Friday, April 05, 2024

Podcast: 'When Hell Came To Sharpburg' author Steven Cowie

In Episode 11 of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," author Steven Cowie shares with co-hosts John Banks and Tom McMillan stories of the profound impact of the Battle of Antietam on civilians in Sharpsburg, Md. Among the stories Cowie tells is of the heartbreaking loss for farmer William Roulette of his 20-month-old daughter, Carrie May, who died of disease more than a month after the battle. 

Cowie’s book is the result of 15 years of comprehensive study. He unearthed a trove of previously unused archival accounts and examined scores of primary sources, including letters, diaries, regimental histories and official reports. The book is packed with explanatory footnotes, original maps and photographs. Purchase a copy of the book here on publisher Savas Beatie's web site. | More podcasts

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Video: Franklin (Tenn.) battlefield reclamation effort explained

Battle of Franklin Trust historian Joseph Ricci explains the effort to reclaim a "crown jewel" of the battlefield on the old Fountain Carter farm. Read more about the reclamation effort on the Battle of Franklin Trust web site.

I nearly plunged into the stump of a battlefield 'witness tree'!

It took quite the effort for me to get this far. (Image courtesy Jonathan Perryman)

                Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

On Sunday afternoon, my friend Tony Patton — our excellent Resaca (Ga.) battlefield guide — made the grave error of pointing out to us the gigantic, lonely stump of a “witness tree” in a field where United States troops advanced during the mid-May 1864 fighting. So naturally, “The Irishman” and I had to see up close this marvel of nature. (Cóilín Ó Coigligh, who’s on a three-week tour of Western Theater sites, gets giddy around “witness trees,” too.)

A look into the black heart of the
Resaca (Ga.) battlefield "witness tree."
(Image courtesy Tony Patton)
According to Patton, a storm took down part of the gigantic red oak. “Then we could see that the inside was pretty rotten and dying off,” he told me. “Was just a matter of time before the whole thing went down.”

While my fellow battlefield trampers watched, I inelegantly made my way to the top of the four-foot high stump for a brief view of its rotten core. As this was St. Patrick’s Day, I had beginner’s luck, coming close but not plunging into the belly of the massive beast. If I had, I'm pretty sure there’d be no getting out and I would have missed the grilled lemon pepper trout dinner at my favorite Cracker Barrel in Chattanooga.

When I showed the photo at top to the disgusted Mrs. B at breakfast on Monday, she only mumbled a few words: “That’s your best side.”

Irishman Cóilín Ó Coigligh and I have a fondness for "witness trees."

Friday, March 15, 2024

Farewell to 'The Irishman,' who's on epic Civil War journey

Before departing for the rest of his Western Theater trip, Cóilín Ó Coigligh visited Shy's Hill,
where John Bell Hood anchored his left flank during the Battle of Nashville.

                 Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

Before Irishman Cóilín Ó Coigligh continued his epic three-week journey to other Civil War battlefields in the Western Theater, I gave him an early morning tour of Shy’s Hill — the extreme left flank of the ragged Army of Tennessee’s line during Day 2 of the Battle of Nashville.

But first BREAKING NEWS! The Irishman’s name doesn’t translate to “Little Pub,” as I thought he told me outside a Franklin, Tenn., bar the other night, but to “Little Pup.” Either his brogue or my mighty strong drink threw me off. Or perhaps I was just delirious.

The Irishman posed at Shy's Hill by
the 114th Illinois monument.
Anywho, we hoofed it to the top of Shy’s Hill, where Hank Williams Jr. used to relic hunt, and then proceeded deep into the tony Oak Hill neighborhood to do what most of us Nashvillians do on a beautiful, spring-like day: have a photo taken at a huge battlefield “witness tree” near an antebellum stone wall with a large dog eyeing us warily. 😀

From there, we ventured over to my friend Jim’s house. (Like most Americans, he has a real Civil War cannon in his front yard.) Jim — a Battle of Nashville expert — showed off his impressive Civil War collection and gifted Cóilín — pronounced CO-lean — with honest-to-goodness relics from the battle. The smile on the Irishman’s face was priceless.

I sent Cóilín packing with a copy of Tony Horwitz’s magnificent Confederates In The Attic, a gigantic copy of an Antietam image by Alexander Gardner and the knowledge (I hope) that most Americans are OK.

Well, except for Aaron Rodgers.

The Irishman stands by a battlefield witness tree in Oak Hill, a tony Nashville suburb.
My friend Jim gave the Irishman Battle of Nashville relics, but the cannon was not included.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Podcast: Irish historian Damian Shiels on famed Irish Brigade

In Episode 10 of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," Irish historian Damian Shiels joins co-hosts John Banks and Tom McMillan for a fascinating discussion about the famous Irish Brigade that fought on the William Roulette farm and at Bloody Lane during the Battle of Antietam. 

