Colonel Solon Z. Ruff


SOLON Z. RUFF, colonel of the 18th Georgia which followed the Phillips Georgia Legion in the attack on Fort Sanders, was a graduate of the Georgia Military Institute and a professor there until the war began, according to the web site Men of Wofford’s Georgia Brigade. Ruff enlisted and was appointed lieutenant colonel. He would lead the 18th from the beginning with the Texas Brigade until its reorganization under General Wofford.

The Eighteenth Mississippi’s Captain Gart Johnson told Confederate Veteran Magazine years after the war that Ruff was shot down at the edge of the ditch along with Col. Kennon McElroy of the Thirteenth Mississippi. Johnson said they were standing there remonstrating over how to get their entangled commands separated into recognizable units for the fight. And so they die in the novel.

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Tail coats

“Men in claw-hammer coats and tall, beaver hats and ladies in silk dresses and sunbonnets were standing looking down at us from above the red-clay walls we had tried so hard to climb…”

So says Private Lafayette Bolton of the Dalton Guards, of the Phillips Georgia Legion, one of the attacking Confederate units in the battle. He was on burial detail in Chapter 8. All of these items of clothing are self-explanatory except the claw-hammer coats, also called swallow-tail coats for the division of their cloth at the rear of the coat.

The coats were quite common in the 1860s, had been for decades, but nowadays are generally only seen in tuxedos, the white-tie-and-tails configuration of the men’s evening dress apparel. As Wikipedia relates at the link:  “The historical reason coats were cut this way was to make it easier for the wearer to ride a horse…”

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Reprise:Susan Brownlow

Parson William Gannaway Brownlow was as popular in the North as he was despised in the South.

So when the Confederates finally kicked him out of Knoxville, he and his wife Elisa and their daughter, Susan, enjoyed great acclaim in Philadelphia. He gave speeches and wrote pamphlets.

There, this pamphlet was circulated, though who produced it and why Susan was dubbed Martha isn’t clear.

That she was a heroine to the Yankees is readily understandable. She was the daughter of a man who, though a slave-owner who was decidedly not an abolitionist, was nevertheless intensely loyal to the Union.

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Find Fort Sanders


Curious caption, since I can’t figure out where Fort Sanders is, and this only a year or so after the battle. Given that the river would be more or less on the east side of Knoxville, I think the fort would be off to the left, out of the frame of the picture altogether. What do you think?

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Those sharpshooters

Sharpshooters, like the unknown Rebel one who felled Fort Sanders’ namesake, General William P. Sanders, from more than a mile away, were special troops with their own drill and esprit.

It helped that they often had special arms such as this 13-pound English Whitworth rifle which the Knoxville shooter employed. But there was more to them than their tools.

A newly revised 2006 nonfiction history has the details of these “shock troops” of the Confederacy. There’s also a new collection of papers and letters from Eugene Blackford, a contentious major who helped organize the first battalion of sharpshooters of the Army of Northern Virginia in January, 1863. Worth a look.


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Reprise: General McLaws’ courts martial

Although convened in February, 1864, McLaws’ courts martial for dereliction of duty in the assault on Fort Sanders at Knoxville, was on-again, off-again, for the next several weeks.

Finally, on March 11, the trial commenced at a private home in Greenville, Tennessee, where Longstreet’s artillery battalion was camped for the winter.

Indeed, the artillery battalion’s commander Colonel Edward Porter Alexander was one of the trial’s principal witnesses. It was heard by a seven-officer court, which included the Mississippi Brigade’s commander Gen. Humphreys, the only member who had previously reported to McLaws.

McLaws had demanded the trial after Longstreet relieved him for failure “to make arrangements essential to success” in the attack on Fort Sanders, specifically in not providing ladders for the assaulting Mississippi and Georgia troops to climb the icy walls of the fort’s northwest bastion.

“My trial commenced yesterday,” McLaws wrote his wife, Emily, on March 12, “and two witnesses were examined for the prosecution, both of whom testified as strongly as possible in my favor.”

