Sunday, December 25, 2005

Short Story: Home Sweet Home

At years end in December of 1862, his grand visions of glorious war had long since withered away, supplanted by the now too familiar scenes of mangled friends and foe lying upon recently contested ground. Passing over the grim visage of a newly christened battlefield, he found that in death, the differences between the casualties of either side somehow seemed less obvious and disturbingly less relevant.

A few short days ago, blue and gray clad soldiers marched away from Perryville Kentucky where in October, the merciless dark angel claimed more than 1,300 men. In happier times, these dead would have embraced each other as countrymen, but instead lost their lives for causes that seemed to him a little more distant than when the passions of war first sparked the now unremitting flames. Of those that survived, more than 5,000 emerged from the battle no longer whole, leaving behind arms, legs, and the deadened portions of their once innocent naive souls. He sometimes judged those at eternal rest as the more fortunate, except for their cold and lonely graves, shallow and quickly dug if they had a grave at all.

At days end as the men of both armies settled in for an uneasy night, the cold winter air lent each man a biting chill matching the lingering trepidation ever-present within. Fellow pickets on either side of him leaned against rocks or trees, tightly wrapped in whatever they had not foolishly discarded during the hot summer marches. The bolder or more desperate among them pulled closer the coats and blankets recently "acquired" from those no longer in need, vainly attempting to elude the cold, heavy rains and clinging mud which sought to leech the warmth from their tired, haggard bodies.

With his adversaries only some 700 yards distant, tonight, he would likely not find the peace of the forbidden yet cherished few moments of much needed sleep. Having learned some time ago the skill of dozing lightly while standing upright at his post, sleep would have offered a welcome respite from the cold misery of the last few weeks. While peering into the endless, surrounding darkness, he wondered what the night would yet hold for him.

As if to sooth the persistent anguish threatening to consume him, an army band mercifully broke the silence. When the initial welcome strains ended, adversaries from across the darkening divide responded in kind with a song of their own.

With each side now taking turn in this instrumental volley, music familiar to both armies danced among the trees stirring the chill winter air. These songs, he mused, once held dear by all, now either inspired thoughts of patriotism or treason depending upon your present chosen or dictated loyalties. Shifting his weight against the tree which held him upright, he wondered if in a strange twist, God had given the fleeting warmth that each note offered as a gift to the men who had in His name shattered so many of those created in His image.

The lyrics as familiar as the faces of his family, he watched his vaporous breath swirl in the frigid air as he joined in the diversion of song. His hoarse voice added to the orchestral tonic caressing the ground so contentiously held by the members of this growing unified chorus. For a moment, some of the pain, if not forgotten, diminished in severity with fraternal memories providing a bittersweet solace.

After several near joyous tunes, the continuing musical challenge abruptly changed tone as one side, he could no longer distinguish which, began the first few strains of Home Sweet Home. Other mournful voices now joined his in the welcome yet sad refrain.
    I gaze on the moon, as I tread the drear wild
    And feel that my mother, Now thinks of her child;
    As she looks on that moon, From our own cottage door,
    Thro' the woodbine whose fragrance, Shall cheer me no more.
While the chorus rose, warm tears glistened down the raw sides of this grizzled soldier’s face. With voice trembling, he fought to sing the final torturous words.
    An exile from home, splendour dazzles in vain
    Oh! give me my lowly thatch’d cottage again;
    The birds singing gaily, that came at my call;
    Give me them, with the peace of mind, dearer than all.

    Home, home, sweet sweet home,
    There's no place like home,
    There's no place like home.
Proving the final melody of the evening, its words drifted mournfully past the longing ears of many similarly heartsick soldiers, flittering off through the bare creaking tree limbs into the cold, indifferent darkness of night. But, for this one fading moment, all around shared the bonds of brotherhood so common before this tragic war. Each beat with one single heart aching simply for the welcome faces and sights of their distant homes.

Hours later, when the sun next rose, savage battle began anew, with this soldier and thousands more fated to never again see home except in the dimming light of their dying minds eye.

Very Respectfully,


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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

Stained Glass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Wyandotte Michigan

I wish you a very Merry, Joyous, and Peaceful Christmas.

May God grant us the wisdom to
pursue and protect a permanent peace for all,
in part by taking lesson from our shared past.



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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yesterday's Children

The cold, bitter wind cut between the branches of bare trees and the stones scattered among them over the roughly mowed, undulating ground. Darkening oak and maple leaves long since fallen from their commanding heights now sheltered against the base of many a marble marker, seeking haven from the blowing frigid air. Pulling down my hat, I clutched the over-copied plot map that had led me to the general’s headstone. Having taken the photographs I wanted, I strode quickly back down the path to the anticipated comfort of my car. Scanning the fields surrounding me and then glancing down at the paper, I noted with a touch of sadness the disparity between the number buried here and the few deemed relevant enough for mention on the map. The important ones would receive the occasional appreciative visitor with only an intermittent indifferent glance going to the more numerous forgotten dead.

Gravesite of General George Gordon MeadeThe old Laurel Hill Cemetery along Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River serves as an eternal home to revolutionaries, political leaders, soldiers, professionals, laborers, and past citizens from the then young United States. Time had yet spared many of the 19th century gravestones which fared better than their older comrades with progressively illegible epitaphs. Thankfully, the markers on the Meade family plot remained clear. Union Major General George Gordon Meade’s simple stone stated for all who cared to visit, "He did his work bravely and is at rest". My camera would now hold this image safe from the wearing effects of the ages.

Hurriedly folding the map, I glanced down while stuffing the paper in my pocket. The cold air, the crude map, and all else faded from attention as I noted a small ground-level marker along the edge of the macadam path leading back to the cemetery entrance. The simple text read only:

Sarah Ann Hobson
1845 – 1850

Reuben W. Hobson
1850 – 1850

The meaning hit hard. In this one year, grieving parents lost their five year old daughter and infant son. Scanning the cold ground, I found the parents’ stone close by, plain in appearance like their children’s. The tragedy grew as their words added an impact all their own.

Thomas Hobson, MD
Jan. 8, 1814
Nov. 12, 1853

The father who lost two children so quickly died 3 years later at age 39. His wife Elizabeth, also noted on the stone, would carry on with their one remaining child, Jane, born in 1851.

Pausing to consider their loss, recent conversations crept into consciousness. "Life is so stressful today" I hear frequently as someone inevitably claims that what they now endure surpasses all experienced by those from any other era in human history. Parents rightfully work to protect their children from a "modern" society overrun with violence and death, fearing that exposure to tragedy may irreparably traumatize their children and damage their future. Yet somehow, the family resting at my feet suffered severe tragedy and then moved on, with Elizabeth living about 40 years after the deaths of her children and husband. According to her own stone, their daughter Jane would outlive her mother by another 30 years.

Gravesite of the Hobson ChildrenThe children of the 19th century had their own "stressors" with which to cope. Up to 25% of all children would die before their first birthday with the rate falling to a still tragic 1 in 10 for those who received the best care. In some regions of the young country, up to the same percentage of mothers would die during or due to complications from birth. Nineteenth century medicine would not uncover the role microbes play in disease until the 1870s with antiseptic practices only then becoming mainstream. Penicillin would first become available another 70 some years later. As a whole, life expectancy mid-19th century hovered around 43 years. The children of that day would then face the potential death of a parent or sibling throughout all of their young lives while continuously attempting to elude the specter of life stealing infectious disease.

During the Civil War years, children would lose 185,000 fathers, brothers, uncles, relatives and friends as that number would die in battle or because of wounds sustained. An additional 400,000 would perish from the infectious diseases which sliced through armies both North and South. Another 412,000 would suffer wounds but survive the war albeit no longer whole. Combined, casualties would surpass 3% of the United States' population leaving an even greater number of children to cope with the losses and scars of war. Countless untold others would struggle with deprivation and hunger with the freed slaves and those remaining in the devastated, smoldering South experiencing the greatest hardship.

Yet the young of that age endured and grew into adulthood, most having children of their own. The country would not only survive but thrive as it continued to grow both geographically, economically, and technologically. As time passed, the country’s young would endure the impact of two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, decades of racial tension, deadly outbreaks of disease, natural disasters, and a host of other more personal tragedies and catastrophes. And still, they endured.

After a respectful pause, I nodded to the stones in front of me and slowly stepped backwards, thankful for the greater confidence I felt concerning our children’s ability to cope. Turning, I quickened my step and strode towards the predictable warmth of my car.



