Sunday, July 22, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 20, 2018

Zooming in on a City Point Scene



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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Confederate Supply by Richard D. Goff


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

USCTs Showed Valor at Baylor's Farm Fight


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Photograph of Men of the 55th Massachusetts


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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Humble, but Essential, Supply Wagon




At the time of the Civil War relatively new steam-powered innovations such as railroads and steamboats grabbed the vast majority of the attention when it came to army logistics. Things have not changed much since. However, it was the humble and underappreciated supply wagon which proved to be the backbone of Union and Confederate supply efforts. The wood and iron supply wagon was to the Civil War what the Deuce and a Half truck was to World War II and the Korean War.
   

Civil War supply wagons most often consisted of either four or six mule or horse teams. These animals provided the power needed to pull heavy loads. A four mule team could haul a wagon loaded with about a ton of freight. Add two more mules and they could move another 1000 pounds or so.  

Northern and Southern armies included hundreds of wagons. One can imagine how much road space wagon trains occupied when one realizes that a six mule team and wagon compares equally to the length of a modern motor coach bus. It has been estimated that as the Army of the Potomac headed into what would become the Overland Campaign their supply wagon train would have measured 64 miles if placed end to end.


Almost everyone has heard that an army marches on its stomach. Yes, a large part of the supply wagon's freight consisted of food for the fighting men. Consider that each soldier was supposed to receive roughly three pounds of food per day. For a 14,000 man army corps, that was 42,000 pounds of food per day. That much freight would require about 14 wagons alone; and that's just one day, and one corps.

Often wagons also had to carry food for the horses and mules, too. Army regulations set rations as 14 pounds of fodder (hay) and 12 pounds of grain (corn and oats) per day per animal. Basically about 30 pounds of food per day was needed to keep horses and mules energized. Therefore a wagon team of 4 horses and mules required about 120 pounds of food per day. If that team was to travel 120 miles over 12 days, each wagon would need to carry 1,440 pounds of fodder and grain just for the teams pulling those wagons.

As hard experience proved teams that did not receive enough food could not pull the freight they were asked to move. Hundreds of thousands of horse and mules expired from sheer exhaustion and being malnourished.


Wagon trains also transported an army's necessary baggage, which might consist of tents, stoves, kettles, pans, chairs, desks, trunks, and other similar items, especially those of officers.

Armies, of course, were created to fight and they needed supplies of ammunition. A single box of 1000 cartridges weighed about 100 pounds. And while each soldier carried between 40 and 60 rounds of ammunition on his person, it was soon expended in fierce fire fights and resupply needed. Consider this: If a 500 man regiment shoots 50 shots each, that is 25,000 rounds of ammunition, which would weigh 2,500,000 pounds, or 1,250 tons of ammunition. That is just one regiment of 500 men! Think of the requirements for a 75,000 man army!

Teamsters drove the basic Civil War supply wagon. They were often African American men, both in the Union and Confederate armies. The teamsters did not have a seat on the wagon, rather they rode on the left mule or horse closest to the wagon. As much space as possible was reserved for the freight. The two animals closest to the wagon were known as the "wheel pair." The two in the middle, if a six team, were called the "swing pair." The front two, were the "lead pair." Men who had experience in driving and caring for horses and mules proved invaluable to the army as teamsters. Canvas covers protected the valuable contents of the wagon from the elements. Wagons also came equipped with a tool box for basic repairs on the front, and a feed box on the rear. An iron bucket which, contained grease, swung from the rear axle.

Although the army supply wagon has been underappreciated, hopefully with greater exposure and examples of their value to the armies they will gain a place as recognized as their more innovative and steam-powered logistic companions.


Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia


Wow! What an incredible story this was! 

I first saw Eva Sheppard Wolf's Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia at the Society of Civil War Historians meeting in Lexington, KY back in 2012, at the UGA Press table. Their rep. was not at the table at the time for me to purchase it, so I made a mental note and added it to my Amazon.com wish list. It resided there for several years before finally I purchased a paperback copy for our library at work last fall. Last week I decided to pull it off the shelf and check it out while helping do an inventory of the Park's books. 

