Friday, August 10, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America


The definition of who a citizen is is one that has constantly evolved. However, few, if any, periods in American history had a greater impact on who is considered a citizen than the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Citizenship is often determined through the lens of loyalty. To whatever nation/state one's loyalty is given is where citizenship resides, at least in theory. Historically, legal citizenship has presented obstacles. For example, at one period in American history only white property owning males were considered true citizens. Obviously that has changed over the years to include many different groups of people. Much of that change came through the crucible of the Civil War. 

In The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America, author Erik Mathisen primarily uses the Mississippi Valley as his geographic focus. It is a good choice on his part due to all of the change this region experienced during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Although Mississippi was the second state to secede there were pockets where loyalty to the United States remained strong, and it was home to individuals who were unwilling to claim allegiance to the newly formed Confederacy. Among those that did side with secession, the author intriguingly also examines the seemingly cloudy world of whether one's greater loyalty was to the state of Mississippi or the Confederate nation. On the surface this may seem one in the same, but when "push comes to shove" issues arose it made for tough decision making. 

This era brought opportunities for African Americans to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States by fleeing their owners and entering Union lines to either provide needed labor or enlist as soldiers when finally allowed to do so in 1863. Blacks would use their loyalty as a leverage point during the initial Reconstruction years that Confederate whites could not. The formerly enslaved, especially those who had fought in USCT regiments, demanded their citizenship be recognized in the forms of Constitutional amendments (14th & 15th) and bred resentment by former Confederates who basically lost their citizenship rights for a time. 

The Loyal Republic is a thought provoking work that makes one reexamine preconceptions of loyalty and citizenship and how we came to our current understanding of those terms. I recommend it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Burnside - Fulkerson Kerfuffle: June 17, 1864


Monday evening while browsing through issues of the Bristol News (VA & TN) from 1868, I came upon the advertisement above for attorneys York and Fulkerson. The name Fulkerson certainly rang a bell for me. When I lived in Tennessee and reenacted, I participated with the 19th Tennessee Infantry. The original 19th Tennessee, a Confederate regiment raised in a heavily Unionist East Tennessee, fought in most of the western theater battles. Abram Fulkerson first served as captain of Company K and then as major in the 19th. Later he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and the colonel of the 63rd Tennessee. 

Fulkerson's family came from Lee County in far southwest Virginia, near the Cumberland Gap. The Fulkerson's had a long line men in military service. Abram's grandfather fought in the the Revolutionary War and his father, Abram Sr., fought in the War of 1812. Abram was educated at the Virginia Military Institute, where he learned from Thomas Jonathan Jackson. When the Civil war broke out Abram was teaching in Hawkins County, Tennessee. He joined with other Southern-minded neighbors to form Company K of the 19th Tennessee. Fulkerson's brother, Samuel Vance Fulkerson, an attorney in Washington County, Virginia (Abingdon), who had fought in the Mexican-American War, joined in the 37th Virginia. Samuel was killed fighting in the Battle of Ganines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

After Abram Fulkerson transferred to the 63rd Tennessee, the regiment was relocated to Virginia and fought in Bushrod Rust Johnson's Brigade. Johnson's Brigade was assigned to Gen. Beauregard's forces on the Bermuda Hundred, but were called to Petersburg when Gen. Grant's first offensive threatened the city. During the initial fighting at Petersburg, Johnson's Brigade received heavy assaults from the attacking IX Corps Union forces east of the Cockade City. On June 17, Fulkerson's position was overrun and he was captured.


Fulkerson recalled the incident and his subsequent interrogation by IX Corps commander Gen. Ambrose Burnside (pictured above) in an 1894 piece he wrote for the Southern Historical Society.

"About daylight, on the morning of the 17th, the troops in our front, having been largely reinforced during the night, made a charge in three lines on our position, overlapping us on the right, and carrying our works by storm. A large portion of Johnson's Brigade was captured, including myself and about half of my regiment.

The prisoners, in charge of an officer and a detail of men, were quickly marched through the Federal lines to General Burnside's headquarters, located in a field about half a mile to the rear. The General had dismounted, and was seated on a camp-stool, and was surrounded by a line of negro guards.

The prisoners were halted at the line of guards, and the officer in charge announced to the General that they has captured the colonel of a regiment, many officers and men, three flags, and several pieces of artillery. Rising from his seat, General Burnside approached us, and, addressing me, enquired what regiment I commanded, and being informed that it was a Tennessee regiment, he asked from what part of the State.

From East Tennessee, I replied. With an expression of astonishment, General Burnside said: 'It is very strange that you should be fighting us when three-fourths of the people of East Tennessee are on our side.' Feeling the rebuke unjust and unbecoming and officer of his rank and position, I replied, wht as much spirit as I dared manifest, 'Well General, we have the satisfaction of knowing that if three-fourths of our people are on your side, that the respectable people are on our side.' At this the General flew into a rage of passion, and railed at me.

'You are a liar, you are a liar, sir, and you know it.' I replied, 'General, I am a prisoner, and you have the power to abuse me as you please, but as to respectability that is a matter of opinion. We regard no man respectable who deserts his country and takes up arms against his own people.' To this General Burnside replied, 'I have been in East Tennessee, I was at Knoxville, I know these people, and when you say that such men as Andrew Johnson, Brownlow, Baxter, Temple, Netherland, and others, are not respectable, you lie, sir, and you will have to answer for it.' At this point I expected he would order me shot by his negro guards, but he continued, 'not to any human power, but to a higher power.' With a feeling of relief I answered, 'O, General, I am ready to take that responsibility.'

'Take him on, take him on,' the General shouted to our guards, and thence we were marched some two or three miles towards City Point, to the headquarters of General [Marsena] Patrick, the Provost-Marshall General of Grant's army, where we were guarded during the day in a field, without shelter, and under a burning sun. In other respects we were treated with consideration due prisoners of war by General Patrick, whom we found to be a gentleman."

Sent to Charleston, South Carolina, Fulkerson became part of the Immortal 600 group of prisoners. Eventually he was transferred to Fort Delaware, where he was finally released in July 1865. After the war Fulkerson went into law and then politics, serving in the Virginia legislature and then the U.S. House of Representatives. He, along with William Mahone, was one of the founding members of the controversial biracial Readjuster Party in Virginia. Fulkerson died in Bristol in 1902 and was buried in East Hill Cemetery. 


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


The most recent issue of the Civil War Monitor magazine listed several historians' favorite books about Gettysburg. One that appears on several lists was The Color of Courage: Gettysburg's Forgotten History, Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War Defining Battle by Margaret S. Creighton. I have seen this work at different book stores and at historic sites, but with a number of Gettysburg books already on my shelves, I did not have an urgency to add another. However, after attending the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute back in June, I came across a few of the town's intriguing social history stories while walking around and reading a number of wayside panels and roadside markers. Interested in learning more, this book seemed like an excellent opportunity to do so. 


Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy by Earl Hess is a book that I've had on my wish list since it was published a couple of years ago. Bragg's previous two volume biography is often the butt of jokes in Civil War circles. Having a different author for each volume lends itself to the thought that a historian can only stand so much of Bragg before calling it quits. Apparently with this new biography Hess provides a balanced look at Bragg's service and leadership, taking into account his personal life and its influence on this thoughts and actions. Curious to learn about Hess's sources and his interpretation, I'm looking forward to viewing this Army of Tennessee historical pariah from a new perspective.
 

The John Brown shelf in my library just grew by another volume with my purchase of Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown's Army by Eugene L. Meyer. Recent individual biographies on John Brown's raiders John Cook and John Anthony Copeland, both by Steven Lubet, are bringing the stories of Brown's men more into focus. The five African American men covered in this work all have fascinating life stories and I'm looking forward to learning more about them. Osborne Anderson, John Anthony Copeland, Dangerfield Newby, Shields Green, and Lewis Leary all had lots to lose with their participation in the Harpers Ferry raid, but made the attempt anyway. The fact that, of the five, only Osborne Anderson escaped, shows their sacrifice in their effort to end slavery.


I read Tiya Miles's book The House on Diamond Hill, about Cherokee Joseph Vann's slaveholding plantation in Georgia a few years ago and was fascinated by this racially complex story. Marginalized Native Americans owning enslaved African Americans is a complicated story that she helped me sort out. In Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, Miles seeks to teach us more about the the black and red dynamic of slaveholding and family.


Although I moved from Kentucky just over three years ago, my interest in that state's history endures. Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth Century Kentucky Frontier by Honor Sachs looks to provide further evidence to rather recent interpretations about the influence of Kentucky's frontier experience as a model for other states in westward expansion. Often at the expense of women, slaves, the poor and less established, a white masculine patriarchal dominance established a sense of order on the turbulent and sometimes dangerous frontier. 
  

I've been seeking to learn about the experiences of white officers who led black troops during the Civil War for quite some time. Thank God My Regiment an African One: The Civil War Diary of Colonel Nathan W. Daniels, edited by C. P. Weaver, examines the experiences of a commander of the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards, a regiment made up of free men of color from New Orleans and the Pelican State. I'm interested to see how Daniels's account is similar and different from those of more well known commanders like Thomas Wentworth Higginson's book and Robert Gould Shaw's collection of letters.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America


What Jesus looked like is a question that almost everyone has pondered at one time or another. In The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, authors Blum and Harvey take a close look at how the son of God has appeared in imagery and how those depictions have been used and changed from colonial times to the present. 

By examining an array of sources, including material culture, and from the perspectives of different groups of African Americans, Native Americans, and whites, it is clear that over time that the image of Christ that became most envisioned was that of a white Jesus. Obviously this required ignoring Christ's Middle Eastern Jewish heritage. 

Puritans and some other colonial Americans often attempted to exclude and even destroyed pictures of Jesus from their worship, preferring to symbolize Christ with light rather than with a flesh and blood image. Early American whites developed a white Christ to fit their world view and attempted to share their image with the enslaved of African descent and the "sons of the forest," Native Americans, with a measure of success. With emancipation and westward expansion, conflicting views of Christ's image came forward. Native American were confused that whites idolized Jesus with long hair, yet required Indians to cut theirs to be "civilized." The Christ of many African Americans, who was a loving and forgiving figure became a vengeful and hateful figure when used by white supremacists like the KKK. The authors explain that the 1941 image "Head of Christ" by Walter Sallman is one that has dominated American's imagination in the 20th and 21st century. The influence of this particular image is enduring and became almost ubiquitous in protestant churches and in secular circles as well. 

During the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement and with the rise of liberation theology, for many African Americans Jesus transformed from white to black and was depicted as such as a way of relating to the struggles endured during slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow era America. The authors brings the story on into the present and explain how Jesus has been viewed in the digital age and in popular culture. 

I appreciated that the authors included photographs of some of the imagery they examine. And by covering this topic over the span of centuries, it helps us see more clearly this fascinating change over time. I recommend it highly.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Richmond Dispatch Reports on the Battle of the Crater


Tomorrow marks the 154th anniversary of the famous Battle of the Crater. What must ultimately be determined a fiasco of an operation by the Union IX Corps could have had a greater chance of success had the attack's leadership not been almost totally absent and greater support provided.

Here black Union troops from Ferrero's Division mixed in deadly hand-to-hand combat with the Army of Northern Virginia's Confederate veterans for the first time. As most students of the battle know, the level of blood-lust was at a high at the Crater. Emotions overtook reason and self-control in this heated combat. Calls of "NO QUARTER!" and "REMEMBER FORT PILLOW!" by the attackers were answered with atrocities by the defenders.

The vitriol displayed by the Confederate soldiers, and the Southern press, is one that is difficult for the modern reader to fathom. When reading page 504 of Will Greene's recently published Volume 1 study of the Petersburg Campaign, A Campaign of Giants: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater, one is struck with the blatant tone of the editor of the Richmond Enquirer in the August 1-2, 1864 issue. "Let every salient we are called upon to defend be a Fort Pillow, and butcher every negro that Grant hurls against our brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of the negro." The paper then called for Gen. William Mahone, to not be so merciful in the future and to let the Southern soldiers carry out what he saw as a providential task. "We beg [Mahone] hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded and come shouting 'no quarter,' shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is until every negro has been slaughtered."

Curious to see if these sentiments were similarly expressed in other papers, I looked up the Richmond Daily Dispatch of August 2, 1864. Although less explicit than the Enquirer, under the headline, THE WAR NEWS, it claimed unabashedly that the black troops were "slaughtered like sheep" and that "hundreds were slain."




The paper then mentioned that it was simply impossible for the Confederates to render aid to those wounded caught between the lines due to the Union sharpshooters. The writer also speculated on the length of the mine tunnel, guessing that it was 600 feet long, which was about 90 feet longer than the actual distance. It, too, gave the killed and wounded figures of Mahone's counterattacking force. The article continued with a deprecating tone about the black and white Union prisoners:



Two columns to the right of this story, a long list of runaway slaves were posted in advertisements.







Fighting black Union troops on the battlefield and attempting to contain the enslaved on the shrinking home front was certainly disconcerting to white Southerners. Many of them must have wondered about the future and what would ultimately become of their new nation. Would it slip away along with each mile of lost ground or would a miracle occur to turn the tide? It would take hundreds of more lives and more than eight months to finally decide the outcome, and turn their worlds upside down.

Image of "Mahone's Counterattack" courtesy of Don Troiani artworks.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Zooming in on Cedar Level Commissary


As my last "Zooming In" post seems to have drawn some interest, I thought I'd share another. This one is also from the Petersburg Campaign. However, this image does not come from the City Point wharves as the last one did, rather it is from Cedar Level, Virginia, which was about three miles southwest of City Point, along the United States Military Railroad (USMRR). This supply line proved vital to the Union army and their thousands of men fighting around the Cockade City. 

Students of the Petersburg Campaign are likely familiar with the several photographs showing the vast stockpiles of hardtack boxes and salt pork barrels. Most of those images were taken at Cedar Level, as was the one above, according to the Library of Congress. 


The standard daily meat ration for soldiers consisted of either salt pork or fresh or pickled beef. The enlisted men preferred salted pork or fresh beef over the pickled beef. Salt did not seem to affect pork the way it did beef. The men complained that beef absorbed the salt making it virtually inedible, even when cooked thoroughly. Pork, however, did not hold in the strong salty flavor like beef did, allowing for a much better taste. Therefore, the men preferred their beef fresh. Herds of cattle were shipped from various points north by boat to City Point for the Union army's consumption.  

 Naturally, the animals (beef on the hoof) required processing in order to eat them. Commissary workers slaughtered, skinned, and butchered the cattle for soldier consumption. Contrabands, refugee slaves who fled to Union lines and who had significant experience with these duties from their time on plantations, often handled this less than pleasant work. 

In the image above it appears that a pile of cow hides is growing to the left of photograph. It looks like the two figures on the left side are in the process of skinning one of the animals. The man on the left is African American, but the man to the right of him looks as if he is white and holding a knife of some type in his left hand. On further to the right is a barrel with a set of horns sitting on it. To the right of that a black man stands with his hands on his hips with the arms akimbo. He may have a long butcher's apron tied around his waist and over his vest. It looks like the other two men to the right of him are also African American. Behind them is what at first glace looked to be an artillery piece, but upon further inspection, looks more like a cart or wagon as the wheels appear to be too far apart for a cannon. Plus, a wagon would make much more sense in this particular setting.


In the foreground is one of the byproducts of the slaughtering process, thousands and thousands of cattle horns. While each one of the beeves provided about 500 rations for the hungry soldiers, there was not much need for the horns. I've not been able to determine what, if anything ultimately became of these objects, whether they were buried, destroyed, or used in some other fashion, If anyone happens to know, I'd be happy to hear about it.


It appears that the army re-purposed a local barn here for their use in the above close up. All of the siding has been removed, leaving a skeleton of frame beams. Perhaps the commissary wanted the cover the roof provided without the clapboards to hold in the offensive smells. Or maybe they used the clapboards for fuel or their living quarters. A canvas awning is stretched out as a type of porch covering.


A man wearing a frock coat with shoulder boards, so likely an officer, stands at the center of the image. He may be overseeing the operation or just visiting the scene on behalf of a brigade, division, or corps. He leans slightly on a cane, which is in his right hand. Under his frock coat he wears a civilian-style vest.


To the right of the officer is an enlisted man or non-commissioned officer standing at shoulder arms with fixed bayonet, apparently guarding the operation. It looks as if he is wearing a modified enlisted man's hat and has on the basic accouterments of cartridge box and waist belt with cap pouch. The eagle medallion on his cartridge box sling shines in the sun. No canteen or haversack is shown on him.

Do you see anything else that catches your attention?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps


Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps, edited by Henry L. Swint is yet another book that has lingered on my book shelves for way too long. I suppose it happens to many book lovers who continue to buy books and see recent acquisitions get pushed out of the way in favor of even more recent books. And then, before you know it, there sits a book that you've had for 10 years or longer. Often when I pull an old ignored friend off the shelf and get into it I find that I wished I had jumped on it sooner. 

Anyway, this book was quite the read. There are not a whole lot of accounts from people who spent time in Civil War era contraband camps, either as an aid worker, which was the case here, or as one who sought aid. 

Dear Ones at home are the letters of sisters Sarah and Lucy Chase sent to their family and friends back in Worcester, Massachusetts and other locations. The Quaker sisters were indefatigable workers with freedmen aid societies who sought to clothe, feed, and educate former slaves who came into Union army lines as their forces made incursions into the South. The editor's selection of letters track the sisters' work from Craney Island and Norfolk in southeast Virginia in 1863 to Roanoke Island, North Carolina to Savannah and Columbus, Georgia, and finally to Gordonsville, Virginia in 1870. 

The letters give great insight into how these two women perceived those they worked with, as well as how they perceived white Southerners. The sisters appear to have had a tremendous amount of patience with the challenges they faced in their work. Demands on their time and resources were seemingly endured with kindness and extra exertion. The letters also are helpful in learning the stories of the freedmen and freedwomen, who the sisters worked with closely in diverse situations. What clearly comes through in these missives is the Chase sisters' compassion and their belief that their efforts would bear beneficial fruit. Also of great significance is the freed people's desire to improve their individual situations. 

The editor's footnotes help familiarize the reader to mentioned personalities who may not be well-known. This collection of selected letter is one not to be overlooked. The perspective of the freedmen society aid workers is one that is both informative and inspiring to the modern reader. I highly recommend it in order to better understand the difficult situation that both the freed people and their helpers endured while seeking liberty, citizenship, and equality.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Just Finished Reading - My Brother's Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War


The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 ensured a significant migration of African Americans who had earned their freedom by absconding from their former owners in slave states by fleeing to British North America. Remaining in the free states no longer proved safe for them with a strengthened fugitive slave law. However, long before 1850, fleeing slaves had sought refuge in Canada, beyond the reach of United States laws. 

Those individuals and their children often felt a strong calling to aid those of their race, both still enslaved toiling unrequited, as well as those freemen seeking an opportunity to prove their worthiness for U.S. citizenship and equal rights. Despite it being illegal for Canadian citizens to join in fighting for a foreign power, thousands still went to fight in the Civil War. Many African Canadians realized from the beginning that even though President Lincoln claimed it would be a war for the preservation of the Union, they saw it as an opportunity to at last strike a blow for freedom. 

Like large numbers of African Americans, African Canadians, too, eagerly anticipated the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, and thus the opportunity to provide military service to the United States. Prince makes fascinating examinations of several aspects of his broad title. 

Chapters of the book look at different roles that African Canadians played in the Civil War. He discovers plenty of soldiers and sailors, many of whom fought in some of the most famous black regiments, like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, and 6th USCI. He also examines the important role that both black men and women, many too aged for active service, played in recruiting efforts for the Union army. In addition, a chapter is devoted to the doctors, nurses, and chaplains with Canadian connections who served and supported the men in the fight. A chapter on the Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, who sought to ask both black and white Canadians about race related issues is particularly interesting. While some of those polled answered questions with prototypical mid-19th century racist responses, reading the diversity of responses reminds us that, like today, not everyone thought the same way 150 years ago either. 

One of the main strengths of the book in my opinion are the individual stories that the author tells throughout the work, particularly the one in the initial chapter. Similarly, the author incorporates a number of photographs and images that help the reader better visualize the people and issues he covers. As far as weaknesses: while the author does provide fairly consistent citations for the quotes he incorporates in the work, there were some that I was unable to locate in the book's end notes. 

Bryan Prince's My Brother's Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War fills a scholarship gap. Black Canadians influenced the Civil War in many ways previously underappreciated. Prince's book recognizes a number of these people and shed's needed light on their sacrifices and contributions to ultimate Union victory.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Zooming in on a City Point Scene



In one my recent readings I came across the above photograph, which is located in the collections of the Library of Congress. I found the scene intriguing having just read so much about Civil War logistics. And, wondering what I might find by manipulating the image by zooming in, I downloaded the TIFF file. As I suspected there are some fascinating things to see in this particular photograph, so I thought I'd share several things that caught my eye.


The soldier figure standing on the hillside at the left of the photograph appears to be holding quite an awkward pose. Perhaps he is aware that a moving figure blurred with period photography. He appears to be a young man, although it is difficult to be sure with his hat pulled so low. His ill-fitting army trousers look to be catching a strong breeze from behind.


Just to the right of the awkward soldier are stacked boxes covered with canvas tarps. Most likely these are hardtack or army bread boxes, covered up to protect them from the elements and awaiting disbursement. City Point (present day Hopewell, Virginia) at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers served as the Army of the Potomac's supply base during the Petersburg Campaign. Millions of rations were stockpiled at City Point over the 292-day campaign for the nourishment of the soldiers.


Dominating the photo's scene is a large group of "contraband" workers. It appears the men are in the process of grading a railroad bed. In the mid-ground portion of the image shown above, halved logs are laying on the ground as railroad ties awaiting rails. A large pile logs to be used for similar purposes are in the background. Former area slaves provided a deep pool of labor for the Union army. Most of these men were well acquainted with a hard day's work, but now they received wages for their labors.

Also in this portion of the shot is a white Union soldier holding a rifle with fixed bayonet on his right shoulder. Another white man, perhaps an army engineer overseeing the work, holds his hat in his right hand over his head.


A close-up of of one of the groups of men shows a diversity of hats and braces (suspenders). Shovels appear to be the predominate tool for the task at hand. It is difficult to tell what time of year this photograph was taken, but almost all of the workers are not wearing jackets, which leads one to believe this is likely during the warmer months of the year.
 

The three men in the most foreground look to be leveling out the ground with shovels. The man closest to the camera wears what appear to be army boots. His right shirtsleeve looks torn and the crown of his hat is caved in. The man opposite him seems to be taking a short breather by resting one hand on his right thigh and shovel and the other hand on his left knee.


The resting man has some sort of improvised protection on both hands. These make-shift gloves or mittens look to have thumb holes for grasping implements but are open on the backs of the hands, protecting only the palms.


A couple of picks are in the most foreground of the image. They rest beside some stones and rip-rap, which implies they were used for breaking the rock to make gravel that might have served as a road bed material for the wooden railroad ties.


On the far right of the photograph are two six-mule team army supply wagons. Thousands of wagons like these two helped move, supply, equip, and feed the army. Unfortunately, the teamsters are not shown with the teams in this photograph. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Confederate Supply by Richard D. Goff


Sometimes we overlook books published almost 50 years ago in favor of more recent scholarship. It is only natural to have a favor for current studies as those scholars of the present potentially have access to more evidence that those of the past. However, depending on the subject matter, works from a number of years ago can be quite valuable, too. And not just for historiography! 

This book, Confederate Supply, by Richard D. Goff is a good example. Published in 1969, by Duke University Press, it provides a fairly broad survey of the Confederate government's ability (or inability) to arm, equip, and feed its fighting men. 

Focusing primarily on the quartermaster and subsistence departments, Goff provides a look inside the making of Confederate supply policy and those government officials who executed those policies. Goff utilizes primarily a year-by-year approach on how the South's two main armies, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Tennessee, were effected by governmental supply policy. The author finds that much of the Confederacy's issues resulted from initially failing to bring the border slave states in the CSA fold. Not doing so left a critical population of manpower to either serve the Union or sit out the war. It also left significant established manufacturing areas and transportation links outside of Confederate bounds. 

Another early strike against them was the Confederacy's inability to defend vital areas of manufacturing and important logistical routes upon Union invasion. Losing key cities in 1862 such as Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis, and others, hurt their chances in the long run. In addition, Goff makes it clear that the Confederate government's unwillingness to commandeer and centralize the railroads in effort to increase the efficiency of their supply transport was a critical factor in their ultimate defeat. Reactionary policy making instead of proactive planning was too often the rule of thumb. The inability to efficiently get the stockpiles of clothing, equipment, and food to the men in the field had dire repercussions on morale, both on the front lines and on the home front. 

Basing his research heavily on sources in the Official Records, Goff's analysis is solid and his interpretation is keen. Although this title is now out of print, and thus somewhat difficult to find, if you are as curious about Civil War logistics as I am, it is certainly one you want to read.

Monday, July 16, 2018

USCTs Showed Valor at Baylor's Farm Fight


If one stands on the ground today where the Battle of Baylor's Farm occurred early on the morning of June 15, 1864, one sees virtually no evidence of that combat. Yes, there is a Civil War Trails wayside marker near the site, which provides good information to those willing to find it and read it, but sadly, development has removed all vestiges of the valor that was displayed by the United States Colored Troops of Gen. Edward Hinks's Division of the XVIII Corps. 

