Recent Acquisitions

Originally posted on April 25, 2011

From time to time, I’ll post about books I’ve added to my personal library. Recent acquisitions have been limited by the household budget, but I did manage to shelve a few more lately.

This weekend, I went to a presentation and book signing by Ross Hudgins, author of Maggie: The Civil War Journal of Margaret Nichol Vaulx (Published by Westview, 2011). It’s the journal of a 17-year-old Nashville girl as she and her family endure the “Great Panic” in Tennessee’s capital city after the fall of Fort Donelson and Federal occupation. I had heard about this book recently and look forward to reading it.

The second book is recommended by Mark Cheatham of the Jacksonian America blog entitled The Craft of Research (Third Edition) (University of Chicago Press, 2008). Described as a “practical guide to mastering the art of research,” I hope it hones my own research techniques and teaches me a few new things, too

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"The Conspirator" in Theaters April 2011

“The Conspirator,” a film about Mary Surratt and the Lincoln assassination directed by Robert Redford, will be in theaters in April 2011. It looks like an interesting film! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a historical film at a movie theater. Looking forward to it. (A tip of the cap to Bull Runnings for posting the trailer.)

Presentation and Book Signing Oct. 27th

I will be the guest speaker at the next meeting of the McNairy County Historical Society Tuesday, October 27 at the Jack McConnico Memorial Library in Selmer, TN. The subject will be Colonel Fielding Hurst, the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S., and Southern Unionists in southwest Tennessee during the Civil War. Afterward, I will sign copies of my book Hurst’s Wurst: Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A.

A Quest is Finally Over

There are times when one searches for a lost bit of their childhood, an item they can’t get out of their heads. It could be a toy, a board game, or a favorite song. It may take many years before it’s found, or it may not be found at all. One can see it or hear it in their mind, yet they can’t find it anywhere.

For me, it was a booklet entitled Shiloh on Your Own.

As a young kid interested in American history, I loved to buy the small, inexpensive booklets often found in the gift shops at historic sites. (In fact, I still do!) They were among the first additions to my kid-sized library and many of them are still in my grown-up library today, ones like Casey Jones: The Brave Engineer, Shiloh National Military Park, and The Fabulous David Crockett.

But there was one booklet that was lost between childhood and adulthood that I really wanted again. It was a gift from my father, who brought it home for me when I was probably eight or nine years old. It was called Shiloh on Your Own: An Illustrated Guide to the Battlefield, a 10.5″ x 8.75″ booklet with “then” and “now” black and white photos and drawings of 14 tour stops at Shiloh National Military Park. What I remembered most was a page at the beginning with pictures of the opposing Union and Confecerate commanders during the battle. The layout reminded me of a boxing poster with photos of the opponents opposite one another. In this case, it was Ulysses S. Grant versus Albert Sidney Johnston and Don Carlos Buell versus Pierre G.T. Beauregard.

Years later, I couldn’t find the booklet my father had given me. In fact, I couldn’t remember what the title was. But I remembered the unusual size of it and what was on the cover: the Confederates charging the Union camps at the start of the battle. I looked through used bookstores hoping to find it but never did. Later, I added a search for “Shiloh Park book” on Ebay and searched the results every day for the past five years or so. Realistically, I had given up hope of ever finding it.

Then one day, there it was: an auction listing for three booklets and one was Shiloh on Your Own. When I saw the photo, I immediately recognized it. Seven days later, I won the auction; a week later, it was in my library. It was just like I remembered it, even if it’s wasn’t exactly the one my father bought me almost 30 years ago. But the fascination of learning a little more about my country’s history was still there.

How the West was Left Out

The Civil War Interactive website recently released its list of the Top 50 Best Civil War Books. A few Civil War related bloggers have shared their thoughts on the survey, and for what their worth, here are mine. I admit that I haven’t read most of those listed.

