Now that’s dedication

Civil war historian emeritus Ed Bearss has more zeal, dedication, and energy at his advanced age than I’ll ever have.  A few days ago I saw information that recently he’d broken an arm during a slip on ice while giving a battlefield tour, then continued giving a tour on another field that day.  Ed had to be convinced to seek medical attention rather than continue even further.

Big baby I am, I’d probably run screaming to an emergency room as soon as I broke, say, a finger.

Ed’s stamina continues to amaze me to more I hear such stories.  A good friend of mine in Gettysburg, Dean Schultz (a locally famous chap who knows more about the area than anyone) recently went on a long hike up a huge mountain near Emmitsburg, MD where the Union Army had a signal station during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Ed apparently ran up the mountain, a trek which would have killed most men half his age.

Whatever Ed eats and drinks, I want a lifetime supply of it.  What a guy.

Published in: on February 28, 2007 at 12:51 pm  Comments (5)  

Faded Hoofbeats – George Stoneman

Thought I’d throw out another biography – this one of George Stoneman, my favorite Itchy-bum (read on to see).  As I’m working on an article about the Federal cavalry depots during the war, I thought this would be timely.

George Stoneman was born in Busti (later incorporated as the village of Lakewood) NY on August 8, 1822, the son of George (1-9-1799 to 8-6-1877) and Katharine Cheney Aldrich (9-11-1800 to 11-10-1874).  His grandfather, Richard Stoneman, had settled in New Berlin in western New York from Exeter, England in the early 1800’s.  There Richard had met and married Mary Perkins, whose family had come to New York from Rhode Island.  Richard and Mary’s eldest son was named George after Richard’s uncle, who was killed while serving with the British army at the Battle of the Nile.  George was a prominent lumberman and for many years the Justice of the Peace.

George and Katherine (whose family was from Baltimore MD) eventually had ten children, eight of whom reached adulthood.  The eldest son, George Jr., was educated at the Jamestown Academy in Jamestown NY until age 18.  His headmaster, E. A. Dickinson, wrote that young George was a pupil “in good standing as a scholar and had made exceedingly good proficiency in those branches to which he has directed his attention.”  George studied arithmetic, algebra, and higher math at the Academy.  His headmaster also reported George to be “a correct moral man.”

Considering his family’s pioneer, average status, George made the surprising decision to seek an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point.  His chances for such an appointment seemed rather remote, as his family had no influential connections.  In spite of this, George wrote a letter, seeking the appointment, directly to the Secretary of War, Abe Bell, saying, “It is with the greatest diffidence that I approach you feeling as I do the vast difference in our situations… A military life has ever comported with my inclination.  But to make a military man he wants a proper education.  I have therefore concluded to apply for the privilege of becoming a Cadet at West Point.”  As fate happened, George’s congressman, Staly N. Clark, did not have a sufficient number of candidates for appointments for the year 1842, so he offered Stoneman a slot, which he eagerly accepted on May 9.  Young George became a plebe of the West Point Class of 1846.  The naturally sad-eyed, quiet Stoneman would graduate with such future military notables as George McClellan, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (his roommate), Ambrose P. Hill, Darius Couch, Jesse Reno, and George Pickett.  Stoneman and Jackson seemed to be perfect roommates; the reclusive, unsociable Jackson was a match for the quiet, demure 6’4″ New Yorker.  He, like Stoneman, also came from a modest family background.  Stoneman graduated 33rd out of his class of 59.  In 1895, Couch wrote that Stoneman was “esteemed by his personal associates as a generous-hearted, whole-souled companion.”  He also noted that Stoneman, like Jackson, was more of a “thinker” than a “talker.”

After graduation, Stoneman was commissioned a brevet 2nd lieutenant in the Mormon Battalion.  The battalion had been established by President James K. Polk to enlist the Mormons in the U.S. army and support the U.S. occupation of California.  The unit was recruited to march from Iowa to California to assist the army in taking that territory from the Mexicans.

The march was made during the winter of 1846-47.  Stoneman was assistant quartermaster for the train of 25 mule-drawn wagons.  The epic march, plagued by extreme heat, devastating cold, hunger and exhaustion, opened new roads to be used by settlers, railroads, and gold seekers in the future.  Drawn to the beauty of the area, Stoneman vowed to return to California one day and make his home in the San Gabriel Valley.  On July 25, 1854, he was promoted to 1st lieutenant.

Stoneman served on the frontier during those years leading up to the Civil War as he slowly made his way up in the ranks of the peacetime army.  He became a proficient Indian fighter with serving under Major General Persifor Smith, commander of the Pacific Division, at the battles of Clear Lake and Russian River in California, and at Fort Orford in Oregon.  Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, ordered railroad surveys to be done in order to find the best routes to the frontier West.  Stoneman was assigned to conduct surveys in the Sierra Nevadas and the Coast Range to look for feasible mountain passes in which to lay track that would connect the far territory with Oregon and Washington..

