Friday, June 27, 2008
This is also from W. Chris Phelps, author of the previously mentioned, The Bombardment of Charleston .
In this book, takes a look at one of the many groups formed during the war with men from Charleston. This one would be named The Charleston Battalion and would fight in Virginia, North Carolina and the Charleston Area.
Where one of my big issues was the length of the previous book, this one is twice as big. It is important to note that the last 100 pages are various appendixes. Even so, they seem to be “meaty” ones, with pictures and detailed information, along with the ever needed regimental roster.
I am slightly concerned at where the tone of the book is leading. From the inside flap, “They served with distinction in several campaigns in Virginia and North Carolina and defended their hometown against Union invaders.” It may be just me but the comment seems to scream of The Lost Cause.
One other interesting thing (probably only to me) is the cover. On Amazon (where I got the picture above) it shows in blue, a good Union color. The book I bought, the color is acutally gray. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Charlestonians in War: The Charleston Battalion
W. Chris Phelps
Thursday, June 26, 2008
This past week at Sam’s Club, I picked up two books on Charleston and the Civil War. My wife, who thoroughly understands my obsession, went on to remind me (very déjà vuish of what a friend did not too long ago) “You know the war is over, right?”
I’ve got a long list of books that I hope to talk about over the next week or so. No deep reviews, just first impressions, maybe how I like it so far and why I got them.
Maybe this will work out and you will just happen to find a book that you too would like to read
At a mere $9.62 at Sam’s Club, I figured I could take the plunge, even if it was the wrong book.
The book is not massive, just 152 pages without notes but so far it has been interesting. Flipping through the book I came to a picture of a house I immediately recognized, so perhaps my initial “glee” is like that of a fan of a rock star at a concert when his town is mentioned, “Good Evening Savannah, I mean Charleston.” But the pictures are important, they underline what the city went through and also shows how even as historic as Charleston prides itself in being, it has changed over the years.
Although the pictures are good, the same cannot be said of the maps, which seem very mundane.
With ten years since its first publication, I also have to wonder, what more could be out there for future editions. Although I have not read the full book, there just seems that there has to be more to the story. Perhaps I am looking for something more personal though? I’ll let you know when I am done with the book.
The Bombardment of Charleston1863- 1865
W. Chris Phelps
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Today, I found a rather neat blog that I was very impressed with and wanted to highlight, Student of the Civil War by the almost one namer Josh M. from Rutgers University.
Often when a new blog comes around, I tend not be too impressed. No, I am not a Blog Snob, just that most go through some growing pains before they hit their stride. Unfortunately just as they hit said stride, they tend to disappear off of the blogosphere.
Josh has already had a blog and found he needed a separate one just for his Civil War thoughts. This helps tremendously in the fact that he has already hit his stride. In this blog he uses “YouTube” to its finest and gives a “fresh” approach to the Civil War.
I spent a good part of an hour watching the clips he has culled from throughout the web. Do yourself a favor and head over there right now and take a look. Make sure you watch the ones on SCVers down in Florida and their ridiculous stand on showing the Confederate Battle Flag and Stephen Colbert’s Word of the Day clips.
Since I’ve been gone for so long, this site might have been highlighted by many sites already, if so, take this as a reminder to go check it out!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
One of the things Donald and I have a very hard time in doing is self promotion. You wouldn’t know it by our subliminal advertising for The Civil War Research Guide (still the best guide ever written) but it’s true.
I once chastised Donald for commenting on other blogs without mentioning our blog. In classic Tom style, I proceeded to do the exact same thing. We could be doing a bunch of stuff that would make the site more known in the blogosphere but I tend to be too lazy. So instead we have relied heavily on the fine folks at CWI to do it for us.
I’ll be honest that there were several times that I would eagerly await their weekly review. When they were kind enough to review us in a North and South article on Civil War blogs, I was on cloud nine – we had taken our slightly (maybe more than slightly) skewed look at the war and made it to the big time. Of course sometimes we didn’t agree with what they thought of our world but they were always kind and pretty funny.
I will miss them greatly. I can only hope they will be able to find a way to restart the reviews at a later date.
