I started my Air Force career as an imagery intelligence analyst (also known as a “1N1X1” or a “squint”). It was my job to examine images taken by any of a plethora of “overhead” military platforms (U2 spy planes, as one example) and determine what was going on in them. American intelligence collection capability is truly amazing, and the origins of airborne intelligence collection were simultaneously humble and revolutionary.
The value of airborne intelligence gathering was pretty well evident in the earliest days of aviation. Only months following the first human’s ascension in a hot air balloon into the sky near Versailles in 1783, the French incorporated a balloon unit into its military. However, despite the notable contributions made during successive European battles, by 1802 the aérostiers were retired.[i] So by the time the US Civil War erupted in 1861, manned balloons had remained almost entirely outside of military operations for the better part of six decades.
At the outset of the conflict, experienced balloonists (called “aeronauts”) like Thaddeus Lowe, John La Mountain, and John Wise petitioned the US government for the opportunity to serve the country with the unique capabilities afforded by their aerial platforms. And while La Mountain was able to establish balloon operations in beleaguered Fort Monroe, Virginia, Lowe distinguished himself from his professional competitors by demonstrating the unique capabilities offered by aerial intelligence directly to President Lincoln. On 16 June, 1861, Lowe ascended in a balloon which was tethered near the White House. He then, using a telegraph machine in the basket, telegraphed what he saw directly to Lincoln’s office.
“This point of observation commands an area near fifty miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene,” reported Lowe in what could be described, using today’s military concepts, as an exercise intelligence report.[ii] Lincoln was impressed, and appointed Lowe head of the Union’s new Balloon Corps.
From the earliest days of the war through early 1863, the Balloon Corps demonstrated the unique capability afforded by aerial intelligence. An early example of this is actually on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio. Set up in the front of the Early Years Gallery is a hand-drawn map. In April 1861, Union forces at Fort Monroe in Virginia were isolated thanks to Virginia’s secession. John La Mountain managed to get his equipment and a single balloon into the old fort, which was bracing for a possible assault similar to Fort Sumter. Major General Benjamin Butler, in command at Monroe at the time, needed intelligence, and La Mountain was the man to get it for him. On 10 August, La Mountain ascended in his balloon to 3500 feet. From that vantage, he was able to identify troop camps and naval activity. He also provided General Butler with this map, possibly the first example of aerial intelligence mapping.[iii]
The use of these military balloons not only advanced military intelligence collection capabilities, but the Union army was forced to devise new technologies to deploy the assets in the field. Thaddeus Lowe created a mobile hydrogen gas generator, as well as directed the conversion of a Navy vessel into a specialized balloon deployment asset. This vessel, the USS George Washington Parke Custis – a coal barge- was fitted with the special hydrogen generator, and the deck was cleared to allow for balloon inflation. This gave the Union the ability to tow the balloon along the Potomac and adjacent waterways, expanding the range and flexibility of aerial intelligence collection.[iv]
Arguably then, the first military aviation platforms commissioned by the US Army were intelligence collection platforms. Yes, they were used for artillery spotting, but one of the primary drivers for President Lincoln to approve the creation of a Balloon Corps was the promise of real-time intelligence collection and transmission to commanders on the ground. It was not uncommon for an officer (at times, the commander) to ascend with Lowe to get a sense of the land and enemy disposition. The Confederates were vexed by the balloons, and tried to destroy them whenever they were observed rising.
Photographs would not be used with balloons, although some experiments of aerial photography (using kites and balloons) had been conducted by civilians around this time. However, the methodical use of professional intelligence gathering by specially trained aeronauts during the US Civil War is clear milestone (if not the first milestone) in the evolution of American aerial intelligence capabilities. A whole new dimension of warfare was emerging.
[i] I’m not going to pretend that my research into French ballooning goes beyond the reading of a few secondary sources at this point. Charles M. Evans, in War of the Aeronauts, gives a brief overview of the earliest days of ballooning as he lays the ground work for his in-depth telling the use of balloons in the US Civil War. But I found a fascinating and concise article on the subject in All the Year Round, a British periodical and literary journal edited by none other than Charles Dickens. All the Year Round, Volume 1; Volume 21 (27 Feb, 1869) pp297-299.
[ii] Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Thaddeus S. C. Lowe to Abraham Lincoln, Sunday,Telegram from balloon. 1861. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mal1031300/.
[iii] Evans, Charles M, War of the Aeronauts, a History of Ballooning (Stackpole Books, Mechanichsville, PA, 2002), 96-98.
I wrote an earlier version of this article for Yahoo! News several years ago. At the time, the media were reporting on some purported American intelligence failures in the Middle East. The appropriateness (and the conclusions being drawn) aside, I was motivated to highlight some of the significant (acknowledged) successes that American and Allied intelligence agencies had accomplished over the past 75 years or so.
Today, with the Intelligence Community facing political assaults here at home, I thought it’d be a good time to dust off the article and share it again. The American Intelligence Community has a proud history, and while thorough scrutiny of that community is essential in a democracy, those who would undercut the professionals dedicated to the defense of the nation for political gain need to be rebuked at the ballot box.
But I digress.
