Book Chat
"Harvard's Civil War:
The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment"
Richard E. Miller

This chat took place in the Civil War Home Chatroom on 11/30/08 and covered Chapters 14 & 15.

11/30/2008 9:07 pm (et) 20thMass: Tonight we will be discussing chapters 14 and 15 of Richard Miller's book Harvard's Civil War. Please refrain from using the Private Message function during book chat.

11/30/2008 9:09 pm (et) 20thMass: Anyone notice these battles are getting worse and worse.

11/30/2008 9:09 pm (et) Susansweet: Horrible battles.

11/30/2008 9:10 pm (et) Susansweet: I have a question.

11/30/2008 9:10 pm (et) Susansweet: At the Angle Donnelly talks about one of the green clad marksmen, was that a Berdan?

11/30/2008 9:10 pm (et) 20thMass: I will try to answer.

11/30/2008 9:11 pm (et) 20thMass: I believe Berdan's Sharpshooters did wear green.

11/30/2008 9:12 pm (et) Susansweet: I know they did , just was surprised it didn't refer to them as Berdan's .

11/30/2008 9:12 pm (et) Susansweet: Wondering if they were at Spotsylvania?

11/30/2008 9:12 pm (et) Pvt Miles: I believe the footnotes said it could not be confirmed.

11/30/2008 9:13 pm (et) 20thMass: It was Donnelly's words so he may not have known what they were called.

11/30/2008 9:13 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I must have missed something, Susan. What or who is Berdan?

11/30/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Sharpshooters . Some of the best in the Army.

11/30/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Dressed all in green and were lead by a man named Berdan.

11/30/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Thanks Pvt Miles. I should have looked there.

11/30/2008 9:14 pm (et) Susansweet: That description of the rifles falling out of the trees and then the bodies falling was amazing.

11/30/2008 9:16 pm (et) 20thMass: Poor Donnelly though.

11/30/2008 9:17 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: The author tells of so many little things that make the war more real than other books. I liked the one about Donnelly and Dugan racing for the flag.

11/30/2008 9:18 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Has anyone seen the tree that was cut in half with shells. I believe it's in a museum somewhere.

11/30/2008 9:19 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Letters From a Sharpshooter, a memoir by a member of Berdan's Sharpshooters (William Greene Co. G) writes "Thursday May 12th finds us again engaging the enemy at Spotsylvania courthouse."

11/30/2008 9:19 pm (et) Susansweet: Thanks Dave.

11/30/2008 9:20 pm (et) 20thMass: LF, I believe it is in the Smithsonian.

11/30/2008 9:20 pm (et) Babs: There's another book for us to read.

11/30/2008 9:20 pm (et) 20thMass: Tell you how vicious the fight was.

11/30/2008 9:20 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Thanks, Blue and Gray has a picture of it, but I'd like to see it someday.

11/30/2008 9:21 pm (et) Susansweet: It may be in the Smithsonian but may not be on display though.

11/30/2008 9:23 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: The first comment was how the battles were getting worse. If this was the first civil war book anyone read, it would be hard to convince that person that the north won.

11/30/2008 9:24 pm (et) Babs: It was a victory with a lot of losses.

11/30/2008 9:24 pm (et) Susansweet: This unit sure had some hard times of it.

11/30/2008 9:24 pm (et) mobile_96: Due to the descriptions of some of the fights, might convince a few that CW battles were too gruesome to consider reading.

11/30/2008 9:25 pm (et) Susansweet: Has anyone been to the Mule Shoe?

11/30/2008 9:26 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes, I was there last spring.

11/30/2008 9:26 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yes, about 10 years ago.

11/30/2008 9:26 pm (et) Babs: I have but at the time I didn't really "get" it.

11/30/2008 9:26 pm (et) Susansweet: Must have been one of those emotional places.

11/30/2008 9:27 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I don't think I got it until I read this book.

11/30/2008 9:27 pm (et) Susansweet: You won't believe this but somehow I could no t find it . Went by the Courthouse and got lost.

11/30/2008 9:27 pm (et) Susansweet: Was trying to see too much in one day.

11/30/2008 9:27 pm (et) 20thMass: It is quiet and not as busy as the other CW sites there.

11/30/2008 9:28 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: What time of year were you there. We went in October and there was a group of people there with a guide. But you're correct, trying to do so many battles at one time, easy to miss things.

