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Fields of Honor

Fields of Honor

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Fields of Honor

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Sep 30, 2009


Few historians have ever captured the drama, excitement, and tragedy of the Civil War with the headlong elan of Edwin Bearss, who has won a huge, devoted following with his extraordinary battlefield tours and eloquent soliloquies about the heroes, scoundrels, and little-known moments of a conflict that still fascinates America. Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg: these hallowed battles and more than a dozen more come alive as never before, rich with human interest and colorful detail culled from a lifetime of study.

Illustrated with detailed maps and archival images, this 448-page volume presents a unique narrative of the Civil War's most critical battles, translating Bearss' inimitable delivery into print. As he guides readers from the first shots at Fort Sumter to Gettysburg's bloody fields to the dignified surrender at Appomattox, his engagingly plainspoken but expert account demonstrates why he stands beside Shelby Foote, James McPherson, and Ken Burns in the front rank of modern chroniclers of the Civil War, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning McPherson himself points out in his admiring Introduction.

A must for every one of America's countless Civil War buffs, this major work will stand as an important reference and enduring legacy of a great historian for generations to come.
Sep 30, 2009

Sobre el autor

Edwin Cole Bearss is America’s premier battlefield historian and the historian emeritus of the National Park Service. Author of 13 books, he has also served as a consultant on numerous documentaries and films, including Ken Burns’s The Civil War.

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Fields of Honor - Edwin C. Bearss


Twentieth-century fortifications—modern and enlarged from the shelled and destroyed original brick structure of Fort Sumter—look toward Charleston, South Carolina. On April 12, 1861, shot and shell went screaming over Sumter as if an army of devils were swooping around it, recalled a member of the Union Garrison. The fort, under the leadership of Major Robert Anderson, held out for 36 hours against the heavy bombardment of Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard—Anderson’s assistant at West Point. Remarkably, none of the 68 defenders were killed. On April 14th a battered Stars and Stripes was lowered and replaced by the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, with seven stars representing the Southern states that had seceded from the Union. Within two months of Sumter’s fall, four other states would secede.

(photo credit p02.1)




APRIL 1861

The victory of Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln over a fragmented Democratic Party in the election of 1860 spread fear and anger throughout the South. Southern fire eaters denounced Lincoln and the Black Republicans and argued that the South could not tolerate an administration that would not support states’ rights and property rights (i.e., slavery) in the new territories. A Mississippian wrote to his local newspaper, the Natchez Free Trader, " the minds of the people are aroused to a pitch of excitement probably unparalleled in the history of our country."

The Democrats had gone into the election with their political base divided between pro-slavery Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, whose appeal was primarily to northern Democrats. A third party, Tennesseean John Bell’s Constitutional Union, further divided Democrats and their supporters. In the end, Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans won with only 40 percent of the popular vote but with a firm 180 electoral votes against Breckinridge’s 72. Furthermore, Lincoln’s victory was overwhelming in the northern states, totaling more than 60 percent of the electorate. As Lincoln’s Inauguration loomed, fear, despondency, and alarm spread throughout the Deep South. Rumors of new John Browns and of slave insurrections flared throughout the southern states. For many Southerners Lincoln’s victory could mean only one thing—secession.

It began in South Carolina. On December 20, 1860, a convention held in Charleston voted 169 to 0 to adopt an Ordinance of Secession severing all ties between the sovereign state of South Carolina and the Federal Union. Mississippi followed suit on January 9, and, in quick succession, so did Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. On February 4, 1861, representatives of six of the seven seceding states, meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, formed the Confederate States of America. The delegates created a provisional constitution, and on February 18 swore into office the provisional Confederate president, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi—the former U.S. secretary of war.

In the North, both outgoing President James Buchanan and President-elect Abraham Lincoln spoke of reconciliation with the South but firmly opposed secession. In his Inaugural Address in March, Lincoln stated firmly that he would use all the powers at his disposal to hold, occupy, and possess Federal property, but made no mention of specific actions he might order against the seceding states. By the spring of 1861, the tensions of a nation were focused on Fort Sumter, a tiny island fortress at the mouth of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina.

