Tuesday, October 31, 2006
One thing I would like to touch on is all the credit for the blog seems to fall on me in the article. Although it would be nice to think it was all me, Donald and Steve are a tremendous part of it.
I can understand where the idea of it being all me might have come from since I did most of the posting in the beginning. Even when they are not writing, they are feeding me ideas and critiquing the posts. Without the two of them I couldn’t imagine how the blog could continue.
So, thanks Donald and Steve – even though you are not mentioned in the article, the blog is a “success” because of the three of us, not just one.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen
around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and
in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours
-- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be
my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit
The picture of Samuel Harris Jordan, my second great-grandfather, has been around for as long as I can remember and I grew up with story of how his left arm was amputated after he suffered a gunshot wound at Bethesda Church, VA on June 1, 1864. No matter how many times the story was told I never tired of hearing it. According to that story a minie ball struck Samuel in the fleshy web of the hand, between the thumb and index finger, and traveled upward, shattering the arm up to the elbow. What I found out through researching the 18th Massachusetts was that William Holbrook, former Surgeon for the Regiment, and then Chief Operating Surgeon for the 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Fifth Corps, was the man who cut off the arm. Coincidentally, a newspaper columnist recently chose to write about Samuel and that column was posted on our Blog.
I was equally familiar with the story of my third great-grandfather Sgt. George Washington Thompson, who had been born in Sumner, Maine, where his ancestors had settled after receiving a land grant for their participation in the Revolutionary War. Three of George’s brothers had moved to Minnesota in 1861, while he and another brother, Leander, had earlier headed south to Massachusetts. My father, an amateur historian and genealogist, always pointed out the place where George’s home had once stood in Wrentham and, invariably, he’d always tell the story of discovering a body in Eagle Creek as a child.
My wife and I had talked about the idea of a trip to Virginia for years. Her interest was in visiting towns generations of her ancestors had been born and died in, while my desire was to visit battlefields where the 18th Massachusetts had fought. Her mother, who had not visited those towns since she was a young girl, would later join us.
The drive south in 1990 took us to Washington, DC, where we played the role of typical tourists by visiting the Capitol building, White House, Smithsonian, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Viet Nam Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery. It was oppressively hot and humid and my wife, who was usually tolerant of my frequent stops to shoot video, became increasingly less patient and less humored by this activity over a two-day period.
Our temporary home base was a campground very close to Aquia Creek. The site had been chosen because it was a midway point between Washington, Fredericksburg, and Richmond. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but the name Aquia Creek was instantly recognizable and familiar to me. Later I learned it had served as a water route for transporting Union troops and supplies to the Fredericksburg area and, at the time of our visit, had been turned into a marina and gated housing community.
We made a trip into Tappahannock, Virginia prior to my mother-in-law’s arrival. The town, which pre-dates more famous settlements such as Williamsburg and Fredericksburg, has about 2,100 residents and a nicely preserved historic downtown. Six men from the town served during the war and a Confederate monument is prominently situated on Prince Street. It’s a nice, sleepy little community with wide tree lined streets and well maintained homes. We walked around for a while, then visited the town hall, where we spent a couple of hours pouring through records, searching for information about my wife’s family, and engaged Elvira, who was up for re-election as Town Clerk, in conversation, even accepting campaign literature from her.
Our next stop was Walkerton, a town of about 900 residents situated in King and Queen County. Walkerton, where my wife’s maternal grandfather was born, was the proverbial one traffic light town, with a small number of buildings clustered around the intersections of Rt. 629 and Walkerton Road, including a one room library, church, post office, and gas station. There wasn’t much to see, but I pulled out the video camera to take footage. My attention was drawn to the “Car and Boat Wash,” where a group of men were congregated. They seemed interested in what I was doing, so recognizing this was one of those Charles Karault “On the Road” moments I walked over and asked if anyone wanted to tell the camera what life was like in Walkerton. One volunteered and said the best part of living in the town was that he could go down to the water and tell his troubles to the Mattaponi River. I thought the statement was remarkable for its representation of small town life and his personal bond with the land and river.
My wife joined me and we asked if any of the men knew families named Hill or Beale. The names were not familiar to them, but they directed us to a man pumping gas. That person also didn’t know the names, but offered to take us to the home of one of Walkerton’s oldest residents, relating that she would probably be familiar with the families. This example of Southern hospitality really threw us and, as Yankees, we politely declined and headed back to our campsite.
I should not forget to add that Walkerton does have a claim to fame with regard to Civil War history. It was here that Ulric Dahlgren and his Union cavalry raiders were ambushed, which, in turn, led to the purported discovery of the documents signed by Abraham Lincoln ordering the assassination of Jefferson Davis. The latest issue of North & South magazine (Vol. 9, number 5) has an extensive article by David E. Long, who argues the papers were the genuine article.
I remember my reaction to seeing Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg for the first time; something foreboding and something inside whispering to me to stay away from the place. I listened to that premonition as we drove past and on to the Spottsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Wilderness battlefields.
We later packed up the tent and relocated to a motel in Richmond, spending two days touring the city and visiting the Virginia State Archives. We were now joined by Linda’s mother Gloria, who had taken the train from Providence, R.I. and emerged from the first class coach triumphant and radiant from the personalized attention she had received during her journey.
Childhood memories soften over time and Gloria had difficulty recalling the details of her last visit to Tappahannock some sixty years earlier. We did find what is now a vacant lot, but where the birthplace of her mother once stood. I became separated from the two, preoccupied with my video camera, and caught up to them on another street where they were engaged in conversation with two women. Linda and Gloria had started the conversation by asking if the women knew the Monroe family.
Strange and unexplained events that had already been set in motion were now becoming reality. One of the women turned out to be a cousin of Gloria’s. She immediately got on the phone and called another cousin, who drove over, took us back to his home, introducing us to his wife, who, as it turned out had attended Virginia State College at the same time as Gloria, though their graduating classes were a year apart. We received a guided tour of Tappahannock and wound up at Beale Memorial Baptist Church, where church members were preparing for their annual Homecoming. I was not involved in the decision and was admittedly somewhat disappointed Gloria and Linda begged off the invitation.
Rather than take the most direct route from Tappahannock to Walkerton, I decided we should take back roads, which would allow us a better opportunity to see the countryside. It was a good plan until the road we were on came to an end and we were faced with the decision of turning left or right onto another road. A man was mowing his lawn across from the intersection and rather than asking directions we decided right was the right direction. About half a mile down the road it hit us that right may not have been right afterall, so I turned the car around and pulled over when we saw the man with the lawnmower. His mailbox read “Hill,” and being that we were fairly close to Walkerton we not only asked for directions, but also if he was related to the Hill or Beale families we were seeking. He had an absolutely stunned reaction and asked if we were from out of state. When we answered yes, he told us that he was descended from the families Gloria and LInda were seeking and that he had run into the guy who had been pumping gas in Walkerton at the time of our first visit and that he had driven to Tappahannock in an effort to find us, including driving through motel parking lots in search of a Massachusetts license plate.
In yet another display of Southern hospitality, we were invited into the home of yet another previously unknown cousin, introduced to his family, shown pictures from a photo album, and then bundled into his car. He drove us to the home of Walkerton’s oldest resident, who turned out to be the same woman the guy at the gas station had wanted us to visit days before. I felt the woman, who was in her nineties, was going to crush every bone in my right hand when she shook it with hers. Though her irises were somewhat cloudy, her mind was sharp and clear. She recounted stories about the Hill and Monroe families, including one about a member of the Hill family who had been killed while driving across the bridge that spanned the Mattaponi River. The red light on my video camera never extinguished during her talk and we left her home to find cemeteries she directed us to where Beales and Hills were buried.
There’s a great lesson to be learned when visiting Civil War battlefields. If the site is preserved there will be markers that will give an overview of the battle and in some cases you can learn where a Corp or Division was positioned. The visits made during this trip left me yearning to know where the 18th Massachusetts had actually been situated and what their role had been in a particular battle. This lesson was driven home most dramatically during a later visit to the Antietam battlefield, where I learned, much to my surprise and perhaps disappointment, the 18th, along with the entire Fifth Corps, had sat on the sidelines. This information was contrary to what I had always been led to believe by my father.
The single most important place for me to visit during the trip was Bethesda Church. It was to be the holiest of all shrines, the place where Samuel Jordan was wounded and lost his arm. But life and development goes on and where once flags unfurled and men shrouded in gun smoke fired their muskets at one another there was nothing left to commemorate their actions. As I later found out at the Richmond National Battlefield, the historical sign marking the battle had been removed in the 1970’s when the local high school was built.
With nothing to guide us I decided to reconnoiter the area, directing my wife, who was driving at the time, to take this road and then take that road, all of which were seemingly roads to nowhere. Then it began to happen. A tingling sensation started in my left hand and, as we passed by an open field on our left, a sudden pain shot up the entire length of my arm to the shoulder. I told my wife to stop the car, explained what had just happened, and declared without hesitation that we were at the spot where Samuel was wounded. I had no maps, no information, no proof whatsoever of what I was saying, only that I knew for dead certain that we were at the place.
One of the side projects I’ve been involved in, as part of our research on the 18th Massachusetts, has been taking pictures of the graves of men who served with the Regiment. I wrote of this in Chasing the Dead in New Hampshire and the experience of sensing auras emanating from the graves. I’ve attempted to take pictures of Samuel Jordan’s grave at Union Street Cemetery in Franklin, MA on two different occasions. The first time was with a film camera that worked beautifully before and after I tried to snap off pictures of his grave, but stopped working when I tried to take a picture of his. The second time was with a digital camera. In that picture the left side appears to be over exposed and there’s a white transparency to it. I showed the picture to a friend who’s a very skilled photographer and he had no explanation for the resulting image.
I keep telling myself that I do not believe in ghosts or that the dead can somehow communicate with the living. But then I come back to Sullivan Ballou’s letter and it makes me wonder.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Once in a while a book comes along that smashes what has passed for “the truth” right in the mouth. Sanders, through carefully documented and balanced research, has destroyed all previous efforts to excuse Union and Confederate treatment of prisoners. If you haven’t read the book, buy it. It will turn your existing notions and opinions upside down, while making you sad, angry and ashamed all at the same time.
Very simply, this book should be considered the gospel when discussing the treatment of P.O.W’s during the war.
Granted, I’ve gotten some strange ones in the past, like the guy who thought I was a liberal and shouldn’t be allowed to touch a computer - which couldn't be further from the truth as Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes. (Sorry Donald, Ronnie helped the enlisted military out greatly while I was a young military brat – get them while they are young and you have them for life).
But even with the weird stuff, you also tend to get some neat stuff, and Saturday was one of those days.
Long time readers may have noticed that Donald and I don’t just stick with the battles of the war. We, as our postings can attest, like to see the whole picture.
A few months ago there was a raging debate in the Civil War blogosphere (and yes, I still love typing that word) about how exactly should Civil War History be presented? Much like art, no one could really seem to agree on what they liked but two camps came out, those that wanted the pure battles and movements of armies and those who wanted to know what caused the battles and the personal suffrage of the men who fought.
