Monday, September 17, 2018

Military Images Magazine


Other than offering book reviews, I don't usually make promotional announcements on this forum. But having just received the initial issue (Autumn 2018) of my recent subscription to Military Images magazine, I feel a certain obligation to share my good find.

Military Images has been in publication for years, however, I'd never taken to the time to investigate any issues to see what all they offered. First, I was impressed with the packaging that the issue came in. Too often my Civil War or history magazines come all beat up from rough postal handling. This one, though, was in a strong clear plastic bag. Nice! Secondly, the magazine is printed on heavy, quality stock. And, finally, the images, as one would hope for a photograph-centered magazine, are sharp and clear.

Military Images is expertly edited by Ronald Coddington. You may be familiar with a number of his "Faces of" books from my several mentions here on Random Thoughts. Coddington includes a number of "departments" that appear in each issue like, "Editor's Desk" and "Antebellum Warriors," but each edition also contains a number of featured articles based around themed photographs, all of which are very well written.

Military Images releases four issues each year, which comes to about $6.00 an issue if you obtain a subscription. In my opinion that is a virtual steal for what all you get in each issue. To subscribe, find back issues, or learn more about this fine publication you can do so at this link: Military Images. You'll be glad you subscribed.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


One of the reasons I like going to history conferences is that I often pick up book recommendations. Historians are typically good about sharing what they think are good books, whether in their presentations or in casual conversation. When I was the the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute back in June, Peter Carmichael recommended No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom in his talk on common soldiers. Biddlecom served in the 147th New York regiment and he apparently gives the reader a unglorified look at how he experienced the war.


Studies about antebellum Southern colleges are among my favorites. I saw Rot, Riot, and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson's Struggle to Save the University that Changed America about three years ago in the University of Virginia bookstore while providing an extended tailored tour. Recently I came across an inexpensive used copy while killing some time in a book store in Richmond and decided to buy it.


Last month I had the good fortune to get a little time away from work and spend it listening to the beautiful sounds of the North Carolina coast. While there doing some history sightseeing I realized how little I actually knew about eastern North Carolina's experience during the Civil War. After seeing a copy of Shifting Loyalites: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina in the gift shop of one of the museums I visited, I looked for a used copy when I returned and and decided that this study looked like a good place to start increasing my knowledge about the region.


Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War is another book I found in the Richmond used book store. Edited by well-respected historians Catherine Clinton and Nina Silder, this collection of ten essays by a host leading gender historians in the field cover a diverse array of topics on this central theme.


I provided a brief review of John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charleston in yesterday's post, so I won't mention much here other than to say if one wants to get a inside look at Brown's thoughts and concerns while awaiting execution, there is not better source than the collection of letters he sent from his Charlestown jail cell. Read it!


Robert Smalls is a fascinating historical character. Along with Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero, he is also the subject of an article in the most recent issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. It is high time that this amazing story gets more deserved attention. I'm looking forward to learning more about the details this exciting story of escape and how the publicity it received in the North was perceived in the Confederacy.


Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community,, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America is a book that has been on my wish list since before it was released. I've kept my eye on its used price and decided that when it finally got within my budget range I'd get a copy, which I did last week. Oberlin, an early interracial and co-educational college, was a leader in the abolitionist movement producing key anti-slavery figures who became participants in numerous events leading up to the Civil War. I'm expecting it to be a great read.


The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism is another welcome addition the growing John Brown section of my library. I hoping to form an even better understanding of Brown's influences by reading about female members of his family. I'm not sure how I had not come across this work before, but I'm happy to now have it among my collection.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Just Finished Reading - John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Chalestown


With John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charleston, editor Louis DeCaro, Jr. assembles a thorough collection of letters that Brown wrote from October 21 to his date of execution, Dec. 2 1859. In the majority of the included letters, Brown wrote in reply to those who sent him letters of encouragement and financial support. They touch upon a diverse array of issues from personal remembrances of past acts of kindness, to making arrangements for the disbursement of inheritance from his father, to concerns about his adult children's state of religious salvation. 

All of the letters are expertly contextualized by the editor and give significant insight into who John Brown, the man, truly was. The letters express no regret or contrition for his role in the Harper's Ferry role. Rather they display the thoughts of a man who fully understood the dangers of his mission and fully accepted the results as God's will. 

Some say that Brown changed over his 30-plus days of confinement, but what comes through in these letters though is that Brown remained constant in his mindset and commitment to try to end slavery. But through these letters, several of which found their ways into Northern newspapers, and his jailhouse statements, others came to see Brown differently from the man depicted in the immediate days following the raid. 

