Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Union Prisoners Captured in Grant's Second Petersburg Offensive

Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 25, 1864

Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 27, 1864

Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 27, 1864

Monday, March 18, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism

Few if any communities can claim the level of influence and the diverse associated personalities in the abolitionist movement that Oberlin, Ohio can. In Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism - College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America, author J. Brent Morris tells the fascinating story of this significant town and educational institution located in northern central Ohio.

Founded in 1833, as the abolitionist movement was gaining steam, Oberlin took its name from John Frederic Oberlin, a French cleric, who worked for social change is an isolated area of his country for over half a century before dying in 1826. Founders Philo Stewart and John Shipherd desired a veritable island of religious influence in what they viewed as a sea of western frontier inequity.

In 1834, the school received a boost in its student body numbers when Lane Theological Institute in Cincinnati dismissed a number of its students for discussing abolitionist ideas. Invited to come to Oberlin, the "Lane Rebels" agreed to attend if the school was open to black students and if free speech would be allowed and respected. Not only was Oberlin progressive in its acceptance of black students, they were also co-educational. Such a forward thinking school was virtually alone in its approach to offering learning opportunities to all. As one might imagine, the school and town that developed around it became a beacon for those like-minded individuals who believed that the immediate end of slavery was the only solution to America's great sin. And it was a target to those who despised abolitionism. Runaway slaves and free blacks made Oberlin home were they welcomed, and slave catchers monitored the town in search of their prey.

Morris follows the Oberlin story through the antebellum years and makes many connections to the anti-slavery politics of first, the Liberty Party, then the Free Soilers, and finally the Republican Party. Obies (as they were known) largely rejected both the Whig and Democrat Parties as at best, tools of the "slave power," and as at worst, direct proponents of antithetical ideas. Morris shares with readers the important parts that Obies such as Charles Grandison Finney, John Keep, James Thome, Asa Mahan, William Howard Day, brothers Charles and John Langston, James Monroe, Calvin Fairbank and others had on the abolitionist movement. Associated partners and supporters such as trustee Owen Brown (John Brown's father), Ohio congressman Joshua Giddings, and Salmon P. Chase all had important parts to play in Oberlin's effectiveness in its anti-slavery work and opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law. Other important events that Morris relates are the school and town's role in the Oberlin Wellington rescue of fugitive John Price in 1858 and John Copeland and Lewis Leary's involvement in the Harpers Ferry raid as two of John Brown's soldiers.

Although the book's focus is clearly on Oberlin's antebellum existence, Morris wisely uses the book's epilogue to briefly carry the Oberlin story though the Civil War, the end of the 19th century, and into the 20th century. Excellently researched and written in an engaging style, Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism reminds us that there were indeed black and white men and women who rejected the status quo in antebellum America race relations and who worked diligently for not only the end of slavery but also equality for all. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Embattled Freedom

While seemingly almost every aspect of the Civil War-Era has received a fair share of scholarly examination, one significant yet largely ignored facet is finally getting some much deserved attention. Until recently, outside of a handful of books and articles, a true gulf in scholarship existed on the experiences of those in the war’s slave refugee camps. Jim Downs’s book, Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford, 2012), which explores a specific thread of the camps helped. Chandra Manning’s recently published Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War (Knopf, 2016), which examines how the war’s fugitive slaves reworked emancipation as a Union war aim and then challenged the idea of who was to be considered a citizen in the war’s aftermath has helped fill this void, too. Now, with Amy Murrell Taylor’s new contribution to this growing body of study with her book, Embattled Freedom: Journeysthrough the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps, even more light is finding its way to this underexposed historical topic.
Referred to during the conflict as “contraband camps,” these often fluid and makeshift settlements popped up in almost every area where the Union military showed its might and held its ground for any length of time. Found in almost every seceded and border state by war’s end, the 300 or so refugee camps could be places of unbridled hope at some points, yet deadly discouraging and dangerous places at other times.

What largely separates Embattled Freedom from previous studies is that in it Murrell provides a more complete grounds-eye view into the everyday happenings of the slave refugee camps. As one would expect, the experiences varied greatly among the estimated 500,000 men, women, and children who fled slavery and who found varying degrees of freedom during the four years of the Civil War. Depending on where they were from, and thus where their refugee camp materialized; when they arrived; what they were able to bring with them, both materially and in skills; who they encountered, and thus those peoples’ attitudes toward African Americans; and what they were tasked to do for service with the United States military, refugees encountered a diversity of problems, opportunities, dangers, and dilemmas.

Murrell insightfully tackles many of these refugee camp issues by viewing them through the lens of three individual case studies. These three examples not only help the reader better understand the experiences of those particular refugees, but also helps show how perhaps the refugee camps may have differed due to geographical location, and most importantly gives us their experience from their perspective. Taylor skillfully weaves the book’s eight chapters around the personal stories of Edward and Emma Whitehurst, would-be shopkeepers in southeast Virginia; Eliza Bogan, an army laundress in Helena, Arkansas; and Gabriel Burdett, an aspiring minister at Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

The eight chapters of the book discuss those myriads of concerns experienced by the majority of refugee men, women, and children. In “Securing Work,” the author explains through the Whitehurst’s story that the challenges faced in transitioning from a forced labor system to ideally a monetary wage labor system, especially during time of war, was not always smooth. In “Finding Shelter,” we discover that locations allocated for refugees were the ones least desired by the military, and that finding relatively permanent shelter was a constant struggle for refugees. “Confronting Removal” examines the common occurrence of putting distance between soldiers and refugee communities, often due to perceived negative racial influences. “Facing Combat” shows the many ways that refugees contributed to slavery’s demise, both inside the Union military and out. “Battling Hunger” and “Clothing Bodies” also spell out other practical, yet life-threatening challenges faced by refugees, while finding ways of “Keeping Faith” and “Grappling with Loss,” although perhaps less tangible, were in many cases just as important for refugee survival.
With Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Refugee Camps, Taylor gives us the book that many of us have long been waiting for. Its particular approach to the subject matter, thorough research, and keen writing ensures that it will maintain a place in Civil War history for years to come as a source of better understanding the slave refugee camp experience.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

USCT Prisoners from the Battle of the Crater Listed as Runaways

Browsing through some editions of the Richmond Daily Dispatch while searching for information on Union prisoners captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I happened across the article above. It ran in the Saturday, August 27, 1864 issue.

