Tag Archives: Country

Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.

How Did Stonewall Jackson get his nickname?

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

There are two versions of this story.  The popular one, and the following, which isn’t as popular.  Regardless, there is no doubt Jackson holding the line saved the Confederate army at First Bull Run and led to their ultimate victory there.

*****

“Get in a line, men, in a line,” Seneca yelled, not quite sure of the proper order to achieve what he desired.

The rest of the 33rd was deploying, moving forward among retreating soldiers, some of whom started in fear, seeing the blue uniforms in their midst.  For a moment all was turmoil, but then a colonel stood up in his stirrups, his shockingly blue eyes aglow.

“Virginians.  Advance!”

The men gave a shout that made the hair on the back of Seneca’s neck curl.  Before he knew it, he was screaming the same inarticulate yell and pressing forward.  They crested Henry House Hill in time to see a line of blue with a smattering of gray crest Matthews Hill, not quite a mile distant.  The low ground in between was cluttered with retreating Confederate troops.

Union artillery suddenly began belching canister from Matthews Hill and wide, bloody swaths were cut in the men in the valley.

The blue-eyed Colonel rode along the crest of Henry Hill, now ordering the men to form and hold a line, to take the defensive and be prepared to face an attack.  Seneca dismounted, handing the reins to one of his men.  He saw a lieutenant in blue running by, a Virginian and grabbed him by the arm.

“Who is that?” Seneca demanded.  “Why’s he ordering us to stop?”

“That’s Colonel Jackson, sir.  Brigade commander.”

Seneca looked to his right and saw a Confederate unit flowing down the hill in the assault, another officer in the lead.  “And who is that?”

“General Bee, sir.”

Seneca glanced once more at Jackson, weighed Colonel against General, the glory of the assault against that of the defense, then ordered his men to follow.  He charged downhill, following Bee’s advance as fast as he could.

The General rose up in his saddle and looked over his shoulder, waving his sword.  He saw that most of the Virginians were not following.  “There stands Jackson like a stone wall,” he cried out.

*****

Since General Bee died, no one quite knows why he called out what he did.  But as they say in Liberty Valance:  When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Nathan Bedford Forrest on the Mississippi

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“We agree for once,” Skull said.  “What we need—“ she paused as three men approached.  One was a big man, two inches over six feet, with broad shoulders.  He had a dark beard and, in the dim lights from the boat, his black eyes glittered with intelligence and danger.  He had a curved cavalry saber dangling from his waist, an incongruous image on the riverboat.  The second man was not quite as tall but also big, in the way of one who enjoyed his food, his belly bulging, his face swollen from drink.  The man between them was much smaller and looked like a river rat cornered and trapped.

“You must be Skull,” the tall man said, sticking out a powerful hand.

Skull took the handshake, feeling the squeeze and returning it as hard as she could with her callused hand.  “Forrest.”  She recognized the fat man.  “Father Declan.  It’s been a while.”

“Ah, now lass, I’m no longer with the church,” Declan said.  “I found my faith lagging and thought it best to move on with me life.  Whatever happened to the pretty young thing that was with you in Banquete?”

“Why you asking?”

“Ah, she was quite the blossoming flower—“ Declan began but Forrest waved a hand, cutting him off as he turned to the man between them.  He gripped the back of the man’s neck.  The man gasped as Forrest lifted him to his toes.

“Found out this piece of horseshit has been stealing from me,” Forrest said.  “Running a loose table in the gambling parlor and skimming the take.”

The man started to protest but Forrest silenced him by smacking him in the face with his other hand, drawing blood from a split lip.

“I’m a fair man,” Forrest said, his focus on St. George and Skull.  “But I’m not a man to be crossed.”  He tossed the thief to the deck.  “Fair means you get a chance to fight.  That’s the law of the river.”  He gestured at Declan.  “Give him your knife.”

Declan pulled a foot long knife from his belt and tossed it to the man.  Forrest reached to his own waist and drew the heavy cavalry saber.  It was unusual, sharpened on both sides, so he could slash in either direction with equal effect.

“That aint fair!” the man protested.

“It’s as fair as a thief gets,” Forrest said.  He raised the saber and the man scrambled to his feet, the knife held with trembling hand.

“Please, Mister Forrest, I swear on my mother I aint ever again going to—“ he didn’t get a chance to finish as Forrest swung the heavy saber.  The razor sharp edge caught the man in the neck and passed through skin, muscle and bone easily, separating head from body.

The momentum of the strike threw the head out into the darkness, to splash into the dark waters of the Mississippi.  The body fell to its knees, blood spurting from a still beating heart, then crumpled onto the deck.

“You think maybe his eyes still seeing?” Forrest mused as he wiped the saber off on the man’s coat.  “Maybe his head’s drowning while his body’s still bleeding?”  He stepped over the body and grabbed a crate.  He slid the saber back in its scabbard and took a seat.  Declan joined them.

“Mister Forrest, this here St. George Dyer,” Skull said.

Forrest shook St. George’s hand.  “Y’all know what the fools in charge got planned for the cotton?”

“Do now,” St. George replied.

Forrest grabbed the bottle without asking.  “So what do you have planned?” he asked Skull.

“New Orleans will soon be out,” Skull said.  “So we run cotton north and south overland through Mexico.”

Forrest seemed bemused.  “North?  To the Yankees?  We’re at war.”

Skull shrugged.  “There’s plenty who don’t care about the war except how they can make some money.”

“Like you,” Forrest said.

“Like me,” Skull agreed.

“You don’t support the cause?” Forrest asked, arcing one thick eyebrow in query.

“The cause will need money,” Skull said.

“True,” Forrest said.  “And guns and medicine and a lot of other gear those smart boys in the capitol haven’t thought about yet while they’re busy waving the flag and pounding each other on the back about how honorable they be.”

Grant Becomes A General

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“What of McClellan?” Lincoln finally asked.

When Rumble hesitated, Lincoln’s voice became harsher.  “Why do you think are here, Sergeant Major?  I asked General Delafield to tell me of the West Pointers, since he’s been superintendent three times, more than any other.  He informed me that the man who could tell me the most was the Master of the Horse.  Who had once been a cadet and then taught riding to class after class of cadets.  Who went to the Mexican War and wrote many notebooks full of information that no one reads.

“So?  What of McClellan?  He won our first battle at Philippi.  Thus he now has command on the other side of the Appalachians.  And he sent General Scott a strategic plan to win the war.  Very industrious and showing of initiative, don’t you think?”

“You seem to have your mind made up about him, sir,” Rumble said.

“I have not,” Lincoln snapped.  He sighed.  “I’m sorry.  Let me explain.  There’s a call to abolish West Point.  So many graduates have gone over to the other side, there is a very legitimate question as to why we should continue funding the institution.  But as we used to say back in Illinois, that cow has already left the barn.  We’re stuck with the officers we have and I need to know about them.  So.  McClellan.”

“McClellan is a very good organizer, sir,” Rumble said.  “But he’s not daring.  And he will flinch at the critical moment, when a general needs to press on.  He’s not a finisher and this war will need a finisher.”

Lincoln smiled.  “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”  He didn’t wait for an answer.  “From all the West Pointers you’ve seen, as cadets and as officers, who is the best ‘finisher’ as you call it?”

“Ulysses S. Grant, sir.”

“I like the name Ulysses.  Very martial.”  Lincoln frowned.  “Ulyssess Grant?  That strikes a bell.”  He began sifting through a pile of papers on his desk.

Rumble plunged on.  “He’s solid and steady, sir, and if there’s one thing he will do, it’s get where he’s going.  I fought with him in Mexico.”

“Ah!” Lincoln said, pulling out a sheet.  “Here’s his name.  Recommendations for promotion to General from each state.  He’s very far down.  The war might indeed be over before his name bubbles up high enough.  Curious.”

Lincoln reached out and grabbed a pen.  He scratched through some names, then wrote a note next to Grant’s name.  “Well, he’ll be a general within the month.”

Kit Carson, Pulp Fiction and the death of Mrs. White by Apaches

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

There was no sign of the daughter or servant.  Whether they’d been carried off or never made it here, there was no way of knowing.  There were so many small trails now going in so many directions, it would be impossible to know which to follow.

