Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Butternut Christmas!

2010 has been a tremendous year for me, and now it has been capped by a terrific Christmas. Lots of family, fun, food, and a bulging stocking filled will cool and wonderful gifts. One of those gifts even came in butternut. The slender volume above was sent to me from overseas and is notable for a number of reasons. It is The Private Journal of Georgiana Gholson Walker 1862-1865. It was orginally published in 1963 as the 25th volume of the 'Confederate Centennial Studies'. My copy is part of a 750 copy reprint published in 2000. I'm not sure how many copies were in the original print run, but it seems safe to say that it is a comparitively rare volume.

However, in this case, it isn't really the rarity that makes it special; it's the author. Georgiana Gholson Walker was the wife of Norman Walker, brother of my great-grandfather John Stewart Walker. While the volume only touches briefly upon John Stewart, I still believe it is an important addition to my studies of my Civil War ancestry. I believe Norman served in the same unit as John Stewart up until his death, but at some point thereafter was named as the Confederate agent to Bermuda, where he became an important part of the story of the blockade runners.

It will be a little while before I really get into this book. I want to finish Shelby Foote first (page 740 of volume III!). You can be assurred that once I get to it, I will share anything interesting that I find.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

John Stewart Walker's Fourth Letter

Headquarters Va. Life Guard
Yorktown, 4th June, 1861

My very dear Wife:

                The multiplicity of my engagements precludes my writing as often as inclination would lead me. I have everything to do in order to provide for the necessities of my company and attention to my military duties. I am glad I did not leave home in a frolic, expecting pleasure, as I would have been sorely disappointed, for camp life is one of hardship, not only to the men but to the officers here, as there is nothing to eat but bread and flour which we have to cook in frying pans, so it is not equal to Louisa’s loaf bread. We have coffee, sugar and rice for those who eat it, no vegetables, salt, molasses or vinegar, all of which should be supplied. The people in the neighbourhood bring in little or nothing to sell and charge outrageous prices for everything they sell. Fish and oysters are scarce and very high. I haven’t tasted fish, but expect to have some for dinner today.
                My regiment are quartered about a mile from me, and I have charge of a redoubt to defend when attacked, and also to prevent the passage of the enemy over a causeway through a marsh, the same over which Washington passed and surprised Cornwallis and resulted in Cornwallis’s defeat and surrender. I have to keep twenty men on guard day and night and the company ready at a moment to enter and defend my fort of earth, so they have to sleep with their arms about them, my pocket guard and redoubt guard at all times on the lookout to prevent surprise. If the enemy enter Yorktown at all, it will have to be by some other route, or I will with my command have fallen in the defence of our position, and will not be responsible longer for it, but I am convinced they will not attempt it. If they do, they will be repulsed. The people from here to Hampton are fightened to death and bring in all sorts of rumors of the enemy’s approach, but we have not yet seen them. We will give a good account of ourselves when they do come. We have 4,000 troops here and can resist successfully we think 10,000.
                I see in the papers from Richmond urgent calls for more soldiers, which I hope will be responded to promptly, and that we will be able to throw into the field a force which can successfully compete with the invading enemy. Though this is regarded as an unhealthy place, my own health is unusually good, and I hope my so continue. Young Denny, who owing to cold we left in Williamsburg and came over here three days ago is quite unwell, threatened with pneumonia. He has no great constitution and will probably have to get a release. The others are generally well. The mosquitoes are the only enemies we have had to encounter in any numbers. Of course, I do not take note of fleas and chinches, which lay claim to everything in this town.
                I lay down to sleep every night not knowing when we shall be called to the defence or march, but sleep sweetly and I fear almost too soundly for one expecting an attack, but I fear no evil and trust not a man but the Lord, certainly do not take trouble in advance, and hope grace from on high will be given to bear it when it comes. I arise at four o’clock and have a fine appetite by breakfast, and do a man’s full duty at breakfast on our plain but acceptable fare. I am feel truly thankful that I do not partake of the nervous excitement of the camp and can cooly act. I go to the Lord for council and direction and am by Him sustained. I pray He may bear me through and at last bring me off conqueror over sin, if not the enemy. Men are at their wit’s ends and give credence to so many foolish rumors and assist in circulating them, that I am not surprised the papers publish and people at a distance believe them, but don’t you believe anything of the kind unless it is brought to you direct from headquarters.
                The absence of a clean shirt and a shaved face gives me more discomfort than all the Yankees at present. There are no washwomen here, except one or two, and I have seen the face of only one white woman in the town and she at the tavern, which is closed now and I suppose gone too.
                Jim Crow cooks, acts chambermaid, dining-room servant and washwoman and has no time to spare, I assure you. If I had some starch and a flat iron I could get along pretty well, but as the ladies are not here, we have no regard for appearances.
                Kiss the children and tell them when I get home I will have a great many stories to tell them of war life and the hardships of the campaigns, of battles fought and victories won, their liberties secured and their enemies defeated.
                Best love to Mrs. Hays, and all friends, and my brothers, who I expect owing to the urgent call for more troops are getting ready to take up arms. Warn them they have a hard road to travel but a glorious cause to defend and if possible come as officers, for that is hard enough, while privates is much worse. We require a very much larger force here to hold the place at the same time drive the invaders back.
                Remember me kindly to the servants, who I hope are doing well. They Yankees are taking them all down about Hampton and making them work on fortifications, etc.
                Remember constantly at the Throne of Grace.