As you can see, it offers a list of over 80 African American soldiers captured at the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864) who had served in Ferrero's (4th) Division of the IX Corps during the battle. As it explains, apparently these men were first sent to Danville and then transferred to Castle Thunder prison (pictured below) in Richmond.

During the fight, the USCTs sustained 1,327 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) out of 3,798 engaged, an almost 35% casualty rate. On July 31, 1864, those black soldiers and their white officers, as well as white Union soldiers who were captured in the fighting were marched through Petersburg's streets by order of Gen. A. P. Hill and held on Merchant's Island in the Appomattox River. They were then transferred by rail to Danville.

The men listed above came from the following brigades and regiments who fought at the Crater:
First Brigade -
27th USCI, 30th USCI, 39th USCI, 43rd USCI

Second Brigade -
19th USCI, 28th USCI, 23rd USCI, 29th USCI, 31st USCI

It is clear that the Confederates did not recognize black men as legitimate soldiers due to the fact that many, when captured during the fighting, were not given the of opportunity to surrender, but were killed outright attempting to surrender. Of those who were captured, some were used to bury the Confederate dead, some were detailed to work on Confederate fortifications at Petersburg, and as this article indicates, others were eventually advertised for their owners to come get them. Yet another indicator of Confederates' views of black soldiers is that the men were not listed with last names, as they all would obviously have had when they enlisted in the Union army.

Twenty lines down in the list of men is: "Peter, slave of R. L. Gordon of Orange, Va." This soldier is Peter Churchwell of Company H, 23rd USCI. Peter escaped from his owner Reuben Lindsay Gordon of Orange County, Virginia in 1862 and made his way to Washington City, where he worked for a couple of years as a coachman for a Mrs. Barber in Georgetown. Churchwell's service records (below) record him as enlisting as a substitute in Washington D.C. on July 13, 1864. He was captured 17 days later! What kind of military training could he have had in 17 days?

In Churchwell's pension records he explained what happened to him. "We next had the fight at Petersburg, Va., July 64 and in the charge on the Rebel works I was captured & put towards burying the dead soldiers on the battle field for 4 days, the prisoners, my self included were then taken under guard to Danville prison . . . I was kept there until Major Reuben Gordon, my old Master, heard I was in prison, and he came there and claimed me as his slave sold me to a Mr. Shedrick Lee, a slave dealer at Richmond, Va., and he sold me to Luke Powell as slave dealer who took me to Wilmington, N.C. I was there 8 days working in a shoe shop of Geo. French's store, then sold to Patrick Murphy who took me on his farm near Raleigh, N.C. and worked making boot shoes for him, he sold them. I worked for him for 6 months on his place. I ran away from him & came to Wilmington, N.C."

To corroborate this information, I located Reuben L. Gordon in the 1860 census. He is showing as a 40 year old farmer living with his wife Elizur and their seven children. Gordon owned $6696 in real estate and $11,300 in personal property.  Gordon owned 22 slaves who lived in five slave houses and ranged in age from 65 to 2 years old. One enslaved man, who is listed as 30 years old, is likely Peter Churchwell.

For more information on the USCT experience at the Battle of the Crater, I recommend the following sources:
"The Battle of the Crater" by Emmanuel Dabney in Blue & Gray, Vol. 30, no. 5 (2014).

A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Vol. 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater by A. Wilson Greene, UNC Press, 2018.

Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

Image of Castle Thunder courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Count me in for just about anything that William J. Cooper, Jr. is associated with. Along with John M. McCardell, Jr., Cooper co-edits In The Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American  Ideals, which includes ten essays by an all-star cast of the field's top historians. I'm ready to start turning pages on this one right now.

I've had Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens on my Amazon wish list for about ten years. Recently, when I came across a used copy in great condition at a nice low price, I jumped on it. I found many of Cozzens's previous works, especially those on the Stones River, Chickamauaga, and Chattanooga campaigns particularly impressive and I'm hoping this one will follow suit.

In the past few year's I've gained a much better understanding of the internal slave trade by reading biographies of slave traders and a number of excellent studies on the subject. I came across Broke by War: Letters of a Slave Trader, edited by Edmund L. Drago, while perusing the bibliography of another book I recently read. This collection of about 140 letters from slave trader A. J. McElveen to his boss, large Charleston, South Carolina trader Ziba B. Oakes, apparently gives significant information on the various aspects of the domestic slave trade. Being that I'm a primary source enthusiast, this should be a real eye-opening read.

I've tried to make a point of collecting the now many volumes on various Civil War campaigns edited by Gary Gallagher and published by the University of North Carolina press under the "Military Campaigns of the Civil War" series. He seems to always gather an excellent slate of historians to examine diverse aspects of these campaigns. Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign  appears to be the transition point where Gallagher hands things off to his former student Caroline Janney, as Janney was solely credited with the latest release, Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia. I read this volume a few years ago, enjoyed it, and I'm happy to add it to my Petersburg studies library.

