“Tagging” the Official Records at the Siege of Petersburg

   

6 comments

in Progress Reports

Since this site went quiet as far as posting goes in November 2018, I have NOT been idle.  Instead, I decided to quit focusing on posting and start focusing on certain fundamental things I’ve always wanted to accomplish to make this site more useful for users.  To that end, I’ve gone through EVERY report in the Official Records which pertain to the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond, including:

In all, there are 1,188 reports from the Siege of Petersburg in the four volumes above!  In addition, I looked through all of the unpublished reports I’ve published on this site over time.

“Tagging” the Official Records Reports for Dates, Battle and Skirmish Names, and Casualties

Why was I going through the reports?  I did so in order to “tag” each one with the following information:

  • dates: every date mentioned in the report
  • battles and skirmishes: every fight, no matter how small, was tagged here (see my Actions and Skirmishes page for a complete and growing list)
  • casualties: if the report mentioned casualties directly via listing them in the report, or linked to formal casualty returns, it was tagged for this category

How Does This Help Readers of The Siege of Petersburg Online?

Tagging the Official Records in this way helps “connect the dots” between battles and skirmishes, dates, and unit pages here at The Siege of Petersburg Online. If you click on any tag at the bottom of any post on this entire site, over 6,000 and counting, you can see EVERY SINGLE OFFICIAL RECORDS REPORT which mentions date, battle, and casualty tags.  For example, let’s look at the tag for a relatively obscure skirmish on June 22, 1864 between Union and Confederate Cavalry forces near Reams Station. The tag I used for this fight is “skirmish at reams station (june 22 1864)“.  Clicking on the link in the tag name, you can very quickly see every single Official Records report which mentions this fight.

While you may not be interested in this particular skirmish, I’ve done this for EVERY named skirmish in the Official Records as well as for unnamed skirmishes I’ve been researching.

So:

  • If you go to my Actions and Skirmishes page and click on any of the named fights there, you quickly and easily get a list of every item on this entire Siege of Petersburg site which mentions the fight you’ve clicked on.
  • If you go to my Today in the Petersburg Campaign Pages you can quickly see EVERY Official Records report which mentions that date.  They are all linked and listed on each day’s page.
  • If you go to my Siege of Petersburg Unit Pages, click on a specific unit, and scroll down to the bottom of each unit page, you can quickly and easily see every report written by an officer of that unit over the entire Siege of Petersburg.

In this way I’ve managed to create a “spider web” of information which allows you to come at topics on this site by day, by unit, or by battle to see what the Official Records reports contain on the topic you’ve chosen.

What’s Next?

You are going to continue to see mostly silence from me over the next six weeks.  Here are some things I’m working on behind the scenes:

  • Creating ship pages for every vessel, North and South, which participated in the Siege of Petersburg. These pages should start to go live in April 2019 if all goes according to plan.
  • Starting to go through every page of Official Records Correspondence on the Siege of Petersburg and taking detailed notes on these pages.  This is a massive, massive project, which will take years.  I’m looking at 6 volumes of correspondence, each one nearly or over 1,000 pages long.  My goal is to go through every page, adding the information contained on those pages to my site, especially on unit pages, unit itinerary pages (another side project), Battle pages and Skirmish pages, Today in the Petersburg Campaign Pages, and more.  When I finish, I should have the most accurate and complete Orders of Battle for the Siege of Petersburg ever created.
  • Creating unit itinerary pages which attempt to track every unit involved in the campaign down to regimental/battery/battalion level on every day of the campaign.  Any time ANY source, including reports, diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, and other items mention a unit, a date, and a location, it will be added to the appropriate unit itinerary page.  To date, none of these pages are live on this site, but as I use the itineraries in the Official Records as a base, I’ll start regularly adding these.
  • Returning to regular posting of Newspaper articles, letters and diaries, and other items about the Siege of Petersburg.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Fulton February 16, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Wonderful. I can tell this will be very helpful to me. I looked on your “Skirmishes” page and bingo – the very first entry (June 13,1864) matches an incredible letter in my pile. I had wanted to learn to efficiently use the OR websites that are out there, but had kind of dreaded the slow and jerky search engines. This will make things easier.

Joseph Maghe February 17, 2019 at 7:39 am

I cannot imagine the effort you have had to put into this thus far. Thank you for doing this, it will be an expedited research tool for myself and others. I may be able to help you out with some minor details on Irish units involved Petersburg. I may also have some images of commanders of some of those units in my collection.

Brett Schulte February 17, 2019 at 8:22 am

Lisa,

I’m very happy this is going to make your life easier. When the readers of this site, and really any Civil War buffs, see the fruits of your labor, they are going to be impresses.

Brett

Brett Schulte February 17, 2019 at 8:34 am

Joseph,

You are very welcome, and thank you very much for the offer. Feel free to use the Contact page on this site to get in touch if you find ways to help. I’m always, always looking for leader images and other details of the units on my Units page. I have never actually sat down and counted the number of units I ended up with, but I’m pretty sure there are over 1,000 pages there. Even if I quit my day job and spent the rest of my life trying to fill in the details, i’d never get there. People like you who concentrate very deeply on one or a few units are definitely who I am looking for to help.

As for the tagging of the Official Records, once I realized how cool it would be to make connections with this type of tagging, this actually became fun in a way. I’m wired differently than most people, though, so your mileage may vary! I already tag all of the men mentioned in various articles, letters, diaries, etc. as well as commanders of regiments with their name and the regiment they were attached to. I also tag the authors postwar articles and reminiscences, etc., so I’ve made some connections I never otherwise would have found.

And this is just the beginning. I am going to got through all of these reports several more times, focusing on the following (at least, and maybe other things):
* tagging the author of every report
* tagging every regiment, battery, battalion, etc. mentioned in each report (currently I only tag the unit of the report writer, not units he also mentions in the report)
* tagging higher level organizations like brigades, divisions, and corps. I want someone to eventually be able to look for every mention of the Second Brigade, Second Division, II Corps, AotP, for instance, in the reports. One issue here is the constantly changing orders of battle and how to deal with corps level reorgs like the Nonth Corps 3rd Division becoming its new First Division partway through the Siege. Or the massive upheaval of the Army of the James in December 1864. Luckily (for me at least), the Confederates had a somewhat more stable OOB.
* tagging mentions of unit strengths
* tagging mentions of Black soldiers and impressions of their fighting ability
* tagging mentions of the named fortifications in the region and creating “Unit” pages for these fortifications (Julie Steele’s excellent site http://www.petersburgproject.org/ is really the place to go for this, so I plan to keep my site pretty basic on this area)
* and momre I can’t even rthink of right now. I have a lengthy list I keep adding to as I think of things.

The trick is to go into this and only look for one to three things at a tie in reports. That way it is far less likely mistakes are made.

Brett

jackie martin February 17, 2019 at 1:11 pm

if ever needing further transcription on any correspondence, etc…u know my address!

Brett Schulte February 17, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Jackie,

I am almost certainly going to take you up on that!

Brett

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