With a solid reputation for courage under fire and concern for men in his command, Stoneman was assigned to the newly-formed 2nd U.S. Dragoons, organized in St. Louis MO.  Jefferson Davis himself selected its officers, a prime collection of military talent:  Albert Sidney Johnston as colonel in command, Robert E. Lee as lieutenant colonel, and William J. Hardee and George Thomas as majors.  Stoneman was named one of the 2nd’s captains on March 3, 1855.  The unit was assigned to frontier duty in Texas where it chased Mexican insurgents who were stealing cattle and threatening American settlers from across the border.  Stoneman found life at Camp Cooper, a remote post in the Comanche Reserve, to be intolerable.  Writing to a friend back in California, Stoneman was blunt:  “This is god forsaken country and the lord only knows when I will get out of it again.  I will embrace the first opportunity to get to California and it is altogether probable that when once there I shall never again leave it.”  During the Mexican War, he would serve as quartermaster of the Iowa Volunteer battalion.

Stoneman eventually reached position as the third senior captain of the 5th US Cavalry, until the outbreak of the Civil War.  In command of Fort Brown TX, in February 1861, Stoneman refused to surrender the fort to Texas authorities, instead evacuating and sailing north with part of his command.  On May 9, 1861, he was promoted to major of the 1st United States Cavalry and served on George McClellan’s staff in West Virginia as assistant inspector general.  When McClellan was promoted to command of the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman was appointed Chief of Cavalry and was then promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers on August 13.  However, McClellan’s lack of appreciation for the abilities and use of the cavalry severely limited Stoneman’s effectiveness as its leader.  The most glaring mistake was McClellan’s method of assigning cavalry regiments to duty amongst the infantry.  In effect, then, Stoneman and his officers were symbolic officers under the control of the infantry commanders.  The error of this policy became painfully evident during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, where the poor coordination of cavalry with infantry led to disastrous results.  The cavalry simply didn’t have a clearly-defined role in operations.  At the battle of Williamsburg, however, Stoneman held his own well against JEB Stuart’s Confederate horsemen.

On November 22, 1861, Stoneman married the vivacious Mary Oliver Hardisty, who, like his mother, came from Baltimore.  They eventually had four children:  Cornelius, the oldest son; George Jr. (who later became a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles and Arizona); and two daughters – Katherine Cheney and Adele.

After the Peninsula Campaign, he commanded a division of infantry, and at the battle of Fredericksburg, Stoneman commanded the Third Corps.  Although Robert E. Lee inflicted disaster on the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman performed with distinction in a supporting role.  Stoneman’s division commanders, brigadier generals David B. Birney and Daniel Sickles, saw active combat as they saved the Federal position during a disorderly retreat of other divisions early in the battle.

In March of 1863, he was promoted to major general to date to the previous November.  When Joseph Hooker was appointed to command the army, the Cavalry Corps was reorganized into a cohesive unit and Hooker placed Stoneman in command.  Now back to commanding cavalry, Stoneman had long suffered from an intolerable case of hemorrhoids, and always seemed to be uncomfortable in the saddle.  The condition would plague him throughout his life as attempts at surgery were unsuccessful.

During the Union disaster at the battle of Chancellorsville, Hooker characteristically searched for scapegoats among his commanders to blame for his own failures.  Hooker had designed a cavalry raid behind Confederate lines, with Stoneman in the lead.  It would soon be known as “Stoneman’s Raid.”  It was a daring, risky maneuver that failed.  However, it boosted the morale of the troopers and ranks as one of the significant precursors to the turning of the war in the East.  The troopers were long proud of their participation in “Stoneman’s Raid,” and it effectively diverted much Confederate infantry from the Chancellorsville battle.  But Hooker, reeling from his own loss, blamed Stoneman and unofficially relieved him from command of the Cavalry Corps by packing him off to Washington to seek “medical treatment” for his hemorrhoids.  Stoneman became chief of the newly-formed Cavalry Bureau there, while Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton rose to command of the Cavalry Corps by default, a position he had long coveted and which he knew would finally bring him his own promotion to major general.  As head of the bureau, Stoneman established a large purchasing and organizational depot at Giesboro Point DC, near the Potomac River.  It was quickly name “Camp Stoneman,” and accommodated up to 12,000 horses for drilling and training.

Stoneman and his old friend, John Bufordd, had long respected each other’s abilities and were close friends.  Buford was disappointed when Stoneman was relieved of command of the Corps.  When Buford became increasingly ill in November 1863, he left the field for Washington DC to stay at Stoneman’s home.  Under Stoneman’s watchful eye, Buford’s health rapidly deteriorated in early December and he died there on December 16.  Early that morning, knowing that Buford’s end was near, Stoneman requested a major general’s commission for his old friend.  President Lincoln approved the promotion, which arrived just a few short hours before Buford died.  At Buford’s subsequent Washington funeral, Stoneman directed the procession’s military escort.