As much as we might want to think about them only as fighters, Civil War combatants were indeed human. They had intimate desires that were sometimes fed by images and literature made prevalent by print technologies emerging at that time. Judith Giesberg's Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making American Morality looks at these issues and how they influenced post-war views of sex, marriage, and morals.

I think that Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment during the American Civil War is about the fourth book that I mined, and then purchased, from the thorough bibliography of Peter Carmichael's War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies. Editors David G. Orr, Matthew B. Reeves, and Clarence R. Geier provide essays that inform us through archaeological studies about how Civil War soldiers battled the elements, disease, and even boredom in their military encampments. Yet another one I can't wait to start into!

Kathy Simpson Smith's We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835, looks at the roles and responsibilities of black, white, and Indian women in Virginia, and North and South Carolina, and how motherhood provided them with a certain level of household power and a strong sense of worth in a male dominated world.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Just Finished Reading - The Good Lord Bird

From time to time I'll delve into a historical fiction book. I do it for entertainment value more so than for gaining knowledge. For me it is much like watching a "history movie." Similarly, I often read historical fiction to see how close it follows the actual history it is meant to reflect. When I suggested The Good Lord Bird by James McBride to our book club at work, I thought it might create some good discussion about John Brown, Bleeding Kansas, and the Harpers Ferry Raid. I'll find out on Sunday when we meet to discuss it.

The Good Lord Bird follows the story of Henry, a slave boy working in a Kansas Territory tavern with his enslaved father who is a barber. Their owner is Dutch Henry Sherman, a pro-slavery settler, who actually existed. In a twist of fate, John Brown visits the tavern and ends up in an argument with Dutch Henry and then kidnaps Henry, who Brown believes is a girl named Henrietta. Brown nicknames the boy he thinks is a girl "Little Onion," who decides to maintain his female identity to keep safe. Brown comes to see Onion as his good luck charm and keeps him/her close at hand through his adventures in attempting to thoroughly abolitionize Kansas for the Free State cause.

Onion is on tap for the Pottawatomie (McBride doesn't use that name for some reason) killings, which the story links to the Charles Sumner caning. I've never really believed that direct link existed, as the caning occurred on the afternoon on May 22, 1856 and the killings on the night of May 24 into the early hours of May 25. I have always has serious doubts that the news could have traveled from Washington D.C. to the remote area of Kansas where Brown was operating within 48 hours time. More likely Brown committed the act in retaliation for the sacking of Lawrence.

Onion also was at the Battle of Black Jack, which occurred on June 2, 1856. The youngster befriends Brown's simple son Frederick and is also at Osawatomie where Frederick is killed by pro-slavers. McBride places the lost fight at Osawatomie in 1857. It actually occurred in August 1856. Soon after, Onion gets separated from Brown and ends up in Pikesville, Missouri working at a brothel for a time before again being rescued by Brown and his riders. He/she goes with Brown on a fundraising trip visiting the east coast abolitionists to raise funds for Brown's planned raid on Harpers Ferry. At a stop in Rochester, New York to visit Frederick Douglass, McBride takes storytelling liberties and has Douglass attempting to take advantage of Onion after getting tipsy.

Like with Douglass, McBride works many of Brown's historical associates and enemies into his story. Included are Harriet Tubman, Hugh Forbes, Henry Clay Pate, free black Haywood (Hayward) Shepherd, and a number of the Harpers Ferry raiders, among others are worked into the tale. Some seem to be accurately portrayed, while others like Douglass do not fit the historical record of their personality. I suppose that is to be expected with a work of historical fiction.

Some of the place locations are off, too. For example, McBride puts Lewis Washington's plantation on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Onion survives the Harpers Ferry raid, visits Brown in the Charles Town jail early on the morning of his hanging, and then made his way to Philadelphia.

The book is definitely an entertaining read and provides an adventure story unlike many others. There is not a turn of phrase that McBride does not like or seemingly tried to incorporate in the book. It is clear that the author researched Brown's history fairly well in order to get the people and places included in the book, however, it is somewhat disappointing that McBride strayed as often as he did from what is a thrilling tale on its own without changing the documented facts. Regardless, I encourage those interested in John Brown and his important place in history to read it, if for nothing else than for an entertaining read.

What is the Good Lord Bird, you ask? Well, I won't spoil everything.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Runaway Slave Ad Linked Flight to Wilson-Kautz Raid

The other day, while I was searching for some Confederate newspaper accounts of Union prisoners captured during Grant's Fourth Offensive at Petersburg (August 18-25, 1864), I happened across the above advertisement in the August 28 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch.

As you can see it lists nine men and two women who were owned by an E. H. Stokes of Lunenburg County, Virginia. I found a few things about this ad quite interesting.

At first I was not able to locate E. H. Stokes in the 1860 census by using the name search feature on Ancestry.com. I figured he must have moved to Lunenburg County after 1860. So, in attempt to see if I could find more about him I conducted an internet search and found another runaway advertisement from 1855 posted in the Richmond Enquirer (see below).

The 1855 ad also states that Stokes was in Lunenburg County, so I determined to go page by page through the 1860 census for the entire county. Fortunately, it was only 120 pages long, so it didn't take too long to find him, but I did have to go to page 110 to track him down.

Edward H. Stokes is in the household of, I assume, his mother, Jane J. Stokes. Jane was 76 years old, Edward was 35. She is listed as a farmer, his occupation was trader. He claimed his real estate worth was $9000 and his personal property $25,815. Mother Jane had $1200 in real estate and $12,180 in personal property.

