“Sweet merciful crap!”

Well, okay, maybe the subject of this post isn’t THAT serious – but I always wanted to title one after one of my favorite Homer Simpson lines.  This seemed to be a good time.

Eric and I continue to pound the research pavement as we finish up the manuscript for the Gettysburg retreat book, and good stuff is continually flowing in.  One resource I snagged online today was the published papers of the Delaware Historical Society.  In 1884, Capt. William Seville of the 1st DE Infantry submitted a paper on his regiment’s role during the campaign, and one of his statements really jumped out at me.

By way of background, many folks characterize Army of the Potomac commander George Meade’s pursuit of Lee after the battle as slow.  Evidence shows, though, that by July 13 and 14 he wanted to make an attack on Lee’s semi-circular defensive position along the river between Williamsport and Falling Waters.  A war council called by Meade put the kibosh on attack plans, with only a couple of his commanders in favor of an attack at the time.  Meade decided to wait, and of course by the morning of July 14 most of Lee’s army had already crossed over the river at those two points.

No one has ever found any evidence of an actual attack order issued by Meade (certainly not that any tangible military plans were put into effect) – just that he and many of the soldiers desired an attack, and he based his decision on the results of the council vote.  Today, as I read through Seville’s recollections, I read this assertion that he makes for July 13:

“About ten o’clock at night an order was received directing a general charge on the rebel works at daylight in the morning [July 14], in which no other weapon was to be used than the bayonet; the men being required to take out of their cartridge-boxes all the ammunition and turn it in.  This order was countermanded just before daylight, in all respects excepting that in regard to marching.”

Seville then recounts that the troops moved forward on the 14th and discovered the Confederates gone from their earthworks and over the river.

It’s a wonderful tidbit, and perhaps leads to many more questions than it answers.  Besides the question of whether the order was actually issued – where did it come from?  Certainly no regimental, brigade, or even division commander would issue such an order unless there was something official coming down the food chain regarding a planned attack.  Slocum was the corps commander – would it have been him?  But he wasn’t in favor of an attack.  Did Meade issue some type of order prior to the war council, then countermand it based on the vote results?  And the idea of a general advance of the army, using only bayonets – ordered to turn in all their ammunition in fact – implies something much more serious than just a “get ready to charge” situation.  It’s also the first time I’ve heard of this type of order.

It would be desirable to corroborate this statement – if only some other soldier in some other regiment had made the same assertion, but we’ve found none.  And we’ve perused nearly 100 regimental histories, and hundreds of primary and secondary sources.  If we could corroborate the statement, it would show that Meade had more in motion than just a “desire” to attack Lee during those final hours, and that perhaps he planned to do so either without calling a war council, or in spite of it.  At this point, we just don’t know.

And the question remains – what to do with such a statement and its ramifications for the story?  We can work it into the main text of the narrative (and perhaps our Conclusion chapter as well), but it would have to be in context with the fact that it’s uncorroborated.  A caveat of sorts.  Or, it can be mentioned somewhere in a related footnote.  We’re just not sure at this point whether it’s important enough to be in the text.  Is it bad memory, or an earth-shaking indication that more wheels were in motion to attack Lee’s formidable defenses than we’ve been led to believe?

We’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on the matter…

Published in: on August 20, 2007 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  

The evolution of an idea

Writing constantly amazes me. 

Generally speaking, the process of writing a book or article is always a learning experience – as you gather and work through your sources, then put them together into a cohesive story, you keep learning new things and are forced to think through all the little nuances of the event, person, etc.  In my case, several of my magazine articles, in the end, changed their focus and tone a bit as I developed the story I was telling – and this is mostly due to what the evidence was telling me along the way.

But this change of focus – or “evolution” as it were – was very evident in the process of writing the book on Jeb Stuart’s Ride to Gettysburg with Eric.  Eric and I both time and time again have recounted how our original idea for the book – a narrative of Stuart’s ride through Maryland and Pennsylvania in June/July 1863 – morphed into a very detailed historiography of the ride and events, as well as a full discussion of the ensuing controversy.  When we began the project, we didn’t envision what it ultimately became.  The final product was a result of the evidence talking to us along the way – prodding us to think deeper, change our focus, and tell the story of not only the ride narrative, but the controversy in words of the participants that have rarely (or never) been published before.