During the winter of early 1864, Stoneman wearied of his administrative duties at Washington and longed to get back to the field.  He was anxious to redeem his reputation in the wake of the Chancellorsville raid.  When Major General John Schofield, a fellow New Yorker and friend, was given command of the Department of the Ohio in January, he arranged for Stoneman to take command of the XXIII Corps of infantry in the Western Theater.  However, on April 4, Schofield took his place while retaining command of the Department.  Stoneman was assigned to command a special cavalry force, but Schofield instead placed him in command of the Department’s entire Cavalry Corps.  Buford’s closest aide, Myles Keogh, distraught at Buford’s death, requested a transfer to be appointed to Stoneman’s staff.  Keogh became Stoneman’s aide-de-camp.  During a raid planned for Macon GA and the Andersonville Confederate prison camp designed by Stoneman to free captives there, he was captured on July 31, 1864, along with Keogh.  Stoneman suffered the distinction of being the highest-ranking officer that the Confederates captured during the war.  Both were specially exchanged at General William T. Sherman’s request that fall, Stoneman being exchanged for Confederate Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan.  After his return to the army, in late 1864, Stoneman finally salvaged his reputation by leading a raid into southwestern Virginia to destroy the salt works there, one of Lee’s army’s major resources, and the ironworks near Wytheville.  He then led 6,000 men on another raid into North Carolina and Virginia in March 1865.  His command nearly captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  As Davis moved his government into North Carolina, Stoneman’s horsemen closed in.  Davis was finally captured by the 4th Michigan Cavalry, of Major General James Wilson’s command, in Georgia on May 10.  In June 1865, Stoneman was appointed commander of the Department of the Tennessee and headquartered in Memphis, a city torn by racial tension since Black troops comprised a part of the occupying Union army.  After a riot broke out on May 1 between the black soldiers and black citizens, it led to charges that Stoneman had not intervened quickly enough to restore order.  White Irish-born immigrants, competing with the blacks for manual labor jobs, had killed 46 blacks.  Making matters worse was the fact that the Memphis police force was predominately Irish.  Later, a Congressional committee investigated the riots and both thanked Stoneman for his assistance as well as rebuking him for not acting as quickly as he perhaps could have.  

During the Congressional campaigns of 1866, Stoneman became a Democrat since he was opposed to the radical policies of Reconstruction.  Republicans, however, won a sweeping victory and began establishing military districts in the south, placing some ten states under military rule.  Stoneman was first tapped to head the sub-district in Petersburg VA and then the district of the state itself.  Stoneman, like his predecessor and old friend John Schofield, supported more moderate policies that eased the state through the process.  For his services, Stoneman received a brevet to major general in the Regular Army and was mustered out of volunteer service on September 1, 1866.

Upon mustering out, Stoneman reverted to his Regular Army rank of lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Cavalry.  Effective back to July 28, 1866, he was appointed colonel of the XXI Infantry, and commanded the Department of Arizona, 1st Military District.  On May 3, 1870, Stoneman took command of the Arizona Military Department with headquarters at Drum Barracks.  A controversial commander in his dealings with Indian uprisings, Stoneman was relieved of his command in May 1871, retiring with the rank of major general and replaced by George Crook.  He had sought retirement due to “injuries” suffered during the Civil War, but President Ulysses Grant discovered that Stoneman’s “disability” was due to the hemorrhoid condition and revoked Stoneman’s rank, reverting him to colonel.

Moving to California, and realizing his life-long dream since first seeing it as a young 2nd lieutenant over 30 years before, Stoneman and wife Mary settled on a 400-acre estate in San Gabriel Valley which he called “Los Robles (The Oaks).”  Stoneman cultivated a lush vineyard on the property.  The home no longer stands, but the area is today a state historical landmark.  

 In 1882, he was elected Governor of California and served a four-year term after serving as a Railroad Commissioner from 1876-78. Stoneman had several influential supporters in his nomination, three being Judge David S. Terry, Stephen M. White, and James T. Ayers, the latter the editor of the Evening Express. Stoneman’s principal opponent for nomination was the owner of the San Francisco Examiner, George Hearst (millionaire father of William Randolph Hearst), who led in the early balloting.  However, Stoneman’s rural-based supporters rallied and Stoneman was finally nominated on the 14th ballot.  In the election, Stoneman faced the Republican Morris M. Estee, an experienced California politician and Speaker of the Assembly.  Stoneman campaigned hard throughout the state, hampered by his poor speech-making.  His wife Mary (picture at left), who called her husband “Stony,” hated the rigors of campaigning.  She once even wrote that seeing her husband in the political arena made her “sick.”

Stoneman won the race handily, capturing 40% of the total vote among four candidates.  His administration was early on marked by the controversial issues of the state railroads, but he nevertheless established progressive programs in several arenas.  Two new state hospitals were established in 1885, as well as a home for the blind.  A Forestry Board, sorely needed, was established.

On July 17, 1885, a fire destroyed Stoneman’s ranch home.  The family wasn’t home at the time, but Stoneman’s papers, his Civil War mementos, and most personal possessions were lost.  Stoneman’s political supporters, as well as many newspapers, proclaimed the fire to have been set by the Governor’s political enemies.  Mary was devastated by the fire, and more so upon learning that her husband had let the insurance lapse so there was no recovery available.

His party did not nominate Stoneman for re-election, as he faced strong opposition within his own party. Without the necessary political skill to build support, Stoneman was not even considered for a second term.  In fact, at the convention, his record as governor was hardly even mentioned.

