Saturday, March 28, 2009

No Column This Month

The Faces of War column scheduled for this month's issue of the Civil War News was cut due to space limitations. A wealth of news and information, plus book reviews and the annual fundraising directory, forced its postponement. Faces of War will return next month.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

A Colonel’s Commitment

The government maintains a file for every veteran who applied for a pension, and each is usually filled with a wealth of personal detail. Some of the best reading is included in affidavits from the soldiers who served with the applicant. Each of these documents end with a declaration that the individual has no interest in the applicant’s case — a simple but necessary legal statement.

This morning, making my way through the pension file of Pvt. Jesse B. Ditty (see his photo on Flickr) of the Ninth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who suffered an injury in action at Lovejoy's Station, Ga., in November 1864, I transcribed an 1881 affidavit by Col. Thomas Jefferson Jordan, Ditty’s commanding officer. The colonel’s testimony supported Ditty’s claim, and ended with a unique version of the “no interest in the applicant’s case” statement.

Col. Jordan ended his affidavit with this sentence: “I have no interest in this matter beyond the proper desire that every officer should have, to see that his men who fought through the war & shared the danger with him, should if entitled to it receive the pension provided by his country for disabled soldiers.”

I am impressed that the colonel revealed his feelings for his men fifteen years after the war ended, and his commitment to their welfare. Another example of the strong bonds that the bonds formed by these men during the war lasted a lifetime.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hancock the Harassed

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s fighting Second Corps performed well during the 1864 Overland Campaign, adding luster to his already well-established reputation as “Hancock the Superb.” However, the intensity of the fighting, particularly in The Wilderness and at Spotsylvania, took a toll on his troops. The Twelfth New Jersey Infantry, tired and hungry after weeks of campaigning, let their feelings known in this incident related by Capt. George A. Bowen in his diary:

“On the 15th of June, 1864, after crossing to the South side of the James River, we were halted for the night. Did not move till near noon. We were waiting to have Ration issued to us as were entirely out. We finally marched without them. Marching South. While marching along a road, Gen. Hancock commanding Corps, passed us. As soon as the boys saw him they commenced to call at him, ‘Hard Tack, Pork, Coffee, Beef’ and kept it up as long as he was in sight. He enquired what Regt. it was. Ordered us to remain where [we] were till the rest of the troops had passed. Then we were deployed as skirmishers, advanced into the woods; we skirmished all the afternoon behind the rest of the Corps. Not an enemy within miles of us. This was done for punishment for halloing at him.”

Clearly, the general was less than pleased with the Jerseymen, and had his revenge. Hancock the Harassed!

Source: Bowen, George A., “The Diary of Captain George A. Bowen 12th Regiment New Jersey Volunteers,” The Valley Forge Journal (1985): 3.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Harpers Ferry Civil War Round Table Talk

Just returned from delivering a presentation to the Harpers Ferry Civil War Round Table, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Mike Musick, highly-regarded for his work with Civil War-era photographs and formerly of the National Archives, was a gracious and friendly host — not to mention a kindred spirit, for we both share a passion for wartime images. Al Alsdorf helped make arrangements and Dave Larsen made sure the technology was working.

We enjoyed an excellent pre-St. Patrick's Day feast of corned beef and cabbage, and then a book raffle.

Following the raffle, I gave my presentation, divided in two parts. The first focused on my journey from a collector to author, and the second a series of charts based upon my recently-completed database of the 200 soldiers I have profiled.

I could not have asked for a better evening, spent with new friends and a topic that deeply interested all of us.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Villain Damn Him"

Spent part of this evening reading the Civil War diary of William A. Skiles, published under the title Letters to Home. Skiles was a private in Company G of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry. His captain, Benjamin B. Hopkins, is one of the soldiers I am currently researching. I found a great reference to Hopkins, which will be included in his forthcoming profile. I also found an interesting reference to Clement Vallandigham, the Ohio Democratic congressman booted out of the Buckeye State into Confederate territory for his outspoken support of states rights and the withdrawal of Southern states from the Union. Pvt. Skiles refers to Vallandigham (shown here in this portrait from the Library of Congress) as "Villain damn him," a pithy word play on the congressman's last name.

A Google search reveals one other reference to this nickname, made by a soldier in the Ninth New Jersey Infantry and noted in Beneath the Starry Flag.

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