There are many noteworthy books included, but there were only two that had anything to do with the Western Theater of the war. Granted, most of the renowned works concentrate on the Eastern Theater and it’s always been that way. Most of the books were general histories, references, biographies and autobiographies, with but a few that focused on specific battles and campaigns. I agree with most of their selections, but again: Where were the books on the West? Was not Wiley Sword’s classic Shiloh: Bloody April and James Lee McDougal’s books on Shiloh, Stones River, and Franklin worthy of inclusion? I did agree with Steven E. Woodworth’s Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 (#27) It and Peter Cozzen’s This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga (#25) were the only Western related books on the list. (Col. Aytch could count, too.)

"Brownlow’s Cussing Judge"

In a case of “I wish I had known it before I published my book,” I stumbled across an interesting article while searching Newsbank this month. Newsbank is a searchable treasure trove of historic newspapers. My local library gives free off site access by simply having a library card. (Check yours, as they may have a similar benefit.)

The article was about Fielding Hurst when he served as judge of Tennessee’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit during Reconstruction. I’ve been researching this period of his life, one that has largely been ignored by other Hurst researchers. I’ve defended him both on this blog and in my book Hurst’s Wurst: Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A., pointing out that many of the bad stories about him were partisan in nature, written by ex-Confederates with a bone to pick.

The article was published in the Daily Memphis (TN) Avalanche on June 22, 1867 . Entitled “Radical Demonism,” it described how Judge Hurst interrupted a speech made in Purdy, Tennessee by Emerson Ethridge, former Congressman and gubernatorial opponent of Governor William G. Brownlow. Ethridge was a conservative Unionist who believed former Confederates should have their voting rights given back to them, rights taken away by Brownlow and his Radical supporters in the General Assembly two years earlier. Judge Hurst was a Radical and had voted for the suspension of ex-Confederates voting rights.

Disliking what he heard while standing in the crowd, Hurst finally jumped onto the platform where Ethridge stood, “swinging his arms back and forth like the levers of a windmill,” and let out a torrent of obscenities at him. “That’s a d–d rebel lie, I’ll bet a thousand dollars,” Hurst reportedly cursed. “God d–m the rebels!” He pointed in his mouth and showed the bewildered Ethridge (who had no idea who he was) two missing teeth he claimed a rebel knocked out. He then cursed the Masonic Lodge and the church where the candidate’s speech was being given (despite himself being a Mason).

When Ethridge learned his identity, he chastised him for being a judge and behaving how he was and “perjuring yourself here before high Heaven–here in this sacred building–here before this altar, where all meet to worship the one living God.” But Hurst was not moved; he cursed the church and its preachers, who were a “set of canting, hypocritical rebels” and once again showed him his missing teeth! Ethridge mentioned there were women in the audience who were offended by his tirade; Hurst cursed them too, as rebels who “were worse than the men.”

According to the story, Ethridge told the crowd “he was going to enter into the animal taming business” and it “was as good a time as any.” Hurst took it as a threat against his life and cried, “Oh! you can shoot me. I know you are armed. I have no pistol. Oh! you and the d—-d rebels can assassinate me if you will.” The headline of the article questioned whether Hurst was “drunk or crazy.”

The article was clearly biased toward the pro-Confederate Conservatives and against the Radicals, so it’s hard to determine its truthfulness. Still, it shows a darker side of Fielding Hurst, whom the article describes as “monarch to all he surveys” in McNairy County, “[n]arrow minded, of deficient education, without legal or other information, drunken and debauched.” It’s an interesting story. I wish I had uncovered it last year so it could’ve been part of my book.

Seeking Family Stories of Civil War West Tennessee

With Hurst’s Wurst now published and selling reasonably well, I’ve begun looking ahead to new book projects and considering a few different subjects to work on.

One idea I have is a book with stories of what people on the home front experienced during the Civil War, particularly in West Tennessee. I am especially interested in stories of guerrilla attacks on homes and farms and what people did to defend themselves or simply survive. Some of these I’ve already shared in my latest book, but I’m sure there are many more that have never been recorded or at least published. It’s hard to imagine what the “common folk” went through, living under the constant fear of soldiers–both Union and Confederate–foraging on their property for the “greater good” of the armies, not to mention the home guards and guerrillas who pretty much did as they pleased.

