Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Complete Victory in the Wilderness

I was so happy to receive the following press release today from the Civil War Trust. Many, many people had a hand in this being a successful preservation effort and should feel proud in their achievement.

January 26, 2011


Preservation community pleased with decision by retail giant to drop plans to build a supercenter within historic boundaries of Wilderness battlefield

(Orange, Va.) – In an unexpected development, Walmart announced this morning that it has abandoned plans to pursue a special use permit previously awarded to the retail giant for construction of a supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield. The decision came as the trial in a legal challenge seeking to overturn the special use permit was scheduled to begin in Orange County circuit court.

“We are pleased with Walmart’s decision to abandon plans to build a supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield,” remarked James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. “We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield. We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”

The Civil War Trust is part of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, an alliance of local residents and national groups seeking to protect the Wilderness battlefield. Lighthizer noted that the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has sought from the very beginning to work with county officials and Walmart to find an alternative location for the proposed superstore away from the battlefield.

“We stand ready to work with Walmart to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” Lighthizer stated. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusive, and welcome Walmart as a thoughtful partner in efforts to protect the Wilderness Battlefield.”

In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of the Walmart Supercenter and associated commercial development on the Wilderness Battlefield. A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by Pulitzer Prize-winners James McPherson and David McCullough. One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a legal challenge to overturn the decision.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, was one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War. Of the 185,000 soldiers who entered combat amid the tangled mass of second-growth trees and scrub in Virginia’s Orange and Spotsylvania counties, some 30,000 became casualties. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, composed of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, and Civil War Trust, seeks to protect this irreplaceable local and national treasure.

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved nearly 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more at

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ubiquity of the Civil War

It never ceases to amaze me the places that references to the Civil War turn up. I suppose that speaks volumes to how much that conflict transformed America...and continues to transform our lives today. From a episode involving Civil War reenactments on Everybody Loves Raymond to the General Lee on the Dukes of Hazard, the Civil War is part of our cultural fabric. Now, whether that is always good is another topic for another post.

One place I never thought I would see a reference to the war was reading college football message boards and blogs. I am a passionate Oklahoma Sooners fan. I am almost as obsessed with Boomer Sooner as I am history...almost. I try to keep up on everything that happens with the team, and not just during the season. In order to do that I have to skim through lots of other non-Sooners information. But, the other day I ran across a post on the ESPN Big 12 Conference blog that caught my eye.

Every so often the ESPN blog lets readers write in and have the expert answer questions or comment on certain points that readers make. The Civil War references in this one made me chuckle.

Stephen in San Antonio, Texas asks: Can you call Bill Byrne and ask him to send us to the SEC? Maybe he will listen to an outsider, because he for sure doesn't listen to A&M Alums.

DU: Sure thing. I'll get to it right after I convince him to let loose a pack of wolves in his living room and build a fire pit underneath his bed. Nebraska to the Big Ten? Great move for the program. Colorado to the Pac-12? Another really good move. Texas A&M to the SEC? Program-killing move.

And for the record, overambitious Aggies fans, now that realignment has died down a bit, the SEC is pretty happy standing pat with 12 teams. That offer likely isn't still standing.

After all, SECeding worked so well for the South back in the mid-19th century. Dumb. Better hope Dan Beebe [Big 12 Commissioner] is as generous as Abe Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, right? Nobody wants to see Reconstruction 2.0.

Ha! SECeding!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

149th Anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs

Today is the 149th anniversary of one of those Civil War battles that has several names. This engagement in Pulaski County, Kentucky, near the town of Somerset, is probably best known as the Battle of Mill Springs, but it was also called the Battle of Logan's Crossroads and the Battle of Fishing Creek. Several interesting personalities participated in the battle, which was fought in a cold rainstorm. Union General George Thomas, who would go on to win fame for his defensive stand at the Battle of Chickamauga, and decisive win at the Battle of Nashville, commanded the Northern forces. Confederate general, Tennessean Felix Zollicoffer was killed here, allegedly by Kentuckian Speed Fry. Fry would later become a general and would issue the infamous order to expel USCT soldiers' families from Camp Nelson in the winter of 1864, causing numerous deaths. In overall command of the Confederate forces was George Bibb Crittenden, son of Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden, and brother to Union general Thomas L. Crittenden.

