Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gone Off With Some Regiment

The men (and a few women) who joined in to participate in our nation's greatest tragedy contributed to the war effort for diverse reasons. Some fought for personal or national principles, some joined to pay the bills, others went looking for an amazing adventure. The potential opportunity to escape one's workaday world, see new sights, and visit new lands was simply just too appealing for some to avoid.

Naturally, the majority of those with stars in their eyes and glory in their hearts, those seeking thrills and adventure were in their youth. Myriads of young men joined up; some with their parents' permission, some without. Young men, many of whom had been raised on father's, uncle's, and grandfather's tales of army adventures in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War envisioned similar experiences for themselves.

I came across the above "Information Wanted" advertisement in the Louisville Daily Democrat, which ran in the fall of 1862, and probably involved a similar thrill-seeking individual. It reads:

Information Wanted.
A COLORED BOY (FREE) ABOUT 13 YEARS OLD, named James Oglesby, left home October 2d, and had not been heard from since.  It is probable he has gone off with some regiment.  Any information of his whereabouts will be gratefully received and liberally rewarded by his parents. Send word to Joshua Oglesby, corner of Thirteenth and Magazine streets.

Obviously, this young man could not join up to fight as an enlisted man in October 1862. Although some African Americans served as soldiers as early as that date, that was not the case in Kentucky. Since he was already free, he did not go off the the Union army to gain his liberty. This young man probably joined up with some one of the scores of regiments that were campaigning in Kentucky at that time to work as a camp servant or in another laboring position in effort to see the sights of war.

Like arms-bearing soldiers, the lure of adventure probably faded fast for this young man. Long hours of duties in camp, cold winter nights and blistering summer days, poor rations, sickness, and death were likely far more common experiences for him than any martial glory. One has to wonder if he survived the war. Were his parents able to confirm their suspicions early, or did they have to wait weeks, months, or years to find out his fate? Did he join a USCT regiment in some capacity when African Americans were finally allowed to enlist in Kentucky? If he survived, did he have a welcomed return? We may never know the answers to these questions, but it seems pretty obvious that the allure of wartime adventure cut across the color line.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Granbury's Texas Brigade

Being a long time student of the too often overlooked Western Theater of the Civil War, I was excited to see Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates, by John R. Lundberg, offered by LSU Press last year.

What eventually became Granbury's Brigade - one of the Army of Tennessee's premier fighting units - coalesced between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. However, their regimental parts had inauspicious beginnings. Several Texas cavalry regiments that were captured at Arkansas Post, and an infantry regiment, the 7th Texas, which had been captured at Fort Donelson, made up the command of Hiram Bronson Granbury. Granbury was formerly the colonel of the 7th Texas.

Lundberg contends that this command was steeled by their previous defeats, surrenders, and prisoner of war experiences and became - through the superior leadership of their commanders, Granbury and division leader Patrick Cleburne - one of the Army of Tennessee's most reliable and steadfast brigades.

The regiments that made up Granbury's Brigade suffered significant losses early in the war due to desertions,  but Lundberg claims that these defections for the greatest part were not due to a lack of commitment to the Confederate cause. Rather, many of these soldiers were disappointed by having their cavalry mounts taken away and forced to fight dismounted. Another factor in the desertions was the desire for a number of the men to fight closer to home. Lundberg contends that enlistment records of units serving in Texas bear this out.

When Granbury's Brigade was finally formed it made quite a name for itself. Its first major combat was on Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga in November 1863. Cleburne's Division, and in particular Granbury's Brigade, held the Confederate right flank against the Union attacks. After the center of the line crumbled, finally forcing the brigade's retreat, it served as rear guard troops and rebuffed another Union assault at Ringgold Gap, which allowed the Army of Tennessee to reach Dalton, Georgia, in relative safety.

During the Atlanta campaign the following spring and summer, Granbury's Brigade won a number of smaller engagements and fought well as Gen. Joseph Johnston backed the Army of Tennessee up to the important city. Battles such as Pickett's Mill show the hard fighting devotion to both the Confederate cause and their commanders, Granbury and Cleburne, that the Texas soldiers continued to exhibit.