                                                                Your affectionate husband

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Humble Log Cabin

Taking a short break from work on the Army of Oxford, I spent a night painting up a little log cabin, which I'm sure will appear on many a future miniature battlefield. The cabin is another of my Historicon purchases. I picked it up for a mere $12 from a company called Acheson Creations who do a large range of resin terrain. I am especially pleased with the simple, but appealing paint job on the roof.  As you can see below, the roof comes off, leaving enough room for five or six soldiers, firing out of windows and the door.

Monday, 13 December 2010

John Stewart Walker's Third Letter

Wren Building of William & Mary University c. 1859
This picture really should have accompanied the last letter, as now John Stewart Walker has left William & Mary College and moved out into the trenches. I once again present the entire letter as it is filled with interesting tid-bits.

In the woods at the trenches
3½ miles from Williamsburg
29th May, 1861

My dear Wife:

                I wrote you a hasty note at 4 o’clock this morning in a great hurry to get our men to work in the ditches, with spade, pick and axe. Our boys work cheerfully, live on ship biscuit and middling, with a cup of coffee (sea tick), very brown sugar, and no milk. They sleep as honest men should and wake at day cheerful and ready for work. They are hardening, fattening and becoming accustomed to the water and all well and ready for any good work, and anxious for a fight, which anxiety is increased by the distressing sight which presents itself every five minutes in families of men, women and children fleeing from the enemy, there being a perfect panic among all the people in this section of the country. They come in every kind of vehicle, leaving their homes, furniture and slaves subject to the tender mercies of the minions of Lucius and Gen. Butler, commander of Fortress Monroe. We are throwing up a very fine earth work fort here, which will protect any approaches inland on this peninsula which lies between James and York Rivers, and will with a sufficient force behind it, with good skirmishers and outscouts, keep ten times our number back. The topography of this country is very favourable for the defence on our side.
                I think my health as good as it ever was in my life, and am only disturbed with the apprehension that you will be frequently unnecessarily anxious and kept in suspense by absurd rumors and reports; such as the one recently published about Col. Augut’s Regiment, and if you will only be willing to trust in the Lord and not anticipate evil but rely upon the superintending care of Providence, which has shielded me from the dangers of youth and dissipations of manhood, which are far more dangerous than the fire of an earthly enemy, trusting in the Lord when the time of fight comes. I hope to rely upon Him then and my own strong arm, and to come off conqueror in any event.
                With the exception of one family, Mr. Jones, who was known to Lucius Baldwin (Dr. Bland having married their daughter and Baldwin was groomsman) – they have been particularly kind and hospitable to my company – the rest of the people seem selfish or too lazy to contribute to the comfort of the soldiers. There is no market here, and everybody seems scared to death.
                Kiss the dear children and tell them if they could see Father sleeping one night on the ground and the next on the floor, with all the ups and downs of camp life, they would be very sorry for him, but he is having a very good time and has no cause of complaint.
                Remember me affectionately to Sister Hayes, Bro. Bennett and all the Centenary people, and tell them to continue their prayers for me and my company, also to all friends that may feel enough interested in me to inquire after me, also my Brother. I shall write Amandas soon and warn him of the danger of intemperance.

