Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thought on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and Gettysburg Address

I still cannot decide if I prefer the Gettysburg address or the Second Inaugural as Lincoln’s superior work, though I have thought and written about it often before. I really like the Second Inaugural, published below, and the various styles of writing and phrasing Lincoln used in it, but the Gettysburg Address has similar qualities and has reached a legendary status even (or especially?) among non-Civil War students. Should that fame affect how I view that speech? I just do not know. Fame does not change the quality of the writing or Lincoln’s ability to make his points so succinctly, but fame does attract more people to learn about Lincoln, Gettysburg, the Civil War and its meaning. I think it is important for people to understand at least some basic facts about the war and the Gettysburg Address may encourage some students to do so. The Second Inaugural is wonderful, but lacks the popular appeal of the other address and likely does not lead as many people to become interested in the Civil War. Does popularity affect which one is better or should I only focus on the actual speeches, their words and meanings? That is another good question I am trying to answer for myself.

Perhaps this whole issue is not utterly important, but it is something I like to ponder, especially on days like today, the anniversary of the Second Inaugural. Just the process of re-reading each speech and thinking about their meaning may be good for me. I’m sure it is something I shall continue to do. Maybe it is the journey of contemplating this question that is more important than the destination/answer after all. Perhaps, though, I need to explore this some more. Another post on this may be coming soon if I can get my thoughts organized as I want.

Fellow-countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.
The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” 
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Advertising Card for “First Class Artificial Limbs”

This advertising card is one of my favorite pieces of war-related (even if distantly) ephemera. It absolutely fascinates me that someone thought to use this picture of a sweet, innocent young girl to sell artificial limbs, though a google search found two other similarly strange subjects on cards from the same company. (I tried to save the pictures to use here, but they were blurry and not worth using.) Perhaps mine is not as different as I at first thought, but I still like it.


It does mention “U.S. Soldiers” can get a limb and transportation to the office for free, so apparently that excluded Confederate veterans, which does make sense since it apparently was a U.S. government program. I wonder if any ex-Confederates ever tried to benefit from this offer. 

Google books has this information about the company. Mr. Evans had moved from St. Louis to Cincinnati, taking over business from a Dr. Bly, and had previously worked in New Orleans. According to this link (see image below), he moved to the address on this card in 1884, almost 20 years after the Civil War had ended.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dave Mowery on Morgan’s Great Raid

Yesterday, I heard David Mowery talk at an event for the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation about John Hunt Morgan and his Great Raid  of 1863. It was an enjoyable and informative talk and it made me wonder if I had reviewed his book. I remembered reading it, but not reviewing it.

I searched here and found this blurb in a post that included several such brief reviews of  books I read in 2014. I wish I had done a more thorough review of it, but I do remember it as a good book. It is not terribly long, but I definitely recommend it, especially to people interested in Morgan and his career. 

Copyright 2013, The History Press
This is not a long look at the details of every confrontation during this 1863 raid, but is a good overview of the entire raid and provides a nice look at how much ground Morgan, his men and his pursuers covered during these weeks. Mowery's writing is easy to follow and I enjoyed how he described the challenges that those in and against the raid faced. 

Dave is also a fine speaker. He is obviously comfortable giving talks and extremely knowledgeable about Morgan and his career. His presentation moves at a good pace and he does a terrific job of answering questions. (Of course, it helps when the crowd is attentive and asks good questions, like at yesterday’s event.) He is friendly and easy to approach, and his obvious enthusiasm for the subject only makes his presentation even better. 

Dave is a member of the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table as well as the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Association, and probably other groups as well. He says he has been to over 600 Civil War battle sites, many not on maps.  If you have the chance to see him speak, take advantage of it. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

I Appeal to Your Humanity: Lieutenant Gilbert W. Ely’s Civil War

Many soldiers who fought in and survived the Civil War brought home with them physical and emotional scars, with stories of battles fought, marches made, colleagues killed, captured or wounded, and tales of many horrible events they had experienced or witnessed. It was an unforgettable time for these men, who never again would live through such a terrible conflict.