Learn more about Irish Brigade commander Thomas Meagher, common soldiers in the unit, the "procession of death" for the Irish in 1864 and much more. Plus, no podcast with an Irish Civil War historian can go without mentioning Major General Patrick Cleburne, the famous Confederate commander who died at the Battle of Franklin. 

Shiels, an historian and archaeologist, has lectured and published widely on both social military history and conflict archaeology. He established and runs the excellent Irish American Civil War web site and is author of The Irish In The American Civil War. Purchase your copy on Shiels lives in Finland.

So I met an real, live Irish Civil War buff in a Tennessee pub ...

Irishman Cóilín Ó Coigligh (right) bought a copy of my book in Ireland and
brought it to Tennessee for me to autograph.

                  Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

Only one week into his very own Civil War road trip of a lifetime, Irishman Cóilín Ó Coigligh has put 1,200 miles on his rental car, visited the Shiloh, Corinth, Brices Cross Roads, Vicksburg, Big Black River, Champion Hill and Kennesaw Mountain battlefields and made at least one American friend: me.

Over drinks Monday night in Franklin, the delightful Irishman and I bonded over the Civil War and compared road trip notes. I signed a copy of my book for him — an honor for me — and peppered him with questions about Ireland and his epic journey.

“I’ve always loved America,” said Ó Coigligh, who years ago made a swing of Eastern Theater battlefields.

Cóilín Ó Coigligh at the cannon ball
monument on the Franklin (Tenn.) battlefield,
his first visit to the hallowed ground where 
fellow Irishman Patrick Cleburne fell.
Cóilín — pronounced CO-lean — is a 66-year-old retired principal and teacher from Virginia in County Cavan, roughly an hour drive from Dublin and 3.5 hours from the boyhood home of one of his heroes, Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne. During our 90-minute visit, I also learned Ó Coigligh’s name means “Little Pup” and his great grandfather toiled at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

“She doesn’t get it,” he said with a grin.

Join the club, “Little Pup.”😬

Minie balls purchased decades ago by my dad — “Big Johnny” — in Gettysburg hooked me on the Civil War. I was 12. Topps Civil War bubble gum cards purchased at Mrs. Moloney’s shop in his hometown hooked Cóilín. He was six or seven.

Since then, Ó Coigligh has fed his obsession — visiting battlefields and reading everything he can on our war. “I have 183 books on the Civil War,” he told me. On a rainy day in County Cork, he even visited the graves of Cleburne’s parents.

After drinks, I suggested a drive down Columbia Pike to the Franklin battlefield for his first visit to the killing field. We parked, crossed the pike and briefly examined the cannon ball monument near where  Cleburne fell. Night had fallen, leaving only the beams of passing vehicles and street lights to illuminate the monument.

Minutes later, my new friend and I parted.

“May God bless you, John,” he said.

God bless you, “Little Pup.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

'Extraordinary' William Sherman collection to be auctioned

William Sherman's sword will be among the items from the general's personal 
collection up for auction. (Images of Sherman collection courtesy of Fleischer’s Auctions)

Moments after ending a call with Adam Fleischer — the 30-year-old president of Columbus, Ohio-based Fleischer’s Auctions — I made a beeline to Mrs. B.

”This man in Ohio is auctioning off Gen. William Sherman’s sword and other artifacts,” I said, practically spitting out the words. “It’s an incredible collection.”

William Sherman
Staring at her computer, Mrs. B looked as exhilarated as Jefferson Davis the day he found out the United States Army made it to the outskirts of Richmond.

For those of us ingrained in the Civil War community, though, this is big news.

On May 14, Fleischer will auction off the remarkable collection, long owned by Sherman’s western Pennsylvania-based descendants. On a visit to a Gettysburg museum, they asked for recommendations for an auction house for the collection, most of which they had stored for decades in an attic. (They kept the sword in Sherman’s trunk.)

Use Fleischer’s, they were told.

“It’s an honor to be handling this,” Fleischer told me.

Besides the sword, which would look great in my home office, the collection includes the “War Is Hell” general’s personal copies of Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, his uniform’s rank insignia worn during the Civil War, the Sherman family bible with “meticulous records” written by the general himself and Sherman’s copy of Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign — George Barnard’s photographic record of the general’s “March to the Sea.”

“When I saw this collection for the first time, I had goosebumps,” Fleischer said.

Sherman’s copy of Photographic Views
 of Sherman’s Campaign.
During our phone call, Fleischer seemed especially excited about Sherman’s copies of Grant’s memoirs. As Fleischer's rare books specialist Danielle Linn was taking photos of one of the volumes, she shouted, “Adam!”

In pencil, the general had written in the margins of the book, including a mild criticism of Grant.

Fleischer has handled big-time collections before. Over the years, he has dealt with the nation’s leading repositories and institutions, including the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and National Portrait Gallery. But the Sherman collection tops them all for him.

“Extraordinary,” Fleischer calls it.

I know where I’ll be on May 14. Oh, Mrs. B…

For information on the auction, go here.

