Sunday, January 26, 2020

Courage Nets Captives: Pvt. Richard Smith, 95th New York Infantry


Some of the accounts that I've located about prisoners of war taken during the Petersburg Campaign are simply amazing feats of bravery. Take for instance the case of Pvt. Richard Smith of the 95th New York Infantry. Smith received the Medal of Honor for his courage at the Battle of Globe Tavern, fought along the Weldon (Petersburg Railroad) south of the Cockade City from August 18-21, 1864.

On the battle's final day the Confederates with an ad hoc division led by Gen. William Mahone tried to hit the Union left flank which was dug in along the railroad. Mahone's assault failed and resulted in heavy casualties. During their withdrawal, numerous Southerners became captives.

Col. J. W. Hoffman, commanding the brigade that included the 95th New York, mentioned Smith in an official report recommending him for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. It reads:

Headquarters 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps
November 25, 1864
To Brigadier General L. Thomas, Adjutant General, United States Army:
General: I have the honor to report that a medal of honor be awarded to Private Richard Smith, Company B, 95th Regiment, New York Volunteers, a mounted orderly at these headquarters, for distinguished gallantry in the action of August 21, 1864, on the Weldon Railroad, Virginia

When the enemy, after having charged on the left flank of the division, turned to retreat, Private Smith rode out alone, and, riding around a body of the enemy, ordered them to face about and follow him. His courage on this occasion so intimidated them that he brought within our lines as prisoners, two commissioned officers and twenty men. For this gallantry Private Smith was mentioned in my official report of the action on the Weldon Railroad, to which I have the honor to refer you. 

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. Hoffman, Colonel Commanding Brigade

Smith appears in the 1860 census as a 20 year old "brick laborer," who lived with "brick manufacturer" Joseph Barns, his family and about 15 other brick workers in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York. Rockland County is on the west bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City. Pvt. Smith enlisted in the 95th New York in November 1861.

Smith survived the war, as I located him in the 1870 census, still living in Haverstraw, and still working in a brick yard. At that time Smith lived in the household of Nelson Jones and his family. Find A Grave shares that Smith lived until 1918, and was buried in Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw.

Smith's official citation simply (and incompletely) reads: "Captured two officers and 20 men of Hagood's brigade while they were endeavoring to make their way back through the woods." 

Monday, January 20, 2020

"Come In Out of the Draft"


Respectfully Dedicated to all Disconsolate Conscripts

"Come in Out of the Draft, or The Disconsolate Conscript"

As it was warm, I thought, the other day,
I'd find some cooler place the summer months to stay;
I had not long been gone, when a paper to me came,
And in a list of conscripts I chanced to see my name.
I show'd it to my friends, and at me they all laugh'd;
They said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."


Oh, soon I hurried home, for I felt rather blue;
I thought I'd ask my dad what I had better do:
Says he, "You are not young,-you're over thirty-five:
The best thing you can do, sir, is-go and take a bride."
My mother on my smiled, my brother at me laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."


I soon made up my mind that I would take a wife;
For she could save my cash, and I could save my life.
I call'd upon a friend, I offer'd her my hand,
But said she "she couldn't see it, for she loved some other man."
She told it to her ma, and at me they both laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

So next I advertised, and soon a chap I found
Who said that he would go for just two hundred down.
I took him home to sleep. Says I, "now I'm alright."
But, when I woke, I found that he'd robb'd me in the night!
I went and told the mayor: the people 'round me laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

I to the provost went, my "notice" in my hand;
I found a crowd around, and with it took my stand.
I waited there till night, from early in the morn,
And, when I got inside, my pocket-book was gone!
I thought I should go mad! but everybody laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

I've tried to get a wife, I've tried to get a "sub,"
But what shall I do, now, really, is the "rub."
My money's almost gone, and I am nearly daft:
Will some one tell me what to do to get out of the draft?
I've asked all my friends round, but at me they all laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

Words by Ednor Rossiter
Music by B. Frank Walters
Lee & Walker, Philadelphia, 1863

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Worthless as an Officer, Useless, Unenergetic . . . and a Coward"


Some people are just not cut out for certain jobs. Either their personality does not fit the responsibilities of the job or they do not have the required skills to do the job well. In some careers a bad fit is not always critical, but in others it is. The military is one occupation where bad leaders often get weeded out quickly, especially in combat situations.

In reviewing the service records of white officers in the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), I came across Capt. Carl Von Heintz, who commanded Company B, for a time. Von Heintz, a German immigrant, attended a military academy in Berlin and served in his native land's military. During the American Civil War he first served as a captain in the 108th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a predominately German regiment from the Cincinnati area. The 108th Ohio formed in the summer of 1862 and was captured by John Hunt Morgan's raiders in November 1862 at Hartsville, Tennessee. Held briefly as prisoners of war, the Buckeyes were released within a couple of months. Von Heintz resigned his commission in February 1863.

In the summer of 1863, Von Heintz accepted a captain's commission in the 5th USCI. White officers were required to receive certification from a board of review before being assigned to a regiment. Apparently Von Heintz passed his exam. He was 41 years old when he joined the unit.

Von Heintz joined the 5th USCI at Camp Delaware, where they trained. Other than a 15-day approved leave of absence in March and April 1864, Von Heintz's compiled service records show him as present for duty. However, his July-August card states, "Dishonorably dismissed the service July 29, 1864." Another card says "Dismissed for cowardice July 29, 1864." Interestingly, a document from a few months earlier, in March 1864, in Von Heintz's records mentions a recommendation "to major in one of the Regiments now being raised in Virginia accompanied by recommendations of his superior officers." The colonel of the 5th, James Conine, wrote "Approved and Respectfully forwarded. Capt. Von Heintz is fully qualified to fill the position of Major." Lt. Col. Giles Shurtleff had praise, too. "I take pleasure in endorsing the application the applicant has had a long experience in Military service and in my opinion would make a good Major," the lieutenant colonel wrote. So, what happened to change Von Henintz's superiors' opinions of his ability to lead?

A July 3, 1864 letter, written from Petersburg, Virginia, by Von Heintz serves as his resignation letter "for reason of physical disability. As my feeble constitution and advanced age render myself entirely unfit for the service. I have come to the conclusion that the interest of the service require that I should vacate my position in favor of an officer better able to endure the fatigue and hardships of the campaign." So, again, what happened to move Von Heintz from the point of asking for a promotion to major in March to resigning in early July?

On July 11, 1864, Brig. Gen. Martindale recommended that Von Heintz be dishonorably dismissed. Apparently an examining surgeon found Von Heintz "physically sound." Lyman Allen, surgeon for the 5th USCI gives us good insight. He wrote at length about Von Heintz's shortcomings:

"I certify that I have carefully examined this officer, and find that he has a constitution weakened by his manner of life before entering the service, and by advanced years, that he has little energy or endurance, that he has always failed to discharge his duty when the Regt has been actively employed, that, on the only occasion when he was with the Regt. under fire, he was brought to me on a stretcher, unable to stand, or to converse with common reason, while his sudden illness and rapid recovery made it probable that his sickness was the effect on his nerves of the excitement of the battle, that he is consequently, in my opinion, totally unable to perform the duty of an Officer in his position during the present campaign, and that he should leave the service."

