Saturday, July 31, 2010

How Great Great Grandfather Flynn Won the Civil War, Maybe

On Genealogy and Cavalry

It may be difficult to believe, but my father, William R. Moore, was a bona fide cavalryman who rode with the 102nd regiment in the late 1930s. Of course Dad became an Air Force pilot once World War II started, but before that, he had volunteered for the cavalry and wound up being stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with the 102nd.

    Cavalryman William R. Moore (aka Dad), ca. 1939

But wait, there’s more. On our mother’s side of the family we also had a couple of cavalrymen, as sister Betsy’s diligent research on has brought to light. One was Jacob Goerth, our Grandmother Yost’s maternal grandfather, who rode with the 5th cavalry out west, and at one time served as a scout with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. One of his sons (our great great uncle) was Frank Goerth, who served in the Philippines and also spent time stationed in Panama. Betsy has done wonders digging up all this information, though from an anthropologist’s perspective, it’s a little embarrassing to see all these family connections to wars of imperialistic conquest.

Frank Goerth in the Philippines ca. 1900

Jacob Goerth who rode with the 5th Cavalry out west and with Buffalo Bill

My favorite cavalry ancestor was Patrick Flynn, who fought with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. According to stories handed down to us through our beloved Grandmother Yost, her grandfather, Patrick Flynn, brought glory to the family as a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg - the turning-point of the Civil War.  Since my adolescence, I have had a longstanding fascination with that war and so, some years ago, when I had a chance to visit the Gettysburg battlefield I wrote the following account of Great Great Grandfather Flynn’s heroic actions.

Patrick Flynn and the Thundering Guns of Gettysburg

Part 1: Brandy Station

I have long had an interest in the exploits of our Great Great Grandfather Patrick Flynn of Lafayette, Indiana, particularly with reference to his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg. Consequently, when I visited the Gettysburg Battle site, I was anxious to find out all that I could concerning our ancestor’s acts of daring during his service with Company I of the 2nd New York Cavalry Regiment, (also known as the Harris Light Cavalry). The information below is based on historical materials and the records collected by Grandpa Yost. Since Patrick Flynn was a private, the historical records say nothing about him in particular, but the information below follows the records of the units in which he served. According to Grandpa’s findings, G. G. Grandfather Flynn was present and accounted for with his unit almost continuously from August 1861 until he was mustered out on June 23, 1865. Also, as noted in the Lafayette Daily Courier article included by Grandpa in his Flynn-Goerth-Ullrich Genealogy, Patrick Flynn was among several Lafayette residents who received a medal for bravery for participation in the Battle of Gettysburg.

A medal for bravery! "What heroic exploits," I wondered, "could have warranted this honor?"

In June of 1863 Patrick Flynn's regiment, as part of the Army of the Potomac, participated in the Battle of Brandy Station, one of the first battles on the eastern front of the Civil War in which the Union cavalry showed it could match the renowned Confederate cavalry in skill and tactics. In fact, I have on occasion overcome my natural modesty to point out (with no more than a little imaginative reconstruction) that on the basis of the Battle of Brandy Station we might say that Private Flynn actually won the Civil War for the North.

My reasoning is as follows: The famous, flamboyant and somewhat narcissistic Confederate cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, had been spending some time in northern Virginia in the spring of 1863 gallivanting and parading about for the local citizenry, glorying in the laurels he had earned by making fools of his Union adversaries in recent campaigns.

On June 9 at Brandy Station, Virginia, however, the scene changed dramatically when Stuart was rudely surprised by a strong contingent of Union cavalry that included Patrick Flynn’s regiment. Stuart’s Rebels were driven back and only managed to regain their footing after a bracing dose of fierce fighting -- something they had not been anticipating on the basis of their previous engagements with Yankee horse soldiers.

There are some writers familiar with the Battle of Brandy Station churlish enough to point out that Private Flynn’s 2nd NY did not entirely succeed in obtaining its objective in this fight. According to historian Edward G. Longacre, for example, when the 2nd NY regiment charged the Fleetwood Heights position where Jeb Stuart himself was personally trying to save his crumbling line, the New Yorkers were taken in flank, turned back and, “swerved to the right, broke and fled in utter rout.”

Still, the picture in my mind’s eye has Private Flynn riding up to Jeb Stuart in the heat of the assault (before Flynn and his fellow cavalrymen reconsidered the wisdom of continuing their attack on the heights), making a slash at the Rebel commander with his saber, missing his head only by inches and slicing off the Rebel general’s famed black ostrich plume in the process.

As an aside I would add that the New Yorkers’ less than fully successful charge on Fleetwood Heights was ordered by Colonel H. Judson Kilpatrick, an officer not lacking in bravery, but of whom it can certainly be said “his bravery far outshone his wisdom.” Kilpatrick is described by Civil War historian Longacre as “meagre of stature, shrill of voice, and looking like a weasel in sideburns.” He had earned the nickname “Kill-cavalry” from his tendency to order idiotic and pointless cavalry charges whose main aim seemed to be getting the name Judson Kilpatrick in the northern newspapers. He harbored dreams of becoming the Governor of New Jersey on the basis of an army career that he hoped would be brilliant, and eventually of running for President of the United States.

To get back to our main story, the Brandy Station cavalry engagement took place less than a month before the Battle of Gettysburg, and the embarrassment it caused Jeb Stuart (especially in light of the prancing and strutting he had been indulging in just prior to the fight), disrupted his judgment and caused him to make a fatal error during the Gettysburg campaign.

Stuart was so upset by the Brandy Station surprise attack--and the sharp criticism he was getting in the Confederate press because of it--that he was determined to overcome this humiliation with another great cavalry coup against the Yankee Army. Consequently, when Lee marched north into Pennsylvania, Stuart did not stay with him, but rather rode far to the east around the Army of the Potomac, capturing supply wagons as he went. Since cavalry usually provided a Civil War army with information about enemy movements, General Lee was badly handicapped by the absence of Jeb Stuart’s forces in the early phases of the Battle of Gettysburg - just when the Union army was most vulnerable. So, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that this, the most crucial battle of the Civil War, was lost largely because Lee lacked the information about the enemy that Stuart’s cavalry could have provided had it been on hand. But Stuart’s wounded ego (and trimmed plumage?) had him off on a mission aimed more at restoring his own glory rather than supporting the aims of his commander in chief, Robert E. Lee.  Thank you, Private Flynn.

Part II: Gettysburg

Anyway, during my visit to Gettysburg, I made up my mind to find out exactly what crucial part Great Great Grandfather Flynn might have played in this historic battle. At Gettysburg, Private Flynn’s 2nd New York Cavalry was in the Second Brigade (under Colonel Pennock Huey) of the Second Division (under General David McMurtrie Gregg) of Pleasonton's Cavalry Corps. Though General Gregg was a courageous and competent man whose professionalism prevented him from currying favor with the press, Colonel Huey’s only redeeming quality seemed to be that he was not quite as big a jackass as Judson Kilpatrick. At a crucial point leading up to Gettysburg, when General Gregg’s division was in pursuit of Stuart’s raiders, both Gregg and the second ranking commander of the division fell gravely ill. This automatically made Colonel Huey the acting division commander, but so concerned about his lack of abilities were Gregg and his second-in-command that they decided not to inform Huey of his new responsibilities, figuring the division would be better off with no leader than with Huey in command. When Huey eventually was informed of his temporary promotion, he was, according to one observer, “so swelled up with importance” that he began rearranging the division staff to suit his own whims. This infuriated the second-ranking division commander to such an extent that his rage apparently killed his intestinal virus and he rose from his sickbed to take the reins from Huey’s hands.

But back to the Battle of Gettysburg: During the three-day battle, the Northern forces found themselves on the defensive from the outset.  For most of the fight, the Union line stretched in a fishhook shape from Culp’s Hill on the right, around through Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge down to Little Round Top and Round Top on the extreme left.

The struggle for the strategic Culp’s Hill, which lasted for all three days of the battle, has been described as perhaps the most long-lasting, toe-to-toe slugfest in the Civil War. Since I knew that Gregg's cavalry division had been on the union right flank, it was here that I anticipated finding traces of Grandfather Flynn’s glory. So, almost as soon as we had arrived in Gettysburg, I set out for Culp's Hill to look for evidence of the 2nd New York's heroic participation.

