Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe

Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe

John H. Hewitt, 1853

I went to New York City a month or two ago,

A huntin’ for that lady, Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe.

I see’d de Aboltions, they said she’d gone away,

Dey told me in dat city it was no use to stay.

She take away de dollars and put em in her pocket,

She laid her hand upon it and dar she safely lock it.

Dey said if massa come for me, den dey would quickly meet,

Dey’d make a lion of me and give me ‘nuf to eat.

(Chorus) Oh!Oh! Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe!

How could you leave de country, and serve dis poor nigga so.

De treated dis her chile as doe I was a Turk,

Den tale me for to leave dem and go away to work.

I couldn’t get no work, I couldn’t get no dinner.

And den I wish dis’ fugitive was back in old Virginny.

Oh when I was a picinin’, Ole Uncle Tom would say,

Be true unto your Massa and neber runs away.

He tales me dis at home, and he tells me dis at partin’,

Ned, don’t you trust the white folks for dey am quite unsartin’.

(Chorus) Oh !Oh! Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe!

How could you leave de country, and serve dis poor nigga so.

Ole Massa's very kind, Ole Missu's gentle too,

And much I love my Dinah in ole Virginny too.
Now I'll go back and stay dar, and never more to roam,
Lor bless de Southern Ladies, and my old Virginny home,
But don't come back Aunt Harriet, in England make a fuss,
Go talk against your country, put money in your puss [purse],
And when us happy niggers, you pity in your prayer,
Oh! Don't forget de White slave, dat starving ober dare.

(Chorus) Oh! Oh! Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe, How
could you leave de country, and serve poor nigga so."

Source title: Aunt Harriet Becha Stowe
Repository: Library of Congress. Music Division.
Date: 1853
Digital ID: sm1853 550190

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Slavery is a Hard Foe to Battle

Slavery is a Hard Foe to Battle

(sung to Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel)

I looked to the South and I looked to the West,

And I saw old slavery a comin’.

With four Northern doughfaces hitched up in front,

Driving freedom to the other side of Jordan.


Then take off coats and roll up sleeves,

Slavery is a hard foe to battle.

Then take off coats and roll up sleeves,

Oh, Slavery is a hard foe to battle, I believe.

Slavery and freedom they both had a fight,

And the whole North came up behind ‘em.

Hit slavery with a few knocks with a free ballot box,

Sent it staggering to the other side of Jordan.


If I was in the Legislature of these United States,

I settle this great question accordin’.

I’d let every slave go free over land and over sea,

And let them have a little hope this side of Jordan.


The South have their school where the masters learn to rule,
And they lord it over the free states accordin’.
But sure they better quit e’re they raise the yankee grit,
And we tumble them over the other side of Jordan.


But the day is drawing nigh when slavery must die,
And every one must do his part accordin’.
Then let us unite to give every man his right,
And we’ll get our pay the other side of Jordan.


Source title: Slavery is a Hard Foe to Battle
Repository: Library of Congress. Music Division.
Date: 1855
Digital ID: sm1855 751680

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Visit to Fort Donelson

I had the good fortune to be able to share my research on Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid with a Teaching American History grant group in western Kentucky last Thursday evening. Since I was in that part of the state I took the opportunity to make a short drive down to Fort Donelson National Battlefield to look around.

My first stop was at the visitor center where I watched a short video that summarized the battle and highlighted the friendship between Ulysses S. Grant and Simon Bolivar Buckner. Also in the visitor center is a small museum that has a number of displays with artifacts from the battle. Many of the displays were outdated in their design (probably from the 1960s) but some new signage has been added for the Sesquicentennial, which I missed by only about a week as the battle happened on February 14 and 15, and surrender was on February 16, 1862.

This map from the Civil War Trust provides a great view of how the opposing troops were positioned and how the battle unfolded.

A cannon and earthworks near the park entrance and visitor center (Union left). Many of the earthworks throughout the park are very well preserved.

