Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Lincoln and the Abolitionists


A welcome addition to the ever-growing Concise Lincoln Library collection, published by Southern Illinois University Press, is noted abolitionist historian Stanley Harrold’s contribution, Lincoln and theAbolitionists.

In order to understand the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists, Harrold contends that it is important to understand their vastly different backgrounds. Lincoln, born in slaveholding Kentucky, raised in southern Indiana and frontier Illinois, was a product of the environment and the people he grew up with. Although often commenting on the basic immorality of slavery, largely as a violation of the revered Declaration of Independence, as a young man, and even deep into his political career, Lincoln felt slavery was a political conundrum that would be difficult to solve. And, as Harrold puts it so well, “being ‘antislavery’ was not the same thing as being an abolitionist.” (p. 6)

Harrold explains that once Lincoln embarked on his political career, it was those politics that kept him from moving into the abolitionist camp. Taking on a political life as a Whig and revering “The Great Compromiser” Henry Clay as his ideal politician left Lincoln with a pragmatic approach to what would be the future of slavery in the United States. The man who would be one day become known as “The Great Emancipator” knew that any success he was to have in politics—particularly in local and state politics—depended on meeting in agreement, at least on a certain level, with those who cast the votes. Lincoln often saw abolitionists as disrupting the Union and thus chose to maintain a rather conservative stance on the institution of slavery and race relations in Illinois and reject the more radically perceived abolitionist view of immediate and uncompensated emancipation. He knew doing so was instrumental to his success in climbing the political ladder.

The majority of Lincoln and the Abolitionists focuses on the Railsplitter’s rise to the presidency, and rightly so. As mentioned above, understating Lincoln’s background is prerequisite to understanding how he viewed abolitionists and approached their methods. However, the short treatment—always a challenge with a “concise history”—on the often fraught relationship between President Lincoln and abolitionist leaders like William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Horace Greeley, and Frederick Douglass leaves considerable room for further examination. Despite this fact, Harrold makes clear that abolitionist pressure influenced many of Lincoln’s decisions regarding slavery during his presidential terms.

Lincoln and the Abolitionists clearly achieves its goal in providing a short, thoroughly researched, yet highly-readable explanation of the sometimes rocky relationship between the two parties. Despite their differences in backgrounds, political ideology, and ultimate goals, both Lincoln and the Abolitionists, and thus their interactions, left a tremendous impact on the history of the United States that still resonates today. Harrold’s book makes that particular relationship dynamic ever so more understandable for both casual learners and well-versed historians. I recommend it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom

While the majority of the the accounts that historian Calvin Schermerhorn uses in crafting his Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom: Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South are well known to students of slavery studies, how he interprets those accounts is what makes this book truly an original piece of scholarship.

Schermerhorn focuses his work on the Chesapeake Bay region, examining how the "peculiar institution" played out in coastal or tidewater areas roughly between Wilmington, Delaware and Wilmington, North Carolina. This region was in the midst of great transition during the first half of the 19th century. As tobacco agriculture began to wane due largely to soil exhaustion in many of these states' eastern most counties, being replaced with grain cultivation and city and town manufactures, the centuries old practice of human bondage began to change as well. Not needing the larger populations of slaves for the labor intensive tobacco plantations, planters and farmers sought sell or find new uses for slaves; which often resulted in enslaved family separations. Schermerhorn looks at how enslaved individuals attempted to exercise agency to deal with these disruptions.


As mentioned above, using many well known slave narratives, such as those of Charles Ball, Moses Grandy, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs, as well as a number of less famous accounts, the author examines how the enslaved developed networks that tried to keep their families together, reunite separated family members, and just navigate day to day in a "slave society." Schermerhorn contends that as planters died and their children inherited slave property, or a new generation sought to migrate to the emerging "Cotton Kingdom" to the southwest, or they tried to reduce their surplus slave populations through sales to traders, all of these situations and more had a detrimental impact on the enslaved maintaining cohesive family situations.


Through the sources he chose to use the author shows that slaves worked almost every angle available to them to try to keep their families together. Sometimes their decisions and actions were effective and sometimes they were not. However, the argument bears strength and shows that the enslaved were not passive actors in this drama. Enslaved men and women used emerging new technologies and the skills they had learned to try to manipulate both free and enslaved individuals in their surrounding environments and the life situations they encountered to try to produce best-effect scenarios.


In addition, Schermerhorn also shows that African Americans shouldered the burdens of a changing market-based Upper South. Slaves built the canals, railroads, and town and city factories that emerged in this region during this time. Slaves were rented out in large numbers by their owners, who often placed more value on the amount of money their human property could earn rather than their monitory worth. Whether working the region's waterways, toiling in other families kitchens, earning "overwork" pay in tobacco factories, or doing dangerous work on the railroads, enslaved people attempted to use these roles and the people around them to keep their family relations together and away from the hungry maw of the internal slave trade that chew up so many enslaved families.


This is an amazing book. Well written and researched, it should find a welcome spot on the bookshelf of any serious slavery studies student. I most emphatically recommend it!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Just Finished Reading - God's Almost Chosen Peoples

While both sides called upon the Almighty to assist the successful pursuit of waging war for their respective causes, it could not be so. Only one could ultimately be victor. In God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War by George C. Rable, we learn how Union and Confederate citizens, soldiers, slaves, refugees, politicians, and ministers drew on their faith to help make sense of our nation's great tragedy.

With a thought provoking prologue, 20 instructive chapters, and an engaging epilogue, all covering 400 page of text, Rable has produced the most comprehensive historical account to present of religion's role in the Civil War.

Of course, many of the chapters that I found most interesting were those that dealt with the soldiers and their chaplains. "Fighting for God and Country," "Temptations of the Camp," "The Shepherds and Their Sheep," "Christian Soldiers," "The God of Battles, "Carnage," among others tells the thoughts and emotions of men in the field and also of their loved ones back home, who pled for God's protection of their loved ones in the army.

Starting his coverage in the years just before the conflict, ranging through those four difficult years, and going just beyond its close, Rable includes the major denominations of the period: Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians, but he also makes sure that non-protestant religious groups such as Mormons, Catholics, and Jews also receive coverage. This work utilizes many popular, and thus published, sermons by some of the top ministers of the day, but the author's research goes much deeper to uncover many unpublished primary sources from everyday people to show the central part that religion played in mid-19th century American's lives.

Common themes of that period's citizens' and soldiers' concerns are those of the role of Providence in time of war, how sin determined reversals in fortune, and how the Almighty would ultimately judge who would win and who would lose. Some Northerners felt certain that the Confederacy would be judged harshly for its attempt to perpetuate the institution of slavery, while many Southerners believed that the Union would ultimately be held accountable for waging what they viewed as an unjust war on civilians and their physical and human property.

Extremely well written, thoroughly researched, and interpreted in an a engaging manner, God's Almost Chosen Peoples will remain the go-to source for understanding religion's role in the Civil War for many years to come. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Well, another month flew by and my library continued to increase by a few more books. Its growth has almost become as inevitable as death and taxes. This most recent group of books has some old and some new and some in between.

The "old" is Frederic Bancroft's classic study Slave Trading in the Old South, which was first published in 1931. However, unlike many slavery studies that came out during the Jim Crow-era and that claimed the institution was benign and even beneficial, Slave Trading in the Old South used thorough primary source research to show that the domestic slave trade was instead the commodification of human beings for blatant exploitative purposes.


One of the "new" is the recently published Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War by editors Andrew S. Bledsoe and Andrew F. Lang, and featuring a forward by Gary Gallagher. Not only do I feel a certain obligation to keep up with the latest scholarship in Civil War military history for my work, I also genuinely enjoy reading it. This 2018 volume includes studies by many of the top scholars in the field. Familiar names like Kenneth Noe, Earl Hess, Brian McKnight, John Hennessy, and Brian Jordan, among others, present a dozen thought provoking essays on a diverse set of military history topics.


An "in between" is Gary Gallagher's Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War. This 2008 book is one that I've wanted to read since it came out. Being the owner of several Civil War prints, I'm interested to see if Gallagher discriminates between those art pieces that seem to reflect images of the war versus those that appear to romanticize it.


No student of the Petersburg Campaign should be without a copy of Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess. Although I've already read it, I now have it among my collection for ready reference.


Another of the "new is The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War by John H. Matsui. I've long been an enthusiast of the Second Manassas Campaign and try to read any new works on that and associated fights. Matsui's book appears to argue that the leadership of the Army of Virginia had a more radical political bent than their colleagues in the more conservative Army of the Potomac and helped convince Lincoln about the military necessity of emancipation in the late summer/early fall of 1862.


Another of the "new" is published by Fordham University Press. A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War by James G. Mendez makes use of letters written by family members of African American soldiers to Union military officials and now held in the National Archives. The letters illustrate the effect the Civil War had on black families in the free states and the contributions that black soldiers made to preserve the Union, end slavery, and advance their claims for citizenship and equality.
 

My interest in Civil War naval subjects continues to grow with my library. So, I was quite happy when our book club group at work chose Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack [Virginia], and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History by Richard Snow for our next discussion. Evolution in weapons technology is a hallmark of Civil War history, and I'm looking forward to learning more about how it played out on the waters. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Courage Under Fire: Lt. Gardner C. Hawkins, 3rd Vermont Infantry

I apologize for the lack of posts during the last week of March. My work responsibilities were such as to leave little time for anything other than gaining some much needed rest.

While preparing for tomorrow's 154th Anniversary of the April 2, 1865 Petersburg Breakthrough walking tour I researched a little deeper into someone I had read, heard, and spoke about many times before. Yet, I wanted to see if I could find out a little more about this seemingly shadowy historical figure. I feel that I both succeeded and failed.

Gardner C. Hawkins was born February 11, 1846. His service records state that he was a native of Pomfret, (Windsor County) Vermont, which is in the central part of the Green Mountain State. The 1850 census shows that Gardner grew up in a large family and as a four year old, was the youngest boy of the household. Gardner's father, Lewis, is listed as a 44 year old farmer, who was born in Vermont. Although all of the Gardner's near neighbors owned real estate, Lewis apparently did not. Gardner's mother, Hannah, was a 43 year old Canadian native. Gardner's 6 brothers and 3 sisters ranged in age from 22 to 2 years old. All were born in Vermont.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find Gardner in the 1860 census. However, I did find his father and mother, a brother, and sister. They had moved to the Bridgewater community, also in Windsor County. In 1860, Gardner's father had land now valued at $1400.00. His parents did not apparently have any other surviving children after younger sister Isadore was born in 1848.

Wherever Gardner was in 1860, he showed up in Woodstock, near where he was born, in 1864 to enlist in Company I of the 3rd Vermont Infantry on January 28. Gardner was just shy of 18 years old! He is listed as 5' 11" tall with a light complexion and having blue or hazel eyes and brown hair. His stated pre-war occupation was that of clerk. He apparently received a $300.00 bounty for enlisting.

Gardner's early army career seems to have included clerking duties at regimental and brigade headquarters. Apparently he did well in his work, as on November 19, 1864, Gardner received a promotion to 2nd lieutenant in his company by the governor of Vermont. He received another promotion, to 1st lieutenant of Company E on March 28, 1865. Gardner was not only 19 years old! After the war the War Department retro-acted Gardner's promotion to February 25, 1865.

Apparently, on the early morning of April 2, Gardner was serving as acting adjutant with the 3rd Vermont, who was a member of the Vermont Brigade. That dawn found the Vermont Brigade stacked in columns of regiments for the attack on the Confederate earthworks opposite them. The stacked formation was intended to make the greatest impact and return positive results. The attack kicked off at about 4:40 a.m. with the 5th Vermont leading, then the 2nd, the 6th, the 4th, the 3rd, and finally the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery (fighting as infantry and also known as the 11th Vermont).

The Vermonters encountered picket fire early from the Confederates as they were at the point of the attack. Brushing the pickets away, the Green Mountain men ran into greater trouble when they encountered multiple lines of abatis, stacked branches meant to impede the attacker's progress. Finding holes through the obstructions and making their own, too, the men made for the last yards of open ground in front of the Confederate ditches.

Leading the men of his command forward, Gardner saw them stall due to heavy rifle and artillery fire from the enemy. In an effort to inspire his charges, Gardner pulled his sword from its scabbard and waved it over his his head encouraging his men to do their duty and go on. While so doing, Gardner received a grievous wound through the face. His surgeon reported that he found Gardner "suffering in consequence of a wound . . . by a ball passing in near the ear, over the cheek, under the eye, through the nose, and out the opposite side." As one might image the terrible injury left the young lieutenant a bloody mess. However, when his comrades attempted to remove him from the field during the action he demanded that he remain where he was until he was confident that the attack had succeeded.


Gardner was eventually taken to Union hospitals, probably at the nearby Union's City Point base, and he was at last back home in Woodstock, Vermont by early May 1865 attempting to recover. By that point, with the war winding down due to the previous surrenders of the two main Confederate armies, men like Gardner, who were dangerously wounded late in the war were discharged. Gardner received his official discharge on July 8, 1865.


Still, much later, in 1893, Gardner revived the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism on April 2, 1865.


Gardner C. Hawkins's official commendation reads: "for extraordinary heroism on April 2, 1865, while serving with Company D, 3rd Vermont Infantry, in action at Petersburg, Virginia. When the lines were wavering from the well-directed fire of the enemy, First Lieutenant Hawkins, acting adjutant of the regiment, sprang forward, and with encouraging words cheered the soldiers on, and although dangerously wounded, refused to leave the field until the enemy's works were taken."

Gardner C. Hawkins lived a relatively full life after his wounding on April 2, 1865. He moved to Massachusetts, became an inventor of sorts and lived to be 67 years old, dying in 1913. He rests in peace in Lindenwood Cemetery in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and serves as an inspiration of courage under fire.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How the Colored Troops Fight: Incidents of the Attack on Petersburg



Green Mountain Freeman (Montpelier, Vermont), Tuesday, July 5, 1864, Describing the fighting of the United States Colored Troops on June 15, 1864.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Union Prisoners Captured in Grant's Second Petersburg Offensive



Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 25, 1864


Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 27, 1864


Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 27, 1864

Monday, March 18, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism


Few if any communities can claim the level of influence and the diverse associated personalities in the abolitionist movement that Oberlin, Ohio can. In Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism - College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America, author J. Brent Morris tells the fascinating story of this significant town and educational institution located in northern central Ohio.

Founded in 1833, as the abolitionist movement was gaining steam, Oberlin took its name from John Frederic Oberlin, a French cleric, who worked for social change is an isolated area of his country for over half a century before dying in 1826. Founders Philo Stewart and John Shipherd desired a veritable island of religious influence in what they viewed as a sea of western frontier inequity.

In 1834, the school received a boost in its student body numbers when Lane Theological Institute in Cincinnati dismissed a number of its students for discussing abolitionist ideas. Invited to come to Oberlin, the "Lane Rebels" agreed to attend if the school was open to black students and if free speech would be allowed and respected. Not only was Oberlin progressive in its acceptance of black students, they were also co-educational. Such a forward thinking school was virtually alone in its approach to offering learning opportunities to all. As one might imagine, the school and town that developed around it became a beacon for those like-minded individuals who believed that the immediate end of slavery was the only solution to America's great sin. And it was a target to those who despised abolitionism. Runaway slaves and free blacks made Oberlin home were they welcomed, and slave catchers monitored the town in search of their prey.

Morris follows the Oberlin story through the antebellum years and makes many connections to the anti-slavery politics of first, the Liberty Party, then the Free Soilers, and finally the Republican Party. Obies (as they were known) largely rejected both the Whig and Democrat Parties as at best, tools of the "slave power," and as at worst, direct proponents of antithetical ideas. Morris shares with readers the important parts that Obies such as Charles Grandison Finney, John Keep, James Thome, Asa Mahan, William Howard Day, brothers Charles and John Langston, James Monroe, Calvin Fairbank and others had on the abolitionist movement. Associated partners and supporters such as trustee Owen Brown (John Brown's father), Ohio congressman Joshua Giddings, and Salmon P. Chase all had important parts to play in Oberlin's effectiveness in its anti-slavery work and opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law. Other important events that Morris relates are the school and town's role in the Oberlin Wellington rescue of fugitive John Price in 1858 and John Copeland and Lewis Leary's involvement in the Harpers Ferry raid as two of John Brown's soldiers.

Although the book's focus is clearly on Oberlin's antebellum existence, Morris wisely uses the book's epilogue to briefly carry the Oberlin story though the Civil War, the end of the 19th century, and into the 20th century. Excellently researched and written in an engaging style, Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism reminds us that there were indeed black and white men and women who rejected the status quo in antebellum America race relations and who worked diligently for not only the end of slavery but also equality for all. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Embattled Freedom


While seemingly almost every aspect of the Civil War-Era has received a fair share of scholarly examination, one significant yet largely ignored facet is finally getting some much deserved attention. Until recently, outside of a handful of books and articles, a true gulf in scholarship existed on the experiences of those in the war’s slave refugee camps. Jim Downs’s book, Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford, 2012), which explores a specific thread of the camps helped. Chandra Manning’s recently published Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War (Knopf, 2016), which examines how the war’s fugitive slaves reworked emancipation as a Union war aim and then challenged the idea of who was to be considered a citizen in the war’s aftermath has helped fill this void, too. Now, with Amy Murrell Taylor’s new contribution to this growing body of study with her book, Embattled Freedom: Journeysthrough the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps, even more light is finding its way to this underexposed historical topic.
  
Referred to during the conflict as “contraband camps,” these often fluid and makeshift settlements popped up in almost every area where the Union military showed its might and held its ground for any length of time. Found in almost every seceded and border state by war’s end, the 300 or so refugee camps could be places of unbridled hope at some points, yet deadly discouraging and dangerous places at other times.

What largely separates Embattled Freedom from previous studies is that in it Murrell provides a more complete grounds-eye view into the everyday happenings of the slave refugee camps. As one would expect, the experiences varied greatly among the estimated 500,000 men, women, and children who fled slavery and who found varying degrees of freedom during the four years of the Civil War. Depending on where they were from, and thus where their refugee camp materialized; when they arrived; what they were able to bring with them, both materially and in skills; who they encountered, and thus those peoples’ attitudes toward African Americans; and what they were tasked to do for service with the United States military, refugees encountered a diversity of problems, opportunities, dangers, and dilemmas.

Murrell insightfully tackles many of these refugee camp issues by viewing them through the lens of three individual case studies. These three examples not only help the reader better understand the experiences of those particular refugees, but also helps show how perhaps the refugee camps may have differed due to geographical location, and most importantly gives us their experience from their perspective. Taylor skillfully weaves the book’s eight chapters around the personal stories of Edward and Emma Whitehurst, would-be shopkeepers in southeast Virginia; Eliza Bogan, an army laundress in Helena, Arkansas; and Gabriel Burdett, an aspiring minister at Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

The eight chapters of the book discuss those myriads of concerns experienced by the majority of refugee men, women, and children. In “Securing Work,” the author explains through the Whitehurst’s story that the challenges faced in transitioning from a forced labor system to ideally a monetary wage labor system, especially during time of war, was not always smooth. In “Finding Shelter,” we discover that locations allocated for refugees were the ones least desired by the military, and that finding relatively permanent shelter was a constant struggle for refugees. “Confronting Removal” examines the common occurrence of putting distance between soldiers and refugee communities, often due to perceived negative racial influences. “Facing Combat” shows the many ways that refugees contributed to slavery’s demise, both inside the Union military and out. “Battling Hunger” and “Clothing Bodies” also spell out other practical, yet life-threatening challenges faced by refugees, while finding ways of “Keeping Faith” and “Grappling with Loss,” although perhaps less tangible, were in many cases just as important for refugee survival.
    
With Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Refugee Camps, Taylor gives us the book that many of us have long been waiting for. Its particular approach to the subject matter, thorough research, and keen writing ensures that it will maintain a place in Civil War history for years to come as a source of better understanding the slave refugee camp experience.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

USCT Prisoners from the Battle of the Crater Listed as Runaways


Browsing through some editions of the Richmond Daily Dispatch while searching for information on Union prisoners captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I happened across the article above. It ran in the Saturday, August 27, 1864 issue.

As you can see, it offers a list of over 80 African American soldiers captured at the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864) who had served in Ferrero's (4th) Division of the IX Corps during the battle. As it explains, apparently these men were first sent to Danville and then transferred to Castle Thunder prison (pictured below) in Richmond.


During the fight, the USCTs sustained 1,327 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) out of 3,798 engaged, an almost 35% casualty rate. On July 31, 1864, those black soldiers and their white officers, as well as white Union soldiers who were captured in the fighting were marched through Petersburg's streets by order of Gen. A. P. Hill and held on Merchant's Island in the Appomattox River. They were then transferred by rail to Danville.

The men listed above came from the following brigades and regiments who fought at the Crater:
First Brigade -
27th USCI, 30th USCI, 39th USCI, 43rd USCI

Second Brigade -
19th USCI, 28th USCI, 23rd USCI, 29th USCI, 31st USCI

It is clear that the Confederates did not recognize black men as legitimate soldiers due to the fact that many, when captured during the fighting, were not given the of opportunity to surrender, but were killed outright attempting to surrender. Of those who were captured, some were used to bury the Confederate dead, some were detailed to work on Confederate fortifications at Petersburg, and as this article indicates, others were eventually advertised for their owners to come get them. Yet another indicator of Confederates' views of black soldiers is that the men were not listed with last names, as they all would obviously have had when they enlisted in the Union army.

Twenty lines down in the list of men is: "Peter, slave of R. L. Gordon of Orange, Va." This soldier is Peter Churchwell of Company H, 23rd USCI. Peter escaped from his owner Reuben Lindsay Gordon of Orange County, Virginia in 1862 and made his way to Washington City, where he worked for a couple of years as a coachman for a Mrs. Barber in Georgetown. Churchwell's service records (below) record him as enlisting as a substitute in Washington D.C. on July 13, 1864. He was captured 17 days later! What kind of military training could he have had in 17 days?

In Churchwell's pension records he explained what happened to him. "We next had the fight at Petersburg, Va., July 64 and in the charge on the Rebel works I was captured & put towards burying the dead soldiers on the battle field for 4 days, the prisoners, my self included were then taken under guard to Danville prison . . . I was kept there until Major Reuben Gordon, my old Master, heard I was in prison, and he came there and claimed me as his slave sold me to a Mr. Shedrick Lee, a slave dealer at Richmond, Va., and he sold me to Luke Powell as slave dealer who took me to Wilmington, N.C. I was there 8 days working in a shoe shop of Geo. French's store, then sold to Patrick Murphy who took me on his farm near Raleigh, N.C. and worked making boot shoes for him, he sold them. I worked for him for 6 months on his place. I ran away from him & came to Wilmington, N.C."


To corroborate this information, I located Reuben L. Gordon in the 1860 census. He is showing as a 40 year old farmer living with his wife Elizur and their seven children. Gordon owned $6696 in real estate and $11,300 in personal property.  Gordon owned 22 slaves who lived in five slave houses and ranged in age from 65 to 2 years old. One enslaved man, who is listed as 30 years old, is likely Peter Churchwell.

For more information on the USCT experience at the Battle of the Crater, I recommend the following sources:
"The Battle of the Crater" by Emmanuel Dabney in Blue & Gray, Vol. 30, no. 5 (2014).

A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Vol. 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater by A. Wilson Greene, UNC Press, 2018.

Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

Image of Castle Thunder courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Count me in for just about anything that William J. Cooper, Jr. is associated with. Along with John M. McCardell, Jr., Cooper co-edits In The Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American  Ideals, which includes ten essays by an all-star cast of the field's top historians. I'm ready to start turning pages on this one right now.


I've had Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens on my Amazon wish list for about ten years. Recently, when I came across a used copy in great condition at a nice low price, I jumped on it. I found many of Cozzens's previous works, especially those on the Stones River, Chickamauaga, and Chattanooga campaigns particularly impressive and I'm hoping this one will follow suit.


In the past few year's I've gained a much better understanding of the internal slave trade by reading biographies of slave traders and a number of excellent studies on the subject. I came across Broke by War: Letters of a Slave Trader, edited by Edmund L. Drago, while perusing the bibliography of another book I recently read. This collection of about 140 letters from slave trader A. J. McElveen to his boss, large Charleston, South Carolina trader Ziba B. Oakes, apparently gives significant information on the various aspects of the domestic slave trade. Being that I'm a primary source enthusiast, this should be a real eye-opening read.


I've tried to make a point of collecting the now many volumes on various Civil War campaigns edited by Gary Gallagher and published by the University of North Carolina press under the "Military Campaigns of the Civil War" series. He seems to always gather an excellent slate of historians to examine diverse aspects of these campaigns. Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign  appears to be the transition point where Gallagher hands things off to his former student Caroline Janney, as Janney was solely credited with the latest release, Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia. I read this volume a few years ago, enjoyed it, and I'm happy to add it to my Petersburg studies library.


As much as we might want to think about them only as fighters, Civil War combatants were indeed human. They had intimate desires that were sometimes fed by images and literature made prevalent by print technologies emerging at that time. Judith Giesberg's Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making American Morality looks at these issues and how they influenced post-war views of sex, marriage, and morals.


I think that Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment during the American Civil War is about the fourth book that I mined, and then purchased, from the thorough bibliography of Peter Carmichael's War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies. Editors David G. Orr, Matthew B. Reeves, and Clarence R. Geier provide essays that inform us through archaeological studies about how Civil War soldiers battled the elements, disease, and even boredom in their military encampments. Yet another one I can't wait to start into!


Kathy Simpson Smith's We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835, looks at the roles and responsibilities of black, white, and Indian women in Virginia, and North and South Carolina, and how motherhood provided them with a certain level of household power and a strong sense of worth in a male dominated world.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Just Finished Reading - The Good Lord Bird

From time to time I'll delve into a historical fiction book. I do it for entertainment value more so than for gaining knowledge. For me it is much like watching a "history movie." Similarly, I often read historical fiction to see how close it follows the actual history it is meant to reflect. When I suggested The Good Lord Bird by James McBride to our book club at work, I thought it might create some good discussion about John Brown, Bleeding Kansas, and the Harpers Ferry Raid. I'll find out on Sunday when we meet to discuss it.

The Good Lord Bird follows the story of Henry, a slave boy working in a Kansas Territory tavern with his enslaved father who is a barber. Their owner is Dutch Henry Sherman, a pro-slavery settler, who actually existed. In a twist of fate, John Brown visits the tavern and ends up in an argument with Dutch Henry and then kidnaps Henry, who Brown believes is a girl named Henrietta. Brown nicknames the boy he thinks is a girl "Little Onion," who decides to maintain his female identity to keep safe. Brown comes to see Onion as his good luck charm and keeps him/her close at hand through his adventures in attempting to thoroughly abolitionize Kansas for the Free State cause.

Onion is on tap for the Pottawatomie (McBride doesn't use that name for some reason) killings, which the story links to the Charles Sumner caning. I've never really believed that direct link existed, as the caning occurred on the afternoon on May 22, 1856 and the killings on the night of May 24 into the early hours of May 25. I have always has serious doubts that the news could have traveled from Washington D.C. to the remote area of Kansas where Brown was operating within 48 hours time. More likely Brown committed the act in retaliation for the sacking of Lawrence.

Onion also was at the Battle of Black Jack, which occurred on June 2, 1856. The youngster befriends Brown's simple son Frederick and is also at Osawatomie where Frederick is killed by pro-slavers. McBride places the lost fight at Osawatomie in 1857. It actually occurred in August 1856. Soon after, Onion gets separated from Brown and ends up in Pikesville, Missouri working at a brothel for a time before again being rescued by Brown and his riders. He/she goes with Brown on a fundraising trip visiting the east coast abolitionists to raise funds for Brown's planned raid on Harpers Ferry. At a stop in Rochester, New York to visit Frederick Douglass, McBride takes storytelling liberties and has Douglass attempting to take advantage of Onion after getting tipsy.

Like with Douglass, McBride works many of Brown's historical associates and enemies into his story. Included are Harriet Tubman, Hugh Forbes, Henry Clay Pate, free black Haywood (Hayward) Shepherd, and a number of the Harpers Ferry raiders, among others are worked into the tale. Some seem to be accurately portrayed, while others like Douglass do not fit the historical record of their personality. I suppose that is to be expected with a work of historical fiction.

Some of the place locations are off, too. For example, McBride puts Lewis Washington's plantation on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Onion survives the Harpers Ferry raid, visits Brown in the Charles Town jail early on the morning of his hanging, and then made his way to Philadelphia.

The book is definitely an entertaining read and provides an adventure story unlike many others. There is not a turn of phrase that McBride does not like or seemingly tried to incorporate in the book. It is clear that the author researched Brown's history fairly well in order to get the people and places included in the book, however, it is somewhat disappointing that McBride strayed as often as he did from what is a thrilling tale on its own without changing the documented facts. Regardless, I encourage those interested in John Brown and his important place in history to read it, if for nothing else than for an entertaining read.

What is the Good Lord Bird, you ask? Well, I won't spoil everything.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Runaway Slave Ad Linked Flight to Wilson-Kautz Raid


The other day, while I was searching for some Confederate newspaper accounts of Union prisoners captured during Grant's Fourth Offensive at Petersburg (August 18-25, 1864), I happened across the above advertisement in the August 28 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch.

As you can see it lists nine men and two women who were owned by an E. H. Stokes of Lunenburg County, Virginia. I found a few things about this ad quite interesting.

At first I was not able to locate E. H. Stokes in the 1860 census by using the name search feature on Ancestry.com. I figured he must have moved to Lunenburg County after 1860. So, in attempt to see if I could find more about him I conducted an internet search and found another runaway advertisement from 1855 posted in the Richmond Enquirer (see below).


The 1855 ad also states that Stokes was in Lunenburg County, so I determined to go page by page through the 1860 census for the entire county. Fortunately, it was only 120 pages long, so it didn't take too long to find him, but I did have to go to page 110 to track him down.

Edward H. Stokes is in the household of, I assume, his mother, Jane J. Stokes. Jane was 76 years old, Edward was 35. She is listed as a farmer, his occupation was trader. He claimed his real estate worth was $9000 and his personal property $25,815. Mother Jane had $1200 in real estate and $12,180 in personal property.

Edward H. Stokes's occupation of slave trader makes perfect sense since the 1864 runaway slave advertisement shows his slaves hailing from all across Virginia, and one from North Carolina, and one from Maryland. The 1855 ad is similar. One enslaved man is from Maryland and the other from Warrenton, Virginia. I also found Edward and Jane Stokes in the slave schedules. Edward owned 21 enslaved men, women, boys and girls, who ranged in age from 31 to 1 years old. Jane owned 11 enslaved people.

The Wilson-Kautz Raid kicked off on June 22 and ranged across Southside Virginia, attempting to wreck parts of three different railroads and their bridges in effort to hamper Confederate supply lines. Along the way, and as A. Wilson Greene so ably recounts in his recent A Campaign of Giants, Vol. 1, enslaved men and women like Jordan, Lewis, Joshua, Jack, Jim, William, Elijah, Sally, and Harriet flocked to the Union raiders during the 350 mile trek, which ended up costing the cavalry force over 1,400 casualties. At the end of the raid, on June 29, near where it started, at Reams Station on the Petersburg-Weldon Railroad line, Wade Hampton's and Fitzhugh Lee's Confederate troopers caught up with the raiders and recaptured a number of the supply wagons, some of the Union cavalrymen, and a number of the fugitive slaves. One wonders if Stokes's enslaved men and women were sadly among those reenslaved, or if they found their way to Union lines and freedom.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Nature's Civil War

People who haven't studied the Civil War much are often surprised to learn that two-thirds of the soldiers who died in the conflict died from diseases rather than from combat. They often assume that the terribly high figures for combat casualties mean that all those men died, rather than understanding that casualty numbers included wounded and captured or missing men, too. However, after reading Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier, one might wonder why more soldiers didn't die from diseases.

By incorporating a wealth of primary sources from a variety of perspectives, Meier examines the methods that soldiers utilized to battle the forces of nature, an enemy quite often as deadly as those human ones shooting at them.

As the subtitle suggests, Meier focuses her study on the Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1862. On the surface one might assume that the Valley offered a much healthier environment than the swampy Peninsula, but as the author explains both regions offered their own fair share of natural challenges that tested both Blue and Gray soldiers' ability to cope. In the Valley, rapid movements outpacing supplies and sudden changes in climate presented threats to soldiers' health. On the Peninsula, though operating at a slower pace, the large numbers of camping men in a relatively confined space and living in a less than ideal environment and exposed to water borne diseases made survival a roll of the dice. Again, how did more men not die?

Meier explains that soldiers incorporated self-care strategies developed from their pre-war upbringings and also suggested by their comrades. Much as Peter Carmichael explains in his recent book The War for the Common Soldier, Meier shows the pragmatism of the combatants. As she states "Exposure to environmental illness was compounded by supply problems, army regulations, camping, marching, and other aspects of soldiering that were not under the men's control but rather managed by commanders, officers, and medical personnel. It was to this official network of care that soldiers were supposed to turn to to prevent and treat their illness and melancholy." However most soldiers found the army's methods of treatment unsatisfactory. They therefore often took measures into their own hands.

One controversial means that men used to help preserve their health but that superiors disdained was straggling. Commanders often viewed straggling only through their perspective and not the soldier's. However, enlisted men and NCOs often utilized straggling as a coping mechanism. When feeling ill, whether overheated or footsore, straggling offered soldiers a brief respite to attempt to recover. When thirsty for good water soldiers straggled off for well water. When tired of salt pork and hardtack, soldiers straggled to find eggs, chickens or fresh beef. When their inadequate shelter failed, soldiers straggled to a church or barn for a warm, dry night's sleep.

The only complaint with the book that I had was that I wished it was longer. At 150 pages of main text this thought provoking book offers so much that so few students have previously considered. My interest was piqued by it and I wanted more. Nature's Civil War is a truly magnificent contribution to a recent reemergence of studies on the Civil War's common soldiers and is one I heartily recommend.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

10 Year Anniversary of Sharing My "Random Thoughts on History"


It is difficult to believe, but 10 years ago today, I jumped into the blogosphere with the idea of sharing my thoughts on various historical topics, but mostly related to the Civil War era. It all began when I lost my job due to repercussions from the economic recession of 2008-09. Being out of work, but actively looking for employment and reading voraciously still left me searching for ways to share my passion for the past. Interestingly, creating "Random Thoughts on History" proved to be a satisfying way to not only express my thinking, but also help develop my thinking.

Over the last 10 years I've made over 1,240 posts. As mentioned above, most have dealt with Civil War era topics. I've shared posts on my various research projects. In fact, within the last 10 years, I've had two articles published. A lot of those two articles appear in snippet form scattered across hundreds of posts made on this forum. During the last 10 years I've moved twice, once to Kentucky to work for the Kentucky Historical Society in May 2009, and six years later, my return to Petersburg, Virginia, and Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier for a second tour of duty. Both moves brought me into contact with new colleagues, new networking contacts, new historical topics, new historical sites, and new lines of thinking. I've tried to take advantage of these opportunities and also impart things here that I've learned along the way.

The rewards of sharing my "Random Thoughts on History" have come in many forms. Sharing books that I've read and that made an impact on me (and thus hopefully on my readers) has been very satisfying. Exposing readers to multiple perspectives on historical events has also been fulfilling. Likewise, bringing light to forgotten or largely ignored people, topics, and events is one of the things I am most proud of. However, on the handful of occasions on which it has happened, probably the most gratifying aspect of maintaining this blog is helping readers make historical connections, usually with their ancestors. My posts titled "Dying Far From Home" which illuminate the life stories of soldiers who died during the Civil War, have elicited a number of kind remarks from reader-researchers. If I am able to create a spark of interest in someone that encourages them to dig into the past in order to understand it better then my mission with these 1,240+ posts is being accomplished.

I have no plan to end sharing my "Random Thoughts on History" anytime soon. There are a number of research projects that I've been rolling around in my head and that will hopefully come to fruition. So, be on the lookout for a number of themed posts in the coming months.

Whether you've been reading "Random Thoughts" since its inception, joined in along the way, or if this is your first contact, I appreciate you taking the time to peruse the posts. And, as always, I welcome your comments on posts. I only request that comments be kept on topic, civil, and conducive to learning.

Happy Anniversary! Happy reading! 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Just Finished Reading - De Bow's Review

If one spends enough time reading antebellum Southern history, De Bow's Review will likely make its appearance at some point. The most studious of Southern history enthusiasts realize that this New Orleans-published monthly journal served as a significant voice for slave state boosterism. However, few know much about the man who founded this journal. 

In De Bow's Review: The Antebellum Vision of a New South, author John F. Kvach gives readers a fuller pictures of both De Bow's Review the journal and James Dunwoody Brownson (J. D. B.) De Bow, its founder. De Bow, born in 1820 in Charleston, and orphaned at a young age, loved learning. He read voraciously, and after saving enough money he studied at the College of Charleston, where he graduated as valedictorian.

