Rashness of that Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson
Robert J. Wynstra
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WINNER, 2010, DR. JAMES I. ROBERTSON LITERARY PRIZE FOR CONFEDERATE HISTORY AWARD
WINNER, 2011, THE BACHELDER-CODDINGTON LITERARY AWARD, GIVEN BY THE ROBERT E. LEE CIVIL WAR ROUND TABLE OF CENTRAL NEW JERSEY
WINNER, 2011, GETTYSBURG CIVIL WAR ROUND TABLE BOOK AWARD
No commander in the Army of Northern Virginia suffered more damage to his reputation at Gettysburg than did Brig. Gen. Alfred Holt Iverson. In little more than an hour during the early afternoon of July 1, 1863, much of his brigade (the 5th, 12th, 20th, and 23rd North Carolina regiments) was slaughtered in front of a stone wall on Oak Ridge. Amid rumors that he was a drunk, a coward, and had slandered his own troops, Iverson was stripped of his command less than a week after the battle and before the campaign had even ended.
After months of internal feuding and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering, the survivors of Iverson’s ill-fated brigade had no doubt about who to blame for their devastating losses. What remained unanswered was the lingering uncertainty of how such a disaster could have happened. This and many other questions are explored for the first time in Robert J. Wynstra’s The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson.
Wynstra’s decade-long investigation draws upon a wealth of newly discovered and previously unpublished sources to provide readers with fresh perspectives and satisfying insights. The result is an engrossing chronicle of how the brigade’s politics, misadventures, and colorful personalities combined to bring about one of the Civil War’s most notorious blunders. As Wynstra’s research makes clear, Iverson’s was a brigade in fatal turmoil long before its rendezvous with destiny in Forney field on July 1.
This richly detailed and thoughtfully written account is biographical, tactical, and brigade history at its finest. For the first time we have a complete picture of the flawed general and his brigade’s bitter internecine feuds that made Iverson’s downfall nearly inevitable and help us better understand “the rashness of that hour.”
About the Author: Robert J. Wynstra recently retired as a senior writer for the News and Public Affairs Office in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in history and a Master’s degree in journalism, all from the University of Illinois. Rob has been researching Alfred Iverson’s role in the Civil War for more than ten years. He is finishing work on a study of Robert Rodes’ Division in the Gettysburg Campaign.
miserable wounded men hollering and going on out in the yard and in the barn and the other buildings.” She recalled vividly the agony of the injured: “They moaned and cried and went on terribly. Oh! Take me home to my parents, they’d say.”39 Before reaching the division hospital, most of the wounded received some form of treatment, however rudimentary, on the field from members of the regimental ambulance corps, which consisted of two litter bearers from each company. Many of the men discovered
Davidson County Historical Museum, Lexington, North Carolina, and Asbury Hull Jackson to Dear Sister, June 23, 1863, Edward Harden Papers, Duke. 6 Blacknall to Jinny, June 22, 1863, Blacknall Papers. 7 OR 27, pt. 3, 912-913. 8 Oliver, “Recollections,” 1. The most notable exception was the murder of farmer Isaac Strite, just north of Greencastle on June 20 by three drunken stragglers from Jenkins’s Brigade. For details, see Henry B. Hege, “The Civil War Unvarnished—Henry B. Hege to Henry G.
of the University of North Carolina and a veteran of the Mexican War. He became a prominent lawyer in Lincoln County and served in the state legislature. At the outbreak of hostilities with the North, he took the position as adjutant general of the state for the troops raised as volunteer regiments. In July of 1861, he won election as colonel of what would become the 23rd North Carolina and resigned his state position.30 Some of the harshest criticism about the event came from Gen. D. H. Hill,
Walnut Bottom road, down South Pitt to Main street, thence to Bedford street. The band at the head of the column played ‘Dixie’ as it passed through the streets.” Another eyewitness noted that the Confederate troops made their way through town “to martial music, banners flaunting and posted their guards at each corner.”26 One of those who watched the soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia tramp through Carlisle was 15-year-old James Sullivan. To the teenager’s surprise, Rodes’ veterans
during the subsequent charge of a part of our line.” According to this Federal officer, the men in his regiment “suffered from this Confederate skirmish line in the field and road to the right, and covered itself as skirmishers as best it could in rear of the wall, several men springing up in concert and firing as closely as possible whence the smoke from the Confederate fire arose.”48 The indiscriminate firing from the Confederates near the road continued as the Federals herded their prisoners