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, Aol discusses Singer Sargent’s daring (for the time) painting “Madame X”, Robert Lincoln’s brief nickname “The Prince of Rails”, William Rosecrans’ excellent credentials for attending West Point, indoor plumbing at West Point, the christening of the New Ironsides by a former commander of Old Ironsides (the Constitution), Commodore Charles Stewart, and Robert E. Lee’s involvement as executor in the will of George Washington Parke Custis (his father-in-law), and the phenomenon of “acoustic shadow”. Lee apparently had some trouble with the slaves in Custis’ various estates, and this was a particularly interesting anecdote.
New Birth: Gettysburg Gabor Boritt
Gabor Boritt’s article about the creation of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg and the efforts to rebury bodies there is taken from his new book, The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows. The Cemetery was started not long after the battle was finished. Union soldiers were to be buried by state, with no Confederates allowed burial. Exhuming and identifying the bodies was difficult work, and Blacks were typically hired for little pay. By the time the dedication of the cemetery was to take place on November 19, 1863, many of the men had been properly identified and buried there.
The Battle of Galveston by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
Galveston was the only port retaken by Confederate forces during the Civil War, and this turned out to be a key reacquisition. Galveston was the last blockade running port open in the Confederacy by the end of the war. John Bankhead Magruder had been shunted off to the Department of Texas after the Seven Days, but he showed great initiative in his attempt to retake Galveston. He managed to obtain volunteers to serve as a shipboard infantry force while also obtaining steamers to be fitted out as cottonclads. The Federals had only left a small squadron of ships under Commodore William B. Renshaw, along with under 300 men of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry to defend the city, located on an island just off the coast of Texas. Renshaw was unsure he could hold the city, and his repeated requests for reinforcements exasperated Admiral Farragut, his commanding officer. The attack finally came in the early morning hours of January 1, 1863. The fleet of Confederate cottonclads under Major Leon Smith waited for the land based attack of Magruder. “Prince John” set up his artillery in the town of Galveston since the 42nd Massachusetts had found it prudent to hole up at the end of one of the wharfs at the northern end of the city. Butler started bombarding the Union squadron and the Federal regiment around 4:00 A.M. When Smith heard the guns, he moved his fleet swiftly in the direction of the nearest northern ship, the USS Harriet Lane. After several failed attempts to ram, the CSS Bayou City managed to ram the Harriet Lane so hard that the two ships were stuck solidly together. Soon a Confederate boarding party had taken control of the other ship. Union commander William Renshaw was absent, his flagship USS Westfield run hard aground on a sandbar to the north. The commander ended up perishing when he tried to scuttle his vessel due to a premature explosion. The Confederates, in a bold move, managed to bluff their way into a truce with the captain of the USS Owasco. Meanwhile, the 42nd Massachusetts had surrendered on land to Magruder. The end result was that all of these various circumstances led to the retreat of what was left of the Union ships in Galveston. Captain Richard F. Law of the USS Clifton, the next in command and the man who led the Union squadron away, became a scapegoat for the loss of Galveston. A few weeks later, a large Federal fleet came to retake the port city. Providentially for the Confederates, the raider CSS Alabama appeared and managed to destroy one of the ships in the Union force. In addition, the Confederates furiously built up the fortifications in the city, and Galveston remained in Confederate hands.
Do You Know?
Who Was William C. Oates? by Glenn W. LaFantasie
Glenn LaFantasie discusses why he chose to write a biography on William C. Oates, a man more famous in his own time than he is today, and mainly known for his attack on Little Round Top versus Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. The author discusses his many conversations with “Oatsie” Charles, Oates’ only granddaughter. After gaining Mrs. Charles’ trust, LaFantasie was given access to the unpublished autobiography of the former Confederate colonel. Oates, according to the author, “never became as important to others as he believed he should be or deserved to be.” He calls Oates’ biography a “Southern story–as much a part of the South, in its own way , as the hard destruction of the Confederacy.” He closes by describing Oates’ life as “a lightning strike”.
