Sunday, February 26, 2017

Alabama Brigadier General Alpheus Baker


Alpheus Baker

           Alpheus Baker was born on 28 May, 1828 in Clover Hill, South Carolina. He became a school teacher at age sixteen and taught in South Carolina, Georgia, and eventually settled in Eufaula, Alabama.  At the age of twenty, he began reading law and soon became an attorney.
      When the war began, Baker enlisted as a private and was quickly elected captain. Ordered to Fort Pillow, Tennessee on the Mississippi River, Baker was elected colonel of the 1st Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi Infantry. He was in the process of moving artillery from New Madrid, Missouri to Island No. 10 when the fort was surrendered. He was held prisoner from April, 1862 until September.
       Upon his exchange, Baker’s regiment was reorganized as an all Alabama regiment and became the 54th Alabama Infantry. He saw action at Fort Pemberton during the Vicksburg Campaign and was severely wounded in the foot at Champions’ Hill. General Loring, his superior there, praised him for his bravery.


A post war photograph of Alpheus Baker

       After his recovery, Baker was promoted to brigadier general on March 7, 1864. His brigade of four regiments, the 37th, 40th, 42nd, and 54th Alabama infantry were ordered to the Army of Tennessee in Georgia. He saw heavy action at Resaca and New Hope Church. At the Battle of Ezra Church, he was again praised by his immediate commander Major General Henry D. Clayton. His brigade had charged and lost almost half their men.
    Although praised by his division commanders, it appears his corps commander Lieutenant General S.D. Lee was somewhat disappointed in Baker. He called the general “indecisive” and “lacking in energy.” Baker’s brigade was soon transferred to Mobile, Alabama saving them from the blood bath at Franklin. His last battle was at Bentonville, North Carolina where his brigade numbered only 350 men, yet they captured 204 Federal troops.
       Following the war, Baker returned to his law practice. He was well known for his use of humor in the courtroom. Thirteen years after the war, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky and practiced law there. He died there in 1891 at the age of 63 and rests today in Cave Hill Cemetery. A space was left vacant at his request amid the Confederate POW’s buried there and he rests with those men today. 

Alpheus Baker

Alpheus Baker late in life

Image result for alpheus baker grave

Baker's tombstone

Monday, February 20, 2017

Braxton Bragg: Exactly what was that guy's problem?


General Braxton Bragg

       My old military history professor in college was a guy named Doctor Ikerman. He was the first to explain the difference in an art and a science when it comes to warfare. In science, you can repeat an experiment and it always has the same result. In art, you can get a different result each time. I still use some of his analogies when I give talks today. Historians have spent decades trying to understand the problem with Braxton Bragg's generalship. I think they too often become overly focused on his argumentative personality. While that is a big part of him becoming such a failure, that's not his greatest downfall. The man didn't understand that war was an art. 
       When he planned a battle, he planned it from A to Z. In other words, he figured he would make the first move, his enemy would react a certain way and Bragg would react to that in a sequence. He planned his battle all the way through. When his opponent didn't react as expected, it threw General Bragg into a quandary. An example is the quote Major General Breckinridge made in regard to Bragg's battle planning. He claimed that when Bragg was planning a battle, he would take no advice from his top subordinates, but when things went awry, he would accept the advice of a drummer boy. 
       Historians look at the Battle of Chickamauga and attempt to understand what Bragg was thinking. He'd won the battle, and was informed of the victory by several of his subordinates, yet he refused to believe he'd won. The main question here is why? Bragg had spent days attempting to cut Federal General Rosecrans off from Chattanooga and his base of supplies. On the night of September 18th, he went to bed thinking he'd finally gotten his army beyond Rosecrans's right flank. Rosecrans expected Bragg to do this very thing and during the night extended his left flank beyond the Confederate right. Bragg was surprised in the morning when his flank attack turned into a very costly frontal assault. 


