Sunday, July 26, 2015

Just Finished Reading - Shifting Grounds

Significant scholarly works have been written on the diversity of political thought in the white antebellum and Civil War South. William Freehling's The South vs The South quickly comes to mind, but fewer books have attempted to examine the transitions that were necessary to spark a nation-making attempt that eventually consisted of eleven states called the Confederate States of America.

That gigantic hole is now largely filled with Paul Quigley's Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865 (Oxford University Press, 2012). This eye-opening look at the South's evolution, from a strong United States nationalist position to that of a separate entity, and then with defeat, a non-nation of commemoration, should find an eager audience.

Although national events such as the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Nullification Crisis (1832-33) predate Quigley's time frame, the Mexican-American War and the lands acquired from that conflict sped up sectional division. New territory meant new states, which meant making difficult decisions and taking strong actions on which newly formed states would be slave and which would be free. So, what was to be gained or lost? To the South what to be lost was a balance of power in Congress. With a loss of balance of power, presidential elections, and Supreme Court appointments was potentially the loss of their economic, social, and cultural way of life; i.e. slavery. The Compromise of 1850 brought about the first true Southern considerations about secession and serious thoughts of creating their own nation; one that was designed to protect slavery and guarantee its ability to expand as new land was added.

The nineteenth century was an era of nation making. European efforts in places like Italy, Hungary, and Ireland brought about a certain romantic idealism which often overlooked the difficulties encountered along the way. Southerners' questions abounded though: "What made a nation? Could an individual or a group change nationality at will? How should one balance different layers of identity and loyalty when they came into conflict? How did nation-states secure and maintain legitimacy at home and abroad? What were the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?"

To help illustrate some of his points, Quigley looks at traditional forms of American nationalism and how the South adapted them for their own purposes. Events such as Fourth of July celebrations and the legacy of the Revolutionary War, symbols such as the American flag, and heroes like George Washington were all incorporated in different ways in the new Confederacy's claims for nationhood.

Of course, the Civil War brought challenges to what white Confederates had hoped would be a more free nation than that experienced in the old United States. However, conscription (just a year into their national experience), slave impressment, crop confiscation, and geographical pockets of strident Unionism that had be controlled, all made nation building a more difficult experiment than originally expected.

The Confederate nation ended with its army's defeats on the battlefields, but although no longer in existence, the suffering and sacrifices experienced by the soldiers and their families created a culture of commemoration and pride in heritage that continues to this day. Without understanding how the Confederate nation came into being, one cannot truly understand or appreciate the cultural divide that has existed since 1865.

I highly recommend this excellently written and researched book. It was truly one of those rare books that I found difficult to close and eager to reopen. On a scale of one to five, I give it a well deserved five.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Will Give $2 Reward


I have been on quite the reading tear; and will have some "Just Finished Reading" posts soon. But, in between books, I did some browsing through the Chronicling America newspaper database on the Library of Congress website. Of course, I got distracted by the notices and advertisements.

The latest book I am reading is a biography of Hinton Rowan Helper, the North Carolinian who wrote The Impending Crisis of the South in 1857. I was searching through the database to see if any reactions to the book were made in Virginia's newspapers. Not finding much, I paged through the August 1, 1860 edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch when the ad pictured above particularly caught my eye.

In it Mary Brown, "A free woman of color" offered a $2.00 reward to anyone who happened to find her "FREE PAPERS," which she lost on Saturday, July 28 "near the Old Market." The importance of the papers are indicated in the considerable reward and in the fact that Ms. Brown mentioned that "They were in a tin box," presumably for safekeeping.

As one might image free papers were invaluable for free people of color in the slave states. Without their papers free people had to rely on a white patron who could vouch for their free status. Those without a white patron, they could be subject to be imprisoned and advertised as a runaway and then sold when not claimed.
Having such as common name, an attempt to find out more about Mary Brown by searching in the 1860 census turned up too many black and mulatto free Mary Brown's in Richmond to pinpoint the one in the advertisement. Some of the Mary Browns had occupations listed. Among them were: "washer," "nurse," "wash woman," and "servant." Of course it is pure speculation, but I could image the Mary Brown in the advertisement was likely employed in a similar type position and was probably doing her market shopping when perhaps she was distracted by something and sat her tin box containing her spending money and free papers down and moved on forgetting to retrieve the box.

Did Ms. Brown have the tin box returned? If so, who found it? Was it found by another free person of color or a white shopper at the Old Market? If they were not found, was she able to petition for a new set of free papers? How long did it take to get a new set of free papers? Did she have to pay a fee to get a new set of free papers? Did she experience much trouble over not having her free papers? Always . . . the questions!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Help Save Almost 300 Acres at Shiloh


Save 295 acres at Shiloh!
The morning of April 6, 1862 was one of shock and alarm as the men of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union army found their camp at Pittsburg Landing being attacked by Confederates under General Albert Sidney Johnston. Colonel John McDowell, whose brigade occupied the extreme right flank of Grant’s army, rushed his troops forward to meet the threat. Colonel Preston Pond, Jr.’s Louisiana brigade greeted them with fierce volleys and eventually overwhelmed the Yankees. With the Union right flank collapsing, the Confederates swept the field.
Today, the Civil War Trust is pleased to announce our immediate effort to save the exact site of McDowell’s stand against Pond’s Confederates. This 295-acre area of land is the most signi ficant unprotected land on the western edge of Shiloh National Military Park. With your help in saving this land we are not only adding to the protected acreage at Shiloh, but also providing an important buffer between the battlefield and likely development on the park’s western border.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sacrificing for the Cause - John C.C. Sanders


One of the exciting things about learning new historical information is being introduced to the personalities one encounters along the way. I had certainly heard of General John C.C. Sanders, but knew few details of the man's pre-war or wartime experiences. Doing just a little research produced some remarkable findings which show his commitment to the cause for which he was fighting.


