Monday, November 5, 2012

Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest: A book review

Myth of Forrest by Ashdown and Caudill

       I just finished the book The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest by Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill. I've read so many books on that war that I didn't recognize the authors names. The writing was very familiar to me. It reminded me of another book I'd read on a famous personality of the Civil War. After reading over half the book, it finally dawned on me who these two authors were. 
       Both Ashdown and Caudill are professors of journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They wrote the book The Mosby Myth reflecting on the life of John Singleton Mosby. Like the Mosby book, I was a bit disappointed about their writing. Both books speculate on what may or may not be correct in the present stories pertaining to Forrest and Mosby's lives. 

The Wizard of the Saddle

       Somethings they say make sense, but other things seemed to frustrate me. When they didn't have the facts to back up their claims, they simply cast doubt on the story. The biggest thing that frustrates me with the book is the fact that they continued to return to the same fact over and over. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a racist. Again, you have two people writing history from today's perspective. To be a fair historian, one cannot compare past values with present values. If the writers wanted to be fair to Forrest, they would have talked more about the belief system of all white people during that time period, not just Forrest's. Instead, they spend chapter after chapter attempting to compare Forrest to Greek myths. At one point, they even wonder if Forrest was a military genius. Maybe, both men should leave the historical writing to the historians and just concentrate on their specialty which happens to be journalism. 
       Let's compare the racist Forrest to other famous people of that war. Ulysses Grant, William Sherman, and David Porter all three ranted against the Jews. On December 17, 1862, Grant passed an order preventing Jews from passing into his lines. Sherman actually said that Africans (I will not use his word for the black race here), Mexicans, Indians, and Jews were all inferior to the white race. In 1859, Sherman wrote his wife, "the n____ here must of necessity remain slaves...damn the n____."
       Let's not stop with three of the most famous commanders on the Northern side of that war, let's see what the President of the United States had to say. The following are the words of Abraham Lincoln, also known as the 'Great Emancipator'. 
       Lincoln in 1858: "I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white races."
       Lincoln in 1859: "Negro equality! Fudge! How long, in the government of a God, great enough to make and maintain this universe, shall there continue knaves to vend, and fools to gulp, so low a piece of demagogism as this."
       Lincoln to a black audience in 1862: "I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence."
       There is more and more that can be added by Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Sherman, and others as they rant about the superiority of the white race. What do you think would happen today if Romney was to say any of the above quotes? A good historian doesn't take today's values and apply them to times long ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Myth of Confederate General James Longstreet

James Longstreet

       I'm often amazed at the many people who have come to refer to James Longstreet as one of the greatest defensive general's of the Civil War and how the South would have won the Battle of Gettysburg if Lee would have followed his advice. I blame the movie Gettysburg and the book The Killer Angels for starting this myth. I believe we could rewrite everything in history by putting it on the big screen. Before all the Longstreet fans become upset with me please allow me to finish.
       In defense of Longstreet, he did not want to fight the battle at Gettysburg. He wanted Lee to move around the right and entrench between Meade's army and Washington, thus forcing Meade to make a disastrous frontal assault to try to save his capital. The problem that is so often overlooked is the fact that this is the exact move Meade was anticipating and watching for. He'd informed his cavalry to watch for signs of Lee attempting to move around his flanks. He'd set up an excellent defensive position on the heights behind Pipe Creek in Maryland. Meade didn't want to fight at Gettysburg any more than Longstreet did. He thought the position wasn't strong enough. 
       Another myth many believe is that Longstreet had no ambition to higher command. He did everything he possibly could to gain the command of the Army of Tennessee. He arrived at Chickamauga with his corps and joined Bragg's army against Federal General Rosecrans. Granted, Longstreet arrived in mid-battle, there is no controversy about him asking Bragg to move around Rosecrans flank. The battle was fought as another frontal assault and this just two months following the battle at Gettysburg. 

