10 books which early on influenced my interest in history

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My friend and The Second Battle of Winchester  co-author Eric J. Wittenberg challenged me to come up with a list of the 10 history books (not necessarily Civil War related) which have had the most influence on me over the years. I thought about it for awhile, fondly remembering a ton of books I used to check out of the John McIntire Library branch in my hometown and read voraciously. Many of the books I checked out multiple times, reading them yearly as I grew up and on through my high school years.

Each book in its own way helped deepen and shape my love for the Civil War to the point where when I applied to take an upper level Civil War history class at Miami University, not only was I accepted for the class despite not being a history major, I even got an A for the class. My research paper on “The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg” received an A+ with the professor commenting in writing “A solid piece of work.” I still have that paper, although I have never submitted it anywhere for publication.

Years later, after writing for money for a sports collectors’ magazine and later crafting half a dozen wargaming scenario books with my friend Ivor Janci, I was ready to start writing commercial books. Twelve books later (and four or five assorted other works in progress), I am still interested in Civil War history.

So, here in no particular order are the 10 most influential history books of my youth…

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Excellent new CD with original Southern Civil War songs

DreamofaGoodDeath coverClark Hansbarger is Virginia-based singer/songwriter who has recently expanded his repertoire to include fresh material he has written on the Civil War. Told from the perspective of the average Confederate soldier, Dream of a Good Death: New Songs of the Old War, is a series of brilliantly conceived, wonderfully composed and performed original ballads set primarily to guitar and violin music, with an interesting mix of piano, bass, drums, and other instruments as needed. Hansbarger has a rich, evocative voice which neatly transmits the full range emotions in the lyrics he has written.

A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts and A PEN Syndicated Fiction Award winner, Clark’s writing has been featured on National Public Radio’s The Sound of Writing and in magazines such as Shenandoah, Witness, Web del Sol, and The Gettysburg Review.

Hansbarger has an excellent website with the full lyrics to his songs, photographs of the accompanying artists, background historical information on the situation being covered by each song, terrific links and reference material, and ordering information (the CD is only $15). It is interesting to listen to the CD while concurrently reading the lyrics and viewing the graphics.

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Writer Benson Lossing visited Hanover Junction and Hanover after battle of Gettysburg

HJ17This photograph, supposedly taken on November 18, 1863, shows the railroad depot at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. A few months earlier in late June, Confederate cavalry under Lt. Col. Elijah V. White had raided this site, burning railroad cars, the turntable, and a nearby bridge over Codorus Creek. Just days after White’s raid on Hanover Junction, he and his men fought at the battle of Gettysburg in the next county to the west.

Poughkeepsie, New York, author Benson Lossing (later known for a popular photographic history of the Civil War) decided to visit the Gettysburg battlefield in July 1863 a few days after the battle.

Like any traveler seeking to reach Gettysburg by rail at the time, he had to come into York County and switch trains at Hanover Junction for the westbound journey to the battlefield.

He left a brief description of the scene at Hanover Junction following Lige White’s antics…

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York CWRT : George Pickett: Southern Patriot or War Criminal topic on August 20

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The York Civil War Round Table invites the public to its monthly meeting on Wednesday, August 20 at 7:00 PM in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust, 250 E. Market Street, York, PA. The meeting and parking are free of charge.

This month’s speaker is Hanover resident and York Civil War Round Table member Brian Blake who will present a PowerPoint talk based on his research on Confederate Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett called “George Pickett: Southern Patriot or War Criminal.”

Confederate General George Pickett is one of the most well-known and recognizable names from the Civil War. When one thinks of George Pickett they think of the quintessential Southern General – chivalrous, brave and honorable. Pickett is also seen as a tragic figure, representing the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, for having his division decimated in 30 minutes at a place called Gettysburg. However, just seven months after Gettysburg, Pickett ordered the execution of 22 captured Union prisoners in coastal North Carolina.

How could a man who represents the ideal Southern gentleman commit such a heinous crime? After the war, Pickett would flee to Canada and be dogged by the Judge Advocate General’s Office for the executions but ultimately be pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. With passage of time, faded memories and a national wave of reconciliation, he would become the Pickett we have come to know today. We will look for the real George Pickett and try to separate the man from the myth.

Brian Blake and his wife Lisa have been volunteers at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 15 years and are members of the York Civil War Round Table. Brian and Lisa reside in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

 

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York County’s Copperheads clashed with pro-Lincoln loyalists

Copperhead_CartoonThis satirical cartoon from Harper’s Weekly depicts members of the pro-peace wing of the Democratic Party as copperhead snakes, a characterization made popular in the Republican press. The artist suggests that the “Copperheads” as being a threat to the safety and welfare of the Union. The Democratic Party during the war fractured into Peace and War wings, opening the opportunity for pro-Lincoln or pro-Union candidates to win their races in many traditional Democrat regions.

The Copperhead movement was perhaps strongest in Pennsylvania in the border counties, where trade with the South had been important for generations and the farming culture fostered Democratic beliefs. No numbers exist for the strength of the Copperheads in York County, although the Democratic Party was the dominant political entity in the area. Republicans often accused any Democrat of being a Copperhead, whether they were truly a member of the Peace wing or not. Most, it appears, did not in reality openly support an end to the war not did they openly protest Lincoln’s policies. They may have voted for the Democratic candidates, but many of these residents otherwise did not get involved in social or political issues, preferring to be left alone.

However, in a few publicized cases, the more vocal “Copperheads” found themselves clearly at odds with the more fervent Lincoln supporters. There are occasional accounts in the local newspapers of arguments and clashes. Both sides accused each other of being in the wrong.

One interesting case near the end of the war in early 1865 epitomized the friction between neighbors. When a young  resident of southern York County’s Stewartstown region heard the news of Lincoln’s assassination, he proclaimed that it served Lincoln right and he “should have been shot long ago.”

That emotional exclamation by youthful John S. Gemmill drew an angry response from other young locals, who assaulted him and pummeled him with rotten eggs. Gemmill, in turn, faced potential Federal charges of disloyalty for his ill-timed wisecrack.

Here is the story…

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Louisiana Tigers raided Emigsville; eyewitness account

EmigsvilleThis image from the Manchester Township Historical Society shows Emigsville, Pennsylvania, a small village during the Civil War years nestled along the Harrisburg Road (now N. George Street) and the Northern Central Railway. Prosperous farms surrounded the town, which featured the large home, farm, and general store of the John Emig, Jr. family. The town was named in 1840 for him.

On Sunday, June 28, 1863, curious townspeople watched as Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early led several thousand Confederate soldiers southward through Emigsville as they headed to York. Later that day, Col. William Henderson French’s 17th Virginia Cavalry regiment camped on the open hill shown in the above photo immediately northwest of Emigsville (this hill is now partially wooded and covered with townhouses). The Rebel soldiers departed on June 30 and many of them subsequently fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.

A handful of primary accounts recall the march of Early’s infantry and trains of artillery and supply wagons through Emigsville. Among these are the recollections of Flora (Emig) Dice who was a little girl at the time the Tigers paid a visit to her father’s sprawling mansion and nearby store.

Late in her life, Flora (who passed away in 1954 at the age of 98) penned her reminiscences in August 1944 (during WWII) of the Confederate invasion. Here are some highlights of that account, a copy of which was graciously given to me by the current owner of the Emig Mansion.

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York Gazette described the Confederate invasion

Downtown YorkDuring the Gettysburg Campaign, more than 6,000 Confederate troops occupied the vicinity of York, Pennsylvania, for 3 days and 2 nights (June 28-30, 1863). A few citizens left letters or diary entries concerning the Rebels in their midst, but with a population of more than 8,000 citizens the number of accounts is proportionally very small. Perhaps other accounts have survived and are awaiting discovery?

One of the first public accounts of the invasion was the town’s Democratic newspaper, the Gazette. The chief burgess, David Small, was the editor and main writer. He was a classic example of being in the middle of the story he was covering, considering his joint role as mayor and leading newsman.

Here is his paper’s recounting of the Rebel occupation of York from later in the day after the soldiers departed westward on Tuesday, June 30.

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New Civil War fiction for young readers tells the story of revenge and forgiveness

BlakeI met author Joel Moore (who writes under the name of J. Arthur Moore) at a recent mutual book signing at Irvin’s Books in York, PA. He graciously gave me a copy of his latest historical fiction book, Blake’s Story, Revenge and Forgiveness, which he co-wrote with Bryson B. Brodzinski.

Published in May 2014 by Xlibris, this new book tells the story of a Southern boy who learns of his father’s death at the bloody battle of Shiloh in the spring of 1862. In anguish, Blake Bradford wrestles with his shifting emotions and finally decides that he must take revenge on the Yankee who shot his father. He hopes to find him on a battlefield and kill him. Blake signs up for the 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry and soon finds himself in the midst of the Kentucky Campaign serving under famed Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne (known as the “Stonewall of the West” for his martial and leadership abilities).

Wounded and taken prisoner at Perryville, Blake eventually befriends a young Union soldier, setting the stage for the main plot line of the book. Incidentally, the story’s genesis came from an idea from Moore’s 11-year-old great-grandson!

The new book will appeal to young teenagers who are interested in learning a little more about the Civil War as seen through the eyes of one of their peers. Blake’s experiences are based upon extensive historical research and are rooted in the actual movements and actions of the regiments involved in the storyline. The book flows well and should be easy to read and comprehend for its intended teenage audience. Rated at four or five stars by various on-line reviewers, it would make a fine gift for the younger Civil War reader.

Blake’s Story, Revenge and Forgiveness can be obtained from the publisher, Xlibris, via their website (ISBN 978-1-49319-778-1). It is also for sale through amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s on-line catalog.

 

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Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign topic at York CWRT on July 16

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Author George F. Franks, III will be the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table on July 16, 2014.  Mr. Franks will present a PowerPoint talk based on his new book, “Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign.”

The meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust at 250 E. Market St. in downtown York, Pennsylvania. There is no charge for admission and the public is welcome!

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What became of York’s flag taken by the Rebels in June 1863?

This Lewis Miller sketch shows Brig. Gen. John Gordon's Confederates lowering the massive US flag in the town square of York PA on Sunday, June 28, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign. Sketch from YCHT.

This Lewis Miller sketch shows Brig. Gen. John Gordon’s Confederates lowering the massive US flag in the town square of York PA on Sunday, June 28, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign. Sketch from YCHT.

After Gordon’s Rebels hauled down the flag from Centre Square, its whereabouts quickly became uncertain to the residents of York. Rumors and tales abounded, including a story that General Gordon tied it to his horse’s tail and dragged it in the dirty, horse-dung-filled street. Other accounts suggested that Gordon merely draped the flag over his saddlebags and rode off toward Wrightsville. Still another story says that Avery’s North Carolina brigade ended up with the flag, tearing it into pieces and later using it as bandages after the battle of Gettysburg. Those and other stories resulted in uncertainty. Some residents even claimed to possess the missing flag! What was certain was that businessman W. Latimer Small replaced the massive flag with a new one after the battle.

In early 1888, almost 25 years after the Confederates hauled down the missing flag, Hiram Young, the editor of the York Dispatch sent a letter to Gordon, then the governor of Georgia, inquiring as to what really happened. Here is his note, as well as Governor Gordon’s response as taken from the Macon, Georgia, Weekly Telegram of March 13, 1888.

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