The following summary of the battle is from the Civil War Trust's website:

The Battle of Mill Springs
Logan's Cross Roads
January 19, 1862

Although Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer’s main responsibility was to guard Cumberland Gap, in November 1861 he advanced west into Kentucky to strengthen control in the area around Somerset. He found a strong defensive position at Mill Springs and decided to make it his winter quarters. He fortified the area, especially both sides of the Cumberland River. Union Brig. Gen. George Thomas received orders to drive the Rebels across the Cumberland River and break up Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden’s army. He left Lebanon and slowly marched through rain-soaked country, arriving at Logan’s Crossroads on January 17, where he waited for Brig. Gen. A. Schoepf’s troops from Somerset to join him. Maj. Gen. George Crittenden, Zollicoffer’s superior, had arrived at Mill Springs and taken command of the Confederate troops. He knew that Thomas was in the vicinity and decided that his best defense was to attack the Yankees. The Rebels attacked Thomas at Logan’s Crossroads at dawn on January 19. Unbeknownst to the Confederates, some of Schoepf’s troops had arrived and reinforced the Union force. Initially, the Rebel attack forced the first unit it hit to retire, but stiff resistance followed and Zollicoffer was killed. The Rebels made another attack but were repulsed. Union counterattacks on the Confederate right and left were successful, forcing them from the field in a retreat that ended in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Mill Springs, along with Middle Creek, broke whatever Confederate strength there was in eastern Kentucky. Confederate fortunes did not rise again until summer when Gen. Braxton Bragg launched his offensive into Kentucky. Mill Springs was the larger of the two Union Kentucky victories in January 1862. With these victories, the Federals carried the war into Middle Tennessee in February.

For more information on the Battle of Mill Springs including maps go to the Civil War Trust's page on the battle at:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CWPT - New Name, New Logo, Same Mission

As a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust, I received the following email message today from President Jim Lighthizer. The CWPT, now CWT, is changing its name and logo to help continue and increase the growth and name/brand recognition that it has developed since its inception in 1987. Personally I am all for anything that will help this wonderful organization reach more people in order to help save more acres and educate more people about our nation's greatest struggle.

Dear Friend in Preservation,

Today, I'm pleased to share with you some exciting news about the next step in the natural evolution of our efforts to preserve our nation's irreplaceable Civil War battlefields, as the Civil War Preservation Trust becomes, simply, the Civil War Trust.

Rest assured that there has been no change in mission or management -- we are every bit the same efficient, vibrant and dynamic organization that you and our 55,000 members believe in so passionately. I am incredibly proud of the outstanding reputation we have built in the historic preservation community, and the nearly 30,000 hallowed acres we have saved for future generations.

But after careful thought, deliberation and research, my staff, board and I determined that the time was right to modernize the Trust's name and logo to better reflect our mission and goals. Despite our many successes, our previous name was not widely recognized outside our immediate constituency. As we begin the commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial in earnest, we feel this shift will help us make more Americans aware of the work we do to preserve our nation's heritage. After all, what better way to commemorate the great struggle between North and South than to save the historic landscapes of the Civil War for our children and grandchildren?

I invite you to learn more about the thought and planning that went into this decision by visiting I hope you are as pleased with the result of our efforts as I am. And look forward to your continued passionate and generous support for our efforts.

Thank you again for your commitment to the Civil War Trust and our nation's heritage.

Jim Lighthizer, President Civil War Trust

PS: As always, we welcome thoughts and feedback from our members. You can reach Civil War Trust staff by

For the official press release click here:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Point of Contention

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity the write the following article which ran on Sunday, January 9, 2011 in the Frankfort State Journal.

Since the close of the Civil War, historians have debated where the first shots of that terrible conflict occurred. A number of scholars claim that fights between pro-slavery forces and free-soil settlers in “Bleeding Kansas” were the first fired; others credit Fort Sumter as officially being the first; still others claim that what happened at Harpers Ferry, Va. in October 1859 was the opening round of our nation’s worst tragedy.

