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This is the archive for February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008


Thursday, February 28, 2008. 1:10 p.m.

Video camera: check
Video camera batteries charged: check
Blank video tape: go to the store
Digital camera: check
Extra batteries for the camera: check
Blank memory card: check
Notebook: check

There are a few more things to do and then I’ll be on my way to Richmond. I hadn’t planned on going back so soon, but there’s a purpose in going, as there is always a purpose in going. I asked a couple of people who had been there what they thought of Richmond. The universal response was “It’s neither here nor there.”

Having long been fascinated by what has become known as the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid I found a two-day tour, February 29th to March 1st, sponsored by the Civil War Education Association that was going to retrace the ill-fated hoof prints of Union cavalry under the command of Judson Kilpatrick, who set off to free Union Prisoners of War at Libby prison and Belle Isle. That attempt led to the death of Col. Ulric Dahlgren and the purported discovery of orders to assassinate Jefferson Davis and members of the Confederate Cabinet. Whether real or forgeries, those documents gave an excuse to the Confederate Secret Service to set in motion their own diabolical plans in the North, including efforts to burn New York City and Chicago to the ground.

Having a rudimentary understanding of the events prior to, during and after the raid, the upcoming tour inspired me to do more reading. Eric Wittenberg was more than kind to send two chapters from a biography he’s writing on Ulric Dahlgren. After all, as I told Bob Maher, Director of the CWEA, I didn’t want to find myself asking dumb questions like “What was the name of the little Shetland pony Ulric Dahlgren rode on the raid?”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buried in Section B of yesterday's Charleston Post and Courier was an article about Juneteenth, specifically that it looks very good that SC will soon be recognizing it - just not as a holiday.

In previous posts (here and here) I have made it clear that I feel it is a celebration that should get more press. Unfortunately when it did, it was over violence that took place.

One of our posts even got a nice comment from Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. Chairman of National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) and National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) who is also quoted in the article.

I am very surprised that it made it this far through the State House and now only one reading away before heading off to the State Senate. Things like this seem to drag forever, case in point the Sesquicentennial Legislation ( here and here - forgetting about the little argument I had with one State Senator's office) which finally made it out of the Senate but is now stuck in a House committee (it should be used to a committee after this long though) and let us not forget of the recent Pitchfork Ben Statue legislation (here and here) either (which has had four actions on it so far – two of which were to add more sponsors).

But all that being said, it was the last two paragraphs of the article that sparked the most interest for me.

While five other states, including Alabama and North Carolina, have passed measures expressing regret or otherwise apologizing for slavery, those proposals have not gained much traction here.

"I don't think that's something we should do," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican and co-sponsor of the bill that would recognize Juneteenth.

It was the staunch opposition to apologize or regret that really got to me.

This especially hit home as just the other night, I listened to Franciscan Father Roderic “Rod” Petrie, OFM of the Franciscan Ministry of the Word, eloquently preach for an hour and fifteen minutes on the power of forgiveness. The part that was the strongest and I connected the most to was when he talked about it being human nature and ego, not to want to say you are sorry – because you have to be right. So he threw his belief that to just say that you are sorry can be so much more powerful, helpful, lifting and just plain right - then any other thing that you could do. At that point he encouraged all of us to just start saying that we are sorry and watch how much better our life would be. And as I listened, I realized just how correct he was.

Unfortunately Speaker Harrell did not have the opportunity to hear Father Rod or his colleague Father John Anglin, OFM (who due to his love of all Boston sports teams would get along just wonderfully with Donald) speak this week. So instead of talking of possibilities, he closes the door on any motion of regret or apology.

And while there is proposed legislation (H4506) within the House to offer a statement of regret – it is stuck in committee and if Representative Harrell’s statement foreshadows its fate, call the funeral home, it is as good as dead.

Which brings me to my parting thoughts.

Too often I hear, “Heritage not Hate” as a way to defend the honoring of those who fought for the Confederacy or upheld its ideals. To be honest, for the most part, I do understand where these folks are coming from. I have had the opportunity to talk to quite a few in-depth about their beliefs and generally came away knowing that they were not being racist for doing what they were doing – which was to remember their ancestors. Most are not looking to bring back slavery; they know that is hateful and wrong.

Unfortunately the fact is, South Carolina has a heritage of hate. How else can one describe enslaving another man or the creation of the Jim Crowe laws or segregation or the many other ways it legally kept a race in poverty? Yet we can’t even discuss an official apology according to the State Speaker of the House.

So I have to ask then, if we are now a civilized state; one that knows slavery, Jim Crowe and Segregation was not just wrong or hateful but evil– why can’t we just say, “I’m sorry.”

Or is the State ego just too big for that?
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Walter Bowie, Wat for short, broke ranks with his father and 2nd cousin Oden Bowie, both of whom favored Maryland's continuing loyality to the Union, gave up his law practice in Upper Marlboro, and rode south into Virginia, where he was commissioned a Captain in the Confederate Provisional Army. Wat, however, was not assigned to any command or Regiment. Clearly he possessed talents useful to the Confederacy beyond orchestrating men in combat. Described in an article by Earl Eisenhart as “tall, handsome, and an accomplished horseman,” Bowie possessed an intimate knowledge of southern Maryland counties, not only as defined by its geography, but by its residents as well. His role, simply defined, was to act as an agent for the Confederate Secret Service, to recruit Marylanders for service both in the army and as spies. Official Confederate service records provide sparse information beyond the fact that he enlisted as a Private on an unknown date and later served in Co. B of John Mosby’s Virginia Cavalry.

Whether Wat knew John Surratt, Mary’s son, or Dr. Samuel Mudd before the war is unclear, but he gained familiarity with both at least shortly after open warfare broke out. Both the Surratt Tavern and Mudd farm were well known among locals for providing safe haven to Confederate agents. During Mudd’s trial as a Lincoln assassination conspirator, his own slaves testified to taking food to men who were secreted on the property. Those same witnesses identified Wat by name as one of those exchanging mail and documents with Mudd on a number of occasions.

Bowie’s service to the Confederacy almost came to an abrupt end on October 14, 1862, when he was arrested by Union detectives and charged with espionage. Held at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, it’s rumored that family members bribed guards, allowing Wat to “escape.”

Seven months later he and a companion Charles Hume were arrested while attempting to cross the Potomac into Virginia. Unbeknownst to his captors, Wat had secreted drawings of the defenses surrounding Washington on his person. Escorted on horseback toward Point Lookout, Bowie and Hume made an attempt to overpower their guards. Wat succeeded in wresting a sidearm from one, killing the man in the process. Hume was less fortunate, falling dead from a gunshot wound just as Wat spurred his own horse to flight.

Three days later an exhausted and starving Wat appeared at the plantation of a relative. Taken into the house he remained as darkness enveloped the property. His boast that he had successfully shaken any pursuit rang hollow when Union troops surrounded the manor house and demanded his surrender. Seemingly always clever and quick on his feet, Wat disguised himself as a female slave and walked out the back door of the house, at the same time his Uncle John Henry Waring and two daughters were placed under arrest. His aunt found nothing funny in Wat’s laughter when he made a return visit to the property and gleefully recounted his escape on horseback. According to the aunt he had not removed his disguise.

Union authorities tried tightening their net and even offered a reward, however by this time Wat had decided discretion was the better part of valor and took his show on the road to Virginia. There he attached himself to John Mosby’s Rangers and was placed in command of Company B.

Bowie is credited in Donald Markle's book "Spies & Spymasters" with "informing General Robert E. Lee of General U.S. Grant's strategy for the Wilderness Campaign in Virginia. The date of Bowie's report is 27 April 1864 and the actual campaign opened on 4 May 1864."

