“A Painful, but not Dangerous, Wound. . .”

Beverly Kennon Whittle was one of the victims of the General Rosser’s misadventure on Coffman’s Hill. In his diary, Private Whittle recounted his trials after being wounded, and the brief, unheroic record of his experience gives us an idea of the extent of the disintegration of Rosser’s command after the rout. Whittle spent his 19th birthday in a military…

Virginia’s Food Supply

Food tops the list of things that we take for granted. As a result, our attitude toward food serves as a great handicap as we try to understand history. U.S. Grant’s express purpose in the spring of 1864 was to starve the Confederate army into submission. He understood that it might take a year or…

An Infantryman Listens to the Fight at Tom’s Brook

Some of the more interesting accounts of any battle come from unexpected sources. A researcher focusing on a cavalry battle would logically focus on primary sources written by cavalrymen, but during the fighting at Tom’s Brook, tens of thousands of infantrymen were nearby, and their recollections are just as welcome and sometimes just a valuable.…

Rosser the Cavalry Theorist? (part 2)

  In a previous post, I addressed the question of whether Rosser’s abilities as a cavalry commander extended beyond the realm of elementary tactics. I noted that we have some evidence–including Tom’s Brook–that suggests Rosser’s capabilities did not even go so far as a mastery of elementary tactics. I implied that judgment and discretion were…

Charging into the Muzzle

A latent theme in Decision at Tom’s Brook concerns the spirit that animated American warriors in 1864. Most of the warriors mentioned–Rosser, William Payne, James Breathed, James Thomson and others–wore gray. But Custer was a prime practitioner of the warrior ethos, and plenty of other men in blue were battle lovers as well, among them…

Imagining the Worst

History gains more meaning when coupled with some imagination. For example, consider the effect of a typical news item on its readers in the autumn of 1864. Imagine yourself in a small city, perhaps in Ohio. A son or nephew or friend or brother had months ago “jined the cavalry,” and he wears the Union…