When the public hears about the CIA, NSA or military intelligence, it’s often not a good thing. Often, we find ourselves uncomfortable with the very idea of secret intelligence, as it seems at odds with the ideals of an open democratic republic. So when questions about data collection against US citizens arise, a shadow is cast over the intelligence community as a whole. In addition, as I alluded to above, significant intelligence failures (e.g., the September 11 attacks), can shake public confidence in our intelligence apparatus. And frankly, questions about the scope of intelligence collection, and whether the IC is fully capable of meeting today’s evolving threats are right and proper. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that the IC has a record of achievement second to none, and that’s just with what is known and acknowledged. Successful intelligence collection and analysis has been instrumental in turning the tide of war, and in some cases has aided in the shifting of the global balance of power.
I’ve collected here five success stories from modern history, each of which demonstrates the critical role that intelligence played in preserving national security. This list is, of course, subjective, and in no particular order. In every conflict, intelligence plays a vital role in victory. I chose these particular examples because of the relatively clear strategic impact these definable intelligence victories had. Also note that this is not a “top 5 of all time” kind of thing. I’ll work on that project sometime later.
Cracking Enigma (World War II): The German military‘s machine-based cryptographic system called Enigma had a ciphering capability that was theoretically unbreakable. And for the early part of the war, it was. Cracking Enigma took a combination of old fashioned spy work, signals collection (meaning the interception of radio transmissions), and cryptography. Polish breakthroughs combined with a German traitor provided by the French resulted in the first successes against Enigma. The British and Americans were able to expand this success into breaking the even more resilient Enigma machines used by the German Navy.
Result: Deep penetration of Hitler’s military movements. Cracking Engima helped save the vital support that the US was sending by ship to Britain by helping to counter the brutal German U-boat attacks. According to Ms. Wilcox, many historians believe that the success against Enigma shortened World War II by as much as two years.
The Battle of Midway (World War II): The U.S. Navy pretty much had one last chance to contain the burgeoning Imperial Navy, and that was at Midway. What transpired from roughly early March – June 4 1942 was a game of cryptographic cat and mouse. But through a mix of diligent signals collection and cryptographic analysis, the US Navy was able to forecast not only the timing of the impending attack on Midway, but also the direction it would come from. In his book Intelligence in War, John Keegan cites a source that describes this as “the most stunning intelligence coup in all naval history.”
Result: Despite the shortcomings of intelligence collection, the U.S. Navy was able to crack Japanese encryption, enabling them to concentrate on defending Midway, giving American forces this most critical of victories in the Pacific Theater.
Further reading: Intelligence in War, by John Keegan.
The Cuban Missile Crisis (Cold War): Leading up to the discovery of the construction of Russian Medium Range Ballistic Missile installations in Cuba, U.S. intelligence had observed a rash of surface to air missile sites popping up at various locations across the island. While this Russian military build-up had been detected using various maritime and other intelligence methods, the smoking gun that brought the world closer to nuclear war than it has even been was uncovered by American U2 imagery intelligence collection in mid-October 1962. Armed with this intel, President John F. Kennedy and his Administration took the evidence public a week later, beginning the tense confrontation that many feared would end in war.
Result: Caught red handed, the Soviets backed down and withdrew the missiles. This prevented the USSR from having the ability to reach the U.S. with its intermediate range nuclear missiles.
Further reading: Trust But Verify: Imagery Analysis in the Cold War, by David T. Lindgren.
Operation Desert Storm: From January 15 to February 24, 1991, Coalition aircraft hammered Iraqi Military and Command and Control targets. On some days, there were as many as 2,500 sorties. These attacks were not random, and except for military equipment found out in the open, were not typically targets of opportunity. The attacks were designed to “cut off the head of the snake.” Logistics lines and Republican Guard command centers were destroyed or evacuated for fear of bombing.
Result: When ground operations initiated on 24 February, it took only 100 hours to completely liberate Kuwait. But an even more far reaching impact wouldn’t become clear until December of that year. Some historians believe that the complete routing of the Iraqi military, which was trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, was the final nail in the USSR’s coffin. Iraq’s overwhelming loss completely discredited Soviet air and ground defense doctrines and weapons systems.
Eliminating Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Operation IRAQI FREEDOM): As the war in Iraq started shifting into sectarian chaos, the mysterious al-Zarqawi led the way. The leader of what would eventually be called Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ), this brutal terror leader declared war on Western forces and Shi’a Iraqis in a bid to incite country-wide civil war. He also became one of the most wanted men in the country. He eluded Coalition forces for some time, but eventually, through the work of the intelligence community and a special US military task force, this key leader of the Iraqi insurgency was eliminated on June 7, 2006 by a targeted air strike.
Result: While of course, Iraq continues to face instability and had to deal with ISIS in recent years, the death of al-Zarqawi delivered a body blow to the Iraqi insurgency, threw AQIZ off balance, and likely magnified the effects of the soon to come military surge. It proved that the nascent Iraqi Government, the US-led Coalition, and reginal allies (Jordanian intelligence reportedly helped locate Zarqawi) were determined to oppose the ethnic warfare being waged by AQIZ.
Of course, there’s so much more that we outside of this world don’t get to see. But I think it does us good to see from time to time what kind of return out tax dollars are getting from our significant investment in national intelligence.