Battle of Fort Sanders.png

The Battle of Fort Sanders

       Worse still, Longstreet moved his corps to Knoxville, Tennessee a month later and assaulted Fort Sanders which contained 440 Federal troops with 3,000 of his men. This assault was an utter failure. The battle cost him 813 casualties and only inflicted 13 on the enemy troops in the fort. Does this sound like the ultimate defensive commander? 
       Which brings me to the question of whether Longstreet would have been a better commander than Braxton Bragg. I read once where a historian had said that what made Lee such a great commander is his ability to take full responsibility when a battle was lost. The historian actually said, "Where Lee could say it was all his fault, Bragg would have choked on the words." I can add that Longstreet would have choked on the words also. After the battle at Knoxville, Longstreet did the same thing Bragg was famous for, he began arresting his subordinates. He arrested Major General Lafayette McLaws and Brigadier General Jerome Bonaparte Robertson for the disaster. Longstreet admitted after the war that he'd done McLaws an injustice. 

General James Longstreet monument at Gettysburg

Longstreet Monument at Gettysburg

       Going a step farther about how movies affect history, one need only to look at the monument of Longstreet at Gettysburg. In the book These Honored Dead by Thomas Desjardin he refers to the problems with this monument. I'll just insert a quote from his book here. "Despite the work of historians that shows Longstreet was wearing an officers 'kepi' style hat during the battle, and wartime photos that show his long narrow beard, the solid metal image that future generations will see at Gettysburg is the image of...well...Tom Berenger, the actor who played Longstreet in the movie with a horribly false, wide beard and a hat reminiscent of a western cowboy." Because of the size of the man mounted on the horse, many Civil War buffs have nicknamed the monument 'The Troll on the Pony.'
       I'm not here to bash Longstreet. I think he was a fine commander. All commanders make mistakes. Even Lee and Jackson made mistakes. I'm just saying Longstreet has been built up beyond what he truly was by the big screen and one of my favorite actors Tom Berenger.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stovepipe: The Story of A Civil War Hero

Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson

       I recently finished the book Thunder From A Clear Sky by Ray Mulesky. I ordered the book online and when it first arrived, I flipped through the pages and thought it looked dull. The saying that you can't judge a book by its cover proved true in this case. Once I started the book, I found I couldn't put it down. Adam Rankin Johnson is one of the best kept stories of the Civil War. I've read enough books on Nathan Bedford Forrest to burn a wet mule, but then I learn there was another Confederate Brigadier General just like him. A master at the game of bluff. 
       Mr. Mulesky does a great job telling the story of General Johnson who is the star of the book. Johnson was from Kentucky, but lived across the Ohio River from Newburgh, Indiana. Johnson often found himself in tight places only to bluff his way out. He once came upon some Federal soldiers against his three men and told them they were surrounded and would all be killed if they didn't surrender. They surrendered to Johnson and his three men. 
       He earned the nickname "Stovepipe" from the fact that when he and about twenty men raided Newburgh, Indiana, he used an old stovepipe mounted on wagon wheels to appear as if he had a cannon aimed at the town. As proved so often in the case of Stovepipe Johnson, the bluff worked. He took three men and double barreled shotguns and attacked an entire company of artillery during the night. By shifting positions, he made the company believe they were surrounded by several thousand men. His men fired on the Federals for ten minutes and disappeared, but the Federal soldiers returned fire for another four hours thinking they were about to all be captured. 

Stovepipe Johnston following his wounding

         Tragically, he was accidently shot in the head by one of his own troopers. He was said to have been blinded by the fire, but he wore some strange glasses until his death that suggests that he didn't totally lose his vision. Following the wounding he continued to serve until the end of the war. He was thirty years old at the close of the war. 

A postwar photograph of Stovepipe Johnson

       Following the war, Johnson moved to Texas and led quite an active life for a disabled man. He founded a town, along with various other enterprises and died there in 1922. He rests today in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.

Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson

The resting place of Stovepipe Johnson and his wife

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys Part II: The Black River War