Myself? I want to know more than just battle maneuvers and generals and armies. I like reading regimental histories, diaries and journals. It gives so much more to the experience and I learn from them that much better.
And so with all this in mind, on Saturday I got an email from Erik Calonius, author of The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set Its Sails which was published last month by St. Martin's Press.
This is one of those books that when you first look at what it is about, the Civil War community might instantaneously dismiss because it doesn’t have anything to do with Civil War. But it does, it has a lot to do with it and I am very glad Erik took the time to let me know about it.
Here is a book that shows how even with the slave trade banned from Africa, citizens of South Carolina and Georgia conspired to send a ship, disguised as a cruise ship, to Africa to bring back new slaves. It shows what certain people in power would do to keep slavery going and points directly to what the conscious would be a decade later as they pushed for secession from the Union.
Since I thought this goes in hand with Donald’s mission to see what Southern members of Congress owned slaves at the outbreak of the war, I emailed him directly about it. Sunday morning he made the trip to his local bookstore and purchased a copy with the hopes of having a review up soon (along with several others).
Until then, here are two links, one to the review in the Washington Post and one to the book’s own site. Both are eye opening and worth your time to visit.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Subscribers have already started to receive their new issue, while the rest of us will have to wait until next week to get it from the newsstands. We are already seeing a spike in our hit count which tells us that we are starting to get some new visitors from the article.
Since so many of you are going to be reading the site for the first time, we thought we would suggest a few articles to look at, the ones that we liked the best. I thought this was going to be easy, until I realized we have over 125 posts to look at, and then I knew I was in for it.
But before we get to the articles, let me ask one favor, let us know you dropped by and what you thought about the site. You can do it by using the comment feature or by email with the address in the “Contact Us” section.
Well, lets ask for two favors, make sure you come back soon!
My personal favorite was one of the posts from the beginning of the blog, How should we hate the hate groups? I wrote this shortly after the KKK demonstrated at Antietam National Battlefield and the response it was getting from around the blogosphere.
What if we held an election and no one came – Part I and Part II looked at how the apathy that most people have towards voting. Not too much to do with the Civil War but it does look back at all those who fought for the right to freedom, which seems to be ignored when so few go to vote.
Donald’s first posting, Tell me I didn’t see what I just saw, discusses Reenactors and how they sometimes just don’t get it. It also sees the first comment from a frequent commenter, Manny who also writes the excellent blog, My Year of Living Rangerously.
Sometimes History just jumps up and smacks you on the nose, looks at how history can be right around you and you don’t even realize it. Ends up I lived on a Navy Base that was a plantation that had major ties to a Union unit and never knew of its existence.
How quickly we forget looks at a man who was a hero for a nation but is now pretty much lost in the history books.
Strictly a fun post, Donald shows his workspace to a startled Internet with, It's Not Lourdes, But It's A Shrine Nontheless
Donald’s three part series on Chasing the Dead – Part I, Part II and Part III) shows the lengths that he will go to visit the final resting places of the 18th Massachusetts but also the interesting adventures he has while doing it.
Where Baseball Cards, the Civil War, and eBay Intersect talks about the ever increasing prices of what looks to be another dot com bubble ready to burst.
Dylan, Hootie and the small town of Summerville looks at the controversy supplied by Dylan and Timrod from a South Carolina perspective, while Timrod, Dylan, and Maryland looks at it from a Maryland perspective
And finally, Researching the 18th Massachusetts touches upon why there are three strange fellows hunting the world for anything that is even remotely related to this almost forgotten Civil War Regiment.
My wife wanted to pick up a book that had been referred to her by one of our Church Deacons. We drove out to North Charleston where on one side of the road is BAM and on the other is Barnes and Noble (B&N). Now since the time I emailed the corporate offices of both and only got a response from BAM, I try to do most of my book shopping at BAM.
In we went and as I headed to the Civil War section (still has two bays compared to B&N’s one) my wife went to find the recommended book. I found a copy of “The Civil War Research Guide” and it was not signed, which means someone bought the last copy and they now have a new one. I went about and looked in the magazine rack in case they had the newest issue of North and South Magazine (they didn’t) and then made my way through the clearance books.
Although normally I steer away from the Civil War books found in this section, mainly due to the almost complete lack of true history since they seem to be coffee table books aimed at the masses, I did find a wonderful gem, Eye of the Storm< by Robert Knox Sneden. This book, which I’ll post on more later (and since I paid for it, hopefully no one will think I like it because I got it for free), had been marked down from 37.50 to 12.97 – plus there would be a 10% discount at the register thanks to the magic of member cards.
My wife finally pulled me away from the book racks to head for the register. As we walked, she picked up a Napoleon Dynamite Calendar (if you have not seen this movie, watch it twice. The first time tends to be weird but the second is when you pick up all the jokes) while I picked up the copy of my book.
At the register, I did what I have done countless times in the past, here is a transcript of what then went down.
Me – (holding the book up) “Hi, this is my book you guys are selling. If you would like, I can autograph it.”
Cashier – “Wow, sure, that is cool. That would be great.”
Me – “Can I borrow a pen?”
Cashier – “Sure, which one would you like?” Giving me the choice of a Sharpee or regular black pen.
As I grab the regular black pen, and start to sign, the cashier calls the manager up. Normally I get a thank you, so I have no problem with it.
Cashier (talking to the manager) – “This guy is the author of that book”
Manager (talking to me) – “Can I help you sir?”
Me – “No, I am just signing my book that you guys are selling”
Manager – “Is it available out of our warehouse?”
Me – “I don’t know, I just picked it up off the shelf and brought it here. I do it every time you get a new copy of it.”
Manager – “Well, it has our sticker, let me check.”
Me – “Um, ok”
Manager – “Yup, it is. I just like to check, especially on Regionally Specialties.”
Me – “This is a national book”
Manager – “Oh, I know but you know, when authors bring their own books in, I just like to see if they are selling.”
Me – “You mean when they bring Print on Demand books in?”
Manager – “Yes”
Me – “This is not a POD book, Stackpole is a real publishing company out of Pennsylvania.”
Manager - (staring at me like I am lying) “Sure they are.”
Me – “You realize I didn’t bring this book in, it came from your warehouse, bought from Stackpole?”
Manager – “Well, I was just checking.”
Me – “How about I just put it up for you?”
Like I said, normally the manager says thank you and puts a sticker on it saying “Autographed Copy” and off I go. Occasionally I even get in a discussion about the book, how it came about and how Steve was really the driving force behind it and I am just thankful for him putting my name on it.
Instead, tonight the manager acted like I was trying to sell her junk and I was nothing more than a garbage man trying to pass off another smelly waste of her time. This while I am spending $40 and just trying to help her store out. At least the cashier was impressed.
Too be honest, I have more respect for the POD authors now. If this is what they have to go through at every store and they don’t give up, my hat is off to them.
Right now, I just want to curl up and think of how I can rebuild my damaged ego – maybe I’ll go to Fort Moultrie and sign a couple copies there. At least the Park Rangers are always nice to me. Better yet, maybe I’ll just watch Napoleon Dynamite for the umpteenth time – a laugh will do me good - especially as Napoleon tells his class about a group out to save Nessie.
Teacher: Your current event, Napoleon.
Napoleon Dynamite: Last week, Japanese scientists explaced... placed explosive detonators at the bottom of Lake Loch Ness to blow Nessie out of the water. Sir Godfrey of the Nessie Alliance summoned the help of Scotland's local wizards to cast a protective spell over the lake and its local residents and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Recently I had read an article on a documentary being produced titled, Budapest to Gettysburg by his son Jake Boritt.
The film takes a look at one man’s personal history and the events that shaped his life, something that he had refused to look at in the past – even as he became a scholar in the history of his adopted homeland.
Although the film is not finished a preview is available on the very well done website.
Take a few minutes to view the website and the preview – you will not be disappointed.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Not only will we have our own reviews upcoming but we will also soon be announcing a contest where readers of Touch the Elbow will have the chance to win a copy.
Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney
Slavery, Secession and the President’s War Powers
By James F. Simon
November 7, 2006
This book takes a look at the struggle between President Lincoln as he tried to protect the nation while the Chief Justice Taney tried to protect the civil liberties that were being lost at the expense of national security.
Donald will be reviewing this one as he has had a deep interest in Chief Justice Taney for some time. He recently told me “Taney was from Maryland and has developed a negative reputation within the past thirty to forty years based on the Dred Scott decision he rendered. In fact a school located in my county, which had been named in his honor, was renamed the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.”
The irony that the school was renamed after Justice Marshall who argued the Brown vs. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education before the Supreme Court is not lost on either of us.
The Americans who fought the Second War of Independence
By A.J. Langguth
November 7, 2006
I commented on a post recently that it seemed hardly anybody talks about the Mexican-American War; well the War of 1812 seems to have an even worse fate. This war did have an impact on how we as a country handle the crises of War, it was our first war fought as an independent country. The book also touches on how sectional differences of the country, first brought to the forefront during the war, would linger and could be looked upon as some of the many causes of the Civil War.
Donald will also be handling the review on this one.
The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows
By Gabor Boritt – Director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College
November 19, 2006 (anniversary of the Gettysburg Address)
Gabor Boritt tackles a hard subject with this book, establishing what is truth and what is myth in the world of the Gettysburg Address. He steps back and starts with the battle itself and then tells the story of the National Cemetery and how President Lincoln aimed to write a speech that would explain why the war needed to go on, as he stood commemorating the outcome of all the horrors that a war could place upon a nation. Mr. Boritt than goes to show how the speech was initially received (not too well and often misquoted) and would later transform into a national treasure.
Look to the blog for more information on each of these books in the near future, including the contest and author interviews.
Which brings me to Abraham Lincoln. The more I’ve learned about Lincoln over the years the less favorable an opinion I’ve developed. I see him as the consummate politician who possessed an uncanny knack to read public opinion decades before such surveys were even dreamt of. Charles Sanders’ book, "While in the Hands of the Enemy," has only succeeded in pushing Lincoln further down on my list of all time favorite Presidents.
I am not, however, to be confused with a Lincoln basher. I simply believe, for example, that one of his contemporaries, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, was probably a better qualified candidate for the office and would have been a better President than Lincoln. There are many, many who would disagree with my opinions of Lincoln, but I believe that Lincoln’s loftiness is, in part, related to his assassination, which occurred at a time when a sense of great triumph and relief intertwined in the North.
While I’ve had these opinions for a while, there are over a hundred books published annually on Lincoln. Most, if not all, praise Lincoln, although there have been recent efforts to delve solely into his psyche or try to determine if he was gay. In a sense I’ve felt in the minority regarding my opinions and that’s why a certain book title caught my attention.
If you read the inside of the dust jacket for "Lincoln Unmasked" by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, you’ll see the following:
“What if you were told that the revered leader Abraham Lincoln was
actually a political tyrant who stifled his opponents by suppressing their civil rights?” Use of the word tyrant may be a little strong, but Lincoln did suspend or limit certain Constitutional rights during his presidency, so I guess I agree in a way. “What if you learned that the man so affectionately referred to as the “Great Emancipator” supported white supremacy and pledged not to interfere with slavery in the South? Would you suddenly start to question everything you thought you knew about Lincoln and his presidency?” You have to put things in the context of the times and refrain from making judgments based on twenty-first century hindsight or standards. Lincoln actually held a moderate position that fell within the mainstream of white American political thought on the issue of race. Were he alive today and holding the same opinions as when he took his first oath of office, yes, Lincoln would be labeled a white supremacist.
In spite of my growing reservations, and the fact that I already had a large stack of unread books, I debit carded $22.95 for what is effectively a 172 page book that, by utilizing smaller type, could have been half as long. The first thing I did when I got home was go on line and look up the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where DiLorenzo, a professor of economics at Loyola College of Maryland, is a senior fellow. My suspicions were confirmed when the word “Libertarian” appeared associated with the Institute.
“Did you know that Lincoln was NOT a great statesman? Lincoln was actually a warmonger who manipulated his own people into a civil war.” Ouch! Historical and political axe to grind anyone?
I will read the book, but it’s going to the bottom of the unread book pile. And I may slide some future selections on top of it as well.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
In the collective American consciousness, the following is true:
a. The only Civil War prison which ever existed was Andersonville.
b. If the North did have prisons they treated their prisoners more humanely
c. Henry Wirz was a monster and deserved to be hung
d. Southerners decrying conditions in Northern prisons is/was simply an effort to minimize the tragedy of Andersonville.
e. all of the above
The correct answer is: whichever one(s) causes the least amount of discomfort to your conscience.
I’ve visited Andersonville twice and Point Lookout three times. There’s a world of difference in how each is preserved and presented to the public. Andersonville is a National Park, while Point Lookout, the largest Union prison, is a Maryland State Park. Andersonville has over 12,000 graves in its cemetery. Point Lookout has a monument located approximately a half mile outside the park with the names of under 4,000 men inscribed on tablets. In fairness, graves were moved twice due to encroachment of the Chesapeake Bay. Andersonville’s boundaries are still clearly defined by some sections of fence, posts denoting the deadline, and a gate. Most of the prison site at Point Lookout is now under water and there’s one small section of fence, which you have to purposely go looking for. Andersonville features a brand spanking new visitor’s center open for visitors year round, with the exception of certain holidays. The Visitor’s Center at Point Lookout is open Memorial Day to Labor Day and on weekends from September to October. Andersonville is somber and thought provoking. Point Lookout is primarily a recreational facility for fisherman and campers, while the prison site is a mere afterthought. Park Rangers or volunteer docents are always on duty at Andersonville to answer questions. Point Lookout is strictly a self-guided tour. There are over 30 books that have been written on Andersonville, including first hand accounts. Two books have been written on Point Lookout, including one first hand account, which also tells of the author’s imprisonment at Elmira.
Note: the link used for Andersonville is to a Web site developed by Kevin Frye, a volunteer Park Service Ranger. I met Kevin on consecutive days during my last visit to Andersonville. He's a genuinely nice guy who told me he still gets a lump in his throat every time he drives into the park.
Besides the gorgeous vision of the film, from a battlefield in Maryland, to the streets of Massachusetts and then the lowcountry of South Carolina – the beauty and realism is undeniable. Next, take a look at the actor’s list of the movie; so much of the success should be attributed to the fine cast. Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Andre (who I will always remember as a future Baltimore City Police Detective) Braugher, Cary (I am not left handed) Elwes and Matthew Broderick brought to life the experiences of 54th and showed us all what an impact a small group can have and let us know that underdog can defy what is set forth against them.
Surprisingly, the success of the movie and Mr. Burns’ mini-series did not see the residents of South Carolina rally to save Morris Island, the Island where Fort Wagner, the fort that the 54th tried to take, was located. As previously mentioned, most of the island is gone.
In the late 1800’s the state of South Carolina received permission from the federal government to build jetties to help deepen the Charleston harbor. Unfortunately it also changed the way sand moved within the local area and Morris Island found the vast majority of its land, under water.
There was still a bit left above ground and over the years, it has, for the most part, been left alone. Unfortunately, living near the water has become big business in America and for awhile, it looked like Morris Island would soon be developed. Luckily a developer who bought the island is willing to sell it to The Trust for Public Land for the amount he paid for it.
But the Trust had a daunting task; it needed to raise some $4.5 million to be successful. The State of South Carolina and the County of Charleston have each pledged $1.5 million leaving the trust with only needing $1.5 million.
Now they are looking for private donations and have already secured the help of a descendant of Colonel Shaw, leader of the 54th.
If you are like me and Glory had a huge impact on you, may I suggest you return the favor and be one of the private donors they are looking for? All you have to do is go here.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
General Wade Hampton Defends Columbia
Tuesday - October 24
Lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. in Bond Hall Room 165
Dr. Rod Andrew of Clemson University will trace Hampton’s attitudes to war and secession with attention to his defense of Columbia in 1865. Hampton was the highest ranking Confederate general from South Carolina.
Dr. Andrew, author of "Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915" – UNC Press; formerly taught history at The Citadel and is now assistant professor of history at Clemson University. He has served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Early during the war, the Union captured Port Royal Sound and the islands surrounding it. These islands include Hilton Head, Port Royal (which included the towns of Port Royal and Beaufort) and St. Helena amoung others. The Penn Center was created as a direct result of what happened when the Union took over the Beaufort area and more importantly what reconstruction probably would have looked like if President Lincoln lived. As for the article, it shows how two individuals founded an institution that changed an island. An institution that lives on to this day as The Penn Center, helping the community and surviving by changing with the times but still looking to the past to help guide its future.
I myself have fond memories of The Penn Center, as it helped me tremendously in High School. It offered tutoring sessions to the local High School children and I would take advantage of the sessions my Chemistry teacher would give weekly. So in this public forum, thank you Laura Towne and Ellen Murray for working so hard on the school and thanks also to all those that helped it survive through the years.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Since he provided a handy, dandy link on his normal blog - I went over and checked it out and he already has a few posts up.
One of which is the bill from my adopted home state, South Carolina, whose purpose is to establish a Sesquicentennial Commission. I decided to see what was going on with it and did a quick search and found out that it was read in the Senate on April 4, 2006 and immediately sent to committee.
It then did what many bills do that suffer the same fate, it sat in committee for 2 months and 11 days until the House and Senate adjourned for the summer.
Normally I would worry about it being stuck in committee forever but the bill sponsor is the President Pro Tempore of the state Senate and a Civil War champion. He pretty much single handedly raised the needed money to raise and restore the CSS Hunley, was able to get a large amount of money set aside to buy SC related Civil War artifacts and runs a Civil War Art store.
Even so, I just dropped him a line to see what the plan is to get this little commission going. Hopefully I will hear something soon.
And, best of luck to Kevin on the new blog.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Not that we necessarily valued our cards as kids. The value lay more in how large a stack of cards you accumulated. We didn’t take care of them either. We wrapped rubber bands around the stacks, put them inside our baseball hats, and the spokes of our bicycle tires, attaching them with clothespins. The loud vroom sound they made while you were riding was like nirvana and when you had a pack of kids riding together mothers were absolutely terrified into thinking a motorcycle gang had invaded the neighborhood.
I don’t have a single baseball card from my childhood and even if I did they wouldn’t be worth anything because of the abuse they took. Don’t let any adult male who grew up in the 1950’s or 1960’s try to fool you into believing they’d be wealthy today if they still had their card collections.
Maybe it was an effort to somehow return to the innocence of childhood that led me to start buying baseball cards again in my early twenties. A couple of years later it seemed like everybody was into collecting. Then along came people who saw the hobby as an investment opportunity and who drove the price of cards skyward and out of the reach of the average kid or adult. The hobby was transformed from pure fun to something that resembled the stock market. The number of card shops that sprung up boggled the mind. A card that only a few months before had been selling for $20 or $25 was suddenly going for hundreds.
Fast forward to 2006. You have to look long and hard to find a card shop. The Wall Street crowds have faded away and the hobby has been returned to the faithful few. I stopped buying cards fifteen years ago when prices outdistanced my ability to pay, but unlike my childhood collection, I still have the cards. I recently thought about selling them and consulted a price guide to assess their current worth. What I saw surprised me a little, but shouldn’t have. The cards carry less value today than they did ten years ago and in most cases are worth less than what I paid for them.
Which brings us to the current state of all things Civil War, i.e. memorabilia, including equipment, books, letters, buttons, CDVs, etc., being sold at shows, in antique stores, and on eBay. One of the principles of economics states “whatever the market will bear.” And right now the market will bear an awful lot. eBay is an excellent barometer by which to measure the direction in which things are going. The concept of eBay is pure genius, a cyber flea market where you can find anything and everything your imagination could possibly wish for and even things you never dreamt of buying. Carte de Vistas of Civil War soldiers provide the best single example of where the market is headed. Five years ago an unidentified soldier would fetch a relatively low dollar value. Now it’s not unusual to see a dealer fetching $80 or even up to $175. If a dealer is able to identify the individual, winning bids can vary from a couple of hundred to more than a thousand, depending on the fame of that individual. A CDV of an identified private in the 6th Massachusetts Infantry recently sold for $625. One of Robert Gould Shaw fetched in the neighborhood of $1500. But it’s not limited to CDVs. A first edition set of Grant’s Memoirs, in very good condition, recently went to a first time bidder for more than $600. And we’re not talking about the “Shoulder Strap” edition. Contrast this to the $125 I paid for a set in similar condition at a bookstore in New Hampshire. There’s a feeding frenzy afoot with no end in sight, at least not for the foreseeable future.
So, where is all this leading us. In my humble opinion, in the same direction as baseball cards. Sooner or later prices are going to start eliminating the average buyer and the field will become the exclusive province of those who have the financial wherewithal and who view their collections as they do any other investment. If we fast forward twenty or even thirty years from now, what are we going to find? Will that $175 CDV of an unidentified Confederate soldier have increased in value, to say double, or will it be worth a tenth of what the buyer originally paid?
One of the saddest experiences Tom went through, and I certainly felt his pain on this one, was seeing a collection of letters, war time souvenirs, and equipment once belonging to his great-great grandfather Edmund Churchill go on the auction block. The letters formed a fairly large collection and we naively asked the dealer if he would allow us the opportunity to copy them. We were turned down flat, as the dealer informed us we would decrease their value by copying them. We accepted the fact the dealer had paid a small fortune to acquire the collection and was trying to make a profit on his investment. Yet, we were cut off completely from reading letters that would have helped us to round out the story of the 18th Massachusetts we are currently in the process of writing. I can’t believe the collector who purchased the letters had any emotional attachment to them when he wrote his check, at least not in the same way that Tom, Steve, or I would have.
All three of us have acquired items relating to the 18th Massachusetts. I can’t speak for Tom or Steve, but I wouldn’t consider selling any of my items even if offered twenty times the amount I paid for them. Ok, maybe I’d weaken a little if someone told me they’d give me thirty times their value.
All of this, in turn, led me to consider what my future obligation and responsibility is toward these items. I recently purchased 11 letters written by Pvt. Edward Loker, Co. H, 18th Massachusetts. I know I paid more than they were worth, but I was not going to risk letting them slip from our grasp. The word “our” meaning Steve, Tom, and me. There have been far too many items relating to the 18th that have eluded us and disappeared into other collectors’ hands. The Loker letters will be shared with the reading public through their inclusion in our history of the 18th Mass. and I’m taking steps to ensure they’ll be properly preserved, owing to their current fragile state.
I’ve made a verbal promise to will my collection to someone, not if, but when I leave this life. That promise in some ways presents a personal quandary and begs the question as to what is ultimately best for these items. Individually most of the items I have would not necessarily be considered valuable, but collectively as a grouping the value is probably fairly substantial. Should they remain in private hands, where they’ll certainly be treasured by those they’re bequeathed to, or do they belong in a museum or historical society where they can be accessed by many? I don’t know the answer. It’s a tough one to decide, whether individual emotional attachment and meaning outweigh the benefits of leaving them to the world. And it also poses a moral dilemma about keeping my word and not breaking a promise. Yet, I think that person would understand whatever the decision because they would know it would be one made from the heart.
I particularly like his post on nerdom. Although he concentrates on Planet of the Apes, I agree that the SciFi realm has often taken shots at the racial tensions of the day. Star Trek’s Original Series touched upon throughout its run just by having an interracial crew. What most don’t know is that originally, the first officer was a female but the Studio felt it was too unrealistic so we got a guy with pointy ears instead.
But one episode in particular really showed the craziness of racial prejudice, episode 70 - Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. In this episode, two aliens are beamed aboard, both black and white, the only thing separating them was which half was black and which half was white. And the two sides were at war with each other, trying to kill each other off because each the other side was different and inferior. In the end, the two find out they are the last of their race and instead of trying to set their differences aside, they blame each other for the destruction of their planet.
Wikipedia offers a great entry on this including some trivia that this episode may have developed from a script that was originally scrapped, dealing with the crew being caught on a planet where Caucasians where slaves and African-Americans ruled the planet – reversing the roles of leadership for Doctor McCoy and Lt. Uhura. 26 years later, John Travolta and Harry Belafonte would star in “White Man’s Burden” where the social statuses of the different races in America are reversed.
Funny how Science Fiction shows can be so far ahead of their times.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The worst part, the new toy ads are starting for the Christmas buying season. My daughter informed me she didn’t want her play kitchen anymore, she wanted a Dora one. Thankfully I sidestepped that one by telling her to ask Santa.
So while they are watching the horror known as Disney’s Halloweentown (whose plot centers around a young witch, who doesn’t know she is a witch, coming of age and saving an interdimensional town of witches she didn’t know existed but her ancestors had founded – go here if you really interested in finding out more) - I poured a cup of coffee in one of my 18th Massachusetts mugs (see Donald’s post for a picture) and caught up with some work email and while doing so thought of writing this post.
Last week my wife and I went to a church benefit which just happened to have a silent auction. Now, unfortunately for us, the benefit also had adult beverages. The parishioners who put the benefit on are pretty smart – instead of buying things with money, you buy tickets on the way in. Then you used tickets to buy stuff. It is amazing how much easier it is to part with money when it is just a ticket. Needless to say, I may have parted with too many tickets and fell in love with a print by one of the premier Charleston artists, Jim Booth.
As we walked through the tables holding the different items up for auction, we saw a few restaurant passes we wanted, gift certificates to some local stores and a couple of pieces of art. The one that caught my eye was Mr. Booth’s “Running with the Wind” which was done in honor of the inaugural "Charleston to Bermuda Race" May 11, 1997.
My wife, seeing that I liked it, put our name down and put a bid down $1 more than the current bid. We then went and sat down, enjoying other parts of the benefit – along with spending some more tickets. Did I mention how easy it was to part with tickets?
An announcement came over the PA that there was only 10 more minutes before the end of the silent auction and we walked over to take a look at where we stood. Well the person we bid over didn’t like our bid and put an extra $10 on, then she got in a bidding war with another guy and all of a sudden the sheet was half full with three names, most of the entries were not ours. So we decided to snipe.
Snipe? You have never heard of it? Well, it’s a technical term used in winning eBay auctions and either people love it or hate it, there is no in-between.
The process of sniping is easy.
- 1. Decide the absolute most you are willing to pay. You only get one shot so be prepared to open the wallet
2. Watch the auction to see if the bidding goes above what you are willing to pay
3. About 30 seconds before the auction ends, put your bid in. This is normally too late for anyone to counter offer
There are some pitfalls to this philosophy.
- 1. You may not have bid enough and end up losing
2. Sometimes there are counter snipers out there, waiting for your offer to show and have just enough time to outbid you
3. You might forget about when the auction ends (this has happened to me several times – luckily not for any thing I really wanted)
4. Your computer/Internet access goes down and there is no way for you to win
But one thing outweighs all of the pitfalls, it prevents a bidding war. When we first met Steve, he and Donald were bidding on the same CDV. The picture really should have gone for no more than $50 – it went way over that because every time one person bid the other countered it. For someone on a budget (me) there is no better way to keep the price down than by snipping.
There is also the feeling of wining which just can’t be beat. Recently Donald won a couple of CDVs and told us, “I was on a complete adrenaline rush after winning the photo.” Steve replied back that, “It is quite a rush as time ticks down.” At one point I remember someone remarking that it must be the same feeling the big time gamblers get when they hit the jackpot of a lifetime.
So with this in mind, my wife pretended to bid on an alligator. I don’t know how, but she made it seem like she was interested in it. It was rather ugly and for a bit, I really thought she wanted it. I am glad she didn’t - we already have enough ugly stuff in the house that I picked up over the years!
And as the announcer got to the PA to say that the auction was over and put down the pens, she slid into the spot where the Booth print was and put the final bid down. Unlike the internet auctions, we could see the anger in the face of the two losers as she put the last bid in. For a brief moment, I felt bad – then the rush hit - either that or the effects of the adult beverages.
Will I snipe again knowing how it could make people feel? Yes, but not for the rush – for the history. EBay has truly revolutionized the way historians can gather history. We would never have been able to collect as many artifacts, letters and pictures without this wonderful site.
The three of us have taken an almost sacred vow – to chronicle the history of the 18th Massachusetts. Winning these pieces of history help us form a better overall view of the unit – losing takes us away from the goal.
Any auction we have lost due to price, we generally contact the winner to see if they have a connection to the 18th. Only one person has, Steve. The rest have bought things about the 18th for different reasons – good reasons, just not as good as ours. Thankfully, almost all will have helped us in the end. On several occasions, winners of letters have transcribed and sent us copies to add to our database.
Unfortunately there is one large group of letters, diaries and photos out there that we can not touch – the Edmund Churchill lot. Hopefully one day we will get our hands on it. Until then, we continue to snipe.
As for the print, even sober, I still like it. So I guess it’s not all that bad that we won it – now I have to find a place for it.
Friday, October 20, 2006
On the drive to Milford. N.H. a Randy Newman song floated around in my head, as if in answer to a question I was asking myself. Amherst is a neighboring town and where William H. Holmes died. If Holmes, a destitute, tuberculosis ridden alcoholic had knocked on his door in Milford, would Captain William W. Hemenway have offered help? I want to believe he would have. But then again, maybe not. For the full story on Holmes, read Part One of Chasing the Dead in New Hampshire.
Tin can at my feet,
Think I’ll kick it down the street.
Yeah, that’s the way you treat a friend.
Right before me
Signs implore me
Help the needy,
And show them the way,
Human kindness is overflowin’
And I think it’s going to rain today.
Regardless of whether he would have lent a helping hand or not, Hemenway must have sympathized with the fact that I had spent hours tromping around cemeteries in Amherst and Franklin, NH. Or maybe he just appreciated the fact that I had purchased a large basket of white mums to place on his grave.
Start with this fact. Milford, N.H. has five cemeteries and I had no idea which one he was buried in. I stopped at Riverside Cemetery simply because it was the first one I passed when I drove into the town. As luck would have it there were cemetery workers on duty and my luck got even better when they informed me the town had a computerized database of internments for all five cemeteries. A quick phone call confirmed Hemenway was buried at Riverside and, after obtaining the lot and grave number, they escorted me to the site. Finding his grave otherwise would have been a daunting task, Riverside being the largest cemetery by far of those I had visited over a three-day period.
I walked back to the car in order to park closer to the grave, as I didn’t favor lugging a fairly heavy plant a couple of hundred yards on foot. During that walk I stopped to take pictures of some unique monuments before winding up at the cemetery gates. After snapping off two pictures of the gates I was back at the car when a green Jeep Wrangler pulled up in front of me. In one of those weird coincidences of timing, my nephew Ian explained he was on his way to work and saw me in front of the gates.
William Hemenway was born in Lexington, MA, the son of Daniel and Sophia. He was twenty when he married Mary Octavia Clapp in 1857 at Boston and the father of two when a mortar shell streaked across the darkness enveloping Charleston Harbor. Six weeks after the surrender of Ft. Sumter he was enlisted as a Sergeant in Co. I of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry.
If nothing else, Hemenway was tough and a natural born leader. By July 1862 he had survived the rigors and hardships of the Peninsular campaign and been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. By virtue of command decisions emanating from Army headquarters, the 18th Massachusetts did not see action during any of the Seven Days Battles. That was all to change on August 30th at a place that became known as Second Manassas, or Second Bull Run. When the smoke cleared the Union army was in tatters and in organized retreat toward Centreville, VA, led by a humiliated and disoriented John Pope. Of 325 men from the 18th Massachusetts who entered the battle under the command of Capt. Stephen Thomas, 42 officers and men were dead, another 99 were wounded, and 25 reported as missing in action. Hemenway was among the wounded, but not seriously enough that he was away from the Regiment. He, in fact, witnessed the slaughter at Antietam from a hill where the Fifth Corps was held in reserve and saw his second action at the Battle of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. After recrossing the Potomac River into Maryland he, along with the rest of First Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps, surely would have seen the drown bodies of the 118th Pennsylvania floating downstream in the swift current.
Hemenway was not so fortunate with his second wound, incurred when struck by a shell fragment in the right leg at Fredericksburg on December 13th. He was gone from the Regiment for nearly two months while undergoing treatment at Georgetown Seminary Hospital and recuperating at home. During his furlough home he laid eyes on his daughter Mary Grace, who been born in September 1862, for the first time. While his recovery was seemingly complete, Hemenway was plagued by pain from the wound for the rest of his life and unable to stand or sit for extended periods of time.
His promotion to 1st Lieutenant on February 25, 1863 had nothing to do with merit, but rather death harvesting lieutenants in the Eighteenth. As such, he took up the march again in 1863, seeing combat at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and, after being placed in command of Company F, during the Mine Run Campaign, and Rappahannock Station.
I can attest first hand to the debilitating effects of sunstroke. When I was a kid playing baseball on a scorching hot day, the world suddenly grew black. I don’t remember this, but was told I dropped my glove, started walking off the field, and fell flat on my face after going about five feet. At the Wilderness on May 5, 1864 men fell in droves from sunstroke, Hemenway being one of them. He wouldn’t return to the Regiment until a month later. Capt. William H. Winsor, also struck by sunstroke at the Wilderness, complained of wildly blinding headaches throughout the duration of his life.