Other men, however, had less extreme wartime experiences, without the famous battles and charges and minus any military glory or honor. Among this latter group was 2nd Lieutenant Gilbert W. Ely, whose Civil War career was brief and obscure, but still challenging enough to make for the intriguing story that follows.

Gilbert was born in Monmouth, New Jersey in 1828, the son of Allison and Lydia Ely according to, though the 1850 census lists his father’s name as “Elitlue.” If this is the correct family, Gilbert’s ancestors had lived in New Jersey since the 1680s, according to family trees on, but Gilbert and his family would end that long tradition during his youth. 

In 1840 the 8-member family lived in Montgomery County, Ohio, probably in Dayton, where they resided in 1850, when their family included Gilbert, his 5 siblings and their parents. At this time, Gilbert and his father both worked as laborers. In 1860, the three remaining Elys (Gilbert not among them) were running a boarding house in the same city. (Gilbert does not show up on this census.)

He apparently enjoyed the privilege of a good education, as signed documents in his file on (I found them through are well-written in terms of legibility, grammar, spelling and the clarity of his thoughts. His education may have helped him gain a commission as an officer.

His military adventures began on May 10, 1861, when he joined company G of the 1st Kentucky Infantry at Camp Clay in Cincinnati, Ohio. Camp Clay was one of the camps that Ohio's governor William Dennison had ordered to be created to speed up enrollment of the state's military volunteers during the weeks after the firing upon Fort Sumter. It had been named in honor of Henry Clay and was located in the small Cincinnati neighborhood of Pendleton. (This neighborhood is currently the location of the modern "Jack Cincinnati” Casino.) It existed only in 1861. 

At this time, Kentucky was still trying to remain neutral in the young war, so some early Kentucky regiments were organized in neighboring states and enrolled men from various states. The 1st Kentucky began service under the command of Colonel James Guthrie, who had recruited and organized it, though he resigned before year’s end.

Gilbert joined this unit while it was still a three-month unit, and he held the rank of 1st Lieutenant. When this regiment was officially accepted into Federal service for a three-year term on June 4 (mustered in by Major Sidney Burbank), Gilbert was mustered back in as a 2nd Lieutenant for the longer term.

His new military life would prove to be less than glamorous, but would also serve as an example of some of the more common day-to-day activities in such a large army. These happenings may seem like minutiae today, in the big picture of the famous battles and legendary leaders of the war, but must have been of the greatest importance to Gilbert and other “common soldiers” like him. Some of the details of Gilbert’s career remain unknown, but enough evidence remains for the telling of his story.

This is Gilbert Ely’s Civil War. 

Soon after joining the army, Gilbert found time to pose for a portrait at a photographer's office in Cincinnati. Fortunately, he signed the back of the picture and even included "Newport, Kentucky" in his signature. Newport is a town across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Perhaps he was living there or maybe was temporarily assigned to the Newport Barracksbut, whatever the reason for him signing it that way, his signature is a valuable source, as without it his picture would likely be another anonymous image in somebody's collection, if even still in existence. Thanks to this signature, this stained portrait was the inspiration for the discovery of Gilbert’s story.

From author’s collection 

The 1st Kentucky organized as a 3-year unit in June 1861 and soon moved to the Kanawha River Valley in western Virginia (now in West Virginia), under the command of Brigadier General Jacob Cox, who led the brigade, and then Brigadier General William Rosecrans, in charge of the region. They were involved in several small engagements in the region, including one at Gauley Bridge.

One of their camps in the area was  Camp Gauley, but the record of Gilbert’s troubles begins on September 9, when he sent a letter to General Cox from Camp Enyart.

One of the 1st Ky encampments, Camp Enyart, W.Va., courtesy It presumably was named for Colonel David Enyart. The drawing was made Sept. 20, 1861, shortly after Gilbert's troubles began. 