Recently I’ve started doing something that I’ve wanted to do for years: I’ve become a volunteer at the Museum of the United States Air Force, located in Dayton, Ohio.* Once or twice per month, I get to spend several hours within this fine institution, walking among the legacies of the men and women who created modern air power. It’s an incredible experience, and if you haven’t visited, you need to make time to do so. The museum is truly a national treasure, comparable to the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
My time spent within the museum has spurred a number of article ideas and projects that I intend to pursue. But before I get into one of them, I’m going to highlight an exciting upcoming event: on 17 May 2018, the museum will unveil the Memphis Belle to the public, the storied B-17 Flying Fortress that became the first U.S. heavy bomber to complete 25 bombing runs over Europe. The date selected for this is quite purposeful: it will mark the 75th anniversary of the final mission flown by the crew, on 17 May 1943. After months of careful restoration, the Memphis Belle will be presented amid a celebration from the 17th to the 19th. Check out the official web page, and the flyer below:
Apart from this, I’ve started to outline a blog series on airborne (and eventually space-borne) intelligence capabilities. The series is directly inspired by my time in the museum. The collections on display are divided into four massive hangars: Early Years/World War I, Southeast Asia/Korea, Cold War, and the newest, Space/Experimental/Presidential aircraft. With so much history within its walls, there are countless stories and themes one can explore. My interest in military intelligence has led me to start examining the displays that speak to the evolution of air intelligence capabilities. While there are many intelligence-specific exhibits, I hope to present a cohesive narrative of the milestones that have led to the breathtaking capabilities the US Air Force possesses today, starting with the humble balloon.
More to come.
*This is a good time to emphasize that, although I am fortunate to volunteer at the Museum of the USAF, I do not represent them. Everything posted to this blog is my opinion and analysis, and in no way represents the Museum.
In the summer of 1862, Captain Milton Graham began to recruit men to form a new volunteer cavalry regiment to defend the Commonwealth of Kentucky from rebellion. He set up camp at Harrodsburg, Kentucky shortly before 11 July 1862. Company A was one of the first four companies of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (along with D, C, and F).  Volunteers assigned to Company A enrolled primarily between 18 and 22 August (probably after relocating to Louisville), coming mostly from the surrounding Garrand (30 men) and Madison (36 men) Counties, although a handful from Washington, Lancaster, and Boyle Counties were also assigned to the company.
Approximately 75 men (officers and enlisted) comprised Company A when the regiment was mustered into service on 22 September 1862 in Louisville. Interestingly, an additional 30 men were listed as “Within the enemy lines,” at the outset. What is meant by this is not entirely clear. One possibility is related to the first incursion into Kentucky by Confederate forces, which coincided with the formation of the 11th Kentucky. Then-Colonel John Hunt Morgan led several hundred troops north from Tennessee, and actually set up camp at one point outside of Harrodsburg. It was Morgan’s approach that prompted Graham to relocate to Lexington Kentucky on 22 July. In recounting the activity, historian Lowell Harrison notes that while in the area, Morgan boasted of capturing and paroling some 1,200 Union soldiers. It seems plausible that some of these were volunteers that never made it to officially joining the Union army. Their names were accounted for on the regimental muster rolls, but none of them were present when the regiment was officially mustered into service. Most of these would ultimately be removed from the rolls and some charged with desertion (although a handful eventually joined up with the company).
Captain John G. Pond commanded the company (more on him below), and John Milton Cotton (age 27 from Garrand County) and Reuben F. Scott (age 34, from Madison County) were his lieutenants. The average age of the company was 26.22 years at time of muster, somewhat older than I expected. Captain Pond himself was 50 years old in 1862.
Throughout the war, troops being AWOL was a problem. Of the 145 men who enrolled into Company A from 1862 – 1865, 21% (31 soldiers) would be documented as being AWOL at some point in their service. If we consider only the original 75 or so troops, the rate of AWOL remains about the same percentage (15 soldiers, roughly 20%). The desertion rate was even higher, with 39 (25%) of the total number of soldiers who enrolled in Company A being charged with desertion (14 of these were from the original 75, or 18%). As expected, there is plenty of overlap between those that went AWOL and those that deserted. Some of these soldiers eventually returned to the regiment, and after forfeiting pay and taking on extra duties, the charge was often eventually dropped.
The company suffered significant casualties over the course of the war. Of the 75 men present at the mustering in, at least 19 (25%) would be captured over the following 3 years. Over half of those (12) died in prison. At least 24 men from Company A (15%) in total perished before the war’s end. A good number of these casualties resulted from two significant engagements that occurred as part of General Ambrose Burnside’s East Tennessee expedition in October (Philadelphia, TN) and November (Maryville, TN) 1863.
John G. Pond: As mentioned above, the company was organized by Captain Pond, who is arguably the most prominent personality to have served in the company, and possibly the entire regiment. A preacher from Round Hill, in Madison County, he was 50 years old when he joined the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Described as “eccentric” after the war, he was evidently a staunch abolitionist who was fiercely opposed to the Confederacy. “[M]y greatest difference with the administration is that it is too lenient with Rebels, especially in KY,” he wrote in 1864. Despite his age, he was not one to avoid combat. In July 1863, the 11th KY Cavalry was one of the many that took part in the pursuit of Confederate John Hunt Morgan as he raced across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Upon reaching Cincinnati, General Judah was forced to leave the bulk of the 11th behind due to a lack of fresh horses. Enough steeds were pulled together, however, to outfit a single company-sized element. This element was led by Captain Pond. Morgan was ultimately captured, and the 11th was there when it happened.