Admittedly, neither Eric or I, or our coauthor Mike Nugent, must be smart enough to have known that the same thing would happen with our newest book on the retreat from Gettysburg.  When the three of us started this particular project several years ago, it had a similar beginning to the Stuart’s ride book – a deeply researched narrative hadn’t been done before (including Kent Brown’s book, which focused more on the logistics of the retreat) – so we set out to do that.

However, along the way, this project too has morphed.  Our idea, in effect, has evolved nearly 360 degrees from where we started.  The material research has literally doubled in the past couple of months… the bibliography went from about 16 pages to 31, most of it primary source.  And a huge amount of it never used before.  All that evidence began “talking to us” again.  We have therefore expanded the project from an event narrative to more discussion involving the decision-making of both sides during the long days of the retreat, and how the Gettysburg retreat event fits in the grand scheme of the Civil War in the East.

I suppose much of this is because no event of the war happens in a vacuum, and there are ramifications, like a ripple effect, that the event has on everything that happens afterwards.  If you study the war long enough, you know that – but it’s when the evidence begins speaking to you somewhere deep in your head that you really realize what those ramifications are and how they fit into the complete picture – as best as can be done nearly 150 years later, anyway.

Eric has posted about some of these types of thoughts lately on his blog, here and here for instance.  Eric likes to call these revelations – or perhaps more correctly “evolutions” – “eureka moments.”  Sometime I just wonder if they shouldn’t be called “duh” moments.  The story is there all along, you just need to go looking for it.

Since we’ve expanded the scope of this book, and allowed the idea of evolve, we’ve nearly doubled the size of the book since it’s “completion” some time ago.  We’ve gone from 9 original chapters to 16, including our Epilogue.  Our estimated final word count including everything but the footnotes is something like 125,000 words or so.  I believe it will be a bit larger than the book on Stuart’s ride.

I’ve really come to believe that ideas are seeds – not flowers.  The garden is one that you won’t have a clue what colors or types of flowers you’ll have until it grows and blooms. 

Published in: on August 20, 2007 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Received for Review – “Men of Fire”

Earlier this week I was very pleased to receive Jack Hurst’s “Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War” from the Perseus Books Group for review.  I know of Hurst’s writing, and as I flipped through the book I could tell that this one was going to be very engaging indeed.

Hurst previously wrote a well-received biography of Forrest.  I have long wanted to read a good book on Grant’s earlier career and the fighting at Ft. Donelson, and I anticipate that Hurst has written just that – although I truly doubt that I’ll be convinced this 1862 campaign “decided” the outcome of the Civil War three years later.  I will ignore the subtitle of the book for now, and chalk it up to what lately appears to be a trend to tout each subject event as the one the “decided” the Civil War.

I also look forward to expanding my reading into the Western Theater with this work.  As I work to wrap up our Retreat from Gettysburg manuscript over the next couple of weeks, this book will give me a welcome diversion from time to time.  By early next month I should be able to post a review here.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 9:40 am  Comments (2)  


That’s about all I can say about this story, which appeared in the Gettysburg Times a couple days ago.  I guess if I believe this one, I should put a down payment on the Brooklyn Bridge. 

An important memento of one of Gettysburg’s greatest icons of the Battle fought here nearly 145 years ago has returned – the bullet that killed Jennie Wade.

The bullet, kept by a Union soldier who fought at Gettysburg and passed down through his family, could challenge the most popular versions of the legend. The fatal bullet, along with documentation, was recently obtained by Gettysburg resident Kenneth J. Rohrbaugh. Rohrbaugh wears a number of managerial and executive hats in conjunction with Heritage Inns Inc., the Gettysburg Tour Center, and a multi-business holding company.

The bullet that created a heroine was quietly brought home about three weeks ago, Rohrbaugh said. It was delivered in person by a descendent of the soldier, William J. Fleming, who had kept it. Fleming was a member of Company E, 6th Regiment, Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery by war’s end. Efforts are being made to determine what unit he may have been with during the Gettysburg Campaign.

