Monday, July 29, 2013

World War II Family Letters

Price Kent, Seaman 1st Class

October 6, 1944
To Mrs. Oma Kent
Rt. 1, Leighton, Alabama
From Price Kent, Seaman 1st Class
U.S.S. Escalante
Fleet Post Office, New York City, N.Y.

Dear Wife,

I thought I would write you all a few lines to let you hear from me, let you all know I am well and hope you all are well. You all not worry about me. Say I got a bunch of letters from you. I got one letter from Burnice (his brother). Maybe it won't be so long til I will be back. Say, did you get that two dollar bill that I sent you? Say, if little Price Kent am growing? He soon be big as I am won't he. Well, I like all right so far. I hope it won't be so long til the war is over. Say, tell the baby's I would like to see them. Say you should get a bond this month. You write and tell me when you get it. Say, I got your telegram you sent me. I will close this time with lots of love. I will write as often as I can answer soon. Price with lots of love, so long.

April 29, 1945
In Port

Dear Wife and Kids,

How are you both, just fine I hope. I'm well and hope you all are. I sure wold like to see you all but I don't know when that will be. I guess by now you have received the money I sent you. One of the places we have been is Siapan. I made a few liberty's there. So you see I'm pretty far away from home. I almost forgot I received your letter dated April 15 and sure was glad to hear from you. Please write and let me know what the kids buy with the money I sent them. I'd love to write more but I don't know what to say. May God bless you all. Love Price.

July 1, 1945

Hello darling,

Today I will answer your letter which I got yesterday. I sure was glad to hear from you and the children and I am glad to know that you and the children are well as this leaves me well. Say darling I got a letter from Alzonia (his sister) yesterday and she was well. Say the children must having good luck with their chickens. Say they ought go into the chicken business. Say darling Burnice (his brother serving in the Pacific also) and I are also clse together and can't get to see each other. I sure would like to see him. Well, darling, it sure is hot here. How are the weather at home, fine I hope. Say darling, you got Jess (her brother) to see what Sherman would take for that house when I come home I might want to buy it if he not to high. Well, darling, I don't know much to write I will close for now. Answer soon with a long lovely letter. From your husband Price with lots love wife and children. XXXXXXXXXX

July 26, 1945, Thursday

Hello darling,

To night I will try and answer your letters which I received a few days ago. I sure was glad to hear from you all and to know that you and the children are well as this leaves me well. Well, we had a long busy day fueling to day. Say, darling, tell Martha (his daughter) and Laverne (his daughter) to be good and I hope Martha likes school and learns fast. Say, darling, tell the children when I come home I will fix them a place and they can raise chickens. Darling, I sure was sorry about Dean getting killed. Say, darling, don't put too much money in bonds, keep plenty for using. Price Kent, Seaman First Class.

September 10, 1945, Monday

Hello darling,

To night I will answer your letters which I receive yesterday. You don't know how glad I was to hear from you and the children and to know that you all are well as this leaves me well and getting along fine. Well, darling, I am hoping I will be in the states by Christmas, but I am not sure most of the men thinks we will. Well, they are having beer party, maybe I get to go tomorrow, there are lots of soldiers and sailors and lots of coconuts. Say darling, how much money do you have in the bank. Say, is those bonds you got yours and mine. Say, how many have you from me? Say, darling, I have two hundred and thrity dollars on the books. Say, if I have enough money when I come home we will try to put up a little store. Say, darling, I got sixteen letters in all and thirteen of them are from you. Say, I guess it will be about the first of the year before I get out of service. Say, darling, tell the children I sure would like to se them. Say, when you don't hear from me for awhile don't worry for when we go out to sea I can't mail any letters I will write as often as I can. Say, you said Bama (her sister) didn't look like herself, why doesn't she? Well, I don't know anything to write, I will close. I write again before we go out to sea. So answer soon with a long lovely letter and all the news. Price Kent, Seaman, First Class. Love to all wife and children good night. I hope it isn't too long til I can see you all with lots hugs and kisses, so long.

