Sunday, June 6, 2021

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


With a steep increase in work responsibilities, which in turn impacted my level of physical and mental energy, my reading pace slowed significantly this past month and a half. That is also probably evident from the fewer number of posts. Not being able to read as many books slowed my purchasing, too. However, I was still able to pick up three titles recently to add to my personal library.

I found William Barney's The Making of a Confederate: Walter Lenoir's Civil War (2007) a fantastic read, so when saw he had a new release Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy, I added it to my wishlist last year. It is now being offered on the secondary book market at a very reasonable price, so I snatched up a copy. I'm always interested in seeing how historians cover the secession crisis, and although that event has received significant attention in the last decade or so, new sources and interpretations continue to emerge that give us a clearer understanding of that pivotal moment in American history. I look forward to reading Professor Barney's take.

  


One of things that I enjoy most about leading a Civil War roundtable is being able to meet the historians that I line up as speakers. Our roundtable normally purchases several copies of the speakers' books to sell to our members and attendees. Dr. Christian B. Keller, who teaches at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was the May 2021 speaker for the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable. Although a last minute schedule conflict prevented Keller from making an in-person appearance, I thoroughly enjoyed his talk about his recently published book, The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy. Being intrigued with the talk, I purchased a copy. I'm sure reading it will benefit my knowledge of these two men and their working relationship.

  


A 2021 book that is getting quite a bit of coverage is Joshua D. Rothman's The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America. Rothman's work focuses heavily on the partnership of Isaac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard, who formed what was probably the largest and most powerful domestic slave trading firm in antebellum America. These men helped transform the South by moving thousands of enslaved people from Upper-South states to locations in the "Cotton Kingdom." and thus helped create a society that led to war when the "peculiar institution" became threatened. If this book is anything like Rothman's previous study, Flush Time and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (2012), I'll certainly be satisfied and a better person for reading it.   

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Corp. James Gray, Co. E, 4th USCI



Tomorrow is Memorial Day, so I thought I'd share some information I was able to locate on another USCT soldier who is buried in a local cemetery. 

Although evidence is limited, James Gray may have been a free man of color before enlisting. The 1850 census shows an eight-year old James Gray living in Calvert County, Maryland, which is southeast of Washington D.C., Corp. Gray's place of birth according to his service records. In the census, that Gray is in the household of Levin Harrison, a white man and Caroline Gray, an African American woman. James Gray, listed as a "mulatto," was likely the son of the mixed-race couple. Also in the household is four-year old brother Ben, described as "mulatto," too.

Whether free or enslaved before enlisting, Gray worked as a waiter before joining Company E, 4th United States Colored Infantry. The young man stood almost five feet, nine inches tall and enlisted on July 28, 1863, in Baltimore. During the winter of 1864, Gray received a promotion to corporal. 

Gray's time in uniform proved short. Less than a year after enlisting, he received a wound on June 15, 1864. It is not know known whether Gray suffered his wound at Baylor's Farm early that morning or in the attacks on the Dimmock Line later that evening. Taken to the field hospital back at City Point, Gray succumbed to his wounds three days later. 

Today, Corp. Gary rests in peace in City Point National Cemetery. His rather nondescript headstone only indicates he served in the United States Colored Troops. It does not let us know his rank, when he died, or what was his cause of death. To find those details, one has to do a little research. But, it is certainly worth the time and effort to do so in order to show a small measure of gratitude and to acknowledge Corporal Gary's sacrifice. Rest in peace.

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Sgt. Harrison Snead, Co. I, 36th USCI


With Memorial Day approaching, over the next few days, I thought I'd share a few photographs of Civil War soldiers buried in national cemeteries around the Petersburg area. Today's post is about Sgt. Harrison Snead. 

Snead, apparently born enslaved in Baltimore, Maryland, enlisted in Company I, 36th USCI in Portsmouth, Virginia, on September 17, 1863. Lt. James Backup, the subject of my last post, served as Snead's enlisting officer. The 20-year old Snead was a baker prior to enlisting. 

Promoted to sergeant, young Snead assumed some important responsibilities within the company. The enlisted men looked to their non-commissioned officers to learn the basics of soldier life, but it must have been a challenge when everyone was relatively new to army life.

Snead's youthful life was cut short while serving in the trenches of Petersburg on August 20, 1864. No details are provided in his service records about whether he was killed by a sniper's bullet or an exploding shell. Buried originally "near Petersburg," Snead was later reinterred in Poplar Grove Cemetery, where he rests in peace today in grave number 4465. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

"Displayed the Greatest Courage:” Lt. James B. Backup, Co. I, 36th USCI


Too often, when viewing battlefield maps, we forget that the blue and red blocks intended to represent the participating regiments, brigades, and divisions, were actually real living, breathing, thinking, and feeling people. Like us they had good days and bad days, hopes, aspirations, and frustrations. After victories morale soared, after setbacks or bad news it plummeted. Reading the soldiers' letters and viewing their photographs helps give us a more thorough appreciation for the human side of the Civil War.

