Sunday, December 4, 2016

Michigan in the American Civil War part 3

Don’t Yield an Inch

By the end of the first day of Gettysburg (July 1), both commanders had realized that a battle was going to be fought on this ground. The Union forces were deployed in a “horseshoe” shaped formation on high ground around Gettysburg. The Confederates were determined to break through the “horseshoe.” They quickly realized that one point overlooked the Union positions: a large rocky hill known as Little Round Top. The Union generals knew that they had to send soldiers to occupy Little Round Top. A courier was sent with an order to redistribute troops to this critical spot. Colonel Strong Vincent met the courier and asked where he was going. He replied that he was going to ask General Barnes to send a brigade to occupy Little Round Top. “I will take the responsibility of taking my brigade there,” replied Colonel Vincent.

Colonel Vincent distributed the four regiments of his brigade on Little Round Top just before a heavy Confederate assault crashed against his position. Vincent’s men held their ground against one and then two heavy attacks. But another regiment of Confederates arrived and a third assault was launched—this time against the 16th Michigan, which did not contain nearly as many men as it was supposed to. Colonel Vincent knew that these men had to hold their position. He climbed on top of a boulder and shouted “Don’t yield an inch or all is lost!” Shortly after, the colonel was hit by a bullet. But the 16th held on long enough for the 140th New York to come to their assistance and secure Little Round Top.


The Civil War was an important era in the history of our nation. Heroes were revealed both from the Blue and the Gray. Every state sent troops to one army or the other (a few sent troops to both sides!) I chose Michigan for a number of reasons. I was born in Michigan and have lived there my entire life. But more importantly, I have at least one ancestor that served in a Michigan unit during the Civil War. His name was Joseph Stadler, and his unit was the 16th Michigan—the same 16th Michigan that held Little Round Top.

His family had emigrated from Germany in 1852. Joseph Stadler enlisted on January 27, 1864, to serve either 3 years or the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. His service included the dreadful Battle of the Wilderness, the brutal siege of Petersburg, and, ultimately, the surrender of Lee’s army. Following his honorable discharge, he served against the Indians in the 2nd United States Cavalry. His discharge papers from the 2nd U.S. Cavalry contain a short description of his character while on service: “Good conduct.”

Is not a commendation like that what we as Christians should be striving for? Yet this does not usually come by one great act. Instead it consists of many small acts—in short, doing the duty set out for you. Sometimes this daily service is more difficult than anything else. But we are looking for the commendation: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Michigan in the American Civil War--part 2

A painting of the 24th Michigan at Gettysburg by the renowned artist Don Troiani

The Iron Brigade


At the battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army of the Potomac was made up of soldiers from the East Coast, except for one brigade of foot soldiers from the West.  Known as the “Iron Brigade” for their determination, they comprised the 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan.  On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade bore the brunt of the Confederate attack.  The 26th North Carolina, an excellent unit (commanded by the youngest colonel in Lee’s army, and recently issued with new uniforms) attacked the 24th Michigan.  The Carolinians pushed the 24th Michigan back to McPherson’s Woods.  There the Michigan men made their stand.  The two regiments engaged in a furious firefight, shooting it out at short range.


The 24th Michigan finally brought the equally gallant 26th North Carolina to a standstill.  During the night of July 1-2, the Iron Brigade was withdrawn from its old position to rejoin the main Federal army.  A newspaper of the time stated: “It was to the Iron Brigade more than any other that the nation owes its salvation at Gettysburg, and we say not more than history will verify, that of all the heroic regiments which fought there, the Twenty-fourth Michigan stands preeminent for its devotion and valor.  Against the overwhelming hordes of the enemy, it stood for hours, a wall of granite, which beat back, again and again, the resolute but baffled foe.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

Freedom of Speech Threatened

The Federal Government (in the form of the National Park Service) is attempting to abridge this Christian tour company's freedom to guide tours through historic sites in this country. This, my friends, is threatening the right of freedom of speech. If we are fined for guiding tours in federal parks (which are supposed to belong to the people!), it is only a matter of time before we cannot speak on any federal property...and from there, to any private property. Please read the article found in the link below.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Michigan in the American Civil War--Part 1

