Monday, March 31, 2008
I was going through a stack of assorted papers and found the Metro Section of the Friday, September 7, 2007 edition of the Washington Post. The story at the top of the page was on the death of Effie Barry, the first of three wives of former DC Mayor Marion Barry. Effie was lauded for her ever-present class and dignity, as well as her courtroom demeanor during Marion’s trial after he was busted for crack cocaine in 1990. Say what you will about Marion, who became the butt of national jokes, but he never so much as lifted a pencil from a City supply room. His cronies may have hauled away truckloads of pencils, but Marion, never. His 1994 campaign, which restored him to the District’s highest office for a fourth term, should be studied by Political Science students the same way that military scientists study Lee’s victory over Hooker at Chancellorsville.
Underneath, in the far right column, was a piece on a D.C. landlord who had been charged with 2,861 housing code violations. His 22 unit building was described by a City attorney as “atrocious” and “unsafe in every way.” The City had been after the owner for years, slapping him with one citation after another. He kept doing what every red-blooded American slumlord would do, handed them out to his tenants so they could patch holes in walls, windows, and soak up the run off from toilets when it poured through the ceilings from upstairs apartments.
Those stories weren’t the reason I kept the paper. Centered in the middle of the page and continuing on page six was a story on the National Park Service packing up the clothing Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was shot and transporting the garments, under police escort, to a storage facility in Maryland. The items, including shin high “square-toed, goatskin boots…worn down at the heels,” will be returned to Ford’s Theater when an 18 month renovation is completed in the spring of 2009.
The wardrobe included a double-breasted “long, black frock coat,” with “plain gray metal” buttons, a black silk tie, and “black broadcloth pants,” the knees of which were stained with blood.
Gloria Swift, museum curator at Ford’s Theater, who supervised the packing, said of the unadorned clothing “There’s nothing presidential. This is your typical well-dressed man’s suit of 1865.” The overcoat Lincoln draped over his shoulders or on the back of his chair was made especially for his second inauguration. Its black lining was embroidered with “an eagle, shields and the words ‘One Country, One Destiny.’”
“It’s almost undescribable,” Swift remarked, about the opportunity to touch a piece of history. “It is very chilling in some cases, knowing what you’re handing…And it’s also very exciting. Because to me the objects are a true connection to the past…They’re not just things. These are real items [linked] to a real story.”
Marius Horgos, a native of Romania and a member of the moving crew related his “palms were sweaty…Lincoln is a very special figure. He freed the African American people. Even my voice is shaking.” Thomas Blichard, another of the moving crew, was looking forward to telling his grandsons of his experience. “I’ll be able to tell them both I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. This is a historical day for me.”
Friday, March 28, 2008
For the longest time I have heard fellow bloggers trash Wikipedia. In some cases, it is deserved but overall, I do not think that is the case. I have used it on multiple occasions, nothing though for serious research. So I decided that instead of complaining about the lack of credentials the site has, I would add what little expertise that I have to it.
So I started with writing an entry on one soldier from the 18th Massachusetts, Frederick C Anderson. Why Franklin? Because he won the Medal of Honor, seemed like the right thing to do.
Now, there are only two other people on this earth that I would concede an “18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Knowledge Battle Royale” to – Donald and Steve. So when I write something about them, it should be as close to Gospel as this mere mortal can get.
So after a few days of setting up a blank article, I posted it on Wikipedia. Within 5 minutes, two calls for deletion had been placed on it.
The first didn’t give a reason but retracted pretty quickly, even noting, “my bad”.
The second claimed “potential” copyright infringement. Why? Because it had a link to the 18th Massachusetts web site on Frederick. A page written by Donald, myself and the New York Herald (in 1864). I did the Wikipedia version of calling a timeout and claimed
I am the author of this page and of the website 18thmass.com and associated pages. Information taken from it is of my authorship so no copyright infringement can take place on myself - I have given myself permission to use my writings. :)
I got back
Actually, you have to follow the procedure set out at WP:COPYRIGHT. Either send your permission to OTRS as specified there, or place a GFDL license on the page itself. Please note that you must not merely give us permission, but give a license under GFDL, which irrevocably gives anyone permission to further copy and modify the material and use as desired, even commercially. If you mean to do this, follow the procedure. If you add future articles, do this at the very start. In the meantime, as the reviewing administrator, I have reduced the article to a stub. if you complete the licensing, just restore the earlier version. 19:28, 26 March 2008 (UTC)
This is where it gets tricky, as (in short) if I follow these rules, I have to give up full commercial rights to the research that the team has done on Frederick. And I have seen enough “thievery” in the ranks of historians, that I am not sure I want to do that.Why is that? Well our stated goal has always been to write a history of the unit and have it published. We have put a lot of time and effort into this just to give up any rights.
So now I have to ask myself (and Donald and Steve) do I really want to give license to anyone to take our stuff?