Alexander was one. He “declared,” McLaws wrote, “that he made a reconnaissance of the enemys works, and the result was his conviction that there was no ditch at the north west angle of the enemys works that offered any obstacle to entering the works[,] that he repeatedly declared this to Genl. Longstreet and myself and repeatedly advised that the assault be made at that point and that it was his opinion which he expressed openly, there was no [need] for ladders or fascines to get over the ditch.”

The problem, of course, was that the fort sat on a higher elevation than the immediately surrounding terrain. So no Confederate, including Longstreet, could see the ditch well enough to properly estimate its width and depth.

“The other witness, the next,” McLaws continued, “was surgeon [Dr. J.S.] Cullen, who visited the fort under [the] flag of truce [and testified] that the ditch at the angle where the assault was made was not more than four feet deep but that along the sides of the work it was ten feet deep and ten feet wide at least.”

Other observers not involved in the trial put the depth where the assault was made at much more than four feet. Less easy to refute in the trial was Longstreet’s charge that throughout the siege of Knoxville, McLaws had showed a want of  confidence in the commanding general. And, in the end, the court found McLaws guilty and sentenced him to a sixty-day suspension of rank and pay.

A reviewing officer later threw out the verdict. He decided the court had not substantiated its decision and “irregularities…fatal to the record” had occurred when Longstreet tried to manipulate the court’s officers. McLaws was ordered reinstated in command of his division. But he never returned.

Longstreet succeeded in having Gen. Lee order McLaws replaced. McLaws went on to supervise troops in the defense of Savannah, Georgia, until the war was over.

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Jacob Lyon, Fort Sanders defender

Simon Lyon of Chicago has written me of his great grandfather, Jacob Lyon, who fought in the defense of Fort Sanders as a member of Lieutenant Benjamin’s battery E of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. Benjamin commanded the defense in the absence of its nominal commander. Here is Simon’s email:

“Hello Dick:

My great-grandfather, Jacob Lyon, was a member of “Benjamin’s Battery” (Battery E, 2nd US artillery) and was present at Fort Sanders during the Battle.

He was an “Old Soldier”, a German immigrant shoe-maker, starving in NYC, who enlisted, there, in 1854, and experienced his basic training at Governor’s Island.

He was recruited by William Selby Harney and was immediately sent to the Everglades, where he participated in the Third Seminole War. (In those days in that place, the artillery was really infantry.)

I won’t bore you with the details, but he served in the Army from 1854-1864 (honorably discharged before the Wilderness).

I have a copy of a letter from Benjamin to his [former battery first sergeant, Andrew Eitelman], which mentions my great-grandfather.

I also have copies of letters of reference from Winfield Scott Hancock (whom he met in Florida during the Third Seminole War) in behalf of my great grandfather, which I obtained from the Federal Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.”

The Benjamin letter, written years after the war when he was a major and an assistant adjutant general, follows in Simon’s transcription:

WASHINGTON, April 1st (Year not mentioned)

Dear Sir [Andrew Eitelman]

I was very glad to get your letter and to learn that you were doing well. I am always glad to hear of the men who were with me in the War and fought so bravely. We went thru many hardships, and I have always thought that I had a remarkably good set of men. Your own record is an unusually good one.

Lt. Graves is a Captain and is now in Texas. Lt. Ford is now a captain in the ?? ???? Dept. Sergt. Kaiser is an Ordinance Sergeant. Kerffe is a 1st Lieutenant in the 4th Infantry. Sergeant Aigle has a small farm near Fort Monroe. Lyon & Carew are in the [Treasury] Departments in the city. Capt. Carlisle is dead. Lt. Denike & Major Robertson are dead. I am sorry Kruger turned out so badly & thank you for warning me.

I hope sincerely that you will prosper & do well. You have earned the right to consideration & respect of all, by your bravery & devotion.

With kind wishes for the welfare of your family and yourself.

I am Yours Very truly 
S N Benjamin, Major & AAG

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Grave of Fort Sanders’ commander


First Lieutentant Samuel Nicoll Benjamin, who commanded Fort Sanders while the political general who was its nominal commander spent his time drinking, is buried at Saint Phillips Church Cemetery in Garrison, New York. The cemetery is across the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from which Benjamin graduated in 1861.

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