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All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

References for this article:
  1. Louisiana State University: Statistical Summary America’s Major Wars
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Public Health and Technology during the 19th Century
  4. Semmelweis: A Lesson in Epidemiology
  5. Anthrax Used by Koch and Pasteur to Prove Germ Theory of Disease in 19th C.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"But We Do Know You"

While reading, "A Girl's Life in Virginia Before the War" first published in 1895, I came across this tidbit about a visitor to the home of the author, Letitia M. Burwell.

"Trust in God kept him calm in victory as in defeat. When I remember General Lee during the war, in his family circle at Richmond, then at the height of his renown, his manner, voice, and conversation were the same as when, a year after the surrender, he came to pay my mother a visit from his Lexington home.

His circumstances and surroundings were now changed: no longer the stars and epaulets adorned his manly form; but, dressed in a simple suit of pure white linen, he looked a king, and adversity had wrought no change in his character, manner, or conversation.

To reach our house he made a journey, on his old war horse "Traveler," forty miles across the mountains, describing which, on the night of his arrival, he said:

"To-day an incident occurred which gratified me more than anything that has happened for a long time. As I was riding over the most desolate mountain region, where not even a cabin could be seen, I was surprised to find, on a sudden turn in the road, two little girls playing on a large rock. They were very poorly clad, and after looking a moment at me began to run away. 'Children,' said I, 'don't run away. If you could know who I am, you would know that I am the last man in the world for anybody to run from now.'

" 'But we do know you,' they replied.

" 'You never saw me before,' I said, 'for I never passed along here.'

" 'But we do know you' they said. 'And we've got your picture up yonder in the house, and you are General Lee! And we aint dressed clean enough to see you.'

"With this they scampered off to a poor low hut on the mountain side."



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References for this article:
  1. Documenting the American South

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The One “Real” Hero of Gettysburg

Early this morning, I received a curious e-mail from a very pleasant visitor which, in part, read as follows:
    “I just read the book “The Killer Angels” for my US History class and it was great! My teacher asked us a question in class the other day:

    According to historians, who is the real Union hero at Gettysburg?

    I’ve done a lot of research and have not found a concise answer. My personal feeling, based on the book, is that it’s Chamberlain. When I asked my teacher if it was Chamberlain, he said no. He said it’s someone that I wouldn’t expect - someone from the first day in battle.”
Wiedrich's Battery
Needless to say, I found myself befuddled that historians as a whole had allegedly agreed upon the identity of the one true or “Real” Hero of Gettysburg. My mind scanned familiar and lesser known names seeking the possible identity of this singularly exceptional individual. The teacher’s words hinted that this one true hero, as agreed upon by historians, would prove to have been present July 1st but would not be an entirely obvious choice. The guardian of this valued tidbit of 19th Century trivia tactfully added that, although he wasn’t present July 1st, the mantle of real hero would not rest on Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Conveniently ignoring the impression that few historians seem to hold consensus on much of anything, and instead of attempting to discern the mysterious person’s name, I wanted to consider the list of undeserving men these clues would necessarily eliminate.

The noted qualifications immediately exclude Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock from contention. Although present on Day 1, he certainly would not pass as “someone that I wouldn’t expect”. General Hancock would, at the behest of General George Gordon Meade, take command of the field towards the end of July 1st, 1863, notwithstanding the presence of an officer of greater seniority and despite currently heading only a division which had not yet reached the town. That evening he would write to Meade “General: When I arrived here an hour since, I found that our troops had given up the front of Gettysburg and the town. We have now taken up a position in the cemetery….The battle is quiet now. I think we will be all right until night. I have sent all the trains back. When night comes it can be told better what had best be done. I think we can retire; if not, we can fight here, as the ground appears not unfavorable with good troops.”

General Hancock
General Winfield Scott Hancock Monument
Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg, PA

On July 2nd, after General Sickle’s grievous wounding, Meade would again direct General Hancock to assume command of both his and the crumbling 3rd Corps. Among other acts that day, the ubiquitous Hancock would separately send the 1st Minnesota and Colonel George Willard's Brigade into the fray at the expense of countless brave men to maintain the center of the Union lines. On Day 3, Hancock's 2nd Corps would play the primary role in repulsing the Confederates’ grand charge. While actively moving along the northern lines, he would suffer a painful thigh wound which would plague him until his death several decades later.

The details given eliminate Union Generals Buford and Reynolds from consideration as “Real” heroes since again, they might be “expected” to reside on the list of deserving contenders. Brigadier General John Buford’s defense in depth and the fighting of his cavalry as infantry to delay the Rebel advance would not qualify him for real hero status. Major General John Fulton Reynolds, commander of the left wing of the venerable Army of the Potomac would not pass the heroism test, despite assuming the responsibility for committing his Corps to stopping the Confederate advance and surrendering his life to preserve the opportunity for eventual Union possession of the crucial heights south of town. Before the deadly bullet struck, General Reynolds would commit to General Meade “…we will hold the heights to the south of the town” adding “I will barricade the streets of the town if necessary.” Possession of this high ground combined with tremendous northern sacrifice would two days hence win the field for the men in blue.

By the parameters given, the stalwart soldiers of the Iron Brigade could not bear the label “real heroes”, despite sacrificing 1,153 of 1,885 (61%) men defending the Federals' claim to the high ground. During their later withdrawal, in the midst of a leaden hailstorm, these men of iron would repeatedly, stubbornly reform their lines to contest the Confederate advance. Wounds and death served as the immediate reward most often received for the performing of their duties.

The 147th New York Infantry, who fought just to the north of the Midwesterners, would also be excluded despite remaining alone on the field in a brutal slugfest with several Confederate regiments of Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis’ Brigade. Believing they had no orders to retreat, the New Yorkers continued to stand firm even after all other Union troops on that section withdrew to safer ground. Union Brigadier General Lysander Culter would report “The loss of this gallant regiment was fearful at this point, being officers 2 killed and 10 wounded, 42 men killed and 153 wounded--207 out of 380 men and officers within half an hour.”

The men of the 6th Wisconsin, the 95th New York, and the 14th Brooklyn would apparently qualify as also-rans despite their sacrifice as they charged the Butternuts sheltered in the Railroad Cut. In Steven W. Sears excellent book simply entitled “Gettysburg” he relates what Colonel Rufus Dawes, commanding the 6th Wisconsin, wrote to his fiancĂ©e concerning their “victory” at the Cut. “Our bravest and best are cold in the ground or suffering on beds of anguish. One young man, Corporal James Kelley of Company B, shot through the breast came staggering up to me before he fell and, opening his shirt, to show the wound said, Colonel, won't you write to my folks that I died a soldier?"

Little Round Top
Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA

Since the real hero had to have been present on Day 1, this would also immediately disqualify Colonels Joshua L. Chamberlain, Strong Vincent, and Patrick O’Rorke, General Stephen Weed and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett. All but Colonel Chamberlain died on these grounds as they fought to preserve their fragile hold on Little Round Top, the far left of the entire Union line. Colonels Vincent and O'Rorke would fall leading their men in battle. Lieutenant Hazlett would receive his death blow as he bent over to hear the words of his dying friend, General Stephen Weed.

None of the Union’s decimated 3rd Corps would be so honored, nor would any of the Brigades who battered themselves against tenacious Confederate attackers coming to their defense. Colonel Cross’ brigade, the Irish Brigade, and those of General Zook, and Colonel Brooke would allegedly not qualify as real Gettysburg heroes.

The men of the 1st Minnesota who obeyed General Hancock’s desperate, near suicidal order to advance against an entire Southern brigade, seemingly do not qualify. Despite this slight in awarding heroic status, Lieutenant Lochren of Minnesota’s 1st Regiment would report sadly but with pride, “What Hancock had given us to do was done thoroughly. The regiment had stopped the enemy, held back its mighty force, and saved the position, and probably that battle-field. But at what a sacrifice! Nearly every officer was dead, or lay weltering with bloody wounds--our gallant colonel and every field-officer among them. Of the two hundred and sixty-two men who made the charge, two hundred and fifteen lay upon the field, struck down by Rebel bullets; forty-seven men were still in line, and not a man was missing.”

Colonel Willard’s men, who blunted the devastating onslaught of General William Barksdale’s Mississippians, would find themselves blacklisted despite the comments of their division commander. Brigadier General Alexander Hayes later would say, “The history of this brigade’s operations is written in blood...The loss of this brigade amounts to one-half the casualties in the division.” Just as his men achieved success, part of Colonel Willard’s head would be torn off by a Confederate shell as he strove to lead his men forward.