The beginning of the end of Granbury's Brigade occurred at the Battle of Franklin, in November 1864, where both Granbury and Cleburne were killed. And, while the Texans continued to battle at Nashville, and later in the Carolinas, now with many fewer men, and without their inspirational leaders, the brigade was  never quite the same and morale sagged.

Granbury's Texas Brigade is a well researched and written book. My only gripe (and small one at that) is the author's continual rehashing that the brigade's combat record refutes Richard Beringer, et al.'s arguments in Why the South Lost the Civil War.  That book claims that lack of Confederate commitment cost the South the war. Similarly, Lundberg often claims that the brigade's history supports the contentions that Gary Gallagher in The Confederate War and Jason Phillips in Diehard Rebels make. That is, that the majority of Confederates fought to the bitter end. I personally think this observation needed to be stated only once or twice, but it is made at the beginning and end of a number of the chapters throughout the book. Despite this minor complaint, I think any student of the Western Theater will enjoy this work. On a scale of one to five, I give Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates a 4.75.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Zooming in on USCT Soldiers at Dutch Gap, VA

I stumbled across the above image in the online collection of Civil War photographs located on the Library of Congress' website. I was unable to see much detail in the photograph so I downloaded the TIFF image and found that it appears to be taken at a United States Colored Troops camp near the Dutch Gap Canal on the James River in Virginia, which was just south of Richmond. The Library of Congress only had the photograph labeled as "Dutch Gap, Virginia, Bomb-proof quarters."

Dutch Gap was an engineering project the Union army devised in effort to avoid the formidable Confederate defenses along the James River, which protected Richmond from water-route invasions. The majority of the construction labor came from United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Almost dead-center in the foreground is a ghost-like image of an African American soldier standing on a plank at shoulder arms with fixed bayonet. The ghostly appearance is due to the soldier moving while the picture was being taken. One can clearly "see through" the man. An ax and wheel barrow are directly behind him and a wooden beam runs behind his face and head.

Just to the right of the soldier standing guard (and barely visible in the very top photograph) is a soldier staring directly at the photographer.  He is is wearing a enlisted man's frock coat, the nine buttons of which stand out brightly. He stands just outside the entrance of a bomb proof shelter. Another soldier's right arm and right half of his face is barely discernible behind the featured soldier.

Bomb proofs were dug into banks, trench sides or hillsides by the soldiers to avoid the enemy's heavy artillery blasts. A bright gun barrel and what appears to be another soldier's left hand can be seen at the door of the bomb proof.  A pile of overcoats (or greatcoats as they were called then) are on the right side of this cropped detail.

To the right of the soldier at the bomb proof entrance is a group of three soldiers.  The soldier in the middle moved making it seem there are four soldiers seen here.  All three are looking at the photographer. The soldier on the far right looks to be holding something out in front of him at this waistline. The soldier in the center has his hands in his pockets and is wearing a vest under his frock coat. 

In the right foreground is a white officer. He is wearing knee-high muddy boots and his sword scabbard appears to be mud spattered, too.  He has on an officer's frock coat with shoulder straps and officer's kepi.

In the left foreground is a pile of discarded barrels and wheelbarrows. Two white men, possibly from the engineering or quartermaster department, stand to the right of the pile. One man has his arms folded across his chest and the other is standing on a plank and has his hands crossed in front while wearing gloves.  An African American soldier is seated on the hillside just to the right. Above the seated soldier is the covered entrance to another bomb proof shelter. Directly behind the pile of barrels seems to be yet another bomb proof. This one appears to have a brick chimney.  

A closer detail of the soldier sitting on the hillside shows he appears to be wearing a shell jacket rather than the frock coats worn by his comrades. Perhaps he tailored his coat by removing the skirts, He wears his cap at a jaunty angle.

