Category Archives: Civil War

Dispatches From The Front #3

Book 2 1Dateline: 21 July 1861

From: Manassas Junction, Virginia

The fight both sides have been spoiling for just occurred around a creek called Bull Run near Manassas Junction, Virginia. Confederate commander, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter, had previously withdrawn his forces to take positions behind Bull Run. Such must have seemed to Union commander, General Irvin McDowell, as weakness, because he advanced in Beauregard’s wake.

Beauregard planned to draw McDowell into crossing Bull Run and attacking him near his center, allowing The Confederates to flank the Yankees around their left flank, thus cutting off McDowell’s escape route to Washington and his means of supply. McDowell did not take Beauregard’s bait, but instead, attempted a flanking maneuver of his own around Beauregard’s weakly defended left flank, where Beauregard had positioned Colonel Nathan G. Evans’ 4th South Carolina Regiment supported only by two cannons and Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s Tigers, the 1st Special Infantry Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers, which consisted mainly of rogues and ruffians of ill repute, many culled directly from New Orleans’ jails. All total, only about 1,100 men held the Confederate left and would ultimately face at least three divisions.

The battle opened with Federal cannon fire from near the center of the line. This was but a distraction, as McDowell was actually busy moving the bulk of his army around the Confederate left flank. Dust raised by their movement and observations from Confederates in a high tower exposed the maneuver, and General Evans positioned his regiment to the left to meet the threat. A brief skirmish between some troops from South Carolina and Wheat’s Tigers ensued as a result of mistaken identity. Officers from both units quickly sorted out the mess but not before the Tigers suffered 3 killed and several wounded.

Soon Yankees were pouring over Bull Run to be met by the men from South Carolina and Louisiana. Standing firm, the Confederates beat back the Yankee advance and even charged into their midst. Some of Wheat’s Tigers threw down their slow-firing muskets and, with screaming Rebel yells and drawn knives, gallantly fell upon the hapless Federals, throwing them into confusion and driving them back. But they soon recovered and added more units to their number. Badly outnumbered and with their units mixed, Evans and Wheat were forced to withdraw back to Henry House Hill, where they were eventually joined by fresh Confederate brigades rushed into the battle. Included was the Virginia Brigade, commanded by General Thomas J. Jackson, who stood firm against the charging Yankees like a stonewall. As a result, his brigade is now being called the “Stonewall Brigade” and its commander “Stonewall” Jackson.

With more Confederate brigades thrown into the action, the Federals began to falter and withdrew in a panic, skedaddling all the way back to Washington, leaving the battlefield to the victorious southern warriors.

Sadly, during the fight at Henry House, Major Wheat was badly wounded and carried from the field by some of his men. This evening, he was told by the surgeon there was no record of any who had ever survived such a wound as his. To which he defiantly replied, “I don’t feel like dying yet. I shall put my case on record!” No doubt he will.

Though a great southern victory, special recognition must be given to Wheat’s Tigers, who held the line, withstanding many times their number, allowing time for a defense to be organized, ultimately guaranteeing victory. There are clearly no better fighters than the Tigers from Louisiana.

Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 5 – First Blood

*****

Jackson StatueThe brigades of Barnard Bee, Francis Bartow and Thomas Jackson arrived at the front and joined the fight. Jackson and his Virginians moved to the left near Henry House Hill and took up positions. The fire from the Federals was terrific as we fell back unable to hold. Colonel William Pendleton had four batteries of artillery on the hill and was pouring canister shot into the Federals. An Episcopal Minister, Pendleton shouted the order, “Fire, boys! And may God have mercy on their guilty souls!”

The 4th Alabama under Bee was being pushed back. Bee rode up to Jackson and announced, “General, they are beating us back!”

Jackson’s reply was to the point, “Sir, we will give them the bayonet.”

Reassured, Bee rejoined his shattered force and asked his Alabamans to make another effort.

There is some question to this day as to exactly what Bee said to his men and just what he meant by it. It was generally agreed that he pointed to the Virginians and said, “Look at Jackson and his Virginians standing there like a stone wall.” With that statement, General Bee gave Jackson his famous nickname. After that Old Tom became known as “Stonewall Jackson,” and the Virginians of Jackson’s Brigade became known as the “Stonewall Brigade.”

*****

Report:

The “adventure” continues. The day began with Heath and Blake sleeping late. They were tired. Then it got really interesting. Blake discovers he has the luggage of some girl. Evidently, she grabbed his bag and left hers with him. Naturally, it contained all kind of girlie stuff. A long hilarious thread or text messages with wives at home ensued. I suggested he make do and wear what was in the bag, but the bra didn’t fit. That means we made a trip to Wally World to re-outfit Blake. Janis actually predicted we would have to do that for some reason or another. (She knows us well.)