On this hill, thousands lost life or limb as first the Yankees and then the Rebels seized and held strategic bulwarks on the wooded slopes which crucially anchored the Union right flank. From previous reading before my trip to Gettysburg, I had surmised that Patrick Flynn’s regiment was in the thick of this vital struggle. But, as I discovered on my quest, such was not the case. Culp’s Hill was an infantry battle, and General Gregg’s Cavalry Division, to which the 2nd NY belonged, was stationed much further east, protecting the extreme right of the Army of the Potomac. Private Flynn, in other words, missed the toe-to-toe slugfest on Culp's Hill.

The battleground far to the east of the Culp's Hill is known today as East Cavalry Field. It was here that General Gregg’s division clashed with superior forces by the late arriving Confederate cavalry of Jeb Stuart. The fighting took place simultaneously with the renowned Pickett’s Charge, the Confederacy's high watermark according to most historians. Robert E. Lee's plan was to have Stuart’s cavalry support Pickett’s Charge by smashing into the Union rear just as the men of Pickett’s and Pettigrew's divisions hurled themselves against the Union front.

Pickett’s Charge was preceded by a deafening cannonade that was started by over 150 Confederate guns and was answered by a like number of Union guns. For hours on the afternoon of July 3 the two sides battered each other with thundering death that could be heard as far away as Baltimore and Washington--where Lincoln waited for news of the battle.

At this point Stuart wheeled around the Union right in order to strike at the rear, but he had not planned on running directly into General Gregg’s Division which had stationed itself out on the right flank specifically to block just such an attack. The fighting at East Cavalry Field on July 3rd was one of the fiercest cavalry engagements of the Civil War. For hours men and horses charged against each other in demonstrations of valor made horrendous by the participation of artillery on both sides which bloodied the field with every volley. But Stuart might as well have charged against a brick wall as against Gregg’s brave and sturdy Yankee horsemen who threw the Rebels back in disarray. Unfortunately Private Flynn cannot be counted among these brave and sturdy Yankee horsemen.

Huey’s brigade, which included Private Flynn’s regiment, had been detached from Gregg’s division and so was not engaged at the East Cavalry Field fight. Huey and his men had been sent about 20 miles off to the southeast to the town of Manchester, Maryland, in order to guard Union supplies there. Note that Maryland is right next to Pennsylvania and this placed Private Flynn within hearing range of the thundering guns of Gettysburg.

I should also add that after his defeat at Gettysburg General Lee sent a 17-mile-long wagon train loaded with wounded soldiers down one route while the bulk of his army retreated along another. According to Gettysburg Guide Charles Fennell, Huey’s Brigade saw action in attacks on that retreating wagon train. I have not yet confirmed whether or not Private Flynn’s regiment won glory as one of these ambulance-chasing units, or if perhaps, he again had to hear those “thundering guns” from some distance.

At any rate, we Yosts and Moores can definitely tell our descendants that in the summer of 1863, our ancestor, Great Great Grandfather Patrick Flynn, was in the 2nd NY Cavalry when that unit attacked Jeb Stuart’s position at Brandy Station on June 9, and that three weeks later during the Battle of Gettysburg it was stationed in Manchester, Maryland. Assuming Private Flynn was not taking an afternoon nap during Pickett’s Charge (most unlikely considering the stern stuff of which the Flynns are made), he could, with little effort, have heard the mighty thundering guns of Gettysburg.

Culp's Hill, site of fierce fighting in which Patrick Flynn did not take part 


(May 28, 2018, a final, humbling addendum: I discovered on looking more closely at Patrick Flynn's military records that he was in hospital for the second half of 1863 and so, missed the Battle of Gettysburg entirely. I'm guessing that he was wounded at Brandy Station, which is where, of course, he actually won the war for us.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If It Feels Good, It Must Be True

One thing I know well nigh for sure is that it’s all but impossible to know anything for sure. Of course there are some things so self-evident that we might as well say we know them for sure. One is that Noah did not carry two of every animal on his Ark in order to repopulate the world after the flood and another is that “free markets” are neither self-regulating nor really free.

If the Noah story is so obviously bogus, why do throngs of the faithful believe it? I think it’s largely because people accept it as part of the religious tradition handed down from their parents – parents whose hearts would be broken were the child to move away from the sacred tradition. I’m guessing that Noah’s Ark believers are born, and almost never made. Most likely not many people start out with a scientific understanding of the natural world and then later decide, “No, Darwin’s idea doesn’t explain anything – I think Noah’s big damn old boatload of heterosexual animals makes more sense.”

To a lesser degree inherited belief also explains the prevalence of the “free market” fantasy. I’ve seen evidence of this among my students and other Generation Y youth over the decades. Someone will argue fiercely and with deep certainty that free markets can solve all our economic problems, and when the origin of their ideas is probed, it turns out that they almost always came from Daddy. One young lady, whom I will call Roxanne, stands out particularly clearly in my memory. I had met her father and found him to be a domineering and rather self-important business executive. His daughter, following in Dad’s footsteps, spent a good deal of time trying to convince me that free markets need no regulation, that Fox News was no different from other networks in its biases, and that rich people were rich because they deserved to be rich. This in spite of the fact that she was one of the richest people I have ever known though she had done nothing in particular to deserve her wealth.

I didn’t harbor any personal animosity toward Roxanne though I admit it was a little annoying to hear her father’s words pouring out of her mouth on topics she herself had not thought about carefully. But this is not an unforgivable sin. However, listening to her brought to mind the principle I’m talking about here: Young people with strong political views almost always hold tightly to these views because of the influence of one or more of their parents, often a parent of a domineering or otherwise persuasive personality. What they seem to lack is the capacity to let go of their inherited beliefs and accept the possibility that their loving parents inadvertently misled them.

The ones I run into are overwhelmingly conservative, and this probably reflects the surge in the 1980s of mindless conservatism led by Ronald Reagan.

And now it’s time to point out some of the other trends we’ve seen since the 1980s, particularly the unraveling of the socio-economic fabric that had held the country together for fifty years. It was in the 1980s that the rich began to take ever more of the nation’s wealth for themselves and institutions like savings and loan corporations wreaked unregulated havoc on the economy, while helping to line the pockets of a few already wealthy insiders. The financial collapse of 2008 is the culmination of the pro-free market, deregulatory fever that President Reagan inspired. But don’t try to tell Roxanne that – she’ll just dig in her heels and insist that it was Clinton’s fault, or Karl Marx’s. Maybe she is so attached to her father that she simply cannot muster the courage to see things clearly; that would put her in conflict with him and his fearsome convictions.

One well known individual (not a particularly young person!) who moved away from the bogus “free market” myth is Steve Eisman, an investor described in Michael Lewis’s "The Big Short." Eisman shifted his politics from strident Republican to become “the financial market’s first socialist.” His experience on Wall Street eventually led him to say, “I now realized there was an entire industry, called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off.” But Eisman, besides being very smart, is also an unusually bold and self-assertive individual. Would there were more like him among America’s youth – though I wouldn’t necessarily want them to be as abrasive as he is.

None of this is really new, of course. It’s just another version of the truism that both social psychology and common sense tell us: Most people prefer emotionally satisfying conclusions to realistic ones. Cherished beliefs often trump troubling truths, and this is especially so in cases where those beliefs are wrapped up with vital emotional bonds.

Darwin or Noah? Where did we come from?


Elephants in Tanzania, May 2008

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Gathering of the Clan

Every summer for the past two or three decades our clan has gathered in May or June for the MOORE FAMILY VACATION. There are about 20 of us spanning three generations. Since we are now all officially independent adults, the gathering has taken on some of the organizational demands required of an invading army, though we are different from an invading army because we do not leave destruction in our wake on purpose.

Gathering place - June 2010


Facing the camera, more or less: Beverly, Somebody's legs, Loren, Cole, Betsy, Brett, Reilly; Facing away: Shy person

Families come from as far away as Denver (Bob and Bev Reilly) and Philadelphia (Bill and Gail Hale), but most of us still live in Florida so this is where we have been meeting lately. A key requirement of our gathering place is that it have at least one room large enough for the entire gang to get together for such things as Happy Hours and Game Playing. The Happy Hours come around 4 o’clock or so, depending on when everyone shows up and how quickly Billy can whip together his famous whiskey sours or red snappers.

The Game Playing involves rounds of Trivial Pursuit, Outburst and other sociable contests that allow for spirited competition and its attendant “chirping” (by the winners) and whining and excuse fabricating (by the non-winners). Bill taught us the term chirping which, among his golf buddies, refers to a clever sort of gloating designed to get under the skin of your opponent when he or she is on the ropes. It’s quite vicious, actually, so the Moore clan has taken to it with gusto. Tracy seems particularly adept. I recall her shoving a scorecard under Bill’s nose just as her team had made the final winning point against his, and asking sweetly as she dramatically recorded the point, “Is this what you mean by chirping?”

“Yeah,” Bill chuckled somewhat uncomfortably, “you got it.”

We stayed at a couple of resorts on Anna Maria Island this year. As I mentioned in the last post, our cousins, John and Norma, came to spend the first day of the vacation with us. Norma and Betsy spent a good bit of time on-line at tracking down the various horse thieves and ne’er-do-wells with which, I suspect, our family tree is festooned.


Betsy and Norma looking at

There are lots of nice places to eat on Anna Maria and some of us particularly liked the nearby Habana Cabana, a funky lunch and breakfast café that featured shelves full of used books along with a Cuban-inspired menu.

Habana Cabana

Anna Maria Island is situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the outer reaches of Tampa Bay, each of these bodies of water offering very different environments and perspectives.

Anna Maria - Bayside


Something new for me on this trip was a fabulous kayak voyage along the marshes and mangrove swamps bordering Tampa Bay. Bill, Gail and I made the voyage together and I was grateful for their company since they are kayak veterans while I had never handled one before.

Bill and Gail's Excellent Adventure

The trip was fun, the weather was beautiful and the wildlife interesting. My favorite part was the side trip through the mangrove tunnel which not only offered some unique views, but featured a number of critters including packs of little black crabs that scuttled along the mangrove roots looking for all the world like prowling gangs of spiders.

Mangrove tunnel


Black creatures from the lagoon (if you look closely)

At the turnaround point of the trip we came to a tall wooden tower that gave us a great view of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway that straddles it.

The tower and views from the tower.

Sunshine Skyway in the Distance

Something slithering along the bottom of Tampa Bay

Other high points were the fishing ventures on Bill’s boat where Cole, Brett and Barbara tried to catch something for the dinner table. Brett and Bill succeeded, but Barbara’s catch was “too big” and had to be thrown back. I never realized there was such a thing as fish being too big to keep.

Brad amazed us with his reliably delicious cuisine: this time the freshly caught fish with beurre blanc took the prize, or would have if prizes were offered, which they are not because we are too cheap.

For Generation 3, aka “the cousins,” every vacation includes various ritualistic undertakings only vaguely understood by those of us in Gen. 2, such as “the long walk on the beach,” the “late night hanging out” and the general “mocking of the elders.” Some of these events took place in Grace and Loren’s room this year, since theirs was farthest off the beaten path. It was also shabby and beaten up enough that any collateral damage would be barely noticeable, but I don’t think that was a consideration in choice of venue.

This year we had an opportunity to meet Justin’s significant friend, Vanessa, who, somewhat surprisingly, at the end of the week, did not say she refused to ever take part in a Moore gathering again.

Naturally, we had the annual family banquet in which all twenty of us descend on a local restaurant where Dad generously treats us and, while doing so, helps boost the local economy. This year the banquet was at Euphemia Haye, a fine old Longboat Key restaurant located in a majestic two-story house with lots of racy pictures in the restrooms.

Bev took our “traditional family photo” outside the Euphemia Haye under a picturesque banyan tree. We didn’t notice the picturesque tree as much as we might have since our ankles were being relentlessly attacked by a mob of terrorist sand fleas as we posed for the two obligatory shots. After the second shot, Brad bolted from the line-up with an air that signaled unmistakably, “I’m done,” which prevented any prospect of a third shot and more blood loss to the vermin.

Still Life with Bow Ties

After dinner there was the annual NTB Award, given to the family member whose behavior over the previous twelve months revealed the most indisputable evidence of bodacious imbecility. Brett was the easy winner this year with a story that began, “I had a truck reserved for 7 o’clock that morning but I didn’t wake up until 11:30. So, I decided to get some breakfast and then go to the rental office.” I’m not saying the competition wasn’t stiff, but Brett’s story, only the beginning of which I’m giving you here, was unbeatable. For more on the NTB Awards, see the January 26, 2010, post.


Bill hands on the NTB Award to a richly deserving Brett

Bill and Gail;
Betsy, Newmy & Loren

Saying good-bye

All in all the vacation provided us with some good times, as usual. Dad (now alone in Generation 1 since our Mom died last year) enjoyed himself and we were all glad to see that. Now that the cousins are getting more scattered as they pursue jobs in different states, it becomes harder for us to gather. Still, I’m betting we’ll be together again about this time next year.