John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders was born on April 4, 1840, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was named for the great states' rights and proslavery South Carolina politician (above). This is not all that surprising as thousands of sons during this time period were named for famous military and political personalities. In addition, Sanders' father, Charles P. Sanders, was a native South Carolinian, who likely held Calhoun in veneration.

The 1850 census give a little more detail into the Sanders family. At that time they lived in the Eutaw District of Greene County, Alabama. John's father, Charles, is listed as a thirty-seven year old physician, who owned $1000 in real estate. John's mother, Elizabeth Ann is listed as thirty-one and also a South Carolina native. The family must have moved to Alabama just a few years before John was born as older brother Matthew L., who was listed as 14 years old, had been born in their home state, while another older brother, William H (12) and John (10) were both born in Alabama. Also included in the family were younger sisters, Arabella F. (7), and Martha L. (5). All of the Sanders children were shown as attending school. I was unable to find Charles P. Sanders in the 1850 slave schedules.

The Sanders family prospered the the following decade. In 1860, Charles was listed as "Doctor & Planter." He had increased his wealth in real estate to $15,300 and personal property to $30,000, of which included 25 slaves. The slaves consisted of eleven males ranging in age from sixty to one year old, and fourteen females that were from fifty-five to one year old. All of the slaves are listed as black, except for a one year old female that was described as mulatto. The Sanders' family workforce lived in six slave houses.

By 1860, apparently son Matthew no longer lived in the household, and William, now twenty-one was listed as a doctor, like his father. John is listed as nineteen and as a "Col.[lege] Student." Arabella was now sixteen. Perhaps Martha did not live, as the only other children are listed as initals and hers does not fit. The other children were: H.A. Sanders, a fourteen year old girl; E.A. Sanders, a seven year old girl, and C.P. Sanders, a two year old girl.

John must have been a promising student as he was attending the University of Alabama when the war started. Although his parents objected to his decision to withdraw from school and join up, John would not miss the chance to serve his new nation and headed back to Greene County, where he helped raise Company C of the 11th Alabama Infantry. His experience as a University of Alabama cadet and winning personality helped him gain the captaincy of the company. He was only 21 years old.

The 11th was quickly forwarded to the seat of war in Virginia and barely missed participating in the Battle of First Manassas. The regiment was included in the brigade of Cadmus M. Wilcox and fought some difficult battles in the Peninsula Campaign. John was grievously wounded in the leg during the Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm). A fast recovery brought John back in time to fight more, and as the brigade's senior captain, he led the 11th in battle at Second Manassas and Antietam, where he was wounded in the face.

John was soon made colonel of the 11th; at only twenty-two years old. The 11th fought at Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign, and at Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, Sanders was shot in the knee.


When Wilcox was promoted to division command, the brigade was placed under Sanders's command for a time. But then when General Abner Perrin took command of the brigade, Sanders was back in charge of the 11th. After a particularly difficult fight at the Wilderness, however, Perrin was killed at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864. Sanders once again assumed command of the brigade. He officially was promoted on June 7 to brigadier general. Sanders was only twenty-four years old. As fighting devolved to Petersburg, Sanders's brigade fought in several battles south of the important rail junction city. On July 30, Sanders's brigade was one of the principal units that successfully counterattacked against the Union forces at the Battle of the Crater.

Sanders's brigade was moved north of the James River to fight at Second Deep Bottom in mid-August. The mobile brigade was quickly moved back south of Petersburg where it fought at the Battle of Globe Tavern (above photograph), also known as Weldon Railroad, on August 21. During the Confederate attempt to regain its lost ground Sanders's brigade, now fighting with Mahone's division, attacked. In the fight John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders was shot through both thighs. The wound severed his femoral arteries and he quickly bled to death. He was only twenty-four. Sanders was laid to rest in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.


Today, the quiet fields around where Globe Tavern once stood and a fierce battle once raged only grow crops or sit empty. Fortunately, no longer do muskets crack and artillery boom. Only the sounds of an occasional passing car, cranky crows, and sometimes, rumbling railroad freight cars disturb the peace. It is here though that we should remember those who lost their lives, both Union and Confederate. After all they were all Americans.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Roger Pryor's Duels


Feeling a little touch of cabin fever, and knowing it was going to be blazing hot later in the day, I ran down to the southern end of Dinwiddie County this morning to find Roger Pryor's birthplace. I located the place, but did not take any pictures since it is privately owned and the highway marker (above) was back on the closest major road.

Researching into Pryor's history a little I kept finding him engaged in duels. His many affairs of honor probably shouldn't be surprising considering he worked in occupations that easily offended (newspaper editor and politician) others.

Pryor was a hotspur, no doubt. He provoked challenges, challenged, and fought duels against a number of men. He never killed an opponent, and wounded but few. Pryor's first duel was with Charles Irving. Apparently some understanding was developed between the men before shots were fired. His next duel was with fellow newspaper editor Robert Ridgeway, but Pryor chose to shoot into the ground instead of at his opponent. In his duel against Dr. Oswald Finney, fought across the James River from Richmond, Pryor shot Finney in the ribs, but the good doctor recovered. Ad hominem attacks were Pryor's stock in trade. Perhaps he channeled his minister father's religious zeal in a much different direction. Pryor fought a duel with a son of noted Virginia Unionist John Minor Botts, but declined to shoot the man due to an infirmity. He also challenged his congressional opponent Thomas F. Goode.  