Moving on…

Henry House

We visited the battlefield for First Manassas and took the walking tour. Very interesting to see the ground I wrote about in An Eternity of Four Years. Things were actually closer together than I had imagined. The first image is of Henry House and the Federal gun line mentioned in the book. Evans and Wheat were driven back here from in the distance in the left. The Confederates, by then, had realized the battle was on their left flank and began rushing brigades to that area. This hill became the focus of the fight. Confederate positions are about 800-900 yards in the direction the guns are facing.

We also visited some Second Manassas sites, a battle not really mentioned in the book, because Ethan was in Richmond tending to Aimee when it occurred. The Louisiana Tigers played a very remembered role in this fight. The Confederates were deployed in very strong positions along an unfinished railroad cut. In some places the railroad was a trench, while in others it was elevated. The image below is of an elevated section held by the 1st Louisiana Brigade. They ran out of ammunition and were reduced to throwing rocks at the Yankees 20 feet away just on the other side of the cut and eventually driving them off.

Unfinished Railroad

Went to dinner tonight at BJ’s Brew Pub and managed to get there and back without getting lost. Our navigation skills are getting better….

Leave a comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Dispatches, Excerpts, History Lessons

Dispatches From The Front #2

Cover B1From: Arlington, Virginia

Arlington was the home of Robert E. Lee before the American Civil War. He was serving as an officer in the United States Army prior to the war. Because of the incapacity of the aged Winfield Scott, General of the Armies, field command of the Northern Army was offered to Robert E. Lee. Virginia seceded from the Union soon after, and Lee declined the position and “went south”* to “offer his sword” to his home state of Virginia. Like many southerners, he could not take up arms against his home.

Arlington Plantation had originally belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. Custis willed the 1,100-acre estate to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee.

After Lee went south and because of its proximity to Washington DC (just across the Potomac), the family vacated the house in 1861. It was then occupied by Union forces during the war and became a cemetery for Union dead.

Today Arlington is a National Cemetery and a shrine to those who have served our nation honorably. Arlington is the home of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, VA.

* “Went South” (also, “gone South,” “go south,” etc.) – The term was used well back into the eighteenth century. In modern usage it generally refers to a situation turning bad or going “down,” because South is usually down on maps. It was used during the Civil war to refer to Americans who shifted their allegiance from the United States to the Confederacy. This is especially true for members of the US military, who resigned their positions and volunteered for service in the Confederate military.

 

Excerpt from The Last Day of Forever. This is where Ethan is faced with staying in the US Army or resigning.

*****

Colonel Loring became more serious. “I understand you’re from Louisiana?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m not sure how you feel about what is going in the East, but you being a southerner, I imagine it is very much like most of the southern boys in this army. I’m from South Carolina, myself. Personally, I think secession is a very bad idea, but I’ll tell you what I have told other officers. The South is my home, and if I must choose I am going to resign my commission.”

“I understand your feelings well, for I feel as you do.”

He stopped and turned to face me. There was sadness in his eyes. “War is coming. Lieutenant, I can feel it like I feel a change in the weather in the stump of this missing arm.” He became pensive. “Several more southern states have seceded from the union: Mississippi on 9 January, two days later Alabama, Georgia on 19 January.” He paused and took a deep breath. “And just a few days ago Louisiana voted for secession.”

So, they had done it, I thought as fear welled up inside me, fear for my country, fear for the future.

Loring continued, “I imagine you’ll be resigning your commission now.”

I looked at him questioningly. “I can’t take up arms against my state, my friends, or my family. What can I do, sir, but resign?”

*****

Arlington Graves

Trip Report:

We have arrived, and the adventure begins—first, by getting lost on the way to Arlington National Cemetery, and it is only a couple of miles from the airport! In the process we crossed the Potomac twice, and that was not part of the route from Reagan International to Arlington, which we drove past three times unable to make the turn into the cemetery because of wrong instructions or wrong lane, or wrong turn. We drove all over Northern Virginia, and we broke at least a dozen laws in the process if making lane changes and turns. Tourists!

Actually, the conversations (maybe arguments) among us on giving directions to Ryan, who was driving, were quite humorous. Heath says that was the best part of the trip so far.

We did finally find the front gate to Arlington and get parked. By far, the best part of the visit was the Tomb of The Unknown Soldiers. We lingered there for quite a while and saw the changing of the guard and a wreath laying ceremony. These sentinels take this very seriously. Some kids were talking loudly (silence is expected at the tomb), and the guard broke his stride and stepped out with his rifle and admonished them. They take 21 steps to make the trip one way, and all turns were on a 21 count. Twenty-one being the number for the highest honor, as in a “21 Gun Salute.”