Using several primary source documents, the author was able to craft the story of Samuel Johnson and his family in Fauquier County (Warrenton), VA, and their struggle to attain freedom. As an enslaved man in Warrenton, Johnson was able to save up enough money earned through tips and overwork as a waiter at a town tavern to purchase his own freedom and gain an exemption from the state legislature to remain in Virginia. He was eventually able to also purchase his wife and daughter, but Johnson had to keep them as slaves since he did not want to leave all the fruits of his work in Virginia, as he was unsuccessful in gaining deportation exemptions for his family members. 

Johnson made eleven different petitions to the legislature over a number of years, all without success, despite the signatures and backing of influential member of the white community of Warrenton. Thus, due to race, the Johnsons were forced to live "almost free." 

Wolf puts it best when she writes: "That was the limit that Samuel Johnson's experience demarcated: black men in antebellum Virginia could become legally free, but they could not live freely. They could build friendships with white people and they could become important to their communities, but they were barred from claiming a place for themselves as men. They could not vote or participate in public life (except for working on the roads), and most important they could not protect and provide for their families as white men could. Samuel Johnson pushed against the limits set by law and society, but in the end he could only nudge them a bit. He could not break them down. His life on the margin, and pushing against the margin, undercut some of white Virginia's assumptions about race and social place, and his story challenges some of our own assumptions about how race worked in antebellum Virginia. But the greater point is that race worked. It took repeated effort, but in ways that mattered deeply race did effectively divide white from black - from birth to death." 

Another summary statement that Wolf makes and that I found quite insightful was: "The story of Samuel Johnson and his family also underscores how much we are all part of history, no matter how obscure or unknown we might be. We all work together in our daily lives to create the worlds in which we live, whether we think about it that way or not. We, like Samuel Johnson, like Spencer Malvin, like Lucy Elkins, make decisions about our lives, our identities, and our relationships in ways that help create our own moment in time. But of course our decisions are constrained, as Johnson's were, by the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves. There was nothing Johnson could do to change the 1806 law, nothing he could do to stop Turner's Rebellion and its aftermath, no way to single-handedly alter Virginia's racial order. History makes us as much as we make history. And it is in that intersection, that dynamic interplay between an individual and his or her historical moment, that the mystery of the human experience unfolds. That Samuel Johnson left behind enough material to allow us to peer into his own reckoning with history is a circumstance for which to be grateful." Well, put indeed!

Wolf carries the Johnson family's story on to his daughter Lucy and her children's efforts to find true freedom, but I won't spoil the story for you. I'll leave it up to you read the book and gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles of free people of color and their perseverance in the 19th century. Don't make the mistake I did and delay reading this important book. I most highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transport


Earl Hess has helped fill yet another scholarly void with Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation. This work focuses, as Hess explains in the subtitle and Preface, more on transportation than supply logistics. 

Hess examines the main arteries for military transport in the mid-19th century; "River-based," "Rail-based," Coastal Shipping," "Wagon Trains," and even "Pack Trains, Cattle Herds, and Foot Power." 

Using these categories he gives us a much better idea of the extraordinary organizing and planning required of the Union and Confederate quartermasters. The time and trouble it took to move armies from place to place, keep the soldiers and their animals fed, sheltered, and equipped is simply astounding. 

The significance of the role of the quartermasters in the Civil War has too long been ignored in favor of more traditional tactical military history, but it is easy to see through particular this lens that those armies would not have moved or fought at all if they were not transported and supplied. 

This book, like we've come to expect from Hess is well researched and written. Civil War Logistics is a work that every student of the conflict should read. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The War for the Common Soldier - Dr. Peter Carmichael


As I mentioned in a few recent posts, I attended the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute last weekend. This was my first time attending the CWI, but if at all possible it will not be my last. I was truly impressed by every part of the weekend. The sessions were great, the tour I attended was great, the food was great, and seeing and catching up with old friends and colleagues was great.

One of the top three session in my opinion was that given by Dr. Peter Carmichael on Saturday afternoon. In it he mentioned that he set out to find the average common soldier and was unsuccessful, as so many soldiers had a wide range of experiences, beliefs, emotions, and fates. I am excited that his scholarship on this topic will be published later this year in the form of The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies, by the University of North Carolina Press. Until then, you can get a sneak peek into his thought provoking research by watching his CWI talk via CSPAN-3.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Curious Case of Pvt. Isaac Smith, 6th USCI. Son of Lydia H. Smith, Housekeeper of Thaddeus Stevens


If you've seen the movie Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, you might remember a scene at the end of the film. In that scene Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, comes home with the just ratified 13th Amendment and shows it to his African American housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith as they are in bed together. Lydia Smith was a real life person and was indeed Stevens's housekeeper in his residences in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in Washington D.C. while Stevens was in session as a congressman.

Lydia Smith was born in 1815 in Adams County (Gettysburg), Pennsylvania. She was one quarter African American, as her mother was free woman of color and her father was white.


Although, as the above photograph shows, she could potentially pass for white, she married a free man of color named Jacob Smith and the couple had two children, William and Isaac Smith. Apparently with Jacob Smith somehow unable to support the family properly, Lydia and Jacob separated, Lydia left Adams County and became the housekeeper and eventually business manager for attorney, businesswoman, and congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who had previously moved from Adams County to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jacob Smith apparently died in 1852.


Lydia's son William died in 1861 from a pistol accident, but Isaac became a barber and banjo player and eventually ended up drafted during the Civil War into Company D of the 6th United States Colored Infantry, a regiment raised primarily of free men of color from Pennsylvania.

Pvt. Isaac Smith's service records indicate that he enlisted on July 13, 1863, just at the same time that draft riots were starting to rage in New York City. Smith was 26 years old, born in Adams County, Pennsylvania, 5 feet 3 inches tall, and was described as having a dark complexion. Smith was officially mustered into service on August 14, 1863. 

Smith's muster roll returns show him present for duty, until the April 1864 return. On that document he is listed as "absent without leave since April 29, 1864." However for the May and June return he is listed back as present. Smith apparently participated in the 6th's fighting at Baylor's Farm and the initial attacks on Petersburg on June 15, 1864, as well as the 6th's desperate combat at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. He seems to have missed the Fort Fisher fighting in mid-January 1865, as on the January and February 1865 return he is marked as "absent without leave since Dec. 24, '64." Interestingly, Smith had been listed on his previous cards as a private, but with the January and February card his is noted as "mus.," for, I assume, musician.

On the April and May 1865 return card it states, "Deserted. Due ref. 1 N.C.O. & mus. sword, 1 sword belt & [belt] plate, 1 mus. waist belt and plate. Reported absent without leave till April 30, '65."

The 6th mustered out of service at Wilmington, NC in September 1865, apparently without Isaac Smith. So what happened?

On into Smith's service records is a deposition taken in 1866 in Washington D.C. In it the justice of the peace, remembered that on April 12, 1864, a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Hugh Kennedy, stated that he knows Isaac Smith from living in Lancaster and that "said Smith is subject to paralysis." Kennedy related a story that once in 1860 while he was being shaved by Smith the barber, Smith was "seized with a fit of palsy." Smith was so temporarily paralyzed that he was unable to finish shaving Kennedy. Kennedy went on to say that he had witnessed Smith have similar fits at other times that "forced him to suspend business for a time."

 Also in Smith's service record file is a handwritten and a printed copy of Special Order 37, dated January 24, 1865. It states: "By direction of the President, Private Isaac Smith, Company D, 6th U.S. Colored Troops, having been illegally drafted will be discharged the services of the United States. on the receipt of this Order at the place where he may be serving. By order of the Secretary of War, E.D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General."


What to make of this document find? Did Smith go absent without leave on December 24, 1864, as his service records indicate? Had Smith perhaps seen enough combat horror, did he grow tired of the hardships of field service, or did his illness flare up causing him to go home to Lancaster, or to Washington D.C. and use his mother's connections through Congressman Stevens to get President Lincoln to release him from his service? Was the reason of being illegally drafted connected to his history of "fits of palsy, or was there another issue that made his being drafted illegal?"  If he had received a release from service in January 1865, why was a deposition taken in 1866 that remembered back to 1864? If he was suffering palsy, why wasn't he able to get a medical release earlier?  So many questions.

With all of these questions and too few answers it makes inquiring minds like mine want to know.  Does anyone out there have more information on this situation?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Quartermaster, Montgomery C. Meigs


The following is the brief review of The Quartermaster that I wrote on my Facebook page:

One of the most important yet overlooked figures of the Civil War was Montgomery C. Meigs, quartermaster general for the Union army. This worthy biography of Meigs thoroughly covers his pre-war life, Civil War accomplishments, and post-war life. 

After graduating from West Point in 1836 as 5th in his class, Meigs served as an army engineer. Missing the Mexican-American War, Meigs went on to share his influence on a range of projects through Sect. of War Jefferson Davis, like the Washington D.C aqueduct and enhancements to the Capitol building including its massive new dome. Meigs ran into a number of issues with John Floyd, who followed Davis as Sect. of War. Floyd basically had Meigs exiled to Fort Jefferson in Florida, but with Floyd's resignation, and then Lincoln's election, things turned for the better for Meigs. 


Made quartermaster general, Meigs's organizational and management were instrumental in helping him get the Union army armed, equipped, and remain fed, all while mitigating much of the corruption that arose with government contracts. Known for his high integrity and honesty, Meigs worked well with Sect. of War Stanton, Lincoln, and Sect. of State William Seward, all of whom prized Meigs's higher order thinking and ability to multitask at will. 


O'Harrow's biography is written for general audience, yet he provides the Civil War enthusiast with enough food for thought to keep readers from both camps engaged. The author makes extensive use of Meigs's shorthand writing journal from the pre-war years to tell that part of his life's story. The 245 pages of text makes for a quick read, and the photographs that the author includes helps the reader understand the people, places, and events of Meigs's life. Of Meigs William Seward wrote after the war: "Without the services of this eminent soldier, the National cause must either have been lost or deeply imperiled." Those sentiments come through loud and clear in The Quartermaster. I recommend it to learn more about this game-changer for the Union and to better understand the importance of logistics toward winning the war.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

I've been in a fairly heavy reading mode lately, and since I took a few days of annual leave I've enjoyed turning pages at my own pace and not having work-related thoughts invade my reading comprehension.

It seems that when my reading ramps up, so does my book buying. That is probably because I come across sources that authors use and become curious to read the book the reference is taken from. Anyway, here are some book's that I've added to my ever-expanding library over the last month or so.


I remembered seeing The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America in the UNC Press book catalog when it came out in 2012, and I must say the title intrigued me. Recently, while speaking with my minister at church, he referenced the book and that it might be helpful to me at work. I located a used copy on the internet market and it is in the reading queue.


As I've mentioned plenty of times on this forum, the Petersburg Campaign is thankfully gaining more and more attention in scholarship. A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg, Vol. 1, From the Crossing of the James to the Crater is a work that was much anticipated. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and I can confirm that it did not disappoint. I spoke with author Will Greene this weekend at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute and asked him when we could expect Vol. 2. When one considers the depth of research and length of Vol. 1, it might not come as a surprise that he said it may be a while. Regardless, I'll be on the lookout until it is released.


Secession fire-eater James D. B. De Bow is a fascinating figure in Southern history. Born in Charleston but moving to New Orleans, where he started a magazine to publicize his views, De Bow and his Review helped persuade many Southerners about the necessity of secession in the face of perceived Northern attacks on slavery. I'm looking forward to reading De Bow's Review: The Antebellum Vision of the New South to learn more about De Bow and his effort to build solidarity in the slave states before and during the Civil War.


The scholarship that UNC Press publishes on the Civil War era is impressive. I consider it the top academic publisher in the field, with UGA Press a rather close second. Almost everything I read from UNC Press is well written and edited. I was happy to receive the opportunity to review The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America from the Civil War News and look forward to reading it. 


In an effort to learn more about how Civil War armies handled their logistical challenges I picked up a gently used copy of The Quartermaster: Montgomery Meigs, Lincoln's General, Master Builder of the Union Army at the used book sale at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute this past weekend. I am currently reading this book and I'll post a brief review on this forum when I complete it.


I became aware of the courageous exploits of the 6th USCI while preparing for leading a tour of the Battle of New Market Heights last fall. Somehow Strike a Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War escaped my search for resources on the battle, but I came across it recently, and again, found a nice used copy. I posted a brief review of it yesterday, so check it out.


I also recently posted a brief review of Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat. This book's several chapters cover a fascinating set of topics related to the fighting, and thus killing, that Civil War soldiers experienced. It is a much needed well-researched reexamination of combat during the conflict. I highly recommend it. 


Cultural history, like social history often covers difficult subjects. Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery examines how white Americans used African Americans' tradition of song and dance to reinforce their concepts of racial prejudice and enslavement, often through minstrelsy. Blacks on the other hand used music and dance for other reasons such as community solidarity and retaining some African traditions. This promises to be yet another eye-opening cultural scholarly study.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War


Here's my brief Facebook review of Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War by James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998:

This book, although only 100 pages of text, provides the reader with a solid understanding of the experiences of the 6th United States Colored Infantry from its recruitment to its muster out in September 1865, a span of just over two years. 

Drawn primarily from men in and around Philadelphia, and trained at Camp William Penn, the 6th was the second black regiment from the area, the first being the 3rd USCI. Sent almost immediately to Virginia after the regiment was full and trained, and attached to the XVIII Corps under General Benjamin Butler, the 6th spent much of the fall and winter of 1863 serving on the Peninsula. The 6th participated in Butler's failed attempt to take Petersburg on June 9, and then saw significant combat in fighting at Baylor's Farm and along the Dimmock Line on June 15 as part of Gen. Hinck's Division. 


Detailed to help dig the Dutch Gap Canal, the 6th suffered severely under a brutal summer sun and Confederate artillery fire as they helped excavate tons of dirt. The 6th's most desperate fighting occurred at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Company D went into the fight with 30 men and came out with only 3. Three of the 6th's men (two black NCOs and one white Lt.), earned the Medal of Honor that bloody day for their heroism in protecting their flags and rallying the men. The 6th also fought at Fort Fisher, North Carolina. The regiment was spared the duty along the Texas/Mexico border that many other USCTs experienced, but rather spent the remainder of their service in North Carolina before mustering out. 


I found this particular study a better read than those published on the 4th and 5th USCIs. Particularly helpful were the appendices. Appendix A looks at Company D's Capt. John McMurray's description of an anxiety attack which occurred to him after the New Market Heights fight. Appendix B provides a wealth of statistical information in table and graph form on the men that comprised the 6th. Everything from the ages and heights of the men, to their pre-war occupations (barbers were the 3rd most common) and birthplaces are graphed for each company. Appendix D gives a muster roll for each company providing service record information for all of the 6th's soldiers. It goes without saying that all of this appendix information is extremely valuable for the researcher and took a significant amount of time and effort to compile it. 


This work is one that students of USCTs don't want to overlook, and one that I wish everyone in the United States would read to better appreciate the sacrifices of these men who fought for freedom, justice, citizenship, and equality. I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat


As I've previously mentioned here, when I start a book I usually post it in on my Facebook page so that my friends can see what I am currently reading. Often they ask what I think of it when I am just getting started, so when I finally finish it I like to write a few lines in brief review. Since there is no problem with sharing that information in multiple locations, I believe I will start doing so here with this post.

I came across Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat about five or six months before it was released by the University of Kansas Press. I thought that the title looked intriguing and that its information would help me in my work role, so I placed it on my Amazon,com Wishlist and patiently waited for its release. Since the book's price was relatively low for a new publication, about two weeks before it was set to be released I placed my advance order. When it arrived I was reading another book, but as soon as I finished I started into it. As usual I posted on Facebook that I was reading it and received a message from a former colleague at the Kentucky Historical Society, who now works for the Journal of Arizona History asking if I would be interested in writing a formal review for that publication, which I responded that I would be happy to so. Therefore, if you are seeking a more lengthy review than what I provide with the following, you might seek that out in the coming months. But, here are my initial thoughts:

Although Civil War combat is ground that has been plowed before; with works by Earl Hess, Gerald Linderman, Brent Nosworthy, among others, Steplyk makes a significant contribution to the scholarship of combat with this recently published work. He contends that although many men had some reservations about shooting at, and thus intending to kill another human being, most soldiers accepted the fact that, as his title indicates, and as Nathan Bedford Forrest famously said, "War means fighting, and fighting means killing." 

Soldiers' political ideology influenced their acceptance of the justness of their respective causes, and antebellum notions of manhood and masculinity prompted the vast majority of these citizen-soldiers to come fairly well "primed" to kill in combat situations. As one might imagine, soldiers described their emotions in combat in diverse ways. Some soldiers claimed "seeing the elephant" produced different levels of excitement, anger, and a sense of revenge, all of which increased their willingness to part from civilian notions of killing and accept the military mindset of the necessity of killing. 

In the book's chapters Steplyk covers a set of individual combat situation topics, such as: language soldiers used to describe combat and killing, killing in hand-to-hand combat, sharpshooters and killing, the extremes of killing, racial atrocity killing; all of which draw on both contemporary as well as post-war accounts and sources for evidence for his conclusions. 

As one would expect from the University Press of Kansas, this book is top-notch military history and is an important read for students of the Civil War. I think you will find this book well-written, researched, and highly informative. I eagerly recommend it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

You Will Be Missed - A Short Tribute to Hari Jones


As I sit here and type a few brief lines this morning, I have a bit of a heavy heart. Yesterday afternoon I saw on my Facebook feed that a friend, and historian had passed away. I first met Hari Jones at breakfast during a Civil War Trust Teacher's Institute. He spoke the previous evening in a general session and I was struck by the intellectual points he made. During our conversation over eggs and toast the following morning, I found that he was born in Oklahoma and had served our country in the Marine Corps. But, more than anything else I was impressed with his humility despite his powerful intellect.

When I made a job change in 2009, I had the opportunity to often travel to Washington D.C., for conferences, meetings, research, and personal reasons. When I could, I would take the yellow/green line Metro to U street and the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum (AACWMM), where Hari served as curator. During my early visits the museum was housed in a cramped space with seemingly limited reach. That did not seem to matter to Hari, as he shared his vast knowledge of the Civil War era and the United States Colored Troops with everyone that came in the door and who wanted to learn.

But, not only that! Hari was a source of encouragement in my career. While I was searching for work in early 2009, he had told me to keep up the faith and not get discouraged with the lack of opportunity in the field and to seek inspiration in those of the past that struggled but kept trying.

I wish I could have gotten to know Hari even better before he passed. He had left the AACWMM to do personal museum consulting work, which made it difficult to just drop in as I had before, but we sometimes communicated via email and Facebook. Last fall I had attempted to have him speak during our "Reflect and Respect" African American history weekend at work, but a scheduling conflict prevented it. Now more than ever I wish it would have worked out.

I can definitely say that the world is a better place for Hari's existence and that he will be dearly missed. His level of thinking, communicating, and research, along with his warm smile and kind voice cannot be replaced.

Here is a link to a podcast that Hari recently did for North Carolina Public Radio. Give it a listen and you, too, will realize what Hari means to the public history community.

Rest in Peace, Hari.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

My Passion Project - Little Round Top


This weekend I am in Gettysburg for the annual Gettysburg College Civil War Institute. This is the first time I've attended their conference and I must say that I'm impressed with their list of speakers, accommodations and board, and how organized everything seems to be.

Before registering yesterday I made a drive through part of the Gettysburg battlefield. Although I don't see Gettysburg as the "great turning point" in the war that I once did, it still resonates strongly with me and brings me back to my late childhood years and early adolescence, when I became so interested in the Civil War.

One of the stops I always try to make when I am in the area is Little Round Top. Way before the movie "Gettysburg," Little Round Top stood out in my early reading about the battle. When I was in 7th grade my social studies teacher offered us the opportunity to do National History Day. This was like 1982. That year's theme was turning points in history. I started the project with a classmate, but he soon bowed out, or perhaps I nudged him out due to his lack of commitment on the project. Anyway, as mentioned above, at the time I thought of Gettysburg as the main turning point in the war, as did many historians. So, I figured, what better than doing my History Day project on the turning point of the battle of that was the turning point of the the Civil War that was the turning point of American history.

I set about constructing a diorama of Little Round Top made of paper mache based on the birds-eye-view battle maps in the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, a book that had a profound impact on me. I painted pewter soldiers blue and gray and arranged them to highlight the 20th Maine's defense and the 15th Alabama's assault of the famous hill and provided some contextual information and primary source accounts.

Our district contest was at local Hanover College. I was chosen as first place in my age group in the exhibit category, which offered me the opportunity to compete in the state contest at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Although I didn't fare too well against the top projects in the state, the research and construction process stayed with me as a very enjoyable and beneficial experience.

It would be only two years later, when as a freshman in high school that we took a class bus trip that included Gettysburg, and I got to see Little Round Top in person for the first time. It all came back to me standing there on the hill. While my buddies were scrambling over rocks and taking pictures with the monuments, I envisioned those Confederate soldiers pouring up the hill and the determined defenders blazing away.

History is powerful and powerfully important. If you have the opportunity to share history with a young person, please do, it may change their lives forever.