Albert A. Nofi’s Knapsack
Al Nofi’s Knapsack is a regular column in North & South that features vignettes and other reminiscences of the late War Between the States. In this issue, the stories include Henry Heth “sharing” flag carrying duties with the color bearer of the 28th North Carolina at Reams’ Station, William T. Sherman’s culinary abilities, one of John B. Magruder’s legendary drinking binges, Ulysses S. Grant’s early lesson on fear, and the 1863 visit of several Russian fleets to United States waters.
“A Most Horrible National Sin”: The Treatment of Prisoners in the American Civil War by Charles W. Sanders Jr.
Sanders looks at the overcrowding, underfeeding, massive outbreaks of disease, and the other horrors of Civil War prison camps. He leads off the article by giving a brief history of prisoner exchange, how it broke down, and how this led to the horrors prisoners experienced during the war. At this point, the article takes a look at Civil War memory by both sides, and the rationalization of many when it came to the deplorable conditions in these prison camps. The author starts with a look at Southern prisons, specifically countering six main “points” the Confederacy offered as to why they were not responsible for the conditions in their prisons. The Southern Historical Society produced two articles edited by Reverend J. William Jones which set forth these points in detail. Sanders states each point and attempts to debunk each one after looking over the facts. The North never offered a concentrated defense of their prisons as Jones, the SHS, and the former Confederacy did, but the author takes a look at Report No. 45 from the U.S. House of Representatives four years after the war. He believes “the official federal position on the treatment of prisoners was clearly stated” in this report. The document stated that the North had done nothing wrong in their treatment of prisoners during the war. Sanders maintains that historians mostly sided with the House’s findings, but he feels that the Confederate accounts of Southerners being mistreated in Northern prisoners is closer to the truth. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is identified as the main culprit. As the prisoner exchange broke down and reports of the poor conditions in Confederate prisons trickled in, Stanton and his Commissary General of Prisoners William Hoffmann systematically reduced the supplies and care given to the Confederate prisoners. Stanton reasoned that he would only do as much for the prisoners as the Confederates were doing for Union soldiers. He also lays much of the blame on Abraham Lincoln, saying that the President knew of Stanton’s reductions in food, shelter, and clothing, but did nothing to stop them and never instituted measures to improve conditions. On both sides, then, the treatment of prisoners was seriously lacking, a fact the author calls “a most horrible national sin.” The quote is taken from a letter a Southern woman wrote Jefferson Davis about the terrible conditions in the local Confederate prison.
“Let No Man Prate of Compromise”: Anna Dickinson, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War by J. Matthew Gallman
To Civil War Americans, the most famous Dickinson was not Emily the poet, but instead Anna, an “American Joan of Arc.” Anna Dickinson, a Quaker and an abolitionist, was not even 20 years old at the start of the Civil War. Her growing fame lay in her excellent speaking ability. Starting in the Philadelphia area, she gradually gained the support of prominent Abolitionists who scheduled new speaking engagements around the North. Dickinson spent most of the war disagreeing with some of Abraham Lincoln’s positions, especially his potential leniency toward the South after the war. Dickinson was a prominent speaker for the Republicans, and she campaigned for many members of the party. She stopped short of backing Abraham Lincoln for reelection, however. Instead, she chose to speak out against Democratic nominee George McClellan. Dickinson was somewhat of a unique individual in a time and place that prevented most women from ever being in the public eye. She lived to be almost 90 in the post war years, but fell out of the public eye with only a few exceptions after the war.