For decades, the bullet laid among the belongings and photographs of Fleming, kept in a drawer in the home of descendent Ted Simon and his wife, Mary Lou, in West Newton, Pa. “My great-grandfather brought it home in 1865,” Simon said. “It was told to me 55 years ago that he had either dug it out of the wall, or that it had been found lodged between her body and her clothing.”

The soldier could only tell his family that this was the bullet who killed a lady in Gettysburg baking bread in the kitchen. “That’s all we ever knew,” Simon stated, adding that no one (in the family, including the soldier) had a clue as to who the lady was that had been the victim of the shooting.

“Back in the 60s, when visiting Gettysburg, I went to the Jennie Wade museum and realized this must be the lady (his great-grandfather had mentioned),” Simon said. He then contacted Gettysburg historian and actor Cliff Arquette (aka Charlie Weaver), who owned the Soldiers Museum (now called the Soldiers National Museum), 777 Baltimore St., who “was really enthused” about seeing the bullet.

Simon then “took the bullet home and put it in the drawer and forgot about it.” “This summer we were going to go out in that (Gettysburg) area for a vacation, and a few months ago, talked to Ken (Rohrbaugh) who said he would like to have it.”

The bullet’s owner decided to donate it to the museum operation Rohrbaugh is involved with. “Who knows what it is worth. It is better there (in Rohrbaugh’s care) than in my hands sitting in the drawer,” he said. Additionally, Simon gave Rohrbaugh Fleming’s discharge papers, a York (Pa.) reunion medal, and photographs. “I thought it was great to bring it back,” Simon said.

Rohrbaugh plans on displaying the bullet (or a replica of it) along with Fleming’s papers and photographs in the Jennie Wade Museum and House when appropriate security measures can be implemented.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 12:07 am  Comments (4)  

Update: Gettysburg Retreat manuscript

Since we announced the near-completion of this manuscript, I’ve been getting lots of inquiries as to when it will appear.  By Eric Wittenberg, Mike Nugent, and lil ‘ol me, One Continuous Fight is slated to be released by Savas Beatie LLC by next year’s anniversary.  We’re just about finished wrapping it up.  Over the past few weeks, Eric and I have been adding in a wealth of material that we’ve aquired.  Just to give you an idea of the scope of the research, the Bibliography – in Word, single spaced – is currently nearly 30 pages long.  The vast majority of it is primary source, much of it never used before.  We have used a huge amount of letters, diaries, and reminiscences that have not been published.

Early in September, I’m making a visit to the Historical Society of Frederick County (MD) to gather materials they have for us to use.  They have a large amount of primary material in the form of diaries and letters, and once we work that into the manuscript, we should be finished.  In a couple weeks, Eric, Mike and I are running the driving tours of the retreat routes one more time just to make sure everything is correct and see if there’s anything we need to add to it, such as sites and topographical changes.  The book features tours of both routes – the Wagon Train of Wounded and the route of the main Confederate army.

The Forward was written by none other than Retreat guru Ted Alexander.  We received much assistance from Ted, especially in laying out the tours.

The book will feature lots of photos, great maps by Ed Coleman, and the quality book always produced by Savas.  We think our discussion concerning Meade’s decision-making during the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia from July 4 to July 14 will interest readers and spur discussion just as our companion volume on Jeb Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg.

The complete manuscript will be in Savas’ hands no later than late September, and I’ll keep readers posted on its progress.

Published in: on August 9, 2007 at 11:14 am  Comments (2)  

Book Review – “Historic Photos of Gettysburg”

Last month, I received a review copy of this new book, compiled by John S. Salmon and published by Turner Publishing Company.  I was immediately impressed by the quality of the book – it is large size and the photos are very well reproduced.

There is a limited amount of text throughout the book, which is no problem since it’s all about photographs anyway.  A closer reading of that text revealed that in several instances Salmon repeats well-debunked errors.  For instance, right out of the box on page 1, Salmon writes that Heth approached Gettysburg on the morning of July 1 “having heard that much-needed shoes could be obtained there.”  Yikes – anyone that still believes today that Gettysburg started over shoes really needs a history lesson.  Regardless, most of the text is fine and provides a decent setup for that section’s photographs.

