Monday, September 29, 2008


I hopped on our trusty Google Analytics this morning to see what the weekend traffic had been like for us, and boy was I in for a surprise. Apparently, one of our readers (and thanks go out to them) posted a link to my Co. Aytch recap onto Metafilter, resulting in a visitor spike of epic proportions. Here is the link to the thread, which contains some very useful comments and discussion. Some of it is rather critical (in a constructive way), and they actually make some fine points, particularly about my use of "demonstrate" vs. "hint at" or "suggest."

But, more word about our little to-do got out, and I never think that's a bad thing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Those boys of Co. D, 1st TN

To tie in with Patrick's posting on Company AYTCH, I thought I would share the following from Adelicia McEwen German's Reminiscences of a School Girl during the War Between the States:
...the elderly people shiver with apprehension, for many of them remembered seeing the soldiers march away to Mexico in the 'forties', where many of them lie today...Not so with the younger element; It was one long drawn out holiday for them. The drilling was constantly going on at the Fair Ground...Seated on the fence on a hill back of our house we had a fine view of the young athletic soldier boys, who with their blood at fever heat, responded so cheerfully to the commands of their officers, Captain James P. Hanner, Lieut. Cary Harris and Lieut John L. House. The drilling kept up through the Spring and they became very proficient in the handling of arms.
The 18th of May, 1861, was the day set for the Williamson Greys, as they were called, to depart for Camp Cheatham, to be drilled for actual service, A never-to-be-forgotten day with the mothers, sweethearts and friends.
Early in the day, the Company was drawn up in front of the Presbyterian church. After a prayer by the Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Morey, the soldiers were presented with a pocket testament. The thoughtless fellows, many of them, threw them in the mud puddles by the road side on their way to the station, others carried them through the war, and one was sent back from Atlanta, stained with the life blood of our young relative [Kit Ridley pictured here] who proved himself the 'noblest Roman of them all'. Three young men sacrificed their blood on their country's altar, Richard Irvin, Henry Walker, and Kit Ridley.
To return to the station...the company marched to the station looking very soldierly in their black pants with gilt side stripes, grey coats rimeed with gilt braid and brass buttons, a grey cap setting off their uniforms. An immense crowd had gathered at the station to say good-bye from all parts of the country. The train blew and the hour for departure had come, brave mothers clung to their sons, fathers, overcome with emotion, shook their hands in farewell, hysterical sisters screamed, shy sweethearts tried to conceal their tears with their bonnets. Altogether it was the most emotional and saddest scene I ever witnessed. As the train moved off, Lieut. House waved his hand from the rear platform asking that the people take care of the ones left behind, and pledging himself to do the same for their sons. Four years hard service proved the truth of his promise; the ones that came home were loyal to him as long as he lived.

It is interesting to note the careless disregard that many of the boys of Company D showed for the bibles that they were given, and for you uniform buffs another cool description.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Co. Aytch Recap

As Lee's last post noted, the 145th Anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga was celebrated this weekend. And it was celebrated in two distinct ways, on and off the Military Park. At the NPS site, all of your intrepid bloggers were employed in presenting a bang-up weekend of interpretive programming that our increased visitor traffic enjoyed. Down the road, however, the "big show" reenactment took a nosedive for the worse when nationally known neo-Confederate and advocate of the myth of Black Confederate soldiers, H.K. Edgerton took top billing in the "education" portion of the event. It was beyond a sham. Out of curiosity, I stopped in on one of H.K's sermons (for really I don't want to call them lectures or talks... scholars give those), and was unsurprisingly disgusted before a full five minutes were up. The contrast between the scholarly and professional character of the NPS events and the circus-like atmosphere of the reenactment was even apparent to many park visitors who we found were leaving to come be educated with the NPS. It truly was a fantastic weekend.

For my part, as Lee has also said, I put together a little living history event. I've still got many lessons to unpack from this one: which I think means it was a success. But here is a brief AAR. We started out intending to go far beyond the boundaries of living history at a Park that has had one of the strongest traditions within the NPS Civil War community. We sought to recreate the famous Co. Aytch in age, physical condition, "look," and attitude. And, though our numbers may have been small, we succeeded in all of these these regards. The small numbers, though, were an extreme benefit for us, as we were able to bring our audience up close to see exactly what a platoon of that famous company looked like. What it looked like in its entirety:

Essentially, we argued that if we are to tell the full story of Company H, 1st Tennessee Vol. Infantry then we must look beyond Sam Watkins' famous book. Though it is a fine starting point, it is and must be understood as a product of a particular race, class, and worldview unique to the 1880s. Drawing from other scattered writings by and about the 1st, we claimed that discussing the soldiers who volunteered and about whom Sam wrote was only telling a fraction of the story. Underlying every story about every character in Co. Aytch are the stories that Sam consciously excluded, hoping they would become lost. What about the men who didn't volunteer? We know that of the more than 1,000 men in the 1st Tenn. there were at least 50 slaves who accompanied them into the field. Of the 50, we know the names of just 3, one of whom, Sanker, belonged to Sam himself. Where did their narrative go? Why are they not in Co. Aytch? We made the contested claim that Sanker's, Wash Webster's, and Uncle Ike's stories deserve equal footing with those of Tennessee Thompson, Billy Webster, and Alf Horsley.