On the night of Oct. 16, 1859, John Brown, a militant abolitionist who had participated in several “Bleeding Kansas” events, led an integrated group of men to the national arsenal at Harpers Ferry, (now West) Virginia in order to capture arms and instigate a slave rebellion.

Brown’s careful plans quickly fell apart as first town citizens, then local militias and finally United States Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee, fired on Brown and his remaining men and then surrounded them in a fire engine house on the arsenal grounds. Brown’s refusal to surrender on the morning of Oct. 18 led to an assault on the engine house by the marines (in which one was killed) and brought the capture of Brown and his remnant of followers.

Brown’s subsequent trial was of short duration but was well covered in the media. After receiving a guilty verdict, Brown was executed on Dec. 2. Immediately following his death, he was considered a hero by some and a villain by others.

Two items that have a strong connection to both the Harpers Ferry events and Kentucky’s history are in the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS).

At Harpers Ferry, Brown had quite a collection of weapons at his disposal. Along with about 200 Sharp’s rifles and a like number of Maynard revolvers, Brown had almost 1,000 long spears called pikes that he intended to distribute to slaves who he assumed did not know how to operate firearms. One of these weapons housed in the KHS collections has recently been positively identified as being a John Brown pike.

Brown contracted with Connecticut blacksmith Charles Blair in 1857 to make 1,000 pikes at a cost of $1 each. The pike blade was modeled after a bowie knife Brown had captured from pro-slavery fighter Henry Clay Pate while in Kansas. At the time, Brown claimed the pikes were to be used against pro-slavery forces in Kansas, but the order was put on hold after Brown was unable to collect funds to pay for the weapons.

Finally, in the summer of 1859, Brown returned to Blair with payment. Under an alias, Brown had 954 of the pikes first shipped to Chambersburg, Pa. and then forwarded to the farmhouse he rented in Maryland, about six miles from Harpers Ferry. Brown and his men brought a number of the pikes to the arsenal on the night of the raid, while others were moved to a school house closer to Harpers Ferry, which the raiders used as a ready storage facility.

Pike sent to Kentucky

After Brown was captured, Virginian and vehement secessionist Edmund Ruffin collected some of the pikes and sent them to the governors of each slaveholding state with a label attached: “Sample of the favors designed for us by our northern brethren.” A pike was sent to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin. It is believed that the one currently in the KHS collections is this pike. Some historical evidence supports this belief.

On the night of Jan. 10, 1860, barely a month after the execution of John Brown, emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay made a speech on the steps of the (Old) State Capitol. The Cincinnati Gazette had a reporter on hand to cover the speech, and as a lead to the story he wrote that, “The halter with which Brown was hung, the bloody lance [pike] which he used in battle – a present from [Virginia] Gov. Wise to Gov. Magoffin – was freely handed about and shown in Frankfort.”

In an edition of the Hartford, Ky. Herald from 1890, the pike is referenced as being at the (Old) State Arsenal in Frankfort. “In a stack of muskets near the front entrance is the pike used by John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in October 1859, and was captured with him in the engine house by Col. Robert E. Lee.”

The article also provides a description of the pike, which closely matches the pike in the KHS collections. “The point of the steel lance is badly turned, as if it had missed its aim and struck a wall of mason-work or some other hard substance.”

This pike had apparently been entered into the KHS records early in the 20th century as a “Confederate pike,” and had not been properly identified for its unique historical significance until recently. Measurements and photographs of the pike were taken and its serial number recorded and sent to a curator at the Kansas State Historical Society, who verified it as being a John Brown pike.

Kentucky as border state

In the wake of the failed Harper’s Ferry raid, and as the North and South grew further polarized over the issue of slavery, Kentucky, a border state, found itself in a unique and unenviable position. Kentucky had reaffirmed its commitment to slavery in its 1850 state constitution and the institution was one that a majority of white Kentuckians viewed as the best possible for both races at the time.

But, being a border state, Kentuckians felt particularly vulnerable to a John Brown-style raid from their free-state neighbors to the north: Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. In the weeks and months after the Harpers Ferry raid, efforts were made to expel known abolitionists from the state.