A bonus to the letters are also a set of eight recollections from those who visited Brown in support or interviewed him to gather information on why he did what he did. Some of these account were written in 1859 and 1860, while others were made as late as the late 1880s. 

This book is in fine company with DeCaro's other works - Fire from the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown and Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia. It is one that students of abolitionism should want in their library, and students of John Brown can not afford to overlook.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John Brown Remember's Petersburg's War of 1812 Volunteers


After president James Madison referred to Petersburg as the Cockade City of the Union for their volunteer service in the War of 1812, the name stuck. Apparently the city's volunteer militia wore cockade badges on their hats as a distinctive marker, thus prompting the president's remark.

Madison was not the only American who found the Petersburg Volunteers extraordinary. Sent to the Old Northwest (present day northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan) to fight the British and their American Indian allies, Capt. Richard McRae and his volunteers fought with valor at the Siege of Fort Meigs in May 1813.

Meeting the Petersburg Volunteers during their service in the Old Northwest was a 12 or 13 year old John Brown. Brown, born in Connecticut in 1800, moved with his family to northern Ohio when he was a boy. During the War of 1812, Brown assisted his father Owen, who provided the United States forces in the area with beef. While working in this role Brown came into contact with the Petersburg men.

During Brown's incarceration for his leading role in the Harper's Ferry raid Brown was visited by some of the Virginia militia guarding the jail. His remarks were reported in the New York Herald on October 31, 1859. The correspondent wrote:
"As the men of the Continentals kept together, they crowded somewhat on him, but Old Brown shook hands with them and said, 'Gentleman, I will shake hands with all of you,' which he did. He continued, 'I am very glad to see you gentlemen, indeed. I once served, though not enrolled, with a company of yours. It was in the late war with England, as it is called, in 1812. But very few of the poor fellows ever returned to their homes. They were a picked body of men, and I remained near them for a time on the Northwest frontier, and it was my happiness on several occasions to render them aid and assistance in their sufferings. They were mostly all of them from Petersburg, in this State, and they were so equal sized that when any small party of them were together I could recognize them at any distance.The Virginian companies were then the finest that I had ever seen."

The mentioned Continentals were the Continental Morgan Guard, a militia unit from nearby Frederick County and Winchester, Virginia. Their name came in honor of Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan. Founded in 1855, their uniforms modeled those of their Continental Army ancestors. They were depicted in Thomas Satterwhite Noble's famous 1867 print of Brown exiting the Charles Town jail and blessing slave baby which is pictured below, yet likely never happened.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Petersburg's Historic People's Memorial Cemetery


This morning I attended a meeting at the Petersburg National Battlefield, and on my way back home I made a short detour to visit to People's Memorial Cemetery. This traditional African American place of final rest has a long history. Originally known as the Negro Burial Ground, and later as Providence Cemetery, it appears that it dates back to just after the War of 1812, when some of Petersburg's white militiamen donated land adjacent to Blandford Cemetery for a cemetery for slaves who went to war with them. 


As the burials increased and space diminished, free black benevolent organizations purchased additional acreage to expand the cemetery. Thomas H. Brown, who was probably born enslaved in 1864, formed the People's Memorial Cemetery Association around 1893 to rehabilitate  the burial ground.

Brown served as hospital steward in the Petersburg Blues militia unit, which was part of the 6th Virginia Infantry during the Spanish American War. He would go on to start his own funeral business in Hopewell in the early 20th century. Brown died in 1952 of pneumonia and was buried in the cemetery he helped revive.


Like Brown, there are several Spanish American War veteran's headstones in the cemetery, including William D. Henderson's, a 6th Virginia Infantry comrade of Brown's (pictured above).


There are also a number of World War I veterans in People's Memorial Cemetery. Willie Graves (pictured above), a private, who was born in 1896, died in 1965.


Likewise, several headstones of World War II veterans grace the grounds. James Robinson, who is listed in the 1940 census as a 14 year old in his father Herbert's household on Bollingbrook Street, died in 1954 and is among the long list of former soldiers buried in the cemetery.


Many of the headstones and grave markers include birth dates before emancipation. It is difficult to tell if these people were born free or enslaved since Petersburg had a large free black population. Regardless of whether people like William E. Steward (pictured above) were born free or enslaved, he spent almost 20 years in a slave society before the institution was abolished.


As one might image, due to age and decay, many of the old headstones are difficult to read. On some only a date or two, or parts of names are decipherable.  Peter and Julia Morgan's headstones are shown above side by side.


Many of the headstones included references or markings of fraternal organizations. John R. Morse, apparently belonged to a masonic organization as shown on his marker. It indicates that he was born in 1838.