In 1887 he asked for restoration to the military retirement list upon leaving office, which elicited negative comments since there was a perception that his ranch had made him a wealthy man, irrespective of losing his home.  He became estranged from his wife over an alleged affair, which she vigorously denied.  Broken financially and in poor health, he traveled to New York City and there had surgery to alleviate his hemorrhoids, described by his sister as a “severe operation.”  He stayed at her home in Albany to recuperate.  On November 28, 1888, Stoneman left Albany and traveled  to Buffalo NY, to visit another sister, Charlotte Williams.  After more traveling to visit his children and other family, he died at Charlotte’s home in Buffalo on September 5, 1894, as a result of a stoke suffered in April.  His final years had been anything but the happy ones he had expected to spend at his home in the beloved California valley.

 At the military funeral, all of his pallbearers were civilians, and neither of his sons attended.  He is buried in the very small Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood NY, not far from his Busti childhood home, in the Stoneman family plot.  A simple family monument in the center briefly tells of Stoneman’s accomplishments, and he is surrounded by his parents and other members of his family.  Stoneman’s family home in Busti disappeared long ago, and a new home, built in the 1990’s, now stands on the spot.

In 1970, songwriter J. R. Robertson immortalized Stoneman’s 1865 raid into southwest Virginia in his popular song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”  Recounting the feeling of the coming end of the war, the song begins:

“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again…”
©1970 Canaan Music, Inc.

(My thanks to ol’ buddy Ben Fordney, who assisted with many of the details).

Published in: on February 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Faded Thunder

Early in the life of this blog, I started a periodic series called “Faded Hoofbeats” to highlight the lives of long-forgotten (or underappreciated) cavalrymen of the Civil War.  Well, here’s another – except this one is John H. Calef, a regular horse artilleryman.  I’ve long been fascinated with Calef’s career and life since he notably served with John Buford’s troopers to open the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

John Haskell Calef came from a long line of Calefs that settled in the New England area by at least the mid-1700’s.  His great-grandfather was Colonel John Calef, of Kingston NH, an officer in the Revolutionary Army.

John was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts on September 24, 1841, and was appointed from that state to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1858.  Attending from July 1 of that year, Calef graduated on June 17, 1862, at which time he was ranked a 2nd Lieutenant and appointed to the 5th United States Artillery.  While with the 5th, Calef served in McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign from July through August, at Harrison’s Landing (in the action at Malvern Hill on August 5, 1862, and in the Northern Virginia Campaign from August to September 1862 (2nd Bull Run) and at the battle of Antietam.  On October 6, he transferred to the 2nd US Artillery, and participated in the march to Falmouth from October to November, and in the Rappahannock Campaign from December 1862 to June of 1863, which saw him in the actions of Stoneman’s Raid, the battle of Chancellorsville, and at Upperville.

His service with the 2nd Artillery would bring him deeply into the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863.  Attached to Colonel William Gamble’s First Cavalry Brigade of General John Buford’s Division, Calef’s men, horses, and guns made the hard march with the horsemen on their advance into Pennsylvania, dogging Lee’s Confederate Army.  On the morning of July 1, 1863, and throughout the afternoon, Calef and his men would see some of their hardest fighting in the war.  Ordered by Buford to spread out his six guns along McPherson Ridge west of Gettysburg, Calef’s battery was an important element in Buford’s delaying plan.  The division of his battery would allow Calef to appear to have more guns to play upon the Confederates advancing on the town.  Confederate Major General Henry Heth’s artillery soon outnumbered Calef, but the young Lieutenant kept up a dogged fire, keeping his tubes smoking until red-hot.  Calef’s gunners were ordered to take up several positions throughout the first day of the battle, defending both the Union Cavalry’s opening fight and the subsequent lines taken by the Union infantry upon their arrival to the field.  For his and his cannoneers’ services that day, Buford  highly praised the young officer in his official report, saying that Calef “…fought on this occasion as is seldom witnessed” and that he “…held his own gloriously.”  Calef was thereafter ever proud of Buford’s laudatory words for his battery’s deadly work that day.

On November 4, 1863, Calef was promoted to First Lieutenant.  His service in the Civil War would be extensive, since it had begun with the Peninsula Campaign immediately after his graduation from West Point.  His artillery served at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, the Rappahannock Campaign, Stoneman’s Raid, Chancellorsville, Upperville, Gettysburg, Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, and the Rapidan Campaign.  During a skirmish near Racoon Ford, Calef was wounded on September 15, 1863.

After a leave of absence from February to April 1864, Calef participated with his 2nd US Artillery in the battle of Cold Harbor, the skirmish at Bottom’s Bridge, the battle at Trevilian Station, and St. Mary’s Church.  On July 6, 1864, Calef was made a Brevet Captain for “gallantry and good conduct in the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the Campaign from the Rapidan to Petersburg, Va.”  During August to September, Calef took a sick leave of absence, then was back in the action during the Siege of Petersburg during the winter of 1864-65, participating at Boydton Plank Road in October, the destruction of Stony Creek Station on December 1, and the skirmish at Bellefield on December 9.  Calef officially served as Adjutant of the 2nd Artillery from November 6, 1864, until he was posted at Fort McHenry MD from February 21 to July 26, at which time he was sent to the Presidio in California, serving there from September 19 to October 27.  