Special Order 206, from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commander of the Army of the James states that he "finds no occasion personal hearing of his [Von Heintz's] case, but from the endorsements of all of his commanders setting for that he is worthless as an officer, useless, unenergetic, debilitated by his own course of life, and a coward, he is hereby dishonorably discharged the service of the United States, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance subject to the approval of the president."

Capt. Von Heintz was not the first man undone by the stresses of combat, nor would he be the last. However, it was probably for the best of everyone that he was dismissed from his leadership role or more harm could have potentially come to the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in his company. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"Subjected to the Vilest Insults"


In reviewing the service records for white officers in the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), I came across a letter included in the compiled records of 2nd Lt. John B. Viers of Company F. The 5th USCI, a regiment in Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine's Division of the XVIII Corps, Army of the James, joined with the 36th and 38th USCIs to form Col. Alonzo Draper's Brigade. Draper's Brigade made up the second wave of assaults at the Battle of New Market Heights on morning of September 29, 1864. Although the 5th USCI took terrible causalities at New Market Heights, later in the day they engaged many of the same foes at Fort Gilmer that they had battled in the morning, who had fallen back.

During the assaults on Fort Gilmer, Lt. Viers received a wound to his leg. Unable to fall back with his regiment, he was made a prisoner. However, he received a quick parole from the Confederates (probably because he was wounded) and was exchanged. He then went to the hospital complex at Fort Monroe for treatment and recovery. While being transported on a steamboat Viers related his story to a fellow Union soldier, Major William H. Hart of the 36th USCI. Major Hart in turn relayed Viers' account to Col. Draper. Here is Hart's letter to Draper transcribed to help you read it.

Camp 36th U.S. C. Troops
Army of the James
In the field, Oct. 12, 1864.

Col:-
The following is a correct statement of the conversation held by me with Lieut. Viers , 5th U.S.C.T., who was wounded, and taken prisoner in the assault at Fort Gilmer, on the afternoon of the 29th ult. I saw Lieut. Viers on board the "City of New York," at Aiken's Landing on her last trip down the [James] river, Oct. 9. He stated to me that after the assaulting party had retired, the rebel soldiers (who he afterwards learned, belonged to the 15th Geo[rgia] Regiment came out of the Fort, and bayoneted all the colored soldiers who were so badly wounded that they could not walk; they also flourished their bayonets over him, called him the vilest names they could utter, and probably would have killed him on the spot had not the officers of these men came to his rescue, they (the officers) ordered the men to desist, and had Viers carried into the Fort, where he was again subjected to the vilest insults from the likes of a Confederate naval officer. This officer admitted, however, that the "damned niggers fought like devils."

I remain, Col.
Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.
W. H. Hart
Maj. 36th U.S.C.T. 

[To]
Col. A. Draper
36th U.S.C.T.
Field Hospital, 18 A.C. 

As this piece of evidence attests, battlefield atrocities by Confederates toward black Union soldiers, and vice-versa, happened during the Petersburg/Richmond Campaign. Confederates did not view African American soldiers as legitimate combatants, despite fighting in uniforms and equipped the same as white Union soldiers and led by white officers. Instead, blacks in Union blue were perceived by Confederates as more akin to slaves in rebellion, whether they had been previously enslaved or not. After the example of Fort Pillow in April 1864, United States Colored Troops often assumed that Confederates would not give them the opportunity to surrender, and thus some did not give their Southern foes the chance either. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Capt. Augustus Merrill - Capturing the Enemy and Earning the Medal of Honor


Maybe only second to capturing a flag, taking enemy combatants helped a number of Union soldiers earn the Medal of Honor. One of those men was Capt. Augustus Merrill of Company B, 1st Maine Veteran Volunteer Infantry, who received the special medal on October 23, 1891. On April 2, 1865, Merrill was among the VI Corps (Hyde's Brigade, Getty's Division) soldiers who broke through the Confederate earthworks on the ground occupied today by Pamplin Historical Park.

Merrill's Medal of Honor citation simply reads: "With six men captured 69 Confederate prisoners and recaptured several soldiers who had fallen into enemy's hands." The actual happenings were, of course, much more dramatic. Thankfully, Merrill shared his daring story in the 1901 book Deeds of Valor: How American's Heroes Won the Medal of Honor.

Under the title "A Profitable Reconnaissance," Merrill relayed that after breaking through the Confederate line they pivoted to the southwest (left) and he was deployed in front of the sweeping VI Corps working with a company of skirmishers to determine the level of remaining Confederate resistance. Merrill remembered, "I took twenty men, deployed them as skirmishers, and advanced through the woods, coming upon an old camp. Here I captured a lieutenant and three men belonging to [A. P.] Hill's Corps, who informed me that slight resistance would be made 'this side of Hatcher's Run.'

When our line advanced I pressed on, meeting no opposition, picking up the rebel stragglers and sending them to the rear, until I reached Hatcher's Run and found that the enemy were in position on the opposite side. Supposing that the Corps was following in that direction, and not having very definite instructions, I determined to dislodge the Confederates from their position if possible. To my left was a bridge over which the telegraph road [Boydton Plank Road] runs, defended by strong  works on the other side. Near the bridge was an old wooden mill [Burgess Mill]. With a small party of men who volunteered for the occasion, and who belonged to five or six different regiments of this [VI] Corps, I moved along the run to the right through the woods, my left flank on the run. The eagerness of the men induced me to keep some distance. We came to an old dam, where we discovered indications that a crossing had been made that morning, and immediately moved over by the left flank, the enemy firing a few shots as we crossed. It was a dangerous place; one man fell into the run, but came out safely, however, minus his musket, leaving me fifteen armed men. With these I advanced and captured the skirmish line, firing but a few shots. Guarding the prisoners closely, I moved on and soon came upon a rebel guard surrounding Captain John Tifft, Ninth New York Artillery. We captured the guard and released the captain, making the number of prisoners we had thus far taken sixty-four, mostly Virginia sharpshooters, who told of their various raids on our picket line during the winter, and acted as thought they would like to overpower our small squad and march us off. I told them it would be useless to resist, as we had a large force in the rear, and their whole line would be taken. Two of my men then reconnoitered the woods and came to the open field, where they found a line of battle behind the enemy works facing the Second Corps. Their left then rested on Hatcher's Run, we being directly behind them. I took the prisoners across the run and marched them to the rear without being molested by the enemy. The reconnaissance was a complete success in that the information gained was of much value to our commander.

Three of the men, who upon my request had volunteered to remain and watch the movements of the enemy captured five more prisoners, making our total sixty-nine. A receipt for sixty-four was given me by the provost-guard, Second Division, and the three other men got credit for the capture of five."

I had not previously come across accounts of the provost guard issuing receipts for prisoners of war as Merrill relates, but it certainly makes sense and seems like a logical way to make official counts. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other references to receipts issued to captors.

Image courtesy of Find A Grave.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lt. Freeman Bowley's Capture at the Crater, Part II

Back on December 22, I shared the capture story of Freeman S. Bowley, who at 18 years old served as a lieutenant in the 30th United States Colored Infantry.

Made a prisoner of war at the Battle of the Crater, and after making his way behind enemy lines, Bowley and the other officers, non-commissioned offers, and enlisted men were purposely marched through the streets of Petersburg and subjected the white residents' ridicule.

However, before leaving the battlefield, Bowley remembered that behind the Confederate lines, "The guards were now separating the prisoners, putting the officers in a group by themselves. Our names and regiments were about to be taken. Should we of the colored troops deny our regiments and give the name of a white regiment? I thought of the black man who had rallied with me in the Crater, and who had died to the last man. Then I told my comrades that we were United States officers, and I believed that our Government would protect us . . . and that I, for one, should face the music, and if I died, I should die without denying the brave fellows we had left behind in that trap of death."

Bowley's first documented encounter with a Petersburg citizen was with a woman selling huckleberry dumplings behind the lines to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Asking $4.00 for each, Bowley only had $7.00 and told her such. She snatched it away and said, "Yo' Yanks is a miserable lyin' set of thieves, come down yere to steal we'uns niggers. If I was a man I'd get a gun and shoot ye dead; I'd get a sword and chop yer to pieces!"

Bowley explained that "A detail of guards came and took away all the negro prisoners who were able to work. The task of burying the dead was assigned to them. All the negroes had been stripped of everything by shirt and drawers. Blouse, cap, trousers, shoes and stockings had all been taken. We who were prisoners were soon moved to another position in a hollow. Near us was a battery of artillery, the pieces trained upon us."

"Our captors proposed to make a grand spectacle of us for the benefit of the Petersburg citizens! I was in the third file of officers, and as the head of the column reached the streets of Petersburg we were assailed by a volley of abuse from men, women and children which exceeded anything of the the kind that I ever heard. The women were particularly bitter. 'Why didn't you kill all of the Yankee wretches?' they asked of our guards a dozen times along the route."

The captives were held on small islands in the Appomattox River. Bowley remembered "No wonder the citizens had a poor opinion of the Yankees! We were indeed a hard-looking crowd. There was almost every nationality among the whites, and the negroes and Indians added variety of color. All of us were covered with red dust, our faces and hands were blackened by powder, our eyes were bloodshot, and many of us were bloody from wounds or the blood of comrades. Every union officer who had worn a hat had been robbed of it, and wore instead an old, dirty, greasy rebel slouch, with the cotton tassels hanging down behind. We gladly availed ourselves of the opportunity to get a good wash from the banks of the river. Bathing was prohibited. Crowds of people came to see us. We were hungry, and clamored for rations, and were told that the rations would come 'after a little.'"

In a Part III post, I'll share Bowley's travels to the prisoner of war camp he would call home for over half a year.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


I must have landed on his good list this year because Santa Clause was quite good to me. Friends and family know my reading obsession, and thankfully they feed it with gift cards and "wish list" purchases.

One of the primary five regiments who attacked at the Battle of New Market Heights was the 36th United States Colored Infantry, originally designated as the 2nd North Carolina Colored Infantry. Raised largely in occupied areas of northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, this unit was composed of both formerly enslaved men as well as free men of color. The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War: A History and Roster by James K. Bryant, II, is sure to provide a compelling look into this important regiment.


For decades a lone interpretation of Reconstruction dominated. However with revisionist works that emerged by historians such as John Hope Franklin and Kenneth Stampp in the 1960s things changed as sources emerged and were unearthed which helped tell other stories. Reconstruction studies often focus on the era's political and social issues, and rightly so, but too little light has made its way to the United States army's occupation of former Confederate localities, especially during the immediate six year following the Civil War. After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War by Gregory P. Downs seeks the remedy this void.


I've recently slowed down my formal book review submissions for various publications due to other projects that are taking more of my time. However, I will be reviewing Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy for the Civil War News. This unit, which was recruited to serve as scouts, guides, and to carry messages and orders for the Army of Northern Virginia, provided invaluable service during its operation. I'm looking forward to learning more about their Civil War experience.


In a post a few weeks ago I shared Lt. Freeman Bowley's (30th USCI) account of his capture at the Battle of the Crater. That account came from Bowley's memoir, originally published in the National Tribune, the newspaper of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1899. Available in book form too, and titled Honor in Command: Lt. Freeman S. Bowley's Civil War Service in the 30th United States Colored Infantry, it is edited by Keith Wilson. I recalled Wilson's name from his previous book Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers during the Civil War. Memoirs always have to be read with an air of caution, especially those produced decades after the events they recall, but they can also be useful and insightful.


From the dust jacket description of Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America by Matthew Fox-Amato, it states: "Exposing Slavery explores how photography altered and was, in turn, shaped by conflicts over human bondage. Drawing on an original source base that includes hundreds of unpublished and little-studied photographs of slaves, ex-slaves, free African Americans, and abolitionists as well as written archival materials, it puts visual culture at the center of understanding the experience of late slavery. It assesses how photography helped southerners to defend slavery, enslaved people to shape their social ties, abolitionists to strengthen their movement, and soldiers to pictorially enact interracial society during the Civil War." Color me intrigued!

Happy reading!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Slavery Propaganda, 1841


One does not have to do much more than scroll through Facebook or other social media to see endless amounts of political propaganda. Individuals, special interest groups, and political parties often utilize it in either an attempt to sway individuals to their particular point of view or demonize their opponent's position. The primary idea behind propaganda is to elicit an emotional response rather than a rational one. In addition, the image quality of much modern propaganda is professional looking which seeks to increase its credibility.

Of course, propaganda is not a recent phenomena. Looking back through history at almost any issue leads to numerous examples.  Controversial institutions like slavery abound with many cases.

The above image, published in 1841 by artist Edward Williams Clay, shows an idealized plantation scene. On the left side to the picture an elderly enslaved man sits while a woman, who appears to be his wife, stands by his side. A baby, perhaps their grandchild or great grandchild  sits at the old man's feet, illustrating the generations. In the background, younger enslaved men and women dance while a fiddler saws away with his bow. Further in the background the slave quarters are visible. All of the enslaved people are modestly but well clothed. The caption cloud above the old man says "God bless you massa! you cloth and feed us. When we are sick you nurse us, and when too old to work, you provide for us."

On the right side of the image, a slave owner, his wife, and two children stand wearing the day's high fashion. Behind the paternalistic father figure, an enslaved nurse holds the white family's baby. The caption bubble above the white man says, "These poor creatures are a sacred legacy from my ancestors and while a dollar is left me, nothing shall be spared to increase their comfort and happiness."