 He wrote that he had received a letter from his mother about the approaching death of his wife. He requested a 10-day furlough to visit his home in Dayton. “I appeal to your humanity to grant me the privilege of seeing my wife before she dies.”

Letter asking for leave 

On the back of an unsigned and undated page in the file appears the following line: "I have permission from Lieut. Col. Enyart. I await with impatience your answer." From the wording and handwriting, it appears Gilbert added this to the back of his request, as sort of a postscript, though I do not claim any expertise in handwriting analysis.

General Cox' response, written on the same date from Gauley Bridge (Headquarters, Kinahwa Brigade) follows: "I regret to be obliged to inform you that no furloughs can now be granted by me to officers without first submitting the supplication to Gen. Rosecrans. To do so by mail is a tedious operation. I hope to have a quicker (illegible - perhaps “word”?) in a few days."

"I assure you of my heartfelt sympathy about your family and fervently hope you will hear better news shortly. If I have an opportunity of getting Gen. Rosecrans' assent to giving you leave of absence within a few days, I will certainly do so."

After waiting a few days and not getting further response, Gilbert was not happy. He wrote another letter, this time directly to Brigader General Rosecrans from Camp Gauley on October 3. His message (misspelling the general’s name as “Rosencrans”) stated: 

"I hereby tender my resignation as 2nd Lieutenant in Company G, First Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers."

"My reasons are: 1st I have been in the service for five months and have not yet received my commission. 2nd The palpable favoritism shown to some of the officers of the regiment to the injury of others, myself among the latter named."

He concluded by asking the general for his earliest attention to this request, but followed up two days later with a letter of further explanation.

He began this second letter by describing his attempt to get a furlough to visit his wife "about a month ago." He forwarded General Cox' response "since when I have heard no more of the matter." He claimed that "favorite officers can obtain furloughs for thirty and sixty days," before logging his next complaint, which hints at another chapter of his story.

"While performing my duty as Officer of the Guard on the third of this month, I was intolerably interfered with by a sergeant of company E of this regiment. His insolence caused me to act a little hasty toward him and that is now seized as a means of persecution towards me." 

He then asks the general to give his resignation "immediate attention."

Nothing in his file indicates exactly what happened next, though the “interfering” sergeant probably reported the incident to his superiors, with Gilbert likely being arrested and held for a court martial. There is no mention of an arrest or trial, but his actions were not ignored, as the file includes a list of charges and specifications against him as well as one interesting piece of correspondence regarding his case.

After his apparent arrest, Gilbert faced four charges:

Charge the first: "conduct unbecoming an officer." The specifications were: "...was while in the performance of duties of 'Officer of the Guard' in a state of intoxification rendering him entirely unfit to perform said duty in a proper manner" at Camp Gauley on October 3.

Charge the second: "Using language unbecoming an officer and a gentleman while on duty" with the specifics just being that he used such language while serving as "Officer of the Guard" on the same day and location.

Charge the third: "striking a non-commissioned officer." The specifics involved: "struck with his hand or fist 2nd Sergent Daniel W. Glassie of Company E...on the head and face twice," again at the same time and place. (Note: the soldiers and sailors website only lists this additional name in a Kentucky artillery unit, but a pension record on mentions the 1st Kentucky Infantry and one page in his file, documenting his artillery service, says he was mustered out of service and back in to accept a promotion on October 31, 1861. It gave no more specifics, but that date indicates it might be the same guy. Here is a bit of history on Glassie’s artillery unit.)

Charge the fourth: listed with the previous specification, as the writer apparently wanted to use only one sheet of paper. "Did (illegible word) draw and cock his revolver and threaten to shoot."

Charges against Gilbert Ely 

Exactly what happened regarding these charges is unclear, but on October 23, then Lieutenant-Colonel Enyart (who had replaced Colonel Guthrie in charge of the unit) wrote to the Judge Advocate from Camp Gauley:

Sir - 

The bearer of this, Lieut. Ely Co, "G" 1st Ky. Regiment, reports himself to you in reference to some charges which the party with him desires to withdraw. I hope after hearing Lieut. Ely's statement that you will disregard the matter, as we are short of efficient officers. Lieut. Ely is a good officer (and) promises to hereafter most faithfully attend to all his duties. If the charges are allowed to be withdrawn, I think it will be satisfactory to all parties. 