Almost three million men served in the Union and Confederate armies during our nation’s greatest struggle. Historians estimate that about 750,000 soldiers died in the four year conflict, while hundreds of thousands more received wounds that ranged from minor to severely debilitating. However, many amazing medical recovery stories emerge from the ranks of the Blue and the Gray. One of those stories belongs to Capt. James B. Backup of the 36th United States Colored Infantry.

The son of Scottish immigrant parents, James B. Backup was born in September 1844. The 1860 census shows the 15 year-old living with his brother, 12 year-old William, in the household of James’s sister Jane, and her husband William Spear in Boston, Massachusetts. The census gives James’s occupation as clerk, the same as William Spear’s.

James originally served in Company B of the 39th Massachusetts. However, he received promotion to 2nd lieutenant in a company of the 36th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) on February 29, 1864. The 36th began its service as the 2nd North Carolina Colored Infantry before being designated a USCI regiment. Many of the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers of the unit came from northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia.

Backup received his 1st lieutenant’s commission on April 26, 1864. It was in this position when Backup and the 36th, as part of Col. Alonzo Draper’s Brigade of the 3rd Division of the XVIII Corps, received orders to attack the Confederate fortifications along New Market Heights, just southeast of Richmond. September 29, 1864 was a day that Backup would long remember.

Col. Draper’s after action report states that the 20 year-old Lt. Backup was excused from the battle “for lameness, one leg being partially shrunk so that he could walk but short distances.” However, Backup courageously “volunteered, hobbled as far as the swamp, and was shot through the breast.” Backup’s service records show that he received a minie ball wound to the left chest that exited his body at the shoulder blade. Retrieved from the battlefield, Backup received medical attention and then the army sent him home to hopefully recover. Promoted to captain on October 21, 1864, Backup never returned to duty. He received a physical disability discharge from the army on January 23, 1865. The African American soldiers of the 36th that Backup helped lead that fateful day also exhibited extreme bravery; two of whom received the Medal of Honor: Cpl. Miles James and Pvt. James Gardiner.

Amazingly, Backup apparently lived a rather full life after his severe wounding. He shows up in the 1880, 1890, and 1910 censuses working as a mail carrier and raising a family in Boston. Backup’s pension index states that he died August 10, 1911.

Image courtesy of Pamplin Historical Park.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Dying Far From Home - Sgt. Richard Servant, Co. D, 6th USCI


 

Although our soldier-focused articles are often titled “Dying Far From Home,” this one may be somewhat mislabeled. Sgt. Richard Servant’s compiled military service records indicates that he was born at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He died on November 6, 1864, at Balfour Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, from a wound or wounds received at the Battle of New Market Heights. If indeed, Sgt. Servant was born at Fort Monroe, he died just a short boat ride away from the scene of his nativity. One wonders if he pondered such thoughts as he lay in his hospital bed attempting to recover.

Richard Servant was apparently born around 1839. As stated above, his place of birth is noted as Fort Monroe. Somehow, someway, Servant ended up in Philadelphia where he enlisted in Company D, 6th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) on August 10, 1863. A search through the 1860 census did not locate Servant, so it is unclear whether he was a recent arrival to the “City of Brotherly Love,” or if he had been there for quite some time. It is also unknown whether he was enslaved or a free man of color before enlisting.

The 24-year old new recruit and former “laborer” stood five feet, eight inches tall, and was described as having a “black” complexion. He must have impressed his white officers at Camp William Penn, because within three weeks of his enlistment he received appointment as a sergeant in the company.



Capt. John McMurray led Company D. McMurray left a memoir, written in 1916, titled Recollections of a Colored Troop, which gives keen insight into the terrible damage inflicted upon his company and how they responded with amazing acts of courage at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864.

Following the 4th USCI, who led the attack, the 6th USCI immediately took heavy casualties when they reached lines of abatis, which accomplished its intended work of slowing the assault. However, as McMurray recalled, they “pressed on toward the enemy’s line, picking our way through the slashing as best we could. It was slow work and every step in our advance exposed us to the murderous fire of the enemy.”

At one point in the attack McMurray remembered: “When about half way through the slashing I came to a large oak tree that had been felled. At the same time three or four members of our color guard came to the same spot. We were close by the stump of the tree, and the way forward was through an opening between the trunk of the tree and its stump, less than three feet wide. Involuntarily, almost, I paused to let the colors go ahead of me. I followed close after, and just when the last one of the men, carrying one of our flags—we had three—was right in the opening between the stump and the tree trunk, he was shot through the breast, and fell back against me, almost knocking me over. The loss of his life there absolutely saved mine.”



The toll on the 6th USCI was high, and particularly so for Company D. Falling back, “As we soon as we passed over the hill a sufficient distance to be protected from the rebel shells, we began to reform the regiment, as the men were all mixed up. As I could find but three of my company it did not take me very long to form them in line, and I turned to assist in getting the men of other companies in line,” said McMurray.   

It unknown when during the attack Sgt. Servant received his wound or wounds. And his service records do not specify where on his body they struck. Removed from the field and transported by hospital steamer, he ended up receiving care at Balfour Hospital in Portsmouth. He survived for what were likely five excruciating weeks before he finally succumbed.  

Today, Sgt. Richard Servant rests in grave number 4419 in Hampton National Cemetery with scores of USCT comrades, only a couple of miles away from where he entered life. All honor to you Sgt. Servant for your service and sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


As I often do, I am kicking off a new month's set of posts with recent additions to my personal library. This month's crop of books includes some brand new titles, while others have been hanging out for a while on my "wishlist."

The newest release in this group is James P. Byrd's A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War. This is yet another study that makes one wonder why didn't someone think to write this specific topic earlier. Yes, there are a number of books about religion and how certain religious denomination weathered the Civil War, but I'm not aware of many (if any) that deal specially with the Bible and the Civil War. This should be a fascinating read!



In a somewhat similar vein to the above title, Luke Harlow's Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880, is a book that I've been wanting to read for several years now. My fondness of Kentucky history has not diminished since leaving there in 2015. I found Anne Marshall's book Creating a Confederate Kentucky to be such a compelling read. And this book appears to branch off of Marshall's and show how religion and slavery shaped the state's response to emancipation and its post-war alignment with Lost Cause.   



I've mentioned on here before how I am trying to find just about everything I can get my hands on related to the Battle of New Market Heights and the United States Colored Troops who fought there. Recently I became aware of The Colors of Dignity: Memoirs of Civil War Brigadier General Giles Waldo Shurtleff, edited by Catherine Durant Voorhees. Memoirs always need to approached with a degree of caution due to time lag between when the events being described happened and when they are being written about. However, memoirs can also provide invaluable insights and should be judged after reading them and not before. At the battle of New Market Heights, Shurtleff served as lieutenant colonel of the 5th United States Colored Infantry. Raised primarily in Ohio, and formerly known as the 127th Ohio, this regiment saw significant action around Petersburg and Richmond. I'm eager to read how he remembered his service and the men he fought with.



There are certain historian authors that I particularly enjoy reading. Brian Steel Wills is one of many for me. Wills has covered a diverse array of topics and personalities during his career. One of those people is someone I know little about--although he is the subject of several biographical studies. Wills' Confederate General William Dorsey Pender: The Hope of Glory will hopefully provide me with a much richer understanding of this young general's personality and his life. I've encountered Pender's voluminous wartime correspondence with his wife while reading other books, but I'm looking forward to reading those references within the context of his life story. 

 


I often have people comment to me about my eclectic reading within the field of Civil War-era studies. I am guilty as charged. I don't seem to have just one niche interest in Civil War studies. When I come across mentions of books like Brandi Clay Brimmer's Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation South, there is a strong sense of curiosity and something in me that wants to know about it. Reading books concerning the struggles of USCT soldiers to obtain pensions for their service after the war makes me wonder how even more difficult it must have been for their widows, who perhaps did not have the immediate connections of comrades and white officers that their soldier husbands did. I'm fascinated to learn more!



The 1863 months following the Battle of Gettysburg are traditionally the least studied in the the histories of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. However, historian Jeffrey William Hunt is currently making that period a definite focus of his research and writing. To go along with his previously published book, Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station, which appeared in 2018, now available is, Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station: The Army of the Potomac's First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly's Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863. This book will go a long way toward filling yet another "pot-hole" of my knowledge and will hopefully help me better understand the months leading into the Overland Campaign.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Civil War Soldier Pastimes

 


In our modern era of high-tech devices and rapid transit, many citizens are now seeking ways to pass the time while also attempting to mitigate the effects of the present pandemic. Some people are using their personal computers for school work and to reconnect with old friends, while others are discovering new low-tech hobbies now that imposed contact limits and travel restrictions require making significant adjustments to previously normal routines.

Civil War soldiers had their challenges with “down time,” too. When we think about the Civil War, we tend to focus our thoughts on the bloody battles fought from 1861-1865. However, the conflict’s battles, skirmishes, and engagements made up only a small proportion of a soldier’s experience. The fighting men (and some women) spent much more time in moving from place to place and in their encampments. And, while soldiers certainly had both military and personal responsibilities to preform while in those situations, they still looked to fight boredom and monotony in many different ways.

A favorite diversion among soldiers was various games. Games helped some soldiers take their mind off of the constant threats to their health, and the burden of worrying about those back at home, at least for a little while.

Soldiers preferred games that were easy to carry, like dominos, cards, and dice. Games that could be fashioned from readily accessible materials were also favored. For example, it did not take much time or effort to craft a set of checkers and draw a checkerboard on the back side of a rubber blanket or canvas shelter half to have some fun.

Athletic contests and games of skill, like foot races, wrestling and boxing matches, and pitching quoits or horseshoes, brought a level of satisfaction to those who performed well, just as our sports do today. Developed before the war, baseball rose in popularity due to its spread among soldiers during the war. Like many other period games, soldiers constructed a bat and a ball from nearby materials, explained the rules, and a grand time usually followed.

Some soldiers used part of their “free time” to read, or learn to read. The range of reading materials available to fighting men ran from Bibles and religious tracts to dime novels and newspapers. Soldiers were also prolific writers. Since the mail system was the only means of communication with loved ones back on the home front, soldiers both wrote and often requested news from home.

During our present national trial, we can look to history not only for answers to the big questions on policy, but also for ideas on how to maintain a necessary healthy balance in our everyday lives. Game on!


Monday, April 26, 2021

The Black Regiment by George Henry Boker


The Black Regiment

by George Henry Boker


Dark as the clouds of even,

Ranked in the western heaven,

Waiting the breath that lifts

All the dread mass, and drifts

Tempest and falling brand

Over a ruined land; - 

So still and orderly, 

Arm to arm, knee to knee,

Waiting the great event, 

Stands the Black Regiment.


Down the long dusky line

Teeth gleam and eye ball shine;

And the bright bayonet,

Bristling and firmly set,

Flashed with a purpose grand,

Long ere the sharp command 

Of the fierce rolling drum

Told them the time had come,

Told them what work was sent

For the Black Regiment


"Now," the flag-sergeant cried,

"Though death and hell betide,"

Let the whole nation see

If we are fit to be

Free in this land; or bound

Down, like the whining hound,-

Bound with red stripes of pain

In our old chains again!"

Oh, what a shout there went

From the Black Regiment


"Charge!" Trump and drum awoke,

Onward the bondman broke;

Bayonet and sabre stroke

Vainly opposed their rush.

Though in the wild battle's crush,

With but one thought aflush,

Driving their lords like chaff,

In the guns' mouths they laugh;

Or at the slippery brands

Leaping with open hands,

Down they tear man and horse,

Down in their awful course;

Tramping with bloody heel

Over the crashing steel,

All their forward bent,

Rushed the Black Regiment.


"Freedom!"-Their battle-cry--

"Freedom! or leave to die"

Ah! And they meant the word,

Not as with us 'tis heard,

Not a mere party shout:

They gave their spirits out;

Trusted the end to God,

And on the gory sod

Rolled in triumphant blood.


Glad to strike one free blow,

Whether for weal or woe;

Glad to breath one free breath,

Though on the lips of death.

Praying--alas!, in vain--   

That they may fall again,

So they could once more see

That burst to liberty!

This was what "freedom" lent

To this Black Regiment


Hundreds and hundreds fell;

But they are resting well;

Scourges and shackles strong

Never shall do them wrong.


Oh, to the living few,

Soldiers be just and true!

Hail them as comrades tried;

Fight with them side by side;

Never, in the field or tent,

Scorn the Black Regiment.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Negro Quarters, Army of the James


This woodcut image of winter quarters belonging to USCT soldiers in the Army of the James appeared in the February 25, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly. It appears to offer a similar look as those in the winter camp scene photograph I examined recently. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Negro on the Fence


Before African Americans were allowed to enlist in the Union army, a sentiment among whites prevailed in the free states that the service of black men was not wanted or needed. Much of that attitude came from their mistaken race-based belief that African Americans would not hold up under the rigors of soldier life and that they did not have the courage for combat situations.

However, others did not understand why the United States government did not take advantage of this additional reserve of manpower much sooner than they did. One of these folks probably wrote "The Negro on the Fence." I came across this parable in the very well researched and written book, Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive-Slave Haven in the Wary North by Jim Remsen. He credits it to the Pittston (PA) Gazette and published in April 1863. 

The Negro on the Fence

 

Harken to what I now relate,

And on the moral meditate.

 

A wagoner with grist for mill,

Was stalled at bottom of a hill;

A brawny negro passed that way,

So stout he might a lion slay.

 

“I’ll put my shoulder to the wheels

It you’ll bestir your horse’s heels!”

So said the African, and made

As if to render timely aid.

 

“No,” cried the wagoner, “stand back!

I’ll take no help from one that’s black!”

And to the negro’s great surprise

Flourished his whip before his eyes.

 

Our “darkey” quick “skedaddled” thence,

And sat upon a wayside fence.

 

Then went the wagoner to work,

And lashed his horsed to a jerk;

But all his efforts were in vain

With shout, and oath, and whip, and rein.

 

The wheels budged not a single inch,

And tighter grew the wagoner’s pinch.

 

Directly there came by a child,

With toiling step and vision wild;

“Father,” said she with hunger dread,

“We famish for the want of bread.”

 

Then spoke the negro: “If you will,

I’ll help your horses to the mill.”

 

The wagoner in grievous plight,

Now swore and raved with all his might,

Because the negro was not white;

And plainly ordered him to go

To a certain place that’s down below.

 

Then rushing came the wagoner’s wife,

To save her own and infant’s life,

By robbers was their homestead sacked,

And smoke and blood their pillage tracked.

 

Here stops our tale. When last observed,

The wagoner was still “conserved”

In mud at bottom of the hill,

But bent on getting to the mill.


