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This is the archive for August 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unlike one blogger who felt it was time to "move on" after Walmart received the green light to locate a store close by the Wilderness battlefield, I'm not ready to "move on" and have just two words to say: Boycott Walmart!!

Urge family members, friends, and co-workers to: Boycott Walmart!

I have another three words to say: Write a letter

Send a letter to Walmart Corporate Headquarters letting them know of your intention to Boycott Walmart. Urge family members, friends, and co-workers to write letters to Walmart.

It's not just an issue of encroachment on the Wilderness Battlefield, it's their entire business model we should be alarmed by. Not only are they ruthless in dealing with their competition and driving local businesses to closure, while engaging in unfair labor practices, they're supremely exploitive on a global basis.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville, AR 72716

When the "Wilderness Walmart" opens, this could be some of what Orange County, Virginia tax payers have to look forward to in the future. Click on this link.

Did you ever wonder why only senior citizens were employed as "Greeters" at Walmart stores?

At one time in its history, unbeknownst to virtually everyone but Walmart executives, the company took out a $10,000 life insurance policy on every one its employeees. The beneficiary? Walmart, Inc. This is not some urban myth, but a true fact and, if memory serves me correctly, Walmart was ordered to cease and desist from continuing this practice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Of the more than 320,000 Union soldiers who died during the Civil War only an estimated 20,000 were embalmed and had their remains sent back home to their loved ones. The rest were buried close to where they died, either on the battlefield, or in cemeteries located in proximity to hospitals. The cost of embalming and transporting a body back home was borne exclusively by the family, or through the occasional generosity of comrades, but the sad reality then was that it was, practically speaking, a financial burden most could not bear.

In researching the 18th Massachusetts, we've found a few examples of family members or friends traveling to battlefields or hospitals to bring bodies home, or comrades accompanying the bodies home on trains. Most of these retrievals, however, occurred early in the war, when casualties, or deaths from disease, were still relatively low in comparison as to what would come later. Martin Scorsese's vision of rows of wooden caskets running the length of a New York City dock in "Gangs of New York" spoke more of Viet Nam then it ever did of the Civil War.

The question of whether family members were ever able to visit cemeteries so distant from their homes, such as Arlington, the Military Asylum in D.C., Andersonville, or countless others, has always nipped at my heels whenever I've walked among the rows of graves at those hallowed places. I don't have the answer and I suppose that nobody else does. I'd like to believe that widows and children and parents and siblings laid flowers on those graves, but the sad reality was that in all probability, and practically speaking, it was a financial burden most could not bear.

There are two men, among others from the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, who lie buried at the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington, Cyrus Hall and Peleg Benson. Hall died of Typhoid Fever at Carver Hospital in Washington on October 19, 1862 and was buried in Section G, Grave No. 5372, leaving a widow Armenia and five children, Armenia, Albert, Cyrus, Rufus, and Edward, who ranged in age from 10 months to 12 years. Benson, who was 28 when he died of disease at Washington on Nov. 17, 1862 and was buried in Section F, Grave No. 1490, was survived by his parents Asa and Sally.

Both men have this in common: they were Shoemakers from Middleboro, Massachusetts and they have monuments at the Rock Cemetery located in that town. They were loved by their families, who each had a stone cutter carve a name into granite, giving each family a place to mourn and a place to leave their flowers.

Cyrus Hall's grave - Military Asylum Cemetery

Cyrus Hall's grave - Rock Cemetery, Middleboro, MA

Peleg Benson's grave - Military Asylum Cemetery

Peleg Benson's grave - Rock Cemetery, Middleboro, MA

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I spent four days in Massachusetts and Rhode Island last week "chasing the dead" of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry. Actually there's a lot more to the story than that, the larger part of which involved a certain book located at the Middleboro, Mass. Town Hall. There'll be more on that later. In the meantime I thought I'd leave you with these pictures of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' incredible tribute to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Note from Donald: As I'll be on a one week vacation (the first time in three years I'll have been away from work for more than two consecutive days) I thought I'd re-run some of my favorite posts.

Note: this post originally ran on April 20, 2007. No explanation as to why I like it, I just do.

I'm half-way through my latest commuting book, Scott Nelson and Carol Sheriff's "A People's War; Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877." I'm having a love-hate relationship with the book, because, at times, it reads like a textbook from American History 101, and then the authors redeem themselves by absolutely drawing me back in their writing and subject matter. This is not meant to be a review of the book, that may come later. I did, however, want to share this little bit of trivia, which I found to be totally fascinating.

Gail Borden, Gilbert C. Van Camp, Philip Armour, and Gustavus Swift all got their start in the food industry by securing government contracts to provide items such as dressed pork and beef, evaporated milk, canned pork and beans, sausage, bologna, and a wide variety of canned fruits and vegetables to Union troops. Not only were their fortunes built on the idea of improving the gastronomic habits of soldiers, but all four companies survive today, although Van Camp, Armour, and Swift are all subsidiaries of ConAgra Foods, which also markets such items as Banquet, Chef boyar Dee, Pam, Marie Callendar, Peter Pan peanut butter, Healthy Choice, and Egg Beaters. Think food isn't big business, think again. ConAgra's net profit last year was $533 million. Borden, Inc., which produces a wide variety of products, including everybody's favorite household glue, had 1.10 billion in sales in 2006.

Still on the subject of food, the latest acquisition of 18th Massachusetts Infantry memorabilia arrived in the mail Tuesday. That item was the menu from the 18th Massachusetts Regimental Association Annual Dinner, held at Boston on Wednesday, August 26, 1891.

The menu featured Mock Turtle or Consommé Macaroni soup, followed by a course of Boiled Halibut with Hollandaise sauce. These guys knew how to eat, because I haven't gotten to the entrees yet.

The next items on the menu were Removes, featuring a choice of Roast Loin of Beef, Roast Chicken, or Boiled Leg of Mutton. Ok, I can see you're starting to loosen your belt a little. But remember, these guys were making up for the deprivation and lousy food they were subjected to while in the Army, even years later, so bring on the entrees! Lobster Croquettes, Potted Pigeons a la jardinière, Baked Spaghetti, Apple Fritters, and Chicken Salad. Now you're really getting stuffed, but here come the waiters with the Sweets: Charlotte Russe with Roman Cream and Fancy Cake with Wine Jelly. And just when you think you can't eat another bite, the dessert tray passes in front of your face, piled with bananas, peaches, plums, sherbert, and ice cream. And coffee! I can envision everyone leaning back in their chairs after the meal, pulling out cigars, lighting them, and saying, Ah! Life is good.

If the 30th anniversary dinner schedule embraced the same format as that of the 41st held in Norwell, then what followed dinner was conducted on a more serious note. It was a time spent in reflection on events that had happened three decades before, when all those in attendance answered to the long roll and long marches. The places where they fought would have been called out: Yorktown, Second Bull Run, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, The Wilderness, Bethesda Church, and Petersburg, among others. They would have recalled comrades who had fallen on the battlefield, died in prisons in the South, or of disease in the regimental and other hospitals sprinkled throughout the North. They would have mourned the names of those who lay in marked or unmarked graves. And they would have remembered the comrades who had died in the preceding year. Harvey Hayford in Norwood of Bright's Disease; John Hughes in Taunton; Thomas Linehand at the National Soldier's Home in Togus, ME; Lemuel Pratt in East Bridgewater; Daniel Sales of paralysis in Fall River; Henry Shurtleff at Carver; Alexander Woodward of Consumption at Taunton; heart disease taking George Groves at Gilkey, Arkansas, Albert Jordan at Franklin, Edward Luther at Fall River, and Stephen Ryder at Middleboro. Consumption would have claimed James McKenney at Taunton, while Charles Wallis died at Chihuahua, Mexico due to chronic kidney disease. All a sobering reminder that after thirty years the number of veterans was shrinking and mortality was closer to claiming each of them as his own.

A moment of silence would have then prevailed, at which time all in attendance would have risen to their feet. They would have not needed a songbook, for all would have known the words written by General John H. Martindale that had been set to music by Charles Swett of the 18th Massachusetts Regimental Band. They would have sung it loudly, with tears welling in their eyes and pride swelling in their hearts.

When the battle's music greets our ear,
Our guns are sighted at the foe,
Then nerve the hand, and banish fear
And comrades, touch the elbow

Touch the elbow, comrades elbow
Elbow comrades, touch the elbow
Never the hand, banish fear
Comrades, touch the elbow

Thursday, August 20, 2009

As I'll be on a one week vacation (the first time in three years I'll have been away from work for more than two consecutive days) I thought I'd re-run some of my favorite posts.

Note: this post originally ran on February 20, 2009 and is based on a series of stories that appeared in The Washington Star from June 17th to June 20th, 1864.

Death On The Homefront - Part Two

For three years Washington had been a depot for wounded soldiers arriving by train, wagon, ambulance, and boat. Whereas crowds had gathered earlier in the war upon the arrival of casualties from battlefields, the city had become progressively inured to the masses of torn and mutilated bodies brought for medical attention. The once eager helping hands of civilians no longer assisted in the unloading of those battered by shell, shot, and minie balls. Instead, the wounded and dying were processed in seeming isolation, while hospitals, once occupying virtually every church and public building, had been relocated to the outskirts of the city. Amputees, with their empty sleeves or trouser legs, wandering through the city no longer drew notice. These unfortunates were as common to the downtown streets as newsboys hawking the latest edition of a paper. Too, after three years there was a feeling of security. After numerous alarms in years past the city was under no immediate threat. Grant was in motion with his massive army slugging his way closer to Richmond. Jubal Early and his marauding butternuts were still a month away from their approach down the Seventh Street road, while theaters, restaurants, shops, hotels, pickpockets, muggers, and whores were all doing a landmark business.

The explosion at the Washington Arsenal had done more than shake the main laboratory building. The city had quite literally been stunned. In a place overrun by government clerks and regiments drawn from the local populace consigned to nearby guard and picket duty, the fire had claimed nineteen women who lived with their working class families in working class neighborhoods on the Island, on Capitol Hill, in the Northern Liberties. Whole families had been touched by the flames even if those flames hadn’t licked at their skin. Neighbors and friends had been touched by the flames even if those flames hadn’t melted the metal hoops of their dresses. For those who had escaped and were wrapped in the arms of loved ones, guilt singed their hearts for the sin of having survived.

Edward Stanton, cold, calculating, intolerant, and feared, directed that “the funeral and all the expenses incident to the internment of the sufferers by the recent catastrophe at the Arsenal will be paid by the [War] Department. You will not spare any means to express the respect and sympathy of the Government for the deceased and their surviving friends.”

A committee of workers from the Arsenal chose neatly stained poplar wood for the construction of the coffins, which were “lined with muslim and trimmed with white satin and ginap.” All metal, including the handles screws, and tacks were silver-mounted, while the coffin-plates were silver plated. An appropriate site at the Congressional Burying Ground was arranged and James King, John Stahl, and G. Collison were in charge of procuring hearses, appointing pall-bearers, and conducting the funeral procession.

The funeral was scheduled on the Arsenal grounds for three o’clock in the afternoon on June 19th, two days after the fire. A crowd had begun forming by noon and by two o’clock more than a thousand people were concentrated outside the gates. By 2:30, when the gates finally swung open, the number had tripled and the stampede through the comparatively narrow opening resulted in injuries to more than a few. Several divisions of the Sons of Temperance and a band affiliated with Finley Hospital also made their appearance on the grounds.

Rising fifteen to twenty feet above the ground, a canopied platform draped with the American flag and symbols of mourning supported fifteen coffins. Eight bore a label with the word “unknown,” while seven, lined side by side bore the names of Annie Bache, Julia McCuin, Mrs. Collins, Elizabeth Branagan, Lizzie Brahler, Eliza Lacey, and Maggie Yonson. Each was adorned with bouquets and wreaths made from white lilies and roses, a tribute from their female co-workers.

A contingent of Veteran Reserves struggled to hold back the crowd, which tried to press closer to the platform, even as relatives of the deceased were brought onto the platform. Sobs wracked the stage as family members looked for their loved ones. Emily Bache’s family clutched at her coffin, demanding it be opened, while the sister of Melissa Adams, one of the unknown, conducted a futile search and collapsed in a dead faint.

The crowd finally lapsed into a respectful silence when Father Bokel of St. Dominic’s began reciting the Catholic burial service, sprinkling holy water on the caskets. Though earnest and feeling in his remarks, he imparted this lesson to those who looked on: “Those before them, though dead, speak to us in words of warning, that we too must die, and we know not the hour or circumstances in which the Almighty may summon us to appear before him.”

The Reverend S.V. Leech, a Methodist Episcopal minister who followed tried to console family members. “It would have been consoling, indeed, if the father and the mother could have stood by the side of the daughter and bade her adieu; but we have this consolation, that those who believed in Christ were not harmed by death, and scarcely felt the touch of fire before they were hastened to a blissful immortality…”

The police opened a passage through the crowd and the coffins were borne in line to waiting hearses and ambulances. The procession moved out through the north gate at 4 o’clock, led by the Finley Hospital band and followed in order by the Sons of Temperance, various ladies auxilleries of which Susie Harris, Bettie Branagan, and Eliza Lacey had been members, officiating clergymen, the hearses and ambulances, President Lincoln and Edward Stanton riding in a carriage as chief mourners, officers of the Washington Arsenal, relatives and friends of the deceased, and employees from the different Arsenal workshops. Forming behind were 150 hacks, other vehicles, a large procession of horses, and finally pedestrians, the whole of which stretched for miles and took about thirty-five minutes to pass one point. Moving up 4 ½ Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, the procession met a similar party assembled for Catherine McElfresh at F Street and the two combined in their slow march toward Congressional Cemetery.