Effective March 13, 1865, Calef was brevetted Major for “good conduct and gallant services during the War of the Rebellion.”  On October 27, Calef was sent to Fort Point in California until January 1 of 1867.  On January 12, he was appointed a captain in the 10th US Cavalry, but refused the position.  He then returned to the Presidio in February until November 1872, and was posted again at Fort McHenry until May of 1875.  On March 16, Calef was made full Captain in the 2nd US Artillery.  Also that year, beginning on May 11, Calef served as an instructor in the Art of War at the Artillery School at Fort Monroe VA until April 8, 1888, except while he was called to duty in suppressing “railroad disturbances” in Pennsylvania from July to October, 1877.  After his duty at Fort Monroe, Calef was sent to Jackson Barracks LA until September 26, 1888, and then to Fort Wadsworth NY until September 12, 1889, at which time he took a leave of absence.

Following the commemoration of the Gettysburg battle anniversary in 1888, a group of Buford admirers met to form the John Buford Memorial Association.  During discussions about a suitable design for a monument of the General to be placed at Gettysburg, Calef suggested that the design incorporate the use of four cannon tubes that served in the 2nd US battery.  Calef subsequently, through the Army Ordnance Department, traced down tube #233, the gun that fired the first Federal artillery shot of the battle on McPherson Ridge.  That, and three other tubes that served in the battery at Gettysburg, were built into the base of Buford’s statue.  The statue was placed upon the spot at which that particular gun had fired its first round, along the Chambersburg Pike.  At the dedication ceremony of the statue on July 1, 1895, Calef personally “spiked” the four guns tubes at the base of the statue, rendering them useless in hostile battle, but forever in the service of memorializing General Buford at the place of his finest hour.

Calef retired from the service as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1900 and died in St. Louis MO on January 14, 1912.  He is buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


Published in: on February 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm  Comments (5)  

Savas-Beatie’s new website

A few months ago, Ted Savas mentioned to me that his company was putting together a new website.  Tonight I checked it out and am quite impressed.  There is an amazing amount of content on it – including several pages of their authors and bios.  The graphics are extremely well done, and it’s quite an example of what a publisher’s website should both look like and how it should work.

Check it out here.  You’ll be impressed.  Oh, and there’s a bio of yours truly here.  Maybe not as impressive!

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

See, I wasn’t kidding…

Earlier tonight, my 17 year-old daughter fell on the ice in the neighbor’s driveway as she and my wife went to visit.  My daughter’s hip has been bothering her since, so the better half took her over to the Emergency Room to get checked out, just as a precaution.

Right after making the previous post about the Hanover article, I decided to get the garbage all together and take it out, since pick-up is tomorrow morning ’round these parts.  It needs to be put out by the road.  Let me describe how that’s done.

We have a pretty large home (about 4,000 sq. ft) in a very rural area of northwestern Pennsylvania.  In fact, there are as many Amish families living on our road as there are, uh, what would you call the rest of us?  English as they say?  Anyway, I packed up the two bags worth, put them in the plastic can I keep right outside the garage door, and began heading down the driveway.

Our home sits on top of a little hill in the landscape.  Our asphalt driveway is nearly 200 feet long, so it’s a good haul down to the road.  We have about 2 feet of snow on the ground, but the last couple days it’s been hanging around 50 degrees – a far and welcome cry from the 5 and 10 degree highs we’ve been having for the past month or so.  Consequently, the hard-packed snow on the driveway (you know, the crap you can’t get with the snowblower where your vehicle tires pack it down) has been melting lately, and all the water flowing down the driveway freezes at night in the 25 degree air.

I started down the driveway, heavy plastic garbage can in tow.  Thank goodness the stupid thing has wheels.

Ever hear of black ice?

Well, unsuspecting me didn’t consider the fact that all this freeze/melt/freeze created lots of it on the bottom half of the driveway.  You see, the bottom half of the driveway dips down to the road at a steep angle. 

In an instant, I no longer had any feet.  I may as well have been trying to walk on a frozen lake with teflon-coated shoes.

As my life, my loves, and my as-yet unfinished books and articles flashed before my eyes (with the unexpected split-second fantasy of me in command of the Army of the Potomac Cavalry Corps), somehow my desire to live kicked in, and I twisted around just enough to get the garbage can between me and my impending death – the black ice.

Can you appreciate how great a sled a plastic garbage can makes?

Now that I knew I wouldn’t die, I was caught like Wile E. Coyote just as he realizes he ran off the cliff, and is about to fall 1000 feet to the ground.  After a split second pause, with me screaming in the dark like a little school girl, my 42 year-old legs flailing to catch friction to no avail, I rode that garbage can the last 70 feet or so all the way down to the middle of the road, where I stopped abruptly as I hit that damn Pennsylvania anti-skid they spray all over the roads around here.  Screaming all the way, this time like a school girl being held by her feet by the Seniors, hair heading for the toilet bowl.