And hard by, not a rod from thence,

The negro sat upon the fence.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Man Knows a Man


 Courtesy of Harper's Weekly, April 22, 1865

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Casualties for the 38th USCI at the Battle of New Market Heights


 

Some historians have argued that the Confederate defenders fell back from their position along New Market Heights after receiving orders to regroup nearer to Richmond. In fact, Richard J. Sommers in his book Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg on page 38 writes: "Far from overwhelming a determined foe, [Col. Alonzo] Draper [commanding the 5th, 36th, and 38th USCI regiments] in effect charged into a virtually abandoned position and simply chased off a small rear guard from a position already conceded to him." If the 5th, 36th, and 38th "in effect charged into a virtually abandoned position," who inflicted the high number of causalities on those regiments? The 38th United States Colored Infantry, the last of the brigade's three regiments to enter the fray, would have according to Sommers's reasoning, received few casualties, but in truth they suffered 21 men killed in action, 12 fatally wounded, and 75 wounded but survived. There had to be more than just a "weak rear guard of cavalry and infantry" left defending the earthworks firing the rounds and inflicting those serious causality numbers.   

Searching through the 38th USCI's soldiers' compiled service records, I was able to gather the following list of the men killed in action, fatally wounded, and those wounded who survived. I have included their rank, name, company, age at enlistment, place of birth, place of enlistment, and any additional information provided from their service records.

Killed in Action

Pvt. Moses Benjamin Armstrong, Co. D, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. Frank Cole, Co. C, 23, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Major Cole, Co. C, 36, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Powell Fountain, Co. C, 28, Prince George Co., VA; Princess Anne Co., VA

Corp. Thomas Gouldsburg, Co. F, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Milestown, MD

Sgt. John Grinnell, Co. E, 26, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Isaac Harris, Co. G, 25, Hanover Co., VA; Bermuda Hundred, VA

Corp. Samuel Harris, Co. E, 21, Toronto, Canada West; Portsmouth, VA

Pvt. Samuel Hopper, Co. C., 20, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Hillery Jerdan, Co. B, 22, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. James Lewis Martin, Co. D, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Clifton Factory, MD

Pvt. Nehemiah Merrick, Co. D, 28, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Plowden’s Wharf, MD

2nd Lt. William W. Moore, Co. C, 23, Ontario Co., NY; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. George C. Shorter, Co. F, 22, St. Mary’s County, MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Samuel Statesman, Co. B, 34, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. Toney Taylor, Co. D, 27, Greene Co., NC; New Bern, NC

Pvt. Samuel Thompson, Co. E, 20, St. Mary’s Co., MD; St. Mary’s Co., MD

Pvt. George Vine, Co. E, 24, Edgecombe Co., NC; Washington, D.C.

 Pvt. George Washington, Co. E, 18, Mathews Co., VA; New Market, VA

Pvt. Benjamin Willis, Co. D, 25, Craven Co., NC; New Bern, NC

Pvt. Ned Young, Co. B, 38, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Fatally Wounded

Pvt. Richard Armstrong, Co. A, 17, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; died 10-31-64 at Summit House Hospital (Philadelphia) from gunshot wound to right hand and complications of wound to right thigh which caused fracture of femur

Pvt. Lewis A. Ball, Co. G, 21, North Morristown, NC; Norfolk, VA; died 11-9-64 at Point of Rocks Hospital from gunshot wounds

Pvt. Pompey Cotton, Co. D, 24, Martin Co., NC; New Bern, NC; died 10-3-64 from gunshot wounds received in action that perforated right axilla, passed through thorax and perforated lung

Pvt. James Francis, Co. B, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Piney Point, MD; died 10-12-64 from gunshot wound to left eye

Pvt. John Henry Gough, Co. D, 20, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD; died 10-4-64 from gunshot wound to shoulder

Pvt. Thomas Gough, Co. F, 22, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD; died 10-17-64 from gunshot wound of right lung and amputation of right arm

Pvt. Robert Gross, Co. B, 20, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD; died 10-21-64 from gunshot wound to right thigh

Pvt. Thomas Gryce, Co. E, 23, Washington, NC; Washington, D.C.; died 3-21-65 from gunshot wound to right thigh resulting in amputation

Pvt. James Harris, Co. A, 18, Princess Anne Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; died 10-24-34 from gunshot wound to left knee

Pvt. John Miles, Co. B, 29, St. Mary’s County, MD; Great Mills, MD; died 12-11-64 from gunshot wound to right tibia

Pvt. Alexander Soil, Co. F, 24, Richmond, VA; Point Lookout, MA; died 10-10-64 from gunshot wound

Pvt. Jesse Williamson, Co. G, 20, Hertford Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; died 10-3-64 from gunshot wound in chest

Wounded Survived – Co. A

Pvt. Joshua Brocket, 46, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 3-28-65 from gunshot to left arm, amputation to lower third

Pvt. Jack Brown, 24, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. William Denna, 43, Princess Ann Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Wilson Fulford, 26, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Corp. Moses Massenburg, 26, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 5-13-65 from gunshot wound to right shoulder blade