Bragg's frontal assault on the morning of September 19, 1863

       When Rosecrans began to shift more troops from his right to the heavily engaged left, Bragg had an opportunity to strike these forces in the flank, but it went against how he had planned the battle and three of his divisions sat idly by as the opportunity was lost. Once the day was finished, he made another blunder. He changed the order of battle. To completely change the order of battle in the midst of a battle is just asking for mass confusion and that's exactly what he got. In most Confederate armies, a general was in command, lieutenant generals commanding corps' answered directly to the general. Bragg decided to mix matters up by having Lieutenant General D.H. Hill report to Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk who he made the right wing commander. He had Lieutenant General James Longstreet command the left wing and placed Major General John Bell Hood in command of Longstreet's Corps. Are you confused yet, because D.H. Hill and Leonidas Polk certainly were. 
       The blunders didn't end there. The next day, the frontal assault continued, Polk's right wing lost heavily. Luckily for Bragg's army, Rosecrans committed a blunder by creating a gap in front of Longstreet's left wing. Hood managed to attack at the right moment and break the Federal army. Once the Federal army began to retreat, Longstreet begged Bragg for reinforcements from the right wing to help him finish the enemy forces off. Bragg, far to the rear at his headquarters at Reed's Bridge refused to believe he'd won the battle. Without riding forward and observing for himself, he simply refused to send Longstreet any troops. 
       There is a comical story told about a Confederate private who'd been captured by the Federals and then escaped when their army retreated. He made his way to Bragg's headquarters and insisted on seeing the general in person. When he was brought into the presence of General Bragg, he told his commander that he'd won a great victory and that the Federal army was in full retreat. "How would you know what a retreat looks like?" snapped Bragg. "I should know," the ragged private replied, "I've been in your army almost two years."
       Even Bedford Forrest was frustrated with Bragg asking what the man fought battles for anyway. Mary Chesnut said of Bragg when he laid siege to Chattanooga: "Bragg, thanks to Longstreet and Hood, won at Chickamauga. So we looked for results that would pay for our losses in battle, at least. Certainly, they would capture Rosecrans. No! There sits Bragg--a good dog howling on his hind legs before Chattanooga, a fortified town--and some Yankee Holdfast grinning at him from his impregnable heights. Waste of time. How? He always stops to quarrel with his generals."
       That brings us to the second problem General Bragg had. He could never take the blame. At each failure or setback, his first reaction was to find someone to blame. When the repulse of Pickett's Charge occurred at Gettysburg, the first words out of General Lee's mouth was, "It's all my fault." As one historian once wrote, "Bragg would have choked on those words." I give two examples of great leaders. One is Robert E. Lee and the other is former Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Coach Bryant always took the blame for the losses and gave the players credit for the wins. Robert E. Lee praised his soldiers in victory and took the blame in defeat. Braxton Bragg wasn't capable of this at all. It was always someone else's fault. 
       At Shiloh, he blamed Randal Gibson and the Confederate soldiers. At Murfreesboro, it was General McCown and Cheatham. At Chickamauga, he blamed Polk, D.H. Hill, and Hindman. It was always someone else's fault. A leader like Lee had no problem motivating his men to fight. They knew he was there to accept fault for failures even when they weren't his fault. Bragg never!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Thomas Muldrop Logan: Sherman's Youngest Confederate General


Thomas Muldrop Logan

       Thomas Muldrop Logan was a long lanky Confederate Brigadier General by the end of the war. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1840. He graduated first in the South Carolina College in 1860 and began the war as a private. Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, he was elected 1st lieutenant in the Hampton Legion. He saw his second serious action at the Battle of Manassas on Henry Hill. He action there won him a promotion to captain. 
       During the Seven Days battles, he was severely wounded at Gaines Mill and put out of action a few months. Though not quite healed yet, he returned in time to fight at Second Manassas. The Hampton Legion overran an artillery battery there and he won even more praise for his performance. At Sharpsburg (Antietam) he won even more praise for his distinguished bravery. 


The Boyish Looking Thomas Logan

       Following that battle, he transferred to Micah Jenkins South Carolina Brigade as a lieutenant colonel. He was praised in that capacity as well. Along with the rest of Micah Jenkins men, he missed the Battle of Gettysburg. At the Battle of Chickamauga, he was placed in charge of all the sharpshooters in John Bell Hood's division. He continued in that capacity to the Battle of Knoxville where Longstreet praised him for his courage and skill.
       Logan was then sent to Drewry's Bluff where he served Beauregard as a staff officer. Following an engagement there, he won promotion to colonel and was given command of the famous Hampton Legion. There were two Hampton Legion's at this time, one of infantry and one of cavalry. Logan commanded the cavalry regiment. He saw action at Riddell's Shop where he suffered another serious wound. 
       After he recovered, he was assigned to command Butler's South Carolina Cavalry Brigade. Fitz Lee recommended he be promoted to brigadier general and permanently assigned to that command. His promotion to brigadier general ranked from February 15, 1865. At the time, he was the youngest general in the Confederate Army. He saw action at Bentonville as a general and the war came to a close. 