Apparently, this image is only half of full picture. According to the Library of Congress, the other half showed this picture in opposition to another showing England's so called "white slaves" or factory workers, who labored without any of the supposed guarantees that enslaved people received from their owners in America's slave states. This was a common apology for pro-slavery Northerners. Pro-slavery Southerners also used this argument but more often substituted Northern poor wage laborers in place of those from England.

Edward Williams Clay, a Philadelphia native, appears to fit the bill of a pro-slavery Northerner. He made a career as an illustrator often depicting African Americans in demeaning images. His Life in Philadelphia, is a collection of cartoons featuring grotesque and exaggerated images of the black experience in the City of Brotherly Love.

Image artists like Clay, as well as musicians who played mistral music, crafted one-sided portrayals of both free and enslaved African Americans that influenced how whites perceived black people. Showing blacks to be inferior in every way with their visual and musical depictions, many whites ingrained these false one-sided but influential images, tainting race relations for generations.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association


Historian James S. Price concludes his excellent book The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs By The Sword with a quote from a poem by the pioneering African American historian, and former United States Colored Troops soldier, Joseph T. Wilson's Voices of a New Race.

"No marble shaft or granite pile mark the spot
Where they fell - their bones lay harvested from sun rot,
In the Nation's cities of the dead. Hannibal led
No braver than they through Alpine snow, nor wed
To freedom were Greece's phalanx more, who o'er gory
clay
Followed Butler to New Market heights that day."

Originally published in the late 19th century, this poem identifies a void on the monument landscape; a landscape quickly being filled at that time by veterans and their descendants from both the North and the South. Over one hundred years later the glaring void that Wilson viewed is still empty. However, that is about to change.

To help remedy the lack of memorialization at the site of this significant, yet too often overlooked battle, I've recently formed a non-profit organization called the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association (BNMHMEA). Its primary purpose is to erect a suitable and substantial monument to honor the brave USCT soldiers of the Third Division of the XVIII Corps, Army of the James, who courageously fought that desperate morning battle on September 29, 1864.

Permission for placement of the monument at Four Mile Creek Park (near the interchange of I-295 and Hwy. 5) in Henrico County has been granted. This location, just a stone's throw from the core battlefield, will allow visitors the opportunity to come visit the monument, pay their respects, and learn more about the brave men who fought there for the end of slavery, the preservation of the Union, and their right to citizenship in the United States.

Although a lot has been accomplished in getting things to this point, so much more needs done. The next step is to establish a website for the organization. The website will serve both as an educational tool as well as a way of keeping up with the progress on the monument and as a means for fundraising.

We are pleased to mention that another monument to the New Market Heights USCT soldiers is being planned for erection in Richmond. That organization, called the Honor the 14 Foundation, and BNMHMEA will be working closely together to see that both memorials are completed.

To achieve our goals of doing the brave men who sacrificed so much at New Market Heights proper justice, it is going to take a tremendous amount of effort and support. I hope you will consider giving in someway to this worthy initiative. Being a recognized 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, all financial donations are tax deductible.
Gifts can be sent to:
Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association
P. O. Box 52
Sutherland, VA 23885

Please spread the word! Let's give those brave men the recognition they so greatly earned. This monument will help ensure that future generations have the opportunity to come honor and learn from their example of patriotism and sacrifice for the greater good.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Books I Read in 2019


This is the third year that I've shared the list of books that I read over the last 365 days. My hope in sharing this list is that readers here may see a title that sparks their interest enough to also read it. Like the past two years I've highlighted those titles that I found particularly enlightening or that I especially enjoyed. So . . . here we go!

1. The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

2. The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived Civil War Armies by Peter S. Carmichael

3. Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War by Margaret Humphreys

4. Corporal Si Klegg and His Pard by Wilbur F. Hinman

5. Denmark Vesey's Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy by Ethan J. Kytle and Blaine Roberts

6. Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy by Earl J. Hess

7. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County by David F. Allmendinger

8. Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps by Amy Murrell Taylor

9. Faces of the Civil War Navies by Ronald Coddington

10. DeBow's Review: The Antebellum Vision of a New South by John V. Kvack

11. Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Katheryn Shively Meier

12. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

13. Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism by J. Brent Morris

14. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan

15. God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War by George C. Rable

16. Lincoln and the Abolitionists by Stanley Harrold

17. Money Over Mastery, Family Over Freedom: Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South by Calvin Schermerhorn

18. Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865, ed. by Emil Rosenblatt et al.

19. The Quarter and the Fields: Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South by Damian Alan Pargas

20. Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History by Richard Snow

21. Looming Civil War: How 19th Century Americans Imagined the Future by Jason Phillips

22. General Lee's Immortals: The Branch-Lane Brigade by Michael C. Hardy

23. Letters from the Storm: The Intimate Civil War Letters of Lt. J. A. H Foster, ed. by Walter L. Dowell

24. Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel

25. Private Confederacies: The Emotional World of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers by James J. Broomall

26. Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment during the Civil War, ed. by David Gerald Orr, et al.

27. The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 by Hampton Newsome

28. Slave Trading in the Old South by Frederic Bancroft

29. Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War by David Silkenat

30. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign by Dennis A. Rasbach

31. A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, their Families, and the Experience of Civil War by James G. Menendez

32. Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War by Kristopher Teeters

33. The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War by John H. Matsui

34. War of Vengeance: Acts of Retaliation against Civil War POWs by Lonnie R. Speer

35. Keep the Days: Reading the Civil War Diaries of Southern Women by Steven M. Stowe

36. War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era, ed by Joan Cashin

37. Broke by the War: Letters of a Slave Trader, ed. by Edmund L. Drago

38. Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 by Barton A. Myers

39. Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days' Battles by Doug Crenshaw

40. In the Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals, ed. by William J. Cooper et al.

41. Voices of the Civil War: The Seven Day by Time Life Editors

42. War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War by Joan E. Cashin

43. Spying on the South: An Odyssey across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz

44. Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, an the Making of American Morality by Judith Giesberg

45. Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 by Andrew J. Torget

46. Virtue of Cain: For Slave to Senator - Biography of Lawrence Cain by Kevin M. Cherry Sr.

47. Andersonville: The Last Depot by William Marvel

48. They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers

49. Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth by Kevin Levin

50. I Remain Yours: Common Lives in Civil War Letters by Christopher Hager

51. The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz

52. March by Geraldine Brooks

53. Henry Clay: The Man Who Would be President by James C. Klotter

54. Thank God My Regiment an African One: The Civil War Diary of Col. Nathan W. Daniels, ed. by C. P. Weaver

55. Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South by Jeff Forret

56. Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War ed. by Andrew Bledsoe et al.