Brigadier General George Sears Greene could not serve as the ever elusive real hero. While commanding a line of men stretched precariously thin, he ordered them to build substantial earthworks and defend Culp's Hill to the last. His foresight and bold generalship allowed his 1,500 men, the only remaining on a hill held just hours before by the Union 12th Corps, to fend off repeated assaults from an entire Confederate Division some 4 times their number. But, since one might anticipate his candidacy, he would not fit the guidelines supplied.

The 69th Pennsylvania
69th Pennsylvania Monument, Gettysburg, PA

The rules set by the equally anonymous teacher would preclude from contention Generals Alexander Web, John Gibbon, and Alexander Hayes, each of whom displayed active, effective generalship during the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. The Ohioans and Vermonters, who flanked each end of the Confederate assault wreaking havoc on the unprotected Southerners, do not qualify. The men of the 69th New York, their ranks decimated as the offensive progressed while they dutifully held their ground at the swirling vortex of the leaden storm, do not qualify.

Since, by definition, only one “real” hero of Gettysburg exists, and since this paragon wore a uniform of blue, this would bar from consideration any of the butternuts contending from the other side of the field. None of the 23,000 to 28,000 killed, wounded, and missing apparently deserve status above that of “Gettysburg casualties”.

CSA Lieutenant General Longstreet, General Lee’s senior Corp commander and most trusted subordinate, would then find himself on the list of those excluded, despite the thoughts of Brigadier General James Kemper, a brigade commander in Pickett’s Division. He would later state of Longstreet’s conduct during the violent cannonade on July 3rd, “Longstreet rode slowly and alone immediately in front of our entire line. He sat his large charger with a magnificent grace and composure I never before beheld. His bearing was to me the grandest moral spectacle of the war. I expected to see him fall every instant. Still he moved on, slowly and majestically, with an inspiring confidence, composure, self-possession and repressed power in every movement and look that fascinated me."

Even General Robert Edward Lee would apparently prove lacking in spite of his leadership on Day 3. A British military observer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards, walked the Confederate lines as Pickett’s Charge advanced and ultimately failed. Watching General Lee move among the shattered remnants of the once formidable command, he would offer, "If Longstreet’s conduct was admirable, that of Lee was perfectly sublime. He was engaged in rallying and in encouraging the broken troops and was riding about a little in front of the wood, quite alone, the whole of his staff being engaged in a similar manner farther to the rear. His face, which was always placid and cheerful, did no show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance; and he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as: ‘All this will come right in the end; we’ll talk it over afterwards; but in the meantime, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now,’ etc. He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted to ‘bind up their hurts and take up a musket’ in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him.

I saw General Wilcox come up to him, and explain, almost crying, the state of his brigade. General Lee immediately shook hands with him and said cheerfully, 'Never mind, General, all this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can.' In this manner I saw General Lee encourage and reanimate his dispirited troops and magnanimously take upon his own shoulders the whole weight of the repulse."

And so the list could continue of those perhaps deserving of a better fate than relegation to the status of mock heroism. Yet after this somewhat cathartic writing, the hope remains that this unknown teacher had in actuality posed a misleading question to encourage reflection concerning the qualities of heroism. Perhaps also he intended to lend understanding of the potential impact and limitations of one person’s actions in such great and tragic events. Certainly, in the quest for those who behaved heroically, the three days at Gettysburg provided countless examples and candidates.

Gettysburg's 50th Reunion
A Union & Confederate Veteran at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion
(Courtesy of the National Park Service)

If I may be so bold as to offer my opinion on this question, to me, along with the men named above and those who would forever sleep on the now sacred bloodstained fields, the greatest heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg will for all eternity remain those who lost fathers, husbands, sons, friends, comrades, limbs, sight, and other capacities only to then reconcile with their former adversaries with an eye towards mending the broken and bleeding country. A stroll along the Seminary Ridge wood line near where Pickett’s men weathered the cannonade reveals an example of this magnanimity noted on a National Park Service interpretive marker.

The placard notes that, from the cover of the woods along Seminary Ridge, Confederate Lieutenant Thomas C. Holland of the 28th Virginia waited with the men of his regiment. He and the soldiers of the 28th would endure the tremendous cannonade and then weather the swirling storm of iron and lead to cross the open fields and face their enemy. During the eventual determined surge of Pickett's Charge, a bullet slammed into Lieutenant Holland's face exiting through the back of his head.

Of the 88 men of the 28th Virginia to begin the charge, Lieutenant Holland found himself among the 81 noted casualties. Despite his grave wounding, he miraculously survived both the battle and the war. Half a century later, during one of Gettysburg’s Grand Reunions, on those same fields, he faced the Union soldier who had shot him. This time, as each beheld the other, they extended their now weaponless hands in mutual respect and friendship.



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

References for this article:
  1. NPS: Voices of Battle
  2. Home of the American Civil War: Buford’s Defense
  3. Wikipedia: The Iron Brigade
  4. eHistory: Official Records of the Rebellion
  5. The Longstreet Chronicles
  6. NPS: The Courage to Face Consequences
  7. Gettysburg. Stephen W. Sears, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
  8. The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle. Larry Tagg, DaCapo Press; July 1998

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Changes for History

In my travels to the Eastern Theater Battlefields this past year, I was very pleasantly surprised at the many changes I encountered.

Consistent among the battlefields are the new interpretive markers whose existence we owe to the mandate to include slavery in National Park Service educational materials. Five years ago, National Park Service Battlefield Managers recommended that the Secretary of the Interior “…encourage Civil War battle sites to recognize and include in all of their public displays and multimedia educational presentations the unique role that the institution of slavery played in causing the Civil War and its role, if any, at the individual battle sites.”

Along with the markers, several of the Eastern Theater Battlefields have made significant acquisitions and changes. Despite the asphyxiating development that continues to threaten the Chancellorsville Battlefield with strangulation, the National Park Service has added to the parks lands. Along McLaws Drive is a section of land where Confederate Lafayette McLaws’ men positioned themselves to help drive General Hooker’s troops from the field on May 3rd. Although part of the Wilderness in 1863, the ground now is clear of the younger trees that choked the ground and made maneuvering so difficult.

Chancellorsville McLaws TrailThe Park Service established a walking trail and offers free of charge interpretive materials to carry with you as you walk. Included in that material, a southern soldier describes an encounter with a Confederate icon.

"Artilleryman J. B. Minor remembered that on May 2, as Lee stood under a tree with McLaws, “a 10-pound shell cut the tree square off just about a yard above their heads. I could not see that [Lee] noticed it, although General McLaws ducked a little.” A few minutes later, Minor recalled, “a shell burst immediately in front of old Traveler, who reared up and stood as straight as ever I saw a man. Captain [Edward S.] McCarthy then ran to General Lee, and I heard him say: ‘General, we can’t spare you, go back under the hill.’ He rode away, and in a few minutes there was a lull just in front of us; but there was heavy fighting some three hundred yards to our right…and whom did we see sitting on his horse calmly watching the fight but General Lee!”

A newly acquired tract of land west of the Wilderness Church allows the visitor to walk the ground of Jackson’s flank attack. Previously, the only avenue to do likewise involved carefully and courteously walking through the headstones of a private cemetery to view Jackson’s starting point. This parcel of ground renders that tactic thankfully unnecessary.

Nearby on the grounds of the Wilderness Battlefield, NPS staff continue to oversee the complete renovation of the Lacy House. A short walk from the home which served as headquarters to Major General Gouverneur K. Warren during the fighting in early May 1864, the Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy buried the amputated arm of Lieutenant General Thomas Jackson in the family cemetery.

Antietam Final Attack TrailTo the Northwest, Antietam National Battlefield has added a walking trail over the grounds where General Burnside’s troops advanced and then were repulsed by A.P. Hill’s Light Division after his 17 mile forced march from Harper’s Ferry. Even with no knowledge of what occurred on these fields, the near two mile trail meanders through beautiful terrain and allows views of the magnificent hills and valleys. Once experienced, the typically undulating, steep, rocky, uneven ground speaks volumes concerning the difficulties commanders would encounter organizing and directing their men. With few modern intrusions, the trail leads you back 140 years to the counterattack that saved the Confederate Army for future battles.

Of course, the Gettysburg Battlefield continues its journey towards its former 1863 appearance. Most significant has been the clearing of the ground just north of Little Round Top along the Cemetery Ridge line. Minus the concealing cover of trees and brush, a commanding knoll once again thrusts itself from the shadow of the more famous rises to its south. This protruding ground reinvigorates to the question concerning Sickles’ deployment of his troops further to the west. Ringed with artillery and his veteran troops, the Butternuts would have struggled mightily to dislodge their Northern protagonists from this high ground.

