Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Battle of Franklin

In order to learn more about the Civil War experiences of granddaddy Col. James McCullough, I have been looking for a good book or two about the battle of Franklin.  A bit of internet searching seems to have everyone pointing to this monster: For Cause and For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin by Eric A. Jacobson. It’s received loads of good reviews, and many people refer to it as the work on the subject.  Now, even at nearly 500 pages, I don’t expect that it will have much, if anything, to say about the Colonel, but it sounds like a great chunky history.
Despite living in the UK, it isn’t hard to obtain American books. Amazon is perfectly happy to ship them over, and it usually only takes a couple of weeks. That said, it is a bit pricey.  So, should anyone (hint, family, hint) need to find the perfect Christmas present for me, I commend this book to your attention.
Otherwise, I will likely make it a present to myself in the new year.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

J. S. Walker's Twenty-Fourth Letter

Kings Mill Landing,
Camp Adams,
20th Augt., 1861

My very dear Wife:

                It has been some time since I had the opportunity of writing you either with ink or at any length, my want of opportunity and my military engagements having required that I should be brief and hasty. After a varied experience of now going on four months of active camp life, I am satisfied that the pursuit of war is neither profitable to the soul or body, that while the latter has to be crucified to the pleasures and comforts of this world that the former has to hunger for spiritual food, and yet the same experience would not allow me to retrace my steps or give up the present contest for the ease of home without the victory won. The cause outweighs all the trials, troubles, privations, and not only on our part justifies the war, but condemns all who are not for it.
                A kind Providence has thus far protected me in the danger of battle and even the more dangerous malaria of this country, for we have had to sleep in marshes without tents or covering but our blankets, drink the unwholesome water of the marshes and mill ponds, make forced marches under an August sun, eat ship biscuits and pickled pork, sleep at night under the dews of heaven, awake next morning wet with dew and stiff from the exposure of the night and the hardness of the ground, and again march without breakfast, sleep with our clothes and shoes on by our arms, within three miles of the enemy and ready for an attack, and yet I am now well, and any little headache of the bowels that I may have had has been less than I most probably would have had had I remained at home, and when I may be allowed to exchange the priming hook for the sword, I will certainly be better able to appreciate the blessings of peace and the happiness of home that those who have never been subjected to the same privations. I only regret that all our people may not probably have to take an active part in this contest. I think above all things else it would insure the stability of our government, for none but those who know the cost of liberty can appreciate it, and they who suffer the trails of war are alone in the proper appreciation of peace. Well, if the Lord spares my life and I live to a great old age, when the eye no longer reflects the light and I roll the soothing quid between the toothless gums “a la grandpa (unreadable)”, I will make happy the grandchildren by recounting the times of 1860, while I will go down to my grave with the proud consciousness of having discharged my duty to my country, and with the approbation of heaven I still hope and pray.
                With too weak a faith I fear that this war will soon be terminated, but sooner than see our principles for which we contend compromised I would have it continue to the end. I hope there is now a reaction going on at the North which will prove to our enemy that his great strength is his greatest danger, that the large population from which he would draw his immense army and the great wealth from which he would fill his treasury, will not respond to his cry for men and money, but that in the honesty of their hearts or dishonesty of their principles, they will arise and rebuke, aye pull him down. I look not to the recognition of England and France as a means of peace. I would prefer not to have them unless we had just proven by our strong arms and manly hearts that we were worthy of the prize for which we contend. I want no outside influence to be thrown in the scales to turn the balance in our favour. If we are not alone equal to the emergency, then let us sink into deserved slavery. Let not a peace be now patched up which like an unhealthily healed sore is in a short time to break out with greater violence than before and greater danger. I now contend to secure peace and happiness to my children, not to buy present peace to myself at the price of endless war to them, and tho the present may be to me unhappy the future may be bright and happy. Should the war be long and bloody, the greater security will there be of permanent peace to our children, but the Lord reigneth and He can bring the devices of evil men to naught. Let us act well our part, recognize Him and His chastisements as well as blessings, acknowledge Him in all things, and He will not leave or forsake us.
                I understand every article of necessity in the grocery and dry goods line is going up in value very much. Will it not be well for you to lay by such things as you require for yourself, servants and the children. I do not know what may be the end of this war, it may find me penniless, my wife a widow and my children fatherless, and while I am willing to leave it in the hands of Him who has always been protector and friend, yet I must discharge my duty to prevent such a casualty to them. To that end I again remind you of the necessity of great economy, and it may be lessons learned under peaceful circumstances may now prove of great value to you “make shift, turn and twist”, cut up old clothes for children, and save where you can and what you can, buying only when necessary, and whatever the consequences may be, you will be in a better condition than you otherwise would.
                If the truehearted men who compose the army should by the vicissitudes of war be called hence, I should fear to leave my wife and children to the sympathies of charities of the Knights of the Home Circle, who never took a full breath of the air of liberty since they came from their mother’s womb, but have always been the slaves of human selfishness and all the baser appetites and passions, and for whom I have the same contempt that a woman has for a eunuch. Of course, I do not censure all who stay at home. Far, very far, from it, but only those who stay to make money out of our troubles and act as watch for their own property. I believe my own brothers’ hearts are as much in as tho they themselves were, and that Providence has kept them out and not a want of disposition or inclination, and no doubt many more are similarly situated who can be relied upon in the hour of need. The place of usefulness for a great many is home.
                I have spread this letter out to three pages, with very little in it. It may be that I may be at home in a week, having today applied to Gen. Magruder for leave of absence to buy clothing for my company. He is in Yorktown and it may require several days to hear from him, and he may then refuse to let me go, for he is now my master, more rigid than ever I was to any of my slaves. If I get up, we can talk it all over, if not, this will have to suffice till I do.
                Kiss the dear children. Tell Dave father got his letter and has not forgotten him but when he gets time and in the right humor he will answer his letter. Best love to all friends, and if there are any who are afflicted with chronic dyspepsia tell them they will try the field for four months and if it does not cure them that I will agree to be prisoner to Gen. Butler at Fortress Monroe for the balance of the war.