57. The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic by Barbara Gannon

58. The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History by Anne C. Bailey

Well, I came up just two books short of last year's total. I guess I'm just going to have to either read shorter books or at a faster pace, but averaging over a book a week again is pretty good. I hope you see something here you might want to read. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

6th USCI White Officer Casualties at the Battle of New Market Heights


As I reviewed the official Medal of Honor citations for the 14 African American enlisted men and non-commissioned officers who received that distinction at the Battle of New Market Heights, I noticed that several were similarly worded. For example, 1st Sgt. James H. Bronson's of Company D, 5th USCI reads: "Took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it." 1st Sgt. Robert Pinn's of Company I, 5th USCI reads, " Took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle." Sgt. Maj. Milton Holland's of Company C, 5th USCI, "Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it." Sgt. Maj. Edward Ratcliff's, Company C, 38th USCI states, "Commanded and gallantly led his company after the commanding officer had been killed; was first enlisted man to enter the enemy's works."

Knowing that each company usually had three white officers (captain, 1st lieutenant, and 2nd lieutenant), and that there were normally ten companies in a regiment, that likely made for an extremely high rate of casualties among the white officers leading the five primary regiments (4th, 5th, 6th, 36th, and 38th USCI) in the attack at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Interested in seeing if my hypothesis held true, I first looked into the regiment that provided the easiest accessible information.

The book, Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War by James M. Paradis includes an appendix that contains a roster of the officers and men in each company of the regiment. Going through each company and corroborating it with service records on Fold3.com I was able to compile the list below. The casualty results were quite startling.

Field Officers
  
Maj. Harvey J. Covell - wounded in arm, later discharged for disability

Company Officers

Company A

Capt. Robert Beath - wounded, left leg amputated

Company B

Capt. Charles V. York - killed
1st Lt. Nathaniel Hubbard - wounded, left thigh and scrotum
2nd Lt. Frederick Meyer - killed 

Company C

1st Lt. Enoch Jackman - wounded, left hand 

Company D

1st Lt. John Johnson - wounded, arm

Company E

None

Company F

None

Company G

2nd  Lt. Eber Pratt - mortally wounded, amputation of right thigh

Company H

Capt. George Sheldon - killed
1st Lt. and Adjutant Nathan Edgerton, wounded, hand (pictured above)
1st Lt. LaFayette Landon - mortally wounded, left thigh

Company I

2nd Lt. William McEvoy - mortally wounded, blood poisoning after ex section of left elbow

Company K

None

Assuming that the three regimental field officers and all three officers from each company were present and on the field, that would make for 33 officers. For the 6th USCI, of those 33, 12 were killed or wounded at the Battle of New Market Heights, making a 36% casualty rate, or about one out of every three. The white officers of the 6th USCI certainly paid a high price along with the black enlisted men and non-commissioned officers on that desperate late September day.

I will see if I find similar results with the other four primary assault regiments and share them in future posts.

Image, "Three Medals of Honor" by Don Troiani, Historical Artist

Friday, December 27, 2019

Capt. John McMurray Recollects Pvt. Nathaniel Danks


In my December 21 post about Capt. John McMurray's book, Recollections of a Colored Troop, I promised to share some of the stories he told about a few of the men that served with him. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, as the one I shared in the original post about Pvt. Manuel Patterson. Other are significantly more lighthearted. Learning a bit more about these men through their compiled service records, and if possible other sources, gives the modern reader a better understanding of who they were than just a name mentioned in passing. However, often the search leaves us with more questions. 

On page 12, McMurray gave us a glimpse of Pvt. Nathaniel Danks' personality. He wrote:
"During the six months we remained in camp at Yorktown we must have marched up and down the Peninsula through Williamsburg at least a half a dozen times. The town was about half a mile long, and seemed to have only one street. Every time we would go through both sides of this Main street were lined with colored people, old and young, male and female, to see the colored soldiers, of whom they were very proud. One day as we were approaching the town going up, I looked ahead, perhaps a quarter mile, and just at the end of the street where we entered the town I saw a negro woman dancing. She continued dancing until we came to where she was, when I observed she was in an ecstasy of excitement. As we marched by her she kept on dancing until she sank to the ground from sheer exhaustion.


On this same occasion a very amusing incident occurred when were about midway of the town, marching through the street. On the right side of the street as we went through stood a large dwelling, with a portico in front extending into the pavement, with steps up either side. On this portico, with several other colored people, stood a handsome colored girl, looking at the soldiers and talking and laughing as they passed by. Nathaniel Danks, a handsome lad of my company noticed her, and running out of the ranks went onto the pavement, sprang up the steps, and putting his arms around her neck kissed her with a resounding smack that was heard half a block away, and was down on the pavement on the other side before the girl had time to realize what had happened. And what a mighty cheer ran along that line of marching soldiers. Danks was the hero of that day."

Unfortunately, Danks' service records only give a few additional hints of personal information. Danks, born in Philadelphia, and thus apparently a free man of color when he enlisted, was only 25 years old when he joined up at New Brighton, Pennsylvania. New Brighton is on the west side of the state, northwest of Pittsburgh. His service records only give the vague pre-war occupation of "laborer." I was hoping to find him in the 1860 census with fuller information, but nothing came up in my search, nor was he in the 1850 census. Danks is described in his service records as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with a "dark" complexion and black eyes and hair.

Danks enlisted in Company D of the 6th United States Colored Infantry for three years on July 16, 1863, and formally mustered in on August 10 in Philadelphia, at Camp William Penn. He is shown as present for duty on every company muster roll, until the September and October card, for which he is described as "missing in action taken prisoner or killed Sept. 29, 1864."

McMurray's Recollections (pg. 55) later tells us that Danks was among the killed in the desperate charge at the Battle of New Market Heights. McMurray's Company D went into the fight with 30 men and came out with only three. The 6th USCI as a whole lost almost 60% of its men killed, wounded, or missing.

Rest in peace Pvt. Danks. Thank you for your service to the United States and for sacrificing your life for the Declaration of Independence's ideal that "all men are created equal."

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Capt. Charles V. York, 6th USCI


Photographic images of Civil War soldiers are not difficult to find. Period photographers’ ability to produce calling card sized images—carte de visites, or CDVs—made giving out one’s image the popular thing to do. In the William Gladstone Collection, which Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier owns and cares for, there are hundreds of CDVs, the vast majority of which focus on African American related subjects.

One image, seemingly like so many others upon first glance, is that of Captain Charles V. York of the 6th United States Colored Infantry (USCI). But, like all photographs, there is a story behind the person pictured on it.

Charles York was 25 years old when he enrolled in the 6th USCI on August 8, 1863 in Washington DC. York had prior experience as a sergeant in the 10th New York Heavy Artillery. Like other white officers commanding black troops, he was required to pass an examination. The intent of these examinations was to determine the fitness of the candidate to lead African American soldiers, and to weed out those just looking for a quick promotion. York passed and received a commission as 1st lieutenant.

