Tuesday, July 29, 2014

150 Years Ago Yesterday - Ezra Church

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was nothing if not committed to his belief in offensive attacks. Rather than attempting to out maneuver the enemy or picking places for fighting defensively with the benefit of cover to protect his rapidly dwindling men, he bleed his army in the engagements around Atlanta.

On July 28, 1864, fighting broke out on the west side of Atlanta as Hood attempted to block Sherman yet again. Trying to strike first Hood slammed into Gen. John "Black Jack" Logan's XV Corps near Ezra Church.

There, away for his unit, who was guarding army communications, was Union army chaplain George W. Pepper. Pepper belonged to the 80th Ohio Infantry of Green Berry Raum's (pictured) Brigade.

Chaplain Pepper witnessed the deadly damaged caused by the the severe fighting:

"Here in the woods where Logan's corps was first engaged (on the 28th), there is not a rock or tree, or leaf, but shows the desperate strife. One section of woods is literally cut off, torn down, scattered. Acres of this forest are topped by canister and grape-shot and shell almost as completely as our farmers top their cornfields with a sickle.

At the corner of the cornfield where the corps was engaged, there is a piece of oak rail fence and part of a stone wall. In one length of that fence behind which the rebels were concealed, I count 100 bullet holes. And along that field, and within the distance of 80 rods, we count 1,600 dead rebels, most of them lying on their backs, eyes open, faces black, hands folded on their breasts.

Here lies one upon his side, eyes closed, feet slightly drawn up, his head resting easily upon his knapsack. He looks a weary soldier, sound asleep. I speak to him, he stirs not; put my hand upon him, he will not wake. Dead.

Here is a soldier, a rebel captain, sitting against this tree. His limbs are crossed, and his cap hangs naturally upon his knee. One hand in the breast of his coat, the other hangs by his side. Dead.

Here, leaning against this wall, is a rebel soldier with his leg broken below the knee, and a Union surgeon lying dead across his feet. They are both dead. The surgeon was evidently dressing his wound when he received his death shot, for there is the bandage wound twice around the limb, the other end of which is still in the dead surgeon's hand. The rebel soldier evidently bled to death."

More fighting would be needed before Atlanta finally fell on September 1. But the Union army's morale was excellent following the fight at Ezra Church and they as well as their Confederate enemies knew it was only a matter of how much more time and how many more casualties before the inevitable.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph

A colleague at work shared this interesting photograph he recently located of Frank Lane Wolford. Wolford was colonel of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry (US) until he spoke out against African American recruitment in the state. More can be learned about Wolford here

Friday, July 25, 2014

Local Evils

A couple of months back I posted on antebellum white Kentuckians' perceptions of free people of color. I recently read a scholarly article that included an extended quote from a newspaper article titled "Local Evils," which ran in the Louisville Public Advertiser in 1835.  This excerpt corroborated much of the information shared in my aforementioned post that focused largely on examples the late antebellum period. The quote reads:

"We are overrun with free negroes. In certain parts of our town throngs of them may be seen at any time - and most of them have no ostensible means of obtaining a living. They lounge about through the day, and most subsist by stealing, or receiving stolen articles from slaves at night. Frequently, they are so bold as to occupy the side-walks in groups, and compel passengers to turn out and walk round them. Their impudence naturally attracts the attention of slaves, and necessarily becomes contagious. In addition to this, free negroes are teaching night schools. Slaves are their pupils and, to the extent of their tuition fees, are induced, in most instances, to rob their masters or employers."

The mention of free people of color occupying the city's sidewalks and being impudent provide a glimpse into why whites detested their presence. Free blacks occupied in a "limbo." They were black and thus view as inferior, but they were legally free, so they could not be ordered like a slave could be. Free people of color disrupted the neatly ordered society that white Kentuckians wish to continue. As their numbers continued to grow during the antebellum period, whites looked more and more for ways to curtail their freedoms and limit their liberty.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - The Battle of Atlanta

In my recent posts I have focused on the soldiers' stories, and rightly so, they after all put it all on the line whether in combat in camp or on the march. But, I think it is also important not to forget that soldiers were not the only ones affected by the war's course.

Civilians, too, felt the hard hand of war, especially Southerners who lived in the army's paths and or had family members fighting as soldiers.

One such civilian caught up in the waves of war was Sarah Huff, a young girl, who had fled with her family from nearby Marietta. Sarah remembered:

"It was on July 22, the day after we left home because the fighting was so near, that my younger brother John's keen ears caught the sound of distant fighting.

Before that fiery July sun had set, thousands of as brave men as ever joined battle, were numbered among the dead. And I saw thousands more brought into the city in ominous black-covered ambulances which made their slow, pain-laden way up Decatur Street to several improvised hospitals where Dr. Noe D'Alvigny and Dr. Logan, as well as many of Atlanta's most prominent ladies, waited to try to ease their suffering.

As the battle, raging to the east and southeast of us, grew more fierce, the line of ambulances creeping up Decatur street increased. The dismal-looking vehicles had their side curtains lifted to let in the air, for the heat was intense.