The daughter of Samuel Butcher remembered her father according to his headstone. It also states that Butcher was "baptized by Elder Sampson White in 1837." Butcher died in 1885 at the age of 70, which means he was born about 1815.


Emma L. Dabney, the wife of Benjamin Dabney, has an impressive obelisk marker. She was born on April 5, 1849 and died on August 21, 1904. It says "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord for they rest from their labors."


The "daughter and only child of Elizabeth James," Sarah Jane James, has a headstone that is intricately carved. It shows she was born in 1853.


In my humble opinion, the most impressive headstone is that belonging to Rev. L. A. Black. It has a bas relief bust sculpture incorporated into the obelisk. Black served as the minister at First Baptist Church in Petersburg. First Baptist claims to be be oldest African American congregation in the United States. Born in 1820, Black died in 1883. He began his pastoring duties in 1873.

People's Memorial Cemetery was turned over to the City of Petersburg for care in 1986. Being just across Crater Road from historic Blandford Cemetery, it is easy to see which burial ground gets the lion's share of care. Today it appeared that the grass in Peeople's Memorial had not been cut or trimmed in quite a while. Many of the headstones need cleaned and reset on their base or straightened in the ground. Hopefully greater attention can be given to this important piece of our local history to ensure its preservation. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown's Army


Almost everyone has heard of John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry, but I would suspect that the majority do not know that his small raiding party included five African American men, let alone name them. 

Free men of color Dangerfield Newby, John Anthony Copeland, Lewis Sheridan Leary, and Osborne Perry Anderson, along with fugitive slave Shields Green, all knowingly risked their lives as participants in the raid. Only Osborne Anderson would escape with his life. Newby was the first raider killed. Leary was also killed in the fighting. John Copeland and Shields Green were both captured, jailed, tried, and then hanged on December 16, 1859 in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia). 

In this book, journalist Eugene Meyer vividly gives the historical background of these men, their roles in the raid, and how they have been remembered (or more accurately, forgotten) since the raid. Although Anderson published a short account of the raid titled "A Voice from Harper's Ferry" in 1861, and a biography of Copeland came out in 2015, the African American raiders' stories have by and large been ignored in favor of John Brown biographies and studies. And while the well known Brown studies include mention of the black raiders, they do not usually receive the coverage their actions deserve. 

Meyer's journalistic talents add a nice touch to the book, especially when he covers the stories of descendants of the black raiders, the centennial commemoration of John Brown's raid and the Heyward Shepherd monument, and the history of Storer College. Another impressive part of the work was the author's description of the genealogy of raider Newby. 

This book is important because it puts these active agents of change prominently back into the story of Harpers Ferry, one which they helped make in the first place. They all had different backgrounds, but they all had the goals of abolishing slavery and gaining citizenship and equality in common. Of the five men covered in the book, only Anderson would live to see the goal of slavery's end accomplished. However, their descendants, and others they inspired through their efforts, helped blaze the trail toward the other. I eagerly recommend it.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Zooming in on a Confederate Camp Scene



Civil War photographs of Union army camp scenes are so common they often get taken for granted. Confederate camp scenes, though, are more rare. Most of those that do exist come from early in the war. The above photograph comes from the Library of Congress website and shows what is titled "A Confederate picket post near Charleston, S.C., 1861."

The scene appears to be on some body of water, perhaps either the Cooper or Ashley River, or maybe part of the Charleston Harbor. A tree draped in Spanish moss frames the image on the right side. Two groups of men either sit or stand on a raised bank with two "A" frame tents in the background.



In the left group of men, standing on the far left, is what appears to be an enslaved camp servant who holds and ax on his shoulder while looking at the photographer. Perhaps he was detailed to cut some firewood or maybe he was using the back of the ax to drive tent stakes. It is difficult to tell for sure, but it look like he wears a non-military style cap. 


Standing beside the ax man is a corporal. He wears a shell jacket, a military kepi, and stands in a "Napoleonic" pose. His shell jacket had slightly darker colored cuffs. One has to wonder what branch of service this scene shows? Artillery perhaps?


In front of the two standing men are three others either sitting or crouching. Two of them are African American camp servants. The crouching one on the left is hatless and appears to be cooking over the campfire, as a pot hangs above the fire and another is directly in front of him. The other camp servant holds what looks to be a shiny reflecting tin plate while in a crouching position. He wears what looks to be a military shell jacket. 

It is not a surprise that the three black men are shown doing labor-related tasks while the white soldiers are all shown at leisure. A soldier sits between the two crouching servants, leaning back on his left arm, and has what looks to be a cigar or pipe held in his right hand at his mouth. 