Cord sat alone, not far from where a couple of soldiers were digging a hole in which to bury Mrs. White.  The arrow had gone straight through her heart, killing her instantly.  Grier was going through the goods that had been abandoned in the haste to abandon the camp.  He was furious at Carson, believing if they had used a white flag the bloodshed could have been averted.

“You doing all right, Elijah?” Carson asked.

“I’m not.”

“What happened?” Carson asked.  “We got split up in the charge.”  He frowned.  “You drinking?”

“I-“ Cord began, but Grier came stomping over, holding something in his hands.

“Found this in her satchel.”  He held a well-thumbed pulp novel.  He extended it to Carson.  “Ever seen it?”

“Yeah, I seen it,” Carson said, not bothering to take the book.

Grier read from the cover.  “’Kit Carson: The Prince of the Gold Hunters’ is what it says.  You’re a giant of a man.  A hero.  Been everywhere, done everything yourself.”  He perused the insert.  “Says here in this story the frontier hero Kit Carson vows to some woman’s parents that he will track down and save their daughter, no matter how long it takes.”

Grier tossed the book to the ground.  He pointed at it.  “The myth.”  Then he pointed at Mrs. White.  “The real Kit Carson.  She must have been reading that, thinking the real deal would be coming for her.  Well, you came.  Didn’t work out, did it?”

Carson was crest-fallen, staring at the book as if it were a rattlesnake.  “I very much regret Mrs. White’s death.”

“It isn’t his fault,” Cord said.

Grier spit.  “A fraud and a drunk.  What a pair.”  He walked away.

Carson went over to the grave.  Cord joined him.  They helped lower her body in, then the two scouts began shoveling dirt, covering her.  When they were done, Carson stood at the foot of the mound of dirt, silent and troubled.

“It’s my fault,” Cord said.  “I had a clear shot at the brave who fired the arrow.  I missed.  He didn’t.”

Carson turned his head.  “You missed?”

Cord held out his hands.  The tremor was noticeable.  “I killed that woman.”

Carson sighed.  “You didn’t save her, but you didn’t kill her.  The Apache done that.”  He faced Cord.  “You need help, Elijah.”

12 April: Confederates fire on Fort Sumter WAR!

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

King was taken aback by his first glimpse of the general whom President Jeff Davis had sent to take command of the South Carolina forces.  Another West Pointer, ‘Little Napoleon’, as King had heard him called in whispers, was newly arrived.  Previous to that, he’d been forced out of the position as Superintendent of West Point when Louisiana seceded.  The rumor circulating the city was that Beauregard had had the audacity to file a mileage reimbursement to the United States government for travel from West Point back to his home in New Orleans, before being ordered by Davis to South Carolina.

It had not been paid.

Beauregard did not look like Robert E. Lee, that was for certain. His skin was olive and smooth.  His eyes had a droopy, sleepy appearance, as if he were either preparing to arise before dawn or retire after a late evening.  His hair was an un-natural black, and if King had been better schooled in the ways of narcissism, he might have realized that Beauregard dyed his hair to match his goatee and thick mustache.  Even here, on the eve of battle there were several ladies of Charleston in attendance on his every word and gesture.

“General?” Chesnut called out.

“Yes, Colonel?” Beauregard turned, uncrossing his arms and placing his left hand on the hilt of his sheathed saber as he slipped his right inside his dress coat, where a button was conveniently unfastened.  King saw the circle of newspapermen writing down every movement the general made and every word he uttered as if it were coming down from the mountain.

“Major Anderson gave me a list of conditions for surrender,” Chesnut said.

“’Conditions’?” Beauregard shook his head. “The major is being unreasonable.  He is in no position to give conditions.”

King stepped forward. “Sir, Major Anderson is delaying.  I believe the Yankee navy is preparing a sortie.  This very night.  My reconnaissance cutter spotted a Federal ship making way to the fort.”

Beauregard frowned.  “Captain . . .?”

“King, sir.  The Yankees are preparing to relieve the fort. They drew off when my cutter discovered them, but I fear they will come again in force this very night.  We must act swiftly.”