Marching down the City Point Road toward Petersburg in Grant's First Offensive on the Cockade City, the two brigades belonging to Hinks's Division (Samuel Duncan's and John Holman's) ran into the city's far outer defensive position. Manning this position was Capt. Edward Graham's Petersburg Artillery and about 400 dismounted troopers of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry. Located on a slight rise of ground just to the south of a small swampy stream, the Southerners waited behind hastily build yet sturdy defenses. 

Approaching the fortification, Duncan's brigade formed into battle line. On the left of the line was the 6th USCI, to their right in order was the 4th, 22nd, and 5th USCIs. Behind Duncan was Holman's tiny brigade, which consisted of the 1st USCI and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, who fought dismounted. Battery K of the 3rd New York Light Artillery provided the black brigades with support.

Soon the Confederate artillery started up. Several companies of the 4th USCI moved out of a tree line and toward the belching guns. These brave yet inexperienced soldiers paid for their rashness with severe casualties, not only from their foes, but also from some of their nervous friends in the 5th Mass, Cavalry. The 4th suffered over 120 causalities in the first quarter of an hour of fighting. The 6th, on the 4th's left also caught the Confederate's wrath as shells and canister was thrown at these brave attackers. 

The 5th and 22nd, on the north side of the City Point Road advanced, too. These two regiments, although on more open ground than their comrade units to their left, seemed to receive less Confederate attention.


The 22nd USCI, led by Col. Joseph Kiddoo, charged the Confederate left portion of the fortification, with his men yelling "Remember Fort Pillow!" As the 22nd neared the position, the North Carolinians, feeling their position untenable, fled in retreat and the black soldiers planted their flags on the works. Retreating, too, were Graham's gunners, leaving at least one artillery piece and perhaps two guns, which could not be withdrawn by the Southerners quickly enough.

Sgt. Milton Holland of the 5th USCI, who would later earn the Medal of Honor for courageous fighting at New Market Heights, commented about the Baylor's Farm fight " . . . when the command was given to us, 'Charge bayonets!' Forward double quick," the black column rushed forward, raising the battle yell, and in a few moments we mounted the rebel parapets. And to our great surprise, we found that the boasted Southern chivalry had fled . . . ."


Overjoyed with their success, the victorious black soldiers celebrated by cheering and pulling the guns out of their previous positions. These United States Colored Troops regiments paid for their gains with about 300 casualties (killed and wounded) in almost two hours of fighting.

However, it did earn the black men some begrudging respect from both their Confederate enemies and their white comrades. One officer in a New Hampshire regiment stated "I dislike the negroe as much as any live man, but still I could not help pitying them when I saw them go limping past me all covered with blood." Another white soldier wrote, "Negroes will keep on their feet, and move on, with wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to their guns." The XVIII Corps commander, William "Baldy" Smith, also praised the colored troops claiming that their performance "affords conclusive evidence that colored men, when properly officered and drilled,  will not only make soldiers, but the best of soldiers of the line."

Hinks's Division would go on to even more success in the fighting along Petersburg's Dimmock Line defenses later in the day of June 15.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War


Most students of the Civil War learn early on that the vast majority of soldier deaths were due to illness and disease, rather than the combat actions on its many battlefields. However, Inglorious Passages reminds us that along with illnesses and diseases, a great number of men lost their lives in about as many different ways as one could imagine during the fours years of the conflict. 

Wartime has the unique and horrible ability to cast a long shadow of death far beyond intended belligerents on open fields and in earthworks. From even before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, but also throughout the four years of war, accidents occurred that took lives, such as drownings on troop transport ships, firearms mishaps in training camps, broken necks and backs from horse falls, railroad tragedies, and a plethora of other death dealing means. 

Wills located hundreds of examples of each of these tragic tales and more by combing through period newspapers, examining soldiers' letters and diaries, and searching through Union and Confederate army records. 

The Civil War created the atmosphere for many of these tragic deaths to occur. For example, had there been no war, one could argue that the hundreds of soldiers killed by falling trees, either by natural means of wind and storm or by human axes for shelter and fortifications, would have been greatly mitigated. Similarly, if there had been no war, the situations of accidental mishandling of firearms in camp that caused the deaths of more hundreds of men would also not have occurred. But the war did happen and these men did lose their lives in these ways. What was left was to do was for those fiends and families who lost loved ones in these diverse, sometimes "freak" manners to make sense of these tragedies. Most often those folks sought comfort by telling or believing that their soldier loved one died in the service of their country, and whether that was due to a railroad accident rather than in a military battlefield charge mattered little; their life was a sacrifice on the alter of liberty (whichever interpretation of that term, Union or Confederate, they chose). 

