New historical fiction “Seven Days in July” on the battle of Atlanta

GriffithsNormally I do not read or review historical fiction (for time and interest reasons), but my friend Jim Schmick of the fine Civil War and More, Inc. bookstore in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, referred the publicist for author Kenneth Griffiths to me. I soon received a copy of a fine new book on the battles for Atlanta, Georgia.

Griffiths’ new book, Seven Days in July: A Historic Account of the Battle of Atlanta, is not your garden-variety historical fiction (most are high on fiction and low on history; hence my general distaste for the genre). I found Griffith’s book to be the exact opposite — it’s a carefully researched, well documented history of William T. Sherman and his subordinates as they attempted to move their Union forces into position to capture the important rail center of Atlanta. From there, Sherman would launch his famous (infamous in some quarters) “March to the Sea.”

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New book on the failed 1861 Peace Conference in Washington DC

Tooley bookFollowing the presidential election of 1860 which saw Abraham Lincoln win both the popular vote and the electoral college, several Deep South states, concerned over the Republican Party’s platform against the westward expansion of slavery, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. By the winter of 1860-1861, the division had deepened and some hot-heads on both sides were agitating for war.

Many Northern and Southern states sent delegates to a specially convened, bi-partisan Peace Conference to be held in the sprawling Willard’s Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.  The meeting, a last-ditch effort to avoid war, was to commence in mid-February. Most of the delegates were prominent former politicians, judges, and civic leaders; they largely the elder statesmen from their respective states. A few still held office, but in general, most were in the twilight of their careers and lives. Some observers mocked the gathering; fiery New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley deemed the delegates as “political fossils” who had only become relevant again because of the national shock over the secessionist movement.

Indeed, one aged delegate, 77-year-old blind John C. Wright of Ohio, died of natural causes nine days into the convention. The former congressman and Ohio Supreme Court judge was mourned by his delegation, which included Lincoln’s upcoming Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase.

To lead the convention, the delegate turned to another aged former national political figure, former President John Tyler of Virginia. He, working with lame duck President James Buchanan, hoped to avert war.

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Robert E. Lee Comes Home From War: Topic at York CWRT on September 16

Matt AtkinsonNational Park Service photo of Ranger Matt Atkinson

The York Civil War Round Table will feature Matt Atkinson at its monthly meeting on September 16, 2015. Mr. Atkinson will present a PowerPoint talk on “Robert E. Lee Comes Home from War- 1865 to 1870.”

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 Street in downtown York, Pennsylvania. There is no charge for admission and the public is welcome.

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New book looks at the origins of the Custer legends

Custer coverAs a small boy, I was fascinated by stories of Civil War generals from my native Ohio. I grew up 10 miles from Phil Sheridan’s boyhood home of Somerset and some 20 miles from William T. Sherman’s home in Lancaster. A few generals were buried in Zanesville, the nearest city to my small town home. But, my favorite as a kid, bar none, was George Armstrong Custer of New Rumley. I read everything I could about the boy general, and after I had read every Civil War and Indian fighting book from our branch library, I had the local branch librarian order over time every related book in the John McIntire Library in Zanesville. As an 11-year-old, I loved watching Wayne Maunders short-lived 1967 TV show, “Custer.” My toy army men got quite a workout that fall as I refought every episode and then invented my own imaginary scenarios of my 54mm Tempo Custer figure charging into action and dispatching hundreds of savages.

As I grew older, put the army men into their boxes for good, and began to read more critically, I began to realize that much of the Custer of my youth was not the Custer of my college years and of my adulthood. Custer the hero betrayed by timid, incompetent subordinates evolved into Custer the complex man, a person with certain talents and certain character flaws who most certainly was not the idol of my innocent youth.

Authors Edward Caudill and Paul G. Ashdown have written a new book, Inventing Custer, released this month which explores the creation of what has in the past been deemed “the Custer myth.”