Best Of…Civil War Blogs
In this edition of “Best Of…”, Joe Avalon and Laurie Chambliss, the owners of the Civil War Interactive web site, cover some of the Civil War blogs that have exploded onto the scene over the past year or so. Dimitri Rotov’s Civil War Bookshelf is generally considered to be the oldest Civil war blog, but many others have joined him. There are quite a few blogs out there at this point, and the CWi owners give a brief rundown of some of their favorites. Interested readers may also want to check the CWi “This Week in Civil War Blogs” site, updated every Thursday afternoon.
On The Skirmish Line In Virginia by Fred L. Ray
Fred Ray, author of Shock Troops of the Confederacy, essentially covers the Civil War portion of the book in this article. Those who are on the fence about purchasing that volume will definitely want to read the article. The Union sharpshooter battalions initially had the upper hand in Virginia, but eventually the formation of Confederate sharpshooter battalions from every brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia turned the tide. By the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, the Confederate sharpshooter battalions owned the skirmish line. The Federals tried to respond, but their division level formations never reached the level of effectiveness of their Confederate counterparts. These sharpshooters were using tactics very similar to the German Stosstruppen units in the trench warfare of World War I.
Fort Pillow During the Civil War by John Cimprich
John Cimprich, author of Fort Pillow, a Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory, writes an article based on his book. He covers the reasons why Fort Pillow was manned mainly by White southerners and African-American troops, and also discusses the lengthy and fatiguing march Forrest’s Confederates had to endure before reaching the area. Fort Pillow, for those readers who don’t know, was the scene of a massacre of black troops by Forrest’s cavalrymen. Cimprich believes that although Forrest’s guilt or innocence can never be completely proven, he leans slightly toward that general’s innocence. The main point, however, is that the author believes a massacre absolutely took place on April 12, 1864 at the fort. He points to the taunting of the black troops and the exhausted Confederates to provide a possible explanation for the atrocities which were committed. Cimprich concludes with five main consequences of the fight and massacre. Fort Pillow was never manned again during the war. Federal survivors made allegations that resulted in investigations by the United States, causing damage to Forrest’s reputation. Confederates usually became very defensive about these events despite some early Confederate accounts which clearly showed a massacre took place. African-Americans routinely fought hard after Fort Pillow lest they find themselves suffering the same fate. Lastly, African-Americans were proven to be legitimate soldiers. The Fort Pillow massacre greatly affected the actions and attitudes of both sides for the remainder of the war.
Civil War in the Headlines
This issue marks the debut of “Civil War in the Headlines”, brought to readers by Civil War Interactive.
Civil War Society
Equatorial Temptations: The CSS Shenandoah’s Ascension Island Sojourn by Tom Chaffin
Tom Chaffin, author of Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah (2006), covers the raiders’ weeks long period of rest and relaxation on the south Pacific island of Ascension in 1865. The raider had caught four Yankee whalers off the coast, and Lieutenant Commander James I. Waddell, the captain of the Shenandoah, decided to take his time in dealing with these prizes. The Confederates met with the “King” of the island, trading gifts and making friends with the people of Ascension Island. The king was so pleased he even posted guards over the Shenandoah at Waddell’s request. More importantly, the whaling charts captured from four American ships allowed the Shenandoah to sail to the Arctic waters where the Yankee whaling fleet had concentrated, and the Shenandoah went on a rampage. They finally learned the war was over in late summer of 1865, and they faced the unpleasant possibility of being branded as pirates.
Books reviewed in this issue:
1. The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign by Eric J. Wittenberg
2. An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln by Mark E. Steiner
3. The Yankee Invasion of Texas by Stephen A. Townsend
4. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner and Joshua Brown
5. The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views by Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams
6. Kearny’s Own: The History of the First New Jersey Brigade in the Civil War by Bradley M. Gottfried
7. The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia Edited by Harold Holzer and Tim Mulligan
8. A Maryland Bride in the Deep South: The Civil War Diary of Priscilla Bond Edited by Kimberly Harrison