Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tiny treasure from a Battle of Franklin hot spot

Unfired Union bullet from the Battle of Franklin. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
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While reporting a story recently in Franklin, Tenn., a homeowner near the Carter house, epicenter of the battle on Nov. 30, 1864, gave me this unfired Union bullet found on her family’s property. The 6th Ohio Independent Battery Light Artillery, whose battlefield position is denoted by the cannon seen in the background, was among the units that defended ground at the infamous Carter cotton gin, near where the one-ounce treasure was found.

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'I am a disarmed prisoner!' Sad life of General Thomas Smith

Thomas Benton Smith, shown in a war-time image, spent more than half his life in an insane asylum.
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On a winter day in 1876, former Confederate brigadier general Thomas Benton Smith armed himself with a bow and arrows, mounted a horse and rode near Nashville "attacking everyone he met." Among the 37-year-old veteran's victims was his cousin, struck in the thigh with a steel-tipped arrow and nearly killed. "Imagining himself to be the Indian Emperor of America," Smith fled into the hills around the city, where he finally was captured with "great difficulty."

In 1876, Thomas Benton Smith became "hopelessly
insane," leading to his sister having him committed.
This story was published in many U.S. newspapers.
Obviously unwell, the Tennessee native was committed by his sister to the Central Hospital for the Insane in Nashville, a foreboding, castle-like building southeast of the city. For the next 47 years, Smith was held there, reportedly leaving only once or twice a year for Confederate veterans' reunions. He was a "pathetic figure," the local newspaper wrote of the bachelor who once was one of the top generals in the Army of Tennessee.

After Smith was committed, the reunions apparently became the highlights of his life. At an early-20th century event, he became a commander again, running old soldiers through drills from Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics manual. Although he suffered from depression, "General Smith was self-poised” that day, according to an account, "as full of the animation of the old days as could be imagined." Despite his dementia, he showed off a "remarkable memory" at another reunion by calling all his old comrades by name.

But at another gathering of former Southern soldiers in 1901, Smith bemoaned his circumstances. "This is the only free day I have in the year," the 63-year-old told an acquaintance. "All of you should be happy, for you are free every day. When this day is ended, I will have to go back to those terrible prison walls."

How did the once-promising life of Thomas Benton Smith -- who rose from captain in the 20th Tennessee to colonel and finally to "Boy General" -- take such a terrible turn? For the answer to that question, we must go back to another winter day, Dec. 16, 1864, atop a hill near Granny White Pike during the Battle of Nashville.

"When this day is ended," Thomas Benton Smith told an acquaintance in 1901 at a Confederate 
veterans' reunion,  "I will have to go back to those terrible prison walls" of the insane asylum.
The steep slopes of Compton's Hill, better known as Shy's Hill, defended by General Smith's soldiers.
        PANORAMA: Crest of Shy's Hill, known as Compton's Hill during the Civil War.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Out-gunned, out-manned perhaps 3-to-1 and nearly surrounded on the rainy afternoon, the Confederates atop Compton's Hill (Shy's Hill) were desperate. In command of a brigade in William Bate's division, 26-year-old Thomas Benton Smith had somehow held out against the Federals, leaving the steep hillside strewn with their dead and wounded. But it was obvious he had no chance of victory, and at about 3:30 p.m., a portion of the line occupied by his soldiers gave way.

"The enemy," Army of Cumberland commander George Thomas wrote, "was hopelessly broken."

Explained Army of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood in his after-action report: "The position gained by the enemy being such as to enfilade our line caused in a few moments our entire line to give way, and our troops to retreat rapidly down the pike in the direction of Franklin, most of them, I regret to say, in great confusion, all efforts to reform them being fruitless."

Post-war image of William McMillen,
the colonel who slashed
Thomas Benton Smith with his saber.
Besides losing 54 cannon, more than 1,500 soldiers Hood could ill-afford to lose became prisoners of war -- including Smith. As the general was marched to the rear, probably down Granny White Pike north toward Nashville, a Federal officer approached him. Perhaps drunk or simply incensed by Union losses -- no one knows for sure -- Colonel William L. McMillen of the 95th Ohio struck Smith on the head with his saber.

Then he struck him again.

Seething, the former Union army surgeon hit Smith, who stood a little over 6 feet, one more time with his weapon.

"I am a disarmed prisoner!" Smith cried out during the beating, witnessed by at least two soldiers in the 20th Tennessee, the general's former regiment.

"Is it possible that this cowardly wretch could have been anything other than a Yankee bounty jumper," a 20th Tennessee regimental historian wrote about McMillen, "or perhaps a Southern deserter? One is as good as the other." (McMillen, in fact, was accused of cowardly conduct for actions during a battle near Richmond in 1862. He was court-martialed, tried and acquitted.)

Rushed to a Federal field hospital, Smith was examined by a surgeon, who gave him no hope. "Well," he said, "you are near the end of your battles, for I can see the brain oozing through the gap in your skull."

Miraculously surviving the brutal attack, Smith was sent first sent to a Federal prison in Nashville.  Later, he was held at Johnson's Island in Ohio and then at Fort Warren in Boston. In a plea for his release, Smith wrote to President Andrew Johnson in June 1865: "I ... have been severely wounded several times, lost killed, the only brother I had, and am the only son of an aged widowed Mother, who is in moderate circumstances."

Released July 24, 1865, Smith returned home, but the effects of the attack in Nashville haunted him the rest of his life.

Front-page story about Thomas Benton Smith in the Nashville Tennessean on June 30, 1907.
After the war,  Smith ran for Congress in 1870 (he lost) and worked in various roles, including conductor, for the railroad. But he eventually was crippled by bouts of depression, perhaps caused by the brain injury suffered in 1864, and could not take care of himself.

Sometimes, Smith was blunt with others about his mental health. While wandering the grounds of the asylum one day, he encountered a hunter. After Smith asked to examine his weapon, the young man handed it to the old soldier. "You have done a foolish thing. You have put a loaded gun in my hands. I live over there," he told the hunter, pointing to the asylum, "and I'm crazy at times. I might shoot you. Don't ever give your gun to a stranger." Most of the time Smith was "perfectly rational," according to a newspaper account, "although occasionally he has an attack of homicidal mania."

In 1907, the Nashville Tennessean published a lengthy, front-page feature about Smith under the headline "A Gallant Confederate Soldier Who Suffered Worse Than Death."

"Although for nearly thirty years Gen. Smith has been in retirement, he is still in the most affectionate remembrance by those of his comrades who are still living," the newspaper wrote. "This fact alone seems a guaranty of his noble courteous nature, as well as his invincible spirit. Whenever the name of this brave Confederate soldier is mentioned the men who spent four terrible years fighting by his side seem eager to add to his meed of praise. They all love 'Tom Smith' and seem to think it particularly hard that he should have been singled out as the victim of fate's cruel trick."

