Friday, November 28, 2008

A Step Forward And A Step Back

I have recently been reading Martin Dugard's The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848. Of course I eagerly went to see how many familar faces I could come across, including Captain Bragg. Well, we get a little bit of good, and the same old bad. In regard to Bragg, Dugard says, "The North Carolinian was a tyrant, despised by his troops for his fanaticicism about discipline and protocol. He had finished fifth in the West Point class of 1837, which had graduated more than a dozen future generals-a startling figure, given that it comprised just fifty men. Bragg was lean like a knife's blade, tall, with iron gray eyes, great bushy eyebrows, and a sharp, unshaven chin whose point was accentuated by whiskers extending down both sides of his face to the jawbone. He was prone to depression, hypochondria, boils, and chronic diarrhea. Strangely, despite all this, women found him to be extremely charming. Bragg could display a sly sense of homor to those he pursued. Among his men, however, such attributes might be spoken of but were never witnessed...Bragg's character was potentially assailable, but his ability and intellect were not. Actually, he was something of a military genius. Bragg's specialty was artillery...Bragg was adept at mobilizing and firing all of these weapons. Yet his favorite was the six pounder...,the smallest cannon in the modern American military arsenal."
Sadly it seems the author relied to heavily on Civil War writings about Bragg, without checking them. Although Bragg's health was never great, the list of maladies he lists come from the 1860s, not the 1840s. Also, the opinion of Bragg as a tyrant comes more from post Civil War writings. Bragg was more a problem with superiors than his men, of course there is the story of the "fragging", but no one ever checks the story out, to see that the soldier that tried that had tried to desert and had been punished by Bragg, if he had been such a tyrant, the soldier would have been executed. However, it is at least refreshing to see Bragg being given some credit for his ability, particularly in artillery. So you have to take the good with the bad.

Rally on the....errr...High Ground or the Military Crest

This past week being the 145th Anniversary of the struggle for Chattanooga, I thought it would be a good time to mention an new project of mine, one of the far too many I already have. This one though ties into some of the other accepted "facts" about Braxton Bragg. That being that the Army of Tennessee laid its trenches, if they could be called that (several accounts refer to them being on a foot or so deep, or even just rocks and logs piled up), on Missionary Ridge on the geographic crest instead of the military crest, a tremendous blunder. However, though this may be wrong thing to do, I have been taking notice of all of the other positions used by the AoT before and after that had their positions on the geo. crest, and it is surprising, even during the Atlanta Campaign a large number of the CS positions are on the geo. crest, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, and others. So, now comes the struggle to see why.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some more for Mr. Bragg

Came across this on the 7th Mississippi Infantry website, , a thank you to Jamie Roberts for making this known to me. The following is from the diary of William J. Bass of the 7th.

This is from the diary entry for June 15th, 1864.

"The Army visited by General Bragg [as] he passed through our camp to General Walthall's Brigade, a great many followed after him [and] seemed to be anxious to see the face of their old commander. After reaching General Walthall's Brigade, loud cheers were heard for a speech from General Bragg who told them that he was no hand to speak, that the best speech he had ever heard was made by them in front of the enemy with their muskets and it would afford him much pleasure to be with us again on such an occasion. He said that he had been far from us, but he could assure us that we had not been forgotten by him."

Battle of Ringgold Gap

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Ringgold Gap, the last battle in the struggle for Chattanooga, and the only CS victory. The battle was small, but for many of the men that fought there it was one of the worst engagements of the war, particulary for the men of the 7th Ohio Infantry. The 7th Ohio would enter the battle with 14 officers and come out with one, larger losses than they suffered at Gettysburg. This was also the battle that earned Patrick Cleburne his reputation, he would get the thanks of the Confederate Congress, of Braxton Bragg, and become known as the "Stonewall of the West". That would then play out a little over a month later with his attempt at issueing his proposal to enlist slaves in CS service.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Army of Tennessee!

Though we're not quite to our anniversary here at the blog, our namesake and (usually) subject is turning 146 today. Disappointed from the lack of success in Kentucky (though loaded down with the produce of the Bluegrass), Braxton Bragg reorganized his forces on November 20, 1862. In the process, he designated the army, the Army of Tennessee.

So, here's to the army's founder, its longtime commander, and our favorite figure here at AoT: "Bully for Bragg!"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New Important Reference

A few days ago I received a copy of Bruce Allardice's CONFEDERATE COLONELS: A BIOGRAPHICAL REGISTER. This is going to be right up there with GENERALS IN BLUE and GENERALS IN GRAY. It gives short bios on every full colonel that served in the Confederate armies, excepting, of course, those that were promoted to General. Anyway, here is a small sample:

Field, Hume R. Born Sept. 11, 1834, Pulaski, Giles Co.,TN. Attd. KMI. Druggist in Giles Co. prewar. Md. Henrietta Cockrill, Capt. Co. K, 1st TN, May 2, 1861. Major, date not specified. Col., May 1, 1862. Regiment consolidated with 27th TN, Jan. 1863, with Field heading the combined 1st/27th. WIA Kennesaw Mountain. Led Gist's Brigade at Bentonville. Paroled May 1, 1865, Greensboro. Farmer in Union City, TN, postwar. Died June 17, 1921, Union City, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Buried East View Cemetery, Union City. Sam Watkins claimed Field, a crack shot, killed 21 Yankees by himself during the war and called Field "the bravest man, I think, I ever knew."