The Confederate Monument at Fort Donelson was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1933. The Confederate soldiers killed in the battle were hastily buried in unmarked graves in unknown locations, so the monument is dedicated to their memory.

A close up of the Confederate soldier on the monument.

An interpretive sign and artist's depiction shows a bird's eye view of the Confederate encampment at Fort Donelson. The fort was named for Daniel Donelson, a native Tennessean, nephew of Andrew Jackson and Confederate general. The 15-acre earthen fort was constructed by Confederate soldiers and slaves and took about seven months to build.

The purpose of the fort was to protect the important Cumberland River and the capital of Tennessee, Nashville, further upstream. When the nearby fort on the Tennessee River, Fort Henry, was bombed into submission on February 6 by Union gunboats, the Confederates there fled to Fort Donelson, only about 15 miles away. Bad weather slowed Grant's pursuit to Fort Donelson, but his force arrived there on February 13. The step earthen walls and deep ditch shown above are on the south side of Fort Donelson proper and reminded me of many of the earthworks at Petersburg, Virginia.

In the park is a reconstructed soldier's hut that provides visitors a better understanding of the conditions that Confederates faced during the winter of 1862. I was there on a cool and windy day, but I could only imagine the sharpness of the wind coming off the snow covered ground and nearly frozen Cumberland River 150 years ago. Over 400 of these huts dotted the interior of the garrison. The huts were burned by the Union troops after the battle due to a measles outbreak.

This view of the lower river battery shows the excellent position that the Confederates had as they battled the Union gunboats. Fort Donelson was in much better position to fight off the gunboats than Fort Henry, which has a much lower elevation. Union Flag Officer Andrew Foote's flotilla was defeated on February 14 through the efficient work of these guns.

Another look at the lower river battery. It was called the lower battery because it was slightly down river from the upper battery. However, the upper battery had a lower elevation position than the lower battery. Confused yet?

An artist's depiction of the lower battery (left) and upper battery (right) as it engaged the Union gunboats on the Cumberland River on February 14.

This view provides an artilleryman's eye view of the river. The Union gunboat's smokestacks were first visible over the trees in the far bend of the river and then they steamed upstream toward this position.

One of the big guns that defeated the Union gunboats on February 14.

The upper river battery.

After the Union gunboats were beaten back on February 14, Grant attacked the Confederate right with Gen. Charles F. Smith's troops on February 15 and captured the outer Confederate earthworks. Earlier on the 15th the Confederates had attacked the Union right and opened up an escape route out of the fort, but Gen. Pillow withdrew back into the fort's defenses. Now basically surrounded, the Confederates decided it would be best to surrender. While Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest's troops made their way out of the fort and escaped, commanding general John Floyd and Pillow transferred command to subordinate general Simon Bolivar Buckner, who surrendered to his pre-war friend Grant on February 16. Floyd and Pillow escaped capture by cowardly fleeing on a steamboat.

Buckner's surrender happened at the Dover Hotel. It was built between 1851 and 1853 and originally accommodated riverboat travelers before the war. Buckner used it during the battle as his headquarters, and after the battle it served as a hospital for Union soldiers.

An estimated 13,000 Confederate soldiers were surrendered at Fort Donelson. Most waited here on the riverbank below the Dover Hotel as they were loaded on steamboats for transfer to Union prison camps in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Boston, Massachusetts. Most of the Fort Donelson prisoners were exchanged in the fall of 1862. The Dover Hotel was one of the few structures in town that survived a Confederate attack a year later. The hotel remained in operation until the 1930s.

Also in Dover is the Fort Donelson National Cemetery, where over 650 Union soldiers were reinterred. Today the cemetery also contains veterans that have served in the U.S. military since the Civil War. In the cemetery I spotted several United States Colored Troops graves.

Over 500 of the Union soldiers are unknown. This is largely due to the hurry to clean up the battlefield, the reinterrment of remains from other cemeteries and the fact that Civil War soldiers were not issued government identifications.