Hemenway was promoted to the rank of Captain and placed in command of Company K on June 4, 1864, following the death of Capt. Charles F. Pray. Pray had been killed at Bethesda Church the previous day, when a gunshot tore off his leg. Hemenway, however, was never mustered as a Captain and was instead discharged from military service on September 2, 1864 at the expiration of his three-year enlistment as a First Lieutenant.
Home was Wrentham, MA for the next three years, until he moved his family to Natick, MA. Employed as a bookkeeper and perhaps undergoing a midlife crisis, Hemenway changed locations and jobs, taking up as the printer and publisher of the Milford Enterprise and Wilton, N.H. Journal newspapers in 1875. Two of his children, Ralph and Carrie would follow in his footsteps, later taking positions with the Boston Globe. Hemenway invested himself in the Milford community, joining the O.W. Lull G.A.R. Post No. 11 and served as Post Commander in 1884, while his wife Mary was a charter member of the Women’s Relief Corps. Hemenway may have very well advised the 18th Massachusetts Veterans Association of the circumstances of William Holmes’ death in Amherst at the 1901 reunion. His days probably passed quietly and peacefully until his death at age 81 on March 9, 1918.
There are always things you think of after the fact. For example I wished I had checked the Census records before I left, because I then could have taken a picture of the house the Hemenway family resided in. As with the towns of Amherst and Franklin, Hemenway, if brought back to life, probably wouldn’t have noticed much change in Milford. Certainly he would have recognized the town hall built in 1869 and the Odd Fellows Hall located two buildings away. He would have been equally familiar with the First Congregational Church, which has stood since 1833, the John Shepard House of 1741 construction, the Milford Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company buildings erected in 1810 and converted to Senior Citizen housing in 1983, as well as Centenial High School, which opened in 1894 and is now known as Bales Elementary, and the Civil War monument standing on a park like rotary in the town center. However, he probably would have been stumped by the existence of a 7-11 located about a quarter of a mile from the downtown area.
Hemenway would not have known Harriet Wilson, who left Milford probably ten years before he took up residence. She was a black servant who, in 1859, published an autobiography, the first book by a black female ever published in the United States. Hers was not a happy tale, but one of mistreatment by her employers. The book, Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, faded into obscurity until rediscovered by Dr. Henry L. Gates, Jr. of Harvard University in 1983. That discovery led to an effort to establish a memorial to Harriet Wilson in the town. From what I’ve learned fund raising efforts are still ongoing and thus far stand at close to half of the $112,000 needed to pay for the memorial. Her story, which is available in paperback, would certainly provide insight into the isolated existence of a free black woman and the apparent racist attitudes found in Pre-Civil War New Hampshire.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Sometimes I get cool stuff, sometimes I get spam, sometimes I am told about a neat little publishing house out of New Jersey. Today, it was the last one.
Kathryn over at Astragal Press sent me an email letting me know about her outfit. Althougth not completely tied into the Civil War community, she did a good enough job peaking my interest, I decided to let her speak about it and maybe peak your interest too.
So here is Kathryn >>>
Our company, the Astragal Press, is an independent publishing company based in Mendham, NJ. We publish unique books devoted to the subjects of metalworking trades (such as copper and blacksmithing), antique tools and early sciences.
Many of our books are historically based - good for students, collectors, historians, curators, academics or just plain lovers of history. Our books have been carried by such institutions as The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mystic Seaport, The National Ornamental Metal Museum, The United States Post Office Store, Winterthur Museum, among others.
We have many books that address time periods ranging from about 1740 to early 20th century and our titles on metalworking, blacksmithing and antique tools come immediately to mind. Although at first glance somewhat tangential to the Civil War, some of these items or methods may have been used during the 1861-1865 timeframe and may be useful in camp re-enactment or in the study of this historical period.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I’m going to begin by taking a look at the members of Congress representing Southern States just prior to secession, as well as other political arenas. However, I have finished a review of the Congressional delegation from Alabama.
Both Senators, Clement Claiborne Clay, Jr. and Benjamin Fitzpatrick, were slave owners. Of the seven members of the House of Representatives, three owned slaves, Williamson R.W. Cobb, George S. Houston, and James A. Stallworth. Four others, all lawyers, David Clopton, Jabez L.M. Curry, Sydenham Moore, and James A. Stallworth did not.
The score: Yes: 5 No: 4
Which brings us to questions to mull over during the course of a weekend, or between snaps of a college or pro football game.
The question isn’t why these men marched into and sometimes through the gates of hell, but why Union and Confederate commanders failed to alter or refine their Napoleonic like tactics when technological advances in weaponry made those tactics obsolete almost from the beginning of the war.
Is there reason to doubt both sides inflated the number of troops involved in a major battle in order to lower casualty rates and make them more “palatable” to those at home?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Maybe our new David Letterman (see the previous post on Top 10 reasons for the Civil War - SCV style) should read these to find out that Slavery did indeed have a lot to do with the Civil War. He might even believe it since it is coming from a Southern press – as they are the only ones who tell the truth.
In all seriousness there are quite a few books that I find very interesting and will be posting about them in the near future. Here are a few that caught my eye.
No Taint of Compromise: Crusaders in Antislavery Politics by Frederick J. Blue
Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and “The Impending Crisis of the South” by David Brown
The Slavery Debates, 1952-1990: A Retrospective by Robert W. Fogel
Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean by Alfred N. Hunt
Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827 by David N. Gellman
Race and Liberty in the New Nation: Emancipation in Virginia from the Revolution to Nat Turner's Rebellion by Eva Sheppard Wolf
If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrections in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Eric Robert Taylor
Slavery and American Economic Development by Gavin Wright
Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 by Larry J. Daniel
Brothers One and All: Esprit de Corps in a Civil War Regiment by Mark H. Dunkelman
War's Relentless Hand: Twelve Tales of Civil War Soldiers by Mark H. Dunkelman
Ellet's Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All by Chester G. Hearn
Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice by Thomas P. Lowry
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
After attending a brunch with my family, during which time I silently debated whether to sponsor my nephew Ian in the 2007 Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, I dropped people off at the Manchester airport, hooked up with the highway again and headed north with a certain degree of uncertainty. My destination was Franklin Falls. The map listed a town by that name, minus the word Falls. Not to fear, as it turned out they were one in the same.
I received quite a welcome as I entered the town, ah hem, city of Franklin. Just as I crossed into the downtown area a huge flash of white light filled the car’s back window followed by a loud bang. When I saw the flash my immediate thought was that I had run a stop light and the town, ah hem, city, possessed the world’s most powerful traffic camera. I was convinced, too, the bang I’d heard was some device that had latched onto the vehicle’s rear axle and at any second would be jerked to a sudden stop and the car, minus back wheels, would be tilted upward at a fifteen-degree angle. Imagine my relief when I was able to keep driving and later learned an electrical box on a light pole had exploded.
Now that I’m thinking about it, the timing of the explosion and my arrival at the town’s, ah hem, city’s police station may have been responsible for the seemingly chilly reception I received. In these days of post 9-11 terrorism threats it can be quite comforting for some to speak to an officer who’s standing behind bullet proof glass, his right hand mere inches from his holster. I politely asked for directions to the town’s, ah hem, city’s cemetery, cautioning myself not to make any sudden or indiscreet movements. I was motivated out of concern for the officer, believing a ricocheting bullet would strike him if he made a sudden decision to fire his weapon at me. I repeated the directions he gave me, he nodded, and I jumped back in the car and promptly headed, as it turned out, in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. I certainly can’t accuse the officer of not having a sense of humor.
All right already, I’ll explain the repeated use of “ah hem.” Franklin, which is officially designated a city, has a population, according to the 2004 U.S. Census, of 8,683 people and it’s downtown area covers four or five very short blocks. Maybe it was the weather, but it had the feel of being a worn down and dreary little place to live in. I’m not convinced a bright shinning sun would have altered that perception. We should give the City’s Web page developers credit for at least trying, even though everything but the home page has been under construction since 2005. If you were a fire fighter in Franklin driving a 1938 model truck, you’d probably be just a wee bit envious of the fleet of late model cars the police cruise around in.
I know I shouldn’t be so rough on Franklin. There are dozens upon dozens of mill towns scattered throughout New England that went into steep economic decline when the textile and paper mills abandoned them for the sunny South. Universally their motto has become “live by the mills, die by the mills.” I’m descended from men and women who toiled in mills stretching from Lawrence, MA to Pawtucket, RI, and take more pride in that than I do with other family lines that can be traced to the royal houses of Europe. I empathize with the incredibly long hours spent in terrible working conditions, all for a mere pittance of a pay. They were good people, who laughed, danced, and sang, but whose labors led them to age before their time and to early deaths. In fact, death and a grave were what had brought me to Franklin.
Charles Tilton Cunningham was born Nov. 10, 1840 at Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County, N.Y., the son of James H. and Lucy Marilla (Robinson) Cunningham. By 1861 he was residing in Wrentham, MA and working as a paper maker, when he enlisted as a Private in Co. I of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry. He was engaged with the Regiment during the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, including the siege at Yorktown. On August 19, 1862, after being evacuated by hospital transport at Harrison’s Landing, he was admitted to Hampton General Hospital at Ft. Monroe, diagnosed with Chronic Diarrhea and Typhoid Fever. Cunningham was to spend the next five months recuperating until discharged due to disability on January 27, 1863.
Cunningham may have actually been fortunate in his illness. At the time of his admission to the hospital the 18th Mass. had been reduced to 899 officers and men and the Regiment would suffer a combined 33 per cent causality rate in terms of killed and wounded in two battles, Second Bull fought on August 30th and at Fredericksburg on December 13th. The actual rates at Fredericksburg were even higher, with 40 per cent of the 350 officers and men killed or wounded
Returning to Wrentham following his discharge, he married a woman named Sophia in 1863. Six months later they were in Lawrence, MA, where Charles continued work as a paper maker, and the couple’s three children, Charles, Nellie, and Myrtielana, were born. Perhaps in search of better wages, the family migrated north to Franklin in 1875, where Sophia died three years later. With children then ranging in age from 6 to 14, Cunningham quickly remarried to Minerva G. Bean at Franklin. They would later have a daughter, Edith, born Oct. 14, 1881. It’s unknown how long Charles continued to work in the mills, but he lived out the rest of his days in Franklin and died at his home on Russell St. on April 4, 1914.
As with my visit to Amherst cemeteries, I had no idea where Cunningham’s grave was located. I ruled out the Catholic Cemetery and parked on a lane in the town cemetery (directions complements of the Fire Department), where sheltered by an oversized umbrella took the first steps of what would prove to be a three-hour search. I have a method when searching for graves. I immediately rule out the newer sections of cemeteries, which can be judged by the size, shape, and type of stone used, and walk the cemetery by sections, trying to read names in as many as two or three rows at a time, but invariably you can’t ever maintain a straight line in an older cemetery. And then there are the times when you pause, because a grave compels you to read the inscription. Children always have the most heart rendering epitaphs. Losing one child at any early age is a difficult burden for any parent to bear, but losing three within a year would crumble anyone’s spirit and faith in God.