As in his previous service, Mosby recognized Bowie’s value lay in the Maryland countryside. He is reported to have done recruiting service in Montgomery County, home to Postmaster General Montgomery Blair. His whereabouts were eventually disclosed to Federals, who failing to capture him, instead took the plantation’s owner William Canaby prisoner for aiding and abetting Wat Bowie.

If nothing else, Bowie was loyal to his friends. Canaby and others were confined at Ft. Delaware and Bowie began hatching a plot to free them. His plans were a foreshadowing of those later developed by John Wilkes Booth; kidnap a high-ranking government official, hold them hostage, and not only demand the release of Confederate prisoners of war, but Maryland's secession from the Union as well. Bowie’s target was Maryland Governor Augustus Bradford. John Mosby bought into the plan and placed men from his outfit under Bowie’s command to help carry out the raid.

Traversing the Potomac and traveling through St. Mary’s County into Charles County, Bowie reacquainted himself with Samuel Mudd, resting his men and horses in woods surrounding the farm. Continuing in a northerly direction the men again rested at Walter W.W. Bowie’s estate before turning east toward Annapolis. They arrived in the Maryland capitol undetected and were set to spring into action, but backed down because of the number of troops and bodyguards surrounding Governor Bradford.

With growing signs of danger, Wat directed his men back across Maryland to the town of Sandy Spring with hopes of eventually crossing the Potomac back into Virginia. Sandy Spring citizens, however, had seen enough of raiders, both Northern and Southern variety. When Bowie’s men robbed and ransacked a store on October 6, 1864, taking much needed supplies, vigilantes pursued. Even Quakers armed themselves and joined in the pursuit.

The following day, October 7th, while Bowie and his small band rested and grazed their horses in a spot just north of Rockville, the citizens of Sandy Spring closed in. According to witnesses Bowie mounted his horse and made a solo charge. The blast from a shotgun is said to have knocked him backwards out of his saddle. Wat Bowie’s body was borne home a day later and laid to rest on the family estate.

Eglington, like many of the great plantations in Prince George’s County, met their final demise after World War II, when developers began siphoning off vast tracts of former tobacco and cornfields to meet the housing needs of families. The boom took firm hold in the County beginning in the mid-seventies and has continued at an accelerated pace since.

There’s a certain irony at work here, in the sense that Wat Bowie's allegiance and belief system have been swept aside by oceans of change. The County’s wealth was the direct result of slave labor. Following the Civil War, Prince George’s became almost exclusively white and continued such until small pockets of blacks gained a foothold in towns like Glenarden in the late 1960’s. White flight set in and today the County is 70 per cent black. That racial transition transformed the landscape, both politically and economically. Once largely rural, agriculturally based, and in relative terms sparsely settled, Prince George’s today reflects for the most part a growing and vibrant community which holds the distinction of being the most affluent African-American county in the entire United States.

The bodies of Walter W.W., his wife Adelaide, and their children, including Wat, were removed from the former Eglington plantation in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s to a small cemetery that sits beside and behind the Trinity Episcopal Church on Annapolis Road in Bowie. There are probably seventy-five to a hundred graves at most. Wat’s is the easiest to identify. Situated in a back row, close to a fence, which separates church property from a housing tract, is a white headstone engraved with the distinctive Southern Cross.

Someone had made an effort to remember Wat Bowie. I found a small wreath with a red Christmas bow laying face down in the mud, it having rained for much of the two previous days. I brushed off the dirt and a few leaves then propped the wreath against the headstone. Wat Bowie is not a hero to me, but he deserved that small gesture of respect.

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Walter "Wat" Bowie



Grave of Walter "Wat" Bowie


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Note from Donald: A number of sources were referenced in the writing of parts one and two of this post, including Walter Bowie; Rebel, Ranger, Spy by Earl Eisenhart; Prince George’s County History by the Prince George’s County Tricentennial Commission; Bowie Family Biography from Ancestor Search; Slave Schedules for Prince George’s County found on Ancestry.Com; 1860 U.S. Census records; and Confederate military service records found at American Civil War Research Database.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nice news story to say the least.

Every time I think America is getting better kids, they do something stupid.

I love this quote pertaining to the 33% result of teenagers who knew the importance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

"School has emphasized Martin Luther King, and everybody teaches it, and people are learning it," says Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. "What a better thing it would be if people also had the Civil War part and the civil rights part, and the Harriet Tubman part and the Uncle Tom's Cabin part."

I have an RSS feeder that gives me all sorts of information from around the world. I really like Neil Gaiman’s blog and having it automatically fed into my feeder each day is fantastic. Neil is a literary hero of mine, I once was able to have a business trip occur at the same time as he was in New York to do a reading – it was the best author talk I have ever been to.

But I also have a feed for Civil War news and another one for Civil War Blogs. Once or twice a week I will spend some time reading them. Today there was one that caught my eye in particular, a blog for the progress of a book titled Civil War Walking Tours of Charleston.

Living near Charleston, this is very interesting to me. So, I decided to A> Link to David’s site (any site that has links to Irish pubs and one of them is named Churchill’s, has to be good) and B> Comment on it as it progresses.

I do hope that David does some out of the way places, like Hampton Park (which was a POW camp at one time) and the old Charleston Jail, also used for POWs. Too often I find people go with the obvious and it ends up being a bit boring for me. Not saying this will happen with this book, just hoping it won't.


Considering that the Maryland County I reside in, Prince George’s, directly borders the District of Columbia, it’s surprising that no Civil War battles were fought within its boundaries. True, there was a heavy Union presence throughout the war, including troops stationed at Ft. Lincoln and Ft. Washington, but the county was a gateway to even to greater Confederate sympathy lodged further south in neighboring Charles County. Alexandria and Mt. Vernon could be seen from what is present day Oxon Hill. Perhaps the aforementioned forts, as well as Union gunboats plying the Potomac, provided sufficient deterrent to a Rebel invasion.

The closest County civilians got to combat occurred on July 11, 1864, when 400 Confederate cavalrymen under the command of Maryland native Gen. Bradley Tyler Johnson split off from Jubal Early as he neared Washington and succeeded in tearing up railroad tracks and cutting telegraph lines near Beltsville, located in the northern part of the county. Surprising too, because County residents were openly sympathetic toward the Confederate cause. And why not. 800 of 2000 families owned at least one slave, with 50 owning 50 or more slaves. The largest single plantation though, housed no more than 200.

From its founding, tobacco was king and the County was blessed with the richest tobacco growing soil in the entire state of Maryland. Not that every acre was reserved for tobacco cultivation; wheat and corn were grown in abundance as well. By 1860 the tobacco harvest was reaching 13 million pounds a year, double that produced by neighboring Anne Arundel County. The plantations utilized more slave labor than any other county in Maryland, on huge plantations encompassing thousands of acres; plantations with names like Belair, Mt. Airy, Bellefield, Marietta, Riversdale, Montpelier, and Poplar Hill. Most of these manor houses have been preserved as historic sites, although Bellefield remains under private ownership and is still a working farm.

Old money is still present in the County if you look hard enough, but large tracts of land, once part of the plantations, have been sold off over the last forty years to developers. Tobacco barns, what few remain, have been abandoned to nature. Maryland, in fact, developed a program a few years ago granting financial incentives to farmers to grow alternative crops. The irony to that program is that production was at an all time low when it was implemented, but the State did succeed in its campaign to wipe out the last vestiges of the noxious weed as a cash crop.

The 1860 population of the Prince George’s County included 9,650 whites, 12,500 slaves, and 1198 free blacks. Pigs and hogs outnumbered humans by more than 3,000 and there was one sheep for every white person. 5,000 horses and 4,000 milk cows rounded out the County's composition.

The County was largely conservative, traditionally throwing its support behind the Whigs. Locally and at the State House in Annapolis, the Prince George’s elected officials were overwhelming from the planter class. They not only dominated the politics of the County, but its economic fortunes as well. As tobacco went so went the County.