One quote Wills incorporates in the book sums up many Civil War soldiers' interpretation of the both intentional and accidental death and destruction of life the war brought when he wrote home "Father, I am sick of reading in the papers of 'the glory' of war. The truth is, there is no glory in it; Everything about it is simply horrible." 

We would do well to remind ourselves about the long shadow of war before entering into any conflict lightly. Wills helps us do that. This is an important book about the past, but it also is a warning to us in the present and the future. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


As I've previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to attend Gettysburg College's Civil War Institute back in June. Among the many amenities that the Institute offered, they had several tables of gently used history books for sale. The books were in excellent condition and most were marked at a fraction of their average prices at online used book sources.  Needless to say, I couldn't help myself and grabbed up several titles.

Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth Century America by Kristen Layne Anderson piqued my interest from reading the title alone. My knowledge of this mid-western border state's Civil War era experience is fairly lacking, so I'm hoping this book will help fill in some gaps.


 I've thoroughly enjoyed Ronald Coddington's previous three books in his series of "Faces of" books (Confederate, Union, and African American). So, I jumped at the chance to add his Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors to my library when I saw it among the used books at the Civil War Institute. I'm looking forward to reading the fascinating stories that Coddington always seems to discover about the men in the photographs he examines.


I recently read about William Tillman's escape in an issue of one of the popular Civil War magazines. His story is a fascinating look into how this seaman fought against his Confederate captors in order to remain free. The Rest I Will Kill: William Tillman and the Unforgettable Story of How a Free Black Man Refused to Become a Slave by Brian McGinty promises to add to our understanding of the importance of the idea of liberty to free blacks. I enjoyed reading McGinty's book John Brown's Trial several years ago, and I'm sure I'll learn new things from this one, too.


Another title that caught my eye was Sweet Freedom's Plains: African Americans and the Overland Trails, 1841-1869 by Shirley Ann Wilson Moore. The famous Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trail have spawned many novels and films, however, few if any examine the experiences of African American men and women who traveled these routes west. I'm very interested to see what sources the author found to craft this history and tell what looks to be an intriguing story.


Susannah J. Ural was one of the Civil War Institute's featured speakers. The arguments she presented in her talk about her most recent book, Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit, on this brigade's commitment to the Confederate cause were quite thought provoking. So much so, that I decided to pull the trigger and go ahead and buy it. I'm interested in reading the sections that cover the Texas Brigade's defense at New Market Heights and their combat experience there versus two United States Colored Troops brigades. The part of the subtitle, "and Families" also seems to show that Ural has written a blend of military and social history with this work. 


Southern Unionism was part of some of my ancestors' experience along the Tennessee and Kentucky border, so I've been trying to find as much quality scholarship on this topic that I can. I was happy to locate an inexpensive copy of Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy by Richard Nelson Current recently and snatched it up. Thousands of  White Southerners, as well as black men, joined the ranks of the United States army to put down the rebellion and abolish slavery. This book promises to provide even more evidence that the Confederate South was far far from "solid."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Photograph of Men of the 55th Massachusetts


Today I came across a photograph (shown below) I had never viewed before. Located in the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), it shows what looks to be a company of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry.


The 55th was the state's sister infantry regiment to the more famous 54th Massachusetts. The 55th regiment, like the 54th, was made up largely of free men of color from all across the Free States, and like the 54th they served primarily in the Department of the South, campaigning in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.

If you go to this link, and click on the photograph, you will be able to enlarge it and see amazing details not observable in the above view.

On the far left a drummer stands holding his sticks. Scattered about, some men lounge; one man rests his head on another soldier's leg. One pair of friends kneel with one man's arm across the shoulders of his pal. Another pair strikes a similar pose farther to the right. On the far right two comrades look to be pointing to each other's U.S. belt buckles. All of the men are wearing their issued enlisted men's frock coats and forage caps. Interestingly, only a few of the sergeants wear the eagle medallion on their cartridge box slings. The men's muskets have fixed bayonets and are in stacks behind the soldiers. What look to be their white officers, probably a captain and a first lieutenant, stand with their swords.

Thanks to the NMAAHC for making this image available to us Civil War enthusiasts.

Image of the 55th entering Charleston courtesy of the Library of Congress.