Zeroing in on the hillside above the camp, one can discern that it is wash day. In almost the very center of the photograph, which the above detail shows, a soldier can be seen on the left side (there might be sergeant stripes on his right arm sleeve) and just to the right of him is another soldier (his face is barely visible by the tree and a black speck on the photograph. The soldier on the left seems to be wearing his coat, while the one hidden mostly by the tree is in his shirt. A clothesline of white shirts are drying to the right of the tree, and buckets are just below the shirts.

Another close-up, this one just the left of the group at the clothesline, shows more soldiers doing laundry. One is shown facing forward looking at the camera in the bottom right, while at least one other has his back turned in the center. A pair of white drawers hang on a grapevine or bush drying in the top left.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. The TIFF image can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Tension of Slavery and Emancipation

While doing some research through Kentucky newspapers I ran across the above notice on page three of the February 25, 1864, edition of Henderson, Kentucky's, The Weekly Reporter.

Understanding the historical context of the state helps one better understand this brief and tragic article. As I have mentioned in past posts, Kentucky was the last of the major slaveholding states to formally end the institution. Exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation due to its continued loyalty to the Union, it took the ratification of 13th Amendment in December 1865 to finally bring emancipation to the commonwealth.

As one might imagine, the road to freedom had many bumps and potholes. Slaves in Kentucky fully understood what was happening during the Civil War. They knew about the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect fully a year before this newspaper notice ran. They understood that a victory for the Union would be a defeat for slavery. White Kentuckians hoped that by remaining loyal slavery would continue in the state. Enslaved people thought otherwise. They used the disruption of the war to runaway. Some went to nearby Union army camps, others to free states across the Ohio River. Still, more slowed their pace of work and others felt emboldened, knowing the institution was on it last legs.

We do not know the full situation in this particular incident. We do not know why the unnamed slave became "refractory and attempted the life of Mr. Mills, the overseeer." But, without a doubt it shows the tension that existed between the oppressed and the oppressor. Other information would be needed to complete and corroborate this account - information that may or may not be available. But, knowing what was going on at this time allows one to make a speculative inference.

This is purely speculation on my part, but this slave probably knew that he was laboring under a dying institution. He may have become lax in his responsibilities and was thus threatened by Mr. Mills the overseer. Being fed up with his situation the enslaved man may have returned the threat. The overseer, being in his particular authoritative position, likely felt he had little choice but to back up his threats with exercised force. From the overseer's perspective, he could little allow his authority to be questioned. If he did, he would not get the needed labor from his charges, essentially his main responsibly. In addition, being a white man, honor would not allow him to be threatened by a slave without some severe recourse. Again, this conjecture is purely speculative, but would not have been unheard of in this time and place. Regardless of the true facts of the incident, the tension between slavery and emancipation was played out in many similar occurrences across Kentucky and the South.      

Monday, April 22, 2013

Zooming in on Slave Quarters - Hilton Head, SC

Located in the Gladstone Collection of the Library of Congress is an intriguing photograph titled "Drayton's Negro Quarters, Hilton Head, SC." The image becomes even more fascinating when details are exposed, however, some speculation is needed.

In the right foreground of the image are five African American children. Two of the boys wear Union army caps, while one is bareheaded. The young girl on the left is holding an infant in her arms. They all appear to be barefoot. I can't help but wonder if these are brothers and sisters. Cousins? Or, are they just neighbors? 

To the far left of the photograph is a woman with a her head wrapped and holding an infant. The woman has on an apron and a young man stands next to her. Is the boy is her son?  Maybe her younger brother?

This particular detail allows a closer look at the slave quarters. They appear to be frame, clapboard sided structures with a doorway and window on the front elevation. Likely there is a rear entrance/exit door too. Also shown in this detail is an improvised stick fence to the left side of the quarter. This barrier may have been for a garden plot that they wanted to keep protected from animals. But, possibly it could have been used to keep poultry or other small animals caged in.  

Standing next to the five children in the right foreground is a man in what appears to be a military frock coat. But, the coat seems to be light colored. As this photograph was probably taken after Union troops had captured the South Carolina sea islands, it may be that this is a Northern civilian official that served as an overseer.

To the left of this man and in the background is an African American man wearing an apron.  Maybe he is a blacksmith or possibly a butcher. Directly behind the white man is an African American man sitting the quarter's doorway.

In front of a couple of the slave quarters on the left side of the photograph are undetermined piles of something.  What ever it is, it seems to be light colored. Are these piles of oyster shells? Sweet potatoes?

Another detail shows the brick chimney of the quarters, which seem to be whitewashed. Nearby an African American man stands with his back to a tree staring at the photographer.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Just Finished Reading - General Lee's Army

Yet another book that had remained too long on my shelf is General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse, by Joseph T. Glatthaar. Had I realized that this work was not your ordinary study of the Army of Northern Virginia, I would have gotten to it much sooner.

From the first page, one finds that General Lee's Army is a mix of social and military history. Glatthaar makes a point to spend much of the book informing the reader what life was like for the men that made up the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), rather than providing a detailed examination of strategy and battle tactics. And, considering that the book covers 472 pages of text, the number of primary source accounts he provides to tell their story is nothing short of impressive (the footnotes and bibliography covers over 100 pages). As the book's dust jacket explains: "General Lee's Army penetrates headquarters tents and winter shanties, eliciting the officers' plans, wishes, and prayers; it portrays a world of life, death, healing, and hardship; it investigates the South's commitment to the war and its gradual erosion; and it depicts and analyzes Lee's men in triumph and defeat." That is, in effect, a real good summary of the book.

The most fascinating aspect of the book rests with the statistical analysis on the socioeconomic background of the soldiers that made up the ANV. A sample of 600 ANVsoldiers was taken for this study. 300 of which were infantry, 150 cavalry, and 150 artillery. Then, taking information from these soldiers' service records, census records, state pension files, and other sources, and covering all the Confederate states, Glatthaar gives us a portrait of the men in the ranks and files. By completing this statistical survey Glatthaar found that the ANV was made up of soldiers of all classes of society. And, their attachment to the institution of slavery was significant.

For too long I have heard what I believe to be a fallacious argument, i.e. that Confederate soldiers were not fighting for slavery, because only a minority owned slaves. I believe this particular argument is faulty because most of the soldiers that made up the Confederate armies were young men just getting their start in life and thus owned little property at all, let alone expensive slaves. However, if one takes into consideration the slaveowning families that the soldiers came from, the number of men with ties to slavery increases dramatically. A modern comparison would be teenagers or college-aged young people owning cars. Many young people do not own their own vehicle, rather their parents provide for their means of transportation by letting their son or daughter use a vehicle that the adult, in fact, owns.

Similarly, the marginal percentage of slaveowners in the South is due to taking into account women and children, individuals that would only on rare occasions actually own slaves. A far better determining figure is slaveholding families. Glatthaar found that "volunteers in 1861 were 42 percent more likely to own slaves themselves or to live with family members who owned slaves than the general population." But that's not all. The study also "indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders." The association is even greater when one considers the "Untold numbers of enlistees that rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders." Slavery was fully ingrained in the South's culture, economy, society, and politics, and thus naturally an important part of the main army of the Confederacy.

The chapter names show that General Lee's Army covers a number of topics: "Becoming Soldiers," "A Failure of Discipline," "Supplying the Army," "Camp and Recreation," "Religion and Morality," "Home Front," and one that was especially intriguing to me, "Blacks and the Army," which discusses the role of slaves in providing labor services to the ANV. Enslaved African Americans served the army as body servants, cooks, washers, teamsters, and in a host of other duties.

