America's Civil War

January 2022

Published since 1987, America’s Civil War strives to deliver to our readers the best articles on the most formative and tumultuous period of American history — the Civil War. Noted authors present the many battles, personalities and fascinating stories of the period.

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6 Min
righting the record

Thank you for publishing the fascinating reminiscence by Confederate Private Alexander Hunter in the September 2021 issue (Crossing the “Rubicon”). I’d like to comment on the images of Rebel troops crossing the Potomac River that appeared on page 37. According to artist Alfred R. Waud’s diary, he produced the top image on September 8, 1862, two days after he had crossed the Potomac with James Longstreet’s men on September 6. The drawing, later rendered as a watercolor, probably does not show White’s Ford as the caption states. Rather, it likely depicts the crossing of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s cavalry at Conrad’s Ferry (known after the war as White’s Ferry) on September 5. Hampton completed this crossing after nightfall and in bright moonlight at a place close to Ball’s Bluff, the…

1 Min
conversation piece pewter legacy

Little is known about James H. Conner. Born in 1843 to illiterate Irish parents, he attended elementary school in Cutler, Maine. He stayed behind when his neighbors organized a company in the fall of 1861 and marched off to war as Company B, 11th Maine Infantry. After fighting in the Seven Days Battles, the regiment went into camp at Yorktown, Va. On August 19, 1862, Conner, then 19 and single, volunteered and proceeded to Yorktown. As with so many new recruits, he quickly fell ill and found himself confined to a hospital. While a patient, he passed the time engraving the pewter mess plate shown here. He caught on quickly and appears to have started with a single “A” on the back rim, then switched to the front rim, carving…

2 Min
‘life finds a way’

Researchers involved in studying the virus used in Civil War–era vaccinations against smallpox from five vaccination kits found at a medical museum in 2016 are hoping the techniques they used could lead to further such discoveries. Using methods that didn’t harm the artifacts, scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, showed that DNA could be sequenced from inorganic objects such as the lancets, glass plates, and tins found in the kit. [For a fuller look at Civil War vaccination efforts, see P.14.] This could convince medical museums and other facilities to broaden such testing. “All of a sudden, a world of inorganic objects are available for sampling,” said Ana Duggan, adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at McMaster and a lead author of a July 2020 report on the research. The researchers found…

3 Min
the fighting adams family

The 1860 Colt Army revolver shown above (Serial #3957) is not a unique Civil War weapon. The story surrounding its owner, however, is intriguing. This fluted pistol (fluted refers to the way the revolving cylinder is designed) was just one of approximately 4,000 Army models produced before the war at the Colt Armory in Hartford, Conn. It came into the possession of a Virginia cavalryman, who acquired it in Richmond on April 16, 1861. The gun can be seen above in the bottom ambrotype, featuring Confederate cavalryman Stephen Clinton Adams. Adams, born in 1836, enlisted as a private in Company K of the 6th Virginia Cavalry on May 22, 1861. The 6th Virginia would have a storied Civil War history, fighting primarily in J.E.B. Stuart’s command. It saw its first major…

7 Min
common enemy

The nonprofit NMCWM, based in Frederick, Md., explores the world of medical, surgical, and nursing innovation during the Civil War. To learn more about the stories explored in this and future columns, the museum hosts walking tours to the city’s Civil War hospital sites on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. from April to October. For more, visit THE SOLDIERS MOSTLY CARRIED Springfield, Enfield, or Lorenz rifled muskets rather than M4 carbines, wore blue or gray rather than green or tan combat uniforms, and they might have seen balloons flying overhead rather than drones, but among American forces, one similarity between military life in the Civil War and today was in a simple requirement: Get vaccinated. COVID-19 was far in the future; the requirement was for the smallpox vaccine. At the…

6 Min
sleight of hand

AFTER THE DEVASTATING UNION DEFEAT at Chickamauga, Ga., on September 19-20, 1863, roughly 41,000 Army of the Cumberland troops retreated frantically into nearby Chattanooga, Tenn. They soon found themselves trapped by General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, boasting approximately 52,000 effectives. By late October 1863, the Federal army faced two unpalatable choices: starve or surrender. Although Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas declared his intention to starve first, his superior, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, found neither option acceptable. The store of ammunition, food, and fuel, as well as forage for the horses and mules, was being depleted rapidly—at one point down to perhaps a five-day supply on hand—so time was not a luxury. Grant adopted an ambitious plan originally proposed by Thomas’ predecessor, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans. The objective was to…