As mentioned they do this in all kinds of weather, including hurricanes. There was a hurricane that hit Washington some years ago, and that was the one time they were told to stand-down for their own safety. The sentinels refused and walked the guard through the hurricane, anyway.

Arlington is a beautiful place and the final resting place of so many Americans, famous and not-so famous, and those “Known but to God” who gave their lives for their country—miles and miles of white headstones perfectly aligned and meticulously tended. If you ever get to DC, Arlington is worth a visit.

TOU Arlington

Tomorrow, it is the Manassas Battlefield.

2 Comments

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Dispatches

Dispatches From The Front #1

Book 2 1From October 6 through October 12, I will be traveling with my two sons, Heath and Ryan, and my grandson, Blake. We will be touring famous Civil War battlefields in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania with additional visits to the Civil War prison, Fort Delaware, and Washington DC. To my surprise, it was Ryan that suggested this. I never knew he was that interested in the places I wrote about in An Eternity of Four Years. Normally, a writer visits the sites in his book before he writes about them, so this is a bit backwards. I did, however, “visit” them via Google Street View while writing the story.

I will post trip reports on http://www.catahoulachronicles.com daily, assuming I am not passed out from exhaustion. As the title of this post suggests, I will treat each post as if it were an on-scene report from the battlefield in the 1860s usually with a brief excerpt from the book. Each will be followed with some (modern) commentary with pics if I can make that work while on the road. These will be done from the various locations while we are traveling. (I may be biting off an awful lot doing this, but I will do my best, and I think it will be fun.)

I will be covering First Manassas (VA), Sharpsburg (MD), and Gettysburg (PA). In the six days we have to do this, we can’t cover every battle in the book, but these three were major engagements in the war and the book. We will drive through the Shenandoah Valley on the way to Sharpsburg but won’t have any time to spend there.

(By the way, did you know the North and the South often had different names for Civil War battles? First Manassas was called  “First Bull Run” in the North (Second Manassas was Second Bull Run), and the Battle of Sharpsburg was called “Antietam” in the North. This is because the South tended to name battles after nearby towns, and the North tended to draw names from major terrain features on the battleground. Bull Run and Antietam were both creeks running through the battlefields. Since my books are written from a southern viewpoint, I use the southern names.)

When we visit Fort Delaware, where Ethan was held prisoner for nine months, at Ryan’s request and since it is close to Fort Delaware, we will also visit Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and maybe have a brew or two. Report to follow, hopefully. From there we will return to Washington DC and visit as much as we can in the one day remaining. We intend to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and a few other “must see” sites in DC. Again reports if I can make them work.

I hope you will “come along” on this trip with us and let us show you what we see—and learn a little American history in the process.  I love history, which is one reason I write historical fiction. This is your chance to connect the history and the places with the story in An Eternity of Four Years.

I will not be inundating you with daily emails during this period. I will send out only one more reminder, and that will be a reminder announcement the day before. After that, you will be on your own to come back the next day for more Dispatches From The Front on the Catahoula Chronicles Blog. Clicking follow on the catahoulachronicles.com web site will get you automatic email updates. I also intend to post daily on FaceBook.

Leave a comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Dispatches, History Lessons

The Parrott Rifle

During the Civil War, most canons were smoothbore (no rifling), which tended to limit range and accuracy. One notable exception was the Parrott Rifle, which came in a number of different calibers from mobile field pieces to heavier immobile defense pieces used on fortifications.

The gun was invented by Captain Robert Parrott, a West Point graduate. He created the first example in 1860 and patented the design in 1861, just in time for the “festivities” we call the American Civil War.

Parrott Crew

They were manufactured as a combination of cast and wrought iron. Because of the increased resistance of the rifling slowing of the projectile’s trip down the barrel, higher pressures were generated than in smoothbore canons. As a result bursting at the breech end was a problem. This was solved with the addition of a large wrought iron band added over the breech end of the gun. This can be seen at the back end (breech end) of the guns in the two attached images. This is a distinguishing feature of the Parrott Rifles. The band was heated red hot and slipped on while cold water was poured down the bore of the gun as it was being rotated. This ensured uniform attachment of the band to the gun.

The Parrott was used by both sides in the war and came in different sizes from 10 pounders (weight of a bore size round iron projectile) to rare 300 pounders. For the largest field piece, the 20 pounder, the gun alone weighed 1,800 pounds.

