Of Maps and Men: Lt. Ambrose Bierce and Capt. Levi T. Scofield

Hood's men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield
Hood’s men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield

After devoting several years delving deeply into the military career of Ambrose Bierce, famed American satirist and short story writer, I am always interested in finding new first hand accounts of campaigns and battles he fought in. 

In the Autumn of 1864, Bierce was a staff officer with the Army of the Cumberland, fulfilling the role as Topographical Engineer with a division of the IV Corps.  He was, as happened many times during the war, an eyewitness to bitter and bloody fighting.

Pen and kink sketch General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, after Levi T. Scofield
Pen and ink sketch depicting General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, (after Levi T. Scofield)

It was therefore with some interest when I came across a short book by another “engineer” who, like Bierce, was with Schofield’s little army on the road to Franklin and Nashville.

While Ambrose Bierce was with Wood’s division in the IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, Levi T. Scofield (no relation to the general) was on the staff of General Cox’s division, with the XXIII Corps.  Both corps were part of General Schofield’s force on the “retreat” (actually a holding action, ordered by Thomas) from Pulaski, Tennessee all the way back to Nashville.

While technically part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland for this campaign, Schofield, in his official report on the campaign pointedly lists his XXXIII Corps as part of the Army of the Tennessee.  Although not given an official designation, Schofield’s little army was de facto the reconstituted Army of the Ohio, which had fought during the Atlanta Campaign that summer.  Levi Scofield, as a nod to that unofficial fact, put the Army of the Ohio logo on the cover of his little book.

Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield
Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield

Both General Schofield, commanding the Union troops during the march north, and General Hood, in charge of the Rebel forces, have both generally received criticism from historians over the years and for similar reasons.  Before being appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee, Hood has been accused of going behind his superior, General Joe Johnston, and criticizing him to superiors in Richmond– with a view to getting himself appointed in Johnston’s stead.  Schofield has been accused of much the same thing with regard to General Thomas to Washington.  To what degree either Hood or Schofield were guilty of these accusations I will defer to others, save to note that recently historian Stephen Hood has argued vehemently in Hood’s defense and done much to rehabilitate “the Gallant Hood.”  No one has yet argued similarly on behalf of Schofield.

After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades.  After Scofield
After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades. (After Scofield)

One thing is clear, however; both general’s actions during this campaign have been underappreciated.  To be more precise, one could argue that what previous historians have viewed as Hood’s failures as a general are better understood as Schofield’s skills as a field commander.  Hood should have won at Springhill and captured Schofield’s army; likewise, because of a fatal blunder on the part of one of Schofield’s subordinates, Hood came very close to triumphing at the very start of the Battle of Franklin.  Luck and Brigadier Opdycke prevented an unqualified Confederate success there.—but it was a very close thing nonetheless.  The fact of the matter is that General Hood’s army came closer to success at Franklin than General Lee’s did at Gettysburg—and were more exposed to enemy fire for a longer duration during the charge.

Rebel drummer boy just before he  "explodes like a tomato."   After  Captain Scofield
Rebel drummer boy just before he
“explodes like a tomato.” (After Captain Scofield)

For those unfamiliar with the role of topographical engineers during the Civil War, perhaps I should clarify their position in the War.  Officially they were surveyors and map-makers, which today would be classed as a rear echelon staff position—hardly the stuff of daring-do and danger.  During the Late Unpleasantness, however, their duties and responsibilities were far different.  From the very start of the war, the lack of accurate maps of the South bedeviled Union commanders.  During Ambrose Bierce’s tour of duty in western Virginia (today West Virginia), the lack of maps and bad guides cost the Federals several lost opportunities.  They would have fared far worse save that the Confederates were as green and as ignorant as they.  Over the course of the next several campaigns in the Western Theater, however, Union commanders sought to rectify this deficiency and this is where the role of the topographical engineers came in.

Knowing what roads led where, where and of what quality were the bridges, fords, road junctions and other features of the terrain became something of the highest priority.  Far from working in the rear, the topographical engineers went out ahead of the army, often working behind enemy lines, gathering tactical intelligence of the countryside and of the enemy dispositions in it.  It was extremely hazardous work and there was always the danger that, if captured, they would be treated as spies and executed.  It was a far cry from being a rear echelon “red tab” (to borrow the British slang for a staff officer).

During the Battle of Franklin, Bierce and the IV Corps were north of the Harpeth River, guarding the river crossing and the supply train, a position from which Lt. Bierce had a bird’s eye view of the start of the battle and which is related in some detail in Period of Honorable Strife.

Captain Scofield, by contrast, was with General Cox’s rear guard and in the front line of the battle, so his memoir of that fight is quite vivid and detailed, with a number of anecdotes about the engagement not mentioned elsewhere.  Being a topographical engineer, Scofield also had a good eye for where things happened and recorded them on the maps that accompany his book.

As near as I can tell, he rendered these maps in watercolor or wash; there are also a number of pen and ink sketches that accompany his narrative and as no artist is listed, I am assuming that Scofield also rendered these himself.  This is important, because there were no combat artists accompanying either army during this campaign, much less photographers, so the Autumn Campaign is very poorly documented in comparison to other campaigns of the war perhaps less deserving of the artist’s touch.

View of Battle from State Capitol on Dec 15 BARNARD low rez
A stereo photo by Barnard taken on the first day of battle, viewing the battlefield from the state capitol. Unfortunately, there was a heavy ground fog the morning of December 15 obscuring the view.

In Nashville, Federal photographer George N. Bernard did photograph the Union defenses about the time of the Battle of Nashville.  Many of Bernard’s photos of Nashville taken during the battle were originally taken with a stereo camera, although I have only discovered a few mounted on stereo cards.  Perhaps others of this same series are squirreled away in some archive or collection. There were other photographers present as well and their work too is waiting to come to light.

Although Captain Scofield wrote many years later–and his sketches and maps are presumably also of that vintage–the fact that he was an eyewitness to those events gives great weight to their value as historical source.  A number of the anecdotes of the Battle of Franklin which he narrates he illustrates with his sketches.

While Scofield’s sketches were not able to be incorporated into my current book on Lt. Bierce, they are nonetheless of value documenting the Battle of Franklin and have hitherto been poorly known.  This, therefore, seemed to be an opportune time to publish a few of them as they relate to the battle. Let us commemorate those who fought and died on both sides with reverence and respect. There is special place in Hell for those who desecrate the graveyards and memorials of the war dead.

Carnton Cemetery in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie.  According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trench where they still may lay.
Carnton Cemetary in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie. According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trenches–where they may still be.

For more about the Battle of Franklin, see the appropriate chapters of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, as well as the Williamson County chapter in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce’s and the Period of Honorable Strife, chronicling his experiences in the Civil War, published by the University of Tennessee Press
Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
Documenting Abraham Lincoln’s encounters with the paranormal and his beliefs about them. The Paranormal Presidency relates his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his active participation in séances.

The Medium and the Message: the Evidence for Lincoln’s Encounters with Psychics.

Dixie Spirits blog

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war. Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.


I must first apologize for being remiss of late in updating the Late Unpleasantness.  I’m afraid like many, the summer heat has made me lax–that and having the house torn up with a major renovation–so my various files and notes are every which way for now.  Of course I am not solely guilty of this venial sin: August is traditionally a month when nothing gets done in publishing.  I am still awaiting final approval from one publisher n one book and I have been querying agents left and right (or write) for my latest manuscript.  With summer waning into fall, however, it is time to get caught up.  Halloween is just around the corner after all.

This outing let us delve a little into a much neglected aspect of Abraham Lincoln: his…

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Lincoln Assassination Plots, Part 3: The One That Got Away and the Man Who Never Was

John Wilkes Booth’s death as presented to the American public. Does this version of Booth tell the truth?

In exploring the darker corners of the history of the Lincoln assassination, inevitably one come up against the issue of whether John Wilkes Booth was brought to justice in a tobacco barn in Northern Virginia as the official version says.

According to the accepted account of events, a patrol of the Fifth New York Cavalry tracked Booth and his co-conspirator Herold to an outbuilding on the Garrett Farm in northern Virginia.  Trapped, the Yankee cavalrymen told the two conspirators to come out. David Herold surrendered but allegedly Booth refused and tried to fight it out.  Being a tobacco barn, there were wide openings between the slats and a Federal cavalryman, Boston Corbett, shot the suspect visible inside.  The barn was also set on fire and a fatally wounded man, assumed to be Booth was dragged out of the burning barn, dying on the front porch of the farmhouse.

All this is according to the accepted narrative  of events.  There is a problem with this standard account.  When Herold surrendered, he was asked who else was in the barn with him, instead of saying “Booth” he told the Federals, “a man named Boyd.”

Did the Yankees, in their eagerness to put an end to the assassin of Lincoln, kill the wrong man?  And if so, then what happened to Booth?

Needless to say, the thread of evidence regarding Booth and his possible escape is long and tangled, and there are those more diligent than I who have followed it in greater depth. In researching Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, I investigated much of this primary research for my chapters on the Lincoln Assassins.  The earliest printed reference that I could uncover was an article dating to January of 1877; originally published in the Pittsburg Leader and shortly thereafter re-published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.  Entitled, “Wilkes Booth” it is tellingly subtitled “The Annual Story of His Reappearance in the Flesh”–implying that this is not the first account of Booth’s escape and survival.


The lead sentence confirms this suspicion: “Ever since the assassination of President Lincoln there has existed a doubt in the minds of the citizens of the United States as to whether his assassin was ever captured ad killed….that the officials who reported his capture acted in a rather mysterious and altogether private manner in disposing of the alleged assassin.”  The article goes on to allege that “in the last ten years it has been asserted that John Wilkes Booth has been seen at various times in different parts of the globe.”

Now, in all fairness, the correspondent by the name of Mulhattan who penned this article, wrote under the nom de plume of “Orange Blossom,” and in the postwar era was renowned for his tall tales and fanciful accounts.  The skill of “Orange Blossom,” however, was in his ability to take a grain of truth and expand it into a plausible, but exaggerated story.  In this case, the reporter in question claimed to have actually met “John Wilkes,” who related that, after lying low abroad for several years, returned to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania.  Even if we acknowledge that “Orange Blossom” was indeed busy with the manure-shovel in 1877, that does not necessarily mean that his story is a complete fabrication, or that there were not previous, more credible, reports about Booth evading capture–as the headline implied.

As the article pointed out, even in 1865 there were numerous discrepancies to the official account.  The autopsy, hastily carried out on a gunboat in the middle of a river had revealed a man with “auburn hair”–yet we know Booth was dark-haired.  A man who was familiar with Booth was asked to identify Booth’s body and at first refused to do so! One gathers that, under official pressure, (perhaps even threat of himself being arrested) the witness reluctantly identified the body as Booth’s.

There was also some suspicious official behavior regarding the body’s disposition.

Knights of Golden Circle part of Booth Conspiacy
Bickley was head of the secret Secessionist group, Knights of the Golden Circle.  The flyer implies that the Knights were the real organizers of Lincoln’s assassination.

Flash forward to the twentieth century, to Monteagle, Tennessee, wherein is located The University of the SouthSewanee University.   For those unfamiliar with this august institution, it somewhat resembles Hogwart’s School of Harry Potter fame; the upperclassmen wear robes similar to Oxford and Cambridge (and Hogwart’s) and are referred to as “gownsmen.”  For many years a well-respected professor there, Arthur Ben Chitty, devoted much time and considerable resources tracking down the facts behind Booth’s alleged demise–and escape.  Professor Chitty uncovered a trail of legitimate evidence, including a signed marriage certificate.  Booth, according to Ben Chitty, apparently adopted the pseudonym “John St. Helen,” but when he married a Tennessee girl in 1872 under the false name, she insisted that they go back and have the marriage certificate filled out properly and the ceremony re-done and he signed the second certificate “Jno. W. Booth.”  Descendants of the girl he married testify that family tradition, long-held as a family secret, confirm that he was indeed the infamous assassin.

Another Booth researcher has developed another theory, however. This thesis holds that Booth adopted the name “John B. Wilkes” and indeed there is a paper trail for this possible Booth survivor.

Then too, we have that peculiar comments of the captured conspirator Herold about the man named “Boyd.”  Other investigators, pursuing this lead uncovered a Confederate officer named Captain James W. Boyd, of the Sixth Tennessee Infantry who did indeed have auburn hair like the corpse alleged to be Booth’s.  Captain Boyd was in prison as a prisoner of war, but shortly before the assassination was transferred to Washington on Secretary of War Stanton’s direct orders; here he disappears from history.  Was this indeed the Boyd the Federal cavalry killed?  Was he a double-agent for the Union, or simply a patsy set up to be killed in order to cover the escape of the real assassin and so cover up high-placed administration co-conspirators whom Booth might name?  Was, in fact, Boyd turned into “the man who never was” by Stanton?

There are other theories about what became of Booth, including the one where his body, allegedly mummified, traveled throughout the Midwest as a sideshow exhibit. The Mummy Known as “John” is a curious story in and of itself, but probably is the least credible of the tales of Booth’s notorious afterlife.

The deeper one delves into the Lincoln assassination, the more questions one uncovers and the fewer certain answers.  Clearly the truth is out there–but we may never know for sure.

For more curious facts about the Lincoln conspirators see my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War, with a section devoted to the Booth Conspiracy and Lincoln’s Assasinaton.
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

The Lincoln Assassination Plots Part 2: Unindicted Co-Conspirators?

TheAssassinationOfPresident  h. Lloyd print 1866
Lincoln’s Assassination on Good Friday of 1865. Where was his bodyguard when Booth entered the box? Mrs. Lincoln believed the guard was part of the conspiracy and was not afraid to say so. Yet his actions were never seriously investigated.

The known conspirators involved in the assassination of President Lincoln are a matter of record. Yet there has always been the suspicion among some historians that the plot ran deeper than what was revealed in the military tribunals held after Lincoln’s death.  How far did the Booth Conspiracy extend and who else were involved?

In part I, we looked at some of the evidence that others may have been involved in the assassination conspiracy.  But there is one important witness whose testimony has not been heard from; that is the widow of the President herselfMary Todd Lincoln.

Mary Todd Lincoln was actually the first to speak out about those she believed were involved in a wider plot regarding her husband’s murder.  Despite, or perhaps because, of her accusations, those she accused never fell under official suspicion.

When an uninformed layman hears how Booth snuck into the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, the first thing that comes to mind is: why were there no guards present at the door to the box to guard the President? Well, there was indeed a guard assigned to protect the President–but he was mysteriously absent from his post at the time of the assasination.

Officer John Parker of the DC Police, was supposed to be on duty that night at Ford’s Theater, guarding the entrance to the balcony.  Supposedly, Parker had gone next door to the Star Saloon during intermission for some liquid refreshment; it is suspected he never returned from the bar to his post at the door to the box seat. By a strange coincidence, however, another man who was also in the saloon did go next door to Ford’s–John Wilkes Booth. Did the two men collude? What is known is that when Booth crept up there, the entranceway was unguarded and Booth easily obtained entry to the box seat.

Officials hauled in hundreds for questioning on the slightest hint of involvement in the Booth Plot–yet the negligent bodyguard got off scot-free.  But Mary, never one to hold her tongue, spoke out and accused him of complicity to his face.  Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, recalled the following confrontation between the president’s widow and Parker: “So you are on guard tonight,” Mrs. Lincoln yelled, “on guard in the White House after helping to murder the President!…..I shall always believe that you are guilty.”

Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln as President, yet he knew Booth from his days as Military Governor of Tennessee. Was he involved in the plot?

Mary’s accusing finger also pointed to someone higher up in the administration; none other than Vice-President Andrew Johnson.  Johnson was an odious character to start with, a man prone to public drunkenness and crude in his behavior.  Lincoln apparently chose him as a running mate for political reasons; he was a Southern loyalist, had been Military Governor of Tennessee and even late in the war Lincoln had hopes of luring many Southerners back into the Union fold.

King Andrew Johnson
“That miserable inebriate…had cognizance of my husband’s death” Mary Lincoln

Mary was blunt about it: “that, that miserable inebriate Johnson had cognizance of my husband’s death.  Why was that card of Booth’s found in his box–some acquaintance certainly existed.  I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought that he had an understanding with the conspirators and they knew their man….As sure as you and I live, Johnson had some hand in all this.” –Mary Todd Lincoln, March 15, 1866.

In fact, when Johnson was Military Governor of Tennessee, John Wilkes Booth played Nashville and performed in a Wood’s Theater there.  During his stay Booth made the acquaintance of Johnson.  More than that, Booth cultivated his friendship.  It is known that besides carousing in the bars there, they shared the physical intimacy of two women, sisters, who were known to be of “loose virtue.”  Booth was considered quite handsome and had any number of women chasing after him; it is likely that Booth procured the services of one or more for Johnson.  Yet this connection of Johnson’s with Lincoln’s assassin was never properly investigated by the military tribunal that investigated the conspiracy.

Modern Historians have tended to accept the judgment of the Washington establishment of the day that Mary Todd Lincoln was “hysterical” and later that she was “crazy.”  She was hated by the Southern sympathizers in Washington (there were many) as a traitor to the South; and by northerners she was equally disliked because most of her family had sided with the Confederacy.  Mary was cultured and well-educated–more so than most of the male politicians of the day–and worse still, she was not afraid to speak her mind, something that women simply didn’t do in those days.  It very well may be that Mary Todd Lincoln had a better handle on who was behind her husband’s murder than all the “experts” did.

For more about the Booth conspirators and their post mortem existence, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for the events leading up to the assassination also see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

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). Uncanny true tales of the American Civil War.



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