As for the photos, they are very well reproduced and printed in this book.  And, as I hoped, I found many that I’d never seen before – which is what today’s reader wants.  You can find all of the most famous Gettysburg photographs in tons of books, but give me ones I’ve never seen before.  For instance, I was pleasantly surprised by the photo on page 85, depicting a group shot at the dedication of the Cavalry Memorial Shaft on East Cavalry Field (1884).  I have never seen that one before.  There were quite a number of photos I had not run across previously, especially those depicting monument dedications.

I received this book shortly before my last visit to Gettysburg, so I took it with me.  I was in the Reliance Mine Saloon one evening with Eric, and sat with old friends William Frassanito and Blake Magner.  Remembering I had the book in the vehicle, I went out, grabbed it, and brought it in for Bill to see.  He likewise was impressed with the reproductions, and noticed a few he didn’t recall seeing.  If you impress (or perhaps don’t disappoint) Frass with a photo book, you’re doing okay!

Regardless of the boo-boos in the text and some captions, the book is worth owning.  At $39.95 retail, the price ain’t bad.  All the photos are duly credited, and you will definitely see some you haven’t seen previously.  They have given me leads on ones I’ll want to secure for future projects, and that is always appreciated.

Check it out and see if the better half will let you put it on your Christmas list.

Published in: on August 9, 2007 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Dana Shoaf – New Editor of Civil War Times

Many folks are aware that Chris Lewis, editor of CWT, recently resigned from the magazine.  I just spoke to Mr. Dana Shoaf, who is presently the editor of their sister publication America’s Civil War – Dana has just been named the new editor of CWT.  This bodes VERY well for CWT… Dana is highly qualified and has many ideas to propose for the magazine.  We may soon see larger map spreads, footnoted feature articles, etc., all facets that today’s readership will very much enjoy.

CWT is the grandaddy of Civil War publications, and I’m very excited that Dana is now at the helm.  Look for great changes and advancements to come.  As a recently-named Contributing Writer, I really look forward to working even more closely with Dana and the magazine, and being a little part of those advancements.

The Weider Group’s aquisition of these and other historical magazines (formerly owned by Primedia) bodes very well for the directions these publications will be taking, and they now have the resources and talent to give their readership, and the historic genre as a whole, an enormous amount of information and scholarship.  Watch for great things to come.

My heartiest congratulations to Dana and to CWT!

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 12:52 pm  Comments (16)  

Horse Hooves and Myths

My friend Mike Nugent, who has written several pieces that have appeared here lately, sent me a piece he wrote concerning the old saw about what, if anything, the position of a horse’s hooves on equestrian statues might mean.  You’ve all heard the stories… all four hooves on the ground means that the rider wasn’t wounded during a particular action; two hooves in the air means he was killed, etc.  During the Gettysburg Anniversary weekend while Mike and I were doing living history presentations on the battlefield, we heard the same stories being told regarding the nearby equestrian of Gen. John Reynolds (we were set up at the Buford Statue along Rt. 30). 

Mike has written the following whether there’s any truth to the “hoof” stories – and the next time you see one of the equestrian statues at Gettysburg or anywhere else, it’ll make you think twice about attaching any significance to the position of the horse hooves.