Thomas Benton Smith's gravestone at Mt. Olivet Cemetery
in Nashville (Find A Grave)
Ten years later, at the height of World War I, a Confederate veteran from Tennessee lamented the beating Smith took at the hands of McMillen, whom he called a "German soldier." The federal government, the man wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Tennessean, should "atone in some way for the infliction of this great wrong on an honorable and defenseless soldier, fighting for his country in a cause he believed to be just and right.

"It is none too late to do the right thing."

Although there is no known record of the government doing the "right thing," the Grand Army of the Republic post in New Orleans reportedly revoked McMillen's membership when it got wind of his barbarous treatment of Smith during the war. Perhaps that brought the general a small measure of satisfaction. McMillen, who had moved to Louisiana in 1866, died in Ohio in 1902.

Smith outlived his Civil War tormentor by 21 years, dying at 85 of chronic myocarditis on May 21, 1923, at the insane asylum that was his home more than half his life. His passing was a big deal, meriting Page 1 coverage in the Tennessean and a service with military honors in the State Capitol Building in Nashville. While Smith's remains lay in state there under military guard, the bier was draped with two flags -- the Stars and Stripes and Stars and Bars.

"... I was often at reunions with him," a gray-bearded 20th Tennessee veteran near the coffin at the State Capitol Building told a reporter. "I loved him; we all loved him."

A prisoner no more, Smith was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

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-- Confederate Veteran, December 1910.
-- The News Journal, Wilmington, Del., Jan. 29, 1876.
-- Nashville Tennessean, Sept. 21, 1901, Sept. 22, 1906, June 30, 1907, Feb. 27, 1913, Aug. 22, 1917, May 27, 1923, Dec. 6, 1964.
-- McMurray, William J., History of the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A,, Nashville, The Publication Committee, consisting of W.J. McMurray, D.J. Roberts, and R.J. Neal, 1904.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

'Dreadfully distorted visages': How soldiers die in battle

A fallen Confederate at Petersburg in 1864. (Thomas C. Roche | Library of Congress)
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When Frank Wilkeson's eloquent, unvarnished account of his service in the Army of the Potomac  was published in 1886, it received reviews any author would crave.

"No book about the war for the Union can compare either style or in readableness ...," the Philadelphia Times wrote about Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac. "Mr. Wilkeson's style is as crisp as a new treasury note. It is as clear as a trumpet-call. It is as deliciously breezy as a morning in May.  It is impossible to take up his book and put it down without reading it.

Frank Wilkeson
"Its interest is a thoroughly human interest. He  takes his reader to the camp-fire and does not so much as let him have a peep at headquarters. It is simply a private soldier's book about private soldiers."

Noted the Baltimore Sun: "Mr. Wilkeson occupies a rank as a writer which entitles his opinions to be weighed as those of a man of recognized ability, and his fearlessness in publishing them, when he knew they will be unpalatable to most of his readers and probably expose him to much obloquy, deserves respect."

"Everyone," a Montana newspaper wrote, "will gain a prize by possession of this book."

A son of a well-known journalist, Wilkeson enlisted at 16 in 1864 after running away from home. On July 1, 1863, his older brother Bayard, a lieutenant in the 4th United States Regular Artillery, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg. As a private in the 11th New York Light Artillery, Frank witnessed some of the worst fighting of the war, at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, North Anna River, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. He somehow finagled his way onto the battlefield and fought as infantry at the Wilderness.

Wilkeson -- who became a well-known journalist in his own right in the 1880s -- wrote compelling  chapters on the major Overland Campaign battles in Recollections. But it's an 11-page chapter entitled "How Men Die in Battle," as raw and ugly as a large, open wound, that captivates — and horrifies — me most. Here's the excerpt from Wilkeson's work:

Famous "Harvest of Death" photo of Union dead at Gettysburg. (Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)
Almost every death on the battle-field is different. And the manner of the death depends on the wound and on the man, whether he is cowardly or brave, whether his vitality is large or small, whether he is a man of active imagination or is dull of intellect, whether he is of nervous or lymphatic temperament. I instance deaths and wounds that I saw in Grant's last campaign.

On the second day of the battle of the Wil­derness, where I fought as an infantry soldier, I saw more men killed and wounded than I did before or after in the same time. I knew but few of the men in the regiment in whose ranks I stood; but I learned the Christian names of some of them. The man who stood next to me on my right was called Will. He was cool, brave, and intelligent. In the morning, when the Second Corps was advancing and driving Hill's soldiers slowly back, I was flurried. He noticed it, and steadied my nerves by saying, kindly: "Don't fire so fast. This fight will last all day. Don't hurry. Cover your man before you pull your trigger. Take it easy, my boy, take it easy, and your cartridges will last the longer." This man fought effectively.

Close-up of fallen young Confederate at Antietam.
(Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)
During the day I had learned to look up to this excellent soldier, and lean on him. Toward evening, as we were being slowly driven back to the Brock Road by Longstreet's men, we made a stand. I was behind a tree firing, with my rifle barrel resting on the stub of a limb. Will was standing by my side, but in the open. He, with a groan, doubled up and dropped on the ground at my feet. He looked up at me. His face was pale. He gasped for breath a few times, and then said, faintly: "That ends me. I am shot through the bowels." I said: "Crawl to the rear. We are not far from the intrench­ments along the Brock Road; I saw him sit up, and indistinctly saw him reach for his rifle, which had fallen from his hands as he fell. Again I spoke to him, urging him to go to the rear. He looked at me and said impatiently: "I tell you that I am as good as dead. There is no use in fooling with me. I shall stay here." Then he pitched forward dead, shot again and through the head. We fell back before Long­street's soldiers and left Will lying in a windrow of dead men.

 When we got into the Brock Road intrenchments, a man a few files to my left dropped dead, shot just above the right eye. He did not groan, or sigh, or make the slightest physical movement, except that his chest heaved a few times. The life went out of his face instantly, leaving it without a particle of expression. It was plastic, and, as the facial muscles con­tracted, it took many shapes. When this man's body became cold, and his face hard­ened, it was horribly distorted, as though he had suffered intensely. Any person, who had not seen him killed, would have said that he had endured supreme agony before death re­leased him. A few minutes after he fell, an­other man, a little farther to the left, fell with apparently a precisely similar wound. He was straightened out and lived for over an hour. He did not speak. Simply lay on his back, and his broad chest rose and fell, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, and more and more feebly, until he was dead. And his face hardened, and it was almost terrifying in its painful distortion.