                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker, Capt.
                                                                Va. Life Guard

Young Minno is fattening, sends his respect to you and says he is very well.



As I read John Stewart Walker's first three letters, I wondered about his rank. I've always heard him called 'Major', but the way he kept referring to 'my company' suggested that he was a captain at this point. His signature proves it, and what is more, it even names the company. I have been unable to find any information on the Virginia Life Guard, but considering the name and the early formation of the regiment, I'm thinking it might have been a pre-war militia. I will continue to investigate.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Parker's Battery of the Army of Oxford

The poor winter light here in Britain is making figure photography difficult, but I wanted to share my latest effort. I've just finished up the first artillery support for the Confederate Army of Oxford. I'm not sure which of these guys is Maj. Samuel Parker, but this is his battery. The gun is a 12lb. Napoleon, probably the most ubiquitous artillery piece of the war. The figures are from Sash and Saber. I painted the figures to match with the infantry division, but gave them red trim to identify them as artillerists. I don't know if any Confederate artillerymen wore red trimmed butternut, but mine do!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Civil War Christmas Carol

Here's a very interesting little piece about the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and a famous Christmas Carol.

Beloved Christmas Carol Stemmed from Civil War Incident

Monday, 6 December 2010

John Stewart Walker's Second Letter

John Stewart Walker's second letter was written neary three months after his first. It is filled with interesting stuff, and so I thought I would share all of it.

Williamsburg, Sunday, 28th May, 1861.

My very dear Wife:

                I have congratulated myself since I learned that you were at the corner at the time our regiment passed, that I did not see you, as it might have unnerved me for the time, though I have never had a doubt as to my line of duty, I am now, with the experience of the past 10 days, more impressed with the fact that I am fully in the performance of it, both as regards my duty to my God and my country, and I honestly believe the safety of my family required my rendering this service. I command a noble set of men, who are quietly exercising a salutary influence upon all with who they are thrown.  They are recognized as the most Christian company in the regiment and respected accordingly, and the rowdism, of which there is plenty in the camp, would sneer, my men are pleased to do their duty without minding their sneers. By our superiors we are placed in positions of importance because they have confidence, and are assigned the best quarters because we have their respect without for a moment courting their favor.
                We left Richmond on a steamer about 12 o’clock – 750 men – and got off about 7 a Mill Creek. Unfortunately, whiskey was brought on board by a great many and used too freely. The Colonel, hearing that a great many were providing themselves with whisky, brandy, etc., advised the captains to examine the canteens of the men. I told him I would obey if he required it, but that I did not believe it necessary and that he was at liberty to have any man of my command shot that was found drunk, and then told the Company what I had done, and they all approved of it.  I allowed a great many, at the request of their parents, to take brandy, and it was very well as we have seen nothing by limestone water since we landed, and that produces diarhea and dysentery on those not accustomed to it. It is only taken medicinally.
                To return to our landing, by the order of the Colonel my company was detailed to guard and forward the baggage of the regiment while the rest of the companies marched on to this place.  There were no accommodations at the landing, so we had to camp out without tents, sleep on the ground, etc. We built a good big fire, cooked supper, kept the fire up all night, detailed guards, etc, and got on finely. In the morning we bought 25 chickens, 8 dozen eggs and had a good breakfast, attended to sending off the baggage, and then had to march 6 miles about 12 o’clock, hot, dusty, which we performed without any detriment to us, tired more form heat than the march.
                We arrived here and are quartered in the Hall of one of the literary societies of the College, all the regiment being quartered in William & Mary. It is pretty close work and very inconvenient, and there was no preparation here for us, so we have pretty soldierly fare, pork and ship biscuit, but are getting on very well. There are one or two with slight diarhea, but nothing serious.
                Dr. Parker is invaluable to us, as all the men go to him as soon as there is anything the matter, and he treats them promptly and they get well.
                My men are very respectful, and I have never heard an oath, and they are attentive to their devotional exercises, and attended church this morning.
                I find my time so occupied in doing justice to my company that I cannot keep a diary tho it would be a very readable thing to make a memorandum of the incidents and impressions, with the thoughts and hopes, etc., which will follow, but I must save these to tell my grandchildren when old age prevents my active usefulness and time may be more at my disposal.
                You must not expect to hear from me often or regularly, nor do I know where to tell you to direct. You may write me to this place, care of Dr. Bidgood, and if I am not here he will send it to me. We may be ordered from here at any time to Yorktown or down the river, and consequently the uncertainty of my writing and the mails are by no means regular. If I am sick you will be sure to hear of it, for I will have nothing to do but write, and if I should be at any time seriously affected I will get a furlough and go home.
                I hope my absence will not be to you a cause of uneasiness, either on my own account or yours, but that you will draw all your support and comfort from a rich fountain of Grace, Providence, lean upon Him knowing that all things will work together for good, and that the same strong arm which has afforded me protection through many years is still upheld to shield from all danger.
                Give no credence to every idle floating rumor which many come from this section, for there will no doubt be many idle news makers. I do not believe there will be any engagement for some time, if at all, and my own convictions still hold that there will yet be peace between the contending parties without bloodshed.
                Kiss all the children for me and tell them I want whenever Mother writes me to hear that they are all good and obedient to Mother and don’t quarrel among themselves. I wish you would send for Mr. Chambers and ask him to write at once to Lynchburg for another boy to come down and wait on me and my company. The servants are doing nothing there and will be very useful to me. I will let you know in my next where I want him sent. Let him be provided with clothes and shoes, flannel shirts he can get of Mr. Peter Franklin at Ellet & Drewrys.
                I also want you to have me made at once two pair of dark stout linen gaiters, to fit well over the foot and run up about half way the calf, to be worn outside of the pantaloons, to button up on a line with the outside seem of the pants. You can get them cut out at Pages if you will describe how I want them, and them by mail to the care of Dr. Bidgood, Williamsburg, and I will get them. Attend to this as soon as you can, as I am very much in need of them to keep out the sand, etc. on the march.
                You can tell Mrs. Minno that her son keeps not only very well but is improving on soldier’s life. So of most of the others.
                Commending you to the care of a good and kind Heavenly Father,

                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                                Jno. Stewart Walker.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

John Stewart Walker's First Letter

This weekend I retyped the first of Maj. John Stewart Walker's letters home to his family. Most of the letter is a confused discussion of a sermon he had recently read, but I have extracted a piece below that I think might be of more general interest to students of the war.


Camp Davis, near Young Mill,
5th January, 1861

Since my last, we have had one or two alarms of the advancing enemy, and the night of the rain and sleet were ordered to march at 4 o’clock the next morning, but the order was countermanded, fortunately for us. The enemy seem to be getting bolder. A day or two ago about 500 of their cavalry came up as high as Bethel (we have no troops stationed there now) and set fire to the Church in four places, but our men came up and put the fire out, so the church was not destroyed. Since then our forces have been sent to Bethel and the cowards will likely remain in their strongholds. Should they come to give us battle, my trust for victory is in the God of battles.