I can truthfully say that the most stunning part of the event -- for me at least -- was Emmanuel Dabney's presence in the role of my body servant. It was a presence that has not been seen on that field since 1863. That simple presence in the -- or more properly outside of the -- ranks of Co. Aytch was the first step to re-finding these individuals who were fully participant in the events that made up Watkins' narrative but that would be lost to time if we rely on Watkins' postwar memory. Reflecting on the programs we did this weekend with some other long-time Chick-Chatt'ers we agreed that this was the first time that an African American voice had been heard on that battlefield, certainly all the more important that it was one from the Confederate side, too. With the "big show" down the road playing host to H.K. Edgerton's sketchy (at best) claims, it was a high note for scholarship in the parks. The contrast couldn't have been greater, and that is exactly what we need our National Parks to provide.

Aside from the many lessons, fine programs, and hilarious times we had this weekend, there will be two related moments which will stick with me forever. Both involved reinforcing -- to me and hopefully to the audience to whom we were speaking at the time -- the basic inhumanity of slavery. One, as I was delivering a tactical talk and it came time to drop knapsacks I unslung mine and let it fall to the ground. Before I could finish my sentence and place it in the stack with the platoon's, Emmanuel had walked up -- eyes down and hands folded -- and moved it before I could say a word. I instantly knew that I had an opportunity to demonstrate the institution's cruelty here, and so I did not acknowledge his act, did not thank him for it, did not make eye contact, did not stop my talk. My own cruelty -- even to make a teaching point to the audience -- made me shudder inside. In another talk, as I paced up and down in front of the audience I took off my kid gloves and held them behind me for Emmanuel to take. Again without looking back, without saying a word, without acknowledging him in the least, I demanded his service and his loyalty. I denied him the choice of taking my gloves or not; I required that he did. And as I felt those gloves leave my hand, and as I continued my talk without missing a beat, I was sickened.

The point is not that Emmanuel was more than willing to do these things during our programs; the point is not that we dispensed with our master-slave roles once the crowds left. The point is that we got to the essence of living history this weekend. We demonstrated for the public the horrifying nature of that master-slave relationship that the battlefield had not seen since 1863. But this time we were not fighting to maintain it. We were fighting to educate a public that often does not -- can not -- grasp the basic dehumanization that that relationship forced. This time we were fighting to give these invisible characters their shot at making history at Chickamauga.

The question now is, how do we make this an every day experience for visitors at our National Park Service sites? How can we make these lessons not for special events, but for each and every visitor who walks through our doors?

Update: 2 things.
Link to my Co. Aytch research blog
Link to Authentic-Campaigner thread to see other participants' reactions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Live Performance or 145th Anv. Chickamauga

This weekend, Sept 19-21 is the anniversary weekend for the Battle of Chickamauga. We have a lot planned from Living History Demos to book signings. For those of you who might want to see some of us in action, this is your chance. Here is a partial list of events, the full schedule can be viewed at under the Plan Your Visit section;

11 A.M. Saturday, Sept 20. I will be giving a tour of the left half of Longstreet's assault, that is mainly Hindman's Division.

2 P.M. Chris Young will be giving a tour about W.C. Oates and his 15th Alabama on Sept 20th.

6:30 P.M. Historian Jim Ogden will give a tour of Snodgrass Hill.

10:30 A.M. Chris Young will give a talk on Politics and War

1:00 P.M. I will present a talk about Braxton Bragg, examining the political climate within the army and discuss his supporters and detractors.

Throughout the whole weekend Patrick Lewis will be leading a program discussing the real Company H, 1st Tennessee Infantry. This will be the highlight program of the weekend, especially for anyone brave enough to head down to the battle reenactment (WHICH IS NOT AT THE BATTLEFIELD PARK). Patrick has assempled a group of young men to accurately represent the men of the 1st Tennessee in age and appearance, something that is EXTREMELY rare in living history.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Little Newt Update

A tiny tidbit to add on Little Newt, I recently went through his compiled service record, and found that he was captured in Montgomery on May 2nd of 1865, so the war ends there for him. Im still trying to find out what happens to him after the war and will post that when I find out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Slow February In Bowling Green

As much as we normally focus on the exciting, fast-paced world of battles and heroics in the Civil War, we also have to remember that there were far more tedious and boring duties that kept both officers and men occupied during the war. Excerpt from the papers of Benjamin F. Buckner, a Kentucky lawyer turned Major of the 20th Ky Infantry. Expect to hear more about Ben in the coming months as I am writing a seminar paper on his politics and military service. More on that to follow, now we off to his report of February 1863 in Bowling Green, KY.

Bowling Green Ky Feby 7/63
My Dear Helen
I have been so busy for the last five or six day's that I have had not time to write Genl Mc--- has appointed me Provost Marshall of the town forces at this post and I have been engaged in the pleasant occupation of swearing secesh women to support the government, ferreting out thefts of government property, and convicting the fourth Kentucky Cavalry by the wholesale for drunkenness. It is quite laborious, but will soon be more pleasant. ...

I just enjoyed the idea of an entire regiment of cavalry getting tight "wholesale" on a pilfered stock of Kentucky's finest. Sometimes it takes fun bits like that to make a day grubbing in the archives a bit brighter.