We welcome a guest post today from Graham T. Dozier, editor of A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter. In May 1861, Virginian Thomas Henry Carter (1831–1908) raised an artillery battery and joined the Confederate army. Over the next four years, he rose steadily in rank from captain to colonel, placing him among the senior artillerists in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Dozier offers the definitive edition of Carter’s letters, meticulously transcribed and carefully annotated. This impressive collection brings to light Carter’s unvarnished opinions of the people and events that shaped his wartime experience and sheds new light on Lee’s army and Confederate life in Virginia.
In a previous post, Dozier discussed Carter’s battleground visit after Bull Run. In today’s post, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek, Dozier reveals Carter’s assessment of discipline and leadership within the Confederate and Union armies there.
Col. Thomas Henry Carter was an aggressive and disciplined officer in the South’s most successful army. For three years he had distinguished himself as an artillery commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Now, in October of 1864, while serving as chief of artillery in the Army of the Valley, he was deeply concerned. In letters to his wife, Susan, he described in great detail the crushing Confederate defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek. He also offered astute observations about the fighting qualities of the Southern army. Carter’s frank opinions not only reveal his frustration over the army’s conduct but also bring to light his views on military leadership.
The battle of October 19, 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley had started out as an almost-total rout of the Union army. The early morning surprise attack by Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley had overwhelmed two Yankee corps and pushed them to high ground north of the village of Middletown, and Tom Carter’s artillery had played an important role in the apparent Southern victory. Things changed, however, when Early’s force halted its attack for several hours. That gave the Union army the time needed to establish a defensive position and launch a counterattack. The subsequent Yankee assault turned a near-certain Rebel victory into a complete Northern one. Two days later, when Tom took the time to send Susan a letter, he was still stunned. “In the morning [the Confederates] were lions, in the evening lambs. Such facts are incredible to one who has not witnessed them but they are unfortunately too true.”
In the same letter, dated October 21, Carter offered a simple opinion as to why the battle had been lost. “The Yankee discipline,” he asserted, “is immeasurably superior to ours.” In a rare moment of frustration, he lashed out at the behavior of his army’s leaders. keep reading →