In the group of men on the right side of the image a soldier rests on his left side while holding a bottle in his right hand. Like the majority of the other soldiers in this image he wears a military kepi. It appears to have a colored headband.


Between the two groups is a soldier wearing a slouch hat and reading a newspaper, or just peering over the top of the page at the photographer.


Beside the reading and drinking men is a group of three standing soldiers watching a group of four others playing a card game on a spread out blanket. One man, on the left of the group, looks to be giving some type of instructions to what may be a sergeant major. Standing in the center of the group is a tall man with a bushy beard. He holds his hands close together in front of his chest while wearing a shell jacket and sporting his kepi at an extreme jaunty angle. The card playing soldier facing the camera sits cross-legged and wears what looks to be a high-crowned hat. The soldier at the far right kneels while apparently discarding one of his cards.

This photograph gives the viewer great insight into the activities of an early war Confederate camp. So many of the activities shown here are those that are mentioned in many soldiers' letters. Particularly interesting are the roles of the group of camp servants, who did much of the fatigue duty of camp life (cooking, cleaning, laundry, splitting wood, etc.) that soldiers either loathed or perhaps were unused to in pre-war life, depending on their socioeconomic status.  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Confederacy Is on Her Way Up the Spout: Letters to South Carolina, 1861-1864


Well, The Confederacy Is on Her Way Up the Spout: Letters to South Carolina, 1861-1864, a slim 130-page volume, containing 33 letters from soldiers who hailed from upcountry South Carolina, did not take long at all to read. However, its brevity should not diminish its importance in helping inform us about what common Civil War soldiers experienced, believed, wanted, needed, expected, and how they expressed their sentiments. 

All of the letters contained in the book were posted to Lucritia Barrett McMahan and her husband Jesse, who lived in Pickens County. Of the seven letter writers, three of the authors were Lucritia's brothers, and one her brother-in-law. The other three men were family friends or acquaintances. 

The vast majority of the letters come from the pen of Milton Barrett, who served in the 18th Georgia. Milton's regiment was originally part of the famous Texas Brigade before a reorganization after the Battle of Antietam moved them to a new brigade. However, remaining part of Longstreet's command, the 18th and Milton traveled widely, fighting in Virginia, Maryland, at Chickamauga, Knoxville, and back to Virginia. Milton and his brothers, William and Benjamin, and brother-in-law, William Collett, all perished during the war. Milton died at Elmira prison in 1864. 

Editors J. Roderick Heller III and Carolyn Ayers Heller transcribed all of the letters in their original challenged spelling. While this sometimes makes for difficult reading, it also gives the reader a "truer" look at the men writing them than if the editors had regularized the spelling and grammar. The editors provide a good introduction which offers important family history information. In addition, their commentary between letters and to open its four chapters also helps the reader contextualize the current military situation the writers discuss in the letters. 

As one might imagine, some of the letters are quite straightforward, while others delve deeper into the thoughts of the men writing them. These soldiers' letters speak about life in camp, the food they ate, their uniforms and shoes; they talk about sickness and battle experiences; they give their opinions on their officers, the ever-churning rumor mill; they express their weariness of warfare and vividly show their interest in the lives of those on the home front. In other words, this little book gives us what we seek in a collection of soldiers' letters; and that is the sense of being there. I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Secessionists and Other Scoundrels: Selections from Parson Brownlow's Book


Polarizing historical personalities usually make for some interesting reading. And few were as polarizing as Knoxville newspaper editor and Methodist minister, William G. Brownlow. With Secessionists and Other Scoundrels: Selections from Parson Brownlow's Book, edited by Stephen V. Ash, we see him in all his polarizing glory.

Born in Wythe County, Virginia in 1805 and orphaned by age 11, Brownlow eventually settled in East Tennessee, as circuit riding Methodist preacher and starting newspapers in Elizabethton, Jonesboro, and finally Knoxville. A strict Whig, who viewed Henry Clay as the ideal statesman, and who possessed an unconditional Unionist sentiment, Brownlow would find himself in deep trouble when Tennessee seceded by majority referendum on June 9, 1861. Yet he would not yield his commitment for the Union. While votes in West and Middle Tennesse combined in favor of leaving the Union, East Tennessee voted to remain by a wide majority. 

Brownlow's variety of federal nationalism was initially a pro-slavery version of Unionism, which was not uncommon in East Tennessee, and among the Border States. When Confederate forces stationed in Knoxville attempted to suppress Brownlow he continued venting his hatred for secession in his scathing editorials. His specialty was ad hominem attacks. He loved to denounce his enemies and spotlight their shortcomings as much as he touted his dedication to the United States. 

This small book shares some of the arch-Unionist's writings that he had eventually published in the form of the 1862 book Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession; with a Narrative of Personal Adventures Among the Rebels. The lengthy-titled work was more popularly known as "Parson Brownlow's Book." Hastily pulled together in New Jersey after being arrested, jailed, and sent through the lines to Union held Nashville, he took both published editorials and personal journal entries to give the reader a unique perspective of unabashed East Tennessee Unionism. 

Editor Ash does a wonderful job of providing a helpful and contextual introduction and giving footnotes to a number of the perhaps more obscure references that Brownlow made in his original book. I've not read the original version, but as I understand it, it is somewhat repetitive, and Ash appears to have selected the choicest elements as presented in his edited offerings. 

Despite one's personal thoughts about Brownlow and his sometimes questionable actions, particularly after the war, I recommend this book to better understand those individuals and their communities, who rejected secession and maintained their allegiance to the United States in such a fiery trial.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Searching for Charles Plummer Tidd



Taking a few days of annual leave from work I was able to spend a good deal of that time enjoying the beautiful ocean scenery at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Before setting out on the trip, and as I often do, I searched for some intriguing historic sites to potentially visit either on the way down or the way back.

Remembering that my route led through New Bern, I recalled that I had once read that one of John Brown's raiders was buried there. Doing a quick internet search I located on findagrave.com that Charles Plummer Tidd was buried there in Section 8, Plot 40. That seemed easy enough. I had been to enough national military cemeteries to know that finding the grave with that information in hand should be no problem. Well . . . .

First, though, a little bit of background information on Tidd: Born in Palermo, Maine in 1834, Tidd migrated to Kansas in a party of free state settlers with Dr. Calvin Cutter of Worchester, Massachusetts in 1856. While in Kansas Tidd met John Brown and they became fast friends. Tidd's active abolitionism was evidenced in his participation in a raid Brown conducted into Missouri, which eventually brought Canadian freedom to 11 enslaved individuals. 

Apparently eager to involve himself in Brown's grand plan to raid Virginia, but apparently unaware of the ultimate target of Harpers Ferry, Tidd traveled with Brown through various northern states and Canada in preparation for the adventure to the Old Dominion. He joined with Brown's tiny army gathering at the Kennedy farmhouse in rural southern Maryland in the summer of 1859. 

Once Tidd found out that Harpers Ferry was Brown's intended target, he flew into a rage and left the Kennedy farmhouse to visit his friend and co-raider John E. Cook for a week in Harpers Ferry. Brown had previously sent Cook ahead to covertly study to town. Eventually, Tidd returned and like the others, who doubted the Brown's plan recommitted themselves.

Shortly before the raid, and knowing the likelihood of being killed in the raid, Tidd wrote to his family: "This is perhaps the last letter you will ever receive from your son. The next time you hear from me, will probably be through the public prints, If we succeed the world will call us heroes; if we fail, we shall hang between the Heavens and the earth." Although committed to doing his part, on the other hand, Tidd seemed to have a sort of nonchalance about the raid. He wrote often to female friends across the North telling of the preparations for the mission, feeling he could trust them to keep it secret

The plan for the raid as far as it concerned Tidd what that he and Cook were to go ahead and cut telegraph wires in advance of Brown and eighteen other raiders. Three men were to stay in Maryland at the Kennedy farm: Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Francis Jackson Merriam, all three being the least psychically fit. 

Tidd, Cook, Aaron Stevens, and African American raiders, Lewis Leary, Sheilds Green, and Osborne Perry Anderson were then detailed to go capture Lewis Washington, George Washington's great grand nephew, who lived nearby. They did so bring with them a Washington pistol and sword. They then stopped at John Allstadt's Ordinary, taking more hostages and liberating six slaves. 

Early on the morning of the 17th, Tidd was detailed by Brown to go back into Maryland capture another slaveholder named Byrne and then take Byrne's slaves and go to the Kennedy farmhouse and move forward firearms to an old log schoolhouse closer to Harpers Ferry. He did so, leaving the slaves guarding the weapons, Tidd returned to the Kennedy farmhouse.  There Tidd learned from Cook that the situation in Harpers Ferry was desperate. 

Tidd, Cook, Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc and Merriam decided to make their escape from the Kennedy farm rather than be captured or killed attempting to rescue the other raiders, so they made their way north through Maryland into southern Pennsylvania. Cook was captured near Chambersburg searching for food. The frail Merriam disguised himself and took the train north, while the others, including Tidd, continued the trek by foot. By November 24 they reached Centre County, Pennsylvania, and each went separate ways. Tidd went to Chatham, Canada.   