Once I stopped, I either muttered or yelled an impressive string of expletives – can’t remember what it was, but it was anatomically acrobatic and impressive – then reality set in.

Back when I started this blog, I made an early post about how the “regular guy” in me gets uncomfortable sometimes when I’m recognized as an author and historian – and I specifically stated that I fall in my driveway in the winter time like everyone else, to the loud guffaws of my neighbors.  It seems to happen once a year.

Well, I looked around and listened.  Thank goodness, I thought, it’s dark.  Hunched over top of my garbage can, in the middle of the road, wheezing and sweating, my form was undoubtedly glowing in the soft light of my nearby light post.  Just enough for people to see me.  Damn, I thought.  Well, if they didn’t see me, they most assuredly heard me.  Damn again, I thought.  In the future I’m liable to have one of the neighbors ask me how to perform one of those expletive phrases I screamed out in the inky darkness.

Then I realized one other thing – I hadn’t stopped until I hit the middle of the road, and had a car been coming by they would have run me right over.  Probably never would have seen me, either.  “Mildred, what in the hell was that?”  neighbor Howard would ask his wife as their car landed back on the road surface.

Of course, around here I probably have more chance of being run over by an Amish buggy than a car.  Imagine the headline.  Man Run Over by Horse and Buggy While Riding Garbage Can In Driveway. 

Anyway, I wasn’t kidding when I earlier posted about falling in my driveway.  Of course, I can thank the heavens I’m here to write about it, and poke fun at myself.

Then again, shouldn’t my dang 17 year-old be taking the garbage out?  And falling down?  And getting run over by an Amish buggy while riding the garbage can down the driveway?

Oh, wait, she’s in the ER right now, so I’ll cut her some slack.  Never mind.  But when they get home, do I have a story for them…

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 12:25 am  Comments (11)  

Hanover Battle article progress

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I’m working on an article for North&South magazine on the battle at Hanover, Pa, between Jeb Stuart’s cavalry and Kilpatrick’s troopers on June 30, 1863.  The article is based on chapters 4 and 5 in the book by Eric Wittenberg and myself on Stuart’s ride to Pennsylvania.

I had mentioned also that the chapters total about 21,000 words, and the article word limit is about 10,000 – necessitating quite a cut.

I’ve been plugging away at it for an hour or two a night, and making some progress.  Currently I have it about 16,000 words – still a far cry from the final version, but I’m only about half way through the text.  I’ve been finding it easy to abridge in some areas, very difficult in others.  As I also previously mentioned, Eric and I desire the article to have value on its own – not simply an abbreviation of our book chapters.  To that end, once I get close to the final word count, I plan to do some revising in order to freshen the material a bit. 

Some other things need to be done with it as well – in order to place it in context, I have to have a capsule introduction, and a conclusion as well that wraps the event within the entirety of the ride.  I also plan to make more of the “lost dispatch” we revealed in the book in chapter 3 – an item I discovered in a period newspaper literally as we were going to press with the book.  All of this, of course, adds more words.  So, really, I need to take the current 21,000 words down to about 9,000 before adding in this other material.


Eric is working on a similar article based on one of his manuscripts, and is facing the same problem – his blog post on the dilemma was titled “Slashing and Burning” – and for good reason.  It’s very difficult taking a text that you worked so hard on to be complete, and now you have to make it a shadow of its original version.

I am plugging away at it, however.  And as I said, I want it to be worthy of its own existence – and I want readers of both the book and this article to enjoy each of them.

More as I progress.

Published in: on February 21, 2007 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not what you’d think

While perusing my copy of William F. Fox’s 1889 classic Regimental Losses in the Civil War last night for nuggets to use in upcoming writing projects, I came across the section in chapter 7 in which Fox delineates some data from the muster rolls (p. 62).  Fox gives averages for enlistees, such as height and weight, and percentages of other data such as hair color, occupation, nationality, etc.

I’ve often heard, as I suspect many others have, that the Civil War soldier (and any person of the era) was a great deal shorter than the average American today.  Hey, just look at the myriad of original uniforms in any museum – they look as if they’d barely fit our 12 year-olds today.  I know that their smallness has always surprised me.  But in looking at the data in Fox, I was reminded of how surprised I was by the true data.

According to Fox, the average height of the Civil War soldier was slightly over 5’8″.  I’m not sure of the average height of the American male today (probably a simple Internet search would find that) but I suspect that’s not a whole lot shorter than today’s average.  All those small uniforms in the museums sure seem to paint a different picture, but an averaging of the muster rolls is what it is.

The average enlistee was, not surprisingly, a good deal lighter than today’s average – he averaged about 143 pounds.  So, tall and lean he was.  I’m sure today’s average weight is quite higher – many news programs tell us all the time how fat America is.  The difference, I’m sure, was due to the physical labor and activity done by males of the era, as well as the obviously different diet.  You didn’t stop at the local McDonald’s for a meal in 1861.  And there were no all-you-can-stuff-in buffets either.