Brigadier General St. John R. Liddell

       St. John R. Liddell was born on 6 September 1815 in Mississippi. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and came to run his own plantation called "Llanada" near Harrisonburg, Louisiana. Liddell was a very outspoken gentleman and sometimes tended to rub others the wrong way. He commanded an Arkansas brigade under Patrick Cleburne during the Civil War until the Battle of Chickamauga when he commanded his own division. Frustrated with the in-fighting among the officer corps of the Army of Tennessee, he requested and received a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department to be near his family. He was captured at Fort Blakely near Mobile, Alabama on 9 April 1865.
       The famous feud began in late 1847 and came to be called the Jones-Liddell Feud or The Black River War. The feud would last 23 years and cost 14 lives before it was finally over. The feud between Charles and his wife Laura Jones and Liddell is still remembered in Louisiana, although most of the rest of the country has forgotten about it. 
       Charles Jones was born in Ireland and had a tendency to find trouble every place he went. He encountered trouble in Kentucky, Monroe, Louisiana, and finally where he settled near St. John Richardson Liddell. He even had a feud with his own wife Laura when she took him to court and forced their personal property to be divided evenly between the two. 
       The actual origins of the feud have been lost to history, but several legends have been passed down through the generations. The first legend states that the feud began over a flock of Charles Jones's geese. The more believable story was told by someone close to Liddell. The story goes that the two men had met at a social gathering. Charles Jones had stood and proposed a toast to the female virtue and Liddell threw his wine out the window. 
       Whatever occurred between the two men, we know that Jones spent the next six months threatening the life of St. John Liddell. He even appeared armed at a place where Liddell was visiting, but couldn't pull off his plan because of too many witnesses. Jones even attacked and wounded a close friend of Liddell's with a knife. 
       At this point the feud had changed gears from any of the original reasons. Charles Jones coveted a piece of land owned by Phillip and Eliza Nichols, both close friends of Liddell. Jones then began to spread false rumors about Eliza's moral character. As Liddell was arriving to visit Phillip Nichols he saw Eliza and Charles Jones talking at the end of the drive at her home. Eliza pulled a pistol and shot Jones in the face and shot him again as he fled the scene. The situation was quickly unraveling. 
       Charles Jones refused to be disgraced by the fact that a woman had shot him. He told all his friends that St. John Liddell had been the actual shooter. Charles must have told his wife Laura the truth because she offered a reward to all her slaves for the murder of Eliza Nichols. 
       Charles and Laura Jones soon left the area travelling to Ohio and defusing the situation for the time being. He sent threats against Liddell and his friends stating that he would return and kill him. In 1852, Charles and Laura Jones returned with two shady men he'd hired as assassins. The two men hid behind a tree to ambush Liddell, but the general never appeared. Another friend of Charles Jones named Henry Huntington called Liddell a coward and challenged him to a duel on the Texas state line. Liddell fearing another ambush refused to accept. 
        Soon thereafter, Samuel Glenn, another friend of Jones, began to make threats against Liddell. Someone warned Liddell that Glenn and a friend had gone to Jonesville and would soon be returning. Liddell hid and ambushed both men in their carriage. He managed to kill both Glenn and his friend Moses Wiggins. Liddell was arrested for murder, but acquitted in 1854. In 1857, a document was drawn up stating that both Jones and Liddell were to pass each other on the street as strangers and have no more intercourse among them. 
       The Civil War found both men preparing to fight for the same side. Liddell became a Confederate brigadier general and served faithfully throughout the war. Charles Jones became Lieutenant Colonel of the 17th Louisiana Infantry and eventually served on the staff of Confederate Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles. 
       As soon as the war was over, Charles Jones became a republican in order to save his vast land holdings and money. When Liddell applied for bankruptcy, Jones did everything in his power to obtain the property, even suing in court for rights to the land. Liddell thinking of his arch enemy owning the graves of his family warned Jones what would happen if he continued to pursue the purchase of the land. 

"Llanada" Plantation

       Liddell was on a boat having dinner with two friends when Charles Jones and his two sons boarded. Several men attempted to intervene for peace telling both parties to ignore the other. Jones and his sons passed by in front of Liddell's table in a probable show of defiance. Liddell attempted to rise and his friend attempted to hold him back. Jones and one of his sons opened fire striking Liddell in the chest three times. As Liddell lay on the cabin floor, Jones and his sons stood over him and continued to shot him until he was dead. The Jones's then raced from the boat and escaped. They went to the home of Sheriff Oliver Ballard and surrendered. Ballard was a close friend of Jones and everyone knew there would be no fair trial in the area.