I was unable to learn how long Tidd remained in Canada, but he eventually found his way back to Massachusetts. He enlisted in Company K of the 21st Massachusetts on July 19, 1861 in Worchester, just west of Boston. Tidd, in order to maintain his true identity and thus association with Brown's raid, dropped his last name and enlisted as Charles Plummer. 


Tidd received promotion to 1st Sergeant of Company K on November 1 1861. The following winter, the 21st Massachusetts received orders to participate in the coastal operations at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, being conducted by Gen. Ambrose Burnside. They embarked on the ship Northerner, and soon after landing Tidd died of enteritis, an inflammation of the bowels on February 7, 1862. The 21st Massachusetts regimental history states that Dr. Cutter, the man Tidd followed to Kansas and later became the 21st's surgeon, attended to Tidd and that the good doctor's daughter and regimental nurse, Miss Carrie E. Cutter, closed Tidd's eyes in death. 


The regimental history of the 21st Massachusetts also says that Miss Cutter died on March 24 of spotted fever: "Her body was carried to Roanoke Island and buried by the side of her admired friend, Seargent Charles Plummer Tidd, the heroic companion of John Brown, whose eyes she closed so sadly during the battle of Roanoke Island." (page 83).

New Bern National Cemetery was established on February 1, 1867, and contains the Union dead reinterred from the coastal war-time battlefield cemeteries like New Bern, Morehead City, and Beaufort, as well as those who died of disease in the area hospitals.

I arrived at the New Bern National Cemetery on a sunny, hot, and humid day excited to find Tidd's grave. Near the entrance is an enclosed box containing a list in alphabetical order of the known interments and their plot numbers. I thought it would be best to consult the list. First checking for Tidd, and then Plummer, I only came up with a Charles E. Plummer, who had served in an artillery unit and had died in 1864, not 1862. I began to feel a little doubtful.

However, still determined, I went ahead a used the information I found online and located section 8, but there was not a plot number 40. I then went through all of section 8's graves and did not find a Tidd or Plummer. I finally went to the far back of the cemetery and found plot 40, but it, too, was not a Tidd or Plummer. 


The cemetery office appeared to be closed, so I was unable to find additional help. But, despite my disappointment in not locating Tidd's grave, I was buoyed somewhat by several beautiful monuments to the Union dead in the cemetery. One, pictured above, is dedicated to the Massachusetts troops buried there, of which there appeared to be hundreds.


On the monument's side it lists several regiments of Bay State troops, including Tidd's 21st Massachusetts. So, although I did not find Tidd's individual grave site, I still felt that the search was worth it, and in some small way is a my tribute to a man who ultimately gave his life in the service of his country and for an honorable goal.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Coming into the Lines


Last week I shared Civil War artist Edwin Forbes's "The Sanctuary." Today I thought I share another telling image that Forbes created, "Coming into the Lines."

His book, Thirty Years After: An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War is on overlooked resource. It includes his recollections on events he witnessed and images that he sketched. Originally published in 1890, it written by a man of his times. Here is his description of a group of African American refugees coming into Union lines. The above image illustrates the description.

"I saw a quaint family come into camp one summer day in '63 at Culpeper Court House. I was at a picket post southeast of the town, when I noticed a vehicle approaching that was a mystery. I knew that no single baggage-wagon would come from that direction, and on waiting for a nearer approach found it to be a party of refugees. The team was composed of an old white horse, a white ox, and a mule. The horse was led by a man, who carried an old banjo under his arm, and a boy mounted on the mule was driver.

The wagon was an old-timer, and had evidently seen long service on the plantation. It was a so-called "schooner" in style, and its shape reminded on of a sailing vessel. It was bereft of the usual canvas cover, but three of the frame-hoops made to support it still remained, arched over the body. The occupants were an old "mammy" and her better half - his gray locks surmounted by an old white hat, - a young woman and two children. A bonnet was suspended from one of the hoops for safe keeping. This article of feminine apparel created much amusement among the soldiers, and from the scornful  way in which the young woman resented their remarks I am sure it must have belonged to her. The whole turnout made a great deal of fun for the soldiers, and witticisms were launched forth all along the line. I laughed wit the rest and wondered, if the odd picture could be transported to Broadway, New York, what kind of a sensation it would produce."

When so-called contraband came into Union lines, as mentioned above, they were not always well received. Most often the reverse was true. However, their determination to leave the world of the enslaved and enter the world of free labor, despite all of the risks and sacrifices that entailed was worth all the verbal abuse and potential dangers of sickness and want. It was their first step in a long, long, long, road toward true liberty, citizenship, and equality.

Forbes concluded this memory by viewing the progress former slaves had made in the quarter century since the Civil War; again in his 1890 way: "And how these simple people have adapted themselves to circumstances and settled down to the struggle for existence as freedmen! They have kept good their promises, and the progress they have made is a full recompense for the sacrifice made for them and the protection they received. Their industrial value, not only as agricultural laborers, as in times "befo' the wah," but in diverse mechanical callings, is gradually winning for them the appreciation of their white neighbors, and they are steadily advancing towards a proper recognition of their worth."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - A Nation Under Our Feet


A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration is an important book that follows the treacherous paths that rural Southern African Americans have blazed politically from slavery to the 1920s. Hahn crafts this work through his meticulous research and expert analysis. 

Throughout the book Hahn shows the ever important work of grass-roots agency networks in the black community, and the solidarity that developed that has highlighted black political efforts in the South. These often dangerous efforts to have a political say in their lives and to effect change often met massive violent white resistance throughout the period the author examines. 


Hahn points out that even in slavery, when blacks had no official political representation or the ability to petition, their actions (insurrections, running away, etc.) influenced governmental policies that ultimately led to the end of the peculiar institution. The chapters on Reconstruction and Jim Crow likewise provide excellent insight into the organizing and communication networks in black communities that led to not only opportunities to participate actively in the democratic process, but also lead in official capacities on the local and state levels. These changes led to greater opportunities for rural blacks to obtain an education and achieve a level of economic independence previously believed to be impossible. The Union Leagues and Republican Clubs had tremendous appeal to rural blacks during the Reconstruction years due to their perseverance and results. 


Also of great interest is Hahn's discussion on political black/white fusion efforts such as the Readjusters in Virginia and Greenbackers in Texas. When the Republican tide of Reconstruction subsided, and thus the reemergence of white supremacy in politics, in many areas emigration movements became a popular idea for regaining a sense of black political agency. Liberia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Indiana all experienced at least some transplants from the former slave states in the last quarter of the 19th century. 


Hahn's greatest accomplishment with this book though, in my opinion, is taking what could be a very convoluted topic, and through his skillful writing, makes it quite clear and understandable. This is truly a monumental book and certainly worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Then and Now - 1865 and 2018, Petersburg's Tabb and Union Streets


The above image of Petersburg's capture by Union forces on the morning of April 3, 1865, appeared in the April 22 issue of Harper's Weekly. The 2nd Michigan is shown raising the United States banner over the city's custom house. Some Union soldiers are marching west on Tabb Street, while others march on Sycamore Street in the distance.

The columned Tabb Street Presbyterian Church is clearly identified on the left edge. At that time it had a steeple. In the center background is the Petersburg Hustings Courthouse with a U.S. flag flying from the cupola.


Today, a steepleless Tabb Street Presbyterian and the old three-story Customs House, now Petersburg's City Hall, both still dominate the scene. However, taller new buildings have filled in the scene and obscure the old Courthouse.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Refugee Now In Petersburg


From The Daily Confederate - Raleigh, North Carolina, August 24, 1864

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"The Sanctuary"


It is an indisputable fact that thousands of enslaved people flocked to Union army lines as they made incursions into the slave states. From the beginning of the conflict, although the abolition of slavery was not yet a stated war aim, African American men, women, and children believed that the dissonance caused by the conflict was their path to freedom.

Artist Edwin Forbes remembered from this wartime experience a family of so-called contrabands coming in to Union lines.

"Meager possessions were packed quickly when news came to a plantation that the Yankees were holding a near-by town, and although the country was picketed with Southern cavalry close up to the Union lines, the slave family stole from the old cabin at nightfall, and avoiding highways to escape capture, tramped through wood and thicket, and came weary and footsore, in sight of the Union lines at daybreak.

I saw one group that I never shall forget, it impressed me so deeply with what the Federal success meant to these dusky millions. The old mother dropped to her knees and with upraised hands cried 'Bress de Lord!'  while the father, too much affected to speak, stood reverently with uncovered head, and the wondering bare-legged boy, with the faithful dog, waited patiently beside them, As the bugle notes of the reveille echoed across the fields, and the star-spangled banner waved out from the flag-staff on the breastworks in the bright morning sun, I murmured, 'A Sanctuary, truly!'"

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A John Brown's Raid Site Visitorama


As I posted on Thursday evening, I had the great fortune of attending the National Park Service historians August tour to Cool Springs Battlefield, where I got to see John Brown's trial judge, Richard Parker's, second home "Retreat." Later that day we also visited Belle Meade Plantation, which is just south of Winchester where we learned about the significant archaeology work going on there. This work is helping them to better tell the story of the enslaved that lived there in their programming.