David Enyart, courtesy

Neither this letter, nor anything else in the file completely confirms if charges were dropped or pursued. An 1881 "special order" in Gilbert's file shows that his record was considered complete with an honorable discharge, due to his tender of resignation, effective January 22, 1862. This resignation officially ended his time with the 1st Kentucky. 

This document creates as many questions as answers. Why did they need such an order so long after the war? Did someone forget to note his formal resignation/discharge at the time it happened? If so, how did they realize it was missing? Maybe it came up while researching his pension application. (One tidbit which might be interesting only to me is that all documents in his file were handwritten except for this later form, which was typed. This is a sign of the spread of typewriting technology in the post-war years. Technology did not stop advancing after the war.)

Perhaps this eventual honorable discharge indicates charges were not pursued, or at least he was not convicted and drummed out of the service. Why his resignation was not effective until January 22 is another curiosity and raises more questions. Was he trying to get the charges dropped? Were his superiors trying to resolve the issue and retain his services? Was it typical bureaucratic red-tape slowness? Did he physically remain with the regiment from October through January? 

The intriguing part of that letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Enyart is that the judge advocate who received it was Maj. R.B. Hays (sic), who was future President Rutherford B. Hayes. Finding a future President associated with this obscure story was certainly unexpected. It is fascinating that a story about an unknown Lieutenant can connect to a future President of the United States. 

Rutherford B. Hayes, as Major-General, courtesy

Despite these rather unpleasant experiences in the 1st Kentucky, Gilbert’s patriotism had, remarkably, not yet evaporated. In 1864, he joined company K of the 131st Ohio Infantry, a 100-day (National Guard) regiment which mustered in at Camp Chase in May. It immediately traveled east, arrived in Baltimore and served on garrison duty at various forts in the area, presumably allowing the troops normally in those defenses to head to the front lines, likely in U.S. Grant's Overland Campaign. This unit, including Gilbert, served its time and mustered out at Camp Chase in August.


Not as much is clear about the rest of Gilbert’s life. His wife Frances survived the early-war scare, but still passed away early, dying in 1865 per

The 1890 Veterans' Census shows he lived at the National Soldiers' Home in Dayton at that time. Records on show that he entered the home July 25, 1889. He apparently had remarried as paperwork for the Soldiers’ Home listed his closest relative as his wife Harriet, and also shows he was living in Cincinnati. His occupation was “molder,” he was a Protestant, and paperwork shows he could not read or write at this time. The 1890 census showed he had no disability when he initially entered the home, but military home paperwork shows he had suffered “war bronchitis.” As he entered the home, he stood 5'9" tall, with a fair complexion, gray hair and gray eyes. He was discharged from the home on June 18, 1891. The writing on one form explaining why is, unfortunately, mostly illegible, but appears to say "G.H. for insane.” Might that mean “government home” for the insane? 

Apparently it does, as he moved back into the home on February 1, 1893, and a second form shows he came from the central branch of the government insane asylum. His mental health issues may have been why he apparently was now illiterate. He was later discharged again, this time on January 1, 1898. Again, the writing (on the first form) is mostly illegible, but it may say "improved." If so, any improvement may not have been substantial, as he passed away on April 9, 1898. He is buried at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton.

Courtesy, with “T” as his middle initial

Rest in peace, Lieutenant Gilbert W. Ely.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally

Author: Elizabeth D. Leonard
Copyright 2011
The University of North Caroluna Press
(Civil War America, Gary Gallagher, Editor) 

Throughout most of his life, Joseph Holt was a well-known and well-respected lawyer and politician, known for his hard work and loyalty to the United States, but in the years after his public career ended and as national reconciliation became a popular theme, his fame slipped from public consciousness and knowledge of his work and effort to support the Union also disappeared. In 2011, however, Elizabeth Leonard wrote this book to tell the tale of Joseph Holt’s life and career, and help rescue him from historical oblivion. I wish I had read it sooner.

Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally  is a fine biography of an important, but often overlooked man. Leonard uses a smooth, easy-to-read writing style, combined with in-depth research, to tell the story of a man whose name is not often mentioned in modern Civil War books. Holt, however, had a long, fascinating career in politics and the law before, during, and after the war, and this book describes it in an enjoyable and informative fashion

The story starts with some basic family history and then progresses through a chronological telling of the story of Holt’s life and career.  It is sensible and effective arrangement and does a fine job of showing how Holt grew socially, intellectually and politically, including the support he received and challenges he faced from family, other people and his own natural personality traits. 

He was an intelligent man with a great work ethic, starting from his days as a student and lasting throughout his long political career. He had good family support, including financial support from his grandfather, but also faced the burdens of high family expectations, especially from two uncles who come across as unlikeable in this volume, an aunt, and his brothers, some more helpful than others.

Leonard’s work uses many sources, especially Holt’s own files, to analyze Holt’s personality and how it shaped his career and how people perceived him. He was a successful lawyer and an influential Democratic party speaker, but also chose to avoid seeking election to political office. Despite his reluctance to asking for support from voters, however, he willingly accepted appointment to high-profile public offices. He continued to be a private but proud man who cared deeply about his honor and reputation. He struck back against those he felt had wronged or insulted him. Again, this started during his time as a student, when he defended himself over criticism about a paper he had written, and lasted through the rest of his life, such as when he repeatedly defended his actions in the trial of the Lincoln assassins, even decades after the trial ended. This book strongly illustrates this part of his character. 

Holt’s life was one of apparent ironies and contradictions. One of these ironies, as explored often in this book, is how he remained so steadfastly loyal to the Union throughout the war, with a devotion beyond question, but was less faithful to both of his wives. In both marriages, he spent significant time living away from his bride before they moved in together, and during each marriage, he carried on correspondence, sometimes rather flirtatious, with other women, some of whom were themselves married. He apparently did love his wives, but also enjoyed corresponding with women, family or not, a habit he continued even after his second wife passed (he did not marry for a third time.) Calling him a “ladies’ man” may be an exaggeration, but his  corresponding with other women also brought him pleasure. 

Other contradictions helped define his life and career. He grew up a Democrat and was a solid party loyalist in the pre-war years, often speaking or writing on the party’s behalf. He then held multiple positions in the administration of Democrat James Buchanan, but became a strong supporter of Republican Abraham Lincoln, serving as judge advocate general in his administration. Holt was a slaveholder who supported the Union - not totally unusual, especially among Kentuckians - but he did eventually see the need to abolish slavery to win the war and keep the nation united, which was very rare for an owner of other humans. He was a Southern Unionist long before that term became familiar.

His ambition for higher position and authority and his willingness to accept appointed political offices contrasted with his basic shyness and his refusal to consider elective office. He was a private man in public office, but being an introvert did not stop him from using public writings to defend his reputation or actions. Like stereotypical southern men, he maintained  a strong sense of honor and was willing to overcome his preference for privacy in order to defend himself.

His personal characteristics, such as his sensitivity, sense of honor, privacy, work ethic, and pride combined to form a fascinating persona, and this book describes how such traits worked together in his personal and public lives.

The central theme of the book, however, is Holt’s absolute and unwavering support for the Union. He did not want to see it split before the war, favored a strong effort to win the war to preserve it, and then was one of the foremost advocates of punishing the people responsible for the coming of the war, almost to the point of obsession. Nobody questioned his loyalty, though at the end of his career some people did wonder if his senses of loyalty and Unionism had gone too far as he attempted to punish Confederate leaders and others he associated with Lincoln’s assassination. This questioning led Holt to defend his actions and his honor yet again.