I’d love to hear your stories!

McNairy County’s Boogeyman

Halloween is less than a week away–fear the ghost of Fielding Hurst!

BOO!

The front page of yesterday’s McNairy County Independent Appeal had an article by Russell Ingle entitled “Ghosts of Purdy.” It’s a seasonal piece that ties Halloween with stories of ghosts supposedly haunting the home of Fielding Hurst and the Purdy Cemetery a short distance across the road.

Unfortunately, it’s also another example of sensationalizing history for the sake of an entertaining story and not getting the facts straight.

I don’t blame Mr. Ingle. I’m sure he just wanted to write an interesting story and share with readers what he had learned about one of McNairy County’s most notorious figures. I’ve had close to 15 years to learn what I know about Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry, so I can’t fault someone who may have only had a few days or weeks to research the subject.

There’s a lot of exaggerated and downright false information when it comes to Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee. One must trudge through period and modern-day partisan or erroneous writings to discover what is actually true. Much of them can be attributed to former Confederate soldiers, but some are more contemporary and simply expound and exaggerate from a one-sided (i.e. Confederate) point of view.

One hundred twenty-six years after his death, Fielding Hurst remains a despised man among descendants of the Confederacy in southwest Tennessee. It’s a hatred that’s been passed down from their great-great granddaddies who fought against him or felt his wrath or that of his men. I’ve heard stories of family members who were never seen again, their disappearances blamed on Hurst and his command. There are many people who have genuine reasons for their feelings against him.

Fielding Hurst has become the Boogeyman of McNairy County, Tennessee. He is a “monster” and a “demon”and his insidious reputation grows more brutal and bloodier with the passage of time. His evil deeds are magnified and sensationalized for dramatic effect to the point of absurdity. I’ve often thought someone should write a novel with Hurst as a central character because the stories that are considered truth already border on imaginative fiction.

I was contacted this week by someone who asked if it was true that Hurst “murdered and dismembered people and was possibly murdered himself. He cut off people’s heads and lined them up in his yard.” I repeat this not to make fun because the person only wanted to know if the accusations were true. Yet it shows how ridiculous the crimes attributed to Hurst have become. Such lies make Hurst sound like the Civil War’s answer to Vlad the Impailer, a.k.a. Dracula.

Probably the most common source used by writers is an article published in the Confederate Veteran (March-April 1992, p. 20-23) entitled “Hurst!” by W.Clay Crook. It’s available online and pops up on most every search for Fielding Hurst. Mr. Crook writes a well-worded story and turns prose with the best of them. It reads as an authoritative account of Hurst and many writers rely on its accuracy. Unfortunately, it suffers from a few factual errors and Mr. Crook gives no documentation to back up some of his assertions.

Mr. Crook writes:

“When the price of human misery and destruction is subtracted from war, little is actually left of the glory we so often admire in battle. It is true, however, that there are some who have tarnished the art of warfare more thoroughly than others. The Romans had Attila the Hun. Northwestern Europe, the Vikings … but old families in West Tennessee spit forth one invective — like acid from a shattered battery — Hurst!”

Hurst’s legend grows more with each writer’s take on his dastardly misdoings. Crook thought him worse than Atilla the Hunn, the Vikings, and Wiliam Tecumseh Sherman. Now Russell Ingle elevates his sinister stature to that of Adolf Hitler!

Mr. Ingle writes:

According to legend, Hurst said he was driven by divine mandate to cleanse the land of Rebels. Just like Hitler slaughtered the Jews, Hurst spread a bloody trail and left mutilated bodies wherever he traveled. The story is told how, on a patrol to LaGrange, Hurst carried with him a band of Confederate prisoners and, at every mile post, killed one, cut their head off and hung it on a post.

Granted, Hurst was guilty of many things from extortion and arson to executing Confederate soldiers and guerrillas. Murders of soldiers and civilians off the battlefield and on the home front, though committed by men under his command, were still his responsibility.

