverage in Civil War literature?
OLS: I agree completely with your analysis. Despite all the fighting up through 1863, the Confederates were still in the game at the onset of the Campaign of 1864. Although I have not focused on Grant, my appreciation of his strategic and tactical abilities grows the more I study him. He did what no other Federal general had done – he took the measure of Bobby Lee.
If the study of the Petersburg Campaign is neglected, the study of the fighting north of the James is virtually non-existent. The only decent campaign study of the fighting there is Dr. Richard Sommers’ Richmond Redeemed, but happily it is, in my estimation, one of the finest, if not THE finest, campaign study of the War. His scholarship is superb. I had the privilege of meeting him at the Army Military History Center at Carlisle Barracks, and, very much in awe, I asked him why he had chosen the fighting at the end of September and early October 1864. He laconically replied “Nobody else had done it.” Boy, did he make up for the prior omission in spades.
There have been a couple of recent good studies of The Wilderness and Spotsylvania, but nobody, except Dr. Sommers, has done justice to the fighting around Richmond and Petersburg.
I have had three role models, all of whom I have mentioned above. First, Bruce Catton, for awakening the seminal Civil War interest for me, and being the first popular historian to deal with the common soldier in campaign studies. Second, to Shelby Foote, for making war history readable. And finally, to Richard Sommers, for the depth and breadth of his scholarship. I certainly don’t claim to be in their company, but they have been a polestar.
BRS: Before this interview ends, I have to ask you about the prodigious amount of endnotes you included with this book. How long did it take you to compile all of the information included in the notes?
OLS: I started in about 1981 or 1982 with the Official Records, copying pertinent reports and messages, then began archival research, first at South Caroliniana Library at USC in Columbia (which incidentally has a wonderful Civil War collection, very much underrated), then at Duke and Chapel Hill, and expanding outward. I made the first trip to the Manuscript Divison at the Library of Congress on a unforgettable long weekend in November 1983; unforgettable because I had gone up to watch the South Carolina – Naval Academy football game, in which we (USC) got upset by Navy while we were rated No 2 in the pregame AP poll – I am an avid Gamecock – but I got a lot of good material on the first trip to the Manuscript Division the day before. I started on the rosters about the same time or a little later.
I worked in fits and starts. For newspaper research, I was fortunate that I am within two hours of the University of Georgia, which has an extensive and user friendly collection of Civil War era newspapers on microfilm. Some of these things are now available on line, both free and by subscription, but when I did the great bulk of my research, such was not the case.
I made a determined effort to try to get the perspective of the opposing Federals for each engagement; much of my material, probably more than half, comes from Northern accounts. I tried to rely on primary sources in drawing my conclusions, and to use contemporary accounts in preference to postwar accounts. Of course, contemporary accounts simply aren’t available in some cases, particularly for actions late in the war.
I briefly mentioned some of the archival sources which I visited. I want to mention four of my favorites north of the Mason Dixon Line – not necessarily the ones which furnished the most sources, but ones which stand out in my mind.
First, the collections at the Indiana Historical Society and its across the street – literally – companion, the Indiana State Library. The staffs at both bend over backwards to accommodate researchers, and they both have outstanding collections of Civil War material.
Second, the Boston Public Library and its massive Twentieth Massachusetts Collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Room. From the time you pass the stone lion guarding the steps outside, to the architecture inside, the BPL screams “library.” After my visit there, it made me want to go back, just to soak up the atmosphere. But the Civil War Collection is great as well.
Third, the Schoff Civil War Collection at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan is a commendable resource – with an extremely useful on-line index with detailed description of each collection. But the best part is yet to come. The staff is very helpful and accommodating, and they break in the morning for “tea”, and all researchers put down their material and break for fifteen minutes or so with the staff. The library building is an architectural jewel – I know almost nothing about architecture, but I know a good thing when I see it, and this is clearly one of those. And finally, not being a Revolutionary War scholar, I was unaware of Clements’ massive Revolutionary Wear collection; it’s just stupendous. If you are ever in An Arbor, do not miss a visit to William L. Clements Library.
Finally, I was blown away by the Civil War collections at the Connecticut Historical Society. For some reason, they are rarely cited in Civil War works, and it’s a pity, for CHS has a massive CW collection. Connecticut Historical Society has a useful, though not particularly detailed, on-line index, but the staff is incredibly accommodating. CHS is truly one of the best-kept secrets of Civil War research. For those who are working with the war in the West, a lot of the focus of CHS’s collections is on Connecticut regiments in Louisiana.
BRS: I was honestly very surprised by the inclusion of so many notes in one book. I found them to add immeasurably to the value of the book. Due to the cost factor in adding extra pages, many publishers choose to severely curtail the number of notes in a book. Was there ever any discussion of reducing the notes or placing them online?
OLS: I cannot speak too highly of the way I have been treated by Broadfoot. Tom told me that he was looking for 40-50 pages of text, and he set his price based on a book of perhaps 750 pages. When my narrative and accompanying endnotes came in at near 200 pages, he never wavered in his initial price, and I was never asked to cut text or abbreviate the endnotes. I could easily have added another meaningful 200 pages of text, but I didn’t want to push the envelope too far. Tom has a genuine dedication to research. I cannot be more pleased.