As to be expected, there were definitely extremes and peculiarities in the numbers.  Here’s some from Fox:

The men from Maine, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky were slightly taller than the average.  West Virginians averaged 5’9″ in height.  Out of about 1,000,000 recorded heights of soldiers there were 3,613 who were over 6’3″, and among them were some who were over 7′ tall.  Must have been something in that water!

However, Fox makes an interesting comment about height and performance.  Keep in mind that in marching formation, soldiers were arranged tallest to shortest from front to back (something you rarely see done at reenactments today):  “But tall men proved to be poor material for a long, toilsome campaign.  When, after a hard, forced march, the captain looked over his company at nightfall to see how many men he had with him, the ‘ponies’ who trudged along at the tail of the company were generally all there; it was the head of the company that was thinned out.”

The descriptive lists show that 13% had black hair, 25% had dark hair, 30% brown hair, 24% light, 4% sandy, 3% red, and 1% gray hair.  So, not a dearth of gray-haired, 300-pound soldiers like you see at so many reenactments?

Eye color – 45% had blue eyes, 24% gray, 13% hazel, 10% dark, and 8% black.

So, based on the averages, if you pulled a Civil War soldier out of the line, what would you likely get?

A 5’8″, 143-pound, brown-haired and blue-eyed fella who’d probably make most of the long marches.  And he’d have no idea what a Happy Meal is.

Is that what you expected?

Published in: on February 20, 2007 at 9:28 pm  Comments (6)  

Press release on Gettysburg Renovations

Dru Anne Neil

Gettysburg Foundation Campaign Tops $93 Million Gettysburg, Pa. (Feb. 16, 2007)- The Gettysburg Foundation announced today that it has secured more than $93 million in funding toward its Campaign to Preserve Gettysburg.

At the same time, it revised its fundraising goal to $125 million, which includes funds to build, furnish and operate the new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, to preserve the park’s extensive collection of Civil War artifacts and archives, including the massive Cyclorama painting, to return portions of the battlefield to their 1863 appearance, and to create an endowment to support future preservation and maintenance needs. The goal also includes additional preservation projects previously handled by the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg. The Friends merged last summer with the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation to form the Gettysburg Foundation. Construction of the new Museum and Visitor Center remains on schedule for a spring 2008 opening, Foundation President Robert C. Wilburn said. Within the last few weeks, workers put in place the cupola atop the Cyclorama gallery. The circular structure in the center of the new facility will be the first to be completed, to accommodate the ongoing conservation of the 365-foot painting. The next phase of that project will take place in the new gallery; the conservation team anticipates moving the painting into its new home later this spring.  “It is difficult to describe the sense of anticipation we feel as these new facilities take shape,” Wilburn said. “I am often asked to describe the new Gettysburg experience, in the context of what visitors encounter today. The short answer is that there is no comparison.

“From the start,” Wilburn said, “we have worked to ensure that the Gettysburg experience reaches its full potential. Our goal has been to showcase the battlefield and the town, and to offer an experience that not only excites and inspires visitors, but also helps them appreciate the significance of what happened here. As one of our nation’s most sacred places, Gettysburg deserves nothing less.”

Additional investment in the museum exhibit galleries, along with the Foundation’s commitment to an environmentally sustainable facility and site, account for a significant portion of the increase in the campaign goal. Costs to conserve the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting and to rehabilitate portions of the battlefield also have grown as experts handling those two projects have gained a greater understanding of how best to accomplish them.

The thread that ties all of these decisions together, Wilburn notes, is the ongoing commitment on the part of the Foundation and the National Park Service to provide the best possible experience for current and future generations of Gettysburg visitors.

Wilburn noted that the campaign goal, including facilities costs, is consistent with that of other major museums in the mid-Atlantic region, including the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the new American Revolution Center Museum at Valley Forge, Pa., George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Va., the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., and the proposed U.S. National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va.

He describes the core components of the campaign in terms of support for the Foundation’s objectives in the areas of education, preservation and visitor services.


Gettysburg offers lessons one simply cannot get from a textbook. Facilities and programs made possible through the Campaign to Preserve Gettysburg will promote a better understanding of how the struggles of 1863 relate to the challenges the nation faces today.

The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War will put America’s turning point in perspective, using exhibits, sound, video and setting to give visitors a deeper understanding of the war and its impact.

Appropriately, the themes of the museum’s 11 galleries will be based on phrases from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Five films, two voices theaters and a variety of computer interactives will immerse visitors in the causes and consequences, sights and sounds, of the war. A Special Exhibits Gallery will use temporary and traveling exhibits to broaden the number of topics covered in the museum. A new 25-minute feature film will offer a dramatic introduction to and overview of the battle.

Two state-of-the-art indoor educational resource centers and three outdoor classrooms will provide much-needed space for study visits, teacher workshops and distance learning programs.

Visitors will be able to use a resource room, located adjacent to the exhibit galleries, to access information related to the Civil War, the Gettysburg Campaign, the preservation of the Gettysburg battlefield and the creation of Gettysburg National Military Park. Through this room, visitors also will have access to the information presented in the museum galleries.