I have seen dead soldiers' faces which were wreathed in smiles, and heard their comrades say that they had died happy. I do not believe that the face of a dead soldier, lying on a battle-field, ever truthfully indicates the mental or physical anguish, or peacefulness of mind, which he suffered or enjoyed before his death. The face is plastic after death, and as the facial muscles cool and contract, they draw the face into many shapes. Sometimes the dead smile, again they stare with glassy eyes, and lolling tongues, and dreadfully distorted visages at you. It goes for nothing. One death was as painless as the other.

Skulls and bones of unburied soldiers in the Wilderness in 1865. (Library of Congress)

After Longstreet's soldiers had driven the Second Corps into their intrenchments along the Brock Road, a battle-exhausted infantry­man stood behind a large oak tree. His back rested against it. He was very tired, and held his rifle loosely in his hand. The Confederates were directly in our front. This soldier was apparently in perfect safety. A solid shot from a Confederate gun struck the oak tree squarely about four feet from the ground; but it did not have sufficient force to tear through the tough wood. The soldier fell dead. There was not a scratch on him. He was killed by concussion.

While we were fighting savagely over these intrenchments the woods in our front caught fire, and I saw many of our wounded burned to death. Must they not have suffered horribly? I am not at all sure of that. The smoke rolled heavily and slowly before the fire. It enveloped the wounded, and I think that by far the larger portion of the men who were roasted were suffocated before the flames curled round them. The spectacle was courage-sapping and pitiful, and it appealed strongly to the imagination of the spectators; but I do not believe that the wounded soldiers, who were being burned, suf­fered greatly, if they suffered at all.

Wounded soldiers, it mattered not how slight the wounds, generally hastened away from the battle lines. A wound entitled a man to go to the rear and to a hospital. Of course there were many exceptions to this rule, as there would necessarily be in battles where from twenty thousand to thirty thousand men were wounded. I frequently saw slightly wounded men who were marching with their colors. I personally saw but two men wounded who continued to fight.

During the first day's fighting in the Wilderness I saw a youth of about twenty years skip and yell, stung by a bullet through the thigh. He turned to limp to the rear. After he had gone a few steps he stopped, then he kicked out his leg once or twice to see if it would work. Then he tore the clothing away from his leg so as to see the wound. He looked at it attentively for an in­stant, then kicked out his leg again, then turned and took his place in the ranks and resumed firing. There was considerable disorder in the line, and the soldiers moved to and fro-now a few feet to the right, now a few feet to the left. One of these movements brought me directly behind this wounded soldier.

Skulls and bones inside Federal lines near Orange Plank Road in the Wilderness, (Library of Congress)
I could see plainly from that position, and I pushed into the gaping line and began firing. In a minute or two the wounded soldier dropped his rifle, and, clasping his left arm, exclaimed: "I am hit again!" He sat down behind the battle ranks and tore off the sleeve of his shirt. The wound was very slight-not much more than skin deep. He tied his handkerchief around it, picked up his rifle, and took position alongside of me. I said: "You are fighting in bad luck to-day. You had better get away from here." He turned his head to answer me. His head jerked, he staggered, then fell, then regained his feet. A tiny fountain of blood and teeth and bone and bits of tongue burst out of his mouth. He had been shot through the jaws; the lower one was broken and hung down. I looked directly into his open mouth, which was ragged and bloody and tongueless. He cast his rifle furiously on the ground and staggered off.

The next day, just before Longstreet's sol­diers made their first charge on the Second Corps, I heard the peculiar cry a stricken man utters as the bullet tears through his flesh. I turned my head, as I loaded my rifle, to see who was hit. I saw a bearded Irishman pull up his shirt. He had been wounded in the left side just below the floating ribs. His face was gray with fear. The wound looked as though it were mortal. He looked at it for an instant, then poked it gently with his index finger. He flushed redly, and smiled with satisfaction. He tucked his shirt into his trousers, and was fight­ing in the ranks again before I had capped my rifle. The ball had cut a groove in his skin only. The play of this Irishman's face was so expressive, his emotions changed so quickly, that I could not keep from laughing.

Cropped enlargement of an image of a Union field hospital at Savage Station, Va. (Library of Congress)
Near Spottsylvania I saw, as my battery was moving into action, a group of wounded men lying in the shade cast by some large oak trees. All of these men's faces were gray. They si­lently looked at us as we marched past them. One wounded man, a blond giant of about forty years, was smoking a short briar-wood pipe. He had a firm grip on the pipe-stem. I asked him what he was doing. "Having my last smoke, young fellow," he replied. His dauntless blue eyes met mine, and he bravely tried to smile. I saw that he was dying fast. Another of these wounded men was trying to read a letter. He was too weak to hold it, or maybe his sight was clouded. He thrust it unread into the breast pocket of his blouse, and lay back with a moan. This group of wounded men numbered fifteen or twenty. At the time, I thought that all of them were fatally wound­ed, and that there was no use in the surgeons wasting time on them, when men who could be saved were clamoring for their skillful atten­tion.

None of these soldiers cried aloud, none called on wife, or mother, or father. They lay on the ground, pale-faced, and with set jaws, waiting for their end. They moaned and groaned as they suffered, but none of them flunked. When my battery returned from the front, five or six hours afterward, almost all of these men were dead. Long before the cam­paign was over I concluded that dying soldiers seldom called on those who were dearest to them, seldom conjured their Northern on South­ern homes, until they became delirious. Then, when their minds wandered, and fluttered at the approach of freedom, they babbled of their homes. Some were boys again, and were fish­ing in Northern trout streams. Some were gen­erals leading their men to victory. Some were with their wives and children. Some wandered over their family's homestead; but all, with rare exceptions, were delirious.

Union wounded at Fredericksburg in 1864. (Library of Congress)
At the North Anna River, my battery being in action, an infantry soldier, one of our sup­ports, who was lying face downward close be­hind the gun I served on, and in a place where he thought he was safe, was struck on the thighs by a large jagged piece of a shell. The wound made by this fragment of iron was as horrible as any I saw in the army. The flesh of both thighs was torn off, exposing the bones. The soldier bled to death in a few minutes, and be­fore he died he conjured his Northern home, and murmured of his wife and children.

In the same battle, but on the south side of the river, a man who carried a rifle was passing between the guns and caissons of the battery. A solid shot, intended for us, struck him on the side. His entire bowels were torn out and slung in ribbons and shreds on the ground. He fell dead, but his arms and legs jerked con­vulsively a few times. It was a sickening spec­tacle. During this battle I saw a Union picket knocked down, probably by a rifle-ball striking his head and glancing from it. He lay as though dead. Presently he struggled to his feet, and with blood streaming from his head, he staggered aimlessly round and round in a circle, as sheep afflicted with grubs in the brain do. Instantly the Confederate sharp-shooters opened fire on him and speedily killed him as he circled.