Overall, this is an excellent example of biographical writing, a well-written history and analysis of an important figure whom history has largely forgotten, despite his important roles in the the decades around, and including, the Civil War. He was a Kentuckian who influenced the war and many of his challenges - including being a slaveowner who supported the Union and a man whose family was split by the war - were similar to what many people in his homestate experienced. Contrasts with many fellow Kentuckians, however, also manifested themselves, especially his support of Lincoln and emancipation, two unpopular topics in his home state. Holt did not cave in to peer or even family pressure (from his uncles or proud southern brother Robert especially.) He was his own man in a difficult era, and the contradictions in his life demonstrate his individuality. This book shows how his personal traits and beliefs led him to handle the challenges he faced, and it does so in a very readable manner.  The author clearly did a lot of research and her finished work is an easy and quick read. I gladly recommend this book to people interested in the Civil War, especially those interested in lesser-known people or subjects.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ideas for 2018

To start the new year, I will not resort to the cliché of calling these resolutions, but I thought it might be a good idea to post ideas of some things I would like to accomplish about this blog and my interest in the Civil War in 2018. It still seems surreal that I have been doing this blog thing since 2009. So much has happened and changed since then, but I plan to keep on plugging away here. How many, if any, of these will happen this year, I do not know, but i do like at least having a list of items in writing.

1. Read more books. I have done pretty well at this in the last half of 2017, at least until my most recent cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago, but I want to do more. I have a few that I have not read yet, and a couple of those stand  out as ones I want to read first. 

2. Rearrange my bookshelves This might help the first one, but I would like to re-arrange my books so that they are in some sort of logical order. I did recently create a shelf for my Civil War books dealing with Kentucky, Cincinnati and “local” books (though there is one more I know I have, but I cannot find it and it is making me CRAZY!) but I need to do this with more books. I have a couple shelves semi-organized, but need to do more, though deciding how and what topics to use will be tough. At least one or two will be for Lincoln, and I think I will probably use “biographies” for another, instead of more specific ideas like “generals.” Perhaps an actual “to be read” pile or shelf would be nice as well 

3. Travel. I will not be a globetrotter, but I need to see a couple of places in Kentucky for the first time  (Richmond, Mill Springs, Wildcat Mountain) and revisit other places such as Perryville, Bardstown and Hodgenville. I will visit Cynthiana again and perhaps take one out-of-state trip, possibly to Springfield, Illinois. I would like to see Lincoln’s Home, the Lincoln Presidential Library, his tomb and whatever other Lincoln attractions are located there. I have thought about that for a while and think it would be fun, though a long drive. I do need to go to other battlefields like Shiloh, Franklin, Chickamsuga or back to Gettysburg or Antietam, but I don’t see those happening this upcoming year.

4. Post more often I’d like at least a couple of posts every month, though I can’t promise it. I look at my blogroll and a lot of blogs I started following a few years ago are now gone or inactive. I suppose podcasts are the current hot thing, but that does not interest me. I’ll keep on blogging as I enjoy it, especially when I come up with a good or fun idea for a post. Researching, writing, and editing/proofreading these remains fun for me and I do think it helps keep my mind sharp and learn new things about the war and about how to express my thoughts. It is a good creative outlet for me, no matter how many page views I do or do not get. 

5. Redesign this blog? I really like the current look, with all the blue coloration, but part of me is getting the itch to make some changes. It has had this same look for several years now and I kind of want to make changes, but every time I look at it and try to think of how to change it, I just do not come up with any ideas. I simply like how it looks. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but not a big deal in the long run. 

6. Get involved in re-enacting or living history? I have purchased a Union infantry private’s frock cost and have ordered some pants which will need hemming. I still need other garments - a shirt, suspenders, socks, brogans and a kepi at least - but have started the process. I suppose i am not sure I want to re-enact, but probably have more interest in living history to represent the museum where I volunteer. Perhaps I will try both, but the living history is what I have been interested in and why I have looked into these purchases for a couple of years. I think wearing a uniform will improve my perspective on the soldiers who fought, especially if I do re-enact and will let me communicate it better as well. 