Edward H. Stokes's occupation of slave trader makes perfect sense since the 1864 runaway slave advertisement shows his slaves hailing from all across Virginia, and one from North Carolina, and one from Maryland. The 1855 ad is similar. One enslaved man is from Maryland and the other from Warrenton, Virginia. I also found Edward and Jane Stokes in the slave schedules. Edward owned 21 enslaved men, women, boys and girls, who ranged in age from 31 to 1 years old. Jane owned 11 enslaved people.

The Wilson-Kautz Raid kicked off on June 22 and ranged across Southside Virginia, attempting to wreck parts of three different railroads and their bridges in effort to hamper Confederate supply lines. Along the way, and as A. Wilson Greene so ably recounts in his recent A Campaign of Giants, Vol. 1, enslaved men and women like Jordan, Lewis, Joshua, Jack, Jim, William, Elijah, Sally, and Harriet flocked to the Union raiders during the 350 mile trek, which ended up costing the cavalry force over 1,400 casualties. At the end of the raid, on June 29, near where it started, at Reams Station on the Petersburg-Weldon Railroad line, Wade Hampton's and Fitzhugh Lee's Confederate troopers caught up with the raiders and recaptured a number of the supply wagons, some of the Union cavalrymen, and a number of the fugitive slaves. One wonders if Stokes's enslaved men and women were sadly among those reenslaved, or if they found their way to Union lines and freedom.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Nature's Civil War

People who haven't studied the Civil War much are often surprised to learn that two-thirds of the soldiers who died in the conflict died from diseases rather than from combat. They often assume that the terribly high figures for combat casualties mean that all those men died, rather than understanding that casualty numbers included wounded and captured or missing men, too. However, after reading Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier, one might wonder why more soldiers didn't die from diseases.

By incorporating a wealth of primary sources from a variety of perspectives, Meier examines the methods that soldiers utilized to battle the forces of nature, an enemy quite often as deadly as those human ones shooting at them.

As the subtitle suggests, Meier focuses her study on the Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1862. On the surface one might assume that the Valley offered a much healthier environment than the swampy Peninsula, but as the author explains both regions offered their own fair share of natural challenges that tested both Blue and Gray soldiers' ability to cope. In the Valley, rapid movements outpacing supplies and sudden changes in climate presented threats to soldiers' health. On the Peninsula, though operating at a slower pace, the large numbers of camping men in a relatively confined space and living in a less than ideal environment and exposed to water borne diseases made survival a roll of the dice. Again, how did more men not die?

Meier explains that soldiers incorporated self-care strategies developed from their pre-war upbringings and also suggested by their comrades. Much as Peter Carmichael explains in his recent book The War for the Common Soldier, Meier shows the pragmatism of the combatants. As she states "Exposure to environmental illness was compounded by supply problems, army regulations, camping, marching, and other aspects of soldiering that were not under the men's control but rather managed by commanders, officers, and medical personnel. It was to this official network of care that soldiers were supposed to turn to to prevent and treat their illness and melancholy." However most soldiers found the army's methods of treatment unsatisfactory. They therefore often took measures into their own hands.

One controversial means that men used to help preserve their health but that superiors disdained was straggling. Commanders often viewed straggling only through their perspective and not the soldier's. However, enlisted men and NCOs often utilized straggling as a coping mechanism. When feeling ill, whether overheated or footsore, straggling offered soldiers a brief respite to attempt to recover. When thirsty for good water soldiers straggled off for well water. When tired of salt pork and hardtack, soldiers straggled to find eggs, chickens or fresh beef. When their inadequate shelter failed, soldiers straggled to a church or barn for a warm, dry night's sleep.

The only complaint with the book that I had was that I wished it was longer. At 150 pages of main text this thought provoking book offers so much that so few students have previously considered. My interest was piqued by it and I wanted more. Nature's Civil War is a truly magnificent contribution to a recent reemergence of studies on the Civil War's common soldiers and is one I heartily recommend.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

10 Year Anniversary of Sharing My "Random Thoughts on History"

It is difficult to believe, but 10 years ago today, I jumped into the blogosphere with the idea of sharing my thoughts on various historical topics, but mostly related to the Civil War era. It all began when I lost my job due to repercussions from the economic recession of 2008-09. Being out of work, but actively looking for employment and reading voraciously still left me searching for ways to share my passion for the past. Interestingly, creating "Random Thoughts on History" proved to be a satisfying way to not only express my thinking, but also help develop my thinking.

Over the last 10 years I've made over 1,240 posts. As mentioned above, most have dealt with Civil War era topics. I've shared posts on my various research projects. In fact, within the last 10 years, I've had two articles published. A lot of those two articles appear in snippet form scattered across hundreds of posts made on this forum. During the last 10 years I've moved twice, once to Kentucky to work for the Kentucky Historical Society in May 2009, and six years later, my return to Petersburg, Virginia, and Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier for a second tour of duty. Both moves brought me into contact with new colleagues, new networking contacts, new historical topics, new historical sites, and new lines of thinking. I've tried to take advantage of these opportunities and also impart things here that I've learned along the way.

The rewards of sharing my "Random Thoughts on History" have come in many forms. Sharing books that I've read and that made an impact on me (and thus hopefully on my readers) has been very satisfying. Exposing readers to multiple perspectives on historical events has also been fulfilling. Likewise, bringing light to forgotten or largely ignored people, topics, and events is one of the things I am most proud of. However, on the handful of occasions on which it has happened, probably the most gratifying aspect of maintaining this blog is helping readers make historical connections, usually with their ancestors. My posts titled "Dying Far From Home" which illuminate the life stories of soldiers who died during the Civil War, have elicited a number of kind remarks from reader-researchers. If I am able to create a spark of interest in someone that encourages them to dig into the past in order to understand it better then my mission with these 1,240+ posts is being accomplished.

