Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Identifying the mysterious "Prof"

Typical brass band member during the Civil War

       I've recently been working hard writing a script for a Civil War documentary for the Colbert County Tourism Association. I've borrowed notes from several local historians to assist me in my work. Although I'm a Civil War historian, I've never really focused on the small local skirmishes, etc. On prowling through Lanny Perry's notes I found an email exchange between he and Sheffield City Historian Richard Sheridan. They are discussing a man killed in Tuscumbia in the fall of 1864. The man was a band leader for Cantey's brigade. He was a member of Hood's army preparing for the fateful invasion of Tennessee. The only thing known about the man was his nickname "Prof." He was killed by a falling tree on 11 November 1864 and his funeral was so large it was led by two brass bands. 
       My wife says when I want to learn something I'm like a bulldog. That is exactly what happened when I found this email. The downfall of being this way is I'm often on a wild goose chase when I could be better using my time writing. I've written blogs before about finding something long forgotten, but for every one I've solved there are probably ten more I couldn't. I set off on this goose chase that night and surprisingly, without too much frustration (I did get a bit aggravated a couple of times) I found the mysterious "Prof." 
       Prof was Asa Ross of Butler County, Alabama. He enlisted in Mobile, Alabama on 9 March 1863 as the band leader of the 17th Alabama Infantry. He was born in North Carolina, but had moved to Butler Springs, Butler County, Alabama. When the war began, Asa was 34 years old with a 24 year old wife, a two year old daughter and a ten month old daughter. A school teacher by trade, he was nicknamed "Prof" (short for Professor) when he joined the army. He had to have been a well liked man to have been mentioned having such a large funeral. 

Could "Prof" be buried in one of these graves today

       My publisher Angela Broyles loved this story so much, she insisted I write a blog about the mysterious "Prof." I sent the information to Lanny and Richard Sheridan and Richard now wants me to attempt to find if Asa is still buried here or possibly removed to Butler County following the war. I'm not sure I will ever be able to answer that question, but I intend to attempt it. He may still be buried in an unknown grave in Tuscumbia's Oakwood Cemetery.  


Monday, May 14, 2012

S.A.M. Wood: Alabama General

Sterling Alexander Martin Wood

       S.A.M. Wood as he came to be called was born in Florence, Alabama on 17 March, 1823. There is a street in Florence today that is called Wood Avenue which is actually named for Wood's brother, a prominent Florence lawyer. S.A.M. Wood would soon return to Florence and become his brother's law partner. In 1857, Wood was elected to the Alabama state legislature and later become editor of the Florence Gazette
       When the war began, Wood organized Company K, 7th Alabama Infantry which was known as the Florence Guards. He would only remain a captain for a very short time. The unit was sent to Pensacola, Florida and Wood was there elected Colonel of the regiment. 

Flag of Company K, 7th Alabama Infantry

       On 7 January, 1862, Wood was promoted to brigadier general by Jefferson Davis. Braxton Bragg, Wood's commanding officer fired off an angry letter to Richmond about Wood being promoted ahead of James Patton Anderson, one of Bragg's favorite officers. 
       Just before the Battle of Shiloh, Wood's brigade (which consisted of the 16th Alabama, 8th and 9th Arkansas, 27th, 47th, and 55th Tennessee, and the 3rd Mississippi Battalion, all infantry regiments, including an artillery battery) was placed into Hindman's Division, William Hardee's Corps. This brigade was credited with the opening shots of the Battle of Shiloh. Wood was wounded when he fell from his horse there and momentarily gave up command of his brigade, but soon returned to lead them through the rest of the battle. 
       General Hindman had nothing good to say about Wood's leadership. There was a formal inquiry to Wood's actions as brigade commander, but no wrong doing could be found. He then led his brigade in action at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky and while his brigade helped to capture an artillery battery there, Wood was wounded by a artillery shrapnel. 

S.A.M. Wood (seated in dark uniform) with members of his staff

       Following the Kentucky Campaign, Wood's brigade was placed into the elite division of Patrick Cleburne. Cleburne commended Wood for his performance at the Battle of Murfreesboro. It seemed Wood's star was on the rise. 
       On the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga, General Wood lost control of his brigade which became separated and only one regiment got in the action. Wood then got the rest of his brigade into a field where they attacked alone and were repulsed with heavy losses. Cleburne was furious with Wood and ordered him to take the remainder of his brigade to the rear. 
       Cleburne failed to mention Wood in his report following the battle, which was considered an insult or a sign of failure in that time period. S.A.M. Wood saw the writing on the wall and resigned his commission on 17 October 1863. It would be the last time he would see action during the war. He moved his family to Tuscaloosa and continued his law practice. He later reentered politics and became a member of the faculty at the University of Alabama. He died there on 26 January 1891.