Pvt. Samuel Mitchell, 35, Hertford Co., NC, Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 5-7-65 from gunshot wound of right shoulder

Pvt. James Owes, 27, Camden Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Sgt. Mathias Rogers, 22, Suffolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 4-1-65 from gunshot wound to right elbow joint

Pvt. Albert Slack, 44, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. John W. Smith, 24, Nansemond Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 6-27-65 from deafness the result of a gunshot fracture of the right temporal bone

Corp. George Walk, 38, Norfolk Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Moses White, 20, Hertford Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 5-13-65 from gunshot wound to both thighs

Pvt. Samuel White, 45, Princess Anne Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Owen Williams, 19, Princess Anne Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 5-27-65 from gunshot wound to face fracturing inferior maxilla (cheek) bones

Wounded Survived – Co. B

Pvt. David Bennett, 23, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. James Bisco, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mils, MD

Pvt. Guy Fenwick, 32, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. Cornelius Garner, 18, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. James H. Harris, 36, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD; Medal of Honor recipient

Pvt. Clement Hayden, 44, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Piney Point, MD

Pvt. Thomas Jones, 36, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Piney Point, MD; disability discharge 5-3-65

Pvt. William Morgan, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Piney Point, MD

Pvt. Jesse Styles, 26, Perquimans Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 1-22-66 from gunshot wound to left wrist

Wounded Survived – Co. C

Pvt. William Henry Barnes, 23, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Norfolk, VA; received the Medal of Honor

Pvt. Samuel Bright, 26, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Corp. Charles Ferrebee, 28, Currituck, Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 8-26-65 from loss of left arm by amputation two inches below elbow joint

Corp. Richard Godfrey, 18, Edenton, NC; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. John F. Gordon, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. John H. Holley, 18, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD; disability discharge 9-6-65 from loss of right leg by amputation

Pvt. Charles T. Jones, 22, Petersburg, VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 11-22-64 from gunshot to right thumb rendering necessary its amputation

Pvt. Robert Major, 23, Prince George Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Sgt. Henry Mercer, 23, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 7-3-65 from gunshot wound to left shoulder

Pvt. Alfred Perkins, 24, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Isaac Perkins, 23, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. Oliver Randall, 21, Prince George Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 12-12-65 from gunshot wound to right hand

Pvt. Carey Taylor, 20, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. William Tinsley, 25, Hanover Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Wounded Survived – Co. D

2nd Lt. Samuel B. Bancroft, 32, formerly of 117th New York Infantry and Sgt. 15th Invalid Corps, gunshot wound to the right hip. “He crawled forward on his hands and knees, waving his sword and calling on the men to follow.” Disability discharge 4-16-65

Sgt. Miles Butt, 21, Norfolk Co., VA; New Bern, NC

Pvt. John Dickerson, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. Benedict Dorsey, 25, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. James C. Dyson, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Plowden’s Wharf, MD

Pvt. James Ebb, 28, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD; disability discharge 6-18-65 for gunshot wound of right forearm fracturing radius

Pvt. Stephen James, 38, Craven Co., NC; New Bern, NC

Corp. John Leslie, 27, VA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 3-10-65 for compound fracture of left thigh causing shortening of limb to the extent of three inches and gunshot wound to finger of left hand

Corp. Richard Mills, 23, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Plowden’s Wharf, MD; disability discharge 6-15-65

Corp. Daniel Morgan, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. Dennis Thomas, 20, St. Mary’s Co., MD, St. Mary’s Co., MD

Wounded Survived – Co. E

Pvt. Frank Barnes, 19, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD

Pvt. James Barnes, 26, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Jeremiah Borum, 35, Middlesex Co., VA; New Market, VA

Pvt. William Forrest, 20, Matthews Co., VA; New Market, VA

Corp. March Hughes, 24, Camden Co., NC; New Bern, NC; disability discharge 6-29-65 from effects of a severe flesh wound. The ball entered over spine of left scapula and made its exit on right side of neck midway between head and shoulder

Pvt. William Jarvis, 20, Middlesex Co., VA; New Market, VA; disability discharge 7-18-65 from gunshot wound to left ankle

Pvt. John Olmstead, 20, Matthews Co., VA; New Market, VA

Pvt. Richard Preston, 21, Hampton, VA; Portsmouth, VA; disability discharge 9-6-65 from loss of left arm by amputation

Pvt. William Henry Roberts, 24, Isle of Wight Co., VA; Smithfield, VA

Pvt. Joseph Stars, 19, Hampton, VA; Norfolk, VA

Pvt. John Statesman, 19, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Sgt. Lewis Stone, 29, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Ignatius Summerville, 30, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD; disability discharge 4-27-65 from gunshot wound to left wrist joint and thumb and fingers of left hand

Wounded Survived – Co. F

Pvt. James L. Caceen, 35, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Jack Cooper, 22, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Milestown, MD

Pvt. Henry Curtis, 19, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardstown, MD

Pvt. George Hill, 23, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Milestown, MD

Pvt. James Matley, 19, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Leonardstown, MD