As near as I can determine, Camp Davis is just outside of Lynchburg where J. S. Walker lived. These days it is hard to imagine sending a letter to someone in the same town, but I supose it was the only way he had to communicate at the time.

Note the date - it is early in 1861 and still months from the first actual battle of the war, but already we get reports of a raid.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Maj. John Stewart Walker

When I was just a little boy, spending the summer holidays on my grandfather’s farm, I remember seeing a frame that held the remains of a confederate uniform. The uniform belonged to my great-great-great grandfather, Major John Stewart Walker who was killed at the battle of Malvern Hill.
I’m not sure where that original uniform is now, but I at least have a photographic copy of it, and if I ever managed to find a scanner big enough, I’ll be sure to share it. It only contains the sleeves and the major’s stars from the collar, but there is something more than a little haunting about it.
Despite all of this, I only know a little about the man and his short military career. I believe he came from Lynchburg, VA. He joined up early in the war as part of the 15th Virginia Infantry, a unit constructed from numerous independent groups, mostly from in and around Richmond. Walker served during the battle of Big Bethel, arguably the first land battle of the war.
The unit next fought during the Seven Days battles, and in the last of those, the battle of Malvern Hill, John Stewart Walker was killed by an artillery shell. His death is recorded in the official records:
“My own coat, while I was in front of the Fifteenth Virginia was cut by a fragment of a shell. Major [John Stewart] Walker was soon after killed while advancing with his regiment.”

Paul J. Semmes
I have in my possession type-written copies of letters that John Stewart Walker wrote to his wife during the war. They are old and faded.  It is my goal over the coming months to retype these old letters to produce a fresh copy, and to have them bound into book form for easier preservation. For the most part, these letters are about missing his family and his deep religious devotion. They do include a few interesting notes about the war however, and I will endeavour to share these as I come across them.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Quick Notes

Here’s a really nice illustration of the Union Fleet on the Red River campaign. There is something satisfyingly solid about those ironclads.

Thought of the Day:

When General Grant crossed the Rapidan in 1864, his army contained around 120,000 men, enough men to form a line, two ranks deep, stretching for 25 miles! Despite this, in his first engagement, he managed to get outflanked on both ends.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

1st Division, Confederate Army of Oxford

In the subset of wargaming known as ‘The Old School’ there is a concept called the ‘Imagi-nation’. Usually, these are fictional, 18th-Century German principalities. Wargamers create these imagi-nations so that they can develop their own armies, with fictional uniforms and commanders, and fight their own battles within a frame-work of actual military history. Now, despite the seriously cool hats, my interest in 18th century European warfare is limited, but the rest of the idea really appeals to me. So, a few months back, I decided to build my own imagi-army, the Confederate Army of Oxford, and I have just finished the 1st Division.
The 1st Division consists of two brigades of twenty figures each. It is commanded by Brigadier-General Elias Oakland.  Please let me know what you think!
Click on the image to enlarge it:

1st Division, 1st Brigade

Brig. Gen. Elias Oakland

1st Division, 2nd Brigade

Unfortunately, all my group shots came out a little blurry, but hopefully you get the idea. My goal for the Army of Oxford is to have two infantry divisions, one cavalry division, and a two gun battery. After that, I can begin working on their Union opponents.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Red River is Rising (or is it?)

Last night, I finished reading Shelby Foote’s discussion of the Red River campaign, the Union’s attempt to seize Shreveport. Undertaken more for political reasons than strategic military concerns, the campaign proved a dismal failure and essentially ended the military career of Nathaniel P. Banks.

Three items caught my attention while reading about Red River:

1) The incredible aggression of Confederate General Richard Taylor. Badly outgunned, Taylor bided his time until Banks foolishly split his force. Taylor then pounced on Banks and thrashed him at the battle of Sabine Crossroads. Less wisely, he followed up this victory with another attack at Pleasant Hill, where he was beaten back. Despite this loss, Richard Taylor’s aggressive tactics forced a superior enemy force to abandon the campaign and retreat.

2) The most fascinating part of the campaign wasn’t on the battlefield, but was actually a feat of engineering by Union engineer Joseph Bailey. During the retreat, it became clear that the Red River was rapidly falling and the Union river fleet was trapped on the wrong side of a heavy falls. Faced with the threat of abandoning the entire fleet, former lumberman Joseph Bailey proposed building a dam to raise the river. In the end, he had to build two dams, but he managed to save the fleet.

3) Among the heroes of the Confederate victory at Sabine Crossroads was General Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac, better known to his men as ‘Prince Polecat’. One wonders exactly how a French prince ended up fighting for the Confederacy, but I¹m thinking that perhaps the Confederate Army of Oxford might need a member of the French Nobility serving in its ranks, a flash of color amongst the butternut!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Painting Up an Army

I have been painting toy soldiers for most of my life, first as props for role-playing games and later as wargaming figures. At a guess, I’d say I’ve painted between 2,000 and 3,000 figures in the last twenty years. But, until recently, I’ve never had much interest in painting Civil War soldiers. I guess I just found the uniforms a bit uninspiring. Then, right around the time I started reading Shelby Foote, I got the desire to paint a few Confederates, just for the fun of it. So, I ordered a 28mm Confederate Command pack from Perry Miniatures, and the result can be seen below.
These figures aren’t meant to represent any particular people or even a particular unit. They are just supposed to be representative. I gave them gray tops and brown pants to give the figures more visual appeal. Probably some unit somewhere wore something similar. My standard-bearer carries the state flag of South Carolina. State flags were actually a rare sight on the battlefield, especially later in the war, but it’s such an attractive flag I decided to go with it anyway. And there I might have left my Civil War painting, except for a lucky encounter with an old enemy.
Back in July, my work sent me to Valley Forge, PA for Historicon, America’s largest wargaming convention (yes, sometimes my job rocks). There, amongst the isles of wargaming goodies, I came across Sash and Sabre, who were running a 40% off special on all of their Civil War figures.  While examining the wonderful sculpting on the little metal men, I got to chatting with the owner. It turns out he went to Duke University (yup, he’s a Blue Devil, and I have my suspicions that he’s a carpet bagger too!) Despite that, I just couldn’t resist his combination of quality and price. For less than $70, I left with a small Confederate army including 40 infantry, 2 guns with crew, 9 Cavalry, and 3 mounted generals. Plus they fit perfectly with my Perry Miniatures.
I am now hard at work on the Confederate Army of Oxford (a rather weak joke, but one that amuses me nonetheless). I’ve already got about half of them painted, and I hope to share some of my progress in the weeks and months to come. I’m also thinking about exactly what figures I’m going to buy to oppose this force.  
Confederates emerge from the Mississippi swamps...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

James Harvey Merrimon

James Harvey Merrimon is my great (x3) grandfather through my paternal grandmother, and until a few months ago, he was just another name on the family tree.  That is when my Aunt Dabney, keeper of the family archives, discovered a photocopied page from an old journal. The page included a photograph of a portrait that hangs on the wall of the Superior Courtroom of the Buncombe County Courthouse (in North Carolina) and little note about Merrimon, including the line “When the Civil War broke out, Merrimon enlisted as an adjutant in a Confederate Army cavalry brigade.”  I was off!
First, I wondered if I could obtain a better picture of the man. As you can see above, the one I’ve got has been reproduced a few too many times, until Merrimon has become a sort of ghostly figure. I don’t know if the portrait still hangs in the courthouse, but I figure it must still exist somewhere. I did a little searching on the web, but have been unable to come up with an email address of anyone useful. There are a couple of mailing addresses, but considering my current distance from North Carolina, I decided to leave it for the moment and concentrate on finding out more about his war record. This proved more successful.
James H. Merrimon volunteered with the 7th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion formed in 1862, as the adjutant for Company F. The unit served in the Department of East Tennessee, and was first bloodied during the skirmish at Monticello, KY in 1863. Soon afterward, the unit combined with the 5th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion into the 6th North Carolina Cavalry Regiment (which confusingly is also sometimes called the 65th N.C. regiment). While this unit participated in a number of battles, including Chickamauga, its casualty figures suggest that it was never heavily engaged. The unit’s last listed battle is Kinston, NC (Wyse Forks) in March of 1865. Most likely the unit surrendered along with Joseph E. Johnston, though I haven’t been able to find confirmation of this.
Obviously the 7th Battalion and 6th Regiment of N.C. Cavalry were minor units, and I am doubtful that anyone has done a regimental history of the unit. Still, I will keep my eyes open for any information I can find.  More interesting than Merrimon’s unit though, is his position. I must admit, I didn’t realize that companies had adjutants. I’m left wondering, was Merrimon a full-time clerk, or was he a soldier with added administrative duties? These are the kinds of questions whose answers are often difficult to obtain. Still, identifying the question is the first step to finding the answer.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

3,000 Pages of Shelby Foote

Most of what I know about the Civil War, I learned in college. I studied history under some top-notch professors, but I also read everything I could get my hands on. I spent hours picking books from UNC’s library, and many of my cafeteria lunches were accompanied by the new issue of America’s Civil War magazine. And yet, somehow, I made it through University without ever reading a cover-to-cover account of the entire war.
In the dozen years since I graduated, I’ve never completely lost touch with the Civil War, but it became just one interest among many. That changed earlier this year. All of a sudden, I noticed that several of my hobbies seemed to be drawing me back to this great conflict. My interests in military history, family history, and wargaming, all seemed to be guiding me... back home, in a way.
Now eight months ago, writing a blog never even occurred to me, but I knew that I wanted to do something to embrace the Civil War again. Something that would say to myself, I’m into this in a big way. Then it struck me, something I had always secretly wanted to do, but never quite had the guts. I would read The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote.  If you think that reading a book isn’t much of a declaration of intent, then I can only assume you are not familiar with the work. Shelby Foote’s trilogy tells the story of the war from beginning to end, on land, on sea, and in the offices of the two presidents. The first tome covers Fort Sumter to Perryville in just over 800 pages. The second goes from Fredericksburg to Meridian in 960 pages. The final volume covers Red River to Appomattox and needs well over a 1,000 pages. Put another way, these three paperback books together weigh almost exactly five pounds.
So, it has been about eight months since I began my reading project, and I have just finished volume two! I may not be the world’s fastest reader, but I devote a lot of time to the pursuit. The books are really just that big. They are also really that good! Shelby Foote has done a masterful job of presenting a highly complex war in an accessible and enjoyable narrative, packed historical information, interesting stories, and more than a little bit of wit.
I’m taking a little break before I begin volume three, but it won’t be long. I already find myself missing the narrative. Over the coming months, I don’t doubt I’ll be sharing a lot of thoughts that have occurred to me while reading Mr. Foote.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Southern Accent, where I come from

Hello and welcome to ‘What color is butternut’, my new blog devoted to the Civil War, little toy soldiers, and family history. To me, these three things are closely linked, and I hope that keeping this online journal will help focus and encourage my further explorations into the hobby.
Now, before I get down to it, there are a few things I want to say. First off, I’m glad the North won. I’m glad that the disgusting practice of slavery was abolished and saddened that my ancestors had anything to do with it. I also believe that the United States is a stronger, better place for being forcibly held together. Despite all of that, I freely admit that my interest mostly lies with the Confederacy for a number of reasons:
1.       I’m a tarheel born, I’m a tarheel bred.
I was born in Greensboro, NC, the last encampment of the army of Joseph E. Johnston before he surrendered. I got my degree in history from UNC at Chapel Hill.
2.       I have at least five direct ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, most notably Col. James McCullough of the 16th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment. I’d like to learn all I can about them.
3.       I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog.
That is not to say that this is a Confederate only blog, far from it. I just ask your forgiveness if I show an occasional southern bias.