Friday, December 30, 2011

The Geezer of Gettysburg

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

For the last few weeks, in addition to transcribing the wartime letters of Henry Allen, I have developed something of an obsession with reading about the Battle of Gettysburg. Oh sure, I understand and can discuss most major Civil War battles with some of the best historians in the field, but I have never really delved deep into the nitty-gritty of any one particular scrap. And this I have now set out to do...since Gettysburg is my favorite place to visit, discuss, write about, and analyze - I figured I would go after that one. Yeah...I have plenty of books to choose from - just to get started.

Battles usually come with their own set of legends, and in this case Gettysburg is no different. Being a memory guy, I love legends and all that comes with them. So I will start off my (sure to be many) series of posts about the battle by having a quick look at the battle's most famous civilian: John Burns.  Many who visit the battlefield today learn about Burns, who along with Jennie Wade (the only civilian killed in the battle), number among the civilian notables in what could easily be called the Gettysburg express tourist package.

I just finished reading Harry Pfanz's Gettysburg: The First Day and he included a handy index that tells the Burns story, just in case you have never had the pleasure of hearing it from a hit-and-run Gettysburg tour guide. Burns was well in to his 70s and claimed to be a veteran of the war of 1812. He was, shall we say, incensed by the Rebel invasion of his native state and decided to do something about it - he grabbed his Enfield and went out to meet the advancing foe.

Around noon he arrived at the position of the 150th Pennsylvania near the McPherson farm. Burns discussed fighting alongside the Keystone regiment with the regiment's major and colonel and was eventually given permission - although he was advised to go to the nearby McPherson Woods where he would find shelter from the sun and Rebel bullets.

There he met up with the members of the 7th Wisconsin where he impressed the regiment's colonel by dropping a mounted Confederate with a rifle handed him by the officer. But that's not all. From there he moved on down the line and joined the 24th Michigan - near the eastern edge of the woods. There he was wounded three times.

The Burns legend has grown over time - is it true that he fought in all the places he claimed (or that others claimed)? Did he really kill the Rebel horseman? It is hard to say with certainty - but he did fight on McPherson Ridge and he was wounded.

Burns died in 1872 and is buried next to his wife in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery. If you are ever there - stop by a pay your respects to one ballsy Yankee. And try to remember this little anecdote. It's stories like this that will impress your friends at parties - that will if you hang out with people who are impressed by these types of things.

And by the way - I posted a picture of the Burns monument on my Facebook fan page and on Twitter promising to give a shout out to the first person who could correctly identify the man. I had a couple of simultaneous winners - so hats off to Scott and Eric and an honorable mention to Coni who thought it might be Johnny Appleseed!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Civil Warriors Round Table: A Debriefing

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Those of you who check in regularly to the Speaking Engagements tab will be fully aware that last night I spoke to the Civil Warriors Round Table in the West San Fernando Valley. The topic was Robert E. Lee in the postwar years.  I gave a short talk on Lee's sense of duty, what he did during the years immediately following the war and more importantly, what he didn't do. The talk was followed by a raucous discussion on Lee, Virginia, loyalty, treason, and we even talked about his generalship at Gettysburg for a minute. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it seems that those in attendance did as well. Mission accomplished.

I will take a second today and stress that everyone with more than a passing interest in the Civil War should attend a local Round Table. These are great venues for some heated debate/ we all know, there is always plenty to talk about. And as we did last night, you will generally hear a wide range of opinion. It's a good thing. If we all thought the same would be pretty boring.

A I would also like to thank novelist David H. Jones - he stopped by last night and brought me a copy of his latest book, Two Brothers: One North, One South. David has given a number of presentations nationwide on the experiences of the Prentiss brothers, the 6th Regiment of Maryland Infantry and the final stage of the Petersburg Campaign in the American Civil War. During three years of research for “Two Brothers: One North, One South”, he ventured into the swamps of Dinwiddie County, Virginia to rediscover the lost location where a pivotal event in the book took place. I look forward to reading Two Brothers and reviewing it right here at Cosmic America!

Thanks again Civil Warriors for a great discussion - I'll see you next month!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Return of Henry A. Allen

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

A long time ago, I embarked on a little side project that concerned a Confederate Soldier named Henry A. Allen. I came across his papers at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia back in grad school - his wartime letters had no direct bearing on my research but I thought they were interesting so I made copies and tucked them away for a later date.

Allen was a captain in the 9th Virginia Infantry Regiment and was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. He spent the remainder of the war in northern prisons - where he wrote his wife, Sarah, on a regular basis...explaining the goings on of prison life and sending her instructions as to how best conduct their household while he was away.  Long after the war Allen joined a veterans' organization called the Immortal 600. Now, the 600 were some angry ex-Rebs, which is what drew me to Allen in the first place. What happened to him during the war and behind enemy lines that brought out the animosities later in life?

My plan was to present the letters in unedited form online - to make them available to the public. I made a good start until the letters dated after June, 1864 went missing from my files. You can see the letters dated before that by clicking HERE. Well, after relocating Cosmic America HQ this last month, the 1864-65 letters have resurfaced. Thus the project continues! Stay tuned to find out what happens to Allen as the months turn in to years. You might just find a few surprises!

The next step is to edit this collection for publication, which means a few more trips to the archives. Allen was from Portsmouth, Virginia - and strangely...after years of living in the Old Dominion, I never made it there. I suppose a visit is in order.