Lt. Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, After the war he was brevetted to Major in honor of his service.

Any of you who have read my bio of Ambrose Bierce are aware that, despite his innate cynicism regarding the art of war, Ambrose Bierce was anything but a pacifist, much less a coward. During his service with the Union Army during the War of the Rebellion,

Almighty God Bierce served, first as a lowly private, then as a non-com, and finally as an officer & a gentleman (or at least as an officer), his promotions being the result of his valor on the field of battle.

Whether he ever attained the gentleman part of  the epithet “an officer and a gentleman” is a dubious proposition, but it is known that Bierce did spend a year in military school at his Uncle Lucius Bierce‘s expense. Bierce attended Kentucky Military Institute shortly before the Election of 1860, when sectional passions were running high in the border states. It is not known for certain why he left, but presumably his family’s outspoken Abolitionism may have come into conflict with one or another Southern gentleman attending the school, who held the opposite viewpoint regarding Secession and slavery. In any case, Bierce left voluntarily. So it was that, when war came, Bierce had a good bit more military training than of the other volunteers of his Hoosier regiment, the Ninth Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

When Bierce went “To See the Elephant” as the expression of the day put it, Bierce did a lot of running, but never away from the sound of the guns, but almost always directly towards them. One time in western Virginia (soon to become West Virginia) he and his fellow “Swamp Angels” (their early nickname) Bierce and his comrades conducted a self-led charge up a hill at some Georgia boys who were contesting the summit. The charge through the trees went along alright, until Bierce suddenly realized he had become an army of one, his comrades having chose the better part of valor and ducked down behind the nearest stumps and rocks. A nearby comrade having been hit, Bierce picked up the wounded soldier, grabbed both their rifles and made a hasty retreat back down to where the rest of the ninety-day warriors safely lay at the bottom of the hill. The Rebels won the laurels on Laurel Hill that day.

Bierce’s first real experience with soldiers showing their backside to the enemy came at Shiloh, but here again, it was not Bierce and his comrades of the Ninth Indiana, but Grant’s men who were found wanting in courage. Admittedly, the men of the Bloody Ninth and of General Buell’s Army of the Ohio did not see the men of Grant’s army in the best light: in fact, it was night by the time they arrived on the opposite shore and were ferried across to the landing where the badly battered remnants of Grant’s army lay. But it was a sight that Bierce never forgot:

“They were mostly unarmed; many were wounded; some dead. Not one of them knew where his regiment was, nor if he had a regiment. Many had not. These were defeated, beaten, cowed. They were deaf to duty and dead to shame. A more demented crew never drifted to the rear of broken battalions.”

Grant’s men deserted en masse on the first day of Shiloh, many fleeing to the Landing desperate to escape.

With that sardonic wit typical of him in the postwar years, Bierce observed that, “an army’s bravest men are its cowards. The death which they would not meet at the hands of the enemy they will meet at the hands of their officers, with never a flinching.” There were, of course, far too many deserters to shoot at Pittsburg Landing, but that may not have kept the Bloody Ninth’s divisional commander, General “Bull” Nelson, from plugging a few anyway.

A Union firing squad executes deserters, who are forced to sit on their own coffins.

We do know that Bierce and his comrades witnessed at least one execution of a deserter while stationed in Nashville in the early part of 1862 and was he present at other military execution. As Provost Marshall, he may even have presided over one or two himself. He would later write an essay on the subject as well as cataloging some of the more barbaric punishments the US Army meted out for lesser crimes.

In the postwar era, after spending a short stint as a Treasury Agent in the deep South, trying to track down contraband cotton being hidden by unreconstructed Rebels, like many veterans who were bored and restless, Bierce headed west. His old commander, General William Hazen, was conducting a survey of the western territories and recruited Bierce to come along to put his talents as surveyor and map maker to use.

At one point, Bierce even toyed with rejoining the army and aspired for a captain’s commission. When that was not forthcoming, he headed out to California. Bierce would also spend an interlude in the Black Hills helping an old army buddy with a mining venture. Bierce did not discuss his personal adventures in the west at any length—although they inspired a number of his short stories—save to intimate that the threat from the native tribes was greatly exaggerated and the postwar army not up to the quality of the Civil War army he had served in. Bierce may have had in mind the fact that when Custer’s command was massacred in the Black Hills, besides being bad marksmen, they had obsolete single-shot carbines, versus the Sioux’s deadly accurate repeating rifles.

Regardless, what little we know of his frontier experience indicates he was frequently exposed to danger of one sort or another. It is not certain what set off his later ruminations about desertion, but in the following essay, he had some choice things to say about the frontier army of his day and its lack of readiness.

Concerning Desertion

San Francisco Examiner September 9, 1889

In attempting to account for the wide and lasting popularity of desertion among our country’s gallant but uncommissioned defenders, everybody seems to have overlooked one reason which can hardly fail to influence many of our hardy warriors to “take their hook.” While all the other civilized nations are arming their soldiery with the most afflicting modern weapons—cannon of desolating power and repeating rifles exceedingly disagreeable to confront—we retain the ancient arms of the Rebellion period, whose fire it is more blessed to receive than give.

Now, the American private soldier, born abroad in most cases and having the advantage of personal acquaintance with the superior European weapons, may be supposed to know that in combat with those who wield them he would not have the ghost of a chance for his life. The gratification of dying for his adoptive country is all that we can promise him. In the pomp and circumstances of parade that may be sufficient to sustain his courage and urge him to spectacular deeds; but in the silent watches of the night, when the monotony of his toil is unbroken save by the sound of his brush as he polishes the boots of his officer, he needs a spiritual stimulant of robuster strength. If the pattern of his weapon would assist his fancy to picture himself in triumphant contemplation of a fallen foe it would wonderfully lighten his task of tidying up the rooms of his officer’s wife and pushing the perambulator of his officer’s wife’s baby.

The American private soldier is not insensible to perils of war that lurk in Bismarck’s hostility to the American hog. He is alive to the significant affirmation of his country’s unworthy by the Canadian press, and to all the possibilities involved in our determination to maintain our fences around the Bering Sea. That these “questions” are full of thunder he knows as well as the Secretary of State does; and the consciousness that he may be pitted against a British or German veteran gifted with a gun that will kill is naturally disquieting. We are far from implying that our private soldiers are lacking in the military virtue of courage; they are willing to fight, but do not wish to be made ridiculous. Some of them have already felt the sting of an enemy’s derision while endeavoring to conquer the Red Man intelligently armed by the War Department of his tribe.

If for every man who deserts we would arm a remaining man with a good serviceable weapon we could well afford to let the deserter go, grant him a full pardon and permit Commissioner Tanner to pension his whole family. An army of even one-third the number that we have now would be, if well-armed and equipped, a more effective force. We do not need a large army, but whatever army we have should be maintained in the highest possible state of efficiency. The better our soldiers are armed the fewer we need—a consideration imperfectly apprehended by the economists who are ever to the fore in Congress, demanding a “reduction of the army.” Expended in purchase of improved arms, the amount of a month’s pay to 10,000 men would enable us, with distinct advantage to the service, to muster out that number, giving them back to the arts and industries and making them back to the arts and industries and making them producers of wealth. It would not only increase the efficiency of the force as then constituted, but would secure a better quality of recruits and do at least something to check desertion; for even if all should leave, the blacklist would not contain as many names by 10,000 as it now bids fair to do. AGB

For more about Ambrose Bierce’s war service, see Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, published by University of Tennessee Press.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

Posted in 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Ambrose Bierce, Army of the Ohio, Battle of Shiloh, Brigadier General, Civil War History, Desertion in the face of the enemy, General Don Carlos Buell, The American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Research on Lincoln, Elmer Ellsworth, and the First Federal Militias

Emerging Civil War

Within a week of taking the presidential oath, Mr. Lincoln wrote Secretary of War Simon Cameron regarding his young friend, Elmer Ellsworth:

 You will favor me by issuing an order detailing Lieut. Ephraim E Ellsworth, of the First Dragoons, for special duty as Adjutant and Inspector General of Militia for the United States, and in so far as existing laws will admit, charge him with the transaction, under your direction, of all business pertaining to the Militia, to be conducted as a separate bureau, of which Lieut. Ellsworth will be chief, with instructions to take measures for promoting a uniform system of organization, drill, equipment, etc. etc. of the U.S. Militia, and to prepare a system of drill for Light troops, adapted for self-instruction, for distribution to the Militia of the several States. You will please assign him suitable office rooms, furniture etc. and provide him with a clerk and…

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Ambrose Bierce First Lt Don Swaim
Lt. Ambrose Bierce, future journalist, editor and author, fought with the Army of the Cumberland in the Western Theater throughout the war and knew most of the Union commanders first hand.

Ambrose Bierce’s pronouncements on the American Civil War are a particular interest of mine.  My apologia for this has to do with researching his life and times for over six years, not to mention writing and revising my book on Bierce’s wartime experiences more times than I wish to count.  Having been one of the few great American authors to actually have seen extensive combat gives great weight to Bierce’s pronouncements on war.  Ironically, much of what Bierce wrote about the war had less to do with combat per se than with the other aspects of service, the parts that commanders–and the historians who lionize them–often leave out of the narrative.

Bierce’s favorite subject for scorn were generals and other senior officers.  Bierce rarely criticized his former enemies in gray; even General Bragg, who was universally despised by his own men, often gets off with only a few mildly sarcastic remarks in Bierce’s writings.  But Union commanders were a different matter entirely; Bierce reserved his best venomous prose for the generals in blue who perpetrated what he viewed as “crimes” against their own soldiers.  “The Crime at Pickett’s Mill” is a classic piece of Bierce’s war nonfiction and well exemplifies his “bitter” attitude towards these former army commanders.

I fully cover the Battle of Pickett’s Mill and Bierce’s role in it in Chapter 12 of Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife so there is no point to chew my cud twice here.  Suffice it to say that in his essay on the fight, we learn how Sherman glossed over the defeat in his memoirs to make his own generalship seem better than it was, while the Corps Commander who bungled the operation, the grossly incompetent Oliver O. Howard (of Chancellorsville infamy) we learn was commonly referred to by his men as “Oh-Oh!” Howard for his unerring knack of getting his men killed unnecessarily.


General Oliver O. Howard came in for Bierce’s particular ire for the unnecessary slaughter of Bierce’s brigade at Pickett’s Mill caused by “Oh-Oh” Howard’s incompetence.

The outbreak of the Spanish-American War sparked Bierce to ruminate at length about war in general in his columns in The San Francisco Examiner and he often summoned up memories of the earlier conflict which he had fought in when reading about the War with Spain.  In Bierce’s “War Topics” for the July 23, 1899 issue of the paper, for example, shared his unique view of incompetent officers with his readers:

A general’s first duty is to have the confidence, rightly or wrongly, of his men. Without it he is weak for aggression and weak for defense. It is easily had: some of the most incompetent commanders in history have had it in a high degree, and were thereby enabled to accomplish results not otherwise possible to them, especially in averting disaster. Notable examples (I mention them in the hope of arousing evil passions and provoking controversy) are McClellan and Rosecrans.”


General William Rosecrans, whom Bierce described as popular with his men, but “many kinds of a brilliant crank.”

On another occasion, on describing General Rosecrans’ performance at Chickamauga, Bierce says, “There is no reason to doubt that he acted on his best judgment, which, however, was never very good. Rosecrans was many kinds of a brilliant crank, but his personal courage was beyond question.”

Bierce had a genius for the left-handed compliment. In the persona of “The Bald Campaigner” (San Francisco Examiner May 31, 1902) Bierce elaborates on Rosecrans’ as a general:

“General Rosecrans was a courageous and dutiful soldier. He always did the best he knew how, and no one can do more than that. He was an accomplished and amiable gentleman, one of the most interesting and lovable characters that I ever met. His men’s belief in him and devotion to him were marvelous; but those of his higher officers who were educated soldiers had little confidence in him, and events justified their doubt.”

General Grant

General Grant was the subject of both Bierce’s criticism and praise.

Bierce’s attitude towards General Grant has generally been assumed by modern writers to be implacably hostile, mainly for Bierce’s scorching assessment of Grant’s generalship at Shiloh: “for manifest incompetence Grant, whose beaten army had been saved from destruction by Buell’s soldierly activity and skill, had been relieved of his command, which nevertheless had not been given o Buell, but to Halleck, a man of unproved powers, a theorist, sluggish, irresolute.”

Here in what is little more than a parenthetical aside, Bierce has managed to trash both Grant and Halleck. The  short story “An Affair of Outposts,” in which it was inserted, was actually about the subsequent Corinth Campaign, another masterly example of passive aggression by “Old Brains” Halleck.

In other cases, however, Bierce’s assessment of Grant seem more tempered, or at least ambivalent.  In regard to the allegations about Grant’s drunkenness, Bierce, himself  fond of strong drink, comes to the general’s defense–after a fashion.


96dpi  Grant at Orchard Knob  Chattanooga Thure de Thulstrup Grant  72kb 96dpi

Grant and his commanders at Orchard Knob watch the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863 as they “pass the poisoned chalice.”

During the prelude to the Battle of Missionary Ridge, as a staff officer Lt. Bierce was with his commanding officer, General Hazen, on Orchard Knob, where General Grant and the other senior commanders were observing Sherman’s men fail to take their objectives that day.  As Grant and his entourage watched the battle, they “passed the poisoned chalice” about and about, and Bierce watched Grant “kiss the dragon.” Bierce says, “I don’t think he took enough to comfort the enemy…but I was all the time afraid he would, which was ungenerous, for he did not appear at all afraid I would.” Lest Grant and his generals on Orchard Knob that day escape from his appreciation completely unscathed, Bierce notes that while they did not abstain from drink, “these gentlemen were themselves total abstainers from the truth.”

Bierce even went so far as to compose an elegy on the event of Grant’s death, in which he went on to praise the controversial hero, while still acknowledging his ruthlessness in pursuing an end to the war:

He fringed the continent with fire,
The rivers ran in lines of light!
Thy will be done on earth—if right
Or wrong he cared not to inquire.
His was the heavy hand, and his
The service of the despot blade;
His the soft answer that allayed
War’s giant animosities.

Lt. Ambrose was a frontline witness to the war, both as a private soldier and later as a staff officer who moved easily among the ranks of the senior commanders of the Federal armies in the west. He saw more than most men did in that war, both of the good and the bad. His testimony should not be ignored.

For more about Bierce and the War in the Western Theater, see Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Ambrose Bierce and The Period of Honorable Strife, published by the University of Tennessee Press.






Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, Civil War History, Drunkeness in Battle, General Oliver O. Howard, General William B. Hazen, General William Rosecrans, Hazen's Brigade, Incompetent Generals, Orchard Knob, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fathers and Daughters: Writing About Stonewall Jackson as a Dad

Stonewall Jackson has long appealed to me, not just for his military genius, but for his humanity. We live in an age where many feign virtue but practice vice; Jackson serves as a shining example of a man who exemplified nobility of spirit. We may condemn the cause he served, even as we revere the man himself. In his own lifetime he was esteemed and honored even by his enemies; may we learn from his example. CKC

Emerging Civil War

CWT Aug 2017 coverFor the forthcoming August 2017 issue of Civil War Times, I had the privilege to write an article about Stonewall Jackson as a father, “Stonewall’s Greatest Joy.” It’s a story that has deep personal interest to me. Here’s why . . . .

When my daughter, Stephanie, was four years old, she fell in love with Stonewall Jackson. Visiting the battlefield at Manassas, she saw the monolithic statue of Jackson there and it was love at first sight. That he had a cool nickname—“Stonewall”—only made her fascination stronger. She became, at that moment, an instant, lifelong Stonewall Jackson groupie. 

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Fort Negley Oct 1862

Fort Negley as it appeared during the War


The following is reposted from the Civil War Bloggers, Authors, etc. Facebook Site.  The editorial is via Gary Biggs of the Nashville CWRT and based on an article by reporter Betsy Phillips about the proposed atrocity that rapacious and greedy developers want to foist on the city. They have in recent months also bulldozed a frontier cemetery in the area that was supposed to be under government protection. It is published here to make other Civil War enthusiasts and historians aware of the dire threat to the few remaining acres of Civil War Nashville. Even most Nashville citizens are unaware of the important role the city played during the Civil War. Greedy developers are working hard to erase even this last vestige. Please contact the Mayor’s office in Nashville if you are at all concerned about the situation. The city listens to visitors and tourists more than they do t concerned citizens. Thank you. CKC

Fort Negley Park Area Under Development Threat
On April 28th, 2017, reporter Betsy Phillips wrote the following article in the weekly Nashville Scene paper:
Developers Propose the Desecration of Fort Negley
Shame on us if we let it happen
“WKRN has a story about a proposed development around Fort Negley:
On Tuesday, we heard from a developer who has big plans for the empty property (Greer Stadium site): a multi-purpose complex called Nashville Adventure Park.”
“The proposal includes senior living, luxury apartments, townhomes, affordable housing, a farmer’s market at the stadium, artisan retail and studios, restaurants, a hotel, and a wide variety of sports offerings.”
“If you imagine the hill that the main part of the fort sits on as an egg yolk, this development would be like the egg white, seeming to completely surround the fort, except for where the Adventure Science Center sits.”
“In other words, the old Catholic Cemetery and the large City Cemetery annexes that the Union opened during the Civil War would all be gone. And, fine, they’re supposed to be empty anyway, but if I were a developer, I’d put a line in my budget for dead parts removal.”
“More disturbingly and more tragically, this development sits on the site of the contraband camp, the home of thousands of black refugees during the Civil War. As Zada Law pointed out two years ago, there’s been virtually no archaeology done at any contraband camp in Tennessee.”
“We’ve already irretrievably lost whatever was under the Adventure Science Center, but a lot remains relatively undisturbed. Even the parts under the parking lot are just under a parking lot. We have not yet screwed up a crucial bit of Nashville’s African American history, even if we haven’t bothered to explore it like we should. But if we let developers have it, then that history will be lost. Sure, some archaeologists could come in and do history triage to try to learn as much as they could before it’s torn up, but the Civil War isn’t that far down in the ground. We will lose it.”
“And frankly, how much more of our Civil War history do we have to lose? We already put I-440 on top of the Confederate line and built a city on the battlefield. One of the most important battles of the Civil War and we let Franklin and Murfreesboro be the tourist destinations while we metaphorically kick the rug over what’s left of our Civil War sites.”
“Shame on us if we let this development happen. Shame on us if we knowingly let this history slip away.”

Fort Negley color postcard

Fort Negley as restored in the 1930’s. It was allowed to go back to seed and only in the last few years have serious preservation efforts begun to be done by the City.

Here is what the proposed development looks like:
Somewhere in the middle of this monstrosity lies Fort Negley and the visitors center. Note that the parking for the latter has
not been expanded. It has been proven time and again that history tourism brings in far more money than any other – people have more to spend, stay longer, etc. if you give them something to see and promote it so they know about it. The traffic count for the area will explode making it even more difficult to get to the fort to visit. Don’t believe me? Look at what has happened at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA with the massive growth of Virginia Commonwealth University around it; their attendance has fallen off to the point that they are moving to new quarters down on the James River.

Traffic comes with big cities. But traffic also drives people away from doing things just so they do not have to deal with it. People spend enough time in traffic just going to and from work five days a week; they do not want to deal with it on weekends when they want to do something fun.
Ms. Phillips’ article also brings out the tremendous loss of historic ground upon which sits the fort and its surrounding area, which was all part of the fort’s footprint. Shall Nashville follow the same mistaken path that Atlanta did many years ago by paving over its history from the Civil War? How does this travesty being proposed in Nashville compare to what is happening just a few miles down the road in Franklin where they lead the nation in reclaiming lost Civil War land and restoring it to how it looked over 150 years ago? It is a pathetic failure on Nashville’s part.
Like so many other cities, Nashville has lots of places that are basically blight that can be redeveloped into something like in the above drawing; places that are not historic Civil War lands. How about moving this thing there instead and leave Fort Negley be?

Battle of Nashville

During the Battle of Nashville, General Thomas broke the back of the Confederate Army of Tennessee–the South’s last best hope– sealing the fate of the Confederacy.

By Greg Biggs (The above is the opinion of Greg Biggs, a member of the Nashville CWRT and not necessarily the opinion of the Nashville CWRT as a whole or the staff of Fort Negley Park, a unit of Nashville Metro City parks.)



Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Famed journalist and author Ambrose Bierce was in an out of Nashville during the Civil War and participated in the Battle of Nashville in 1865.


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Good Friday: The Day Lincoln Died


01 Gardner Lincoln fatal look

     Today is the day that Lincoln died. It was on April 14, 1865—another Good Friday to be precise—that Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was murdered in cold blood.  Young Mary Brennan, an Irish immigrant only recently arrived to our shores, remembered well that dreadful day for the rest of her life.  A devout Catholic, she, like many a Protestant of the day, regarded Good Friday, the day Christ died, as a solemn holy day and one not to be commemorated by going out the theater.  “He never would have died,” she would often say, ”had he not gone to see a play on Good Friday.”  Great grandmother was a font of such sayings and superstitions, she was, and her many descendants can still recite one or another of her sayings at will.

Another political commentary on Secession

A political cartoon from the time of the Civil War, showing John Bull (England) and Napoleon Bonaparte (France) waiting in the background for the US to be destroyed.

     But Abraham Lincoln, never a “technical Christian,” had ample reason to celebrate that Friday, April 14 so many years ago.  Robert E. Lee and his army had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant scarcely a week before and that very morning the general was delivering his report to the President and Cabinet in person.  For the first time in four years, Lincoln, who frequently suffered from “melancholy” seemed uncommonly hopeful, now that the end of the Rebellion was in sight.  Lincoln could at last look ahead to the future, to peace and to the task of rebuilding a nation torn apart by a fratricidal conflict.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.

Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, April 14, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

     As his Cabinet chatted before the official beginning of the meeting, Lincoln also told them that Friday about the “usual dream” he had had only the night before.  He explained that before every major event of the war he had dreamed the same dream: of a ship sailing towards a distant shore.  It always portended important war news.  Lincoln, raised on presentments, omens and prophetic dreams, believed that this latest portent was a sign of something momentous about to happen.

Uncle Billy & Uncle Joe

  Cabinet met, Lincoln was expecting news from Sherman in North Carolina, where “Uncle Billy” had run to ground the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by “Uncle Joe” Johnston.  Johnston’s force was but a hollow shell of what it had once been, but the proud Rebels, barefoot and in rags, could still fight like wildcats—albeit cornered wildcats.  Lincoln hoped to hear that Johnston too had surrendered, marking the end of organized resistance.  Surely the “usual dream” portended this, thought Lincoln.

     Later that day, as Lincoln and his wife readied for the theater, the President was in an uncommonly optimistic mood, not realizing the prophetic dream portended not good news on Good Friday, but ill.  For even as they dressed for the night, across town a band of conspirators were also preparing for the night—but their performance would end in death and mayhem.

     Much has been written about that day and about the conspirators led by John Wilkes Booth; yet, to this day there is no certainty as to how deeply the Booth Conspiracy to do away with Lincoln and his Cabinet ran.  To be sure, many were arrested and most of the leading conspirators executed.  But Mary Lincoln, for one, had her suspicions that there were others involved who got away—including some high placed in the Lincoln administration.  Mrs. Grant too, had had a terrifying incident that day that lead her to believe not all the culprits had been caught.  But historians hate loose ends and the strands of evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy lie moldering in archives and museums little looked at or considered. Still, the truth may still be out there.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth, actor, Rebel spy and leader of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln

     What is proven about the events of Good Friday, April 14, is tragic enough, however.  Just as Lincoln’s ship of state was about to reach that far and distant shore of peace, the captain—Lincoln—was cut down.  How different our history would have been had Lincoln survived to oversee the peace as he had the war!  We can be sure that the “Better Angels of our Nature” would have thrived under his leadership and the postwar darkness and violence, and the enduring aftermath of meanness and divisiveness that still dogs our nation to this day would have been greatly diminished, if not prevented entirely.

     Greatness is not to be measured in the number of bombs one drops or the number of innocents one kills; Lincoln did not rejoice in war and wished it brought to a speedy end.  No, what was great about Lincoln and Lincoln’s America was its struggle for equality, for social justice, and for the betterment of the average worker, not some aristocratic elite. The President who created land-grant universities to provide free college education, who redistributed millions of acres of land to any who would settle and till it, who fought and died for racial equality, and who sought to unite the nation from seas to sea with modern transportation: these and other social and economic programs were what truly made Lincoln great—not his leadership of a war that was forced on him by the Cotton Slaveocracy and other elites who benefitted from human bondage.  In the end, Lincoln paid for his achievements in human progress with his life.  As we commemorate Good Friday this April 14, this too should be borne in mind.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi

For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.







Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.







Posted in Abraham Lincoln, April 14, Good Friday, Assasinations, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Civil War Spies, Lincoln Assasination, Mary Todd Lincoln, Nettie Colburn Maynard, Premonitions, Presentiments, Prophecy and the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, Spiritualism, The American Civil War, The Army of Northern Virginia, The Army of the Potomac, The Paranoral Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Washington D. C. | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CLEAR THE WAY! Irish-American Civil War Ghosts

Clear the Way by Don Troiani

“Faugh a Ballagh” the Irish Brigade’s War Cry means “clear the way,” the title of this painting by Don Troiani. The dead still chant it on the battlefield to this day.


In Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, among other battlefield ghosts I chronicled the better-known haunts of Antietam Battlefield.  Foremost among these was the tale—true as far as I know—of the ghosts of the famed Irish Brigade who still inhabit the bloody fields of Antietam.

In researching Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, as with my other collections of true ghost stories, I used various sources, including recruiting, where possible, the help of local park rangers, re-enactors and battlefield guides.  After all, they are the ones most familiar with the terrain and local folklore and, as they are often present on the battlefields after the public leaves for the day, they generally have had more paranormal encounters than the average visitor. At Antietam I was fortunate to have one of the more co-operative park rangers, and while he could not go on the record, he told me about several authentic encounters that visitors had had there.

There is a boy’s school in nearby Baltimore that every year has a field trip to Antietam. They make the rounds of the various spots connected with the battle, ending up at the infamous Bloody Lane, where the blue-coated boys rested before getting back on the school bus back to home.  The teacher, well versed in Civil War history, generally has the boys compose an essay on what they experienced on the bus ride back home.  One year, their responses were very curious.

The teacher read in the essays accounts of hearing “Christmas Carols” being sung while they were sitting in the Sunken Road.  Asking the students, who had not had a chance to talk to one another before writing their papers, he found that the sound they heard seemed to be like “fa-la-la-lah.” The teacher immediately understood that what they’d heard: the Irish war cry, “Faugh a Ballagh!” In English it means “Clear the Way!” It was the very same war cry the famed Irish Brigade had yelled as the charged through the cornfields to their death at the Bloody Lane in the Autumn of 1862.

No one saw the phantom soldiers on that flat field, to be sure; but how did the school boys, who knew precious little about the war, or the Irish Brigade, come up with the same descriptions of the sounds they heard in the quiet twilight at the Bloody Lane?  It, like many other mysteries connected with the Civil War, shall remain unexplained forever.


For more about Antietam’s ghosts, as well as many other paranormal experiences tied to the Late Unpleasantness, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War to learn more.

Official Reports of the Irish Brigade at Antietam:


Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor served in the front lines during the Civil War.  His wartime experiences were transformative; Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period in Bierce’s life .  




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Christmas on the Rappahannock

Christmas during the Civil War has been a particular interest of mine for several years now; here is an excellent account of one incident by Kris White.

Emerging Civil War

Original Painting "Christmas on the Rappahannock" by Ray W. Forquer. Original Painting “Christmas on the Rappahannock” by Ray W. Forquer.

About twenty years ago my parents bought me a Civil War painting by Ray W. Forquer. The painting, “Christmas on the Rappahannock,” has always been one of my favorites. It’s not the artistry that I love so much, but the story that painting is based on. While much of the Civil War art that is out there revolves around the famous meetings of Lee and Jackson, or the heroic deeds on men on the field of battle, “Christmas on the Rappahannock” tells a much different story. It’s the story of a handful of soldiers, both blue and gray, away from their loved ones at Christmas. Although their ideals and a river divide them, these men find a way to put their differences aside for a few hours on Christmas Day, 1862.

The storyteller is John R. Paxton. Paxton was 18…

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Ths Seventh Regiment Departs, by Thomas Nast.  This romantic view by Nast shows the 7th NY Militia's departure for Washington, DC. in the spring of 1861.

Ths Seventh Regiment Departs, by Thomas Nast. This romantic view by Nast shows the 7th NY Militia’s departure for Washington, DC. in the spring of 1861.

One might think that after one has written over 100,000 words on a subject–in this case, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife–one has said all there is to say on a subject.  But that is not the case; there are any number of miscellaneous sources, topics or quotes which simply don’t fit into the book; similarly, for every question which one answers about this enigmatic American author, other questions arise as a result of new research or discoveries.

Here below, for example, is a classic bit of Bierce: Ambrose Bierce declaiming against a famous Civil War regiment whose fame Bierce felt was less than deserved.  In the early days of the war, when Washington was virtually surrounded by Secessionists, the arrival of the 7th NY Militia was eagerly anticipated and they were widely viewed as the saviors of the Nation’s Capitol.

Bierce’s view of the regiment and its accomplishments may have been a bit jaundiced: for one thing the 7th was known as the “Silk Stocking” Regiment, because its membership included many of New York City’s social elite. Their service record mainly consisted of suppressing demonstrations and strikes by workers and organized labor–often mislabeled as “riots.” Bierce, who in later life was at pains to distance himself from his humble origins, may have harbored a bit of a grudge against the New York patricians.  Also, Bierce was a member of the “Bloody Ninth”–the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry–who amply earned their nickname in the fierce battles of the western theater, which was in sharp contrast to the “Bloody Seventh” which Bierce emphasizes did most of its fighting in the hotels and taverns of Washington DC and precious little in the field. Their unwillingness to volunteer for the Spanish American War apparently summoned up old memories of their rather timid Civil War record in Bierce, whose prose rose to the occasion. Whatever one’s view of their war record, those who appreciate Bierce’s acid wit will certainly relish this prime example of his sarcasm:

Ambrose Bierce on the 7th NY

No matter “where rolls the Oregon,” the famous Seventh Regiment of New York is indubitably safe. And despite the lapse of time and mutations in its personnel, it is the same old Seventh Regiment of the Civil War period. True, it did not then unanimously resolve to merit the Humane Society’s great leather medal for saving life, as virtually it has now done; but as a matter of fact it then did save many lives, and all were lives of its own members. This noble benefaction it accomplished by governing its own temper—and he that subdueth his spirit is greater, and as a rule safer, than he that taketh a city. If the Seventh of that far day had suffered itself to fall into anger and uncharitableness offended Nature, who  

    hides hr lash  In the purple-black of a dyed mustache.” 

Might have sentenced that impetuous organization to be shot at and, if overtaken, hit. As it was, the Bloody Seventh advanced upon Washington, then held by a superior force of the regular army, captured and occupied some of the strongest hotels in the place, and after several weeks of brilliant and startling dress parades returned as grizzled veterans in New York without the loss of a man.  The regiment did not re-enlist, but in Central Park a costly monument to its valor,  “Like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies”; for it is inscribed with names of “members of the Seventh” who fell in battle. There is nothing to show that, righteously disgusted with their own regiment’s policy of peace on earth and good will to men, they had left it, and that they fell as members of less pacific organizations. It is not so very bad to be “dead upon the field of honor” if one have the good luck to be counted twice—a double patriot with twin renowns.

In unanimously voting to remain at home while Spain is abroad, and thereby drawing upon themselves a hot fire of patriotic reprobation, the star-spangled Quakers of the Seventh are especially blamable, for they compel many a war-willing patriot to remain at home also in order to deliver the fire. As members of the firing squad some of us are withholding from the service of our country military abilities of the highest order.  

“War Topics” San Francisco Examiner, May 22, 1898

For more on the Civil War, also see Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife. Also read Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Best known for his sharp tongue and quick wit, Ambrose Bierce  fought for the Union during the Civil War and fought bravely. This book chronicles his war service and traces his transformation from young idealist to mature cynic.




Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi

This book for the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.


Posted in 7th New York Militia, 7th New York Volunteer Infantry, Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Civil War History, Secessionism, Seventh New York Volunteer Infantry, The Army of the Potomac | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Major Bierce Reviews Napoleon


Napoleon Crossing the Alps by David


As Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife details in some depth, before Ambrose Bierce was the notorious cynic and destroyer of Humbug, he was an idealistic young Abolitionist and war hero.  His biographers generally acknowledge that fact, although most gloss over his service in the Civil War with varying degrees of inaccuracy. 

Although Bierce did a brief apprenticeship with his hometown paper before the war, it was not until he moved to San Francisco that the veteran soldier Bierce began his journalism career in earnest.  As time went on, Bierce returned time and again to his days as a soldier in the war, both in fiction and nonfiction pieces.  But as a journalist Bierce also wrote book reviews on occasion.  Here is one from 1895, where Major Ambrose and newspaperman Bierce join forces to write a review with a military slant: a discussion about a book on Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy.  General Bonaparte meet Major Bierce:

Bierce from Black & White London

The Prevailing Corsican: On Napoleon

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner April 21, 1895

NO series of connected and consecutive military events has been so closely analyzed by military students as those marking the first Italian campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte. All expounders of the military art who have had the good fortune to live since its principles were so wonderfully illustrated by that campaign have delighted to use its incidents in exposition. Every student has early learned that he could not afford to neglect it. Even to the “general reader,” unacquainted with the mysteries of strategy and tactics, who in the darkness of his ignorance cherishes the error that war is fortuitous fighting loosely directed to results by physical courage and the will of God, the history of these brilliant operations can hardly fail, when lucidly related, to prove interesting and charming beyond the power of fiction. As related by the mere “historian,” with his port-fire and blood-fumes to emotionalize the situation, it is doubtless as dull reading as the literature of the heart generally. What, in brief, was this remarkable campaign? 

In the month of March, 1796, Bonaparte, a boy of twenty-six, untried in independent command, was entrusted with an army of some forty thousand badly clad and inadequately supplied men, with which to invade Italy. He was opposed by Beaulieu, with a well equipped force, Austrians and Sardinians, of fifty thousand. The Alps and Apennines were between. Bonaparte began active operations on the eleventh day of less four days, with forces averaging forty-six thousand opposed to forces averaging sixty-one thousand he had in fifteen pitched battles routed one Sardinian army and the six Austrian armies successively sent to drive him out of Italy, only to be driven out themselves. His losses during the campaign in killed, wounded and prisoners were about equal to the numbers of his army at the outset. The losses that he inflicted upon the enemy were no fewer than one hundred and twenty thousand men and vast quantities of material. 

How were these astonishing feats of arms performed? Not by the superior courage of his soldiers, for the Austrians then, as they are now, were a brave and warlike people. Not by the “will of God,” whose agency is to the military eye nowhere discernible, and whose political predilections are still unknown. Nor were these admirable results due to “luck,” the “favors of fortune,” the “magic” of genius. They were brought about by the very commonplace method of knowing his business thoroughly and applying the knowledge. There is nothing miraculous in that. It is an open secret which Napoleon himself has explained: 

“In war nothing is accomplished but by calculation. During a campaign, whatever is not profoundly considered in all its details is without result. Every enterprise should be systematically conducted; chance alone cannot bring success.” 

I should be sorry to be understood as affirming the possibility of such military success as Napoleon’s to the mere student of military art, devoid of Napoleon’s genius. On the other hand, Napoleon’s genius would have been futile without his mastery of the art. Military art is no exception to art in general; for eminent achievement is required great natural aptitude, plus a comprehensive and minute knowledge of the business in hand. Given these two requisites in the commander, and the army is multiplied by two. For many generations, doubtless, the French will boast of Montenotte, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, and Wagram; but every intelligent soldier’s view is that on all these historic fields there was but one victor. To quote his words again: 

“It was not the Roman army that conquered Gaul, but Caesar; it was not the Carthaginian army which, at the gates of Rome, made the Eternal City tremble, but Hannibal; it was not the Macedonian army that marched as far as the Indus, but Alexander; it was not the Prussian army that defended Prussia for seven years against the three most powerful states of Europe, but Frederick.” 

The contrary view—the theory of the insignificance of the individual—so persistently urged a generation ago by Mill, and so eagerly accepted by the young philosophers of his period, derives no support from military history. Tolstoi, it is true, is in full, if somewhat belated, advocacy of it, and professes to find confirmation in the events that he relates in his military novels. And it must be confessed that, as he relates them, they indubitably do seem to justify his view that leaders do not truly lead. With the splendid irresponsibility of the fictionist, he shows that the French people having incurred, somehow, a blind, reasonless impulse to go gadding about Europe, caught up Napoleon, as a stream bursting out of its banks might catch up a sheep or a log, and pushed him along before them. A careful study of the progress through Italy will, I think, show that at least he did something toward reducing the friction incident to the movement. 

Anyone really believing in unimportance of the individual must be prepared to affirm that a chance bullet finding a lodgment in the brain of the commander of the Army of Italy at Montenotte would have made but little difference in the conduct of the campaign and the later history of Europe; and any one prepared to affirm this may justly boast himself impregnable to argument, through induration of the understanding. The history of the military operations that we have been considering has never been better told than in a book entitled Napoleon Bonaparte’s First Campaign—it should be remembered that he was then simply General Bonaparte. The author of the book is Lieutenant Herbert H. Sargent, of the Army. Nothing could well exceed the clarity with which the author has told his story; and nothing that I have seen in military literature is more admirable than his professional but untechnical comments on its successive stages Everything is made so clear that the benighted civilian of the anti-West Point sort, the fearfully and wonderfully bepistoled swashbuckler of the frontier, the gilded whiskey-soldier of the National Guard and even the self-taught strategist of the press can comprehend it all without a special revelation from Heaven. Those conscious of a desire, however vague and formless, to acquire such a knowledge of military science and art as will give them a keener interest in “war news” that is not “bluggy” than they ever had in that which reeks with gore and “multiplies the slain” will find in Lieutenant Sargent a guide, philosopher and friend for whom they cannot be sufficiently thankful to the God that bestowed him.


This reprint of Bierce’s military book review is via Tom Streissguth’s estimable site The Archive of American Journalism Ambrose Bierce Collection:


Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Although only four years out of a long and productive life, the Civil War proved to be a pivotal period for Ambrose Bierce, one which affected both his later career and his personality. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is available at all the better book bistros.

If your local bookstore does not stock it, or won’t back order it, however, stand up on a table in the middle of the store, call them poltroons and jackanapes, then in a loud voice recommend to all patrons of the store that they order it from Amazon and that their store’s coffee is made from monkey-poop (which it probably is).                  

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Ambrose Bierce Book Reviewer, Bierce on Miltary Genius, Civil War History, Napoleon Bonaparte, The American Civil War, The Napoleonic Wars | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment