Searching for Buster Kilrain…

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 9.34.21 AM…will, of course, be a wasted effort. Why? Because he is not real. Kilrain is a fictional character in Ron Maxwell’s film, Gettysburg. A wise veteran of the 20th Maine, Kilrain’s character serves as something of a military mentor to Joshua “don’t call me Lawrence” Chamberlain (the real colonel of the 20th). But that’s all – he’s just a character invented by Michael Shaara to help move the story along.

Still, as a testament to the power of film connecting history to popular culture, people think he was a real guy. I have heard more than one NPS guide joke about tourists asking for the whereabouts of Kilrain’s grave on the battlefield. And recently,  my Twitter friend, Chris alerted me to a small commemorative note placed at the 20th’s monument on Little Round Top (presumably by a tourist) praising Kilrain’s soldierly virtues and thanking him for his service.

Honestly, I could talk about this film for hours (and write about it as well, as I have done HERE)  – its cultural resonance never ceases to amaze me.

With compliments,





The Day of Battle Has Arrived – The Daily Richmond Enquirer, November 6, 1860

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.44.02 AMAnd good morning to you all. It’s newspaper time at the Harristorian archives!

This article from the November 6, 1860 Daily Richmond Enquirer should delight all of you…first year college undergrads taking a US survey, Civil War buffs, and the countless thousands who are thirsting for a greater understanding of the election of 1860 (wishful thinking on my part…?). Well, it probably won’t be good news for those who insist that sectional strife did NOT hinge on the prospect of a probable attack on the institution of slavery – but too bad.

Yes…election day 1860 stirred the hearts of people all over the Union – North and South. The perception: the fate of the country was hanging in the balance. Turns out…people were right.

I find this particular article illuminated for two reasons. One: the ideal of Union is paramount – suggesting that Virginians had clear nationalistic leanings. The important thing…they were Unionists on decidedly sectional terms…as the author indicates that the “whole South” should ban together to shape the vision of Union. This idea goes against the notion that Virginians (or at the very least, the author of this piece) saw themselves as Virginians alone – not nationalists. They were southern Americans to be sure and wanted to run the show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they did not embrace a national identity as well. Two: highlighting the threat of losing slavery is clearly the author’s intention. Indicating that Lincoln was a “Black Republican” lumps the man and the party in with the radical abolitionists, which was neither Lincoln’s bent nor his party’s.

Below is the transcript in its entirety. Have a look and come to your own conclusions. As always at Cosmic America – I encourage you to argue away. I know one newspaper article comes no where close to proving an argument – but it is a good jumping off point!

The Day of Battle has Arrived.

Before another issue of the Richmond “Enquirer” can reach any of our readers, the most important and exciting election in which American citizens have ever participated will have taken place. Never were our principles more imperilled than in the present warfare waged upon our constitutional rights by Black Republican enemies, headed by their standard-bearer, Abe Lincoln. Nothing can defeat the aggressor but a concentration of the entire Southern vote on those well-tried and faithful patriots—BRECKINRIDGE and LANE. The destiny of this great American Union is now in the hands of the people. The importance of the contest now upon us cannot be over estimated. It involves all that patriots and friends of the Union hold dear, and upon the result hangs the hopes of the nation for all time to come.

The time for argument and discussion has passed. It only remains now for us, friends of the Constitution and the Union, to act—to act as freemen worthy of the noble heritage of liberty—to act as it becomes men to act who properly estimate the glorious privileges they enjoy, and who wish to transmit them to a free and happy posterity.

Democrats of Virginia! friends of Breckinridge and Lane! at this time shall there by any recreancy in our ranks? Will not every man, who desires the success of our gallant candidates, who desires the defeat of Lincoln and Hamlin, be at his post? Will there be one found to desert his colors in this trying emergency? Rather, let there be a grand rally of all our forces—let each man battle with might and main for the truth and right!

To work, then, friends of our glorious cause! To work with all your power, with your whole soul, and mind, and strength for liberty, and honor, and peace, and safety! We appeal to you to stand by your flag, by your candidates, by your principles, by your country—to devote THE WHOLE OF THIS DAY to the great cause you have espoused—to give your undivided, unselfish devotion to the Constitution, the Union, and the Equality of the States!

With compliments,


Virginia’s Private War by William Blair

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 9.34.42 AMI re-read one of my favorite books this week: William Blair’s Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865. Let me tell you why I really really love this book.

There is a school of thought in Civil War scholarship that suggests the Confederates did themselves in…that dissension at home and in the ranks meant that Confederate soldiers as well as the the white southern populace were never that on board with Confederate nationalism. The second things got a little rough for the southern cause people abandoned it wholesale.

Naturally , I think this is a load of malarkey. Rebels stuck it out as long as they possibly could – both on and behind the lines. They were – for the most part – completely in tune with the notion of Confederate independence…despite the hardships that they had to endure.

William Blair drives this point home. His book – a wonderful piece of scholarship that I would recommend to anyone – suggests that Confederates – actually in this case, Virginians – did not lose the war because of failed nationalism or internal conflicts.

Neither of these things work as a simple explanation for Confederate defeat – dissent existed and functioned as a catalyst for change in the Confederacy. And here’s the real zinger – Confederates still supported the cause even though they often lost faith in the government. Their “sense of purpose” remained strong until finally in the winter 0f 64-65 the Union army took its toll.

The point – it was wartime. Yes people were pissed because of shortages, conscription, and all of the other things that can just make a wartime society mad –  but did they want to abandon the Confederate experiment, or did they just want a fair shake? That, I suppose is the key. You can still support your cause even if you think it is being run poorly.

Virginia’s Private War focuses on three counties: Albemarle (Charlottesville), Augusta (Staunton) and Campbell (Lynchburg). These counties contained a range of plantation (slave) and grain farming – representing a wide spectrum of Virginian Confederates.  Plus, C’ville was an intellectual center, which means they were doing a lot of thinking about important issues in the vicinity of the University of Virginia (OK, Bill….lets not get carried away).

In the end, Blair credits the Union Army with victory…something that has been curiously overlooked by scholars seeking the ways the Confederates defeated themselves. As it turns out…the Rebs were defeated on the battlefield. Imagine that. Remember, even the storied Confederate George Pickett once said of defeat…”I think the Union Army had something to do with it.”

With compliments,