I’ll let you know once we decide
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Expand the Ten Commandments so the following can be included:
11. Thou shalt not screw around with somebody else’s money.
12. Thou shall not criticize somebody’s parenting skills in a public place.
13. Thou shall get your facts straight if you’re going to write about the Civil War.
Valerie Protopapas drove home the latter point when she commented on the post I did yesterday on John S. Mosby’s capture at Beaver Dam Station. Valerie wrote “Mosby wasn't a captain as he told his captors. He wasn't even a "newly minted" first looey. He was a private soldier having lost his commission when he resigned as adjutant of his regiment when Colonel William Jones was replaced by a man with whom Mosby shared a mutual antipathy, Fitzhugh Lee."
Valerie also pointed out that Mosby had initially left for Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters on horseback, carrying a letter of introduction from J.E.B. Stuart. After a “side trip to see his family,” Mosby had sent his horse on ahead with a “club footed” companion loaned to him by Stuart, in favor of taking the train from Beaver Dam. My memory was suddenly jolted and I then remembered that Horace Mewborn had, in fact, told us that very same story of how and why Mosby was awakened from his slumbers at Beaver Dam Station by the 2nd N.Y. Cav.
I guess I have to attribute my slippage in memory to a case of early senility. Of course I could also tell Valerie that I was testing her to see if she was paying attention.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The Depot At Beaver Dam
The first railroad depot at Beaver Dam was built ca. 1840 to serve the farmers of Hanover and Louisa counties. Its strategic location during the Civil War made it the target of many Union raids. The July 20, 1862 raid saw the depot burned and Colonel John S. Mosby, the Gray Ghost, captured as he awaited a train to take him to General Stonewall Jackson. Rebuilt after this raid, the depot was again burned by Union troops on February 29, 1864 and May 9, 1864, the last time by the cavalry of General George A. Custer. The existing depot was rebuilt and rededicated in 1866.
This historical marker placed near the railroad station at Beaver Dam, Virginia is on the surface of things a short synopsis of the town’s role during the Civil War. Situated about 40 miles west of Richmond, Beaver Dam was named after a creek that divided a plantation owned by Colonel Edmund Fontaine, the first president of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. At the time of the Civil War the road was part of the Virginia Central line, which ran from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley, thus its strategic importance to both the Confederacy and Union.
Let’s be kind to the State of Virginia and acknowledge that they can only engrave so much information on what I would estimate to be a three by four foot space. Let’s acknowledge, too, Horace Mewborn of New Bern, North Carolina, one of the leading authorities on John Singleton Mosby, for setting the record straight about the Beaver Dam Station marker.
Mosby wasn’t a Colonel and wasn’t known as the Gray Ghost when captured on July 20, 1862. Instead, he was a newly minted 1st Lieutenant on his way to join Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps in the Shenandoah Valley. Although Horace didn’t state why Mosby happened to be at that particular station, he was aroused from a mid-afternoon slumber by members of the 2nd New York Cavalry.
That Mosby was to become part of Jackson’s Corps is a story unto itself. Expelled from the University of Virginia in 1849, where he was a member of the debate team, and sentenced to prison for wounding a fellow student with a pistol during a fight, Mosby would take up the study of the law following his release and gain admission to the Virginia bar. When war came, Mosby, who was personally opposed to slavery, enlisted as a lowly Private in William “Grumble” Jones’ Washington Mounted Rifles. Rising to the rank of Adjutant, he came into conflict with Fitzhugh Lee, when the latter was appointed Colonel of the Regiment. Using whatever influence he could leverage, Mosby was able to wrangle a transfer as a scout with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry and was, as previously stated, traveling to his new military assignment.
Shortly after capture on July 20th, Mosby would employ his skills as both a debater and attorney to their fullest. As a distant train was heard approaching the station, he was ordered to stand on the tracks and signal it to a stop. Instead of complying, even though it’s likely he had weapons pointed his way, Mosby began arguing with his captors. As a prisoner of war he had rights, rights that precluded his being placed in a position of danger. He warned the Union cavalrymen the train was full of Confederates troops, who would scramble from the cars when they reached the station and engage in a firefight. More importantly, he pointed out that he would likely be caught in the crossfire and killed. The jury bought it, hook, line, and sinker. The engineer, for his part, seeing what lay ahead on the tracks and sensing an ambush, threw the locomotive into reverse.
Taken back to Washington and held at the Old Capitol Prison for ten days before being exchanged, Mosby must had a good laugh when told the train was lightly guarded and carrying much needed supplies for the Confederate war effort. Dumb ass Yankees done in by a simple country lawyer.
Beaver Dam Railroad Station
Monday, March 24, 2008
There are now two hours and twenty minutes to go. The first item, described as a “Certificate To Be Given To Volunteers At The Time Of Their Discharge,” has seven bids, an increase of two from earlier in the day. The second item continues to hold steady with five bids.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and that was certainly the case about a month ago when Tom, Steve, and me kept our eyes glued to an eBay auction that featured a sterling silver medal and a Gettysburg minie ball once in the possession of Elias Adams, another member of the 18th Massachusetts. We decided to give it our best shot, but when the bids climbed to $666 the day before the scheduled end of the auction our collective hopes started to fade. When the price hit $2013 with three hours and nine minutes to go, we were crestfallen and sat on the sidelines as two bidders, seemingly locked in mortal combat, continued to trump each other’s bid. The item finally wound up going for $3949. We were stunned, absolutely stunned. The emails flew back and forth, as if we were trying to console one another over the loss of yet another 18th Mass. related item. Tom broke the news by simply reporting “$3949!!!” Steve replied “OMG !!! Unless someone is related to Adams, that is totally out of line. I would have thought $500 was steep. But, $4,000 !!! Wow - I am speechless.” My email read “$3949 is the absolute height of insanity for what was being offered. A couple of years ago a Gettysburg dealer offered William Manchester's haversack, canteen, belt buckle, and a number of other items for about that price, all in good condition. That I can understand, this I can't.” We all agreed there was something fishy about the entire thing, from the pictures of the items being totally out of focus, to the fact the item was immediately pulled off eBay after the bidding ended. Poor and whining losers? You bet.
Thirty-six minutes to go. Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking into the future. By the way, can you believe Davidson’s win over Georgetown? Stephen Curry was nothing short of phenomenal, pouring in 25 of his 30 points in the second half, including five free throws in the final twenty seconds. Here’s a great opening line to a story if I ever read one. “Stephen Curry picked up a rock and slung it.”
12 minutes and 49 seconds to go. There have been two additional bids on the first item, so there are now a total of nine, pushing the price up a dollar since last I checked. Just clicked over to the second item. 12 minutes and 3 seconds left. Still no movement in either the number of bids or the price.
5:46 left on both items. Item two has one additional bid.
2:18. “Hold! Hold! Steady boys!”
29 seconds. “Fire!”
It’s all over and I don’t know if anybody is crying. I don’t care, because no one can convince me the other bidders cared one iota about discharge papers that were issued to Zebah Thayer on April 3, 1862. I do. Tom does. Steve does. Passionately. Welcome home Zebah!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Porter’s Division, Camp Winfield Scott, Va.
Easter Monday, [April 21] 1862
Easter Monday, [April 21] 1862
About the middle of the forenoon my Regiment [18th Massachusetts] came in from twenty-four hours’ picket duty, the men being wet, and weary, and more or less drowsy after the fatigues of the night-watch. It was therefore deemed impolitic to attempt any religious services under these circumstances, and many of us who had been looking forward to this day with great interest were somewhat disappointed. But our Roman Catholic neighbors in the Ninth Massachusetts Regiment, happening to be off duty, celebrated the day notwithstanding the condition of the weather. At eight o’clock in the morning Mass was said by their Chaplain, who afterwards delivered a discourse, founded on a text taken from the Gospel for the day. A rude box, open at the side and top, and elevated upon a stout stake, served as an altar. Over this was stretched a small awning, which afforded shelter for the Priest and his choir. In front was planted a rude cross nearly twenty feet high, fashioned from an unhewn pine. A large open space of ground was carpeted with green boughs, and here in the drizzling rain of a cold north-east storm, the congregations stood or knelt for about two hours. The prayers said in an unknown tongue, a custom “plainly repugnant to the word of God,” and evidently “not understood by the people” occupied about an hour, after which the Priest read the Gospel for the day, and it was encouraging to witness the eagerness with which these devout sons of the Emerald Isle pressed forward to catch every syllable of this portion of the Scripture. The polished Latin, chanted by the Priest, though abounding in pure sentiments and lofty Christian faith, had proved but a feast of dry bones, while the heaven-descended words of the lesson fell upon their hearts like drops of rain upon the parched earth. I saw in this eager pledge of resurrection yet to come when the Romish Church emancipated from the thralldom of superstition, shall rise from the death of sin, arranged in the glorious robes of the Redeemer’s righteousness, and go forth through all the world on missions of salvation and peace.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
If you’ve paid attention to Touch the Elbow for any length of time then you know I've spent a lot of time writing about dead people and visits to graves. I suppose that anyone who deals with any facet of the Civil War, from the historian, to the author, to the blogger, to the reenactor, to those who have Regimental Web sites, to those who work in National Battlefield parks, are all, in part, in league with the dead. I was trying to do a count in my head as to the number of National Cemeteries I’ve visited where Civil War dead are buried and came up with 16. I probably missed one or two along the way. So, I’ll give you one guess as to what I thought of Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering. Suffice it to say, this is my type of book. Judging from some other reviews I’ve read it’s clearly not everyone’s proverbial cup of tea.
This book became very personalized for me. There was something in every chapter that I could relate to from the research we’ve completed on the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, from the concept of the “good death” Gilpin writes about in the first chapter, to “shared national loss” and the “dimension of the war’s sacrifice” discussed in the final chapter, to the laboring entailed in identifying the seemingly unidentifiable which comprises the bulk of the fourth chapter.
Like no other war before or since, the number of dead in the Civil War was then, as now, simply staggering. The accepted number of Union deaths is 360,222, while the Confederate dead is estimated at 258,000. Translate that to an equivalent percentage of the current population of the United States and it equals six million. Try visualizing that number and it becomes almost impossible, until you think about the entire state of Massachusetts being depopulated.
Americans didn’t purposely set out to slaughter Americans in volume. A little bloodletting perhaps, in another dandy little war with one side or the other crying “Uncle” within ninety days or less, fought by generals who embraced Winfield Scott’s philosophy that your army only took as many casualties as was absolutely necessary to gain your objective. George B. McClellan and Joseph Johnston understood that and also understood you didn’t involve civilians. By war’s end the gloves were off and anything and everything went, with men killing men with the same regard they held for a pig, perhaps less because they could at least eat a pig.
In the beginning, when there was less carnage, there was time for comrades or nurses to write letters to surviving family members describing the deceased’s final moments among the living. Invariably the writer would follow a Protestant tradition of ars moriendi that dated from the 1600’s by attesting to the decedent’s preparedness for death. In the absence of family gathered around a death bed, those writing sought to provide consolation to the reader, whether it was to reassure the family that peace had been made with God or that their father, son, or brother had died as a man, nobly, and for a cause they believed in.
In 1860 four times as many Americans attended Sunday church services as voted in the Presidential election. Of those forty per cent leaned toward evangelical worship. Clerics had to convey to those seated in pews and camps that killing in a “just war,” was acceptable to God. In the aftermath of battle those camps were filled with men who wrestled with lifelong religious teachings and the realization they had violated the Fifth Commandment. As the scale of the battles grew, dwarfing earlier actions at First Bull Run and Big Bethel, conscience took a back seat. Men became inured to the slaughter, became more and more like automatons, while more and more took pleasure in the killing. For African-Americans the war helped them to establish their manhood and find their “humanity through killing.”
When the numbers were small greater care was extended to the dead through burials in marked graves or by embalming and shipping the bodies home. All had a fear of burial far from hearth and home. When the numbers grew corpses were left exposed for days on the battlefield. Long trenches replaced individual graves. More and more the responsibility for burial fell to those who held the ground. Kindness and respect did not rule. Coffinless bodies laid head to heel covered by a foot of earth, not even a blanket for a shroud, bodies that would rise to the surface when the first good rainstorm swept through. One example Gilpin Faust cites regarding callous disregard for the enemy's dead is that of 50 Confederates who were simply thrown down a well.
When the numbers grew there were still instances of comrades locating another’s body and providing it with a decent burial, as well as efforts to return soldiers home. Companies and regiments literally passed the hat seeking to raise funds for that purpose. Pennsylvania was the first government entity to step forward and assume responsibility for its fallen when it offered to pay transportation costs home for its Gettysburg dead. Where governments took a hands off approach embalmers stepped in the meet the desire of grieving families to have their loved ones buried in familiar soil. Offering services such as battlefield recovery and refrigerated coffins their work was often shoddy and fees were suggestive of extortion.
More than forty per cent of the Union and an even greater percentage of the Confederate dead are classified as unknown. Record keeping by the opposing armies was shoddy at best. Chaplains had been assigned the duty of compiling lists of the dead, however fewer than half of the Confederate regiments had one assigned, while forty per cent of Union regiments lacked one. Newspapers filled the void and for many civilians their first notification was from those sources. Both the Christian and Sanitary Commissions later took on the role of notification, identification of burial sites, and requests for information from relatives. By 1864 the U.S. Congress began to recognize it’s obligation to its citizen soldiers and, even though the Act was later abandoned, a new organization was formed for the handling of battle casualties including grave registration. The seeds were planted then that the government had an obligation to record the names and burial sites of those killed. In the Post-Civil War era the government would embark on an enormous project involving reinternment and identification, the forerunner to the current military edict “leave no comrade behind” and its continuing efforts to identify and recover bodies in both Korea and Southeast Asia.
Ninety days turned to a year, a year to two, two to three, and on into a fourth. The icy hand of the God of War north and south of the Mason-Dixon line had touched virtually every family. People sought to make sense of the numbing and the senseless, to find purpose in this wide sweep of death. Who’s side was God on? Both sides claimed God’s beneficence and providence. Carnage and suffering could only be explained by God’s offer of something more beatific in a world after a world. Old interpretations of heaven gave way to new visions of an afterlife, where limbless men became whole again, where an ultimate reunion of family awaited those who believed. Eternal sunshine and pastures of plenty were the promise. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps would author a novel in 1868, The Gates Ajar, that would in its 55 reprints offer this ideal of heaven, a heaven populated by trees, mountains, books, pianos, and fully preserved individuals.
Civil War death needed to be “purposeful.” Those surviving demanded it, or at the least needed it to hold meaning. Lincoln himself dwelt on it, looked to whatever God he embraced and came to the realization that the Almighty was avenging the wrongs of slavery, seeking sacrifice and atonement through the treadmill of slaughter. The people of the South believed they were being subjected to a “profound test of faith,” that redemption could only be achieved through “suffering and sacrifice.”
When surrender came Southerners came to a sad realization that their sacrifices were purposeless. While they flocked to and churches underwent enormous growth in the post-war era it was the theory of the Lost Cause that gave them purpose and provided answers while God remained silent.
The American cemeteries in Normandy and the vast majority of those laid to rest at Arlington and other national cemeteries trace this recognition of a nation grateful for sacrifice to a Federal government that made a monumental and concerted effort after peace was restored in 1865 to identify and rebury its dead. By 1871 303,356 Union soldiers were buried in 74 national cemeteries with, and this in an era preceding dog tags, an astounding 54 per cent identified by name.
Counting the dead gave grasp to the magnitude of the nation’s sorrow. Naming “individualized the dead…The two impulses served opposite yet co-existing needs, marking the paradox inherent in coming to terms with Civil War death.”
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I had been to Walkerton, Virginia twice in my life prior to going on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid tour. Not the part of Walkerton where Ulric Dahlgren breathed his last and where his lifeless body was subjected to all sorts of depredations, but rather the center of the town itself. The Walkerton I had seen was comprised of two intersecting streets, one dead-ending at the other, with a tiny Post Office, tiny library (since closed), gas station, a small clustering of houses, and a “Car and Boat Wash.” I have to admit I had never seen a combo like the “Car and Boat Wash” in my life. Maybe they exist elsewhere in small town America, but I like to think it was peculiar to Walkerton.
The first time there I pulled a Charles Kuralt and did an “On the Road” video interview with one of the locals. I was always struck by his answer to my question. What he liked best about living in the town was sitting on the banks of the Mattaponi and telling his troubles to that river. The river would allow him to unburden himself, like a Priest in a confessional, but instead of giving him a penance of forty Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father's, the water would carry all burdens, cares, and woes away in the slow current.
The Walkerton where Dahlgren died was seemingly miles away from the beating heart of this town of 900 that I knew. Seemingly isolated and forlorn even today, where roads followed the same narrow paths that were carved into the earth by feet, wagons, and horses hundreds of years ago. Even now cars slowed when approaching each other.
We stood by a historical marker and tried to envision night, black night filled with rain, where a hand in front of a face was nearly imperceptible; tried to envision riders fleeing those in pursuit from their rear; tried to envision those same riders as they neared men and boys waiting in ambush. Dahlgren is reported to have sensed the danger and halted his men. A challenge, a counter challenge, a pistol that misfired, then strobe like flashes intermingled with the crackling of muskets and the boom of shotguns, the hiss and whiz of minie balls and buckshot. Four times missles struck Dahlgren true. He was instantly dead, falling from his saddle, the thump of his body against the ground heard only by God, his men unaware he was lying face down in a mud filled ditch. Black night. Black rain.
We hear Bruce Venter tell the story of a thirteen year old boy finding a cigar case with the damning orders, orders that marked Jefferson Davis for assassination, while searching for the object of his desire, a gold watch that was rumored in the possession of all Union officers. The following morning the body is stripped naked, his wooden leg removed, and a finger amputated because it stubbornly refused to surrender a ring once belonging to a deceased sister.
Now Eric Wittenberg speaks, telling the same truth that Vetner believes in, the same story he told me the night before during dinner at a Chipotle, that the papers are genuine. I want to hold onto the belief they’re fake, they’re forgeries, that they’re Confederate excuses for launching their plans to burn New York, Chicago, and disrupt Northern elections. Bruce and Eric point to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, lurking in the background, plotting in secret with Judson Kilpatrick, setting up Ulric Dahlgren like some Lee Harvey Oswald, because he can’t speak from the grave. Bruce and Eric argue there wasn’t enough time for chicanery, that every hand the papers passed through during their travel from Walkerton to Richmond is fully documented, every hour accounted for until their publication in newspapers. My doubts fade grudgingly. But I’m fixed on one very minor detail that neither Bruce nor Eric are able to answer quite to my satisfaction. And that one very minor detail is spelled out on the damning orders as “Dalhgren.”
Friday, March 14, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
One of the surprising facts surrounding the planning of Judson Kilpatrick’s raid on Richmond is the fact that troopers took only three days rations and there was little provision for fresh mounts. Intelligence emanating from Richmond led everyone to surmise the city was lightly defended and the element of surprise being on their side, the Union raiders would be able to enter virtually unmolested, free prisoners at Belle Isle and Libby Prison, and then ride south toward Ambrose Burnside’s position near Ft. Monroe. Hindsight, of course, always makes things perfectly clear, but one can only wonder how Kilpatrick actually thought he was going to pull the raid off.
After leaving Rose Hill under warm and bright skies, weather conditions would deteriorate by the following night, making communication between Kilpatrick’s and Dahlgren’s split columns, which separated just north of Todd’s Tavern, and coordination of their attacks virtually impossible.
Dahlgren’s force of 500 men moved in a southwesterly direction, through towns with names like Bumpass, crossing rivers like the North and South Anna, until reaching the James. Along the way they would loot houses, put estates to the torch, replenish their horses through thievery, and supplement their diets through whatever was available in kitchens and smokehouses. They would also weigh down their horses with booty taken from those same houses.
There’s a common story told of Ulric Dahlgren having Elderberry wine with Sally Sedden, one of the legendary Southern beauties and wife of Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. However, there’s another story told, one that is less cordial and less heart warming, that Dahlgren’s purpose in visiting was his search for Confederate general and former Virginia Governor Henry Wise, who resided in the area. Dahlgren is reported to have announced he was seeking “the man who hung John Brown.” Wise, who was Governor at the time of Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, took flight toward Richmond when word was passed to him that Union cavalry was in the vicinity. It’s interesting to speculate what fate would have awaited Wise had he been captured by Dahlgren.
There’s little doubt Ulric Dahlgren was fully capable of hanging a man without battling his conscience. After securing a local guide to lead his men to a ford allowing safe passage across the James River, Dahlgren ordered the guide hung when the crossing was determined impossible. The accepted explanation is that Dahlgren suspected deceit on the part of the guide, supposedly named Robinson, and sought retribution. What is less accepted is the actual identity of the guide. According to Bruce Venter, our Tour leader, different theories have abounded, including the possibility the guide may have been a ten-year-old boy or may have been a white male disguised by using blackface. There’s also a disagreement over whether the guide’s body was left hanging from a tree. Confederate lore suggests that the body was left dangling to serve as a warning to slaves as to the true nature of Yankee intent, while a soldier in Dahlgren’s party claimed the body was cut down before the last of the troopers passed the tree.
James River crossing
The inability of Dahlgren to successfully negotiate a James River crossing caused a further significant delay in his reaching his objective, the southwest side of Richmond. There’s little doubt, too, that the amount of time spent in Goochland County added to the delay, such that by the time Dahlgren’s exhausted horses and troopers reached the outer defenses a combination of Confederate regulars, militia, and civilians were ready to meet the threat on Three Chopt Road.
Elan and daring while part of Dahlgren’s makeup is questionable when viewing Kilpatrick. When coming against those same the outer defenses situated on the north side of Richmond, Kilpatrick withdrew his force and began making his way south, toward the safety of Burnside’s lines. Dahlgren and his men, on the other hand, kept their part of the bargain and pressed on toward the center of Richmond, meeting increased resistance with each tenth of a mile. Finally turned back, Dahlgren ordered his men to retreat. By this time up in the saddle for nearly the entire three days, plagued by hunger and a freezing rain Dahlgren, too, set his sights on reaching Burnside. He and his ever-shrinking force would urge their mounts into King and Queen County, where fate would await.
A lonely road in Walkerton awaits
Monday, March 10, 2008
[ Read More... ]
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I realized my mistake almost as soon as the bus pulled away from the Hampton Inn in Glen Allen, Virginia and headed out onto Rt. 95 South. I should have brought a tape recorder. The idea of using a video camera to capture Bruce Venter’s running narrative by filming inside the bus or pointing the lens toward the window and shooting tree after tree was not going to work. If I was going to pull a Ken Burns and edit this video into something that half-way resembled the best in amateur documentary video making I was going to need stills. Lots and lots of stills.
Over the next 74 miles, until we reached Rose Hill in Culpepper County we’d learn about Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Ulric Dahlgren, the principal players in this drama we were following.
Kilpatrick was a short guy, an 1861 West Point grad who ranked near the middle of his class, but was chosen as valedictorian, a guy who laid out a career path in his head while still an adolescent, envisioning himself as a Senator from New Jersey, before a term or two in the White House. But before heading to Washington there was glory to be gained on the battlefield. Political connections led to a captaincy in the 5th New York Infantry, better known as Durfee’s Zouaves. After being wounded in the left thigh at Big Bethel in June 1861, Kilpatrick took his love of fast horses to another track, again using political connections to wrangle a commission as Lieut. Colonel in the 2nd New York Cavalry in August 1861. Four months later he’d command the Regiment following the discharge of J. Mansfield Davies.