As the funeral procession made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue the crowd grew and suddenly hundreds jumped from the sidewalks to the front of the line, calculating that the move would give them a vantage point at the cemetery. Unbeknownst to them the cemetery had been jammed with spectators for more than three hours.

Two large pits, each measuring six feet long, fifteen feet wide and five and a half feet deep, yawned open in the earth. Eight of the coffins were laid in one, six in the other; Catherine McElfresh’s coffin having been placed in a grave near her father and Annie Bache’s in a vault. Police had to restore order to a pushing, shoving, and clothes tearing mob before families members could be led to the gravesite, where the Reverend Leach officiated. With the repetition of the words “Farewell Sisters, Farewell,” and a final benediction, the crowd finally dispersed.

Three miles away four other funerals were taking place, those of Kate Horan, Johannah Connor, Bridget Dunn, and Catherine Hull, whose own service had taken place at the home of an uncle John King, who resided at the corner of K and Fifth Street Northeast. All were led in smaller separate processions, the largest of which encompassed twenty carriages, to Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery, the eventual resting place for Mary Surratt and Henry Wirz, former commandant of prisoners at Andersonville.

One year later a memorial would rise above Congressional Cemetery in remembrance of a city's lost daughters.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Note from Donald: As I'll be on a one week vacation (the first time in three years I'll have been away from work for more than two consecutive days) I thought I'd re-run some of my favorite posts.

Note: this post originally ran on February 19, 2009 and is based on a series of stories that appeared in the pages of The Washington Star from June 17th to June 20th, 1864.

Death On The Homefront - Part One

Sometime between eight and nine a.m.. on June 17, 1864, Thomas Brown, a pyrotechnist at the Washington Arsenal, laid out three copper trays filled with star shaped fireworks in the sun to dry. The fireworks were from a recipe of Brown’s own composition and considered by him less combustible than others which had been manufactured. It was routine for fireworks to be dried in the sun, even in August when the broiling Washington heat reached its apex, and as Brown would later state, there was little concern they would ignite.

Inside the Arsenal 108 young women were at work in four rooms of the one story main laboratory making both cartridges for small arms and fireworks. They all worked silently, as talking or laughter could result in dismissal. 29 of the women housed together were engaged in “choking” cartridges, a process by which they attached the ball by a machine, which, in turn, fastened the cartridge to the ball. The work conducted in the other three rooms included making boxes and cylinders, or cases.

No one was absolutely certain as to what happened, however a juror’s inquest fingered Thomas Brown’s negligence as the contributing cause to an explosion that ripped through the cartridge choking room at ten minutes to twelve. It was believed that the star fireworks, which had been drying approximately thirty feet from the main laboratory, had ignited and a burning fuse had flown through an open window causing the cartridges to explode, setting off a raging inferno. Witness accounts said the explosion sounded muffled and there was little initial damage to the brick structure, although the roof of the building reportedly lifted a foot into the air.

Panic immediately set in as some women were instantly engulfed in flames. Many made for windows and doors and more were set on fire when their own clothing came in contact with those already consumed. A Mrs. Scott stated at the time of the initial explosion she was buried under a dozen bodies, but managed to extricate herself and escape from the building with a severe burn to one leg. Others who leapt from windows in total flames were not as fortunate. In many cases hoop skirts acted as a chimney and rapidly funneled the flames upward toward the head. One woman who dove through a window was immediately grabbed by an onlooker who ran with her to the river, where both plunged into the water. Three others had their clothing ripped off by quick thinking bystanders, an action that ultimately saved their lives.

The response to the emergency was swift as eight fire companies raced to the scene and battled the fire with their hoses. Of importance was containing the blaze to prevent its spread to the barge magazine, where several tons of powder was stored. Even with their efforts a secondary explosion rocked the cartridge choking room sending debris into the air.

News of the explosion and fire spread as rapidly as the flames. A telegram had been sent to Edward Stanton at the War Department advising of the catastrophe, pleading for doctors to be sent to aid the injured. Stanton and General Henry W. Halleck rushed to the scene as did countless relatives frantically searching for family members, the crowd growing so large that a contingent of the Veteran Reserve Corps had to be called in to help control the growing number of seekers and onlookers. Thirteen of the workers, most badly burnt, had made their way to a tug docked nearby, and were ferried to the Sixth street wharf where they were then taken to friends and family. They were among the fortunate, as were Sallie McElfresh, Catherine Goldsmith, and Ada Webster, all severely burnt about the hands, arms, and face, and Julia Mahoney, badly injured while jumping from a window. Kate Plummer was hurt when a piece of iron plunged into her neck when she jumped through a window, while a Miss Kidwell, who was later found to have scraps of lead melted into her body whispered to friends “When I saw the blaze, I threw my hands over my face, and saved my eyes.”

When the fire was finally brought under control, the grim task of searching the shell of the remaining structure began in earnest. In total, 17 bodies were discovered. Those who walked through the ruin eyed a grisly scene beyond imagination. “In nearly every case only the trunk of the body remained, the arms and legs being missing or detached.”

Johanna Connor and Margaret Horan were identified by relatives who recognized small portions of their clothing that had not been consumed by flames. The list of the dead continued with Maggie Yonson and Ellen Roche, neither of whose bodies were recognizable, Elizabeth Branegan, who resided on E street south, between 4 ½ and 6th, Julia McCuin a resident of 4 ½ Street, Bridget Dunn of Capitol Hill, and Lizzie Brohler and Eliza Lacy, neighbors of Elizabeth Branegan. Rebecca Hull and Sallie McElfresh were among those taken to hospitals for treatment, but failed to pull through. One of the more tragic stories was that of Melissa Adams, the third child in a motherless family to die in an accident, one brother having accidentally shot himself during a hunting trip, while another had been killed when run over by a carriage.

The Washington Arsenal explosion occurred on the same day a lesser fire broke out at the Watervilett Arsenal near Albany, NY, one that the New York Times declared was “comparatively trifling” in terms of property loss. Both paled in comparison, however, to a fire which had claimed 78 worker lives at the Allegheny, Pennsylvania Arsenal on September 17, 1862. That tragic event had been reduced in its importance and neglected by newspapers, which instead chose to focus on the battle of Antietam.

In Washington the search for answers was quick in coming. A Coroner’s Inquest began the following day , the jury listening to testimony from Thomas Brown, Major James Benton, commandant of the Arsenal, Henry Soufferie, an Arsenal employee, Andrew Cox, an assistant to Brown, Edward Stebbins, the paymaster, Clinton Thomas, who worked in the gun carriage shop, and Charles S. Curtain, the brother-in-law of victim Johanna Connor. Conspicuous by their absence as witnesses were female employees at the Arsenal.

All fault and blame rested on Brown according to the jury. Brown, who had worked at the Arsenal for over twenty years, and by all accounts a competent and diligent employee,“was guilty of the most culpable carelessness and negligence in placing highly combustible substances so near a building filled with humans.”

Tomorrow: the funerals

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Note from Donald: As I'll be on a one week vacation (the first time in three years I'll have been away from work for more than two consecutive days) I thought I'd re-run some of my favorite posts.

Note: this post originally ran on March 6, 2009. There are only two places where this event is mentioned, a single paragraph in "Charge!" the history of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry and two short sentences in the history of the 13th Michigan Infantry. Neither Charles Francis Adams, Jr.'s autobiography nor a thesis on the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry by a Boston College graduate student make mention of the Sutherland affair.

Sutherland - Part Two

While the 5th Massachusetts encamped, the Third Brigade swept through Burkeville, fifteen miles from Farmville, reaching Nottoway nine miles further on. By the 21st they were at Wilson’s Station, and finally on the 22nd, eight days after leaving Appomattox, within easy reach of Sutherland. One day beyond Sutherland lay the city of trenches and bombproofs that had shielded them for ten months from everything Petersburg had to throw at them, except snipers. Beyond that, after four long years for some, Richmond, and beyond that, a mere hundred miles away, the dome atop the Capitol building. Beyond that home, and children never seen before, wives who had gone without an embrace, fathers and mothers who had grayed, and younger siblings who had grown more than a foot taller in their absence. Those thoughts buoyed their every step through the Virginia countryside.

On Sunday the 23rd, dirty, dissheveled, and stomachs growling, the Third Brigade stacked arms at Sutherland Station. Men of the 118th Pennsylvania took quick note of the 5th Massachusetts camped in their front. They were put off by the cleanliness of the cavalry uniforms and the perception, real or imagined, that they were being looked down upon by black men. Some of Philadelphia’s best immediately began itching for a fight and looking for an excuse headed for the tent of the 5th’s sutler. None had money to pay for what they wanted, they simply began taking it and were joined by more comrades in the taking. Three of the 5th, assigned to guard duty, ordered the 118th to back off. That demand only drew more of a crowd, until the corporal of the guard, “a big black fellow, wishing to magnify his office, came up and undertook to arrest our men for disobeying orders.”

Sergeant Charles Brightmeyer of the 118th threw the first punch, knocking the corporal to the ground, and then all hell broke loose. Knives sliced through ropes holding up the sutler’s tent and a rush began for boxes of canned peaches, canned tomatoes, sardines, tobacco, cheese, and every other item that someone could pick up and run with. Soldiers from the 20th Maine and 1st Michigan joined in the pillaging. While a distraught sutler looked on, buglers could be heard in the distance sounding “Boots and Saddles.”

Officers from the 5th Massachusetts, brandishing swords and intent on making arrests, were immediately set upon and became participants in an all out brawl. Swords went flying into the air, while tassled hats were kicked around like balls. Samuel Chamberlain, acting Colonel of the 5th in place of Charles Adams, raced to the scene on his horse, the rest of his command in close pursuit. Fists froze in mid-punch. Chamberlain demanded officers from the three white regiments arrest those responsible and hold them strictly accountable, threatening to take action himself if his demands weren’t met. The troopers, under Chamberlain's direction, formed a line in front of the sutler's tent, ready to spur their horses forward if signaled to do so. There was no mistaking the now steeled expressions and open contempt that registered in the eyes of white men who looked at black men led by white men. An unidentified Third Brigade colonel ordered them to fix bayonets, six to eight of which were then thrust into the chest, belly, and flank of Chamberlain’s horse.

Major General Alfred L. Pearson, commanding the Third Brigade, finally arrived on the scene to restore order. Chamberlain launched an immediate protest and looked for justice, not only for his men, but his horse that was later destroyed due to its wounds. Pearson quickly sized up the situation and ordered Chamberlain to withdraw his men, cautioning the Colonel that unless he complied some of them were certain to be killed.

A month later, on May 23rd, the Third Brigade stepped out into the line of march and proudly paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue with the rest of the Fifth Corps and the triumphant Army of the Potomac, in lock step, arms swinging upward, eyes right when they passed the reviewing stand, the cheers of the crowd deafening in their ears.

The Fifth Massachusetts moved from Sutherland to City Point, where on June 16th they loaded their horses onto trains to begin a 1200 mile journey to Clarksville, Texas. They would stand vigil along the Mexican border until mustered out of service on October 31, 1865.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Note from Donald: As I'll be on a one week vacation (the first time in three years I'll have been away from work for more than two consecutive days) I thought I'd re-run some of my favorite posts.

Note: this post ran on March 5, 2009. There are only two places where this event is mentioned, a single paragraph in "Charge!" the history of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry and two short sentences in the history of the 13th Michigan Infantry. Neither Charles Francis Adams, Jr.'s autobiography nor a thesis on the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry by a Boston College graduate student make mention of the Sutherland affair.

Sutherland - Part One

On April 23, 1865 in a small town twelve miles west of Petersburg, VA, disparate cymbals crashed against one another, part of a symphony orchestrated by bigotry and hunger and a demand for respect. It was a clash in which two opponents forgot they were part of a common cause, part of a fraternity of triumphant soldiers, and were each ready to draw the blood of comrades in blue.

For two days following the Confederate surrender of arms at Appomattox, regiments of the Third Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps had drawn the unenviable task of collecting weapons, munitions, and stores left behind in the Rebel camps. According to John Smith, historian for the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry, “whole battalions had stacked their arms and left for home, taking no part in the surrender, not even signing their parole.” It was also a task performed on nearly empty stomachs, as rations had been exhausted. Railroad bridges had been destroyed preventing supply trains from reaching the area, while road conditions kept wagons from moving. Foraging parties were sent out, but pickings were slim. Beef was scarce and what little was found was “poor and tough.” Some scavengers picked the ground for corn that had been fed to horses and mules and, according to Smith, ate it “with great relish.”

Eleven days earlier and 90 miles to the east, one thousand Black troopers of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry had followed Col. Charles Francis Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams, into Richmond. Lt. Edward J. Bartlett would write home “Today, is the most glorious in the history both of the country and our regiment.” Fannie Walker, a Richmond native, would react with “horror” at the sight of the “Negro” cavalrymen singing “John Brown’s Body” in the streets of the fallen Confederate capitol.

The Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry had been mustered into service over a three-month period, from January to May 1864. Twenty-one of its white officer cadre was drawn from the 1st and 2nd Mass. cavalries, three from the ranks of the 44th Mass. Infantry, while 12 had no prior military experience. The enlisted ranks were overwhelmingly filled by free blacks hailing primarily from Massachusetts cities and towns, including Boston, Framingham, Rehobeth, Amherst, Springfield, Marshfield, Waltham, Roxbury, Duxbury, Provincetown, Dorchester, and Middleboro. The barbers, laborers, waiters, farmers, sailors, painters, and blacksmiths from the Old Bay State were joined by enlistees from such distant locales as Pittsburgh, Raritan and Jersey City, New Jersey, New Orleans, Newbern, Goldsboro and Plymouth, North Carolina, St. John’s in New Brunswick, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania, Frankfort and Logan County, Kentucky, Wellsville and Cincinnati, Ohio, Chicago, Batavia and Elmira, New York, South Kingston and Providence, Rhode Island, the West Indies, and Valparaiso, Chile.

Assigned to the 18th Corps in the Army of the James, they had initially performed picket and reconnaissance duty and then became part of the general troop movement toward Richmond in June. The regiment had been engaged at the battle of Baylor’s Farm, where three of its members were killed and another eighteen wounded. They would not be allowed to further their combat record, however. In late June the regiment was reassigned to supplement companies drawn from the Veterans Reserve Corps and stand guard over Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, the largest of all Northern POW camps. There were reports of rough treatment of prisoners by members of the 5th and after five prisoners were shot dead in three separate incidents, including two for supposedly talking in their tent after dark, James Barnes, commanding the military district of St. Mary’s came down hard and warned the regiment that unwarranted or unjustified discharge of weapons would meet with harsh consequences.

The warning served its purpose and a cavalry regiment that wasn’t a cavalry regiment performed their duty as required. Like any regiment they had their good and bad elements, drunks, slackers, two who were found guilty of striking their sergeant, others who verbally abused their officers, or were found to be mutinous by disobeying orders, but as a whole performed well and the majority without incident. They’d continue this duty through Thanksgiving, when they sat down to a traditional New England repast, afterwards chasing a greased pig and engaging in wheelbarrow races, then Christmas, on into the fading winter, when finally, in March 1865, the regiment joined the siege at Petersburg, occupying the extreme right of Union lines at Deep Bottom as part of the 25th Corps.

On April 6th, three days after their entry into Richmond, Adams was given orders to shift the regiment to Petersburg. They remained a day before receiving additional orders to move twelve miles to the west, to Sutherland Station, to guard the Southside Railroad. Adams own stay at Sutherland Station lasted only nine days. On the 16th of April he was summoned to appear before Major General Edward O.C. Ord, then commanding the Army of the James. There Adams was arrested and charged with neglect of duty in “allowing his command to straggle and maraud,” and was further ordered to report to Fortress Monroe for trial. The charge of marauding was leveled because of complaints from Richmond citizens alleging members of the 5th Mass had appropriated horses for their own use.

The Third Brigade began its march back to Washington on April 14th. Spirits were dampened and there was no sense they were a conquering or triumphant army. Hunger and rain will do that. Officers used a carrot and stick approach, urging the men toward Farmville, 27 miles away, where rations were said to be waiting. After two days of marching through mud, the strung out column finally reached its first milestone destination and found the promised supplies waiting. As Smith recalled, “We stacked arms and laid around, and for the first time realized that the war over.” The whole scene was brightened further by the clearing of rain clouds overhead, but any feelings of contentment were shattered at 4 p.m. when a dispatch was read aloud announcing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had won the love and devotion of the Army of the Potomac. In a display of mourning the color bearers from all regiments draped their flags in black, dyeing white handkerchiefs and any other fabric available in ink obtained from the ranks.

On April 20th the Third Brigade, which included veterans of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania, would break camp and resume its eastward trek along what is now Rt. 460. They had 55 miles to go before they would reach Sutherland Station and make their acquaintance with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.

To be continued…

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm now in the midst of reading the third installment of Allan Nevins' eight volume "Ordeal of the Union" series. This one is titled "The Emergence of Lincoln: Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos 1857-1859." Good stuff that Nevins. Actually, in my opinion, more than just good stuff.

I wanted to share Nevins take on Stephen Douglas, because, short of reading a full length biography, it's the best summation of the Little Giant's role in American politics I've read, and also gives some idea of the Nevins' style of writing. Am I dropping a hint that people should consider buying these books? I haven't got a clue why anyone would think I was pushing Nevins on them. I mean, I'd no sooner recommend him then tell you a copy of "The Complete Gettysburg Guide" by J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley is on its way.

"As a parliamentary combatant, the most impressive figure in the country was Stephen A. Douglas. A dozen years younger than Seward, five years junior to [Jefferson] Davis, he was still in his early forties when Buchanan was inaugurated; yet he was a political veteran, for he had been elected State's attorney in Illinois at twenty-one, and had been in Congress in Tyler's time. No man excelled him in riding the storm. He had been in the thick of the struggle for the Compromise of 1850, had labored ambitiously for the Presidential nomination in 1852 and 1856, and had given the country the most controversial measure of the decade in his Nebraska Bill. Indeed, ever since the day when, an ill-educated stripling of twenty with hardly enough law to write a simple instrument, he had hung up his shingle in the Morgan County courthouse, he had been ceaselessly fighting his way forward. He had two elementary articles of faith: he believed in the growth of the country - believed that, as it had pushed across the Mississippi, the plains, and the Rockies to the Pacific, it must continue to expand, either north or south; and he believed in popular self-government. When he flung himself into battle it was with tigerish ferocity. In an early run for Congress he had so enraged his opponent, the stalwart John T. Stuart, that this Whig candidate tucked Douglas' head under his arm and dragged him around the Springfield square. John Quincy Adams had stared in amazement when the five-foot Illinoisan, roaring out one of his first speeches in the House, had stripped off his cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and with convulsed face and frantic gesticulation had "lashed himself into such a heat that if his body had been made of combustible matter, it would have burnt out." [Carl] Schurz watched him end his sentences like cannon balls, crashing and rending, into his opponents' ranks. Few were the Senators who dared stand against him.

"Yet Douglas's limitations were as striking as his gifts. His conduct was sometimes deplorably lax. Charles Francis Adams has left a graphic vignette of the man invading a sleeping care in 1860, whiskey bottle in hand and half drunk, to try to drag Seward out to address a Toledo crowd. One day Douglas might be leading his party in the Senate, the next be found with his arm about the neck of a crony in a Washington saloon. Deeply versed in political history, he was ill-informed in almost all other fields of knowledge. He had read little but lawbooks, debates, and government manuals, and had seldom found time for that deeper type of reflection which produces statesmen. A marvellously effective floor debater, he had no real power of abstract though, and no ability to present such general ideas as are associated with Hamilton and Jefferson, Calhoun and Webster. He had never produced a genuine state paper. While he grappled friends to him with hooks of steel, he taught them to act on practical expediency rather than far-reaching principle.

"Above all he was an improviser. His whole genius backed by irresistible person force, was for meeting practical situations with some rapidly devised measure, taking little thought of ultimate consequences, and trusting to the country's growth for remedying all defects. He had improvised as State's attorney and judge when he knew little law and no jurisprudence. He had improvised as a young Congressman supporting Polk and the Mexican War. He had improvised policies and bills; above all the reckless measure, the worst Pandora's box in our history, for organizing Kansas Territory. As he improvised he battled implacably, for he loved nothing more than political combat. The great weakness of the born improviser is that he oversimplifies the problem he faces and forgets that remote results are often far more important than the immediate effect. The great penalty paid by the born fighter is that he gradually accumulates a phalanx of enemies. Douglas by 1857 was a doughty champion, famous for his power to give and take blows, but he still had to reckon his final bill of profit and loss.

"The best trait of Douglas was his faith in the expansive energies of the American people. Europe, he had said, is one vast graveyard. "Here everything is fresh, blooming, expanding, and advancing. We wish a wise, practical policy adapted to our condition and position." He must be credited, too, with a fervent belief in the masses - in democracy. But he had a number of less happy traits. One was his chauvinism, for he constantly inveighed against the "tyranny" and "aggressions" of European nations, and showed no appreciation of our cultural debt to older lands. Another was his readiness in debate to twist logic, darken counsel, and even misstate facts. Still another was his constant exaltation of material considerations and depreciation of moral factors; the slavery question, he said on the eve of the Civil War, is exclusively "one of climate, of political economy, of self-interest." Finally, he often suffered from his headlong impetuosity.

"In 1857 the brightest pages of his brilliant career lay before him. His successful fight against a proslavery constitution for Kansas was to be one of the most gallant episodes of the time; and in 1860 he was to play a more farsighted and heroic role than any other Presidential candidate. But he lacked the capacity to plan, the patient wisdom, and the conciliatory gifts of a great national chieftain."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back on March 4th I had written a post about a visit to the African-American Civil War Museum in D.C. and had mentioned research conducted by Juanita Patience Moss regarding African-Americans who had served with white Union regiments. It was fascinating stuff, because, to paraphrase Stephen Ambrose, there was nothing else like it in the world. In all the reading I had done, including digesting three books on African-American service during the war, there was nothing in the literature to suggest blacks had served outside segregated regiments or had done more than perform manual labor as civilians for the army.

Flash back to July 15, 1998. Juanita Patience Moss was a member of the audience at a symposium held three days before the unveiling of the "Spirit of Freedom" monument in Washington to honor African-Americans who fought for the Union. Not only was the curtain to be raised on an 11-foot statue, but panels inscribed with the names of 209,145 soldiers and sailors were to be forever available for viewing by the public. Panel members felt good, the audience felt good. Finally, at long last, members of the Corps d' Afrique, United States Colored Troops, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, 8th Connecticut Infantry, and U.S. Navy were getting their due.

When the microphone was handed to Juanita during the question and answer period, panel members reacted with silence before one member finally rallied and, in response to her asking, "What about the black men who served with white regiments?," said matter of factly, "There weren't any." When Juanita produced documents showing her great-grandfather, Crowder Patience, had served as an undercook with the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, the nay sayers stuck to their guns. After all, how could they as experts on the African-American experience during the Civil War, the culmination of combined years of research, not be in the know? Ridiculous question, ridiculous hypothesis, and without doubt the documents in her possession were questionable at best. That, in a nutshell, was why Crowder Patience's name wasn't included on the memorial.

Juanita took the 'lady, you're all wet' rebuff in stride, convinced that if her great-grandfather had served in a white regiment there were others who had done the same.

While General Orders Number 143 authorized blacks to serve in segregated regiments, General Orders Number 323, issued on September 23, 1863 by order of Edwin Stanton, stated:

"That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause to be enlisted for each cook (two allowed by section 9) two undercooks of African descent, who shall receive for their full compensation $10 per month and one ration per day; $3 of said monthly pay may be in clothing.

"For a regular company, the two undercooks will be enlisted; for a volunteer company, they will be mustered into service, as in the cases of other soldiers. In each case a remark will be made on their enlistment papers showing that they are undercooks of African descent. Their names will be borne on the company muster-rolls at the foot of the list of privates. They will be paid, and their accounts will be kept, like other enlisted men. They will also be discharged in the same manner as other soldiers."

The key operative words here are "enlisted" and "soldiers," both of which appear twice, and "company muster rolls."

So what did Juanita find in the intervening years between 1998 and 2004 when she conducted research through the aid of the National Archives, Carlisle Barracks, the 30 volume "Roster of the Union Soldiers 1861-1865,", "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," the African-American Civil War Museum, the "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865," assorted histories and books, and site visits to numerous historical societies and libraries, as far as she could possibly take it, she found proof of men like Amos McKinney and Simon West serving with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, and four grandsons of Sally Hemmings in uniform with the 73rd Ohio Infantry, the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, and 1st Wisconsin Infantry. In total, the tedious work of laboring through countless military service records, allowed her to identify over 2,000 African-Americans clearly identified in writing as "Col'd."

Pages 75 through 112 of "Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments During the Civil War," published by Heritage Books, contains an alphabetized list of all those identified through her research. The list specifies the Regiment, branch of service, State, and Company. Of personal interest is the name of Bruce Anderson who served with Co. K of the 142 New York Infantry and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Pages 114 through 154 list these same soldiers arranged by State, starting with Alabama and Arkansas, working its way through Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania in the middle sections, concluding with Vermont, West Virginia, and finally Wisconsin.

The individual service records of these men show that while many were restricted to duty as undercooks, others served as teamsters and blacksmiths. A large number were exposed to combat and in those cases shell and bullet wounds are well documented. Some had the misfortune of being introduced to Andersonville, while others simply disappeared from all public record when they were captured, their fate sealed by a return to bondage.

The news of Amos McKinney's service being recognized by the Veteran's Administration with a government issued headstone on July 11, 2009 at Decatur, Alabama, which recently circulated on the Internet and a few Civil War related blogs, was preceded a year earlier by a similar ceremony held at Highland Park Cemetery in Warrensville, Ohio, which honored the aforementioned Simon Samuel West. Juanita's great-grandfather Crowder Patience, however, beat them both, when he was laid to rest in West Pittson, Pennsylvania in 1930. This former North Carolina slave, who later marched as a proud Civil War veteran, pensioner, and member of the Grand Army of the Republic in Memorial Day parades in his adopted home town, was fittingly recognized with a headstone and G.A.R. marker shortly after his internment.

Juanita's journey began when she discovered Crowder's military papers in a small tin kept by a great-aunt, who, during the 103 years of her life, had shared only fragments of her father's life. She confessed she had little information herself. "Juanita, back in those days we didn't ask our parents a lot of questions." It's history lost for the sake of stifling natural curiosity, while maintaining obedience and a respectful distance from those who brought you into the world.

Juanita is hoping that someone will pick up where she's left off. Maybe, just maybe, those efforts will someday pay off and 2,000 plus additional names will be added to a memorial on U Street Northwest, once known as "The Black Broadway," that serves as the main artery for a neighborhood named in honor of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

I had problems trying to add this link into the post on Juanita's book. That said, the book, " Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments during the Civil War," can be purchased by following this link.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've just learned that in addition to some great music that'll be supplied by Hard Drivin' Fish, free food and beverages, at Friday, September 18th's S.B.P.A. benefit concert at the multi-purpose and recently renovated Shepherdstown, WVA train station, there's also going to be an auction for Civil War items. If that doesn't have you reaching into your wallet for the $10 admission fee, nothing will motivate you to move off your couch.

See the related post below for a link to the S.B.P.A. and concert information, as well as Saturday, September 19th's wading of the Potomac River. Tickets for that event are going fast!

Lastly, if you've never been to Shepherdstown this is a great opportunity to visit a very picturesque little town of historic importance. Additionally, Antietam and Harper's Ferry are within easy driving range.

Two upcoming events are on tap to benefit the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association.

On Friday, September 18th you can listen to the blues influenced sound of Hard Swimmin Fish at the renovated Shepherdstown Train Station. A mere $10 will not only get you through the doors, beginning at 7:30 p.m., but entitle you to free food and soft drinks. Compare that to the cost of going to see a movie!

On Saturday, September 19th a very unique event will be held, but you're going to have to hurry to make a reservation as there are only a limited number of tickets available. The event involves wading the Potomac River from Maryland to Shepherdstown, West Virginia at Pack Horse Ford, essentially crossing at the very same place Union and Confederate troops did following the Battle of Antietam.

Ed Dunleavy, President of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association, assures everyone that the 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. crossings are entirely safe and no one should fear falling into the river and floating their way to Washington, some 80 miles away.

As if an added incentive were needed, the $25 fee includes a tour of the Shepherdstown battlefield and a barbeque, which includes "adult" beverages, following the tour.

For more information and to make a reservation, please click on this link for the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not only had radical political elements in both the South and North advocated dissolution of the Union prior to 1856, but the rhetoric of the 1856 presidential campaign was like a pot of water on a stove burner; the bubbles of animosity and divide floated to the surface with growing rapidity.

One Virginia editor, in a rant against the candidacy of Republican John Fremont, screamed: “We have to hating everything with the prefix free, from free negroes up and down through the whole catalog – free farms, free labor, free society, free will, free thinking, free children, and free schools – all belonging to the same brood of damnable isms. But the worst of all these abominations is the modern system of free schools…We abominate the system because the schools are free.”

He was philosophically joined at the hip by a South Carolina writer: "The great evil of Northern free society is that it is burdened with a servile class of mechanics and laborers, unfit for self- government, and yet clothed with the attributes and powers of citizens."

A New York Tribune writer, had he been face to face with the aforementioned, perhaps would have offered this retort: “It is not alone a fight between the North and South; it is a fight between freedom and slavery; between God and the devil; between heaven and hell.”

Another Northern politician, speaking in July 1856, was quite clearly ready to go beyond mere words. “I hope and pray that Fremont may be elected. I think that with his energy and force of will he would straighten things out at once, and lick the South into good behaviors, if they rebel…Our people are ready for any sort of a fight. There has never before been anything like it. I think we could send an army from New Hampshire that would whip South Carolina and set all her niggers free. New Hampshire will go for Fremont two to one, I should think, by present signs.”

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Tuesday I received an email notifying me of the passing of Brian Bergin of Harrisonburg, Virginia on July 13th. I had never met Brian. Our relationship was based strictly on an exchange of emails that began when Brian contacted me about a two part series I had posted in late February about the 1864 Washington, D.C. Arsenal explosion and a subsequent post on March 2nd about my visit to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in D.C. Brian was putting the finishing touches on his manuscript about the Arsenal fire, which his daughter Erin, I've been told, is now dedicated to finding a publisher for.

I was able to provide Brian with the Mt. Olivet grave locations for four of the victims, something that had previously eluded him thanks to a lack of cooperation by the Catholic Archdiocese which oversees the cemetery. It was a small thing, but I was very glad to have helped out and wrote Brian sometime around my third email that I'd be the first to purchase his book when it hit the stores.

I found this April 23rd Op-Ed piece written by Brian which appeared on the Daily News Record Web site. I can only reflect that life is strange sometimes, particularly when you experience a sense of loss for someone you've never met. I'm posting Brian's words, not only because I share the same sentiments, but it's my tribute to him. Before you read Brian though, I give you these words by W.E.B. DuBois, who penned them shortly after the death of his first born child. They're appropriate here.

"If still he be, and he be There, and there be a There, let him be happy, O Fate!"

Remember Civil War, Not Confederates

By Brian Bergin

I WRITE WITH an alternative to the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ proclamation, published in the Daily News-Record on April 17, that April be recognized as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

What is most admirable and enduring about the United States of America is its Constitution, humanized by a stirring Declaration of Independence, enobled with a protective Bill of Rights, enhanced by periodic amendments, and rededicated eloquently by Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg.

But were it up to Confederate leaders, that Constitution would have been truncated at the 12th amendment, and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence indefinitely denied our people in the grief-laden name of preserving that most peculiar of institutions — human bondage.

The early pages of our history books are filled with the inspiring stories of national leaders, many of them conflicted slave-owners (Washington, Jefferson and Madison for example), who worked against their own class interests in the cause of expanding republican ideals.

In contrast, later pages of those same history books tell of other, seemingly wise and articulate leaders, who dedicated the best of their talents to restricting the spread of those evolving ideals — notables such as John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, and Alexander Stephens.

These men used their remarkable political skills and public personas for a cause that not only would have preserved slavery in the states where it existed, but also would have expanded it into territories where it had not yet taken root. Rather than supporting the gradual demise of slavery over time, secessionist leaders worked vigorously to encourage its growth.

As a result of this addiction to slavery, the nation was pushed into a bloody Civil War that resulted in the deaths of 620,000 men. For their intractability, the record shows that the Confederate States of America was responsible for the deaths of 360,000 Federal soldiers, a casualty list more extensive than that inflicted by either the Germans or Japanese in World War II.

Accordingly, I propose that April be declared, not Confederate History and Heritage Month, but rather a “Civil War Month of Remembrance.” April would be a time for the nation — North and South — to come together and contemplate the cause of the rebellion, the dramatic events of that war and its lingering effects on contemporary America.

The relevant Civil War events supporting an April memorial include:

April 12, 1861 – Fort Sumter fired upon;
April 10, 1862 — Congress declared that the federal government will compensate slave owners who free their slaves;
April 16, 1862 — Slaves in the District of Columbia were freed;
April 9, 1865 — Lee surrendered;
April 15, 1865 — President Lincoln died by the hand of an assassin.

I find it hard to imagine how any right-thinking person who cherishes freedom and appreciates the sacrifices of the events of 1861–1865, could object.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Corey Gardner came through with the information on William "Billy" G. Gardner, who, as a Private in Company A of the 14th Georgia Infantry, claimed to have shot and captured Rutherford B. Hayes either at Chancellorsville or the Wilderness. The claim first surfaced when Hayes was running for President in 1876, and, while dismissed as poppycock by the Northern press, rallied the State of Georgia to Gardner's defense.

This 1876 story, from an unidentified and undated Charleston, SC newspaper clipping, was responsible, in part, for fueling Gardner family lore.

"A Charleston paper says that Mr. W.G. Gardner, a gentleman and an old Confederate soldier (Gardner was about 45 at the time), living at Gogginsville, in Forsyth county, says he shot and captured Gen. R.B. Hayes at the battle of the Wilderness or Chancellorsville. Mr. Gardner was a member of Company A, 14th Georgia Regiment. Capt. Robert Merritt, commanding the company, confirms the statement.

"Is the identity of the Republican nominee in dispute?"

W.P. Wright, a doctor in Gogginsville, submitted an affidavit in support of Billy Gardner's pension claim. Again, the document is undated.

"Mr. W.G. Gardner the faithful old soldier and very worthy applicant did on the 6th days of April 1863 capture his highness expresident Hayes then a General in the U.S.A. and one orderly by himself having to shoot off his magistys forefinger before he would surrender, bring him into camp and turning him over to the provo guard. Said capture was made to the left of the old plank road near Chancellorsville in the Wilderness in old Va. He is also burdened with an afflicted wife and has been for twenty years and prays that you may accept this application for a small pension."

What is immediately wrong with this story is that Rutherford B. Hayes did not hold the rank of General in April 1863 and wasn't anywhere close to Chancellorsville in either April or May 1863. According to his diaries from 1861 to 1865, which are accessible on Google Books, Hayes was at Fort White near Charles Town, West Virginia. At the time of the Wilderness fight, Hayes was with Crook's command crisscrossing the border between North Carolina and Virginia

In Part One of this story, which appeared on August 3rd, the possibility that Billy Gardner may have shot Col. Joseph Hayes of the 18th Massachusetts at the Wilderness was raised. Joseph is now discounted because he wasn't taken prisoner until the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad three months later. Which raises the possibility that Brig. Gen. William Hays was the person Billy was referring to.

Billy's story turns problematic again, even if allowing for a case of mistaken identity, because while William Hayes was wounded and taken prisoner at the battle of Chancellorsville, along with over 6,000 other Federals, his capture, confirmed in a May 8, 1863 report from Little Powell Hill, was credited to William Dorsey Pender's brigade, which was comprised entirely of North Carolina regiments.

I've steered Corey toward Roy Duberry's "History of the 14th Georgia Infantry Regiment," published by Heritage Press. The book focuses entirely on Company A and is based on letters written by some of the original 119 enlistees, tracking them from Second Bull Run to the surrender at Appomatox.

When you read Billy Gardner's story, it makes you wonder why he made his claim about Rutherford B. Hayes in the first place. We're not dealing with somebody who sat out the war, somebody who skulked, or somebody who was a constitutional coward. We're talking about a soldier who was wounded a number of times while engaged in some of the most brutal fighting the Civil War had to offer as a member of A.P. Hill's division and later Corps. Maybe the story started off innocently enough, i.e. throwing around bullshit on a general store porch, and it snowballed from there, until it was totally out of Billy's hands, and ultimately became something he couldn't retract without being labeled a liar.

I think Corey Gardner suspects the truth, but in some ways still wants to cling to Billy's story. It really is a neat little Civil War saga, one that can be handed down from generation to generation, and has been, although Corey admits other relatives are and have been skeptical.

I'll let Corey tell Billy's story now. There's more justice than if I try to summarize, so I'll simply let it speak for itself. However, maybe there's a reader out there, more authoritative than I am, who can shed additional light on this subject.

"William G. Gardner was born abt. 1832 at South Carolina. The family migrated to Georgia where his grandfather, John Gardner owned a plantation and his father, Jim Gardner was a gunsmith. Billy Gardner was a skilled gunman and became a sharpshooter.

He was a farmer, married, fathered children, and enlisted in the 14th Georgia Infantry as a private in 1862, serving as a sharpshooter throughout the entire war. He never served in a sharpshooter regiment so he must have been the best shot in his regiment. Gardner was probably the gunslinger of his regiment and had been the champion shooter I am assuming.

"He was wounded in the head in 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He claimed he shot and captured Hayes on April 6, 1863 in VA. He fought at Chancellorsville in 1863 and was wounded in the shoulder. He then fought at Wilderness and Richmond and received gunshot wounds in the forehead and shoulder. He then fought at Petersburg and was wounded in the foot, being captured in a hospital near Richmond, being released in May of 1865 at Newport News, VA.

"Gardner was a war hero and a seasoned warrior. He lived out his days as a farmer and died in 1912 from old age. He first made his claim in 1876 when Hayes was campaigning for the Presidency. The Northern press of course denied it, but his home state of Georgia hailed him as a hero and never questioned his claim. Gardner was a distant cousin of mine."

Note: William G. Gardner's service record and that he was wounded at Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Petersburg is confirmed by information on the "Civil War Data" Web site (

Monday, August 03, 2009

The query that was posted as a comment on our Blog was about as unusual a reason for requesting information as anyone is bound to get from a reader. That reader, Corey Gardner, was looking for the service record on Col. Joseph Hayes of the 18th Massachusetts, for a very specific reason. I did a post not that long ago on Hayes, who, I proudly pointed out, was the only Volunteer officer ever placed in command of a brigade of U.S. Infantry Regulars.

Corey wrote that his ancestor, a Confederate sharpshooter, claimed to have shot Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes, either at Chancellorsville or the Wilderness. In investigating that claim, Corey determined that the future President was never close to either battlefield and suspected the victim may have been Joseph Hayes. Hayes, who commanded the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the Fifth Corps at the Wilderness, suffered a gunshot wound to the forehead on May 5, 1864, survived the wound, and was subsequently promoted to Brigadier General.

I agreed with Corey that he might very well be on the right track. However, the story gets muddied by the fact that there were two other high ranking Union officers named Hays or Hayes, William and Alexander, both of whom were shot; William at Chancellorsville and Alexander at the Wilderness.

Hopefully Corey will respond to my email with more information on his ancestor. It's a story that, regardless of how it shakes out, would certainly qualify as one of those little oddities of the Civil War. After all it's not often, in a war that involved so much long range killing and wounding, that you're able to learn who actually fired the shot that sent a man to his grave, to captivity, or the hospital.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

One of the best parts of living in Charleston is being able to look just about anywhere to see history all around.

Case in point, this week my wife and I did a little staycation as a getaway from it all. We stayed at a nice hotel on the Ashley River. At the top of the hotel is a nice restaurant with a beautiful view of the river and the Charleston skyline. As we sat and ate, we could see over some buildings, out into the harbor and in the distance - to the fabled Fort Sumter. Looking at the picture below, it looks like a pancake in the middle of the harbor.

Fort Sumter in the distance

Of course, then there is the made up history that is all about the South. Like this restaurant that is built to look like a fort but named California Dreaming.

Because nothing says dreaming about California like a fake fort built in the seat of the Rebellion.

Dreaming of California in fake fort

Of course this is where I would normally take pot shots at the Lost Cause, the Confederate Battle Flags, Slavery wasn't the main cause of the Civil War, Heritage not Hate and a host of other things. But I have not had enough coffee today to even begin....