Best Little Stories from the Civil War, 2E: More than 100 true stories

Best Little Stories from the Civil War, 2E: More than 100 true stories

by C. Brian Kelly


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"This fascinating book will make the Civil War come alive with thoughts and feelings of real people."

  • The Midwest Book Review

The Civil WAR You Never Knew...
Behind the bloody battles, strategic marches, and decorated generals lie more than 100 intensely personal, true stories you haven't heard before. In Best Little Stories from the Civil War, soldiers describe their first experiences in battle, women observe the advances and retreats of armies, spies recount their methods, and leaders reveal the reasoning behind many of their public actions. Fascinating characters come to life, including:

Former U.S. Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia, who warned the Confederate cabinet not to fall for Lincoln's trap by firing on reinforcements, thereby allowing Lincoln to claim the South had fired the first shots of the war at Fort Sumter.

Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, who disbanded the 13th Independent Battery, Ohio Light Artillery, scattered its men, gave its guns to other units, and ordered its officers home, accusing all of cowardly performance in battle.

Thomas N. Conrad, a Confederate spy operating in Washington, who warned Richmond of both the looming Federal Peninsula campaign in the spring of 1863 and the attack at Fredericksburg later that year.

Private Franklin Thomson of Michigan, born as Sarah Emma Edmonds, who fought in uniform for the Union during the war and later was the only female member of the postwar Union Grand Army of the Republic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402239106
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 03/01/2010
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,158,899
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

C. Brian Kelly, a prize-winning journalist, is cofounder of Montpelier Publishing and a columnist and editor emeritus 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

Excerpt from the Introduction

Here's our premise: History can be told in little bits and pieces as well as in heavyweight and multi-volume tomes.

All too often, even the best recitals of great events can overlook the basic human story lurking behind those same great events. And that's where our series of Best Little Stories historical books comes into the picture. That's us-history as short, narrative bits.

But...can that work?

Reviewer Craig. K. Allen seemed to think so, seemed to catch both the intent and flavor of our approach in the Macon (Georgia) Telegraph when he described our Best Little Stories from the White House as "a genre not quite practiced by anyone else" and said the book's stories "possess the immediacy of a front-page newspaper article."

Also gratifying was the reaction of Bill Ruelhmann, Books columnist at the Norfolk (Virginia) Virginian Pilot, back in 2002 to our newly published Best Little Stories from the Wild West. Our digging for "historical gold" in "mundane earth," he wrote at that time, had enabled us to "prise forth glittering nuggets of nifty narrative that, packed tight in the thick treasure boxes of their paperbound anthologies, make for truly priceless reading."

Thanks of course to Craig and Bill. But how does it work, you may be asking. Best Little Stories, we say? Exactly what does that mean? Well, as I wrote in an earlier edition of this, the first of our three Best Little Stories Civil War books, I once was a newspaperman. I always looked for the good, i.e., the best, story. Be it cheerful, light and frothy, or hard-hitting, sad, poignant-it didn't matter. Just the good story. The kind the reader would read. No "message," just the unusual, the obscure, the fascinating...the gripping, the touching human story. When I turned to history as the first editor of Military History and World War II magazines, I was inclined from the start to treat history as journalism-to look for the little nuggets gleaming with pathos, cheer, tragedy, irony-the human-interest stories in history.

Together with my wife and book collaborator Ingrid, I came to call them Best Little Stories in this and our companion historical books (there are nine total as of this writing). Little in part because, yes, the stories may be shorter than historical accounts. But also because in most cases, they focus more on the individual person at, say, Gettysburg, rather than simply report the size of the armies, who won the battle and how they did so.

Rather than write a straightforward, fact-filled-but potentially dull-short biography of U. S. Grant as the Union general who finally won the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln, it's far more interesting to recall the little moment when he led his troops toward his first conflict of the entire Civil War with very human fear and trepidation: "[M]y heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois."

And then, delicious irony, the enemy he expected to meet just over the brow of the next hill was gone, decamped.

In like fashion, it's one thing to take note that the landscape of the Civil War was often peopled by black slaves (keyword: peopled), but it's important also to cite their own individual experiences, whether it's Booker T. Washington recalling his first moments of freedom, Frederick Douglass reciting his brutal treatment before escaping to freedom, or other, far lesser-known slaves telling their own stories. Or, for that matter, the tale of how the young, newly freed black youth named Booker finally acquired a last name.

But this isn't a book all about soldiers and slaves, which, to judge by many historical accounts, were the principal parties of the Civil War. Instead, our Civil War stories often are about the average civilian, sometimes even special groups. For instance: Congress.

Or, more precisely, read in the pages to follow about a member of Congress who had to ride to his nation's capital in an unheated freight car, then had to wear unlaundered shirts and socks for many days at a time, while his wife and children remained at home under constant threat of invasion. Such was life, not all that unusual a case, actually, for a member of Congress from Georgia-the Confederate Congress meeting in Richmond, that is.

Were conditions that much better in Washington, D.C., the Union capital and home to the United States Congress? Undoubtedly, yes. But it's easy for us to forget that the Federal capital was an incomplete, even primitive urban center by modern standards. "Not a sewer blessed the town, nor off of Pennsylvania Avenue was there a paved gutter," wrote Ohio Congressman Albert G. Riddle, albeit with perhaps some exaggeration.

Meanwhile, First Bull Run in the first July of the Civil War was a rout of the Federal forces defending the same Washington, D.C., correct? Quite so, and so easy to recite today as part of any listing of the major battles of the Civil War. But the real sense of the panic among the retreating Union forces comes through from the onlooking Congressman Riddle's own eyewitness account of the retreat.

As he later recalled, "The poor, demented, exhausted wretches, who could not climb into the high, closed baggage wagons, made frantic efforts to get onto and into our carriage."

The same terrified soldiers grabbed at every handhold they could find, he added with little apparent sympathy. "We had to be rough with them and thrust them out and off." Even so, one of the fleeing "wretches"-a Union major at that-managed to pull himself aboard the congressman's carriage, "and we lugged the pitiful coward a mile or so." And then? "Finally I opened the door, and he tumbled-or was tumbled out."

Women, too, make up the annals of history, along with history's best little stories, to be sure. So it is that my wife and collaborator Ingrid has written the twin biographies appearing at the end herein of the Civil War's twin First Ladies, Mrs. Jefferson Davis (Varina: Forgotten First Lady, page 266) and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln (Mary Todd Lincoln: Troubled First Lady, page 279). As indicated a few lines ago, this is not the first edition of Best Little Stories from the Civil War but rather the third-with brand new material added-thanks to a kind reception by the reading public for which we, the authors, are exceedingly grateful.

While hoping our latest set of readers will enjoy our approach to history, I can still wonder, as I did in the introduction to our 1998 edition: Is journalism but a facet of history, or is history but another form of journalism?

C. Brian Kelly
Charlottesville, Virginia, 2010

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Select Guide to Battles & Personalities xii

Portents 1

Beginnings 13

First Time Out 14

Fresh Start Sought 16

Who the South Was 20

Fate Makes a Choice 22

Racing to War 24

Better Angels Invoked 26

Social Notice Taken 27

Lincoln Wins Rebel Debate 29

Sumter's Silence 30

Stomach Pumping Questioned 32

Robert and Mary 33

Spy with a Future 36

Swinging His Arms 37

A “Bear” Installed 39

Death of a Congressman 42

Most Famous Shooter 44

Perfect Storm of Bullets 46

At Every Shot a Convulsion 48

First Postmortem 51

Sherman's Threat Appealed 53

Head of the Passes 55

Heart in the Throat 58

Good Times…and Bad 60

Staggering Stats 62

Middles 65

Hello, Washington 66

No Panacea for Politicians 68

Brave Deed Recorded 71

Complete Conquest Required 73

Secession from Secession 75

Soldier A-Courting 77

Battery Disbanded 80

“Granny” Lee 83

Stirring Words Found 86

Jackson's Odd Failure 87

Hello, Richmond 91

Loyalty Charge Dismissed 95

Poignant Moments in Battle 98

Unnecessary Tragedies 101

Knights of the Realm 105

Six-Year-Old's Flight 108

Davises Everywhere 109

Capitalism at Andersonville 111

Jaws of Death 113

Bride Left Behind 115

Audible, Not Visible 116

Spank the Boys 120

Injury Added to Insult 122

Family Affair 124

Miss Kate's Brief Run 127

Escape from Success 130

Faces in the Crowd 133

Red Shirt, White Shirt 137

More Than a Few Ghosts 139

“Shot for You” 141

No Whizz, Bang Heard 143

Women of the Times 146

Woman at the Lead 150

Road to Gettysburg 151

Love Story 154

Coincidences at Gettysburg 156

Old White Oak 160

Black Faces in the Crowd 161

Gettysburg Facts, Stats 164

Lee Family Saga, Continued 166

Three Generals Named Winfield 168

Cat Parties Ended 170

The Fighting McCooks 172

Sidling Down to Richmond 173

Friendly Boost Given 175

“Down, You Fool!” 176

Brave Men Spared 178

Christmas 179

What Does a Slave? 181

More Staggering Stats 186

Endings 189

Old Abe the Soldier Bird 190

Bleak Holiday 192

Unlucky John Bell Hood 195

“On, Wisconsin…On!” 198

Longest Siege 201

Each to His Own Pathway 205

Squint to His Eye 206

Ugly Blows Exchanged 207

They Also Served 211

Story with a Kick 214

Two More to Mourn 216

Embarrassing Outing 219

Surviving to Serve Again 221

Hospital Town 224

So Very Personal 226

No Opportunity for Surrender 229

Parallel Spies 230

Acquiring a New Name 235

Close Connections 237

Lee's Final Order 240

Julia Reads a Note 240

Freedom Still Denied 244

Surprisingly Kind Fate 246

Always a Clear Course 248

War's Sting Delayed 250

Pair for Two 252

Final Glimpses 253

An Arlington Postmortem 257

The Lincoln Memorial: A Postscript 260

The Civil War's Two First Ladies 265

Varina: Forgotten First Lady 266

Mary Todd Lincoln: Troubled First Lady 279

The Civil War—A Short Chronology 309

Acknowledgments 311

Select Bibliography 312

Index 317

About the Authors 334

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