At the two-hour mark I began to have doubts and half an hour later had totally abandoned hope of discovering Cunningham’s grave, although I did discover my Timberland boots were not necessarily waterproof. I’m stubborn though and to prove to myself that I had given the effort my best shot I slogged on. The very last section to cover held thirty or forty gravestones. By this time my mind was wandering and pre-occupied with thoughts of a 20-ounce Dunkin Donuts coffee. Then, suddenly, I did a double take! Literally. C-u-n-n-i-n-g-h-a-m. I know this is going to sound strange, but I was laughing and beside myself as I approached the grave.
If you seek the dead, they will let you find them.
I know this is going to sound even stranger, but I have a ritual whenever I visit the dead of the 18th Massachusetts. I introduce myself outloud, informing them that I’m the third great-grandson of Sgt. George Washington Thompson and the second great-grandson of Pvt. Samuel Harris Jordan, both of Co. I. I do not, repeat, do not, believe in this stuff. I only wonder if the mind is so powerful that it allows one to imagine an aura emanating from a grave. I’ve sensed unique qualities of sadness, laughter, curiosity, kindness, well being, silence, and a leave me alone attitude at markers from Maine to Georgia. After my introduction I then read the information I have on the deceased aloud, speaking as if I were speaking to someone still alive. Again, not believing in this stuff, I had a sense of warmth emanating from Cunningham’s grave, which seemed to increase when I laid my hand on his marker in a gesture of parting.
My visit to Franklin was not quite over, however. I had to see the house where the Cunningham family had resided. I don’t know where Cunningham’s first wife Sophie is buried, but I did learn from the cemetery his daughter Myrtielana married a gentleman named Robert T. Wallace and died in 1954. I did some further digging after my return home. The 1930 Census lists the home being owned by Robert and Myrtielana, with Edith, the youngest of the Cunninghams, a boarder. The 1932 Franklin City Directory documented Edith was a Superintendent with the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. It’s possible she may have inherited the house as her brother-in-law and sister were childless, and possible, too, she lived there until the mid or late 1960’s, as she died in 1969.
I can’t imagine the green, two-story house sitting at the bottom of Russell Street has changed much since it was built. I was standing in the middle of the street preparing to take a second picture when I heard a voice call out, “Excuse me, but what are you doing?” I looked up and saw a woman staring at me, arms folded, gripped by suspicion. It was an uncomfortable situation for both of us. I offered an apology, followed by a quick explanation. She became less vigilant and even extended an invitation for me to come inside the house, which I politely declined. Rather I held my ground, rattling off facts about Charles Cunningham and his family. You could see the look of astonishment register on her face as she realized I was telling her more about the house’s history than she had ever known before.
Upstairs from a second floor window a young child was peeking at me from behind a curtain. It struck me then and there that maybe, just maybe, Edith Cunningham had peered down at a stranger from that very same window when she was a child.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Based upon the study of original documents of the War Between The States (Civil War) era and facts and information published by Confederate Veterans, Confederate Chaplains, Southern writers and Southern Historians before, during, and after the war, I present the facts, opinions, and conclusions stated in the following article.
So it can only be a fact if someone from the South wrote about the causes of the Civil War? I ask this as he does not mention any source material from the Union. Did he feel Union Veterans, Union Chaplains, Union writers and Union Historians writings and ideas were too polluted with myths or down right lies to include?
Well only our new David Letterman knows but I would encourage you to take a look at both Kevin’s post and comments along with the original article.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Like last September, when I attended their engagement party, I took advantage of the opportunity and chased the dead of the 18th Massachusetts. The last trip took me to the Springfield, Mass. graves of Gen.James Barnes and Sgt. William Alderman and then on to Boston to continue research at the public library. This time I set off on a quest to find graves located in Amherst, Milford, and Franklin, New Hampshire.
Take away the telephone poles and cars and cover the asphalt with dirt and what I saw when I drove into the center of Amherst, N.H. is what William H. Holmes saw when he walked into that town on July 1, 1901. The sense of a time warp is not imaginary, but governed by strict town ordinances which mandate what home and business owners can do with their properties. They’re limited to a pre-approved list of historic paint colors for buildings and one choice for outside Christmas lights, white. If you believe in the rights of property owners to do what they will then Amherst is not the town you want to live in. It is the type of town you want to live in if you appreciate an idyllic, bucolic New England village with a large town common bordered by a steepled Congregational Church, brick town hall, and houses dating to the early 1800’s.
William H. Holmes was a 22 year-old Jeweler from Mansfield, MA at the time of his enlistment at Dedham on August 21, 1861 and was mustered into service as a Private in Co. H of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry three days later. During his three year stint Holmes was a cook for the Regiment’s Field Staff and also assigned to assist Horace Sherman, the Hospital Steward, acting in this capacity whenever Sherman was absent. Holmes was evidently skilled at scrounging up food for the Field Staff’s mess, as Asst. Surgeon Joshua Wilbur attested to in a letter to his wife in July 1863. “Our cook went off yesterday and got 4 pounds of cheese, 1 dozen eggs, 1 loaf of bread and 2 dozen biscuits, also a gallon of milk.”
Returned to civilian life on September 2, 1864, Holmes stayed close to home, joining the Charles W. Carroll G.A.R. Post No. 144 in Dedham in 1871. In what might have been a harbinger of things to come, his membership was suspended two years later.
Holmes was reportedly a widower when he married Lizzie R. Emmons at Rochester, N.H. on June 8, 1887. While this is purely speculation, it’s possible she may have been a widow, as there’s a Lizzie R. Emmons listed as the wife of B. Frank Emmons in the 1880 Census for Lowell, MA. That particular Lissie Emmons was 27, born in New Hampshire, the mother of a son Walter, and worked in a cotton mill. What is less open to speculation is that she was pregnant at the time she married Holmes, based on the birth of a daughter E.H. in the same year she married Holmes.
As would be attested to in later affidavits, Lizzie Holmes ran a boarding house during part of their marriage. Her husband would leave for extended periods whenever he had money, returning, and perhaps begging forgiveness, only when he was broke. In 1890, Holmes, then 57, was issued an Invalid Pension of $12 per month. He didn’t claim his disabilities, a hernia, eczema, and rheumatism, were incurred during his military service, simply that they prevented him from working.
In 1896 Holmes left for good and in 1898 was a resident of the Southern branch of the National Soldiers Home in Hampton, Virginia. Lizzie, by then in dire financial straits and poor health, made an appeal to the Pension Bureau for one-half of her husband’s benefits, on the grounds of desertion. She was turned down after three years of trying, unable to prove that Holmes was a widower at the time of their marriage. Mrs. Sarah A.P. Plummer, who worked for a charitable society in Newburyport, MA, had investigated Lizzie’s story and concluded she “was the long suffering wife of an alcoholic.” Plummer’s sworn written statement related that Lizzie had received financial assistance from her society for a few months before she and E.H. removed to Mansfield, MA. Once there, Lizzie was forced to give up care of her daughter to an acquaintance, while she herself became a ward of the town.
On the day he wandered into Amherst, Holmes checked into a boarding house and the following day a doctor was called to examine him. There was a quick, but certain diagnosis that he was in the terminal stages of Tuberculosis. The doctor was wrong in his prediction as to how long Holmes had to live, but not by much, as Holmes clung to life until July 26th.
Holmes’ entire inventory, taken after his death, consisted of a suit of clothing, an old overcoat, a rucksack containing a few “rotten” clothing items and some handkerchiefs, and 37 cents. His effects also included the receipt for his June 1901 pension and voucher for September.
The Charles H. Phelps G.A.R. Post No. 43 did not turn their backs on a fellow veteran, providing for his burial in the town cemetery. The town itself did try to find relatives and was successful in locating one, but that individual was unable to assist due to a battle with cancer. There is no response from the Pension Bureau in Holmes’ file to indicate whether they reimbursed the town for medical and housing costs.
While the local G.A.R. and town of Amherst didn’t turn their backs on Holmes, the 18th Massachusetts Veteran’s Association did. In 1902 at the 41st Anniversary dinner, the Secretary of the association read the facts pertaining to Holmes’ death to the membership. “It was the sense of the association that it was not expedient to establish any precedent in the case and that it remain as it was for the present. It was voted to extend a vote of thanks to the Post and Corps of New Hampshire for the services rendered in behalf of Comrade Holmes.”
With no information to guide me, I walked through three different cemeteries, including approximately fifty acres of the town cemetery in search of Holmes’ grave. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a marker and theorized the town and G.A.R. had done all they were going to do for a stranger. One marker in the Town Cemetery, however, caught my eye. It read as follows:
Capt. Frederick A. Nourse
Co. A, 14th Regt. N.C. Heavy Artillery
Hattie S. Nourse
Fred L. Nourse
Rest Darling Rest
My immediate thought was that this was the gravesite of a former Confederate officer and naturally my curiosity was peaked as to how he wound up buried in a New Hampshire cemetery. Cautionary note: sometimes the imagination can run wild when reality, in fact, tells a very different story.
Frederick Nourse was born in Marblehead, MA and saw service with three regiments during the Civil War, including the 8th Mass. Infantry, the 17th Mass. Infantry, and as a 2nd Lieutenant and Captain with U.S. Colored Troops 14th Heavy Artillery. The latter unit was garrisoned at New Berne, N.C. until January 1865 and then at Beaufort until December 1865, when they mustered out of service.
Now the question becomes where he’s really buried and his connection to Amherst. The American Civil War Research Database states he resided in Marion County, Oregon after the war and is buried at City View Cemetery in Salem. The 1850 Census confirms he was a 10 year old residing with his parents, Rea and Mary, in Marblehead, with his brother and three sisters. There are a number of Frederick A. Nourse’s recorded in City Directories for Massachusetts post Civil War, but no directories are listed for Oregon. Still, and even though he’s not connected to the 18th Massachusetts, I’m going to try to continue the chase. I sent an Email to the Marion County, Oregon Historical Society to see if they have any biographical information.
On the drive back to Nashua I spotted a rare and used bookstore. It’s always painful for me to venture into stores like this, because there are always more books on hand than my wallet can suffer. The same situation developed here. So rather than spending the hundreds and hundreds I could have, if I had had hundreds to spend, I “settled” for a very good condition first edition set of Grant’s Memoirs. The owner told me something that I didn’t know, which is a rumor that Mark Twain ghostwrote large sections of the autobiography. Whether there is a factual basis to this rumor, it is true that Twain’s publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Company, secured the rights to publish the memoirs.
With all this in mind, i.e. walking through cemeteries searching for graves of men who served with the 18th Massachusetts, posting obituaries on Find a Grave, and being the only one of four children in my family who actually wants their body planted in the ground, I still can’t believe my own brother called me “morbid.”
Monday, October 09, 2006
It is a rather interesting video - showing the inside of the museum, while also going over its mission, some of the exhibits and of course the museum shop. For the many of us that couldn’t make the dedication, this is the next best thing.
I will say I was kind of surprised at the website of The American Civil War Center. It seemed somewhat out of date and didn't have an online store set up. Although they made their initial fundraising goals – as many Civil War related museums will tell them, there is never a good time to stop fundraising – you will always need more.