The grave of St. John R. Liddell

       At 2:00 A.M. on 27 February 1870, 30 friends and relatives of Liddell surrounded the home of Sheriff Ballard. They allowed everyone to leave except Charles Jones and his sons. They stormed the house and shot Charles and his son William to death. His other son Cuthbert Jones survived by hanging ten minutes from an upper floor window sill while the lynch mob searched for him. He escaped to New Orleans and was never tried for the crime. 
       Samuel Jones mother had made a prophecy in 1852 about the feud. She'd said that neither Jones, nor Liddell would die a natural death and both men would die with more lead in their bodies than her son. Her prediction was correct. 

The Liddell family cemetery where the general rests today on his old plantation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Joseph E. Johnston: Misunderstood?

General Joseph E. Johnston

       Some of my friends believe the old legend that if President Davis would have left Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Tennessee then Atlanta would not have fallen. I say we take a look at General Johnston's record as a commander and see if it supports the legend. 
       In early March of 1862, General Johnston abandoned the Manassas line before the Federal army ever left Washington. He promised President Davis that he would do his best to secure all the supplies and heavy artillery. Johnston made no attempt to keep this promise. Most of the heavy artillery was abandoned to the Federal army and most of the supplies were burned. A meat processing plant at Thoroughfare Gap was burned along with one million pounds of meat. All this occurred without a single threat of a Federal move. He further surprised the president when he stated that he hadn't selected a line to hold when he retreated. 
       He stated during the Peninsula Campaign that he could make no guarantee's that he would be capable of holding Richmond. The man could have been Union General George McClellan's long lost twin. Neither man wanted to fight at all unless assured of a victory before hand. Unfortunately for Johnston, but fortunately for the South, he was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks just east of the capital. Davis turned to a man who would willingly fight the Federals to save his state. Robert E. Lee drove McClellan away from the capital with attacks upon his right flank and by September had invaded Maryland. Johnston would never have accomplished as much.
       During the siege of Vicksburg, Johnston was given a force of 24,000 troops and ordered to assault the rear of Grant's army in an attempt to help Pemberton's forces escape. Johnston refused to move without more men. It was the same thing McClellan had done with Lincoln. Neither man could ever have enough men. Mary Boykin Chestnut the famed diarist of Charleston, South Carolina had told a story about Johnston before the war. He'd been invited to go duck hunting with Wade Hampton. They'd hunted all morning and Hampton had taken several ducks. Johnston had never fired a shot. Each time the birds came by he said they were too high or too far. You see, Johnston had a reputation as a crack shot and if he missed a duck he was afraid his reputation would be ruined. He was the same way in command of an army. As long as he didn't risk a battle, his generalship could never be questioned. 
       My friends use the Atlanta Campaign as evidence of his superior generalship. They claim (along with the legend) that he was luring Sherman far from his supplies and then planned on striking him. I have seen nothing in the record of the man that would make me believe he would ever have attacked Sherman. He would not give President Davis an assurance that he would fight for Atlanta and therefore he was relieved and a man was put in command that would fight. As General Hood stated following the war, if a man couldn't hold the mountains of Northern Georgia, he wasn't much of a general. William Sherman himself stated that Northern Georgia itself was one vast fortress. General Longstreet wrote his friend Joseph Johnston before the Atlanta Campaign began. He understood Johnston's philosophy and wanted to help him. He told Johnston that unless he placed a force on Sherman's flank to force him to protect his long supply line, Sherman would simply turn his flanks all the way to Atlanta and that is exactly what he did. 

The late Shelby Foote

       The late Shelby Foote once said that Joseph Johnston was the worst full general in the Confederacy during the war. That is a pretty bold statement and tells you what he thought of Johnston when you had Braxton Bragg as another pretty bad full general. Foote believed the man was afraid to fight and the record supports this claim. 

Johnston monument at Bentonville

       I took my wife to her first reenactment at Bentonville, North Carolina and she was able to see the unveiling of the statue of General Johnston at the time. She was so excited to witness the event. I told her what I thought of the general and how he was quite a bit overrated in my opinion. That didn't deter her one bit. She was still excited to have witnessed something that historic. I suppose she has a point. Studying these men wouldn't be interesting if each of them were alike. I do enjoy learning the parts of the war that are legend and how we come to believe today what was decided by one person and truly isn't very accurate.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 and Ignorance

Selma City Council: No More Monuments to KKK Hate!