That seems like a good list, at least to ponder and to try to conquer. I guess now it is time that will tell how man6 of these I attack or accomplish. 

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Battlefield Musings, or Cynthiana I Hardly Know Thee

I have posted about the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation previously, and though I have not written about it lately, I’m still involved with it and still hope this group can bring more awareness about the battles to people in the town and everywhere. My own experience has shown me that there is a need for such a group to create more attention and publicity for the battles of Cynthiana. I wish it had existed a couple of decades ago.

I still am no expert on the battles or town, but  my involvement with this group has educated me about these battles, through visits to the town, during which I saw many of the fighting spots, and by introducing me to Kentucky Rebel Town, a fine book about the town and the actual battles. I just finished reading it recently. My visits and this reading have helped both my understanding and my perception of these battles and the area where they occurred.

This is the first real “city” type of battlefield I have visited. I admit I am not the most well-travelled Civil War student. I visited Gettysburg and Antietam a couple of decades ago and my recent battlefield treks have all been to Perryville, though one regret is not making a trip to that beautiful land this year. These are mostly traditional types of battlefields, with an emphasis on fields, especially Perryville (though perhaps my memory of Gettysburg is not good, as I believe there was urban fighting there.)  I remember those battlefields as having so much open ground, fields of grass, hills, streams, and small patches of woods. The biggest obstacles on most of the fields were wood and stone fences and perhaps corn or wheat fields. Uneven ground and other natural terrain features added to the challenges the soldiers faced, but there were not as many man-made structures like the various buildings in Cynthiana. I know some fighting took place in the town of Perryville, but the vast majority was in the surrounding hills and fields. 

Cynthiana gives me the opposite feel of  those “fields.” Some fighting here took place in fields, but much of it occurred in the actual town, with houses, buildings, streets, a bridge and railroad tracks in the way of the fighting. Soldiers used the railroad depot, the courthouse and other buildings for shelter, and their opponents resorted to burning many  buildings in the absence of artillery. It still was war, but a different kind. It just seems difficult for me to picture Civil War soldiers marching  up and down those city streets, going from building-to-building, while others fired shots out of windows or intentionally set fires to numerous buildings. Maybe this helps me understand better what some modern soldiers face in urban warfare today or maybe some of the TV shows that discuss modern warfare can help me understand this past type of fighting better as they show even re-enacted urban battles.

This sensation I get is different than what I sense at the Open Knob or the Slaughter Pen at Perryville or Devil’s Den at Gettysburg and the Sunken Road at Antietam. Cynthiana is an old town that just happened to be the site of two battles. I know the other places I mentioned “just happened” to be battle sites as well, but they feel to me almost like they are where battles are supposed to take place. This town does not strike me like that at all. This is a city, with people living there and modern businesses occupying buildings. The others are empty fields, not living  quarters. The town is for visiting, for living in, for a seat of government to exist in, not for a battle during a major war  - or so my gut continues to insist. 

I realize that some of this is exaggeration, as there was fighting in fields around Cynthiana, especially during the 1864 fighting, and I have not seen all of  that land. (Most of it is private property.) That being said, the feel in the actual town is just different to me.  (I do understand there was also in-town fighting in many other places during the war, and that structures like Burnside’s Bridge or buildings in Fredericksburg influenced those battles, so I acknowledge that Cynthiana is not totally unique, except to my own limited experiences. This post is, however, about my own personal feelings.) as I write this, I begin to suspect it is the people and businesses in town compared to the vast emptiness of the fields that create this sensation.  

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help me explore my understanding of the war and why it interests me so much. I understand this is not the most scholarly post ever, but it is helpful for me to think about this subject and put it my thoughts in a (hopefully) sensible order. I am trying not to keep rambling, but my apologies if this post is too long. 