September 12, 1945, Wednesday


To day I will try and write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines find you all the same. I thought I would answer your letter which I received a few days ago. Well, I sure would like to see you all but I guess it will be a while yet. Maybe it won't be later than Christmas. Say, we are celebrating a two day today. Say, I am making the children a locket a piece today. I didn't have anything else to do. Say, I guess lots of the boys are in the states are getting discharges. If I were in the states I probably get a discharge and I think I seen enough of the world. About all grows over here is coconuts. Well, I am going to tell some of the places I been if I haven't told you. I spent one hour in Marshall Islands and then to Alithi (?) and this is our home base and we went to Saipan and to the Phillipines and Leyte and out off Iwo Jima and Okinawa in a operation and was in a operation off Tokyo and maybe I will get to go to Japan in a feew days, but I am not sure. We are going out to sea in a few days. I am at Alithi (?) now. That where we will leave out from. Well, their ain't much out here to write nor to do only go to movie every night so I will close for now. Answer soon with a long lovely letter and all the news. Price Kent, Seaman First Class. Love to all, so long.

September 14, 1945, Friday

Hello darling,

To night I will write you all a few lines to let you and the children know that I am well and I hope these few lines finds you and the children in the best of health. Darling, it has been raining here about all day and it rains about every night. Say, darling, I have you and the children a neckless about made. Say, do you want me to send them home or wait til I come home and bring them. Well, I like about three points having enough to get out. Maybe I can get them before so long and I could be home by Christmas. Well, we are still here at alithi (?) and we might go out to sea anytime, so if you don't hear from me very often I am out to sea and can't mail a letter, nor can't get one til we get in port. Say, darling, tell Roman I would fast. Say, I guess I will get to go to Tokyo this time I hope so and I hate to stay out here this long and then not get to see Tokyo. Well, darling, I don't know anything else to write it so easy to run out of anything to write out here. So I guess I better close for now. I sure would like to see you and the children maybe it want be long til I will get to come home to stay. Anyway, I hope so answer soon with a long lovely letter and all the news, Price Kent, Seaman First Class, love to all. Wife and children good night with lots of kisses. XXXXXXXXX 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Micah Jenkins: More Friendly Fire Near Chancellorsville

Micah Jenkins in the uniform of a colonel

Everyone that studies the Civil War knows that Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville in May of 1863 by his own troops. In every war, there have been incidents of friendly fire, especially when circumstances become confusing.
A year later, in May of 1864, there would be another incident of friendly fire in another battle in the same general vicinity as the Battle of Chancellorsville. This battle has come to be known as the Battle of the Wilderness. It would be Grant's first engagement with General Robert E. Lee and he would quickly learn that he was no longer dealing with the bumbling commanders of the west no longer. He'd faced John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg and Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga, both two of the worst Confederate commanders of the war.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet was leading an assault against Federal General Winfield Scott Hancock. One of his favorite brigade commanders Brigadier General Micah Jenkins was sick that afternoon. He'd ridden to the field in an ambulance, but determined to mount his horse and lead his men into battle. Exiting his ambulance, he threw his arm around Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's staff officer and said, “We will smash them now.”
Jenkins had always been one of Longstreet's favorites. When Hood was wounded at Gettysburg, Law had taken over the division. When Hood was promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to the army of Tennessee, the position came open permanently. Law stood in line for the promotion, after all, Jenkins brigade belonged to George Pickett's division. Longstreet attempted everything he could think of to give the position to Jenkins, although Law eventually wound up with the promotion and assignment.
When Jenkins mounted his horse on this date, he was just twenty-eight years old. He was a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy where he finished first in the class of 1854 at the age of nineteen. He entered the Civil War as a colonel and led his regiment at First Manassas, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and the Seven Days Campaign. He was then promoted to brigadier general and given command of a South Carolina brigade. He was wounded at Second Manassas, held in reserve at Fredericksburg, and missed both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg as his division was assigned to different posts. The Wilderness battle would be his first major battle in over a year and a half.