We could see from our viewpoint, in front of the old-time residence of Charles Shearer, Sr., the blood trickling down from the wounds of the poor helpless victims of one of the war's most terrible battles.

Men were clinging to sides of the hospital vans trying to fan away the terrible swarms of flies which hovered over the wounded. My young brother John went into action, as he usually did when he saw a chance to be helpful. Noticing that a fly brush had just fallen from the hands of a man on one of the ambulances, and had been crushed the heavy wheels, he grabbed the slit-paper fly brush that mother handed him, and leaping to the side of the slow-moving ambulance, became one of the most efficient fly-fanners in the procession. He was less than 12 years old."

Hood's desperate attacks continued that July 22, 1864 day that Sarah Huff remembered. Like at Peachtree Creek two days before, the Battle of Atlanta cost the Confederates dearly and added to their already growing lists of killed, wounded, and captured since Hood had assumed command. On July 22, the determined Confederate attacks proved damaging to Sherman's troops (about 4,000), but hurt the Southerners more (about 5,000).  Unfortunately for all, more was to come.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Peachtree Creek

Gen. John Bell Hood wasted little time once in command of the Army of Tennessee. He immediately went to work on offensive plans. Hood desired to make an attack near Peachtree Creek, just north of Atlanta, in attempt to throw back Sherman's Union forces.

Originally planned for 1:00 p.m. on July 20, 1864, the Confederate attacks actually began about 4:00 p.m. The Southerners met rough terrain, uncoordinated organization, and a stubborn enemy, and were forced to withdraw late in the day. They lost about 2,500 in killed, wounded, and missing.

One of those making the attacks was Lt. Robert M. Collins of the 15th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) of Gen. Hiram Bronson Granbury's (pictured) Brigade, Cleburne's Division. Most of Cleburne's men were held in reserve during the Peachtree Creek attacks, but some units, such as Collins's, were sent forward. Collin wrote:

"In front of our brigade was an open field about 400 yards across. About 4:30 o'clock the command was given, 'Forward, march!' We quit the [earth]works and moved out into the field. The Federals greeted us with terrific fire of shot and shells, but as we were moving down the hill they passed over our heads, doing no damage except that of making a fellow feel like he was very small game to be shot with such game.

On we go, now the lines come to the fence of a farm, the line halts and the men take hold of it and just bodily lift it and throw it down. Just at this moment a blinding flash right in our front and shell explodes. It seemed to be filled with powder and ounce balls. It laid a good many of the boys out, and among the number was Capt. Ben Tyus and myself.

Capt. Tyus was wounded in the ankle while I received an ounce ball in the upper third of my left thigh. As I fell I noticed that about two inches of my gray Georgia jeans pants had gone in with the shot; this was conclusive that a piece of shell had passed through my thigh and had necessarily cut the femoral artery, and that therefore I would be a dead Confederate in just three minutes, as my understanding was that the femoral artery cut would let all the blood in a man out in that time.

However, I made a grip on the wound with my right hand, intending to stop the blood as much as possible, and thereby hold on to life long enough to give my past history a hasty going over and to repeat all the prayers I knew. Four big stout fellows picked me up on a litter and started back to the line of breastworks. We had to pass through a galling fire of minies, shot and shell; I was not alaramed at all at this, because my mind was made up to quit the earth and I was now only waiting, as the saying goes, for death to strike me square in the face.

I finally ventured to inquire of one of the men carrying me if I were bleeding much. He was a witty Irishman, and replied, ' Not a drap of rudy current to be seen, Lieutenant.'

These words brought back my hope that had already gone over the hills out of sight, and made me remark that an improvement in gait would soon land us out of reach of these Yankee bullets. Then I chuckled in my sleeve when the thought occurred that maybe this wound will win a good furlough, and if it does won't I have fun with those Georgia girls. This may all sound like a strange line of thoughts to run through one's mind in so short a time and under such circumstances, but all this is sound common sense compared to some things we are guilty of doing during our natural lives."

Collins received immediate medical attention, and fortunately his wound had indeed missed his femoral artery. He recuperated in Georgia hospitals for about four months, returning to his regiment in November.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A 'Stampede' for Freedom

Since I spend a great deal of time sharing various Kentucky Civil War stories here on Random Thoughts, I thought I'd share a great piece written by Dr. Aaron Astor of Maryville College (Tennessee), which was written for the New York Times and their "Disunion" series. It is titled "A 'Stampede' for Freedom," and tells the intriguing story of Kentucky's African American enlistments in the Union army in the the spring of 1864, a story I have referenced often in past posts.

You may remember a couple of years back that I highly recommended Dr. Astor's book, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri. If you have not yet read Rebels on the Border, find a copy, you will not be disappointed.

Along with being an excellent writer, Dr. Astor is a great speaker as well. Last summer he assisted in the National Endowment for Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Grant that was hosted by the Kentucky Historical Society, which examined Kentucky and the border states in the Civil War. His ability to make a sometimes confusing and contentious topic like Reconstruction understandable to an audience is a true talent.