Timmy and I at the grave of S.A.M. Wood in Evergreen Cemetery less than a hundred yards from Bryant Denny Stadium

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Live Major General or a Dead Brigadier: Abner Monroe Perrin

Brigadier General Abner Monroe Perrin

       Part of the problem of living with a sleep disorder is finding yourself wide awake at five in the morning and wishing you were asleep. Of course falling asleep about four yesterday afternoon and waking up at midnight has something to do with it. I thought I would use this time writing about one of my favorite Confederate generals. 
       Abner Perrin was born in 1827 in South Carolina. He fought in the Mexican War at the age of 19 and earned promotion to lieutenant while there. Following that war, he returned to South Carolina where he became an attorney. When the Civil War began, Perrin was elected captain in the 14th South Carolina Infantry.
       They would see their first action in the Seven Days battles around Richmond in the summer of 1862. Perrin and his men were heavily engaged at both Gaines' Mill and Frayser's Farm during the now famous Seven Days Campaign. 
       They fought at Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg (Antietam), and Fredericksburg. Perrin was slightly wounded at Fredericksburg where his brigade commander Maxcy Gregg was killed. Perrin received a promotion to colonel in January of 1863. At Chancellorsville when all the senior officers were killed or wounded, Perrin was placed in charge of the brigade. He would travel to Gettysburg in command of the brigade, but still only ranked colonel. He lost almost half his brigade in the attack on the first day there, but he led the brigade forward and broke the Federal line in his front. 
       Perrin was promoted to brigadier general in September of 1863. When his former commander Samuel McGowan returned to duty in February of 1864 after his long recuperation from Chancellorsville, Perrin took command of Wilcox's Alabama Brigade. He led his new brigade at the Wilderness, again proving himself to be a great leader. 

The "Mule Shoe" at Spotsylvania

       At Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, Perrin was ordered to lead his brigade of Alabamians into the breach when the Federals overran the "Mule Shoe." He said, "I shall come out of this fight a live major general or a dead brigadier." He led his men into the breach and helped close the gap, stopping the Federal advance. Perrin didn't live to see his men triumph. He fell from his horse struck by several bullets. His body would be carried back to Fredericksburg, Virginia and buried in the City Cemetery. Although he didn't receive his desired promotion to major general, he was deserving of such rank. He'd proven himself on many battlefields and the wonder is that such a brave man lived as long as he did. 

Grave of Abner Monroe Perrin

Friday, May 4, 2012

Never Smile Again

My latest book cover

       My third book was released last month and I'm just getting around to blogging about it. I've been so busy writing a script for a documentary on Colbert County during the Civil War, I haven't had time to promote my own book. To be honest, I've been quite stressed out about the documentary because I've been given just two weeks to get it written. On the opposite side, it has been fun working on something different. 
       Never Smile Again is based on the Shiloh Campaign and I do my best to keep things historically correct although it's written in novel form. I still believe Die Like Men is a much better book, but my wife doesn't agree. She actually cried when she read the part where General Albert Sidney Johnston died. I guess I liked Die Like Men better because it is my favorite campaign of the war. It demonstrated to what extent men are willing to go when called on to do their duty. 
       The one thing I wasn't real happy about was the cover. I didn't want my picture plastered across the front for fear of people thinking I have a huge ego. Unfortunately, I didn't have any say in that part. My publisher Angela Broyles and my wife Stacie were determined for this picture of me standing on the back porch of the Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee would be on the cover. I've learned in life, there is no use in arguing with women.

       The following is an excerpt from Never Smile Again.

       All the men were watching their commander’s temper rise with each passing moment. Suddenly, Forrest spun and shouted, “Boys, do you hear that musketry and artillery?”
                His men knew what was about to happen. Their commander had had enough. Everyone yelled in reply.
                Forrest shouted, “It means our friends are falling by the hundreds while we’re back here guarding a damned creek! I didn‘t ride all the way up here to guard no damned ford! We didn’t enter the service for such work! May as well be guarding a damned latrine! We are needed on the field! I say we go and help our men! What do you say?”
                Every man in the command replied with a shout. Forrest climbed on his horse and watched as his men began to mount. He yelled, “We’re goin’ up there, and we gonna bust hell wide open!”
                They rode north and soon turned on the Hamburg-Purdy Road. There were long-range artillery shells bursting overhead. Forrest rode on, impervious to the shrapnel raining down around him. Just up the road he found General Frank Cheatham.
                Forrest approached Cheatham, and not bothering to salute, he said, “I can’t have my men back here in this artillery fire. I need to charge.”
                Cheatham looked at Forrest with an expression of indifference. He wondered why Forrest was telling him this.
                Forrest asked, “Will you give me permission to charge?”
                Cheatham shook his head. “I don’t have the authority to give you permission to charge. You’re not under my command. Besides, several charges have been bloodily repulsed from going across that field already.”
                Cheatham noticed Forrest’s face growing redder by the minute. His blue eyes flashed. Cheatham quickly added, “I can’t order you to charge, but you can charge under your own orders. The responsibility will rest on you.”
                “Then I’ll charge under my own orders,” Forrest grumbled. He spun in the saddle and shouted to his men. “Form ranks in column of fours. We will advance in that formation.”

       Never Smile Again can be purchased from Amazon, Bluewater Publications, and should be available in Books-a-million any day now.