A few miles north, Oak Ridge will soon appear more like its name as young oak trees planted below the observation tower take root and reach for the sun. The 13th Massachusetts monument now shares its place of honor with trees that will help recreate the vista their men encountered July 1st 1863.

The Peach Orchard also is experiencing a rebirth. The darkness before the dawn began in October when the NPS removed all 89 existing trees planted 26 years ago and suffering from a parasitic infection. After two years, new trees will call the Sherfy Peach Orchard their home.

You can find more information on the above at:



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

References for this article:
  1. Interpretation at Civil War Sites, A Report to Congress, March 2000
  2. National Park Service: Gettysburg

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Apocryphal History

After posting the article "The Heart of a Soldier", I received comments properly cautioning a certain wariness concerning Sallie Pickett’s writings suggesting that they lack a certain degree of historical accuracy. Perhaps this is so. Several of the Late Unpleasantness’ most visible participants have had such accusations levied towards them. Certainly, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Brown Gordon reside high on the ledger of those so charged.

Notably, despite their storied accomplishments, neither man entered the conflict as a professional soldier yet neither failed to meet the colossal challenges which lay in wait. Both would suffer grievous wounds expected to prove mortal. Both would return to again lead their men.

John B. Gordon would suffer first at Antietam in what to most has become a familiar story. As the then Colonel Gordon commanded the 6th Alabama along the northern end of the Bloody Lane, he swore to General Lee that “These men are going to stay here, General, till the sun goes down or victory is won.” Later as minnie balls swarmed like angry hornets, Colonel Gordon, who had escaped injury in previous engagements, found himself walking his lines with blood flowing from where three bullets had found him.

The Georgian would later describe, “A fourth ball ripped through my shoulder, leaving its base and a wad of clothing in its track. I could still stand and walk, although the shocks and loss of blood had left but little of my normal strength. I remembered the pledge to the commander that we would stay there till the battle ended or night came. I looked at the sun. It moved very slowly; in fact, it seemed to stand still…I had gone but a short distance when I was shot down by a fifth ball, which struck me squarely in the face, and passed out, barely missing the jugular vein.”

Gordon was far from the only soldier to face such a grim fate in that Bloody Lane. As one soldier would later describe, “In this road there lay so many dead rebels that there formed a line which one might have walked on as far as I could see, many of whom had been killed by the most horrible wounds of shot and shell and they lay just as they had been killed apparently amid the blood which was soaking the earth.”

Colonel and later Major General Chamberlain would suffer likewise in a war that shattered the lives of so many formerly whole and vigorous men. Wounded in several prior engagements, his most threatening would come during the war’s 3rd year. On June 18, 1864, outside of Petersburg Virginia, a Confederate bullet tore through both of Chamberlain’s hips breaking his pelvis, severing arteries, and nicking his bladder. Expected to die as would most at the time with such wounds, he recovered to lead his men once again, suffering an additional wound in the process.

Understanding why and how these men faced then escaped death’s indifferent grasp only to willingly re-enter the same arena remains an integral part of the study of this time in our history. To pursue these questions, we inevitably search for insight within the text of the participants' own words. In doing so, we recognizing the factors that impact objectivity while attaching equal importance to the question of why each wrote what they did. We pursue the motivations these men possessed which allowed them to both endure and achieve and then choose how to recall and record their experiences. The same certainly applies to Sallie Pickett who suffered during this war in her own right. Along with enduring the daily perils and uncertainties of war, her husband, Major General George Pickett would become famous not from glorious victories but from the disastrous assault at Gettysburg which would ever after bare his name. The Southern General would also suffer strained relations with General Robert E. Lee, a potentially insupportable impiety.

The question becomes then why Sallie wrote what she did, seeking her reasons within the context of her times. Instead then of banishing her writings from the canon of our shared history, Sallie’s writings serve as an integral part of that history offering a window into the motives and actions that formed the nation in which we live today. If in part she pursued the elevation of her husband's wartime image, we can ask why she focused on the perceptions of Northerners as opposed to his Southern brethren. The previous article noted Sallie Pickett’s underscoring of his friendship with Lincoln, certainly a nod to the victors as opposed to the vanquished in this great and bloody conflict. Labeling her intentions as wholly self-serving perhaps approaches the truth but likely ignores other no less explanatory motives.

While answering the above, we note that these men and women were not substantially different than those of today. Ordinary people throughout the centuries have risen to great heights to commit deeds of valor and courage. Some too exerted their energies for motives far less worthy of admiration and praise. Understanding that we possess the same potential for greatness while harboring the same for narcissistic self-serving provides one of the great benefits of the study of our both glorious and sometimes shameful past. Learning from these lessons to better our future proves far nobler still.



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

References for this article:

  1. Documenting the South
  2. e-history: Ohio State University

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Short Break

I've been taking a short break from posting here while I do some non-digital work before winter sets in. My time hasn't all been spent on non-Civil War activities however. After spending a wonderful day at Antietam National Battlefield recently, I have about 300 pictures to edit and will post the best of the bunch at my main site ( once completed.

Check back soon for more postings. Upcoming articles will include an update on changes at several Eastern Theater Battlefields and a response to a comment I received concerning my article "The Heart of a Soldier".



Friday, October 07, 2005

The Heart of a Soldier

While researching information for my last blog entry "Manhood", I stumbled upon this segment from "The Heart of a Soldier, As revealed in the Intimate Letters of Genl. George E. Pickett C.S.A." Assembled by the wife he treasured, LaSalle Corbell Pickett, this incredibly moving collection of letters offers a window into the heart of one of the war's tragic figures. Of the many gems found in the writings, the portion below surprised more than the rest. The person speaking is LaSalle "Sally" Pickett.


"I was in Richmond when my Soldier fought the awful battle of Five Forks, Richmond surrendered, and the surging sea of fire swept the city. News of the fate of Five Forks had reached us, and the city was full of rumors that General Pickett was killed. I did not believe them. I knew he would come back, he had told me so. But they were very anxious hours. The day after the fire, there was a sharp rap at the door. The servants had all run away. The city was full of northern troops, and my environment had not taught me to love them. The fate of other cities had awakened my fears for Richmond. With my baby on my arm, I answered the knock, opened the door and looked up at a tall, gaunt, sad-faced man in ill-fitting clothes. who, with the accent of the North, asked:

"Is this George Pickett's place?"

"Yes, sir," I answered, "but he is not here."

"I know that, ma'am," he replied, "but I just wanted to see the place. I am Abraham Lincoln."

"The President!" I gasped.

The stranger shook his head and said:

"No, ma'am; no, ma'am; just Abraham Lincoln; George's old friend."

"I am George Pickett's wife and this is his baby," was all I could say. I had never seen Mr. Lincoln but remembered the intense love and reverence with which my Soldier always spoke of him.

My baby pushed away from me and reached out his hands to Mr. Lincoln, who took him in his arms. As he did so an expression of rapt, almost divine, tenderness and love lighted up the sad face. It was a look that I have never seen on any other face. My baby opened his mouth wide and insisted upon giving his father's friend a dewy infantile kiss. As Mr. Lincoln gave the little one back to me, shaking his finger at him playfully, he said:

"Tell your father, the rascal, that I forgive him for the sake of that kiss and those bright eyes."

He turned and went down the steps, talking to himself, and passed out of my sight forever, but in my memory those intensely human eyes, that strong, sad face, have a perpetual abiding place—that face which puzzled all artists but revealed itself to the intuitions of a little child, causing it to hold out its hands to be taken and its lips to be kissed."


Before becoming President, before hostilities tore the nation apart, Abraham Lincoln helped a young George Pickett obtain an appointment to West Point.

You can find the entire publication at the Project Gutenberg Website.



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Sunday, October 02, 2005


During the winter of 1862-63, the Corbin family offered Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson the hospitality of Moss Neck Manor, their magnificent home along the Rappahannock River in Eastern Virginia. Perhaps the most feared Southern warrior, Jackson's formidable reputation had spread throughout the fiercely divided nation. In the spring of 1862, he had mystified Northern Generals in the Shenandoah Valley, crushing all forces unfortunate enough to make his acquaintance. He pushed his men to the brink of exhaustion and beyond while severely dealing with even mild infractions of discipline. Old Jack became the General who could change the fate of the young nation. Yet during his time at Moss Neck, he spent much time with six year old Janie, one of the Corbin's young daughters. As a staff officer would note, “Her pretty face and winsome ways were so charming that he requested her mother that she might visit him every afternoon, when the day’s labours were over. He had always some little treat in store for her—an orange or an apple—but one afternoon he found that his supply of good things was exhausted. Glancing round the room his eye fell on a new uniform cap, ornamented with a gold band. Taking his knife, he ripped off the braid, and fastened it among the curls of his little playfellow.”