Dispelling a Myth about Military Equestrian Statues

Mike Nugent

There is a common belief that military equestrian statues follow a “code” that indicates the fate of the rider. The most frequently heard version of the “code” maintains that if the horse has one hoof raised, the rider was wounded in battle, two raised hooves indicates the rider died in battle and all four hooves on the ground indicate that the rider survived unharmed.Like many legends, the story of this supposed “code” has taken on a life of its own, appearing in print and being repeated as fact by tour guides, park rangers etc. However, like many other myths, the “code” of equestrian statues does not stand up to scrutiny.According to Ms. Kathy George, a park historian at Gettysburg, “Any relationship between the number of raised hooves on a horse-and-rider statue and the rider’s actual experience in battle is merely a coincidence, as reflected in equestrian statues at Gettysburg National Military Park,” Research has failed to uncover any evidence supporting the existence of the “code”. Booklets from the dedication ceremonies for equestrian statues, such as the Slocum and Sedgwick statues at Gettysburg, contain nothing about the significance of the hooves. While some of the Gettysburg statues do follow the supposed “code”, others do not. For example, the Gettysburg statue of Union Major General John F. Reynolds, (who was killed in action) does show the horse with two hooves raised, however the statue of CSA Lieutenant General James Longstreet shows the horse with one hoof raised although Longstreet was not wounded. Additionally a second statue of Reynolds in Philadelphia differs from his Gettysburg statue and depicts his horse with all four hooves on the ground.A cursory look at the statues around Washington, D.C. quickly disproves the “code.” Washington is probably home to more equestrian statues than any other city in the nation, and it’s significant that only 10 out of more than 30 follow the “code”. Some of the Washington D.C. statues that do coincide with the supposed tradition of the “code” include: Major General Winfield S. Hancock’s (7th and Pennsylvania NW), which shows one hoof raised. Hancock was in fact wounded in action. The statues of General U.S. Grant (Union Square) and General William T. Sherman (15th and Pennsylvania and Treasury Place NW), show all hooves on the ground, and both Grant and Sherman died in peacetime.Statues that don’t follow the “code” include those of: General Simon Bolivar (18th at C and Virginia NW), Major General Nathaniel Green (Stanton Square, Maryland and Massachusetts NE), Major General George B. McClellan (Connecticut Ave. and Columbia Road NW) and General George Washington (Washington Circle, 23rd and K and Pennsylvania and New Hampshire NW). All of these statues show the horse with one raised hoof although in each case the riders died unwounded, in peacetime. The horses of Major General Philip Kearny’s statue (Arlington National Cemetery), along with those of Brigadier General James B. McPherson (McPherson Square, 15th between K and I Streets NW) and Brigadier General Count Casimir Pulaski (13th and Pennsylvania NW) also all have only one hoof raised although each of these men was actually killed in battle.The statue of General Andrew Jackson (Lafayette Park) shows two raised hooves although Jackson died in peacetime and the statue of Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (Manassas) shows all four hooves on the ground despite the fact that he was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.Like their counterparts in Washington, the equestrian statues along Monument Avenue in Richmond that don’t follow the supposed tradition outnumber those that do. General Robert E. Lee’s statue shows the horse with all four hooves on the ground, and Lee did die in peacetime. However as with his statue at Manassas, the Richmond monument to Stonewall Jackson also shows his horse with all four hooves on the ground. Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s statue shows his horse with one raised hoof although Stuart was killed in action at Yellow Tavern.“To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the position and pose of the statue do not signify anything,” according to Frances Pollard, a curator at the Virginia Historical Society.It should also be noted that this type of legend is not unique to equestrian statues. A similar type of “code” was said to exist among statues of knights sculpted hundreds of years ago. The fate of the knight could supposedly be read by how his arms were crossed and the manner in which his sword was carried. Like the legend of the horses hooves however, an examination of a few examples quickly dispels the myth.

It would seem that any connection between statuary horses hooves’ and the deaths of their riders is not an actual tradition, but an attempt to create an interesting story by finding patterns in examples that do fit the “code” and simply ignoring the far greater number of examples that don’t follow the pattern.


Ackermann, A.S.E. Popular Fallacies Explained and Corrected. London: Old Westminster Press, 1923

Cady, Steven. “High on Their Horses.” The Washington Post. 23 April 1982.

Gleason, Jerry L. “Confederate General Gets Memorial at Gettysburg.” The Plain Dealer, 13 August 1997

Johnson, Ophelia. “About-Face on Monument.” The Richmond Times Dispatch, 4 February 1997

Santangelo, Denice. “For Longstreet, It’s About Time.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 April 1996

Stauffer, William H. “No General Rule About Position of Feet on Equestrian Statues.” Civil War Times, July 1960

The United States Army War College Archives, http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/refBibs/animals/statues.htm 

Published in: on August 1, 2007 at 10:29 pm  Comments (17)