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From Chickamauga to Libby Prison: The Journey of Major Bedan B. McDonald, 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry

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       It was June 1863 near Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the days leading up the Tullahoma campaign when Major Bedan B. McDonald of the 101st Ohio, dressed in his finest uniform and proudly sitting atop a new horse, proudly led his regiment out one afternoon to discharge their muskets after dress parade.      "He was a fine fellow and the Major sat on him like a king," recalled Lewis Day of the occasion. "He had taken the regiment out in good shape and we stood in line. 'Company A," sang out the major in his best voice, 'Ready! Aim! Fire!" Every gun blazed. But the new horse did not understand it and he was off in a twinkling, nor stopped until he reached camp. Some of the boys almost died with merriment. The major soon quieted the trembling beast and with much coaxing got him within a few rods of our line when Company B suddenly fired as one man and away to camp went poor McDonald, his coat-tails flapping wildly in the breeze. He took some time to get t

The Tazewell Scrap: A Voice from the 42nd Ohio

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       The Battle of Tazewell, Tennessee fought August 6, 1862 was a small-scale engagement fought in the vicinity of Cumberland Gap in the opening stages of Kirby Smith’s 1862 offensive into Kentucky. Both sides suffered a loss of about 70 men (reports varied widely) and while the battle itself decided nothing, the prisoners taken by both sides gave their captors valuable information that had an important impact on the forthcoming campaign.           The proximity of Tazewell to Cumberland Gap is the key to the story. In June 1862, General George W. Morgan’s division drove south from Kentucky and took possession of the gap after Confederate troops abandoned it and pulled back towards Knoxville. Morgan set his men to work fortifying the position, and by early August Morgan was confident that he could hold the Gap against any assault the Confederates might stage. However, Morgan believed that it was more likely that Confederates under Humphrey Marshall would strike westwards from Virg

A Day of Laurels: The 20th Maine at Gettysburg

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      The story of the 20th Maine and the fight for Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 is a familiar one for most Civil War buffs and historians, the details of that fight being a major part of the 1993 film Gettysburg . I can remember my own fascination with the Civil War growing as a result of seeing that film many years ago, and my appreciation for the movie grew as I learned more of its broad cultural impact. Whether you love the movie or its the movie you love to hate, no one can deny that the story of the battle as presented in the movie has done much to shape the popular memory of the real battle of Gettysburg.                 Today's blog post features a letter from a soldier of the 20th Maine written just three days after Pickett's Charge while the 20th Maine was still camped on the field. The story of the 20th Maine as presented by this soldier may lack much of the Hollywood glamor, but it is a story of remarkable heroism honestly told. In describing the f

Braxton Bragg and the Tupelo Revival

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     At the end of May 1862, the Army of Mississippi abandoned its positions surrounding Corinth, Mississippi and conducted a 50-mile march to go into camp near Tupelo. The army was in ragged condition: a field return from June 9, 1862 shows that of the total force of 94,756 officers and men on the rolls of the army, only 45,335 were in condition for duty. As a matter of fact, nearly a quarter of the army was sick either in the hospitals or absent from the army. The poor health conditions at Corinth contributed to widespread demoralization and by the time the army marched into Tupelo, one veteran noted that “it was a perfect rabble that would have done much more running than fighting if they had been put to the scratch.”           Sickness was no respecter of rank, and in this case the commander of the army General Pierre G.T. Beauregard was just as sick as his many of his men. The Creole had been battling poor health for months and the strain of assuming command of the army in the w

Arming the Empire State: Arms Issues to New York Infantry Regiments in 1861

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     During the Civil War, the state of New York provided more than 400,000 men to the Union army, the highest number of soldiers of any state, and as can be imagined, the task of arming those hundreds of thousands of volunteers was a very difficult one. At the outbreak of hostilities, the state militia numbered 19,000 men but the state possessed only about 8,000 long arms nearly all of which were utilized to arm the eleven militia regiments which left the state in the earliest days of the war. The state dispatched an agent to England on April 24 th to purchase 25,000 Enfield pattern rifle muskets but upon his arrival, he found those weapons hard to find as Confederate agents had already been busy buying up the stock. Eventually, he was able to secure 19,000 Enfields at a cost of $335,000; these weapons arrived in bits and pieces over the next several months and were issued out soon after their arrival to newly formed regiments.  A perusal of the adjutant general’s report for the st

A Gallant Defense: The 1st Michigan Engineers and the Fight for LaVergne

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          The fight of the 1 st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment at LaVergne, Tennessee on January 1, 1863 represented the proudest moment in that regiment’s service during the Civil War. Numbering only 315 officers and men under the command of Colonel William Innes, the regiment hunkered down in their breastworks and protected one of the army’s baggage trains from destruction by Joe Wheeler’s cavalry and suffered but small loss to themselves. But it was desperate fighting as remembered by Private William L. Clark of Co. K.           “The main force came plunging up on the left of the company, discharging their pieces and wheeling to the left when they found our defenses so good that they could not gallop their horses over them. They were an excellent mark for every musket, rifle, and revolver loaded in the company and many were killed or wounded. One gallant fellow tried to spring his horse over in front of Lieutenant Curtis. “Don’t come over here, sir!” said he and a ball

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

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     The English-made Model 1853 .577 caliber Enfield Rifle Musket was widely regarded as the best infantry arm in the world at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. Favorable international press describing its efficiency in the Crimean War and in suppressing the Indian rebellion led to the widespread desire of American infantrymen (both Federal and Confederate) to be armed with these accurate and well-made arms. The lock plate of this well-worn P1853 Enfield rifle musket produced in 1862 shows the typical markings of a British-made weapon that made it through the Federal blockade.  ( Army of Tennessee Relics ) Enfield-pattern weapons were imported into the states by the tens and hundreds of thousands during the war years; one estimate stated that the Federal government purchased 500,000 while the Confederates purchased another 400,000. The Confederate government dispatched Captain Caleb Huse to Europe in April 1861 to purchase weapons and Huse focused on securing all the Enfi