When the spring campaigning season slipped away from winter's cold grasp, Jackson returned to the field leaving his little friend behind. Janie would not see her famous playmate again, but not because of his accidental wounding at Chancellorsville. Little Janie would die that spring of an illness 19th century medicine could neither prevent nor cure. When the General learned of the sad news, the stern warrior's heart shattered and he wept openly with some reporting that he fell to his knees in prayer. However, none interpreted the fearsome General's emotional display at the death of a child as a sign of potential weakness. This man who had to maintain razor sharp focus on the battlefield regardless of the human devastation enveloping him, cried at the loss of a little girl.

At some point in my education, I recall a professor discussing the genesis of the perceived lack of emotional expression in men, especially those throughout our country's founding days. This purveyor of psychosocial wisdom offered that, due to the many hardships encountered, men by necessity had to bury their feelings in order to set a steely example for the family. This no-nonsense pragmatic approach to a life fraught with danger would ensure the family's survival, or so the explanation continued, by concentrating only on the essentials of existence. Without grand, romantic sentimentality, the inevitable disasters and tragedies would neither overwhelm the intensely focused father nor distract him from providing for those depending upon his labors. The head of the household needed to be hard as nails, ready to fight the animals, hostiles, diseases or elements that may threaten his household. This attitude, this way of being, would allow the young family and the nation within which they lived to survive.

Certainly, the people of the 19th century placed value on the ability to endure hardship without complaint. General Ulysses S. Grant implied as much in his memoirs when discussing General Lee's surrender. Grant recalled, "What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation…"

One southern diarist, Mary Polk Branch, documented a Southern Colonel's account of the death of her uncle, Confederate General Leonidas Polk. Colonel Hopkins, a member of the General's staff, wrote admirably of the stoic passing. "In an instant I was at his side, but, alas! too late, for at that very instant a solid shot was tearing its murderous way, with a hissing sound, through his chest, carrying his heart, and shattering both his arms. Without a groan his great manly form, so full of honor and of love, tottered and fell, with his feet to the foe, and his face upturned to the sky above."

Despite the chasmal prejudicial divides during this era, even race proved insufficient to consistently temper admiration when considering manly virtues. Ohio Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood spoke with high honor of the US Colored Troops at the Battle of Milliken's Bend. "I thought that by the help of these blacks the enemy had been prevented from boasting a victory for rebel arms, and I thanked God that they had the manliness and the bravery to come forward and help us. I thought it made little difference whether men were white or black or what color they were. Let men be pea green or sky blue, or any other color under the heavens, if they have the manliness and the courage to come up and fight for the old flag, I am ready to say Godspeed to them."

A Union private offered a glimpse into his view of masculinity when discussing how wounded soldiers typically responded to their fate. "The enlisted men were exceedingly accurate judges of the probable result which would ensue from any wound they saw. They had seen hundreds of soldiers wounded, and they had noticed that certain wounds always resulted in death. After the shock of discovery had passed, they generally braced themselves and died in a manly manner." Manhood meant a lack of self-pity or unnecessary emotional expression.

The alleged denial of such expression and attention to duty allowed the man to focus on the crucial tasks at hand without distraction, or so the theory went. His status, his needs, became secondary to those depending upon his works. Some 19th century accounts seemed to support this contention. Another diarist, Mrs. Burton Harrison, wrote of Private Randolph Fairfax, her 18-year-old cousin, and his death at the Battle of Fredericksburg. She lamented, "This youth, handsome and gifted, serious and purposeful beyond his years, the flower of his school and college, in all things worthy the traditions of his warlike ancestry, was killed by a piece of shell entering the brain, as he stood by his gun at sunset under a hot fire from the enemy's batteries." General Robert E. Lee would later write to Private Randolph's father, "I have grieved most deeply at the death of your noble son. I have watched his conduct from the commencement of the war and have pointed with pride to the patriotism, self-denial and manliness of character he has exhibited." Both emphasize the sacrifice and forbearance that contributed in their eyes to the essence of manhood.

The early American male also had to be ready to fight when necessary to protect his family, community, and honor, allegedly further burying any thought of egocentric self-expression or emotional gratification. Soldiers respected this willingness to face peril and fight, even when present in their adversaries. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote with admiration of his Alabamian protagonists at Gettysburg, "Ranks were broken; some retired before us somewhat hastily; some threw their muskets to the ground- even loaded; sunk on their knees, threw up their hands calling out, 'We surrender. Don't kill us!' As if we wanted to do that! We kill only to resist killing. And these were manly men, whom we could befriend and by no means kill, if they came our way in peace and good will." If deemed not sufficiently manly, the male would resist fighting, lest he strain his sense of honor. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest's well-documented insubordinate altercation with General Braxton Bragg displays this clearly. "I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it."

Overcoming hardship to prosper indicated the finest attributes of manhood. Frederick Douglas would honor his martyred President with such sentiment. At the dedication of the Freedman's Memorial, he would offer to the crowd gathered, "Born and reared among the lowly, a stranger to wealth and luxury, compelled to grapple single-handed with the flintiest hardships of life, from tender youth to sturdy manhood, he grew strong in the manly and heroic qualities demanded by the great mission to which he was called by the votes of his countrymen. The hard condition of his early life, which would have depressed and broken down weaker men, only gave greater life, vigor, and buoyancy to the heroic spirit of Abraham Lincoln. He was ready for any kind and any quality of work. What other young men dreaded in the shape of toil, he took hold of with the utmost cheerfulness."

Although these incidents include only a minute portion of those occurring during the war, they provide some support to the contention that men needed to suppress emotion to overcome challenges and survive. Those successful at obtaining this emotional void, earned the respect of others, thus reinforcing the ideal. Based on the above, perhaps the original thesis may prove true. However, these same battle-hardened men who provided examples to support this presumption likewise furnished similar instances that both contradict and inspire. The men of this age did not hesitate to express emotion. Love, affection, sadness, and a host of other emotional outpourings flowed as comfortably as the harder, more familiar sentiments already noted.

Perhaps the most well know examples include the letters men wrote to their wives. Major Sullivan Ballou, in preparation for the coming Battle of First Manassas, wrote an emotionally gripping letter just days before he died. Opening his heart to his beloved wife, the Major offered, "Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready.…But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours -- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by."

In a letter to the woman he dearly loved, Confederate Major General George E. Pickett would speak of his fervent desire that she become his wedded wife. "Now, my darling, may angels guide my pen and help me to write—help me to voice this longing desire of my heart and intercede for me with you for a speedy fulfillment of your promise to be my wife. As you know, it is imperative that I should remain at my post and absolutely impossible for me to come for you. So you will have to come to me. Will you, dear? Will you come? Can't your beautiful eyes see beyond the mist of my eagerness and anxiety that in the bewilderment of my worship—worshiping, as I do, one so divinely right, and feeling that my love is returned - how hard it is for me to ask you to overlook old-time customs, remembering only that you are to be a soldier's wife? A week, a day, an hour as your husband would engulf in its great joy all my past woes and ameliorate all future fears. So, my Sally, don't let's wait; send me a line back by Jackerie saying you will come. Come at once, my darling, into this valley of the shadow of uncertainty, and make certain the comfort that if I should fall I shall fall as your husband. You know that I love you with a devotion that absorbs all else—a devotion so divine that when in dreams I see you it is as something too pure and sacred for mortal touch."

And yet, such sentiments did not pass only between man and wife or those wishing to be. After the war, Robert E. Lee wrote to his old war-horse, James Longstreet about the latter's business ventures. In this letter, he did not hide his feelings concerning his old friend. "If you become as good a merchant as you were a soldier, I shall be content. No one will then excel you, and no one can wish you more success and more happiness than I. My interest and affection for you will never cease, and my prayers are always offered for your prosperity."

The expression of emotion towards old comrades occurred in other settings as well. Also after the war, George Pickett would have his former officers to his home for breakfast before they left for their own families in other parts of the battle-scarred country. His wife Sally wrote of their sad goodbyes. "He gave his staff a farewell breakfast at our home. They did not once refer to the past, but each wore a blue strip tied like a sash around his waist. It was the old headquarters' flag, which they had saved from the surrender and torn into strips, that each might keep one in sad memory. After breakfast he went to the door, and from a white rose-bush which his mother had planted cut a bud for each. He put one in my hair and pinned one to the coat of each of his officers. Then for the first time the tears came, and the men who had been closer than brothers for four fearful years, clasped hands in silence and parted."