As a congressman, in 1860, Pryor took offense during an antislavery speech delivered by Owen Lovejoy of Illinois in the House of Representatives. In the speech Pryor warned Lovejoy not to bring his rants to the Democratic side of the House. John Potter, a Wisconsin Republican, defended Lovejoy. William Barksdale of Mississippi and Martin Crawford jumped in on Pryor's side. Somehow a dust up was averted. However, about a week later, Potter and Pryor got into an argument about what was printed in the Congressional Globe. This led to Pryor sending Potter a card of challenge. Since Pryor had challenged, Potter had the choice of weapons. The Wisconsinite chose bowie knives. Pryor's seconds considered the weapon choice uncivilized and refused the weapons as unworthy of a Southern gentleman. The duel was cancelled.

During the Civil War Pryor took his fights to the battlefields. Apparently he desired a commission more than a politician's desk. He was made commander of the 3rd Virginia, but was soon assigned a brigade. He fought rather well in the Peninsula Campaign. He also saw service at Second Manassas and Antietam. Pryor was replaced in command in the spring of 1863, and without a brigade, he resigned in August. He was captured, apparently spying, on November 27, 1864, near Petersburg and was held until April 1865 in Fort Lafayette in New York.

Pryor transferred his residence to New York after the war and used his gift of gab as an attorney and judge. He died on March 14, 1919 and was buried at Princeton, New Jersey.      

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bully Civil War Photograph - The Little Secessionist


This photograph of an unknown little secessionist boy struck me as particularly impressive. The little fellow stands as straight as an arrow at right shoulder arms. He stares frowning but intently at the photographer; his hair neatly parted on the side. A secession cockade is pinned to his shirt, worn to show support for the Confederate nation.

Was this boy's father away in the Southern army? If so, was he killed in battle?  Or, did his father spend time in a prisoner of war camp? Did his father come home missing an arm or a leg? Or, did his father bring mental demons back from the front? Or was he well adjusted? Did the boy have brothers and sisters? Did this boy have the opportunity of an education? What occupation did he grow up to hold? Did he make a contribution to better society? Did he live to old age? Did he live to see airplanes, and automobiles? What did he think about these major innovations? Questions . . . so many questions that cannot be answered.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Obstacles to Advance


When the armies fought around Petersburg, they were most often in quite close proximity. To guard against attacks, both sides incorporated additional obstacles to their defensive earthworks. It was believed that if the huge earthen berms and ditches were not enough to discourage advances, then other measures might dissuade offensive movements.

Pictured above are two forms. Abatis is shown in the left foreground. These were often young growth trees or cut tree tops that were defoliated and the tips of the limbs sharpened. The points were directed toward the enemy and the base buried into the ground at an angle. Often abatis was woven together to form a particularly difficult obstacle. 

In the left background of the same photograph are fraise. These were larger logs with sharpened points and  spaced just wide enough apart for attackers to have to stop to slide past. Of these, one Union soldier stated: "Along and in front of the enemy line bristled a heavy sharpened stakes set close together and pointing outward with an unyielding and aggressive air, as if to say 'Come and impale yourselves on us.'"    


Another obstacle that was incorporated into the defenses were chevaux-de-frise (above). These devilish-looking inventions were sharpened stakes set at opposing angles and that were probed through a central log. These were often chained or wired together and had to either be chopped through or carefully rolled away, both of which slowed attackers.

Other obstacles, included sinks (latrines) between the opposing lines, and telegraph wire strung between stumps in no-man's-land. Of the sinks, Union Colonel Hazard Stevens wrote: "the enemy had placed some of their sinks in front of the abatis and stakes [fraise], so that attacking troops would have to break their lines in order to avoid falling into these filthy holes."

Telegraph wire proved especially effective, sometimes on one's own men, as a group of Maryland Union soldiers found out: "Suddenly a number of men fell flat on their faces and we thought that they had been hit by the enemy's fire. To our surprise, they hurriedly scrambled to their feet again and continued toward us. A few steps more and again they plunged to the ground. It dawned upon us then what was the cause of their strange behavior. They had tripped over the telegraph wires stretched about a foot high along the ground. The men, too, realized what was the matter and they carefully picked their way the rest of the distance, being greeted with laughter as they approached. They, however, were in no mood to enjoy the merriment."

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Richmond Free Black Barber Advertisement


That November 21, 1859 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch was loaded with interesting goodies for me. Along with the stories on Congressman-elect Pryor and the barber who wanted to crop Brown's raiders ears, I found the above advertisement for Richmond free black barber R. C. Hobson.

Hobson styled himself as a "Practical Hair Cutter and [hair] Dresser. His business was located, like many free black barbers, under a local hotel - location, location, location. Hobson's shop was under the American Hotel,which was one of Richmond's more notable hotels. Similar to other black barbers, Hobson offered and listed in his advertisement a variety of services. He cut hair "in the latest and most approved style," dyed, and shampooed hair, and shaved faces.


Curious to learn more about Hobson, I located him in the 1860 census. He lived in Richmond's Second Ward, and it indeed lists him as a barber and thirty-eight years old. He is also listed as a mulatto, as are all of the members of his family household, who included: thirty-seven year old Martha A., a domestic and his wife; son Robert L. nineteen years old; daughter Mary F, five years old; Elmore Brown, a sixteen year old barber (probably an apprentice); and John Wilder, twenty-one years old and also a barber. Hobson appears to have been literate, as well as his wife Mary and John Wilder.

Hobson's listed worth shows him to be quite well off. He owned $3300 in real estate property and $352 in personal property. His wealth is not all that surprising as a free black barber, but it is still an impressive amount and shows his good business sense with investing in real estate.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Richmond Free Black Barber and John Brown's Raiders


Way way back I shared Lebanon, Kentucky free black barber Abraham Meaux's letter to Governor Magoffin. It was a fascinating look at his thoughts about John Brown and what he considered the trouble Brown had brought the free people of color in Kentucky.

While browsing through the 1859 issue of the Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch that I shared yesterday, I found the above short article. It focuses its attention on a free black barber in the state's capital city, who while shaving a patron, in this case the city's mayor, offered to go to Charlestown, where John Brown was being held in jail awaiting execution, mentioned he sought to have a "brush with the invaders." The barber allegedly offered to muster a company to go and "shear the ears from some abolitionist heads." Although not accepted, apparently the mayor appreciated Lomax's offer to defend Virginia against abolitionist threats.

Was Smith just boasting for his notable white patron? It appears from the information in the article that Smith had long been a respected barber in the community, as it mentions that he had apparently shaved Lafayette when he visited Richmond in 1824. Perhaps Smith had adopted the politics of his white patrons as it appears Meaux had done in Kentucky. After all, deferring and agreeing with one's benefactors was good for business, but making waves was a sure way to lose customers and find one's self in hot water.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Roger A. Pryor, John Brown, Secession, and Slavery



It is fascinating to me that certain men made sure they witnessed and took part in history making events leading up to the Civil War. I think that says something about these individuals as well as the stake that they had in the outcome of these events and what they wanted to see for the future. 

It is well known that Virginia arch-secessionist Edmund Ruffin made the trip to Harpers Ferry from his plantation shortly after Brown's raid to be at the ground zero of an event that he hoped would kick off a conflict between the North and South and result in Southern independence. Taking advantage of the occasion, he also took time to collect some of Brown's pikes to send to slave state governors as propaganda pieces. Ruffin, too, was at Charleston, South Carolina, as events came to a head at Fort Sumter. Some claim he was given the honor of firing the first shot. It seems another Southern fire-eater also made an appearance at Charlestown, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina as the sectional fires continued to grow in 1859, 1860, and 1861.   

I came across the above newspaper notice in the November 21, 1859, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. As it mentions, Roger Pryor, who at the time had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was a citizen of Petersburg, Virginia, made the trip to Charlestown, Virginia, with his city's militia unit to guard Brown and the other captured raiders at the town's jail.


Roger Atkinson Pryor was born in southern Dinwiddie County in 1828, to Theodorick and Lucy Pryor only a handful of miles from where the enslaved Elizabeth Keckley had been born ten years earlier. The Pryor family moved to Nottoway County when Theodorick switched careers from attorney to Presbyterian minister. Following his father's footsteps, in 1845, Roger graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in Prince Edward County, and then graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in law in 1848. He was admitted to the bar the following year and practiced law in Petersburg before calling it quits due to ill health. Pryor added newspaper editor to his resume soon thereafter. He oversaw papers in both Richmond and Washington D.C. 

In 1854, Pryor was appointed by President Franklin Pierce to serve as a special minister to Greece for about three years. Upon his return he went back into the newspaper business briefly. When Representative William O. Goode died in office, Pryor was elected to fill his seat. He took office in December 1859 and served to March, 1861, when he resigned during the secession crisis.

Like Ruffin, Pryor was an ardent secesssion advocate. And like Ruffin, Pryor was in Charleston when Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861. Pryor was hailed by South Carolinians, who often sought out like-mined Southerners from other states. In a speech there shortly before Fort Sumter he declared: "I thank you especially, that you have at last annihilated this accursed Union, reeking with corruption and insolent with excess of tyranny. Thank God! it is blasted with the lightning wrath of and outraged and indignant people. Not only is it gone, but gone forever!" Pryor was part of the four man delegation that demanded the surrender of Major Robert Anderson and his force in Fort Sumter. Probably realizing the gravity of the moment he allegedly refused the honor of firing the first shot on the fort.

Apparently Roger Pryor did not personally own slaves. However, he vehemently supported the institution as a constitutional right, and saw the Northern states' refusal to honor the Fugitive Slave Law as grounds for breaking away to form an independent nation. Pryor also well understood the power slavery provided the Southern states. Pryor believed that without slavery the South would not be the South he loved. The institution supported the region's economy and framed its society. 

When it came time to put up or shut up, Pryor anted up and became a brigadier general in the Confederate army. He was replaced in 1863, but continued to serve in different capacities; as a scout, special courier, and possibly a spy. Pryor was captured in November 1864 near Petersburg and was sent to Fort Lafayette in New York. He was released with a parole from President Lincoln just before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. He lived in New York where he wrote for a newspaper and revived his law career. Pryor died  in New York on March 14, 1919, far from his Southside Virginia roots, and was buried in Princeton, New Jersey, where is wife and two sons were buried

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nathaniel Michler, Union Mapmaker in the Petersburg Campaign


I have learned so much about the Petersburg Campaign by viewing the period maps made by both the Union and Confederate armies. Some are extremely detailed, showing what areas were wooded and what areas were fields at the time. The maps also often show the locations of forts and batteries as well as the homes of prominent citizens and those in significant locations.

The name of one mapmaker has kept popping up in my searches: Nathaniel Michler (pictured above). Michler was born in 1827 in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was appointed to West Point and graduated from the prestigious institution in 1848. Specializing in engineering, Michler began a career in the U.S. Army that saw duty on the Texas-Mexico border. Before the Civil War he also surveyed a canal project in Panama, as well as the border between Virginia and Maryland.

Michler first served as an engineer officer in the Western Theater during the first couple of years of war, but was transferred east to survey Harpers Ferry. With the Army of the Potomac, Michler laid out defensive works in the Overland Campaign and was promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel in 1864 for his work around Petersburg.    