I have no plan to end sharing my "Random Thoughts on History" anytime soon. There are a number of research projects that I've been rolling around in my head and that will hopefully come to fruition. So, be on the lookout for a number of themed posts in the coming months.

Whether you've been reading "Random Thoughts" since its inception, joined in along the way, or if this is your first contact, I appreciate you taking the time to peruse the posts. And, as always, I welcome your comments on posts. I only request that comments be kept on topic, civil, and conducive to learning.

Happy Anniversary! Happy reading! 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Just Finished Reading - De Bow's Review

If one spends enough time reading antebellum Southern history, De Bow's Review will likely make its appearance at some point. The most studious of Southern history enthusiasts realize that this New Orleans-published monthly journal served as a significant voice for slave state boosterism. However, few know much about the man who founded this journal. 

In De Bow's Review: The Antebellum Vision of a New South, author John F. Kvach gives readers a fuller pictures of both De Bow's Review the journal and James Dunwoody Brownson (J. D. B.) De Bow, its founder. De Bow, born in 1820 in Charleston, and orphaned at a young age, loved learning. He read voraciously, and after saving enough money he studied at the College of Charleston, where he graduated as valedictorian.

He soon thereafter moved to New Orleans and started De Bow's Review. Mounting debts caused the journal's quick suspension, but re-infused with friends' funds and their encouragement, he started publication again in 1848. De Bow networked across the slave states promoting his vision of a South where rural plantations and urban industrial areas worked hand-in-hand to advance overall economic betterment of the slave states. He also encouraged the establishment of Southern libraries and centers of learning untainted by potential Northern negative influences. Much of his message was delivered as free as possible from political influence, promoting ideals of both Democrats and Whigs.

However, as the sectional crisis ramped up during the 1850s, De Bow and his publication became more caustic in its denunciation of the North, defensive of slavery as a beneficial labor system, and sectional separation as the ultimate solution for the South's future. De Bow's Review was a casualty of the Civil War. He stopped publication in late 1862, and only published one odd issue in 1864. During the war, De Bow became a purchasing agent of cotton for the Confederacy and continually traveled around the shrinking nation trying to boost home front morale and encourage commerce. After the war De Bow served as president of an upstart railroad company but died of peritonitis while visiting his sick brother in New Jersey in 1867. De Bow's body was sent south but where he ultimately rests in peace is not known. As Kvach states, "It was an ignominious end to a long, high-profile public life." Kvach though also claims that, "De Bow's ultimate legacy to the South proved to be his ability to construct and gather ideas that resonated with southern readers interested in improving their region." 

An additional bonus to the book is an appendix that lists almost 1500 individual subscribers to DeBow's Review that Kvach located through his thorough research. Included among the readers of De Bow's Review were a number of "who's who" of the antebellum South. Among the subscribers were: Edmund Ruffin (VA), Robert E. Lee (VA), Wade Hampton (SC), William Gilmore Simms (SC), Jefferson Davis (MS), Judah Benjamin (LA), Alexander Stephens (GA), Albert Pike (AR), William L. Yancey (AL). 

This book is a welcome addition to the field of Southern antebellum history. Its beneficial scholarship will be appreciated by students for many years to come. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

More Fripp Plantation Photographs

Yesterday, I shared a photograph from the Library of Congress website showing a slave dwelling from the Fripp plantation on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. At the time, I did not notice that more images were available. Some of the additional photographs indicate they were possibly taken on the Thomas James Fripp plantation.

In searching through the 1860 slave schedules I did not find a Thomas James Fripp listed among the listed Fripp slaveholders. However, I did find a Thomas B. Fripp and a J.T.E. Fripp, perhaps these photographs show the plantation of one of those. Regardless, these shots make for some intriguing images of plantation life.

The top image shows the Fripp big house. The home displays Italianate features and a long elevated porch. It also appears to have an English basement. Several of the white family members stand on the porch. One holds a young horse.

The next photograph shows five women. All hold babies and they are standing in a slave quarters street. Two of the women wear headwraps, while one of them wears a polk-a-dot dress.

The final image is also taken from the vantage of the slave quarters street. At least 21 individuals appear within the photograph's scope. One's sight is automatically drawn to the child in the foreground. He, or perhaps she, wears a long shirt. This type of garment was common for enslaved children until they came of age to wear pants or dresses. Like the middle image, a palm tree graces the street. A ladder rests against the cabin nearest the cameraman with two young men sitting on it. By the cabin's door an old man and old woman sit on a bench. What appears to be a long-handled hoe also rests against the cabin's front. In the background a woman and two girls sit on what looks like a large kettle of some kind. Maybe the large vessel was used for scalding hogs. A wood slab fence connects the two cabins and perhaps pinned in some chickens, a hog, or cow. Or maybe the fence protected a vegetable garden shared by the families who lived in the dwellings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

St. Helena Parish, South Carolina Slave Quarters

This amazing photograph originally appeared in a stereograph format. Its description on the Library of Congress website, taken from the back of the image, claims, "photograph shows Uncle July and his family in front of their home on the Fripp place." Also noted on its back is that it was taken on St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

Looking in the 1860 census, there are 12 slaveholding Fripps in St. Helena Parish in Beaufort District. Along with first families of South Carolina, like the Rhetts, Seabrooks, Capers, Barnwells, and Elliotts, the Fripps held large numbers of enslaved people.

Isaac Fripp owned 60 slaves, who lived in 28 slave dwellings.

J.E.L. Fripp owned 30 slaves residing in 16 slave houses.

John M. Fripp claimed 15 people, living in 6 houses.

James Fripp was master to 43 enslaved people who stayed in 13 slave dwellings.

Thomas B. Fripp owned 48 slaves who lived in 16 houses.

Capt. John Fripp owned 130 slaves who lived in an astounding 52 slave dwellings.

Ann F. Fripp owned 67 slaves. They made homes in 13 slave dwellings.

J.T.E. Fripp owned 84 slaves, who resided in 40 houses.

W.O.P. Fripp was master of 43 slaves, who lived in 14 dwellings.

Edgar Fripp owned 123 slaves, who lived in 38 slave houses.

William Fripp owned 325 slaves, who lived in 82 slave houses!

Alviro A. Fripp owned 13 slaves who resided in 5 slave dwellings.

Totaling all the Fripp families' slaves in St. Helena Parish makes for a tremendous amount of wealth being claimed in 981 enslaved people. These bondspeople lived in 323 dwellings. That averages out to a bit over 3 people per dwelling.

Viewing slave schedule census records like those from St. Helena Parish really shows the width and breadth of the peculiar institution's impact on the United States. The unnamed enslaved people indicated on those lists endured innumerable hardships before, during, and after the Civil War. But they and their descendants went on to become landowners, shop owners, run for political offices, demand their rights to citizenship and political, social, and economic equality. Let's remember that beyond Black History Month's end.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Faces of the Civil War Navies

With Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors, author Ronald S. Coddington adds another impressive work to his growing list of "Faces of" series. Previous albums of Union, Confederate, and African American faces, now combine those three categories by looking specially at their seamen.

Faces of the Civil War Navies covers 77 identified sailors, whose cartes de visites and tintypes have survived over the last 150 years or so.

During the war, around 100,000 men served in the navies of the Union and Confederate forces. Coddington selected 12 Confederates and 65 Union sailors (2 of which are African American) to profile. Officers predominate, making up 62 of the profiles, probably due to their photographs surviving in larger numbers. The remaining 15 profiles are of enlisted men.

In covering these men, Coddington tells not only their personal and military biographies, he also helps educate those of us who have quite a knowledge gap when it comes to Civil War navies about some of the most significant naval actions of the conflict.

His selected sailors come from a variety of backgrounds. However, it seemed, perhaps not so surprisingly, that many had New England roots. Some had significant pre-war experience as mariners while others came straight off the farm or transferred from the army.

A nice bonus to the book is the author's informative preface, which gives a thorough history of the cartes de visites (CDV) process and its place in early photography. The majority of the images that Coddington utilizes in Faces of the Civil War Navies are in the form of the CDV. Some of the profiles are longer than others due to the amount of located source material, but regardless, they are all interesting and informative. I highly recommend it and look forward to his next in line: Faces of Civil War Nurses.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

General Orders No. 143 - Bureau of Colored Troops Established


Washington, May 22, 1863

I . . A Bureau is established in the Adjutant General's Office for the record of all matters relating to the organization of Colored Troops. An officer will be assigned to the charge of the Bureau, with such number of clerks as may be designated by the Adjutant General.

II . . Three or more field officers will be detailed as Inspectors to supervise the organization of colored troops at such points as may be indicated by the War Department in the Northern and Western States.

III . . Boards will be convened at such posts as may be decided upon by the War Department to examine applicants for commissions to command colored troops, who, on application, to the Adjutant General may receive authority to present themselves to the board for examination.

IV . . No persons shall be allowed to recruit for colored troops except specially authorized by the War Department; and no such authority will be given to persons who have not been examined and passed by a board; nor will such authority be given any one person to raise more than one regiment.

V . . The reports of Boards will specify the grade of commission for which each candidate is fit, and authority to recruit will be given in accordance. Commissions will be issued from the Adjutant General's Office when the prescribed number of men is ready for muster into service.

VI . . Colored troops may be accepted by companies, to be afterwards consolidated in battalions and regiments by the Adjutant General. The regiments will be numbered seriatim, in order in which they are raised, the number to be determined by the Adjutant General. They will be designated: "-- Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops."

VII . . Recruiting stations and depots will be established by the Adjutant General as circumstances shall require, and officers will be detailed and inspect the troops.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Sgt. Alexander Heritage Newton

At Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier’s permanent exhibit, “Duty Called Me Here: The Experience of the Common Soldier in the American Civil War,” guests can chose a soldier comrade to help them explore the museum galleries. One of the thirteen choices available is African American soldier, Alexander Heritage Newton.

Born free on November 1, 1837, in New Bern, North Carolina, Newton grew up fully aware that although not enslaved, he lived as a second-class member of his town’s population. But also, having an enslaved father, he knew full well the additional burdens placed upon those who labored in bondage.

In his autobiography, Out of the Briars, originally published in 1910, Newton explains that he left his native slave state in 1857. Working as a cook aboard a schooner, he soon landed in New York City. There Newton reunited with his mother, who had preceded his arrival. In New York, Newton worked a variety of odd jobs, married, and became committed to his church, where he developed a keen sense of helping others. “I was convinced even then that it does not follow that because our skins are dark and that we are identified with the Negro race that there is no chance for us to become potent factors in the uplifting of humanity and especially my own people . . .” Newton wrote.

In 1861, although not allowed to formally enlist at that point in the war, Newton accompanied the 13th Brooklyn Infantry Regiment “to the front.” In what capacity Newton served the 13th is unknown, but perhaps he helped the unit with cooking as it was skill he had previously acquired. However, when the 13th received a transfer to New York to help quell the draft riots in 1863, Newton got caught up in the racial violence, but fortunately made his escape to New Haven, Connecticut.

On December 18, 1863, Newton enlisted in Company E of the 29th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, one of the few African American units allowed to keep its state designation rather than receive a United States Colored Infantry regimental number. Newton’s enlistment papers show he was just over 5’ 8” tall, with black hair, black eyes, and black complexion. His stated occupation was that of mason. The 26 year old Newton immediately received the rank of sergeant, and later received appointment to commissary sergeant.

The 29th Connecticut’s first assignment was in South Carolina, but in the summer of 1864 they transferred to the fighting raging around Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. On September 29, 1864, Newton participated in Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. “I, myself, feared, shook, and thought that my time had come. I was full of thoughts of my loved ones at home.  I knew that they were praying that I should be delivered from the jaws of death. This thought cheered and comforted me; and yet I saw friends falling around me, whose loved ones and friends, were also praying for them,” he explained.

Fortunately, Alexander Heritage Newton survived the war. After a transfer to Texas, he mustered out with the 29th Connecticut in November 1865. He returned to New Haven, became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serving in numerous congregations. Newton died in 1921 in Camden, New Jersey from heart ailments and rests there in Mount Peace Cemetery.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Pegram House

A couple of months ago I shared a brief post about the burning of the Albert W. Boisseau house in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, during Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Fifth Offensive at Petersburg. A near neighbor to the southeast of Boisseau was the plantation of John Pegram. Like the Boisseau home, its final fate was burned ruins. 

Shown above in a period sketch, this close up view indicates the house apparently stood as late as October 2, 1864. Perhaps it fell victim on October 7, as did the Boisseau home. Being between the belligerents' lines, its chances of survival were slim.

The uncertainty of where the armies decided to move to and entrench around Petersburg ensured the destruction of many citizens residences and their associated resources. Crops in all states of cultivation were ruined, farm animals that were not removed before the armies arrived were impressed or consumed, woodlots were denuded, and uncountable yards of earth relocated. All of these activities by the military forces left an indelible mark on the landscape.

After securing the ground that was the Pegram farm, the Federals dug in and created earthen fortified lines and positions. In the above woodcut image from November 5, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly, the burned ruins of the Pegram house stands to the right and the newly constructed Fort Welch occupies the right.

Comparing the Harper's Weekly close up image to the top sketch close up one notices the same locations of the chimneys. It seems the artists used the same angle to produce their images. Or, maybe, the ruins woodcut was based on the earlier house sketch.

The title of the Harper's Weekly woodcut states that it is "The late residence of the rebel colonel Pegram." However, the owner of the burned home was John Pegram. Perhaps Harper's Weekly confused John Pegram with either Confederate brigadier general John Pegram, or his younger brother, colonel Willie Pegram, who were relatives of this John Pegram.

Pegram is listed in the 1860 census as a "farmer," although planter would probably be a more appropriate occupation description, as he owned $10,000 in real estate and $51,000 in personal property. He was 75 years old at the time of the census and lived with his wife Martha (66), and apparently their children, Oscar (29), Octavia (17), and perhaps his sister Mary Jolly (75). John Pegram owned 44 enslaved individuals who ranged in age from 1 to 55. These people lived in 6 slave dwellings. 

Today, nothing visible survives of the Pegram homestead other than a small family cemetery. However, Fort Welch's earthen walls still stand, reminding us of the high costs of war on civilians as well as on those who served in the military.

Pegram House sketch courtesy of the New York Historical Society.
Harper's Weekly image in the public domain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County

The 1831 Nat Turner rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, is an episode in U.S. history that has received its fair share of scholarship since it happened. Still many misconceptions remain.

In what in my opinion is the most thoroughly researched work yet on this subject, David F. Allmendinger, Jr.'s Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County draws upon both public and private documentation previously unexamined. By looking closely at the family histories and their county tax records, Allmendinger convincingly contends that Turner's enslaved experience created a sense of hopelessness of ever getting out from under its control. Thus, he conceived a plan and acted to end it.

Chapter Two's second paragraph is so well written, and clearly put I can't help but share it in full: "Their exceptional slave [Turner] could not have forgotten them [owners]. From his seventh or eighth year onward, they had passed him down a line of willing heirs and beneficiaries, assigning him as personal property in almost every conceivable way: the Turners had lent him, given him as patrimony, and conveyed him by will; the others had sold or transferred him, hired him out, and held him in trust. Whenever a vital event had taken place--a marriage, a death, or remarriage--his masters had been given an opportunity to consider anew his future, and at every such opportunity they had kept him in their holdings. Their decisions about dowries and patrimonies, gifts, and loans, transfers and exchanges had determined the course of his life." This inability to control one's destiny when combined in the mind of an exceptional human being made for a volatile mixture. Turner's own experience showed him that white people were unwilling to consider black people as anything other than valuable property. Too valuable to emancipate.

One popular misunderstanding is that in the wake of Turner's rebellion owners retaliated by killing hundreds of their slaves. Allmendinger does an exceptional job of explaining how this myth seemed to originate and then compared the Southampton tax records before the event and after the event to show that about 54 slaves in the county perished from all causes during and after the uprising.

In addition, the author's look into attorney Thomas R. Gray's personal history and his writing and publishing of "Nat Turner's Confessions" provides significant insight into this important but probably flawed primary source.

Lastly, the appendices are a true bonus to an excellent book. They offer readers ready references to a roster of the insurgents, a list of the 55 white victims and where they were killed, and yet more information on the use of tax rolls and the perceived atrocities in the wake of the rebellion.

While the depth of the author's research and detailed analysis may be a bit off-putting to casual readers who might get lost in family history details, to a student serious in understanding the Nat Turner affair, this book is second to none. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Finding Your Roots - Freedom Tales

I usually don't make it a point to promote history-related television shows or movies on " Random Thoughts," but when I do see something that I find beneficial and well produced, I feel a certain obligation to share it with as many people as possible.

