In the spring of 1864, Major General D.H. Hill volunteered to serve on the staff of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard as an aide-de-camp. Beauregard trusted Hill's judgment and put him to work in the trenches outside of Petersburg, Virginia. Hill was frequently in the front lines as he advised other commanders, adjusted defenses, and briefly commanded a division. Such duty introduced the Davidson, N.C. resident to the the dangers of siege warfare. In the trenches of Petersburg, a man could die by simply exposing himself to the enemy. Famous for his fearlessness on other battlefields, Hill knew better than to be reckless at Petersburg, but everybody did not share that sentiment. After the war, Hill wrote the following, referring to himself in the third person:
"Upon another occasion, while the writer was looking through a port-hole on a part of the lines where the hostile works were not fifty yards apart, his hat blue [sic] off and fell into the open space between the two lines. A hat was a consideration in those days, but no amount of money would have induced me to have gone after my lost slouch. A soldier offered to get it — I protested, but he was off and soon returned with the hat. ‘How did you get it?’ ‘Oh! I crawled on my hands and knees — the Yankees shot at me six or eight times, but they did not hit me and it’s all right.’ I have not infrequently seen men raise their hands over the breastworks saying that they ‘were feeling for a furlough.’”
From ‘The Haversack,’ The Land We Love V (September 1867), 422.
Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill was not at Gettysburg, but many of the men who served under him did fight in that battle. One of Hill's comrades and artillerymen, Thomas H. Carter, was one. In a letter he wrote to Hill in 1885, he described his memories of the famous July 3 attack remembered today (incorrectly) as Pickett's Charge. Carter had a ringside seat for the charge, so it was still etched indelibly in Carter's mind despite the passage of over twenty years:
"I consider the charge & capture of the works at Seven Pines by your command," Carter wrote, "under all the circumstances, the most difficult & dangerous that I saw during the war, except the charge of Pickett's Division at Gettysburg. I had the honor to witness this charge, at Gettysburg, almost in full, having but a few long range guns at work, and I can say in all sincerity, that I believe there is nothing in all the annals of war to equal it. The distance was nearly, or quite, a mile over an entirely open and ascending ground to a crest actually ablaze with the fire of infantry & artillery! And yet the line went up-up-up, & disappeared in the cloud of smoke left by the now silenced & captured cannon, having carried their whole front! I declare to you, that even now, after the lapse of nearly a quarter of a century, I cannot recall the scene of this unparalleled feat of arms without the choking sensation in my throat and the tears in my eyes. My heart will be as cold as death can make it when it fails to kindle at the recollction of the scene & the thrill of joy & pride when I heard through the cloud the unimitable & immortal Confederate cheer on the heights of Gettysburg! But alas! They were not supported. Flesh & blood could do no more & soon a scattered few came back thro' the same cloud of smoke they had entered so gallantly a short time before, and all was lost save honor!" (Source: Thomas H. Carter to DHH, July 1, 1885, D.H. Hill Papers, #32032, Library of Virginia, Richmond.)
And like Thomas Carter, we still remember Gettysburg, and many other battles like it, over 150 years later - because that terrible Civil War still has meaning today.
I've had the privilege of visiting Chicago often over the years. It is a great city, with its amazing restaurants ... beautiful sights ... fascinating museums ... massive buildings .... and much more. It's pretty hard to beat a trip to Wrigley on a summer afternoon to see the Cubs, or a meal at Harry Caray's.
I must admit, however, that January is not my favorite time to visit Chicago - but my most recent trip was an exception. Yes, the year was barely three weeks old. It was gray. The thermometer hovered in the twenties and thirties. Snow still lay on the ground, and another snow storm threatened while I was in the city. People walked the streets in fur-lined parkas.
But the trip was still great, because I got to appear on Author's Voice.
The Author's Voice is a streaming interview program that is produced and broadcast from the Windy City. The program has hosted many wonderful authors over the years, and it was my honor to be on the program for a second time.
Here's a link to this year's program, in which we discuss The Lost Soldier. Enjoy!
I was honored to be a guest in the latest episode (Episode 12) of Carl White’s Life in the Carolinas podcast.
Carl White is an Emmy-nominated and award-winning author, syndicated columnist and TV show host based in North Carolina. His podcast, which shares some entertaining and fascinating stories about people and places from across the Carolinas, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Sticher, Spotify, and also the Life in the Carolinas website.
I enjoyed my conversation with Carl, and the chance to talk more about my new book, The Lost Soldier.
Here's a direct link to the website podcast. Enjoy!
Over the last several days, American flags have waved at half-staff across our country.
On December 7, it was in memory of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place seventy-seven years ago.
American flags also stood at half-mast in memory of World War II veteran and President George H.W. Bush, who died on November 30.
Which sparked memories. As a youngster, I lived two doors down from a Pearl Harbor survivor. That fateful Sunday morning, my neighbor stood watch on the USS Pennsylvania, and thus had a ringside seat for the attack. From his perch in the ship's crow’s nest, he could easily see enemy planes buzzing Battleship Row a short distance across the harbor.
In the 1970s, with my neighbor's help, I completed my maiden historical project during elementary school: I wrote a paper about Pearl Harbor, and at my request my gentle neighbor came to our class to share his experiences. I've never forgotten it, or him.
The passing of President Bush further reminded me how veterans of World War II once surrounded all of us. My elementary school principal fought on Iwo Jima. A fellow church member piloted a landing craft to the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Another flew bombers over occupied Europe. Yet another man I knew rode in a tank destroyer across Europe. I'm sure there were more such veterans and I just never knew it.
Those men and women set examples of how to live and serve that I try to follow every day.
Remembering Pete Lynn. 74 years ago today, November 2, Pete was killed in action in the Huertgen Forest while serving with Company B, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. Here’s a brief excerpt from my book, The Lost Soldier, about that terrible day:
A light rain started falling in in the early morning darkness of November 2, 1944. Like an amanuensis, a soupy mist settled on trees, buildings, and foxholes. The dampness made it feel colder than it actually was, though the temperature was already near freezing. “It was pretty miserable outside,” a German landser recalled.
Gradually it grew light enough to see, but the sun stayed veiled behind clouds the color of dirty cotton. Soldiers stirred. Those selected to attack first rose first. Other companies, like Pete’s Company B and Company K, would not jump off until later so it was 7:30 a.m. before these men shimmied groggily out of their sleeping bags. After eating a hot breakfast, the soldiers packed their belongings.
Col. Peterson woke early in his Germeter attic. One of his first tasks was to establish a sandbagged observation post for assistant division commander Davis. “I was to meet him at a specified point west of Germeter at a specified time on the morning of the attack to lead him to his CP,” Peterson later wrote. Dutifully, Peterson went to the appointed spot. When Davis did not appear, Peterson “deemed it necessary to get on with problems coincident with the attack.” It was the right call, but Davis later chewed Peterson out for missing their rendezvous. It was an inauspicious start to the operation.
American guns shattered the morning stillness at 8:00 a.m. For the next hour, the massed artillery of the V and VII Corps fired four thousand preparatory rounds while the 28th Infantry Division loosed 7,313 of its own shells toward known and suspected enemy positions. Cota described it as a “fierce concentration of fire” that increased in volume, as the deafening artillery shifted to nearer targets at 8:45 a.m. From the woods west of Germeter the 112th’s heavy guns — from the 707th Tank Battalion’s Assault Gun Platoon, Company B, 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 112th’s Antitank Company, and Company B, 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion — added their steel voices. Lt. Gunther Schmidt, a member of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division, endured the bombardment from a vantage point near Schmidt. “There was a lot of confusion in the street, horses reared; we heard screams from the men that were hit,” he wrote.
Col. Peterson and his artillery officers watched the bombardment from his headquarters attic. As of this day, his regiment contained 3,239 soldiers, thanks to the arrival of replacements; in the street and among the houses below, the men of his 2nd battalion waited nervously. This was the line of departure. At 8:45 a.m., tanks from the 707th Tank Battalion rolled up behind the soldiers and idled their engines. The eastward view from the attic and street was normally good: open fields, marked by shell craters and the occasional fence, stretched between Germeter and Vossenack. Distant ridges framed the scene, but the shelling obstructed the view. “Schmidt, in the valley ahead, was hardly visible for the smoke of its burning houses and the thick white dust that lingered over each air-blast and shell-burst,” wrote New York Times reporter Harold Denny. “What one could see at Schmidt was only broken walls and naked chimneys and in the foreground the hulks of two burned-out German tanks.” Looking left, toward Huertgen, Denny saw more “tall chimneys, about all that is left of towns and other hamlets.”
At 9:00 a.m., the attack began.....
Authors of nonfiction books will tell you that the research never really ends. The first and second editions of my book Stuart's Tarheels were published in 1996 and 2011 respectively, but just last week I came across new information that I wish I had at my disposal then.
The Diary of Charles Campbell, which can be found in the Charles Campbell Papers, in the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary's Swem Library (Mss.65C17), contains the following account of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry's arrival in Petersburg on Friday, October 18, 1861:
"This morning at 8 o’clock saw Col. Ransom’s regt. of cavalry march through town on their way to Richmond. Some officers in front: then the companies & last the wagons 25 in number. The uniform is gray: the horses not large: some of the men had no swords: part of them had carbines slung across their shoulders: at the rear of each company several negroes. A good many horses are led: at the rear of the regt. Were 38 negroes mounted on horseback: one had a sword at his side: last came the wagons driven by white men – mostly 4 horse teams some 2 horse: the wagons contained tents, camp equipage & baggage. The regt had small flags red & blue. It was a fine spectacle – a stream of cavalry flowing along. The whole line was about a mile & occupied 20 minutes in passing.”
This account does not entirely agree with research I unearthed for Stuart's Tarheels, but its description of a cavalry regiment on the march is fascinating.
Indeed, the research never ends. I wonder what else is out there?
My thanks to the staff of the Swem Library for their assistance.
Two days after the Battle of Fredericksburg, an officer stopped to talk with some of the men who had defended the famous stone wall and bloodily repulsed the Federal army. The officer was wearing an overcoat that concealed his rank, so some infantrymen invited him to join them. While sitting around a campfire, “a country lad, a farmer boy at home,” described what it had been like to stand against the Federal attack. “I have heard men say that they were spillin for a fight, but I never did spile for a fight. Stranger, I’ve been in every fight with my rigiment, but I never did likes fighting. But when we was killing them Yankees so party behind that are wall and they wasn’t hitting us, I was rale sorry to see ‘em run. And I tell you ... that was the only time I ever did likes fighting.”
In "The Haversack," in The Land We Love V (September 1868), No. V, 443, D.H. Hill shares an entertaining anecdote of an over-eager, and not so bright, Confederate soldier:
Today’s the day: my new book, The Lost Soldier, is now available wherever you buy books!
Follow Pete and Ruth Lynn (pictured here with their first daughter) on their World War II ordeal, from the home front to the Huertgen Forest. It’s a story you won’t forget.
Check the upcoming tab for events where you can hear more about The Lost Soldier.