Brigadier General Micah Jenkins

Three Confederate generals would lead the brigade down the plank road and into action. They would be Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Major General Joseph Kershaw, and Brigadier General Micah Jenkins. Unfortunately, Jenkins men were wearing new gray uniforms that appeared blue in the dark woods of the Wilderness. Jenkins was excited to be leading his men into action again.
To Longstreet, he said, “I am happy. I have felt despair for the cause for some months, but I am relieved now, and feel assured that we will put the enemy back across the Rapidan before night.”
Moving down the road, troops under Confederate General William Mahone mistook the brigade in the dark uniforms for Federal troops. They immediately opened fire. One round hit Longstreet in the neck and passed into his shoulder. He left the field critically wounded, coughing up blood. One bullet struck Jenkins in the forehead, the bullet entered his brain and paralyzed  one side of his body. Two members of Kershaw's staff were killed instantly. Kershaw rode between the opposing lines and yelled that they were friends. He would not be injured in the exchange.

Severely wounded, Longstreet would survive to fight again, but Jenkins wound was mortal. He was still conscious but couldn't recognize any of his friends or fellow officers. As he lay dying, he continued to call for his men to press forward, obviously thinking he was still leading his brigade into battle. Jenkins would die about five hours after being wounded. His wife would be forced to raise their four young children on her own. His body would be carried back to Charleston, South Carolina for burial. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Major General G.W. Smith: Was the strain more than he could bear?

Major General G.W. Smith: Was the strain more than he could bear?

Gustavus Woodson Smith

     One of the lesser known Confederate generals who could have played a larger role was Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith. He was born in Kentucky in 1821 and was a cousin of Confederate General John Bell Hood. Ten years older than his cousin, Smith graduated from West Point in 1842 and opposite his famous cousin, Smith graduated high in his class. Finishing high in his class meant he was able to enter the engineer corps.
     He saw action in the Mexican War and was breveted for gallantry three times. Smith then returned to West Point where he taught. In 1854 a year after his cousin John Bell Hood's graduation, Smith resigned and began a career in civil engineering. He was working in New York City as street commissioner when the Civil War began. He was delayed in coming South and joining the Confederacy until September, 1861 because of having suffered from a stroke that caused temporary paralysis.
  Upon enlisting in the Confederate Army, Jefferson Davis immediately commissioned him a major general. He was sent straight to the army in Virginia as a division commander under Joseph E. Johnston. Smith soon thereafter became an ardent follower of Beauregard and helped him in his attempt to gain control of the army over Johnston.

G.W. Smith in Confederate uniform

     When Davis tired of Beauregard and sent him to the western army, G.W. Smith became second in command of the Virginia army. His responsibility also began to grow. Johnston placed him in command of one wing of the army. When the army moved to the Peninsula to face McClellan's advancing army, Smith began to have strange medical conditions. His field performance was also poor.
    An aide of President Davis actually called Smith's condition one of moral cowardice. Not a fear for safety, but a fear of failure. This may be partially true, but was there more to the situation than just fear of failure. Was the mental strain of commanding large bodies of troops to much for him. Perhaps there was just too much responsibility for him to handle, especially for a man who has suffered from a stroke at such a young age. He was only forty when the war began.
     The great reputation that Smith had obtained when the war began was about to go spiraling downward. Davis had thought so much of the man, that he'd promoted him to third in rank in the Army of Northern Virginia the day he'd joined the Confederacy.
   That fall from glory occurred on May 31, 1862 when General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. Command of the army passed to Smith. Davis arrived at his headquarters the next morning to learn of his plans and found his general partially paralyzed again and unable to “endure the mental excitement.” By the next day, he would be forced to leave the army entirely because of his condition. Davis placed Robert E. Lee in charge of the Virginia army and we all know how well that worked out.
    Smith was taken to Richmond where his condition seemed to worsen. In July he said, “I do not get straight in brains and nerves as fast as I hoped.” Smith would serve at various posts in the army throughout the war, but never again would he be given an important assignment.
    Following the war, he would return to civil engineering and begin a long bitter feud with Davis and Johnston. He would die in 1896 of a heart condition and rests today in Cedar Grove Cemetery, New London, Connecticut.