The Parrott had a poor reputation for safety and was not liked by some of the crews. But they were effective out to about 2,000 yards when handled by a well-trained crew. The more common smoothbore canon, the Model 1857 12 pound Napoleon, was effective out to only about 1,200 yards

Limbered Guns

The gun rested on a two-wheeled gun carriage. Its trail was attached to a two-wheeled limber for transport and drawn by a team of horses. Ammunition, fuses, sights, and its friction priming device were carried in the limber, which was positioned well behind the gun when deployed for action. Additional ammunition was carried in caissons, which replenished the limbers in a fight. The crew usually consisted of eight men, and each had a specific job when fighting the gun. They rode the gun’s horses and on the limber when transporting the gun. A battery usually consisted of four guns, but was fewer in many cases.

Ammunition consisted of solid shot, exploding shell, and canister or grape shot. The exploding shell had a timed fuse set by the crew to explode on arrival at the target. Grape shot and later canister consisted of a “package” of round cast iron balls about 1” in diameter. It can best be described as resembling shotgun buckshot ammunition but a lot bigger. It was used at relatively short ranges against charging infantry. You can see the awful effects of canister in some scenes of Pickett’s Charge in the movie Gettysburg, a classic Civil War movie. Look for the scenes where the canister takes out dozens of charging Confederates as they cross a fence. It takes out the fence, too.

Captured guns were a great prize during the war, especially for the equipment-short Confederates. And with the advent of rifled muskets, increasing their range and accuracy, the gun’s crews and horses became prime targets. If the crew was killed or wounded, the gun was out of action. If the horses were killed, the gun could not easily be repositioned or removed from the field, lending them to the possibility of capture.

There is a scene in An Eternity of Four Years that took place at the Battle of Port Republic during Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, when the Louisiana Tigers were tasked with capturing some particularly troublesome guns that had a high-ground position sweeping the battlefield with their accurate fire. When the Tigers took the position, capturing the guns, and were in danger of being repulsed, they slaughtered the artillery horses to prevent the guns from being moved. That actually happened in that engagement, by the way.

The Civil War was generally fought with the linear battlefields of previous wars; that is regiments, divisions, and corps lined up facing each other and blazed away. The smoothbore muskets were not very accurate and hitting a man at 100 yards was pretty iffy, thus the need for massed fire. Throw enough lead at them, and you are bound to hit something. Unfortunately, that required massed troops, making them easy targets for the other guy’s massed fire.

With the advent of rifled muskets and the rapid reloading Minié ball, all that changed, and casualties went up dramatically. The same held true for canons, which were generally placed to the rear of the infantry. The added range and accuracy of the rifled muskets and field guns made those obsolete tactics suicidal.

Leave a comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Firearms, History Lessons

Rachel Meets Her Rival – Excerpt

At the risk of giving away too much of the story plot of An Eternity of Four Years, here is a short scene at a grand ball in Washington when Rachel meets her rival, Aimee de Beauchamp, for the first time. If you have read The Last Day of Forever, you will know Aimee was chasing Ethan while Rachel was “exiled.” Enjoy.

•••••

PrintThe ball was in one of the hotels near the capitol. Its ballroom was elaborately decorated with gas crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings, and fine draperies. The room was a sea of soldiers in dress blue uniforms, politicians in formal wear and white ties, and lovely women in fancy ball gowns. Miles took me around the room and introduced me to so many generals and politicians that I lost track of their names. Several asked me to dance and questioned me about my portraits.

“Captain Herndon tells me you are the finest portraitist in Washington. I must see your work. My wife wants a portrait of me now that I have been promoted to brigadier. Do you think you can fit me into your schedule?”

“I do have a waiting list, sir, but we can work something out.” After the dance I gave him my calling card.

“I shall be calling upon you, Miss Rachel.”

“And I shall look forward to it, sir.”

Miles intervened and took my arm. “Don’t I get to dance with the girl I brought?”

“Of course, Miles.” And he swept me out onto the floor and spun me around until I was dizzy. I was having a marvelous time. Washington is nothing like Gettysburg!

We retired to the punchbowl for refreshments. As Miles was reminding me of the names of those I had met and needed to remember, a woman called out in French-accented English, “Miles, is that you? It is you!”

Miles turned to the voice, and a shocked expression swept over his face. “Aimee?”

“Aimee?” I said softly to myself as my Analee eyebrow went up. I turned to see a beautiful young woman making her way to us, a broad smile on her face.

Aimee swept into the conversation with a flourish worthy of the finest stage actor. Miles was speechless. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your lovely, new lady-friend?” she asked, nodding to me.

Miles looked to me anxiously before beginning the introductions. “Mademoiselle Aimee de Beauchamp, may I present Mademoiselle Rachel Whitcomb. Rachel, Miss Aimee de Beauchamp.”

That broad smile of hers fell from her face such that I would almost swear I heard a thud when it hit the floor. She glared at me for a moment and seemed unable to speak, but she soon recovered. “You are Rachel? And may I call you Rachel? I feel as if I already know you…”

“Of course…” but she did not allow me to finish, and frankly, I am glad she did not, for what I was thinking of saying was not flattering.

“And you must call me Aimee. We are almost old friends, aren’t we?” Getting no immediate response from me, she turned to Miles. “Miles, aren’t we like old friends?”

Miles could barely get in a nod before she continued, “I must say, Rachel, you are as lovely as Ethan said you were. That’s a beautiful gown; it shows off your trim figure so nicely.”

I did not have a chance to respond before Miles attempted to regain control of the conversation. “Aimee, I thought you were in France?”

•••••

2 Comments

Filed under Catahoula Books, Civil War, Excerpts, Last Day of Forever

The Brains of the Confederacy

Judah_BenjaminIn both of my books, The Last Day of Forever and, especially, An Eternity of Four Years, a gentleman by the name of Judah P. Benjamin plays a part. Judah P. Benjamin remains something of an enigma because he destroyed his private papers at the end of the Civil War, and in spite of leading a very public life as a successful attorney, planter, politician, and statesman, some aspects of his personal history remain cloaked in a mystery and speculation.

He was a most unusual man for his times and by all accounts very intelligent, a skilled debater with a gift for oratory and a ready smile.

It is said the ladies of Richmond adored him, but he had his detractors as well as those who admired him for his considerable intellect and outgoing personality. Jefferson Davis considered him one of his closest confidants with the writings of Davis’s wife, Varina, offering a small peek into his personal life.

Judah Phillip Benjamin was variously know as “the Jew,” “the Hebrew,” or “Davis’ pet Jew,” referring to his small stature (barely over five feet tall). Later historians sometimes refer to him as the “brains of the Confederacy.” During the war, the North derisively called him “the South’s evil genius.”

He was born to a family of Sephardic Jews in St Croix in 1811. When he was still a child, his family eventually settled in Charleston, SC, a southern city known for its religious tolerance. He attended Yale at the tender age of 14 but was expelled because of unspecified “ungentlemanly conduct.”

Benjamin then headed for New Orleans, where according to Bernard W. Korn in his volume on that city’s Jews, he arrived “with no visible assets other than the wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy with which he would find his place in the sun.” He remained a bachelor for several years, and at least one historian suggests he was a homosexual, but there exists no evidence beyond speculation to support this.

He clerked in a law firm and studied the law. Since fluent French was required to practice law in Louisiana, he needed to learn that language. To earn money, he tutored French Creoles in English and taught Natalie Bauché de St. Martin in exchange for her teaching him French.

In 1832 at the age of 21, he was admitted to the bar, and a year later, he married Natalie with the wedding in St Louis Cathedral. The couple moved into a four-story townhouse on Bourbon Street that is today a strip joint called “Temptations.” It seems the marriage did not work out for reasons unknown. Historians suggest Natalie was such a problem child her family was glad to be shed of her, and later, rumors of infidelity were associated with her. They had one child, a daughter, Ninette.

Benjamin became a successful lawyer in New Orleans and bought a plantation downriver from the city, Belle Chasse*, and built a fine home for his wife and daughter. Natalie, evidently, was unimpressed and decamped with her daughter for Paris where they remained for the rest of her life. Meanwhile, Benjamin experimented with different strains of sugar cane and became something of an expert on that crop.

The Louisiana Legislature elected Benjamin to the U.S. Senate where he became famous for his eloquent and fiery oratory. (Senators were appointed by the Legislature then.) Benjamin was the first Jew to serve as a U. S. Senator. He was twice offered to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and declined both times. He would likely have been approved and would have been the first Jew on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With Louisiana’s secession in 1861, Benjamin became one of Jeff Davis’ closest advisors even though Benjamin had once challenged him to a duel. Davis first appointed him as Attorney General and then Secretary of War, but the Confederate Army existed mainly as untrained volunteers with supplies for waging war very scarce. With the Confederate retreat from Cape Hatteras, Benjamin was accused of failing to reinforce the garrison. He took the blame and resigned, but he did so to hide the fact that the Confederacy simply did not have the forces to send, and that weakness needed to be hidden from the enemy.

Davis then appointed Benjamin to Secretary of State where he was also in charge of the Confederate Secret Service and Confederate spies up north. It was in that capacity that my character, Ethan, has dealings with him in An Eternity of Four Years.