Rudler, Anthony Francis. Born Antoine-Francois Rudler June 14, 1820, Bitteschwiller, Alsace, France. Came to the US in 1845. Bookkeeper in Augusta, GA. Officer in Mexican War. Filibuster with William Walker. Rudler was Walker's second in command, and his imprisonment in Honduras became a local cause celebre. Unmd. Capt. Co. G, 3rd GA Inf. Bn., Sept. 29, 1861. Major, Oct. 31, 1861. Detached in 1862 to be IG on Kirby Smith's staff. Col., 37th GA (formed from the 3d Bn.), May 6, 1863. WIA Chickamauga and Chattanooga, the latter would disable him from further field duty. Arrested Oct. 1864 and sent home to await trial. Ordered to take charge of convalescents in Augusta, Jan. 31, 1865. Commanded posts of Washington, GA, and Columbia, SC, Feb-April 1865. Active in promoting postwar emigration to Venezuela. Died Aug. 7, 1871, Augusta. Buried Magnolia Cemetery. Rudler was never a popular officer (he was appointed, not elected, major, displacing an officer the troops had elected) but was respected for his "undeniable bravery."

There are similar entires for EVERY Colonel, so this is a very important resource. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Forrest High Follow Up

Here is a follow up to my previous post about the controversy over Forrest High School in Jacksonville, FL. As a side note, the local middle school is named afer JEB Stuart.

Forrest High will keep its name after two years of controversy, school board votes 5-2 to leave the name.


The Times-Union Nathan Bedford Forrest High School's name will remain unchanged. The Duval County School Board voted 5-2 Monday to leave the name of Forrest High School, which honors the Confederate general, slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The decision ends two years of controversy over a possible name change. The vote to change the name of the majority black school split down racial lines, with board members Betty Burney and Brenda Priestly Jackson, the board's only black members, casting the two votes to change the name.Priestly Jackson and Burney said the school was named after Forrest in 1958 as a slap in the face to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education to integrate schools. "It was done to slap in the face integration and now the school itself is almost all African-American," Burney said. Board members voting to keep the name said energy surrounding the issue and the resources it would take the change the name are better suited to helping the school improve its academics. Forrest received an F on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.Board member Kris Barnes, who wrote the agenda item recommending the rejection of the name change, said she had a problem that the issue was raised by the community instead of the students going to the school. Barnes said she wouldn't be able to understand the pain the name may cause blacks, but said she was frustrated so much time was being spent on a name of a school. "I would like the see it go through a process started by the student body," Barnes said. Board member Vicki Drake said she was displeased by the number of people who showed up at Forrest's School Advisory Council meetings to voice their concerns about the name change, but wouldn't come to the meetings to help the children at the school succeed. "The children didn't ask anybody to change the name of their school, the children asked for help to read and write," Drake said.Board member Tommy Hazouri agreed with Drake and Barnes. "For me in my heart, I think the great concern today is moving that school off the F chart," he said. "I believe that we should leave the name where it is. "The board voted after listening to more than two hours of public comment. About 100 people concerned about the name change attending the board meeting. The public's statements featured dueling histories and opinions of Forrest and his life. Opponents said removing Forrest's name was a step toward erasing Southern heritage and called Forrest a civil rights advocate and a good man

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Historical Fiction and the Civil War

Two recent events here at UK (trying now to put effigies aside) have got me thinking about the role of historical fiction and the Civil War. A couple of weeks ago, University of Georgia emeritus Dr. Charles Hudson gave a talk on the role of historical fiction in illuminating the often obscure world of Indians in the pre-white-contact South. An anthropologist by training, Hudson uses fictionalized dialogues between Spanish priests and Scottish backwoodsmen and the Indians whom each encountered (the Coosa in the first instance and the Cherokee in the latter). Hudson argued that historical fiction can fill in gaps in the historical, anthropological, and archaeological record, allowing a skilled author to illuminate a "history of a far older South" than the one normally associated with the Civil War era.

I relate this to understanding the Civil War because, well, I relate everyhting to the study of the war. But the real catalyst was that my US History to 1865 classes are reading The Killer Angels, perhaps the most popular piece of Civil War fiction and certainly so in the latter twentieth century. Not having read Shaara for a few years, I was struck at his characterization of North and South when I went back over it recently. Of the Army of Northern Virginia he writes, "It is Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Though there are many men who cannot read or write, they all speak English. They share common customs and a common faith..." The Army of the Potomac, on the other hand, "is a strange new kind of army, a polyglot mass of vastly dissimilar men, fighting for union. There are strange accents and strange religions and many who do not speak English at all. Nothing like this army has been seen upon the planet."