    Historian William C. Davis believes Smith's failure came from too much pride and ego. He believes that Smith had earned too high a reputation without earning it and when forced to perform had become sick. This of course is possible. It is also possible Smith suffered from a nervous breakdown from the strain. Especially one who has suffered from a stroke the previous year, working under constant responsibility, it may just be that simple. We may never know for sure. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

General Pender, I Salute You

General Pender, I Salute You

William Dorsey Pender

One of my favorite Confederate Generals is Major General William Dorsey Pender. Dorsey Pender was born in North Carolina in 1834. He began his college education by entering the United States Military Academy in 1850. He graduated in 1854 ranked nineteenth in a class of forty-six students. It seems he was weakness was learning French.
In the U.S. Army, he began his career in the artillery. He eventually was transferred to the dragoons. He would still be serving in the dragoons when the Civil War began. Prior to the Civil War, his only combat action was three skirmishes with Native Americans out west. He personally subdued an Indian Chief at Spokane Plains and hurled the man from his horse where Pender's fellow soldier's killed him.
In 1859, Pender married Mary Frances “Fanny” Shepperd, the daughter of Augstine Henry Shepperd a long serving U.S. Congressman. She was so in love with Dorsey that she travelled with him as he was sent from post to post on the West Coast.

Dorsey and Fanny Pender

When the Civil War began, Pender resigned his commission and returned to North Carolina where he offered his services to the Confederacy. Initially beginning the war as colonel of the 13th North Carolina Infantry, three months later he would be assigned to command the 6th North Carolina Infantry.He handled this unit so well at Seven Pines that President Davis arriving on the field announced, “General Pender, I salute you.”
He was promoted to Brigadier General a week later. His brigade would become part of A.P. Hill's Light Division. Pender would see action in the Seven Days', Second Manassas, and Antietam campaigns. He was slightly wounded in the arm during the Seven Days' and was knocked down by the concussion of an exploding shell at Second Manassas where he received a cut on his head. During the Battle of Fredericksburg a bullet passed through his left arm without breaking a bone.
Pender was known to be a strict disciplinarian. His men became almost horrified of him, but they also respected him in much the same way they respected Stonewall Jackson. For some unknown reason, Confederate Brigadier General James Jay Archer despised Pender. When he heard that Pender had been struck in the arm at Fredericksburg, Archer announced, “I wish they had shot him in his damn head.”
During the early months of 1863, many Confederate congressmen petitioned Lee to promote Pender to division command. Major General D.H. Hill, who like James Longstreet thought there were too many Virginia promotions, went to bat for his fellow North Carolinian. Hill said of Pender, “He is an accomplished officer, a christian, and a gentleman of the very first order.” Pender's own Virginia commander A.P. Hill was also begging for Pender's promotion.

Dorsey Pender in Confederate Uniform

Pender fought very well at the Battle of Chancellorsville where he was wounded yet again. He was standing behind some breastworks when a Federal bullet passed through a man standing in front of Pender. The bullet killed the man, but slowed enough to only produce a deep bruise to his shoulder.
Following the battle, Robert E. Lee promoted Pender to major general. Dorsey would hold that rank for just two months. During the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pender would help push the Federal Army back through town to the heights beyond. The next day, just moments before he was to move his division against the Federal center, an exploding shell sent shrapnel into his leg. The wound was not considered dangerous at all.
The next morning, he attempted to mount his horse, yet found it too painful. He was placed in an ambulance with Brigadier General Alfred Scales and made the long trip back to Virginia. In Staunton, the wound began to bleed, yet Pender managed to form a tourniquet and stop the bleeding. A surgeon attempted to mend the artery but only managed to cause it to begin bleeding again. He then amputated the leg, but Pender would die just an hour following the surgery.

Pender was just twenty-nine years old and is considered to be one of Lee's best commanders. He rests today in Calvary Churchyard in Tarboro, North Carolina. Following the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee said, “If General Pender had remained on his horse half an hour longer we would have carried the enemy's position.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

