Flood Fighting in North Dakota

Greetings readers,

I wanted to let you all know that for the next few days, I may be out of commission as to updating the blog because we are experiencing major flooding here in North Dakota. The University of North Dakota where I attend has canceled classes until Tuesday to allow us to assist in the fight. I am dry right now, but am watching things close because my apartment is in a basement (I am not looking forward to trying to move my library). The Red River of the North is currently at 47′ here at Grand Forks and is expected to crest at 52′, which is the second highest crest on record. Down river in Fargo, they are bracing for the worst flood ever, which would break a 112 year old record. Things are a bit stressful. I served on a sandbag line yesterday and had to take the day to rest, so as not to hurt myself, but it was rewarding to help out. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we battle the Red.

Virtual Civil War Round Table not forgotten

For those of you who remember my posting on the possibility of creating a virtual Civil War Round Table, I have not forgotten about it, but have had to place it on the back burner, as classes come first. However, I did discuss the idea with one of the professors in my department and he gave me some great insights into how this might be set up. I am hopeful to try and set something up late next month or in May once things with class wind down. Since a number of you have expressed an interest and willingness to help, I will get in touch with you as I get closer to attempting to create this.

In other news, we are currently watching the Red River of the North rise to near record levels. The city of Fargo, ND is sandbagging around the clock in an attempt to fight the flood. North Dakota State University, which partners with the Ph.D. program I am in has cancelled classes to allow students to help fight the flood. My campus is currently allowing excused absences to help out since we are about 80 miles north and are protected to sixty feet after being devestated in 1997. I may be down helping this week with Civil Air Patrol, but am not sure, as I still have class. Until next time, have a great week.

The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia


Military History Series


March 17, 2009


Dear Colleague:


Once more, we are at the beginning stage of a new military history project, The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia.  Attached is an entry list of topics for which we seek authors.  Our goal is to assign these subjects out and have them written and submitted as soon as possible. 


These essays will be used in a variety of products beyond the printed book, including interactive web sites, workbooks, chronologies, handbooks, etc.  They are designed to appeal to a broad audience, including academics, students, and general readers alike. 


ABC-CLIO has more than 50 years of experience in historical reference publishing, and has won many awards for its books and publications.  It has also recently acquired Greenwood Press and Praeger Publishing and now controls over 18,000 titles.  Our Military History Series has earned the Editor’s Choice Award from Booklist for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and the Distinguished Achievement Award for 2006 (United States at War database), among many others. 


I hope you will consider taking on as many topics as you can.  The due dates are flexible, but I prefer to have essays completed within 60 days of their assignment.  ALL must be submitted by no later than July 15, 2009.


If you are able to contribute, please send me an e-mail at wwhyte@rcn.com with a list of the entries you would be willing to write along with any specific time constraints you might have in completing them.  I will get back to you ASAP to make formal assignments.


If you have any ideas for entries you believe are important to this project (such as individual ships) please suggest them. Thank you.


Best wishes,


Billy Whyte

Assistant Editor


Another great sale from Indiana University Press

I wanted to let you all know that Indiana University Press is offering what they are calling their Intellectual Stimulus Package Sale. I ordered a couple books through it and wanted to share it with you all. This time, they have many other titles in a wide variety of topics for sale. Happy reading.

New look for the site

I hope you all like the new look. I saw a WordPress announcement about this new theme and wanted to check it out and am quite pleased with how it looks. It also has a surprising number of options, which I will check out soon, including an Alert Box, where I can leave you small message regarding happenings here, including calls for writers and other items of importance. I hope you like the new theme. If you have any good suggestions for an image header since the title is centered, please let me know. With that said, I offer up another poll to gauge your feelings on this theme versus the previous one.

Civil War Naval Encyclopedia


ABC-CLIO publishers have initiated a project for a Civil War Naval Encyclopedia.  Spencer Tucker is the lead editor on the project.  Paul Pierpaoli and myself are assistant editors.

We should have the final headword list completed this week.  If you know of any scholars or graduate students interested in working on this project please contact me for details.

Considering the rifled musket

I am currently taking a readings class on Material Culture, which interprets the past through objects, as opposed to strictly documents. In addition to various readings, we also are expected to prepare three source reports and a paper. The first source report was exploring our midden (trash dump) at least 100 years later to see how someone would interpret our lives by the objects left behind. The second report focused on us exploring an object and the third will deal with a building. For the second report, I chose to explore an 1861 Springfield rifled musket. There were several in a collection of Civil War artifacts at the Myra Museum, home of the county historical society. With that brief introduction, I hope you enjoy this short report.

This piece is part of a nice collection of Civil War era military weapons and equipment at the Myra Museum, home of the Grand Forks County Historical Society.  According to a conversation with Leah Byzewski, this collection was originally owned by the Grand Forks chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).  It consisted of nine rifled muskets (Model 1861 Springfield), eight black leather belts with brass buckles containing initials “US” on them, five leather cartridge boxes, with brass “US” plate on the flap, two non-commissioned officers’ swords with one scabbard, two sabers (one possibly cavalry) and two scabbards, four percussion cap boxes, six bayonets and scabbards, and one McClellan saddle.  This collection is part of a larger military collection in the museum containing uniforms and articles of military life from the Civil War to the Korean War.  The Civil War collection is quite impressive for this area given the distance from the major theaters of the war.


Figure 1: Picture of 1861 Springfield rifled musket examined at the Myra Museum.

The weapon studied is identical to the other eight rifled muskets in the collection.  It is between four and a half and five feet long, and weighs approximately ten pounds.  It is not a heavy weapon, but is particularly awkward to hold given its length.  The length of the weapon appears to make it a cumbersome piece of equipment for a soldier of the period, especially since the average soldier was only five feet, eight inches tall.

The weapon itself has a rather simple mechanism for operation.  The firing mechanism consisted of a metal hammer and nipple, upon which a percussion cap was placed.  The cap allowed the weapon to fire by igniting the gunpowder in the barrel.  The weapon was a muzzle-loading rifle, meaning that it loaded from the end of the barrel, or muzzle.  Since the bullet was loaded in this fashion, the rifle contained a ramrod, which is located in a slot underneath the barrel of the rifle.  The ramrod is a slender rod with a metal bell-shaped end that slides down the barrel.  Though not removed from the slot under the barrel for equipment preservation, the ramrod is slightly longer than the barrel.

The stock of the rifle was made of wood and stained in a dark brown stain.  The stock was pitted with many nicks and scratches, which likely resulted from service during the war.  In addition, the inscription of the initials “CS” was present near the trigger guard on the left side of the rifle.  These initials may either be the initials of the soldier who used it, a postwar owner, or CS for Confederate States, which would be an intriguing twist if the weapon was captured by Confederate sources for a time during the war.  There were three sites on the weapon, which flipped up and had numerical markings of 1, 3, and 5 on them.

Figure 2: Two of the three sites on this weapon flipped up to assist in viewing.

There were other markings present on the rifle, located on the lock and the breech of the barrel.  The markings on the top of the breech included 1861 (likely the year of manufacture), “H & P”, which is likely representing the division of the Springfield armory, as indicated by other examples from the Springfield armory website.1 Other markings are found on the right side of the weapon underneath the lock and may indicate the distributor of the weapon and city that distributor was located, which are M. T. Wickham and “Phil.”, which likely refers to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


1861-springfield-markings-2Figure 3: The various markings found on the metallic portions of the weapon.

This weapon was, according to Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, was loaded and fired through nine motions.  The motions are:  load, handle cartridge, tear cartridge, charge cartridge, draw rammer, ram cartridge, return rammer, and shoulder arms, which includes ready, aim, and firing.2 It seems a complex series of commands, but, with training, the soldier would be able to fire three rounds per minute.

This weapon fired a .58 caliber round, which was called the Minié ball, and was accurate to around five hundred yards, which was a significant improvement over previous technology.3 The Minié ball was a conical-shaped round with three grooves in the base of the round, which allowed the round to grip the rifling in the barrel.  When the weapon was fired, the gases from the burning powder forced the hollow back of the round to expand and further grip the rifling, giving the rifle increased accuracy.  The round is quite heavy for its small size and, with the velocity provided by the rifle combined with its mass, was capable of producing horrendous wounds, which could be fatal in many cases.  Since the bullet and powder were separate, the rifle had an increased likelihood of jamming and appeared to need constant cleaning, however no evidence of this, in terms of cleaning materials, existed in the collection.

Given the tactics used in the war, coupled with the improved technology evident in the rifle studied, the incredibly high casualty rates of the Civil War are logical.  With soldiers firing in massed ranks at close ranges, more men suffered wounds or death, as they relied on tactics designed for weapons with less accuracy than the 1861 Springfield rifled musket.  Studying the rifle in the collection at the Myra Museum allows a greater comprehension of Civil War soldiers and their lives in combat.  Holding such a piece raises questions about what events the rifle participated in, who the soldier (or soldiers) was that carried it and what that soldier (or soldiers) experienced.  Thank you to the Myra Museum for allowing the inspection of part of their collection.

1Springfield Armory National Historic Site-Collections website found at:  http://www.museum.nps.gov/spar/vfpcgi.exe?IDCFile=/spar/DETAILS.IDC,SPECIFIC=8774,DATABASE=objects,ORDERBY=CATNBR,LISTIDC=/SPAR/BROWSER.IDC,RECORDMAX=10,RECNO=129,WORDS=valejo.  Accessed 02 March 2009.

2Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics.  Reproduction copy (Decatur, MI:  Invictus, 1997), 32-38.

3Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1989), 26, 73-74.

My H-Net review of Campaign for Corinth

I just had my latest H-Net review published. I usually only post the link to give H-Net the traffic. I reviewed the book Campaign for Corinth by Steven Dossman for H-CivWar.

Click here to read the review.

I hope you enjoy the review.

Review of the film “American Drummer Boy”

Note: I have made a few changes, which I highlighted. This is due to my receiving a reply from Dorian Walker via email, in which he explained certain issues that I did not consider at the time, but decided to incorporate certain ones in the interest of fairness.

First, I just finished viewing this film by Director Dorian Walker and must say that I should have removed my historian glasses, but with media dealing with one of my fields, it is very hard to do. That said, I found this film to be an interesting story, but one that could have benefited from a greater focus on the history as opposed to the drama.

The story revolves around young Johnny Boone, who wanted to join his community’s local regiment of Union infantry, the 11th Kentucky, which was depicted more like a company throughout the film. He ran away from home and attempted to catch up with the 11th, but was soon captured by Confederates, while walking along with Mr. Deets, an English actor, who is a rather annoying character. Johnny soon joins the 24th Mississippi Infantry still attempting to get to the Union lines, but also trying to survive. While masquerading as a Confederate drummer, he attends a social function held by the colonel of the 24th and meets the Colonel’s daughter, Samantha. Boone eventually finds his way to the Union army and the 11th and is enlisted as a drummer. He participates with the 11th in the Battle of Stones River and earns the Medal of Honor by saving his captain. However, the story takes a sad turn, when young Boone loses his father and is forced to desert the army to help his family, after appeals are denied. He is soon caught and sentenced to death. However, Johnny is saved by an interesting twist at the end.

“American Drummer Boy” is certainly a feel-good, family friendly picture that will hopefully ignite a fire to study the Civil War in children and adults. It shines in the area of battlefield tactics, uniforms, and army drilling. However, the story has several issues that do concern me.

I came away with a feeling that the film over-simplified the war, as it confined battles to a few small segments (Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River) and emphasizing camp life. While the armies were in camp a great deal, it seems that devoting more to the battles and the roles that drummer boys played would have made the story better. However, this issue likely revolves around budget constraints and my misunderstanding of the director’s goal.

Further, the attempt to combine the stories of three real-life Civil War soldiers hurts this film. This film used the real-life stories of William Horsfall, Johnny Clem, and Asa Lewis (Horsfall and Clem were drummers, but Lewis was a young infantryman) and combined all three into the character of Boone. It causes the film to become disjointed and hard to follow at times. Had Walker produced a film based around only one of the boys, preferably Johnny Clem, it would have achieved the goal of telling the story of drummer boys, as Clem’s story is an incredible one in itself. In addition, the subtitles for the battles included were lacking, as providing the full dates for the battles, as opposed to simply the month, especially for the Battle of Stones River, which began on December 31, 1862 would have helped those viewing unfamiliar with the war.

In addition, a couple of elements in the film are quite far-fetched. One includes Johnny meeting up with Will Simpson, who is escaping slavery. Johnny later meets up with Simpson, now a corporal in the Union army. The interaction between the two seem very unlikely given the time, as Johnny, being from Kentucky, would have likely held attitudes about race similar to most in that region, which looked on African-Americans as either inferior, or with disregard. The fact that Simpson knew of Chicago and went there, eventually joining the Union army is also awkward, as if he was seeking freedom, he would have found it with Union forces, as many army commanders were commandeering escaped slaves to work for the Union army at this time. Basically, it seems that the character of Will Simpson is out of place for the subject of the film.

Another issue with this film revolves around effects and sound. The effects used for the battle scenes did not convey the desired effect. While I understand that this is an independent film that may have a limited budget, the effects used to show artillery explosions were not very convincing. In addition, at several points in the film the sound appeared to have a slight echo, as if recorded within a building, even when the scene was outdoors. This issue was comfined to dialogue, while battlefield sounds were quite good.

Overall, this film will delight families and can serve as a way to introduce the war to children, but I encourage parents to seek out books on the war and learn about it with their children. This movie contains a great story, but jumbles the stories of three young soldiers, causing their real lives to be lost. I would encourage families to keep their historian goggles at home, as they will hinder you fully enjoying the film. Drummer boys played important roles in Civil War armies and this movie, though containing some issues, will go a long way towards reinvigorating the study of these young lads in blue and gray.

I will leave you with two videos, the first the trailer to the film and the second the reaction of some audience members, who saw the film.