But in no way did his actions compare to the Holocaust and the death of approximately six million Jews in concentration camps, innocent victims who were persecuted because of Hitler’s prejudice against their people. They were not at war with Hitler and his armies, yet they were systematically killed because of their race.

Hurst’s so-called “mandate to cleanse the land of Rebels” makes him out to be a twisted and demented evangelist with an unquenchable thirst for Rebel blood, male, female, and child alike. This line was taken from Crook, who dramatically evoked the Bible with this verse: “Hurst himself felt driven by divine mandate to slay the Philistines (meaning “neighbors who tended to disagree” with him), cleanse the land of rebels and like Joshua before him, to spare not even the ox nor its manger.”

There’s no question Hurst detested those he and other Unionists labeled as “Secesh,” or the proponents of secession. He sought to avenge the persecution against he and his family from his rebel neighbors and the Confederacy as a whole. But to say he gave himself a “mandate” is unfounded and undocumented. It makes for good reading, but it’s simply not true.

The particulars of the executions of Captain John Ambrose “Dock” Wharton and four other Confederate soldiers have long been embellished. So what really happened?

Here’s the real story: It took place not at LaGrange but on the road between Purdy and Pocahontas, Tennessee. Hurst believed Wharton and his men were guerrillas and not Confederate soldiers and that Wharton had threatened to take his life. After a gun battle during which Wharton was wounded, he was taken to Hurst who vowed to end Wharton’s life instead. They were executed and left beside the road. At least one of the men, Thomas W.S. Morgan, was wounded and left for dead; nearby residents tended to him as best they could before he died.

There is only one authoritative source that I’ve found for the incident, a letter dated July 23, 1863 written by Dew M. Wisdom to Col. Philip D. Roddey. In it, Wisdom relates the incident but makes no mention of the soldiers’ bodies buried as mile posts, much less decapitated and hung on posts.

So where did the decapitation claim come from? Crook attributes it to G. Tillman Stewart, late historian of Henderson County. I’ve not found it in any other source materials. Because there is no evidence to prove it, it must be assumed that the decapitation version is false. The worst part is, when these distorted tales are published in books and newspapers and spread across the Internet, they become facts for those without the inclination to dig deeper. They are often accepted at face value and reprinted over and over again.

*****

I’m sure I sound like I’m defending the actions of Fielding Hurst, but it’s really not the case. All I ask is that anyone who writes about him be objective and not completely believe everything they’ve read about him, particularly what’s available on the Internet. To embellish and exaggerate what he did for the sake of a good story distorts the facts and is dishonest to the reader.

(Parts of this post were written tongue-in-cheek to accentuate the dramatic prose used by some writers to describe Fielding Hurst and what he did.)

Hurst’s Wurst is Finally Done

Welcome to my first entry in my new blog! Hopefully they will interesting, entertaining, or sad enough for you to check back from time to time and see what’s up. I’ll do my best to write something either here or on the website at least every other day.

I feel as if a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders. What began as a little rewriting here and there became a much more involved revision of my book Hurst’s Wurst: Col. Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A. that took me a year-and-a-half to complete. Like all my books, it’s self-published so there’s no big bankroll in NYC sending me royalty checks. It’s all up to me to spread the word. But that’s the way I like it! I am using the publishing services of Lulu for the printing. I’ve been impressed with their work thus far and I’m looking forward to my first proof copy arriving in the mail early next week.

This is the fourth edition of a book that began in 1993 as a typewritten manuscript (I didn’t own a PC at the time) photocopied at Kinko’s Copies, where I worked when I was in college. Fourteen years later, it will be published as I always hoped one day it would: as a hardbound (and softbound), professional quality book. It has probably been my most popular work to date based on the letters and e-mails I’ve received over the last five years or so asking if I had any copies left. I wanted something better than a photocopied manuscript, but it wasn’t until I discovered Lulu that I was able to produce the kind of book I wanted.

Thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered books so far. It’s humbling to know readers are interested in what I write. I’ll do my best to ship your copies as soon as I receive them. I will keep everyone posted.