R.Danny Witt, President Art & Carol Bergeron, Editors
5500 Ashton Park Way 3901 Paces Ferry Road
Glen Allen, VA 23059 Chester, VA 23831-1239
August 2000 PROGRAM
James L. Conrad
"The Confederate Naval Academy"
8:00 p.m., Tuesday, August 8, 2000
Boulevard United Methodist Church, 321 N. Boulevard,
Richmond, VA (corner of Boulevard and Stuart Ave.)
Enter basement door from Boulevard side.
Colonel James Lee Conrad, United States Air Force, will
speak on the history of Richmond's Confederate States Naval
Academy and the training of Rebel midshipmen. Colonel
Conrad is the author of Rebel Reefers: The Midshipmen of the
Confederate States Naval Academy, which will be published
next summer by Savas Publishing.
The presentation will cover the founding of the Confederate
States Naval Academy, the life of Confederate midshipmen
both on the school ship and aboard warships, their wartime
service on and off the school ship, including the escorting
of the Confederate treasury from Richmond and the final fate
of the Naval Academy and its midshipmen.
Colonel Conrad is currently the Staff Judge Advocate for the
88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He
is a 1978 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, a
1981 graduate of the Cumberland School of Law (Juris
Doctorate), and a 1993 graduate of the George Washington
University Law School (Master of Laws in Environmental and
Government Procurement Law.) He is the author of The Young
Lions: Confederate Cadets at War, which was published in
1997 by Stackpole Books. Conrad has had numerous articles
published in Civil War Times Illustrated, America's Civil
War, Military History, and Columbiad, as well as an entry in
Simon & Schuster's Encyclopedia of the Confederacy.
Conrad will have available for purchase at the meeting
copies of his book The Young Lions.
Thomas G. Clemens
"Will the Real Iron Brigade Please Stand Up!"
Review of the July Program
Tom presented an informative talk on "Will the Real Iron
Brigade Please Stand Up!" The talk focused on who was really
entitled to the nickname "Iron Brigade" and how some
commonly held beliefs about the unit are not completely
supported by the historical record.
The standard story is that Brigadier General John Gibbon
commanded the Iron Brigade and that it was composed of the
2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan
Infantry regiments. Its nickname resulted primarily from
its fighting abilities as demonstrated at the Battle of
South Mountain. According to legend, Major General George
B. McClellan asked Major General Joseph Hooker for an "iron
brigade" to pierce the Confederate center that day, and
Fighting Joe sent forward Gibbon's men, who had been known
as the "Black Hat Brigade" because of their distinctive
Hardee hats. The general's continued in conversation during
the battle, and both of them used the term "iron" in
describing the men. Actually, Gibbon's was not the first,
nor the only, brigade to have this title.
As Clemens pointed out, this entire tale is based primarily
upon a story by W. H. Atkins, which appeared in the
veterans' publication The National Tribune in 1904. None of
the generals mentioned by Atkins were still alive at the
time to refute his account. Hooker had not been with
McClellan at the time and had not even witnessed Gibbon's
men in action. After the war, Gibbon was asked about the
sobriquet, but he could not recall when it had been applied
to his brigade but thought it was shortly after the Battle
A unit of New Yorkers, the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, First
Corps, was the original Iron Brigade. Composed of the 22nd,
24th, 30th, and 84th (14th Brooklyn) regiments, this brigade
was commanded originally by Brigadier General Christopher C.
Augur. In March 1862, while on a raid in central Virginia,
the men made a long and difficult march. Brigadier General
Marsena Patrick, who saw them coming into camp, said to
Augur, "Your men must be made of iron to make such marches."
From this time until the regiments were mustered out of the
army in the fall of 1862, the 1st Brigade, 1st Division,
First Corps, was known as the Iron Brigade.
Clemens shared some of the strongest evidence supporting
this brigade's claim to the nickname. The papers of Colonel
Walter Phelps, Jr., of the 22nd New York, contain a number
of references to the term in his letters and diaries. There
are also several relics that bolster this position. Badges
were made up for the brigade's members, and they contain the
name Iron Brigade and a list of the regiments in it. Several
years ago, a relic hunter found one of the metals while
digging near Fredericksburg. A flag carried by the 24th New
York Infantry is preserved in the state capital in Albany.
One side of the banner has the words "24th Regiment, Iron
Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Army Corps." Finally, Captain
Austin W. Holden, assistant surgeon of the 22nd New York,
wrote a song dedicated to Colonel Phelps called "A Song of
the Iron Brigade."
During the course of the Civil War, several other units
called themselves the Iron Brigade. Included were the 3rd
Brigade, 1st Division, Third Corps (17th Maine, 3rd and 5th
Michigan, 1st, 37th, and 101st New York) and Brigadier
General Jesse Reno's brigade of the Ninth Corps (21st and
35th Massachusetts, 51st New York, and 51st Pennsylvania).
Clemens concluded by saying that, while Gibbon's "Black
Hats" are the most famous Iron Brigade, more than one unit
can claim the nickname and that we must be careful not to
accept too readily some of the famous stories that have come
out of the Civil War.
A Louisianian's Recollections of the
Confederate States Naval Academy
"...I received my orders, and instead of being sent to an
ironclad I was ordered to report on board of the schoolship
Patrick Henry to be examined for promotion. Most of my
classmates had been nominally taken out of active service
and put to school while I was at sea, and they were now
passed midshipmen. I had not opened a schoolbook since I
had left Annapolis, and the result was that I failed to
pass. But I was given another chance and had to begin
school again. Although I did not know it, if there was one
thing that I needed more than anything else, it was a little
"There were about sixty young midshipmen on the Patrick
Henry, varying in age from fourteen to seventeen. Their
jackets were made out of very coarse gray cloth and the food
they had to eat was, at first, revolting to me. The menu
offered little variety. If it was not a tiny lump of fat
pork, it was a shaving of fresh meat as tough as the hide
which had once covered it, with a piece of hardtack and a
tin cup of hot water colored by chicory or grains of burned
corn, ground up, and brevetted coffee. But no one kicked
about the food, as it was as good if not better than that
the poor soldiers in the trenches received. The James River
furnished a capital article of chills and fever not malaria,
but the good old-fashioned kind with the shivers which made
the teeth chatter and burning fever to follow. On an
average about one half of the midshipmen went through this
disagreeable experience every other day. No one was allowed
to go on the sick-list on account of chills and fever; one
was, however, allowed to lie down n the bare deck while the
chill was on, but had to return to duty as soon as the
paroxysm was over."
From: Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, by James Morris Morgan
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917), pp. 205-207
Upcoming Symposium. Pamplin Historical Park & The National
Museum of the Civil War Soldier, near Petersburg, will hold
its Fourth Annual Civil War Symposium on October 21-22. The
theme this year is "Cavalry Raiders and Guerrillas."
Speakers and their topics are:
Stephen Davis, "Civil War Cavalry Raids:
Just What Did They Achieve?"
Edwin C. Bearss, "Wilson's Alabama Raid"
Jeffry D. Wert, "Mosby's Rangers"
James A. Ramage, "John Hunt Morgan"
Brian Steel Wills, "Nathan Bedford Forrest"
In addition to these fine talks, the symposium will include
a tour of Jeb Stuart's famous "Ride Around McClellan" in the
Spring of 1862. For a registration form or more
information, call Pamplin Historical Park at 861-2408.
Richmond Civil War Round Table in Cyberspace. The Round
Table's Web site has been available for several months. It
includes the monthly newsletter, photographs of previous
meetings, and a list of all forthcoming speakers. The URL
or Web address is:
(The - between g-co is an underscore )
*Important Notice* December Meeting
The December meeting will be December 12, 2000, at the
Holiday Inn-Crossroads, 2000 Staples Mill Road. Social hour
will begin at 6 p.m., with dinner following at 7 p.m. The
speaker is Ed Bearss who will speak on "The Raising of the
Cairo," which will include information about the history of
the Union ironclad. The cost for this program is $25.50 per
person. Seating is limited, so please get your reservations
Send your name, address, and phone number, along with the
number of persons for whom you are making reservations to
Sam Craghead. Make your check out to the Richmond Civil War
4361D Lakefield Mews
Richmond, VA 23231
If you have any questions, call Sam at 222-0503.
Richmond Civil War Round Table Newsletter
Art & Carol Bergeron, Editors
3901 Paces Ferry Road
Chester, VA 23831-1239