A few years earlier, on the fateful day that George Pickett's name would burn into historical immortality, the General spoke to his fiancee of his commander's heart-wrenching decision to send men forward in what would become the heroic tragedy of Pickett's Charge. "While he was yet speaking a note was brought to me from Alexander. After reading it I handed it to him, asking if I should obey and go forward. He looked at me for a moment, then held out his hand. Presently, clasping his other hand over mine without speaking he bowed his head upon his breast. I shall never forget the look in his face nor the clasp of his hand when I said: - "Then, General, I shall lead my Division on." I had ridden only a few paces when I remembered your letter and (forgive me) thoughtlessly scribbled in a corner of the envelope, "If Old Peter's nod means death then good-by and God bless you, little one," turned back and asked the dear old chief if he would be good enough to mail it for me. As he took your letter from me, my darling, I saw tears glistening on his cheeks and beard. The stern old war-horse, God bless him, was weeping for his men and, I know, praying too that this cup might pass from them. I obeyed the silent assent of his bowed head, an assent given against his own convictions, - given in anguish and with reluctance."

So it was then that the men of our earlier years did not reside in the silent chasms of emotional void. No surprise then stems from what occurred when General Stonewall Jackson met his own storied end, surrounded by his closest friends. The Reverend James Power Smith, formerly Captain Smith of Jackson's Corps, would describe the last minutes. "And here, against our hopes, notwithstanding the skill and care of wise and watchful surgeons, attended day and night by wife and friends, amid the prayers and tears of all the Southern land, thinking not of himself, but of the cause he loved, and for the troops who had followed him so well and given him so great a name, our chief sank, day by day, with symptoms of pneumonia and some pains of pleurisy, until, 3:15 P.M. on the quiet of the Sabbath afternoon, May 10th, 1863, he raised himself from his bed, saying, " No, no, let us pass over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees"; and, falling again to his pillow, he passed away, over the river, where, in a land where warfare is not known or feared, he rests forever 'under the trees." As Jackson's now widowed wife would later note, "Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep."



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

References for this article:

  1. The Project Gutenberg: Stonewall Jackson and The American Civil War
  2. The United States National Park Service: The Story of the Battle of Gettysburg
  3. History 101: Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln
  4. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
  5. The Forrest Preserve
  6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Documenting the American South
  7. Spartacus Educational: The American Civil War
  8. African Americans and the Civil War

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Historical Landscape & Preservation Artist
Jeff Fioravanti

In July of this year, I posted a blog entry concerning award winning historical landscape and preservation artist Jeff Fioravanti, his work, and his efforts to help preserve historical sites. With equal pleasure, I post below a press release concerning an article about Jeff's work in the November issue of American Artist magazine. This issue will be available very soon so please, pick up a copy and have a look.

If you would like to see the blog entry about Jeff Fioravanti and his work, on the right, you will find a link entitled "Featured Post, Jeff Fioravanti: Painting the Soul of America". I also very much encourage you to visit his web site,, to see for yourself the beautiful works that Jeff has created thus far.

If you will be in the Gettysburg area on October 8, 2005, between 12noon and 4pm, you can enjoy the additional pleasure of meeting Jeff. He will be showing and discussing his work with visitors at the Rupp House at 451 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. You can find more information about the Rupp House by visiting the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg web site.


Press Release:

November issue of American Artist magazine to include feature on historic landscape artist Jeff Fioravanti

New York, New York (September 17, 2005) - "Painting today, to preserve the past, for tomorrow" It is the mission and inspiration that drives artist Jeff Fioravanti to create tangible pieces of art that showcase not just the deep, physical beauty of America, but art that tells the story of our nation, our people, our struggles and our triumphs. A member of several highly respected art associations, Fioravanti's artwork, and dedication toward helping to preserve our storied lands, will soon be featured in an upcoming edition, November 2005, of American Artist magazine.

"From an early age, I was encouraged and supported by my parents and family in my interests and pursuits in art and history," said Fioravanti. "Today, I'm trying to build upon their teachings; to give something back. To use my art and love of American history to connect people to these treasured lands, upon which great sacrifice occurred, to found our nation and keep that nation whole, before they are lost forever," continued the artist.

Despite many challenges, Fioravanti's "giving back" has met with some solid results upon which the artist hopes to continue to build. In the past two plus years, the artist, through a series of programs, initiatives and fundraisers, has helped raise nearly $20,000 for historic preservation, for organizations and museums in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and his home state of Massachusetts.

"These properties are living classrooms," stated Jeff, "precious not just for their historical significance, but also for the plants, and wildlife that can be found there, and for their recreational value too. These are assets that were earned through blood and sweat by our ancestors. They are shared entities that belong to all of us. As such, is it not then the responsibility of each of us to make certain they remain intact, accessible for all, and for future generations to enjoy? I'm just trying to do my part," concluded the artist.

Since 1937, American Artist magazine has been a leading monthly magazine showcasing representational and figurative artists involved in the North American art scene. A subsidiary of VNU publications, the magazine boasts a circulation over 100,000 and has been a resource of inspiration and information for artists, collectors and others interested in the visual arts. It is available at fine art stores, booksellers and newsstands nationwide. For more information about the magazine, please visit, or contact the editorial department at American Artist (646) 654-5506 or via email at

"Painting today, to preserve the past, for tomorrow" is the mission under which the artist's banner flies, and which, through artwork, the artist attempts to attract attention to the plight of the historic lands, properties, and artifacts of America. To learn more about this mission, and artist Jeff Fioravanti, please visit his web site at or contact him at (781) 595-5961.



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All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 18, 2005

This Dreadful War

After the Southern victory at Chancellorsville, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to again take the war to the north. In June, his columns moved north through the Shenandoah Valley using the ridges to their east, and Major General Stuart's Cavalry, to screen their movements from the pursuing Union Army of the Potomac.

Colonel David Wyatt Aiken commanded the 7th South Carolina of Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw's famous South Carolina Brigade during the movement. As they progressed through the Valley, he took the time to write his wife a letter that briefly encapsulates much of the experience of the civil war soldier while on the move.

"Shenandoah River June 22nd

I wrote to you a few days ago my darling wife from my tent then on the top of a mountain and beyond the river. I told you some little of the beautiful scenery which should have been seen to have been appreciated. That night, there came up a very hard rain and the next morning until noon we were enveloped in the clouds though we heard that the view was clearing in the valley.

The next morning we were proceeding on our march when a courier arrived from the rear saying Stuart's cavalry was heavily pressed by the enemy. We were put under arms and by 3pm ordered hurriedly back across this river, marched 3 miles, drew up in line of battle across the turnpike, each flank reaching upon the mountain. Here we allowed the cavalry to pass to our rear and we waited for the enemy. The fight progressed all day and was very severe. Our men stood there trembling, wet up to their arms and the wind blowing from the mountains as cold as October. Poor fellows. I sympathized with them. After all, we could see the thousands of Yankee campfires in the valley about three miles in our front. We watched them until morning and then advanced upon them when lo they had gone. As soon as they discovered we had infantry, they turned towards Manassas.

It is now after 10pm and we have not yet received any orders about moving tomorrow so I can tell you nothing of our future movements. Where we go, none of us knows, but must certainly meet the foe before many more days and when we do we intend to whup certain regardless of what he intends to do with us. I may be among the number to be sacrificed. God grant I may not be. But if I should I believe I'll die with the full assurance of someday meeting you in heaven. I will have fought too in a noble cause and leave to my beloved wife and dear little children the future consolation that I fell battling for the liberty they may live to enjoy. Kiss our dear little pets for me. Oh for a short sojourn with you and them. But for this dreadful war, how happy would we be.

Colonel David W. Aiken"



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The text above was transcribed from the Time-Life "Voices of the Civil War: Gettysburg" Audio Book. If new to the Civil War, this series serves as an excellent introduction, offering items of interest even to those who consider themselves seasoned enthusiasts. Any errors in the transcription are entirely my own although, after several reviews, I believe this to be accurate. The format is obviously my own.

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved
Text of the letter is copyright TIme Warner Audiobooks © 1997

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Brothers War

While recently enjoying a three-day trip to some of the battlefields in Virginia, I decided to stop by Chatham Manor which overlooks the Rappahannock River and the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Chatham served as headquarters to Major General Edwin Vose "Bull" Sumner, commander of the Army of the Potomac's Right Grand Division, during the battle of First Fredericksburg in December of 1862. Although certainly looking forward to my visit, having walked the grounds there many times previously, I thought not much new would likely present itself.