The thing that really stood out to me - and something I already knew, but Glatthaar certainly reinforced - was the fact that the men that made up the ANV were fully committed to their cause, and once Lee was placed in command, committed to their commander. These men marched through, fought through, ate, slept in and literally breathed a hellish existence, and yet, the great majority slugged on to the bitter end. Thus, it is not so surprising that, due to their extreme sacrifices, they and their children and grandchildren would develop the Lost Cause myths that have existed and persisted since Lee surrendered to Grant in Wilmer McLean's parlor at Appomattox.

I really enjoyed reading General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. The detailed aspects of soldier life and the statistical analysis were highlights for me. On a scale of one to five, I give it a 5. Well done.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bell - Plantation Time Pieces

Plantation bell from Greene County, Georgia
The opening stanza of the 1840s minstrel song "Jim Along Josie" gives a nod of acknowledgement to the plantation time piece - the bell.

Oh, I'se from Louisiana as you all know,
dats where Jim along Josies all go;
Dem folk all rise when de bell does ring,
dis is da song dat dey do sing.

For slaves who were not usually allowed to own pocket watches or clocks to keep time, a reliance on the sun made time management difficult due to the changing seasons. Most masters or overseers used a bell, horn or other audible means to communicate with their enslaved workers that it was time to start work, time to eat, time to quit work, time to go to bed, and on rare occasions, time to celebrate.  

Plantation bells came in all shapes and sizes and were mounted in as many diverse ways.  Images that I located on the Library of Congress website come mainly from the Historic American Building Surveys completed in the 1930s and 1940s. Many are posted high up, as if to get as much sound out to the workforce as possible.

On a plantation near Chicot, Arkansas

Clover Hill Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

On an old sugarcane plantation near Gibson, Louisiana

Thornhill Plantation, Greene County, Alabama

Plantation bell, Heard County, Georgia

Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi - This old bell appears to be on a modern  metal mounting frame.

Knowlton Plantation, Bolivar County, Mississippi
On Jackson homestead, Greene County, Georgia

Greene County, Georgia
Mount Harmon Plantation, Cecil County, Maryland

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

RANAWAY - An Expression of Agency

My Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines "agency" as - 1: "the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power." 2. "a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved."

Most enslaved people were unable to exercise much agency in their day-to-day lives. Yes, they could choose to feign sickness to avoid a day's work, and they could break their tools to delay the dissatisfaction of working for another man's profit. They could even, on rare occasions, rebel against authority and strike back at those that owned or dominated them. But these expressions of agency usually had severe repercussions and offered little hope of ultimately changing their condition permanently.

Running away, however, offered the possibility (albeit risky) of forever ending their enslaved life and the opportunity to finally make decisions for oneself. It was a risk many men and women were willing to take.

Escaping confinement in pursuit of freedom is almost as old as slavery itself. When fortuitous opportunities arose that enslaved people thought would increase their chance of success, they often took to the woods, fields, and streams to escape bondage. The occasions varied and may have been when the master was away for an extended period, or it might have been on a Saturday night when the slave knew they had until Monday morning to make as much distance as possible. Or, it might have been when given a pass, which allowed him or her to be off the master's property.

The turmoil that the Civil War engendered in Southern society afforded more opportunities than previously possible for slaves. The region's myriad newspaper advertisements for runaways bear vivid evidence. The above advertisement is a perfect example. Hundreds of similar ads were place from 1861-1865 and show us that some slaves exercised agency in attempt to change their situations.

In this particular ad, after a brief physical description, the owner provided an idea to where the thought the man may have gone. "Said negro ran off a few weeks before, made his way to [Union] Camp Dick Robinson, where, after some time, he was apprehended."  The master also believed that "It is possible he has gone in the same direction again."

Slaves understood much better than their master's gave them credit that the Civil War would ultimately be a war over slavery, whether that aim was  recognized and expressed by the government or not.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My John Rogers Group

Way back in 2010 I posted about the wonderful John Rogers group sculpture "Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations." In that post I closed by stating that I would like to own one of these some day. Well, it took a while, but I finally got one.