11/30/2008 9:30 pm (et) Babs: That tree you were talking about sounds familiar. I wonder if it is in the visitors' center there.

11/30/2008 9:30 pm (et) Susansweet: By the way I found it really interesting a quote on page 363 , From Holmes The duties and thoughst of the field are of such a nature that one cannot at the same time keep home, parents and such thoughts as they suggest in his mind at the same time as a reality. It reminded me of what a friend wrote me when I wrote him wondering why he didn't write any more from Nam. He said you can't live in both worlds are the same time.

11/30/2008 9:31 pm (et) Susansweet: The Charlie Sheen character in Platoon said the same thing in the movie too .

11/30/2008 9:31 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: No, it's not in the visitors center (at least not then it wasn't).

11/30/2008 9:31 pm (et) 20thMass: He also asked his parents not to ask him about the battle.

11/30/2008 9:32 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: A lot of the WWII vets never talked about the war.

11/30/2008 9:32 pm (et) 20thMass: The stench was so great it made the soldiers sick.

11/30/2008 9:32 pm (et) Susansweet: right

11/30/2008 9:33 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Was just typing that, 20th Mass.

11/30/2008 9:33 pm (et) Pvt Miles: I know the same is said of recent vets.

11/30/2008 9:33 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Cute comment on Pg 367 about it being a rare think for Burnside to be prompt.

11/30/2008 9:34 pm (et) Susansweet: I did see that one and then that for once Hancock delayed.

11/30/2008 9:34 pm (et) Babs: I guess he didn't have to wait for pontoon boats.

11/30/2008 9:35 pm (et) Susansweet: Pvt Miles I am sure it is true of every war.

11/30/2008 9:36 pm (et) Susansweet: This author has such a way with words, making these little quips with out stopping the forward motion of the story he is telling .

11/30/2008 9:37 pm (et) 20thMass: He is an excellent author.

11/30/2008 9:37 pm (et) Susansweet: You feel like you are right there with the men.

11/30/2008 9:37 pm (et) Pvt Miles: I like that, the maps are a little sketchy though.

11/30/2008 9:38 pm (et) Susansweet: This was such an interesting campaign , it is like they are playing cat and mouse.

11/30/2008 9:38 pm (et) Susansweet: But taking turns who is the cat and who is the mouse.

11/30/2008 9:38 pm (et) Susansweet: Maps would have been a big help.

11/30/2008 9:39 pm (et) mobile_96: And mighty glad the book can't present some the battlefield odors.

11/30/2008 9:39 pm (et) 20thMass: Considering the violence more like they are playing Itchy and Scratchy.

11/30/2008 9:39 pm (et) Susansweet: I am not an eastern theatre army of Northern Virginia person . I know more about Western Theatre so all these rivers drive me crazy.

11/30/2008 9:39 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Can't find the quote, but one of the commanders said he needed better maps. Boy, we can identify with him, can't we.

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) Susansweet: Right because the Union mapmakers didn't know much about south of Richmond.

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) 20thMass: Only so much detail you can have on a small map.

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) Susansweet: Glad it wasn't a scratch and sniff book alright Mobile .

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) mobile_96: Had to use 2 different books for maps.

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) Susansweet: I want it all Coly.

11/30/2008 9:40 pm (et) Susansweet: I need to get my maps organized to use.

11/30/2008 9:41 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Susan, the rivers wouldn't confuse you if you had a good map. I pulled some from other books and understood the battle well. Others I had to use the mini-maps and just about gave up. Others had no maps.

11/30/2008 9:42 pm (et) Susansweet: I have the big West point map book but it is too bulky to hold on my lap.

11/30/2008 9:43 pm (et) Susansweet: What did you all think about the storm stopping the battle on the North Anna.

11/30/2008 9:44 pm (et) mobile_96: Don't hear of that happening very often.

11/30/2008 9:44 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Wet gunpowder could be a problem.

11/30/2008 9:45 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Luckiest guy in the chapter was Kelliher who was given up for dead. Hayward was just going to clean him up when his signs improved. Scar ran from his ear to his pelvis. Ouch.

11/30/2008 9:45 pm (et) Susansweet: Thunderstorm was something it seems.

11/30/2008 9:45 pm (et) Babs: Sound like it was a real gully washer.

11/30/2008 9:45 pm (et) Susansweet: I said the same thing . OUCH

11/30/2008 9:46 pm (et) Susansweet: Then they go to Cold Harbor. Each man his own engineer now.  I liked that quote.