Michler's surveying and engineering skills came to the forefront as the contending armies stayed in ever close contact with one another. Both sides erected unprecedented numbers of earthen fortifications from June 1864 to April 1865. Michler's work was recognized as among the best and he was rewareded with brevet promotions to colonel, and later, brigadier general. 

I located the above photograph of Michler's cottage at Petersburg on the Library of Congress website. There was not much information provided with the image other than it was apparently located at the Bryant House. I'm not exactly sure where that location is, but hopefully with a little more searching I will be able to nail it down. I wonder if Michler utilized the tiny log cottage as a living space solely or if he did his mapping work there as well. In the image a couple of women, one holding an umbrella and apparently younger, stands beside a little boy and an older woman.  


One of Michler's maps of Petersburg and vicinity is shown above. Interestingly is states at the top left that it was "Prepared expressly for the Guests of Jarratt's Hotel, Petersburg Va." It appears that either Jarratt's Hotel highjacked Michler's map or he surveyed the map for them. Perhaps Jarratt's sold or gave out the map to their guests wishing to tour the sites of the various battles and earthworks around the river city.

Immediately after the Civil War Michler worked in Washington D.C. and then served in the Pacific Northwest and later in the northeast United States. In 1881, Michler died of Bright's Disease at Saratoga Springs, New York. He was buried in his hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Two Photographs, Same Photographer?


Browsing through the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs on the Library of Congress website, I came across the image below of Private Henry Augustus Moore of Company F, 15th Mississippi Infantry. The youthful looking Moore holds a short artillery broadsword and a sign that reads "JEFF DAVIS AND THE SOUTH!" leans against his arm, which in turn rests on a table cover that appears to have leaves printed on it.

I remembered seeing the same "Jeff Davis" sign in a photograph that is in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society (above). I remembered the unknown man in the KHS photograph was much older looking than Moore. But, when I found the picture on the KHS digital collections the first thing that came to my mind is if the photograph was taken at the same place or by the same photographer as the Moore image. 

If I had to guess, I would say yes. The "Jeff Davis" sign is my first clue. Both not only say the exact same thing, but the "N" in the word "AND" is reversed in both signs--for some odd reason. Additionally it appears that both are leaning on the same leafy-looking table cloth. 

However, there are differences, too. Both men hold edged weapons, but they are not the same. The unknown man in the KHS photograph holds what appears to be a Bowie knife that has a flat hilt. Moore's weapon is definitely different. The unknown man wears civilian clothes, while Moore is in the distinctive uniform jacket of the 15th Mississippi Infantry. Additionally, Moore does not hold a gun, while the unknown man hold a double-barrel shotgun.  


Is it possible that these photographs were taken in Kentucky? The 15th Mississippi did fight at Mill Springs in January 1862. And that might explain why the Kentucky Historical Society has a photograph by what appears to be the same photographer. Who knows? Just another history mystery waiting to be solved.

Images courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society and Library of Congress.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sam Watkins and His Stake in Slavery

One of my favorite soldier stories is Company Aytch: A Sideshow to the Big Show. This book was originally published by Sam R. Watkins in 1881-82 in series form in his hometown newspaper and soon thereafter in book form. It has become a standard read for those seeking insight on how Civil War soldiers (especially Confederate soldiers) experienced the war.

Watkins was born on June 26, 1839, near the small middle Tennessee town of Columbia. Only twenty-one years old when the Civil War broke out, Watkins joined up and landed with neighborhood friends into Company H, known as the Maury (County) Grays, of the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. Sent to Virginia early in the war, Watkins and his regiment returned to Tennessee in early 1862. He participated in almost every fight the Army of Tennessee fought through the end of the war. His descriptions of fighting at places such as Perryville, Kentucky and Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, are among the most vivid of soldiers' accounts.

One thing that Sam did not mention much in his writing was slavery. This might seem quite natural on the surface, but doing a little digging shows that Sam had a huge stake in slavery and thus the cause of the Confederacy. Perhaps by 1882 most Southern soldiers wanted to see their fight for independence as something grander than a battle for a way of life built upon the labor of enslaved individuals. One has to wonder how different Sam's story might have been if the had taken the time to write it twenty years earlier (during the war) instead of a generation after the conflict ended.

One place Sam does mention slavery or at least alludes to it is in Chapter Three, "Corinth." Here he writes: "A law was made by the Confederate States Congress about this time allowing every person who owned twenty negroes to go home. It gave us the blues; we wanted twenty negroes. Negro property suddenly became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of 'rich man's war, poor man's fight.'"

Here Sam seems to make himself out as a "poor man." He, or at least his family, was anything but poor. Sam's father Frederick Watkins was very very wealthy. In the 1860 census, Sam is listed in Frederick's (F.H. Watkins) household. Sam was 21 and is listed as a clerk in a store. Frederick, age 44, is shown with personal property worth $157,912.00, much of which was his more than 100 slaves. In addition, he owned real estate worth $104,250.00, which encompassed two plantations in Maury County. In fact, one source I found noted that the Watkins' were the third richest family in a very wealthy Maury County.

Perhaps Sam should have asked his father for 20 of his slaves so he could have been exempt if he truly wished to be free of the soldier life. Rather, I suspect that Sam wanted anything but to be out of the army. With so much at stake he was probably quite willing to fight for what he and his family owned and cherished.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dying so Close to Home: The Pegram Brothers



Over the last couple of months I have posted about a number of United States Colored Troops soldiers from Kentucky who died while serving in Virginia and were buried there--far, far from home. Recently it struck me that readers might find it interesting to learn about two brothers, who fought for the Confederacy, and died near to their father's former home place in Dinwiddie County. 

John Pegram (pictured above) was born on January 24, 1832, in Petersburg, the son of James West Pegram and Virginia Johnson Pegram. James West Pegram had been born on his father's Dinwiddie County plantation in 1804. James was a bright young man and received a Harvard education. He returned to Virginia and began practicing law in Petersburg. In 1841, the Pegrams moved to Richmond ,where Virginia gave birth to William Ransom Johnson Pegram, John's baby brother. 

James Pegram soon became president of the Bank of Virginia. His new position offered the opportunity to expand his wealth by purchasing cotton lands in Mississippi. In 1844, while traveling by steamboat to visit his recently purchased property, the boiler on the boat James was traveling on blew up near Louisville, Kentucky. His body was never located.

John went on to receive an appointment at West Point, where he graduated in 1854, in class top ten. Pegram served at several army posts in the West before the Civil War. Captured in 1861, Pegram was soon exchanged and back in Confederate service. Pegram made of tour of duty in Kentucky,Tennessee, and Georgia in 1862 and 1863, but transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia in the fall of 1863. 

After participating in the Overland Campaign, during the spring and summer of 1864, John was stationed near his hometown of Petersburg. On January 19, 1865, he married the noted Southern beauty Hetty Cary in St. Paul's Church in Richmond. On February 6, while Hetty waited at John's headquarters near Burgess Mill, John ventured out with his division to repulse a Union advance at Hatcher's Run, where he was shot and killed; just three weeks after his wedding day, and only a few miles from where his father grew up. John's body was recovered and his funeral was held in the same church where he was married. General John Pegram was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
    

John's younger brother William, or "Willy" as he was often know, also sought a soldier's life. Willy enlisted in a militia unit as a young man of about sixteen years. In 1859, Willy's militia company was on hand to witness John Brown's execution. Writing to his brother John, who at the time was in the United States army, Willy stated: "Before the Harper's Ferry outbreak this Regiment could not muster over three hundred and fifty men; now was have about seven hundred and fifty." 

With war on the horizon, but not yet a fact, Willy entered the University of Virginia in the fall of 1860. When war did break out, Willy joined the Purcell Artillery, a unit out of Richmond. The Purcell Artillery fought largely in A.P. Hill's Third Corps, where Willy rose through the ranks to colonel. Willy was on sick leave in Richmond when he learned of his brother's death at Hatcher's Run. The studious and bespectacled artilleryman took the misfortune as God's will, but felt the deep pain of losing a close sibling. 

Just two months after losing John, Willy lost his own life fighting beside his artillery at the Battle of Five Forks. He had been hit in the left arm and the bullet entered his side while he sat on his horse among his guns. Taken from the field in an ambulance to Ford's Depot, he died on the morning of April 2, just one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox; and only a few miles from where his brother had died and his father was born. Willy, like his brother John rests in peace at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, close, close to home.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Just Finished Reading - Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South

When visiting battlefields around the Petersburg and Richmond area one often hears and reads about who constructed the various earthworks that have managed to survive. Much of the lines that are still with us were built by the soldiers who fought behind them. However, the massive Confederate fortifications that ringed the cities of Petersburg and Richmond, and that are almost all gone, were most often laid out by military engineers but built by impressed slave labor.

I have always wanted to know more details about how the slave impressement system was implemented and worked, so I was pleased to find and read Jaime Amanda Martinez's book Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South (UNC Press, 2013).

The focus of Martinez's book are the states of Virginia and North Carolina-where slave impressement projects affected populations of free people of color, the enslaved, and of course, their owners. Massive fortification projects such as the defenses of Petersburg, Richmond, Lynchburg, and Saltville in Virginia, and in Fayetteville and Wilmington, North Carolina; along with road, railroad, and hospital work took the majority of impressed slaves.

Martinez points out that the battle between private property ownership rights and the tug of being a good citizen of the newly formed Confederate States of America put many owners into a difficult position. In a nation pledged to honor certain states' rights, the centralized nature of slave impressment made for some contentious moments, especially when slaves were not returned to owners in the promised amount of time or were killed or injured while doing government work.

One significant issue that arose with slave impressment was what to compensate owners when their property either ran away from projects or were injured or killed while in government service. Martinez contends that slaves were probably less likely to run away while working on fortifications where they were under tighter supervision than on most plantations during the war. The author found that fewer than ten percent of the cases reviewed by the Board of Slave Claims involved runaways. The Board was also provided funding by by Confederate government to pay claims to owners whose slave were killed or hurt while impressed.

Another issue was who would supply the slaves, and in what percentage. Covering this subject Martinez unearthed some very intriguing documents from owners to their governors and representatives seeking exemption from supplying their slaves for government projects. Some owners (often single women or women with husbands in the army) of few slaves claimed that they could not provide food stuffs for their own families without the labor of their slave men. Large slaveholders argued that if their slaves were taken they would not be able to harvest crops needed to feed the soldiers and the people of their communities.

While Virginia's slave impressment system was enforced by county courts, the practice in North Carolina was carried out by the state's militia. Martinez found that "Impressment by militia operated more efficiently than impressment via the county courts in Virginia, but it was also more prone to abuses and thus to alienating the state's slaveholders." And she contends that the impressment system worked in both states "because it had the support of the state and local governments." Governor Vance of North Carolina supported and enforced the slave impressment system in most instances. He viewed it a way that citizens could sacrifice for the greater good of the new nation. Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith of Virginia, too, supported the impressement system. However he sometimes granted exemptions, especially to owners in counties near Union occupation. This fear was founded in the belief that if slaves heard about impressments occurring, they would flee more readily to the Union army.

The research that Martinez incorporated into her work and her insightful interpretation of the primary source evidence is impressive. I highly recommend reading Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South to anyone wanting to learn more about this important aspect of the Confederate experience. The issues it brought about between owners' property rights, sacrifices for the greater good of the nation, and who would and would not be subject to its regulations makes for an intriguing and relevant read. On a scale of one to five, I give it a full five.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Fascinating Map


I located the above map of Virginia on the Library of Congress website. It was published on June 13, 1861, less than two months after the Old Dominion seceded from the Union. Using figures from the preceding year's census it shows the enslaved population percentage for each county. Virginia had more slaves than any state in 1860. Of course, being that it was compiled in 1861, two years before West Virginia was formed by the western counties, it includes them in its figures, too.

What I found most fascinating about the map was the numerous counties that had populations of almost half, half, or more than half enslaved. Fifty-one counties had at least forty-five percent of their populations enslaved. Two counties consisted of more than seventy percent slaves: Nottoway, just to the west of Dinwiddie; and Ameilia, adjacent northwest to Dinwiddie. Nineteen counties had sixty percent or more. Eighteen counties had fifty percent or more.

Forty-five counties had five percent enslaved or less; most of which were in the more mountainous counties that broke away in 1863 to form West Virginia or in the hilly country of the Old Dominion. Only two county's populations in what would become the "Wild and Wonderful" state approached or exceeded ten percent. This geographical disparity in slave population goes a long way in explaining the difference in politics and culture that led to West Virginia's secession from the mother state.

Another intriguing feature of the map is the band of higher slave populations that extend down the Valley of Virginia, especially those counties in the far southwest. Mountains on either side limited the appeal of slavery to counties such as Floyd, Carroll and Grayson to the east, and Scott, Wise, Buchannan, and McDowell to the west. But those counties in between; especially Washington, Smyth, Wythe, Pulaski, and Montgomery mostly had fifteen percent or more enslaved among their population. However, some mountain counties in the Old Dominion had fairly high slave populations, too, including Russell, Tazewell, Greenbrier and Monroe.

If you want a closer look at the map a "zoom-in" version is here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fight at Dinwiddie Courthouse - March 31, 1865


Civil War battlefields and places of engagement abound in my new neck of the woods. The almost ten-month long Petersburg Campaign in 1864-65 brought thousands of soldiers and millions of tons of supplies to formerly undisturbed Dinwiddie County. As the contending armies jockeyed for strategic and tactical positions they obviously clashed many times at various locations.    

One engagement occurred just about nine miles down the road from where I live. Dinwiddie Courthouse was a sleepy little town in the spring of 1865, when Union cavalry thundered into town. Actually, Dinwiddie Courthouse became more important during the previous summer. When the Union army cut the Petersburg Railroad, which ran south to North Carolina, at the Battle of Globe Tavern, that move necessitated that supplied sent north on the railroad be offloaded at Stony Creek Station, put on wagons, travel cross country to Dinwiddie Courthouse, and then northeast on the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg's Confederate defenses. 


The Dinwiddie Courthouse (pictured above) that was used during the Civil War and occupied by General Philip Sheridan as his headquarters, was built in 1851. Sheridan apparently was not impressed with the little town and described it in a derogatory manner. 

The battle near Dinwiddie County had its roots in a movement two days before, on March 29. On that day, Sheridan, in command of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry along with overseeing the II and V Corps attempted a flank movement on Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia's positions southwest of Petersburg.
Meeting terrible weather conditions, which has turned the county's dirt roads into holes of mud and quicksand, the movement slowed to a snail's pace. 

Confederate cavalry  under Lee's nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, and a division of infantry under Gen. George Pickett attacked the Union cavalry just north of Dinwiddie Courthouse on March 31. The Confederates drove back Sheridan's men almost back to Dinwiddie Courthouse but quickly arriving Union reinforcements stopped the rebel advance. Repeated Confederate attacks were made without benefit.

Later that day, Pickett, unable to make headway due to the additional Union arrivals, chose to withdraw to the important county road intersection of Five Forks and dug in. Lee informed Pickett that he must hold Five Forks due to its close proximity to the Southside Railroad, which was Lee's last remaining supply line into Petersburg now that the Boydton Plank Road had been secured at Dinwiddie Courthouse and with additional fighting to the north at White Oak Road the same day. Fighting would break out at Five Forks on April 1. After initial success the defeat there would and help spell doom to Lee's  Army of Northern Virginia.


Almost half of  Dinwiddie County's population were enslaved. Many took the opportunity to make their way to the nearby Union forces where they were employed as laborers, and some as soldiers. Others provided vital information about Confederate forces, distances and best routes of travel, and terrain features. The image above shows Sheridan and his staff speaking with an African American man and boy with Dinwiddie Courthouse in the background. 


Sheridan's cavalry force included many talented officers. Included in this image from the left is Gen. Wesley Merritt, Sheridan, Gen. George Crook, Gen. James William Forsyth, and Gen. George Armstrong Custer. These men would do much to harass and finally successfully cut off the Confederate retreat at Appomattox, just one week and two day after their fight at Dinwiddie Courthouse.

Sheridan staff image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

150 Years Ago Today: Juneteenth


Driving up to Washington DC last weekend I heard several radio announcements promoting a local annual Juneteenth celebration. I wondered to myself how many people listening to the broadcast actually knew what Juneteenth meant historically. I seriously doubted many did, but in the wake of this week's tragedy in Charleston, it is important to me to try to highlight episodes our nation's troubled past in hope of making for a better present and future. Understanding the roots of our contemporary issues is important to correcting them. 

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger (pictured above) issued General Orders Number 3, from Galveston, Texas, which stated that President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would be enforced in the area making the slaves there free. Owners were to now obligated to pay wages to their former human property. The news must have been quite a shock to those white Texans who had been fortunate enough avoid the war for the most part. 

However, the order also placed stipulations on the former bondsmen. They were expected to stay where they were, keep working (but now for wages), and warned to not flock to Union outposts. The change in status for the freedmen with these ensuing demands must have been difficult for those seeking to reunite separated families or divorce themselves from excessively oppressive or abusive former owners.   

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
General Orders, No. 3
The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A. . G.  

Juneteenth is a day for celebration and reflection. Celebrate that our nation moved closer to fulfilling its promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as stated in the Declaration of Independence.  But take time to reflect, too, and remember those generations of the enslaved (both North and South) who never were able to taste liberty or enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elizabeth Keckley's Dinwiddie County


Driving south from Petersburg on Boydton Plank Road (US Hwy. 1) in Dinwiddie County several highway markers are encountered on either side of the road. Most of them reference the various Civil War actions that happened along this important supply route into the Cockade City in 1864 and 1865.

However, just south of the town of Dewitt, but before reaching McKinney, a marker sits on the left side of the road and almost on the bank of Sappony Creek which tells the fascinating tale of a mixed race woman who lifted herself from the slave quarter to the White House. Her story is an inspiration for the hard working individual.

Elizabeth Keckley was born to her mother, a slave, and her white master father, Armistead Burwell, in 1818 on Burwell's Dinwiddie County, Virginia plantation. Burwell's wife, likely resentful of Elizabeth's existence, beat young Elizabeth on a number of occasions.

In 1832, as a teenager, Elizabeth was loaned to Armistead Burwell's son Robert, who lived in Chesterfield County. A move to Prince Edward County, where Robert worked for Hampden-Sydney College, and then to Hillsboro, North Carolina, brought Elizabeth a ton of grief, but also widened her world view.

In Hillsboro, Elizabeth became pregnant by a local white man. She named her light complexioned son George. Her years in Hillsboro came to an end when Elizabeth and George were sent to St. Louis to serve a Burwell daughter. In St. Louis Elizabeth was able to earn enough money working as a seamstress to buy her and George's freedom in 1855.


In 1860, Elizabeth and George moved to Baltimore, Maryland, seeking better opportunities. Soon they moved on to Washington DC, where word quickly got out among the various politician's wives about Elizabeth's impressive seamstress skills. Soon she was covered in orders for her beautiful dresses.

Elizabeth met the new first lady Mary Lincoln on the president's inauguration day in 1861. After an interview, Elizabeth was hired to serve as fashion conscious Mary's dressmaker and dresser. During their time together Elizabeth and Mary formed an intriguing friendship. The women likely bonded over, among other things, their shared loss of sons. Keckley's son, George, passed as white and joined a Union Missouri unit, but was tragically killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861. Mary, of course, lost her son Willie while in the White House.

Keckley wrote a book of her life's experience in 1868, which strained her relationship with the ever-sensitive Mary Lincoln. Elizabeth died in 1907, in Washington DC, and was buried in a local cemetery. She was later re-interred in nearby Landover, Maryland.

Elizabeth Keckley's story of overcoming persecution and oppression by hard work and advancement is not all that unique among those whose lives spanned slavery and freedom, but her particular situation, going from slave to working in the Lincoln White House is one that should be better known. And, to think, that story started in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Memorializing the Battle of Old Men and Boys


Petersburg, rightly so, has many monuments that commemorate various aspects of the town's long history. Some are enormous, some are elaborate, some stand out, others are, well, fairly inconspicuous. One of the town's monuments that often gets passed by without much of a glance is located on Crater Road not all that far from the exit entrance of Petersburg National Battlefield. Long ago it was placed on a mound of dirt that is a survivor of the Dimmock defensive line that once ringed Petersburg. 

The monument was placed in 1909; during an era of massive Confederate memorialization. It was placed by the group that oversaw the erection of the majority of Confederate monuments, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

When speaking to people who grew up in Northern states but who have since moved to former Confederate states, they often explain to me that they did not receive the emphasis on the Civil War era during their education that Southern schools seem to provide. I think that in part, some of that is related to monuments such as this one.

The stone marker remembers the group of old men and boys who went out to Petersburg's defensive line on June 9, 1864, to make a stand against an early Union effort to attack and capture the town. To me, it attempts to hearken back to the era of America's bid for independence and the famous "minutemen." Simply put, monuments such as this one emphasize, that for the most part, the South experienced the war in fundamentally different way than the majority of the North.   


On June 9, 1864, Virginia Reserves, composed of mainly of males excluded from normal military service (old men and young boys), held a portion of the defensive line at a southern approach (Jerusalem Plank Road) to the "Cockade City." Commanded by Raleigh Colston and Fletcher Archer this group of men composed of silver hairs and beardless boys beat back a Union cavalry attack by men commanded by Gen. August Kautz. A second concerted attack by dismounted cavalry and supported by artillery breached the Dimmock line, but due to the reserves' stubborn defense, reinforcements arrived in time to beat it back, too.

The scratch force suffered heavy casualties. The end of the day's fighting saw fifteen killed, eighteen wounded, and forty-two captured among the aged and youthful defenders. However, their stand helped prevent the potentially quick capture of Petersburg. Less than a week later Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved his Army of the Potomac south of the James/Appomattox Rivers and focused on Petersburg. That campaign would last almost ten months before the city was finally fell along with Richmond on April 3, 1865.