So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all of the great work you did not just for Touch the Elbow but for the entire Civil War blogosphere.
I discovered the message from the Civil War Interactive Web site yesterday, which announced a decision had been made to put to rest their weekly summaries of Civil War related Blogs. I honestly didn’t know they had been at it for over twelve years and honestly didn’t know Blogs had been around for twelve years. By that measure Touch the Elbow came to the Blogosphere fairly late, in June of 2006, but we can’t claim we’ve been around for two years, because we had a five month hiatus, during which time we were dropped from the CWI Blog roles. Publish or perish. We did perish in July, resurfaced in January, and got back into the good graces of Laurie Chambliss, who wrote most of the reviews. Forgiveness and second chances are wonderful things.
I just want to thank Laurie and CWI for directing a wider audience to our little portal on the Web than we would have probably achieved on our own. Thanks to their efforts we can now count on two faithful readers, little Jimmy Quackenbros of Muscatine, Iowa, who, I remind you, reads very well for a seven-year-old, and Valerie P., who reminds me to repeat this mantra before I make any supposedly factual statements, “check your facts…check your facts…”
I recently lamented the need for a thirty-six hour day, so I sympathize with Laurie’s statement that the Blog roundup was eating up too many hours in the day, week, month, and year. I have to say though that I’m going to miss reading what she had to say on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, not only about Touch the Elbow, but other offerings from the Blog roll. I thought she was fairly objective and always tried to find something positive to write, sprinking each review with a dash of humor, although in some cases there’s nothing funning to say about dead people. I do have a suspicion that she hated a lot of my stuff, but, hey, I don’t have much of an ego left anymore and I figured I wasn’t writing the material for her personally.
So, whereas, CWI is closing up one part of their shop, Tom and I will continue on for the sake of little Jimmy Quackenbros of Muscatine, Iowa and to keep Valerie wondering why someone would buy a book they didn’t intend to read it. I’ll give her one hint. It’s called clumsy and it’s called accidentally spilling coffee on my latest commuter book this morning; the same commuter book recently autographed by its author Walter McDougall. And you want me to trust myself with a rare and expensive book? Not on my life you don’t.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Brooks, who cherishes Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” was intrigued by the idea that the book, which was set during the Civil War, made so little mention of the conflict. Aside from the first page, which mentions the father, Mr. March is at war as a chaplain, a later reference to the mother traveling to a Philadelphia Hospital to visit her ailing husband, and the father’s subsequent return home, there’s no exploration of his wartime experience. Brooks sought to delve into that possible experience, using Alcott’s own father Bronson as the model for her character. Bronson Alcott, according to the Brooks, was “the dark matter from which Emerson and Thoreau drew their energy.”
Like so many Northern idealists, Alcott became disillusioned by his war experience, much as Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. In fact she opened her book by setting it at the battle of Balls Bluff, where Holmes was seriously wounded and because, as Brooks stated, it was the battle in which Massachusetts troops first “saw the elephant.” Idealism crumbling in the grind and reality of war and “the huge gulf of experience” that separates husbands and wives are voiced in the narratives of both Mr. and Mrs. March, particularly when hostilities cease and Mr. March returns home.
Brooks said that her favorite question about the book came from a Cambridge, Mass. reader, who quipped “I don’t get it. Are we supposed to like this guy?” Brooks answered, “It depends on where you stand on impracticable idealists.” “Idealists,” in Brooks opinion, “move our moral quest forward” even though they are not the easiest people to get along with. According to Brooks, who has been a war correspondent in Bosnia, Iraq, and Somalia, we’re “all subject to idealize military adventures, but horrified when our troops commit atrocities. " That is the question facing idealists like Mr. March, “How do you deal with your moral code when horrified?”
Brooks acknowledged that two Harrietts were influential in the writing of her book, Beecher-Stowe and Jacobs. Commenting on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” she said “You think you know what’s in it until you read it.” Like Beecher-Stowe she tried to find a convincing voice for her 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and realized she needed to have two, husband and wife, to tell her story. Jacobs was a historical influence who helped her find an authentic voice for slaves.
McDougall’s "Throes of Democracy," a sequel to 2005's "Freedom Just Around the Corner," is an exploration of the American character between 1829 and 1877 and “the power of pretense to bond a sprawling people together.” What dawned on him from reading early European accounts of the American experience, such as de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," was “how pretentious Americans were.” He came to this opinion after approaching “an era of history he had never written about or previously studied.” The entire fifty year history examined in the book can be viewed as a romantic era, as evidenced by the arts, the writing, and the idealism of its young people. The era was “excessive,” everything taken to an extreme. Too, the politics of the Jacksonian era “were theatrical in many respects,” when slogans such as “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” ruled. Politics were, in the absence of organized sports, the national past time. Campaigning was built solely on posturing rather than given to debate on serious issues of the day. There was more focus on which party was most corrupt, or which presidential candidate was bravest in battle. Politics never involved the truth and voters cared less about truth. Truth was reserved for the circus and satire, where “inconvenient truths,” that politicians didn’t admit could stand the light of day.
According to McDougall American’s love history, but they are future oriented, not interested in the past, and have a tendency to throw away the past. Prior to the 1960’s the standard history in schools was an “exercise in flag waving.” Since then our history has become somewhat “hypercritical and might strike many as negative.” McDougall implied that in a sense its revisionist based on our modern concepts, in which we, as a people, wring our hands over every perceived indiscretion.
The idea for “This Republic of Suffering” drew inspiration from an earlier Gilpin Faust book “Mother's of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the Civil War.” That book was based on diaries and letters written to the Confederate government. What preoccupied the women was not war strategy, or the threat of emancipation. What they wrote about was death, the fear of death, the reality of death, and the cost of death to their society. Death was central in so many lives that Gilpin Faust concluded it transcended both the North and South.
With a death rate that claimed two per cent of the American population, equivalent to six million killed based on our current census, Gilpin Faust was quick to point out that collateral deaths, i.e. civilians and those killed in guerilla operations did not get figured into the estimates of those killed during four years of warfare. But the magnitude of the killing and deaths from disease raised numerous questions that she sought to answer in her book. Questions like how did the nation cope, how did people adapt to and understand the level of destruction, and as importantly, how does it impact and transform a nation? That, in turn, led to other questions such as the duty of the soldier, the meaning of loss, how to remember those who were lost, or how civilians dealt with their own bereavement.
Most historical change, according to Gilpin Faust, occurs over the course of decades or even centuries. The Civil War quickened the pace of those changes, including the assumption the national government bore responsibility and had an obligation to the dead. Following the war, the Federal government began a massive re-burial project of over 300,000 Union soldiers. But what was different about the new national cemeteries, that set them apart from Victorian prescriptions for park like settings in which to contemplate death, were the rigidly ordered placement of the headstones. Death in “a fundamental sense created the American nation by preserving it.”
Gilpin Faust related that her book responded to historical literature that we are all familiar with from an early age; the meaning of citizenship and liberty. We have “never really understood the price of war,” something we must do in order to understand when its "worth paying that price." Too often we are caught up in the immediacy and excitement without thinking about the consequences. Combatants on the other hand have always had to “grope with the realities of loss and commitment to a cause and hold that in balance that with their belief system. Society needs to contemplate what a war means and the price we pay when we make that decision. “Those who experienced war don’t let go of that experience.”
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I need a 36-hour day. The post I intended for today, a synopsis of the Washington Post Book Club seminar featuring Drew Gilpin Faust, Geraldine Brooks, and Walter McDougall, is still floating around in my brain, so I’m offering this story told by Geraldine.
Geraldine Brooks is Australian, a journalist by trade, and met her husband Tony “Confederates in the Attic” Horwitz while on assignment in Bosnia, or maybe it was Baghdad. I can’t recall, but their romance blossomed while both were covering one of the world’s hot spots. Australian history, according to Geraldine, is different from American history, in that the former glorifies failure. Explorers who fail and die in pursuit of their objective are deified. Those who succeed are dismissed out of hand. Gallipoli takes center place on the altar of that nation.
When she visited her husband’s boyhood home and saw a mural of Pickett’s Charge painted on a bedroom wall, Geraldine came to the quick realization that her marriage would somehow be unique, one steeped in the past. Her 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner “March,” begins with the battle of Ball’s Bluff and that’s apropos, because she and Tony live a short distance from the battlefield. That marriage would continue on a unique path was spelled out in her recollection of a first meeting with Drew Gilpin Faust, when she, Tony, and Drew attended the reburial of Stonewall Jackson’s horse at Virginia Military Institute.
Comment from Reader:
Loved the title of your post so much I decided to use a similar one for mine: “Hey, Where Can I Find A Man Like That?” I just started reading the History of the 20th Massachusetts. It’s very interesting. I only hope you won’t mind the coffee stain on page twelve. By the way, I left your favorite pillow and blanket on the couch just to make certain you’re comfortable tonight.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I didn’t reach my goal of finishing “Throes of Democracy” before the Washington Post book seminar I’ll be attending on June 10th. I’ve made it up to Lincoln’s election, so I’ve covered 33 of the 50 years the book encompasses. Hopefully I’ll have something written on the thoughts of Drew Gilpin Faust, Walter McDougall, and Gwendolyn Brooks, shortly afterwards, or at least in the next ten years at the current rate I’m going with other subject matters.
I’m planning to write a mult-part post on the Battle of Shepherdstown, which took place on September 20, 1862 and in which the 18th Massachusetts Infantry was involved, having visited the area again two months ago. I’ll be plugging efforts to preserve the battlefield, which is in very serious jeopardy of being lost to a developer’s plan to build houses, a plan buoyed by a favorable decision from the West Virginia Supreme Court. Again, there’ll be more on this later, but a quick plug for Thomas McGrath’s book “Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19 – 20, 1862." This is THE definitive book on the battle, because, quite simply, it’s the only book devoted exclusively to the battle. I know, people are probably scratching their heads about the Battle of Shepherdstown, but it was eerily similar to what transpired at Balls Bluff and occurred eleven months to the day after Balls Bluff.
My latest treasure arrived via "Big Brown" today. Bad joke, I know, but it sure didn't take long for the owners of this former Triple Crown contendah to find work for him outside racing circles. At any rate, Brown delivered a 1906 first edition history of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry. It’s absolutely beautiful, being classified as “fine” condition. I’m not kidding when I state that looks like it was only recently published. Strange as it sounds, I don’t have any intention of reading it, but have already given it a cool, dry storage space, away from sunlight. I figure when I pass it down, the next generation will pass it down, and so on and so on and so forth. Of course knowing the next generation they’ll probably have it peddled to an antique dealer before the dirt’s settled over you know who’s grave.
With gas prices predicted to rise to over $5 a gallon by July 4th, I thought I’d offer this possibility, sighted along the C&O Canal towpath, to the list of alternative, renewable, and sustainable sources of energy.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Guess what? This post is not going to contain a single picture. So, I suppose I’m going to have to write a thousand words to make up for it. Or, using that formula, and taking into consideration the last post contained ten pictures, that’s, what….ten thousand words. At an average of 250 words a page that’s, what…forty pages. That may be a bit too much, so I’ll cut everybody, including myself, a break and keep this piece at a reasonable length.
Guess what? There’s no mention of a certain river in this post. I feel like I’ve been trailing a certain ribbon of water virtually every weekend for the past two months, from West Virginia and down both the Maryland and Virginia sides. There is going to be more in the future, simply because of the role a certain river played in places I visited, but not today. I need to somehow get Roger McGuinn out of my head, because the “Ballad of Easy Rider” keeps floating through my head. “The river flows, it flows to the sea, wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be; flow, river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town.” Or maybe it’s Eric Anderson’s “Blue River,” that keeps haunting me.
Guess what? I’m just about halfway through my latest commuting book, i.e. the one I read going to and from Washington on the Metro train. I picked up Walter McDougall’s “Throes of Democracy, The American Civil War Era 1829-1877,” because he’s going to be appearing with Drew Gilpin Faust (“Republic of Suffering”) and Geraldine Brooks, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “March,” next Tuesday evening at a book seminar sponsored by the Washington Post. Out of curiosity I checked Amazon. Faust’s book ranked 1,771st, McDougall’s placed at number 8,061, while Brooks checked in at 193,158. I couldn’t resist the comparison. “The Civil War Research Guide” was nicely situated at number 239,234. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I purchased say,… a hundred copies….
Guess what? McDougall can write. I know that sounds like a stupid remark, but most historians can’t, write, that is. I mean really write. As a whole, the best of them write well, but, they’re not writers. I’ve mentioned this before, but the best histories I’ve ever read were from non-historians. Of course some people would then argue if it wasn’t written by a historian then it’s not history. With all due reverence to certain reknowned historians, and without mentioning names, they're not in the same league with historical writers like, say, Nathaniel Philbrick. I suppose, too, it depends on the preference of the reader; straight fact telling versus some creative writing style interjected into the story being conveyed. But, as someone recently reminded me, without creating scenarios that didn't exist, or imagining conversations that never occurred.
Guess what, though? If you want to take a rollicking ride through history then pick up McDougall’s book. It’s entertaining, fascinating, irreverent, and great fun as he skewers virtually every American politician, personality, and institution in the era he writes about. This on Henry David Thoreau, for example:
[Emerson’s] most representative disciple was the bathetic David Henry Thoreau (he transposed his given name). When Emerson settled in Concord, he invited Thoreau – a timid, tubercular, Harvard-trained teacher – to join his household and pursue a literary career. Thoreau made a minor splash in the magazine trade, thanks to assistance from Horace Greely, but won lasting fame by camping out at Walden Pond in 1845-1847. Thoreau’s self-reliance was less than heroic. He went into town almost every day, sponged off friends, and hosted regular picnics at his cabin. Mountain men such as Jim Bridger would have guffawed at the pretense…Thoreau in fact experienced very little of life. He never married, and never traveled beyond the Northeast. His greatest adventure was spending one night in jail for refusing to pay his poll tax. Even his signature essay “Civil Disobedience” was ignored until after his death.
Thoreau was standoffish and timid…Caroline Sturgis Tappan likened him to a porcupine. Emerson thought him fit only to lead a huckleberry party…”
Obviously if you’re a Thoreau fan you’re going to clench your teeth and wait for McDougall to walk underneath a window so you can drop his book on his head. But it’s an example whereby no cow is sacred. However, if a buck could be made off a cow, then P.T. Barnum was the guy. Barnum’s never been labeled a visionary, but he laid the groundwork for all the hucksters who now appear regularly on early morning infomercials when he wrote his book “Rules for Money-Making,” which according to McDougall “became a model for all who get rich by professing to teach others how to get rich.” The words, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” by the way, were not Barnum’s, but rather belonged to a Chicago gambler named Mike McDonald.
Coincidentally I had an email yesterday from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. They’re in the middle of “Republic of Suffering,” and labeled it one of the most thought provoking and depressing books they’ve read in a long time.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
A River Flows; It Flows To The Sea....
When 2nd Lieutenant John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry was shot while in the middle of the Potomac River on October 21, 1861, trying to cross back over toward Ball’s Bluff to further assist his men in Company H, he sank beneath the water and disappeared from view.
His body was probably submerged for two to three days when the buildup of gases in decaying tissue would have made it rise to the surface. His back would have initially been the only part of the body visible to an observer’s eye, his head, arms, and legs still submerged. The Potomac would have caught Grout’s body in the grasp of its swift current and floated it along on a 12-day, thirty-five mile journey toward Washington.
The body would have been swept through Great Falls, where the river has carved multiple channels through barriers of solid rock, and thunders through a series of incremental twenty-foot drops, creating the greatest natural lowering of a river in the eastern part of the country. It’s an area wildly dangerous, claiming an average of seven drowning victims each year, an area that can’t be navigated by boats, and where George Washington supervised construction of a canal as a bypass.
Beyond Great Falls the river would have carried Grout along, past Georgetown and the Key Bridge,
past what is now Roosevelt Island,
past the great yellow mansion on a hill that is Arlington House,
under the Memorial Bridge, which leads to Arlington National Cemetery, had the bridge been standing at the time,
past the obelisk, which honors the Father of our country, and which was still under construction in 1861,
until it was washed against the shore near where the Long Bridge was to be constructed in 1865. That bridge is more familiar to us today as the 14th Street Bridge, a structure that carries traffic between the District and Virginia, and is most familiar as the place where an Air Florida jetliner crashed through the ice in January, 1982 shortly after takeoff, killing all but 5 of its 79 passengers.
