Archive for July, 2013


Bobby Minty is another fine example of an Irish immigrant who fought in the Civil War with distinction. Minty was born in December 1831 in County Mayo, and was of what I like to call “the Irish Scots-Irish,” because to an American the term usually refers to Scots-Irish Presbyterians who immigrated from Ulster. Minty’s father was a Scotsman and career British Army, and his mother was Irish.

Like another famed Irish immigrant Civil War commander, Patrick Cleburne, Minty signed up for the British Army in 1848. Unlike Cleburne, Minty served as an ensign and not a ranker, perhaps because of his father. Also unlike Cleburne, Minty was shipped out of Ireland, serving instead in the West Indies, Central America, and West Africa. Eventually, Minty’s service ended and he found himself in Canada, where he got married and had his first child in 1858, and eventually settled in Michigan to raise a family.

Minty had only been settled in Michigan for about three years when Lincoln made his first call for volunteers. He started as a major in the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, then rapidly made first lieutenant colonel and then full colonel in the 4th Michigan Cavalry by July 1862. The 4th Michigan became part of the Saber Brigade, one of two crack mounted outfits in the Army of the Cumberland, with Minty as the brigade commander.

The Sabers gave excellent service in 1863, first at Shelbyville during the Tullahoma Campaign, and then again on the first day of Chickamauga with his stand against more than five to one odds at Pea Vine Ridge. Minty proved a solid combat leader, and one of the few Union cavalry commanders with the jaunty air of the cavalier about him. He rode about his a feather in his hat, and kept his men armed and fighting as true saber-wielding cavalry at a time when many of the more effective cavalry commanders were operating as more or less straight-up mounted infantry. Minty and his Sabers were part of Garrard’s Division and later Kilpatrick’s Division during the Atlanta Campaign, and by the time of Wilson’s Raid in 1865 Minty had finally risen a brevet brigadier general’s rank and to de facto division command.

Minty in Stonewall Goes West
After Kilpatrick’s defeat and capture by Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Holly Grove Crossroads, I needed a new character to serve as McPherson’s cavalry commander, and I wanted that choice to bring some color with it. If you’re talking Union cavalry for the Western Theater, that really leaves only two choices: John T. Wilder of the Lightning Brigade, and Robert H.G. Minty of the Saber Brigade.

Wilder’s Lightning Brigade has a slightly better combat record than Minty’s outfit, mostly because it got into more newsworthy scrapes. With the attention the Civil War in the West has received in recent years, Wilder has become a reasonably well-known figure, whereas Bobby Minty has remained relatively obscure.

So why Minty and not Wilder? Historically, Wilder was suffering from typhoid fever and dysentery through much of 1864, and his broken health would compel him to resign in August. While giving Wilder his health back would not have been a major change, it is not my style to set such things aside unless I absolutely must to tell the story I want to tell. Besides, I liked the idea of putting the spotlight on Minty, who surely deserves some more of it.

Minty After the War
Minty proved restless after the war. In fact, it seems he rarely spent more than few years in any one place throughout his life. Initially he went back to Michigan and his family, and worked as General Superintendent of the Grand River Valley Railroad. However, records show he was divorced from his first wife in California in 1870, remarried in Kentucky in 1871, died in Arizona, and was buried in Utah.

 

Passionate Civil War buffs, like anyone with a genuine love for a particular period of history, eventually reach a point where they know their events, places, and people well enough to teach a 200-level college course on them from memory. Yet having a passion means wanting more, and that is where many a self-taught student turns to primary sources or the pursuit of a more intimate knowledge. For students of Stonewall Jackson, Mathew Lively’s Calamity at Chancellorsville is an invaluable boost in taking that next step.

In recounting the events of Jackson’s last days of active service, his wounding, and his decline and demise, Lively paints a vivid picture of Jackson’s final days and the decisions behind his famed flank attack at Chancellorsville. This picture not only provides a clear understanding of Jackson’s actions, but also of his character and style, as well as his relationships with Robert E. Lee and his own military family.

The other side of Calamity at Chancellorsville are the historical disagreements surrounding Jackson’s wounding and death. Lively ably dissects these disagreements, combining both his insight as a physician and the skills of a historian to produce a persuasive case. His exercise goes to the heart of what good history is about: dispelling misinformation based on old and often repeated errors. The Civil War was less than two centuries ago, but a great deal of misinformation has crept into the body of knowledge. Lively cuts to the heart of that by asking over and over again who said what about Jackson’s death and wounding, and just how credible those individuals were.

Calamity at Chancellorsville presents a persuasive, well-sourced argument, but in the kind of approachable, easy-reading prose that makes swallowing the book a pleasant weekend read. Any Jackson fan should put it on their must-read list.

The Daily Herald in Columbia, TN “blurbed” my book! I learned about it by accident and ten days later, but that just makes this a wonderful surprise. My first bona fideĀ press clip!

On top of adding an “About the Author” page to this author’s blog, I now need to add a “Reviews and Clips” page too.