One of only three photographs of Logan in uniform

       During the surrender ceremonies, Sherman met Thomas Logan and could hardly believe that such a "slight, fair haired boy" was a general. He imagined that Logan must be the youngest general in the war. He of course was wrong, that distinction belonged to Union Brigadier General Galusha Pennypacker who was four years younger than Logan. (Legend sometimes has it that Pennypacker was promoted by Lincoln because he thought his last name sounded comical.) 
       General Logan asked Sherman if he could take the train home to Charleston, South Carolina. Sherman surprised him by offering him a seat on the train about to leave for Raleigh. Logan was surprised by the kindness of Sherman, but replied that he wasn't ready to leave just yet. He wanted to say goodbye to his men. Sherman told him to just find General Kilpatrick when he was ready to go and he would direct him to Sherman who would ensure he had a seat on a train. Logan thanked Sherman for his kindness. 


Kate Virginia Cox

       Following the war, Thomas Logan borrowed five dollars and married Kate Virginia Cox of Virginia. He studied law in Richmond and soon became a railroad tycoon. He was one of the lucky ex-Confederates that didn't struggle to make a living. He was often associated with John D. Rockefeller. He died in New York City in 1914 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, the "Arlington of the Confederacy" in Richmond, Virginia. 


A post-war photograph of Thomas M. Logan


       

My buddy Jerry (right) and I at the grave of Thomas M. Logan




Thursday, January 26, 2017

James Green Martin: Old One Wing


Brigadier General James Green Martin

       James G. Martin was born in North Carolina in 1819. He entered West Point in 1836, graduating 14th in the Class of 1840. He stood eight places behind William "Cump" Sherman, two places behind George H. Thomas, and one behind future Confederate Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell. Like Ewell, James Martin would soon become bald. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the artillery. He spent his first few years in Maine and Rhode Island. 
       When the Mexican War began, he saw action under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He fought at Monterrey, Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Churubusco. At Churubusco, he was wounded when canister fire struck him in the right arm. The wound was so severe, that it required amputation. He earned the nickname "Old One Wing" because of the loss of his arm. 
       Despite losing his arm, he remained in the U.S. Army until the Civil War began. He resigned in 1861 and returned to North Carolina, where Governor John Ellis made him a captain of cavalry and assigned him to an administrative role. 


A Photograph of Martin while in the U.S. Army

       It didn't take long for James Martin to grow tired of sitting behind a desk. In May of 1862, he requested a field command. President Davis commissioned Martin a brigadier general to date from May 15, 1862. He was given command of the District of North Carolina. He saw little action until given a brigade of his own in October of 1863. He was given four regiments of North Carolina troops and within weeks had them combat ready. He saw action in several minor engagements in southern Virginia and North Carolina. 
       He saw action at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia in May of 1864 and his brigade charged, overran a line of breastworks and sent the enemy troops flying in retreat. Martin was hoisted on the shoulder's of his men and carried through camp to loud cheers. 
       Sent to Cold Harbor to face Grant with Lee's army, Lee asked if Martin's troops would stand and fight the veterans of Grant's army. "Old One Wing" replied to Lee that his troops would fight as well as any veterans in Lee's army. He also was the first to predict that Grant would soon cross the James River and attempt to take Petersburg. 
       In June of 1864, James Martin's health began to fail him. He was taken from the front lines and given small jobs of guarding bridges and trestles. Martin's brigade remained with Lee under the command of William W. Kirkland. When Lee praised the behavior of Kirkland's brigade, Kirkland was quick to remind Lee that all such praise should go to "Old One Wing" because he had trained them. At that, General Lee stated, "General Martin is one to whom North Carolina owes a debt she can never repay."

James Green Martin

General Martin's resting place

       With the war having ended, General Martin was without a profession. He studied the law and soon began practicing his new profession. He also became very active in the Episcopal Church. "Old One Wing" died in 1878 at the age of 59 and rests today in Riverside Cemetery, Asheville, North Carolina. Ironically, as of this writing, the photograph on findagrave of General Martin is of Alabama Confederate Brigadier General Edward Dorr Tracy who has a head full of hair. 