However, one of the new National Park Service volunteers, stationed at the Manor for just over one month, made my visit much more meaningful than anticipated. Eager to provide a tour of the grounds, she enthusiastically instructed me concerning the history of the property. While enjoying her presentation, I waited somewhat impatiently for her to address the mid-19th century and the era that has become my consuming passion.

Moving throughout the old manor, we made our way to the northern most room. Void of furnishings, the somewhat small room had a solid, dark wood floor, white walls, a painting of George Washington, and a tattered Federal Division flag. As her discussion progressed to the battle's aftermath, she mentioned the building's use as a hospital, somewhat reverently mentioning that the room in which we stood served as the main center for surgery. Now thoroughly riveted to her words, she relayed that Walt Whitman had come to Chatham after learning that his brother, serving with the 51st New York, had been wounded during the fighting. At some point, he sought him here.

What Whitman saw horrified him. From this very room, a steady stream of lifeless severed limbs flew towards the yard from the open westerly-facing window. Fragments of shattered humanity piled under the two still present catalpa trees just outside the room.

Wounded soldiers experienced immense suffering on a sustained and grand scale. Many of those treated on these grounds would be buried here, resting under its sod until re-interred at the National Cemetery on Marye's Heights. Ironically, the ground no Union soldier could take, the ground whose attempts to storm would destroy thousands of lives, now served as the hallowed resting place for over fifteen thousand.

One of the included displays at the manor housed the grim instruments of Civil War medicine that earned the physicians of the time the epithet "Sawbones". Bone saws, scalpels, and needles now harmlessly encased in glass meant pain and misery to the men who obeyed their orders and braved the fields east of the solid Confederate lines. All around lurked reminders of what these men endured, underscoring the degree of valor and bravery each displayed as they, knowing what could be their fate, advanced forward as volunteers for the Union Army.

But this day, one other scene surprisingly lacking in horror would singularly capture the imagination. Also housed safely behind glass sat a sword scabbard with fading, chipped paint, obviously not of the original form. A closer look revealed the word "Fredericksburg" and several scenes painted on its sides. To my astonishment, the display's interpretive note reported that a convalescing soldier painted the vastly incongruous images on this instrument of war. Towards the top of the scabbard, clear for all to see, a Union and Confederate officer shook hands in reconciled friendship. Just beneath it, hands labeled "US" and "CS" embraced with similar sentiments.

This soldier, this man, surrounded by suffering, misery, and death, wounded during one of the Union's most tragic bloodbaths, thought only of rekindled friendship. While his body strove to again become whole, as many of his comrades slept eternally under Virginia's sod, this man dreamed of peace. Never did the label of "The Brothers War" fit so well.



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Also, today especially, please take a moment to remember those who lost their lives and loved ones during the September 11, 2001 attacks. Pray for their families and all who remain to carry on.

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Voice of God

Often romanticized, those who fought in the American Civil War understood intimately the carnage and human wreckage wrought by great battles. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who wrote prolifically about the American Civil War, offered a glimpse of the personal internal conflict still raging after the guns ceased.

"With the declining day I slowly rode over the stricken field. Around the breastworks lay a hundred and fifty of the enemy's dead and desperately wounded. We had taken also in the counter-charges and eddies of the strife nearly two hundred prisoners - happier than they knew. These we sent away for safe keeping. But we had with us, to keep and to care for, more than five hundred bruised bodies of men, - men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order - do we call it? - fraught with such ruin. Was it God's command we heard, or His forgiveness we must forever implore?" - Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, "The Passing of the Armies" Describing a battlefield outside of Petersburg towards war's end.

As we consider this period in our history, we would do well to answer these questions so long ago posed and to honor the memory of men who, knowing these risks, fought to forge the foundations of our country.



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All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 21, 2005

This Great and Good Man

On the other side of the protective black wrought iron rail beyond which no one may pass, the small modestly furnished room appeared much as it had, or so the attendant said. No decorations adorned the plain white walls. The clock on the mantle in this small outbuilding of the Chandler plantation perpetually read 3:15pm. Having stopped eons ago, no hand raised to again set its gears in motion. A faded upholstered chair sat facing the foot of the single bed joining the few other items of comfort sitting on the worn, wide wooden-planked floor. The bed had a few blankets neatly covering the thin mattress, barely long enough to comfortably hold an average adult. "One of them, along with the bed, is original" the attendant added proudly. Somehow, the setting hardly seemed befitting of the man who had so ably held the admiration and devotion of the aspiring nation.

But here, decades before the existence of the protective rail, men immersed in sorrow slowly and with heavy steps walked sullenly from this room. Overwhelmed by loss and unable to suppress their emotion, most cried. This man, so revered and respected, passed away at 3:15pm on that spring Sunday afternoon, the day of the week that, if given his choice, he had said he wished to die. His wife who had just days earlier introduced the proud commander to his tiny newborn daughter would later say, "Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep."

Only a short walk to the west of the outbuilding still lay the tracks that guided the train to Richmond, carrying the body of this man about whom others said they would have gladly gone in his stead. His men, the army, and the nation mourned deeply. His commander, filled with grief, lamented to the army, "The daring, skill, and energy of this great and good soldier, by the decree of an all-wise Providence, are now lost to us." [1] Of his arrival in the Confederate Capitol, one newspaper man would write, "It seemed as if every man felt himself an orphan, and the sad tone that gushed from the popular soul dwelt upon the sense like the touching and dreamy wail of the miserero. It would be impossible to measure the depth of love felt by the people for the great and good man whom they were now come forth to mourn." [3] A former student would later sorrowfully write to his family, "The intelligence of the death…came upon us like a shock. We feel that his death is a national calamity. The poorest soldiers among us appreciated his worth - loved the man, and mourn his loss." [4]

Just days earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, upon learning of his wounding, wrote a personal note wishfully imparting, "Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country, to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy." This victory occurred at Chancellorsville, a Confederate triumph won with audacious brilliance as the Army of Northern Virginia soundly defeated a Union Army which outnumbered them more than two to one. The Federals had the Southerners pinched between the main body of the Union army and a force based along the Rappohannock River. Union cavalry roamed just to the south. Yet, on May 2, 1863, General Lee's trusted Lieutenant, through a deception twice executed and a wearing ten mile flank march, slammed into and crushed the unsuspecting bluecoats holding the far right of the Federal army's line. As the mantle of night fell and success quickened his heart, he road out in front of his men to scout the Union position, determined to exploit the days gains to their fullest.

His men cautioned against this excursion past the protection of their lines, but the tenacious corps commander sought to crush the disorganized, routed Federals. Returning from his mission, as he approached his own lines, the men he had just lead to one of the South's most commanding victories, shot him three times after mistaking his party for Union cavalry. With bones shattered and blood loss mounting, his men endured a hazardous journey through dark woods filled with raging Union artillery, bursting shells, and screaming iron balls, to carry their commander to safety. The corps' chief medical officer, Dr. Hunter McGuire examined the wounded general at the Wilderness Tavern a few miles behind the Confederate lines. Dr. McGuire described his actions that night. "The round ball (such as is used for the smooth-bore Springfield musket), which had lodged under the skin upon the back of his right hand, was extracted first. It had entered the palm about the middle of the hand, and had fractured two of the bones. The left arm was then amputated about two inches below the shoulder, very rapidly and with slight loss of blood, the ordinary circular operation having been made. There were two wounds in his arm. The first and most serious was about three inches below the shoulder-joint, the ball dividing the main artery and fracturing the bone. The second was several inches in length; a ball having entered the outside of the forearm, an inch below the elbow, came out upon the opposite side just above the wrist. Throughout the whole of the operation, and until all the dressings were applied, he continued insensible." [2]

At the orders of General Lee, Dr. McGuire transferred the wounded General to Guinea Station, hoping that he would recover the strength to permit removal to Richmond. Days later, in the small, modest room now with the protective iron rail, this man instead would die. After issuing commands in delirium, his final words, "Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees" marked a serene end to this revered warrior's life. [1]

Just outside of the Chancellorsville Visitor's Center rests a small National Park Service Marker. Most pass it by in their zeal to venture on and tour the fields. Those who stop though receive a rare and precious gift. Reading the text, they learn that the marker stands sentry along the remains of the old Mountain Road. Along this road, General Lee's Lieutenant, flushed with victory, rode into the night feeling for the far right of the Union line. On this road he would return to be met by the flash of friendly musketry. His horse would run in terror to a point just to the signs' right. Nearby, the wounded commander would be taken from his frightened mount and begin his journey to the Wilderness Tavern and then Guinea Station. As long as this ground remains, with each person who comes here to gaze in awe down the tree covered dirt road as understanding and the sanctity of this place permeates the spirit, this man, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, lives again.