“Thank God for Michigan!” said President Abraham Lincoln, shortly after the American Civil War broke out. Michigan had been asked to provide four regiments of troops to defeat the newly-formed Confederacy, but they sent seven. Throughout the war, Michigan continued to contribute to the Union cause. I can only highlight just a few of the deeds of heroism performed by Michigan soldiers.
Custer and the Michigan Wolverines
Born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer and his family moved to Michigan when he was young. He joined West Point, but did not distinguish himself in its classes. When he graduated, the Civil War had recently broken out and he was appointed to the 2nd United States Cavalry. Now a lieutenant, Custer was the first person to capture a Confederate flag. Just before the battle of Gettysburg, Custer was promoted from captain to brigadier-general of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. He was a flashy cavalry officer, sporting a red necktie. Eventually, his cavalry brigade all sported red neckties in his honor.
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General J.E.B Stuart determined to circle around the Union infantry, hitting them hard from behind as George Pickett’s infantry attacked them from the front. Stuart’s troopers rode to a farmhouse owned by the Rummel family, where they encountered dismounted Union cavalrymen from the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. Stuart tried to brush them away and keep riding, but the Michigan troopers had excellent Spencer repeating carbines, which could fire 20 rounds a minute. Stuart’s men charged them and scattered the troopers, only to receive a counter-charge from George Custer. “Come on, you Wolverines!” Custer shouted as he led his men of the 7th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry into the charge. His cavalry halted the forward movement of the Confederates for a little while.
More Confederate horsemen were hurried forward to break Custer’s resistance and they succeeded. Confederate General Wade Hampton was sent forward with his cavalry to finally break the Union cavalry. Only one Union reserve was left to counter him: the 1st Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. Their colonel, Charles Town, ordered the advance. “Draw saber! Remember men be steady, be calm, be firm! Think of Michigan! Forward March!” The Union troopers attacked the center of the Confederate cavalry.
Seeing this, the New Jersey cavalry hit Hampton’s men from the left. The retreat of Hampton’s cavalry meant that J.E.B. Stuart’s original plan was impossible to carry out now. The Confederate troopers retreated and the battered Union cavalry did not chase them. The Michigan cavalry had played a decisive role in stopping—for the first time—the brilliant Southern cavalry leader.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh

Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh

Among those who know the name of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, there are two vastly different perspectives on the man. It would not be too much to say that they are as different as black and white, light and shadow. Among those of a Covenanting or Presbyterian persuasion, he is a wicked persecutor of the true Church, enforcing a tyrant king’s edicts with vicious glee. But among Jacobites (both past and present), he is “Bonnie Dundee”, the gallant Scottish defender of James II against the usurper William of Orange.  

One man, two views. Was Claverhouse a villain or a hero? Books have written on both sides of the controversy, but Linklater & Hesketh’s Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience is a balanced look at one of the most remarkable Scots of the late 17th century.

This biography covers Claverhouse’s life from his service under William of Orange to his death at the Battle of Killiecrankie. All the facets of his life are covered in 17 chapters. The book opens with a foreword, describing his two differing reputations. 

The first chapter sets the stage for the troubled times in which Claverhouse lived, as the Archbishop of Saint Andrews is assassinated by nine Covenanters. This spurred the King of Scotland (1) to more strict enforcement of his laws. And one of his enforcers was John Graham of Claverhouse.  The next chapter follows Claverhouse through his birth and service with William of Orange in the French-Dutch wars. Claverhouse saved William’s life by mounting him on his own fresh steed, when William was near capture by the French. Ironically, the two men would be fighting each other 15 years later! 

A chapter introduces the group known as the Covenanters, who had signed the National Covenant and/or the Solemn League and Covenant. Upon his return from William’s Dutch army, Claverhouse was appointed a captain of Horse (2), with the responsibility of enforcing the King’s laws. He began his patrols in the Scottish countryside—only to meet defeat at the battle of Drumclog.  The Battle of Drumclog was his first and last defeat, where he ran into a stronger group of armed Covenanters who beat him back to Glasgow. This rebellion in Scotland brought an influx of English troops, who decisively defeated the Covenanters at the battle of Bothwell Brig.

With the suppression of this rising, Claverhouse turned his attention to courting Helen Graham of Menteith. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but quickly made a new friend in the person of James, Duke of York, who set up court in Edinburgh.  But all was not well for Claverhouse, however, and he clashed legally with Sir James Dalrymple over who ruled what jurisdiction. After confrontations, Dalrymple was brought to trial in late 1682. When the verdict was rendered, Claverhouse was praised for his enforcement of the King’s laws and Dalrymple was (briefly) confined to Edinburgh Castle for his false accusations against Claverhouse.
Shortly after, Claverhouse began to court another young lady, Jean Graham of Cochrane. Her family was Presbyterians and some in it were even Covenanters, in contrast to Claverhouse, who was a good Episcopalian. Apparently, Claverhouse’s church attendance convinced one Presbyterian lady who “could not believe a good thing of any person of his persuasion, till his conduct rectified her mistake.” But in an answer to those who whispered that his marriage would hinder his effectiveness for Charles II, Claverhouse wrote: “…let the world see that it is not in the power of love, nor any other folly, to alter my loyalty.” Claverhouse married Jean Graham, but their wedding day was disturbed by a report of armed Covenanters clashing with the King’s troops, forcing Claverhouse to mount and search the countryside for them.

