Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Virginia Killing - Honor or Argument?


At work our guests have the opportunity to learn about the two generations of the Boisseaus who lived on Tudor Hall plantation, which once dominated the grounds of the historic site. William E. Boisseau and Athaliah Keziah Wright Goodwyn Boisseau married in 1808 in Greensville County and bought the Dinwiddie County land that would eventually develop into Tudor Hall plantation in 1810. Between 1809 and 1830, William and Athaliah eventually had seven children. Their oldest son, William, Jr., has me somewhat intrigued.

Perhaps why I find him so interesting is because the more information that I find on him, the more he seems to be the quintessential antebellum Southerner. William Jr. was born in either 1809 or 1810. His occupation developed into being that of physician, but I have yet to determine where he was educated. At about 27 years of age (in 1837) William married Julia B. Grigg. The wedding was on March 15, 1837. It was less than a year after their union day that a tragedy occurred.

On Christmas Eve, 1837, a group of men met at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Grigg to determine what happened in an incident that resulted in the death of George K. T. Lanier. The record states that " . . . we the jury summoned for the purpose of examining the dead body of George K. T. Lanier lying in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth B. Grigg, report accordingly to the evidence before us, and also a strict examination of the body, are satisfactorily convinced that the said Lanier came to his death by a ball received out of a pistol in his left side, between the seventh and eighth rib on the evening of the 21st instant by the hand of William E. Boisseau."

So, what happened to prompt Boisseau to shoot and mortally wound Lanier? I'm not sure at this point. Perhaps it was a family matter. Did it involve a threat to William's honor? I was not able to find much on George K. T. Lanier except that one reference listed him as being born in 1804 and married to Elizabeth Grigg. This same reference had a note that Lanier had purchased land in Fayette County, Tennessee, in February 1837, and that he had returned to Petersburg where he was shot and killed.

I am hoping I can locate a newspaper story that might clarify this whole situation. Was Lanier indeed William's not much older father-in-law? Did they have some dispute that led to the shooting and death of Lanier? Was William tried in court for the killing?

If William was tried of the murder then it seems he beat a conviction because it was seemingly soon thereafter that William and Julia relocated to Autauga County, Alabama. It was at this time that many Virginians were moving into the rapidly expanding cotton empire of the Old Southwest in anticipation of gaining favorable opportunities. But, did the incident with Lanier also influence the move?

The 1840 census shows William in Autauga County with wife, a female child, and three enslaved individuals. I was also able to locate William in the 1850 census. He is shown as in Wetumpka, Alabama (Autauga County) with real estate worth $3000. That year's slave schedule lists William as owning thirteen slaves consisting of nine males and four females and ranging in age from fifty years old to three months old.

I also found William's last will and testament. It was dated November 5, 1853. He died January 3, 1854. Perhaps Julia shortly preceded him in death as the will does not mention her, but leaves all of his possessions to their children: Octavia, Ella, William F., Julia A., Adrian, and Martha Eliza. The possessions listed also included sixteen slaves, named: Kathy, Inda, John, Rosena, Hillard, infant child of Rosena not named, Maria, Milly, Yellow Maria, Moses, Charles, Davy, Stephens, Lewis, Harrell, and Rick. William named Thomas B. Grigg as his will's executor. Thomas Grigg was Julia's brother. Doing another search, I found that Thomas, a physician like William, had studied medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

William's death on January 3, 1854, is unexplained. Did he die of a disease or some other natural cause? I would certainly be interested if anyone can fill in the holes and answer any of the questions I pose above. I am going to try to find any newspaper reference to the 1837 killing, and if I am so fortunate to find something, I will be sure to share it here.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Passion and Property

On occasion, while leading tours that discuss slavery and plantation management, I've had people mention that all of the talk about slave owners abusing their slaves is way overblown. In their line of thinking, masters, logically, would not harm their slaves because doing so would be injurious to the master's own self interest. I've even heard some individuals provide modern-day examples to emphasize their point. In that line of thinking a farmer might invest a whole lot of money into a piece of equipment that will help make his goal of harvesting as many crops as possible a reality. For example, a pickup truck to the modern farmer would certainly present a certain upfront expense, but one that could be offset through its beneficial use to help do what he or she needs accomplished. Similarly, a slave, to the antebellum farmer/planter was definitely an expensive investment, but one that would do the labor necessary to help make the farm/plantation be profitable.

On the surface, and perhaps even in many instances, that idea probably ringed true. However, what is missing is the important notion of human nature. I think that if we are all being true to ourselves it is not difficult to admit that we have all experienced moments of extreme frustration, embarrassment, perceived danger, and even moodiness that influence our actions in ways that are not in our usual character. Many things have changed since slavery's days, but plenty of documentary evidence provides proof positive that people during the antebellum era struggled with their emotionally-influenced actions just as much as we do today.

If one wakes up on the proverbial "wrong side of the bed," and someone happens to provide a trigger word or action, that someone or something is usually going to receive a manifestation of that ill mood. There are fewer frustrating occupations that those that are agriculturally based. Whether dealing with not enough rain, too much rain, too little time, too many obligations pulling in too many directions, too many damaging pests or uncooperative draft animals and livestock, the farmer's world is one filled with worry, distraction, and disgruntlement. Too often those frustrations manifested itself in abusive actions toward those people in one's proximity, particularly when those people that are nearest are perceived as inferior and property. Passion too often overruled logic and self-interest, just as it does today. Does not the modern farmer sometimes drive his or her expensive pickup truck too hard and over too rough terrain than common sense should allow when he or she receives some bad news? Does not the modern farmer kick the valuable tractor when frustration gets the best of him or her? It was not so different in many respects in the era of antebellum slavery.  

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mapping the Fourth of July


How did Americans celebrate Independence Day when their nation was falling apart? That's the big question the Mapping the Fourth of July project seeks to answer from multiple perspectives.

Last Tuesday, at work we were fortunate to host Dr. Paul Quigley, who is the James I. Robertson, Jr, Associate Professor of History at Virginia Tech. Quigley, interestingly enough is a native of Great Britain. He shared his research through an engaging presentation about how black and white Northerners and Southerners recognized Independence Day before, during, and after the Civil War. He also provided some information on the Mapping the Fourth of July project, which he is leading, along with members in the Virginia Tech Computer Science, Education, and Library departments.

The project's website, which is located at www.july4.civilwar.vt.edu contains thousands of primary sources that give great insight into how this special holiday was celebrated and the meanings placed upon it by those who celebrated it. But, more than that, it is a website designed for educators to use these documents with their students to help foster historical and critical thinking skills.

The Mapping the Fourth of July project needs your help though. They are seeking individuals and organizations who can help contribute to and transcribe their vast amount of primary sources so that they can be of greater use and to make them easier to locate. This crowd sourcing initiative allows for folks to not just transcribe, but also tag, connect, and discuss the sources.

If you have some spare time to contribute to this worthy project, please do, it will only help us all better understand another aspect of how the Civil War was experienced both on the battlefield and on the home front.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mattoax Plantation


About a month or so ago I enjoyed reading David Johnson's John Randolph of Roanoke, an informative biography on the acerbic Virginia statesman. In the book the author mentioned Randolph's early formative years being spent at his father's Mattoax plantation in south Chesterfield County. I had driven by the above highway historical marker on River Road between the towns of Matoca and Ettrick many times on "backway" trips to Colonial Heights, but never took the time to stop and read the sign until today while out running some errands.

In 1769, John Randolph, Sr. married Frances Bland, joining two prominent colonial Virginia families. Their marriage produced four children: Richard, Theodorick, John Jr., and Jane, who died as an infant. John Jr., was born at Cawsons in 1773, his mother's family plantation in Prince George County on the Appomattox River. 

The Randolphs had acquired lands through John Sr.'s father, Richard Randolph. Vast plantations (about 40,000 acres total) such as Mattoax in Chesterfield County, Bizarre in Prince Edward County, and Roanoke in Charlotte County, helped maintain the family wealth and provide opportunities for education and influence among Richard Randolph's male grandchildren.

John Sr. died in 1775 at a young thirty-three years of age. Frances, ten years younger, and now a widow of means, was left twenty-four slaves and the Mattoax lands in John Sr.'s will. However, Frances married St. George Tucker three years after John's death. That union produced six children, the last of who, Henrietta Eliza, was born in 1787. Frances's rapid rate of births with her last six children must have been difficult on her physically, as she passed away less than a month after Henrietta Eliza was born.

At Mattoax John Jr. grew up as many boys of privilege did during that time. He hunted, fished, ran through the fields and forests, mastered horsemanship, and prompted by his mother, developed a love of reading and learning. In 1781, when a British threat came to Chesterfield County, Frances and the children fled west to Bizarre, before returning to Mattoax where she died and was buried beside John Sr.. John Jr. made it home from his studies at Princeton to be by his mother's side before she passed. She had earlier told John Jr. to always value and keep his lands.


John Jr. was elected to the U.S. Congress from his district in 1799, and served a number of terms until his death in 1833. Described as an eccentric and often the center of argument and combativeness on Capitol Hill, Randolph fought a duel with Henry Clay in 1826. Both John, and his brother, Richard, made provisions in the wills to free their hundreds of slaves on their Roanoke and Bizarre plantations, and provided funds and or lands for them to settle on after their emancipation. 

Today some of the former Mattoax plantation lands are part of the Randolph Farm, an agricultural research and experimentation farm that is part of Virginia State University, a historically black institution of higher learning. One wonders if John Randolph of Roanoke would be surprised at what became of his boyhood home lands, or if he would be pleased with its development into a place of learning for thousands of African American students over the years. 

Image of John Randolph of Roanoke courtesy of the Library of Congress

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


In attempt to purge some seldom used titles in my library, I conducted a bit of a clean out last week. To help make the sweep, I found three outlets to dispose of about 80 or so books. Some went to a local Goodwill store, some to a used book store (they were rather picky on what they chose to accept), and some were offered as a donation to sell as used books in the gift store at work. Hopefully they find good new homes and benefit the selling organizations as well as the knowledge hungry buyers in some small way.

To help ease the pain of parting with some old friends, I acquired some new ones over the last month or so.


As I posted a couple of weeks back, I was recently able to visit Eppington Plantation with some colleagues from work. While there, my curiosity was piqued by the kin connections between the master families of the Eppes and Wayles, and the enslaved Hemings family. I'm looking forward to learning more about them all in this seemingly comprehensive study.


Civil War soldier studies are some of my favorite reads. This book appears to be a sort of Union-focused companion to J. Tracy Power's Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox, which came out in the late 1990s. I received this recently published volume in return for producing a book review on it. From what I've read so far, it will be a joy to read the book and write the review.


I read this book about a decade or so ago on an inter-library loan. I had searched for a copy that was reasonably affordable since then. Fortunately, I recently found one used on Amazon.com in good condition at a low cost and snatched it up. This work contains over 100 letters that African American soldiers wrote to black and abolitionist newspapers about different aspects of their service. Due to the lack of extant family kept letters by USCT soldiers, these missives inform us about black soldiers' Civil War service better than just about any other source. This volume is required reading for those interested in the USCT experience.


Another historical subject that I've always found fascinating is that of Southern honor. This book contains a wealth of intriguing essay titles on many different facets of that subject. I can hardly wait to dive into this work!


Building around the historical incident of the escaped enslaved Virginian Anthony Burns, and the attempt to rescue him from Southern rendition in Boston under the Fugitive Slave Law, the author seeks to show that there were diverse opinions on race relations in mid-nineteenth century Boston. Just as our society today is experiencing conflict and clashes over various ideas about tradition, law and order, and the need for progressive change, so too, did the people in the 1850s North. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Contraband, Changing Quarters


When I happen across a Civil War-era image that I haven't seen before, particularly one that deals with a subject matter of special personal interest, it is a little bit like Christmas. While searching for the lyrics to the Civil War song "The Colored Volunteer," I found the above image on the "Jubilo! The Emancipation Century" blog, who credited it to The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.

The print shows a young African American man, presumably a slave, riding a magnificent white horse from the right side of the image to the left. Running beside the horse is a canine that is looking up at the rider. The horseman appears to be leaving a military encampment that displays a "Stars and Bars" on the right to a camp floating the "Stars and Stripes." Perhaps the "contraband" rider was a jockey for his former master, as his colorful cap, saddle blanket, and shirt may indicate.

I am not sure if the artist intended the image to be literal or figurative, or possibly, both. Is the escaped slave actually leaving his master (on his master's horse) as a camp servant in the Confederate army to a new life of freedom with the Union forces? Or, does the Confederate encampment represent the Confederate States of America at large? Does the Union garrison symbolize the free labor North? And, does the horse represent the acts of agency that were displayed by thousands of so-called contrabands?

Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much anything about the artist, the publisher, or the date of the image. There are addresses of Hartford, Connecticut and New York on the bottom border of the picture, but I am unable to read what it says before those locations are given. Regardless, the picture provides the viewer with a lot to think about and provides an intriguing interpretation on the situation experienced by thousands of people from 1861-1865.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Petersburg's Sycamore Street - Then and Now


Describing change over time is something that historians specialize in. However, seeing that change through visual images can sometimes have just as much impact as reading a historian's words describing it. 

A few months ago I happened upon the above photograph in the Library of Congress online catalog. It shows Union soldiers on a Petersburg, Virginia, sidewalk and street, some time in 1865. This photograph's particular perspective is that of looking north on Sycamore Street, one of Petersburg's most important commercial thoroughfares. It appears to be only about a block north of Sycamore Street's intersection with Washington Street. 

If one zooms in on the photograph, a few names of business owners can be read on their various shingles. On the left side (west side) of the image is Britton, Todd, and Young, one of Petersburg's many grocers and commission merchants. Beside Britton, Todd, and Young is the hardware and cutlery business of Alfred James. Further north is Burton and Brothers, probably yet another commission merchant. Across the street (east side) is Smyth and Company, yes, another commission merchant. Also, the shingle of William E. Steward, who was a saddle and harness maker. During the Civil War, Steward's son, Powhatan, served in Company E of the 41st Virginia Infantry, a Petersburg raised unit. Visible on the wall on the extreme right of the image is the number 108. I assume this is the address number as it seems to closely correspond with the present-day street address. 


Sycamore Street in 2017 is no longer a dirt street. There are still street lamps, (as a matter of fact they look much like those in 1865) but they are no longer gas powered. There are no longer horses and wagons traveling north and south, rather automobiles of all types dominate Sycamore Street. Commission merchants do not fill the business spaces one hundred and fifty-plus years later. Instead, difficult times have left many of the buildings empty, others house small restaurants, individual businesses of various types, and art shops. Many of the building's street-side facades have changed with the times, too. And some have become stuck in their mid-twentieth century forms. Regardless of their condition and look, elements of Petersburg's Sycamore Street are still visible today and remind us of a century and a half ago, when a different type of enormous change was just starting, that of emancipation.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Visit to Eppington Plantation


As a way of thanking our wonderful volunteers at work, I arranged a tour of Eppington Plantation in southwest Chesterfield County last Thursday. We received an educational and informative tour through this almost 250 year old preservation treasure.

Now owned by the Eppington Foundation, and managed by Chesterfield County, this historic home was built by Francis Eppes VI on land he inherited from his father Richard Eppes. Construction began in 1768 on the Georgian center section of the home, and apparently Eppes moved in in 1773. The wings were added around 1790. Most of the materials were taken from the surrounding forests and fields and constructed through skilled enslaved laborers. One exception is the glass, which apparently came from Europe. The heart-of-pine floor boards stretch for yards and yard and makes one wonder what size of trees they came from.

Inside the house the skilled work necessary to build an eighteenth century home is evidenced through the woodwork, plaster work, and other visible methods of construction. The house is presently undergoing an extended preservation effort. Due to the costs of a quality restoration, areas of most need are receiving top priority, while others wait. In addition to its preservation there is a plan in place to recreate several of the outbuildings such as the summer kitchen and school building. The house stood on thousands of acres. The land immediately around the home featured landscaped and terraced gardens and orchards. The Appomattox River flowed a short distance away and was at the time visible through the cleared woodlands.

Francis Eppes VI was the brother-in-law of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton was the sister of Elizabeth Wayles, who married Eppes in 1771. Eppes and Jefferson developed a close relationship, probably due as much to their common interests, as to their marriage to sisters. Both men were fascinated with plants and agriculture. Both men managed large plantations and hundreds of enslaved people on thousands of acres of land. Jefferson, Eppes, and John Wayles, their father-in-law, also had common ground through he Hemmngs family. Wayles owned Betty Hemings and fathered Betty's daughter Sally. Betty's daughters, Sally and Critta, both served Eppes at Eppington, and after Jefferson's daughter Lucy died at Eppington, Sally was sent with Jefferson's other daughter, Maria, to assist Jefferson in France. It is readily believed that later, Sally fathered children by Jefferson at this Monticello.

Eppington is only open to the public on limited occasions or special arrangement, so we felt particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about his historical treasure and its place in Virginia's history. If you are wishing to visit Eppington, they will be having a special event in early October, so please consider taking advantage of the opportunity. I promise, you will be impressed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Visit to Deep Bottom and New Market Heights


I took advantage of some unseasonably cool June weather early this morning to take drive up to the New Market Heights Battlefield and the Deep Bottom crossing point on the James River. I had never visited Deep Bottom, so it was a treat to see the famous location that appeared in many period photographs and often served as the Union army's route of transfer between the Petersburg and Richmond fronts during the summer and fall of 1864.

The Deep Bottom area figured prominently into Gen. Grant's offensive plans to keep Lee's limited manpower resources tied down and less able to support one another on the two fronts. The first action there was in association with Grant's Third Offensive at the end of July 1864. On the 28th, Grant had Hancock's II Corps move across the bridge from Petersburg and sent Sheridan's cavalry on a move toward the Confederate defenses from Deep Bottom, but they were turned back by forces in Lee's Second Corps under Gen. Joseph Kershaw. This setback combined with the failure of the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg did not dissuade Grant from his strategic campaign goal.


The second movement involving a crossing at Deep Bottom's pontoon bridge occurred in mid-August in conjunction with the movement at Petersburg toward the Weldon Railroad in what was Grant's Fourth Offensive. Again, Hancock's II Corps was involved. However, this time Gen. Birney's X Corps movement on the left flank of Lee's line drew a fierce counterattack at Fussel's Mill that resulted in a Federal retreat with the fighting occurring over much of the same ground as that a half a month before. Although this movement did not result in a substantial gain, it did keep some of Lee's forces occupied north of the James River while Grant snapped the Weldon Railroad at Globe Tavern outside of Petersburg.


Finally, in late October, Gen. Butler's Army of the James tested Lee's Richmond defenses at Chaffin's Farm. The Army of the James, which consisted of the X Corps and XVIII Corps, crossed the Deep Bottom bridge and hit the Confederate earthwork line along the New Market Road. Fierce resistance saw savage fighting between Gen. Gregg's Texas Brigade and African American soldiers of Birney's X Corps. Fourteen black soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their fighting spirit at New Market Heights, where they captured the rebel works. The XVIII Corps also experienced initial success farther to the west capturing sparsely held Fort Harrison. Stiffer resistance was encountered at Fort Gilmer, just to the north of Fort Harrison, where many of the Texans ended up facing some of the same black troops they had fought earlier in the day at New Market Heights. Gen. Lee attempted a counterattack the following day in attempt to regain Fort Harrison, but was unsuccessful and things settled back into stalemate mode again.

It is a shame that the New Market Heights battlefield is not more accessible and better interpreted than it is. Only a Civil War Trails wayside sign and the above highway marker are posted to inform the public about this significant action where African American soldiers proved they could fight as well as any white troops.

It would only be just for some type of monument to be erected at the little park just east of the I-295 and New Market Road intersection to honor those soldiers that fought so gallantly at New Market Heights. Hopefully, some day that tribute will come to fruition.

Deep Bottom historic photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Photographs of present-day Deep Bottom and the New Market Heights marker by author June 7, 2017.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

What was Jones Farm?


When listing the various battles that occurred during the Petersburg Campaign, they often include "so-an-so's farm" as a mark of identity and location. There's the Battle of Baylor's Farm, the Battle of Peebles Farm, the Battle of Lewis Farm, and the Battle of Jones Farm. The military fighting that occurred on the fields and woodlots that covered these acres have received much more coverage than their original interned purpose of agricultural enterprise.

However, by doing a little basic research, one can gather quite a bit of information about the owners and the operation of these farms (or more accurately in many instances, plantations). Such was the case of Robert H. Jones's place, just southwest of Petersburg. The picture above shows part of land on which the Jones Farm once occupied.

Robert H. Jones was a tobacco inspector and planter. His home, "Oak Grove" was located along the west side of Church Road, but apparently the plantation encompassed both sides of road. In 1860, the fifty year old Jones had land holdings valued at $57,800, which consisted of 700 improved acres and 320 unimproved acres. He owned another $5000 in farming implements. 

Jones's Oak Grove bordered the neighboring plantations of Mrs. Thomas Banks, Joseph G. Boisseau (brother in law), Albert W. Boisseau (brother-in-law), and J.C. Boswell. In the household along with Robert was his second wife, Ann E. Boisseau Jones, who Robert married around 1850. Mary was the sister of Robert's first wife, Martha Eliza T. Boisseau, who wed Jones in 1834, but died in 1840. Ann and Martha's mother, Athaliah Boisseau, also lived with the Jones couple, as well as nephew Adrian (twelve), the son of Robert's brother-in-law William E. Boisseau, who along with his wife, Julia, had died in Alabama in 1854. In addition, forty-five year old Thomas Ritcherson is included in the Jones home. Jones's personal property is listed at $57,000 and real estate at $10,000.


As one might imagine, Jones worked a large enslaved labor force on his one thousand plus acre plantation. The 1860 census lists him owning seventy-four men, women, and children, who lived in seventeen slave dwellings.

The 1860 agricultural census is a significant key to better understanding Oak Grove plantation at this time. As far as animals, enumerated were four horses, eighteen asses and mules, eight milk cows, and ten other cattle. That may sound like quite a small sum to help feed a plantation family and their enslaved workforce until one reads the following line of two hundred swine, which provided the bulk of the meat consumed on Southern plantations. All of Jones's livestock was valued at $5330.00.

Also listed were the crops grown on the plantation. They were: three hundred bushels of wheat, ten bushels of rye, 5500 bushels of Indian corn, three hundred bushels of oats. Also listed are 3000 pounds of tobacco, which seems like a very small amount to keep seventy-four slaves engaged. Perhaps Jones leased out some of his surplus slaves, but that is merely speculation on my part.

The Jones Farm endured fighting not once, but twice. Its first experience was during the Peebles Farm fighting, September 20-October 2, 1864. However, it was on March 25, 1865, that the Jones Farm endured it most significant combat, with the family home being among the engagement's causalities. The house was set ablaze by soldiers in the Union VI Corps when it was utilized by Confederate sharpshooters. The March 25 engagement will be the subject of a future post.

Present-day photograph of Jones Farm by the author on May 20, 2017.
Period map of Jones Farm location courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Gen. Grant's Fifth Offensive in the Petersburg/Richmond Campaign has long been a fascinating subject to me, so whenever I come across a book discussing some aspect of these movements I'm interested to hear the author's take. Initially successful, the Union assaults north of the James River, which were directed by Gen. Benjamin Butler, stalled out with stiffer resistance after capturing Confederate works at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison. 


Since reading John Hope Franklin's The Militant South, 1800-1861, by John Hope Franklin, way back in graduate school; as well as doing a significant research project at the same time on North Carolinian Henry King Burgwyn, who tried to get into West Point but landed at the Virginia Military Institute before eventually becoming the colonel of the 26th North Carolina, the ideal situation of a military-based education and its importance to Southerners has intrigued me. 


In an era of politicians who drew and threw fire with their words, few were as caustic and expressed a self confidence as John Randolph of Roanoke. Randolph spent several terms as a U.S. congressman and part of a term as a Senator from a Southside Virginia district. Randolph famously exclaimed, "I am an aristocrat. I love liberty and hate equality." John Randolph's formative years and education had a significant impact on what type of man he came to be and projected in his public service. This book gets into John Randolph the private man, tortured by ill health and troubled relationships.


This slim volume attempts to briefly detail Lincoln's initially tentative thinking on the use of African Americans as soldiers in the Union army, to his evolved position on potentially extending citizenship and even voting rights to those who served as fighting men in effort to preserve the Union; and with the Emancipation Proclamation, the additional war aim of ending slavery.


The concept of nationalism was one that the Confederacy had to embrace with the formation of its government after eleven slave states seceded. However Confederate nationalism seemingly did not end with the end of the Confederacy. It survived through the war, through Reconstruction, and lives on in many people's thinking into the twenty-first century.
 

Many ethnic groups participated in the Civil War, both for the Union and for the Confederacy. Many served to prove their right to the full fruits of citizenship. This book contains essays that discuss the experiences of Germans, Irish, Jews, Native Americans, and African Americans. Without these groups' participation, the Civil War would have been a much different war. I am certainly looking forward to learning a lot from these fascinating essays.

Friday, May 19, 2017

"He Left No Effects": Pvt. Joseph Gatewood, Co. A, 43rd USCI


On April 28, I made a post about Joseph Crossman, a free man of color, who fought and died in the actions near Hatcher's Run on October 27, 1864. Crossman served in Company B of the 43rd United States Colored Infantry. While searching for African American soldiers who were killed in that day's engagement, I also came across another soldier named Joseph, and who was in the 43rd USCI, but who was from Company A, Joseph Gatewood (sometimes noted as Gaitwood).

Reviewing Gatewood's service records, several things caught my attention. First, was Gatewood's place of birth, and yet his place of enlistment. He was noted as being born in Alabama, most likely enslaved. However, he enlisted in Buffalo, New York. If I were speculating, I would guess that Gatewood somehow managed to escape his life as a slave and made his way to Buffalo, which due to it extreme northern location and proximity to Canada, proved to be somewhat of a haven for runaway slaves, especially after the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

The second thing that drew my notice was Gatewood's age. He was only 18 at the time of his enlistment on September 2, 1864. His age made me wonder how old he was when he arrived in Buffalo. Did he come to the city on Lake Erie alone or with family and friends? His given occupation was the ubiquitous description of "laborer," so often listed for enlisting men of color. He is described as five feet five inches tall and with a black complexion, and with black eyes and black hair.

Thirdly, and associated with the previous, was the fact that Gatewood's service records note that he was a "substitute for [a] drafted man." Did Gatewood receive compensation from the "drafted man" to serve in his stead? Did Gatewood enlist out of monetary concerns, or out of patriotic or other altruistic motivations? Or, was it some combination of the two, or a multiple of other reasons?

Lastly, if you haven't already caught it yourself, was the realization that Gatewood was killed in action less than two months after enlisting. Unlike some other soldiers, his records do not give further details on where on his person he received the wounds that took his life. The inventory of his personal effects has two big X marks across it and plainly states "He left no effects." Another page states "He has not drawn any clothing with the exception of his outfit when enlisted."

Like Joseph Crossman, his fellow 43rd USCI soldier, Gatewood's place of burial is not noted. He was likely buried on the field where he fell. Regardless of where his remains reside, it is fitting and proper to at least note the service of this young man, otherwise lost to history and who apparently did not have to serve, yet did and in another's place, only to fall a victim of battle.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Just Finished Reading - The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War

The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War, edited by Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers; Louisiana State University Press, 2017.

When the Civil War bug bit me about thirty-five years or so ago, I was fascinated by the scope of the conflict. I dreamed of going to the many battlefields of Virginia and Tennessee. A weekend family trip to the more approximate Perryville Battlefield State Shrine temporarily satiated my quest for battleground exploration, but when I brought my enthusiasm for the subject to my grandparents home and farm in Clinton County, Kentucky, I began to learn that the Civil War was not experienced the same everywhere.

Clinton County was the native home of notorious Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson, and although Ferguson later moved to White County, Tennessee, he returned often to the area to carry out various terrorist activities. On one visit my grandfather told me a family story of Ferguson and his men raiding my ancestors' corn crib. The anecdotal tale made me want to learn more about Ferguson and other guerrillas. However, the only book I could find at the time was Thurman Sensing's, Champ Ferguson: Confederate Guerrilla, which was first published in the 1940s.

Fortunately, for those of us interested in Civil War guerrilla studies, scholarship in this field has expanded tremendously over the last decade or so, with some excellent studies emerging in the last five years. Topics and geographical regions previously unexplored, now are providing us with a much better understanding of how the war was often carried out in the "shadows" of the larger and more familiar military campaigns.

One of the most exciting recent additions to this growing body of scholarship is Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War, a series of excellent essays edited by Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers, both of who have produced individual significant works on guerrilla actions.

Guerrilla Hunters opens with a thought provoking introduction by the editors which seeks to "present guerrilla studies in their full complexity, not as a field unto itself." In reading the rest of the essays, this goal is met.

The full complexity the editors wish to expose is partly achieved through the range of geographical diversity in which the essays examine. Of course, the traditional border regions, where irregular operations flourished such as Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky come in for their fair share of coverage. But essays such as "Irregular Naval Warfare along the Lower Mississippi," by Laura June Davis, and "American Warlord: Reconsidering 'Guerrilla' Leader John Gatewood," by Adam H. Domby, give us a look into both previously unexamined geographical regions and topics.

Many of the essays also develop informative new perspectives. For example, Aaron Astor's essay on Tennessee/Kentucky border Unionist Tinker Dave Beaty and his men and their social networks show the importance of family and kin connections in determining who community members could turn to for protection, and even sustenance support. Similarly, Lisa Tendrich Frank's contribution, "The Union War on Women," looks at how Confederate home front women often endured the counter-guerrilla operations of the Union army, who ironically used many of the same tools to fight irregular forces that they found reprehensible. Matthew M. Stith puts two emerging Civil War fields of study together: environment and guerrillas, in his "Guerrilla Warfare and the Environment in the Trans-Mississippi Theater." The land, weather, and animals/insects of this region, still considered a wilderness in many contemporary circles, shaped how the bushwhackers and their pursuers experienced their unique type of civil war. Likewise, Joseph M. Beilein, Jr.'s "Whiskey, Wild Men, and Missouri's Guerrilla War," examines the influence of alcohol on probably the most active geographical area of guerrilla operations. Beilein argues that alcohol fueled a significant amount of aggressiveness and bad decision making among those who operated in irregular fashion.

Other intriguing essays include Matthew C. Hulbert's "Larkin M. Skaggs and the Massacre(s) at Lawrence," which takes likely the most infamous guerrilla episode and examines it from an new angle. As Hulbert states "when the massacre is broken down into a momentous wave of home invasions perpetrated by pro-Confederate bushwhackers against the households they believed were allowing jayhawkers to function efficiently as pro-Union guerrillas, it much more closely resembles how irregulars themselves understood the waging of war in the Missouri-Kansas guerrilla theater." Also, Andrew Lang's "Challenging the Union Citizen-Soldier Ideal," looks at how Union volunteers sometimes struggled reconciling their images of what a citizen soldier should look like and behave like when forced to deal with irregular forces. Union regulars found that sometimes occupying a region and attempting to control guerrillas set their conceptions of warfare on its head and required the destruction of private property and potentially harming civilians.

Finally, I appreciated that the editors provided a thorough "Readers Bibliography of Civil War Studies." This list of scholarship available on the subject only boosts the Guerrilla Hunters's overall importance.

Whether mentioned above or not, all of the essays contained in this volume advance our understand of an important and ever emerging facet of the Civil War. Irregular warfare studies such as Guerrilla Hunters shed light on the dark corners of Civil War scholarship and remind us that there are still areas of our nation's most significant four years that need examining and rethinking. I highly recommend this work to any student of the Civil War. By reading this book you will certainly not be disappointed in what you learn or how it makes you think about other aspects of the conflict.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Fighter From Maine: Joseph Crossman, Co. B, 43rd USCI


I am in the process of reading Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, by Hampton Newsome. I am impressed with both the author's depth of research and his ability to clearly convey the various military movements that made up Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Sixth Offensive, north of the James River, as well as southwest of Petersburg.

On October 27, a Union movement was made on the Petersburg front by Parke's IX Corps, Warren's V Corps, and Hancock's II Corps in effort to cut the Boydton Plank Road and hopefully reach the Southside Railroad beyond. All three corps moved west, with the IX being the northern most, the V below it, and the II being southern most.

The IX Corps sector saw Ferrero's Division, which included the four black regiments of Col. Ozora P. Stearns's Brigade (one of which was the 43rd United States Colored Infantry), slide through the pine trees and dense underbrush and encounter Confederate pickets while skirmishing and searching out the location of the rebel earthworks near Hatcher's Run (pictured below).


Newsome includes a reference that in the engagement the 43rd officially lost twenty-eight killed, wounded and missing. Being that this action happened just a handful of miles south of where I live, I was curious to see if I could find some information about the African American soldiers who lived their last hours that October 27, 1864 day. A quick internet search brought up a roster of each company in the 43rd USCI with the soldiers' names, dates of muster in, and dates of death, wounding, or muster out. From there it was quite simple to find a few names to research. One of the first I happened upon was Private Joseph Crossman.

Crossman's service records were easily located. They indeed state that he was "killed while skirmishing with the enemy. . .shot in the head by a minnie ball," on October 27. Crossman had enlisted in Augusta, Maine, on February 27, 1864, and was mustered in on March 16, 1864, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, probably at Camp William Penn. Apparently Crossman was born as a free man of color in Greene, Maine. Crossman was listed as five feet, seven inches tall, with a complexion of "black." The same description was given for his eye and hair color.

Crossman's true age is difficult to determine, as their are multiple figures given in different official records. His enlistment card states he was forty-three, but when he was sent to the hospital at City Point for a "debility", in August 1864, they listed his age as fifty-six. The 1850 census for Norridgewock, Somerset County, Maine lists Crossman as a forty year old farmer, who lived with his wife, Winnifred, who was forty-six. Both are listed as "mulatto." Crossman owned $900 in real estate. Skipping ahead a decade, Crossman appears as a forty-seven year old farmer, still in Norridgewock, still married to Winnifred (fifty), and with boarder Cyntha Jackson, a fifty-two year old "pauper." Perhaps Cyntha was Winnifred's sister since they are listed being similar in age. The 1860 census shows all three listed as "mulatto." Crossman's real estate wealth remained at $900, and his personal wealth was noted as $300.

Crossman's service also included fighting at the Battle of the Crater (pictured below) on July 30, which he apparently survived unscathed. Gen. Ferrero's Division saw particularly difficult fighting that day. Many of his African American soldiers who were captured were not allowed to surrender as prisoners of war, but were rather massacred.


For me, Crossman's survival at the Crater, yet death in the fighting on October 27, at Hatcher's Run, illustrates perfectly the uncertainty of soldiering during the Civil War. One seemingly never knew which day would be the last, or in what form death would come.

Crater sketch image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hatcher's Run fortifications photograph taken by author February 23, 2017.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Finding Petersburg's New Market Race Course



A couple of months back I offered a couple of posts regarding horse racing in Virginia. One focused on noted turf man William Ransom Johnson, and the other on William Wynn's Dinwidde County farm, stables, and home, known as Raceland. One of Johnson's and Wynn's most visited racetracks was just about a mile east of the Petersburg town limits. It was known as the New Market Race Course.

I had read about New Market, and often viewed advertisements while searching period newspapers, but I had never been able to put my thumb exactly on where the race track was located. That was all before a colleague at work shared a map of Petersburg (partly pictured above) and its environs produced by Confederate engineer and topographer Jeremy F.Gilmer in 1863. The map clearly shows the circular New Market Race Course located at the split of the Petersburg and City Point Railroad and the Petersburg and Norfolk Railroad, and situated just south of the Appomattox River and northwest of the Hare House site. The Price George Courthouse Road ran on the track's eastern border (just off the above image's right side).


A modern satellite view provided by Google Earth shows the present-day area in the center of the above image. The railroad split can still be easily seen, as well as the Prince George Courthouse Road running southeast off of modern day Highway 36 (East Washington Street). The New Market Race Course was located in the vicinity of the squares formed by the streets in the center of the photograph. The Union earthworks of Fort Stedman and the Confederate fortification of Colquitt's salient can be seen in the bottom right center of the photograph.


Although now mainly developed into streets and single family homes, part of the area where the track once stood is still open and on the grounds of Robert E. Lee Elementary school (shown above).


Just through a little skirt of woods and up the hill from the track once stood the Hare House. This land is now part of the Petersburg National Battlefield (PNB). The Hare House is long gone, but its former location is marked on the PNB grounds by the small metal sign shown above.


The Hare House was sketched by noted Civil War artist Alfred Waud in 1864 (above). The Hare House became the center of the furious fighting on June 18, 1864, during the early stages of combat of the Petersburg Campaign. The desperate charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery (fighting as infantry) toward Colquitt's Salient that day crossed the Hare property.

Otway P. Hare, or more commonly called O. P., owned the New Market Race Course. I found Hare listed in the 1850 census for Prince George County. He was described as a forty-seven year old "farmer," and owned real estate valued at $6300. His wife, Elizabeth, was three years his junior. Their children were Macon (seventeen), Laura (eighteen), and Walter (thirteen). Also in the household was Thomas Gentry, a 46 year old race horse "trainer." Both of Hare's sons were noted as having attended school within the last year. The slave schedule census shows Hare as owning twelve slaves at that time.


I was not able to determine when racing started at the New Market track. However, I was able to find advertisements in Petersburg newspapers as early as 1820 (above from the Petersburg Republican April 18, 1820). One reference I found mentioned that the track was owned by Petersburg commission merchant Thomas Branch before Hare purchased it. Another, in 1829 called New Market "the oldest and most popular club in Virginia; its races are over a course, one mile in length, of good soil for running, and commanding an extensive and beautiful prospect in every direction; the commence, regularly, the first Tuesday in May and the second Tuesday in October." 


The New Market Race Course drew turf men and racing fans from far and wide. Apparently some of the ladies that attended viewed the heats from Hare House Hill. The Civil War fighting around Petersburg brought racing at New Market to a halt for a time. A brief revival in the late nineteenth century brought horse racing back to the course, but it was not long before the track's land was turned into a housing development just before World War One.

Gilmer Petersburg Map courtesy of Baylor University.
Hare House sketch image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Searching for Corporal Dick


If you've read Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg by Richard J. Sommers (or pretty much any work on Gen. Grant's Fifth Offensive during the Petersburg Campaign), it is likely that you've come across an account of one Corporal Dick.

The attacks on Fort Gilmer (named for Confederate engineer Jeremy Gilmer) on September 29, 1864, resulted in part due to successful actions earlier in the day at the Battle of New Market Heights by regiments of the United States Colored Troops, as well as a flanking movement by Gen. Alfred Terry's division. Once the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights were breached, the Union troops moved on north up the Rebel line of fortifications. Success followed success when Fort Harrison was captured by Brig. Gen. George Stannard's brigade. Stiffer resistance and uncoordinated attacks stalled the Union army when they encountered Fort Gilmer.

Gen. William Birney, son of abolitionist and Kentucky native James G. Birney, led the brigade that sent African American soldiers to attack Fort Gilmer after two previous waves were repulsed. One of the regiments that was sent in by company in piecemeal fashion was the 7th USCI, a unit that was raised in Maryland. For whatever reason only four companies of the 7th were sent forward on what appeared to be a suicide mission. Making their way through the Confederate obstructions, and the detritus of the previous attacks, all while under heavy fire from both small arms and artillery, a number of the men reached the relative safety of the seven foot deep ditch in front of the fort's rampart wall.

Confederates inside the fort, not wishing to expose themselves, lit artillery shells and rolled them down on the attackers in the ditch, some of which were returned with favors. Desperate to take action, several of the black soldiers formed a human ladder of sorts in the attempt to go over the wall. Each brave man who attempted to go up and into the works was shot in the head and tumbled back down on to his fellow attackers in the ditch.

One gallant African American soldier stood out to the Texas and Georgia Confederate defenders. As remembered by Texas soldier Joseph Benjamin Polley, the dire situation at Fort Gilmer unfolded as follows. When told to surrender, the brave black soldiers shouted back, "surrender yourself," and "Just wait until we get in there." They were also heard to say "Let's lift up Corporal Dick, he'll get in there sure." The brave soldier was heaved up and promptly shot through the head. His comrades, shocked at their friend's tragic and sudden death exclaimed, "Corporal Dick's done dead!" Various versions of the story, all of which contain the same basic elements, appear from several other soldiers that were present. Another Confederate claimed the black men in the ditch stated that "Corporal Dick is the best man in the regiment." It was also mentioned that afterward, when African American troops were encountered by these Georgians and Texans they were referred to as "Corporal Dicks."

Fort Gilmer's stout defense held. Those black troops still living and that remained in the ditch finally decided to surrender. However, their brave and desperate fighting impressed some of the Confederate defenders. I find it intriguing that it took such violent actions on the part of these African American soldiers for them to earn the respect of whites, both North and South.

So, who was this Corporal Dick? Having a little time on my hands I decided if I could find him in the service records of the 7th USCI. Searching through the regiment's roster alphabetically, I looked for soldiers with the first name "Dick." Not finding any, I re-searched for "Richard." I found several of these. However, no Richards were corporals. One Richard was indicated as killed at Fort Gilmer, but he was listed as a private. That soldier's name is Richard Gibbs. Gibbs was mustered the year before on September 26, 1863. He was a 40 year old from Queen Ann, Maryland, who stood 5 feet 10 inches tall. Gibbs was of an age that he would garner respect from younger soldiers, and at 5'10" he could have been of such a stature as described in a couple of the Confederate accounts. But, in Gibbs's service records it interestingly lists his hair as "curly" in place of the usual listed hair color, and one Confederate account claims that Corporal Dick was bald headed.

Was Private Richard Gibbs respected so much by his comrades as to receive an honorary rank of corporal? Was Richard Gibbs the Corporal Dick of legend? I have to admit, I do not know, but I do not think so. This one has me totally stumped. I would certainly be interested to learn more about the true Corporal Dick if anyone happens to know.

Present-day photograph of Fort Gilmer taken by author in April 2016.

Friday, April 14, 2017

An Underground Railroad Shootout in Silver Spring, August 8, 1850


It is amazing what traces of history one can find with just a little looking around. While in Silver Spring, Maryland, for a few days this week I decided to see if I could find the site of an Underground Railroad incident that I had read about in several different books. It was not difficult to locate the site with a little bit of searching on the internet.

The incident that happened on the night of August 8, 1850, involved a number personalities who were of major political importance, not only at that time, but in the coming years as well.

William L. Chaplin, a native of Massachusetts, resident of New York state, and who served as a newspaper correspondent in Washington D.C. for the Albany Patriot had helped make arrangements to try to get over seventy slaves out of the nation's capital city on the schooner Pearl in 1848. While the ship's captain and crew members were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted, they did not implicate Chaplin and he remained free.

Two years later, Chaplin, apparently under District of Columbia police surveillance, was suspected of new emancipation plans. He was observed readying to leave town,which prompted several officers and two citizens to await Chaplin's arrival just outside the city limits along the Brookville Pike (present-day Georgia Avenue) near the residence of James Blair (known as Moorings and shown above). Blair, was the son of Francis Preston Blair, a former member of Andrew Jackson "Kitchen Cabinet." Also nearby were the homes of Blair's father, known as Silver Spring, and Blair's brother, Montgomery C. Blair (Lincoln's future postmaster general), known as Falklands.

Around 11:30 p.m. on August 8, Chaplin's hired coach approached the awaiting officers. One officer ran a fence rail through the carriage's spoke wheels to stop it while others of the arresting party grabbed the horses' bridles. Chaplain apparently quickly realized what was going on and fired a shot at one of his assailants, shooting a hole through the man's hat.


Inside the carriage were Chaplin's two runaway passengers. One, named Garland, was the property of Georgia congressman Robert Toombs (pictured below). Toombs at this point in his career was an avid Unionist, who worked tirelessly to reconcile sectional issues between the North and the South and supported such measures as the Compromise of 1850. Later, as the 1860-61 secession crisis approached, Toombs relocated to the disunionist camp. Toombs, the consummate politician, aspired to the highest office in the infant Confederacy, but when Jefferson Davis was selected, he was chosen as secretary of state. That role was short lived though as the Georgian resigned it and became a brigadier general in the Army of Northern Virginia, but Toombs resigned that position, too, in 1863.


The other fugitive slave was named Allen, and belonged to Toombs's good friend and fellow Georgian Alexander Stephens (pictured below). Stephens, also a member of the U.S. House of Representatives was in many ways similar in political thought to Toombs, but quite opposite in physical appearance and disposition. Toombs was big and loud, whereas as Stephens was slight and reserved.


As Chaplin was wrestled from the driver's seat and received a beating, the two runaways blazed away at their would-be abductors with revolvers. A news story in the August 10 edition of D.C.-based The Republic newspaper stated that the two runaways discharged "no less than eleven shots from revolvers of formidable caliber." Chaplin was finally pinned to the ground by some of the officers while others fired back at the two enslaved men.

One of the officers had his left eyebrow singed off from the closeness of a shot. Another received a flesh wound to one of his arms.One policeman shot back and one of his bullets hit Allen's watch. Another shot hit Allen in the back. Some of the officers tried to unhitch the horses, and while doing so Garland jumped on one of the officer's back and then ran off into the darkness, but not before being wounded by a shot. Garland made a temporary getaway, however, three days later he turned himself in. 

Chaplin was charged in both Washington D.C and Maryland but was afforded a bailout by Gerritt Smith and other wealthy abolitionist supporters. He jumped bail after being released from his Maryland charge and returned to New York, never standing trial. Chaplin's experience at Silver Spring seemed to dissuade him from further Underground Railroad operations. 

Garland eventually escaped for good from Robert Toombs and made his way to Canada before the Civil War. He returned to the United Stated and enlisted in the 28th USCT, serving as the unit's chaplain as Garland White. When White and his fellow black soldiers entered Richmond, Virginia, he was reunited with his long lost mother in what was a touching story.

This particular instance is just one of thousands of examples in which enslaved African Americans took great risks and went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to stake their claim to the ideals of freedom and equality that were the foundation of the United States.


Toombs image courtesy of the New Georgia Encyclopedia
Stephens image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Petersburg's Fort Davis


With it being spring break for many of the public schools in Virginia, and thus a rather slow field trip week at work, I decided to take some annual leave time to get some over delayed appointments taken care of and enjoy some R & R.

Seeing the dentist in the morning and the eye doctor in the afternoon may not sound like much fun (and they weren't particularly) but on my way to the optometrist's office, I stopped at Fort Davis and snapped the above shot.

After Gen. Grant's first attacks on Petersburg (June 15-18) failed to decisively crack the Confederate defenses east of the city, he moved south and then west toward the Weldon Railroad. That movement came June 21-23 and resulted in scores of captured Union soldiers. However, it also resulted in control of the Jerusalem Plank Road and the establishment of a square shaped earthen fortification, originally named Fort Warren; for Gen. Gouverneur Warren, head of the Union V Corps.


The massive fort covered about three acres of ground and contained a diagonal traverse. The east side faced the Jerusalem Plank Road and the Federals constructed a connecting line to the southwest as they continued to move toward the Weldon Railroad and ultimately the Battle of Globe Tavern in mid-August. Before those later movements though, Col. P. Stearns Davis of the 39th Massachusetts Infantry was killed on July 11, 1864, at the site by an exploding artillery shell and the fort was renamed in his honor. Davis's service records indicate that he was hit by a spherical case shell at about 5:30 pm that fateful day.

Today, as the top photograph shows, Fort Davis is rather well preserved. Its high walls and deep ditches remain. Owned by the City of Petersburg, Fort Davis is bounded by roadways on all four sides, which somewhat limits the foot traffic it has received over the years and thus has helped maintain its historical integrity.

Historic photograph of Fort Davis courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Written Thoughts on April 9, 1865 from Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Lt. Col., 2nd Rhode Island


Elisha Hunt Rhodes entered the Civil War as a corporal with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, and ended the conflict leading the regiment as a twenty three year old. He experienced some terrible combat during his service to the United States fighting at such engagements as First Manassas, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, but 152 years ago today, he was quite happy. He had survived.

"Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, good will to men! Thank God Lee has surrendered, and the war will soon end. How can I record the events of this day? This morning we started at an early hour still following the sound of an occasional cannon shot. I found a Rebel Capatain from North Carolina by the roadside, and finding him to be a Mason I has him go with my Provost Guard. About 11 A.M. we halted in a field facing the woods and stacked arms. Rumors of intended surrender were heard, but we did not feel sure. I took the Rebel Captain over to Gen. [Oliver] Edward's Headquarters, and we lunched with him. The Captain insisted that Lee would surrender and begged that we would not send him to the rear. Some time in the afternoon we heard loud cheering at the front, and soon Major General Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac rode like mad down the road with hat off shouting: "The war is over, and we are going home!" Such a scene only happens once in centuries. The Batteries began to fire blank cartridges, while the Infantry fired their muskets in the air. The men threw their knapsacks and canteens into the air and howled like mad.

General [Frank] Wheaton and a party of officers rode out to our Regiment and actually gave three cheers for the 2nd R.I. which were returned with a will. I cried and laughed by turns. I never was so happy in my life.

The Rebels half starved, and our men have divided their rations with them. The 2nd R.I. had three days' rations and after dividing their rations with the Rebels will have to make a day and a half's rations last for three days. But we did it cheerfully. Well I have seen the end of the Rebellion. I was in the first battle fought by the dear old Army of the Potomac, and I was in the last. I thank God for all his blessings to me and that my life has been spared to see this glorious day. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Image in the public domain.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Henry "Box" Brown's Aide Was Caught Helping Other Slaves in Richmond


At work we use the Henry "Box" Brown story to help students better understand the diverse methods that enslaved individuals used to exert resistance to the "peculiar institution." Some students seem to have doubts in the veracity of the story, but there is proof beyond Brown's own narrative.

Browsing through 1849 issues of the Richmond Enquirer, I ran across the headline "The Kidnapping Case," on the front page of the May 11 edition. Reading it, I made a connection to Brown's narrative.

Brown was assisted in his unique method of escape by a free black man in Richmond and a white man named Samuel Alexander Smith. The Enquirer article read:
"Yesterday morning at 10 o'clock, S. A. Smith was brought before the Mayor of the City upon two charges of having aided and advised the slaves Alfred and Sawney, to abscond from their owners." Apparently as witnesses were absent that day, the case was postponed.

The scanned newspaper page is wrinkled, however, it is easy to put two and two together. The article continues: "As our notice yesterday may be construed by some, so as to do injustice to the faithful Express Agent here, we deem it proper to succinctly to state the facts exactly as they occurred." Early on that Tuesday morning a porter brought two boxes to the Express Office addressed to W. P. Williamson. No. 32 Buttonwood Street, Philadelphia. A dray ticket was included.

The Express agent asked the porter where the boxes came from but the cart man responded that he did not know, only that they came from near the Armory. The agent's suspicions were further aroused due to the light weight of the boxes. The agent opened one of the boxes and found a slave man inside. The agent quickly placed the top back on the container. The boxes were then taken to the city jail and reopened, finding a runaway slave in each.

Apparently, Smith showed up at the Express office to check and see if the boxes had been sent under the false pretense of checking to see if bag of meal had arrived for him from Baltimore. A Mr. Fisher, who owned the shoe store in which Smith lived and worked claimed that the handwriting on the dray ticket was the same as that found in Fisher's bookkeeping signed by Smith. In addition, Fisher claimed he had seen a letter addressed to W. P. Williamson, Philadelphia in Smith's possession.

In the May 25 issue of the Enquirer under the headline "Not Original," the paper claimed that Smith's idea of boxing up slaves to send them to free states was earlier reported in the Burlington, Vermont Courier "of several weeks since" and seems to be the very story of Henry "Box" Brown as he later explained it in his narrative. It states:
"Having arranged the preliminaries he [the enslaved man] paid some one $40 to box him up and mark him 'this side up, with care,' and take him to the Express office consigned to his friend at the North. On  the passage, being on board a steamboat he was accidentally turned head downward, and almost died with the rash of blood to the head. At the next change of transportation, however, he was turned right side up again, and after twenty-six hours confinement, arrived safely at his destination. On receiving the box, the [illegible] man (?) had doubts whether he should receive a corpse or a free man. He tapped lightly on the box, with the question, 'All right?' and was delighted to hear 'All right, sir.' The poor fellow was immediately liberated from his place of living burial, and forwarded to a worthy Abolitionist in a city of New England, where he is now."

The next reference I located on Smith was in the May 29 issue. The story "Called Court," stated that "S. A. Smith, charged with attempting to abduct the two negroes in boxes, was on Saturday, sent on trial to the Superior Court, Judge Nicholas, at its October term."

Finally, in the November 9, 1849, issue in news of the Superior Court we learn of Smith's sentencing. "S. A. Smith was sentenced by the Judge to confinement in the Penitentiary for four years and six months, on yesterday; and being asked if he had anything to say say why sentence should not be passed upon him, made it known his intention of referring his cases to the General Court."

As a final means of corroboration, and after quite a while searching, I found S. A. Smith in the 1850 census records listed as an inmate in the Virginia Penitentiary. Smith is listed as forty-four year old shoemaker, who was born in Massachusetts and was incarcerated in 1849.

These sources seem to validate the story and method of escape Henry "Box" Brown claims he used to escape slavery. A fascinating story, which also shows the lengths enslaved people would take to find freedom.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.