Beauregard twisted one end of his mustache. “There is much zeal and energy here, but little professional expertise and knowledge in the art of war.  It is not such an easy matter to take a fortified position.”

Memories of Captain McKenzie and the debacle on the Somers whispered like shadows in King’s brain. “General, we can take Sumter now, easily, or face a pitched battle once the United States Navy moves in.  I taught at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  With all due respect, sir, while you are certainly a master of land warfare, I know battle on the sea.”

Beauregard looked out at the southern belles, the reporters, the militia, and puffed out his chest to make an announcement. “Negotiations have failed.  I must take action.  I will give Major Anderson notification via the mouth of a cannon.”

Exuberant, wild cheers rose from the crowd. Women threw their arms around the nearest man.  Militia and cadets hurried to prepare their cannon.

King didn’t note the few people who stood forlorn, some with tears in their eyes as the implications struck them differently, including his mother, in the shadow of the house overlooking the Battery that used to be her home. Without realizing it, King took up a vantage point underneath the tree from which his father had hung himself.

4:30 am.  Dawn was not far off.

A single mortar shell from Fort Johnson arced overhead and exploded directly above Fort Sumter. There was an eerie pause, as if the ocean was waiting for what came next.

Forty-three cannon and batteries of mortars from Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the Battery, and Cummings Point let loose in a barrage worthy of the start of a war.

As the first shells smashed into the brick walls of Fort Sumter, the faint sound of cheering floated across the water from the surrounding land as an undertone to the sharper crack of cannon firing.

King stood underneath the magnificent oak tree and watched the opening of the inevitable war.

The Honor of the South: General Johnston’s Order to the Army of the Mississipi, the evening before Shiloh

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Vicinity Shiloh, regarding Grant’s invading Army of the Tennessee

5 April 1862

To The Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi:

I have put into motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country.  With the resolution and discipline and valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property and honor.  Remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters, and your children on the result; remember the fair, broad, abounding land, the happy homes and the ties that would be desolated by your defeat.  The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you; you are expected to show yourselves worthy of your lineage, worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time.  With such incentives to brave deeds, and with the trust that God is with us, your generals will lead you confidently to the combat—assured of success.

C.S.A. General Sidney Albert Johnston

(West Point class of 1826)

Benny Havens, his infamous tavern outside West Point, and Edgar Allen Poe

As a plebe at West Point, there were many things we had to memorize. One was a song, Benny Havens Oh!  The song is an ode to a tavern keep from the early to mid 1800’s.  If you remember my early blog post about alcohol at West Point, you might think such an homage strange, but such is the way of tradition.

Benny Havens was a legend among cadets. Not just for his service during the War of 1812, but after it, for the small cottage he’d occupied just west of the Cadet Hospital where he’d dispensed hot flips, ale, cider and wheat cakes to home-sick young men.  Among cadets, the oft-repeated story was that Edgar Allen Poe, during his short stint at the Academy, had found Benny Havens to be the only congenial soul in the entire place.  Many in the years that followed agreed.

The Academy had not looked at either Poe or Havens with similar empathy. Poe departed within a year of his arrival at the Academy, dismissed for ‘gross neglect of duty’ and ‘disobedience of orders’.  The rumor in the Corps was that Poe had shown up for parade formation, the uniform order to be ‘with cross belts and under arms’—wearing just cross belts and carrying his musket.  True or not, it made for a good tale and good tales made many a gray night pass by a bit lighter.

Benny Havens was also banished from the military reservation. Only to set up a new tavern down by the Hudson River, just south of post limits.  It was a magnet for the young cadets, many of who were away from home for the first time and thrust into a harsh disciplinary environment that reshaped their boyish spirit into captains of war.  Everyone needed an occasional break from that and Benny Havens was the person to give it.

In my novel, Duty, Honor, Country, the first scene in the book takes place in Benny Havens tavern and involved him, his daughter, William Tecumseh Sherman and other fictional characters. It ignites a series of events that will determine the course of the Civil War.

A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.

Tomorrow:  How West Point Cadets became Cows.