A misleading photograph on a false petition

       I'm a member of and have signed many petitions for people who have been wronged.  The problem I have is when someone starts a petition without taking the time or trouble to read a book or research their facts.  According to the petition begun by Malika Fortier, the city of Selma, Alabama is putting up a monument to Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.  She is opposed to the monument because it would promote hate against black people. She wants people to sign her petition because Forrest was allegedly the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  Let's review what we know about Forrest and the original KKK.  

Malika Fortier

       There were huge differences between the KKK of the 1870's and the KKK founded in 1915.  The Klan of the 1900's were violent and a racist organization.  The Klan just after the Civil War was an attempt by ex-Confederates to regain the right to vote and run for office.  It might surprise Mrs. Fortier to know that General Forrest actually supported the "Jubilee of Pole Bearers" which was the fore runner of the NAACP.  They actually asked General Forrest to make a speech before their group in post war Memphis, Tn.  After his speech, he received a standing ovation.  Now Mrs. Fortier is going against her own people to protest the very man they applauded.  It's just too bad that Mrs. Fortier hasn't the energy to pick up a good book and learn for herself.  

       Historian Michael Grissom stated that the present day Klan cannot be confused with the original Klan which was organized to stop Carpet Bagger tyranny.  As an example of why the original Klan was formed we need to look at Reconstruction.  

A typical reconstruction legislature

       John Patterson of Pennsylvania moved to South Carolina following the war.  In 1872 he stated that he believed there remained another five good years of stealing left in the state.  People like Patterson are responsible for the origination of the KKK.  At the time there were 155 state legislators in South Carolina's Congress.  Of those 155, 98 were freed slaves.  Of those 98 freed slaves, only 22 could read or write.  This legislature set up by Northern thieves voted themselves gold watches, horses, carriages, champagne and all sorts of ridiculous items.  After four years of devastating war the state deficit was 7 million dollars.  After one year of this legislative rule the state deficit exceeded 29 million dollars.  It would take until after World War II for the state of South Carolina to pay off this debt.  With the shape the country is in financially today, you would think someone like Mrs. Fortier would understand what the orginial KKK was attempting to do. 

       Patrick Cleburne said that if the South loses the war, our children will be taught from Northern textbooks.  He was correct in this statement, because people like Mrs. Fortier are not intelligent enough to pick up a book and learn for herself.  

       A great book for her to read would be Forrest’s Redemption. Of course reading takes quite a bit of energy and brain power, so I don’t expect things to change anytime soon. The movie Idiocracy may be a true picture of this country’s future and quite possibly the world. I remember my old political science professor teaching us to think for ourselves, grab a book or a newspaper. He called the majority of the citizens of this nation a bunch of skillet heads. He said, everyone is too lazy to think for themselves. They allow others to do their thinking for them. How accurate he was. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The General Who Died Near My House: William Wirt Allen

Major General William W. Allen

       Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the great grandson of Confederate Major General William Wirt Allen. Sheffield City Historian Richard Sheridan sent me an email inviting me to meet him at the Sheffield City Library to meet a Confederate general's grandson Bill Allen. I arrived to find a distinguished gentleman with an old southern accent. My accent is unfortunately North Alabama Redneck. 
       I asked Bill if he knew where the General had died and he said he knew the exact location. I was surprised because I had no idea. It turns out that General Allen was living in a home that overlooked the Tennessee River beside where the present day Sheffield Water Tower is located. General Allen was walking across his bedroom on the second floor and dropped dead of a heart attack. He'd been suffering from heart trouble for some time. He was relatively young at the time at the age of 59 or what I consider young as I approach my 44th birthday. The most amazing thing to me was how close this was to my house. It is exactly two short blocks away, not over 200 yards. Unfortunately, the home was torn down sometime after the turn of the century. There is nothing there today that would make someone think a house had ever stood on the spot. 

Me with Bill Allen in the Sheffield City Library

       I know I appear very short in the picture next to Mr. Allen, but I'm actually five foot eight inches. I was surprised to find the general's grandson at six feet four or more. Mr. Richard explained to Bill that I write Civil War books and I approached him with the idea of me writing a book on his grandfather. I don't know of any book that's ever been written on him. Mr. Allen said he would talk to his son and get back with me. He said his son actually knows more of General Allen's personal stories than he does. I hope he or his son gives me a call someday. 

