This week I completed my presentation for the upcoming Civil War Weekend (April 30th) at the Carnegie-Carnegie Music Hall. Back in November, I had the privilege of hosting a premiere for our documentary on Richard Kirkland at the Carnegie and I was thrilled when they asked if I would return to present a lecture and host another film screening. (I get to do both twice.)
My speech is titled “The Gallant Boys of the 123rd” and presents the experiences of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Fredericksburg. In addition to having a library and music hall, the Carnegie-Carnegie is also the home to the Capt. Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic. We know for a fact that there were at least three veterans of the 123rd who survived the Battle of Fredericksburg and were later members of the Espy Post, hence the tie in to our film.
In addition to the 123rd Vols., I also spend time talking about General Andrew A. Humphreys, who led men from the Pennsylvania Infantry in the assault on Marye’s Heights. His troops were the furthest to advance on this portion of the Army of Northern Virginia’s lines. Today, Humphreys’ statue commands the center of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, the final resting place of 15,000 Federal troops who never made it home. Next to the Kirkland monument, his is the only statue on the field.
In my research I have come to the conclusion that there is a limited amount of materials published specifically on the 123rd. Shortly after the war Samuel Bates wrote a study titled “History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65” and more recently, a Pittsburgh attorney named Scott Lang, wrote an outstanding book called “The Forgotten Charge: The 123rd Pennsylvania at Marye’s Heights.”
Both of these sources provided me with some great background information. I am also using National Park Historian Frank O-Reilly’s description of the 123rd’s preparation and entry into battle from his excellent book “The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock.”
It would be redundant for me to simply rehash these gentlemen’s findings, so when I was preparing for this talk I wanted to bring something special to the podium. What I was able to do, through the help of my friends at the National Park Service, was to get transcripts from four diaries belonging to members of the 123rd. None of these memoirs have been published and I am quoting a sample of their recordings before and after the battle.
I must say that this lecture was a breath of fresh air as it is the first of mine to concentrate entirely on the Union perspective. Those familiar with my work know that the majority of my books and speaking engagements have always been focused on the Confederacy. It was while working on “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” that I started to realize the one-sidedness of my writings and this initiated a desire to cross battle lines and expand my attentions toward the boys in blue.
I am anxious to see what responses I get. On a few occasions that I have presented the Northern perspective, I have been met with backlash by a minority of individuals who were offended that I spent time on those “Damn Yankees.” In fact, one southern-based group absolutely refused to review my devotional “The Southern Cross” after they saw that I included a handful of Union stories. Apparently the 45 Confederate – to – 5 Union stories was unacceptable so they returned the review copy to me on their own dime.
Personally, I found that to be offensive. Growing up in Pittsburgh as a devout Civil War 'buff,' I never really favored either side. After moving to Fredericksburg in 1994, I became serious about my writing and perhaps it was my location, or my initial focus on religion during the war that led me to focus on the South. Years later, 5 of my 6 books are clearly written from the Confederate perspective.
During my last speech in November, I saw an opportunity to tie the Kirkland film and the Espy Post together through the 123rd. This presentation was a great way to do that. Admittedly it is total speculation, but many members of the 123rd were trapped on the field overnight. Some were severely wounded and ‘could have’ been tended to by Richard Kirkland on the morning after the battle.
James M Watson was shot and remained bleeding on the field until the following morning. Eventually he was removed by an ambulance crew assigned to the 123rd, but would die six weeks later on January 28th, 1863. His story, as well as that of several comrades in arms who survived the war are included in my talk. I am using their own words as well as a series of photographs and illustrations to compliment my narrative.
As with past talks, I hope to record the event on video. Regardless, I will be sure to post the transcripts and slides here on Blog or Die. Of all the wonderful things that I get to do, speaking engagements are by far the most fun. What better way to meet people, feed your ego, sell your wares and share our nation’s history with the masses. This will be my 18th formal speaking engagement and to be able to present it in my hometown, and follow it with a screening of our movie is a blessing indeed.
For more information on this FREE event, visit the Carnegie-Carnegie website and scroll down to their Civil War Weekend link.
COMING UP: A noted teacher and historian from CA is planning on using “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” in her 8th Grade history classes to show Kirkland’s story and how it is remembered. She is also developing some age-appropriate classroom materials to go with the film. In appreciation, I am recording a special video message for the students and asking them to share their thoughts on the movie. Their responses will be posted on a special section over on the movie’s official website and we will be making this courseware available to teachers who wish to purchase our film. Stay tuned.