Monday, January 16, 2017

Percy Wyndham and Turner Ashby

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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. 

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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. 

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Wyndham was one of the first "pilots" to die

Col Percy Wyndham

Sir Percy Wyndham

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Did George Custer have OCD?

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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. 

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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. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Truth About Confederate Massacres

The Fort Pillow Massacre

       In my last blog I discussed the Northern myth of the white supremacist Southerners. Now, I'd like to discuss the misleading stories of Confederate massacres on black Federal troops. The most famous of all would be the Fort Pillow massacre. Saying there weren't atrocities committed at Fort Pillow would be an outright lie and I'm not going to lie. The truth is there were some pretty depraved acts committed there. 
       I've heard every excuse in the world given for why unarmed men were shot down. The most famous excuse was because the flag was never lowered. It is true the flag was never lowered. The fort being overran so suddenly, there probably wasn't enough time to lower the flag and raise a white banner of surrender. While we know there were atrocious acts committed by Confederate troops at Fort Pillow, we hardly ever hear the rest of the story. 
       Prior to the assault at the fort, Federal troops had captured seven of Forrest's subordinates and killed them. Lieutenant Willis Dodd had been captured by Colonel Fielding Hurst of the 6th Tennessee (U.S.) Cavalry and had been tortured to death. Dodd's face had been skinned, his nose cut off, his under jaw disjointed, his private parts cut off, among other depredations to his body. Forrest's men were furious at the conduct of the Tennessee (U.S.) troops who were using the war as an excuse to plunder the property of Confederate soldiers. 
       Also, never told in the story of Fort Pillow are the whiskey barrels. The Federal officers in charge of the fort believed black soldiers were inferior to white soldiers. They had barrels of whiskey placed around the fort believing the black soldiers would need liquid courage to fight. During the truce, there were many witnesses to the conduct of the intoxicated black soldiers toward the waiting Confederate cavalrymen outside the fort. By the time the truce ended and the assault began, the Confederate's were furious from the taunting. As Shelby Foote once mentioned, the Confederate's had to fight their way into the fort, losing good men in the process and as soon as they breached the walls, the black troops threw down their weapons to surrender. Someone in the Confederate ranks basically said, "The hell you surrender, you had your chance." 

The Crater Massacre

       The Battle of the Crater is the other instance of black troops being massacred after having surrendered. One historian named Bryce Suderow calls the Battle of the Crater the wars worst massacre. One must take a look at the numbers to see just how mad this massacre truly was. An entire division of black troops attacked the Crater at Petersburg and 219 were killed. That makes his statement almost laughable in itself. But, there were black troops killed there after having surrendered. 

Confederate Major General William Mahone

       As soon as the explosion blew a hole in Confederate Major General Bushrod Rust Johnson's lines, Lee called up Major General Mahone's division as reserves to fill the gap. General Mahone arrived to find General Johnson busy eating breakfast and seemingly uninterested in repairing the breach in his line. Mahone turned away disgusted and led his men toward the crater. He received word from numerous retreating troops saying they had witnessed unarmed Confederate soldiers shot down after having surrendered. The United State Colored Troops had shouted "No Quarter!" upon entering Confederate lines. Mahone halted his division and informed his troops that Union black soldiers were not giving quarter and he didn't expect his men to give quarter. Thus, led forward by their general, the arrived on the scene to give the black troops the same treatment they were dishing out. Today, over a century later, we only hear about the black troops who were gunned down by the evil Southerners for no reason at the Battle of the Crater. 

Lieutenant Joshua Lazaras Moses

       In the last blog about minorities serving in the Confederate Army, I mentioned Jewish Lieutenant Joshua Lazaras Moses. He commanded an artillery battery from South Carolina. At the end of the war he was sent to Fort Blakely on the east side of Mobile Bay. 
       After the Federal troops overran the small Confederate force at Blakely, Lieutenant Moses and his men were quickly surrounded. The Confederate troops surrendered, but the United States Colored Troops refused to give quarter. They opened fire on Joshua Moses's men. Lieutenant Moses shouted, "For God's sake, spare my men, they have surrendered!"
       As white Federal officers commanding the black troops attempted to stop the slaughter, Lieutenant Moses and two white Federal officers were gunned down by the Union Colored Troops. Confederate officers complained of the actions of the Federal troops at Blakely and argued that some of the white commanding officers had encouraged the black troops to show no quarter. The date was April 9, 1865, the war basically over, there being no Confederate government to demand a response from the U.S. government. The incident is one of the fewest talked about massacres of the war. 
       I haven't written this blog to make the North appear evil and the South innocent. I know there were massacres by both sides. I wrote this blog to show how only one side is portrayed on television and by Northern historians. I don't mind the telling of history as it was, but if someone considers themselves a true historian, they will tell both sides without bias. This is all the people of the South have ever asked for. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Northern Theory of Confederate White Supremacy

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White and Black Confederate Soldier

       I've been reading online lately about the ongoing argument both for and against the theory that there were black Confederate soldiers. Sons of Confederate Veterans members argue that there were up to 90,000 black soldiers that fought for the Confederacy. I've also read many Northerners say there were no black soldiers fighting for the South. The argument goes on and on, both sides refusing to concede an inch. There is a reason for this argument and hopefully I can shed some light on which side is correct. 
       Now, if the Northerner agreed that some blacks fought for the Confederacy, it would destroy their entire argument that the war was only about slavery and the white supremacist Southerners desire to oppress another race of humans. The figure of 90,000 soldiers fighting for the South seems a bit high, if you consider being in actual combat with a gun is the only qualification of a soldier. There were numerous black men attached to Confederate armies as cooks, body servants, and even guards and pickets. Most of these men weren't armed, but the guards and pickets were. While Northerners argue that cooks are not soldiers, I used to work with a man that was a cook in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war. He is a veteran, gets veterans benefits, but by the Northern way of thinking, he isn't a soldier. 
       In the above photograph you will find an armed black man dressed in a Confederate uniform. How much closer could he get to being a Confederate soldier. I've heard the argument made that because there are no muster rolls for black Confederate's means they weren't really soldiers. If you are in combat, firing a weapon, and someone is firing a weapon at you, then you are a soldier. Does a bullet care if you've been placed on a muster roll?