General Allen's house stood to the right of the water tower

       I told Bill that I had visited the grave of General Allen and had my photograph taken there. Bill was surprised because he said he had attempted to locate the cemetery where he was originally buried and couldn't find it. I said, "I thought he rests in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama. Bill said, "He is, but I thought you were talking about the cemetery where he was originally buried in Florence, Alabama." I was surprised because I thought General Allen was originally buried in Sheffield's Oakwood Cemetery. Bill said that was an error and he wasn't sure why they carried him to Florence. He said they buried him in a small family cemetery there that he has yet to locate. 
       Bill said the general was really just coming into his own when the war ended. He missed almost two years of the war because of wounds and disease. General Allen had suffered from dysentery during the early months of the war and was slightly wounded at Perryville. At the Battle of Murfreesboro he was shot in the right hand and following surgery he only retained the use of his thumb, ring finger and little finger. The result of this wound was his being out of action for over a year. He was slightly wounded again at Waynesboro, Georgia. 

Me at the grave of General William W. Allen

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Other Roll Tide General

William Henry Forney

       I wrote a blog over a year ago about the Confederacy's Roll Tide General. The story was about Brigadier General John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders who was attending the University of Alabama when the Civil War began. He fought in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and was killed at the Battle of the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg.
       For some reason I had forgotten about William Henry Forney, who also attended the University of Alabama and graduated there in 1844. Since we are just days away from my favorite team kicking off the football season against the Michigan Wolverines, I thought this would be the perfect time to write a blog about this Crimson Tide Confederate General. 
       Forney was born in North Carolina in 1823, but moved to Alabama with his family at the ripe old age of eight. He fought in the Mexican War and then returned to Alabama where he practiced law. He also served as a Trustee of the University of Alabama from 1851 until 1860. In 1859 he was elected to the state legislature. 
       When the war began, he became captain of Company G, 10th Alabama Infantry. His brother John Horace Forney commanded the regiment. William would be shot in the shin at his first engagement at Dranesville. He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Williamsburg, being shot in the right arm near the shoulder, his arm was broken. Following his exchange, he was promoted to colonel of the 10th. His brother Henry had been promoted to brigadier general. 
       He commanded the regiment at Salem Church, one of the battles in the Chancellorsville Campaign. Again, he was wounded, but only slightly in the leg. At Gettysburg, he led the regiment in the assault on Sickles's line near the Peach Orchard. He was wounded twice, but continued to remain with his men when a third bullet broke his right arm again. Still, he pressed on with his men until a bullet took away his left heel. The wound was severely painful and again, he was left behind and captured by the Federals. 

The only know photographs are post-war sittings.

       Upon exchange, Forney was promoted to brigadier general and took command of Wilcox's brigade. Wilcox had been promoted to major general and given command of a division. He joined his brigade in the trenches at Petersburg. He served in command of the brigade during the Petersburg campaign and surrendered with his men at Appomattox. 
       Following the war he returned to practicing law and eventually served in the United States Congress. He died in 1894 and was buried in the City Cemetery, Jacksonville, Alabama. His brother Major General John Forney and Major John Pelham are both buried in this cemetery. 
       Major General Cadmus Wilcox said Forney was "intelligent, energetic, and gallant in commanding, directing, and leading his men." 
       General Robert E. Lee said of Forney, "An excellent officer and worthy of promotion," and he is "an officer of intelligence, energy and bravery and of long and faithful service."