Only 10 days after Harpers Ferry, Newport, Ky. newspaper editor William Shreve Bailey witnessed his Free South office and printing press destroyed by an angry mob. In late December 1859, in Madison County, Ky., abolitionist and native Kentuckian John G. Fee and his Berea settlement brethren and their families were compelled to move out of the state after a committee of citizens informed them they were no longer wanted in the commonwealth because of their sentiments and teachings.

In addition, the Harper’s Ferry affair set off a firestorm of complaints by the state’s citizens that the Kentucky militia system was an outdated force and provided no practical protection against potential invaders. During the fall and winter of 1859, editors of newspapers in almost every town, along with Gov. Magoffin, called on the state legislature to order a reorganization of the state’s military force.

In March 1860, the Kentucky State Guard was created to meet this demand. From November 1859 and into 1860, rumors of slave uprisings – especially in the Bluegrass Region and in Western Kentucky – graced the newspapers and spread quickly among the citizens. Travelers and strangers were accosted in numerous communities and questioned when any suspicion of abolitionist sentiment was aroused.

Across the state, Kentuckians increasingly disregarded previously cherished constitutional principles such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech in effort to secure better assurances for their safety.

Portrait of Brown

Kentucky’s commitment to slavery is one reason that another John Brown item in the KHS collections appears to be so unique. It is a portrait of Brown painted by Kentucky native Patrick Henry Davenport.

Davenport was born in Danville in 1803, and as a young man worked as an itinerant portraitist, largely in Central Kentucky counties. In the late 1830s, Davenport purchased the Crab Orchard Springs resort in Lincoln County, where along with running the business, he created the majority of his works. After a number of years operating the spa, Davenport sold it in 1853 and moved to Lawrence County, Ill.

Apparently, in 1860, one of John Brown’s sons commissioned Davenport to paint a portrait of Brown based upon a popular image of the abolitionist. Davenport completed the image the same year and inscribed it on the back with, “A Martyr to the Cause of Freedom John Brown, who was hung at Harper’s Ferry, Va. Dec. 2, 1859 aged 63 (59) years.”

For unknown reasons, the Brown family did not accept the portrait. It eventually ended up in the possession of Sarah Bryan, who donated it to KHS in1982.

To the inquisitive historian, Davenport’s circumstances and the inscription on the back of the painting brings up a wealth of questions.

Did slavery have anything to do with Davenport’s move to Illinois in 1853? As a former Kentucky slaveholder, was Davenport conflicted over painting a dignified image of Brown the abolitionist?

Was Davenport just assuaging his customers (the Brown family) with the inscription on the back of the painting or had his ideas on slavery changed by 1860? The answer to these questions may never be known, but the historical significance of the painting and its association with Kentucky’s history makes the portrait worthy of note and justifies its inclusion with other treasures in the KHS collections.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Next, Quickly Mississippi...?

Songster Harry McCarthy stated in the third stanza of the "Bonnie Blue Flag" that,

"First gallant South Carolina nobly made the stand,
Then came Alabama and took her by the hand
Next, quickly Mississippi, Georgia and Florida
All raised on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears the single star.

Hold on there Harry! It was first, South Carolina (Dec. 20, 1860); second, Mississippi (Jan. 9, 1861); third, Florida (Jan. 10, 1861); fourth, Alabama (Jan. 11, 1861); and then fifth, Georgia (Jan. 19, 1861). Perhaps McCarthy found his order fit his music better. Regardless, Mississippi, like South Carolina, published "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union." It too, much like the Palmetto state's declaration claimed, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-the greatest material interest of the world," and also identified closely with the Northern states' refusal to enforce the fugitive slave law.

But, there is no need for me to interpret what you can read for yourself:

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.

The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France. The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.

It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.

It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.

It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.

It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact, which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.

It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.

It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security.

It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system.

It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops not in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause.

It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another John Brown Song You Might Not Know

Courtesy: American Memory, Library of Congress

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Colored Volunteers

Courtesy: American Memory, Library of Congress