Policing Scotland in search of illegal activities would take up much of Claverhouse’s time for the next two years. This book tackles Claverhouse’s actions in shooting John Brown, Andrew Hislop, and Matthew Meiklewraith. These have been used to blacken Claverhouse’s reputation, and the authors examine them closely.

Changes were brewing in 1688, for William of Orange—the same man whose life Claverhouse had saved—invaded England to take the crown from James II. Claverhouse, who had now been promoted to Viscount Dundee, supported James and opposed William. Dundee travelled to England, then back to Scotland, where he attended a convention convened to sort out the difficult situation. With James in Ireland and William a foreigner, who should be king? The convention decided on William and Dundee escaped to raise an army in support of James.

His army, the first Jacobite one ever assembled, was mainly raised among the Highland clansmen. Dundee guided them through Scotland, raiding enemy outposts and confusing his opponent, General Hugh Mackay. At last Dundee saw his chance, and he attacked Mackay at the Pass of Killiecrankie. In the ensuing battle, the Highlanders defeated Mackay’s infantry, but their daring leader John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, was killed.

Dundee’s last council of war (before Killiecrankie) contains a request that defined the character of the man: “…I beg leave of you, to allow me to give one ‘Shear-darg’ [a harvest-day’s work] to the King, my master, that I may have an opportunity of convincing the brave clans that I can hazard my life in that service as freely as the meanest of them. You know their temper, gentlemen, and if they do not think I have personal courage enough, they will not esteem me hereafter, nor obey my commands with cheerfulness.”

This is a well-written and balanced biography of an important Scottish character.  5/5 stars.

(1) Charles II of Scotland. This king was also known as Charles II of England. Scotland was not at this time ruled by England; instead Scotland and England were united in a personal union because they shared the same monarch. In much the same way, George I united Great Britain and Hanover in a personal union, and William III did the same with England and the Netherlands. Scotland would remain independent until the 1707 Act of Union incorporated it into Great Britain, with its capital in London, England.

(2) Heavy cavalry, not to be confused with dragoons. Dragoons were mounted infantry, riding to a battle and dismounting to fight. Horse (heavy cavalry) were trained to charge and skirmish on horseback. Since Claverhouse often commanded dragoons in battle, he is erroneously identified as a Captain of Dragoons.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Uniforms of "Catriona" from Contemporary Pictures

Since I analyzed the uniforms of Robert Louis Stevenson’s popular novel Kidnapped, it is time to tackle the uniforms described in his sequel, Catriona.

The first time we encounter a soldier in this book (aside from a few unnamed privates arresting James More MacGregor) is in the character of Lieutenant Hector Duncansby, who challenges David Balfour to a duel with the intention of killing him. It is not stated what regiment Duncansby belongs to, so this makes it difficult (if not impossible) to determine his uniform.

The fact that Duncansby is specifically mentioned as a “Highland boy” could suggest an association with the 42nd “Black Watch” Highlanders. However, it is also stated that he clasped his hands under his coat’s skirt, and the Black Watch’s coat was specifically cut short (that is, without skirts) and designed to be worn over a kilt. It is likely that Duncansby belongs to the 1st Royal Scots Regiment, which also recruited Scottish personnel. Its coat skirts were of a conventional length and its officers carried smallswords, rather than the broadswords of the 42nd Highlanders. The illustration shows two British officers dressed in a conventional 1750s uniform.

After his run-in with Lieutenant Duncansby, Balfour arrives at Lord Advocate Prestongrange’s house. He spies some halberds tucked away in a corner and suspects that his arrest is near. These “halberds” are the polearms now known as Lochaber axes, and they were carried by the Edinburgh City Guard, who served as a police force for that city. Evidence for their unusual weaponry is found in the 1704 “Act For Regulating the City Guard.”
The re-created Edinburgh City Guard.

"That the Captain of the Guard cause two men of the best qualified in their guard walk nightly through the streitts with a large batton or poleaxe in their hand, who are hereby appointed to give notice immediately to the firemasters and guard in case of fire, and the said Captain is to take accompt of the diligence each morning and the Captain of the guard is always to keep a list of the firemasters and ane accompt of their dwelling places." (1)

Halkett's Regiment in Dutch service
David Balfour is not arrested by the Edinburgh City Guard, but is later kidnapped by a band of wild Highlanders and imprisoned on the Bass Rock. There, Andie Scougall tells a tale of his father Tam Dale, who served as a soldier on the Bass when it was a prison for Covenanters. The Bass Rock was garrisoned by an independent company (2), that is, a company that is not part of a regiment but serves on its own. The deputy-governor of the Bass Rock was Charles Maitland, later 4th Earl of Lauderdale (3).

Balfour is eventually reunited with his friend Alan Breck Stewart, who mentions that he has a cousin who serves in the Scots-Dutch Brigade, in Halkett’s Regiment. The Scots Brigade was a unit of 3 Scottish regiments who had served in the Dutch Army since 1572. Halkett’s Regiment was a unit in that brigade and its uniform is illustrated in the picture above.