He soon thereafter moved to New Orleans and started De Bow's Review. Mounting debts caused the journal's quick suspension, but re-infused with friends' funds and their encouragement, he started publication again in 1848. De Bow networked across the slave states promoting his vision of a South where rural plantations and urban industrial areas worked hand-in-hand to advance overall economic betterment of the slave states. He also encouraged the establishment of Southern libraries and centers of learning untainted by potential Northern negative influences. Much of his message was delivered as free as possible from political influence, promoting ideals of both Democrats and Whigs.

However, as the sectional crisis ramped up during the 1850s, De Bow and his publication became more caustic in its denunciation of the North, defensive of slavery as a beneficial labor system, and sectional separation as the ultimate solution for the South's future. De Bow's Review was a casualty of the Civil War. He stopped publication in late 1862, and only published one odd issue in 1864. During the war, De Bow became a purchasing agent of cotton for the Confederacy and continually traveled around the shrinking nation trying to boost home front morale and encourage commerce. After the war De Bow served as president of an upstart railroad company but died of peritonitis while visiting his sick brother in New Jersey in 1867. De Bow's body was sent south but where he ultimately rests in peace is not known. As Kvach states, "It was an ignominious end to a long, high-profile public life." Kvach though also claims that, "De Bow's ultimate legacy to the South proved to be his ability to construct and gather ideas that resonated with southern readers interested in improving their region." 

An additional bonus to the book is an appendix that lists almost 1500 individual subscribers to DeBow's Review that Kvach located through his thorough research. Included among the readers of De Bow's Review were a number of "who's who" of the antebellum South. Among the subscribers were: Edmund Ruffin (VA), Robert E. Lee (VA), Wade Hampton (SC), William Gilmore Simms (SC), Jefferson Davis (MS), Judah Benjamin (LA), Alexander Stephens (GA), Albert Pike (AR), William L. Yancey (AL). 

This book is a welcome addition to the field of Southern antebellum history. Its beneficial scholarship will be appreciated by students for many years to come. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

More Fripp Plantation Photographs


Yesterday, I shared a photograph from the Library of Congress website showing a slave dwelling from the Fripp plantation on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. At the time, I did not notice that more images were available. Some of the additional photographs indicate they were possibly taken on the Thomas James Fripp plantation.

In searching through the 1860 slave schedules I did not find a Thomas James Fripp listed among the listed Fripp slaveholders. However, I did find a Thomas B. Fripp and a J.T.E. Fripp, perhaps these photographs show the plantation of one of those. Regardless, these shots make for some intriguing images of plantation life.

The top image shows the Fripp big house. The home displays Italianate features and a long elevated porch. It also appears to have an English basement. Several of the white family members stand on the porch. One holds a young horse.


The next photograph shows five women. All hold babies and they are standing in a slave quarters street. Two of the women wear headwraps, while one of them wears a polk-a-dot dress.


The final image is also taken from the vantage of the slave quarters street. At least 21 individuals appear within the photograph's scope. One's sight is automatically drawn to the child in the foreground. He, or perhaps she, wears a long shirt. This type of garment was common for enslaved children until they came of age to wear pants or dresses. Like the middle image, a palm tree graces the street. A ladder rests against the cabin nearest the cameraman with two young men sitting on it. By the cabin's door an old man and old woman sit on a bench. What appears to be a long-handled hoe also rests against the cabin's front. In the background a woman and two girls sit on what looks like a large kettle of some kind. Maybe the large vessel was used for scalding hogs. A wood slab fence connects the two cabins and perhaps pinned in some chickens, a hog, or cow. Or maybe the fence protected a vegetable garden shared by the families who lived in the dwellings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

St. Helena Parish, South Carolina Slave Quarters


This amazing photograph originally appeared in a stereograph format. Its description on the Library of Congress website, taken from the back of the image, claims, "photograph shows Uncle July and his family in front of their home on the Fripp place." Also noted on its back is that it was taken on St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

Looking in the 1860 census, there are 12 slaveholding Fripps in St. Helena Parish in Beaufort District. Along with first families of South Carolina, like the Rhetts, Seabrooks, Capers, Barnwells, and Elliotts, the Fripps held large numbers of enslaved people.

Isaac Fripp owned 60 slaves, who lived in 28 slave dwellings.

J.E.L. Fripp owned 30 slaves residing in 16 slave houses.

John M. Fripp claimed 15 people, living in 6 houses.

James Fripp was master to 43 enslaved people who stayed in 13 slave dwellings.

Thomas B. Fripp owned 48 slaves who lived in 16 houses.

Capt. John Fripp owned 130 slaves who lived in an astounding 52 slave dwellings.

Ann F. Fripp owned 67 slaves. They made homes in 13 slave dwellings.

J.T.E. Fripp owned 84 slaves, who resided in 40 houses.

W.O.P. Fripp was master of 43 slaves, who lived in 14 dwellings.

Edgar Fripp owned 123 slaves, who lived in 38 slave houses.

William Fripp owned 325 slaves, who lived in 82 slave houses!

Alviro A. Fripp owned 13 slaves who resided in 5 slave dwellings.

Totaling all the Fripp families' slaves in St. Helena Parish makes for a tremendous amount of wealth being claimed in 981 enslaved people. These bondspeople lived in 323 dwellings. That averages out to a bit over 3 people per dwelling.

Viewing slave schedule census records like those from St. Helena Parish really shows the width and breadth of the peculiar institution's impact on the United States. The unnamed enslaved people indicated on those lists endured innumerable hardships before, during, and after the Civil War. But they and their descendants went on to become landowners, shop owners, run for political offices, demand their rights to citizenship and political, social, and economic equality. Let's remember that beyond Black History Month's end.