York’s first responsibility with the 6th USCI was as adjutant. His duties included writing orders and keeping the regiment’s records. However, on March 24, 1864, York received a promotion to captain, commanding Company B. He participated in the fighting on June 15, 1864, which opened Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s first offensive of the Petersburg Campaign. The 6th experienced its first true combat at Baylor’s Farm that morning and then with the attacks by Gen. Edward Hinks’s Division on the eastern section of the Confederate Dimmock Line later that day. York appears to have survived unscathed.

However, illness struck York in August. His service records specify his ailment. Dr. Ely McClellan, York’s examining surgeon at Fort Monroe, Virginia, stated on August 20, 1864, that his patient “is now suffering from Diarrhea and extreme debility the result of exposure and fatigue.” The physician explained that York “has been incapacitated for duty for the past ten (10) days. He absolutely requires a few days rest and medical treatment to fit him for active service.”

Apparently, York’s superiors felt he overstayed his hospital visit, or at least did not follow the proper protocol to extend this recuperative stay. Because on September 23, Col. John W. Ames, commander of the 6th USCI, requested the appointment of a commission to investigate York’s absence without leave. Proceeding up the chain of command, brigade commander, Col. Samuel A. Duncan, approved the request stating, “Capt. York, tho’ now returned, has offered no explanation for his continued absence.” Finally, XVIII Corps, 3rd Division commander, Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine, ordered on September 27 that “let charges be sent forward without delay as a Ct. Ml. [court martial] is now in session.”

That courts martial would never try Capt. York. Instead, he received a mortal wound in the savage fighting two days later, September 29, 1864, at the Battle of New Market Heights, just outside of Richmond. During the battle, Capt. John McMurray of Co. D, saw York lying beside a path through the abatis, suffering from a terrible wound. McMurray made a mental note of York’s location and continued in the advance. Returning to the spot after the fight, McMurray found York stripped of all his possessions, including his uniform. York had scribbled his name, rank, and regiment on a slip of paper and pinned it to the chest of his undershirt where it remained when McMurray found him.

The next time you view a photograph of a Civil War soldier, stop and remember, they all have a story. You can learn some of those stories by visiting Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this article for the "Behind the Scenes at Pamplin" section published regularly in the Petersburg Progress Index newspaper. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Soldier's Christmas


For Civil War soldiers in the field, Christmas could be a joyous occasion, or just another day of marching depending on their orders. For Lt. Charles Morfoot and his comrades in the 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry on December 25, 1864, it was the later. Writing to his wife, Elizabeth, the day after Christmas, from “7 miles Southwest of Columbia, Tenn,” Morfoot and the Union army was in hot pursuit of Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee after a decisive Federal victory just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15-16.

After describing leaving Nashville and continuously pushing the Confederates, Morfoot wrote, “Yesterday, Christmas was a hard day on us. It was wet and muddy.” He stated that “it was very cold,” and that the ground was frozen, with “snow storms” thrown in for good measure. The veteran soldier Morfoot understood it did little good to complain, but he also seemed to want those at home to know his trials. “It is not pleasant lying out on the cold, frozen ground, but it is done, and no grumbling, for we are doing good work now.”

Morfoot explained to Elizabeth about the damages the Union army had inflicted on the Confederate Army of Tennessee. “We have killed or captured over one-third of Hood’s army and taken about all of his artillery,” he wrote. The Federal pursuit had caused the Southerners to destroy many of their supply wagons to prevent capture and to speed their escape. Morfoot hoped he could go into winter quarters soon. He stated, “I will be glad to get the rest, we have been going so long.”

Soon though, Morfoot turned his thoughts back to Elizabeth. “Well, I hope you had a Merry Christmas and plenty to eat.” However, he again seemed to seek acknowledgement of his sacrifices for the good of the country. “I can’t say so much for myself. I had enough for breakfast yesterday. . . . I had coffee alone this morning. I had coffee and fresh beef since, nothing else. We are lying still today, waiting for the supply train to come up. It will be here tonight. Then we are to get 3 day’s rations to last 5.” Morfoot’s exasperation with army life, and probably being away from loved ones at this time of year, caused him to unveil his frustrations. “Curse them – let them rip; only 8 months more [to serve].”

Morfoot ended his letter by describing the horrific sights of the Franklin, Tennessee battlefield as they passed through that town in pursuit of Hood’s army. He also mentioned seeing a couple of friends now in the army that he had known back home. He closed, “I say farewell until we meet again, and remain yours.”

Lt. Charles Morefoot would not need to wait eight months to end his army career. He mustered out at Camp Harker, Tennessee, on June 12, 1865, and returned home. Morfoot’s holiday missive reminds us to be thankful for those who presently serve to defend our freedoms and to count our blessings, particularly at this time of year.

The Morfoot letter is among those in the Wiley Sword Collection, held and preserved by Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this article for the "Behind the Scenes at Pamplin" section published regularly in the Petersburg Progress Index newspaper. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Soldier's Load


At Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier’s permanent exhibit, “Duty Called Me Here: The Common Soldier’s Experience in the American Civil War,” two interactive kiosks allow guests to choose what they wish to carry if they were a soldier and then weighs their load. This exercise suggests that veteran soldiers carried the bare minimum when possible to reduce their level of physical exertion.

In addition to a soldier’s rifle-musket, which weighed about 10 pounds, their leather cartridge box full of 40 rounds of ammunition and waist belt with bayonet and scabbard, all of which made for about another 10 pounds, soldiers also had to tote a canteen and haversack. Depending on their level of contents, these items could add an additional ten or more pounds. On top of the items hanging by various straps, the soldier’s woolen uniform jacket, trousers, hat, and shoes added about another 10 pounds or so of burden.

Soldiers often commented on their loads in their letters home. For example, the Charles Hunter Collection at Pamplin Historical Park contains a letter from this soldier to his sister back in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania explaining his necessary food and equipment for an upcoming campaign.

Written on April 20, 1863, from Fletcher’s Chapel (near Fredericksburg), Virginia, Hunter opens with a traditional soldier’s greeting, “I received your kind letter last night and was glad to hear that you were all well as this [letter] leaves me in good health at present.” Hunter explained, “We are expecting to march every day as we are under orders.” Hunter served in the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry, part of the I Corps of the Army of the Potomac at this point in the war. Now commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the Army of the Potomac was under pressure from Washington D.C. to reverse previous setbacks. Preparing for extended campaigning often meant extra loads for infantrymen.

“We have 8 days of rations to carry with us when we do go and every man has to carry that much,” Hunter wrote. To give his sister Jane an idea of what that meant, he explained further. “So you can form some idea what a load, we will have 80 crackers [hardtack] that is 10 a day.” For additional rations they received “a spoonfull & a half of sugar and 2 spoonfulls of coffee a day that will be 12 [spoonfuls] of sugar & 16 of coffee for the eight days.” Army rations also included meat. Hunter stated they received “3 lbs. of fat pork for 3 days.” To help supplement possible meat deficiencies, “the cattle will follow us up for the other 5 days for our fresh beef.”

On top of carrying his soldier gear and rations, Hunter explained other items he had to lug. “So what with 8 day rations and one [extra] shirt & drawers & woolen blanket & rubber blanket & half of a tent [shelter half] you can think it won’t be an easy load, and it won’t be much wonder if a great many men will have to drop out on the way.”

As Civil War soldiers gained experience they usually either acclimated to their burdens or found practical ways to minimize their possessions. Regardless of how soldiers eventually managed their loads, their levels of physical endurance are inspiring.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this article for the "Behind the Scenes at Pamplin" section published regularly in the Petersburg Progress Index newspaper. 

Image of Pvt. Albert H. Davis, Co. E, 9th New Hampshire Infantry, courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Lt. Freeman Bowley's Capture at the Crater

In my search for information on prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I've been hoping to come across some accounts that give an idea of what soldiers experienced as they were being conveyed to the rear. One that I located comes from Lt. Freeman Bowley of Company H, 30th United States Colored Infanry.

Bowley's Civil War field experience was a short but desperate affair. Bowley mustered into the 30th USCI on May 4, 1864. He was just 18 years old when he participated in the Battle of the Crater. During the savage battle Bowley was captured in the crater caused by the mine explosion with some of his men. He remembered: "A Confederate sergeant advised me to 'take off them thar' quipments,' and as his musket was at full cock and his hand very nervous, the advice was taken. Then he kindly told me to go to the right, where I would find a covered way, and not go across the open field, 'as you'uns people is shelling right smart.' I was among the last to leave. All the colored prisoners who could walk were sent to the rear. None of the severely wounded black soldiers were ever brought back.

I started for the rear, toward the covered way, so kindly designated by the Confederate sergeant, but found it full of troops - South Carolinians. A lieutenant gabbed my haversack, pulling it off, and hit me with the flat of his saber, saying to me 'Git across that-a-way, you damned Yank,' sending myself and others over the field where our men were shelling. Before I got across, a black soldier was killed within four feet of me by one of our own shells. A little further back, out of the range of our fire, two Johnnies went for my watch, and got it; another wanted by cap, but, after a wrangle, I retained it. A third line of battle was lying in the ditch across the ravine, and General Mahone, riding a little sorrel horse, was close behind them. A mile in the rear, I found a lot of our comrades, who had been captured in the morning; among them Lieutenants Sanders and Smith, of my own regiment. We numbered 79 officers and 101 enlisted men. When they took the name of the officers many officers of colored regiments gave the name of a white regiment, but Lieutenant Sanders and myself decided to face the music and gave our regiment '30th United States Colored Infantry,' and saw the words 'Negro Officer' written opposite our names."

In a future post I will share Bowley's experience as he and his fellow black and white Union prisoners were marched through the streets of Petersburg while the city's citizens shouted their contempt. Bowley fortunately survived his prisoner of war ordeal and mustered out of the service in December of 1865. He moved to California where he died in 1903 at age 56.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Recollections of a Colored Troop by Capt. John McMurray, Co. D, 6th USCI


A little known source from a white officer in the United States Colored Troops is the memoir written by Capt. (Brevet Maj.) John McMurray, Company D, 6th United States Colored Infantry. I just recently found out that Recollections of a Colored Troop is available in digital scan version through the Library of Congress.

A teacher before the war, McMurray originally served in the 135th Pennsylvania Infantry, a nine-month regiment, attaining a lieutenancy. However, when the 135th mustered out in May 1863, McMurray was in a sort of limbo until he learned about the formation of the United States Colored Troops and applied for a commission. After clearing the USCT screening process, McMurray received a captaincy with Company D, 6th United States Colored Infantry, which was organizing and training at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia.

In Recollections of a Colored Troop, McMurray shares his memories of his times in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield. It is interesting to read his mentions of specific enlisted men, and then checking their service records. For example, in chapter 14, McMurray mentions William Law, a seemingly model soldier, who at 21 years old and standing at 6 foot 1 inches, served as a color bearer. Yet, in the regiment's first true action at Baylor's Farm, June 15, 1864, just outside Petersburg's defenses, Law was not up to the demanding task. After being turned around by McMurray twice to face the enemy, Law threw down the colors and crawled to the rear. Law's service records show that he became sick on June 21. He remained absent sick over the next several months and died of chronic dysentery on October 27, 1864. One has to wonder if his illness had affected his courage a few days earlier.

Another man, Pvt. Emanuel (aka Manual) Patterson, met his fate at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Patterson had complained to McMurray about feeling unwell before being transported to Deep Bottom, but the surgeon dismissed Patterson's complaint. Still feeling unwell the morning of the 29, McMurray took Patterson to see the surgeon again. Once more the doctor said Patterson was fine. Patterson assumed his position in line and participated in the attack. As McMurray remembered, "As I was pushing on through the slashing I met him suddenly, presenting one of the most terrible spectacles I ever beheld. He was shot in the abdomen, so that all of his bowels gushed out, forming a mass larger than my hat, seemingly, which he was holding up with his clasped hands to keep them from falling at his feet. Then, and a hundred times since, I wished I had taken the responsibility of saying to him he could remain at the rear."

Pvt. Patterson's death record

McMurray's memories of the Battle of New Market Heights vividly describe the horrors of that fight. His Company D was left with only three men not killed, wounded or missing when all was said and done on September 29.

McMurray's recollections also include thoughts on the Wilmington Campaign, hearing of the Confederate surrenders, eventual mustering out in the fall of 1865, and traveling back home to Brookville, Pennsylvania.

Recollections of a Colored Troop is an underappreciated but certainly valuable source.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Slave Against Slave

The historiography of the institution of slavery in the United States is one that has many twists and turns. Since slavery's abolition with the 13th Amendment in late 1865 to the present, scholars have examined and interpreted the "peculiar institution" from different angles and have come to many different conclusions. Along the way, scholars chose different facets of slavery for further investigation. However, few plumbed the depths of intraracial violence. 

With Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South, historian Jeff Forret fills a once gaping void. One popular interpretation in the historiography is that slave communities, although plagued by violence or threats from owners, overseers, and other whites, were otherwise "sites of unwavering harmony and solidarity." Forret's research though finds that acts of harm were not uncommon among enslaved populations. Using extant plantation and court records, as well as church discipline records, and slave narratives Forret crafts a comprehensive work spanning almost 400 pages of text. 

Broken into eight engaging though at times emotionally draining chapters, Slave Against Slave examines specific topics of intraracial violence including among others: "Violence at Work and Play," "Violence in the Slave Economy," "Violence in the Creation, Maintenance, and Destruction of Slave Unions," "Honor, Violence, and Enslaved Masculinity," and "Honor, Violence, and Enslaved Femininity." 

In an environment of constant oppression and control of one's will it is not surprising that during work situations, and often in times of competitive recreation, enslaved people lost their self control and lashed out at those who annoyed or posed threats. As Forret explains, while some of the most extreme cases of intraracial violence led to court cases, and thus left us documents to examine and form a historical record, masters often handled less severe cases internally with their own forms of discipline. So determining quantitatively the frequency of slave on slave violence is difficult. However, enough evidence survives to show that harmful acts within the slave community did happen. 