Pvt. Isaac Norfleet, 16, Chowan Co., NC; Norfolk, VA

2nd Lt. Joseph C. Richardson, 38, Chicopee, MA; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 3-9-65

Sgt. John Scott, 42, Leonardtown, MD; Leonardtown, MD

Pvt. Robert Swan, 26, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Point Lookout, MD

Pvt. Joseph Welling, 18, Southampton Co., VA; Norfolk, VA

Sgt. Daniel Wilson, 42, Currituck Co., NC; Norfolk, VA; disability discharge 10-13-65 from gunshot wound to face fracturing lower maxillary (jaw) bone making talking difficult and incapable of chewing food

Corp. James A. Wilson, 21, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Norfolk, VA

Wounded Survived – Co. G

Pvt. Levi Collins, 21, Nansemond Co., VA; Norfolk, VA; gunshot wound to left thigh/hip

Corp. John Garner, 39, St. Mary’s Co., MD; Great Mills, MD; disability discharge 7-11-66 from gunshot wound to right maxilla (lower jawbone) resulting in neuralgia

This list was not produced in attempt to sensationalize the pain these men suffered, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifices they were willing to endure to ensure the death of slavery, show themselves men worthy of citizenship and thus the guarantees of the Constitution, and to maintain the Union of the states. It is also hoped that this list will help descendants make connections with their ancestors. Courageously done 38th!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Missing in Action


 

Civil War battle casualty reports usually included those men who were killed, wounded, or missing. Of those categories, those soldiers who were missing were the most difficult to count. After a battle, company roll calls helped determine who had survived and who had not. However, those men who were missing could be absent for several different reasons:  they may have been taken prisoner, they might have used the confusion of battle to desert, they may have been killed and their death not witnessed by a surviving comrade, or their bodies may have been damaged beyond recognition.

In the collections of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is a carte de visite of Private Aaron Joseph. In the image he sits with his legs crossed, wearing his enlisted man’s frock coat and holding his cap, which sports crossed cannons and the number “2” for his regiment. The photographer’s backdrop shows a peaceful camp scene with rows of tents and the “Stars and Stripes” floating above.

Unfortunately, we do not know much about Aaron Joseph. However, it appears that he was not a soldier for very long. Joseph mustered into Company M of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery on December 10, 1864. He hailed from Greenwich, Connecticut. At that time the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery was fighting as infantry and was part of the VI Corps, encamped southwest of Petersburg. Their role at Petersburg was light in January and February 1865. However, they did come under fire on March 25, at the Battle of Jones Farm, and then, a few days later, they were on the far right (Hamblin’s Brigade, Wheaton’s Division) during the VI Corps’ attack on the morning of the April 2 Breakthrough.

The night before the assault on the Confederate earthworks, the commander of the 2nd, Colonel James Hubbard, made a speech to his company officers. “Gentlemen, we are going to have a hell of a fight at early daylight as General Grant has made up his mind to take Petersburg and Richmond tomorrow morning and I want you fellows to simply tell your first sergeants to have the men ready to march as I have suggested, at one o’clock a.m. Now you can go to your quarters and if any of you have anything to say to your folks, wives or sweethearts make your story short and get what sleep you can for hell will be tapped in the morning. . . . Good night, gentlemen, hoping our forces may be successful.”

It is unknown whether Col. Hubbard’s sentiments made it all the way down to the enlisted men, and if so, if Pvt. Aaron Joseph took the advice to heart and penned a last minute letter home. Some time, somewhere, on April 2, Joseph ended up missing in action. He most likely received a fatal wound during the assault on the Confederate line early that morning, as his regiment was not engaged later in the day.

One wonders what his family—if he had one—believed became of him. Like far too many other Civil War soldiers in similar circumstances, we’ll likely never know.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Medal of Honor Spotlight - Sgt. William H. Barnes, Co. C, 38th USCI


Over the last few days I've been working my way through the service records of the 38th United States Colored Infantry to find casualties from the Battle of New Market Heights. It never fails to make me stop and think about those who either did not come off the field or suffered wounds. Some of those wounded survived days and months before succumbing, others died later from other causes.

Only two of the fourteen African American soldiers who received the Medal of Honor for their courageous acts at the Battle of New Market Heights died during their enlistments. Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton (4th USCI) died from his New Market Heights wounds about three weeks after the battle. Pvt. William H. Barnes (38th USCI) died on Christmas Eve, 1866, while serving in Texas.

William H. Barnes was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Although some sources contend he was a free tenant farmer, his service records do not inform us whether he was free or enslaved before enlisting in Company C, 38th United States Colored Infantry on February 11, 1864, at nearby Point Lookout, Maryland. The draft registration information for the 23 year old Barnes indicates he was married.

During the September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights, the 38th USCI was the last of the five primary assaulting regiments to go into the fight. However, Barnes’s Medal of Honor citation states the he was “among the first to enter the enemy’s works; although wounded.” After a recovery at Balfour General Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, he returned to duty on December 12, 1864.