General Polecat

General Polecat

Camille Armand Jule Marie, Prince de Polignac

Camille Polignac was born in Millemont, France in 1832 to an English mother and a prominent French father. His father served on the council of Charles X's as president of ministers. Polignac was an excellent student, especially in mathematics. Following college he entered the French army in 1853 and fought in the Crimean War. He resigned from the military in 1859 and began to explore science and travel the world.
Before the Civil War began, Polignac had met P.G.T. Beauregard in New York. He was in Central America when the war began and after writing to Beauregard volunteering his services to the Confederacy was made Beauregard's chief of staff.
Soldiers described him as a fiery little man, erect, with dark eyes and white teeth. He wore a black mustache which he waxed daily. Polignac spoke fluent English and was known for his ability to curse like a sailor. He also enjoyed alcohol which made him a very enjoyable and comic person.
Because of his looks, soldiers often stared and made fun of him, but he took that in stride also. Because most soldiers couldn't quite pronounce his last name correctly, they often referred to him as Polecat.
Polignac saw action with Beauregard at Shiloh and when he was replaced by Braxton Bragg, Polignac became an officer on his staff. He was praised by Bragg for picking up the fallen colors of the 5th Tennessee Infantry at the Battle of Perryville. He was promoted to Brigadier General in January of 1863. He would soon be sent to the Trans-Mississippi where he would command a brigade of Texans under Richard Taylor.

General Polecat

The Texans didn't take the assignment well at first. Besides referring to him as General Polecat, some men said they didn't appreciate being placed under a “damn frog-eating Frenchman.” Taylor promised them he'd transfer Polignac to another assignment if after their first engagement under his command they were still dissatisfied. Soon after a successful raid through Louisiana, the Texans came to respect their fearless leader because of his coolness under fire.
At the Battle of Mansfield, when Mouton was killed leading the division in combat, Polignac took command of the division and continued the attack. He would lead the division into battle the next day at Pleasant Hill. There he was quoted as standing in the stirrups shouting, “My boys, follow your Polignac.”
Polignac then earned a promotion to Major General following the campaign. In early 1865, realizing the South's desperate condition, he volunteered to travel to France where he intended to personally ask Napoleon III for help. Running the blockade, the war would end before he reached France.
After the war, Polignac fought in the Franco-Prussian War where he was again appointed a major general. He would die in 1913 while sitting at his desk working on a math problem that had baffled him for years. He was 81 years old. He rests today at Frankfort-on-Main, Germany.

General Polignac in Confederate uniform

The Madness of Turner Ashby

The Madness Of Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby

I recently began reading the book Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. As I'm currently working on a book about Bloody Bill Anderson and have been studying Sadistic Personality Disorder something Cozzens mentioned about Ashby caught my attention.
Ashby may not have been quite the knight that history records him to be. Don't take what I'm saying the wrong way. Ashby was a great warrior and a gentleman but certain events seem to have affected his mental health.
Born into an upper class Virginia family, the entire fortune was lost soon after his father's death. Turner was just six years old and according to Cozzens, his mother spent the family fortune attempting to keep up appearances with the planter class.
Ashby worked his way into a moderate home, yet was often hauled into court because he couldn't pay his debts. Probably, for this reason, he remained a bachelor his short life.
The event that seems to have sent Turner over the edge was the death of his brother Richard in the summer of 1861. During a skirmish with Federal cavalry, Richard had been hacked over the head with a saber that took off part of his skull. As he lay in the road wounded, another Federal horseman dismounted and drove his saber through Richard's stomach. When Turner reached his brother's side, he was lucid and begging for water. He would survive for a week.
According to Cozzens, Turner struggled with grief and rage. He vowed to kill every Yankee he possibly could without regard to his own safety. His men seemed to grasp his rage and began to do things to embarrass the enemy soldiers. Some Federal soldiers were found stripped naked and even placed in the shape of a crucifix.
Ashby would never become a Quantrill or Bloody Bill Anderson, but he would never cease to hate the Federals until his dying day on June 6, 1862 at Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Turner Ashby photographed in death

Cozzens says that following his brother Richard's death, Turner struggled with his good nature and his maniacal desire for revenge. Although, it is true that Ashby despised the enemy, there were times when he showed kindness to Federal prisoners and wounded. The question I suppose I would love to have answered is had he survived and the uglier the war became especially in his beloved valley in 1864, would he have become a Quantrill or Bloody Bill Anderson?

Writing the book on Bloody Bill, I consulted a psychologist friend of mine who says that Sadistic Personality Disorder is an old term for what is now called a sociopath. My wife and I went to his house on the 4th of July (he has a house overlooking the Tennessee River) to watch the annual fireworks show from a barge in the middle of the river. There was a psychiatrist friend of his there and I asked her if a person was born a psychopath or could they be turned into one by events in life. She informed me that if I could answer that question I could write a million dollar book.