Very early in the war, he was one of the first to argue for recruiting the slaves into the Confederate Army, offering them freedom if they served. Near the end, when the situation was desperate for the South, he brought it up again in a speech and was renounced for it. He also suggested freeing the slaves to get France and/or England to enter the conflict on the side of the South, or at least recognize the South as a sovereign nation, opening the door to much needed war material from Europe. Again his ideas were rejected.

The war ended with the Confederate government on the run. Davis was captured, but Benjamin was not, only because he separated from the group the day before and made his way to England. There he became a successful barrister and was created a “Palatine silk” as the Queen’s Council.

With his health deteriorating and suffering from diabetes, he was injured in a fall in 1880. Judah P. Benjamin died of a heart attack in Paris in 1882 and was buried there in Père Lachaise Cemetery under the name of “Philippe Benjamin.”

In 1938 the Paris chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy erected a plaque over his grave.

JUDAH PHILIP BENJAMIN
BORN ST. THOMAS WEST INDIES AUGUST 6,1811
DIED IN PARIS MAY 6,1884
UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA
ATTORNEY GENERAL, SECRETARY OF WAR AND
SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES
OF AMERICA, QUEENS COUNSEL, LONDON

Whatever your opinion of Judah P. Benjamin might be, one must agree he was a most amazing person and largely an unknown but significant figure in American history.

*Note: This link will take you to an image of Belle Chasse Plantation. It has long since been torn down. You can adjust the size of the image with the sliding bar at the top.

1 Comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, History Lessons, Last Day of Forever

The Paperback Version of An Eternity of Four Years is now available!

Book 2 1Finally! It is done! I have been teasing you long enough.

The exciting conclusion to the two-part epic of the Legend of Rachel and Ethan, An Eternity of Four Years, is finally finished and published. Both the Kindle digital version and the paperback version are available at Amazon.

An Eternity of Four Years picks up the story four days after The Last Day of Forever ends and carries the reader through the turbulent years of the Civil War with Ethan searching for Rachel to mend what was broken between them.

If you haven’t read part 1 yet, The Last Day of Forever, you need to read it first. Either book can stand alone, but reading both in order fills in a lot of back story and detail you will find both interesting and helpful to your reading experience.

Get ’em while they are hot! And don’t forget to go back and post a review. It will help the books get visibility and credibility.

1 Comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Last Day of Forever

The Whitworth Gauntlet

I began a discussion here about the Whitworth Rifle used as a sniping arm by both sides in the American Civil War. I promised an excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years that featured Ethan “interacting” with that rifle. Here it is. The scene takes place during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

*****

Book 2 1I left Pepper in the care of Blue at the Johnson home and made my way down South Stratton Street to find Hays. Aware of the threat of the sharpshooters, as I got closer to Winebrenner’s Run, I moved more cautiously from cover to cover to present as small a target as possible for them to take any interest in. At the end of South Stratton, I asked some Rebs taking potshots at Cemetery Hill from an abandoned building where I could find General Hays.

“He is in Winebrenner’s Run, sir. You ain’t planning on going down there are ya?”

“Yep.”

“You sure you need to do that, Captain? They’ll be takin’ shots at ya with them Whitworth rifles with the telescopic sights all the way down to the run. You’ll be a big fat target from here on.” He gestured towards the back corner of the building, and I saw a dead Confederate slumped against the wall with the top of his head shot away. “Ask him; he’ll tell you. He stuck his head out to just have a little peek, and splat! Them Whitworths are deadly. You’ll know when you have been shot at by one, ‘cause the bullet makes a shrill whistling sound on account of its hexagon rifling.”

That was sobering.

I nodded, and he shook his head. “It’s your funeral.”

I took several deep breaths to steel myself to run the “Whitworth gauntlet.” No use waiting any longer, I thought and pushed off. I had at least sixty paces of open ground exposed to observation from Cemetery Hill before I had any more cover, a small shed sitting forlornly out in the open. I was not even halfway there, when a ball kicked up dirt not two paces past me. Before I was to the little shed, a shot went past near my head, making the shrill whistling sound just described to me. Any slower, and I would have been hit. I reached the shed just as another round chipped wood splinters from its edge.

Some of the boys down in the run saw me coming under fire and began to cheer. I sank down behind the shed to catch my breath. For good measure, one of the Yanks put a round through the flimsy little building to remind me of the difference between cover and concealment. The ball whistled through the wooden structure right over my head. Had I been standing instead of crouching down as I was, I would be dead.