11/30/2008 9:46 pm (et) mobile_96: Belly washer.

11/30/2008 9:46 pm (et) 20thMass: And I bet they dug pretty quickly too.

11/30/2008 9:47 pm (et) Susansweet: Have you seen how close those earthworks are to each other ? I couldn't believe it.

11/30/2008 9:47 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: The earthworks around Richmond and Petersburg are massive, even now. These, we are told, were made with shovels and bayonets!!!

11/30/2008 9:47 pm (et) Susansweet: And here it says 200 steps .

11/30/2008 9:48 pm (et) Susansweet: Right they finally got materials to dig them at Petersburg .

11/30/2008 9:49 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I found it interesting how the defenses could be turned around to use against the other side once an area was taken.

11/30/2008 9:49 pm (et) Susansweet: Right. They got really good at that too.

11/30/2008 9:50 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Seeing trees cut in half by lead is real good for the motivation to dig.

11/30/2008 9:51 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: You have to admire Robert E Lee as a military strategist.

11/30/2008 9:51 pm (et) Susansweet: I would think so.

11/30/2008 9:51 pm (et) Susansweet: I think you have to admire both Lee and Grant.

11/30/2008 9:51 pm (et) Susansweet: It is like a game of chess.

11/30/2008 9:51 pm (et) Susansweet: Or chicken and which one blinked first.

11/30/2008 9:52 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Petersburg, Deep Bottom, Reams Station; maneuver and counter-maneuver.

11/30/2008 9:53 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Exactly, Miles. It was hard to follow sometimes.

11/30/2008 9:53 pm (et) 20thMass: Major Patten certainly showed leadership at Jerusalem Plank Road.

11/30/2008 9:53 pm (et) mobile_96: And no rest for the weary, seems they moved, attacked, then moved again. Wonder they could even see straight, much less walk.

11/30/2008 9:54 pm (et) Pvt Miles: He certainly did.

11/30/2008 9:54 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: A quote from Francis Walker: "Earthworks now defined war."

11/30/2008 9:55 pm (et) 20thMass: And Patten was humble about it.

11/30/2008 9:57 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Patten also met a sad fate, too bad, he demonstrated real potential.

11/30/2008 9:57 pm (et) Susansweet: And it was hot and now no water.

11/30/2008 9:57 pm (et) Susansweet: So many of them met a sad fate.

11/30/2008 9:58 pm (et) 20thMass: Did anyone notice Miller made a mistake in the book.

11/30/2008 9:58 pm (et) Susansweet: Poor Barlow , his wife has died and he is very ill .

11/30/2008 9:58 pm (et) Susansweet: where?

11/30/2008 9:59 pm (et) 20thMass: He states that Patten and Macy were the only original officers in the regiment. Patten did not join the regiment until the spring of 1862.

11/30/2008 9:59 pm (et) mobile_96: Left a few words out.

11/30/2008 10:00 pm (et) Susansweet: Oh okay.

11/30/2008 10:00 pm (et) 20thMass: I mean left in the regiment

11/30/2008 10:00 pm (et) Susansweet: Now there was another man to admire, Macy.

11/30/2008 10:00 pm (et) 20thMass: Can't remember the page number.

11/30/2008 10:00 pm (et) Susansweet: He kept getting wounded and then comes back for more. Couldn't believe the story of the horses and the one falling on him.

11/30/2008 10:01 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Macy never really let go of the regiment.

11/30/2008 10:01 pm (et) 20thMass: Did anyone think Macy was right about Summerhayes.

11/30/2008 10:01 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I wondered about that, 20th.

11/30/2008 10:01 pm (et) 20thMass: And this brings us to the final chapter.

11/30/2008 10:02 pm (et) Susansweet: Part of it is anger . We don't know for sure Patten would have survived .

11/30/2008 10:03 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Middle of page 386. How could anyone compare Grant to McClellan. Maybe the approach was correct, but Grant took action.

11/30/2008 10:03 pm (et) 20thMass: He was right about the regiment needing officers but didn't Summerhayes earn a staff position?

11/30/2008 10:06 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Right LF, McClellan was NO Grant.

11/30/2008 10:06 pm (et) Susansweet: Poor Hancock's Gettysburg wound has reopened and he can' t leave his tent.

11/30/2008 10:07 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: A lot of guys cracked under the stress. For instance, the rebel who kept challenging union sharpshooters to duels.