While Maryland split its vote in the 1860 election between John Breckenridge, the Southern Democratic candidate (42,482 votes), and John Bell of the Constitutional Union (41,760), Stephen Douglas with his 5,966 votes more than doubled that tallied by Lincoln. While I haven’t been able to determine how Prince George’s divided its votes, it is known Lincoln had one, and only one, brave soul jump on his bandwagon. The County had its share of Firebrands who pushed for secession, however, County residents, in three separate votes taken on the issue, elected to remain in the Union. In fact, when a statewide convention was called to vote on Articles of Secession in February 1861, the County declined to send delegates.

One of the most powerful of the planter class was the Bowie family. The progenitor was John Bowie, who emigrated from Scotland about 1705 shortly after a failed revolt against the English. Beneficed by an Uncle, John Smith, who had preceded him to Maryland, Bowie established an estate on the Pawtuxet River and found his fortune through the labor of others who toiled in his tobacco fields. His progeny and their heirs became distinguished as lawyers, politicians, merchants, and patriots in the fight for independence from British rule. Robert Bowie, a grandson, was Captain of a Maryland artillery battalion and recognized for meritorious service and bravery during the Battles of Harlem Heights and White Plains. He would go on to serve as Governor of Maryland from 1803 to 1812.

How Walter William Weems Bowie was related to Robert is unknown. I haven’t been able to trace “3 W’s,” family back beyond his father Walter, who was born about 1780, or his mother Amelia Magruder Weems. Walter W.W. was born into wealth on the Montpelier plantation and then married more wealth in the form of Adeline Snowden, a member of another prestigious Prince George’s family, who he wed on September 1, 1836.

Walter W.W. was not only able to expand upon land granted to him by his father, but earned a reputation as one of the most innovative plantation owners in the country. A scientific farmer, he lectured and wrote books on the subject, including numerous government sponsored publications. In 1860 he was recorded as having 28 slaves, while his personal and real estate was valued at $45,000, a substantial amount of money at the time. By comparsion neighbors Richard Mulikan and Tylman Crawford’s recorded wealth was $38,000 and $12,000 respectively. That paled in comparison to W.W.W.’s immediate neighbor and relation Oden Bowie who had 103 slaves and was worth close to $200,000. Oden, who would serve as a Post-war Governor, is estimated to have lost 80 slaves to the Union army when enlistment opportunities were opened to blacks.

The first of W.W.W.’s and Adeline’s seven children was born June 25, 1837 and simply named Walter, in honor of his grandfather. He would be presented with his own personal slave by his grandmother when he was three. A blessed child of fortune and privilege, he would receive a well rounded education and establish a law practice by age 22. His mother, upon learning of his violent end at the hands of a band of Quakers on October 7, 1864, became an elective mute during her remaining days, following her son to the grave three months later.

To be certain, Walter Bowie's death and the events leading up to it are the stuff legends are made of.



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Losing a child, I’ve come to understand, is the single most devastating loss one can go through. I know parents who left their daughter’s bedroom untouched for more than forty years. I know a mother whose pain hasn’t subsided in the two years since her son was murdered. I know of another mother who has worn her son’s favorite tee shirt to bed every night for the past five years. I knew a mother, Sylvia, and her daughter Nina, the mother of two young children herself; 20-year-old Nina drank a bottle of Draino, the only way she saw to escape from being forced into prostitution. Then there was a meeting with a mother in Charlestown, MA whose daughter was killed by a mobster who has been the subject of a worldwide police manhunt for close to twenty years, not for that particular murder, but for others. Abraham and Mary Lincoln went into profound mourning following the death of Willie. Abraham reportedly could not control his emotions when remembering his child, often breaking down into tears. Arlington National Cemetery was the result of one father's anguish and sorrow.

I visited a small cemetery in Bowie, Maryland recently. I’ve seen graves of children before. One doesn’t have to know anything about the family to sense their loss and pain. That is reflected in the inscription on the markers or the shape of the headstones themselves. This particular cemetery had two headstones with lambs fixed to the top. I’ve seen those same lambs before in other cemeteries. And angels. And epitaphs to “Our little darling,” “Our precious son.” I’ve seen toys and stuffed animals placed around graves. I’ve seen whole sections of cemeteries set aside for children. “Suffer the little children…” It is sadness beyond comprehension, unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I knock wood and consider myself fortunate that I have not shared that pain.

In the Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery, off Annapolis Road, I saw perhaps the most poignant gravestone my eyes have ever gazed upon. Daughter of Robert and Rachel Carrick. Sister to Carrol, Benjamin, Percy, and Vallery.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

2005. September. Destination 110 miles ahead. 495 to the Mass. Turnpike. The Berkshires begin their rise and fall in those 55 miles of toll road and the land rolls gently when reaching Rt. 291. Rt. 91 approaches and then the countdown begins to Exit 17. Fueled by three cups of coffee along the way, the car and this driver jolt into Sunday morning traffic in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.

I haven’t come to meet all 154,000 people who reside in the city. I haven’t come to see the Basketball Hall Fame, or the headquarters for Smith and Wesson, or where Breck Shampoo is made, or the building that houses the Springfield Republican, one of the most influential small city newspapers during the Civil War. I do know this was the first and is still the largest city or town in the country named Springfield. Settled and named before Springfield, Vermont, or Springfield, Illinois, or Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessese, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California, New Mexico, or Springfield, Colorado.

My wanderings will, however, take me to the Springfield Armory, the main supplier of rifled muskets to the Union Army during the Civil War, which, alas, is closed to tours on this day, the Indian Manufacturing Company, which began production of motorcycles a full two years before Harley Davidson and has been converted to apartment buildings, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial built to honor Springfield native Theodore Geisel, and the Quadrangle, a renaissance project which houses two neighboring art museums, a local history museum, and a science museum. The Dr. Seuss Memorial is full of the whimsical and fantastic, of Green Eggs and Ham and Sam I Am, of Horton, Yertle, Foo-Foo the Snoo, and the Lorax, all placing smiles on the faces of those young or old and in between.

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I’m back in the car looking for 171 Maple St., the address for Springfield Cemetery. I ride down the street, not once, not twice, but four times. There’s no cemetery here, no number 171, just a stretch of low-rise apartment buildings that become progressively shabbier as you move further from the downtown area. I take a right off Maple down a side street, then two more rights, and finally pull over, having spotted an elderly woman standing at a bus stop. I figure she might know if the cemetery’s still there, or if it’s been moved. She’s waiting for her husband and their car, but he’ll know she assures me.

And so starts a conversation with the two who appear in their mid-eighties, if not older. I’m amazed by their trust in me. They see no harm or danger in me. If evil had lurked in my heart they wouldn’t have seen it coming. They listen to my story, of my quest to find a single grave, and they nod and smile knowingly of the oddity of our meeting, which is by chance, yet not by chance. And I follow their car through the cemetery gate, which is a narrow unmarked passage between two apartment buildings that leads to a long drive that suddenly explodes into an oasis of greenery and trees.

The dead have been laid underground for the last 154 years. Thousands of the dead I imagine. To locate one grave will be near impossible. I give thanks to my escorts and watch as they drive away, left to my thoughts and surroundings, thinking both will probably lie in a place like this within a few short years.

I drive on a little further and park in a small paved area near the caretaker’s cottage. When I get out of the car and lean over the roof, formulating a plan of where to begin, my eyes are drawn to a reddish obelisk ten feet away. At the base, two feet above the ground, the name Barnes is inscribed in raised letters.