Eventually, his age bedeviled him toward the end of his service with the regiment. In his resignation letter, Pond stated “I am in my fifty second year and from a fever last fall that fell on my muscles I feel that I am gradually declining.” Interestingly, although Pond resigned from the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, he wasn’t finished with the war. Pond would quickly help found and lead the 117th Kentucky Colored Regiment Infantry as a Lieutenant Colonel in July 1864. Once the war concluded, he not only resumed preaching, but reportedly strove against the Ku Klux Klan in Madison County. He died in 1899, in Boyle County. Clearly, John Pond deserves more scholarly attention.
Solomon Calhoun: This solider caught my attention both because of his colorful name and because his records hint that he may have been either an adventurer or a patriot with a taste for action, or some blending of the two. A 27 year old farmer born in Pulaski County, Kentucky, he enlisted with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry late in the war, during a recruiting push in Louisville in February 1865. The blue eyed, fair-skinned soldier enrolled as a private, and was quickly promoted to corporal. However, the soldier’s status became mired in some controversy, as he was discovered to have previously deserted from the 3rd Kentucky Infantry. In that unit, he started in September 1861 with the rank of sergeant, although he was dinged for losing his musket. His presence with the regiment is unclear until 11 August 1862, when he was given “recruiting duty,” something that lasted several months (at least into December 1862) and was certainly something of a break from combat operations. Evidently he wasn’t quick to report back, as by 1 January 1863 he was listed as AWOL, which was changed to “deserted” status on 31 July 1863. Interestingly, a note on his deserter’s form states that he was “probably to be found in 1st Ky. Cav. Supposed to be in KY.” Another note, dated 20 February 1864, clarifies “Probably to be found with Wolfords Cav.” In other words, he was suspected of abandoning his infantry unit so he could fight with a cavalry unit (this alone begs for some additional research). He was dropped from the 3rd Kentucky Infantry’s rolls 1 November 1863. It was at this point that Sergeant Calhoun was demoted and listed as “Private Calhoun.” Inexplicably, he returned in August of 1864 and was allowed to rejoin his unit, with forfeiture of pay.  On 13 October, 1864, he was mustered out of the regiment. Within four months, he would be with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry.
William P. Pierce: This 20-year old from Garrand County managed to secure the rank of sergeant at the outset, but he wouldn’t remain enlisted for long. Evidently resourceful, he became the acting adjunct for the company within weeks of the regiment mustering into service. This meant he was acting in the capacity of a first lieutenant, which wasn’t officially recognized until May 1865 (backdated to 1 October 1862). On 14 November 1863, he was one of 8 others of the company captured at Marysville, TN, but he was paroled 30 April 1864. After a few weeks of leave, he accepted a promotion to Captain on 6 August, to fill the vacancy created by Captain Pond’s resignation.
The above only scratches the surface of the preceding soldiers, and there are so many others I’d love to highlight. I’ve marked a few more for additional research. I’m trying to block off time this month (September) to visit the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Military History Museum in Frankfort. They have some research materials there that I hope will provide further insights into the shaping of this regiment, and perhaps into the men who fought within it
This is the first part of a company-by-company look at the Union’s 11th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment. These should be considered works in progress, to which much will be added over the coming months (plus, I need to clean up my footnotes, as some aren’t in proper CMS format). Once we’ve had a chance to look at each company, we’ll roll it all up together to see what we can learn of the regiment as a whole, from the individual soldier on up. We’re kicking off this study with, appropriately enough, Company A.
Methodology: I queried the National Park Service’s (NPS) Civil War Soldiers and Sailors data to extract all soldiers identified as serving under the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (this is how I have this data), then copied the data into a spreadsheet. To make sure I had as complete a roster as possible, I then compared the names in the database query to the roster listing published in The Union Regiments of Kentucky. This helped to clean up the data, as the NPS database contains some duplicate entries and plenty of spelling errors (e.g. one solider was represented 4 times as his name was spelled 4 different ways). The raw NPS data provided great information on each soldier, such as “first name,” “last name,” “Rank in,” “Rank Out,” etc. Then, stepping soldier by soldier through Fold3, I added additional columns to capture data points not contained in the NPS database. This was a mix of demographic data (e.g. age, where the soldier entered service, whether they were part of the original regiment mustered into service, were they captured and/or killed). I’ve posted the combined data into a spreadsheet here. Note on the Fold3 data: you’ll either need an account with them (they charge a fee) or you’ll need to go through a library or university if you want to follow the Fold3 addresses where I pulled the info.
After pulling what insights I could from the NPS and Fold3 databases, I switched gears into old-fashioned historical research, pulling together what I could find for the regiment in general and Company A in particular from the Official Records as well as additional primary and secondary sources. The articles that follow will be updated continuously, as additional primary source research will almost certainly provide expanded insights. Each article will present the statistics gleaned from the database information, then conclude with a few soldier vignettes, where I introduce you to these soldiers mostly obscured by time. My ultimate goal is to produce a scholarly regimental history that captures the stories of as many of the individual soldiers as possible.