11/30/2008 10:07 pm (et) Susansweet: That was an amazing story too.

11/30/2008 10:08 pm (et) Susansweet: That's what makes this an interesting book to read. All these little stories with in the story

11/30/2008 10:08 pm (et) 20thMass: That sounded like he was actually trying to commit suicide.

11/30/2008 10:08 pm (et) Susansweet: Reminds me of the Winslow Homer print of the soldier on top of the earthworks.

11/30/2008 10:09 pm (et) Pvt Miles: And the Union sharpshooter resumed the following day!

11/30/2008 10:09 pm (et) Susansweet: Right

11/30/2008 10:09 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I don't think he was trying to commit suicide. I think he just snapped.

11/30/2008 10:10 pm (et) Susansweet: I don't think he thought he would be killed .

11/30/2008 10:10 pm (et) Susansweet: Another Question . Is Barlow a not well liked commander?

11/30/2008 10:10 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: All of these stories can be summarized in McPherson's quote on the back cover: "The real war is in this book."

11/30/2008 10:11 pm (et) Susansweet: good statement fan.

11/30/2008 10:11 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Actually Barlow is one officer I really do not care for, competent but never shouldering any blame for his own mistakes. He had a very dedicated wife.

11/30/2008 10:11 pm (et) 20thMass: I agree LF

11/30/2008 10:12 pm (et) Susansweet: Is he the one that is very young looking , almost boyish ?

11/30/2008 10:12 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Yes

11/30/2008 10:12 pm (et) 20thMass: He was young and wore that plaid shirt.

11/30/2008 10:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Book does quote one officer as saying the Praise of Macy was even more amazing as he never praised anyone.

11/30/2008 10:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Okay that is the one I was thinking about the plaid shirt seals it .

11/30/2008 10:14 pm (et) Susansweet: I am going to have to go visit my brother in Boston and get out to Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I can't tell you how many times I have gone by it but never wandered though it .

11/30/2008 10:15 pm (et) 20thMass: Private Nathan Gray had to be the luckiest soldier in the Army of the Potomac.

11/30/2008 10:15 pm (et) Susansweet: Another good quote. "Grant's was was a series of shifts and pivots"

11/30/2008 10:16 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yeah, Gray was even luckier than Kelliher.

11/30/2008 10:16 pm (et) Susansweet: Gray was a lucky man and it rubbed off on his friend even.

11/30/2008 10:16 pm (et) Susansweet: That is Grant's WAR was a series of shifts and pivots.

11/30/2008 10:17 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: He was always trying to out-maneuver Lee and never quite getting there on time.

11/30/2008 10:18 pm (et) Susansweet: Like I said a chess game until finally Grant says Checkmate at Appomattox.

11/30/2008 10:19 pm (et) 20thMass: A chess game where you know you have your opponent beating but he just stalls and refuses to give up.

11/30/2008 10:19 pm (et) Susansweet: Another story , the Corporal and the Colors.

11/30/2008 10:19 pm (et) 20thMass: Stall is the wrong word, I mean keeps playing.

11/30/2008 10:21 pm (et) 20thMass: After all they have done they get their flag taken away because of another regiment's officer's mistake.

11/30/2008 10:21 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I liked the author's description of Petersburg. "...the Virginia countryside surrounding Petersburg had been transformed into a bizarre, stripped-soil, ugly tableaux of snaking miles of covered ways and trenches connecting redans and rifle pits, all of which bespoke a greater primitivism than the once bucolic landscape they had replaced."

11/30/2008 10:21 pm (et) Susansweet: That is a good one Fan.

11/30/2008 10:22 pm (et) 20thMass: Nelson Appleton Miles must have loved taken rom soldiers.

11/30/2008 10:22 pm (et) Susansweet: But the story I am talking about Coly is the Corporal who shots the guy who hits him in the head with the colors after the men have surrendered.

11/30/2008 10:22 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: We can get only a small glimpse of that description in looking at the pictures which have survived.

11/30/2008 10:23 pm (et) 20thMass: F doesn't want to work tonight.

11/30/2008 10:23 pm (et) Pvt Miles: The regiment itself certainly was unfairly refused its colors.

11/30/2008 10:24 pm (et) 20thMass: That was Reams Station were most of the 20th were captured and had the colors taken from them by Miles.

11/30/2008 10:25 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Miles, are you talking about the 20th having its colors taken away by the US government?