Now a rising star, Kilpatrick would command a brigade during Stoneman’s Raid in May 1863, in which portions of the Virginia Central railroad lines were torn up and telegraph communications cut. The following month Kilpatrick was at the head of a charge at Brandy Station, an action that resulted in his promotion to Brigadier General and command of the 3rd Division of Cavalry. While criticism was leveled for reckless disregard during the Gettysburg campaign, he seemingly redeemed himself during the Bristoe Campaign before the Army of the Potomac went into winter quarters following the fiasco at Mine Run.
Ulric Dahlgren was the proverbial blue-eyed child of fortune. Son of Admiral John Dahlgren, he used his father’s friendship with Abraham Lincoln to cultivate his own, using that relationship to gain easy access to the White House on numerous occasions. After studying engineering, including a stint surveying land in Mississippi, and later law in Philadelphia, Dahlgren, at age 20, was appointed as an aide-de-camp to Gen. Franz Siegel in May 1862 and subsequently served on the staffs of Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade.
From the outset his reputation as a cool, courageous, and daring officer only grew with each passing engagement, including actions at Harper’s Ferry, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and in the Gettysburg campaign. During a firefight near Hagerstown, Maryland on July 6, 1863 he received a wound that would cost him his left leg and nearly his life. It’s more than probable that his standing so near death’s door led to his promotion to Colonel. Dahlgren would be incapacitated for more than five months before orders were given for him to report to Judson Kilpatrick’s command. Whether he pulled the strings or his father used his influence, Dahlgren knew something dramatic and daring was afoot with Kilpatrick and, in spite of the fact that he was hobbled by a wooden prosthesis, he wanted to be in on the action.
The conversation between Lincoln and Kilpatrick was never recorded, but no one doubts they discussed Kilpatrick’s plan to launch a cavalry raid against Richmond in an attempt to free Union prisoners being held at Libby Prison and Belle Isle. In the face of growing horror stories over the treatment of officers and enlisted men and solid information from spies in the Confederate capitol that both were to be relocated further south, Lincoln gave his blessing to Kilpatrick, supposedly without consulting either George Meade or Major General Alfred Pleasanton, then commanding the Union Cavalry. Both would later plead ignorance to Kilpatrick’s plan, tacit denials that allowed both their reputations to remain intact.
The tour made its first stop at Rose Hill, requisitioned as Kilpatrick’s headquarters during the 1863-64 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, an area that stretched approximately 16 miles east to west and ten miles north to south. George Armstrong Custer was headquartered at Clover Hill, about four hundred yards to the east of Kilpatrick. Union soldiers occupied three floors of the Rose Hill house, while the family who owned the property at the time was relegated to two rooms in the basement. Legend has it that Kilpatrick rode his horse through the front hallway, but the current owners say they found no evidence of horseshoe marks when they began a restoration of the property. An interesting side note to the house is the existence of graffiti, including the markings of one Ohio soldier, in the still untouched attic.
It was from Rose Hill on February 28, 1864 that Kilpatrick’s raiders would place boot in stirrup and begin their ride into eternal Confederate damnation.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Talk about your basic lollygagging around. My last post, written in the early afternoon on Thursday, February 28th, indicated I’d be on my way to Richmond shortly afterward. Three and a half-hours later, after completing a bunch of last minutes errands I finally had my car headed in the right direction and scooted down Rt. 301. I’m a big fan of Rt. 301, or back roads in general, except when in a hurry. Of course I didn’t realize I was in a hurry until later, when I looked at the car’s navigation system, saw it was 7 p.m., and that I was over 50 miles from my destination. 50 miles from checking into the hotel. 50 miles from an 8 p.m. orientation meeting for the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid tour participants. Damn for getting the car washed and vacuuming the interior. Damn for stopping at a McDonald’s in King George’s County, Virginia. That’s when I changed course, got onto Rt. 95 and purposely exceeded the speed limit. You have to understand, I hate missing the opening to a movie. I’m getting ahead of myself a little, but the other tour members probably wouldn’t have guessed that about me, as I was the very last one to board the bus on Friday morning, the first day of our tour. Thirty seconds after I had taken a seat, Jesse, our driver, simultaneously closed the door and tromped the accelerator, all in one smooth motion.
I had my speech all prepared, but never did see flashing lights in my rear view mirror. I don’t think Virginia State Troopers would have bought my spiel about being on a mission to warn the citizens of Richmond of an impending Union cavalry raid. I suppose if I had tried to use that one I would have been ordered out of the car to take a roadside sobriety test. As it was I made it to the hotel at about twenty to eight, checked in, and was in the meeting room about ten minutes early.