Dr. Astor's Disunion piece will surely bring additional national interest to Kentucky's often overlooked emancipation story and inspire those both inside and outside of the state to learn more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph

Unidentified Union soldier with enlisted man's dress hat (Hardee hat) and frock coat.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Monocacy

On July 9, 1864, a Union force under the command of Gen. Lew Wallace and Confederate force led by Gen. Jubal Early clashed on the Monocacy River near Frederick, Maryland.

One of the combatants that day was Private George W. Nichols, a member of the 61st Georgia Infantry, which belonged to the brigade of Gen. Clement A. Evans (pictured).

Writing his memoirs, which was published in 1898, Nichols wrote of that day:

"It made our hearts ache to look over the battle-field and see so many of our dear friends, comrades and  beloved officers, killed and wounded. Our loss was terrible, while the Yankees lost but few. I only saw three dead Union soldiers and I did not see one that was wounded, though I did not go over the field. We could not see a Yankee on our part of the line during the whole advance. All that we could shoot at was the smoke of their guns, they were so well posted. It was called our victory, but it was a costly one, for it cost Evans' Brigade over five hundred men, in wounded and killed. It was said that it was raw troops that we were fighting, but I never saw old soldiers shoot better. The Sixty-first Georgia Regiment went into battle with nearly one hundred and fifty men, and after the battle was over  we could not stack but fifty-two guns by actual count. . . .

It looked like half of the Twelfth Georgia Battalion were killed or wounded. Company D had the sad misfortune of getting Lieutenant James Mincy severely wounded. He was carrying our battle flag. He had picked it up after the fifth man had been shot down while carrying it in this battle and he was likewise shot down at once. He had already been wounded at Manassas and severely wounded at Gettysburg. Here he was shot through the left lung, the ball just missing his back bone. Bloody froth from his lungs would come out of his mouth an nose, and in the front and back where the ball passed through. He has since told me that the Yankee doctors drew a silk handkerchief through him and treated him very kindly. . . .

Here I saw one of Company A of our regiment, Thomas Nichols, (though no relative of mine) with his brains shot out. When I saw him he was sitting up and wiping brains from his temple wit his hand. I went to try to render him some assistance and did so by giving him some water. He seemed to have some mind, for he said that he wanted to go back to Virginia and get a horse and try to get home and never to cross the Potomac again. He lived twelve hours before death came to his relief."

While Wallace retreated from Monocacy, Early continued on toward Washington D.C., leaving his dead and wounded behind. Wallace's delay allowed troops from the Army of the Potomac to strengthen the capital's defenses, and thereby making Early's attempt virtually moot.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Yankee on Hood

Steven Vincent Benet once wrote that General John Bell Hood was "All lion, none of the fox." Indeed, Hood was a fighter of the most gallant stripe, but as the quote indicates, not the most tactically sharp knife in the drawer. He again and again demonstrated his preference for offensive action. At Gaines' Mill in 1862, it had succeeded. At Antietam in the "bloody cornfield" he drove the Yankees. However, at Kolb's Farm, at the battles around Atlanta, and dreadfully at Franklin, Hood's dash proved disastrous.

When Hood was given command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864, not only his charges took notice, the enemy did as well. Sergeant Fenwick Y. Hedley of the 32nd Illinois Infantry wrote about the Northerners reaction to the Confederate change in command:

"There was a camp story to the effect that, on receiving the news of Hood superseding Johnston, General Sherman called a council of officers, who had known the new Confederate commander personally, in order to learn something of his character. Several officers, who had been classmates with General Hood at West Point, expressed themselves in various ways, pertinent and otherwise; but the climax was reached when an old Kentucky colonel remarked that he 'Seed Hood bet twenty-five hundred dollars, with nary a p'ar in his hand!' This anecdote convinced all that such an exhibition of nerve was good evidence of the fighting qualities of the new commander. However this may be, Sherman was satisfied that the change of commanders betokened more vigorous measures, and made his dispositions accordingly, sending notice of the fact to every part of the army, and notifying his subordinates to be prepared, at all times, for sharp and unexpected battle. The troops grasped the import of Hood's appointment with as quick intelligence as the officers, and expressed great satisfaction with the assignment, regarding Hood as a hot-headed fellow, who would butt his brains out against their entrenchments, thus shortening the campaign and the war."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Inching on Atlanta

As the guns fell silent at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27th, 1864, Sherman was already looking for ways around the Confederate defenses. Federal generals Schofield and McPherson began to move around the Confederate left, which once again forced Johnston to withdraw and move south toward the Chattahoochee River, only about six miles from Atlanta.

During these movements Lt. Hamilton Branch took time to write home to his mother. Branch was a member of the 54th Georgia Infantry, which was part of Gen. Hugh Weedon Mercer's Brigade in William Henry Talbot Walker's (pictured) Division.