About a three weeks ago I received an email from a gentleman in northern New York that informed me that he had obtained this particular piece from an estate, and after reading that 2010 blog post wondered if I would be interested in purchasing it. After corresponding back and forth via email and viewing some to the images of the sculpture that he emailed me, we agreed on a price and I purchased it via PayPal.

I am extremely pleased with the purchase. It makes a great addition to my home. Other than a few minor chips and being quite dirty (not too bad though for being almost 150 years old), it is in excellent shape and shows great features to each of the four subjected depicted. Hopefully, sometime in the future, I can find a reputable conservator to get the piece cleaned and restored for a reasonable price, but for the present I am content to enjoy it as it. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Angelina Baker - A Love Lost

Reading the lyrics to Stephen Collins Foster's "Angelina Baker" (1850), one can not help but empathize with the slave narrator's loss.

In the opening stanza the man relates that he was a top worker on the plantation. But then he met Angelina Baker and fell in love.

The second stanza relates that the narrator saw Angelina seemingly everywhere he went. He saw her at her best (at the ball), and probably at her worst (in the cornfield), but no matter what, every time she was smiling. However, his heart was broken and he was "left to weep a tear" when Angelina went away.

The narrator gives his impression of Angelina in the third stanza by stating how tall and fine she was and that she liked the boys on the plantation as well as they liked her. The last line of this stanza is interesting in that the narrator says Angelina used to pester the master about freeing his slaves.

In the final stanza, on an otherwise perfect day, the narrator is at loss as to understand why "She's gone away."  He has no idea where to look for her because he does not know why she left. Looking between lines, a reader of the lyrics might conclude that the master sold Angelina away for some reason - maybe because she used to bother him "for to free dem." Regardless of why Angelia is gone, the narrator is broken-hearted and left with only tears and destined to play the jawbone (an improvised slave percussion instrument) to pass the time.

When one hears minstrel songs, slave empathy does not usually come to mind. But through several of his songs (Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, and Angelina Baker) Foster showed that, regardless of popular white nineteenth century beliefs, plantation slaves had feelings too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

History Mystery Solved: Kager Mays, 108th USCI

I just love it when I can answer historical questions by doing a little research and using the information that I learned through reading books. Those two tools came in handy when trying to find out some information about a USCT photograph that I recently came across browsing through the Gladstone Collection in the Library of Congress.

The image (above) shows a proud looking African American Union soldier with his cap bill turned up and in a regulation army blouse. A necklace of some type rests on his chest.

The online Library of Congress image description did not give a name to this man, it only stated "African American soldier, half-length portrait, facing front."

The reason this soldier was not identified was due to the terrible handwriting on the back of the photograph. The photo's backside also provided me with a clue. It said it was taken by "Shepherd and Smith, Post Artists, Camp McClellan, Iowa and Rock Island Barracks, Ill." All that is legible of the handwritten portion is "Corp." (Corporal) and what looks to be Kager, the last name seems virtually unreadable. Then, legible again, is "Co. C" (Company C). But, the Company C is almost useless information without his regiment number, as every Civil War regiment had a Company C.

Here is where my reading came in handy. A number of years back I read Rebels at Rock Island: The Story of a Civil War Prison, by Benton McAdams. I read this book mainly because I had discovered through some genealogy work that I had a Confederate ancestor captured at Missionary Ridge (Chattanooga), Tennessee and was sent to Rock Island, a Union prisoner of war camp in the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. In the book it mentioned that the 108th United States Colored Infantry served as prison guards at Rock Island at one point of their service.

Then, recently, I read Ronald Coddington's African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. In African American Faces Coddington highlighted a number of soldiers in Company E of the 108th who served at Rock Island.

Putting two and two together, I reasoned that the soldier pictured was probably in the 108th too, but as the back indicated, in Company C, not E. I tried to find a roster of Company E soldiers online to no success. But then I checked the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky. Since the 108th was raised in Kentucky the soldiers of the regiment were all listed. I went to Company C and looked for a Corporal Kager "something." At first I did not see it, but then under the listing for "Died" was this soldier, "Corp. Kazer Mays." I knew this had to be my man.

"Kazer" Mays was actually Kager Mays. Mays was the illegible last name on the back of photograph. It even looks like Mays, now that I know that is what it is. His first name was even spelled Cager on one of his forms.

Looking up this soldier's service records gives us some insight into his life before joining the army and his experience during the Civil War and the first months of Reconstruction.

Mays was born in Adair County, Kentucky. When he enlisted on June 22, 1864, he was 40 years old. His is shown as 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall and black complexioned.

Mays must have performed his duty well as a soldier, as he was promoted to corporal on December 1, 1864. Sadly, while serving in Mississippi in the months after the Civil War, Mays died of "remittant fever;" likely malaria or yellow fever, on August 12, 1865.

It appears that Mays was owned by an Eliza Mays of Adair County, and enlisted without her consent. He enlisted at nearby Lebanon, Kentucky, for three years. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate Eliza Mays in the 1860 census.

Although Kager Mays died in service, the 108th continued to serve until they were mustered out in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on March 22, 1866.

I was hoping I would find Mays among the interments at the Vicksburg National Cemetery, but alas he was not listed. His discharge papers, processed three days after his death, show that he had received $74.74 worth of clothes from the government since his enlistment. It also lists "one shelter tent" worth $2.90." Among his service papers was an inventory for personal effects. Sadly, it listed "no effects."

Mays died like so many other soldiers that served in the Civil War - by disease, rather than bullets. But now this previously "unknown soldier" has a name and story to go with his amazing photograph.

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Mays service records courtesy of the National Archives.

Monday, April 8, 2013

William Wright, 114th USCI Soldier

One of the many fascinating photographs and stories of Kentucky's USCT soldiers in Ronald Coddington's African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album, is that of William Wright. Born of a mixed race relationship, Wright was a slave on the Franklin County, Kentucky plantation of the wealthy John Russell when he enlisted in the Union army in Lexington. He trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

Wright's owner, John Russell, was a War of 1812 veteran, a former member of the Kentucky senate, and a retired Mississippi River steamboat captain. A 1869 obituary called Russell "A Modern Sampson," who once bested the famous pirate Jean Lafitte in a brawl, and was a personal and intimate friend of Henry Clay.

In the 1850 census Russell is shown as the owner of 23 slaves, and 10 years later that figure had grown to 36 slaves. In 1860 he is listed as owning $20,000 in real estate and $53,200 in personal property.

William Wright's enlistment papers indicate that he was born in Franklin County and that he joined the army in Lexington on June 29, 1864 at age 26. He is listed as being a "laborer" before becoming a member of Company H, 114th United States Colored Infantry. Apparently Wright was illiterate as he made his mark instead of signing his name. 

Wright's papers indicate that he was not alone at the recruiting station. In the place where the document states "Consent of Parent or Guardian in case of a Minor, if a Free Man, or in case of a Slave, of the person to whom he owns service:" is signed "Jno. Russell of Franklin Co. . . the owner of William Wright  - A Slave."

Wright's service records indicate that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall, and is listed as "copper" complexioned.  He was mustered into service by a Captain Moore for three years.

Unlike some USCT units the 114th did not get to muster out early. After serving in Kentucky and then being transferred to Petersburg, Virginia, the 114th was sent to Texas where they performed occupation duty until April 1867.  Wright's papers show that he was a private until July of 1865, when he was promoted to corporal, a position he held for a year. Apparently he was returned to the rank of private, which he held when mustered out.

Coddington's research on Wright indicates that the former soldier and his family left Kentucky in 1871 and moved west to Iowa due to threats of racial violence in the Bluegrass State. He died in 1909 at 63 years old.

Wright image courtesy of Ronald S. Coddington
Documents courtesy of the National Archives

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Faces of the Confederacy

As I mentioned at the end of my recent post about Ronald Coddington's African American Faces of the Civil War, I was looking forward to getting his earlier work, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and their Stories. A quick purchase from Amazon put a copy in my hands.