 Thomas Speed, R.M. Kelly, and Alfred Pirtle, The Union Regiments of Kentucky, Volume 1 (Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1887), 224
 County of origin determined by review of Company A member muster rolls.
In early morning on April 18, 1942, a small Japanese vessel detected a large American
naval force powering toward Tokyo. That the Americans were intent on attacking the Empire was without question: the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, scarcely 4 months prior, was still a recent, searing memory. However, the fleet was still 600 miles from the coast. Because of the limited range of conventional carrier-borne aircraft, detection at such a distance normally would have given the Japanese ample time to intercept the invaders. Yet this invasion was far from conventional.
Shortly after detecting the Japanese vessel, 16 highly modified Army Air Forces (AAF) B-25 bombers took off in rapid succession from the USS Hornet. Led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, the aircraft skirted over Tokyo at mid-day, dropped their bombs, and egressed toward China without immediate loss. Unable to reach landing strips on mainland China, they were forced to ditch their aircraft. Eight airmen were ultimately captured by the Japanese, with three being executed. One crew, accidentally landing in Russia, were detained there. The rest returned safely.
April 18th 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of this most amazing military feat. As part of the commemoration, 17 B-25s touched down at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, behind the Museum of the United States Air Force, early this morning on the 17th. I walked among the restored aircraft, took pictures, and marveled at the thought of that daring, and highly symbolic, mission. Doolittle was well aware that the likely impact to Japanese warfighting capability would be limited. But what was important was to show America, her friends, and her enemies that even in the wake of such a disaster as Pearl Harbor, the United States could fight. In that, the mission was a powerful success. Doolittle and his Raiders were instant American heroes, and the commander would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the raid.
The 17 B-25s will be on display through the morning of the 18th. Weather permitting, they will then conduct a flyover of the museum, followed by a memorial service, and then a B-1 Lancer flyover. LtCol Richard E. Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider (he’s 101 years old) plans to attend.
 Geoffrey Perret, Winged Victory, The Army Air Forces in World War II (New York: Random House, 1993) 150-153.).
On December 7, 1862, in the early morning hours, Confederate forces led by General John Hunt Morgan launched a surprise attack on approximately 2,000 Union soldiers situated at Hartsville, Tennessee. The Union soliders, which included Company E of the 11th
Kentucky Cavalry (the rest of the regiment evidently remained at Gallatin, some 15 miles east) were charged with guarding the Cumberland River where Confederate Cavalry crossed to harass Federal forces. The occupied position was assessed as quite strong, and was only 9 miles from Castalian Springs where 2 Union brigades were located. At approximately 6:45 AM, battle commenced. The bewildered Union force, led by Colonel Absalom Moore (who had only taken command 5 days prior) attempted to organize a defense, but to little avail. Though many of his troops fought nobly, at least one regiment panicked and fled, exposing the Union center which forced Moore to at first attempt to regroup, but then to ultimately surrender. The fight was over in less than two hours, with just over 2000 Union soldiers captured, wounded, or killed. The Confederate casualties were about 125.
The US Army was furious at the humiliating defeat. General Halleck pointedly asked, “What officer or officers are chargeable with the surprise at Hartsville and deserve punishment?” Most blamed Colonel Moore (Halleck certainly did), who would ultimately resign rather than be dismissed from service. Moore gave several reasons for his defeat: the scurrilous use of Union uniforms by the rebels to sneak up on vedettes, a massive enemy force (he estimated Morgan’s strength at about 5,000-6000. The Confederates reported having 1,200 men), the “shameful” retreat of one of his regiments, and popular support from the Tennessee locals. However, one additional reason was of particular interest to me: in his report on the battle (submitted after being paroled by the CSA), Moore states that his force was greatly reduced by sickness. The day before the battle, Moore said that he had sent about 200 men back to Gallatin to escort a provisions train. Between losing those men and “a great many[men] being sick in hospital at the time of the attack, left me but the small force of about 1,200 men to contend with 5,000 of the rebels…”
One of those sick was quite possibly my great-great-great grandfather, who, according to a note on one of his muster rolls, was left in a hospital at Gallatin when the 11th KY Cav departed that town on 26 December, 19 days following the defeat at Hartsville. I’ve come to find that some form of chronic illness bedeviled my ancestor throughout the war, and may have crippled him in the years after. The nature of this sickness has become one of my top research questions in regards to the life and service of Greenberry Shanks.
Making good on the plan I mentioned in the first article of this series, I took to the road in search of more details on the life of Private Greenberry Shanks of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (Company D). Focusing my search in the part of the state where he had been raised seemed like a good move (although it’s unclear if he was born there). Before leaving, I located the main public libraries that seemed most likely to help me find records not currently available online, namely the Bourbon County and Clark County libraries in Eastern Kentucky. On February 24th, I jumped in my car and drove the 3 hours or so from my home in south-central Ohio, through surprisingly green farmlands (it had been a warm winter) set among the meandering hills of the Bluegrass State, to Paris, Kentucky (the location of the Bourbon-Paris Library). My brother, who is as determined as I am to get to know Greenberry, met me there.