"In Reserve of Walker's Division
1/2 Miles of Chattahoochee River
July 6th 1864
My Very Dear Mother
After writing to you on yesterday we were moved one mile to the left and placed in position behind a portion of the stockade erected by Genl Shoop Genl Johnston's chief of Artillery this was the strangest sight we have seen since we have been here, it put me in mind of the fortifications I have read of in the account of the first American settlers lives, it was made thus on every little rise and commanding every little valey there were built redouts and block houses and all between these there were rails and logs about 12 feet in length stuck up in the ground close together, the whole forming (as some of the men remarked) a wall between the cornfeds and wheatfeds, and I would have liked it better if the wall had been 1/2 mile in height and had been built farther north, we remained at that place doing nothing until dark when Bill arrived and we went to work with good will, after eating we were ordered to pull down the stockade and build a breastwork instead, this we did working all night and until 9 oclock this morning when we were ordered to stop work and fall in this we did and were moved back into the woods about 200 yds where we dined immediately after dinner (or in fact before Capt. Anderson had finished for he had to eat as he was marching) we were ordered off an marched about 1 mile to this place and were put in reserve of our division, as soon as we stopped I put for the river and took a nice bath and put on my clean clothes. I then went back and just as I had arrived and was sitting down writing to you, we were ordered off again and are now (after having marched 1/2 mile to the left) in the trenches, and ready for a fight, we do not know how long we will stay here, and would not be at all surprised if we were moved in five minutes--thus it is we work all night and march all day and rest all the other time therefore we soldiers have plenty of rest and time to spare. We have not had a gun fired at us now for thirty-six hours in fact there is very little firing along the lines now, the enemy are shelling our pontoon bridges both on the right and left, and we are now putting some in the center. I do not know whether we will cross the river or not. Old Joe [Gen. Johnston] knows what he is at and will take care of us and do what is best. Praying for Gods blessings on you I remain your devoted son

President Jefferson Davis quickly grew tired of Johnston's continued retreats and on July 17 replaced him with battle-battered and amputated Gen. John Bell Hood. The highly offensive-minded Hood would strike at Sherman's legions time after time around Atlanta to great destruction of his army and to little to no gain. Regardless of defending commanders, Atlanta fell in the opening days of September, which was yet another body blow to the Confederacy, and a massive boost for Lincoln's reelection chances.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

150 Years Ago This Week - The Valley

Often overlooked due to actions going on at the same time in the Petersburg/Richmond region and over in northern Georgia, the Shenandoah Valley was also the scene of army movements and deadly fighting in the summer of 1864.

One of the men in Confederate General Jubal Early's army, and in William Terry's brigade (pictured) was Lt. John H. Worsham. A member of the 21st Virginia Infantry, Worsham had fought in the Valley two year earlier under Stonewall Jackson. Now, in 1864, he once again found himself in familiar confines as Early pushed on north toward Washington D.C. Worsham wrote the following about this week 150 years ago:

"On the 28th [June 1864] we resumed our march down the valley [northward] and felt perfectly at home, since nearly all of the valley from Staunton to the Potomac river was familiar to us, and many of its inhabitants old acquaintances. We stopped regularly at night and continued the march each day. On the afternoon of July 3d we reached Martinsburg, running in on the Yankees who were there, so suddenly, that they did not have time to move any of their stores. They were making big preparations to celebrate the Fourth, and many of the men had received boxes of good things from home and friends. The depot and express office were filled with articles of this kind. A guard was placed around these buildings and their storehouses. The express office was put in charge of a quartermaster who was an old friend of mine. At night I went there and inquired of the guard for him and and he let me into the building. He was very glad to see me, as he had only one man to help him get these articles in shape, and asked me to help him; this I consented to do, if he would give me a barrel of cakes. He said 'all right.' I found one and carried it out and turned it over to my company . . . who were profuse in their thanks for the cakes, and soon fell asleep,--dreaming of little cakes, big cakes, and a mountain made of cakes.

The next morning was the Fourth of July, 1864! Gen. Early did not move us at the usual early hour, but issued to the men the good things captured the evening before. They were divided among the men as fairly as possible, F Company getting a few oranges, lemons, cakes and candy, and a keg of lager beer. We certainly enjoyed the treat, and celebrated the day as well as we could for our hosts, and regretted they did not stay to preside for us. We drank their health with the wish that they would not do the like again. This was the biggest Fourth of July picnic celebration we enjoyed during the war. We took up our march and crossed the Potomac river at Shepherdstown."

Less than a week later Worsham and the rest of Early's army clashed with Gen. Lew Wallace's Federals at Monocacy, Maryland (July 9), then pushed on to the outskirts of Washington D.C.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kennesaw Mountain Aftermath

The Union attack at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, produced about 3,000 in killed, wounded, and missing. The following two days saw a series of ceased firing to gather those that had fallen for treatment or burial. The scene on what became known as Cheatham's Hill, was witnessed by David P. Conygham, a newspaper man serving as a volunteer aide-de-camp for the Union army. Conygham seemed surprised to see the soldiers from both armies using the truce time to talk with each other, catch up on old times, and seek news. He wrote:

"Next day General Johnston sent a flag of truce to Sherman, in order to give time to carry off the wounded and bury the dead, who were festering in front of their lines.

A truce followed, and Rebels and Federals freely participated in the work of charity. It was a strange sight to see friends, to see old acquaintances, and in some instances brothers, who have been separated for years, and now pitted in deadly hostility, meet and have a good talk over old times, and home scenes, and connections. They drank together, smoked together, appeared on the best possible terms, though the next day they were sure to meet in deadly conflict again.

Even some of the generals freely mixed with the men, and seemed to view the painful sight with melancholy interest.