Civil War Round Tables
Repeating Rifles: A Weapons System Seeking a Tactical Role by Joseph G. Bilby
Joe Bilby, author of A Revolution in Arms: A History of the First Repeating Rifles, focuses on the new tactical roles employed by units wielding these new weapons during the Civil War. By 1861 the Colt Revolving Rifle was obsolete because it was still loaded in the old way a conventional musket would be. New breechloaders such as the Spencer repeating rifle, Spencer repeating carbine and the Henry repeating rifle led to increased firepower and new tactical doctrines. Bilby relates the somewhat uneven and wholly informal methods used to create these doctrines. It was apparent from the start that these weapons were very effective on the defensive. Armed with repeaters, units such as Wilder’s Lightning Brigade and later many cavalry regiments in the Army of the Potomac were worth far more than an equal number of men using muzzle loaders. As the war progressed, men such as George Custer slowly but surely learned how to use the weapons in an offensive role, either leading a charge or providing covering fire to keep the defenders’ heads down. By the Petersburg Campaign, Union divisions were even starting to create informal sharpshooter units armed exclusively with Spencers and special sharpshooting target rifles. A main concern with the rapid firing weapons was ammunition conservation. Many opponents said these units would very quickly expend any ammo they could carry with them. Methods were put in place to prevent this from happening, and were largely successful by the end of the war. After the Civil War ended, lever action repeating rifles were quickly phased out, says the author, due to “failure to meet the postwar needs in a rapidly changing military small arms scene.”
Brother Against Brother (and Sister): Stories From the Civil War’s Divided Houses by Amy Murrell Taylor
Amy M. Taylor looks at examples of divided families during the war, probing into their rationalization of this division and how the families reunited after the conflict. The author uses many prominent families as examples, including the Clays of Kentucky, Mary Todd Lincoln and her Confederate half-siblings, and even the father and mother of future President Theodore Roosevelt. Taylor believes families rationalized their divisions by using typical reasons for family angst: brotherly competition, a son’s inclination to rebel against his father’s authority, a father-in-law’s influence over one’s wife, etc. Families used these reasons, says Taylor, in place of political ones. Interestingly, in her study of border state families, the author found that three-fourths of the fathers we slave holders, but many remained in the Union while sons left for the Confederate armies. When brothers faced each other in battle, it opened up the question of how to remain loyal to your side in the conflict and your family at the same time. Taylor says the nation believed that brothers should treat one another as enemies in the heat of battle, but work to ensure their siblings’ well-being at all other times. After the war, many families struggled to reconcile, with monetary gifts being a popular first form of regaining contact. Emotional bonds, says Taylor, were much harder to regain. Ultimately, the nation came to view itself as a divided family, ready to forget the past and come together once more. This “reconciliationist” (as David Blight puts it, says the author) policy ultimately led the white portion of the population to sweep slavery under the rug in favor of becoming one nation again.
Best Of…Civil War Richmond by Don Pierce
This issue’s “Best Of…” focuses on the sights of the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. Important points include the Museum of the Confederacy, the Tredigar Iron Works, the Virginia State capitol, the Richmond National Battlefield Park’s Visitors Center, Monument Avenue, Hollywood Cemetery, the Civil War Medical Museum, and of course the numerous battlefields.
Lincoln, Davis, and the Dahlgren Raid by David E. Long
The Dahlgren Raid has always been controversial. Papers were found on the body of young Colonel Ulric Dahlgren after he had been shot and killed on the expedition. These papers authorized him to capture or assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Some believe Lincoln’s assassination was a direct response to this affair. But who gave Dahlgren those orders? David E. Long believes that the evidence conclusively points to none other than President Lincoln himself, and sets out to convince readers of this version of events in the article. His main focus early on is the extremely close relationship between Lincoln and Ulric Dahlgren’s father, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren. Then the author moves on to specific meetings and covers the various aspects of what actually happened between Frebruary 28 and March 3, 1864. He also is quick to mention that although the raid is most commonly referred to as the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, he believes Kilpatrick and his large force were meant to deceive the public and posterity as to who was really blame for the assassination attempt. Cavalry author and future Ulric Dahlgren biographer Eric Wittenberg posted some interesting comments on this article on his blog.
Books reviewed in this issue:
1. Banners South: A Northern Community at War by Edmund J. Raus, Jr.
2. The Atlantic Slave Trade by Johannes Postma
3. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank
4. Incidents of the War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Jane Chadick edited and annotated by Nancy M. Rohr
5. South Carolina Scalawags by Hyman J. Rubin, III
6. Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia by Brian D. McKnight
7. Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War by David J. Eicher
8. Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism edited by Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer
9. Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society by Eric Burin
10. A Maryland Bride in the Deep South: The Civil War Diary of Priscilla Bond edited by Kimberly Harrison
11. Shock Troops of the Confederacy: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia by Fred L. Ray
12. The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter