Best Little Stories: Voices of the Civil War: Nearly 100 True Stories

Best Little Stories: Voices of the Civil War: Nearly 100 True Stories


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Best Little Stories: Voices of the Civil War: Nearly 100 True Stories by C. Brian Kelly

The Civil War You Never Knew...

Behind the conflict that divided a nation and forever changed its citizens are the riveting tales of the men and women who made an impact in the Civil War, both on and off the battlefield. Drawn from the writings of soldiers, slaves, politicians, and military leaders, Best Little Stories: Voices of the Civil War extends beyond the statistics and battle accounts to present the intensely personal, human side of the conflict. Fascinating characters come to life, including:

James Alexander Walker, who served with honor under Stonewall Jackson, even after he was booted from the Virginia Military Institute for talking back to the notoriously stodgy Professor Jackson.

Charles Strahan, a Confederate veteran who made strides to reconcile the Blue and Gray when he raised money to erect a monument to honor his former enemy, the soldiers of the Union army.

Gen. Julius H. Stahel, winner of the Medal of Honor, who was egregiously omitted from the official after-action report on the battle of Piedmont, Virginia, despite having led the Union forces to victory after suffering from a gunshot wound.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492614449
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Series: Best Little Stories
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 785,153
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

C. BRIAN KELLY, a prize-winning journalist, is cofounder of Montpelier Publishing and a former editor for Military History magazine. He is also a lecturer in newswriting at the University of Virginia. Kelly's articles have appeared in Reader's Digest, Friends, Yankee, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, and other magazines. He is the author of several books on American history and resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt

Best Little Stories

Voices of the Civil War Nearly 100 True Stories

By C. Brian Kelly, Ingrid Smyer

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 C. Brian Kelly and Ingrid Smyer-Kelly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-1445-6



First a Military Man

Traveling north to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in the 1820s was one Jefferson Davis, very young and recently schooled in the Greek and Latin classics at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He would have attended the University of Virginia next, but older brother Joseph, a prominent Mississippi planter and attorney, had secured Jefferson's West Point appointment by President James Monroe, and that settled that.

At West Point, Davis first shared a South Barracks room of eleven square feet with two fellow cadets. For furniture they had three chairs, one table, and a few bookshelves. At night they slept on mattresses spread on the floor. Water came from a nearby outdoors spring. In good weather, they took their baths in the neighboring Hudson River; in the winter, they made do with a small tub by a log fire.

After two years, the young man from Mississippi — born in Kentucky, actually — was able to share a larger North Barracks room of eighteen square feet ... but now with four roommates instead of just two. All were subject to the same Spartan regimen that saw the day's activities begin at 4:30 a.m. and continue until bed check at 10 p.m., with room inspections, meals, classes, drill, roll calls, a form of study hall, and morning prayer coming in between.

His best friends were Albert Sidney Johnston, a fellow Kentuckian destined to bleed to death from a mortal wound at Shiloh, and Leonidas Polk, the future Episcopal bishop who doubled as a Confederate general and also died of wounds suffered in Civil War combat. Just behind Davis at West Point were future Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, but he wasn't particularly close to either one. He and Johnston allegedly had a fight over a local tavern keeper's daughter in which the taller Johnston prevailed. Another time Davis was court-martialed but pardoned for drinking at a "public house" two miles from the military school, and still another time, he fell down a cliff fleeing possible arrest at the same drinking establishment.

Clearly, Jefferson Davis wasn't exactly a goody-goody, but he wasn't incorrigible either. He and his fellow cadets were allowed 200 demerits a year before dismissal, and the most he ever earned in any one year was 137 in his third and final year. He graduated, class of 1828, ranked twenty-third in his class of thirty-three.


First Love Remembered

Poor Abe Lincoln, that gangly and homely fellow from New Salem, Illinois, where he was both a surveyor and the local postmaster in the early 1830s, single and always at arm's length from the unmarried women in town ... always at some distance from them all, excepting Ann Rutledge, the tavern keeper's daughter. He had known Ann since her schoolgirl days, and with her he had an easygoing, bantering relationship. After all, she was safely engaged to another man.

A New Yorker boarding at the Rutledge Tavern (all-log construction, two rooms downstairs, two rooms upstairs) and first name John, Ann's betrothed had come to town first saying his last name was McNeil but then telling Ann his real name was McNamar. A mysterious business about his real name, certainly ... something to do with avoiding responsibility for family debts back east while he built up a financial stake in partnership with New Salem storekeeper Samuel Hill.

Some time after it became known that he and Ann were to be married, McNeil-McNamar announced he had saved up enough money from the store and a farm to go back home and retrieve his family. He and Ann could be married after his return to New Salem.

As Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald has noted, postmaster Abe Lincoln "was necessarily aware of the letters the engaged couple exchanged — fairly frequently at first, and then more and more rarely, until correspondence from McNamar ceased." Even so ... she still was engaged, wasn't she? With any other unmarried woman, Lincoln remained "distant and formal," but not so with comely Ann Rutledge. Since she "was committed to another," he felt comfortable keeping up "a joking, affectionate relationship with her."

The long and short of it is, McNeil-McNamar stayed away and the "joking" relationship blossomed into a good deal more. Just when or how much more is not certain, but "sometime" in 1835, "Lincoln and Ann came to an understanding," wrote Donald in his biography Lincoln. The gangly surveyor-postmaster, "who had no [real] profession and little money, doubted his ability to support a wife," and Ann felt she needed personal "release" from McNamar before committing herself to marriage or even a formal engagement. Additionally, Lincoln, also a neophyte state legislator, already was studying to enter the legal profession. As one result, reported Ann's cousin James McCrady Rutledge later, the two young people had agreed "to wait a year for their marriage after their engagement until Abraham Lincoln was Admitted to the bar."

The fateful and unexpected factor undoing all their best-laid plans that summer would be the weather — the unusually hot summer days combined with unremitting rain. "When Lincoln was not slogging through the water that covered the whole country, completing his surveys, he worked so unceasingly on his law books that friends feared for his health."

But it was Ann who fell ill in August, with "brain fever," which could have been typhoid, "caused when the flood contaminated the Rutledge well."

The long and short of it now was that she died.

And Lincoln was "devastated." It was a blow that "must have brought to mind memories of earlier losses: his brother Thomas, his sister Sarah, and, above all, his mother." Even as president many years later, an old friend from New Salem (Isaac Cogdal) once said, Lincoln expressed his love for Ann, saying he still thought of her "often."

In his campaigning for reelection to the Illinois House the very next year, not so incidentally, he frequently would find himself in the company of Ninian W. Edwards, the socially prominent son of a former governor of the state, a fellow legislative contender (one of sixteen) ... and one day destined to be Lincoln's brother-in-law, through marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln's older sister Elizabeth.


Portents of Drama

Just three years before Ann Rutledge's unfortunate death, fate played one of its wry historical tricks by placing four principals from the pending national drama in one place at one time. Gathered in Illinois at the time of the Black Hawk War, they were U.S. Army Col. Zachary Taylor, future U.S. president and future, if adamantly unwilling, father-in-law to Jefferson Davis; plus young Lt. Jefferson Davis himself; along with raw-boned state militia Capt. Abe Lincoln in his denim suit; plus, just for good measure, a young Lt. Robert Anderson, who would be the federal officer in command of Fort Sumter when it came under Confederate fire in Charleston Harbor in April 1861 ... with the same Jefferson Davis then the sitting Confederate president and the same Abraham Lincoln then the sitting U.S. president.

But wait, there also was on hand a fifth principal from future events, Colonel Taylor's attractive daughter, Knox, who becomes a central figure in another, more personal drama.

In 1832, Jefferson Davis was stationed at Fort Crawford, near the corner formed by the confluence of the Wisconsin River with the Mississippi, a frontier setting in the "Indian Country" of the day, and here he came into contact with the outpost's commander, Colonel Taylor, and his daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor.

While Davis was soon smitten, Colonel Taylor did not welcome the young Southerner's attentions. Just why is not entirely clear today, although he did say he didn't wish to see her married to any army officer. Then, too, by one account, Davis once was overexuberant dancing with a young Indian woman at an Indian wedding to the point that her brother objected and pulled Davis's nose. When Davis pushed him away and pulled out a pistol, the incensed Indian brave yanked out his scalping knife and approached again, but Colonel Taylor at this point pushed his way between them and stopped the potentially ugly fight before it could begin. Later, recalled historian Joseph McElroy in his biography Jefferson Davis, Taylor told the young man's intermediaries "he had no desire to acquire Davis as a son-in-law." The friction between them only worsened when the West Point–educated Davis "ventured to vote against the Colonel's wishes" in a frontier court-martial proceeding. "In the end, Taylor forbade Davis [access to] the [Taylor] house and swore 'by the Eternal,' that he should never become a member of his family."

Young Davis after this had to be dissuaded by a fellow officer from issuing a challenge to his potential father-in-law to a duel. The fellow officer's wife told him she would arrange visits allowing him to continue his courtship of the more-than-willing Sarah Knox Taylor.

But now the Sacs chief Black Hawk interrupted by recrossing the Mississippi in an apparent effort to reclaim lands — fifty million acres — he previously had agreed to sell to the U.S. government for "not much more than $1,000." Unfamiliar with the white man's concept of property ownership, Black Hawk complained he didn't understand his agreement meant that "I gave away my village." Reason, he declared, teaches that land cannot be sold. "The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon. ... Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away."

It was the resulting brief "war" that placed Taylor, Davis, Lincoln, and Anderson in close proximity one to another, as the white man sent his armed forces into motion against the Indian braves led by the aggrieved Black Hawk. By some accounts also, the spic-and-span young lieutenant, Davis, was the federal officer who swore the uncouthly dressed militia captain Lincoln into federal service for the occasion. In her biography of Davis, his future wife Varina (yes, true, not Sarah) described the Lincoln of 1832 as "a tall, gawky, slab-sided, homely man, dressed in a suit of blue jeans." The poet William Cullen Bryant, also on the scene at the time, tuned in with a description of Lincoln's militia group as "hard-looking ... unkempt, and unshaven, wearing shirts of dark calico, and sometimes calico capotes." Lincoln he found to be a "raw youth" of "quaint and pleasant talk," but quite interesting.

The future Mrs. Davis, meanwhile, described her future husband as "a very fascinating young man, of easy manners and affable disposition." His fellow lieutenant, Robert Anderson, "was equally pleasant and extremely modest," even "bashful."

In the end, Black Hawk of course lost his small war. Lincoln returned to civilian life after days of storytelling 'round the campfire, occasional alarms and marches, and, by his own self-deprecating account, "a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes." Added historian McElroy's Jefferson Davis biography: "In defiance of the dignity of the service, which meant so much to Davis, Lincoln raced, boxed, and wrestled with all comers. By the end of his thirty days' enlistment, Lincoln was 'the most popular man in the army,' to quote a member of his company."


Takes a Wife

After escorting the captured Black Hawk to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Lt. Jefferson Davis next served postings at Fort Monroe, Virginia (where one future day he himself would be held as a prisoner), St. Louis again, and finally Fort Gibson in Cherokee Country, a part of future Oklahoma. Two years passed, during which he maintained his courtship of the forbidden Miss Taylor by mail. Her father still opposed any notion of allowing her to marry an army officer ... but the would-be couple had an answer to that. Jefferson Davis would resign from the army; she would not be married to an army officer.