Near the climax of the book, Balfour again meets Captain Hugh Palliser, who is an actual naval captain from history. (4) This picture (left) is an actual portrait of Captain Palliser in the uniform of a captain of the Royal Navy. The ship in the background (which also features in Catriona) is Palliser’s frigate the Sea Horse.

At the very end of the book, a company of French infantrymen manning Dunkirk’s garrison is mentioned. The illustration above shows French infantrymen’s uniforms of the 1750s.  The vast majority of French infantrymen wore grey-white coats.

This concludes our two-part study of the uniforms of Kidnapped and Catriona. Perhaps soon I will analyze the uniforms of another novel set in the 18th century.

(2) pg. 57, The History of the Uniforms of the British Army, volume 1, by C. C. P. Lawson.
(3) pg. 267, Memorials and Letters of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, volume 2, by Mark Napier.
(4) pg. 69, Braddock’s Defeat by David Preston

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yorktown Paintings by David R. Wagner

On this day in 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army of 8,000 British, Hessian, and Loyalist troops to Continental General George Washington and French General the Comte de Rochambeau.  Yorktown is regarded as the last major battle in the American Revolution, for while there would still be other battles, Yorktown convinced the British government to come to terms with their rebellious colonies.

Painter David R. Wagner has painted a comprehensive series of paintings, tracing the routes of Rochambeau's French army from their initial encampments at Rhode Island to ultimate victory at Yorktown.  These can be viewed at  With detailed historical research and a wise use of color, I greatly enjoy all of these American Revolution paintings.  Because his "Revolutionary Route Series" contains over 50 paintings, I have spotlighted those that deal specifically with the siege of Yorktown.  All descriptions are from his website.
Sabre Au Clair
The flanking charge of Lauzun's Legion during The Battle of the Hook on October 3, 1781 at Gloucester Point, Virginia.

Virginia Militia Battle Tarleton
On October 3, 1781, Lauzun's legion clashed with British forces headed by Tarleton. The battle took place across from Yorktown on the Gloucester side of the York River. After a protracted engagement, in which the Virginia Militia were involved, the forces under Tarleton were forced to withdraw. It was a preview of the surrender of Cornwallis just 14 days later, bringing the war to an unofficial end.

Night Assault on Redoubt #9
On the night of October 14, 1781, attacks against Redoubt #9 and Redoubt #10 were ordered. The assault on Redoubt #9 was a French undertaking, with American forces assaulting Redoubt #10. The French Royal Deux Ponts and Gatenois Regiments took on the Hessian Erbprinz Regiment. Because it was dark, and both the French and Hessian troops wore dark blue coats, many were killed by "friendly fire" as they could not be easily identified as friend or foe.

Assault on Redoubt #10
Although the Rhode Island Regiment was consolidated into a single unit in May 1781, the contingent of black troops was still called the "1st Rhode Island" and were commonly referred to as "Olney's Batallion." After dark on October 14, 1781, three days before the surrender of Cornwallis, the column moved forward in silence, muskets unloaded, bayonets fixed, in good order. Leading were eight pioneers with axes with the forlorn hope to be first through the cleared breach. With one man per company, then Col. Gimete (French officer) with five young officers in advance; next was Olney's Company and then the rest of the force. "When we came under the first of the abattis (logs and brush), the enemy fired a volley of musketry. The British continued to shoot, but aimed high. The pioneers then cut through the abattis. Olney moved past them, climbed the outer wall of the Redoubt, stepped on to the parapet between the two palisades. Twelve of his men followed closley. He called out, "Capt. Olney's company, form here." Six or eight British bayonets pushed at him. Some scaled his fingers, one pierced his thigh, another stabbed him in the abdomen just above the hip bone. Two of his men had loaded their muskets and came to the aid of their Captain, firing at the enemy soldiers attacking him. With this the redcoats ceased their assault; some ran away, some surrendered. The rest of the American force now entered the redoubt without opposition. The redoubt was taken in ten minutes. Lafayette praised very well known personages for their performance in the assault, but made only a cursory reference to Olney -- a situation occuring in all wars where the wrong people get the credit. Afterward, Gimete, the French officer, visited Olney in the hospital to say that Lafayette needed to rectify his omission; but the veteran Continental answered, "Let it go, the day is past." It was eventually brought to Washington's attention and the Rhode Island flag was ordered to be flown above the Redoubt through to the surrender a few days later.

And the Guns Fell Silent
In October at Yorktown, a young British drummer boy was ordered to the parapet to beat the call for a parley. No one knows the boy's name nor where he stood when the guns fell silent as he began to beat his drum. Behind him followed a British officer waving a white handkerchief, thus signalling, for all practical purposes, the end of the American Revolution.