Missing In Action
I read with interest the item regarding the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. (“News,” October 1996). I believe there is another group of soldiers who have gone without special notice, but who were vital in the success of the Union army–the immigrants who made up one-fifth of the army. There were German, Dutch, and Irish units, for example. Some of these immigrant units spoke their native language, not English, while fighting for their adopted country. I have read recently that some German units figured very prominently for the Union army at the Battle of Gettysburg. The newly arrived immigrants that served in the Civil War were very important, yet have received very little recognition as to the magnitude of their contribution. I think a memorial dedicated to the immigrants who served in the Civil War, North and South, would be highly appropriate and fitting.
South Windsor, Connecticut
I take issue with the book review (October 1996) exploring the “redemption” of George Armstrong Custer, America’s darling, egocentric rascal. It seems as new generations come and go, and the past becomes more alien and distant, that contemporary authors gravitate to apply cosmetic literature upon the face of former white America’s flamboyant hero. Custer’s known character and works from West Point to the Little Big Horn depict one that valued his personal agenda of self-gain at others’ expense. Was he the courageous hero Hollywood favored and now some books portray? The amount of gold braid he heaped upon himself and his glory-seeking exploits reveal the contrary.
I am mindful how much scorn the Confederate soldier had for him at Appomattox. I suppose he received his due in time, however, for what Johnny Reb could not do in four arduous years, the Sioux and their allies accomplished in about an hour. Thus, a puffed-up dandy could now push up dandelions.
University Place, Washington
The reviewer of two books about George A. Custer in your October issue asserts that, “Custer’s redemption in these books…speaks powerfully to the end of a quarter-century of national self-loathing and to the final emergence of America from the historical shadows of the Vietnam Era.” The reviewer is correct to declare that Custer’s life affected the “national psyche.” After all, how could a well-armed force of mostly white soldiers, led by a successful Civil War officer, have been defeated by primitive, heathen Plains Indians? Certainly, not good for the white psyche. However, to equate his so-called literary “redemption” with emotions and questions that still haunt Americans about Vietnam is to use too much artistic license. No one has yet redeemed America’s political and military Vietnam-era officials for their actions during that war. It may be asked if those who saw their friends go to Vietnam, who sent sons and daughters to that war, who saw husbands go to Vietnam, now feel better about that war because Custer has been “redeemed.”
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
The article on New York City (“Imagining Civil War New York,” October 1996) was of interest, especially the reference to the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. However, author Harold Holzer overlooked a famous Civil War notable buried there. Edwin Forbes, the famous battlefield artist for Frank Leslie’s Weekly magazine (and my cousin), is also buried at Greenwood. His pictures and sketches of Civil War battles and camp life were the premier frontline illustrations of the war available to the reading public. After the war, Forbes’s original works were acquired by financier J.P. Morgan and eventually reached the Library of Congress, where they reside today.
William Forbes II
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Your “The ‘Stuff’ and the People” (“Behind the Lines,” October 1996) answered a question I’ve had for quite a while and that is: Did General Armistead ever get to see his friend and “brother” Hancock before his death? I have always had an interest in the relationship of these two great men mostly because they were Masonic brothers. Those of us who are in the Masonic fraternity can very well identify with the bonds that these two men shared and of the extreme mental anguish that they must have felt when opposing each other that hot July day in Gettysburg. Armistead once swore that he would never lift a hand against his brother, “Ol’ Win,” and if he did may God strike him dead. Among the tenets of Freemasonry are found the importance of friendship, morality, and brotherly love. I also believe it true that it was Armistead’s Masonic Bible he requested be given to General Hancock’s wife upon his death. I am still at a loss, however, as to why the two Generals never did meeting following Pickett’s Charge. It is my understanding that General Armistead lived for two days following the assault. Why did they not meet?
Michael Lee Fugate
Editor’s Note: Hancock was helping repel Pickett’s Charge when a bullet drove splinters and a nail from his saddle into his leg. As Armistead lay dying, Hancock lay seriously wounded.
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