Monday, February 20, 2012

Shades of Blue and Gray, Part IV

by Pamela Chase Hain and Robert C. Plumb

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts about the Civil War experience from the perspective of two soldiers, George McClelland from the Union and Thomas Wragg from the Confederacy. Click here to read Part I and Part II and Part III.

What role did letter writing and other forms of communications play during the war to keep families and friends informed?

Blue - George McClelland
Certainly the central method of communicating for George McClelland during his service in the Army of the Potomac was letter writing – letters to and from his family.  Based on his letters, it seems that George was never satisfied with the volume of mail that he received.  “I now write again to you hoping and praying that this will provoke a reply.  It is almost three weeks since I left home and nothing from my friends – everybody else is getting letters and papers and I get – nothing.  It is discouraging, very.”  Battlefield near Sharpsburg, September 20, 1862.

George was not alone in his hunger for communications from home. “We are aroused from our lethargy by the cry: ‘The mail has come.’ We crowd around expectant, waiting for the names to be called.  Some got half a dozen, others more.” Camp near Sharpsburg, September 30, 1862.

Letters weren’t the only form of communications that George relied on for information.  Newspapers – sent by his sisters – were another important medium for him.  “About papers – I have never got any from you [Lizzie].  I think a good many papers are ‘cabbaged’ on their way at the different headquarters from Corps to Regimental.” Falmouth, Virginia, March 19, 1863.

He may have been the exception among his fellow enlisted ranks, but George was a voracious reader of books and magazines in addition to newspapers.  In an April 12, 1864 letter he mentions reading the Atlantic Monthly magazine as well as books. (e.g. The Bible, Hawthorne’s Marble Fawn, and Soundings from the Atlantic by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior.)

In addition to inbound communications, McClelland’s regiment had an “embedded journalist” in George P. Fulton.  Fulton, a quartermaster clerk, sent periodic field reports on the 155th Regiment to the Pittsburgh Chronicle.

Gray - Thomas Wragg
Prior to the Battle of Bull Run in June and July 1861, Thomas Wragg was regularly exchanging letters with his family and expected them to answer promptly. He wrote to his father, his brother, Mac, his sisters, Jesse and Caro, and his brother-in-law.. By July, however, he told his father to send him money in silver to pay for postage, and to send the money to H. M. Brant President Bank of the Valley, Winchester, Virginia or to Col. Bartow since "Johnson Younger and Otey" kept the letters addressed to him for weeks before sending them on, and had lost mail containing money. [July, 1861] In addition to the difficulty of getting stamps, was the scarcity of materials--paper and pens.
Wragg obtained news from home mainly from his father. Concerning the war effort, much of what he heard was rumor, spread by the troops and rarely newspapers. During his Civil War Military service, Wragg never spoke of reading for pleasure or for news of the war.

After Wragg joined the Confederate Navy with the Savannah Squadron and was captured by the Union Weehawken in Savannah Harbor and sent to Fort Warren Prison in Boston Harbor, his letters to and from home became even more a necessity. He wrote his father that it was his only pleasure to receive letters from home [November 17, 1863]. On another occasion he wrote his father that he had not received any letters from anyone in two months [January 21, 1864]. This was the beginning of a slow decline in letters from home. It appears that the family was tiring of writing to him when they could not see him and his incarceration went on and on. He also apologized to his father that there was nothing to write about, and that his letters must be boring.  His girl friend from prior to the war ceased to write although he prodded his sister to persuade her to write him. He told his father he had written to her three times and she had not answered [February 5, 1864] He then complained that his sister Jesse had not written to him in a long time [March 4, 1864]. One person he regularly wrote to, was Capt. A. F. Butler, imprisoned at Fort Johnson. Both men had plenty of time on their hands to do so, and the authorities had no objections to it.

What changes in morale did the Union and Confederate soldiers/sailors experience during the war?

Blue - George McClelland
In commenting about those who served in the Civil War, historian James McPherson has written:  “Victory in battle pumped up their internal morale and gave them a more positive attitude toward the next battle; defeat lowered morale and caused many soldiers to wonder whether it was worthwhile to continue risking their lives.”

For the Army of the Potomac, victories and defeats were a roller coaster ride from 1862 to the close of 1864.  George McClelland would not have used the word “morale” in describing his state of mind, but his reflections following the Battle of Fredericksburg convey a low point in his spirits: “The tide of war rolls from east to west, and the minds of the people are no sooner allayed, when they are again startled by another scene of blood.  When will the carnage cease?” Falmouth, Virginia, January 10, 1863.

Following the Union victory at Gettysburg, the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction for McClelland. “Our successes in every other part of Rebeldom give us heart, nerves us to finish this intestine strife.”  Near Warrenton, Virginia, July 31, 1863.

By spring 1864, the prospect of victory was once again in question for McClelland and this dampened his spirit. “The campaign has opened inauspiciously for us. The news of Bank’s defeat comes like lightning on the fiendish massacre at Fort Pillow.  And I am not very sanguine of the victory here in Virginia.” Warrenton Junction, Virginia, April 23, 1864.

By late summer 1864, McClelland spirit was buoyed by the addition of more men and Grant’s determined, focused assault against the Confederates. “In a very short time you may expect to hear stirring news from this Region.  The reinforcements are only now beginning to come … [T]he men are arriving 1,000 per day and before a month, we assume again the offensive; 100,000 men now would terminate the war in 60 days – Grant has said it.  I am full of confidence that my prophecy will prove correct.”  Near Weldon Rail Road, Virginia, September 4, 1864.

Through the close of 1864 and into the spring of 1865, McClelland maintained a high level of optimism that the Union cause would prevail and victory won. This perception positively affected his spirit.  The underpinning of this attitude was his first-hand observation of Confederate soldiers. “Four deserters came in on my line and they confirmed the status told by others that Lee’s army is in a desperate condition, almost open mutiny, mutterings – not loud, but deep and wide spread – of a hopeless cause … The final crush of the reeling Confederacy is at hand.” Hatcher’s Run, Virginia, March 15, 1865.

Clearly, morale was a dynamic quality that tracked closely with the successes experienced on the battlefield, as James McPherson has stated.  Further influencing George McClelland’s morale was his confidence – or lack thereof – in his commanding general.

Gray - Thomas Wragg
Thomas Wragg began the war in high spirits. His mood slowly declined when the Confederate Army failed to feed or clothe him on a regular basis. Early in the War the Confederate leadership were not prepared to handle the logistics of the War. Yet, after the first battle of Bull Run and the rout of the Federal Forces, spirits were extremely high, both among the troops and with the populous at home, as evidenced by Thomas Wragg's uncle in his letter on July 22 to Wragg's father. In spite of the grief over casualties, the exultant swagger of Dr. William Wragg over their victory in battle, demonstrates their determination to continue the fight. When Wragg was in the hospital in Richmond with dysentery in the spring of 1862, he was eager to re-join his unit [March 4, 1862]. However, he expressed pleasure that his father was going to try to get him a commission. Presumably he had come to the conclusion, that if he remained in the infantry, it would be better as an officer. Yet, when he eventually returned home to Savannah in the Fall of 1862, he visited Laurel Grove Cemetery and revealed a profound grief over the loss of his fellow soldiers who were killed at the first Battle of Bull Run, and an almost death wish. When he saw the grave of a little child he wrote: "Fare the well, little sleeper. I only envy your place."

If Wragg's morale was low when he left the infantry, it would sink even lower as a POW in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor. Although Fort Warren was a prison for officers, it was still austere and stressful. When the officers of the CSS Atlanta first arrived, they were treated kindly and had more freedom. Then in December 1863 a new commandant arrived and tightened the rules: no newspapers, alcohol, roaming the island were allowed. Their rations were strictly measured. In the day, "the prisoners were allowed to take exercise on the pavements in front of their quarters, but after dark they were locked in the casemates and guards were placed in front of their doors." They were given only one blanket for warmth at night, and this was in a fort with stone walls located in the middle of Boston Harbor. This, coupled with the sense that all his friends and family were deserting him and that he might never receive an exchange--resulted in a steep drop in his morale. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Author Spotlight, David William Foster

By: Sarah Mason, Sales Intern

David William Foster, Regents' Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University and author of Contemporary Argentine Cinema and Violence in Argentine Literature, is our latest author spotlight!

Which of your books/essays did you enjoy researching for the most? Why?