South Carolina secedes from the Union in December 1860. On the night of December 26, 1860, Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Moultrie, abandons the Sullivan’s Island fortification and orders his troops to row through the darkness to Fort Sumter, which is more easily defended.

The next morning, Gov. Francis W. Pickens sends a delegation headed by his aide-de-camp, Col. J. Johnston Pettigrew, to meet with Anderson. Pettigrew informs Anderson that the governor is surprised he has reinforced Sumter. Anderson answers that he has simply removed his command from Fort Moultrie, which was within his rights as commander of all the forts in the harbor. He tells Pettigrew that he can get no information or positive orders from Washington and that he hopes by relocating his men to Fort Sumter the matter can be settled peacefully. In this controversy between the North and the South, Anderson adds, my sympathies are entirely with the South. Nevertheless, Anderson is a man who will do his duty.

Today Fort Sumter still stands near the entrance to Charleston Harbor. It is built on a stone and rock riprap island that was deposited between 1830 and 1845. Fort Sumter is about one-half as high now as it would have been at the beginning of the Civil War. In 1861 the fort had two lower casemate tiers, the second tier still under construction, and one top tier en barbette, with guns in the open behind the parapet. The outer walls were about 50 feet tall and 5 feet thick. During the siege of 1863–65, to recover the fort, Federal batteries battered away most of the upper two tiers. In the 1870s the rubble was removed and Fort Sumter rebuilt as a two-tier fortification. In 1898–99, the fort was modernized with the construction of Battery Huger, mounting two 12-inch guns in a reinforced concrete emplacement inside the fort’s brick walls.

Brevet Maj. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard is an important figure in the U.S. Army in 1860. An engineer officer, he had just been assigned as superintendent of West Point when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union on January 26, 1861. He immediately resigns from the Army and holds the dubious distinction of having served the shortest tenure of any superintendent of a U.S. military academy.

Beauregard is sent by the Confederacy to Charleston as its first field commander, a brigadier general, then the highest rank in the Confederate States military, and he will be in charge of operations that eventually result in the surrender of Fort Sumter. The South Carolinians have already begun construction of fortifications at other points around the harbor when Beauregard arrives, and he continues to fortify Charleston. Fort Moultrie, abandoned by Anderson and now occupied by South Carolina forces, sits on Sullivan’s Island, one mile across the water northeast of Fort Sumter. The Confederates have erected two sand batteries there and anchored a floating wooden battery to the north of Sumter, all spaced along the curving western end of Sullivan’s Island, which is across the Cooper River from Charleston. A mile and a half to the west of Anderson’s refuge, on the opposite side of the harbor, the South Carolinians have constructed two earth-and-sand mortar batteries at Fort Johnson, on James Island, and have placed several guns and an ironclad battery at Cummings Point on Morris Island, three-quarters of a mile due south of Fort Sumter. Along the harbor’s edge in Mount Pleasant, approximately one mile northwest of the fort, the Confederates have placed a mortar battery. Soon Anderson’s troops at Fort Sumter will be surrounded by a ring of fire.

On December 26 Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of the Federal forces at Charleston, moved his garrison from Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter, commanding the entrance to Charleston Harbor. On April 11, 1861, General Beauregard, commanding provisional Confederate forces, demanded the surrender of the fort. Anderson refused, and at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, Confederate batteries at Fort Johnson on James Island opened fire, quickly joined by other Rebel guns sited on Sullivan’s Island. For a day and a half Anderson returned fire bravely but ineffectively. On April 13, with the fort badly damaged, Anderson surrendered, evacuating his garrison on the following day.

Anderson sets his men to work improving the defenses of the fort. The soldiers add earth and wood traverses at vulnerable places along the parapet, to keep enemy shot from enfilading the barbette tier guns, and construct bombproof shelters. Passages are cut to connect the officers’ quarters, and a stone-and-brick wall is constructed to protect the main gate (sally port). Anderson also orders that five Columbiad cannon barrels, four 8-inch and one 10-inch, be placed on the parade ground to serve as makeshift mortars. Despite all of his preparations for battle, Anderson maintains communication with the Confederate authorities to prevent misunderstandings.

On the morning of January 9, 1861, a supply ship, the Star of the West, loaded with troops and provisions, steams across the Charleston Harbor bar on its way to Fort Sumter. Belowdecks is Lt. Charles R. Woods and a company of about 200 reinforcements. Maj. Peter F. Stevens, commanding the Morris Island defenses, orders Cadet George E. Haynesworth of the Citadel military college to open fire from the sand hill battery. The Star of the West then runs along the coastline taking more fire, being hit twice with no damage by the Citadel cadets. It maneuvers toward the channel and seeks to pass between Sumter and Moultrie, taking fire from Moultrie, and then aborts its mission. These will be the first cannon shots of the Civil War, but Major Anderson does not want to provoke an attack. He does not answer the South Carolinians’ fire. With lessened hope of new supplies, he is forced to rely on the provisions transferred from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter on December 26, 1860. On March 5 President Lincoln learns that Anderson’s supplies will run out by mid-April. On March 19, he sends former naval officer Gustavus V. Fox, who has proposed a naval expedition to relieve Fort Sumter, to Charleston to assess the situation. Fox meets with Governor Pickens and General Beauregard, and is permitted to go to Fort Sumter. Meeting with Anderson, he hints at a plan to reinforce the fort. On his return to Washington, Fox argues the feasibility of his plan, setting April 15 as the deadline for resupplying the fort.

Confederate Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (right) directed the bombardment of Fort Sumter and Maj. Robert Anderson’s (left) Federal troops that opened the war.

(photo credit 1.1 and 1.2)

After much agonizing over triggering a crisis, Lincoln orders another attempt to resupply Fort Sumter. On the afternoon of April 4 he calls Fox to the White House and tells him that he has decided to let the expedition go. Lincoln has already heard from Anderson that he has rations to last for about a week. The President sends a message to Anderson by the postal service that a relief expedition will go forward, and he urges Anderson to hold out until the 11th or 12th.

To guard and transport his expedition the Navy provided Fox with the warships Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Pawnee and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane as escort, and the large commercial steamer Baltic was engaged to transport men and supplies. With considerable difficulty Fox secured the services of three civilian tugs, the Yankee, Uncle Ben, and Thomas Freeborn.

On April 6, the frigate Powhatan prepares to sail from New York, and the other vessels, including the cutter Harriet Lane and tugs Uncle Ben and Yankee, are readied to head south. The sloop of war Pawnee sails from Norfolk, Virginia, on April 9, and the Baltic, with Fox on board, puts out to sea the same morning from New York Harbor. Shortly after the Baltic sails, a heavy gale scatters the expedition’s vessels.

Beauregard demands that Anderson surrender Fort Sumter on April 11. Though short of food and supplies, Anderson refuses, but admits that unless he receives reinforcements he will be starved out by the 15th. This answer is unsatisfactory to Beauregard. He is under orders from the Confederate government in Montgomery to fire on Fort Sumter to prevent reinforcement if absolutely necessary. He is faced with a dilemma.

The fatal gun—a 10-inch seacoast mortar—goes off at 4:30 in the morning on the 12th day of April. The shot is fired as a signal from the east mortar battery in Fort Johnson. It was ordered by Capt. George James and fired by a Lt. Henry Farley. Tradition has it that Edmund Ruffin of Virginia fired the first shot that hit Fort Sumter. Unfortunately for tradition, the next firing after the signal shot comes from Fort Moultrie. The Ironclad Battery on Cummings Point next opens fire; its battery is manned, of course, by the Palmetto Guard. The Palmetto Guard had a prominent volunteer coming down to join them, Edmund Ruffin, Virginia’s answer to South Carolina’s archsecessionist Robert Barnwell Rhett. Ruffin is an agricultural reformer, prominent in advocating the use of blue marl and other fertilizers to restore depleted soil, but he becomes better known as an ardent advocate of secession. So as his home state vacillates over what to do about secession, he rushes to Charleston to fish in troubled waters during this crisis. He pulls a lanyard on one of the three massive 8-inch Columbiad cannon placed in the Ironclad Battery as the firing on Fort Sumter spreads around what soon becomes the ring of fire from the Confederate batteries.

This morning, Mrs. Mary Chesnut, destined to gain fame as a premier Civil War diarist, finds herself in a Charleston hotel room fronting the Battery, listening to the opening gunfire that heralded the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Her husband James, one of Beauregard’s emissaries that has been negotiating with Anderson, is somewhere out in the harbor. She writes in her diary that upon hearing the guns I sprang out of bed and on my knees—prostrate—I prayed as I have never prayed before.

From within the fort the defenders could see Federal warships lurking just beyond the bar. It was Gustavus Fox’s relief expedition. A few hours earlier on April 12, the Baltic had arrived off Charleston Harbor, but only the Harriet Lane had then made the rendezvous. By 6 a.m., the Pawnee joined the force, but orders required her captain to await Powhatan’s arrival. To further plague Fox’s mission, the tug Thomas Freeborn never sailed from New York, and the Uncle Ben was seized after being forced to seek shelter from gales at Wilmington, North Carolina. Only the tug Yankee reached Charleston Harbor, after being delayed by the rough weather.

There was another disaster: Poor communications in Washington diverted the Powhatan to an expedition to relieve Fort Pickens in Florida, one of two other military installations still under Federal control in the Confederacy. Unfortunately for Fox the Powhatan carried the armed launches and crews necessary to land troops and supplies from the Baltic. In the end, Fox and the men of his expedition could only watch helplessly as shot and shell rained down on Fort Sumter.

The bombardment is one-sided for several hours. It will be about 7:00 or 7:30 a.m., however, before the Union guns return fire. Anderson is not only short on food but also on ammunition. Capt. Abner Doubleday, who later claims to have invented baseball, will fire the first return shot for the Federals from a right gorge angle casemate, sighting on the Confederates’ Cummings Point Ironclad Battery on Morris Island.

Mortar shells fired from the batteries on Sullivan’s Island and Fort Johnson soon made the parade ground and the open parapet of Fort Sumter dangerous places, and Anderson ordered that the barbette tier guns should not be manned. Despite Anderson’s orders, a few men ventured onto the barbette to fire guns facing the Confederate batteries. Fired in haste, the shot did little damage but served to boost the morale of Sumter’s defenders.

Three times during the day the barracks were set on fire by exploding shells, but each time the flames were quickly extinguished. Throughout the rest of the day and into the night Confederate projectiles battered Sumter’s walls and interior without yet causing serious damage. After nightfall, Rebel batteries fired shells only every ten or fifteen minutes. Short on cartridge bags, Major Anderson ordered teams of men to stitch them from cloth obtained by cutting up extra clothing and hospital sheets.

At daylight on the 13th the Confederates increased their rate of fire, and the bombardment began to take effect. A lucky shot from Cummings Point sprayed shell fragments into a casemate, wounding a sergeant and three men. Later a civilian worker was severely wounded by debris from a mortar shell explosion. By now the Confederates began to fire hot shot, solid shot heated to cherry-red temperatures in a special furnace, from Fort Moultrie. These missiles set fire to the officers’ quarters, forcing the Federals to seal off their magazines to prevent an explosion. The fort’s garrison watched helplessly as the fire spread to the enlisted barracks. Ready ammunition stored in the stair towers and nearby rooms exploded. The flagstaff was struck down by shot seven times during the day, only to be raised again. When finally the flagstaff was destroyed, the flag was secured by Lt. Norman Hall and Sgt. Peter Hart to a temporary staff, rigged on the parapet.

About one o’clock Louis T. Wigfall, a former U.S. senator from Texas and South Carolina native who was serving as a volunteer aide on Beauregard’s staff, rowed to the fort through the bombardment to demand its surrender. After a brief discussion with Anderson, the two men agreed that the fort would be surrendered.

A comic opera scene follows when Beauregard’s official emissaries return to the fort soon after Wigfall’s departure and an embarrassing interregnum ensues. Tempers flare as the emissaries learn that Wigfall has exceeded his authority and Anderson threatens to run up my flag and open fire again. It will be 7 p.m. before passions cool and reason prevails, and Beauregard and Anderson agree to accept the terms of surrender previously agreed to by Wigfall and Anderson. The victorious Confederates agree to allow Anderson and his command to march out of the fort with their colors and arms, after firing a salute to the flag they had so gallantly defended. Major Anderson and 81 defenders had held Fort Sumter for 34 hours and endured the rain of more than 3,300 lethal projectiles before conceding defeat.

Sadly, during a planned hundred-gun salute to the flag, a cannon discharges prematurely on the 47th round, killing Pvt. Daniel Hough instantly and setting fire to a nearby pile of cartridges, which explode, seriously wounding five men, one of whom, Pvt. Edward Galloway, soon dies. Shortly afterward, with banners flying and with fifes and drums beating out Yankee Doodle, the men of the Fort Sumter garrison march onboard the transport that is to carry them to the steamship Baltic.

Imagine the cheers that go up from the Charlestonians when word comes that the fort has surrendered. Thousands stand about on the waterfront shouting, stamping their feet, and singing. Governor Pickens proudly proclaims, The day has come; the war is open, and we will conquer or perish. We have defeated their 20 million, and we have humbled the proud flag of the Stars and Stripes that never before was lowered to any nation on Earth. But the residents of Charleston do not realize what this historic event will mean for their city over the painful course of the next four years.

Confederate soldiers stand by guns mounted on Fort Sumter’s parade ground. The Confederate Stars and Bars—seven stars representing seven seceded states—flies from a makeshift flagpole.

(photo credit 1.3)

And then again, imagine how it would look out here on April 14, 1865, when Robert Anderson, now a brevet major general, returns with the same huge garrison flag that he had lowered four years earlier and raises it once again in formal ceremonies over a battered Fort Sumter. The fort, however, does not resemble the fort he had surrendered in 1861, since, because of the terrific pounding it had received over the course of four long years of war, it is now a single-tier fort and all but unrecognizable. If you were here in April 1865, you would see a war-devastated city, fire-blackened ruins, rubble-filled streets, and shuttered and tumbled down brick buildings, especially fronting the Ashley River. You would see numerous earthworks thrown up to protect the heavy guns of the emplacements near the waterfront. These guns would be of a caliber, size, and power undreamed of in April 1861.

By late May of 1861 Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas in seceding from the Union, and the Confederacy transfers its capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, to position itself to take on Washington, D.C.

The Confederate victory at Fort Sumter may have caused rejoicing in the South, but the firing on the Stars and Stripes galvanized the North, and preparations for war soon began in earnest. Federal troops gathered in Washington, D.C., and prepared to cross into Virginia to meet the Rebel armies assembling south of the Potomac. On to Richmond! was the cry, but the first meeting would occur northwest of that city, along a creek called Bull Run.



JULY 18–21, 1861

No sooner had news arrived in Washington of the firing upon Fort Sumter than President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militia to help put down what he called an insurrection. They were to serve in the Army for 90 days, and it would not be the last call for volunteers that year. During the following several weeks, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas would cast their lot with the Confederacy, while Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri teetered in the balance .

Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession, although it required ratification by the voters, placed the nearby national capital at risk, and the uncertainty of continued allegiance in eastern Maryland and Baltimore made the protection of Washington even more imperative. Troops from the northern states were rushed to the defense of the city. On April 19, a regiment from Massachusetts shot their way through mobs of southern sympathizers in Baltimore. By the end of the day four soldiers were dead, twenty more were injured, and a score of civilians lay dying or wounded.

Virginia’s secession, ratified by a popular vote on May 23, had already led to the seizure of Norfolk’s Gosport Navy Yard and the Harpers Ferry Armory and Arsenal, and to the Confederate government’s decision to transfer its capital to Richmond, Virginia, some hundred miles south of Washington, transforming the area between the two capitals into prime battlegrounds. On the morning of May 24, Federal troops crossed the Potomac and seized the old port town of Alexandria, with its rail links to Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley, and Arlington Heights.

With a solid foothold in northern Virginia, Federal General in Chief Winfield Scott, now 75 years old, obese, and unable to mount a horse without considerable help, began collecting his forces. By early July, the Union had organized two sizable commands south of the Potomac. Some 35,000 men under the command of Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, a tall and rotund West Pointer from Ohio, prepared to advance south toward the Confederate capital. Another 18,000 men, commanded by 69-year-old Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson, would move down from Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley. Patterson’s assignment was to pin in place a Confederate force, some 11,000 strong, commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Patterson was to prevent Johnston from reinforcing the main Confederate Army, approximately 23,000 men, gathering around Manassas Junction, about 25 miles southwest of Washington, under the leadership of the hero of Fort Sumter, Brig. Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard. This key rail junction was located a few miles southwest of a winding creek known as Bull Run, which lay across the main routes from Washington south; one of the junction’s rail lines, the Manassas Gap Railroad, ran westward to Strasburg and Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, some 50 miles away, offering Johnston, if he could evade Patterson, a quick way to unite forces with Beauregard.

McDowell was under political pressure to do something dramatic. The U.S. Congress was on call to convene in special session in Washington on July 4, and the enlistments of the Union Army’s 90-day volunteers were about to run out. When he complained to the President that his men were ill prepared to assume the offensive at this point, Lincoln replied, You are green, it is true, but they are green also; you are all green alike.

Hardly reassured, McDowell set his army in motion on July 16, heading first to Fairfax Court House, then to Centreville, from where he would pivot southwest to confront Beauregard’s force deployed beyond Bull Run. In Washington, socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, apprised of McDowell’s advance, sent coded word to Beauregard that the campaign was under way. In fact, Beauregard was probably already well aware of McDowell’s advance. Ill-disciplined Federal columns took a full day to advance six miles to the villages of Annandale and Vienna. Orders went out from Richmond directing Johnston to move his men via rail and to link up with Beauregard. Fortunately for Johnston, on the day McDowell advanced, Patterson withdrew to the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, leaving the Confederates free to board their trains.

Twenty-three years after his graduation from West Point, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell (fifth from right) commanded Federal forces against Confederate Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard at Manassas.

(photo credit 2.1)

As he waited for Johnston’s four brigades to arrive, Beauregard readied his defenses. The Confederate commander had chosen Bull Run, with its steep banks, as his defense line. A single stone bridge, carrying the Centreville-Warrenton Turnpike crossed the creek here, while the Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed downstream at Union Mills. Beauregard posted more than half of his forces between Mitchell’s Ford, where the road between Centreville and Manassas crossed, and Union Mills Ford. He dispatched one brigade of South Carolina and Louisiana troops to guard Stone Bridge and left Sudley Ford, on upper Bull Run, undefended. On July 18 McDowell’s men finally arrived at Centreville in Beauregard’s front.

The Confederates had established their line covering the crossings of Bull Run along a seven-mile front from Stone Bridge, where the Warrenton Turnpike crosses Bull Run northwest of Ball’s Ford, extending down to Blackburn’s and Union Mills Fords. The Federals enter Centreville at mid-morning of July 18 with Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler’s division in the lead. They find the road toward Manassas strewn with thrown-away gear, indicating a rapid Rebel retreat from Centreville.

Tyler’s division consists of four brigades. The lead brigade is commanded by Col. Israel B. Richardson, a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran who had left the Army and was living in Michigan at the outbreak of the Civil War. Known to some as Fighting Dick, his swarthy complexion leads other to call him, behind his back, Greasy Dick. I’m sure he preferred Fighting Dick.

Marching southwest, the Yankees approach the enemy position at Mitchell’s Ford. Tyler is under orders to make a reconnaissance and not to bring on an engagement. However, as he gets on the high ground overlooking Bull Run, it appears to him that the Confederates are in rapid retreat, and he gets carried away. Israel Richardson deploys most of his brigade in support of his artillery batteries. On the commanding ground overlooking Mitchell’s Ford, he positions two light 12-pounder howitzers of Capt. Romeyn B. Ayres’s Company E, Third U.S. Artillery, and sends the 12th New York, preceded by three companies of the First Massachusetts, to reconnoiter and force their way across Blackburn’s Ford, downstream a bit. Not a very smart idea, as they will find out.

About a mile below Blackburn’s Ford is McLean’s Ford, where you have the brigade commanded by Confederate Brig. Gen. David R. Jones. Brig. Gen. James Longstreet’s brigade, supported by four guns of the Washington Artillery, is assigned to guard Blackburn’s Ford, where the 12th New York is nosing around. Although Old Pete Longstreet has skirmishers on the north side of Bull Run, his main force is on the south side. In reserve is a brigade commanded by Col. Jubal A. Early. Upstream about a half mile as the crow flies, but a mile as Bull Run meanders, is Mitchell’s Ford, defended by Brig. Gen. Milledge Bonham’s brigade. There are a number of fords scattered upstream, such as Ball’s Ford and Lewis Ford, guarded by Col. Philip St. George Cocke’s brigade; Col. Nathan Shanks Evans’s brigade is at Stone

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  • (5/5)
    There are countless battlefields across the American landscape, including dozens from the Civil War era. Over the years, markers have been erected on many of these battlefields to identify them and to inform people of the military significance of the location. For most people, though, the battles and events seem lost to history without a guide to tell the story of what happened there. In "Fields of Honor," longtime battlefield tour leader Ed Bearss, now Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, tells the stories of fourteen such places. Taken from hundreds of hours of audio recordings from countless tours Bearss has led since 1991, the book offers the human drama within many of the most important battles and campaigns in the Civil War, including Gettysburg and Antietam. Bearss' ability to visualize the action and characterize the personalities of generals and privates -- and everyone in between -- is inspiring. For each battle or campaign, he is able to both offer a compelling account of the large scale battle and battle plans while also sharing numerous stories within the battle. Perhaps this appreciation comes from his own experience as a Marine who served during World War II. When coupled with Bearss' engaging storytelling and passion for the people who fought, it is nearly mesmerizing, even in print without the full benefit of hearing his unique voice and energy. The most appealing aspect of the book, particularly for those who have read widely about the Civil War, is unquestionably Bearss' even-handed approach. When describing tactical mistakes, especially the large-scale ones, he carefully explains the underlying plans which led to certain decisions. Unlike so many other authors, he never presents anyone as stupid; instead, he usually offers good context which explains how decisions -- good, bad, and otherwise -- were made by the people who had to make them. With this empathy, he offers realistic portraits of the men who struggled. Overall, the book is a treasure, filled with a lifetime of anecdotes and attention to the ebb and flow of battle. From the beginning it is unexpectedly engaging, even for someone who has visited only about half of the battlefields that Bearss describes. For those who have little interest in such things, but who have loved ones who do, it also can serve as a fine introduction to make battlegrounds seem more than empty fields with the occasional marker.
  • (3/5)
    This book means well, but falls short. I've heard that Ed Bearss' tours are something not to be missed. However, reading his narration versus being with him as he walks the ground is a completely different experience. Having not been to many battlefields, it was very hard to follow just what was happening and where. The only luck I had was with the Gettysburg chapter, but that's because I've been there and have a fairly good knowledge of the battle. The below average maps are also an issue with this book. Bearss talk about minor locations in each battlefield, but most of them don't appear on the map so you have no idea where he's talking about. Bearss deep knowledge and interesting asides about the various players of each battle are great, but it's not enough to make up for the things I've already mentioned. Someone with no knowledge of the ACW, thinking this is a primer on the most important battles, would be wholly lost I'm afraid.
  • (4/5)
    Fields of Honor examines 14 critical battles of the United States’ Civil War as well as John Brown’s October, 1859, raid on Harpers Ferry. Designed for the casual reader and Civil War buff, Bearss’ Fields of Honor mostly succeeds in blending interesting narrative tones with structured factual statements. The conversation tone of the work reflects Bearss years in the U.S. National Park Service and the book reads similar to a guidebook. However, there is enough fact, figures, and other details for hardcore Civil War enthusiasts. The selection of battles, including Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg, seems a little obvious and predictable, but Bearss does include the North Anna and Cold Harbor campaign which was a nice change from many “pivotal battle” works. A wider range of battle would have enriched the work, but when dealing with any compilation of important Civil War battles, there are many that will always, by necessity are included. Overall, Bearss’ conversational style works to draw the reader into the drama and tragic splendor of these events and is recommended for all readers.
  • (3/5)
    I have had the pleasure of hearing the venerable Mr. Bearss speak on Civil War battles, and his in-depth knowledge of and passion for Civil War history is a wonder. He has a certain cadence and pattern to his speaking which actually shows up in his book Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War. This is a mixed bag, though. It is good, because the reader can feel his passion and his knowledge of even the most minute details of these encounters and the bigger history around them. It is bad, however, because reading is not listening. Where a tour audience might follow from one point to the next, the reader struggles to shift so quickly between the battle at hand and some minor- yet interesting- point being made.The book is written in a conversational tone, almost as if someone followed Mr. Bearss around recording his lectures. It's rather like trying to understand a topic by reading from lecture notes. I would recommend this book as a companion to those who will be touring any of the battlefields Bearss describes.
  • (5/5)
    A simple declarative sentence is a joy forever. To write one is a great achievement. To read one is glorious. To read many is sublime.This is not just another book about the Civil War — that most uncivil war between the states that bled America white to free America's blacks. This is oral narrative. It is stories told by a master story-teller: a man who has gone to war, been shot at, attacked entrenched enemies on foot, been wounded, been carried from the field in shock as his own blood drenched the earth. Edwin Bearss speaks from personal knowledge.And here is the joy of his writing: it comes from his speaking. This superb collection of tales was sieved and sifted from more than 300 hours of taped battlefield tours, transcribed by a host of volunteers, superbly edited and masterfully assembled.This brief volume ought to be required reading for young historians. It will be a splendid read for anyone interested in the narrative art.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed my time in Edwin C. Bearss's "Fields of Honor". It reminded me of the Spring Break I spent with my grandparents touring the major Civil War battlefields of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Bearss provides new insight into some of the most important battles in not only Civil War history but military history itself. His own experience in World War II lends itself to a wonderful narrative of how a battlefield, as he states, "feels, sounds, and smells". Throughout the work the reader can feel his own arguments and perspectives on why things happened the way they did, what decisions were made because of particular actions, and overall military engagements that changed the course of history. Though I have read several books about the Civil War, Bearss offered something new, a very rare occurrence when it comes to the overly studied subject of the war between the north and the south.The work contains wonderful maps and informative breakdowns of the major actions of battles between 1861 and 1865. Bearss also takes the time to set the stage for the conflict in analyzing events such as Harper's Ferry and the state of the Regular Army before Fort Sumter was attacked. These factors not only support his future arguments but give the reader a better sense of why things happened the way they did through the first years of the war. He explores the engagements at Fort Sumter, First Manassas (Bull Run), Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Sherman's March through the Carolinas, and Appamattox. Each in depth look examines all aspects of the battles and analyzes the actions and outcomes on both sides, a huge commitment on the part of Bearss. I particularly enjoyed his look at Gettysburg and his thoughts on why the Army of Northern Virginia lost the most important battle in the war itself. It is no small feat to examine the inner workings of several commanders, why they make the decisions they do and how it effects the overall picture. All in all it is an interesting work that I will be referencing again and again. It would be a perfect companion to any tour of a major Civil War battlefield. Beautifully composed, I know I will be recommending it to fellow Civil War Buffs.
  • (4/5)
    I've heard of Ed Bearss a few times before as a great battlefield tour guide, so I was tempted enough to grab it when I was over in England. Together he gives essentially an account of ten or so of the most critical battles during the American Civil War such as First Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. All told he does this rather well, not from a rather good academic standpoint - as his examination is more of a popular one - but I enjoyed that enough as I liked Bearss' ample anecdotes.