To which the stubborn colonel finally assented, but only if they married at the Kentucky home of her aunt, Gibson Taylor, who had joined in the campaign to win his approval. Wasting no time, they did just that on June 17, 1835, and just days later Davis resigned, as promised.

Meanwhile, on the day of her wedding, Knox wrote to her mother that "the part of the country to which I am going is quite healthy."

The "part of the country" that now took in the young couple was a little-worked plantation, dubbed Brierfield, on a Mississippi River island just off a bend — Palmyra Bend — twenty miles below Vicksburg. Jefferson's land here, seventy feet off the mainland, once had been a part of older brother Joseph's plantation known as Hurricane. Joseph had swapped the 890 acres for ownership of the family slaves their father had bequeathed to Jefferson. As a result, the new bride came to a home that, in the words of biographer McElroy, "was hardly a home, as it consisted of a mass of tangled undergrowth, trees and briers."

Worse, "It was by no means so healthy as it had been reported."

Also worth noting is the fact that, until this moment, Jefferson Davis "had had no long or close relationship to any one section of the country." Both Kentucky, his birthplace, and Mississippi "had been hardly more than incidents in his roaming life." But from now on, Mississippi would be his home and "sovereign state," even in his old age.

At this point in time, the still-developing state had grown in population from a mere 5,000 souls in 1800 to nearly 375,000 inhabitants, with few real natives among its political leaders. It definitely was a Southern state, however, and slavery was the norm on its plantations, including the two Davis plantations. According to a slave's post–Civil War deposition, the slaves that Jefferson Davis now acquired included Old Uncle Robert, Aunt Rhina, Rhina No. 2, William and Jack, Frances, Charley, Old Charley, Solomon, Betsy, Fanny, Moses, Jeffrey, Young Hagar, Kizziarch, and Old Hagar. "With the help of these and other slaves, especially that of the superior, one might also say the super-slave, James Pemberton, Davis took up the task of converting 'Brierfield' into a home," wrote McElroy.

The slavery issue was hardly news to Davis's bride Knox, whose own father was born in Virginia and raised in Louisiana, both slave states ... and as president would be the last occupant of the White House to include his own slaves among its staff of servants.

At first, however, it would seem that neither of these young people was paying much attention to another issue of life in early Mississippi: fever season. So severe was the danger, according to contemporary accounts, most plantation owners spent their summers elsewhere, with their slaves staying behind to do the necessary work, under supervision of an overseer. "Rarely," said one writer, "is there more than one white man upon a plantation at a time during the summer."

Warned by her mother, the new bride at Brierfield again sought to reassure. "Do not make yourself uneasy about me," she wrote, "the country is quite healthy."

Her husband apparently did know better and "started with his bride" for a visit to his sister's Locust Grove plantation in neighboring Louisiana. "But," added McElroy in his biography of the future Confederate leader, "the dreaded fever already was in their systems, and developed as they journeyed southward. Soon after their arrival, both were at death's door."

Davis rallied one day to hear his wife singing a favorite song "associated with the days of their courtship." Unaware that she was delirious from her own raging fever, he hurried to her bedside in another room, only to find she was unconscious. She died later the same day, September 15, 1835.


True Soldier's Son

Not only a Kentuckian by birth, federal officer Robert Anderson was proslavery and married to a Georgia woman. He also was the son of a Revolutionary War officer who had fought for establishment of the Union in the first place and a West Point graduate (class of 1825). After his brief service in the Black Hawk affair, artillery officer Anderson spent two years in the U.S. Army's long campaign against the Seminoles in Florida. He translated French artillery manuals into English, and he served gallantly in the Mexican War of the late 1840s. Come the Civil War, he would be the federal officer in command of beleaguered Fort Sumter.

At Fort Sumter in April 1861 he would be gallant again, surrendering his command only after Southern guns had pounded the island fort for thirty-four hours. He then marched out his small garrison with colors flying — and with a fifty-gun salute to the flag. That striking scenario would be well remembered in both the North and the South.

And again it would be remembered when he would return to Fort Sumter in another April exactly four years later ... with the same American flag.


Excerpted from Best Little Stories by C. Brian Kelly, Ingrid Smyer. Copyright © 2006 C. Brian Kelly and Ingrid Smyer-Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Part 1 Beginnings 1

Confederate: First a Military Man 3

Union: First Love Remembered 4

Union & Confederate: Portents of Drama 5

Confederate: Takes a Wife 7

Union: True Soldier's Son 9

Confederate: First a Bishop 10

Union: Duel Canceled, Wedding On 11

Confederate: Helpmate for Life 14

Union: "Uncle Sam" Grant 16

Confederate: Ascending the Career Ladder 18

Union: Cows and Sheep Grazing 19

Confederate: "Damned Traitors!" 21

Union & Confederate: Cast of Thousands 24

Confederate: A Virginia Whoop 26

Union: Self-Appointed Bodyguard 28

Confederate: Song Is Born 30

Union & Confederate: Double Leave-Takings 32

Part 2 War Under Way 39

Confederate: "Pawnee Sunday" 41

Union: Ringed by Rebellion 43

Confederate: Lectures Suspended 48

Union & Confederate: Painful Interview 52

Union: "Little Mac" in Town 54

Confederate: Sibley's Ubiquitous Tent 59

Union: Air "Thick" with Balls 62

Confederate: One of the "Immortal 600" 64

Union: A Name to Live On 67

Confederate: Patton's Gritty Forebears 70

Union & Confederate: "Brave Fellow" 75

Confederate: "Prince" John's Fall 77

Union: Lucky Pair 81

Confederate: Monument to a Reb General 85

Union: Jules Verne and an Alligator 89

Confederate: Dogged by Poor Health 94

Union: Enduring Family Ties 101

Confederate: "Wesley Culp's Return 107

Union: "Secession Is Rebellion" 111

Confederate: Dispute with Stonewall 113

Union: Honors for an Englishman 116

Confederate: President's Son at War 119

Union: California's Crucial Role 121

Confederate: War Baby 125

Union: Cheers for the Enemy 129

Confederate: Prayed with Stonewall 130

Union: At Home in Gettysburg 133

Union & Confederate: Gettysburg Aftermath 142

Confederate: Texas at War 147

Union: Unexpected Yankee Legacy 150

Confederate: Brother William's War 154

Union: Out of Uniform 157

Confederate: Agony for Atlanta 160

Union: Tie Askew 164

Confederate: Cadets to the Defense 168

Union: Secret Ally in Richmond 171

Confederate: Distaff Defenders Ready 177

Union: Plantation Spared 180

Neither Union nor: Confederate: Lunged with a Knife 182

Part 3 And After 187

Union: Return to Sumter 188

Confederate: "Yankee George's" Secret Love 193

Union & Confederate: Working for the Khedive 198

Confederate: A Most Prolific Author 201

Union: Valor Seemingly Ignored 204

Confederate: His Last Home 208

Union: Lost at Sea 214

Confederate: His Faithful Companion 217

Union: Not Really a General 220

Confederate: His Last Trip 226

Union: Confusion over Reno 229

Confederate: "That Vagabond Soldier" 232

Union: Graveyard for Generals 235

Confederate: Forever Unreconstructed 242

Union: Amazing Postwar Résumé 246

Confederate: "Fighting Bishop" 248

Union & Confederate: A Soldier's Legacy 253

Part 4 Final Glimpses 257

Union: The Long Way Home 258

Confederate: Final Chapter for Jefferson Davis 263

Union: Grant's Last Battle 266

Union & Confederate: Last Great Reunion 270

Part 5 Generals' Wives by Ingrid Smyer 277

Confederate: Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee 278

Union: Julia Dent Grant 293

Confederate: Mary Anna Morrison Jackson 308

Union: Ellen Ewuig Sherman 323

Bibliography 341

Index 343

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