Contemporary Argentine Cinema, because of the sociopolitical issues associated with the return to constitutional democracy in Argentina in 1983 represented by the films.

What inspired you to consider studying Latin America/Spanish?

Some of the best things in life happen by chance. I was fortunate enough to part of one of the first junior high school Spanish programs in the country (Seattle) and then fell in with a group of Latin American studies at the University of Washington, finally ending up, at the age of 26, as a Fulbright professor in Argentina. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is your favorite Latin American city you’ve visited? Why?

Buenos Aires: I have spent almost 50 years researching and teaching in that city, one of the great cultural capitals of Latin America and a very easy city to negotiate.

What is your favorite Argentine film, and why?

Historia Oficial, which won the Oscar for the best foreign film in 1985. While it has many ideological problems, it brought together an important segment of the Argentine cultural community to produce a film that confronted one of the worst aspects of the so-called Dirty War of the neofacist tyranny, 1976-83, the trafficking in children in programs of spurious adoptions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Author Spotlight, Wayne H. Bowen

By: Sarah Mason, Sales Intern
Wayne H. Bowen, author of Spain and theAmerican Civil War, is our latest author spotlight! He took some time to answer a few questions about his book, interests, and research.
What first got you interested in studying Spain? What about teaching?

Growing up near Spain's colonial mission of La Purisima, near my hometown of Lompoc, California, I was intrigued by artifacts--helmets worn by Spanish soldiers, for example--and learned bits and pieces of Spanish history.  When I started graduate school at Northwestern, I initially planned to study German history, but quickly decided that Spain had better food, an easier language, and fewer historians as my potential competitors.  I've never regretted making the switch, especially when I am in in Madrid.

As far as teaching, I blame it on Dr. Michael Robinson, a professor of Korean history I had as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California.  During my sophomore year, I was visiting him in his office, and he remarked: "You are pretty good at this history thing.  Have you thought about becoming a professor?  It's a great life--around young people all the time, summers off, and trips overseas if you don't study the United States."  He convinced me immediately, and from then until now being a college professor was my dream.

Which of your books/essays did you enjoy researching for the most?

My first book, Spaniards and Nazi Germany: Collaboration in the NewOrder, which began as my dissertation, was my first academic passion.  Thanks to financial support from the ITT Corporation, as well as from Northwestern University, I was able to spend nine months in Madrid doing nothing but combing through archives, conducting oral history interviews, and reviewing newly declassified Spanish documents from the Franco Era.  It would be hard to re-create the luxury of that time, focus, and single-mindedness now. However, I have enjoyed all of my subsequent projects, and consider myself very blessed to be in a profession where I am paid to speak, read, write and research in fields--modern Spanish and Mediterranean history--that are an endless source of rediscovered stories.

What is your favorite city in Spain and why?

Madrid, without question.  Not only is it the political, cultural and economic capital, it is the location for nearly all the important archives and libraries, at least those with a national focus.  Having conducted research there for a combined total of almost two years, starting as far back as 1993, I can arrive there on one day, and be already immersed in the archives on the next.  In fairness, however, I have yet to make it to Barcelona.  Three untimely rail strikes prevented me from making the trip when I had the time and money, as did poverty during my first few visits to Spain.

What was your favorite book in high school?

I read a lot of science fiction, especially Robert Heinlein, but also the novels of Ayn Rand, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Tom Clancy.  On my shelf was William Shirer's mammoth Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but if I had a time machine I would go back and warn my teenage self to be pretty dubious of that particular volume's historical perspective.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of your profession?

I am in my twenty-first year of service in the Army Reserve, where I am a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander.  It's been a wonderful balance to my university career, reminding me of the cost of the liberty we all enjoy.  A tour in Iraq, while difficult in many ways, also broadened my professional interests, resulting in two books on the region and a secondary teaching field. When I am not in uniform, I enjoy spending time with wife (Kendra) and two boys (Sam, 6, and Nathan, 2), building blanket forts, playing in the park, or pretending to be dinosaurs, monsters and wild animals.

If you could read a book for the first time again, which one would it be?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  OK, it's actually three books, but one amazing story arc. Tolkien's vision is timeless, and yet rooted firmly in his own time.  Many fantasy writers create the framework of another world, but his was more complete, more spectacular, more dramatic, and yet more authentic, than any others.