Civil War History Comes Alive At Historical Society

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
The Benton County Historical Society (BCHS) is dedicated to the preservation of the history of our county from 1835-1985. At its August meeting, the program centered around our county’s experiences during the Civil War, inspiring Dr. John Boise to volunteer to speak on the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in September. An audience of 25 plus filled the meeting room as Dr. Boise spoke at the Warsaw Branch of the Boonslick Regional Library on September 12. He delivered little known information, as well as other facts about the battle and war, dispersing humor and even digressing a little during his speech to entertain the fascinated group.
“The war ended in 1865, but still goes on,” began Dr. Boise. “If you like (General) Robert E. Lee, you won’t like this. He looked like a general, but made some bad decisions.”
Dr. Boise went on to give some basic information about military grouping and weapons used during the war. He said that a company was composed of 100 men, a regiment – 1,000 men, a brigade  –  2 to 7 regiments, division – 4 or 5 brigades, corps – 2 or more divisions and army – 2 or more corps. He described the skirmish line that leads a battle, and weapons including muzzle loader, cannon, solid shot, case shot and canister. He stated that the Confederate Army was called the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Union Army was known as the Army of the Potomac. Confederates used the Virginia flag as their own. Dr. Boise said that artillery (such as cannons) caused the most deaths and injuries in the Civil War.
“When cannon balls were shot, they bounced on the ground and hit troops,” said Dr. Boise. “They had different lengths of fuses. Long fuses allowed cannon balls to hit several miles, and short fuses were used for closer targets.”
Dr. Boise said that General Lee advanced to the north after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, that ended May 6, 1863. He wanted to draw the Federals to him; threaten the capital, influence the 1864 elections, and relieve the South of the Federal presence. Although the North had supply trains to provide for the needs of Union soldiers, the South had to “live off the land,” using up crops for the Confederate men and their animals. They devastated the Virginia countryside during their trip north to Maryland, then Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1 – 3, 1863, the middle of the civil war, and was a decisive loss for the South. Although the Union Army had more casualties at the beginning of the battle, Confederates suffered the most losses on July 3. All told, each side ended up with an even number of losses by the end of the battle that totaled 45,000 killed, wounded or captured. During the battle, the North used any place available for hospitals to care for the large number of wounded. If someone was shot in an arm or leg, the limb was amputated. If shot in the stomach, a soldier usually died within a few days.
“After the Confederates were defeated, General Lee retreated back across the Potomac,” said Dr. Boise. “Both General Lee, and Union General George Meade were criticized regarding their leadership in the battle.” 
General Meade made a costly mistake by letting General Lee’s forces escape. General Lee was faulted for several mistakes including making a frontal assault on Union troops instead of taking them from behind as advised by General Longstreet, who led one of Lee’s three corps. ”
Dr. Boise offered anecdotes about certain generals and other personnel that are not widely known. For instance, when Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (said to have been an excellent general) was accidently shot by his own men after the Battle of Chancellorville, General Lee told him “You’ve lost your left arm and I’ve lost my right.” General Jackson died a few days after being wounded. 
General Lee did not respect General Joseph Hooker, the Union Commander at Chancellorville, and referred to him as Mister F. J. Hooker. (Dr. Boise said that General Hooker was the inspiration for camp followers being called “hookers.”) And, after President Lincoln heard complaints about General Hooker from that general’s own commanders, he was replaced by General Meade.
Confederate General John Bell Hood, who had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness, lost a leg and badly injured an arm during the war. After his injuries, he had to be tied to his horse when he went to fight against General William T. Sherman, who burned Atlanta. After the war, General Hood went home and had 13 children.
According to Dr. Boise, Union General Daniel E. Sickles was a Democratic politician who could raise large numbers of soldiers. He killed the son of Francis Scott Key (who was his wife’s lover), was tried and became the first person who was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. He lost a leg in the war, then sent it home to be displayed at the American Medical Association in Washington D.C. General Sickles visited his leg from time to time.
When Dr. Boise ended his talk, those present socialized and had refreshments. Long-time BCHS member, Larry Walthall, made his way to Dr. Boise to talk more about the subject matter, and let it be known that he thought the speech was “great!” 
“I have read lots of books about the Civil War and have gotten confused about which generals were from the North and which ones from the South,” said Walthall. “But John Boise cleared up any questions that I had about the sides the generals fought for. I once suggested that he check out a certain good book on the Civil War, and he told me he had already read it.”
Dr. Boise is probably best remembered in the local area for his 28 years as the Superintendent of the Warsaw School District. John Boise Middle School is named after him. Dr. Boise and his wife, Katie, are lifetime members of the BCHS. Katie Boise reported that her husband “eats and sleeps history,” reading about it or watching history programs on TV.
The BCHS Museum is open from April to October, on Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM, and Sunday from 1 to 4 PM. Cost is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and children 4-12. Members are free. It is located at 1660 Hilltop Drive in Warsaw, and its contact number is 660-438-2304.