Image result for james green martinImage result for james green martin

Edward Dorr Tracy (left) and James Green Martin



Thursday, January 19, 2017

James Byron Gordon: A Brave, Intelligent Commander

James Byron Gordon.jpg

James Byron Gordon

       One of the little known brigadier general's that gave his life for the Confederacy was James Byron Gordon of North Carolina. He was born in 1822 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He was of Scottish descent. He was a distant cousin of Georgia Major General John Brown Gordon who attained a bit more fame. Prior to the war, Gordon was a business man and farmer.  He also served in the North Carolina State Legislature. 
       Gordon began the war as a lieutenant in the 1st North Carolina Cavalry. During the summer of 1861, he was promoted to major of the regiment. They were assigned to Jeb Stuart's brigade in Virginia. He saw a couple of engagements in late 1861. In the spring of 1862, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel when Laurence Baker was promoted to colonel. Baker had an alcohol problem and took an oath to abstain from drinking until the war concluded. Stuart noted that Baker wasn't near as dashing once he stopped drinking. 
       Gordon saw action during the Peninsula and Seven Days campaigns. During the summer of 1862, the 1st North Carolina Cavalry was placed in Wade Hampton's cavalry brigade. Gordon was noted for bravery, intelligence, and leadership in the battles of late 1862. He saw action at 2nd Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Stuart's raids. He fought at Brandy Station and at Gettysburg. When Hampton was wounded at Gettysburg, Baker took command of the brigade and Gordon led the regiment. 
       Gordon led the regiment in an attack at Hagerstown, Maryland and routed Kilpatrick's Federal brigade. Because of this action, Stuart and General Lee both recommended Gordon be promoted to brigadier general. He received his promotion on September 28, 1863 and took command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade. Gordon was wounded a month later in a skirmish, yet refused to leave the field. He had his horse shot from beneath him a week later. 


Marker where Gordon was mortally wounded

       When Sheridan led a raid against Richmond, Stuart was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. Gordon took command of the cavalry and defended Richmond once Stuart was wounded. The next day, Gordon was fighting Sheridan at Meadow Bridge when he too was mortally wounded. Carried to Richmond, he survived for six days, dying on May 18, 1864. He was one of Stuart's better cavalry commanders always distinguishing himself. He managed to save Richmond from Sheridan. Hampton seemed to think that Gordon would have received a promotion to major general before the war ended had he survived. 
       
James Byron Gordon

Gordon's grave in St. Paul's Episcopal Churchyard, Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Monday, January 16, 2017

Percy Wyndham and Turner Ashby

Image result for percy wyndham

Sir Percy Wyndham

       Of the colorful characters of the war, Percy Wyndham was not even a citizen of the United States. He was an English soldier of fortune He was a bit of an enigma. He was born on a ship in the English Channel in 1833 and came to America proclaiming to have been a sailor in the French Navy, a soldier in the British Army, the Austrian Army, and as one of Garibaldi's Volunteers. Many proclaimed that he was a fraud. Very little seems to be certain about the man except for the fact that he arrived in America to fight for the North and was made a colonel of New Jersey Cavalry. 
       Wyndham was very tall, always dressed nice, and a bit of a show off. He came to Virginia bragging that he would capture or kill Confederate Cavalryman Turner Ashby. Ashby had received word that Wyndham and a group of picked cavalry were out to get him. He told his men that he didn't want Wyndham to gain any reputation at his expense. 

Image result for turner ashby

Brigadier General Turner Ashby

       The two men would meet on June 6, 1862 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Wyndham rode south in search of Ashby with 400 New Jersey cavalrymen. He soon spotted some of Ashby's troopers. Turner Ashby was fighting a rearguard action for Stonewall Jackson with the support of some of Richard Ewell's infantry. Ashby had set up an excellent ambush for any approaching Federals. He placed one of his cavalry regiments in the middle of the road for Wyndham to see while hiding another cavalry regiment and some infantry in some nearby woods. 
       Wyndham immediately charged right into the ambush. He was quickly surrounded by Confederate infantry and cavalry. It was over in an instant. Seeing his men fleeing in panic, Wyndham shouted, "I will not command such cowards!" He then was taken prisoner himself. 
       Wyndham was not amused having been captured by the very man he'd bragged about getting himself. Ashby's troopers taunted their prisoner all the way to the rear. Wyndham became the most upset when many of the Rebel soldier's began calling him a "Yankee Colonel." 
       Wyndham replied, "I'm not a Yankee, you damned Rebel fool." Of course this just seemed to make matters worse for him as the Confederate troops roared in laughter at his bad luck. The Confederate's quickly added that Wyndham was a mercenary, not a soldier of any kind, but the same as a Yankee. This infuriated Wyndham to the point that he asked the soldiers to stand there in the road and fight him with fists. The Confederate's were content to just irritate him that much more. 
       Sadly, for Turner Ashby, he couldn't leave well enough alone. Colonel Thomas Munford noticed that Ashby was setting up another ambush. He told Ashby that he'd accomplished a great thing, but he should let well enough alone. Ashby didn't listen. Later that same afternoon, he was killed attempting to fight Federal infantry. The above photograph shows Ashby deceased and propped up with what appear to be flowers placed in his hand. 
       Percy Wyndham would be released in a prisoner exchange one week later. He would see action at Thoroughfare Gap and be wounded at Brandy Station. He was soon called a fraud by the English politician Percy S. Wyndham. 
       Union General Joseph Hooker liked Wyndham and recommended his promotion. Rumors were circulating that Wyndham was contemplating joining the Confederate Army. He never got the promotion. 
       Following the war, Wyndham joined the Italian Army and later moved to India. There he was forced to sell all of his military decorations to support himself. He began giving lessons on hot air balloons. On January 27, 1879, his balloon burst and he fell over 300 feet (some accounts say 500 feet) to his death in a lake near Rangoon, Burma. He was 45 years old. 

