Battle-Fields of the South

BattlefieldsoftheSouth

This book by “An English Combatant” covers the war from First Bull Run to Fredericksburg.  You can download it and read it for free, Vol 1 here and Vol 2 here.

I must say I thought reading the book was a giant waste of time.  There are numerous inaccuracies throughout, the unknown author quotes a number of sources a confederate soldier just wouldn’t have available, and as I was reading the book I had the distinct feeling that someone was pulling my leg.

The author purports to have been living in the south when the war started, and takes us through to the Battle of Fredericksburg.  In covering the Western Theater he publishes what he claims are highly detailed letters from friends of his, again revealing information that I have trouble believing an actual confederate soldier would know.

He writes, “The quartermaster’s and commissary departments, also, were in great confusion, and the service far from efficient. Although the country abounded in corn-meal, bacon, flour, &c., it was evident our stores could not last for ever, as the two last-named articles were chiefly (and perhaps solely) to be found North. We were rich in cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice, hemp, &c., but these were not commissary stores, or absolute necessaries, and as we did not produce any other, and were not in any sense a manufacturing people, we found the whole North ridiculing us and our preparations for conquering our independence. Indeed, their common taunt was, ‘How can you live without us ? Why, we will starve you into submission.’ At the outset, however, President Davis and his military advisers had foreseen, and provided for, many of our most needful supplies: with funds immediately furnished by private negotiation, they had bought up many millions of various rations in Northern markets, while merchants by the thousand quietly proceeded up the country and procured immense supplies of merchandise and wares, before the North had arrived at any distinct idea of our determination to be free, and of the certainty of warfare.” [pp. 14-15] Millions of rations bought from Northern markets prior to secession by Davis?  Really?

In writing about the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, he writes, “At the commencement of the action our men perceived among the enemy several negroes, who seemed to take great care of themselves, and could not be induced to leave the trees behind which they fought. Many of us took a ‘pop’ at the darkies, but always missed. When the fact became known to our coloured boys, who always persisted in going to battle with us, they dropped the wounded they were carrying off, and immediately formed plans for capturing ‘de black ‘Bolition teeves.’ It was very amusing to see their display of generalship. ‘Go back to the rear, boys,’ said the officers, ‘this is no place for you!’ But the darkies would not go back, and lurking behind their masters picked off the enemy’s officers at a rapid rate. At last the regiment made a sudden charge, when, to our surprise, we found that not less than half-a-dozen black fellows had preceded us, and were each bringing out a prisoner of the same colour, abusing them roundly, and kicking them unmercifully. ‘You black rascal you!— does you mean to fight agin white folks, you ugly [n-words], you ? Suppose you tinks yourselves no ‘small taters’ wid dat Blue jacket on and dem striped pants. You’ll oblige dis Missippi darkey by pulling dem off right smarts if yer doesn’t want dat head o’ youm broke !’ ‘You are a mighty smart [n-word], you is!’ said one of our cooks to his captive; ‘comin’ down Souf to whip de whites! You couldn’t stay ‘t home and let us fight de Yanks, but you must come along too, eh! You took putty good care o’ yourself, you did, behind dat ole oak! I was a lookin’ at yer; and if you hadn’t dodged so much, you was a gone chicken long ago, you ugly ole Abe Lincolnite, you!’ ” [p. 110]  There were no African-Americans taking part in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on the Union side, and therefore this incident is a figment of the author’s imagination.  It’s part of the “Happy Slave” myth that claims blacks were happy to be enslaved.  He continues this theme in the book: “If the negro is really so unhappy as Northern orators proclaim, why do our servants go to battle with us?–how comes it that officers cannot keep them from the front?” [p. 277]

In writing about Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, he says, “After the Mexican war he left the army, and was professor of mathematics and tactics in the University of Virginia, but was generally looked upon by the students as an old fogy [sic] of little talent, and over-gifted with piety.” [p. 143]  Anyone who’s read a biography of Jackson knows that’s completely false.  He also claims that in 1832 South Carolina seceded from the Union and “Jackson forced her back into the Union.” [p. 268]  Anyone who knows anything about the Nullification Crisis knows that’s not true.

Add to all that his belief that Franz Sigel was a military genius: “Major-General Franz Sigel has proved himself an excellent soldier; and if he had been untrammelled by those in power, or given a distinct command away from Fremont and other incapables, he would have made a great name for himself long ere this. He was born in Baden in 1824, and graduated with much honour in the military college of Carlsruhe ; and, in 1847, was considered one of the ablest artillerists in Europe. When the revolution broke out in Germany, he threw up his command and joined the insurgents. At one time he was in command of the insurgent army, and successfully retreated with 30,000, despite all the traps and snares laid for him by an army of 80,000. His generalship drew forth praise from some of the best soldiers in Europe. When the rebellion was crushed, Sigel emigrated to America, and settled in St. Louis, marrying the daughter of a gentleman in whose academy he taught. When the present war broke out, he received command of the 2nd Missouri Volunteers, and was soon appointed brigadier. He served with distinction under Lyon, Fremont, and Curtis. He was removed from Missouri, and appointed to command the 12th Army Corps under Pope, in Virginia, and has greatly distinguished himself. Although much sneered at by those in the Federal army, and subjected on all occasions to many slights and annoyances, Sigel is a much better general than many who have been his superiors in command, and could do more with a division than half-a-dozen men such as General Pope.” [pp. xii-xiii]

I don’t believe students of the war will find this book useful in any way at all, unless you need to line the bottom of a birdcage.

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2 comments

  1. vinceinfburg · · Reply

    Something about this narrative didn’t sit right with me, either. T.E.C. writes almost as a passive observer, rather than an active participant. He almost never writes about what HE is doing, except for the many, many instances in which he is on his horse, surveying the carnage of a battlefield the next day, or transporting prisoners to places removed from the battle (Richmond, for instance…normal duty for an artillery LT?). This allows him to provide a global perspective on nearly every battle. He writes with the eye of a reporter with an agenda. He is constantly within earshot of bigwigs. The whole narrative is interspersed with stories of jovial “camp servants” (who are, of course, happily enslaved), northern defectors, and Yankee aggression. And then you have this curious asides for entire chapters, letters from his “friends” that provide perspective on events happening elsewhere. The whole thing smacks of propaganda.

    I suspect that this is the same “T.E.C.” that appears frequently as a correspondent in issues of the Memphis Daily Appeal (in exile in Grenada, MS) from 1861-1862. In “The Moving Appeal: Mr. McClanahan, Mrs. Dill, and the Civil War’s Great Newspaper Run,” Barbara Ellis identifies the correspondent as Thomas E. Coffey, hired by Daily Appeal John McLanahan to provide coverage of the war for folks back home, and perhaps an international audience. This book was published in London, perhaps intended to sway a British audience to the Confederate cause?

    There is a Thomas E. Caffey listed on the roster for Co. E, 18th Mississippi. The author’s “friends” address him as “Tom” in letters.

    1. I got the impression, while reading the book, that the author was reading newspaper accounts and creating a story around those accounts. The purpose, as you say, would be to sway the British people toward the confederate cause. That’s why we get the claims of loyal servants fighting for the confederate cause.

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