Grout’s bloated remains were recovered along with those of five others on November 5th, close to two weeks after the fiasco at Ball’s Bluff. That he performed the simple task of his ensuring his name was inscribed on an article of clothing allowed for identification and return to his family at Worcester, Mass.
We shall meet, but we shall miss him.
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breathe our evening prayer.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Excerpted from the History of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Infantry
...Colonel [Charles P.] Devens was ordered by General [Charles P.] Stone to cross with a portion of his regiment “to the Virginia shore, march silently under cover of the night to the position of the [Confederate] camp…to attack and destroy it at daybreak, pursue the enemy lodged there as far as would be prudent with his small force, and return rapidly to the island, his return being covered by [two companies] of the Massachusetts Twentieth, which were directed to be posted on the bluff directly over the landing place.” The capture of the little supposed encampment was the chief object of this expedition, a more complete reconnaissance a secondary one.
Company C…had passed over to Harrison’s Island Sunday afternoon…About midnight, they, with Company H…began crossing from the island to the Virginia bank, under the lead of Colonel Devens. So poor were the means of transportation that it was four o’clock before the last company had crossed over. The passage, though hurried, took six times as long as General Stone had estimated. There were in all three boats, which conveyed about thirty men…Colonel [William R.] Lee of the Twentieth [Massachusetts]…was ordered to cross to Harrison’s Island with five companies of his regiment…
Colonel Devens with his five companies of the Fifteenth passed down the river about sixty rods by a path discovered by the scouts…and then up the bluff known as Ball’s Bluff. The length of the incline has been estimated at from one hundred and fifty yards to four hundred; its perpendicular height, from fifty feet to one hundred and fifty…At the top of the bluff the men, after passing through a scrubby growth, came upon an open field surrounded by woods. This field contained about eight acres. It was oblong and somewhat irregular in shape. The path from the river continued along the southern side of this field and led…through the woods to another open field…The hundred and two men of the Twentieth, under Colonel Lee, who were to protect the return of the companies of the Fifteenth had taken their position at the edge of the field near the bluff…
The total number of the Fifteenth which had crossed the river at eleven o’clock was six hundred and twenty-five men and twenty-eight officers. Soon after this time began the transportation from the island of five more companies of the Twentieth.
Colonel Devens threw out Company C to the right, Company A to the left and Company B to the front. This front line of skirmishers was beyond the further side of the second field before mentioned. Major Kimball, who had been out to this advance skirmish line…hurried back to Colonel Devens and reported to him that a movement was being made by the rebel cavalry towards the open field, which was designed to take this advance skirmish line in the rear. Colonel Devens gathered his men who were not in the advance line, behind a fence in the rear of the open space where the cavalry was expected. At about thirty minutes after twelve the rebels made the advance with the cavalry moving on the skirmish line in front and the infantry coming upon the left of the main body The enemy were repulsed, but the advance line suffered considerably. The rebels had four companies of infantry and three of cavalry under Colonel Jennifer, and later the Eighth Virginia joined them…
The troops were arranged on the northern and eastern edges of the first open field, near the bluff. The Fifteenth Regiment was at the extreme right, protected in part by the woods, in the form of a right angle with its long side containing six companies about perpendicular to the river. In this angle, a little to the front, was posted…the First United States Artillery with two mountain howitzers. A field piece of the Third Rhode Island Battery…was farther to the left. A considerable portion of the Fifteenth Regiment was protected by the edge of the woods, the guns were in the open. Next came the Twentieth Massachusetts with three hundred and eighteen men. The right of the Twentieth was on the left of Company D of the Fifteenth. Colonel Cogswell of the Forty-second New York, the Tammany Regiment, took his position next to the left of the Twentieth Massachusetts…At the extreme left were eight companies of the First California Regiment with five hundred and twenty men…The object of this line was to protect the rear of the Fifteenth. The skirmishing was severe, but the line was held against the infantry and cavalry companies which had been under Colonel Jennifer since morning…There were less than fifteen hundred Union men on the field at any one time; for those from the Fifteenth, wounded in the skirmishes, had retired to the island with their attendants before the main battle began, and before the last troops had arrived from the Tammany Regiment, many of the wounded and those who cared for them had left the bluff.