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All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

[1] Jackson wounding monument. Chancellorsville Battlefield.
[2] Stonewall's Surgeon: Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire
[3] Civil War Richmond
[4] Virginia Military Institute

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Smothering Mantle of Irrelevancy

Despite thousands of books, articles, columns, web sites, and various productions concerning this segment of our history, one question lingers like a specter eternally lurking maliciously in the shadows. It feasts on controversy such as that enveloping the current proposal to establish a casino just outside of the Gettysburg Battlefields. With this conflict to fuel its fire, the question springs forward as someone queries aloud, "Why do these grounds matter?" Relishing its power, the inquiry bears its sinister, toothy grin as it lunges again with, "Do the lands bordering Gettysburg, or any battlefield, significantly impact the life of those I love?"

As you might guess, I would argue strenuously in the affirmative. But that was not always the case.

Until recently, I did not care much for this particular period in our history, considering its study hardly useful. However, about five years ago, I found myself pacing impatiently in a bookstore, lamenting my inability to find a satisfactory read. But, as discussed in a previous entry, I happened upon the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "Killer Angels". Moving with increasing eagerness through its unexpectedly enthralling pages, I found that I had stumbled into an undiscovered world where men held dear seemingly antiquated qualities such as duty and honor. These citizens turned soldiers willingly and repeatedly endured hardships surpassing current standards of acceptability for little identifiable gain. Men became hardened to marching twenty or more miles daily, over rough, stony roads, frequently without shoes or adequate food and water. They did so both in the sweltering unforgiving heat of summer and the icy biting cold of winter. Week upon monotonous week passed drilling, marching, or doing nothing while trying to maintain some measure of morale and desperately missing home. Woven in-between the months of grinding tedium, soldiers encountered threads of savage conflict which destroyed countless lives, families, and at times, entire communities.

Currier and Ives' pictorial interpretations, gracing the pages of the illustrated papers, influenced how many citizens of that day pictured battles both great and small. Usually including one or two obligatory wounded, the images, especially early in the conflict, depicted lines of perfectly aligned men, dutifully advancing into battle courageously lead by a chivalrous mounted sword-wielding commander. Glory and fame awaited the majority who, these renderings implied, would survive this magnificent scene. Sadly though, the elegant images captured little of the real tragedy of war.

Officers frequently led men into battle in Napoleonic formations, often ignorant of both the position and number of the enemy in their front as well as the danger awaiting them. At Antietam for example, Union Major General Joseph Mansfield, proudly assuming his first field command, perished when shot by a foe he believed was elsewhere on the field. Just to the South, Union Major General William French's men advanced valiantly forward over the rolling hills of the Roulette Farm, marching in perfect formation unknowingly towards a solid gray line sheltered in a sunken farm road. Cresting a small rise, the bluecoats earned for their advance the reward of cold death and unspeakable pain as the Confederates opened fire. Irish and German immigrants, along with thousands of American citizen volunteers, whole just seconds before, would suffer the bone crushing impact of the violent hailstorm of lead balls filling the air from a massed array of carefully aimed muskets. The crash of the musketry merged with the agonized cries of the wounded to smother the commands of any officers still standing. Smoke from the hundreds of guns fired would obscure vision. Lacking a clearing breeze, formations crumbled as unsympathetic projectiles whirling towards them mowed down men standing out in the open, firing bravely at their sheltered foes.

The cornfield just hours earlier held similar scenes of horror. Union Major Rufus R. Dawes, writing of this fighting reported, "As we appeared at the edge of the corn, a long line of men in butternut and gray rose up from the ground. Simultaneously, the hostile battle lines opened a tremendous fire upon each other. Men, I cannot say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by the dozens." George Smalley, a correspondent for the New York Tribune also wrote of this day, "The field and its ghastly harvest which the reaper had gathered in those fatal hours remained finally with us..….The dead are strewn so thickly that as you ride over it you cannot guide your horse's steps too carefully. Pale and bloody faces are everywhere upturned. They are sad and terrible but there is nothing which makes one's heart beat so quickly as the imploring look of sorely wounded men who beckon wearily for help which you cannot stay to give." [1]

Soft lead bullets and the iron fired from relentless artillery swept these fields tearing flesh and shattering bones. The wounded lay among the dead on the unforgiving, unsheltered ground, unsure whether aid or death would find them first. The figure of 23,000 casualties for one day's fighting remains grim enough on its own. But many more suffered slower, lingering deaths from wounds, disease, or the aftereffects of amputation and crude surgeries. The citizenry would endure trials as well as contagious, untreatable diseases ravaged many families who offered their homes, resources, and energy to help save those mangled by the unfeeling hand of battle.

Countless pages could be filled with equally horrid descriptions of such savagery. Mentioning such underscores that these labors, once survived, destroyed most illusions of the glory of war. Those who fought these battles knew the brutality that would tirelessly seek them out. Those who fought at Antietam would, less than one year later, fight, struggle, and die on the fields in and around Gettysburg. That they knew the dangers awaiting them is without question. One Southern soldier, moving northward in 1863 would write home to his family, "I have been this morning over the old Sharpsburg Battlefield and have witnessed the most horrible sights that my eyes ever beheld. I saw the dead in any number just lying on top of the ground, their bones bleaching and they by the many hundreds. Oh what a horrible sight for human beings to look upon." [2] Witness to the unprecedented killing of Antietam, the merciless slaughter of Fredericksburg, and the carnage of Chancellorsville, with thousands of dead killed by there sides, these men marched onward towards the inevitable collision at Gettysburg.

Walking the fields of Gettysburg, most appearing as they once did, you begin to comprehend. Certainly, countless books offer vivid depictions of what these men did, especially when concerning Gettysburg, the best-known battle of the four-year war. However, to stand on Seminary Ridge, at the foot General Lee's watchful eye atop the Virginia Monument, next to the now silent cannon, and begin the slow mile long walk towards the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, lends to a level of understanding which no printed page can attain. As the vegetation crunches under your feet, you marvel at their relentless advance into the face of the enemy, knowing that they understood what lay before them. You involuntarily sense relief when dipping into the occasional sheltering swale that mercifully offered fleeting but welcome concealment from the punishing artillery fire. About halfway through your walk, when you reach the Emittsburg Road, you enter within musket range of the men in your front. As you step forward from behind the post and rail fences and advance into the ever widening line of what was thousands of waiting primed muskets, the growing sense of awe sears itself into your soul.

Gleaning this from the undulating terrain of the field of Pickett's Charge, we owe this lesson to the preservation of the fields on which men fought, bled, and died some 140 years past. Books, articles, and publications hold the potential to inspire. Photographs or video can grip or tear at the heart. Yet lacking the ability to touch all of the senses, those inspirations sadly fade with the turning of the final page or the switching of the channel. But, some hot July afternoon, walk the fields at Gettysburg. Feel the rough ground under foot as you endure the wearing heat. See the distance traveled and the barriers overcome. Taste the dust kicked up from the dry ground as you walk along with the increasingly desperate determination as with each unwavering step you close on the Union lines. After such an experience, understanding what these men knew as they advanced, no heart can remain unchanged or forget the deeds which laid another brick in the foundation of our nation.

In a time when fleeting, disposable, and impermanent describe much of our society, our shared heritage remains one of the few enduring treasured constants. When disregarding the lessons of our past, we allow ourselves to remain susceptible to the pitfalls of political intrigue, manipulation, greed, barbarism, and the undesirable facets of many periods in our country's storied history. However, the valorous deeds of the common citizen turned soldier offer an inspiration that seeps into the soul to rekindle an awareness of the better angels of our shared identity.

These fields alone complete that lesson. The grounds where great deeds occurred offer a nourishing fragment of the spirit of those who marched, fought, and sacrificed here. Left unthreatened and unchanged, they hold the same potential for touching and inspiring generations yet to come.

With this, the question of the relevance of these sacred grounds shrinks back into the shifting shadows, surrendering its former ferocity to the smothering mantle of irrelevancy.



If you would like further information regarding the concerns with the proposal to establish a casino near the battlefield, please visit

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

[2] Antietam: A Documentary Film. Media Magic Productions Historical Films Group

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Beauty of Those Hallowed Grounds

Words often fail to capture the essence and beauty of the now sacred grounds at Gettysburg. But slowly walk those fields, experience them free from modern intrusions, and you begin to understand. Please join me by turning on your sound, shifting back in your chair, and clicking below to view a multimedia slideshow entitled:

The Essence of Gettysburg

(Please, this slideshow is recommended for broadband connections only)



All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved