J.E.B. Stuart

James Ewell Brown Stuart

James Ewell Brown Stuart

Although the most renowned general for the Confederates was obviously Robert E. Lee, but there were many others that contributed to the war just as much, if not more. Generals such as Jeb Stuart were quality generals as well, they just may not have had the near celebrity status and public support that Lee had.

Stuart’s real name was James Ewell Brown Stuart and was born a militarily prestigious family with his great grandfather serving as a Major in the Revolutionary War and his father fighting in the War of 1812 [1]. Born in Laurel Hill, Virginia, he was destined to attend the infamous West Point military academy and continue on to a stellar military career.

Jeb Stuart really came to fame during the Bleeding Kansas period as a 1st Leutinent for the 1st Cavalry and he also carried out Robert E. Lee’s orders to crush John Brown’s rebellion [2]. He then resigned his command in the Union Army in May of 1861 to join the Confederacy with his friend from West Point friend, Robert E. Lee [3]. Upon his entry to the Confederate Army, he was placed under Stonewall Jackson where he was promptly promoted to Colonel of the Cavalry for the Shenandoah Army [4].

His fame in the Civil War really began to take off with his famous ride around the Union Army between June 12 and June 15 [5]. This was a scouting excursion to find out the location, size, and strength of the Union Army in the area. It was also a severe blow to the pride and reputation of General Cooke of the Union Cavalry. Due to his valor and military tactics, he was promoted to Major General over all cavalry in the Army of North Virginia on July 25. His tactics proved useful to the Confederate cause throughout the war

Robert E. Lee is without a doubt the “Hero of the South” from the Civil War, but I feel like due credit is owed to commanders like Jeb Stuart. Without Stuart, many of Lee’s campaigns would have been vastly less successful and he might not be the hero he is today. Lets all give a hand for Jeb.

  1. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jeb-stuart.html
  2. http://www.civilwarhome.com/stuartbi.htm
  3. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jeb-stuart.html
  4. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/americancivilwar/p/jeb-stuart.htm
  5. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/americancivilwar/p/jeb-stuart.htm

The Battle of Fredericksburg

The Battle of Fredericksburg


The battle of Fredericksburg was easily one of the best victories for the South in the Civil War. The Confederate army had only 4,576 casualties compare to the Union’s 13,353 casualties [1]. Even though the Union Army outnumber the confederates at Fredericksburg, they lost nearly three times as many troops. With nearly 200,000 combatants from the combined sides, this was the greatest concentration of troops in one battle for the entire war [2]. This massive defeat can be mostly accredited to the failed strategy of Ambrose Burnside, the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac at the time. He replaced the indecisive George McClellan, and knew that he must act with swiftness to avoid the same fate as his predecessor. He planned to take Fredericksburg to get a foothold for the campaign to Richmond.

He planned to out maneuver Lee by crossing the Rappahannock river and flanking Fredericksburg by surprise. If he did this, he could push Lee’s army out of the town and into the open against a much larger army. As reported to him by officers that scouted the river, there were no bridges left to cross, so he would need to fashion a bridge. He decided that using a pontoon bridge would be his best course of action, so he put in an order for them, in hopes that they would arrive soon and he could maintain his element of surprise. The pontoons needed to build the bridge did not arrive on time, which gave Lee plenty of time to strategize a defense and fortify his position [3].

By the time that Burnside’s army arrived on the south shore of the Rappahannock, it was too late. Lee had already entrenched and gained the upper ground and the upper hand. Lee entrenched on a hill behind the town near a broken wall and sunken road, so he had all the advantages of the battlefield. Burnside refused to call retreat and admit the superior tactical advantages that Lee’s army had.

This battle is often overlooked, even though it is one of the South’s most commanding victories. This battle was the first major battle that the South won since the catastrophe of Antietam [5]. It not only fended off the North from gaining ground towards Richmond, but also provided a bit of a moral victory for soldiers. Antietam caused many Confederate soldiers to lose faith in the cause or in their ability to win the war. Fredericksburg provided a reason for the soldiers of the South to be motivated to fight again.

1. Civil War Trust. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fredericksburg/maps/fredericksburg-blackburn.jpg (accessed October 15, 2014).

2. Civil War Trust. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fredericksburg.html?tab=facts (accessed October 14, 2014).

3. History Channel. http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-fredericksburg (accessed October 14, 2014).

4. Brotherwar.com. http://www.brotherswar.com/Fredericksburg-14.htm (accessed October 15, 2014).

5. PBS: Timeline of Civil War Battles.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/timeline/death/ (accessed October 14, 2014).

Hollywood History

“Hollywood History”
The entertainment industry has grown exponentially in the past century and is in every facet of life now, including historical topics. Many television shows and movies are historically based and try to recreate a historical event or time period for the viewer to emerge in. As a historical scholar, I have begun to question the accuracy of these portrayals. As I’m sure many other historical scholars have discovered, no entertainment based historical movie or show is completely accurate. No matter what, every historical publication will have its imperfections.

The movie, although a multiple prize winning film, is full of historical inaccuracies[1].The main problem that most historians have with the film is that the 54th Massachusetts regiment is portrayed to contain many fugitive slaves that escaped the South and joined the fight to help free other slaves. This was simply the not the case. Every African American soldier of the 54th Massachusetts was actually a freedman. This completely dissolves the theme for the character that Denzel Washington plays. One major thing that the movie does seem to present accurately is the initial distrust of an all-black regiment to the North. Although the North fought to end slavery, many Northerners still considered African Americans inferior and did not trust them to fight the war[2]. In the movie, a reporter asked Col. Shaw (Matthew Broaderick) “Will they fight? A million readers want to know.” Shaw then replied “A million and one.” This is a very accurate symbol of the North’s fear that African Americans were servile and wouldn’t have the courage to fight. Although many of the themes throughout the film seem to follow historical evidence, the directors and writers also added in effects and inaccuracies to draw in the audience and make the story seem more progressive. Further exploration of the movie reveals more minor inaccuracies such as the attack on Ft. Wagner being from the south rather than from the north[3], Col. Robert Gould Shaw was the only real person[4], and the fact that Shaw accepted the command of the 54th as soon as it was offered[5]. Beyond those infractions, many scholars have agreed that the dialect and costumes used in the film are at least mostly accurate.
To read more from the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts regiment, go to http://54th-mass.org/tag/54th-massachusetts/ or you can watch the movie at http://viooz.ac/movies/1571-glory-1989.html.

Hell On Wheels
AMC has now entered its fourth season of the critically claimed TV series “Hell on Wheels” which follows westward expansion with the Union Pacific Railroad following the Civil War. Protagonist Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is an ex-confederate soldier that is immediately put in charge of a “cut” of African Americans working for the railroad (most are portrayed as ex slaves). The show, like most in our entertainment industry today, lands with a foot in both camps of being accurate or inaccurate. Some prevalent themes, such as a bitterness and willingness to fight of ex-confederates is completely accurate for the time period, but other themes such as Thomas “Doc” Durant (chairman of the railroad) getting along with African Americans simply would not have happened in that time period. The title of the show refers to the name of the traveling town to which all the characters call home. As the railroad moved west, the town would move with it[6]. Even with the completely false plot of vengeance that drives Hell on Wheels, I still believe it can give an educational insight to what life was like in the reconstruction period of the US. Hardships such as cholera, disease, Indian attacks, depression, wildlife, winter, rain storms, and social prejudices are all well-represented. In the latest installments of the show, the thread of carpet-baggers taking advantage of the horrible situation is also introduced.

Why it all matters
Although I personally enjoy both of the historical titles mentioned, I do long for a more accurate display of the Civil War and history in general. As a historian, I often pay more attention to the mistakes and inaccuracies than I do the plot. More importantly, many Hollywood portrayals of history are teaching a false history. Most Americans do not study history on a regular basis, or do their research on a topic before or after watching a movie. I do not think directors and writers should be held responsible or liable for fibbing a few facts to sell to the masses, but rather the viewers should be aware that not every fact in movies and shows are accurate. I would consider this more of a call for society to become more scholarly and do research rather than rely on entertainment for a historical basis of knowledge. On the opposite side, I believe movies and shows like these can give viewers an idea of what it physically looked like to live in or after the civil war and some problems that one might encounter.

1. Glory won at least 14 awards and was nominated for many more.
IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097441/awards
2. Hitorical Society of Massachusetts, “54th Regiment!” masshist.org. http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528. September 17, 2014.
3. Pohanka, Brian C. Civil War Trust, “Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.” civilwar.org. America’s Civil War Magazine. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/batterywagner/battery-wagner-history-articles/fortwagnerpohanka.html September 17, 2014.
4. Hickman, Kennedy. “Civil War: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.” militaryhistory.about.com. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/1800sarmybiographies/p/rgshaw.htm. September 17, 2014.
5. Civil war Trust, “Robert Gould Shaw.” civilwar.org. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/robert-gould-shaw.html. September 17, 2014
6. Randall, J.G. and David Herbert Daniel. The Civil War and Reconstruction, “The Post Civil War South.” http://www.civilwarhome.com/postwarsouth.html. September 18, 2014
7. American Experience: 25 Years, “Hell on Wheels.” pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-hell/. September 18, 2014