Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Having several ancestors who fought in the 37th North Carolina of the Branch-Lane Brigade, I was excited to see Lee's Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865, when it was still in pre-release. Then last month at work, its author Michael Hardy spoke at Pamplin Historical Park for the anniversary of the VI Corps Petersburg Breakthrough, where Lane's brigade was defending the Cockade City. Hardy brought up a number of instances where the brigade put in hard work which I did not know about, so my interest was piqued even further. Needless to say, I bought a copy to have him sign. I look forward to learning more about the battles and campaigns of this premier brigade in Lee's army.


I'm a sucker for pretty much anything published having to do with Petersburg. The almost 10 month-long campaign is finally starting to get its just due in terms of scholarly attention. Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia, edited by Caroline Janney, is a fine and diverse set of essays which adds significantly to our knowledge of the places, events, and personalities who battled to capture and defend the Cockade City in 1864-65.


Almost every one of Grant's nine offensives in the Petersburg Campaign have received individual studies. Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, covers the sixth offensive, which includes the fighting at Burgess Mill along the Boydton Plank Road, just a handful of miles from where I currently live, but also the actions along the Darbytown Road, north of the James River, just outside of Richmond. With this book Hampton Newsome has produced one of the best battle treatments of any Petersburg action available. I highly recommend it and am pleased to finally have a copy now in my personal library.


I came cross My Brother's Keeper: African Canadian and the American Civil War by Bryan Prince, while I was doing research on Alexander T. Augusta. Many fugitive slaves made their way to Canada in the years before the Civil War, and when blacks were finally allowed to serve in United States Colored Troop units, many of them or their sons joined Union units to help put an end to slavery and prove black men were fully worthy of citizenship and equal rights. This book will fill a large void in my knowledge about African Canadians and their service to the Union cause.


Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War by Brian Steel Wills is another book that was on my wish-list long before it was released. Last week Wills spoke about this book at the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable meeting, and the stories he included in his presentation were compelling tales of men who served but died in an unexpected manner. Wills describes soldiers who drowned, who committed suicide, who were killed in train derailments, in steamship explosions, in capsized ships, and in may other ways. This book covers an aspect of the Civil War that has long been begging for examination. Now we have a quality book that explored this fascinating yet sad topic.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sgt. William H. Thomas, 5th USCT: Writing with a Left-Hand and a Voice


In my current re-reading of Brian Matthew Jordan's Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, for our book club at work, I came across a reference to an African American soldier, named William H. Thomas, who was only one of two black soldiers who participated in a left-handed writing contest for men who had lost their right hand or arm in battle.

The contest, began in 1865 and organized by William Oland Bourne, a poet, editor, reformer, and Civil War hospital chaplain, sought to encourage right-hand amputees to practice writing with their left to gain skills needed for gainful employment now that the war was over. The contest offered monetary prizes, and eventually 257 men submitted samples. 


As mentioned above, one of the contestants was Company I, 5th USCT soldier William H. Thomas. Thomas was a free man of color from Ohio. He appears with his family in the 1860 census for Monroe Township in Madison County, Ohio, which is just west of Columbus. The census listing unearths some intriguing information. 

The head of the Thomas household was William's father, Alexander, who is listed as a 51 year old "mulatto" "farm hand," who was born in Virginia. Alexander's wife, Rebecca (48), also described as mulatto, was born in Ohio. What is so intriguing is that Alexander and Rebecca's first child, Harriet (23) was born in Canada. Was Alexander a fugitive slave from Virginia, who met Rebecca in Ohio and continued on to Canada and freedom and had their first child in the 1830s? Could be! All of the other Thomas children were born in Ohio: Sallie (20), William (17), Samuel P (15), Benjamin F (13), Charles (9), and Walter S. (7).

William H. Thomas's soldier service records indicated that he was 21 when he enlisted on September 23, 1863 at Delaware, Ohio. The young man was listed as a student and described as "brown" in complexion, and standing 5 feet, 11 inches tall. Thomas must have shown military ability, as he was promoted to sergeant on October 18, 1863, after less than a month in service. He may have been wounded in the first attacks on Petersburg in June 1864, as a brief notation indicates such, but it appears that he did duty in the trenches that summer, and probably participated in the desperate fight at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864.