Staying the night in Winchester, I got up early on Friday morning to do some John Brown raid site seeing in adjacent Jefferson County, West Virginia, and over across the Potomac River in Maryland, too. I did not visit the sites in the order they are presented here. Rather, I've place them in roughly in chronological order as they occurred during the raid.

I stopped at the Kennedy farmhouse (shown above), which Brown rented under the name of Issac Smith, in the summer of 1859. The log and stone building is about five miles or so from Harper's Ferry along a winding section of road. The headquarters/home has recently been restored and a couple of Civil War Trails waysides stand in the yard interpreting the events that swirled there in 1859, and later during the Civil War. 


I visited the Kennedy Farm site about ten years ago. At that time a chain link fence kept visitors at a distance from the historic structure. But on this visit I had the opportunity to get an up close look at the home. On a large boulder between the house and the parking area by the road, the above memorial plaque lists the names, ages, and fates of Brown's small raiding force. The site is a National Historic Landmark and is available for tour by appointment. Interestingly, items left at the Kennedy Farm by the raiders were used as evidence in the trial in Charles Town after Brown and a number of his men were captured in Harper's Ferry and jailed at the county seat. 


Between Harper's Ferry and Charles Town is Beallair, the period home of Lewis Washington, who was the great-grand nephew of George Washington. John Cook, one of Brown's raiders, had his made residence in the area to scout it out before the raid and determined that Washington would make a good hostage and his slaves would make recruits for the army the raiders were trying to build.


Lewis Washington was taken captive on the night of October 16 and moved to Harper's Ferry. John Cook and African American raider Osborne Perry Anderson were at the house, they took a sword that Frederick the Great had given George Washington and which had devolved to Lewis Washington.


In my prior visits to the area I had not taken the time to find Beallair, so while I was there I took a few pictures. While doing so a few resident ladies pulled up and parked and kindly asked if I would like to see inside the house. "Of course," I answered! The home is now used as a type of club house for the home owner's association that has developed the residential land around it. One of the ladies showed me where Frederick the Great's gifted sword hung over one of the fireplaces. They then allowed me to wander up stairs to the the second and third floors. I walked down the servant's stairs and got chills thinking about the events of the night of October 16, 1859.

Several dependency buildings, both attached (above) and detached (two below) are also on the property. I would guess that the building above was used for house slave quarters and the stone building below was likely the kitchen.


Another stone building sits just across the road. This may have served as other slave quarters or may have been a workshop of some type, as I do not remember seeing a chimney on the building. However, it may have been heated with a stove instead of fireplace/chimney.


All of the buildings are in good condition, and although housing development has encroached and certainly changed the landscape, it is good to know there is an effort to keep the original structures in place and in good repair.


After taking Washington and a handful of his slaves, Cook and Anderson moved on toward Harper's Ferry and stopped at Allstadt's Ordinary. At his home, tavern, and small inn along the turnpike the raiders took more hostages including John Allstadt, his teenage son John Thomas Allstadt, and seven of their slaves.


Several of the raiders and hostages ultimately ended up in the armory's fire engine house (shown above) in Harper's Ferry. The present site of the engine house is not where it originally stood. It has been moved at least four times since the 1859 events.


The original site of the engine house, which became known as John Brown's Fort, is marked by the the obelisk above. The site was drastically changed when a section of railroad was constructed and graded to raise its elevation.


Near the original site of the fire engine house runs Hog Alley (shown above). It was here that free man of color and raider Dangerfield Newby was killed when hit with a projectile in the neck. Newby's body was first mutilated by townspeople and then left to be eaten by hogs. Thus the alley received its name.


Brown's trial was held at the Jefferson County courthouse (shown above). He was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.


Brown's last days were spent largely in the Jefferson County jail. Here, now the site of the town's post office, the chief raider received letters, visited with a both friends and enemies, and wrote to supporters of his abolitionist cause. 


On December 2, 1859, Brown was taken to the city's southern outskirts where a gallows stood, constructed for the occasion. At shortly before noon, and before witnesses such as John Wilkes Booth and Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Brown was hanged. His hanging made him a martyr in abolitionist circles. And then the  war came. It wouldn't be long before Union soldiers created the marching song known as "John Brown's Body."

If you travel to Jefferson County, West Virginia, be sure to stop by the Charles Town visitor's center and pick up a copy of their "John Brown's Trail" brochure, which give directions to all of the sites mentioned above.