Forney's Grave Site

       William's brother John was not a Roll Tide General because John who was six years younger than William obtained an appointment to West Point. This also explains why his younger brother was ranked above William throughout the war. I was having a conversation the other day with the Tuscumbia City Historian John McWilliams. He asked me if I knew why southerners loved football so much. I knew he was about to drop something good on me, so I took the bait and asked why. He said "It's because those damned Yankee's can only put eleven men on the field unlike the Civil War. So just five days from kickoff, all I have to say is "Roll Tide" General Forney!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Slavery vs. Tariff: From a neutral standpoint

From a famous British authors viewpoint

       You can't read a response to any Civil War video on youtube or other websites without reading the continuing arguments about which side was right and which was wrong. Just like in that war, almost all northern people believe the war was fought to free the slaves. Most southerner's believe the war was fought over states rights and the tariff, except for the few who believe everything they've been taught in school. The war was complicated. If it was a war over simple black and white, then we wouldn't be arguing over it today, one-hundred and fifty years after the fact. 
       It seems to be the same arguments repeated over and over again. I had a discussion with an Arizona State University history professor who was completely sold on slavery being the only reason of the war. He attempted to make fun of any opinion I had regarding the war because he has two more years of college than I do. Regardless of those two years of college, I can guarantee I have studied and read more about the American Civil War at least three times more than he ever will. I did ask him a simple question that he played off completely that actually helps with the argument I am making. I asked if he was born in a New England state. His reply was, "Don't even act like you don't know I'm from New York." Enough said in my opinion. 
       Mr. "S" insisted that the American Civil War had nothing to do with anything except the northern states being more moral and upright than the evil slave holding states. He doesn't have the intellectual ability to understand that you cannot compare 19th century culture to today's version. This is a mistake made quite often with today's historians or so called historians. They tend to ignore those parts of history that don't fit their perfect world version and insert what they want. 
       I decided to take a different approach, an approach any true historian should appreciate. I decided to go outside the country and read what a foreigner would think the war was about. Surely, someone neutral and famous would be totally honest with the world over what that war was fought about. I doubt Mr. "S" would want to hear him, but the man did live in that time period, was not from New York, and spoke from a neutral vantage point. 

Famous author Charles Dickens

       I was recently reading some of British author Charles Dickens letters when I found some very interesting comments made by the man. Dickens was born in 1812 and lived until the year 1870 when he died of a stroke. For those that have never heard of him, he has written several books including A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities
       You would be surprised what opinions Charles Dickens had about the reason the American Civil War occurred to begin with. In his letters he stated that "slavery has in reality nothing on earth to do with it. The North having gradually got to itself the making of the laws and the settlement of the Tariffs, and having taxed the South most abominably for its own advantage" was basically out of control. What he meant was that once the northern states had more free states than slave states, they passed the most ridiculous taxes on the southern states without the southern states having the ability to defend themselves. What he basically was saying was that the Confederate states were being bullied by the northerners. He went on to say that neither side of the conflict cared a bit for the black race. He understood what Lincoln was saying when he said, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Justin Smith Morrill

      What did Charles Dickens know about slavery and the tariff? We know that the majority of England was against slavery and this prominent citizen seemed to be going against the grain. The question is "why?" 
       Perhaps the United States helped him come to his decision. With the South still serving in Congress, the Tariff of 1857 was passed and had lowered the tariff to 17% which benefited the South. Once the majority of the southern states had left the union, the northern states were free to pass any tariff they wanted. Thus, we come to the Morrill Tariff of 1861. The passage of this tariff raised the taxes on exports from 17% to 38%. At this date, Mr. "S" still insists the war had nothing to do with money, but the holy north against the evil slave holding south. 
       He is entitled to his opinion, but is he entitled to force his students to agree to his way of thinking to pass an American Civil War course? I have several questions for Mr. "S," but he would simply turn my questions into some smart joke if I asked him. Here are two of them if I knew he would take me seriously. #1 Was Charles Dickens an idiot for believing the same thing that most southerners do? #2 If the northern states fought the war because they were so humane, why did they go wipe out the American Indians in the 1870's? 
       Thanks for your input Mr. Charles Dickens, but I'm sure your opinion means as much to the northern historians as it does to some alien from Mars.

Charles Dickens

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Walk With Pat Cleburne

This is for my husband who loves Pat Cleburne.  He took me on a journey on the way back from Nashville and as we pulled up in front of St. Johns Church he was reading this part of his book to me.  It was such a special moment because I know Pat is his favorite General and this church has become one of our favorite places.  Now I would like to share this journey with you.   This is an excerpt from Tim's book, Die Like Men.  I hope you enjoy....