With some owners renting out their slaves and allowing them to keep some of their earnings, or with slaves finding opportunities for a measure of financial gain with overwork and thus acquiring money and some types of property, situations developed where jealousies and class differentials emerged that caused rivalries. These sometimes turned violent within the confines of enslavement. Forced unions, and sometimes even loving relationships, ended in violent confrontations when nerves were frayed, frustrations spurred, and choices for individual time were limited. Likewise threats to a loved one, or their relationship, sometimes brought out defensive violence in the slave quarters. 

The chapter that I found most thought provoking were the last two on enslaved male and female expressions of honor. Honor, one thought to be the sole territory of white Southern males, gets challenged by Forret with solid evidence and enlightening interpretation. On page 293, he writes, "For some enslaved men, violence in the quarters afforded one means to construct a masculine identity within the context of a white society that routinely denied their manhood. However detrimental or disruptive conflicts were to the harmony and solidarity of the slave community, physical aggression was often crucial to the definition of enslaved masculinity." For example, on page 302, Forret further clarifies: "Most slights coming from the mouths of whites went ignored altogether, although occasionally a slave struck out violently at a verbally abusive master or overseer or took revenge opportunistically through 'Snopesian crimes' such as theft or arson. By contrast, when slaves spit verbal venom upon another, it stung. Just as southern white men bristled at the insults of other white men, slave could not dismiss the insults of their peers. Slaves inhabited the same social plane, and if one's equal voiced insult, it mattered: one slave was attempting to establish superiority or dominance over another and deny the second slave's expectation of treatment as an equal." Enslaved women, too, often had motives for violent acts. Forret found that, "Against other female slaves they employed violence to preserve relationships and families and to maintain their good word and reputation inside the slave community" (p. 382). 

We sometimes forget that people of the past were human individuals. They had hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes, just as we do. They experienced frustrations and threats, and some responded with violence, whether justified or not, just as some people do today. To study this facet of enslaved life (within proper context and with historical documentation) only enhances the humanness of those of the past. I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

"The Colored Pickets of the 9th Corps"


While searching through some Northern newspapers to find how they covered the Battle of New Market Heights (of which I found very little mention), I came across the short notice above. It was printed in the October 1, 1864 edition of Cleveland Morning Leader, a Republican newspaper.

United States Colored Troops (USCT) in the trenches ringing Petersburg by this point in the campaign experienced almost constant harassment from their Confederate adversaries, Often located within hailing distance of each other, contemptuous exclamations were offer and returned in full and shots from both rifles and artillery flew hot and fast.

Gen. Edward Ferrro's USCT Division of the IX Corps, positioned southeast of Petersburg, had full knowledge of their enemies. They had battled them tooth and nail at the Battle of the Crater about two months before this article was printed. And in the time in between, as mentioned above, heavy firing between the pickets and men in the earthwork trenches kept their heads down but their tempers up.

This particular mention though claims that things had cooled somewhat between the foes. Its writer contends that now Confederates did not fire on black soldiers "any more promptly than white [Union] soldiers". It even says that "Deserters are also willing to accept food from colored soldiers, and will sit and chat with them."

Confederate deserters were a different kind of prisoner, and one I have honestly not given much consideration to in my research. It stands to reason that those soldiers who willingly gave themselves up rather than being captured in the heat, passion, and confusion of battle would receive more kind treatment than otherwise. And it is not had to believe that those who were hungry at the time of their capture would accept food, wherever it came from, perceived inferiors or not. I will be keeping my eyes open for future mentions by soldiers on both sides who found themselves in these situations. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Anthony M. Keiley's Petersburg Capture


Early in my search for prisoner of war accounts during the Petersburg Campaign, I came across that of Anthony M. Keiley. Although not captured during what is traditionally known as the Petersburg Campaign (June 15, 1864 - April 2, 1865), Keiley's story is one of the most complete that I've found. Keiley became a prisoner on June 9, 1864, when Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler made an attempt on the Cockade City with a force of Army of the James infantry and cavalry that was eventually thwarted.

Keiley was among the scratch force, the so-called "old men and young boys" defenders called out to guard Petersburg. The title old men and young boys seems a bit of a stretch as most more closely fit the description of middle aged men and middle to late teens. Regardless, I was curious to see why Keiley was not serving in the regular army, as he was only about 30 years old at the time. I conducted an online search and found that he had previously served in the 12th Virginia Infantry, a regiment largely raised in Petersburg.

A quick review of Keiley's extensive service records tells his military story. Involved with a Petersburg  newspaper before the war, Keiley enlisted as a sergeant in Company E of the 12th Virginia, just two days after Virginia seceded from the Union. In the fall of 1861, Keiley received a promotion to 2nd lieutenant. The 12th Virginia first served at Norfolk and then were transferred to Drewry's Bluff and then to Richmond where the Seven Days' Battles were raging.

On July 1, 1862, the last day of the Seven Days' fighting, the 12th Virginia got into the fight at Malvern Hill as part of William Mahone's Brigade. In the fight, now 1st Lt. Keiley received a wound to the instep of his foot. His service records also state that he suffered from an illness that kept him absent on sick leave through the fall of 1862. However, by January and February 1863, Keiley was back with his comrades in the 12th Virginia. One letter in his records says that although he was not healed he joined his regiment at Fredericksburg. Other records, early in 1863, show that he attempted to get a detached position as a courier apparently without success. His July and August 1863 return shows him again on leave. Another source said that he was at Gettysburg, but Mahone's Brigade was largely not engaged in that fight. Keiley remained on leave but he was elected to the General Assembly at which time he requested to resign and it was accepted by December 1863. 

By the summer of 1864, Keiley was back in Petersburg, again working in the newspaper business. Called out to defend the city and captured during the June 9 attack on the city he was sent to Butler's headquarters at City Point or Bermuda Hundred.


Keily's book, published in 1866 as, In Vinculis, Or Prisoner of War Being the Experience of a Rebel in the Federal Pens, among other things, gives his racist impression of the African American guards at Butler's headquarters.

Keiley wrote in his chapter 4, "Beast Butler:" that "On approaching Butler's quarters, which were quite handsomely located, out of reach of all intrusion, the first thing that attracted attention was the presence and prominence of the negro. So far we had only seen one or two of the negro soldiers on duty at the pontoon bridge, and the night being as dark as themselves, we could with difficulty distinguish them--but there Abyssinia ruled the roast [roost?]. It was 'nigger' everywhere; and although the white soldiers were obviously annoyed at the companionship, the terror of Butler's rule crushed all resistance even of opinion, and all the colored brethren knew, and presumed on, their secured position and importance."

I'll be sharing other selections from In Vinculis in the near future as I work my way though its pages.

Postwar image of A.M. Keiley courtesy of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.