Oh, Jimmy Barnes historians slander your name. They all repeat, one after another, in book and biography that you were too old, that your “incompetence” at Gettysburg endangered not only the troops under your command, but those under the command of others. They repeat rumors you were drunk during the Wheatfield fight when evidence suggests you may have been a teetoler. They overlook the fact you were incapacitated by a wound to your thigh, that the men of the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps would have been annihilated if not ordered to withdraw. They continue to spread the tainted gospel according to Dan Sickles. They attack you Jimmy, now as then, when gentleman of honor that you were you did not stoop to Sickle’s level. Oh, Jimmy Barnes they do not praise you for your bravery at Fredericksburg when two horses were shot out from underneath you. They do not think your West Point education, subsequent military career, or supervision of large railroad building projects merited command and they dismiss you still as a mere political appointee. They do not understand Jimmy that you could have sat on the sidelines, used your age as an excuse, continued to focus on your successful business ventures, and lazily summoned any one in a house full of servants to meet your need for tea. They do not state that your Regiment, the 18th from the Old Bay State, was one of the best disciplined and drilled in the entire Army of the Potomac. Oh Jimmy Barnes they do not cite your exemplary record at West Point, the fact you taught French while still an undergraduate and served as an instructor of infantry tactics for four years afterward. Or your extraordinary gift as an artist. West Point Mathematics Professor A.E. Church wrote to your son after your passing, “He was one of the very few graduates of the Academy who went through without a single demerit mark on the record against him.” They do not know you as did your son Commander John Sanford Barnes of the United States Navy, who said, and I quote, “He was always a star.” They do not cite the fact that your health was wracked and ruined through service to your country, yet you responded when called upon again, with Gouvernor Warren, to serve as a watchdog on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Your men loved you Jimmy Barnes, in spite of their grumbling that you drove them oh so hard. They knew you loved them, knew you loved the Regimental flag. A father to sons. Sons to a father. Only men who loved and respected their Colonel would have purchased a new horse and saddle, which they presented to you before you assumed new duties as a Brigade commander. And do you remember Jimmy Barnes when you ordered a drunken John Duffy confined to the guard house, and failed to keep a straight face because of his antics? And do you remember the night at Hall's Hill Jimmy, when a terrific storm blew down all the Regiment's tents, including your own, and how you maintained a proper military bearing and your dignity, even while standing there drenched and in your long johns? But, oh, Jimmy Barnes, please tell me that you did your best to ensure the survival of Confederate Prisoners of War at Point Lookout, when that camp came under your supervision. Tell me that you did not purposely starve or allow men to rot from disease. Tell me, please, that you granted them the decency of a Christian burial in marked graves.

My hand reached out to touch the pillar, which rose ten feet into the sky, and I wept. I wept for Jimmy Barnes, and then for his wife Charlotte, whose own devotion to cause helped raise thousands at Soldier’s Fairs in Springfield to provide comfort to those on the battlefront and in hospitals.

Christ Church Cathedral. 35 Chestnut St. It was where Jimmy, Charlotte, and their five children, Susan Virginia, William Henry, John Sanford, Emilie Julia, and James Alexander, took communion, eating of the body and drinking of the blood of Christ. Where Jimmy served as a Vestryman. To the left, high above the altar, is a gift of love, from children to the memory of their mother and their father.

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Grave of Brig. General James and Charlotte Barnes


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Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA


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Stained glass window in memory of James and Charlotte Barnes

Friday, February 22, 2008

Today’s column, which is being run on the 266th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, features a letter written by 18th Massachusetts Chaplain Benjamin F. De Costa, who visited Mt. Vernon on or about March 18, 1862. De Costa’s letter is accompanied by photos taken February 18, 2008.

Porter’s Division

Cloud’s Mill, near Alexandria, Va., March 18, 1862

Three years since, during a trip to Richmond, the writer made a detour, and visited Mount Vernon. At that time the temple of Janus was closed, and the country seemed at peace with itself and the whole world. Visitors were then conveyed to this place by steamers, which made tri-weekly trips down the Potomac. In those days large parties of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen visited the grounds daily. Playing on the lawns might be see troops of little boys and girls from every part of the Union, while the graver portion of the visitors wandered thoughtfully through the Mansion and visited the gardens or meditated at the tomb of Washington. To-day the scene is changed. The landing at the foot of the grounds no longer presents its former busy aspect. The civilian in his sober suit and the little boys and girls have disappeared, and a few soldiers have taken their place. Whoever visits this the great, only shrine of America, goes as the Crusader went of old to the Holy City, with arms in his hands, ready to defend himself against the assaults of the enemy. The sanctity of Mount Vernon, however, has thus far been recognized, and no actual encounter has taken place here between the Union and the rebel troops, though I was informed that a number of the latter, as well as many of the former, have several times appeared on the estate.

Since my previous visit several of the buildings have been repaired and restored to their original condition. The mansion house itself is greatly improved, and order and neatness prevail to a considerable extent throughout the entire establishment. But for the present unhappy disturbances the work of restoration so auspiciously begun, would now have been completed. I was sorry, however, to find that the association emulating the same vulgar policy which makes the Monument on Bunker Hill a house of merchandise had established a regulation exacting a fee of every person coming upon the grounds. “Only twenty-five cents” to view the bones of Washington. Fah!

Our party spent a pleasant hour examining different objects of note, lingering in the rooms now open to visitors with particular interest. The chamber which the venerated Hero was accustomed to occupy, and in which he died, is remarkably pleasant. The front windows afford a most commanding view down the Potomac, one which is even superior to that seen at the Arlington House. Formerly from these windows might be discerned fleets of peaceful wood craft, with lateen sails, creeping slowly up and down the river, but they have now been replaced by war steamers and clipper built gun boats with frowning batteries.

After gathering a few mementoes of our visit we rode swiftly back over the ten miles of ground that separated us from our camp, being greatly pleased with the excursion, which possessed additional interest derived from the spirit of the times.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Well, it is time for me to admit it.

I picked the wrong side of the war.

I know, you the faithful reader can’t believe it. Neither can I. I was really hoping this day would never come but I have to admit it. I was wrong and they were right. No matter how much I try to pretend that my side will rise again – it won’t matter.

HD DVD has lost. Blu-ray has won.

Ughh.

I know, you thought I was going to say something like, “I finally came to my senses and know that the Confederacy had the right idea.” Sorry, I don’t see that happening but it did give me a chance to tease.

In November it looked like Toshiba (the HD DVD side) was going to pull it through. They had the cheaper players and their disks had much better extras. WalMart put some of their players on sale and the other major big box players followed suit. So my wife bought me what I now call my expensive paperweight.

Sony finally did something right and convinced Warner Brothers to come to the Blu-ray side and that was all she wrote. And much like the Confederacy, Toshiba kept getting hit with loss after loss – until today it finally surrendered.

My wife and I foresaw the future last month and started making plans to get a Blu-ray - she surprised me with a Playstation 3. Funny, I have a $400 gaming system to play movies. I am an Xbox guy and will continue to play my 360 – picking up the occasional PS3 game that isn’t a cross platform game. The real reason we got the PS3 is that it is cheaper than most of their other stand alone players and does so much more.

And yes, the picture quality is that much better than a regular DVD. Remember how amazed you were when you saw a DVD played for the first time and compared it to VHS? Well, it is even better than that. If you have an HD TV set, do yourself a favor and go buy a PS3.

So why do I bring this up on an (almost) Civil War blog? Well because I wanted a cheap shot at the Lost Causers out there.

No, really because Amazon had a buy 2 get 1 free Bluray sale. And I was able to get Mannie’s favorite movie, Gods and Generals, as my free one. Yes Mannie, I have seen it (and slept through a third of it) but was hoping that it would be better in HD.

And Eric, NASCAR is a sport.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Recently I wrote about an effort to remove the statue of former Governor of South Carolina, US Senator and all around evil doer, Pitchfork Ben Tillman.

I sent an email to the Representative who was sponsoring the legislature for removal but did not hear back from him. We will put him up in the company of Barnes and Noble and a certain State Senator who wish not to speak to those of the Elbow.

Our old friend Annette welcomed us back and asked a valid question (as always):
I'm having a hard time understanding how Tillman is any worse than the statue honoring the Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican War, since it is a known fact that we were in that war to expand slavery.

The best way I can put it is that pre Civil War, Slavery was legal. Anything done in its name can be looked at by us as morally repugnant but we all have to agree it was legal. So the Palmetto Regiment, my homeboy from Berkeley County – The Swamp Fox, The Confederate memorial – all fall into that category and should be left up in my opinion.

The post purposely glossed over Tillman’s experience as a Confederate soldier because he was defending something morally wrong but legally right. After the war was over, a few Constitutional Amendments later, Slavery was no longer legal. Benjamin Tillman did his best to keep African-Americans in a state of Slavery. How can this be something worthy of having a statue up for?

And as far as the other statues, if there are any others that fit the same sort of qualifications of Pitchfork Ben, then yes bring them down. But you have to start somewhere or nothing gets done.
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Jimmy Price took front and center again on February 9th at the American Civil War Center to present on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. “It’s as fashionable to revile as it is to praise Lincoln.” The fact he’s labeled as both “Savior” and “Destroyer of the Constitution,” is nothing new, it occurred from the moment he was elected. Contemporary Democrats called him an “Abolitionist Dictator,” while Radical Republicans viewed him as “dim witted.”

Lincoln is generally portrayed as the “Great Emancipator,” while a vocal minority views him as “a tyrant and war criminal,” one who “purposely and maliciously destroyed the Constitution.” Leading this frontal assault is Libertarian Thomas DiLorenzo, author of The Real Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked. Both have sold well based on two principal arguments, that Lincoln was a racist and that he destroyed the Constitution by suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Before we go any further, it’s fair to point out that Jefferson Davis also suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and that the Confederate States of America did not make provisions for a Supreme Court in their Constitution.

According to Price, Lincoln was neither a great idol, nor a Solomonesque dictator. His views on slavery evolved over time with age and experience, but what cannot be doubted is that he inherited his hatred of the institution from his father. In 1837, at a time when Illinois law banned free blacks from residing within its boundaries, Lincoln publicly voiced his opposition to slavery in a speech before the State legislature. He believed that slavery was “evil,” yet also condemned abolitionists. In his view slavery, while a dying institution, was protected by the Constitution, although that same document forbade expansion into western territories. Lincoln, too, saw no contradiction in defending a slave in an 1841 court case, while taking up the case of slave owner Robert Matson in 1847. For Lincoln it was a matter of following the letter of the law.

Lincoln’s views on slavery may have been influenced by the issue of free labor. Clearly there was a perceived threat that slaveholders would move part their labor force into manufacturing jobs, while threatening the livelihood of small farmers through land grabs to the west.

“The Great Awakening” in Lincoln was realized when Congress abolished the Missouri Compromise of 1821, replacing it with the mantra of Popular Sovernity” espoused in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates Lincoln objected to slavery on moral grounds, defending slaves as human beings, and urging they be given the same opportunities as whites. Lincoln did not, however, believe in equality of the races and is quoted as saying he did not believe the two races could co-exist in America.

After taking office Lincoln held to his belief of gradual emancipation, envisioning that by adopting a plan of compensation to slaveholders the institution would end by 1900. On July 16, 1862, after prolonged internal debate, Lincoln unveiled his plan for an Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Urged by his cabinet to delay issuing the Proclamation, Lincoln made it official on September 17, 1862, announcing that on January 1, 1863 slaves residing in areas under Confederate control would be declared free.

Argue that the Emancipation Proclamation was a sham, that it would not have held up to a Constitutional challenge, that it was ruse to bolster Union manpower, that it was an effort to appease Radical Republicans, argue any way you choose, but the Proclamation was the first direct challenge to the Constitution as pertained to slavery by a sitting President. It was revolutionary and sparked dramatic changes to how the war was waged from that point on.

Lincoln “set wheels in motion” for “misapplication or misrepresentation” of his intended policies. Benjamin Butler, Ambrose Burnside, David Hunter and John C. Fremont were all examples of Union generals who had to be reigned in by Lincoln when they ordered newspapers shut down, mass arrests in areas under their military jurisdiction, or issued their own emancipation edicts. While Lincoln ordered the arrests of elected officials in Baltimore and the Maryland legislature, he argued it was necessary to maintain the security of the Nation’s Capitol. His most drastic step occurred when he ordered the arrest and exile of “Copperhead” Democrat Clement Vallandingham to the Confederacy. According to Lincoln it was a necessary step because of Vallandingham’s vocal opposition to and active counsel to his constituents to resist the draft.

Price concluded his remarks by stating there is “clear evidence Lincoln was morally opposed to slavery,” and did his utmost in complying with his Presidential Oath to uphold the Constitution. While Lincoln is “not the evil figure as portrayed” by the likes of DiLorenzo, he is “at the same time not the Great Emancipator.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

It’s a grand day today.

The 18th Massachusetts Historical Society – Summerville Branch, just purchased two more relics for the collection – bullets from the Battle of Gettysburg as collected by Color Sgt Edmund Churchill.

This will make 6 pieces that we now own and continue to be on the look out for. We still ache for the chance of looking at the pictures and letters of Edmund – hoping that one day someone will contact us with the good news that they want to share. Until then, we will continue to pray.

Once I get the bullets in my possession, I’ll share pictures.

I’m not certain of the exact dates, but this is probably the earliest notice for the American Civil War Center’s March 2009 Conference on record. Even the Center hasn’t posted information on its Web site. However, Anedra Bourne, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, has indicated the conference will focus on Abraham Lincoln, a very appropriate topic considering it will be the 200th anniversary of his birth.

We'll make a point of keeping everyone up to date as details emerge. However, if the 2009 mirrors the one held in 2007, which by the way was pulled off with far less planning, it should be an extraordinary event.
The American Civil War Center in Richmond got a jump on President’s Day on February 10th. Jimmy Price, a Visitor’s Center Associate, which he modestly said was a fancy title for a Jack-of-all-Trades, spoke at 1 p.m. on George Washington, and then, after resting his vocal cords, returned at 3 to talk about Abraham Lincoln. Both were themed on the Civil War, bearing the titles of “Liberty’s Father” and “Liberty's Son.”

Price began by posing the question of why one would associate Washington with the Civil War. The answer is fairly simply. Washington not only maintained enormous influence on 19th Century Americans, but his reputation had grown over the years following his death. As Benjamin Franklin later observed, his veneration and popularity were such that his likeness, either a painting or bust, was on display in every home in America and at least five biographies were written each year from the time of his death.

In 1792 Thomas Jefferson had appealed to Washington to serve a third term in office, stating that the Washington was the glue that bound the young country together. Washington did not reach an exalted state of mere immortality; he transcended immorality; he was worshipped as a deity. Even Lincoln recognized that on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1842, when, in one of the few speeches he ever gave before that elected body, he declared, “Washington is the mightiest name on earth…” and went on to argue that Washington was not a proponent of slavery. Eight years later Henry Clay would hold a Washington relic, a wooden splinter, in his upraised hand on the floor of the United States Senate when the debate over the Missouri Compromise of 1850 raged and warn his colleagues “Do not destroy Washington’s handiwork.”

To argue that Washington was not a proponent of slavery one has to look more closely at the man, something Lincoln did by reading and re-reading Means biography of the first President. In fact, Lincoln claimed it was one of the first books he read in his life. The younger Washington can best be described as arrogant and accepting of slavery. The mature Washington viewed the institution in a negative light and decreed in his will that all his slaves be freed at the time of his wife Martha’s death.

Item Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will and desire, that all the slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom. To emancipate them during her life, would, tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by Marriages with the Dower Negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable consequences from the latter, while both descriptions are in the occupancy or the same Proprietor; it not being in my power, under the tenure by which the Dower Negroes are held, to manumit them. And whereas among those who will receive freedom according to this devise, there may be some, who from old age or bodily infirmities, and others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable to support themselves; it is my Will and desire that all who come under the first and second description shall be comfortably clothed and fed by my heirs while they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable, or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and in cases where no record can be produced, whereby their ages can be ascertained, the Judgment of the Court, upon its own view of the subject, shall be adequate & final. The negroes thus bound, are (by their Masters or Mistresses), to be taught to read and write; & to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing for the support of orphan & other poor Children. And I do hereby expressly forbid the sale, or transportation out of the said Commonwealth of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretence whatsoever. And I do moreover most pointedly, and most solemnly enjoin it upon my Executors hereafter named, or the survivors of them, to see that this clause respecting Slaves, and every part thereof be religiously fulfilled at the Epoch at which it is directed to take place; without evasion, neglect or delay, after the Crops which may then be on the ground are harvested, particularly as it respects the aged & infirm; Seeing that a regular & permanent fund be established for their support so long as there are subjects requiring it; not trusting to the uncertain provision to be made by individuals. And to my Mulatto man, William (calling himself William Lee) I give immediate freedom; or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him, and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment.) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so: In either case however, I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life, which shall be independent of the victuals and clothes he has been accustomed to receive, if he chooses the last alternative: but in full with his freedom, if he prefers the first: & this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.

When war came both North and South felt they embodied Washington’s ideals. The flag that flew over Ft. Sumter was carried back to New York City and flown from an equestrian statue of Washington in Union Square, where a crowd of over 150,000 gathered, the largest public gathering in the history of the country to that time. While the South would refuse to recognize the Fourth of July as a nation holiday, the Union celebrated February 22nd as a national holiday, one which focused on Washington’s legacy. There was no doubt in the North that they embodied the first President’s ideals. Thus the understandable reaction following a small forgotten cavalry battle at Seat Mountain, West Virginia, where a Union officer came across the remains of Confederate Colonel John A. Washington, the great-grandnephew of George. In a letter to his wife the officer angrily wrote, “Col. Washington shot in the back while in an act of treason.”

The South believed their cause was a second American Revolution and, had he been alive, Washington would have commanded their armies. The Confederacy alone embodied Washington's ideals. Jefferson Davis took the permanent oath of office in Richmond standing underneath Washington’s equestrian statue on the Statehouse grounds, a statue which contained an underground crypt built in 1858, specifically for receipt of Washington’s remains from Mt. Vernon. In addition to placing Washington’s image on their great seal, postage stamps and money featured his engraved likeness as well.

Robert E. Lee, who like Washington, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Lee sought to emulate Washington throughout his entire life, and paid personal homage to the man by naming his horse Traveler after one owned by Washington, and by carrying one of his swords. In time though, Lee would supplant Washington as the man who most symbolized the Confederacy. As the war dragged on and the South’s suffering increased, the more fervent Lee’s devotion to the cause grew. The South’s greatest fear of Northern victory was that successful subjugation of the rebellion would lead whites to their own enslavement.

While many at the time, and even today, claimed Washington would have sided with the Confederacy, Price voiced doubt. “Washington had strong views on the Union.” He saw the experiment of a democratically united nation as “the main pillar and edifice of liberty.”

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Having not one, but two previously undiscovered historical manuscripts drop into your lap is the kind of stuff most historians can only dream of. That according to David Blight of Yale University.
Blight was in Richmond on February 9th to talk about his latest book, an event that was co-sponsored by the American Civil War Center and Richmond National Battlefield Park. How those two manuscripts, both undated but estimated to have been written in the 1870’s and 1890’s, came to Blight’s attention is an interesting story unto itself and the subsequent journey could probably serve as a textbook for conducting historical and genealogical research.

Blight, by his own admission, is not a genealogist, but he couldn’t have written the book without learning the basic skills essential to that profession, or without the assistance of genealogists. His skills as a historian, honed through years of academic study, however, are not necessarily transferable to the genealogist, although the latter has to have a grasp of the subject to put their research findings into perspective. When you fuse the two sciences you have a powerful and compelling story in the offering.

A Slave No More is the combined story of two ordinary men, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, who each set out to document their lives for their children. A simple telling of simple lives. But when viewed by eyes more than a century later that which was ordinary and simple becomes extraordinary, for theirs is a saga of men born into slavery, men who succeeded in breaking those chains by escaping to freedom.

You can’t tell the story of the book without providing some background. Blight’s own background is revealed. Son of an autoworker, who suckered his father into devoting one of his two weeks of annual vacation to visiting Civil War battlefields. You become a teenager and you don’t let the fascination get drowned out by the thumping rhythm of Rock n’ Roll. You pursue the passion on a college campus and then wind your way through a series of whistle stop teaching assignments, including a high school, before making Yale your home. The passion lives in the lecture hall, the fox and hound chase of research, and in the writing of books. Somewhere along the line W.E.B. Dubois’ message resonates in your brain and you hold up this new found truth like a cube, turning it over and over, examining it at every angle, and the story of the American Civil War, emancipation, and reconstruction opens itself to you in a whole new light.

“How do we remember? How do we want to remember?” Those are the questions raised by emancipation and reconstruction that Blight observes the collective American memory has struggled with or blithely ignored since 1865.

Most Americans are familiar with Martin Luther King, Junior’s I Have A Dream speech, or least the last few sentences, when King seemingly rises above the Lincoln Memorial and stretching forth his arms says “when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Less familiar are the opening paragraphs when King argues African-Americans have been handed a check marked “insufficent funds,” in response to their struggle to fully engage and participate in American society, a figurartive promisary note that was to have been cashed when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were ratified.

Blight points to a passage from George H.W. Bush’s first inaugural speech as an example of how America does remember. “We must remember we are the nation that sent 600,000 of its sons to end slavery.” A sigh escapes Blight’s lips and he remarks “We like the post-emancipation story. The real story is much more complicated…It was a great and transformative event…that has been argued by historians over and over.”

From the 1740’s to 1865 there were 65 autobiographies written by escaped slaves published in the U.S. and England, the most famous being those by Frederick Douglass, William Grimes, and Harriett Jacobs. Douglass’ "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," published in 1845, was out of print for more than a century and could only be found inside the segregated schools attended by blacks. When a reprint was issued in 1960 ninety-nine per cent of the American public didn’t know who Douglass was. Typically viewed as “abolitionist tracts,” all shared a common theme by declaring the “destructive horrors of slavery.”

From 1865 to 1920, when 55 tomes appeared, there was a shift in how the story of slavery, emancipation, and reconstruction was narrated and who the narrator was. Overwhelming the story was told by former slaves turned clergy, or veterans who later wore the cloth. Theirs was a message of uplift and hope, of success and prosperity, bearing titles such as "From Slavery to Affluence" or Booker T. Washington’s 1901 bestseller "Up From Slavery."

The Works Progress Administration tried to capture the stories of former slaves during the 1930’s, but that effort is usually criticized today because those conducting the interviews were white and those being interviewed were by that time in their 80’s and 90’s, a time when memories become naturally suspect. Sharp edges become rounded and rawhide whips are instead fashioned from skeins of yarn.

What sets the autobiographies of Wallace Turnage and John Washington apart in Blight’s view is the fact that neither was ever published or marked up by an editor’s pencil. It’s a story of “two men telling the story largely of how they escaped” from slavery, a story that was handed down from one generation to the next. In Washington’s case the biography eventually landed in the hands of the son of the best friend of his granddaughter. That son of the best friend of the granddaughter of John Washington, a retired Judge and author from Boston gave the book to his literary agent, who, in turn, asked Blight to take a look. That manuscript got packed away when Blight relocated and was neglected until Wallace Turnage’s narrative was mentioned in the course of a dinner conversation between Blight and the Director of the Greenwich, Connecticut Historical Society. The dream becomes reality for one historian.

Both Washington and Turnage shared a common history. Born of free white fathers and enslaved black mothers, Washington would escape in 1862 when Fredericksburg, Virginia came under threat of Yankee attack, while Turnage walked out of an Alabama slave jail, through Confederate encampments, climbed into a boat and rowed out into Mobile Bay where he was rescued from his leaky craft by a U.S. Navy vessel.

It would have been simple enough to have written an introduction, added some endnotes, and published the autobiographies as is. Instead the research involved crisscrossing the country, from New Haven to Chicago, down to Mobile, up to Brooklyn, over to Jersey City, into libraries and historical societies, which finally culminated in a face-to-face meeting with Washington descendants in Florida, descendants who never knew John Washington’s autobiography existed until a phone call from Blight.

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Historian David Blight

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I’m going to take the lazy way out and begin this post by excerpting from one that appeared March 29, 2007 under the heading Radar Love In The Heart of Dixie – Part One.

“Richmond is a city proud of its past, yet it seems it’ll rip down a historic building and put up a parking garage or lot in a heart beat. Never fear finding a place to park should you decide to visit.”

I’m happy to report that my recent visit to Richmond totally eradicated any doubts about the city’s commitment to historic preservation and proof positive is found at 200 West Grace Street. It’s here that J.E.B. Stuart was nursed and prayed over during his final hours on earth before going to meet his Maker on May 12, 1864.

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Jeb Stuart historic sign outside Richmond Police Headquarters

They took all the trees, put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people, a dollar and a half just to see em
Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Joni Mitchell


The last sentence and one that was purposely cropped from the picture of the historical marker:
"Dr. Brewer's house was demolished in 1893."


Knowing that you can't preserve everything, what from the past is worth preserving?
I was a week too early for the unveiling last year and thus made a point of re-visiting this site at the corner of East Main and North 15th Streets in Richmond during my recent visit to the city. I’ll let the memorial's own words and pictures speak for themselves.

Slave Trade Reconciliation Triangle


Identical statues in Liverpool, England; Benin, West Africa; and Richmond, Virginia memorialize the British, African, and American Triangular trade, now identified as the Reconciliation Triangle. Traders profited from delivering over 100,000 Africans to Virginia between the 1600’s and the American Revolution – and at least 260,000 to other North American places before 1808. The “triangle” extended between Liverpool and other large British cities, the Republic of Benin, and other West African kingdoms, and Virginia, and other North American colonies. Profits from the sale of enslaved Africans financed major British and North American economic development.

Acknowledge and forgive the past
Embrace the present
Shape a future
of reconciliation and justice.

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Statue Sculpture and Design - Stephen Broadbent and Faith Bebbington
Plaza and Fountain Design - Burt Pinnock, BAM Architects
"This installation has been made possible through the generosity and cooperation of the Commonwealth of Virginia and City of Richmond."






The Triangle
Liverpool, England
The Benin Region of West Africa
Richmond, Virginia

During the 18th Century, these three places reflected one of the well-known triangles in the trade of enslaved Africans.
Men, women, and children were captured in West and Central Africa and transported from Benin and other countries. They were shackled, herded, loaded on ships built in England and transported through the unspeakable horrors of the Middle Passage.
They were imported and exported in Richmond, Virginia and sold in other American cities. Their forced labor laid the economic foundation of this nation.


Monday, February 11, 2008

I took a trip to Richmond over the weekend and will be writing a couple of posts, but I thought I’d start with this one.

On Sunday afternoon I made a visit to the Richmond National Battlefield Headquarters, where it was just me and two Park Service rangers. I asked them a couple of questions, wrote down a few of their recommendations for books on topics I was interested in reading about, and generally chewed the fat. I asked both which Civil War National Park they’d most like to work at. One said Antietam, the other said he was right where he wanted to be, in Richmond. Both viewed their choices as the ultimate assignment. Interestingly, neither wanted an assignment at Gettysburg.

Then I asked both to tell me the stupidest question they’d ever been asked, mine excluded of course. The Ranger who answered that Antietam was the ultimate, said she had been asked a lot of stupid questions, however she drew a blank and deferred to her partner. He, who felt Richmond was the epicenter, recalled two.

On a list of the ten most stupid questions, number two was:
Why don't the monuments at Antietam have any bullet holes?

And the stupidest question he had ever been asked?
A woman approached him with all sincerity in her heart. She looked at him with tears welling up in her eyes and asked, “Why, oh why, did they have to fight all those battles in National Parks?”

Friday, February 08, 2008

(“The only difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist is your point of view”)

I’ve come to a certain conclusion at this time in my life. It has to do with the world at large and the ideals and values that each of us hold in our heart. I have to believe that each of us individually has an ideal or cause we deem so important that we’d be willing to lay our life down, or, if necessary, take a life. It’s my contention that anyone who can’t point to that ideal or cause is either vapid or morally bankrupt. I said that in the course of a discussion with a person who believed that violence was never justified under any circumstances. As then, I am not now dictating what that cause or ideal should be. Simply that it should exist in everyone.

There’s a hypothetical that people always use to try to trip pacifists with. Someone breaks into your house and is raping your wife, mother, or dog in front of you. ”Whata you do?” There’s only one answer that’ll satisfy the person asking the question. “I’d pick up a gun and blow the son of a bitch away.” The person answering the question, recognizing the trap, would try to wiggle their way out of it by saying there are alternatives to violence and finally, when pressed, would throw up their hands and say, “Well, I know I wouldn’t kill anybody.”

In this particular discussion I ran a very real scenario by the person I was talking to. I asked him if he, as a Jew, had been in Warsaw when Nazis stormed the Jewish Ghetto in 1944, would he have picked up a gun like so many did to resist. The alternative would have been a death camp, a fate relgated to the ghetto survivors. He mulled it over, but before he could respond I said to him, “the answer to the question is that no one really knows what they would do until they’re actually faced with that reality.”

Among the most pervasive and accepted reasons as to why white men north and south of the Mason-Dixon line were willing to kill and be killed were preservation of the Union, defense of State rights, freeing slaves, the right

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I think it can be safely argued that the Kennedy assassination, regardless of who actually fired the shots, did more to alter history than Lincoln’s murder. Start with this premise. It’s more than probable that Ulysses Grant would have been the Republican nominee and won the 1868 election, setting up the same existing chain of men who occupied the White House through John Kennedy. Had Kennedy survived and won a second term of office, it becomes less certain who would have succeeded him in 1968. Arthur Schlesinger, a Kennedy advisor, claimed years later that J.F.K. planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam during his second term in office. One thing is likely though, regardless of the validity of that claim, it would have been less likely that Richard Nixon would have been elected in 1968. It necessarily follows then that no Nixon, no Watergate, no Gerald Ford, no Jimmy Carter, no Ronald Reagan, at least not in 1980, no George W. Bush, no Bill Clinton, at least not in 1992, and finally the likelihood that none of those currently running for the office would now be seeking the Presidency.

You can use your own imagination to speculate over how different American society would have been had Lincoln and Kennedy lived, but the only likely historical change caused by Booth firing a derringer into the back of Lincoln’s head is that Andrew Johnson never would have made it into the Oval Office. I wonder, too, if Lincoln, had he served out a second term, might not have faced the same hostile reaction from Radical Republicans who may have deemed Lincoln’s own reconstruction plan too forgiving of the former Confederacy. Johnson, afterall, claimed he was following Lincoln's intended blueprint. We’ll probably never know, uncertain as we are of Lincoln’s post-war intentions, but a policy of leniency set the wheels in motion for what eventually led to epic battles between the Executive and Legislative branches and ultimately to Johnson’s impeachment trial.