William Sherman's uniform’s rank insignia worn during the Civil War.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Tales from the road: Who cares about Battle of Knob Gap?

During the Battle of Knob Gap on Dec. 26, 1862, United States troops advanced
 toward the gap between the nobs on Nolensville Pike.

Following a long bike ride, I crave a history fix, so I park at Wabash Southern Kitchen in Nolensville, Tenn., across the road from the Amish furniture maker, and make my way into an antiques store.

Across busy Nolensville Pike, a lonely historical marker tells any visitors who dare view it that “foraging and skirmishing took place here during the Civil War.”

Today, though, Nolensville — which sprouted along Mill Creek late in the 18th century — is morphing into Anywhere, USA. Here, along the pike roughly 12 miles south of Nashville, you’ll find a mishmash of suburban schlock — an excellent BBQ restaurant, service stations, apartment complexes and a joint that makes honey golden wings to die for. An ancient cabin that somehow staggered into the 21st century still stands along the pike, but I imagine few pay it notice.

A historical marker in Nolensville briefly
mentions the town's Civil War connection, but
the battlefield nearby is unmarked.
“Is there anyone in town who can tell me about the Civil War battle fought here?” I ask the woman sitting behind the counter at the antiques store. 

Judging from the look on her face, it’s probably the first time anyone has asked about the Battle of Knob Gap, fought two miles from town on Dec. 26, 1862. It’s one of those 10,000 battle sites historian David McCullough told us about in Ken Burns’ epic Civil War doc — as obscure as Sacramento, Ky. , and Hartsville, Tenn., hallowed ground I’ve recently visited.

“Have you tried the museum?” she tells me.

Damn, the museum — housed in an old schoolhouse up the pike — closed an hour earlier. It looks like I’m on my own. So I push down the road — a muddy, mucky mess for U.S Army soldiers in late winter 1862, a two-lane drag strip in 2024.

Beyond town and the schlock, the ground opens up. To my right, amid the rolling fields, is a horse farm and a field of yellow daffodils beyond a gleaming, white fence. In the distance, smoke from a fire wafts into a deep-blue sky.

“In front and to our left was an open plain for some distance in which is located the little Southern town of Nolensville,” a U.S Army officer described this scene in 1862. “Surrounding this plain, or rather basin, is a continuous chain of hills, high and precipitous.”

The pike, bordered by farmland during the war, splits the knobs. On the high ground, a small Confederate force and artillery awaited.

The Rebels positioned cannon on this hill.
“The ridge itself with the knobs forms as fine a military position to hold against an attack as I ever saw in an open country,” a United States commander wrote.

I swerve into a driveway, park and take in this unmarked, forgotten battlefield. To my left is a steep hill — that’s where soldiers from the 15th Wisconsin captured a cannon from Georgians, who had captured it at Shiloh months earlier. I wander if the folks who live in the one-story house on the hill know what happened here long ago.

Few casualties resulted at the Battle of Knob Gap — perhaps several dozen or so — but it left an impression on those who fought here. 

"A gang of cattle got between the lines during the fight and ran wildly from line to line. One of them had its leg broken by a Rebel shell and was devoured by the heroes of the day,” an Illinois private wrote.

A Wisconsin soldier, though, remembered the sounds of battle.

“The air resounded with the hideous noise of the shells whizzing and bursting before us, behind us, above us, and among us,” he recalled about Knob Gap.

Minutes after stopping, I return to my vehicle and swerve back into traffic. In a flash, the 19th century and crackle of gunfire and whizzing and bursting of shells are left behind.

U.S. troops advanced through this field, now a haven for daffodils.

For more stories like this, read my book, A Civil War Road Trip Of A Lifetime. Email me at for details on how to get an autographed copy.  


HAT TIP: Dan Masters’ excellent blog — the source for the soldiers’ quotes. 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Podcast: Antietam guide Laura Marfut on The Bloody Cornfield

In Episode 9 of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," Antietam guide Laura Marfut, a retired U.S. Army colonel, joins co-hosts John Banks and Tom McMillan for a discussion about the fighting in The Bloody Cornfield on the northern end of the battlefield. Learn more about artillery, Iron Brigade officer Rufus Dawes, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood — and, yes, dangling biscuits!

Marfut graduated from the U.S. Army War College with a master’s degree in strategic studies. In 2019, she was certified as an Antietam National Battlefield guide. Marfut is also a board member of the Antietam Institute, which you can read more about here. | Join the Antietam Institute.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tales from the road: Beady-eyed gnomes on Lookout Mountain

No gnomes for Mrs. B: She's not a fan of these gents spotted at Rock City.

                 Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

On a chilly but glorious Saturday morning, Mrs. B and I, accompanied by Mrs. B’s sister and her husband, made our way to the summit of Lookout Mountain for one of America’s greatest views. It’s not hyperbolic to say the scene gives me goosebumps on every visit.

At Point Park — where brother-in-law Nels paid the entrance fee, so the visit seemed way better than a regular visit — my traveling companions peppered me with questions about Civil War artillery and Mrs. B enjoyed watching her husband bound about like a jackrabbit on an adrenaline rush. (The sight of cannons often does this.)

Ruby Falls: A spectacular scene, but
don't drink coffee before making
 the trek here.
Afterward, we made our way down the serpentine road from Point Park to tourist traps Ruby Falls Caverns and Rock City. Road trip advice from a pro: Always have your mechanic check your brakes before you descend from Lookout Mountain. Plus, never drink five gallons of coffee before trekking through any caverns anywhere in the world.

Also: If you despise expensive pizza, unruly children and gnomes, never in the history of ever visit Rock City, where a suspicious- looking gnome — a small, humanoid-like figure with beady eyes — spied us as we made our way through “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” 

“Creepy,” Mrs. B calls them.

One would think that after 31 years of solid-gold marriage (mostly) one would know everything about your mate. 😬 But Mrs. B broke news at Rock City that she is rabidly anti-gnome. 

Damn! So no gnomes, please, for our 32nd wedding anniversary in May.

Before we leave Chattanooga, I am hoping to squeeze in some actual Civil War history adventurizing with my non-Civil Ear enthusiast traveling companions. In the meantime, I’ll torture you with photos from Lookout Mountain, Rock City and Ruby Falls. 

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

Brother-in-law Nels squeezes through an opening at Rock City.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Tales from the road: Going 'nuclear' in Hartsville, Tennessee

Oh, deer: The enormous cooling tower at the nuclear power plant.

                    Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

Minutes after pulling into quaint Hartsville, Tenn., where Rebel cavalry commander John Hunt Morgan scored a huge victory on Dec. 7, 1862, western Pennsylvania pal Jack and I scored beverages and knowledge at a coffee shop on River Street.

Inside, a tall man wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses ambled over to us strangers and engaged in small talk.

“You know,” the local told us, “there’s an abandoned nuclear power plant just down the road. It’s near the prison.” 

“OMG! What good fortune I have,” I thought to myself.

The massive remains of the nuclear power plant
loom behind a chain link fence.
Only three months ago, I explored a battlefield a Napoleon volley from an honest-to-gawd working nuclear power plant in sleepy Grand Gulf, Miss., where they have a fabulous, little Civil War museum with a Mastodon leg on display and a docent who regales visitors with nuclear power plant humor. (Hi, Mac Drake😀)

So naturally, I obsessed about the nuclear power plant while Jack and I drove the 17-stop Hartsville battlefield tour. (The tour and accompanying podcast were excellent — well, except for the ornery cows behind the ancient farm walls and the vicious hounds that yapped at us while I manuevered Mrs. B’s SUV near the frigid Cumberland River.)

Every three or four minutes, I tortured Jack with: “Hey, I want to see the nuclear power plant before we leave.” 

We obeyed all warning signs.
After an excellent late lunch at Hartsville’s only Mexican restaurant — Jack paid, so it tasted much better than a regular lunch — we made our way to the abandoned nuclear power plant and state prison.

What a surreal scene: The massive skeletons of the nuclear power plant buildings and the enormous cooling tower seemed like something worthy of a Stephen King novel. We also spotted vultures, crows, deer, cows and other animals — none, thankfully, with five eyes, six tails or glowing body parts. That’s because the Tennessee Valley Authority shut down the nuclear power plant in 1984. (Google it.)

Before leaving, of course, I had to see the prison. How amazing! The glint of afternoon sunlight off razor wire with the cooling tower as the backdrop would have made for an award-winning photo, but Jack got nervous and we had to go. 😬

A few weeks ago, law enforcement arrested three men — two from Pennsylvania (hmmm) — who parachuted into the cooling tower. (Note to law enforcement: I’m afraid of heights.) Per the news report, people sneak into the plant “thinking there is top-secret government information inside.”

Let’s keep history — and abandoned nuclear power plants near Civil War battlefields — alive. 🔥

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Tales from the road: Going 'nuclear' in Grand Gulf, Mississippi

Mac Drake bought a copy of my book, cementing his place among my favorite Mississippians.

                  Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

To get to remote and sleepy Grand Gulf, Miss., where Confederates beat back a determined attack by Ulysses Grant on April 29, 1863, I drive 10 miles below the speed limit on a curvy, two-lane road. After suffering the indignity of a speeding ticket during a Civil War sojourn in the wilds of South Carolina in early October, I’m not keen on breaking any more bad news to Mrs. B.

About two miles past the entrance to a nuclear power plant — the most powerful in the U.S., according to sources — I pull into the parking lot for the Grand Gulf Civil War museum. (Entry: five bucks.) It’s manned this afternoon by a gem of a human named Mac Drake, who regales me with nuclear power plant humor that we plan to keep just between us.

Sleepy Grand Gulf was engulfed by civil war, too.
“I like messing with people about the plant,” he tells me with a twinkle in his eye.

Drake is a descendant of a Confederate soldier named Henry H. Myers of the “Liberty Hall Volunteers” of the 4th Virginia, which saw hard fighting throughout the Eastern Theater — including at Sharpsburg (Antietam to us Northerners), Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. According to family lore, Robert E. Lee gifted a chair to Myers — it still remains with the Drakes.

The small but excellent Grand Gulf museum, roughly a half mile from the Mississippi River, is filled with historical treasure: a letter from George Washington, a bullet-riddled U.S. Army belt plate found by Burnside Bridge after Antietam and the usual assortment of artillery shells, muskets and Civil War accoutrements that Mrs. B will never let in our house.

A Mastadon leg bone. Hi ho!
“Hey, is that a Mastadon leg bone ?” I say to myself.

Sure enough, the remains of the prehistoric animal rest in all their glory in a display case.

Before departing, I try to persuade Mac to gift me one of the artillery shells, but he doesn’t bite. However, I strongarm him into purchasing a copy of my book and posing with it for a photo — acts that propel him to No. 2 on my ranking of Mississippians, just behind my “psychotic connection, Sid Champion V of Champion Hill battlefield renown, and Bud Hall. (They are co-No. 1s.)

What a great visit. Let’s keep history alive. 👊

Grand Gulf is the first Civil War-related site I've visited near a nuclear power plant.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Podcast: Dr. Emilie Amt on 'Black Antietam'

In Episode 8 of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," professor emeritus and author Dr. Emilie Amt joins co-hosts John Banks and Tom McMillan for a discusssion about her book, Black Antietam: African Americans and the Civil War in Sharpsburg. In her book, the experiences of Black Americans — enslaved and free — come to life in vivid detail, often in their own words. You may purchase Amt's book here. Read her blog here.

A native of Maryland, Amt is an emeritus professor of history. From 1998 to 2021. she held the Hildegarde Pilgram Chair of History at Hood College in Frederick, Md. She earned a B.A. in medieval studies from Swarthmore College and a D.Phil. in modern history from Oxford University.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Podcast: Maryland Campaign/Antietam expert Tom Clemens

In Episode 7 of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," historian and author Dr. Tom Clemens joins co-hosts John Banks and Tom McMillan for a chat about the Battle of Antietam, battlefield preservation and much more. 

Clemens, a Keedysville, Md., resident, is president of Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), one of the country's foremost battlefield preservation organizations, and editor and annotator of three books on the Ezra Carman papers about the Maryland Campaign. You may purchase those books on the Savas Beatie site here.

We discuss: 

  • One of Save Historic Antietam Foundation's recent great saves of battlefield property. 
  • The origins of SHAF. 
  •  Veteran Ezra Carman, who served as the historical expert for the board that created Antietam National Battlefield. 
  • The greatness of Bonnie's at The Red Byrd restaurant in Keedysville, Md. (Brown gravy!) 

The podcast is sponsored by Civil War Trails, which since 1994 has connected visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Will this Civil War soldier Bible find its way back to his family?

Blog reader Brian W. sent me images of this Bible and wondered if I could investigate who had owned it. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

                 Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

On a rainy and cold Saturday, boredom set in as it tends to do whenever Mrs. B flees to warm and sunny Florida without me. (Psst: I hope she doesn’t spot the mold growing on dishes in the sink. 😀) So I put on my detective cap to help the owner of a Civil War soldier’s Bible track down the man’s 21st-century descendants.

In early January, blog reader Brian W. sent me information about a Bible found with the possessions of his father, who died in 2003. On an inside page a label included the signature of the long-ago owner — James Osborne of Company A of the 21st “NYLHS” — and these details:

James Osborne's obituary in the 
Poughkeepsie Eagle-News on
July 3, 1928.
“Should I die on a battle field, or in the Hospital, for the sake of humanity acquaint Obediah C. Osborne residing at Pawling, Dutchess County, New York of the fact and where my remains may be found.”

On another page, someone — probably the long-ago Bible owner — had written about “800 rebel prisoners captured at Gettysbug, Pa.,” “Fort Delaware” and being aboard the “Propellor Putnam.”

With those clues, I did what any red-blooded Civil War detective would: I Googled like hell and plunged into and

Per a geneaology site, “James B. Osborne, of the firm of Madison & Osborne, is a son of Obadiah C. Osborne. His mother was Sarah Ann, daughter of Jordon Lee. His parents were natives of Poughkeepsie. On the paternal side, his grandfather, Robert C. Osborne, was born in New York City and married Catherine VanVlack. His greatgrandfather, Dennis Osborne, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and was killed in the struggle for American Independence.” revealed James was a 19-year-old carriage maker apprentice in 1860. revealed he became the prominent owner of a box company in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Another site revealed Osborne had served with the 21st New York State Militia, a 30-day regiment that formed in June 1863 and had traveled to Baltimore — that’s where James obtained the Bible from the Maryland State Bible Society.

Presumably, Osborne served as a guard for Confederate prisoners in the aftermath of Gettysburg. But this, of course, requires deeper investigation.

According to Osborne’s 1928 newspaper obituary, he was a well known in political and financial circles. “Voted both times for Abraham Lincoln,” reads a headline atop the 87-year-old Civil War veteran’s obituary.

With these clues and other breadcrumbs, Brian tracked down a descendant of soldier James Osborne. How cool is that? I’ll keep you posted about what happens next.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊👊

The label inside the Bible provided great clues.
Writing inside the Bible references "800 Rebel prisoners captured at Gettysburg, Pa."

Friday, January 19, 2024

Podcast: Author Tom McGrath on Battle of Shepherdstown

In Episode 6 of "The Antietam and Beyond Podcast," historian and author Tom McGrath discusses the Battle of Shepherdstown with me and co-host Tom McMillan. Fought Sept. 19-20, 1862, the battle on what was then Virginia soil (it became West Virginia in June 1863) was the final clash of the Maryland Campaign.

We discuss:

  • The 118th Pennsylvania and how a "Civil War badass" in its ranks became a hero.
  • The amazing terrain of the battlefield.
  • What you can see on the hallowed ground today (cement mill ruins and a house with a cannon ball embedded in it!) and much more.

McGrath is author of Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign, September 19-20, 1862, which you can purchase here.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Tales from the road: Where 'The Wizard,' 'Stovepipe' fought

"Cannons are loud," reads the marker on the Battle of Sacramento (Ky.) reenactment site. 

                   Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places,” historian David McCullough told us in Ken Burns’ epic TV documentary Civil War, “from Valverde, N.M.,, and Tullahoma, Tenn., to St. Albans, Vt., and Fernandina on the Florida coast.” Here’s another one of those 10,000 places, Sacramento, Ky. — a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, no-stoplight town a two-hour drive north of Nashville.

Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson
Since 2009, Betty Howard has served as mayor of Sacramento (population 425), which holds a reenactment of the battle in the spring. “Caution: Cannons are loud,” reads a marker on the battlefield about the event. (Who knew?) In town, I spotted one carwash, one battlefield monument, one Dollar General, two service stations and bristled at the yapping of two nervous hounds.

Now, how many of you have heard of the Battle of Sacramento?

Here, on Dec. 28, 1861, notorious slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest — the Rebels’ “Wizard Of The Saddle” — earned his first victory and honed fighting skills that would serve him later in the war. “Forrest’s First Fight,” the locals call the battle against United States cavalry.

Casualty figures are murky, perhaps as few as a dozen total, but loved ones mourned the dead of Sacramento just as they did the dead of major battles at Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg and elsewhere. Confederate Capt. Ned Meriwether — the father of six — fell here. Two bullets to the head. So did 45-year-old Captain Albert Gallatin Bacon of the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry (United States), mortally wounded by thrusts of a sword by Forrest.

A report in the Jan. 14, 1862, Daily Selma (Ala.) Reporter of  the death of Albert Bacon.

Forrest scout Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson — who later became a semi-famous Confederate guerrilla — fought here, too. The former drugstore employee earned his nickname during an 1862 raid by his scant force on Newburgh, Ind., a town astride the Ohio River. As a ruse, Johnson tied pieces of stovepipe to blackened logs and pointed out the “cannons” in the far distance to a Unionist in Newburgh. (What a day to not carry binoculars.)

Mollie Morehead's grave
Blinded in a skirmish in 1864 at Grubbs Crossroads, “Stovepipe” Johnson served out the war as a POW at Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. After the war, he made his way to Texas, where be founded Marble Falls, which became known as “The Blind Man’s Town.”

For the Rebels, this battle also featured a heroine/amateur scout. As Forrest’s cavalrymen approached Sacramento, they spotted a young woman riding a bareback horse. “There the Yankees are! Right over there!" 18-year-old Mollie Morehead shouted, pointing back over a hill.

In the northeast corner of Cumberland Presbyterian Church Cemetery, near a toppled tombstone, I found Mollie’s grave. The wife of a dentist, she died during child birth in 1870, 13 days after her 27th birthday.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊 

Enjoy stories like this? Consider purchasing a copy of my book, A Civil War Road Trip Of A Lifetime. Email me a for details on how to get an autographed copy.

A Commonwealth of Kentucky historical marker in Sacramento.
Where United States and Rebel cavalry clashed during the Battle of Sacramento (Ky.). 
Take the driving tour of the battlefield. 

Friday, January 05, 2024

Podcast: A conversation with 'The Mayor Of The West Woods'

                  Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

In Episode 5 of "The Antietam and Beyond Podcast," Antietam battlefield guide Jim Buchanan — “The Mayor Of The West Woods” — discusses with me and co-host Tom McMillan this important section of the battlefield where fighting raged on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862. 

You'll hear mentions of generals John Sedgwick and Robert E. Lee as well as stories about common soldiers who fought in the West Woods. You'll also hear about the epic "Wounded Lion" monument, "mystery" figures in the West Woods and the muddy boots on the cover of my latest book. Buchanan has blogged about the West Woods for years. Check out his Walking The West Woods blog.

The podcast is sponsored by Civil War Trails, which since 1994 has connected visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Tales from the road: Mule Day, Elvis and a massive Rebel flag

Miss Sarah showed us around the dandy museum. Here, she stands before
the "Mule Day" dress display. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

Before we enjoyed grub at the excellent Mount Pleasant (Tenn.) Grille — love the overstuffed chicken salad sandwiches! — my friend Campbell Ridley and I made a beeline into the museum next door. I love small-town museums such as the one in Mount Pleasant — birthplace of Sam Watkins of Company Aytch fame — because they typically have displays you’ll never see in those big-city museums.

The "Bigby Greys" flag display.
In a museum in an old mill in Edinburg, Va., for example, I once admired displays for a gigantic hornets’ nest from the old Wetzel property and a hand crank paddle assembly from Mr. Dove’s apple butter stirrer. The Mount Pleasant History Museum didn’t disappoint either.

On the second floor, “Miss Sarah” — the wonderful museum docent — captured my attention with displays for the “Mule Day” queen dress and Elvis impersonator outfit. I also enjoyed the antique birthing chair, which I’m supposed to show Mrs. B someday, and the multicolored quilt hanging on a wall.

The Elvis impersonator — supposedly Elvis’ ACTUAL FAVORITE IMPERSONATOR — is said to have appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and later left his glitzy outfit behind in Mount Pleasant after skipping town.

Anywho, Maury County (Tenn.) is the “Mule Capital of The Known Universe” — every April, Columbia, Tenn., even holds a Mule Day, an event you must attend at least once. Campbell — an early 80ish farmer with an endearing sense of humor — often regales me with tales of his aunt, who once led a Mule Day parade, and his dad, who was an actual Mule Day king.

You Civil War buffs would undoubtedly appreciate the display of the massive, well-preserved flag presented in 1861 by the ladies of Mount Pleasant to the “Bigby Greys” — a local unit of roughly 100 soldiers.

“When they meet the foe, we feel secure,” reads the motto on the flag.

The “Bigby Greys” became Company C of the 3rd Tennessee, who sent the flag home because as we flag aficionados know, only regiments were permitted to carry colors. U.S Army garrison troops stationed in Mount Pleasant later confiscated the flag. 

Let’s keep history — and overstuffed chicken salad sandwiches — alive. 👊

Mount Pleasant (Tenn.) History Museum.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Podcast: Richard Clem and John Davidson on relic hunting

In Episode 4 of "The Antietam and Beyond Podcast," former relic hunter Richard Clem — “The Babe Ruth Of Storytellers” — and avid relic hunter John Davidson discuss the hobby with co-hosts Tom McMillan and John Banks. Clem, 83, who hung up his metal detector several years ago, recalls the day he "eyeballed" bullets behind the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield — it was private property then — and talks about his unearthing of four Civil War soldier ID discs and much more. 

Davidson hunts campsites and elsewhere throughout Washington County (Md.), where he and Clem live. He talks about his favorite finds, "the hunt after the hunt" and the ethics of a polarizing hobby. (Full disclosure: Neither McMillan nor Banks are relic hunters.)

WARNING: Relic hunting is ILLEGAL on National Park Service property. Public property, both state and federal, is generally not open to metal detecting and removal of artifacts. Consult your local laws. You must have permission to relic hunt on private property.

FOLLOW DAVIDSON and his relic hunting on Facebook | Instagram | READ MORE about Clem and his finds on my blog.

The podcast is sponsored by Civil War Trails, which since 1994 has connected visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Podcast: Historian/author Alex Rossino on Lee's 'Lost Order'

In Episode 3 of "The Antietam and Beyond Podcast," historian and author Alex Rossino joins co-hosts Tom McMillan and John Banks for an in-depth discussion of Special Order 191, the (in)famous and controversial "Lost Order." U.S. Army soldiers discovered the orders — issued by Army of Northern Virginia commander Robert E. Lee on Sept. 9, 1862, during the Maryland Campaign — wrapped in an envelope with cigars near Frederick, Md.

Of course, no discussion of Special Order 191 is complete without a look at George McClellan's generalship during the campaign, which culminated with battles at Antietam and Shepherdstown. We discuss "Little Mac" and go deep into Civil War "nerd-om" with Rossino, who tells us where he believes the U.S. soldiers discovered the orders. Plus, restaurant reviews and much more! Rossino is author of three non-fiction books on the Maryland Campaign, The Tale Untwisted, Calamity At Frederick and Their Maryland. (Read his recently launched Campaign Minutes blog.) 

PURCHASE ROSSINO'S BOOKS FROM SAVAS BEATIE: The Tale Untwisted: George McClellan and the Discovery of Lee's Lost Orders (co-authored with Gene Thorp) | Calamity At Frederick: Robert E. Lee, Special Orders No. 191, and Confederate Misfortune on the Road to Antietam | Their Maryland: The Army of Northern Virginia From the Potomac Crossing to Sharpsburg in September 1862 

The podcast is sponsored by Civil War Trails, which since 1994 has connected visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Updated: My favorite places to eat on Civil War road trips

When in Vicksburg, Miss., be sure to stop here. Steaks!

Like this blog on 
Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | My YouTube videos

With the closing of  Dan’s Restaurant & Tap House  in June 2023, I had to revise my list of favorite places to eat while on Civil War road trips. WARNING! The Sultana burger listed below can be hazardous to your health. 

 Frothy Monkey, Chattanooga, Tenn.: Breakfast, swirly coffee thingie, (Battlefields: Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain)

10. Ruby Sunshine, Franklin, Tenn.: New Orleans roast coffee, big portions (Battlefields: Franklin, Spring Hill battlefields)

Loretta Tacker, owner of Tacker’s
Shake Shack in Marion, Ark.

9: Tacker’s Shake Shack, Marion, Ark.: Chocolate shakes! burgers. (Home of Sultana museum and Sultana burger)

8: Jimmy Madison’s, Harrisonburg, Va.: Caramelized brussel sprouts with bacon (Battlefields: Cross Keys New Market, Piedmont, more)

7: Hagy’s Catfish Hotel, Shiloh, Tenn.: Ribs, sweet potato with cinnamon (Battlefields: Shiloh)

6: Heritage Bakery & Cafe, Harrisonburg,Va.: Coffee and neat, little outdoor courtyard, (Battlefields: Cross Keys, Piedmont, New Market, more)

5: Carter’s Pigpen, Bar-B-Que, Mechanicsville, Va.: Brisket sandwich, tea. (Battlefields: Cold Harbor, Gaines Mills, Malvern Hill, Beaver Dam Creek, more)

4. Walker's Diner, Farmville, Va.: Fast breakfasts, Outdoor dining. Great coffee. (Battlefields: Cumberland Church, Appomattox Court House)

3: Sweet Shop Bakery, Shepherdstown, W.Va.: Coffee, cheap oatmeal raisin cookies, (Battlefields: Shepherdstown, Antietam)

2. Bonnie’s At The Red Byrd, Keedysville, Md.: Breakfast, conversation (Battlefields: Antietam, South Mountain)

1A. The Press Room, Shepherdstown, W.Va.: Fabulous Italian fare, wine. Plus, it's in an old newspaper building. Who cannot love that? They don't know this, but this is the semi-official restaurant of "The Antietam And Beyond Podcast," co-hosted by yours truly and Tom McMillan. (Battlefields: Antietam, Shepherdstown)

1. Beechwood, Vicksburg, Miss.: Steaks! My gawd. So good. In November 2023, I dined here with my "psychotic connection," Sid Champion V of Champion Hill battlefield renown. We could barely move afterward. Tremendous filet mignon, reportedly from Iowa. (Battlefields: Vicksburg, Champion Hill, Grand Gulf and much more)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Podcast: Historian Scott Hartwig and his epic Antietam book


In Episode 2 of our "The Antietam and Beyond Podcast," historian and author Scott Hartwig joins us to discuss his monumental 960-page book about the Battle of Antietam and end of the Maryland Campaign. "The best and most complete story of the Civil War's bloodiest day," historian James M. McPherson calls Hartwig's work. "Masterful," a reader writes of the recently released book. "Exhaustive," says another.

Scott Hartwig
Hartwig — the former supervisory park historian at Gettysburg National Military Park — talks about his writing process, why he wrote about Antietam, A.P. Hill's legendary 17-mile march from Harpers Ferry, the fighting at the southern end of the battlefield in the 40-Acre Cornfield and much more. During the nearly 53-minute podcast — it could have lasted eight hours! — Hartwig also mentions some of the more compelling soldiers who fought at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. (You'll also hear brief mentions from co-host Tom McMillan and me about the "mystery dog" in the 40-Acre Cornfield and the podcast's semi-official beer and restaurant.)

PURCHASE HARTWIG'S BOOKS: I Dread The Thought Of The Place | To Antietam Creek, his first book on the campaign, was published in 2012.

The podcast is sponsored by Civil War Trails, which since 1994 has connected visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states.

Join McMillan and me for regular podcasts about Antietam, the Maryland Campaign and the Civil War — the most compelling period in American history.

McMillan is author of the recently released Our Flag Was Still There. I am  author of the recently released A Civil War Road Trip Of A Lifetime. Find us on Facebook at Author Tom McMillan and John Banks' Civil War Blog