                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Mosby Myth

Having finished reading The Mosby Myth, I thought I would quickly share a few thoughts about this unusual work of Civil War scholarship. 
The book is really divided into two halves. The first half is a short biography of John Singleton Mosby with an emphasis on his Civil War years and how the newspapers portrayed him during the war. The second half of the book is an analysis of all the Mosby ‘stuff’ that has appeared since the war.  Most of this space is dominated by the novels that have included Mosby and the short-running television series, ‘The Gray Ghost’, although it also covers items such as paintings, board games, and even a wine label.
The book is well written, and it is only in the few places where the authors stopped to discuss literary and mythic theories that I felt my interest lagging. Many years of English academia have fulfilled my quota of literary criticism.
The real question, perhaps, is who exactly is the target audience for this book? If you are after a biography of Mosby or a history of his wartime activities, there are probably better books out there. If you are interested in Mosby novels or movies, you are probably better trying to find them on ebay.  However, if you’ve already read a few Mosby books and are interested in the various media that has kept his legend alive over the last 150 years, then this book might just be for you.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

J. S. Walker's Twenty-Third Letter

Camp Adams,
King’s Mill Landing
15th August, 1861

My very dear Wife:

                I returned yesterday to this place after an absence of twelve days and a march of twenty miles yesterday between 12 and 6½ o’clock. I found your letter awaiting me advising a box by Mrs. Stewart which was also received last evening, with bread, crackers, melons, tomatoes, etc., all of which were very acceptable. I am afraid Dr. Daggett gave you rather a glowing account of our camp life. We have had a very hard time, no doubt about it, but I am thankful to say that in spite of scorching suns, drive rain, cold east winds, without shelter, and very coarse fare, I am now and have been very well and that the men cheerfully bear all as good soldiers, and our sick list tho large is not alarmingly so, considering the season of the year and the unhealthiness of the location. I wrote you a hasty note from Bethel on a scrap of paper, giving you an account of the camp life we were leading, which is not now necessary to repeat. Suffice it to say it was as hard as it could well be, and but for the excitement of a visit to Hampton and the expectation of having a regular pitched battle with the Yankees at Newport News or Hampton, I do not think we would have been able to stand the march.  We bullied them under the guns of Fortress Monroe and took a position in an open field where they could see our strength and they could have a fair fight (with the advantage of odds in their favour) and no masqued batteries to frighten them, and yet they kept in their stronghold, frightened to death as we afterwards learned. We have slept on the ground, in swamps, raining, with the meanest pond water to drink, pickles, pork and ship biscuit for fare, and yet got on first rate, and am truly thankful to find myself back in our comfortable tents at this place. It is now two months since I saw you all, and would be made happy if I could spend a few days with you. The ragged condition of my Company may require the General to give me leave to go up. If I cannot get up a few days or procure the clothes, shoes, hats, etc., for them by letter, which I shall try, we will have an entire new uniform, and as clothes are so very high I will have to look to the ladies to make it up for me, so I speak in time for Centenary and the other Methodist Church ladies to help me out, for we are now in rags. I shall write today to Jno C. Page to make me a pair of shoes and boots which I must have. When you are down there, see that he makes them.
                As regards Mrs. Bell’s daughter either boarding or living in my family. I am opposed to it. I have no idea of you being used to bring them into society, or being surrounded by beaux and such annoyances, so cut that off at once. I am glad you have the opportunity of being kind to Mrs. Ryan, and I have no doubt they appreciate it. Vulgarity from a fashionable standpoint is frequently (unreadable), which is preferable to refined deceit.
                Tell the children that I read their letters and was much pleased. Miss the little darlings for father.
                I shall write Bro. David today and get me a buffalo robe. I want to provide against the winter’s cold. If he gets it, put it up in tobacco and keep it for me till I need it.
                Remember me kindly to all friends who inquire.
                I think from the tone of the Northern press that they would like now to have peace, which I hope they will not have until they are humbled and it be a lasting peace. We can maintain our independence , whether England and France recognize it or not. I doubt whether the North can keep up her  arms in the field with all their boasted wealth and patriotic devotion to the Union. God grant to give us success to bring speedily to a termination this war, and illuminate the mind of our enemies and convert their hearts from error. May the Lord uphold and keep you and protect our little ones is my constant prayer.

                                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                                                Jno. S. Walker