Wounded soldiers almost always tore their clothing away from their wounds, so as to see them and to judge of their character. Many of them would smile and their faces would bright­en as they realized that they were not hard hit, and that they could go home for a few months. Others would give a quick glance at their wounds and then shrink back as from a blow, and turn pale, as they realized the truth that they were mortally wounded. The enlisted men were exceedingly accurate judges of the probable result which would ensue from any wound they saw. They had seen hundreds of soldiers wounded, and they had noticed that certain wounds always resulted fatally. They knew when they were fatally wounded, and after the shock of discovery had passed, they generally braced themselves and died in a man­ly manner. It was seldom that an American or Irish volunteer flunked in the presence of death.

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-- Helena (Mont.) Weekly Herald, Dec. 30, 1886.
-- Philadelphia Times, Dec. 19, 1886.
-- The Baltimore Sun, Dec. 23, 1886.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

'Garden of Eden' to Arkansas: Patrick Cleburne's final ride

Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne was buried at a cemetery
behind St. John's Church near Columbia, Tenn.  The Irish-born officer's remains were disinterred  
and re-buried in Arkansas in 1870. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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For nearly six years, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne's remains rested in a church cemetery near Columbia, Tenn., among the oaks and magnolias. A comrade of the Irish-born officer called the spot as "beautiful as the Garden of Eden -- seemingly a fit place for pure spirits to dwell, and for the haunts of angels."

In late April 1870, a delegation from Arkansas arrived at St. John's Church Cemetery for the disinterment of Cleburne's body for reburial in his adopted state. The division commander had been killed during a charge against Union breastworks at Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864 -- one of six Confederate generals to die of wounds suffered in the battle. Two of them -- Otho Strahl and Hiram B. Granbury -- also were interred at the cemetery with Cleburne before they too were removed and re-buried elsewhere.

       PANORAMA: Patrick Cleburne was buried at left, by the trees nearest the church.
                                    (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Until 1870, Cleburne was buried in the cemetery behind historic St. John's Church, built from 1839-1842.
Historical sign and Civil War Trails marker in front of St. John's Church.
On April 28, while en route to Helena, Ark., Cleburne's hometown, the group stopped at the train depot in Memphis for a procession through the city with his remains. If anyone doubted the popularity of the "Stonewall Jackson of the West," those doubts were erased that spring afternoon. While a band played a funeral march, the coffin containing "Arkansas' greatest soldier" was placed in a hearse for a procession called "perhaps the finest ever witnessed in the city."

"The cosmopolitanism of an interior city was never more thoroughly illustrated than in the conduct of Memphis ... when its whole population went forth to tender a deserved tribute of respect to the memories and virtues of a great soldier," the local newspaper said, omitting any reference to its black population.

"Helena and Memphis, Arkansas and Tennessee, yesterday wept side by side over Cleburne's bier," the Daily Appeal wrote, "and if Helena did not claim the body of the illustrious soldier, that it may find its final resting place within the city which was his home, Helena would concede to Memphis the trust of giving worthy sepulture to the most famous of all citizen soldiery of Arkansas."

War-time image of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, 
who was in the procession with Patrick Cleburne's remains
in Memphis in 1870.
Through the heart of Memphis, the city's leading citizens -- politicians, lawyers, merchants and others -- joined the procession with Cleburne's hearse. Members of the city fire department, Confederate veterans' organizations, the Irish Literary Society, Fenian Brotherhood and Hibernian Mutual Relief Society also were part of the solemn event. Seated in an open carriage were the most notable attendees, ex-Confederate generals Frank Cheatham and Gideon Pillow and the former president of the Confederacy himself, 61-year-old Jefferson Davis.

His head uncovered, Davis stood at attention "straight as an Indian" as he watched Cleburne's coffin carried from the depot to the hearse. "The whole history of the past ten years," a reporter noted, "ran like a flash of lightning over Mr. Davis' expressive face. There was an intensity of feeling and thought written upon the strongly marked lineaments of his eloquent features that unfolded the profoundest emotions."

Added the observant reporter about Davis:
"There were tears in his eyes and his face expressed sympathies, emotions and strong memories, seemingly shared by none of those who sat beside him. As a statesman and soldier -- we read it there -- Mr. Davis was relentless in direct paths of duty. The duty of the hour often drew a veil over the heart and the inner man, while the fate of an empire was dependent on his words and acts [and] was rarely revealed to the outer world. His heart was on his lips yesterday, and there was the tenderness of woman's love in his soulful eyes when Cleburne's encoffined body was borne into his presence."
Other ex-Confederates and a few U.S. soldiers followed the hearse, decorated with black plumes, crape and green ribbon. Cleburne's remains were in a "handsome metalic case, the lid of which was closely screwed down so that even a glance at the remains through the glass was impossible." A large cross wreath and white flowers lay atop his coffin.

Grave marker for Patrick Cleburne
at Confederate Cemetery in Helena, Ark.
(Find A Grave)
The crowds along the route were "composed of every nationality, all anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to the departed hero," an Arkansas newspaper noted. "The whole white population shared in the imposing  demonstration. The streets along the line of march were thronged with people.

"Balconies and windows were everywhere filled with people who watched the hearse and its multitude of silent followers with eager interest," it added. "The bells were tolled, and skillful musicians burdened the air with mournful melody."

The crowd was so huge that street cars became hopelessly stuck along the route.  "There were countless vehicles," the newspaper reported, "in which were seated the matrons and youth and beauty of the city."

After the procession ended, pall-bearers removed Cleburne's coffin from the hearse and placed it aboard the steamer George W. Cheek, docked in the Mississippi River. Before the vessel departed for the trip downriver to Helena, hundreds of Cleburne's former army comrades crowded to view the coffin that contained "the sacred dust" of the beloved Confederate general.

 "At Helena the same ceremonies will be gone through with," the Arkansas newspaper noted, "when all that is left of the immortal Cleburne will be conveyed to their final resting place.

"Peace to his ashes."

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-- Memphis Daily Appeal, April 29, 1870.
-- The Southern Standard, Arkadelphia, Ark., May 14, 1870.
-- Public Ledger, Memphis, Tenn., May 3, 1870.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Where a womanizing warrior made his HQ in Tennessee

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Earl Van Dorn
Welcome to White Hall, the mansion in Spring Hill, Tenn., used by Confederate cavalry commander Earl Van Dorn as headquarters in the spring of 1863. Later, General Van Dorn moved his HQ to Martin Cheairs’ nearby mansion, where the notorious ladies' man was murdered on May 7, 1863, by Dr. George Peters, who believed Van Dorn was having an affair with his wife.

White Hall, built in 1844, was a Confederate hospital after the Battle of Franklin in the winter of 1864, and Nathan Bedford Forrest also used it as an HQ. The mansion, which badly needs TLC, is for sale. Price: $1.75 million. The National Register of Historic Places nomination form includes cool details about the place.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

'Dyed with blood': A reporter's 1882 visit to Franklin battlefield

Confederate veteran Moscow Carter (middle) and his sons at their house, a Battle of Franklin landmark.
(Battle of Franklin Trust | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
A present-day view of the Carter house, a focal point of the battle on Nov. 30, 1864.
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When describing a site on a Virginia battlefield that had been carved up by pitiless bulldozers, a National Park Service ranger told me something years ago that has stuck with me. "That place now," he said, shaking his head, "is a battlefield of the mind."

And so it is at Franklin, where huge swaths of the Tennessee battlefield sadly were lost to development long ago. Despite excellent preservation successes recently, especially near the iconic Carter House and at Eastern Flank Battlefield Park, most of the field is left to our imaginations.

On busy Columbia Pike, a half-mile south of the Carter house, a
historical sign marks the position of the Union's forward line
during the Battle of Franklin.
On the Bloody Plain, where John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee charged the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1864, you'll find today fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, office parks, a quarry, a modern cemetery, a bar and neighborhoods where streets are named after Confederate generals. A parking lot for mobile homes and a funeral home are yards from the historical sign on busy Columbia Pike that marks the Federals' forward line, site of savage fighting.   

In the summer of 1882, while on a tour of Western battlefields, Philadelphia Times reporter George Morgan was fortunate to see Franklin much as it appeared in 1864. Accompanied by a black man named Si, Morgan approached the old battleground from the north, crossing the Harpeth River. Among his stops was the Carter house on Columbia Pike, then occupied by Moscow Carter, son of the man who owned the property in 1864.

"Neither through love nor by money could I have found so good a guide," Morgan wrote of Carter, who sold the farm in 1896.  A Confederate soldier on parole during the battle, Carter -- known in 1882 as "Colonel" -- witnessed brutal fighting on his family's farm. After the battle, he told Morgan, he "scraped together a half bushel of brains right around the house and the whole place was dyed with blood."

As it appeared in the Times, here is Morgan's descriptive account of a visit to the site of what the correspondent called "the fiercest little battle of the war.":

A circa-1909 view looking south from the eastern edge of Carter Hill, where once lay the main Federal line.
(Williamson County Historical Society)
Special Correspondent of The Times

Opposing commanders at Franklin:
 John Bell Hood and John Schofield,
FRANKLIN, TENN. August 16. -- If the reader will crook his elbow just as he did the last time he had his arm around his girl's waist he may get a fair idea of the way the Harpeth river curves around the town of Franklin. The coat sleeve thus gallantly pressing the frock forms a sort of U, and so the river, with Franklin in the short bend, cuts out from the plain the huge horseshoe into which [John Bell] Hood, on the last day of November, 1864, threw his 40,000 men to crush [John] Schofield's 17,000 therein entrenched. Moreover, if the reader will place his left wrist, with the fingers of that hand widely extended, at the crook of the elbow, he may complete the illustration, for five roads like the thumb and four fingers lead out from a spot called "Five Points," in the heart of the town, across the plain over which Hood advanced.

Climbing Roper's Knob, which, as a part of a bluff on the north side of the stream, stands in bold contrast with the level land to the south, I had a view of the whole pleasing picture -- the Harpeth gleaming in the sunlight like a silver bow, the lovely town among trees in its embrace, and beyond a thousand fields threaded by the five white road beds as though by cords of silk. What was before me did not seem like a place of strife, but it was the famous Franklin field and upon it was fought the fiercest little battle of the war.

Men mad down in their boots

The battle was terrific because the men on both sides were mad from crown to heel. On Hood's side there were hosts of Tennesseeans angry at despoiled homes. Their feet were bruised on flinty roads and frozen fields. A trail of blood had marked the track of more than one barefooted regiment, and winter was sharply on with its first snow. In the knapsacks of the dead could be found bits of bark, roots and pone. Hood's hungry battalions had followed the fat trail of the Yankee commissary through four States, and Schofield was in a trap in the Harpeth horseshoe, with a river at his back. But Schofield's men were mad, too. They had been driven from post to pillar, until they chafed at further retreat. Their line stretched along the skirts of the town from river to river and they were anxious as well as ready for the fight.

"Yes, sah; hit was right heah! hit was right heah, sah, dat ole Moss Hood bit off moah'n he cud chaw," said Si, the darkey driver, as we came down the Knob, crossed the Harpeth and trotted out the Columbia turnpike. And when I added: "And, having bitten off more than ho could chew, he choked to death in the act of deglutition," old Si settled me with: '"Deed, I spec so, boss; dunno bout degluten bizness, but he died a swallorin'."

The one legend of Franklin

An early post-war view of the Carter house and outbuildings. Note the farm office, which had been moved 
near  the house. It was moved back to its war-time location in 1951. (Battle of Franklin Trust)
A present-day view of the bullet-riddled farm office.
As we approached the Federal line, the driver pointed out a large brick house, shaded by locust trees, and, reining in his horses, began impressively: "You was inquirin' wedder dar ain't no one partickler story 'bout do battle dat holds on to de folks ob de town. Wat am dat ar 'spression you slung out wid reference to hit? "


Moscow Carter,
the "Colonel."
"Dat's hit, legen'; yes, sah, an' de legen' is bout dat ar house, Colonel Carter's, up dar. Young Cappen Carter, dis presen' colonel's brudder, was one ob de rebs, an' he hadu' been home to see his mah furr foah yeah. He was wid Moss Hood, an' so he got so neah home dat mo'nin dat he thought he'd kind o' slip ober home. Up he comes to degate, an' sees his mah peekin out to de winder.

"'O honey !' says his mah, nice a missis ez eber was. An' de cappen he hists up de latch an' stans still a minnit. He seed de poorty yahd wid da locus' trees all roun', whare he use ter play wid de bitties wen he was a teeny, tiny young 'un, an' den he 'gin to cry. Poah cappen! he 'gin to cry, he did, an 'ez  hists de latch ob de gate he says:' Thank de good God in de sky, I'se home agin to my father's house !' "

"Well, go on, Si."

"What's do use talkin' any moah, boss. Coaso he nebber got in de house. Hit hit 'im 'twixt de eyes, right heah. Yes, sah ; Cappen Carter diden' keer furr dem bullets, kase he'd seed so many afore, but dat un killed 'im deadern a doah nail."

(Note: Confederate Captain Tod Carter, whom Si references, did not visit his boyhood home before the battle. He was mortally wounded nearby and died in the Carter house on Dec. 2, 1864.) 

Where the hot fighting was

A view of the Carter smokehouse from the early 1900s. (Williamson County Historical Society)
A present-day view of the bullet-scarred smokehouse.
         PANORAMA: Bullet-scarred Carter outbuildings, testament to brutal battle here.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

We hitched to the locust tree by the gate where Captain Carter, whose name is mentioned affectionately in the chronicles of his comrades, was said to have fallen and walked around the house. The southern end shows many marks of Minie balls and a frame structure adjoining seems to have been peppered with small shot. So, too, the outbuildings and the trees offer evidences evidences of the conflict, for here the Federal centre was boldly salient, the flanks resting on the river to the right and left. The present owner of the plantation, Colonel Carter, looked as warlike as his battered premises when we caught a glimpse of him, with a gun on his shoulder, striding in from a locust thicket, where he had been shooting birds. The gun was less talkative than the colonel, however, and he not only forgave the intrusion, but kindly showed me that part of the field. From his yard he pointed out the hills whence emerged Hood's lines of battle and indicated all places to be famous in history.

A comet's tail of cowards

Neither through love nor by money could I have found so good a guide. This was the very ground of slaughter and Colonel Carter was not only a trained observer in the fury of the fight, but for eighteen years he has trod with his heel and turned with his hoe the bloody soil. "At the time of the fight," he said, "I was home on parole. Generals Schofield and [Jacob] Cox had their headquarters in my father's house, where also many of our neighbors gathered." His chat was mainly of grim reminiscence, yet now and then a flash of humor would be observable. So hot was it once that he went into the cellar to calm the fears of the women and children, and happening to look out through the window bars he saw a sight that made him laugh in the midst of dying groans. Before his eyes stretched a comet's tail of men in blue, who had sought the lee of the house to escape the bullets and who swung to and fro as the battle surged around the building. These were the cowards whose claim to manhood was that they were bipeds -- each had two legs to run with.

Long lines of heroes

A circa-1900 photo of the last stretch of Columbia Pike, just before the Carter house.
(U.S. Army Military Historical Institute)
Looking from an opposite window  the other hand, he saw in the dusk a line of  Confederates dash upon the earthworks with the fury of devils. Men jabbed with the bayonet at each other over hedge and fence and hundreds were slain in his sight. General [John] Adams, riding with head bare and sword uplifted, spurred directly against the abattis. A sharp fence rail pierced the horse's belly, transfixing him dead in air, and Adams, veteran comrade of  [Winfield] Scott at Vera Cruz, was himself lifted dead from his saddle by Federal bayonets. As darkness came on fresh battalions swept over the plain. The light they fought by was the red glare of artillery. Midnight saw no cessation, and when at last Hood sank aghast at the slaughter, with Generals [Patrick] Cleburne, Adams, [Otto] Strahl, [States Rights] Gist and [Hiram] Granberry, a hundred line officers and many barefooted braves dead around him, Colonel Carter heard a familiar whirr overhead and then counted two tinkles upon the little clock. Between that hour and daybreak, Schofield, unhurt, crossed the Harpeth with his trains and left on the field a victor who had broken his own arm, his prestige and his heart in the frantic and fruitless blow.

When the wave had rolled by

                            PANORAMA: The Carter house is astride Columbia Pike.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

A five-acre thicket of locust trees here during the battle became a "forest of toothpicks," 
according to Moscow Carter.  Descendants of those locust trees may be found here today.
After the battle the farm, like others adjoining, was in utter wreck. The house alone stood. All the fences were down. Mud was knee-deep in the yard. Dead men and horses were thick about. "Hood's first charge was made at 4 o'clock," said Col. Carter, "and it fell upon this point, as did all the heavy assaults. You see this locust thicket on our right? That thicket then covered five acres. but after the fight it was a forest of toothpicks. In that vegetable patch to our left General Cleburne fell dead. There is nothing to indicate the exact spot, but it is within twenty yards of where we stand.

"The corn field to the left of the pike was filled with dead and dying and the corn to the right of the pike was a counterpart of the other. In this yard and in that garden I could walk from fence to fence on dead bodies, mostly those of Confederates. In trying to clear up I scraped together a half bushel of brains right around the house and the whole place was dyed with blood.

"Nothing in the shape of horse, mule, jack nor jenny was left in the neighborhood. In fact, I remember that it was not until Christmas, twenty-five days afterwards, that I was enabled to borrow a yoke of oxen, and I spent the whole of that Christmas day hauling seventeen dead horses from this yard."

There was a big rain storm not long after the battle, and as the earth was washed out of the trenches he saw a line of human hands sticking up some with fingers shut tight, some pointing and all so ghastly that they were covered hurriedly. Before the bodies got to be bones, and it was not long, because this was among the last of the terrible battles, they were removed to the cemeteries. Now bones are uncommon sights and the plowman is not startled as at some wilder grounds which I have visited.

Cleburne's face framed in lead

An early post-war view of the re-built Carter cotton gin. Confederate General Patrick Cleburne was among
 those killed in horrific fighting near here. (Franklin Battlefield Trust)

There are many minor objects on this Carter farm worthy in themselves of lengthy mention. A grain fan with just 125 bullets in it would be a curiosity in any museum, and there once was taken from the place a wooden post so heavy from its battle-breakfast of lead that it sank to the bottom when placed in a pond of water. Some time ago a soldier who had served under Cleburne addressed a letter "To any ex-Confederate in Franklin, Tenn.," requesting a bullet of wood from some tree near where General Cleburne died to make a frame for a picture of his old commander. As that gallant Irishman, who rests under the cedars at Helena, Ark., fell in the open field, an oak plank was torn from an old gin-house a few feet away. In cutting the plank so that it could be placed in a box and sent by express the saw struck a dozen or more bullets. And by this time very likely Cleburne's picture is framed in rebel oak set with the Yankee gems that cost him his life.

Politics in battle-smoke

A Reb engaged his enemy
in conversation
about "Old Abe"
during the battle.
It was within ten yards of this historic spot that in the thick of the fray a rebel soldier, in trying to leap the Federal breastwork, fell wounded into the trench. A Union officer who visited Franklin a few weeks ago, and who was behind the breastwork at the time of the incident, saw the injured rebel beckoning to him and gave ear. "It's so hot," said the rebel, "I believe if you'll help me over I'll surrender."

The smoke was blinding, the earth was shaken under artillery and the air whistled in the tracks of countless Minie balls, but in pity the wounded man was lifted over. It was found that one leg had been shot almost away.

"Yank," he said, "I'm obleeged to ye, but what I cum in furr was to larn who's 'lected."

"Elected! What do you mean?" asked'tho officer, astounded at such a question at such a moment, when trembling earth and lurid sky seemed merged into the hot quarters of bell itself.

"Who's 'lected President, Little Mac or old Abe Lincoln?"

"Mr. Lincoln."

"Old Abe still; then, by God, stranger, this damned wah is gwine to last foah yeahs moah!"

Earthworks at Hard-Bargain

Objects and incidents similar to the foregoing made the Carter house a place of such interest that the sun was slanting before we left the Columbia pike and returned to the heart of the town where the five roads meet. Then driving a few hundred yards out upon another of the roads, which ran along the Harpeth to the north of the town, we came to Hard-Bargain, where rested the extreme Federal right, plumb against the river. Here for three hundred yards or so the Federal line of earthwork remains much as it was left. It extends along the crest of a low hill, a sort of common covered with rocks, short herd grass, thistle and dandelion.

If one were to start at this end of the horseshoe and move across lots to the Carter house and thence over fields to the other end of the horseshoe he probably probably could trace the whole Federal line, keeping the trail from trenches and the brownish hue of the upturned subsoil. But for that trudge we had no time, and returning to the "Five Points" we rode out the other three roads in turn, observing such things as scarred trees on the way. The last road along which Si whipped his horses was that which ran southeastward and led us to the Confederate burying ground. The Union dead were removed to Nashville and Columbia, where there are cemeteries, but 1,481 Confederates were put into the ground on the field of death.

A strange plantation picture

McGavock Confederate Cenetery, visited in 1882 by Philadelphia Times correspondent George Morgan.
The McGavocks' impressive mansion, Carnton, appears in the right background.
The cemetery is in the midst of a fine old plantation, parts of which look more like a  delightful park than pasture fields for lazy sheep. Stretches of green meadows, with oaks centuries old, whitewashed fences, lovely patches of copse and the sun sinking in purple behind the mansion made the scene such as a novelist might call baronial. Si waited at the graveyard gate while I walked down a long avenue of pines, hundreds of head-boards being on either side.

Overgrowing the little mounds and concealing them in many places are carpets of blue grass, wild ivy and wild sage, fragrant when bruised by the heel. I saw General Duncan's name on one head-board and other names, familiar in battle-story, came under my eye, which, however, was less watchful for epitaphs than the eyes of the blue-jays, robins and twittering garden canaries were of the intruder.

"Say, boss !" came from Si, at the other end of the avenue, "dese rebs, flat on day 're backs heah, was mitey hungry wen day cum inter Franklin. Da was after dat Yankee commissary."

This remark did not seem to have a double meaning, and I was still stumping around when " Say, boss, Ise mos' hungry nuff to mobe on de ole woman's commissary. Doan ye hab no sundown suppers up Norf?"

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Excerpt: In 'Antietam Shadows,' Frye challenges Lost Order tale

Author Dennis Frye,  longtime chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Military Park,  at Burnside Bridge.

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After 20 years as chief historian at Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Military Park, Dennis Frye is ready to turn in his National Park Service uniform. "Hard to believe only days left on the job," he e-mailed me recently.

Dennis Frye's latest book, Antietam Shadows, is
 available on
Although his retirement from the NPS becomes official this week, don't expect one of the top Maryland Campaign and Antietam experts to ditch his love of Civil War history. Frye plans to continue to lead tours in Harpers Ferry as a licensed guide and wants to write another book about the Civil War-torn town. (The Washington County, Md., native's Harpers Ferry Under Fire was published in 2012.)

And don't expect Frye to quit challenging convention either, which he does superbly in his latest book, Antietam Shadows, Mystery, Myth & Machination (Antietam Rest Publishing). What you think you know about the battle and Maryland Campaign may be ... well ... flat-out wrong.

"History is presented as facts," Frye writes in Chapter 1 of the 274-page volume. "It is not. History is deemed immutable. Not so. History is declared as truth. Nein. Nyet. Non.

"So what, then, is history?" he adds. "Opinion."

"Beware opinion," Frye continues. "... History, as a record of human activity, is flawed because humans insert their opinion into the record, upon the onset of the recording."

In this excerpt from Shadows, Frye -- who lives with his wife Sylvia in a restored home used by General Ambrose Burnside as his post-Antietam headquarters -- takes on the story of  Robert E. Lee's (in)famous Maryland Campaign Lost Order. Follow along ... if you dare.

Chapter 18: Charade Crescendo

Close-up of a copy of Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign Lost Order (Special Orders No. 191).
(National Park Service)

[A]ffectation is fond of making a greater show than reality. —Lydia M. Child  (1)

Exaggeration is a human temptation.

Everyone does it; no one avoids it. We engage in embellishment. It’s our natural condition. Historians must be alert for this omnipresent characteristic.

When conducting our research—or the detective work of a historian—we must be cognizant of hyperbole and be careful not to accept it as truth. We must challenge our sources, question our discoveries and be sage with our skepticism. Discernment is our defense.

Yet some stories are just too good to resist. Here’s one. The place is Frederick. The time is just before noon on Saturday, September 13 (yes, Friday the 13th would be more dramatic). The scene — George McClellan’s headquarters tent. A small group is gathered around the deliberating general. He studies something. It’s Lee’s Lost Order. The tense silence suddenly explodes.

Copy of Robert E. Lee's Lost Order.
 (National Park Service)
“Now I know what to do!” McClellan exclaims. Powerful quotation. These few resounding words inform us — help us feel — one of the most momentous moments in American military history. Terrific theatrics; high drama. We thrive on drama.

But the dispassionate historian should exercise caution and not be trapped in euphoria of emotion. Instead of a Shakespeare, when it comes to sources, we should practice like Einstein. We must be deliberate and methodical, in case something’s diabolical. The first question the discerning historian should ask actually is two: What is the source?, then who is the source?

The “Now I know what to do!” quotation was unearthed by preeminent Southern historian Douglas Southall Freeman. The original memoranda containing the quote literally arrived in Freeman’s mailbox in the late 1930s — sent to him by a Confederate descendant seventy years after the Civil War. 2

Most historians, upon such a discovery, would have back flipped at this find of a lifetime. Freeman, however, relegated it to a lonely appendix, easily lost in his timeless trilogy Lee’s Lieutenants.

The memoranda concerned the Lost Orders. The two 1868 documents summarized an interview with General Lee six years after Antietam and nearly three years after Appomattox. It claimed Lee first heard of McClellan’s possession of the Lost Order through cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart. Specifically, the memoranda stated, “Stuart learned from a gentleman of Maryland who was in McClellan’s headquarters when the dispatch . . . was brought to McClellan, who after reading it, threw his hands up and exclaimed ‘now I know what to do.’” 3

Stephen Sears retold this tale in Landscape Turned Red, but with embellishment. The “gentleman of Maryland” became a “Confederate sympathizer.” How did Sears know that? Perhaps the man —whose name is unknown — cared less about sympathies and simply had a big mouth, telling anyone who would listen what he had wit- nessed. Ever meet anyone like that?

Sears further postulated that the mysterious man “was soon on his way through the lines, and about dusk, managed to locate Jeb Stuart near Turner’s Gap [where] he explained what he had seen.” 4 

Nothing in the original document transcribed by Freeman asserted this notion. Because, perhaps ... it did not happen?

Consider the difficulty, as a civilian, of barging your way through at least 3,000 U.S. infantrymen, dodging hundreds of Yankee cavalry, routing around dozens of bulky artillery, navigating through hundreds of horses and mules, following the main thoroughfare into enemy country and slipping through unnoticed? What were the odds of successfully reaching Rebel lines?

James Murfin's well-received
book on the Battle of Antietam.
Even more, what was the likelihood of locating General Stuart, who was galloping around incessantly, attempting to determine what the Federals were up to? What chances of meeting with Stuart?

Instead of inquisitiveness, however, historians have accepted this story as gospel. James Murfin, for his part, upstaged Sears in his version of the tale, employing more fluorescent flourish. Enjoy this irresistible passage of happenstance from The Gleam of Bayonets:

 “[McClellan] was in conference with several businessmen of Frederick, possibly discussing arrangements for supplies. One of his guests was a Southern sympathizer. It was difficult for this man to conceal his shock when McClellan threw his arms in the air and exclaimed that he now knew Lee’s secret. As soon as the conference was completed, the man made immediate arrangements to pass through the lines. Near dusk, he approached Confederate pickets at the base of South Mountain. He had a message for General Lee, he told the men. They took him to Jeb Stuart who . . . questioned the stranger extensively. The story the man told was utterly fantastic, but certainly one that could not be ignored. ... Lee must be notified.” 5

Murfin acknowledged the story as “fantastic” -- in other words, almost unbelievable -- at that moment, in that time. But the story has turned true in historians’ time, with embellishment and excitement galore.

The denouement of this drama revealed General Lee pulling back his forces in alarm, once alerted that McClellan had his plans. According to the original 1868 memorandum in Freeman’s possession, Lee reportedly said, “[I]t is probable the loss of the dispatch changed the character of the campaign.” 6 

George McClellan
True. General Lee, for his part, made no mention of this mysterious civilian notification in any of his 1862 writings. If so important and life-altering -- as historians have claimed -- we would expect Lee to address it in his September 16 campaign update to President Davis. But there’s nothing. Nada. In 697 words in his message to Davis, not a single word mentioned the “gentleman of Maryland” -- not a peep from Lee about Stuart learning of McClellan’s discovery of the Lost Order, and not a reference to any such fiasco. Lee, instead, acknowledged that “the enemy was advancing more rapidly than convenient.”

That was Lee’s explanation for his unexpected withdrawal from the Pennsylvania border. 7 Cavalry commander Stuart himself shared not a single notation of an encounter with this mysterious man in any of his contemporary reports. In his official campaign summary, comprising eight pages in the lofty Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Stuart made no mention of meeting. 8

Interestingly though, in General Lee’s official campaign report (dated August 19, 1863 -- eleven months after Antietam), Lee admitted knowledge of the Lost Order: “A copy of the order directing the movement of the army from Fredericktown had fallen into the hands of General McClellan, and disclosed to him the disposition of our forces.” 9 In this matter-of-fact statement, Lee offered no details. He didn’t explain when, or from whom, he learned this information. Was it, perhaps, from the “gentleman from Maryland”?

Or was George McClellan himself the source of Lee’s knowledge?

How can this be? Am I accusing McClellan of providing the enemy with information, intentionally? No -- though that strategy has merit. Wait . . . that makes no sense . . . unless you employ Machiavellian tactics.

Leaking the orders — and permitting the Confederates to know, that you know, their intentions --- is a classic Machiavellian maneuver. The result may slow Lee, stall him or even force the Rebel commander abruptly to alter his plans. From a Machiavellian perspective, perhaps the “gentleman from Maryland” (presuming he existed) was no Confederate sympathizer, but an agent on behalf of McClellan. Sound fantastic? Not any more so than the traditional and hackneyed version.

Robert E. Lee
Another possible source was Yankee newspapers. General Lee received much of his intelligence concerning the Federal army and its movements through the Northern press. Censorship of military matters seldom occurred at this stage of the war, and Lee gained advantages through freedom of the press.

 So enjoy this titillation. Two days after the Lost Order fell into McClellan’s hands, the Washington Star reported the discovery on the second page of its September 15 issue. Someone had leaked to the press! The article, however, mislabeled the order as “Order No. 119.” The next day, the Baltimore Sun published the same article verbatim. 10

Lee typically had access to these papers. But since he was maneuvering and fighting to save his army and salvage the invasion when these papers were published, doubtless he had little time for recreational reading. Still, this could have served as the source for Lee’s official report in August 1863. More likely McClellan’s own official report informed Lee of the Lost Order.

McClellan’s review of the Antietam campaign was released on August 4, 1863. Published widely throughout the North, it included the verbiage of Special Orders 191 in its contents. McClellan introduced his discovery as follows: “On the 13th an order fell into my hands, issued by General Lee, which fully disclosed his plans.” 11

 Compare that statement with General Lee’s official campaign report, appearing only 15 days later: “A copy of the order directing the movement of the army from Fredericktown had fallen into the hands of General McClellan, and disclosed to him the disposition of our forces.” 12

 Notice similarities?


-- 1 Child quote is from here.
-- 2 Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, Vol. II, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943), 716-718. Dr. Freeman copies verbatim two “highly interesting memoranda of conversations held on the same day, Feb. 15, 1868, with General Lee at Lexington.” Lee at that time was serving as president of Washington College. One memoranda was by Colonel William Allan, who had served as a close aide of Lee’s throughout the war, and was a professor at Washington College. The other memoranda came from E. C. Gordon, who was a clerk at Washington College. Both men spoke with Lee about the Lost Order on the same date in 1868. The two memoranda were handed down to the son of Colonel Allan, who sent them to Dr. Freeman. Freeman includes nine pages of discussion on Special Orders 191 in his only appendix in volume two.
-- 3 Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 718.
-- 4 Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red (New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 1983), 113, 125.
-- 5 James Murfin, Gleam of the Bayonets, 165.
-- 6 Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 721.
-- 7 OR, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, 140. Lee to Davis, September 16, 1862.
-- 8 OR, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, 814-821. Stuart’s official campaign report, February 13, 1864.
-- 9 OR, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, 146. Statement in Lee’s official campaign report, August 19, 1863.
-- 10 Dennis E. Frye, Antietam Revealed: The Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign as You have Never Seen it Before (Collingswood, NJ: C.W. Historicals, LLC), 18.
-- 11 OR, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, 42-43. McClellan’s official campaign report, August 4, 1863.
-- 12 OR, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, 146.