But is that correct? Is that a fair assesment of the armies? Would Joseph Glatthaar agree with Sharra's assertions? I don't think history supports these generalizations. The bigger question is: what happens when historical fiction no longer patches a skeletal documentary record, but contradicts scholarly understanding of the past? Hudson spoke to this during the Q&A. As the fiction is built upon the bedrock of scholarship, he said, when the understanding of the past changes, the "truth" of the fiction must therefore change.

But at the same time, as a work of art, of literature, historical fiction endures as a representation of the era that produced it. Hudson read a selection from one of his books, relating the story of the burial of the two stone idols at Etowah. He explicitly, he said, moved away from the documentable theories on their destruction and spun a mythological tale through the narration of The Raven, a Coosa priest. The Coosa, Hudson said, would not have remembered an academic analysis of the socio-political upheaval that caused them to abandon their gods, but would have instead remembered the emotion of it, the story of it, through their oral tradition. His brand of social anthropology which seeks to understand people as they understand themselves -- not as they are understood by others -- produces more of an impressionistic watercolor than a high-def photograph.

So too, I think, with Civil War memory. Postbellum generations of Americans (Northern and Southern) remembered the emotion, the feeling, the watercolor rather than the hard details which are being born out through historical research. So, then, is the study of Civil War memory history or anthropology? Art history? What does an 1880s memoir or a 1920s work of history tell us more about: the Civil War it discusses or the ways in which later peoples understand thier world and their past? Does the fact that The Killer Angels mischaracterizes the warring armies diminish its value? Or does the fact that it struck a chord in American society reflect its "truth" as percieved by many Americans? Which is more real today: historical reality or modern perception of reality? Which will prompt people to act? Do historians have a duty only to observe this cultural phenomenon or to realign the perception?

My classes will have the option to write on this theme in a short paper, and I'll be interested to see their responses. In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear any of your own.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bingham's Citizens: Antebellum Elections

Artist George Caleb Bingham gave us some of our best images of antebellum America. Perhaps one of his most famous is his painting of election day, part of a series including images of a stump speaking and the announcement of results. I particularly love this one, as it represents something that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers we study, Union and Confederate, would have been familiar with. Here we see a community of citizens on display. From the gentleman/candidate in the blue coat on the steps, doffing his tall beaver to a farmer for his vote, to the party men so plied with whiskey that they can no longer stand (but maybe can pull themselves together enough to pronounce for the Party's candidate), and the ever watchful party organizer sitting on the steps counting the votes and marking off his list of constituents as they come forward. All ranks of the citizen are here.

Who isn't here? Women, for one, are not. In Bingham's mind, this is a gathering of citizens, a gathering where women have no place. While women were important to shaping politics, they influenced decisions within the domestic sphere. African Americans are not present either, save for the one man dispensing drinks at the behest of his owner/employer (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon you presume this to represent). In reality, women, children, and African Americans were present at elections, politics was entertainment and elections, speeches, and political parades were times for socializing. The entire community would have turned out for the election. Bingham, though, shows citizens: white, male, citizens. He wants to depict American democracy as it was, and by excluding noncitizens he did precisely that.

The fact remains, though, that even with citizenship restricted as it was, antebellum elections saw voter turnouts of 70-90% regularly. I know that at 5:50 (in the a.m.) when I went to the polls this morning there was already a 30 minute wait. I couldn't have been more proud of my fellow citizens there, in line before the sun came up. Let's hope that this election -- whoever you vote for -- can reinvigorate American democracy.

Most of us can't understand or experience much of what Civil War soldiers went through during the war. I will never feel the rush of adrenaline in combat, the pains of homesickness, the suffering and terror of an army hospital. But I can -- you can -- participate in this public ritual that both sides went to war claiming to defend.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More 1870s Election Commentary: Voter Misinformation

From this article: "Some local Democrats spoke out Tuesday after a fake flier was circulated this week that looked like a notice from the state Board of Elections telling people 'emergency regulations' require Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote Wednesday."

From another one: "It's too hard to vote in Kentucky." "Kentuckians must vow today that before the presidential election in 2012, we'll make it easier to vote. With polls open in Kentucky only 12 hours on Election Day — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — too many voters get shut out.
For some historical perspective...

On Monday next, for the fourth time, you will have an opportunity to exercise a right under the highest privilege which a citizen has. Your right to vote as a man and citizen is guaranteed to you by the supreme law of the land. Your right to vote is protected by this law, and all who attempt to prevent, delay, or hinder you in the exercise of your right, can be punished UNDER THIS LAW, with very severe penalties. ... Your right to vote is as good as any one's. Your duty to vote is as imperative as any one's. Therefore, you should go to the polls and vote, letting no threats of any kind keep you from exercising your right. ... Go to the polls one and all of you, and STAY UNTIL YOU HAVE VOTED, then leave the polls that others may get to them. When you are at the polls no one has a right to drive or push you from them until you have voted. When you have voted it is your duty to give way that others may vote.
Follow our advice, and should any difficulty disturb the peace, no one, even your most bitter opponent, could not attach the least blame to you. We repeat: it is your duty to vote. ... It is your duty to do nothing that will interfere with the rights of others, nor to allow others to do anything that will in any compromise your rights. As good citizens you should do every thing in the interest of quiet and good order.

Lexington Kentucky Statesman, August 4, 1871.