However, Thomas's good fortune ran out when the 5th was transferred to Wilmington, North Carolina, in the winter of 1865 to capture Fort Fisher. During the fighting on February 22, 1865, Thomas received a gunshot wound to the right arm, which required the amputation of that limb. It appears that young Thomas was mustered out of the service on September 25, 1865, after a lengthy recovery. Interestingly, the footnote in Brian Matthew Jordan's book shows that Thomas's left handwriting contest submission was made on September 27. Thomas's name is included with the other soldiers in a listing (shown above) of contributors.

Jordan explains in his book (page 120) that Thomas's submission was made not so much to win any of the prizes, but rather to voice the black man's point of view on the war. He included: "Since . . . we have shared alike in the dangers and vicissitudes of war, ought we not to partake in all the immunities pertaining to the rights of citizens, even, as  our Anglo Saxon brothers?" Thomas listed a number of engagements that black soldiers fought in and wanted proper recognition for African American soldiers and their important role in ultimately defeating the rebellion. Unfortunately, too often, black soldier agency went unheard and under-recognized in the post-war years, despite the overwhelming evidence of the many sacrifices they made to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Graves at Merchant's Hope Episcopal Church - Lt. William H. Harris, 46th Virginia Infantry


Merchant's Hope Episcopal Church is located in rural Prince George County, near Hopewell, Virginia. The congregation was founded in 1657, and their current church building (shown above) was constructed about thirty years before the start of the Revolutionary War. The building is simple, yet elegant, with its Flemish bond brick walls, arched doors and windows and is a testament to its ancient age. Sometime during the Union army's occupation of the area in the spring of 1864 through the following year, the building's interior and many of the church's records were destroyed.


Behind the church are two small fenced in cemetery plots. On my first visit to the church, I noticed from afar that one of the stones was pointed, as are many Confederate veteran's stones. Another tombstone in the adjacent plot was rounded. However, both had small flags beside them. 

The rounded stone marks the grave of William Henry Harris, who apparently died in 1918 at the age of 77. The grave marker states that Harris served as 1st Lieutenant of Company B, 46th Virginia Infantry ,"Mahone's Brigade, War of 1861-5." 

Curious to learn more about his soldier, I searched for Harris's service records on Fold3, and any for any personal information that I could find in census records. William Henry Harris apparently was not a Prince George County native, as I found him in the 1860 census in Albemarle County in the household of his mother and father. His father, Lively Harris, is shown as 40 years old and is noted as an overseer. Lively has personal property worth $50. His mother, Mary, is listed as 33 years old. William is given as an 18 year old "laborer." Also in the household was sister Sarah (15), and brothers Bernard (12), John (6), and Alfred (4). 

William H. Harris enlisted in Company D of the 46th Virginia Infantry on June 15, 1861, in Charlottesville, originally for 12 months. He was apparently captured at Roanoke Island, North Carolina in February 1862. It seems he was paroled and then exchanged, as he received promotions to corporal, sergeant, and then 2nd Lieutenant during the war. He surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. Harris's service records include his commission to 2nd Lt. It gives a better description of his features than his other service records. It lists him as being 22 years old (in 1864), 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with a light complexion, grey eyes, and light hair. 

I did not know much about the 46th Virginia, but I was pretty sure that Mahone's Brigade did not include them. So I did some internet searching and found that the 46th was actually in Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise's Brigade. Wise, as you may know, was the pre-war governor of Virginia and the man who saw John Brown hanged for his Harper's Ferry raid. The 46th Virginia and Wise's Brigade fought in the Seven Days Battles around Richmond after their parole from Roanoke Island and then were sent to the Department of the South and participated in the defense of Charleston, South Carolina. They were then transferred back to Virginia, where they fought in the Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg, and Appomattox Campaigns.

I am not sure why Harris's gravestone is mislabeled. His service records do not indicate that he was ever promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and he does not appear to have ever served in Company B, but was rather in Company D. Also, the engraving mistakes Mahone's Brigade, instead of actually being in Wise's Brigade. Perhaps Harris's wife or estate executor mistakenly remembered his rank, company, and brigade.

Attempting to soundly confirm the soldier buried at Merchant's Hope was the William Henry Harris from Charlottesville, I tried to search later census records. I found him in the 1910 census for Prince George County as 69 years old, and it seems the research gods were with me, as in Harris's household, it lists his wife, Pelorina. But, to corroborate his identity, it lists as well his brother Bernard, now 63 years old, who had also been listed in the 1860 census as a 12 year old. What prompted Harris to locate to Prince George County sometime after the war? I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps he saw the area during his Civil War service and liked what he saw and later became a farmer there. Regardless of his reasons, he now rests under a mis-identified grave, but hopefully, at peace.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Petersburg - Then and Now - Phoenix Hall


One of Petersburg's many antebellum crown jewels was Phoenix Hall. Located on Bollingbrook Street, it replaced the theater of that street's name which burned in 1850. Phoenix Hall sometimes competed with Mechanics Hall on Sycamore Street for the city's artistic performances. The Phoenix Hall venue served many purposes. Here, traditional theater performances and political rallies dominated the stage and put people in its 700 seats. One of its many pre-Civil War events was the Virginia Democratic convention which nominated John Letcher for governor.


During the Civil War, the Petersburg Daily Express often printed notices for shows that appeared at Phoenix Hall. In the June 11, 1863 edition (shown above), Miss Katie Estelle and Mr. William Burke offered shows "The Chamber of Death" and "The Man and Tiger," respectively. Phoenix Hall hosted tableaux shows, often presented by the city's elite women, who attempted to raise funds for the companies of soldiers that were raised in Petersburg. The famed and enslaved African American pianist, Blind Tom, also presented during the Civil War.
 

Today, it is possible that elements of the Phoenix Theater survive in the L.A. Sheffield building (below).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Petersburg - Then and Now


Doing research for a custom walking tour of Civil War Petersburg, and seeking images that I could incorporate into a "then and now" style presentation, I located the above image on the Library of Congress website. It shows Union Gen. Edward Fererro and his staff with guards at what is now 129 South Sycamore.

One source I located stated that the home was owned by the Ragland family. However, I am not sure that is the true, because the Ragland mansion, which is a well known residence, is two houses south of this home. It is possible though that the wealth Ragland owned both homes. Regardless, the photograph appears to be taken during occupation of the city and soon after President Lincoln's assassination, as mourning bunting  is wrapped around the porch columns.

Ferrero, a dance instructor and choreographer before the war, was born in Spain to Italian parents, who moved to New York City when he was an infant. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Ferrero raised the 51st New York Infantry regiment. He served under Ambrose Burnside on the North Carolina coast and led forces at Second Manassas and Antietam, where his command charged Burnside's Bridge.


Soon sent west with the IX Corps, he fought at Vicksburg and Knoxville. Transferred back east he led a division of USCTs at the Battle of Crater on July 30, 1864. Ferrero was criticized for his lack of leadership in the Crater fight, preferring to remain safely behind lines rather then directing his troops. Amazingly he did not suffer loss of his command, but did muster out of the service in August 1865 and returned to New York City where he resumed is career in dancing and theater.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Since reading Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland by Benjamin Franklin Cooling a number years ago, I've been a fan of Cooling's research and writing. To the Battles of Frankin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1865, is his follow-up work to Fort Donelson's Legacy: War and Society in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1862-1863. The tragic fighting at Franklin is one of those battles that continues to draw significant attention due to its controversial high number of Confederate casualties. I'm interested in reading Cooling's take on the engagement, as well as his interpretation on Reconstruction as it was experienced in these two important Civil War states.