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76th NY soldier wounded at Gettysburg passed through York County

Lt. Lucien Davis, 76th New York Volunteer Infantry

Lt. Lucien Davis, 76th New York Volunteer Infantry (from The Regimental History of the 76th New York, A. P. Smith, 1867)

Following the battle of Gettysburg, scores of wounded men on their own headed for the nearest operational train stations to seek medical attention beyond what the overcrowded temporary field hospitals could provide. Among them was 28-year-old Lt. Lucien Davis of the 76th New York.

He hailed from Tompkins County in upstate New York. The young Republican had voted for John Fremont in the presidential election of 1856 and for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. When the war erupted in 1861, he was working in the oil fields of northwestern Pennsylvania. He went home, signed up for the army in Cortland, and was mustered in as a private in Company C of the 76th NY. Davis rose through the ranks, survived a minor chest wound  in 1862, and by the time of the Gettysburg campaign held a commission as a First Lieutenant.

At Gettysburg on July 1, the 76th NY was heavily engaged with Confederates west of town near the unfinished railroad cut. The regiment’s commander, Maj. Andrew Grover, was killed and Lieutenant Davis suffered a painful gunshot wound through the palm of his right hand. According to his biographer, he “He wrapped it in a tourniquet on his arm, using a ramrod for a stick, which he held in his hand. He carried his sword in his left hand, and continued in the fight.” During the ensuing retreat to Cemetery Hill that afternoon, Davis was grazed in the leg but managed to make it to a church which had opened its doors to the wounded. He later led as many of the walking wounded as could be found out to the rallying point on Cemetery Hill.

His adventures were only beginning…

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Soldier in the 27th New York complimented York County

Bucolic farm setting off of Baker Road in West Manchester Township, York County, Pa. Photo by Scott Mingus

Bucolic farm setting off of Baker Road in West Manchester Township, York County, Pa. Photo by Scott Mingus

Tens of thousands of Union soldiers passed through York County during the Civil War, with many receiving their initial training at Camp Scott on the old fairgrounds off the intersection of E. King and S. Queen streets in downtown York. Dozens of accounts exist from these soldiers describing their initial impressions of York County, its people, its towns, and its terrain.

Here is one brief account (a very positive one!) from Cpl. Charles B. Fairchild of Company D, 27th New York Infantry.He had enlisted on May 2 at the age of nineteen. Fairchild survived the Civil War and returned home to his family. Later, as the regiment’s veterans reminiscenced  about their wartime experiences, they decided, like so many other Union regiments and some Confederate units, to memorialize their service into a bound volume.

Here is a passage from Fairchild’s History of the 27th Regiment N. Y. Vols. (Binghamton, NY: Carl and Matthews, 1888), page 7.

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National Civil War Museum Announces Fall Lecture Series

NCW Museum lectures

Wayne Motts has announced the lineup for the 2015 Fall Lecture Series at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, and what an impressive group of speakers he has assembled! Garry Adelman, Carl Westmoreland, Brian Jordan, and Kevin Levin — now that’s an all-star team of Civil War experts!

Contact the museum for more information at 717-260-1861.

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“The Lions of Gettysburg: Barksdale and the 13th Mississippi”

BarksdaleDr. Christopher J. Lahr of Mississippi and several colleagues are collaborating on a new multi-media project on Confederate Brigadier General William Barksdale and his brigade of Mississippi infantry regiments at the battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. The fiery Barksdale, a former United States congressman, was widely noted for his passion and rhetoric, as well as his ability to inspire men in combat. He led from the front and was heavily involved in the attack on Union positions in the Peach Orchard, and then led aggressively his men forward in pursuit of the retiring enemy troops. He would be shot multiple times and mortally wounded.

Focused on the 13th Mississippi of Barksdale’s brigade, Dr. Lahr’s project involves a professionally done CD/film/musical stage production with an original music score, as well as a supporting hard copy and digital book which is well in progress. Steven Acker and a team of musicians including singer Johnny Barranco have to date composed and recorded eight songs for the musical. Examples of these musical pieces can be viewed on You Tube at and The following link will take you to the theme song:

The upcoming book is tentatively entitled Lions of Gettysburg: William Barksdale, 1821-1863, Daniel Sickles, 1819-1914: A Galloping Ride Through American History.

For more information on this project, contact Chris Lahr at his email address,


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York CWRT to discuss “Reconstruction After the Civil War” on August 19

"Lincoln and Johnson" by Joseph E. Baker - Library of Congress

“Lincoln and Johnson” by Joseph E. Baker – Library of Congress

The York Civil War Round Table will feature Dr. Philip J. Avillo at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, August 19, 2015. Continuing in the theme of the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, Dr. Avillo will present “Reconstruction After the Civil War, 1865-1877: A Struggle for Freedom.”

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust at 250 E. Market Street, York, PA, 17403. The public is welcome; no reservations are required. The meeting is free, as is on-street parking.

Reconstruction after the Civil War is often overlooked, even more so often misunderstood. The term refers to the period following the Civil War of rebuilding the United States. Although the military conflict had ended, Reconstruction was in many ways still a war. Those who explore it will find a window into our own time and a greater understanding of the bloody war that preceded it.

This presentation will focus on the chronological history of Reconstruction and emphasizes the interpretive nature of history revealed by the timeline. Integral to the talk are discussions that highlight the post-emancipation struggle of the former slaves for freedom, the Congressional Republican policy designed to assist them in that struggle and reunite the nation, the determined southern resistance to that policy, the subsequent northern Republican abandonment of the freed blacks, and Reconstruction’s legacy.

Phil Avillo is Professor Emeritus at York College of Pennsylvania where he taught history from 1975 until his retirement in 2012. The courses he taught included “The Coming of the Civil War,””The Civil War and Reconstruction,” and “American Civilization: From the Colonial Period to the Present.” He introduced a number of other courses, including, “Women in the United States: A History,” “The United States and Vietnam,” and “Fiction, Film, and History.” Avillo who has published several articles that examine the role of Congress during the Civil War and Vietnam eras, received his PhD from the University of Arizona.

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Road Trip: The Southern Museum of Locomotive and Civil War History

In affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, the Southern Museum of Civil War  and Locomotive History, according to the organization’s website, is “home to the General locomotive, stolen during the Civil War’s Great Locomotive Chase; a reproduction of the locomotive assembly line from the Glover Machine Works; weapons, uniforms and every day items of Civil War soldiers; and the Jolley Education Center that features train history, hands-on activities for children and Georgia’s French Gratitude Train.”

On a recent two-day weekend visit to Atlanta, I briefly stopped at this museum in Kennesaw, Georgia (the war-time Big Shanty; near Marietta). As a kid growing up on Ohio, I was always fascinated by the story of Andrews’ Raiders and the Great Locomotive Chase. The Fess Parker Disney movie only fueled my strong interest in this tale of adventure and intrigue.

A group of daring Buckeye soldiers in civilian attire and their Kentuckian leader, James J. Andrews, conspired with Brig. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchell to steal a Western & Atlantic Railroad train at Big Shanty and drive it north to Union-held Chattanooga. Along the way, they planned to destroy track and telegraph lines, burn bridges, and wreck as much of the W&ARR’s infrastructure north of Atlanta as possible. This was to coincide with a Union push southward from Chattanooga.

The raiders made their way to Atlanta and took hotel rooms. A couple men overslept and missed the raid; the rest boarded a train powered by the General and headed north. At Big Shanty, during a breakfast break, they stole the train and steamed toward Tennessee. However, determined pursuit by the train’s conductor William B. Fuller and others, including running the Texas in reverse to chase down the General, made it possible to capture most of the raiders after the General ran out of fuel and steam pressure short of Tennessee.

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