When the Student Becomes the Master

Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (lft) and Maj. Robert Anderson (rt)

Most of you probably know that the first shots of the Civil War were fired in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861 at Ft. Sumter. The fort – located off the coast of South Carolina in Charleston Harbor – was being held by Union troops under the command of Major Robert Anderson.

On April 10, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard (mentioned in previous blog posts here and here) ordered Anderson to evacuate the fort, and when Anderson refused, Beauregard ordered his men to open fire. By midday April 13, Anderson and his men surrendered and the next day the fort was evacuated.

Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘What makes this event interesting and blog post worthy?’

The interest lies with the two commanders who led each side of the engagement. Prior to the war, Robert Anderson taught at West Point and Beauregard was his student. That alone is an interesting coincidence. But what makes it more interesting is that after graduating, Beauregard became Anderson’s assistant and the two became very close. It can be argued that it was in part due to what Beauregard learned from Anderson (an artillery instructor) that he was able to successfully take Ft. Sumter from his previous instructor.

That the two men had to fight against one another at the opening of the war is just one example of the many instances when friends and family were pitted against one another during the Civil War.

Posted in Fort Sumter, P.G.T. Beauregard, Strange Coincidences | 5 Comments

Silent Sam

Statue of Silent Sam in McCorkle Place at UNC

Since yesterday’s post focused on North Carolina in the Civil War, I thought I’d stick with that theme for today’s post as well. Being a student at the nation’s oldest public university has major privileges, and one of them is that the school has a lot of interesting history.

From the time war broke out in 1861, to the time it drew to a close in 1865, 40% of the University of North Carolina’s student body (1,000 men in all) left school to join in the fight. This was the largest number of students to leave a university for the war, North or South.

Due to the large number of students who fought and died in the war, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a statue in UNC’s upper quad (McCorkle Place) in 1913. Since the statue – known as Silent Sam – was dedicated, it has been surrounded by controversy. The statue is of a Confederate soldier standing with rifle in hand. However, he lacks a cartridge box or any ammunition (which is where the ‘silent’ of Silent Sam comes from).

Many have argued that the statue should be removed because it represents continued racism and oppression. Others argue that Silent Sam is a symbol of regional pride.

What do you think?


Posted in North Carolina | 1 Comment

Valley of Humility: NC in the Civil War

A monument to the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg

Unlike it’s southern neighbor, North Carolina wasn’t eager to secede from the Union. South Carolina led the way with its secession from the Union on December 20, 1860. Florida and Mississippi followed on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, 1861 (respectively). But it wasn’t until May 21, 1861 that North Carolina gave in and seceded from the Union. This was over a month after the attack on Ft. Sumter (which sparked the secession of states like Virginia). In fact, North Carolina was the last state to secede.

Interestingly, even though N.C. was hesitant to secede, they lost more men to the Civil War than any other southern state. The troops N.C. sent played a major role in many Civil War battles. On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina (originally comprised of 839 men) lost 627 men leaving them with only 212 at the end of the day. By the end of the three days, only 152 men remained. This is the highest casualty percentage for one battle of any regiment, North or South.

It’s speculated by some that despite it’s commitment of troops, North Carolina’s reluctance to secede prompted Sherman to spare the state during his campaign throughout the South which destroyed major cities in South Carolina and Georgia.

Posted in Gettysburg, North Carolina | 1 Comment


Nicknames have been around forever. Whether they’re self-assigned or bestowed upon someone against their will, they have a tendency to stick. The following are six examples of nicknames given to famous men of the Civil War.

Thomas J. Jackson - Stonewall

Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall) – at the First Battle of Bull Run, Jackson’s troops provided much needed reinforcements to the deteriorating Confederate lines. An onlooking officer commented saying, “Look at Jackson, standing there like a stone wall.” After that the nickname stuck. Jackson is considered one of the US’s best tactical generals. He was shot by friendly fire at Chancellorsville and died several days later from complications caused by the wounds.

Joseph Hooker - Fighting Joe

Joseph Hooker (Fighting Joe) – mentioned previously in my post on terms originating from the Civil War, Hooker was a major general for the Union army. His nickname arose from a typo in a newspaper headline. The headline was supposed to read “Fighting — Joe Hooker Attacks Rebels”, but the dash was accidentally removed. This change brought about the nickname Fighting Joe. As it turns out, Hooker wasn’t fond of the nickname because he felt like it made him sound like a bandit or highwayman.

Ulysses S. Grant - Unconditional Surrender

Ulysses S. Grant (Unconditional Surrender Grant) – Grant is infamous for being good at only two things in his life: being a family man and being a general. And at being a general he was very good. His nickname arose after he captured Fort Donelson in Tennessee from the Confederates. When calling for the Confederates’ surrender, Grant demanded “no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender”. When the public got wind of these terms, they joked that they had finally figured out what Grant’s initials stood for: Unconditional Surrender Grant.

William Tecumseh Sherman - Uncle Billy

William Tecumseh Sherman (Uncle Billy) – Sherman is probably best known for his end of the war campaign during which he implemented his scorched earth policies and burned several key southern towns such as Savannah and Columbia. Despite this image of Sherman as a ruthless military leader, he was loved and respected by his troops, who gave him the endearing nickname of Uncle Billy.

Winfield Scott - Old Fuss and Feathers

Winfield Scott (Old Fuss and Feathers) – Winfield Scott was the general-in-chief for the Union army at the opening of the Civil War. He held this post at the end of his 47 year military career during the course of which he served 13 consecutive presidential administrations. His nickname arose from his insistence that military men adhere to the strict rules of appearances.

Robert E. Lee - Granny Lee

Robert E. Lee (Granny Lee) – at the beginning of the war, Lee was in charge of troops in what is now West Virginia. His campaign was wholly unsuccessful and many people (including some of his men) insisted that this was due to Lee’s reluctance to fight. Because of this perceived timidity, his men started referring to him as Granny Lee.

Posted in Joseph Hooker, Name Games, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant | Leave a comment

The Sound of Music

Over Thanksgiving break I got the chance to re-watch the first couple episodes of Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Doing so reminded me of certain songs that I associate with the Civil War, and I thought it’d be worth sharing them here. The first is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, the second is “Dixie”, and the third is “Yankee Bayonet” by The Decemberists.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

This song was written by Julia Ward Howe near the end of 1861. One evening she watched as Union troops marched past, and as they marched they sang “John Brown’s Body”. After going to sleep with that tune stuck in her head, Howe woke the next morning with the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. The song was published in February 1862 and became an anthem for the Union army. Since then it’s gone on to become a well-known American song of patriotism. I have this song on my iPod (and yes I realize this makes me a dork) and I’ve always found the lyrics very moving and inspirational. Fun fact: John Steinbeck got the title for The Grapes of Wrath from the first stanza of the song.


If “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the anthem for the North, then “Dixie” was the anthem of the South. The song was written during the 1850s as a minstrel song that cast slavery in a positive light, but during the war, Confederates changed the lyrics slightly so that it became more of a fighting song. Nowadays the song is considered at least somewhat controversial because of the message sent by the original lyrics. Interestingly, Bob Dylan has covered this song, and it’s his version I included on the playlist for this post.

Yankee Bayonet

This song was released by The Decemberists in 2006 on their album The Crane Wife. References to the Civil War can be found not only in the title, but also in the fifth stanza which talks about the dead of Manassas. In many ways this song reminds me of the the Sullivan Ballou letter I talked about in my previous post (here). The final lines of the song are: “But oh, my love, though our bodies may be parted/ Though our skin may not touch skin/ Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow/ I will come on the breath of the wind.” To me this is reminiscent of the line in Ballou’s letter: “if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall by my breath …”

If you want to listen to one or all of these songs click here.

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Sullivan Ballou

One of the first things that sparked my interest in the Civil War was Ken Burns‘ documentary titled (very fittingly) The Civil War. Although I was only 1 when the documentary first aired on PBS, I’ve been able to watch it time and again thanks to my dad who owns the series.

Anyone who has seen the documentary knows what an impact it has upon first watching it. For me, The Civil War was the perfect combination of heartfelt anecdotes and hard information. Though I enjoy all of the documentary, the part that always has the biggest impact on me is the reading of a letter written by Sullivan Ballou. When the war broke out, Ballou left a bright political career to join the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. Ballou was mortally wounded in the First Battle of Bull Run, but prior to going into battle he wrote a heartfelt letter to his wife, Sarah. In The Civil War, the letter is condensed, but an amazing narrator reads it while “Ashokan Farewell” – a musical piece written by Jay Ungar – plays in the background.

I think why I love the letter so much is because it serves as  a constant reminder of how much those who fought in the Civil War sacrificed. To me it adds a human voice to history.

(WARNING: You may want to grab a box of tissues before you press play … this video has been known to lead to a few tears here and there.)

And if you’re at all interested in learning more about the Civil War, I would absolutely recommend Ken Burns’ The Civil War as the way to do it.

Posted in Heartwarming Tales | 1 Comment

What’s In a Name?

Between 1860 and 1870 names like Elijah, Ira and Solomon topped the charts as some of the most popular names. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that some of the famous figures from the Civil War have some pretty interesting names by modern standards. Below are just a few of these names along with their meanings.

C.S.A. General Jubal A. Early

Jubal Early – Old Jube was a general for the C.S.A. who served in major battles such as Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The name Jubal is Hebrew and means “ram’s horn” or “stream”. Apparently in the Bible Jubal was the inventor of the harp and the pipes and is considered the founder of music making.

Union General Ambrose E. Burnside

Ambrose Burnside – this originator of the term ‘sideburns’ had a pretty peculiar first name. He played a major role in the Civil War – at one point becoming the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Ambrose is Greek and translates to “immortal”. This seems like a very fitting name for one of the Union army’s most famous generals and the inspiration for a male hair fashion that has rivaled the Rachel.

Union General Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant – one of the best known Civil War generals also had a pretty crazy name. Ulysses is the Roman version of the name Odysseus who serves as the protagonist in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. Ulysses is also the protagonist of James Joyce’s famous novel of the same name. Apparently Ulysses means “walker”.

C.S.A. General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard – okay so to be fair the weirdness of this name has less to do with the time period Beauregard is from and a lot more to do with the fact that it’s French. I still had to put it on this list though because it definitely qualifies as one of the more unique (and fun to say) names of Civil War generals. Pierre means “rock” or “stone” and is the French form of the name Peter. Gustave either means “staff of the Gods” or “staff of the Goths”; though similar in spelling, I’d say these two translations mean very different things. And then there’s Toutant which apparently doesn’t have any translation and just serves as a personal name. P.G.T. Beauregard (as he’s more commonly known) served in major battles such as First Bull Run and the Battle of Shiloh.

So there are some examples of the unique and intriguing names of some of the Civil War’s best known figures. If you have any others that I’ve left off, please share them!

Posted in Ambrose E. Burnside, Name Games, P.G.T. Beauregard, Ulysses S. Grant | 1 Comment