For more information on check out the Civil War Trust's Fort Donelson page at:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just Finished Reading

When I saw that Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, had written a book on John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid, I knew I had to get a copy. I suppose I was looking for a book in the style of Confederates in the Attic, but this book is much more traditional history rather than his previous observatory-type history.

Midnight Rising is a basic retelling (in short version-290 pages) of earlier John Brown and Harpers Ferry books such as Stephen B. Oates, To Purge this Land with Blood and Robert McGlone's, John Brown's War Against Slavery. In my reading, I did not see much new insight provided in this book other than a closer look at some of the individual raiders.

I have often wondered why someone has not written a book that focused solely on the men that joined Brown in his raid. A book has been written on the men that helped fund Brown's raid (Edward J. Renehan's, The Secret Six) so it would seem that the men, many of which lived extraordinary lives, although most of them were young men, deserve a detailed telling too. I think it would make a great read.

The part of Midnight Rising that I enjoyed the most was the epilogue, "Immortal Raiders." In this chapter Horwitz argues convincingly that Brown's raid was the indeed the spark that set off the keg of powder that was the Civil War, and thus the end of slavery in America. Frederick Douglass probably said it best when giving a speech at Harpers Ferry's Storer College on the school's fourteenth anniversary, "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery."

One last gripe is the footnote/endnote style that Horwitz employed. Rather than the traditional number format, he used a quotation mark style that I found difficult to follow and find in the endnotes.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Midnight Rising a 3.5

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Andrew Jackson Smith: From Camp Servant to Medal of Honor Winner

Not all African American camp servants remained so. A perfect example is Kentuckian Andrew Jackson Smith. Smith was born in Lyon County the son of a slave mother and white owner father. When Lyon learned that his owner-father had enlisted in the Confederate army and intended to take him along as a servant, Smith ran away. He along with another slave absconded to the nearest Union camp, which happened to be in Smithland, Kentucky and offered his services to Major John Warner of the 41st Illinois regiment. When the 41st received their marching orders, Smith went along.

Smith witnessed the battles of Fort Donelson in February 1862 and Shiloh two months later. At Shiloh Smith was in the heat of the action bringing horses to Warner as one and then another was shot out from under the major. During the battle Smith was hit in the temple with a spent bullet which coursed under the skin to the middle of his forehead. The bullet was removed and Smith was not terribly hurt, although I am sure it was not a pleasant experience.

In the fall of 1862 Smith went to Illinois with Warner on leave where he learned about President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the opportunity to join the Union army as a fighting soldier. He first tried to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts, which had been recruited largely from free American Americans across the north. But, the 54th filled before he was able to enlist, so he signed up with the 55th Massachusetts, the sister unit of the 54th and the same unit in which Frederick Douglass' sons served. Smith traveled to Reidville, Massachusetts and joined up.

Recruited later than the 54th, the 55th trained while the 54th earned their glory at Battery Wagner, South Carolina. The 55th participated in the operations at Olustee, Florida in February 1864, but were not engaged. In July, 1864 they participated in the fight at Fort Lamar, on James Island, South Carolina. Although they did not capture the fort they did seize two Confederate cannons in a related action.

At the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina on November 30, 1864, the 55th fought desperately. During the action the color bearer was hit by an exploding artillery shell and Smith caught the flag and carried it through the battle although he received a wound himself. For his gallantry Smith was promoted to color sergeant. The commander of the 55th was wounded early in the Honey Hill fight and subsequently did not include Smith's heroism in the battle in his official report. But fortunately that was not the end of Smith's story.

Smith mustered out of the army in August 1865 and initially stayed in Illinois, but he soon purchased land and moved to Eddyville, Kentucky. The regimental surgeon of the 55th, Burt Wilder, attempted to nominate Smith for the Medal of Honor, but due to inaccuracies and the omission of Smith's efforts in the battle's official report, his efforts were turned down in 1916. Smith passed away in 1932 and was buried in the cemetery at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Grand Rivers, Livingston County, Kentucky. Thankfully, and finally in 2001, Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, which was received by his descendants.

