“I was always willing to try to fight for my country, but I never could.”

Posted June 19th, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

firing-squad-executionJune 1863 saw messages and telegraph traffic explode to new levels as the North and the Army of the Potomac anticipated General Lee’s next move.  Many expected Lee, fresh from victory at Chancellorsville, to go on the offensive.  The North, wounds still knitting from that battle, reorganized and prepared to match Lee’s movements.  Many enlistments in the Army of the Potomac had expired on June 1st, and many one year and ninety-day men went home.  The draw down in man power and influx of new units saw the Iron Brigade re-designated as the First Brigade of the First Division of the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  They would now be first on paper, as well as first on the field, in the coming campaign.

The men of the Iron Brigade knew nothing of General Lee’s plans, and continued to rotate on and off of picket duty.  Continue Reading »

New York Times “Disunion”: Raiding the Keokuk

Posted May 26th, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats, Writing

keokukMy third piece for the New York Times “Disunion” series is now online.  “Raiding the Keokuk” is about a daring salvage operation of an enemy warship in contested waters.  The warship, USS Keokuk, is one of those oddities of technology that really should never have been built.  As necessity during wartime can result in brilliant success — i.e. USS Monitor — it can also generate spectacular failures.

I’m really happy with this piece as I was able to get much closer to individuals and a single ship.  USS Keokuk, while not a successful design, was a unique looking vessel, and I have a model of her in-progress that I look forward to completing.

Direct link to article HERE.

Chancellorsville: In Reserve… again.

Posted May 7th, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

0704000245-lThe spring of 1863 came to an Army of the Potomac in the midst of change.  After taking command from General Burnside in late January, “Fighting Joe” Hooker spent the early days of the year rebuilding the army, both physically and mentally.  Meals were improved, with more fresh food brought in daily.  The paymasters got everyone up to date on their pay, removing the burden of worrying about providing financially for those back home.

A new furlough system lessened desertions.  Soldiers were granted extended leave to visit home, some for the first time since they’d enlisted more than two years prior.  And as the furlough system lessened the number of men deserting, those that had already run were welcomed back.  The last three weeks of March 1863 Continue Reading »

New York Times “Disunion”: Rise of the Infernal Machines

Posted March 21st, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats, Writing


My second piece for the Times’ “Disunion” web series has been published.  “Rise of the Infernal Machines” gives an overview of the torpedoes of the day, what we now mostly know as mines.  Crude, unstable, and mostly non-functional, they provided the Confederacy with a new weapon with which to strike back at the superior Union navy.  Despite their endless problems, they succeeded in sinking more Union warships than all other means combined (probably speaking more to the ineffectiveness of Confederate warships and fortifications than to effectiveness of the torpedoes).  The article can be access HERE.

Playing Cards and Running

Posted January 28th, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

Belle Plaine camp in background, Confederate prisoners in foreground.

January 1863 saw the 19th Indiana and the Iron Brigade in winter quarters, camped at Bella Plain, VA, on Potomac Creek.  Still smarting from the defeat at Fredericksburg, many referred to the winter of 1862-1863 as “the Valley Forge of the Army of the Potomac”.  The soldiers built wooden cabins that they fitted with fireplaces and covered with their field tents, then settled in for several months of inaction.

With little to do, talk among the soldiers turned to the recent Emancipation Proclamation.  Most were against it, in the respect that they thought it changed the course of the fight.  A Captain of the 19th wrote “I dont want to fight to free the Darkeys.  If any body else wants to do so, they are welcome to come and do so.”(sic)  The near-general consensus throughout the unit and most of the army was that they had signed up to restore and preserve the Union, not free slaves.  Obviously little thought was given to the main reason that had caused the war and brought them to that place.  Still, others welcomed the proclamation and couldn’t wait to get freedmen Continue Reading »

New York Times “Disunion” Piece Published

Posted January 21st, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats, Writing

city buildingVery happy to announce that the New York Times has published my first piece for their website.  Ironclad Fever is about the armored warship building frenzy in both North and South after the Monitor and Virginia (Merrimack) battle in 1862.

I’m extremely pleased to be able to put all of the historical research I’ve done while building models and writing stories into this format.

150 Years Ago Today: USS Cairo, Preserved by Gunpowder

Posted December 12th, 2012 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats

“…I heard an explosion from the Cairo, and on looking up (from a small boat on the river) I saw her anchor thrown up several feet in the air.” – Ensign Walter E.H. Fentress

“…just as we were training on the battery (gun emplacement or torpedo), we were struck by a torpedo, which exploded under our starboard bow, a few feet from the center and some 35 or 40 feet from the bow proper just under our provision store room, which crushed in the bottom of the boat so that the water rushed in like the roar of Niagara.  In five minutes the Hold was full of water and the forward part of the gunboat was flooded… One of our heaviest bow guns had been dismounted by the force of the explosion, injuring three men. ” -George Yost.

On December 12th, 1862, the  American Civil War saw yet another military first: USS Cairo became the first warship sunk by an underwater mine, or torpedo as they were known at the time.  The Union Navy had known of Continue Reading »

After Antietam: Regrouping

Posted November 14th, 2012 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

After the Battle of Antietam, the Union Army took time to lick its wounds.  President Lincoln and many in the Washington command structure champed at the bit and wanted McClellan and the army in pursuit of the Confederates to follow up on the victory.  McClellan, though, stood by his decision to rest his battered forces and regroup.

The men of the 19th Indiana and the Iron Brigade rejoiced at the break.  They’d been roughly handled in their first three battles, and their numbers depleted drastically.  Immediately after the battle the unit camped on the battlefield near the Dunker Church, their objective the morning of the battle.  As the fortunate began to trickle in from the hospital, the survivors walked the fields, burying the dead men and feeding huge bonfires to burn the dead horses and mules; inky black smoke towered skywards for weeks afterwards while Gardner’s photographers walked the battlefield and photographed the carnage.

As they sat in camp, Continue Reading »

Location, location, location

Posted October 18th, 2012 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History

I’d lived in Hoboken for a half-dozen years before I realized that Stevens Institute of Technology, right down the road from where we live, has a collection of original USS Monitor drawings.  It took a bit longer for me to get it together and query the school about visiting to view the plans.  Since then I’ve been going through their original letters and log books on the Stevens Battery, looking for elusive drawings of that cursed ship.

Yesterday, though, it was back to the USS Monitor, as I helped staff, students, and another volunteer, pull all of the drawings and begin photographing them.  Our photos are mere reminders of what is there, and their present condition, before they are to be packed up and sent to the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA, for full digitizing, so that others can see what is there.  And there are some amazing items: several drawings done in pencil by Ericsson himself, two plans that were obviously used in the machinist shop as they’re covered with fingerprints and spots of oil and dirt, and two color inked drawings of what appear to be Swedish gunboat prototypes that Ericsson designed and drew.

I’m really looking forward to finishing up the project and getting the plans to the Mariner’s, and I’m really hoping we’ll find some more cool stuff in the process.

The Battle of Antietam: September 17th, 1862

Posted September 17th, 2012 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

Wars are about attrition.  They start out with patriotic slogans, promises to protect those who can’t protect themselves, or the notion of righting horrific wrongs, but the series of battles themselves come down to attrition: each side kills as many of the other side until one has lost too many lives or they’ve expended all of their resources in the contest, and they then surrender.  That’s it, and it’s rarely more evident than in the Civil War (although World War I has my vote for the most effective campaign to thin humanity’s population), and there’s no greater monument to the loss of life in the Civil War than the Battle of Antietam.

Following the Battle of South Mountain, Union General McClellan had the Confederate armies on the run.  Continue Reading »