Sunday, 24 April 2011

What They Fought For 1861-1865

I've just finished reading What They Fought For: 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson. This slender volume, a gift from my father, is a collection of three lectures presented by McPherson at Louisiana State University in 1993.

It’s an intriguing little book with a very carefully chosen title. Through a vast reading of soldier’s letters and diaries, McPherson explains why the men of both sides joined and stayed in the army. What ideals (for it was ‘ideals’ in many cases) caused them to pick up a rifle and leave their families?
There is one paragraph in particular that caught my attention that I thought I would share.
‘These men were not posturing for public consumption. They were not looking back from years later through a romantic haze of myth about the war. They were writing during the immediacy of their experience to explain and justify their beliefs to family members or friends who shared – or in some case questioned – those beliefs. And how smugly can we sneer at their expression of willingness to die for those beliefs when we know that so many of them did just that?’
As I slowly make my way through John Stewart Walker’s letters, I admit that I have once or twice rolled my eyes at what I saw as patriotic hyperbole. Not anymore.
As for the book, it’s a very good read, but hard to justify the cost versus the page count. Definitely pick it up if you see it in a used bookstore or the library.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Who was John Stewart Walker?

John Stewart Walker with his younger brothers.

Thanks to his letters, I have a first-hand account of what my ancestor, John Stewart Walker, did during the Civil War. However, until lately, I knew almost nothing about his life before the war. In order to learn more, I wrote letters to various relatives and eventually got in contact with my previously unknown cousin, Jack Jones. Jack has long had an interest in our shared ancestor, and he was able to provide me with a good deal of information. Most of the below comes from his notes.

John Stewart Walker was born in Virginia in 1827. His father, David Walker, was a Scottish immigrant who had come to American to join in the family tobacco business. With the death of his father in 1845, John Stewart Walker went to live with his uncle, John Stewart, in his mansion at Brook Hill (which still stands). Soon thereafter, John enrolled in Washington College and later transferred to Harvard, where he was a member of the exclusive Porcellion Club. On John Stewart Walker’s 21st birthday, he held a massive party at the Revere House. The party proved so expensive that when his uncle received the bill, he pulled John out of school and brought him home.

J.S.W.'s tobacco award.

The next year, 1849, John married his second cousin, Lucy Otey, and bought a $10,000 property in Richmond.  From then until the war, John joined in the family tobacco business, producing his own award-winning brand, Queen Bee Tobacco.  John Stewart Walker and his family were members of the Centenary Methodist Church in Richmond. John is listed as a steward of the church in 1856 and became superintendent of the Sunday school in 1857, a position he held until he volunteered in the Virginia militia. It is thought that several men in his company were members of his Sunday school.

J.S.W. in his more respectable years.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

J. S. Walker's Fifteenth Letter

Camp Adams,
King’s Mill Warf,
4th July, 1861

My very dear Wife:

       I only write to let you know that I am well and anxiously awaiting a letter from you announcing that you are well again.
       I have been busy with my company two days throwing up entrenchments, but today being 4th July we have holiday during the middle of the day.
       Dr. Parker will be down on Saturday. I hope you will write by him and let me know how you all are.
       We seem to be stationed here and likely to remain for some time. It is as healthy as any of this country, and we have very good water and ice if necessary.
       Give my love to all friends and a kiss to my dear children, and be guided in whether you think it advisable to leave town by your own judgment. If any of the children should be ill, let me know.

                                                                Your affectionate husband,
                                                                                Jno. Stewart Walker

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Virginia Life Guard – Uniforms

As it turns out, John Stewart Walker and the members of his company, the Virginia Life Guard, didn’t wear butternut or even gray. In fact, they wore blue.  Louis H. Manarin’s 15th Virginia Infantry says this on the subject:
‘[The Virginian Life Guard's] uniform consisted of blue flannel cloth hunting shirts with blue fringe and Virginia buttons, black pants, blue cloth caps, and white gloves’.
Unfortunately, that description raises as many questions as it answers. What is a ‘blue hunting shirt with blue fringe’? What exactly is meant by ‘cloth caps’?  Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.
We know from his letters that John Stewart Walker at least added a pair of gaiters to his uniforms, and he probably wasn’t the only one to do so. Undoubtedly this uniform was replaced with the more standard gray at some point, but I have no idea when. So far in his letters Walker hasn’t mentioned a new uniform, so we can feel pretty safe that the company wore these uniforms at Big Bethel. My guess is that they were still wearing them during the Seven Days.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Confederate Prisoners-of-War

I've just finished painting up a couple of Confederate prisoners-of-war, which will be useful for 'rescue the prisoner' scenarios. I suppose they could also be 'walking wounded'.  The figures are from Foundry. There is one more POW in the pack as well as some sentries, all to be painted at a future date.

If anyone is interested, you can see a size comparison of one of these figures, the new Steve Barber officer, and a couple of others in this blog. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

J. S. Walker's Fourteenth Letter

King’s Mill Warf,
29th June, 1861

My dear Wife:

                I have only time to say I arrived safely yesterday and found my company all very well, in fine spirits and rejoiced at my return. They cheered as they saw me coming, which was very gratifying to me.
                Let me know how you and little Mary are. You can direct to Capt. Jno. S. Walker, 15th Regt. Va. Vol., Grove Warf, and I will get it. I think it is probable we may not be moved from here for some time unless there is some fighting on hand, which is not probable, just now down here.
                Love to all. Kiss the children.

                In haste,
                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Getting the News at the Front

A newspaper vendor selling the latest broadsheets to Northern troops in 1863. One of these days, I'm going to have to try and do a miniture diorama of this scene. (If Capt. Richard doesn't beat me to it! Or maybe even if he does.)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Union Officer

A few days ago, I received a sample Union officer from Steve Barber’s new line of Civil War Miniatures. I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with the sculpting on the figure. The detail is very crisp. Just look at how easily I was able to pick out shoulder bars!  Even better news came when I compared the figure to the Sash and Sabre and Perry’s miniatures that form the bulk of my forces. He is nearly a perfect match size-wise. If he was standing up straight, he might be a little taller than most, but I don’t think I’ll have any qualms about mixing Steve Barber figures in with the rest of my troops.

I’ll definitely be picking up a few more at Salute in a couple of weeks.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to experiment with Union blue.  In the next few months, I’ll probably be cranking up work on the Union forces, and I want to be ready.  The blue I have used here is a straight 50/50 mix of two Vallejo paints: Prussian Blue and Medium Blue, over a basecoat of Prussian Blue. The result is a color that is almost certainly brighter than Union blue. However, Union blue is such a dark color that much of the detail is lost at miniature size, so I’m happy to go with a little less realism in favor of more visual appeal. I might continue to tinker, but I’m pretty happy with it at the moment.