I peeked around the building to see my next objective, and they put a ball into the edge of my little shed just as I withdrew my head. I was most impressed with both their rifles and their shooting skills. I did see enough to know this next leg was going to be a long one. There was a sizable oak tree about ninety paces away. I took two deep breaths and then stuck my head around the left side of the shed to draw their attention but quickly withdrew it and ran around the other side and headed for my oak tree.

The ruse worked. They put three balls into the edge of the building where I had stuck my head out, but they were not prepared for me to show myself at the other side. I ran like I was headed for the Baltimore Pike then cut back in the other direction. They fired two more shots at me just as I changed directions. I made it to the tree as another ball chipped bark off its side. The stout oak was more than concealment; it was cover. The cheering from Winebrenner’s Run grew louder as others joined in, but I was getting tired.

One last dash left to go. This one was only about forty paces and then the relative safety of the run’s high sides. Even though I was getting winded, I could not afford to wait and allow the Yankee sharpshooters time to reload, so I took one quick breath and broke from behind my tree and headed for the run. I ran left then zigzagged right, then left again with balls hitting all around me. As I neared Winebrenner’s Run and leaped into the air to clear some brush on its bank, I felt a ball tear through my shell jacket. I landed in a heap against the far side of the run and pulled myself up against its protection as close as I could get. Cheers went up and down the line. I even heard a cheer from the Yankees on Cemetery Hill.

I examined myself to make sure I had not been perforated and only found entry and exit holes in my shell jacket but none in me.

“They ventilated your jacket, Captain?” asked a familiar voice. I looked up and realized I had landed almost in Hays’ lap.

“My apologies, sir. With the compliments of General Ewell…”

Whitworth-with-side-mounted-Davidson-scope-1

2 Comments

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Firearms

Civil War Sniping and The Whitworth Rifle

The two main shoulder arms of the American Civil War, for both the North and the South, were the U.S. Springfield Rifle-Musket of 1861 and the British Enfield Pattern 1852 Rifle-Musket. Both were nearly the same bore diameter, the Enfield being .577 caliber, and the Springfield being .58 caliber. Both accepted the Minié ball, developed by a Frenchman Claude Étienne Minié.

imageD0AThe Minié ball was not really a ball shape; rather it was conical shaped with a hollow base. Prior to its development and general adoption, military muskets were smoothbore (no rifling) because they were much faster to reload than rifled arms, which required a lubricated cloth patch to surround the ball and engage the rifling, more reloading steps, and more effort to get the ball seated against the charge. The Minié ball in a rifled musket was as easy to load as an unpatched ball in a smoothbore musket, but rifled muskets loaded with Minié balls were considerably more accurate.

The Minié ball was sub caliber like the ball in a smoothbore musket, but when the charge detonated behind it, its hollow base skirt expanded to engage the rifling so the projectile would have a stabilizing spin. The combination of adding rifling to the muskets and the Minié projectile greatly increased the accuracy of infantry small arms. And since the Civil War was fought using tactics designed for the less accurate smoothbore muskets but used “modern” more accurate weapons instead, the casualty rate went up dramatically.

Whitworth-with-side-mounted-Davidson-scope-1Sniping was not new to the Civil War, having been used in previous conflicts, usually using a very heavy barreled target rifle and open sights or slow-loading “Kentucky rifles.” Along came a British gentleman by the name of Sir Joseph Whitworth, who experimented with rifled WhitworthBulletandRiflingartillery that used hexagon-shaped bores instead of rifled round bores. The hexagon-shaped bores were twisted like the rifling in traditional rifled arms, affecting the projectile like rifling does, giving it a stabilizing spin. He extended his ideas to small arms and developed the “Whitworth Rifle.” Not only was the bore hexagon-shaped, but the bullets were an elongated hexagon shape, matching the size and twist of the Whitworth Rifle barrels. Whitworth discovered the longer projectile needed a faster twist rate than the Minié to stabilize it. The result was a major leap forward in small arms accuracy.

enfield-vs-whitworthTested against the Enfield Pattern of 1852 Rifle-Musket, the Whitworth could hold 9-inch groups at 500 yards (less than 2 minutes of angle), while the Enfield, which was considered very accurate in its day, could only hold 54-inch groups! For comparison, modern military small arms, like the M-16, can only hold about 2 minutes of angle (2 inches at 100 yards) unless accurized. The Whitworth could reliably hit targets out to 1,000 yards and beyond. Even though demonstrably superior in accuracy to the Enfield, the British rejected the design, because the Whitworth was four times more expensive than the Enfield to manufacture. That was not the death of the Whitworth.

Both Confederate and Union sharpshooters employed it as a sniper weapon, usually targeting artillery crews and officers at previously unheard of ranges. Most of these Whitworth Rifles used open, iron sights like those on the Springfield and Enfield, but some were equipped with 3-power telescopic sights mounted to the left side of the breech. These Whitworth Rifles were exceptionally deadly!

According to popular accounts, on May 9, 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Union General John Sedgwick discovered just how accurate the Whitworth could be. Shots from Confederate Whitworth rifles, easily identified by the shrill whistling noises their hexagon-shaped bullets made in flight, caused members of his staff and artillerymen to duck for cover. Sedgwick chastised them and proclaimed, “I’m ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Seconds later he pitched forward with a bullet hole below his left eye.

On Sept 19, 1863, at the Battle of Chickamauga, Union General William Lytle was leading a charge and became the target for a Confederate with a Whitworth. He was mortally wounded.

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, disregarding warnings about the Federal sharpshooters armed with Whitworth rifles with telescopic sights mounted on them, Confederate General Richard Ewell and his engineer ventured to within 1,000 yards of the Union lines on Cemetery Hill. Ewell took a Whitworth round in his wooden leg, and the engineer was shot through the body and killed.

In An Eternity of Four Years, I have a scene where Ethan has an encounter with these same sharpshooters who shot at Ewell. That excerpt will be the next post.

Battlefield “technology” made huge advances just before and during the Civil War, and the resulting casualties were staggering compared to previous conflicts.

2 Comments

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Firearms, History Lessons

Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years

Book 2 1Since we are so close to publishing the print version of An Eternity of Four Years, I thought another teaser to get your interest up might be helpful. This scene takes place during the early days of the Battle of Chancellorsville as Stonewall Jackson’s staff considers the options for the Confederates facing a much superior force.

*****

Since re-crossing the Rappahannock and making another frontal attack at Fredericksburg was not an option for Hooker, in Late April 1863 he deployed 70,000 of his men to the west and moved them quickly across the river upstream in an attempt to flank Fredericksburg. Lee parried the move but left Early with the 1st Louisiana to hold Fredericksburg. Some skirmishes between Lee and Hooker resulted, but Fighting Joe suddenly drew back to defensive positions around Chancellorsville on the south side of the Rappahannock and sat there.

I was present when Jackson was studying a map with his staff, and one man quietly mused to himself, “What’s Hooker doing?”

Though deep in thought, Jackson must have heard him and looked up. He jabbed his finger at the map. “He wants to draw us out. He wants to choose the ground and have us come to him, so he can fight from a strong defensive position; thinks he can beat Lee that way.” Jackson looked around at his staff to observe their reaction to what he had just said and stopped when he got to me. “Captain, I have seen that expression on your face before back at the Institute. Something on your mind?”

I was somewhat startled but tried to quickly recover. “Yes, sir. I would have thought Hooker would understand that wars are not won fighting from the defensive. One must go on the offensive to completely defeat the enemy.”

Old Jack smiled. “As I recall, you were one of the few who remained awake during my lectures. You’re right. It is possible that Hooker could win the battle but only if he inflicts unsustainable casualties on us. But he’ll not win the war this way, and why will he not, Captain?”

I shook my head in the negative and replied softly. “Lee won’t fall into that trap.”

“And you would be correct. Lee is no fool. If you were Lee what would you do?”

I looked closer at the map and the dispositions of the two forces. “Well, sir, if a frontal attack is out of the question, then the alternative is a flanking maneuver.” I looked to Hooker’s left flank, the preferred choice to flank him, since it would sever his avenues of supply and retreat. “Hooker’s left flank is anchored on the Rappahannock, so we can’t get around that way; we would have to punch through it, which is almost the same as a frontal attack against the center.” My focus shifted to the western end of Hooker’s line. “His right flank appears to be in the air. If so, and he hasn’t reinforced it in anticipation of a flanking move, we might be able to move a large force undetected through the Wilderness and get around him that way.”

Old Jack nodded. “You did pay attention in class. See any problems with that maneuver?” I felt like I was back at VMI and being tested by Jackson. All eyes were on me to see how well I would do in this exam. “Yes, I do. Longstreet’s Corp is still detached, and Early is holding at Fredericksburg, so the Army of Northern Virginia has already been divided into thirds.” I pointed to Chancellorsville on the map. “To take this largest third here before Hooker’s much superior force—and divide it again—is something any text on military strategy would advise against.” Several nodded in agreement. I looked to Jackson and smiled. “But that’s precisely what you have in mind to do.”

*****

Though the Battle of Chancellorsville ended in a victory for the Confederates, it was at an enormous cost, one that would haunt the Army of Northern Virginia for the rest of the war, especially during the coming fight at Gettysburg: General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, perhaps Lee’s most able and talented commander, was killed.

Leave a comment

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Excerpts