Structured much like the African American Faces book, Faces of the Confederacy examines 77 soldiers that fought for the South. Accompanying striking carte de visite photographs of these men are short biographies that give background information and help the reader identify with these soldiers on a personal level.

I think too often people dismiss attempting to understand Confederate soldiers due to their cause and because of our modern sensibilities. But without adequately viewing their situation from their unique perspective, I believe it is unfair to judge them in this way.

Coddington's mini-biographies do not attempt to provide false sympathy for his subjects, rather, he seeks to show that these soldiers were men of their time and location who brought a different world view to their situation and battled for what they believed was a superior cause that would sustain their way of life for their posterity.

Only a few of Coddington's selected soldiers were familiar to me by name - and none of their stories were ones that I knew well. That was one of the joys of reading about them. The soldiers that receive treatment in the book were largely line soldiers: privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains.  Also covered to a lesser extent are majors and lieutenant colonels and some surgeons and chaplains. I believe this was a major strength of the book, however, I found myself wishing a few more privates would have been included instead of a larger number of lieutenants and captains.

As one might expect with such a large sample of stories, all Southern states that sent soldiers to the Confederate armies are represented. I was pleased to see such a large number of Kentucky soldiers receive examinations. The various branches of service (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) are all also represented. In addition, the fates of the soldiers are also well represented. Some of these men died of their battle wounds, some died of camp diseases, some were captured and served time in prison camps, and some made it back home beaten and broken.

It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of men who 150 years ago took up arms (many of which to fight for ideals we do not ascribe to today), but with books like Faces of the Confederacy, we have a better chance to truly comprehend each's unique situation and times in which they lived. I highly recommend Faces of the Confederacy, and on a scale of 1 to 5, give it a 4.75. Now I guess I just need to go ahead and get Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and their Stories to complete my collection.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Zooming in on USCT Soldiers in Petersburg's Earthworks

Having lived in Petersburg, Virginia, for a few years, I found the above image from the Library of Congress especially intriguing - not only for its location, but also its subject. It shows an earthwork position along the Petersburg Union line manned by United States Colored Troops. The photograph, as it appears above, makes it difficult to see much detail, but when individual parts are enlarged, it almost comes to life with new scenes.

Most trees in the scene have been cut for building the earthwork fortifications and for fuel, however one dominant tree in this image remains, probably to afford shade, as it seems most of the soldiers have congregated under its cover.

In almost the direct center of the photograph a soldier sits while taking a drink from his canteen. I appears that he and a comrade are on a rubber blanket to avoid the dirt and dust. The soldier drinking from the canteen has on a regulation forage cap and army blouse, while his fellow soldier appears to have taken off his coat in favor of shirt sleeves.

Just to the right of the canteen soldier is a group of men at rest. Some are sitting and some are lounging about in different positions. However, they all appear to be on planks rather than siting directly on the ground. Four of the soldiers have army regulation caps, while the top figure wears a slouch hat, and one man is bear-headed. One man has his trouser legs stuffed in his socks and all have on army coats except the bare-headed soldier who is in a light shirt and suspenders.

While the soldiers in the foreground rest and lounge about, a group in the background seem to be drilling to prepare to resist a potential attack. All of the soldiers at drill have their rifles and fixed bayonets, as well their accouterments such as cartridge boxes. And, while some of the soldiers in the foreground are in various stages of dress, the soldiers on top of the earthwork are fully uniformed.

A couple of soldiers in the right foreground seem to be worn out. Perhaps they have just returned from a night's duty on the picket line. One is on his stomach on a plank, seemingly deep in sleep, while another is on his back and uses his right arm to shield his eyes from the sunlight.

Just above the "canteen soldier" is a white man; possibly a company officer. It is difficult to tell for sure as he does not have a military coat on, but he appears to the be the only white man in the photograph.

While the soldiers on the earthwork drill with their weapons, those soldiers in the foreground have their rifles neatly stacked nearby.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. The downloadable TIFF file can be found here.