Whereas Lee Harvey Oswald, the supposed “lone gunman,” was taken into custody within a remarkably (conspiracy theorists would substitute the word “suspiciously”) short period of time, Booth was on the lam for twelve days. I suppose that was considered a remarkably short period of time then for detectives and soldiers to track him down. Those who pursued Booth through Prince George’s and Charles County, Maryland, across the Potomac and into Caroline County, Virginia at least knew who they were looking for at the start of their chase.

I spent twelve hours on a Saturday a few years back riding in a tour bus with close to fifty other people tracing Booth’s attempt to flee, supposedly to Mexico. The tour, sponsored by the [Mary] Surratt House Museum is wildly popular, requiring reservations months in advance. Whereas the Museum once conducted two tours a year, one in the spring and fall, the venture has been expanded to four in the spring (sorry folks, they’re all sold out, including May 3rd) and two in the fall. A word to wise if you ever go. You better have some knowledge of the Lincoln assassination before stepping foot on the bus, because you won’t get an introductory crash course from the guide.

Last March and April I wrote a series of posts called “Radar Love in the Heart of Dixie,” a series that traced my

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nestled in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, a city in its own right and quite frankly, rather expensive, lies the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

For those of you not up on your colonial history of South Carolina, you would not know of his importance during that time – or that he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. If you are someone like that, check this out.

Myself, I love the site, which is really nothing more than a house and a large field. The house holds a nice exhibit on Charles and colonial times in the Charleston area. But I like it because it makes a perfect picnic site for the family, having spent many an afternoon there.

It looks like, I may get a few picnics in, as the staff have set up a wonderful series of events around the Gullah culture with its “Gullah Heritage Saturdays.” Every Saturday in February and March at 2 pm has a different program – from stories to cooking to basket making. Myself, I am really looking forward to master craftsman Philip Simmons talk about his work with Iron making some of the most beautiful gates one could imagine. March 15th will see us there!

For more information, check out this pdf.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Before the Civil War, there was the Mexican-American War. A few months ago, there was a nice documentary on it but it seems like it came out a bit early. Why? Well, because last Saturday was the 160th Anniversary of the end of the war.

Why would we care about it on (an almost) Civil War blog? Simply put, this war would become the proving ground for many of the senior officers for both the Confederacy and the Union.

Since I didn’t see anything out there in the blogosphere talking about the war, I thought I would share this link to an interesting editorial that came my way.

Take a look and ask yourself, could the sentiment from the author be expanded to how America has handled the Civil War too?





Monday, February 04, 2008

Congratulations to the New York Giants and to all their fans. Well played. Well done. Well deserved.

17-14! 17-14! 17-14! Uncle! Uncle! UNCLE!!!!!!
Bad karma is all around me. At work. In my personal life. I think I can trace it all back to Monday, January 14th. That was the day I did a post on my visit to Fisher Ames Baker’s grave at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York. It hit me the other day that the swirl of dark events may have been orchestrated by Second Lieutenant John Dwight Isbel, whose grave I visited the same day as Baker’s. Isbel’s gravesite visit had not been written up. I fathomed that chains were rattling, demanding equal time, space, and attention.

One of the interesting sidelights of my treks to cemeteries where veterans of the 18th Massachusetts are buried is that they’ve taken me to places I probably never would have gotten to. I can’t imagine what would have drawn me to towns like Franklin, N.H. or Kearney, N.J. otherwise. The same goes for Naugatuck, Connecticut.

Hardscrabble. That was the first word that came to mind when I surveyed the town. There’s nothing quaint about the place, unless you’re standing on its quarter acre town common with its Civil War monument, skating rink, and abutting churches and blind yourself to the houses that elbow one another on the encroaching hills. This was and seemingly always has been a factory town, dating to the Industrial Revolution. Home to Uniroyal, Keds, Naughahyde, and Peter Paul Mounds. Now they’re all packed up and gone away. And while I may have thought the city looked as gray as the sky, this is a place that still lives and breaths, that still passes tradition to her children by having them attend the Horgan Academy of Irish Dance. A city that still sends its sons to do gridiron battle against Ansonia every Thanksgiving. A city that, while fewer of its seeds flower in colleges than surrounding towns, instills a fierce work ethic. It is a city unmistakably blue collar born, blue collar bred, and the dead, blue collar dead.

It’s unclear if John D. Isbel was from Naugatuck, or what his ties there were. I’ve been unsuccessful in finding any Census records that list his father John L., or his mother Eliza. There are a few families with the surname listed in Connecticut records, but nothing that fits the family I’m looking for. In fact a search for John L. in the 1850 Census lists only one person by that name in the entire United States, a 12 year-old living in Cass, Georgia. The first record for John D. himself is found in the 1860 Census, which lists him as a 21 year-old Clerk residing in Springfield, MA. I suppose that employment, his appointment as Quartermaster Sergeant for the 18th, and subsequent promotion to 2nd Lieutenant serve as indicators that he was better educated than most. I don’t know if this somehow fits, but a Harlow Isbel of Guilford, CT listed his occupation as a manufacturer and, by the standards of the times, was fairly well off.

Equally mysterious is how or why Isbel joined a regiment recruited primarily from Plymouth and Norfolk counties, the closest of whose towns would have been over eighty miles from Springfield. Pure speculation, but he may have known Colonel James Barnes or Surgeon David P. Smith, both from Springfield and both of the 18th. Handling equipment and supplies for over a thousand men is not a job to be trusted to fools or idiots. Although there were others from Springfield who served with the 18th, he was the first to enlist, a full two weeks before the next man.

Isbel moved as the Regiment moved, in August 1861 from Dedham, MA to Hall’s Hill in Arlington, VA, until March 1862 when the Army of the Potomac floated down the Chesapeake Bay to Ft. Monroe, later camping amidst the


Sunday, February 03, 2008

The building that I work in houses a lot of Redskins fans, which is understandable given they’re the local Pro Football team, but the Cowboys aren’t lacking support either. There’s a sprinkling of Steelers loyalists, but surprisingly few Ravens fans considering a lot of people live in Maryland and Baltimore is a relatively short stop and go, stop and go, mass of fused bumpers away. In good times you’ll hear lone voices admit they like the Eagles or Bears. Bills’ fans only seem to emerge from hibernation when it’s freezing or the D.C. area is getting hammered by a snowstorm. Raider fans appear to emulate nature too. They wait for a full moon.

There are two, and only two, die-hard Patriot fans in the place. Warren and me. Whereas I worried about the Chargers, Cowboys, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, and Giants going into those games, Warren was cool under fire the whole season. The more he told me not to worry, the more worried I got.

Hasan is a dyed in the wool Giants’ fan, having grown up in NYC. We’ve been going at each other for the last two weeks, all in good fun. I’m so confident of a victory by the Pats in the Super Bowl I promised I’d buy him whatever DVD comes on the market trumpeting an upset win. I’m so confident I told him I would not allow him to reciprocate with a Patriots DVD. Candy. Baby. Some limb I climbed out on. You catch my drift.

This game is both historic and momentous for the Patriots. The biggest game of each individual player’s life. If I were Bill Belichick I’d use the same exact words to my players that Herb Brooks directed toward the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team before the start of the Third Period, when they were down 2-1 to Finland. “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f---ing grave! Your f---ing grave!”

Now for my prediction: the game will be over after the first quarter. Think I’m kidding? I picked the Patriots to beat the Redskins 56-3 this season, and I have a witness.