Friday, February 24, 2012

African American Camp Servants, Part II

Cockfighting in camp

Courtesy Library of Congress

Thursday, February 23, 2012

African American Camp Servants, Part I

If you have spent any significant amount of time perusing Civil War photographs - especially Union soldier camp photographs - you have probably noticed the ubiquity of African American camp servants. These individuals, the majority of which were runaway slaves that flocked to the Union army as it marched into the Confederate states, are proof positive that a great number of these people were willing to take the risk of fleeing. They were men, women, boys, and girls all looking for freedom and the opportunity to finally receive payment for their labor. And, to think, so many slaveholders thought the wouldn't work without force. Among other myriad duties they shined shoes, groomed horses, cleaned officers' tents, cooked meals, and drove wagons and cattle herds.

Here are only a few:

Don't see him? Look in the tree.

Photographs courtesy Library of Congress

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Cost of War

Lest we forget...

Courtesy Library of Congress

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some More Occupational Portraits

Chimney Sweeps

Street Sweep

Cave Guide (note lantern)

Courtesy Library of Congress

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Slave Owner to Sec. of War Stanton on Union Army Impressment

Henderson Ky. March 14 1865

My Dear Sir – I trust you will excuse me for thus presuming to address you. I beg to assure you that nothing else than as I conceive my duty and humanity towards those, who have up to the present time, been by the laws of the land considered mine & still look up to me as their friend & protector induces me to do so – I have then three negroes – one man & two boys, who are at this time in Camp here, having been, as the proof very conclusively shews [shows] forced in the Service a the point of the bayonet & against their will and consent – If they would have gone in on their own I would not have said a word, or if they had been according to Law drafted regularly into the Service as three others of mine were last fall, whilst I should have been sorry to have seen them go off reluctantly, I should still have acquiesced as cheerfully & been as obedient to the law as any other man. But when boys that I have raised come as these do everyday now, and with tears beseech me to see justice done them, I can not refuse – and especially when I know that it is in violation of the law under which it is pretended that these Boys have been enlisted that they are held to service where they are – It is not I assure you my Dear Sir, in expectation of any value which their services may be to me in the future, that I am prompted to the course I take, for as far as the relation of master & slave is concerned I consider that as done away with, tho, not one of mine has yet run away or left me of their own accord – But if these in whose behalf I am now writing were to leave me as soon as released from their present condition, I should still make the appeal, which I trust will be successful…

Source - Ira Berlin, Joseph Patrick Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland eds. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Like the Missouri book I read last, this book consisted of primary source accounts giving diverse perspectives. Unlike the Missouri book though, this work was 475 pages. It obviously took a while to get through it and it seemed the editor included some accounts that could probably have been left out. From the documents the editor selected, Maryland's story is both similar and different from Missouri and Kentucky's. For example, it appears that Maryland had a much easier time accomplishing emancipation than did Kentucky and Missouri, but Maryland seemed to have suffered worse in political arrests than the other two.

Covered thoroughly in the book, and of special interest, was the riot that resulted in Baltimore on April 19, 1861, when Massachusetts troops attempted to pass through the city on the way to defend Washington D.C. The incident highlighted Baltimore's divided nature and significant Confederate sympathy and left a number of citizens and soldiers dead and wounded. And, while the Eastern Shore and Baltimore had southern leanings, western Maryland was largely Unionist, although still with pockets of secessionists.

The book is divided into three main sections: "Indecision," "Occupation," and "Liberation," with either four or five subsections in each. Also, the book included a number of rare photographs and images the helped tell Maryland's story. Maryland Voices of the Civil War did an excellent job of expressing the thoughts of those on the home front, but I wish there had more excerpts from Union and Confederate soldiers in the field that gave their opinions of what they heard was happening back in the state.

On scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 3.75; it was certainly worth the read, but in my opinion it could have been edited down some.