To make a half-day story short, we turned up no new documents around Greenberry or his wife Serilda. Although both libraries were quite impressive, we never located birth or death certificates for either, and no marriage certificate. We poured over local documents and collections of cemetery data, marriage records on microfiche (although in this matter, I realized I had overlooked a clue in the documentation on hand as to the date he and Serlida were married) and family trees donated to the libraries. The only documents to mention Greenberry were the published census documents I had already found online.
But the trip was still enlightening. It was a pleasure to work with the genealogy librarians at both locations, who were knowledgeable and helpful. The librarian working in the Paris-Bourbon library immediately recognized the Shanks name, thanks to an infamous “Shanks family massacre” that occurred in the area in the late 1700s, when Shanks pioneers were attacked by native Indians. I couldn’t find any documentation to connect the survivors to my family, but I’ve got that tucked away for additional research later. In addition, the librarians provided tips on other places (the local courthouse, and a private genealogy library only open during the spring and summer months) that I could research when I return at some point.
Despite the frustrating lack of the aforementioned vital documents, thanks to the online research (fleshed out somewhat by what we learned in the libraries) Greenberry’s life is coming more into focus, and it’s an exciting thing. He lived more than half of his life in Bourbon and Clark counties (it’s possible he never actually moved, as the county lines were evidently being disputed around this time). He worked as a laborer on a farm owned by one Hezekiah Owens, where he likely met Sarilida Owens. Sometime around 1850 or 1851, they married. It’s unclear where exactly the two lived after being married, but prior to 1860, he moved his family west, to Washington County. It was from there that Greenberry would travel to Harrodsburg in 1862 to join the cavalry in defense of the Commonwealth and the Union.
In my last article, I stated that he left behind a one year old son, James, when he went off to war. The evidence now suggests he had five children by 1862: three daughters (Martha, Mary, and Amanda) and two sons (Samuel and James). He would father one more daughter (Annie) before dying sometime before 1880.
He had assumed several different vocations over the course of his life: laborer, stonecutter, school teacher, and soldier. In my research at the Clark County library, there were evidently one or two Shanks enclaves in that area that were classified as stonecutters/masons in the census. The marriage certificate of his youngest daughter, Annie, also indicates her father was a stone mason.
His various professions, large family, movement to Washington County, and his enlistment into the army as a private suggest that Greenberry was not a wealthy man. So far, I haven’t found much in the way of probate records for any Shanks in the region where he was raised, suggesting that that the Shanks were not a family with property. The fact that he was listed on the census as a laborer on another family’s property in 1850 supports this. Of course, I still need to check out the genealogy resources in Washington County where (presumably) he died, to determine if he had any estate.
While I’m eager to unearth any aspect of Greenberry and Sarilda’s lives I’m particularly interested in his wartime service (to include the reasons why a 43 year old man would enlist for war and leave behind a large family). Although a relatively simple exercise, I previously never took the time to assemble Greenberry’s muster rolls into chronological order. I suppose I thought, with the limited information on them, that it wouldn’t yield much information. I was very wrong on that. After lining up his recorded service alongside some of the 11th KY Cavalry’s wartime operations, the scope of Greenberry’s health issues (or, possibly his malingering) became evident:
Three things stand out from the above that will help guide my research now: first, sickness of some sort colored the majority of his service during the war, taking him down at first in Tennessee not four months after the 11th KY Cav mustered in. I’d like to find out if the nature of this ailment was ever recorded in any surviving records in the hospitals in Louisville or Gallatin. Second, although he evidently saw only about a year of active service (plus several months in various hospitals), there’s a reasonable chance Greenberry participated in one of the 11th KY Cav’s most notorious operations, the pursuit and ultimate capture of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan during his raid of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio in July 1863. I’ve read the Official Reports for the Union pursuit of Morgan, and the 11th was engaged throughout the arduous chase. I’d like to delve into any letters, reports, or diaries of the 11th’s leadership and men to get more intimate details of their involvement. And third, Greenberry was reported away without leave (AWOL) for 10 months (1 Sep 1864 – 3 Jul 1865). Whatever the story is behind that, Greenberry evidently wasn’t punished, as he was allowed to rejoin the unit and collect the remainder of money still owed to him by the US government. Nevertheless, I would really like to know the story behind the AWOL (I assume it has to do with his apparent chronic illness).
My next move will be to visit the library in Washington County, and possibly the main branch of the Jefferson County library in Louisville, Kentucky. Plus, there are medical records that may not be online stored at the National Archives, copies of which are available at a government facility in Chicago. If so, that may give me some insight into what affliction Greenberry struggled with throughout the war. So a trip to the Windy City may be in order later this summer as well.
More to come!
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume XX Part 1 Reports (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 43-66.
“Some people say you achieve immortality through your children,” said the minstrel.
“Yeah?” said Cohen. “Name one of your great-granddads, then.”
The Last Hero, by Terry Pratchett.
In the early summer of 1862, 10 days before the first anniversary of the savage battle of
Bull Run during the opening days of the Civil War, Captain Milton Graham worked to assemble a new cavalry regiment to help defend Kentucky against the secessionists. Just outside the town of Harrodsburg, men from Washington, Madison, and Mercer counties flowed in, and Graham quickly organized four companies for the new 11th Kentucky Cavalry: A, D, C, and F.