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United States Colored Troops

       Another interesting fact that you will notice in all of the photographs of black troops in the Civil War is which side is actually segregated. There are numerous accounts of black men going into combat with white soldiers in Confederate units. You never see a Union regiment with white and black men. Union regiments had white officers, but that was because of the Northern belief that black men weren't intelligent enough to become officers. Accounts of black men going into battle with white men in the South are common. Segregation didn't occur in the South until after the war when Northern politicians began to use black men to retain their political superiority over the country. 

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       There is another argument that the Northern people use to justify there being any black Confederates and that is the belief that black men who fought for the South were being forced to do so against their will. I find this idea preposterous. I can only ask, "Were these men also forced to attend Confederate Reunions following the war?"

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Black Confederates at a reunion with White Confederates

       There's a lot more false beliefs about the War for Southern Independence. The idea that Southerners are all racists and white supremacists. I'll give you a few examples of some of those evil Southerners that fought to mistreat minorities. 

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Confederate Cherokee Native Americans

       There were members of five tribes that fought for the Confederacy. They were the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. The Cherokee even had a Confederate general. Brigadier General Stand Watie was born in Georgia in 1806 and signed the treaty moving the Cherokee's to Oklahoma. Less than 10% of Cherokee's owned slaves, so the theory of them fighting for slavery is pretty much eliminated from the argument. General Watie is famous for being the last Confederate general to surrender. 

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Brigadier General Stand Watie

       What of other races that fought for the South. Below are photographs of just a few men that fought for the Confederacy who weren't white. 

Corporal Charlie Chan born in Shanghai, China fought in Company K, 24th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted) and was killed at the Battle of Franklin fighting in Granbury's Brigade, Cleburne's Division

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Colonel Santos Benavides, a Mexican American commanded the 33rd Texas Cavalry Regiment during the war

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Jewish Lieutenant Joshua Lazarus Moses commanded a battery of South Carolina Artillery and was murdered at Fort Blakely after having surrendered (more on this in the next blog)

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Major General Camille Armand Jules Marie de Polignac was born in France and came to the United States just to fight for the Confederacy

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Colonel Ambrosio Jose' Gonzales was born in Cuba who moved to the U.S. in 1849 and served as Chief of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida


Confederate Brigadier General Zebulon York born in Maine offered to raise a brigade of Polish troops for the Confederacy when the conflict began

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Black Confederate pickets spotted through a telescope by a Union officer during McClellan's approach to Richmond in 1862

Below are listed examples of black Confederate troops in action

       "Officers of the 16th Virginia Infantry posted a young Black male named Ben to guard its surplus rations. When a white private approached and ignored commands to desist, the Afro-Virginian sentry fractured the man's skull with his rifle butt, mortally wounding him. Only after the intervention of General William Mahone himself prevented Ben from being lynched by the dead soldier's comrades. The service of Ben and other black Virginians influenced the 1928 amendment which awarded state pensions to Black males who served on military details or performed guard duty on behalf of the Confederacy."       

Written by a member of the 16th Virginia Infantry

      "Passing through the yard of a nice farmhouse, we captured some of the Federal outposts, who pleaded for mercy. General (St. John) Liddell swore at them, telling them they were fine fellows, invading our country and then asking pardon. Old Jake (a black man), the bugler, whacked one of them over the head with his saber, saying with an oath: 'You oust get home, den.'"

Private John Berry, 8th Arkansas Infantry, CSA at the Battle of Murfreesboro

       "Dan Robertson led Company B, 35th Alabama Infantry into all battles while playing his fife. It is said his fife was a bit shrill. He was fearless and owned by the LaGrange Military Institute. He survived the war and was treated as an equal at all Company reunions."

From the History of LaGrange College

       "At Greensport, Alabama, he (Brigadier General Alfred Holt Clanton) was outnumbered six to one by Federal troops, but the brave man decided to attack at dawn. He charged around the bend, personally leading his 200 troops. Pistol in hand and charging on foot. He was only twenty paces away when the Federals opened fire, armed with Spencer repeating rifles. His clothes were riddled with bullets, his entire staff killed or wounded. 
       During the fighting, a large black soldier named Griffin, a member of his command approached General Clanton and asked, "General, where is Marse Batt."
       Clanton was as calm as could be, pointed toward the Federal line and said, "There he is dead."
       Griffin charged forward, amid cries to stay back, through the smoke and bullets and picked up the young soldier and returned with him in his arms.
       "Is he dead?" Clanton asked. 
       "I don't know, Sir," he replied, "my Mammy was his nurse and I'm older than he is. I promised to take care of him and bring him to her. I'm carrying him home now.'"

See my blog A Knight Without Fear

And the last quote is from a Federal colonel discussing just how oppressed and mistreated the blacks in the South truly were

       "The poor whites are as poor as rot, and the rich are very rich. There is no substantial well-to-do middle class. The slaves are, in fact, the middle class here. They are not considered so good, of course, as their masters, but a great deal better than the white trash...The women sport flounces and the men canes...all are slaves."

Colonel John Beatty, 3rd Ohio Infantry, describing Murfreesboro, Tennessee

       If you think about it, nothing that I've written or quoted above was taught in school and probably never will be. As Napoleon once said, "History is a group of lies often agreed upon."