Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Rashness of That Hour by Robert Wynstra

Book focuses on Iverson's actions at Gettysburg

       I've just finished reading The Rashness of That Hour by Robert Wynstra and found it to be an excellent addition to my library. The book begins with the history of General Iverson and his brigade. It is quite interesting to note that the morale of the brigade had been suffering from an internal power struggle. Governor Vance of North Carolina didn't improve things when he protested that a Georgia officer had been promoted to lead troops from his state. As I read the book, I almost began to feel sorry for Alfred Iverson.
       The further into the book I got, I soon switched back to thinking the man brought most of his suffering on himself. The more I read, the more the man reminded me of another general named Braxton Bragg. Once Iverson made an enemy, he immediately did everything in his power to rid himself of the man, no matter how useful that man might have been to the efficiency of his brigade. 

Brigadier General Afred Iverson, Jr.

       By the time I read about Iverson in battle, I had the opinion the man might have had a streak of cowardice. He was far to the rear at Chancellorsville and in his official report claimed to have been rallying another brigade's troops. His job should have been to supervise his own men in battle. At Gettysburg, he again remained in the rear, sending his men across a field against Federal infantry posted behind a stone wall. He didn't have skirmishers posted to the front, simply telling his men to advance and give them hell. They were within eighty yards of the stone wall before they knew there were Federals anywhere near them. Out of his 1400 man brigade, 900 became casualty's in a matter of minutes. They were trapped on the field in a gully under relenting fire. 

This gully would later come to be known as Iverson's Pits. 
It provided no shelter for the men trapped there.

       Iverson in his report failed to mention the brave action of his men, yet blamed them for surrendering when the Federals advanced into the gully and captured most of the survivors. Following the battle, Iverson was eventually sent back home to Georgia where he commanded a brigade of cavalry under Wheeler. He attempted to stop Sherman's invasion of the state and his brigade was credited with capturing Union General George Stoneman's raiders. They planned to ride deep into Georgia and free the prisoners at Andersonville. With a force of only six-hundred men, Iverson's brigade managed to capture Stoneman and his troops. I had always read about Iverson redeeming himself over the fiasco at Gettysburg by this daring feat in Georgia. However, to my shock, Wynstra reports that again Iverson was far in the rear of his command. The actual credit for the capture belongs to Colonel Crews who was present and leading the brigade. 

George Stoneman captured by Iverson's brigade, but not Iverson

       The book is a great read and serves as not only a biography of Alfred Iverson, but also to his North Carolina brigade. Iverson survived the war, one wants to say "of course" here and died of old age in 1911 at the age of 82. He rests in Atlanta's famous Oakland Cemetery. Wynstra does go into a good bit of detail about the commanders of every unit involved in the fighting around Gettysburg if you enjoy that type thing. I'm not one of those people. I can't remember any of the captains names, especially when he lists the commanders of each artillery unit on the field at the time. Other than that, I found it a very interesting book that I found difficult to stop reading. 

Iverson sometime around 1900

       The men of Iverson's North Carolina brigade never forgave their general. Forty years after the battle, Captain Turner of Iverson's command wrote, "Unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom. Deep and long must the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina rue the rashness of that hour." These are the most appropriate last sentences of Wynstra's book.

Me at the grave of Iverson August, 2011.