Walking among the men who answered the call was 43 year-old Greenberry Shanks. Leaving behind his wife, Sarilda, and one year old son James, Private Shanks prepared with the others for a sudden move to the capital of Frankfort, a response to Confederate invasion of the Commonwealth. Move he did, part of Company D, arriving in Frankfort on 22 July. Another company, Company B, was recruited there, and then the men were on the march again, this time to Louisville, Kentucky. The remaining companies were recruited over the following weeks, and on 22 September the regiment was officially mustered into service.[i]
Over the next three years, the 11th Kentucky Cavalry served gallantly and participated in several notable campaigns, including the pursuit and eventual capture of the notorious Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in July of 1863.[ii] But Greenberry, like that of many who fought during this pivotal time of our nation, has largely been swallowed up by history. His military records are sparse, and indicate a service record frequently interrupted by sickness and, once, being absent without leave. He survived the war, and was mustered out with much of the rest of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry on 13 July 1865. Whatever ailment that dogged Greenberry over the course of the conflict evidently continued to plague him, as evidenced by a pension request in 1867 indicating his classification as an “invalid.” By 1880, he had passed away.
After a significant writing and research hiatus, I’ve decided to rekindle my Civil War studies in as personal a way as one can: I’m trying to piece together the experiences of a distant relative (my great-great-great grandfather) who fought on the side of the Union. The above paragraphs are a simple abstract of what I’ve come to know of him. I started with nothing more than an archaic name: Greenberry Shanks. My mother was given some old military paperwork by an aunt. This paperwork found its way to one of my brothers, who told me about it. He had started researching Greenberry on his own at one point, so I decided to help take up the mission.
The papers my brother possessed turned out to be Union Muster Rolls. Greenberry, at the age of 43, joined the 11th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, Company D, as a private. With that information, I sent a request to the National Archives to send me whatever records they had on hand. I was excited several weeks later to receive a CD in the mail, but disappointed to find that it contained the exact same records that my mother and brother possessed: the muster rolls.
Still, I had my primary documents. Next I wanted to make sure that Greenberry was in fact a relative, and if so, how I was related to him. For this kind of work, genealogy services are fantastic tools. I chose Ancestry.com. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found enough to prove to me that Greenberry is, in fact, my direct relative, and that he is the same man named in the muster rolls. But I’ve reached a point where I’m confident I’ve exhausted primary and secondary sources that are available online, and there’s still so much to learn.
I’m missing two very important documents: a birth certificate and a death certificate. So setting aside the possibility that Greenberry is an immortal and still walks among us (there can only be one!), it seems likely that either these vital records are stuffed in some musty storage somewhere (if I’m lucky), or destroyed. I really hope it’s the former. I’m also missing a proper marriage certificate. I’ve found reference to one that seems like a contender, but I’m not positive. There are actually two leads that indicate his wife was born either the same time as he (circa 1820), or significantly later (1834).
So where do I go from here? I’m going to reach out to the public library system and possibly county historical societies to see if there are records or microfiche available in Kentucky that haven’t been digitized. If I get a reasonably solid lead, I’ll plan a trip to see what turns up. In the meantime, I have some additional research to do on the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in general, and Company D in particular.
Nothing lasts long in this world. Our history books are crammed with names and personalities great and small throughout time. But the number of our ancestors lost to obscurity is exponentially greater. Men like Greenberry shouldered an immensely grave responsibility, leaving the comforts of home to preserve the Union at the risk of life and limb. I feel it an honor to try and revive the memory of his life and sacrifice.
More to follow.
[i] Thomas Speed, R.M. Kelly, and Alfred Pirtle, The Union Regiments of Kentucky, Volume 1 (Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1887), 224-229.
[ii] United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume XVI (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 668-696
I’ve spent part of this month visiting Civil War sites that are off the beaten path, or at least not as well known as the major battlefields. One of these sites, Fort Duffield, is perched on a hill in West Point, Kentucky, about 30 miles southwest of Louisville. Hastily built over the late-fall and early-winter of 1861-62 at the mouth of the Salt River where it springs out from the Ohio, the purpose of the fort was to defend Louisville and to protect Union supply lines vital to securing the Commonwealth as well as operations in Tennessee.
As the Union started to actively unravel in April 1861, the fate of the slave owning Border States was of particular concern to Washington. Kentucky harbored both passionate Confederate and Union sentiments, and so defense of key cities such as Louisville was as important as it was problematic. A number of fortifications were constructed in and around the city, eventually including a site on Pearman Hill, which provided good over-watch of the Ohio and Salt Rivers. In the relative quiet following the first battle at Bull Run, however, there appeared to be disagreement on the severity of the Confederate threat. By 26 Sept, 1861, when Brigadier General O.M. Mitchell arrived in Louisville, he wrote that the city was in a state of excitement as rumor of attack by Confederate General Buckner had just reached them. Days later, the Daily Democrat ran an article indicating that rebel forces were rumored to the south of West Point, but proclaimed confidence in the growing Union presence in the vicinity of where Fort Duffield would soon be built. And while General Sherman also believed Buckner could target some area near the mouth of Salt River, General Buell soon dismissed the need for it, informing General McClellan that he was not at all worried about threats to Louisville, although the “little work at the mouth of the Salt River…does no harm.”
