Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“It is General Hood; say nothing about it.”​

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 20, 2013
Taber Chickamauga
Walton Taber, “Confederate Battle Line at Chickamauga.”

Blank

The account of Chickamauga by Private Lawrence Daffan, Company G, 4th Texas Infantry:

Blank

On my return from Fredericksburg to the camp at Port Royal, I asked General J. B. Robertson and the Captain of my company for permission to stop for a week or ten days at my uncles’ homes, two of them, which were about twelve miles east of Fredericksburg. They granted this request. . . .​
One warm September evening we saw the dust rising down the main road, and we slipped around to see what it was. We went through the corn and his to see what was coming. The army was moving. The first brigade was Benning’s, of Georgia; the second was Law’s, of Alabama; and the third was Hood’s Texas Brigade, my brigade. I saw the Fifth Texas pass, then came the Fourth, my regiment, and I wondered where they were going.​
 
​In a few days I found I had been left in Virginia, for my brigade had gone to Georgia. In a few days I became “homesick,” as it were, to be with my company, but how to reach them was a problem. Having some idea of military affairs, though a boy of eighteen, I proceeded at once to Richmond to report to the provost marshal.​
 
​He understood my condition at once, and gave an order for transportation and rations to a point in Georgia, I believe Resaca, where I expected to find the brigade. I reached there on Friday, September 18, 1863, just in time to join them in the battle on Sunday at Chickamauga. ​
 
​I received my only injury during the war at Chickamauga; a ball struck my gun between the rammer and the barrel, shivering the stock and knocking me down. This was at the cabin [Viniard?] in front of Longstreet’s Corps, Saturday evening, September 19, 1863.​
 
​Our men made a gallant charge on the Federals and there were two lines of battle of Federals. We received a terrible volley of musketry there – the most terrible during the war. If they, the Federals, had shot low, it seems to me we would all have been killed. From six to thirty feet on the timber showed the effects of this terrible volley of musketry. I think ten of my company were killed at Chickamauga and thirty or forty wounded. Nearly all killed were shot in the breast or head, which indicated excited and high shooting by the Federals. We took their position, but did not press them further that evening. I was on picket Saturday night; the lines changed somewhat during the night. As well as I can know, we were fronting west Saturday evening, and changed out front to north Sunday morning. In the charge Sunday morning we captured a battery, driving the enemy back, and here general Hood was wounded. I am satisfied that General Hood was wounded by his own men, Confederates off to our left. I think they were Florida troops.​
 
​They mistook us on account of our neat, new standard uniform. They took us for Federals, as Bragg’s army had never seen a well-uniformed Confederate regiment. The couriers were sent to these troops telling them to cease firing, and to explain the situation. Were we in this battle, supporting the Western army, under Bragg.​
Blank
Hood at Chickamauga
Hood wounded at Chickamauga. Illustrated London News, December 26, 1863.
Blank
I saw General Hood wounded, and saw the men wrap him and carry him away in a blanket. I rushed up and pulled the blanket open to be sure that it was General Hood; the officer in charge of the litter corps spoke very rough to me about this, saying, “yes, it is General Hood; say nothing about it.”​
 
​This was all under fire. These places all have special names now, but I give my account as a boy soldier.​

___________

GeneralStarsGray

How Val Giles Made Second Sergeant

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on July 2, 2013

West slope of the Little Round Top, Gettysburg, as seen from the plain along Plum Run. This is the view that presented itself to the Fourth and Fifth Texas Regiments late on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Photo by jwolf312, used under Creative Commons License.

Blank

Valerius Cincinnatus Giles — inevitably known simply as “Val” — was a twenty-one-year-old soldier in Company B of the Fourth Texas Infantry when that unit made its famous, unsuccessful assault on the Federal positions on Little Round Top, late on the second day during the Battle of Gettysburg. In his later years, Giles spent much of his free time compiling a memoir, but did not live to see its completion. Giles died in 1915; his writings, edited by Mary Lasswell, were finally published in 1961. That volume, Rags and Hope, has since become a classic first-person account of Texas soldiers during the war.

It was nearly five o’clock when we began the assault against the enemy that was strongly fortified behind logs and stones on the crest of a steep mountain. It was more than half a mile from our starting point to the edge of the timber at the base of the ridge, comparatively open ground all the way. We started off at quick time, the officers keeping the column in pretty good line until we passed through a blossoming peach orchard and reached the level ground beyond. We were now about 400 yards from the timber. The fire from the enemy, both artillery and musketry, was fearful.
 
In making that long charge, our brigade got jammed. Regiments lapped over each other, and when we reached the woods and climbed the mountains as far as we could go, we were a badly mixed crowd.
 
Confusion reigned everywhere. Nearly all our field officers were gone. Hood, our Major General, had been shot from his horse. He lost an arm from the wound [sic.]. Robertson, our Brigadier, had been carried from the field. Colonel Powell of the Fifth Texas was riddled with bullets. Colonel Van Manning of the Third Arkansas was disabled. and Colonel B. F. Carter of my Regiment lay dying at the foot of the mountain.
 
The side of the mountain was heavily timbered and covered with great boulders that had tumbled from the cliffs above years before. These afforded great protection to the men.
 
Every tree, rock and stump that gave any protection from the rain of Minié balls that were poured down upon us from the crest above us, was soon appropriated. John Griffith and myself pre-empted a moss-covered old boulder about the size of a 500-pound cotton bale.
 
By this time order and discipline were gone. Every fellow was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as loud as the officers. Nobody paid any attention to either. To add to this confusion, our artillery on the hill to our rear was cutting its fuse too short. Their shells were bursting behind us, in the treetops, over our heads, and all around us.
 
Nothing demoralizes troops quicker than to be fired into by their friends. I saw it occur twice during the war. The first time we ran, but at Gettysburg we couldn’t.
 
This mistake was soon corrected and the shells burst high on the mountain or went over it.
 
Major Rogers, then in command of the Fifth Texas Regiment, mounted an old log near my boulder and began a Fourth of July speech. He was a little ahead of time, for that was about six thirty on the evening of July 2d.
 
Of course nobody was paying any attention to the oration as he appealed to the men to “stand fast.” He and Captain Cousins of the Fourth Alabama were the only two men I saw standing. The balance of us had settled down behind rocks, logs, and trees. While the speech was going on, John Haggerty, one of Hood’s couriers, then acting for General Law, dashed up the side of the mountain, saluted the Major and said: “General Law presents his compliments, and says hold this place at all hazards.” The Major checked up, glared down at Haggerty from his’ perch, and shouted: “Compliments, hell! Who wants any compliments in such a damned place as this? Go back and ask General Law if he expects me to hold the world in check with the Fifth Texas Regiment!”
 
The Major evidently thought he had his own regiment with him, but in fact there were men from every regiment in the Texas Brigade all around him.
 
From behind my boulder I saw a ragged line of battle strung out along the side of Cemetery Ridge and in front of Little Round Top. Night began settling around us, but the carnage went on.
 
There seemed to be a viciousness in the very air we breathed. Things had gone wrong all the day, and now pandemonium came with the darkness.
 
Alexander Dumas says the devil gets in a man seven times a day, and if the average is not over seven times, he is almost a saint.
 
At Gettysburg that night, it was about seven devils to each man. Officers were cross to the men, and the men were equally cross to the officers. It was the same way with our enemies. We could hear the Yankee officer on the crest of the ridge in front of us cursing the men by platoons, and the men telling him to go to a country not very far away from us just at that time. If that old Satanic dragon has ever been on earth since he offered our Saviour the world if He would serve him, he was certainly at Gettysburg that night.
 
Every characteristic of the human race was presented there, the cruelty of the Turk, the courage of the Greek, the endurance of the Arab, the dash of the Cossack, the fearlessness of the Bashibazouk, the ignorance of the Zulu, the cunning of the Comanche, the recklessness of the American volunteer, and the wickedness of the devil thrown in to make the thing complete.
 
The advance lines of the two armies in many places were not more than fifty yards apart. Everything was on the shoot. No favors asked, and none offered.
 
My gun was so dirty that the ramrod hung in the barrel, and 1 could neither get it down nor out. 1 slammed the rod against a rock a few times, and drove home ramrod, cartridge and all, laid the gun on a boulder, elevated the muzzle, ducked my head, hollered “Look out!” and pulled the trigger. She roared like a young cannon and flew over my boulder, the barrel striking John Griffith a smart whack on the left ear. John roared too, and abused me like a pickpocket for my carelessness. It was no trouble to get another gun there. The mountain side was covered with them.
 
Just to our left was a little fellow from the Third Arkansas Regiment. He was comfortably located behind a big stump, loading and firing as fast as he could. Between biting cartridges and taking aim, he was singing at the top of his voice: “Now let the wide world wag as it will, I’ll be gay and happy still”
 
The world was wagging all right-no mistake about that, but 1 failed to see where the “gay and happy” came in. That was a fearful night. There was no sweet music. The “tooters” had left the shooters to fight it out, and taken “Home, Sweet Home” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me” with them.
 
Our spiritual advisers, chaplains of regiments, were in the rear, caring for the wounded and dying soldiers. With seven devils to each man, it was no place for a preacher, anyhow. A little red paint and a few eagle feathers were all that was necessary to make that crowd on both sides into the most veritable savages on earth. White-winged peace didn’t roost at Little Round Top that nightl There was not a man there that cared a snap for the golden rule, or that could have remembered one line of the Lord’s Prayer. Both sides were whipped, and all were furious about it.
 
We lay along the side of Cemetery Ridge, and on the crest of the mountain lay 10,000 Yankee infantry, not 100 yards above us. That was on the morning of July 3, 1863, the day that General Pickett made his gallant, but fatal charge on our left.
 
Our Corps, Longstreet’s, had made the assault on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top the evening before. The Texas Brigade had butted up against a perpendicular wall of gray limestone. There we lay on the night of the 2d with the devil in command of both armies. About daylight on the morning of the 3rd old Uncle John Price (colored) brought in the rations for Company B. There were only fourteen of us present that morning under the command of Lieutenant James T. McLaurin.
 
I felt pretty safe behind my big rock; every member of the regiment had sought protection from the storm of Minié balls behind rocks or trees. The side of the mountain was covered with both. When Uncle John brought in the grub, he deposited it by a big Hat rock, lay down behind another boulder, and went to sleep.
 
Sergeant Mose Norris and Sergeant Perry Grumbles had been killed in our charge the evening before, and Sergeant Garland Colvin was wounded and missing.
 
Somebody had to issue the grub to the men, and as an incentive to induce me to take the job, the Lieutenant raised me three points. He too was located in a bombproof position behind another big boulder just in front of me.
 
“Giles,” he said, “Sergeant Norris always issued the rations to the men, but poor Mose is dead now and you must take his place. I appoint you Second Sergeant of Company B. Divide the rations into fourteen equal parts and have the men crawl up and get them.”
 
Every time a fellow showed himself, some smart aleck of a Yankee on top of the ridge took a shot at him. I didn’t even thank the Lieutenant for the honor (or better, the lemon) that he handed me, and must admit that I undertook the job with a great deal of reluctance.
 
A steady artillery fire was going on all along the line and a sulphuric kind of odor filled the air, caused by the great amount of black powder burned in the battle. Maybe it was the fumes of old Satan as he pulled out that morning leaving the row to be settled by Lee and Meade. We were comparatively safe from the big guns, but it was the infantry just above us that made things unpleasant. I crawled up to the camp kettle of boiled roasting ears and meal-sack full of ironclad biscuits that Uncle John had brought in, and began dividing the grub and laying it on top of a big flat rock.
 
The Yanks on the hill became somewhat quiet, so I got a little bolder and popped my head above the rock. They saw my old black wool hat and before you could say “scat,” two Minié balls flattened out on top of the rock, making lead prints half as big as a saucer, and smashing two rations of grub. One roasting ear was cut in two, but the old cold-water ironclad biscuits went rolling down the hill, solid as the rock from which they flew.
 
Cuss words don’t look well in print, but I don’t see how a fellow can tell his personal experience in the army without letting one slip in now and then. In this case I’ll let it pass!
 
When those bullets struck the lunch counter, the newly-made Second Sergeant disappeared from view. The remark he made caused that grim old Lieutenant to laugh and say, “Let the boys crawl up and help themselves.” The range was so close that when those bullets struck the solid rock, it flew all to pieces, a small fragment striking me on the upper lip, drawing a few drops of blood and mussing up my baby mustache.
 
Second Sergeant was my limit in the Fourth Texas Regiment.

_____________

This post originally appeared on July 18, 2010.

GeneralStarsGray

“One of them was a better soldier than I was.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on September 16, 2012

Private Lawrence Daffan, Co. G, Fourth Texas Infantry, at Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862:

On the evening of the 16th we crossed the Antietam Creek, falling back from Boonsboro Gap. This occasioned some skirmishing and artillery duels across the creek, as we had taken a stand near Sharpsburg. We had orders the evening of the 16th to cook up three days’ rations, and to be ready to move at a moment’s warning. We were located nearly a half mile south of an old Dunkard church. There was heavy timber between us and the church; north and west of us there was a large stubblefield where wheat was cut. North of this stubble was a large cornfield of considerable dimensions. Corn there in September is as high as it is here in July; fodder was about ready to be gathered. By daylight the pickets commenced firing. By sunrise wer were ordered forward in line of battle. We stopped near the church in the heavy timber, the branches were falling on us, and many spent balls played around us.
 
A short time after this we were ordered “forward.” We emerged from the timber into the stubblefield; some of it I think had recently been plowed.
 
As we emerged from the timber, a panorama, fearful and wonderful, broke upon us. It was a line of battle in front of us. Immediately in front of us was Lawton’s Georgia Brigade. After we left the timber we were under fire, but not in a position to return the fire. As we neared Lawton’s Brigade, the order came for the Texas Brigade to charge. Whenever a halt was made by a command under fire, every man lay flat on the ground, and this was done very quick. Lawton’s Brigade had been on this line fighting some time before we reached them. Lawton’s Brigade attempted to charge, and did charge; their charge was a failure, because their numbers had been decimated; they had no strength.
 
Then the Texas Brigade as ordered to charge; the enemy was on the opposite side of this stubblefield in the cornfield. As we passed where Lawton’s Brigade had stood, there was a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see. Just before reaching the cornfield General Hood rode up to Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter, commanding the fourth Texas Regiment (my regiment), and told him to front his regiment to the left and protect the flank. This he did and made a charge directly to the west. We were stopped by a pike fenced on both sides. It would have been certain death to have climbed the fence.
 
Hays’ Louisiana Brigade had been in on our left, and had been driven out. Some of their men were with us at this fence. One of them was a better soldier than I was. I was lying on the ground shooting through the fence about the second rail; he stood up and shot right over the fence. He was shot through his left hand, and through the heart as he fell on me, dead. I pushed him off and saw that “Seventh Louisiana” was on his cap.
 
The Fifth [Texas], First [Texas] and Eighteenth Georgia, which was the balance of my brigade, went straight down into the cornfield, and when they struck this cornfield, the corn blades rose like a whirlwind, and the air was full.

_____________

Lawrence Daffan was seventeen years old at the time. He survived this fight, the assault on Little Round Top at Gettysburg the following year, and the Battle of Chickamauga, only to be captured in late 1863 and spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois. Passage from My Father as I Remember Him, by Katie Daffan. Image: “The Hagerstown Pike,” by Walton Taber.
 

“This was the grandest thing I saw during the war.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 30, 2012

Today is the sesquicentennial of the Second Battle of Manassas. Yesterday we had an account of that action recorded by Val Giles, of Company B of the 4th Texas Infantry, describing the action against a Union Zouave regiment and the actions of the James Reilly’s battery, attached to the Texas Brigade. Today, we have a parallel account of the same action, by Lawrence Daffan (right), then a seventeen-year-old private in Company G of the 4th Texas. Years later, Daffan dictated his account to his daughter Katie, who was herself secretary of the Brigade Association, active in UDC affairs and, the following year, would be named superintendent of the Texas Confederate Woman’s Home. The story was subsequently published in a commemorative book, Unveiling and Dedication of Monument to Hood’s Texas Brigade on the Capitol Grounds at Austin, Texas. It contains a wealth of information about the famous brigade, collected from wartime records and surviving veterans.

On that August afternoon in 1862, Daffan and his comrades witnessed what later came to be known as “the very vortex of Hell.” At the center of that conflagration stood the famous Fifth New York Volunteers, Duryée’s Zouaves. They took the full brunt of the attack by Daffan’s counterparts in the Fifth Texas,  and Hampton’s Legion of South Carolinians, and the Eighteenth Georgia. The Zouaves held on as long as they could, and were effectively wiped out as a fighting unit. Of 525 “redlegs” who marched into the fight that day, 332 were killed or wounded, a casualty rate of 63%.

Note: the original work as published, linked in the first paragraph above, has numerous small errors in dates, spelling of names, and so on. It’s impossible at this point to know if these were errors made by Lawrence Daffan, Katie Daffan, or the typesetter. I’ve corrected (or tried to) all those in the text below, without noting individual instances. Those wishing to see the uncorrected text can click the first link above to read the original, beginning on p. 187 of the original book, or n218 in the electronic version.

On Thursday evening, August 28, 1862, marching through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we heard the sound and echo of artillery, which was familiar to us, and we knew that we were approaching the enemy.

Just before sundown we entered Thoroughfare Gap. We could hear musketry and artillery at the opposite side of the gap. Anderson’s Brigade had engaged the enemy, who was holding the gap, to keep us from forming a junction with Jackson at Manassas.

Hood’s Brigade filed out of the road and started right over the top of the mountain, which was very steep climbing. By the time we were at the top we received word that Anderson had routed the enemy. We returned to the road and continued that night and marched through the gap and camped right on the ground where Anderson had driven them away. We were ordered to be ready to move at a moment’s warning. We started at 6 o’clock Friday morning, August 29.

I speak of Hood’s division in this, which consisted of Benning’s Brigade and Anderson’s Georgia Brigade, Law’s Alabama Brigade and Hood’s Texas Brigade. Hood was, at this time, Brigadier General, but acting in the capacity of Major General for this division.

We marched along in ordinary time to Manassas, until 9 or 10 o’clock. At this time we began to hear very heavy cannonade. In an hour we were in the hearing of very heavy artillery and musketry, fierce and violent. Jackson had engaged Pope and his corps. The sound of the firing continued to grow more violent. We received orders to quickstep and shortly afterward received orders to double quickstep. We were all young and stout, and it seemed to me this kept up about two hours. Pope was pressing Jackson very hard at this point. We joined Jackson and formed at his right and double-quicked into line of battle and threw out skirmishers.

At this time, as we arrived there, the firing all along Jackson’s line ceased at once. We took position Friday evening, and Friday night we had a night attack. This and the attack at Raccoon Mountain, Tennessee, were the only night attacks that I know of made by the Confederates. This attack caused great confusion, and I could never understand what benefit it was. We slept that night very close to the enemy, in fact could not speak aloud or above a whisper. I had a very bad cold at this time, contracted on the retreat from Yorktown, and an officer was sent from headquarters “to tell than man who was constantly coughing to go from the front to the rear, where he could not be heard.” I went back, near half a mile, with my blanket and accouterments. I slept alone, under a large oak tree, coughing all night. I didn’t know the maneuvers of our regiment between this [time] and day[light], but I joined them early Saturday morning [August 30]. We formed in perfect order early in the day. Jackson brought on the attack on our left about noon and pressed the enemy until they began to give way in front of him. This drew a number of troops from in front of us to support those Jackson, was driving back on our left.

General Lee’s headquarters were in sight of where I was. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon I saw a considerable commotion in General Lee’s headquarters; he, his staff officers and couriers. The couriers darted off with their instructions to different commanders of divisions, in a few minutes a courier dashed up to General [Jerome B.] Robertson, commanding the Texas Brigade. These couriers and orderlies notified the respective Colonels. The order “attention” was given, then the order “to load,” then “forward,” “guide center.” We went through the heavy timber and emerged into an open field. We had a famous battery with us, [Captain James] Reilly’s Battery [Rowan Artillery], with six guns, four Napoleon and two six-p0und rifles.

Captain Reilly had always promised us that if the location of the company permitted, he would charge with us. We opened and made room between the Fourth and Fifth Texas for Reilly’s Battery to come in. As we started, the battery started.

Young’s Branch was between us and a hill on the other side, which was occupied by a Federal Battery [Curran's Battery], which was playing on us. This turned into a charge as soon as we emerged from the timber. We had gone a short distance when Reilly unlimbered two of his guns and opened on the Federals. We moved past these guns while they were firing. As we passed on the other two guns came in some distance ahead of those that were firing, swung into position and unlimbered. It seemed to me by the time the first two had stopped, the second two opened fire. This was done remarkably quick. They charged with us in this charge until we arrived at Young’s Branch ; two sections, two Napoleon guns each, two firing while the other two would limber up and run past them, swing into position and open fire.

This was the grandest thing I saw during the war — the charge of Reilly’s Battery with the Texas Brigade. I don’t know whether they shot accurately or not, it was done so fast. But I do know that it attracted the attention of the Yankee battery on the hill, diverting their attention from us.

Reilly’s Battery were North Carolinians and were with us all during the war and they never lost a gun.

In this charge at Manassas we saw a Zouave regiment [5th New York Volunteers, Duryée's Zouaves]. It stood immediately in front of the Fifth Texas to our right. It was a very fine regiment. As the Fifth Texas approached, it checked the speed of the Fifth in its quick charge. The Fifth Texas, Hampton Legion and the Fourth Texas had a tendency to swing around them. As the Fifth Texas approached them, I saw the blaze of their rifles reached nearly from one to the other.

The First Texas, Hampton’s Legion and Fourth Texas from their position gave the Zouaves an enfilading fire, which virtually wiped them off the face of the earth. I never could understand why this fine Zouave regiment would make the stand they did in front of the brigade until nearly every one was killed.

We rallied at Young’s Branch. I looked up the hill which we had descended and the hill was red with uniforms of the Zouaves. They were from New York.

We ascended the hill out of Young’s branch, charged a battery of six guns [Curran's], supported by a line of Pennsylvania infantry. This battery was near enough to use on us grapeshot and canister. As we came near to it one of the guns was pointed directly at my company and lanyard strung. Our Captain commanded Company G to right and left oblique from it. I was on the right and with a few others went into Company H. At this time one of the artillerymen threw the main beam, and this threw the cannon directly on Company H. Company H received a load of canister which killed four or five men.

I was immediately with Lieutenant [C. E.] Jones and [Private R. W.] Ransom of that company, who were both killed right at my feet. I stepped over both of them. Captain [James T.] Hunter, now living, was also shot down at that time. Most of the company were my schoolmates.

This last shot threw smoke and dust all over me, and the shot whizzed on both sides of me. Lieutenant Jones was shot in the head and feet, but I was not touched, When the smoke cleared away we had these guns, and they were so hot I couldn’t bear my hands on them. I then fired one shot at this retreating infantry which the rest of the brigade had been engaged with. This wound up that day’s engagement for us, except the Fifth Texas. A part of their regiment and their colors were carried about five miles after the retreating enemy.

We returned to Young’s branch and my attention was attracted to our support coming down the same hill that we had come down.

There were four lines of battle of Longstreet’s Corps in perfect order, which passed us and took up the fight with the retreating enemy where we left it off. This battle was fought on the 30th and 31st of August, 1862.

I can’t understand why the Federals have always attached so little importance to this battle, as they lost many gallant men there. They were terribly defeated, and may have been ashamed of their commanding general.

Image: 5th New York Zouaves, by Don Troiani


“The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 29, 2012

One of the great firsthand accounts of Texas troops in the Civil War is Val C. Giles’ Rags and Hope: Four Years with Hood’s Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (Mary Lasswell, ed.). The book was originally published in 1961, at the time of the Civil War Centennial, and (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted. Copies are hard to find, and correspondingly expensive. That’s a shame, because Giles’ narrative is poignant, vivid, and often very funny.

Giles’ account of Second Manassas shares much with that of his postwar friend and fellow 4th Texas veteran, Lawrence Daffan of Company G. It’s a harrowing description, and Giles (Company B) was much shaken by the carnage he saw around him within the regiment. That’s for a later time, though; for now, I want to follow-up Daffan’s dramatic description of Captain James Reilly’s Battery D of the 1st North Carolina Artillery with Giles’ description of the same event. As always, Giles (right, in a studio portrait taken in Austin at the time of his enlistment in 1861) has a keen ear for vivid characters and humorous spectacle:*

When I say the greatest battles of the world have been fought by the infantry, I don’t mean to reflect on the artillery or cavalry, or intimate that they have ever failed to do their duty. Stuart’s Cavalry was always vigilant. They were the eyes and ears of the army, and while the infantry slept, these gallant fellows were far away on the flanks, watching the enemy, guarding the fords, bridges and crossroads, escorting supply trains, and, for weeks at a time, fighting every day. During the war I used to think that the artillerymen were the bravest men on earth. They could pull through deeper mud, ford. deeper streams, shoot faster, swear louder, and stand more hard pounding than any other class of men in the service. . . .

Attached to the Texas Brigade was a fine battery of six Napoleon guns, commanded by Captain Reilly. Reilly had been an artillery sergeant in the old Army, and when the trouble began in 1861, he cast his lot with the Confederacy. He was an Irishman, rough, gruff, grizzly, and brave. He loved his profession and knew his business.

In this battle of Second Manassas, we witnessed a fine display of his skill and courage. General Hood instructed his colonels to halt their regiments when they reached Young Branch, which ran parallel with our line of battle, but when the Brigade reached the branch, the enemy was falling back, all along the line, and many of our field officers were killed or wounded. Colonel J. B. Robertson, Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Upton, Major Bryant, Captain J. D. Roberdeau, and Adjutant Campbell Woods of the Fifth Texas Regiment had all fallen before they reached the branch. The regiment was left without field officers, so the men pressed over the Zouaves, across the stream, and up the hill beyond.

Lieutenant Colonel [S. Z.] Ruff, Majors [John C.] Griffis, [John B.] O’Neill, [D. L.] Jarrett, and [Joel C.] Roper of the Eighteenth Georgia had gone down. Majors [William P.] Townsend, [D. U.] Barziza, and [James T.] Hunter of the Fourth had also fallen. Colonel [William T.] Wofford of the Eighteenth Georgia, Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter of the Fourth Texas, Lieutenant Colonel P. A. Work of the First Texas, and Colonel [W. M.] Gary of Hampton’s South Carolina Legion finally succeeded in checking our men and bringing them back under the crest of the hill.

It was then that “Old Tarantula,” Captain Reilly, made his appearance on the field. He turned a point of timber to our left and came toward us in a sweeping run. Every horse in the battery carried a rider and the caissons and gun carriages were covered with red caps holding on like monkeys as they thundered over gullies, rocks, even over dead and wounded soldiers.

“Old Tarantula” rode fifty yards in front of his battery. He hurriedly selected an elevation, and at the wave of his hand, the guns were whirled into position and every artilleryman appeared to hit the ground at once. He threw his field glass to his eye, swept the horizon at one glance, then sang out: “Six hundred yards — shrapnel!”’

The guns bellowed and roared, the shells passing ten feet over our heads. Many of .the men sprang to the top of the hill to see the effect of Reilly’s shells. He was accurate in distance, for every shell exploded right in the midst of the confused and retreating enemy. He sat on his horse, calmly giving his commands, increasing the distance as the broken columns retired.

Major [William] Harvey Sellers, General Hood’s Assistant Adjutant General, rode up to the battery on his wounded gray horse to deliver some order. Old Reilly greeted him with a grand flourish and gleefully said, pointing in the direction of the bursting shells, “See, Major, see! The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

I have no idea what “skillipins” is a phonetic spelling of, but they skeddaddled — extinsively!

___________________________

* I’ve corrected spellings of proper names without further note. Image: Reilly’s Battery in action at Gettysburg, by Dale Gallon.

Why Movies Are More Gooder Than Reality

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on May 3, 2012

My favorite scene in the 1993 film Gettysburg is this one, where Hood rides to General Longstreet, his corps commander, to protest the order to make a frontal assault on Little Round Top. It’s brief, direct, and poignant; the way the dialogue is framed, even someone who knows nothing about Gettysburg understands immediately that the attack is doomed to fail. It perfectly encapsulates the conflict between the generals; too bad that encounter never happened.

At least, it didn’t happen the way it’s depicted in the movie, which is widely heralded in some quarters as being particularly faithful to the historical record. There’s no question that Hood protested his orders to make a frontal assault on the Federal position, and reluctantly complied with his orders, but the details of how that exchange came about are considerably different, as reported by three officers who were there.

Here is Evander M. Law’s (1836-1920, right) account of the event, from his article, “‘Round Top’ and the Confederate Right at Gettysburg,” published in the December 1886 issue of The Century Magazine. At the time, Law commanded the Alabama Brigade in Hood’s Division, and succeeded to command of the division when Hood was wounded early in the action:

I found General Hood on the ridge where his line had been formed, communicated to him the information I had obtained, and pointed out the ease with which a movement by the right flank might be made. He coincided fully in my views, but said that his orders were positive to attack in front, as soon as the left of the corps should get into position. I therefore entered a formal protest against a direct attack. . . .

General Hood called up Captain Hamilton, of his staff, and requested me to repeat the protest to him, and the grounds on which it was made. He then directed Captain Hamilton to find General Longstreet as quickly as possible and deliver the protest, and to say to him that he (Hood) indorsed it fully. Hamilton rode off at once, but in about ten minutes returned, accompanied by a staff-officer of General Longstreet, who said to General Hood, in my hearing, ” General Longstreet orders that you begin the attack at once.” Hood turned to me and merely said, ” You hear the order ? ” I at once moved my brigade to the assault. I do not know whether the protest ever reached General Lee. From the brief interval that elapsed between the time it was sent to General Longstreet and the receipt of the order to begin the attack, I am inclined to think it did not.  General Longstreet has since said that he repeatedly advised against a front attack and suggested a movement by our right flank. He may have thought, after the rejection of this advice by General Lee, that it was useless to press the matter further.

Just here the battle of Gettysburg was lost to the Confederate arms.

In his own account, James Longstreet (1821-1904) acknowledges Hood’s appeals not to go forward with the attack as planned, but also suggests that even when the matter was decided, Hood dragged his feet in executing it:

Hood’s division was in two lines, Law’s and Robertson’s brigades in front, G. T. Anderson’s and Benning’s in the second line. The batteries were with the divisions, four to the division. One of G. T. Anderson’s regiments was put on picket down the Emmitsburg road. General Hood appealed again and again for the move to the right, but, to give more confidence to his attack, he was reminded that the move to the right had been carefully considered by our chief and rejected in favor of his present orders. . . .

Prompt to the order the combat opened, followed by artillery of the other corps, and our artillerists measured up to the better metal of the enemy by vigilant work. Hood’s lines were not yet ready. After a little practice by the artillery, he was properly adjusted and ordered to bear down upon the enemy’s left, but he was not prompt, and the order was repeated before he would strike down.

In his usual gallant style he led his troops through the rocky fastnesses against the strong lines of his earnest adversary, and encountered battle that called for all of his power and skill. The enemy was tenacious of his strong ground ; his skilfully-handled batteries swept through the passes between the rocks ; the more deadly fire of infantry concentrated as our men bore upon the angle of the enemy’s line and stemmed the fiercest onset, until it became necessary to shorten their work by a desperate charge. This pressing struggle and the cross-fire of our batteries broke in the salient angle, but the thickening fire, as the angle was pressed back, hurt Hood’s left and held him in steady fight. His right brigade was drawn towards Round Top by the heavy fire pouring from that quarter, Benning’s brigade was pressed to the thickening line at the angle, and G. T. Anderson’s was put in support of the battle growing against Hood’s right.

There’s no mention in either Law’s or Longstreet’s accounts of the two men arguing the matter face-to-face.

Division commander John Bell Hood (1831-79), in his posthumously-published memoir, gave this version of events, recounted in a letter he’d written to Longstreet a decade after the conflict:

A third time I despatched one of my staff [to Longstreet] to explain fully in regard to the situation, and suggest that you had better come and look for yourself. I selected, in this instance, my adjutant-general, Colonel Harry Sellers, whom you know to be not only an officer of great courage, but also of marked ability. Colonel Sellers returned with the same message, ‘General Lee’s orders are to attack up the Emmetsburg road.’ Almost simultaneously. Colonel Fairfax, of your staff, rode up and repeated the above orders.

After this urgent protest against entering the battle at Gettysburg, according to instructions — which protest is the first and only one I ever made during my entire military career — I ordered my line to advance and make the assault.

As my troops were moving forward, you [Longstreet] rode up in person; a brief conversation passed between us, during which I again expressed the fears above mentioned, and regret at not being allowed to attack in flank around Round Top. You answered to this effect, ‘ We must obey the orders of General Lee.’ I then rode forward with my line under a heavy fire. In about twenty minutes, after reaching the peach orchard, I was severely wounded in the arm, and borne from the field.

Hood’s account is the earliest of the three, and closest to the scene in the film. But while it does recount a face-to-face meeting between him and Longstreet, it differs from the movie encounter in two critical aspects. First, Hood makes it clear that it was Longstreet who came to him, not the other way around. More important, when they did meet, the issue had already been decided, and Hood’s Division was already advancing. At this point, the decision to commit his troops to a frontal assault was final — “I again expressed the fears above mentioned, and regret at not being allowed to attack in flank around Round Top.” Like Law, Hood says his formal protest was made through staff officers earlier, not directly to Longstreet himself, and there’s no suggestion that when they did met, their exchange was anywhere near as heated as depicted in the movie.

So what really happened? All three accounts are pretty consistent, given the passage of years, and none has Hood riding over to his corps commander to make his plea in person. (Indeed, to have absented himself from his division to do so during a battle, in fact, might have been seen as dereliction; generals are surrounded by staff officers and couriers for just that purpose.) If the two discussed it at all in person, as Hood describes, it was after the matter had already been settled and his division’s regiments were on the move.

Kevin has mentioned before how another important Civil War film, Glory, both highlighted and badly over-simplified the “pay crisis” that enveloped the 54th Massachusetts and other early black regiments. Virtually all films of that sort have to simplify events, compress timelines and (sometimes) create composite characters to advance the story at a regular pace, and help the audience follow the plot. It’s just a fact of story-telling on film.

I don’t especially fault Ron Maxwell, who both directed Gettysburg and wrote the screenplay, for handling this part of the story, in this way. It neatly, and dramatically, encapsulates the real-life conflict between Old Pete and Sam Hood in a way that more-historically-accurate shots of staff officers galloping back and forth across the Pennsylvania countryside could never achieve. It’s more effective storytelling, and it accurately reflects the positions of the principals. But even when, as in this case, it speaks to a larger truth, one should never confuse it with the truth.

And I still love that scene.

__________

“The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 21, 2010

One of the great firsthand accounts of Texas troops in the Civil War is Val C. Giles’ Rags and Hope: Four Years with Hood’s Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (Mary Lasswell, ed.). The book was originally published in 1961, at the time of the Civil War Centennial, and (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted. Copies are hard to find, and correspondingly expensive. That’s a shame, because Giles’ narrative is poignant, vivid, and often very funny.

Giles’ account of Second Manassas shares much with that of his postwar friend and fellow 4th Texas veteran, Lawrence Daffan of Company G.* It’s a harrowing description, and Giles (Company B) was much shaken by the carnage he saw around him within the regiment. That’s for a later time, though; for now, I want to follow-up Daffan’s dramatic description of Captain James Reilly’s Battery D of the 1st North Carolina Artillery with Giles’ description of the same event. As always, Giles (left, in a studio portrait taken in Austin at the time of his enlistment in 1861) has a keen ear for vivid characters and humorous spectacle:

When I say the greatest battles of the world have been fought by the infantry, I don’t mean to reflect on the artillery or cavalry, or intimate that they have ever failed to do their duty. Stuart’s Cavalry was always vigilant. They were the eyes and ears of the army, and while the infantry slept, these gallant fellows were far away on the flanks, watching the enemy, guarding the fords, bridges and crossroads, escorting supply trains, and, for weeks at a time, fighting every day. During the war I used to think that the artillerymen were the bravest men on earth. They could pull through deeper mud, ford. deeper streams, shoot faster, swear louder, and stand more hard pounding than any other class of men in the service. . . .

Attached to the Texas Brigade was a fine battery of six Napoleon guns, commanded by Captain Reilly. Reilly had been an artillery sergeant in the old Army, and when the trouble began in 1861, he cast his lot with the Confederacy. He was an Irishman, rough, gruff, grizzly, and brave. He loved his profession and knew his business.

In this battle of Second Manassas, we witnessed a fine display of his skill and courage. General Hood instructed his colonels to halt their regiments when they reached Young Branch, which ran parallel with our line of battle, but when the Brigade reached the branch, the enemy was falling back, all along the line, and many of our field officers were killed or wounded. Colonel J. B. Robertson, Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Upton, Major Bryant, Captain J. D. Roberdeau, and Adjutant Campbell Woods of the Fifth Texas Regiment had all fallen before they reached the branch. The regiment was left without field officers, so the men pressed over the Zouaves, across the stream, and up the hill beyond.

Lieutenant Colonel [S. Z.] Ruff, Majors [John C.] Griffis, [John B.] O’Neill, [D. L.] Jarrett, and [Joel C.] Roper of the Eighteenth Georgia had gone down. Majors [William P.] Townsend, [D. U.] Barziza, and [James T.] Hunter of the Fourth had also fallen. Colonel [William T.] Wofford of the Eighteenth Georgia, Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter of the Fourth Texas, Lieutenant Colonel P. A. Work of the First Texas, and Colonel [W. M.] Gary of Hampton’s South Carolina Legion finally succeeded in checking our men and bringing them back under the crest of the hill.

It was then that “Old Tarantula,” Captain Reilly, made his appearance on the field. He turned a point of timber to our left and came toward us in a sweeping run. Every horse in the battery carried a rider and the caissons and gun carriages were covered with red caps holding on like monkeys as they thundered over gullies, rocks, even over dead and wounded soldiers.

“Old Tarantula” rode fifty yards in front of his battery. He hurriedly selected an elevation, and at the wave of his hand, the guns were whirled into position and every artilleryman appeared to hit the ground at once. He threw his field glass to his eye, swept the horizon at one glance, then sang out: “Six hundred yards — shrapnel!”’

The guns bellowed and roared, the shells passing ten feet over our heads. Many of .the men sprang to the top of the hill to see the effect of Reilly’s shells. He was accurate in distance, for every shell exploded right in the midst of the confused and retreating enemy. He sat on his horse, calmly giving his commands, increasing the distance as the broken columns retired.

Major [William] Harvey Sellers, General Hood’s Assistant Adjutant General, rode up to the battery on his wounded gray horse to deliver some order. Old Reilly greeted him with a grand flourish and gleefully said, pointing in the direction of the bursting shells, “See, Major, see! The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

I have no idea what “skillipins” is a phonetic spelling of, but they skeddaddled — extinsively!

___________________________

* As with Daffan’s account, I’ve corrected spellings of proper names without further note. Image: Reilly’s Battery in action at Gettysburg, by Dale Gallon.

“This was the grandest thing I saw during the war.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 17, 2010

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The following year the Brigade Association published a commemorative book, Unveiling and Dedication of Monument to Hood’s Texas Brigade on the Capitol Grounds at Austin, Texas. It contains a wealth of information about the famous brigade, collected from wartime records and surviving veterans.

One of the remarkable accounts in the book is this description of the brigade’s advance during the Second Battle of Manassas, late on the afternoon of August 30, 1862. The author is Lawrence Daffan (left), then a seventeen-year-old private from Montgomery County, Texas, assigned to Company G of the Fourth Texas Infantry. Years later, Daffan dictated his account to his daughter Katie, who was herself secretary of the Brigade Association, active in UDC affairs and, the following year, would be named superintendent of the Texas Confederate Woman’s Home.

On that August afternoon, Daffan and his comrades witnessed what later came to be known as “the very vortex of Hell.” At the center of that conflagration stood the famous Fifth New York Volunteers, Duryée’s Zouaves. They took the full brunt of the attack by Daffan’s counterparts in the Fifth Texas,  and Hampton’s Legion of South Carolinians, and the Eighteenth Georgia. The Zouaves held on as long as they could, and were effectively wiped out as a fighting unit. Of 525 “redlegs” who marched into the fight that day, 332 were killed or wounded, a casualty rate of 63%.

Note: the original work as published, linked in the first paragraph above, has numerous small errors in dates, spelling of names, and so on. It’s impossible at this point to know if these were errors made by Lawrence Daffan, Katie Daffan, or the typesetter. I’ve corrected (or tried to) all those in the text below, without noting individual instances. Those wishing to see the uncorrected text can click the first link above to read the original, beginning on p. 187 of the original book, or n218 in the electronic version.

On Thursday evening, August 28, 1862, marching through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we heard the sound and echo of artillery, which was familiar to us, and we knew that we were approaching the enemy.

Just before sundown we entered Thoroughfare Gap. We could hear musketry and artillery at the opposite side of the gap. Anderson’s Brigade had engaged the enemy, who was holding the gap, to keep us from forming a junction with Jackson at Manassas.

Hood’s Brigade filed out of the road and started right over the top of the mountain, which was very steep climbing. By the time we were at the top we received word that Anderson had routed the enemy. We returned to the road and continued that night and marched through the gap and camped right on the ground where Anderson had driven them away. We were ordered to be ready to move at a moment’s warning. We started at 6 o’clock Friday morning, August 29.

I speak of Hood’s division in this, which consisted of Benning’s Brigade and Anderson’s Georgia Brigade, Law’s Alabama Brigade and Hood’s Texas Brigade. Hood was, at this time, Brigadier General, but acting in the capacity of Major General for this division.

We marched along in ordinary time to Manassas, until 9 or 10 o’clock. At this time we began to hear very heavy cannonade. In an hour we were in the hearing of very heavy artillery and musketry, fierce and violent. Jackson had engaged Pope and his corps. The sound of the firing continued to grow more violent. We received orders to quickstep and shortly afterward received orders to double quickstep. We were all young and stout, and it seemed to me this kept up about two hours. Pope was pressing Jackson very hard at this point. We joined Jackson and formed at his right and double-quicked into line of battle and threw out skirmishers.

At this time, as we arrived there, the firing all along Jackson’s line ceased at once. We took position Friday evening, and Friday night we had a night attack. This and the attack at Raccoon Mountain, Tennessee, were the only night attacks that I know of made by the Confederates. This attack caused great confusion, and I could never understand what benefit it was. We slept that night very close to the enemy, in fact could not speak aloud or above a whisper. I had a very bad cold at this time, contracted on the retreat from Yorktown, and an officer was sent from headquarters “to tell than man who was constantly coughing to go from the front to the rear, where he could not be heard.” I went back, near half a mile, with my blanket and accouterments. I slept alone, under a large oak tree, coughing all night. I didn’t know the maneuvers of our regiment between this [time] and day[light], but I joined them early Saturday morning [August 30]. We formed in perfect order early in the day. Jackson brought on the attack on our left about noon and pressed the enemy until they began to give way in front of him. This drew a number of troops from in front of us to support those Jackson, was driving back on our left.

General Lee’s headquarters were in sight of where I was. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon I saw a considerable commotion in General Lee’s headquarters; he, his staff officers and couriers. The couriers darted off with their instructions to different commanders of divisions, in a few minutes a courier dashed up to General [Jerome B.] Robertson, commanding the Texas Brigade. These couriers and orderlies notified the respective Colonels. The order “attention” was given, then the order “to load,” then “forward,” “guide center.” We went through the heavy timber and emerged into an open field. We had a famous battery with us, [Captain James] Reilly’s Battery [Rowan Artillery], with six guns, four Napoleon and two six-p0und rifles.

Captain Reilly had always promised us that if the location of the company permitted, he would charge with us. We opened and made room between the Fourth and Fifth Texas for Reilly’s Battery to come in. As we started, the battery started.

Young’s Branch was between us and a hill on the other side, which was occupied by a Federal Battery [Curran's Battery], which was playing on us. This turned into a charge as soon as we emerged from the timber. We had gone a short distance when Reilly unlimbered two of his guns and opened on the Federals. We moved past these guns while they were firing. As we passed on the other two guns came in some distance ahead of those that were firing, swung into position and unlimbered. It seemed to me by the time the first two had stopped, the second two opened fire. This was done remarkably quick. They charged with us in this charge until we arrived at Young’s Branch ; two sections, two Napoleon guns each, two firing while the other two would limber up and run past them, swing into position and open fire.

This was the grandest thing I saw during the war — the charge of Reilly’s Battery with the Texas Brigade. I don’t know whether they shot accurately or not, it was done so fast. But I do know that it attracted the attention of the Yankee battery on the hill, diverting their attention from us.

Reilly’s Battery were North Carolinians and were with us all during the war and they never lost a gun.

In this charge at Manassas we saw a Zouave regiment [5th New York Volunteers, Duryée's Zouaves]. It stood immediately in front of the Fifth Texas to our right. It was a very fine regiment. As the Fifth Texas approached, it checked the speed of the Fifth in its quick charge. The Fifth Texas, Hampton Legion and the Fourth Texas had a tendency to swing around them. As the Fifth Texas approached them, I saw the blaze of their rifles reached nearly from one to the other.

The First Texas, Hampton’s Legion and Fourth Texas from their position gave the Zouaves an enfilading fire, which virtually wiped them off the face of the earth. I never could understand why this fine Zouave regiment would make the stand they did in front of the brigade until nearly every one was killed.

We rallied at Young’s Branch. I looked up the hill which we had descended and the hill was red with uniforms of the Zouaves. They were from New York.

We ascended the hill out of Young’s branch, charged a battery of six guns [Curran's], supported by a line of Pennsylvania infantry. This battery was near enough to use on us grapeshot and canister. As we came near to it one of the guns was pointed directly at my company and lanyard strung. Our Captain commanded Company G to right and left oblique from it. I was on the right and with a few others went into Company H. At this time one of the artillerymen threw the main beam, and this threw the cannon directly on Company H. Company H received a load of canister which killed four or five men.

I was immediately with Lieutenant [C. E.] Jones and [Private R. W.] Ransom of that company, who were both killed right at my feet. I stepped over both of them. Captain [James T.] Hunter, now living, was also shot down at that time. Most of the company were my schoolmates.

This last shot threw smoke and dust all over me, and the shot whizzed on both sides of me. Lieutenant Jones was shot in the head and feet, but I was not touched, When the smoke cleared away we had these guns, and they were so hot I couldn’t bear my hands on them. I then fired one shot at this retreating infantry which the rest of the brigade had been engaged with. This wound up that day’s engagement for us, except the Fifth Texas. A part of their regiment and their colors were carried about five miles after the retreating enemy.

We returned to Young’s branch and my attention was attracted to our support coming down the same hill that we had come down.

There were four lines of battle of Longstreet’s Corps in perfect order, which passed us and took up the fight with the retreating enemy where we left it off. This battle was fought on the 30th and 31st of August, 1863.

I can’t understand why the Federals have always attached so little importance to this battle, as they lost many gallant men there. They were terribly defeated, and may have been ashamed of their commanding general.

Image: 5th New York Zouaves, by Don Troiani


Spoons Butler, Yellow Jack and the Crescent City

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on September 2, 2010


Uncle Abe: “Hell! Ben, is that you? Glad to see you!’
Butler: “Yes, Uncle Abe. Got through with that New Orleans Job. Cleaned them out and scrubbed them up! Any more scrubbing to give out?

_____________

Ron Coddington, blogger and author of the Faces of the Civil War series, has a new post up on Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler. Coddington rightly notes that the general “is not remembered especially well by history.” That’s certainly true. Between his ineptitude as a field commander and the vilification of him resulting from the sharp hand he used in the occupation of New Orleans, Butler gets pretty short shrift in most popular accounts. But as Ron points out, Butler — a former Democrat who at that party’s national convention in 1860 supported Jefferson Davis for president of the United States — was transformed by his war experience into a radical Republican and an ardent champion of civil rights for African Americans. He drafted the Ku Klux Klan Act, signed into law by President Grant in 1871, and (with Charles Sumner) wrote the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The latter legislation was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court, and many of its key provisions were never enacted until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — nearly eighty years after they were first set out. As Ron observes, “Butler was a man ahead of his time.”

Butler is often cited as the most infamous example of the Union’s “political” generals, men with little or no military experience who were appointed to senior commands based on their political influence in civilian life. His reputation, at least in the South, is defined by his tenure in New Orleans, where he attained the sobriquet “Beast” Butler for his intolerance of any show of disrespect for his occupying soldiers, and his vigorous enforcement of the rules of occupation. (He infamously hanged a Confederate sympathizer for tearing down the Federal flag from the U.S. Mint.) What’s less known, unfortunately, is the remarkable success Butler’s administration of the city had in reducing its infamously-high toll from that scourge of the South, yellow fever. As Andrew McIlwaine Bell explains in Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever and the Course of the American Civil War, New Orleans had a long and horrific history with the disease in the decades before the war, particularly in the 1850s, resulting in the deaths of over eighteen thousand people. The vomito negro was particularly hard on immigrants and visitors to the cities from Northern states; the illness was often referred to as the “strangers’ disease.” Butler was well aware of New Orleans’ reputation as a sickly city, and immediately set out to do something about it.

After consulting with his medical staff and a few local doctors (some of whom were openly hostile), Butler decided that yellow fever was an imported malady that required local unsanitary conditions to survive. As a result, he chose to implement simultaneously the two strategies best known at the time for preventing the spread of the disease-a strict quarantine and fastidious sanitation measures. A quarantine station was set up seventy miles below the city and its officers given firm orders to detain any potentially infected vessels for forty days. In addition, a local physician was appointed to inspect incoming ships at the station and was threatened with execution if any vessels known to be carrying yellow fever were allowed to proceed upriver. These new rules caused a minor diplomatic row with the Spanish; who believed that their ships arriving from Cuba (where yellow fever was endemic) were being unfairly targeted for lengthy detentions. Butler assured Senor Juan Callejon, Her Catholic Majesty’s consul in New Orleans, that he was not imposing “any different quarantine upon Spanish vessels sailing from Havana.” To the relief of the State Department, Spain eventually dropped the matter but not before firing off a few strongly worded communiques.

In town Butler put an army of laborers to work round the clock flushing gutters, sweeping debris, and inspecting sites thought to be unclean such as stables, “butcheries;’ and New Orleans’s many “haunts of vice and debauchery.” Steam-powered pumps siphoned stagnant water from basins and canals into nearby bayous. The northern press picked up the story and ran articles praising Butler’s methods. “He will probably demonstrate before the year is out that yellow fever, which has been the scourge of New Orleans, has been merely the fruit of native dirt, and that a little Northern cleanliness is an effectual guarantee against it,” predicted the editors at Harper’s Weekly. The magazine published a cartoon five months later which featured the general holding a soap bucket and scrub brushes in front of an approving Abraham Lincoln.

In addition to cleaning up the place, Butler also imposed a strict quarantine. How effective were Butler’s efforts? According to Bell, during the fever season of 1862 — the hottest months of late summer and early fall, ending with the first cold front — the number of fatalities to yellow fever in the Crescent City were two.

Such a small number is hard to credit, but it appears to be true. Furthermore, deaths remained astonishingly low during the next three years of Federal military occupation. A total of eleven New Orleanians died of yellow fever between 1862 and 1865. The year following the war, when the city was reopened to trade and immigration and local control was returned to civilian authorities under Reconstruction, 185 died. The following year, 3,107. New Orleans quickly slipped back into its old, antebellum pattern of mild years punctuated by terrible epidemics; over four thousand died in 1878, and the following year the disease famously claimed the life of former General John Bell Hood, his wife and one of his eleven children.

Today, Ben Butler is too often viewed as a curious admixture of ogre and buffoon, something of a cross between William Tecumseh Sherman and Oliver Hardy. But the reality is, as always, more complex. Whatever else one may say about his hard-handed rule in New Orleans, there’s little doubt that his efforts in both enforcing a quarantine and cleaning up the city made a tremendous difference, and saved many lives that would have a been lost otherwise even in a “mild” year.

____________________

Image: Harper’s Weekly, 1863, via Abraham Lincoln’s classroom; tomb of Sercy (newborn), Mary Love (22 months)  and Edwin Given Ferguson (4 years), who died of yellow fever in New Orleans on August 30 and 31, 1878, via NOLA Graveyard Rabbit.

“One of them was a better soldier than I was.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 23, 2010

Private Lawrence Daffan, Co. G, Fourth Texas Infantry, at Sharpsburg (Antietam), September 17, 1862:

Then the Texas Brigade was ordered to charge; the enemy was on the opposite side of this stubblefield in the cornfield. As we passed where Lawton’s Brigade had stood, there was a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see. Just before we reached the cornfield General Hood rode up to Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter, commanding the Fourth Texas Regiment (my regiment), and told him to front his regiment to the left and protect the flank. This he did and he made a charge directly to the west. We were stopped by a pike fenced on both sides. It would have been certain death to have climbed the fence.

Hays’ Louisiana Brigade had been in on our left, and had been driven out. Some of their men were with us at this fence. One of them was a better soldier than I was. I was lying on the ground shooting through the fence about the second rail; he stood up and shot right over the fence. He was shot through his left hand, and through the heart as he fell on me, dead. I pushed him off and saw that “Seventh Louisiana” was on his cap.

The Fifth [Texas], First [Texas] and Eighteenth Georgia, which was the balance of my brigade, went straight down into the cornfield, and when they struck this cornfield, the corn blades rose like a whirlwind, and the air was full.

Lawrence Daffan was seventeen years old at the time. He survived this fight, and the assault on Little Round Top at Gettysburg the following year, only to be captured in late 1863 and spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois.

Quotation from Voices of the Civil War: Antietam (Time-Life, Inc., 1996). Image: “The Hagerstown Pike,” by Walton Taber.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 334 other followers