BRS: Throughout the book, you described the battles and movements of the Hampton Legion infantry with great zeal. Do you have any other book projects in the works or on the backburner?
OLS: I am going to borrow a page from one of my favorite authors, Shelby Foote, who in Volume III of his Civil War stated that he tried to be objective, but if there was an occasional apparent pro-Southern bias, it should be attributed to Americans’ natural sympathy for the underdog. (I am paraphrasing here.) I did develop a zeal for the story of the Legion, but tried to maintain a scholarly balance. Hopefully, I succeeded.
I occasionally play with my manuscript, and have made some minor additions and corrections, most of them grammatical or for style, but on a few occasions to correct factual errors. For instance, it was Crook who came up to the support of Custer at Appomattox Station, not Merritt, and I got my left and right confused in a description of Tilghman’s Gate. And in an endnote, Hampton was not the senior non-professional lieutenant general; it was Richard Taylor, although Taylor had briefly served as military secretary to his father, Old Rough and Ready. But that would not qualify Taylor as a “professional” soldier.
I have continued to occasionally add material in the rosters; I have probably modified at least fifty of the sketches with a little or a lot of information. If sales justify it, I will be ready will a revised edition.
I had considered a biography of Martin Gary, but that has gone on the back burner. Completely by happenstance, I have begun research on Sherman’s march in South Carolina, focusing not on the military, but on the destruction and how it influenced politics in the Palmetto State for the next century, and an analysis of the treatment of civilian populations and property by military forces. Most of the work will of necessity have to involve Northern contemporary accounts.
I also want, at some time, to analyze the actions (and non-actions) of Longstreet and Jenkins on the Confederate left at the siege of Chattanooga. I have much of the research on that already, although there are a number of items I need to visit. It’s just a matter of priorities.
BRS: Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions Lee. I appreciate it and I’m sure TOCWOC readers will too.
OLS: The pleasure is mine, Brett. I thank you for the review.
Editor’s Note: Lee also was kind enough to offer a few random comments on some of the officers of the Legion and of units with which it was associated during the war. Feel free to add your comments/agreement/objections to Mr. Sturkey’s opinions.
Wade Hampton – a superb non-professional who learned how to soldier, and who successfully transformed the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia after he came to command following the death of Stuart in May 1864.
Martin W. Gary – a dependable colonel, a very successful brigadier, who, despite the claims of some of his postwar proponents, was never promoted past the rank of BGEN, but was well qualified for promotion to major general. Not only an excellent battlefield commander, he had genuine administrative ability. Somehow he managed to keep his ranks full right to the end, and on the retreat to Appomattox, his Commissary provided the men with rations, most of the time.
Thomas M. “Mully” Logan – the last full colonel of the Legion, promoted to brigadier in February 1865 and transferred to Hampton’s cavalry. An excellent regimental commander and a superior picket officer termed by Lee as “the best outpost officer” in the Army of Northern Virginia. Probably not one in fifty Civil War scholars could identify him today.
William T. Robins – colonel of the 24 VA CAV, Gary’s selection for promotion to brigadier if a vacancy should occur. Robins took a polyglot collection of mostly untested Virginia cavalry units and molded them into a dependable regiment of fierce fighters. Fearless and often out due to multiple wounds sustained in combat
Charles W. Field – The officer who took Hood’s old division and restored its combat effectiveness after the debacle of Jenkins command. Probably Lee’s best divisional commander by late 1864. (or Billy Mahone)
Micah Jenkins – a poltroon. And with that, I’m probably charitable.
E. McIvor Law – an excellent brigade commander who commanded Hood’s divison commendably at both Gettysburg and Chickamauga after Hood was wounded. By every criterion except that of seniority, he was entitled to permanent command of the division.
James Longstreet – generally dependable, as long as he was under the watchful eye of Lee, but an abysmal failure in independent command. And he played favorites; not only was Jenkins his protégé, but he maneuvered Lafayette McLaws out of command to give command to Joe Kershaw. Events did not bear out that the divison was improved. Not overly bright.
Philip Sheridan – His favorite officer was Philip Sheridan himself. He was ferocious in combat as long as the odds were stacked in his favor, but when the odds were even, he did not shine. Decidedly outgeneraled at Trevellian’s Station and at Samaria Church. And he was responsible for a fiasco at Dandridge.
David M. Gregg – probably the most underrated Federal cavalry brigadier of the war. An excellent combat commander.
George A. Custer – He overcame being dead last in his West Point class to be an excellent cavalry commander during the war. He disproves the theory that you have to be smart to be good. His luck ran out on a Montana hillside eleven years later, largely because of Custer’s disobedience of orders and splitting his command, but it had worked before. Ever the proponent of the offensive.
August V. Kautz – as inept a cavalry commander as there was on the Federal side in 1864.
Did you enjoy this blog entry? Please consider using the ShareThis feature below to spread the word and Subscribe to TOCWOC’s RSS feed today!
Leave a Reply