"...They had ridden up in front of Saint John's Episcopal Church.  Leonidas Polk had built it before the war.  They stopped their horses to admire it.  It was beautiful in the mist and fog.  Ivy grew on the walls, and magnolias and cedar trees dotted the churchyard.  A three-foot-high rock wall surrounded the place.  It was almost identical to St. Mary's Church back in County Cork, Ireland.  He wondered what the odds were that he would happen upon a church built identical to the one he'd been baptized in years ago and half a world away.
     The rest of Cleburne's staff had ridden up and were staring at the beautiful structure.  Cleburne climbed from the saddle and handed the reins to Mangum.  Mangum said, "That's the most beautiful thing I've seen since we've been in Tennessee."

     Cleburne walked through the opening in the rock wall and began to slowly make his way beneath the magnolias.  He seemed to be in awe at the place.  His staff watched him moving slowly about the churchyard.  It was as if he was studying the place.  The men of his division were trudging past them moving on north toward Columbia.


 Cleburne eventually made his way to the rear of the church.  There was a small cemetery there.  His staff could see him at times back there moving among the stones.  He seemed to stop and read every marker, pausing in deep thought at each one.  The staff officers began to eye each other warily. They'd all noticed how depressed he'd been lately.  

 What they didn't know, was that Pat Cleburne wasn't really studying the markers.  He was in deep thought.  He was thinking about Susan again.  He was ready for this war to end so he could get on with life and a family.

     He'd been back there for what seemed a long time to his staff, when he came slowly around the other side of the church.  He had his head down as he moved back toward the gate.  He walked over to his horse and gently patted the muzzle.  "Red Pepper" was his favorite horse.  He took the reins from Mangum and climbed back in the saddle."

     Staff member, Captain Charles Hill was on the north side of Cleburne.  As Cleburne turned his horse northward, he looked at Hill and said, "It would almost be worth dying to be buried in such a beautiful place.

     He spurred his horse and began moving toward Columbia with his division.  Mangum noticed him turning in the saddle and taking one last look at the beautiful churchyard."

     Pat Cleburne must have had a sense of foreboding or a seventh sense because several days later he would be interred into the very ground he had just walked on.  Unfortunately the people of Helena, Arkansas would have him moved, at a later date and interred in this town.  I think he should have been left where he felt like he was closest to the place he grew up.

     This is the spot where Tim thinks he could have been buried.  We have visited it many times and it still seems like hallowed ground every time I am there.

     Tim, I love you so much and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did living and experiencing it.  Thank  you so much for making history come alive for me.  You are a very talented man and I am honored to be your wife.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Mysterious James Deshler Photograph

Brigadier General James Deshler

       Above is a photograph of Brigadier General James Deshler that appears in all Civil War books that furnish a picture of the man. It shows heavy signs of being retouched, which means an artist took the photograph and painted over the picture covering up any blemishes and most likely painting on the officer's coat. Ironically, he wears the coat of a Confederate brigadier general which is exactly what his rank was at the time of his death. He was only a brigadier for a couple of months before being killed at the Battle of Chickamauga and probably never had his image taken in that particular uniform. This is actually a quite common occurrence for the time. 

Two photos of Brigadier General John Adams

       In the photo of General John Adams above on the left is an original photo of the man without retouching. The photograph on the right is the same man but the picture has been heavily retouched by an artist. The artist did an excellent job of making Adams eyes clearer, skin extremely smooth and his mustache is about five times as thick. The coat he has painted on the man is obviously not a coat at all. Notice how perfect the collar is, how smooth the coat lies across his chest and shoulders. 

James Deshler Mystery Photo

       A few months ago, a friend of mine, Historian Richard Sheridan provided me with a copy of the above photograph that he obtained from some of Deshler's living relatives. This picture has given me a headache attempting to figure out what it is. In the original, the coat looks real, it doesn't appear to be retouched. The above photo doesn't do the original much justice. The next problem is the fact that he is wearing a coat that would be worn by a major general or above because the buttons are grouped in three's. If you notice his face shows heavy signs of being retouched and most troubling of all, his head seems a little off centered with his neck. The mystery remains about the history of this photograph. Did he borrow a senior officers coat to have his photograph taken? Did an artist paint Deshler's face over another general officers so the family would have a uniformed picture of their lost loved one? There's a very good possibility that we will never know.

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.