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.