Friday, November 30, 2007

Teacher and mentor

Brian Downey had a great entry on Delos B. Sackett over at Behind Antietam on the Web on Tuesday. As always, Brian's post added that little something extra that makes the reader remember the post and the person.

As I was reading the entry, I noticed that Sackett was an Assistant Instructor of Cavalry Tactics at West Point from 1850-1855. I was curious about which future cavalry leaders he might have influenced, so I pulled out the trusty Cullum files and checked to see who went through the academy during this period who later became a cavalry officer.

The list includes six cavalry leaders who reached brevet Major General. Eugene A. Carr, Kenner Garrard and David S. Stanley for those interested in the western theater; August Kautz, David McM. Gregg and William W. Averell for those eastern theater afficionados among us. Among other significant leaders listed at this time (the classes were mandatory) was one Philip H. Sheridan.

It's of course impossible to gauge Sackett's influence on which branch the cadets under his tutelage chose during the period that he was at West Point, but I thought it interesting.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Civil War Regiments

As I was blog-surfing recently, I noticed a link on Ted Savas’ new blog, A Publisher’s Perspective. The link said “Civil War Regiments.” Given my interest in the cavalry, I was naturally intrigued and clicked the link.

To my surprise and delight, it was not a link to regimental histories. Instead it links one to a website where back issues of the now-defunct “Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War.” As described on the website:

“Civil War Regiments (CWR) was a quarterly publication created in late 1991 to fill a conspicuous gap in Civil War literature. Although several excellent publications are available, only CWR offered exclusively military coverage of the war (all theaters, all branches, Federal and Confederate) in a lengthy, documented and non-partisan format. Each issue is a book, not a stapled magazine. Each book includes original articles on all aspects of the war, including strategy, tactics, logistics, unit histories, leadership and command issues, and much more. Each book includes original maps and numerous photos and illustrations.

"CWR offers lengthy essays of substance. Reach beyond the glossy photos, short articles and cut-and-paste history. CWR is fresh, original scholarship on topics you will not see covered elsewhere, coupled with the best maps and book reviews in the business. Each book is printed on acid-free 50-lb. paper, and the covers are laminated gloss color stock for long, durable use, with a printed spine for easy library shelf reference.

"Unfortunately, when the underlying book business was sold in 2001, CWR was left without a home and publication ended with Volume Seven, No. 1. These collector's issues are selling out fast, several issues are already sold out, and many more are in short supply.”

Among the various titles on the back issues site are issues on Gettysburg, the Red River Campaign, Chickamauga & Chattanooga, and others. The articles’ authors include many experts in their respective fields, as well as some I was unfamiliar with. The journal looks like an excellent product, and one or more back issues will likely be of interest to readers of this blog. I highly recommend a visit.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Harpers Ferry Update

Okay, I'm back after the long weekend relaxed, recharged and ready to get back to work. The projects continue to bubble up (something we referred to as mission-creep in my former line of work), but I thought I'd revisit one of the ongoing ones that has expanded far beyond the short term status where it originated.

The study of the escape of the cavalry from Harpers Ferry continues. Each time I think I'm nearly finished, more material pops up. Brian Downey was kind enough to send along Allan Tischler's book on the expedition, which I'm still working my way through. It is a very well-researched book, but the way it's laid out makes it very difficult to work through. Virtually every version of the story is examined, with various errors and cases of plagiarism identified in each. Unfortunately, the method of examination doesn't lead to a coherent narrative of what did happen, making the work more of a critical bibliography than a history. A very good reference book, in any case. Thanks again, Brian.

Don Enderton was also kind enough to forward copies of his father's personally published The Private Journal of Abraham J. Warner, which should provide some interesting insights and information as well. This is a primary source that I hadn't been able to locate anywhere else, so Don's generosity is greatly appreciated. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

So much research, so little time....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bates letters - July 10, 1862

Editor's note: In which we discover Bates' feelings for a certain New York Times correspondent's coverage of the battles of Malvern Hill and White Oak Swamp. He also provides an account of the battle of Gaines Mill. I'll be checking over the weekend on his allegations of flight by the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, as I don't recall reading of it before. All of the parentheticals save the occasional (sic) were included in the original text.

Harrisons Landing Va.
July 10th 1862
Dear Parents,

I have not written to you for a few days back because I thought you would get all the news in the papers, but if all the papers give the same description of our late fights here, don’t believe anything you read about us. I enclose a few pieces of the “New York Times” July 8th, as sample of the way they will make a mountain of a mole-hill. It seems the correspondent was only with one division, and trusted to guesswork for the details of the rest of the Army. He says, “The great mass of the Army were not apprised until (sic) midnight of Friday of the intention of Genl McClellan to change his base from the York to the James rivers.” Here is mistake No. 1. True the intrenchments (sic) were not evacuated but the “great mass of the Army” were ready for a move long before, but I don’t think the Genl took the trouble to inform the Army what his plans of movement were. He then goes on to say “It commenced to move at 4 Oclock just before the sun” when it was raining in the morning and the sun didn’t appear till late in the forenoon. He speaks of the awful destruction of the Government stores and thinks three millions will hardly cover the loss. I think I could pay for all the property destroyed with one million and have many left after.

He then, after describing the battles of Allans farm, and Savage Station, gets the hype about the wounded left at Savage’s. Now nearly all were removed from there and I doubt secesh got as many hundred as he says thousands. The next piece of absurdity is the description of the battle of Nelsons farm, he seems to think Genl Richardson was commander in chief and had the whole battle to himself nearly. But McClellan himself formed the line of battle and was on the field at “Nelson’s Farm,” or White Oak Swamp, more properly, until he had to go to Haxall’s Landing and look after affairs there leaving Genl Sumner in command at White Oak. The battle of Malvern Hills was fought on the same day, (Monday) and was not the tremendous affair described, on the whole, none of the descriptions are correct, and I think the special correspondent got his news from hearsay, perhaps from the Lieut. Charles Draper, who brought reinforcements to Heintzelman “through a murderous fire,” preferring to keep at a safe distance during the fight, a course followed by a great many of our gallant volunteers who were more interested in looking for the Gunboats or for a pontoon-bridge than in looking for their regiments from this time. I was not on the field where “fights were won” until the battle of “Malvern Hills,” but this was Monday instead of Tuesday, and didn’t commence untill half past four in the afternoon. Instead of the rebs marching up by divisions they stuck to the woods like some of our own volunteers and fighting was all done by artillery. Our Captain picked enough stragglers to form two full regiments and asked permission to take them to the front and give them some fighting to do. He acted as Brigadier General of them himself and supported a battery in good style but didn’t get a chance to do any fighting. The whole squadron were kept busy picking up stragglers or recruiting for McIntyre’s Brigade, as we called it.

I slept soundly on Tuesday on Malvern Hills and wasn’t troubled with the rain which the correspondent says came down in his description of camp on James river.

In conclusion his summary of killed, wounded and missing is one of the biggest lies ever published. I thought at first our loss would be from 12 to 15,000 but now I am positive it is not over 12,000 in all.

While I am in the humor I will write what I know about the affair commencing with Thursday afternoon when I wrote my last letter in Camp Lincoln. I believe I had hardly got the letter in the post-office when the firing commenced on the right. This was McCall’s Division in action, and they stood their ground so well that they were driven out of their camps, and would have been driven off the peninsula but for Porter’s Division which retook the lost ground and held it. That evening Genl McClellan sent word to Porter “to make a stubborn resistance and fall back to the Chickahominy next day.” The answer received was this ---

“I can keep the enemy in check and spare part of my force if you want.” Upon this McClellan rode over to Porter’s and I suppose explained to him what he wanted done. At any rate all the waggons (sic) and property with Porter’s and McCall’s Divisions were immediately sent to the west side of the Chickahominy leaving only troops the other side. Ambulances were also sent for the wounded but most of them stopped to cook breakfast for the drivers and feed the horses so they were late in getting up to the battlefield and about three hundred wounded were left in consequence. The firing commenced at daylight Friday, but I went to sleep after breakfast, being up all night, and when I woke up about 10 Oclock it was as quiet as you please. We packed up everything, and at two Oclock headquarters was moved to Savages Station. Our squadron however was employed in collecting stragglers and sending them back to their regiments for the action had commenced again, and hundreds of runaways were coming across the Chickahominy with stories of their regiments being “cut to pieces.” About one Oclock Porter sent for reinforcements saying he had only a “handful of regulars left.”

“Send the regulars into it and I will let you have reinforcements in two hours,” was the reply. Accordingly the regulars (Sykes brigade) were put to work, and they drove a force that had driven four brigades of our troops, in spite of all the secesh could do; the Fifth New York was also in this brigade. They are men. About five Oclock reinforcements came up and relieved the regulars, and then the secesh took their turn at driving. A battery of ours supported by the 5th Cavalry 7 companies 1st Cavalry 4 companies regulars, and the gallant Colonel Rush’s regiment of Pennsylvania lancers came in danger of being taken when Genl Cooke commanding the cavalry ordered a Charge. The 5th started followed by the 1st, but the Gallant Colonel Rush’s Lancers charged the wrong way and broke a brigade of Infantry in their flight in most ludicrous style. Some of them never stopped running until they got across the Chickahominy. The 5th however saved the battery but failed to do much execution among the secesh. Our troops now commenced to retreat in a hurry, and but for the timely arrival of Meagher’s brigade with some other troops the grand army would have been put to flight. They however checked the enemy until night and withdrew to the west side of the Chickahominy. An assault was also made on the right of our intrenchments (sic) at sundown but it was no use knocking.

In the evening Genl Porter had a talk with Little Mac again, at the beginning of which Mac grasped Porter by the hand and asked him “Well what do you think of your ‘handful of regulars’ now.” (truth)

Send me some postage stamping. I am well.
Charles E. Bates

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New additions

Some of you may have noticed a few new additions on the blogroll to the left of my homepage. I've done a bit of editing lately, and there will be more to come over the holidays as a few of the listed blogs appear to have petered out. There are two new additions that have proven very interesting to me so far.

The first is publisher Ted Savas' A Publisher's Perspective. This is of course not a Civil War specific site, but his first view posts have been very interesting and his publishing house has brought us several great Civil War books in recent years.

The second is Wig-Wags, a blog by Rene Tyree, who is currently a graduate student and started a blog to help her keep her research organized. Although only a few posts old, her entries to date have been both interesting and well thought out.

Welcome to the blogosphere, both of you.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Light Marching Order

I’ve seen cavalry moving in “light marching order” mentioned many times in the course of my research, but not too many descriptions of what this actually entailed. I think the following excerpt by James Larson of the 4th US Cavalry does so rather well.

“Hence the order from the brigade commander was always to move in “light marching order,” which meant that no trooper should carry anything on his horse except what was actually necessary. This order the men of the 4th U.S. Cavalry always carried out more strictly than was really intended by Minty. When stripped for such a march it would be difficult to find an overcoat or extra blanket or clothing of any kind in the regiment. Each man carried only the clothing he wore and, as protection against the rain, only his poncho, which was strapped on the pommel of his saddle. Under the saddle were either two saddle blankets or a saddle blanket and a bed blanket, which served as bed for the trooper whenever time and the condition of the weather would allow him to spread a bad at all, but as no tents or anything to make shelter with was carried, the making of beds depended entirely upon the weather.

“For use in the mess for cooking, a couple of light frying pans were carried in turns by the members, and perhaps also a couple of half gallon tin cups for cooking chickens, ham or coffee, and each man had his little tin cup and knife and fork in the saddle. In the “nose bag” we carried our extra provisions, such as coffee, sugar, salt and whatever we had of bread and meat, so that we were to some extent independent of the pack-mules. We could never rely on them being on hand when wanted. Sometimes we did not see them for several days.

“That was our style in “light marching order” and the style we marched in most of the time during the war. It was very pleasant in fine dry weather, but our condition in rainy and bad weather can easily be imagined. Making the load for our horses lighter was done so as to facilitate our movements, so that we could march quickly without worrying the horses too much.” (Sergeant Larson, 4th Cav., pg 167)

In context, Larson is describing maneuvers trying to bring Confederate raiding parties under Forrest to bay after the battle of Stones River, so this order might be a bit lighter than some others.

Original Spin

In fairness to the 6th Cavalry, I went back over the weekend and found the report on the Fairfield engagement in the regimental muster rolls for July 3, 1863. The entry was made by acting adjutant 2nd Lieutenant L. Henry Carpenter and acting regimental commander Stephen S. Balk, the senior remaining officers with the regiment following the engagements at Fairfield and Funkstown. Incidentally, Eric Wittenberg posted an excellent biographical entry on him over on Rantings of a Civil War Historian a couple of weeks ago.

"3rd. The 6th Cavalry were Ordered by Genl Merritt to Move on the Road leading to Fairfield, while the remainder of the Brigade moved on the Road leading to Gettysburg, passing near Tanytown (sic) --- The Regiment under Comd of Maj. Starr marched through Fairfield and Encountered the Enemy a mile beyond consisting of Genl Beverly Robison (Robertson) and Jones Brigades of Rebel Cavalry, and at least a Battery of Inf. guns (field pieces) (ed. author's parentheses). After fighting obstinately fighting more than a half-hour during most of which time the Regiment steadily drove a superior. --- The Enemy succeeded in bringing up reinforcements in overwhelming numbers, and was Enabled to flank us on the right and left. --- This compelling the Regiment to retreat. The Enemy were repulsed however with one third greater loss than our own. = Loss. Commissioned officers. Killed 1st Lieut balder, Co F, 6th Cavalry. Wounded major Starr, Lieut Wood Chaffee Tucker --- Asst Surgeon Notson. Missing in action. Captain Cram, 1st Lt Paulding, 2nd Lt Bould --- Also Asst Surg Forwood. Of the latter, Lt Bould was enabled to escape the hands of the Enemy and capt Cram was paroled. --- Enlisted men Killed & Missing 231. Returned to Emmittsburg."

I found it interesting that there was no mention made of the wagon train that caused the regiment to be sent to Fairfield, though whether this was because Lieutenants Carpenter and Balk didn't know of it or intentionally omitted it due to limited writing space we can't know.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Changing Perceptions and Spin

One of the things I find interesting as an amateur historian is how history changes over time according to one's perspective. Related to this is how events and facts are 'spun' over time until the original event bears little or no resemblance to its 'history.'

I found an excellent example of this last night. I was reading through one of the initial printings of the Army Lineage Series, published by the Office of the Chief of Military History in 1969. I was reading one of the volumes on Armor-Cavalry, and naturally enough turned to the entry for the 6th Cavalry. Much to my surprise, I discovered the following quote pertaining to the unit's history:

"At Fairfield the unit engaged two enemy brigades of cavalry, completely neutralizing them and saving the supply trains of the Army, but in the process was literally cut to pieces." (pg 157)

I found this very interesting in an official unit history, as it is a good bit different from what I've read in various accounts of the engagement. The unit was engaged at Fairfield, and from all accounts it was definitely cut to pieces. There was a supply train involved, although it was a Confederate train that the unit was sent to intercept by Brigadier General Merritt and not the supply trains of the Union Army. They were only engaged with one brigade, "Grumble" Jones' Laurel Brigade. Not that one brigade wasn't enough, since that put the odds against the 6th at roughly 4 to 1. Given that Jones reported only 58 total casualties for the encounter, his brigade only appears to have been neutralized in that they spent much of the rest of the day rounding up the more than 200 members of the 6th US who were captured.

I don't post this as an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the 6th Cavalry or what they were able to accomplish at Fairfield, but simply as an illustration of how perception changes and legend grows over time. To this day Fairfield is considered one of the premier engagements in the regiment's long history. Similarly, this is not intended as a jab at the Office of the Chief of Military History, which does a lot of great work.

For those interested in more information on the battle, I highly recommend JD Petruzzi's excellent article in the July 2007 issue of America's civil War magazine and Paul M. Shevchuk's article "Cut to Pieces" from February 1985 which is available from USAMHI.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's with all of the bio's?

Yes, I will admit there has been a definite surge in the number of Fiddler's Green posts of late. There are several reasons for this. The biggest one is that the majority of my research on the officers of the 6th US Cavalry is complete, and they thus make relatively easy entries. Second is a scarcity of posting time due to work and study time requirements. The third is that it's simply what I've been in the mood to write about lately. Biographical posts will continue over the remainder of the month, though hopefully not quite so prevalently. There are some posts on the opening scenes from Chickamauga in preparation for later this month as well. And I'm always interested in "what about ____?" feedback.

Fiddler's Green: Ira W. Claflin

Ira Wallace Claflin was born in Vermont in 1834. He was appointed to West Point from Iowa in 1853. He graduated 27th in his class on July 1, 1857, when he was promoted to second lieutenant in the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. He continued to serve at West Point as an Assistant Instructor of Cavalry from October 3, 1857 to May 13, 1858. He was ordered to join his regiment on the frontier, and was promoted to second lieutenant when he arrived at Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 14, 1858. Claflin accompanied his unit on several scouting expeditions over the next three years, serving the majority of his time at Fort Union, New Mexico. In 1859, he participated in an expedition against the Tuni-cha Navajos.

Lieutenant Claflin was still serving at Fort Union at the outbreak of the Civil War. He received a promotion to first lieutenant in the newly-created 3rd U.S. Cavalry on May 14, 1861 (re-designated 6th US Cavalry on August 3rd), but was unable to join his regiment due to ongoing operations in New Mexico. As one of the few professional soldiers in the region, he was directed by his old regimental commander to lead an artillery battery of four 12 pound mountain howitzers. He did so with distinction, earning a brevet to captain for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Val Verde on February 21, 1862. He also fought in the action at Peralta, New Mexico on April 15, 1862 before heading east to join his new regiment on the Peninsula.

He served on the Peninsula at Yorktown from June to August 1862, then as the regimental commissary officer from August 27th to September 5th. Claflin was temporarily assigned to Company A in September, then assumed command of the dismounted Company C and spent the next two months manning and equipping the company. In December he rejoined the regiment in camp at Falmouth, fully manned and mounted. He was promoted to captain on December 23, 1862.

Claflin continued to command Company C until April 1863, when he was assigned command of Company H upon the resignation of Captain John Savage. He remained with this company of and on for the rest of his career.

During the Gettysburg campaign, he once again served as the regimental commissary until the disaster suffered by the regiment at the battle of Fairfield. He assumed command of the remaining 200-odd troopers of the regiment, and led it into battle four days later at Funkstown, Maryland, where he was severely wounded in the shoulder on July 7, 1863. He was later brevetted major effective that date for gallant and meritorious services during the Gettysburg campaign. Claflin was absent on sick leave recovering from his wound until September. He resumed command of the regiment upon his return, which he held until May 1864. He commanded Major General Sheridan’s escort during the Shenandoah and Richmond campaigns from May 4, to November 11, 1864. He was then appointed a Special Instructor of Cavalry in the Department of West Virginia until July 21, 1865.

After the war, Claflin had a brief stint at West Point as an Assistant Professor of Geography, History and Ethics. He served in that position from August 31, to October 6, 1865, when he rejoined his regiment in Austin, Texas and took command of Troop H. He remained there until June 1866, when he took his troop on an inspection of frontier posts that lasted three months and stretched nearly 1,400 miles. He continued to serve in Austin with the regiment upon his return until January 20, 1867, when his troop moved to Mount Pleasant, Texas.

Ira Claflin died of yellow fever at Mount Pleasant, Texas on November 18, 1867 at the age of 33.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fiddler's Green: Thomas W. Simson

Thomas White Simson was born in New York. On October 19, 1858, he enlisted into Company I, 1st Cavalry Regiment, which became the 4th Cavalry Regiment in August 1861. He served as a private and a corporal in the same company until March 27, 1863.

He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment on February 27, 1863, but did not immediately move to the eastern theater to join his regiment. He was badly wounded in action with the 4th Cavalry at Franklin, Tennessee on April 10, 1863, and never fully recovered. Lieutenant Simson didn’t join the 6th Cavalry until August 1863. He was detached from the regiment on recruiting duty from April 1864 to February 1865. Simson was promoted to first lieutenant on February 3, 1865. He was retired on February 22, 1865 for incapacity resulting from wounds received in battle. Simson died October 26, 1865 in Elmira, New York of complications resulting from his wounds.

Civil War Elections

Given that election day was Tuesday here locally, I thought this passage appropriate this week. I hadn't known that soldiers weren't permitted to vote before this time. I suppose it make sense from the standpoint of keeping the military out of the political process, which was probably initially the intention behind the law.

"So time passed and the month of November came, and with it , the election for President of the United States, and I cast my vote for Abraham Lincoln. This was a new feature in army life, as soldiers are otherwise not allowed to vote, but because the voters were nearly all in the army, an act of Congress was passed for that purpose." (Sergeant Larson, 4th Cav., pg 275)

Monday, November 5, 2007

March 13, 1865 "Black Friday"

As I continue my research of Regular army cavalry officers and enlisted men during the Civil War, one bit of information is contained in almost every entry. Apparently every single officer in the Union Army received one or more brevet promotions on March 13, 1865.

Such a statement, of course, makes one suspicious of hyperbole. However, if you go back and check the Fiddler's Green entries in this blog, JD Petruzzi's Faded Hoofbeats entries at Hoofbeats and Cold Steel, and Eric Wittenberg's biographical posts at Rantings of a Civil War Historian, you will quickly note this common thread.

I'm not sure why this happened. The 'when' I understand, as the Confederacy was clearly on its last legs by the middle of March 1865. But why every officer? An honorary appointment isn't much of an honor if everyone gets one. I do know it was a source of consternation and mockery in the Regular army for decades after the war, creating all sorts of problems of precedent. It became known among officers as "Black Friday." August Kautz had a sarcastic but rather humorous article in one of the MOLLUS books after the war about brevet promotions, if I recall correctly.

Do any of my learned readers out there have any insight into this?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fiddler's Green: William S. Abert

William Stretch Abert was born in Washington, D.C. on February 1, 1836. He was the son of Colonel John J. Abert, the Army’s Chief of Topographical Engineers for many years prior to the Civil War. William was commissioned directly into the army from civilian life as a second lieutenant in the 4th Artillery on June 18, 1855.

William Abert was a well-traveled individual as he accompanied his unit during its assignments in the years preceding the Civil War. He served at Fort Ontario, New York until October, 1856, when he accompanied his company to Florida. He was promoted to first lieutenant on March 31, 1857, and continued to serve in Florida until September. He participated in the Utah expedition with his company March 1858 to April 1859. Abert served training recruits at Governor’s Island, New York harbor until June 1859. His company was stationed at Fort Randall, Nebraska until April 1860, when they moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia. Abert remained there until April, 1861, when he was placed on detached service under orders of General Scott.

He was promoted to captain in the newly-organized 3rd US Cavalry on May 14, 1861, re-designated as the 6th US Cavalry on August 3, 1861. He joined regiment at Poolesvile, Maryland later that month, and assumed command of Company D on September 9, 1861. He served with the regiment through its initial training and the opening battles of the Peninsula Campaign. He commanded a squadron at the battles of Williamsburg and Hanover Court House, and received a brevet promotion to major on May 27, 1862 for gallant and meritorious service during the latter battle.

Captain Abert was detailed to serve as an aide-de-camp to Major General George McClellan in July, 1862. He continued to serve in this position until McClellan was relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862. He received a brevet of lieutenant colonel for gallant and meritorious service as an aide during the battle of Antietam, and was commended by McClellan after he was relieved for the quality of his service.

After McClellan was relieved, Abert was assigned to the staff of Major General Nathaniel Banks as his Assistant Inspector General, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He held this position from November 17, 1862 to October 6, 1864, serving primarily in New Orleans, Louisiana with the Department of the Gulf.

On December 3, 1864, he was promoted to colonel of volunteers and assigned command of the 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery regiment. He commanded his regiment in the defenses of Washington for the remainder of the war, and was mustered out of volunteer service with his regiment on September 18, 1865.

Although he received a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers for gallant and meritorious service during the war on March 13, 1865, Abert reverted to his rank in the regular army at the war’s end. He rejoined the 6th US Cavalry in Texas when the 3rd Massachusetts Artillery was mustered out. He served with the regiment in Texas until February, 1867, when he was assigned as the Assistant Inspector General, Department of Texas. He held that position until August.

Abert was promoted to major in the 7th US Cavalry in June 1867 following that regiment’s disaster at Little Big Horn, but held the position only two months. William S. Abert died of yellow fever in Galveston, Texas on August 25, 1867 at the age of 31. He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Friday, November 2, 2007

'New' Biographical Reference

I found a new (for me) biographical reference yesterday. While doing some research on George Myers' reenlistment officer, Thomas W. Simson, I came across an entry on a Google search from a reference I hadn't seen before. The work was Guy Vernor Henry's two volume Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army , published in New York in 1873.

Henry compiled the work in attempt to capture the service of military officers who did not graduate from the military academies, feeling that their service and contributions were not being preserved for the future. From a scholarly standpoint, some of the information could be considered suspect, as Henry solicited the officers or their survivors to provide his information and some of it cannot be verified. He didn't let this lead to hyperbole, however, and the vast majority of the entries are very concise. For a unit like the 6th US Cavalry, the majority of whose officers were not military academy graduates, the books are very helpful.

One part of the first volume that I was very happy to discover was the section on medical officers of the regular army. I had previously unearthed very little information on surgeons and assistant surgeons appointed and assigned to the regular army.

The two volumes vary slightly in organization. The first volume attempts to list officers by branch of service, while the second simply lists them alphabetically. Only on rare occasions in the first volume is someone listed under the wrong branch of service. Both volumes are indexed, however, and information is easily located.

Overall, I think Henry's work is a valuable research tool, and a good companion for Heitman's and Powell's works. And although the files are quite large (42MB for Volume I and 30 MB for Volume 2), as a free download you can't beat the price.

Fiddler's Green: George P. Myers

I am deeply indebted to two descendants of George Myers, Kimberly Branagan and Ola Myers Eikrem, for sharing his pension records and other information that made this entry possible. This all too rare glimpse into the life of a regular cavalry enlisted man would not have been possible without their assistance. Hopefully I have done their diligent research work justice.

George P. Myers was born in Canada on May 9, 1835. His father, Phillip, was born in Ireland and his mother, Margaret Smith, was born in New Brunswick. The family immigrated to the United States in 1846, settling near Rochester, New York.

He enlisted as a private in Captain Irvin Gregg’s Company G, 6th US Cavalry on August 13, 1861 in Rochester, New York. His enlistment documents describe him as a 26 year old laborer, 5’6” tall, with light hair, gray eyes, and a fair complexion. He was not able to write, and made his mark on his enlistment documents.

George Myers served through the first two years of the war without incident. He was briefly listed as “missing on Stoneman’s Raid” on the April 1863 muster rolls, but was again present for duty the following month. It is quite likely that like many troopers on this raid, his horse went lame during the raid and he had to make his own way back to Union lines.

Such good fortune did not last through his regiment’s fateful engagement at Fairfield, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1863. Myers was captured during the engagement, and moved by foot and rail through the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond. He was confined at Belle Isle Prison in Richmond on July 21, 1863. Myers was paroled at City Point, Virginia on December 28, 1863, and moved by boat to Camp Parole, Maryland, near Annapolis. The regimental muster rolls list him as “joined from missing in action January 7, 1864.” He was so weakened by malnutrition at the time of his release that he was nearly blind and had to be physically led off of the steamboat, according to Patrick Cullen, who had enlisted with him in the same company in Rochester and met his boat at City Point. He remained at Camp Parole for several months recovering from his ordeal before he was sent to the Cavalry Corps’ “Dismounted Camp, Va” on May 13, 1864. The documents are vague, but this was probably the cavalry depot at Giesborough Point. He continued to serve until he was honorably discharged at the expiration of his enlistment on August 13, 1864.

Health issues from his imprisonment continued to plague Myers, though he was able to continue to serve in the Army. An account from a fellow private in Company G states that Myers had to be relieved from picket duty as soon as the sun went down because he couldn’t see in the dark. He described him as having bad eyesight, with eyes that were red and inflamed, “caused by moon-blindness.”

The term ‘moon-blind’ surfaces again and again in Myers’ pension records. The term generally refers to a horse disorder. It is an inflammation of the vascular structures of the eye. It is called moon blindness because of the recurring nature of the disease that was once thought to coincide with the phases of the moon. The actual medical term for the condition is Equine recurrent uveitis, or ERU. ERU is thought to be an immune-mediated disease process that can be triggered by many different causes. The weakening of Myers’ immunity system due to malnutrition would certainly have made him more vulnerable to the disease. Each episode is usually painful, and characterized by red and inflamed eyes with excessive tearing and sometimes light sensitivity or photophobia. Quiescent stages, when the eye seems normal and the disease in remission, may last from weeks to months before another episode occurs. Unfortunately, each attack of ERU leads to more damage to the eye and eventually blindness develops.

Like many soldiers of the Regular Army during the late summer of 1864, Myers was given the opportunity to return home and reenlist in the state of his choice. He returned home and reenlisted for three years in Rochester, New York. He changed companies, and was reenlisted by Second Lieutenant T.W. Simson into Company F, 6th US Cavalry on September 12, 1864. He again didn’t sign, but made his mark. His enlistment was credited to the town of Sweden, Monroe County, 28th Congressional District of New York. After a brief furlough, he rejoined his regiment by November.

Myers served with his regiment through the remainder of the war with little incident. He was promoted to corporal in Company F on February 21, 1865. He apparently didn’t desire to continue his service after the war ended and the regiment was dispatched to service in Texas. The regimental muster rolls list him as “Deserted Aug 8, ‘65, a private.” The date of his reduction from corporal to private has been lost. His records were later amended to read, “discharged May 17, 1890, to date August 8, 1865, by order of the Secretary of War, and by reason of desertion, a private.”

After leaving the army, Myers returned home to Brockport, New York where he lived the remainder of his life working alternately as a farmer and a street laborer, according to census records. He married Anna S. Woods on October 25, 1866 at Clarkson Corners, Monroe County, New York. She was born in County Cavan, Ireland on May 5, 1850, and had immigrated to the United States the year before.

George Myers’ health declined drastically after the war, most likely as a result of his wartime imprisonment. He petitioned for a pension on several occasions, with statements from fellow members of Company G who knew him before and after his time in prison. Joseph O’Connor described him as a “sound, healthy man” before he was taken prisoner, and called him “deaf and ‘moon blind’” afterwards. He initially had difficulties receiving a pension for disability, and was forced to provide numerous statements from relatives and former comrades in arms to verify his health problems and when they happened. One of the factors responsible for his difficulties was that Myers was apparently a hard worker who didn’t complain. Despite the difficulties with his eyes, he was far from a malingerer and didn’t show in any of the muster rolls as absent because of sickness. This lack of evidence of disability in his service records made it more difficult to obtain his pension.

George P. Myers died of tuberculosis in Brockport, New York on October 30, 1915. He was buried the next day in Brockport Cemetery, Sweden Township, Brockport, Monroe County, New York. He was survived by his wife and six children.