11/30/2008 10:25 pm (et) Pvt Miles: p. 419

11/30/2008 10:26 pm (et) Susansweet: I was talking about the Confederate sergeant taking the colors from the color bearer then hitting him in the head with the staff. Then the Color bearer pulls his gun and kills the sergeant .

11/30/2008 10:27 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: The Sgt had it coming, IMO.

11/30/2008 10:28 pm (et) Pvt Miles: That act itself helped to redeem their honor.

11/30/2008 10:28 pm (et) Susansweet: I agree but the poor Color bearer was killed too.

11/30/2008 10:29 pm (et) 20thMass: When Hancock heard the full story he returned the colors and took it off the 20th's record.

11/30/2008 10:30 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Maybe they should have stripped Gibbon of a few promotions.

11/30/2008 10:30 pm (et) 20thMass: Took the act that they lost their colors off the record.

11/30/2008 10:31 pm (et) 20thMass: I need to think before I type.

11/30/2008 10:32 pm (et) 20thMass: Sad that the regiment is now down to almost nothing.

11/30/2008 10:33 pm (et) Susansweet: Sad they ended up at Andersonville and Florence.

11/30/2008 10:33 pm (et) mobile_96: The flag was taken because it was reported that the 20th ran at Reams station.

11/30/2008 10:33 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I didn't think much of Gov. Andrew who couldn't show up for one of the funerals in Boston, but sure managed to show up for the victory parade.

11/30/2008 10:33 pm (et) mobile_96: When the real story came out, the colors were returned.

11/30/2008 10:35 pm (et) Pvt Miles: So many funerals, only one victory parade.

11/30/2008 10:36 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Right, Miles. Now I'd like to go back to the first chapter and read the account of Commemoration Day now that I know all the men.

11/30/2008 10:39 pm (et) 20thMass: I wish there had been more on the regiment in the 1865 battles.

11/30/2008 10:40 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Sadly, there was not much left of the regiment by '65.

11/30/2008 10:40 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Most of the 20th Mass were prisoners in 1865, weren't they?

11/30/2008 10:41 pm (et) 20thMass: Some were paroled after Reams Station.

11/30/2008 10:42 pm (et) 20thMass: I know they consolidated the 19th, 20th and 15th into one regiment and kept the name 20th.

11/30/2008 10:42 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Was the 20th still operating as a regiment during that time?

11/30/2008 10:42 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes

11/30/2008 10:43 pm (et) jimtno: 20th Mass, your regiment has that wonderful monument at the wall at GB Right?

11/30/2008 10:43 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Thanks, 20th. That's what I was thinking.

11/30/2008 10:43 pm (et) 20thMass: The Puddingstone, yes

11/30/2008 10:44 pm (et) jimtno: Love that rock. What a great and novel idea!

11/30/2008 10:44 pm (et) 20thMass: They fought at 2nd Hatchers Run and suffered a total of 11 casualties.

11/30/2008 10:44 pm (et) 20thMass: I love that rock to.

11/30/2008 10:45 pm (et) jimtno: Were they members of the 5th Corps by then ?

11/30/2008 10:45 pm (et) 20thMass: They were at Farmville when Lee surrendered.

11/30/2008 10:46 pm (et) 20thMass: No they were in the 2nd Corps from the Corps beginning to it's end.

11/30/2008 10:47 pm (et) 20thMass: As we are about to finish the book does anyone have any final comments.

11/30/2008 10:48 pm (et) mobile_96: Fine book.

11/30/2008 10:48 pm (et) Susansweet: I am so glad you suggested we read it .

11/30/2008 10:48 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: What happened to the regiment after the war? Is it gone forever, or does it simply become inactive until needed?

11/30/2008 10:49 pm (et) 20thMass: The regiments service ends in July, 1865.

11/30/2008 10:49 pm (et) Pvt Miles: Great book, I must say, I personally identified more with the immigrant soldiers, but my family didnít exactly come to the country by way of the land bridge.

11/30/2008 10:49 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I was pleasantly surprised that this book was so interesting.

11/30/2008 10:50 pm (et) Susansweet: I agree Fan , it was such an interesting read .

11/30/2008 10:52 pm (et) Susansweet: Good book to end the year on.

11/30/2008 10:52 pm (et) 20thMass: Thanks to everybody who participated.

11/30/2008 10:52 pm (et) 20thMass: I believe we can end this book chat.