It must have been satisfying to Barnes to have been among the XXV Corps soldiers who entered Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, on April 3, 1865. A little over a month later though, the 38th USCI were among the regiments who received transfer to the Texas/Mexico border. Barnes earned a promotion to corporal in the spring of 1865, and then to sergeant that summer. Serving in an unhealthy environment resulted in many cases of disease among the black soldiers. Men who survived active combat during the war, fell victim to a host of illnesses in Texas; Barnes was among them. 

In the summer of 1866, Barnes reported sick. He stayed in the hospital at Indianola, Texas, for approximately the next six months before dying of tuberculosis on December 24, 1866, a month short of his regiment’s muster out. A marker notes his life and service at the San Antonio National Cemetery. Barnes receives recognition as well at the USCT memorial in Lexington Park, Maryland, in his native St. Mary’s County. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


A few weeks ago I made a trip up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to pick up some loaned artifacts that we will be featuring in a temporary exhibit at work. After visiting a few of my favorite spots on the battlefield, I visited the National Park's visitor center bookstore. Browsing through the dozens of titles that relate to the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War in general, I found a section on African American history, and noticed Slavery and the Underground Railroad in South Central Pennsylvania by Cooper H, Wingert. Having previously visited Christiana, Pennsylvania and heard a number of stories about abolitionists in a number of different communities, I look forward to learning more through this title's contents. 

 


Old John Brown continues to a popular subject for historians. One of the most recently published studies is Charles P. Poland, Jr's, America's Good Terrorist: John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid. If you search on this blog for John Brown, you will find numerous posts. I find his attempts to end slavery and create a society of racial equality in the United States fascinating and extremely unusual for a white man of his time. Historians over the years have painted John Brown in many different lights. From the 1859 event until the present, the debate continues. How will Poland present his argument, and what evidence will he use? We will see.  

 


While John Brown worked to end slavery with boots on the ground direct action, Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens tried to do so though legislation. Noted historian Bruce Levine's Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary Fighter for Racial Justice is receiving a considerable amount of buzz on social media. In addition to being a radical politician, Stevens also led an interesting personal life. It is this aspect of the biography that I am most interested in learning more about. 



Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive Slave Haven in the Wary North by Jim Remsen details the story of a number of African American men who escaped slavery, settled in northeast Pennsylvania, and enlisted in the Union army when finally allowed to fight. I have the good fortune to often research and write soldier's stories, both black and white, Union and Confederate. Hearing about soldier's challenges, struggles, and sacrifices, and successes prove inspirational to me. I'm sure that Embattled Freedom will do so as well.  



Another Civil War-era book that is gaining lots of publicity is Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule. Seidule, an Army brigadier general and history professor at West Point examines his own relationship with Confederate history and memory and why the truth and facts about the Confederacy have often remained obscure to Americans.  



We were honored to have Lee White, a ranger at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, share his knowledge about he Battle of Franklin via Zoom at the April 1 Petersburg Civil War Roundtable. We try to provide our members with the opportunity to purchase our speaker's topical book. I've enjoyed many of the Emerging Civil War series titles, so I got a copy of Lee's Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864. I've read several studies on the Battle of Franklin, but during Lee's talk he included a number of points that I did not know, so I look forward to reading his book and learning more. 

Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Picket Duty


 

Picket duty during the Petersburg Campaign was one of the most trying responsibilities that a Civil War soldier faced. Whether he was fighting off mosquitos in summer, shivering in winter, or suppressing his fears of being attacked and captured by the enemy, he was required to sit in a dark rifle pit with few comforts and not fall asleep. It’s no wonder that most soldiers dreaded this task.

Writing to his local newspaper in 1882, Pvt. Patrick Henry Reilly, of Company L, 1st South Carolina Infantry, described his experience on picket duty the night before the April 2, 1865, Breakthrough at Petersburg: “During our last night on picket guard it seemed ominously still, and we heard, or imagined we heard, smothered orders and an occasional rattle of canteens, and we became impressed with the idea that the enemy meant mischief and were massing troops in our immediate front. . . . After a time the enemy’s movements became more apparent, for on the still night air came expressions not contained in the Holy Writ, confusion and noise. We felt that the enemy would soon advance.”

To break the tension one of Reilly’s comrades yelled out to the Federals to sing them a song. A Yankee yelled back requesting one from the Southerners. The South Carolinians sang out a short stanza about the Palmetto State. It fell quiet again, so the Confederates asked for a reply. A Union man yelled, “Hold on, Johnnie, we will give you a song directly.” Then suddenly, the charge was on!

Reilly described the dark early morning scene: “But this night’s fight was something terrible, and ‘twas well for us it was night, as this mighty host that was hurled against us would have swept us instantly from before them. . . . Just in front of us was a morass, which impeded the enemy’s advance on us, and we stood at our posts until the [earth]works on our right were in almost possession of the enemy, and our little band beat a hasty retreat and made double-quick time to the trenches.”

Pvt. Reilly somehow avoided capture at Petersburg and along the route to Appomattox, where he surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.