Later, in 1862, Buell may have rued those comments as the Confederate army under Braxton Bragg maneuvered through Kentucky and appeared to threaten Louisville. Although Bragg instead moved to Bardstown, Buell was compelled to rush to Louisville’s defense. Nevertheless, by the end of that year, Fort Duffield would be effectively abandoned.
No major battles were fought at Fort Duffield, although it may have helped shape how the war in the west played out, as its placement and soldiers (about a regiment in strength) certainly would have been taken into consideration by any potential rebel action. But the story of Fort Duffield is important, as it reveals the human cost of the rapid militarization that the states underwent in the first days of the conflict. To the west of the fort is an area that is believed to have been a parade ground used by the forces garrisoned there. Today, this patch of ground is a memorial to the 30+ soldiers from the 9th Michigan Infantry Regiment who died erecting Duffield. (Note that the official web site and early publications state that over 60 men perished. This number is evidently overstated, and updates are being worked into the official documentation). Disease and a harsh winter took a devastating toll. A look at the headstones there show the men dying between late October 1861 and February 1862, when the fort was completed.
It’s believed that most of fallen were removed and buried in their home towns. The headstones remain as a memorial.
I had the privilege of speaking with the man who has been tending to the site for 20 years. I’m omitting his name, since I forgot to ask permission to share it. But I was struck with the love he clearly had for maintaining this small corner of American history. I told him how impressive his work was, how pleasant the memorial for those who died building the fort. He simply said the most important thing is that “they aren’t forgotten.”
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1 Volume IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 275.
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1 Volume IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 336.
Tensions ran high in Virginia in the last week of May, 1861. After the heady rush of victory that electrified the South following
the surrender of Fort Sumter and the seizing of Harper’s Ferry, anticipation of the next clash with the North grew. It was no secret that new recruits were pouring into Washington, and on the 24th, Union forces swept unopposed into Alexandria. Was this how Union General Irvin McDowell would strike the Old Dominion? Or would General Patterson try to leap from Maryland in an attempt to crush General Johnston on the way to Richmond? Or would the Northerners, as then-Colonel John Magruder anxiously wondered, invade via the coast, using the still Northern-held Fort Monroe on the tip of Hampton, VA to stage operations?
On the same day the US Army raised the Federal flag over Alexandria, Magruder received an alarming message from a man “said to be reliable” who had just arrived at West Point, Virginia. Hampton, he said, had been overrun by some 2500 Union troops. Magruder’s next steps demonstrated a levelheadedness in regards to military intelligence that many lacked, both Northern and Southern, in these early days of war. First, he asked that two small craft be dispatched to Jamestown Island, which juts into the James River some 30 miles northwest of Newport News and Hampton, in order to establish communication between the mainland and the area supposedly under Union control. He then also requested that cavalry forces be sent to him at once. “No reliable information can be attained without them,” Magruder wrote.
Within hours of sending this dispatch, additional intelligence revealed that the “reliable” man was actually quite mistaken. In a dispatch that sounded much less frenzied than the first, Magruder relayed that less than half the number of Union troops (1000) had landed at Hampton, and then only briefly. In addition, a small scouting party had been dispatched to Newport News. Only one company of enemy cavalry was noted. Magruder’s quick correction revealed two things: first, his awareness of the need to rapidly convey intelligence up to leadership in Richmond, and second, that he wasn’t letting his ego interfere with the execution of this responsibility. This is in contrast to Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Taylor in Alexandria, who earlier that month took nearly 4 days to communicate the intelligence that prompted his rapid retreat from Alexandria.
The Union withdrawal would be short-lived, however. Days later on the 27th of May, Major General Benjamin Butler lead US troops back into Newport News. Two weeks later, North and South clashed in what would be dubbed the Battle at Big Bethel. Here too, as we will see, Magruder and his subordinate commanders would demonstrate quickly maturing operational and tactical intelligence capabilities that helped blunt Union advantages in troop strength and materiel.
I actually get choked up when I look at this picture and think on it. I took it at low tide, at Utah Beach, Normandy, France back in the early 2000s.
Some of you WWII historians might be able to correct me on some details, but the intent of the military planners of Operation OVERLORD was to hit the beaches at high tide. The Germans expected that, of course, so that’s why there were all the obstacles you see in the movies …the iron triangles and such, many of which were rigged with explosives. They were there to impede ingressing amphibious craft, which would find them difficult to detect when they were submerged under the water. So why would you want to hit the beach at high tide? Because otherwise your soldiers, marines, and sailors had this to look forward to: a long stretch of open, wet sand to cross on foot while the Nazis laid down withering machine gun fire, grenades, mines, etc from entrenched positions. Due to some delays, Allied Forces missed high tide, and had to hit the beaches at low tide.
So one day in late May, only a week or so removed from the anniversary date, I found myself in Normandy, France. I walked out at low tide, turned, and tried to imagine jumping off of my Higgins boat, and then racing toward the hardened defenses of Normandy. Take a look and imagine.
It was a humbling experience. God bless those men.