It was about three o’clock when the Eighth Virginia…made an attack from a commanding position in the woods on the left and center. The fire of this regiment was very destructive, especially to those who supported the field piece and the howitzers. Under these circumstances the artillery was of little use, and was abandoned after eight rounds had been fired. The Eighteenth and Seventeenth Mississippi, and a company of the Thirteenth Mississippi joined the Eighth Virginia. There was continuous firing from three until after five o’clock.
…At about five o’clock or a little before, Colonel [Edward] Baker, who had exposed himself during the engagement with the most unstinted courage fell…After the death of Colonel Baker, Colonel Lee of the Twentieth assumed command. He was inclined to retreat to the river as he considered the battle lost. But it was soon found that Colonel Cogswell of the Forty-second New York was entitled to command…He had the reputation of being an able officer, but he knew little of the battle up to the point where he assumed command. His plan was to cut his way to the Union troops at Edward’s ferry by or through the main body of the enemy which lay to the left…
…Colonel Cogswells says that he commanded all the troops to advance to the left in a solid body on the enemy’s line, that he advanced with two Tammany companies and a portion of the California Regiment, but that the Fifteenth and Twentieth did not follow…The rebels drove back the Tammany companies, which retreated in such a way as to produce confusion. Parke Godwin said of the next few minutes: “The fifteen Massachusetts, penned in between a crib of fire…The rebels, not believing that fresh volunteer troops could stand the fire so well, yelled out, as they poured in volley after volley, “Give it to them damned regulars!” but could not break the line.”
At last Colonel Cogswell gave the order to retreat to the river bank. Colonel Devens said to him, “Sir, I do not wish to retreat. Do you issue it as an order?” “Yes, sir,” Cogswell replied…”I order you to retreat.”
William J. Coulter [15th Massachusetts] writes: “When we reached the river a boat came over from the island with reinforcements…and as they left the boat, the wounded who were near by, who were able commenced to get into it, as also did those who were anxious to save their lives. The boat was overloaded, and it went down with nearly a hundred souls on board, about thirty of whom were drowned…
Lieutenant Charles H. Eager of Company B thus describes his experience and the rescue of Colonel Devens: “After the order had been given to retreat, we rallied in a kind of bridle-path under the bluff, and near the river, when Colonel Devins ordered us to throw our arms into river and take care of ourselves as best we could. There were a good many of the company who said they could not swim, or did not care to undertake it. I told them I could not swim, but we could keep together as much as possible, make our way up the river, and perhaps find a boat in which we could cross. George L. Boss, upon hearing me say I could not swim, said two or three of them could take me across...Upon going to the river edge, we found a limb some six inches through at the butt and perhaps ten feet long, and in pulling that out, pulled up a common floor joist about the same length…Just as we were about to embark, Colonel Devens came to the water’s edge stripped of his equipments and clothing. When [Walter A.] Eames asked him if he could swim, he replied that he could not. Eames said to him, “Hop on to our craft and we will take you across, too.” After satisfying himself that they were all swimmers, but me, he waded in.”
…Many of those who remained on the bank and dared not trust themselves to the stream since they were unable to swim, just as the darkness was closing in, sent one of their number with a flag of truce to the enemy. The rebels agreed to stop firing if the Union troops would lay down their arms and surrender. As there was no alternative, our men were obliged to accept these conditions. Colonel Cogswell and Colonel Lee were among the prisoners….
Of the conduct of the men of the [Fifteenth] regiment during the battle, Colonel Devens said: “They behaved most nobly during the entire day; every man did his duty; there was no flinching, no disobedience, no cowardice, and they fought to the very last with great cheerfulness.” General McClellan reported: “Nothing has occurred in the war yet equal to the heroic conduct of the Fifteenth Massachusetts.” To the commander he said: “Colonel Devens, in my next battle I want you to be with me.”