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Henry House Memorial

Henry House Hill, Manassas National Battlefield Park, 6511 Sudley Rd, Manassas, Virginia 20109. (703) 361-1339.

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Chancellorsville by Stephen W. Sears

chancellorsville-by-stephen-w-searsIn Chancellorsville, Stephen W. Sears charts the 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign, beginning with the recovery of the Union Army of the Potomac after the Battle of Fredericksburg and ending with two armies facing each other in much the same way as before the campaign began. In what was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s most stunning victory, he divided his army in the face of a superior enemy, in violation of basic military rules, and sent Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps around the Union Army’s flank. Jackson’s death, accidentally shot by one of his own soldiers, has been recounted numerous places before, but less well-known is how Union General Joseph Hooker managed to lose a battle that looked so much in his favor.

One of the most stunning takeaways from this book was the Army of the Potomac’s condition after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Desertion, low morale, in-fighting among officers, and expired enlistments whittled the army down to an empty husk. On January 31, 1863, the Union Army counted 25,363 deserters (1/4 of the army!). In contrast, Lee had 91,000 men under his command. Why didn’t he move against the disorganized and demoralized Union Army?

One reason was lack of intelligence. Lee couldn’t be certain how many (or how few) enemy soldiers he faced. Another was lack of supply. Lee couldn’t stockpile enough supplies to go on the offensive with the trickle coming from Richmond. He actually sent 20,000 men south to relieve the burden. So his best opportunity to crush the Army of the Potomac slowly slipped away.

Chancellorsville is above all a vindication of Major General Joseph Hooker. Hooker is usually portrayed as the Union general on the losing end of Robert E. Lee’s most stunning victory. But he was a brilliant organizer and military innovator. Unfortunately, “Fighting Joe” didn’t get along well with his peers. He was outspoken, a rough character, and a middle-aged bachelor at a time when that was viewed suspiciously.

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Rebel Yell by S. C. Gwynne

rebel-yell-the-violence-passion-and-redemption-of-stonewall-jackson-by-s-c-gwynneIn Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, S. C. Gwynne brings to life Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in a vivid narrative that is rich with military history, biographical detail, and personal conflict. Gwynne’s Jackson is not a man of myth–he is often petty, uncompromising, stubborn, and very human.

No one was perhaps a more unlikely war hero than Professor Thomas Jackson of the Virginia Military Institute. He was awkward and distant, fanatically religious and a hypochondriac. He believed one arm was longer than the other, a “deficiency” he tried to self-correct his whole life.

He was not only secretive with those under his command, but he could be petty and jealous as well. While briefly stationed in Florida after the Mexican War, he frequently quarreled with his commanding officer, Major William H. French. He finally accused French of adultery, despite circumstantial evidence and the harm his unfounded accusation would cause the man’s marriage and reputation. During the Civil War, he court-martialed Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett for ordering a retreat despite being outnumbered, pressed on three sides, and low on ammunition. General Robert E. Lee later had to order Jackson to release Garnett from arrest.

Jackson’s military victories propelled him to national fame in the fledgling Confederacy, but it won him the respect of his Northern opponents as well. Jackson wasn’t always a brilliant tactician, however. During the Peninsula Campaign, Jackson’s corps arrived in virtual secrecy in time for the Seven Days Battles. But Jackson’s men hardly participated, and Jackson himself was sleep deprived and often incoherent.

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Civil War Ballads: I’m Going to Fight Mit Sigel

This tongue-in-cheek song was written by John F. Poole (1833-1893) to the tune of “The girl I left behind me.” The 97th Regimental String Band recorded a version, “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel,” for their 1999 album Songs of the Civil War, Vol. 7: Brass Mounted Army. The song is an unflattering portrayal of German-American soldiers in the Union army, written in a mock-German accent from the perspective of a German volunteer. The title is a reference to Union Major General Franz Sigel.

I’ve come shust now to tells you how
I goes mit regimentals;
To schlauch dem voes of Liberty
Like dem old Continentals;
Vot fights mit England long ago
To save de Yankee Eagle,
Un now I gets mine sojer clothes,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

Ven I comes from de Deutsche Countree,
I vorks some dimes at baking,
Den I keeps a lager bier saloon,
Un den I goes shoe-making;
But now I was a sojer been
To save de Yankee Eagle;
To schlauch dem tam Secession volks,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

I gets ein tam big rifle guns,
Un puts him to mine shoulder,
Den march so bold. like big jack horse,
Un may been someding bolder;
I goes off mit de volunteers,
To save de Yankee Eagle,
To give dem rebel vellers fits,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

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Civil War Ballads: Hood’s Old Brigade

Hood’s Old Brigade“, or “On the March”, was written by Mollie E. Moore (1844–1909), a Southern poet who’s family was originally from Alabama. She moved to Texas in 1855, then to New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband after the war. Folksinger Bobby Horton put this poem to music for his album Homespun Songs of the C​.​S​.​A​.​, Volume 5 (1996). Horton’s accent and rapid cadence made it difficult to transcribe, but I was able to reconcile some of the more indiscernible lyrics with the original poem.

Twas midnight when we built our fires
We marched at half past three
We know not when our march shall end
Nor care–we follow Lee.
The starlight gleams on many a crest
And many a well-trod blade
This handful marching on our left
This lin’ is our brigade.

Our lin’ is short because its veins
So lavishly have bled
The missing search the countless planes
For battles it has led
There are those Georgians on the right
Their ranks are thinin’ too
How in one company they say
They now can count but two

There’s not much talkin’ down the lines
Nor shoutin’ down the gloam [twilight]
For when the night is ’round us
Then we’re thinkin’ most of home

I saw a young soldier startled
When we passed an open glade
Where the low starlight, leaf, and bough
A fairy picture made
Nor has he uttered a word since then
My heart can whisper why
‘Twas like the spot in Texas
Where he bade his love goodbye

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Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign by Jonathan A. Noyalas

stonewall-jacksons-1862-valley-campaign-by-jonathan-a-noyalasIn Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, Jonathan A. Noyalas traces Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign during the American Civil War. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was known as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” due to its ample harvests and transportation centers. The region became a magnet for both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, and nearly half of the thirteen major battles fought in the Valley occurred during this campaign.

Through diaries, letters, and battlefield accounts, Noyalas shows how those victories brought hope to an infant Confederate nation, transformed the lives of the Shenandoah Valley’s civilians, and emerged as Stonewall Jackson’s defining moment.

In March 1862, a 35,000-strong Union army led by Major General Nathanial P. Banks invaded the Shenandoah Valley from the north. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson initially opposed him with just 3,500 men. By June 10, Jackson had driven the Yankees back into Maryland. The story of how he accomplished this is incredible. Professor Noyalas does an adequate job telling this story, but while he paints an interesting picture of the campaign’s impact on civilians, his military history falls short.

How the war affected civilians is a perspective you rarely read, especially when it comes to Union loyalists vs. Confederates in the Valley. Not every Virginian seethed at Major General Banks’ blue ranks marching through the streets. Some even cheered. Their neighbors, however, were happy to later point them out to Jackson’s men. I was surprised to read just how virulent the hatred was for Yankees. In an effort to scare the invaders, one resident of Winchester told a Union officer that after the Battle of Bull Run they collected Northern skulls and sold them for ten dollars!

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