Protecting Robert, for Mary’s Sake

William Marvel took somewhat of a jab at Abraham Lincoln in his article “Staying the Course at Gettysburg” (April 2010) when he wrote that the president’s military-age son Robert “would see not service until the last eight weeks of the war….”

Lincoln, who had already lost two sons to illness, was trying to be the magnificent president that he proved to be, and was undoubtedly having a great deal of trouble with his wife, Mary. She, as I understand it, was not holding up very well and must have been a considerable distraction to him. I would suspect keeping Robert out of harm’s way was more for Mary than anything else.

I flew 94 air missions during World War II in Italy, Corsica and southern France. I will not call Robert a slacker, and neither should Bill Marvel.

Charles E. Dills

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

William Marvel responds: However sympathetic one might feel toward Lincoln personally, it is difficult to ignore the inconsistency of his favoritism toward his own son while he insisted on service from the sons of other mothers, thousands of whom had also suffered the trauma of burying other children. Considering Lincoln’s correspondence before appointing Robert to Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, I think he was painfully conscious of it himself.

Revisiting Atlanta’s Cyclorama

I’ve been a Civil War Times reader for 40 years-plus. I found Noel Harrison’s article on the Vicksburg Cycloramas (“Vicksburg in the Round,” June 2010) very interesting. I was stationed at Fort McPherson near Atlanta in 1952-53 and visited the Atlanta Cyclorama in Grant Park. I later read that the Cyclorama, which depicted the 1864 Battle of Atlanta, was in poor shape, but there was no mention of it in your article. I’m curious whether it is still in existence.

William Mahar

Wilton, N.H.

Editor’s note: Happily yes, the Atlanta Cyclorama is still on display at Grant Park. For more information on the exhibit, visit or call 404-658-7625.

How Did Lee Keep in Touch?

While I was rereading parts of my April Civil War Times, a letter from a reader who found fault with Robert E. Lee reminded me of a question I have. It wasn’t the first time I have wondered how General Lee was able to remain in contact with his subordinates and troops in the Western battlefield areas when he was located primarily in the East. Union generals presumably had fewer problems maintaining contact with their scattered forces due to the Union’s ability to use the telegraph and railroads for communications.

Perhaps Civil War Times will consider doing an article on how Lee was able to pass orders to his commanders in places like Tennessee and Kentucky in a timely way. Or did he simply allow most of his commanders to use their own discretion?

Thomas R. Atkinson

Honesdale, Pa.

Historian Robert K. Krick responds: Lee had no control whatsoever over those Western venues until the last few days of the war—having been made commander in chief by Congress, over Jefferson Davis’ opposition, in February 1865. He had only a few days of control, and before then no long-term reason to communicate west ward. Lee didn’t even have any authority over the outskirts of Richmond on the right bank of the James River, when he fought in those latitudes in the spring of 1864, because Davis’ rigid compart – mentalization made that a different department, under P.G.T. Beau regard!

The question of East-West communications in general (even though Lee was not directly involved), from Davis and Braxton Bragg to the West, was in fact not too much more difficult than it was for the Yankees. Control of the waterways certainly aided the Union cause in many ways, including transmission of information. So did better communications efficiency. In truth, though, there was plenty of telegraphic communication between Richmond and the outlying precincts. As Yankee hegemony stretched farther into the heartlands of the South, telegraphic connections sometimes had to go via a circuitous route—but the Official Re – cords are chock-full of telegrams from the capital to those districts.

Why So Much on Virginia?

Just some plain advice from a subscriber who enjoys your magazines: Your publications are wonderful, so keep up the great work. My only complaint is the amount of coverage of Virginia. It’s a wonderful place to study, as I have done in person for several years now. But after I sent a subscription of your magazine to a friend, he replied that, if he were not a history teacher himself, he would think that the entire war had transpired in Virginia.

I do understand that Virginia was a highly contested state, but don’t forget places like Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and the Carolinas. Remember that we have wonderful battlefields and parks, as well as other historic sites, that are almost as fascinating as Gettysburg.

A good example is the Johnson’s Island POW Depot on Lake Erie, where David Bush of Heidelburg College is reconstructing part of the past [see “A New Generation Digs Johnson’s Island,” in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times]. Many Confederate officers were held there, including my great-grandfather, Lieutenant William Rogers of the 13th Tennessee Infantry, for the final 18 months of the war. I still have the letters that he wrote home during his “vacation” up there, as well as the diary that he kept until the day of his capture. He never complained about being mistreated, but he did write that he had to use eight blankets to stay warm.

James deBerry II

Collierville, Tenn.

Kudos for ‘Civilians in Harm’s Way’

The June 2010 “In Harm’s Way” column about the Leister House at Gettysburg was concise yet thorough. The background on the house, what happened there of note during the battle and its postwar history provided a great capsule summary. I hope you will publish more such articles on other buildings. Well done.

Laurence Freiheit

Via e-mail

I found June’s “In Harm’s Way” very interesting. The information on Lydia Leister’s war claims (so often insufficiently covered) was the icing on the cake. Most important, Harry Smeltzer did a great job of describing why the house was an ideal location for General George Meade’s headquarters. For a future installment, please consider doing an article on the Ray House at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri. It’s one of my favorites.

Jim Schmidt

Spring, Texas

Editor’s note: Thanks. The Ray House is an excellent suggestion.

From the Civil War Times Facebook page:

Appreciate the magazine and the quizzes that you provide to make us Civil War buffs think and research! April 2010 was a toughie, but I dug and dug until I got it right. Thank you for a brainteaser! Keep up the good work in preserving our heritage.

Kerri G. Moore

Great magazine! So glad my wife got me the subscription for Christmas.

Dustin Hoffman


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here