With 2018 being Frederick Douglass' bicentennial birthday, it is not surprising that some new scholarship would appear. This work caught my attention because of its focus on the role of religion in Douglass' life. From what I've read about and from Douglass, I had never thought of him as being particularly religious. However, due to his life experiences, I could see where he might see the influence of divine Providence. In addition to this work, I believe that Yale's David Blight is also releasing a Douglass biography this year.


I saw The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling in the Petersburg National Battlefield's book store recently, and then located a used copy on Amazon for a steal, so I bought it. I just finished reading it this past week and found it quite informative as it covers a number of diverse topics related to burying the dead from the Civil War' battlefields.


While I lived in Kentucky I became acquainted with the life of Richard Mentor Johnson. Johnson, Martin Van Buren's vice president, supposed slayer of Tecumseh, and the common-law husband of an enslaved woman of color, who sent his mixed race daughters to be educated intrigued me. I was just as much fascinated as to why no one had attempted a modern study about this seemingly fascinating man's life and times. Johnson is also known for founding an academy for American Indian young men on his Kentucky lands. I am especially interested in learning if the Johnson family benefited financially through their work as Indian agents to tribes in the South. I have high hopes.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - U.S. Military Railroad


The final rail line we will cover is the United States Military Railroad (USMRR). This important line started at City Point (present-day Hopewell) and used the majority of that prewar rail line before branching off and turning south, and then eventually southwest. It began construction in June of 1864, and as  the Union army extended its line of earthworks attempting to cut Confederate railroads and roadways, the USMRR extended along with it.


Established along the rail lines were depots where supplies brought by ship to City Point were then loaded on to the trains and transported out to the front line troops in their earthen fortifications. The depots often took on the names of Union officers such as Meade's Station, Birney's Station, Parke's Station, and Patrick's Station.


The importance of the deep-water supply base at City Point has received too little attention in regard to the Union success in the Petersburg Campaign. Here ships and barges from Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., brought war materiel such as train engines and cars, heavy artillery, wagons, pontoons, uniforms, small arms, and draft animals for the army's use. Also the ships brought a steady and welcome supply of rations to the Union troops in the field.


Some soldiers mentioned receiving fruit, vegetables, various meats, and coffee, due to the efficiency of the USMRR. Some soldiers even praised the ability of the railroad to bring soft bread, still warm when they received it on the front lines, from the busy bakeries at City Point. In addition, a series of field hospitals along the rail line ministered to the sick and wounded of the Union army. The worst medical cases received transportation by rail from the front lines to the massive hospital complex at City Point, or water transport back to Washington D.C.

Constructed as quickly as possible, the USMRR often went ungraded. Lt. Col. Horace Porter of Gen. Grant's staff mentioned that, "It ran up hill and down dale, and its undulations were so marked that a train moving along it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard." When the campaign concluded in April 1865, the USMRR had laid 21 miles of track. One source explained that the line incorporated 25 locomotives pulling 275 cars, which logged approximately 2,300,000 miles during the 292 day campaign.


The last major Confederate offensive in the Petersburg Campaign, the attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865, east of Petersburg, was intended in part to threaten the USMRR, which only sat about a mile behind Fort Stedman. Confederate Gen. John Brown Gordon believed that if he could pierce the Union earthwork line at Fort Stedman, as well as the Federally-reversed line of the old Dimmock line, the Yankees would be forced to contract their lines back in order to protect their railroad supply line and its terminus at City Point. If this happened it would provide Lee with the opportunity to detach troops, or leave himself, to help Gen. Joseph Johnston against Gen. Sherman in North Carolina. Although the attack was initially successful, a Union counterattack and artillery fire from neighboring forts quickly ended the brief Confederate success.

The USMRR was the key toward the backdoor of Petersburg, and Grant used it well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad



Petersburg's last antebellum rail line was the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which traversed that route's 85 miles. It received its charter in 1851, started construction two years later, and began operating in 1858. Like the Southside Railroad, the Norfolk line med a number of natural obstacles that required conquering, primarily bridging the Elizabeth River and crossing part of the Great Dismal Swamp. Virginia Military Institute graduate, railroad engineer, line president, and future Confederate general, William Mahone, designed ingenious ways to circumvent these problems. He developed drawbridges to cross the river and a log railroad bed to help traverse the swamp.


As with Petersburg's other antebellum railroads, primarily enslaved individuals provided the majority of the labor required to do such large projects. The advertisement above that ran in the Petersburg Daily Express in 1855, called for leased slaves to work on the Norfolk and Petersburg and offered "liberal prices and good treatment."


The station depot for the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad ran just a couple of city blocks behind the Bollingbrook Hotel (shown above) on Bollingbrook Street. Travelers on this line, as well as the nearby Southside Railroad, preferred the accommodations of the Bollingbrook due to its convenient location. Those who traveled the Petersburg Railroad most often stayed at Jarrett's Hotel on Washington Street, just across that thoroughfare from that line's depot. These hotels offered guests all types of services in addition to lodging. Travelers could have their laundry cleaned and pressed by hotel laundresses, and they could have their hair cut or beards shaved by hotel barbers. Lodgers could dine at the hotel's restaurants where enslaved and free people of color cooked and waited on their guests. With such services bringing in an additional steady revenue, it is easy to see the hotel's interest in not connecting the various rail lines.


Early in the war the Norfolk and Petersburg line was extremely important. Since Norfolk and its ship industry was an early target of the Union navy and army, the railroad was used to remove heavy coastal artillery to safer in-land locations. When federal forces captured Norfolk in the spring of 1862, the Norfolk and Petersburg line was forced to reduce its travel distance to about 35 miles to the depot at Ivor. Interestingly, this rail line ran directly through much of the June and July 1864 fighting of the Petersburg Campaign. In fact, the line ran just a stone's throw away from the entrance to the mine shaft dug under the Confederate fortifications that resulted in the Battle of the Crater. One has to wonder if when making his famous counterattack on the afternoon on July 30, 1864, Gen. Mahone pondered about the unusual turn of events occurring near his railroad line.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - Southside Railroad


Petersburg's commercial community had long desired a western route, one that could bring primarily tobacco, but other crops such as wheat, from that region of the state. Before a viable rail line Petersburg had primarily relied on the Appomattox River and its canal which circumvented the fall line to get the tobacco from more inland towns such as Farmville. Petersburg's desired were met when the Southside Railroad was chartered in 1846. The 123 mile route from Petersburg to Lynchburg reached completion in 1854.


 One of the many challenges this rail line faced was how to navigate the steep Appomattox River valley near Farmville . To do so engineers constructed a series of twenty-one brick piles, some 126 feet high, and with a wooden truss almost half a mile long known appropriately as High Bridge (shown above).

This route also provided travelers with a way to get to western locales. From Petersburg, train-bound passengers could ride the cars to Lynchburg and from there continue west to Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, or Atlanta on the Tennessee and Virginia and Tennessee and Georgia parts of the connector lines.


Of course, a majority of the labor required to build Petersburg's railroads came from enslaved workers. Major railroad contractors placed advertisements seeking to both purchase and lease surplus slaves from area owners and brokers to do the grueling work of grading railroad beds, sawing and placing timber ties, and laying iron track. The General Superintendent of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which was a connector line to the Southside Railroad in Lynchburg, posted the above advertisement seeking to locate a runaway slave named Abraham, who was rented from his owner to work on the railroad. It is interesting that the superintendent suspected that Abraham may be attempting to gain some anonymity at one of the Confederate encampments around Richmond.



The Southside Railroad was Gen. Grant's final objective, as it was the last supply artery of Lee's army at Petersburg. Grant's Eighth Offensive (March 29-April 1), which included actions at Lewis Farm, White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Courthouse, and Five Forks, snapped the Boydton Plank Road and put Federal forces within striking distance of the Southside Railroad. The Federals finally severed the line on April 2, 1865, when the VI Corps broke through Lee's thinly defended line at what is now Pamplin Historical Park. Some of the troops who broke through made their way to the Southside Railroad and tore up track. In fighting later in the day at Sutherland Station, more track was captured and secured. The Southside Railroad Depot in Petesburg (shown above) came under Union control on the morning of April 3.


During the Appomattox Campaign the Southside Railroad was re-gauged by Union soldiers in the IX Corps to fit their Military Railroad rolling stock. Doing so allowed them to use old Confederate infrastructure such as the bridge over Rohoic Creek shown above without having to build new structures. These efforts helped supply elements of the Union army as it pursued Lee westward. The Southside Railroad ran through Appomattox Station, near Appomattox Courthouse, where Grant forced Lee's surrender on April 9.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - Richmond and Petersburg Railroad


The Richmond and Petersburg Railroad was also being built at the same time construction proceeded on the City Point Railroad. This line connected the two industrial cities. However, many of Petersburg's influential citizens did not favor the line as they thought it would potentially take commerce to the larger state capital city rather than keep it in Petersburg. Some of those concerns were alleviated when it was determined that the southern terminus of the line would be on the north side of the Appomattox River. Therefore, any cargo moving north at least had the inconvenience of having to be ported across the river from Petersburg to Chesterfield County to get to Richmond. The Richmond and Petersburg line also provided travelers with a route to the state capital and north beyond. Other rail lines connected northern Virginia locales to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. It was not until 1861 that a railroad bridge across the Appomattox River was constructed in effort to increase railroad efficiency.


Like its fellow Petersburg lines, the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad published schedules in the city's newspapers. These instructed the various members of the community when different types of trains were departing and were expected to arrive. The mail train had a specific departure time, the freight trains had a specific departure time, and passenger trains had a specific departure time. In the same advertisements were information on fares. The fares, as one might imagine, varied depending on the distance traveled. As the above ad shows it cost $1.35 for an adult white traveler to ride between Petersburg and RIchmond. Children between five and twelve cost $.85; as did slaves who rode in the "Servant's Car." The ad also stipulated that "Servants will not be permitted in the first class cars, except when in attendance on infants or sick persons; in which cases the same fare as for white persons will be charged."


During the Civil War, the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad proved important to the Confederate army in its many attempts to shuttle troops between the front lines of the cities' defenses under attack by Grant's forces. The line was a particular target during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in the spring of 1864. However, it received protection from a series of earthworks known as the Howlett Line that stretched across this strip of land between the James and Appomattox Rivers.


The Richmond and Petersburg line also suffered due to it being a single track, with few switch or pull off points for cars to pass going in different directions. Finally, its close proximity to the Union army's eastern front at Petersburg made the trains that ran on its tracks a target for that force's artillery fire. Despite the great effort to cut it, the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad remained active until Gen. Lee's men evacuated the two cities on the night of April 2, 1865.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Peterburg's Railroads - The City Point Railroad


The City Point Railroad, a short nine-mile line from Petersburg to the town and docks of City Point (present-day Hopewell), at the confluence of the Appomattox and James River was chartered in 1836 and completed in 1838. At the time, some Petersburg citizens viewed this line as unnecessary, as many ships could pick up commerce and crops as easily in Petersburg's eastern wharves as at City Point's. But to do so the Appomattox River near the Cockade City constantly needed dredged, and inconvenience, both in cost and effort.

In 1847, the town of Petersburg purchased the City Point Railroad and renamed it the Appomattox Railroad. In 1854, the Southside Railroad purchased the diminutive line from the city and made it the eastern section of that line. Due to its relatively short distance, this line carried far more commercial and freight business than passenger service.


During the Civil War, what was the old City Point Railroad was virtually useless as the Union army and navy took control of the lower James River early in the contest, thus Confederate friendly ships were not able to carry the goods delivered to the the City Point wharves by the railroad cars. However, it did serve for a time as a somewhat alternate route to the capital city of Richmond up the James River, until the Federal Army of the James under Gen. Benjamin Butler took control of the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. Once in Union army secured City Point in the spring of 1864, it used part of its short route for the United States Military Railroad.


It was on this part of the line that ran behind the former Confederate earthworks of the Dimmock Line, east of Petersburg, which were captured in the fighting that occurred on June 15-18. It was here that the Union forces brought up by rail the famous though short-lived 13-inch mortar known as the "Dictator."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - The Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad


Last Monday evening I was honored to speak to a local group of history enthusiast about Petersburg's railroads. I covered the antebellum as well as their Civil War history. It was after all the railroads which placed Petersburgs in the crosshairs of Gen. Grant's sights.

I've not shared much on Petersburg's railroads on this forum, so I thought I'd take some of the material that I covered in the history talk by making a handful of posts. The first one will cover the Petersburg Railroad.

The Cockade City's oldest railroad was the Petersburg Railroad, also sometimes known as the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad. It ran from its depot on Washington Street (shown on the right side of the image above) to Garysburg, North Carolina, on the north side of the Roanoke River and then to the adjacent town of Weldon, on the south side of the Roanoke River. From Weldon, other connector lines ran to the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Petersurg Railroad received its charter from the Virginia legislature in 1830, and opened in 1833, making it one of the early railroads in the United States. Although the line served both commercial as well as passenger use, it figured more prominently int the former than the later. However, a travler remarked that "a journey which formerly required two days, is now performed between breakfast and dinner, and may be retraced by tea time." The sixty mile trip now only took four hours!


The Petersburg Railroad evolved partly out of a rivalry with Norfolk for the tobacco business of northern North Carolina. After its opening in 1833, its effect on Petersburg was almost immediate. The railroad brought in new businesses and spurred the creation of more rail lines that will be discussed in future posts.


During the Civil War, and due to the Petersburg Railroad's Deep-South connections, it became a primary focus for the Union army. Grant and Meade made two separate efforts to attain the line. The first, what has become known as Grant's Second Offensive (June 22-23) ended in a failed attempt to cut the line when troops of the II and VI Corps moved west from their lodgement on the Jerusalem Plank Road. The II Corps ran into a furious counterattack by Gen. William Mahone's Division, which resulted in over 2000 captured Union soldiers and which left the VI Corps unsupported and vulnerable, causing both corps to retreat after briefly reaching the rail line near where Richard Bland College is today.

The other significant military actions along the line occurred during Grant's Fourth Offensive (August 1864). The first of that fighting occurred where the June actions happened and became known by a couple of names: The Battle of Weldon Railroad, or the Battle of Globe Tavern. Fighting broke out on August 18 as Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren V Corps secured a section of the track and held on tenaciously as the Confederates counterattacked for three days trying to recapture the vital rail line. With reinforcements from the IX Corps, the federals held on and extended their earthworks west of the railroad.

A few days later on August 25, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's II Corps, just returned to the Petersburg front after a tour of duty fighting north of the James River at Deep Bottom, was attacked by Confederates just about five miles south of Globe Tavern on the rail line at Ream's Station. In the savage combat that resulted, Hancock was forced to relinquish the field and the railroad to the Southerners. However, since the federals had control of the rail line south of Petersburg at Globe Tavern, the Union defeat did not significantly alter the situation.

By capturing the Petersburg Railroad south of the city, the federals forced the Confederates to seek an alternate route to get their supplies to their troops at Petersburg and Richmond. What the Southerners devised worked, but proved to be and inefficient alternative. They unloaded their entrained north-bound supplies at Stoney Creek Station, about 18 miles south of Petersburg, onto horse and mule-drawn wagons that then went cross-country to the west to Dinwiddie Courthouse and then finally up the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg.

With the Petersburg Railroad under control in August 1864, Grant set his sights on capturing the Boydton Plank Road and the Southside Railroad farther to the west. Those two goals would prove to be a hard road to travel, as they would not be attained until late March and early April 1865.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tonsorial Artists!


In my seemingly never-ending search for information on antebellum black barbers in the mid-South, I felt that I had exhausted my search on platforms that allow for key-word searches. However, recently a friend sent me an article from the early twentieth-century newspaper that used the term "tonsorial artist" in reference to a barber. I had come across that particular phrase in other advertisements and articles a few times, but until today, for some reason, I never thought to use it as search term. 

As I've mentioned in other posts on this subject, during the antebellum period, it was common for barbers to spend as much or more time shaving customers than cutting their patrons' hair. Although they might have charged less for shaving services than hair cuts, shaves came much more frequently. I thought there might be a connection to tonsorial and tonsils, being that that area prominently receives shaving. There might be something there, but it appears that tonsorial is taken more as an archaic synonym for barbering or shaving.

Well, it didn't take me long to try. I searched 1850s Virginia newspapers this afternoon in the Chronicling America newspaper feature on the Library of Congress website. I turned up three references in the Richmond Daily Dispatch.


The first one that I found was in the February 7, 1857 edition and came in the form of a traditional advertisement. The McNaughton brothers in Richmond sought to remind citizens of that city that they maintained their shop on 12th Street below Duval's Drug Store. There they offered the normal barbering services, including dying hair.   


The next notice I located appeared in the March 7, 1854, issue. The editor stated that Richmond's barbers, almost all of whom were African American, showed solidarity by meeting and resolving to increase their prices for shaves and haircuts. The brief article ends with a pun and insinuated that black barbers took notice of other workers whose labor was in demand and that fact proved that "members of the tonsorial profession" were as "sharp" or perceptive as others who demanded higher wages for their work.


The final notice that caught my eye showed up in the May 18, 1854, edition. It appears to be a combination article/advertisement promoting the "Bathing Establishment" that Fields Cook, "a very respectable colored man" added to his "tonsorial emporium." It appears that the new business was in western part of Shockoe Bottom, as it mentions it was "a short distance West of the old Market," and it advised that "Persons residing in the lower part of the city will bear him in mind" if they wished a "pleasant bath." Bathing establishments were not uncommon ways for black barbers to increase their services, and thus revenue. It also emphasizes the entrepreneurship of these men who sought to take an occupation whites saw as beneath them.

I wonder if a newspaper posting such as this last one, which did not take on the traditional appearance of  a classified advertisement as shown at top, was paid for by Cook, or if it was run as a type of public service announcement. Regardless, all of these newspaper appearances show that black barbers were visible businessmen who contributed valuable services to their local communities.

Monday, March 5, 2018

1860 Black Barbers in Farmville, Virginia


In my continuing search for Virginia's antebellum black barbers, I recently searched the Farmville, (Prince Edward County) Virginia, 1860 census. The town's population was just about 925 people that year. According to my previous research I figured that a town of Farmville's size probably had the size to support a barber or two or three, and such was the case.


The first black barber that I came across was Thomas Harvey. This twenty-three year old mulatto man apparently lived in a hotel in town as all of the individuals (about thirty-five) in this household are under Norvell Cobb's name, who is listed as a hotel keeper. In addition many of the people living there have various occupations such as lawyer, druggist, merchant, student, jeweler, etc., that one would expect to find in town environment.

Barber Thomas Harvey is the only man of color listed as living in the hotel. Perhaps he cut hair and shaved beards in the hotel working for the building's owner and manager. Interestingly, there were two "negro traders," also residing at the hotel at this time.



J.W. Brightwell, a thirty-eight year old slave trader (above) had real estate valued at $10,000 (about $280,000 in present dollars) and personal property valued at $7880 (about $230,000 present dollars).



John Jenkins apparently was not as successful as Brightwell, as he is not shown as having any wealth.




Farmville's other two barbers apparently worked at the Randolph House hotel. Andrew Lilley, a twenty-two year old black man who had $400 in personal property, and Crawley Mitchel , a forty year old mulatto man, who had no personal wealth are both shown residing in the same household and likely worked together.

I did not find any black barbers in the 1850 Prince Edward County census. I am curious if the 1860 barbers continued to stay in Farmville after the Civil War. I'll try to remember to let you know what I find out.

1867 Farmville map courtesy of the Library of Congress.