As I really like While in the hands of the enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War , I would suggest picking up this issue to get a good preview of what the book has in store for you.
From the magazine -
“A Most Horrible National Sin”
During the Civil War, one out of every seven prisoners of war perished while in confinement. Were these deaths avoidable, and, if so, who is to blame for the deplorable conditions that led to the suffering of captives on both sides? --Charles W. Sanders Jr.
A depiction of the hospital buildings at Point Lookout prison for Confederates, sketched by John Jacob Omenhausser c.1864
Sunday, October 08, 2006
The museum opened on October 7th with a 10,000-square-foot exhibition titled “In the Cause of Liberty,” and tries to tell the story of the Civil War from three different perspectives, the North, the South, and African-Americans. The privately operated museum has already drawn fire from some African-Americans, while others are more tempered in their assessment. Raymond Boone, a former editor of the Richmond Afro-American newspaper, falls into the former category and blasts the exhibit. “This is ridiculous. Number one, it puts villains on the same plane as American heroes, Lincoln and Douglass. When you start celebrating the Confederacy, you are talking about terrorists. It is normal to celebrate a just cause. It is abnormal to celebrate a losing and unjust cause.”
James McPherson, a noted and award winning Civil War historian, who serves as an advisor to the museum, noted “the black community is traditionally suspicious about the way Civil War history has been presented in the South. It’s so often romanticized with Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. This is a bold departure, and I felt most strongly about being open, not using any coded language to talk about slavery and the war aims.”
The museum is housed in the former Tredegar Iron Work’s Foundry, which produced more than 1100 cannons for the Confederacy, with half of its 2500 man workforce reported to be slaves.There are a number of film exhibits, including one on 1863 events that occurred on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, i.e. bread riots in Richmond and draft riots in New York City. The first floor space is taken up by a timeline, which traces events from 1775 to 1865. There are also giant maps which interpret events from a Union, Confederate, and African-American perspective and the same approach is taken with regard to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Museum Executive Director S. Waite Rawls states “One of the most important and under-told stories is that of African-Americans during the war. The basic mission at Tredegar is extraordinary in what they are trying to do.”
John H. Motley, a Connecticut native and chairman of the museum’s board, recalled that he began collecting slave memorabilia after watching the television series “Roots.” He’s contributed a number of items from his personal collection, as has the Museum of the Confederacy. “I had goose bumps when I heard about this idea. This is exactly what needs to happen.”
Along with a set of shackles donated by Motley, there are 150 items to view, including a pair of boots worn by Robert E. Lee, a copy of the New Testament owned by John Russell, who was killed at Shiloh, and a Massachusetts draft cylinder.
Whether this turns out to be another lightning rod for the city of Richmond will be measured by the number of visitors it draws and the personal experience those visting take away with them. After all it wasn’t that long ago, 1993 to be exact, that forces in support of and opposed to placing a memorial to tennis great and Richmond native Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue clashed.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Yet, While in the hands of the enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War by Charles W. Sanders Jr., - Louisiana State University Press - shows just how bad both sides were and what is worse, that either side could have easily changed their path and saved thousands of soldier’s lives. And because of this gross disregard of the basic concepts of humanity this book is unsettling.
How does one describe the insane cruelty that the prisoners of both sides went through during the Civil War? Quite frankly, the word that came to my mind was atrocity, which according to Merriam-Webster is the act or quality of being atrocious, which in itself is defined as
1. extremely wicked, brutal, or cruel
2. appalling, horrifying
3. utterly revolting
The sad thing is that you could use any of the above definitions to describe what happened during the war and would still not be telling the whole story.
Before opening the book up, take a good look at the cover and you will see how “atrocious” one human can be to another. Yes, that is a human being, a Union soldier who was a prisoner of war and exchanged in April, 1864. The picture was taken upon his return to the Union side, and he would die shortly after his release.
The book starts off with providing background in the use of Prisoner of War camps in the United States’ previous three major conflicts – The Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the US-Mexican war. Even as a young nation, the government was able to come to grasp with its responsibilities of housing enemy soldiers and although had a few missteps, overall did well. Yet as the Civil War starts, a POW system was far from anyone’s mind and ended up being an afterthought brought upon by necessity rather than any proactive planning.
As the book proceeds, the reader finds himself surrounded by politics and how this above all else kept the prisoners from first being exchanged and later getting basic needs to keep a soul alive. The author goes into great detail showing that the leaders (militarily and politically) knew what was going on and allowed it to for the perceived gain of their country. This is not to say that there was no one that tried to make things better, those in charge of the systems themselves were caught in a no win situation, not listened to and often had orders overturned when they did get something pushed through.
The book also goes into the politics of exchanging prisoners, something that traditionally has the Union – Lincoln and later Grant in particular- not wanting to do it for various reasons but Sanders is able to show that the Confederacy was also at fault, not wanting to acknowledge African-American soldiers in any form and refusing to budge when the Union made it a condition. One of the saddest parts of the book is the ever so brief time where the Union and Confederacy agrees upon exchanging prisoners and how both sides were able to work together for the greater good. Unfortunately politics on both sides get in the way and exchanges stop and prisoners suffer again.
Sanders takes the time to walk through the creation of the first prisons from old warehouses, forts and hospitals, the overcrowding that later is produced which is followed by cramped, soiled conditions which lead to sickness and death. As both sides try to find ways around this by building new prisons, they find the same thing happening as too many prisoners are sent to the new facilities, facilities often built without proper hospitals.
We also see how both sides tried to save more and more money and how it affected the quality of life the prisoners dealt with. As proof that the Union could have easily done something, Sanders shows how $1.8 million was returned to the US Treasury – money that could have spent at each Union prison but never was. On the Confederate side, a look at the Quartermaster stocks in warehouses during the war shows that there was more than enough food, medical supplies, clothing and equipment as long as you were not a prisoner.
Sanders then explains the rational and facts behind the defense of each sides POW system that occurred after the war. While many of the “facts” have been held up as unshakable, he has provided a strong foundation that easily contradicts them.
In the end, shows that both sides were at fault and all should be ashamed and concluding “ For both the Union and Confederacy, the treatment of prisoners during the American Civil War can only be judged ‘a most horrible national sin.’”
This is an excellent book that quite frankly will not make either side happy. It can get a bit deep into the weeds as it drives home point after point, which can make for a long read. The beauty though is that Sanders uses all of these details to prove his conclusion - we are all wrong – it was our side’s fault and we need to acknowledge it.
While in the hands of the enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War by Charles W. Sanders Jr.
Published 2005 by Louisiana State University Press
390 pages including photographs, extensive footnotes, bibliography and index
I’m not a historian and I don’t even pretend to be an expert on the Civil War. But regardless of whether Burns glossed over or misrepresented facts, or failed to tell the whole story, his film struck a chord with the American public and probably did more to stir interest in the Civil War than the entire inventory of books that’s been published on the subject. I can understand the frustration and horror some might feel because a lot of people have accepted Burns’ series as gospel. But that leaves me wondering about this. Why did historians leave it to an “amateur” to come up with the idea and commit that idea to film? Why have there been only 17 big screen films made on the Civil War and most of those based on works of fiction? Am I wrong in suggesting a possible bias within the academic community toward television and film, or yet, are historians simply writing for other historians? Why is it when I scan the index of a book I find the same small number of Massachusetts infantry regiments cited over and over again? Why it is when I read a biography of General James Barnes by different authors it smacks of plagiarism? If we’re not academically trained as historians, does it mean we forgo the right and privilege of pursuing something we’re deeply interested in and passionate about? Should we be smacked on the hand if we try to commit our research to paper or post it and our thoughts on the Internet? Or do we leave it to the experts to give us the facts ma’am just the facts?
Trust me, I'm not out to knock anyone for their opinion, but you know what? Now that I’m at this point in my writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m really not interested in reading anyone’s explanation as to why Ken Burns is more hated and despised than John Wilkes-Booth.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
For the baseball fans out there I’m going to provide you with your first glimpse of the new ballpark being built in Washington, which the Nationals will occupy in 2008. I’ll update the photos on a periodic basis so you can measure the progress.
Some ugly rumors have been floating around for a long time that Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. To quote Will Rogers, “I never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I say, so what! So what if Doubleday was sedentary during his West Point days, and a little overweight at Ft. Sumter. And big deal if he wasn’t the brightest bulb on the planet and probably couldn’t have laid out a pitcher’s mound so it was exactly sixty and one half feet from home plate. I dare you to go to the idyllic little town of Cooperstown, New York, visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, walk on the grass of Doubleday Field, and tell me you don’t believe. I double dare you to say it to Doubleday’s grave at Arlington!
There are a couple of baseball stories associated with the 18th Massachusetts, one of which is that two games were played between our beloved Regiment and the 22nd Massachusetts. The 18th soundly defeated the 22nd the first time they played and the 22nd being sore losers challenged them to a rematch. They had their butts kicked again, this time by a score of 50-46. The officers of the 18th had a great time spending their winnings and it’s often said that more than a few shouts of “Suckers!” were directed at their counterparts from the 22nd.
The 18th had the good fortune in September 1863 to add a certain draftee to its roster. Long before there was Kid Nichols and Cy Young, Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, there was George Mahr of Medway, MA. Corporal Thomas Mann, Co. I, probably dreaming of another championship in the spring, wrote to his parents about the draftees and substitutes who had arrived in camp, adding “one of them the celebrated baseball thrower of the Medway club Mahan.”
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this story, but there are rumors that buried deep within the bowels of the National Archives in Washington is correspondence from Dan Sickles, commanding General of the Third Corps to his good friend James Barnes, commander of the First Division of the Fifth Corps, offering to trade the entire First Brigade of the Third Division for Mahr. Barnes, being no dummy and a good judge of talent to boot, turned down the trade. Sickles, always a sneaky sort of guy, next sidled up to his best friend George Meade and upped the ante, dangling his entire Third Division as bait. Meade was no fool. He knew good front line starting pitching was at a premium and told Sickles to get lost. Seething at the twin rejections, Sickles sought his revenge and took it by mailing his infamous “Historicus” letter to the New York Herald. The rest, as they say, is history.
Late breaking news: I’m sorry to report the Yankees and Tigers game was postponed.
I just really wanted the 100th post to be about nothing.
Thanks to everyone for reading and coming by all the time, it has been a blast!
Yesterday’s mail had my autographed copy of “Plenty of Blame to Go Around: JEB Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg". Co - Authored by Rantings of a Civil War Historian Eric Wittenberg and Buford’s Boys J. David Petruzzi - and as the title suggests, it takes a detailed look at JEB’s Stuart ride through the countryside before the battle of Gettysburg.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit Eric or JD’s sites, I would highly suggest it. As I have mentioned before, Eric's site is always interesting and very thoughtful. They also have a site dedicated to this book, which you can visit here. And if either of you come down towards Charleston, be sure to let me know.
Thumbing through the book, it really looks great and I can’t wait to read it.
The publisher’s summary did such an excellent job of peaking my interest; I thought I would use it again:
June 1863. The Gettysburg Campaign is in its opening hours. Harness jingles and hoofs pound as Confederate cavalryman James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart leads his three brigades of veteran troopers on a ride that triggers one of the Civil War’s most bitter and enduring controversies. Instead of finding glory and victory—two objectives with which he was intimately familiar—Stuart reaped stinging criticism and substantial blame for one of the Confederacy’s most stunning and unexpected battlefield defeats. In Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi objectively investigate the role Stuart’s horsemen played in the disastrous campaign. It is the most comprehensive and thoughtful book ever written on this important and endlessly fascinating subject.
Stuart left Virginia under acting on General Robert E. Lee’s discretionary orders to advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he was to screen Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s marching infantry corps and report on enemy activity. The mission jumped off its tracks from virtually the moment it began when one unexpected event after another unfolded across Stuart's path. For days, neither Lee nor Stuart had any idea where the other was, and the enemy blocked the horseman’s direct route back to the Confederate army, which was advancing nearly blind north into Pennsylvania. By the time Stuart reached Lee on the afternoon of July 2, the armies had unexpectedly collided at Gettysburg, the second day's fighting was underway, and one of the campaign’s greatest controversies was born.
Did the plumed cavalier disobey Lee’s orders by stripping the army of its “eyes and ears?” Was Stuart to blame for the unexpected combat the broke out at Gettysburg on July 1? Authors Wittenberg and Petruzzi, widely recognized for their study and expertise of Civil War cavalry operations, have drawn upon a massive array of primary sources, many heretofore untapped, to fully explore Stuart’s ride, its consequences, and the intense debate among participants shortly after the battle, through early post-war commentators, and among modern scholars.
The result is a richly detailed study jammed with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern cavalry, and fresh insights on every horse engagement, large and small, fought during the campaign.
University of Georgia Press just released Devotion by Julia Oliver.
As I mentioned in the original post, I can’t “just” read history book after history book after history book and tend to take a break with fiction every now and then. This happens to fall into each category, historical and fiction. At the time I thought I would add it to my reading list, well I went ahead and did.
Combining fiction and history, Ms. Oliver tells the story of Winnie Davis, the youngest daughter of Jefferson Davis. After the war, she would become the “foremost cultural symbol of the South’s Lost Cause.” As with most tales, there appears to be much more to Ms. Davis as you dig deeper and Ms. Oliver shows this through telling the tale from several different characters.
Quaker Hills Press has just published Fire on the River by George Sheldon. Although covering a small action, the author feels that it probably saved the North. You can purchase the book directly from the website.
I also like the motto of the publisher –
A small press dedicated to producing quality books...
If only there were more like them out there.
Here is the publisher’s summary
It is late June 1863 in southern Pennsylvania. The Confederates are invading the North, and one of their toughest and most cantankerous generals has decided to capture the grand covered bridge that spans the Susquehanna from Wrightsville to Columbia. From there, General Jubal Early plans to capture Lancaster, and then seize the state's capital, Harrisburg. Local militia, made up of inexperienced schoolboys, convalescing wounded soldiers, and untested but valiant Black troops, took positions west of Wrightsville. General Early's men were battle-hardened, and easily outnumbered the inexperienced defenders. Easily out gunned, the Federals were to prevent the Southerners from crossing the bridge. General Early had orders to destroy it, but intended to capture it on his way to siege the North. Fire on the River tells the story that is often described as a mere skirmish in most history books. What happened in the tiny village of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania on June 28, 1863 changes the course of the Civil War. Here is the story that for so long has been overlooked in the history books. It is an amazing story of courage, and perhaps not surprisingly, how the U.S. Congress never compensated the bridge's owner for the loss, yet the burning of the covered bridge probably saved the Union.
George Sheldon is the author of "When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg", a Washington Post bestseller. A former newspaper correspondent and syndicated contract writer, Sheldon lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Fire on the River is his 21st book.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Timrod, from what I’ve learned, was the quisessential long suffering poet, plagued as he was by poor health, bad luck, and the lack of an appreciative audience during his lifetime. His reputation as an eloquent voice for the Confederate cause was spawned by poems such as "A Cry to Arms," "The Unknown Dead," "The Two Armies," and "Graves of the Confederate Dead," all of which I took the time to read.
Timrod also penned Carolina, whose words were adapted to music and designated as the official State song of South Carolina. As with any poem, it’s best read aloud.
The despot treads thy sacred sands,
Thy pines give shelter to his bands,
Thy sons stand by with idle hands,
What struck me as I read the poem was the similarity of theme echoed by Maryland, My Maryland.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
No, I am not suggesting Henry Timrod plagiarized the words of James Ryder Randall, who penned Maryland’s State Song. My point is both were written to inspire the citizens of South Carolina and Maryland to rise in open rebellion against the United States and stand arm in arm with the Confederacy.
The “despot” mentioned in both poems was quite simply the government seated at Washington and, in particular, a shot at the newly elected Abraham Lincoln. In the Maryland song the patriotic gore is a direct reference to the attack on the 6th Massachusetts Infantry by a Baltimore mob while that regiment was on its way to Washington, two days after the surrender of Ft. Sumter.
It you’ve ever watched the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s triple crown, then you’ve heard Maryland, My Maryland. It’s sung, often times by the United States Naval Academy chorus, as the horses are paraded to the starting gate. But you won’t hear the first verse cited above. Instead you get the toned down and more acceptable third verse.
Thou will not cower in the dust,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,
And all thy slumbers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland.
And lest there’s any confusion over the song’s intent, you only have to read verse nine.
I hear the distant thunder hum,
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb –
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breaths! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!
I believe tradition has and should maintain its place in our society. But just as the Confederate battle flag is a lightening rod for controversy, it has good company in "Carolina" and "Maryland, My Maryland." I’m not a native of Maryland and even though I’ve lived within its boundaries for the past twelve years, I don’t consider it home. I suppose that would give some life long residents the right to argue that I shouldn’t call for the State of Maryland to dump the song. But I am calling for the State of Maryland to come up with a new song. My argument is this: "Maryland, My Maryland" is a song that harkens back to a time, just like the Confederate battle flag, when men, women, and children were held in bondage and other people fought for the right to keep them there.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
First my condolences to Tom and family on the loss of their dog Chewie. Anyone who has lost a pet, who really does become a family member, can relate to what the Churchill’s felt and are still feeling. Just a piece of advice to Tom. Don’t rush out to replace Chewie.
The night before leaving for New Hampshire I finally had a chance to see Ang Lee’s 1999 Civil War film, "Ride With the Devil." I was so impressed with the film that I shot Tom and Steve an Email, urging them to see it. In fact, I put it in my personal list of top three Civil War films of all time. If you haven’t seen it, and, in fact, very few people in this world have, get ahold of a copy, or scan your local television listings, and watch it. Be prepared for something that’s not slick and doesn’t have one box office draw in the cast, unless you consider Tobey Maguire of Spiderman fame a big Hollywood name.
This is a very understated film and in case you don’t recognize Ang Lee’s name, think Oscar winner for Best Director for his film "Brokeback Mountain." Not only is "Ride With the Devil" understated and superbly acted (although a lot of critics have panned Jewel’s performance), it’s probably one of the most realistic films you’ll ever see in terms of period dialogue. Ted Turner’s "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals" were lauded for their use of Re-enactors and the authenticity they brought to those films, but neither has anything on this film. The clothing and sets are authentic. What’s particularly striking is the genuine bashfulness and awkwardness of the main characters when in the presence of a woman.
If you haven’t seen the film you’re in good company. It was widely distributed in England, but shown in only 60 theaters in the U.S. before it was pulled from distribution. My understanding is that it was totally panned by the critics. Now they’re reassessing the film and it’s gaining positive momentum. Reminds me of the story behind "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane" and "The African Queen," all now widely hailed as classics.
The story line stupid! What’s the story line? Civil War Missouri. Bushwhackers versus Jayhawkers. Quantrell’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas. The film delves into more issues related to the Civil War than even Glory does. But you have to pay close attention or you’ll miss the references.
In my Email I told Tom and Steve that coming up with a list of the Top Ten Civil War films could be a topic for a future Blog. Then I did some research. For all its significance to our history as Americans and how that war came to define who we are as a nation, Hollywood has never been in love with the Civil War. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a Top Ten list, particularly when considering that only 18 films deal exclusively with the Civil War. 18? Eighteen. Compare that to the 11 made about Korea and 28 that focus on World War I. There have been more than 175 films on Viet Nam, which pales in comparison to the 612 World War II films that were made between 1940 and 2000.
And finally a plug for Wikipedia,"The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," (http://en.wipkipedia.org). Using their search engine I was able to come up with the numbers in the preceding paragraph, with the exception of films on Viet Nam.
This was after all, the war that would shape military doctrine in the latter half of the 19th century as well as many of the leaders and generals - Lee, Grant, Davis, Scott, Barnes and others - that would participate in the Civil War.
I taped it and so far have only been able to watch the first 30 minutes. Even so, the little I have seen relies heavily on reenacting pieces from Ulysses S Grant’s memoirs.
Not having ever really studied the war, I cannot talk towards how the “facts” are presented but can’t help but notice that the United States is not shown in a very positive light. Much of what is said seems awful familiar – the pundits of today seem to mirror those of Polk’s day too.
The show will be re-aired on October 13th at 8am and 2pm.
Learn more about it here.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Unfortunately Saturday was very unlike the days of the past seven years – she went to the Vet but did not return. And her family misses her greatly.
My wife tells me that she always knows when I am home - Chewie has a different bark between me and the rest of the world. And although the barking in general would drive us nuts as she would bark at anything including the wind blowing - it is in one of the many things that we will miss without her.
She was part Australian Sheppard and loved to herd my children – they already miss that. We all miss her wagging of her butt – she had a stump tail and when she would wag it, her whole body would wag with it.
I would never let her in the computer room when I was writing – she was a jealous dog and would nuzzle my hand away from the keyboard so that I would pet her instead. I would give almost anything to let her in right now so that she could.
She was a good dog, a good protector, a great friend and to put it bluntly, we all miss her terrible – even the cat. My middle child came up to me on Sunday and told me that he still misses her – I explained he always would, just that one day he would miss her and think of the happy times instead of the hole he has in his soul right now.
This weekend certainly put life into perspective.
Take care girl, enjoy barking at the wind up in Heaven – we will see you again someday.
Personally, it has been one of my favorite books this year. The details that Kelly put into his interviews were amazing and some of the new information that this book has brought forward is a historical goldmine. It is a shame that no publisher accepted the book when Kelly originally sought to publish it in the midst of the depression.
One of the sad parts of the story is that Kelly was buried in an unmarked grave in The Bronx. Such a great artist, pretty much forgotten not only in the art world but also at his own grave - truly a tragedy.
Styple sought from the beginning to change this. Not only starting a fund to accept donations but also of funneling profits from the book directly into the fund in the hopes of one day placing a marker at his grave.
This weekend, Styple helped dedicated a marker at Kelly’s gravesite – having raised over $8000 to pay for the marker and the perpetual care of the grave.
As Styple puts it, “"I almost felt it was my duty to see this through.”
I for one am thankful he did.
Check out the full story here.
see this post about a bronze of General Joseph Hayes