Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Unravelling threads and stalkers

Sorry, folks, this entry doesn't focus on who was where when doing what. While important for setting stages and understanding why things happened the way they did, the simple fact of the matter is that trying to cover too much too quickly results in shallow work. When I read my own entry and then ask myself, "Yes, but so what?", there's an issue. So, while feverish material gathering continues, I'll be taking a little more time for analysis.

Part of the problem is that there's so much material that turns up once one starts looking. I don't seem to have a thread or two to trace, I have that ball of yarn that the cat's been playing with. Sometimes, though, it seems like a thread is looking for you instead of you for it. We'll take as an example one August V. Kautz, once of the 6th US Cavalry during the Civil War.

I first came across Kautz on US Regulars Archive, where I saw his Customs of Service for Officers of the Army and Customs of Service for NonCommissioned Officers and Enlisted Men. Interesting, but not what I was looking for at the time, so I moved on.

Last week when driving home from a business meeting, I saw the sign for the Five Forks battlefield visitor center and turned in. On the bookshelf was a book on Sheridan (I think) and Kautz' cavalry raid of 1865. Hm, Kautz again, I thought. But I was in a hurry to get home. I didn't linger long and I didn't buy the book.

Last weekend as I was thumbing through the War Department's General Orders from 1861 and 1862, he found me again. This time it was in the list of appointments for the original officers of the 6th US Cavalry. There, in General Orders No. 65, August 23, 1861, is the appointment to captain of First Lieutenant August V. Kautz from the 4th US Infantry. Hmm, there he is again. Odd, I wonder who he was. But I was trying to finish the 1st/4th Cavalry and start the 1st Dragoons, so I moved on.

Yesterday, I'm in the university library on my lunch hour looking through the Supplement to the Official Records. It's an unwieldy, cumbersome resource, but there are occasional gems in there. As I'm paging through additions to the records from early 1862 on the battle of Valverde, I discovered a diary extract. Not just one, but several, that cover most of 1862 at a minimum. Whose? Why my stalker friend August Kautz, of course. So at this point I decided that I have two choices: either research the guy or get a restraining order against him. Since Option B isn't viable, you'll be reading about him here in the near future.

I've come across several officers so far that I'd like to look into more. Many interesting fellows served during the war in the Regulars, and several of them deserve attention. I wanted to think of a tag line for the biographies before I started them, however. JD Petruzzi has a Faded Hoofbeats section at Hoofbeats and Cold Steel, which I think is a great label. Then I remembered Fiddler's Green, a poem troopers had to memorize during their spur rides in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. I'll post about it more later, but suffice for now to say that it is a place where dead cavalry troopers go. Perfect. So now there's a concept, we just need more entries. Back to work.


Brian Downey said...

A-ha. Exactly.

I know precisely how you feel. My albatross is the Battle of Antietam, and I pull people-threads related to that place and time daily.

Like you, I find very many more threads than time. Or, as you say, they find me. Kautz, as you prob know, is typical, not an exception. There are hundreds more right beside him.

It looks like you've found a life's work, if you want such a thing.

Some of my family think it's more of a curse, though :)

Eric Wittenberg said...


Kautz is an interesting fellow. He ended up in the 6th US Cavalry, and then was commissioned colonel of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry. He eventually ends up a major general of volunteers commanding a division of USCT in the Army of the James. He left behind an extensive collection of papers at the Library of Congress and an unpublished memoir at USAMHI.

And yes, it's the June 1864 Wilson-Kautz Raid. The raid was intended to destroy the railroads feeding Petersburg, but was a true disaster. Wilson and Kautz were lucky to escape with their commands intact. As it was, they lost all of their wagons, all of their artillery, and about 1/3 of their men. Ugly.


Don said...

Yes, Kautz is one of many, just more persistent than most. At least I hope so, I was feeling a little pursued yesterday.
I'm looking forward to Antietam, if I ever make it out of 1861. I've never studied it too closely. What would you recommend as a one-volume overview?


Don said...

Yes, I'd found the 6th US and 2nd Ohio info, but I also discovered today he was one of the nine members of the tribunal convened to try the Lincoln conspirators. This is REALLY an area I know little about, but other members were cavalrymen David A. Hunter (6th Cavalry) and Charles H. Tompkins (2nd Cavalry,in a bit of trouble just before Bull Run for an unauthorized foray that wounded R.S. Ewell).
I tried to find the memoir at USAMHI this afternoon without any luck. I keep having difficulties with their database searches for some reason. The diary entries in the OR are very interesting so far, though.