You’re doing what? I had the recent experience of mentioning William Tecumseh Sherman to a twenty-something co-worker. They had a blank look on their face. Hint: Civil War General. The facial expression didn’t change. Hint, hint: marched through Georgia. The burning of Atlanta. A shake of the head sideways. So why not similar blank expressions when the names Judson Kilpatrick or Ulric Dahlgren and their 1864 cavalry raid on Richmond were mentioned to other co-workers. Not that I was an expert on Kilpatrick or Dahlgren’s exploits prior to the February 29th and March 1st tour sponsored by the Civil War Education Association. I had read one lone magazine article prior to finding out about the tour; the single worst article ever written on the raid, or so I was told later. But before the tour dates rolled around I rounded out my knowledge by reading Duane Schutz’ "The Dahlgren Affair " and Chapter Eleven of Eric Wittenberg’s soon to be published biography of Ulric Dahlgren. If time had allowed I would have also gotten to "Eight Hours Before Richmond" by Virgil Carrington Jones, which now is sitting on a bookshelf, and Chapter Twelve from Eric’s book.
Perhaps if the tour had been longer I would have gotten to know all twenty tour participants. I’m always intrigued by what pulls people into lectures, battlefield visits, and something that, on the surface of things, seems positively strange, i.e. spending two days on a bus rolling through the Virginia countryside visiting obscure places like Beaver Dam Station, all in an effort to see first hand the route followed by Union cavalry raiders that would have been all but a footnote in history but for a certain set of papers. As it was there were six Virginians, seven from the D.C. area, three New Yorkers, and single representatives from West Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. Paula, who drove eight hours from her home in Anderson, South Carolina and who I spent most of my time talking to, as we were both situated furthest to back of the bus, covered the greatest distance in getting to Richmond.
You don’t shell out money or devote time to a tour like this unless you’re seriously interested in the Civil War. That became clear when introductions were made. To a person everyone in attendance had an interest in the Civil War way beyond the norm. We had Lincoln aficionados, an expert on John Mosby, a distant relation to Douglas Southall Freeman, authors like Eric Wittenberg, leaders of other tour groups, and Dr. Bruce Venter, our tour leader and transplanted New Yorker who now resides in Virginia and is considered the preeminent authority on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. And, oh yeah, me; awestruck to be in such company.
A few days before I left I had posted a two-part blog on Wat Bowie. My ears immediately perked up when Horace Mewborn introduced himself and Bruce Venter pronounced Horace as the leading expert on John Mosby. When the opportunity presented at the conclusion of the meeting I immediately pounced and asked Horace if he was familiar with Wat. Ten hours later…I’m joking of course, but it always astonishes me how people can pull facts off the top of their head and speak with authority about a subject. I told this to Horace at the end of our trip and was encouraged by his counsel, that I probably had a Civil War specialty whereby I could equally astonish him with facts. That would certainly hold true in the case of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry so perhaps I’m not quite the neophyte I make myself out to be.
The tour participants scattered after the meeting and I was left alone to dwell on the pending tour, which will be the subject of the next post or posts. But it would probably serve everyone well if I gave a very brief summary on what occurred 144 years ago.
The Union had tried on at least one previous occasion to launch a cavalry raid on Richmond with the intent of freeing Prisoners of War held in and around the Confederate capitol. With rumors swirling that those prisoners were to be shipped further south, Judson Kilpatrick, 3rd Division Cavalry commander in the Army of the Potomac, was summoned to the White House to confer with Abraham Lincoln. That Kilpatrick was singled out to lead a new raid was due not only to his reputed daring and political connections, but he had developed a concrete plan aimed at freeing those captives. An equally daring and politically connected Ulric Dahlgren was assigned to Kilpatrick’s command and placed in charge of 500 troopers who would attack Richmond from the west
Leaving his headquarters at Rose Hill in Culpepper County with 3,500 cavalry drawn from 17 to 18 different regiments, Kilpatrick and his men rode as a unified force until reaching Mt. Pleasant, about 40 miles distance, where they split into two columns, with Dahlgren, as previously mentioned, siphoning off 500 men. The two forces, by maintaining a quick pace were then to launch coordinated attacks upon Richmond, with Kilpatrick serving as a diversionary force to allow Dahlgren to slip into the city.
Bad weather, bad luck, an inability to communicate with one another, and Dahlgren’s own seeming lack of immediacy, indicated by his apparent dawdling in Goochland County, all contributed to a failed attack. Increasingly the inability to maintain secrecy alerted Confederate cavalry and troops and Homeland guards to the raiders presence. Kilpatrick was rebuffed and elected not to further challenge Confederate defenses, while Dahlgren’s men, who actually breeched the outer defenses of the city, met stiffer resistance and were finally forced into retreat. Dahlgren’s column became increasingly reduced in number through pursuit and ambush but made its way to King and Queen County, where it engaged in one final firefight that led to the death of 22-year-old Ulric. That night a 13-year-old boy seeking souvenirs rifled through Dahlgren’s possessions, taking a gold watch and cigar case. The contents of that cigar case would set off a controversy that still rages to this day, whether the case contained papers authorizing the assassination of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.