Was the 18th North Carolina cursed?

On reading Ernest B. Furgurson’s May 2008 article on the four mistakes Stonewall Jackson made at Chancellorsville that led to his death, I started thinking: Was the 18th North Carolina cursed after mortally wounding Jackson on May 2, 1863? The Tar Heels in that storied unit were excused and forgiven for the deed, of course, but I have to believe they could never forget what they had done.

The day after Jackson was shot, the 18th North Carolina fought units of the Union XII Corps south of the Plank Road. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Thomas J. Purdie, was killed; Lt. Col. Forney George was wounded; and Corporal Owen Eakins, the color-bearer, was killed and his flag captured by the 7th New Jersey. Overall the 18th North Carolina lost 34 killed, 99 wounded and 21 missing from nearly 500 men. At Gettysburg the regiment lost 88 of 346 men. At the Wilderness, a year after Chancellorsville on the same ground, the 18th was routed south of the Plank Road. On April 2, 1865, the unit was hit hard by the Federal assault that broke the lines at Petersburg. The 18th was forced to withdraw and the regimental colors fell to the 40th New Jersey. The regiment surrendered a week later at Appomattox Court House with 93 men under Major Thomas Wooten.

So, was the 18th North Carolina cursed? We do know it suffered as much as any other Rebel regiment in the last years of the war.

Stephen W. Lunsford

Leeds, Ala.

Questioning old rules

In his May article “The Four Fatal Actions of Stonewall Jackson,” which critiqued Jackson’s conduct at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Ernest Furgurson notes, like so many others before him, that Confederate General Robert E. Lee violated an apparent military principle that a commander can never split his forces in the presence of a numerically superior opponent.

Why military academies preached this principle is never made clear. We are given no examples of commanders who won because, despite being outnumbered, they didn’t divide their forces when confronting a numerically superior enemy, nor are we provided examples of commanders who lost because they divided their forces while facing such an opponent. If this so-called rule really existed, and is so ironclad as claimed, examples ought to be plentiful.

This principle considers only the numerical factor in a confrontation between two opponents. It admits no role for what are called “force multipliers,” and ignores all the contingencies that might be present. Are any two situations ever exactly the same?

A logical derivative of this rule would be that one can never launch a flank or rear attack unless one’s forces facing the enemy are at least equal to the enemy in numbers. Does that really make sense?

Are there swarms of examples of flank and rear attacks that have led to battlefield disasters because the forces of the enemy were not numerically superior or at least equal in numbers to the enemy?

What about the old rule of thumb that one defender is worth three attackers?

Joseph Forbes

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Blanket rolls and muskets

Richard Clarke makes three comments in the “Letters” section of the May 2008 issue of America’s Civil War that I would like to challenge. First, he says that wearing a blanket roll over the right shoulder “would prevent the firing of the musket.” As a Confederate reenactor for more than 13 years, I have worn both a blanket and a poncho over my right shoulder on numerous occasions. It is equally comfortable this way, and while at “right shoulder, shift,” it keeps the musket in place on the shoulder—especially on a long march.

There is some validity to it being more in the way when firing if worn over the right shoulder, but as the picture accompanying his comments clearly shows, the soldier is standing in a nonfiring position. With a gentle tug to the right, one can make room for the butt of an Enfield musket if one wishes to fire with a roll over the right shoulder—again, I’ve done this on numerous battlefields.

If studying history for more than 40 years has taught me anything, it is never accurate to say “always,” as Clarke states in his sentence, “Blanket rolls were always over the left shoulder.” They most definitely were not. I bring to his attention one of the most famous of all Southern images, that of Confederate soldiers at a halt in the streets of Frederick, Md., during the Antietam Campaign (the one taken from near the J. Rosenstock Dry Good & Clothing store). If you study this image, many of the soldiers are clearly wearing their blanket rolls over their right shoulders. Others are wearing soft packs on their backs, and some have bedrolls slung over their shoulders.

To state that “reenactors are not being authentic in appearance” by wearing their rolls over their right shoulders is patently false. Furthermore, to state that, as a reenactor himself, “that is a mistake that should not be made by reenactors who claim to be authentic,” again the photos of actual Confederate soldiers, not one of a modern-day “reenactor,” clearly show every possible method of wearing a blanket roll.

It disturbs me to no end when fellow reenactors make arguments of this type, an example being that blue infantry cords were no longer used on slouch hats mid- to late-war. This is another falsehood, since a very famous watercolor painting, done from life by a fellow soldier of a young officer in the ranks at Petersburg, clearly shows him wearing a slouch hat with blue cord. I’m sure there are numerous other examples of blanket statements (no pun intended) that do no justice to those we reenact.

William Brown

Bedford, Va.

Grant and Lee author responds

I appreciate William G. Thomas’ fair, positive and balanced review of my book Grant and Lee: Victorious American and Vanquished Virginian (July 2008). I have one small quibble. As the reviewer notes, the casualty numbers for Grant’s and Lee’s armies (the Union incurred 154,000 casualties, the Confederates 209,000) are critical to my analysis. But he then states that “how [I] arrived at these figures remains somewhat murky.”

Let me explain so that no one concludes they have no basis.After providing 52 pages of others’ estimates of the casualties inflicted by the opposing armies, I selected the estimate for every battle or campaign that (as stated in my first appendix) “I deemed to be the most reliable sources cited—both long-respected sources that have not been disproved and more recent sources that reflect detailed and conscientious research.” Thus, the statistics that reflect Lee’s over-aggressiveness and Grant’s more favorable war-long numbers are reliable estimates by respected historians and may be compared to others’ calculations provided in my fairly exhaustive appendices on these two generals’ casualty figures. Thank you for this and other informative book reviews.

Edward H. Bonekemper III

Willow Street, Pa.

Buford map suggestion

J. David Petruzzi wrote an excellent article on General John Buford and his cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign in the July issue. Unfortunately, I must complain about the lack of maps that supported the story.

Although the map on P. 28 provides good support for the second half of the article, it would have been immensely helpful to have a map showing Buford’s and J.E.B. Stuart’s movements from May 1863 to June 27, 1863, to support the first part of the article.

Thank you again for publishing a great article about one of my personal heroes. I look forward to future issues.

Major Philip A. Kost

Leander, Texas

Right track but wrong raiders

The Blog Report “Battlefield Wanderings” caption in the July issue refers to a memorial to “Anderson’s Raiders” at Chattanooga National Cemetery. This should read “Andrews’ Raiders,” who were a band of Union commandos led by James J. Andrews. On April 12, 1862, exactly one year after the start of the war, the raiders seized the locomotive General at Big Shanty, Ga. Andrews and 21 men planned to tear up track and cut telegraph wires to help open eastern Tennessee to the Union Army, but the General’s conductor, William A. Fuller, chased the locomotive on foot, then by handcar, by commandeering two other locomotives, and then aboard the locomotive Texas—with the engine in reverse. When the General ran out of wood and water,Andrews and his men abandoned it and took to the woods. The thieves were hunted down and caught. Eight were tried as spies and executed, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring escape to freedom. Six others still held as prisoners were exchanged and became the first men in U.S. history to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for gallantry.

Dee C. Brown Jr.

Bangor, Maine

VMI ghosts

Thanks for the short feature “Ghosts On Parade” on the New Market VMI Cadets (May 2008). As a relative of one of those cadets, Thomas William McClung of Company D, I appreciate the recognition for these young men who gave their all. The annual New Market reenactment obviously has special meaning for me. Now I just need to get it together to be at VMI on May 15 some year for the dress parade.

Stuart McClung

Hagerstown, Md.


Originally published in the September 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.