The library/reading room will house manuscripts, letters, documents, periodicals and photographs, along with books, microfilm and a digital library. It will be open to scholars, researchers and the public on an appointment basis.


The battlefield; the letters, photos and diaries of those who fought; and the stories of all who sacrificed for their beliefs are irreplaceable treasures that can inspire, teach and strengthen today’s visitors and future generations. 

The Gettysburg Cyclorama painting is the largest, and one of the most important, artifacts in the collection. It is being returned, as close as possible, to its original glory and will be hung in a new gallery with proper conditions for its preservation. The new Gettysburg Cyclorama painting experience will include recreation of the skyline, the canopy and the three-dimensional diorama that have been missing for more than 40 years.

Visitors also will encounter exhibits on the history of the painting and itsconservation.

Museum-standard, environmentally controlled collection storage facilities will help ensure that the park’s collections can be appreciated for generations to come.

Ziegler’s Grove, the site of the Union battle line on July 2-3, 1863, will be rehabilitated to its 1863 appearance, providing visitors with a sense of place and the opportunity to honor the men who fought there.

The Foundation considers an environmentally sustainable building and site as important an investment for future generations as the preservation of the collection, and the exhibits and programs that will excite and inspire. A geothermal system will use the earth’s constant 55-degree temperature to heat and cool a significant portion of the new facility. The overall design of the building supports a number of key environmental goals, beginning with the attainment of LEED performance certification at the “silver” level for energy efficiency, ozone protection, indoor air quality, site development protection and support for occupant and visitor recycling programs.

An ongoing land acquisition program will create a buffer and remove from potential development as much land as possible around the site of the new facilities. The Foundation also is preserving as many wetland areas on the site as possible: For the 0.682 acres of wetlands that will be disturbed by the new facilities, the Foundation is creating almost three times that amount – 1.912 acres.

Visitor Services

With the opening of the new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg will finally have the facilities to accommodate all who come here. Visitor services will make the Gettysburg experience more engaging and informative for everyone.

A three-minute orientation video – the initial “Gettysburg How-To” – will give visitors a clear outline of all they can see and do within the museum, on the battlefield and in the town.

Dedicated entrances for groups and for leisure visitors will provide easy access to museum experiences, tour and shuttle buses. To help ensure convenient traffic flow and ample parking, the grounds surrounding the new facility have been increased to 100 acres. Walking trails, picnic areas and a bus drivers’ lounge are among the visitor amenities.

A Refreshment Saloon will feature foods that reflect recipes popular with soldiers and civilians of the Civil War era. On the adjacent Dining Terrace, visitors will be able to enjoy their own picnics, or sample the fare from the Refreshment Saloon. A Bookstore and Museum Shop will feature an extensive selection of appropriately themed books, as well as a wide variety of Gettysburg-related accessories.

Endowment, Administration

Funding for an endowment to support ongoing preservation and maintenance needs, as well as administrative costs, complete the $125 million campaign goal. Administrative costs include fundraising activities and Foundation staff; interest, taxes and insurance costs; as well as office space in the new facilities to house National Park Service and Foundation staff.

The Gettysburg Foundation is a private, nonprofit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg. For more information about the Foundation, the Friends of Gettysburg, and the Campaign to Preserve Gettysburg, call 1-866-889-1243 or visit online at or
Wow.  Let’s hope that visitors don’t forget to visit the, uh… battlefield.

Published in: on February 16, 2007 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment’s “This Week in Blogs”

Want one webpage that gives a snapshot of what’s going on each week at every Civil War-related blog?  Simply go to CivilWarInteractive’s page of “This Week in Blogs.”  It’s updated every Thursday by the great folks at CWI, and I check it that day or Friday each week to see what’s going on… especially when I don’t have time to check out all the blogs one by one.

While you’re there, if you’ve never nosed around the CWI site, check it out.  It’ll keep you busy.  For a number of years now CWI has been one of the very best Civil War websites on the internet.  Go to the homepage here.

Published in: on February 15, 2007 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

My “BufordsBoys” website

I’ve received several emails from folks telling me that my personal website, BufordsBoys, has been down for about a week.  As I’ve explained to the inquirers individually, I took the site down instead of paying my web host about $300 for the next annual renewal – because they’ve been having major technical problems.  My host is in Gettysburg (of all places) and for the past year and a half their technical problems have made it impossible to edit the site at all.  Last year, I paid my fee expecting the problems (which had gone on for about 6 months) to be resolved soon – but they weren’t.  So, when I got my bill a couple weeks ago, I told them to stick it and take down the site.  I can only imagine what all their otherwebmasters have been doing – if they have any left at all.

I’m currently looking for a new host – so if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.  The entire site is saved in my hard drive, and there are a ton of updates and additions waiting to go in the FrontPage program.

In the meantime, if anyone really needs to see something on the site, you can go to the Wayback Machine search here.  Just type in and you’ll get a list of data from the site that you can go to.

And again, if anyone has suggestions for a web host, please let me know.  I have several ones in mind but would like opinions before I settle on one.

Published in: on February 13, 2007 at 11:44 pm  Comments (2)