Image result for percy wyndham balloon

Wyndham was one of the first "pilots" to die

Col Percy Wyndham

Sir Percy Wyndham

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Did George Custer have OCD?

Custer Bvt MG Geo A 1865 LC-BH831-365-crop.jpg

George Armstrong Custer

       I'm reading a great book entitled The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick. I've read several books on the Battle of Little Bighorn, but this is by far the most interesting. I have just gotten to the beginning of the battle and I can hardly put this book down. I've been trying to save it for deer hunting, but sitting at home, I can't resist. It's that good. 
       Now to what interested me about the book. I am a Civil War historian, but more than that, I study Confederate generals. I've never really studied Custer's personality other than what I've read about his ego, etc. Turns out, he wasn't quite what I was expecting. Yes, he was rash, aggressive, and believed he could whip all the Native Americans in the world with the Seventh Cavalry. He was also excitable and his mouth tended to outrun his brain, if he engaged his brain at all. Called back east just before the battle, he testified against Grant's administration about supposed corruption in the War Department. Custer testified to rumors he'd heard and few facts and never slowed down long enough to think it may have an impact on his career. Grant was furious with him. 
       Even more surprising to me was some of Custer's personal habits. In those days, there were no words for mental illnesses. His wife Libbie wrote about some of his idiosyncrasies. Was it possible that General Custer had OCD? Obsessive-cumpulsive disorder is a mental disorder where people tend to check things repeatedly, perform certain routines repeatedly, or become obsessed with thoughts repeatedly. Libbie noted that Custer had several quirks. He repeatedly washed his hands and brushed his teeth after every meal. He carried his toothbrush with him into battle. If anyone mentioned something unpleasant at the table, Custer would lose his appetite. 
       Custer also tended to lose his temper and say things he normally would not. He once became upset with his black interpreter Isaiah Dorman. The black man was on his knees before Custer begging for mercy. The next day, Custer forced Dorman to walk all day as punishment. 
       To Custer's credit, he did not drink alcohol. Philbrick noted in his book that "his emotional effusions unhinged his judgment in ways that went far beyond alcohol's ability to interfere with clear thinking." Custer also had taken a vow to abstain from profanity, yet on the day of the big battle, his subordinates caused him to curse at least twice. 

Vinnie Ream - Brady-Handy.jpg

Vinnie Ream

       What was Custer's big weakness? It seems it was women. There had been rumors about Custer and Vinnie Ream, a sculptress who had carried on affairs with General Sherman, Franz Liszt, and several others. According to Captain Benteen, Custer frequently had sex with his black cook Eliza. Benteen claimed it didn't stop there. He said Custer had an affair with a Cheyenne captive named Monahsetah and another officer's wife. Cheyenne legend states that Custer had an illegitimate son with Monahsetah. Benteen also said Custer used many prostitutes. 
       According to Philbrick, Libbie Custer was no angel herself. When Custer was arrested for riding across the plains 150 miles to be with Libbie, having abandoned his regiment. Benteen claimed the ride resulted from an anonymous letter to Custer saying that an alcoholic lieutenant was paying too much attention to his wife. Libbie was also known to correspond with two of Custer's more handsome officers, William Cooke and Myles Keogh. 


Lawrence Barrett

       Another thing I found amusing was Custer's best friend. According to Libbie, Custer's best friend was stage actor Lawrence Barrett. It seems Libbie was somewhat jealous of their relationship. They had met in the 1860's in St. Louis. Libbie wrote that the two of them enjoyed each other the way women do. She stated that she would not look at them as they parted ways because of the tears in their eyes and the way they looked at each other. While in New York City, Custer had watched Barrett perform in the play Julius Caeser at least forty times. If you think their relationship went beyond friendship, it is interesting to note that Barrett was also married. It seems they must have just been extremely close friends, attracted to one another in some way. Interestingly, Barrett's daughter would become an actress and married Vincent Price. 
       The book is a great read and I highly recommend it. I have just reached halfway through and as any reader can tell you, I can't wait to finish it, at the same time, I dread finishing it.