Last night's episode of the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. featured NFL hall of famer Michael Strahan and popular actress S. Epatha Merkerson. In this episode, titled "Freedom Tales," Gates helped dig up the East Texas roots of Strahan and the fascinating story of  Merkerson's family ties to Georgetown College's sale of 272 slaves in 1838.

In one short segment of the show Gates shared with Merkerson what appeared to be a period account describing the living conditions of Maryland's enslaved people. It told of the slaves' bedding and how it looked terribly uncomfortable. The part that really caught my attention was the phrase that went something like this: "A custom softens things." I couldn't help but extend that thought about the bedding of the enslaved to the peculiar institution and other oppressive social practices at large. 

To those that practiced slavery, it likely stuck them at a young age that something seemed wrong about holding another person as property. But over time, and with through the acceptance of society at large, its harshness became "softened." The same goes with prejudice, discrimination, and bullying. 

Why do we celebrate the achievements of people like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, not only during February's Black History Month, but also year round? Why? Because they selflessly challenged and acted against institutionalized customs that had softened our country's promised freedoms over time. The next time you have the opportunity to fight against "softening," don't miss the chance to act.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Reading the actual experiences of soldiers, from their own pens, was once quite challenging. Access to collections of letters, journals, and diaries used to be limited due to their being held in private collections and protected in archives. But over the last twenty five years or so numerous collections have made it into print. Dear Friends at Home: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Sergeant Charles T. Bowen is widely regarded as offering excellent insight into the life of a common Union soldier in the the eastern theater.  The only problem with Dear Friends at Home is its own limited availability. It was published by Butternut and Blue Press, which is no longer in active business. However, they do still take orders on the books that they happen to have in stock. I was fortunate to grab a copy of Dear Friends at Home a couple of weeks ago. I'm looking forward to getting into this 600+ page collection.

Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front by J. Matthew Gallman provides a cultural history of the North during the tragic conflict. The author examines forms of popular culture to see how and who Unionists viewed as patriot citizens and how they saw those who were perhaps less committed to the cause. I've read several of Gallman's books and essays about the Northern home front and have found them well researched and thought provoking. I'm sure Defining Duty in the Civil War will follow the path of his other fine studies.

The series of Lincoln books published by Southern Illinois University Press offer readers concise studies on various aspects of the 16th president. One of the most recent, Lincoln and the Abolitionists, by noted abolitionist historian Stanley Harrold, covers the push and pull relationship between the often politically cautious Lincoln and those black, white, men and women individuals who were viewed as some of the most socially radical people of their age. It was the abolitionists who largely helped the conservative Lincoln evolve in his thinking on race, emancipation, and the possibility of black suffrage. I'm interested in getting Harrold's interpretation on these issues.

The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha is a book that I've had on my "wish list" since its publication a few years ago. This almost 800 page history looks to be the most thorough treatment on the subject yet.

Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War by Kristopher A. Teters appears to challenge some of the interpretations of a few rather recent studies such as Chandra Manning's What this Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery and the Civil War. Teters argues that emancipation in the western theater was carried out due to military necessity and for much more pragmatic reasons rather than the evolving moral and idealistic ones that some other scholars have purported. Civil War Talk Radio recently had Teters on the show to discuss this important historical episode and his book. Check out both the show and the book. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Braxton Bragg

In the balanced treatment that is Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated man of the Confederacy, author Earl J. Hess, humanizes this normally vilified Confederate general while at the same time points out his many shortcomings. Too often in past scholarship, Bragg's lack of ultimate success, often irascible personality, yet long-term career as the leader of the Army of Tennessee (AOT) has clouded the complete character of the man.

Hess rightly goes heavy on evidence versus hearsay in this book pointing out that long-told stories of Bragg such as the time he countermanded his own order while serving in the Mexican-American War often do not hold up to the scrutiny of solid documentation. Many of Bragg's personality conflict dust-ups with subordinates such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, John C. Breckinridge, and Leonidas Polk get similar coverage from Hess with various results depending on the incident examined. Most of these disagreements came from perhaps Bragg holding others to his high personal standards, particularly when it came to self-discipline.

While reading this book I couldn't help but compare Bragg's (AOT) career with that of a coach who maybe had too much early success, received a job on a team that he was not quite ready for, failed to take into consideration others' personalities and perspectives, continued in the job longer than they should have, and ultimately endured a hard fail-fall. Bragg did himself few favors with his unyielding pursuit of disciple and perception as a hard-cord disciplinarian, both of which developed into a unfavorable reputation with folks on the home front and in the press. However, to a few select friends and close family members he was anything but the image that has devolved to us in history.

Hess also rightly claims that many of Bragg's battlefield actions were initially tactical successes. Good early showings at Perryville, the first day at Stones River, and Chickamauga demonstrate his offensive ability and desire to initiate action. However, often due to particular subordinates' unwillingness to cooperate (cough-Polk, cough Breckinridge), or Jefferson Davis not choosing a superior to demand coordination (Kirby Smith at Perryville), Bragg's best intentions, efforts, and talents never much succeeded in shining though. Even with the successful field results at Chickamauga, Bragg was disgusted that that victory ultimately proved hollow for the Confederate cause.

With this fair look into the life and military career of Braxton Bragg, Hess has provided us with a thought-provoking books about a man that was more complicated than we often give him credit for being. The last sentence of the work is quite fitting: "Bragg was a fascinating mixture of good and bad qualities; his impact on Confederate history was enormous, and we are still grappling with it." I would not be surprised if this study seeds future books reexamining many of those generals who have often received less than favorable historical reputations. I highly recommend it!