In addition to my perception of the area, I have done more soul-searching about my previous interest, or lack thereof, in these particular battles. I still am embarrassed that I had not realized the extent of the fighting only an hour away from where I live and had not explored - or even studied - it all before the last two years. Better late than never, I suppose - at least that is what I tell myself now. How many times in my past had I ridden down U.S. 27 to Lexington or to eastern Kentucky without realizing what I was bypassing? My family did stop and read the historical markers once or twice, and a few years ago we noticed the “John Hunt Morgan” bridge sign, which certainly got our attention, but I never realized that actual battles took place here or what the fighting was like. The battles of Cynthiana were not famous, and that apparently affected my interest in what happened there. Hopefully the foundation mentioned before can create enough attention and help others not make the mistakes I made.

The extent of the Union defeat of Morgan’s men in 1864 was something else that had escaped my attention until recently as well. He is a very famous soldier, especially in this area, and here was the end of his final major raid, a pretty severe defeat that scattered his forces and hurt his reputation in Richmond. That is a big deal - not Appomattox or Vicksburg, but certainly not irrelevant. Why did I not realize this?

When I did first hear of these battles, I shrugged them off as being “minor” or “small” fights, with only a couple of thousand men involved and a fairly low number of casualties. I thought of them more as skirmishes than actual battles. No famous landmark or legendary action/charge existed or took place here and Morgan was the only soldier here of whom I had heard. This fighting seemed less important and interesting to me, and I did not try to visit the scene of the fighting or read more about the battles. Shame on me.

The fighting was not on grandiose scales, like the most famous battles of the war, but these were still men being killed and wounded, families being torn apart, property being damaged and destroyed. These soldiers all had stories, hopes and dreams, and sacrificed those to fight in this town, for whatever their personal motivations were. They had families and friends, some in or near the town. If the war was about slavery, that institution existed here; if it was about keeping the nation intact, political sentiments were bitterly divided here. This town reflected the nation as a whole in those regards, a “Rebel Town” in a Union State that “joined the Confederacy after the Civil War.”  The stories of these soldiers, the local population and the land all have importance like at more famous examples of battlefields. This is hallowed ground. THIS PLACE MATTERS.

Rankin House was under construction in 1864 but the walls and roof were finished

Harrison County Courthouse

Marker on courthouse grounds

Looking East on Pike Street, sight of fighting & burning

Licking River, where covered bridge crossed & soldiers forded or swam

Looking north on Main Street
Cynthiana certainly feels more intimate than other battlefields, if that word makes sense. Maybe words like “compact” or just “urban” work better.  It just feels different to me than the wide open fields of grass and hills, yet much of what happened here was so similar. It was still fighting, two armies trying to kill, capture or wound their enemies. Here, burning buildings and fording or swimming across the river were more important than artillery or building earthworks. A Civil War battle without major cannon fire? Oh, what I did not know!

Seeing the railroad tracks that still run through town is another moment from these trips that has helped reshape my perspective of the fighting. One of the major topics of Civil War study is the advance of various technologies, including the use of railroads to transport troops to important areas. I certainly have read about Joseph Johnston moving Confederate troops before First Bull Run or the Union moving thousands of men to the western theater, but standing on the tracks at Keller’s Bridge, near where Union troops disembarked, soon to be fighting for their lives, or on the tracks in the actual town near the former site of the depot, made that more real to me, not just something I had read in a book. It’s not quite the same as holding a period rifle or artifact, but it’s close. Once again, visiting a battlefield can produce a better (or st least different) realization or visualization of the war than reading books or watching videos can. Standing on those railroad tracks is not so different than standing on a patch of grass or the slope of a hill. I just wish I had taken advantage of the proximity of this battlefield years ago. 

Site of Civil War-era railroad depot, tracks still existing

I certainly will keep reading and studying more about the fighting in and near this town and am equally sure that more trips to the town and the area will be parts of my education. I do wonder if the feel of the battle area (perhaps I will use that term in place of “battlefield”) will change once it is not so new to me or when I have learned  more about it. Or will the urban nature of so much of the combat ensure that it will always have a different feel than the open pastures and meadows of the more traditional battlefields? I look forward to finding that answer.