I saw Pat Cleburne [pictured], with that tall meagre frame, and that ugly scar across his lank, gloomy face, stand with a thoughtful air, looking on the work his division had done; for it was his troops that defended the line of works in the centre, and committed such fearful havoc on Newton's and Davis' divisions. He looked a fit type of the lean Cassius. He was certainly to the western army what Stonewall Jackson was to the eastern. . . .

There were Generals Cleburne, Cheatham, Hindman, and Maney in busy converse with a a group of Federal officers, whom they had formerly known. Cheatham looked rugged and healthy, though seemingly sad and despondent. He wore his fatigue dress--a blue flannel shirt, black neck-tie, gray homespun pantaloons, and slouched, black hat. At first he was very taciturn; but this wearing off, he made inquiries about old friends, particularly about those from Nashville."

Cleburne would survive the upcoming battles around Atlanta, only to be killed in the futile attack at Franklin, Tennessee, almost exactly five months from Conygham's eyewitness account.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Frankfort Black Barber Marketed to Legislators

During my research I have assumed that a good deal of the customers for Frankfort's black barbers came from the state's body of legislators. The state House of Representatives had 100 members and the Senate was composed of 38 men. And, although they came in and out of session during the year, they added significantly to the population pool of potential customers who needed shaves, haircuts, baths, and other services offered by the capital city's barbers when they were in town. However, until recently, I had not located an advertisement where a barber marketed directly to the state's legislators. 

Edmund Spillman operated a barber shop below the Mansion House hotel on the northwest corner of St. Clair and Main Street in Frankfort. In an advertisement (above) in the June 22, 1848 (which also apparently ran earlier) edition of the Frankfort Kentucky Yeoman, a Democratic Party sheet, Spillman invited the "members of the Legislature, and the community at large" to stop in. Spillman explained he was "prepared to Shave, Trim Hair, and do all things in his line of business, in the most expeditious and agreeable manner, and the most reasonable terms." Spillman also ran a similar advertisement in the Frankfort Commonwealth, a Whig Party sheet, the same year.

According to an 1846 Yeoman advertisement, Spillman had previously operated his barber shop on Broadway Street, although the ad doe not state exactly where. I'm left to wonder for what reasons Spillman moved his shop. Did he desire to increase his business by being in a hotel that catered to legislators and thus made his services more convenient that in his old location? Or, was the reason for his removal more practical, such as finding a lower purchase or rent rate?

Regardless, Spillman showed a great deal of entrepreneurial spirit in his target marketing to the state's legislators. Not only did he mention them specifically in his advertisement, but by advertising in a medium used by those men,and in both main political parties' papers, he increased his chances of reaching those potential customers.   

Friday, June 27, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Kennesaw Mountain

When Sherman attacked at Kennesaw Mountain on the morning of June 27, 1864, a major focus of the assault was a salient in the Confederate line on the brow of a ridge that was manned by Benjamin F. Cheatham's Division. This part of the line became known as the "Dead Angle" due the massive casualties inflicted on the attackers.

One of those making the assault was Private S. M. Canterbury of the 86th Illinois Infantry Regiment, which was included in Colonel Daniel McCook's Brigade (pictured). During the attack McCook was grievously wounded and died a couple of weeks later. Canterbury, though, somehow made his way up to the Confederate earthworks. He wrote:

"At the creek at the foot of the hill I was in the rear, but got to the works as soon as any of the boys. I caught up to the front line as we reached the works. I found the brigade all mixed up in one line. In the space I was in I could not tell what was being done very far on the right or left of me. The rebel musketry fire was terrific; to stand still was death.

I realized the safest place was at the works. Col. Dan was in the lead. He said, "Forward with the colors!" When I first reached the works I fell or laid down, and hugged the works as close as I could for protection and to rest, as in running the distance we did, combined with the intense heat, I was about played out. Col. Dan climbed up the works. For a moment my attention was taken with a rebel on the opposite side from me who was trying to fire under the headlog. When I looked up, Col. Dan was standing on the headlog above me. I heard him say, "Bring up those colors!" I don't know whose colors they were. He grabbed the colors in his left hand, holding them aloft and using his saber in his right hand, parrying the rebels on the other side of the breastworks who were trying to bayonet him. I reached up and took hold of the skirt of his uniform coat and said to him, "Colonel Dan, for God's sake get down, they will shoot you!" He turned partly around stooping a little, and said to me, " G-d d--n you, attend to your own business." Then the gun was fired; they put the gun almost against him. I know the gun was not more than one foot from his hip when they shot him. I could not tell where he was shot. Had I not pulled on his coat I believe he would have fallen inside the rebel works. Some comrades took him back to the rear; that was the last I saw him."

McCook retrieved a promotion to general on July 16, the day before he died of his wounds received on the Confederate earthworks at Kennesaw Mountain.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congess.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kentucky's Black Barbers, Politics, and Newspaper Advertisements

When I became interested in researching antebellum Kentucky's black barbers I wondered if these men would only advertise in newspapers of particular political parties. More specifically, I was curious to see if they would support Whig/Opposition newspapers over Democratic Party newspapers. While neither political party in Kentucky could be called anti-slavery, the Democratic Party seemed to take a firmer stance and support slavery's expansion more than the Whigs/Opposition, whose members often tended to be more in favor of colonization.

Well, there appears to be no such correlation. The above advertisement by George W. Tucker ran in the Western Luminary, a paper that described itself as "A Family Religious Newspaper." And, while not a political paper per se, it shows that black barbers were probably more interested in promoting their business than in limiting their chances for revenue by supporting any particular party or faction newspaper.

Tucker advertised, too, in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette (above in 1836), a Democratic Party paper, and as the ad obviously shows, also in the Lexington Observer and Reporter, a Whig Party paper 

Tucker ran the above ad, as well, in the Kentucky Gazette in 1834.

Likewise, Frankfort barber Henry Samuel advertised his shop and bathhouse in the Frankfort Kentucky Yeoman (above), a Democratic Party newspaper in 1848, and in the Frankfort Commonwealth (below), a Whig paper, the same year.

After thinking about it, advertising in both political parties printed voices only made good business sense on the part of the barbers. Except for a slim difference in principle on the slavery issue, why would they limit their reach to potential paying customers? By advertising in both political parties' papers in the cities in which they were located barbers only increased their exposure and customer base, which in turn made for greater revenue and profit. Profits, of course, could be used to buy additional property or real estate and provide comforts and opportunities for their families in an occupation that most whites refused to do until well after emancipation.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Kolb's Farm

On June 22, 1864, Sherman's attempt to flank the Confederates off of Kennesaw Mountain caused an engagement at Kolb's Farm. Johnston ordered Kentuckian Gen. John Bell Hood to block 20th Corps division commander Alpheus S. Williams (pictured) troops' movement. Hood, apparently seeking a smashing defeat, instead attacked, which resulted in great Confederate loss. Williams wrote about the day's fighting:

"We had just begun to pile rails when the heavy skirmish line of the enemy poured out of the woods all along the open and advanced at a run. Three columns, massed, followed close and deployed in three and four lines. The infantry columns opposite of Knipe and Ruger's left moved forward, but as they reached the brow of a ravine which ran parallel to our front, the whole line opened with a withering volley. Some Rebs. went back, some scrambled down into the deep ravine, but none ever passed beyond it. One heavy column got hold of the woods in front of Knipe's left and upon it I turned twelve pieces of artillery, sweeping it with canister and case shot until the devils found sufficient employment in covering themselves behind trees and logs.

Farther toward our left a huge mass of Rebels moved out to attack Robinson's brigade, but three rounds from the rifled guns set the whole mass flying in the greatest disorder. They never reached the fire of our infantry. The attack was kept up from 4 P.M. until near dark. The numbers were formidable, but the attack was indeed feeble. The Rebs. had been badly shaken by our artillery fire before they left the woods. All the prisoners say this. Indeed, after the first half-hour the men considered the whole affair great sport. They would call out to the Rebels who had taken shelter in the woods and in the deep ravines in our front, 'Come up here, Johnny Reb. here is a weak place!' 'Come up and take this battery; we are Hooker's paper collar boys.' 'We've only got two rounds of ammunition, come and take us.' 'What do you think of Joe Hooker's Iron Clads?' and the like. . . .

Altogether, I have never had an engagement in which success was won so completely and with so little sacrifice of life. Considering the number of the enemy sent against my single division, the result is indeed most wonderful and gratifying. Dory Davis (T.R.) has been here making a sketch of the ground for Harper's [Weekly]; but he says that Harper's don't put in half he sends and those are bunglingly and incorrectly copied. He sketches beautifully and the pictures he has sent give a most correct idea of the filed of fight, so far as landscape is concerned. We are now lying in the woods and have possession of the ground the enemy charged over. They have strong works not a mile in our front and our pickets keep up the usual popping of small arms."

In less than a week the tide would turn in the Confederates' favor when Sherman decided to attack them on Kennesaw Mountain on June 27. The Confederate defenders had the advantage of breastworks and the high ground to inflict terrible causalities on the attackers. It would be a lesson Sherman would remember. Hood, however, apparently did not take away much from the tough lesson of Kolb's Farm. He would go on to make the same mistakes in the July and August battles around Atlanta, and at Franklin, Tennessee, in November.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph

This rare photograph shows a Union army camp scene where soldiers are entertained by a group of African American minstrel performers. Touring minstrel groups were typically composed of whites who performed in blackface, but some were made up of blacks. It would interesting to know if the group members here were free blacks - either from the northern or slave states - or if they were so-called contrabands.

The group is made up (from left to right) of a bones player, two guitarists, a banjoist, and a tambourine player. They seem to be missing a fiddle player. The group appears to be sitting especially for the photographer in a typical minstrel pose, as they are framed on each end by the raised arms of the bones player and tambourine player (see below).


Friday, June 20, 2014

On the Kennesaw Line

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week, but I was busy forwarding the flag of history in College Park, Maryland, at the National History Day competition. If you are not familiar with this great program, which teaches students the skills of "doing history," check it out at www.nhd.org.

Mid-June 1864 saw the Confederate defenders in Georgia holding off Sherman near Kennesaw Mountain, under 30 miles from targeted Atlanta. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston used the region's geography to his advantage, tempting Sherman to attack the formidable earthworks, which due to constant close combat, were becoming as common in Georgia as in Virginia.

Corporal Benjamin F. McGee of the 72nd Indiana Infantry Regiment of Gen. John Thomas Wilder's (pictured) Brigade wrote about the imposing Confederate defenses at Kennesaw.

"On emerging from this forest we could see, for the first time during our service, nearly the entire field of strife. The panorama was terribly grand and awe-inspiring. Had we the time, and the power of Homer, we should like to describe it. What was most repugnant to our feelings, and made us shrink back a little on emerging from the dark woods, was to see on the north end of Kenesaw [sic] an eight-gun battery, of largest calibre, which seemed within a stone's throw of us, and ready to drop death and destruction amongst us. The battery was really four miles away, but so clear was the air that the grim guns seemed very near. The truth is, as we swept our eyes over the scene, horrible with devices and enginery of death, the prospect for a speedy termination of the conflict was not at all encouraging. Every mountain and hill, in front and away to the right, fairly bristled with artillery and swarmed with rebels, Never before had we seen so many rebels at one time."

One June 22, Sherman attempted yet another flanking movement in effort to avoid a direct confrontation at Kennesaw Mountain, but was met at Kolb's Farm by John Bell Hood's Corps. Although Hood's counterattack was bungled, it proved partly successful in that it returned Sherman's attention directly on Kennesaw Mountain. There, a week later, a desperate Union attack was met with an even more desperate and successful Confederate defense.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Abe Buford, Kentuckian

Other than horses and basketball, Kentucky is best known for its bourbon whiskey. Whiskey has been distilled in Kentucky longer than Kentucky has been Kentucky. Much like the horse industry, the bourbon industry claims that the land makes all the difference in a great product. Central Kentucky's fertile soil grows great corn and the limestone springs provide a type of water distillers consider perfect for bourbon production.

I, of course, had heard of Abraham Buford when I came across the above advertisement in an 1867 edition of the Lexington Observer and Reporter, but I never realized he dabbled in the distillery business. A quick peek into his life detailed a tragic story.

Abraham Buford was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, in 1820. He was named for a Revolutionary War great uncle, so it only made since he would end up having a military career. After studying at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, Abe attended West Point, graduating in 1841. After participating in the Mexican-American War he stayed in the west for a time before resigning his commission in 1854.

During the Civil War he belatedly joined the Confederacy in the fall of 1862, when the Southerners invaded his native state. He led Confederate cavalry as a brigadier general until the end of the war when he returned to Woodford County and his horse farm, called Bosque Bonita. The Bufords, like so many Kentucky families, were divided by the war. Cousins John and Napoleon Bonaparte Buford made considerable names for themselves in the Union army. 

Buford's career in thoroughbreds pre-dated the Civil War when he was part of a four-party purchase of the famous race horse "Lexington." "Lexington" was later sold exclusively to neighboring horse breeder Richard A. Alexander at Woodburn Farm. The horse brought the highest price ever up to that time, $15,000. 

The 1870s proved to be devastating to Buford. That decade witnessed the loss Bosque Bonita Farm to creditors, the death of his son, Willliam, and the death of his wife, Amanda. Buford's brother, Thomas, a Kentucky judge, killed another judge in 1879, and was committed to an insane asylum. When Thomas escaped from confinement and made his way to Indiana, where he was exempt from extradition, Abraham when to visit Thomas's son Benjamin in Danville, Indiana, for consolation. While there, on June 9, 1884, a depressed Abe Buford took his own life. His body was returned to Kentucky and interred in the Lexington Cemetery.      

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Confederate Soldier Life on the Front Lines

Like Richmond, Atlanta, too, was a hard road to travel - for both those on the offensive, and those on the defensive. One of those defending was young Lieutenant John W. Comer of the 45th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The 45th was in Lowrey's Brigade of Cleburne's Division and had already seen some serious combat. Comer was not yet twenty years old in the summer of 1864, but he had experienced things men three times his age had not seen. With Comer in his soldering adventure was his slave Burrell, who attended to camp duties.

On June 14, 1864, Comer wrote home to Barbour County, Alabama, explaining his army trials.

"I am glad to say I am still safe & well. I never enjoyed better health in my life, I have a few soars on one of my feet, caused I think from such hard and continual marching. We have been on pad since we left Montivallo the 5th day of May. When we lie down at night we do not know how long we will be permitted to sleep, all the principal manuvers are made at night. I never think of pulling off my clothes or shoes when I lie down. I have not pulled off my Pants or Shoes to lie down more then twice since the 5th of May. I sleep with my belt around me & my sword & haversack under my head so as to be ready to move in a moment when called upon. Local service is a paradise compared to active service. I do not believe that there is a Soldier in this army but what has got lice (Body lice I mean). I have my clothes boiled but to no purpose. it is useless to try to get rid of them as long as we have to fare as we do, they plague me half to death, keeping me scratching & feeling . . .While I am writing our Pickets are fighting in front & the Enemy are cannonading heavily. But I have become accustomed to the sound and it does not bother me at all. We are ready and anxiously awaiting the attack of the Enemy. The army is in fine spirits and confident of success in the end. . . .

Burrell is now with the wagon train. I sent him to the rear to wash some clothes. one of our men has just in from the train [and] says he is well & will come to the Regt. in a few days. If Burrell holds out just full to the end & stick[s] to me as well as he has done heretofore & I come out safe, a mint of money could not buy him. There are very few negroes in the army that are not worth anything to their masters at times like this. Burrell is not afraid of anything, he came to use the other day while we were on Picket & borrowed some of the boys guns & shot at the Yankees. said he wanted to kill one Yankee before the war ended."

More tough times for both sides were just about a week away when the belligerents clashed at Kennesaw Mountain.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Black Barbers and the 1860 Kentucky Census

Back in April, I provided some findings from the 1850 census on Kentucky's black barbers. Well, I finally wrapped up 1860 and thought I would do the same for it.

There were not a whole lot of surprises, but the analysis was informative nonetheless. One slight surprise was the lack of increase in barbers from 1850 to 1860. In 1850, there were 102 African American barbers listed, and in 1860 there were 109. I suppose I was expecting a larger increase.

The oldest was the well known Lexington barber Samuel A. Oldham, who was 66. Conversely, the youngest was 10 year old John Black in Louisville's 6th Ward. However, the average age was 32, which means that most of the barbers were probably born in the 1820s and 1830s. There were a number of young barbers. For example, in Oldham's Lexington household were: 19 year old Henry Scrogins, 16 year old Diadamus Scrogins, 16 year old John Mason, 15 year old Patrick Mason, and 19 year old Hezekiah Morison. In Lancaster, 17 year old H. M. Morris served patrons. In Henry Simmend's Louisville household, along with the aforementioned youngster John Black, was also Charles Black a 13 year old, and Ed Goins, who was only 12 years old. Surely most of these boys and young men were apprentices, but most all were listed as "barber."

Almost half of Kentucky's black barbers in 1860 worked in Louisville. There were 52 listed living there. Lexington had the next most at 16. Frankfort's total of black barbers dropped from 12 in 1850 to five in 1860. I am not quite sure why for the decrease. Maysville had the same number as Frankfort. Owensboro had four. Other towns included Paris (2), Catlettsburg (1), Danville (2), Princeton (1), Winchester (1), Mayfield (1), Cynthiana (2), Henderson (2), Covington (2), Richmond (1), Lebanon (2), Harrodsburg (1), Bardstown (1), Georgetown (1), Shelbyville (2), Bowling Green (2), and Midway (1). Although none were listed in Paducah in the census, there were two in that city's 1859-60 directory, but perhaps they were enslaved barbers.

A couple of the state's black barbers in 1860 were doing quite well financially. Louisville's well known Washington Spradling had $25,000 in real estate, while also in that city was David Straus, a 60 year old "mulatto," who owned $10,000 in real estate. Peter Smith in Frankfort owned $3700 in real property. Albert Mackey of Richmond owned $3000 in personal property, a great deal of which was 5 slaves, possibly his family. Charles Anderson of Owensboro owned $5000 in personal property.

The barbers owned a total of $27,330 in personal property. Divided among the 109 barbers that is an average personal property wealth of $250.73. If one takes into consideration only the 53 barbers that actually owned personal property, each averaged $515.66. The barbers also owned a total of $55,550 in real estate for an average of $509.63. But only 19 of the 109 barbers actually owned real estate, so if only factoring those, their real estate average rises to $2923.68.

In 1850, 45 barbers were listed mulatto and 57 were black. But in 1860, there was slight reversal of complexion figures with 46 black, 60 mulatto, and 3 with color not noted (but confirmed as African American by city directory). There appeared to be some market mobility from 1850 to 1860. For instance, Wallace Cowan left Danville for Louisville, Q. B. Jones left Frankfort for Louisville, as did Johnson Buckner.

If I had the time, it would be interesting to see how things changed in 1870 (after emancipation), but that's a future project at best.    

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Civil War Soldiers and Practical Jokes

With so much down time in camp Civil War soldiers naturally looked for various diversion to pass the hours. Some played cards, some formed singing groups, some read everything they could find, some gravitated toward camp revivals, and some played practical jokes.

And,while contrabands in the Union army (above photos) and camp slaves in the Confederate armies came in for fair share of the victims, comrades were most often on the butt end of the joke.

Pennsylvanian Private Sidney M. Davis of the 6th US Cavalry wrote about some to the tomfoolery that he witnessed:

"During these days of wild soldiering the men were addicted to playing practical jokes upon each other. Sometimes when a party would be lying asleep around the campfire, with their boots out and their bare feet stretched out towards the welcome coals, a comrade would move a blazing branch closer to the glistening soles. Presently the sleeper would move uneasily and draw up his pedal extremities. Then the branch would be moved closer, followed by a similar movement, and this programme would be followed up until the sleeper had gradually travelled over considerable ground.

When at last the sleeper awakened, he would look about him with a bewildered stare, until the laughs of his comrades brought him to a realization of the pranks that had been played upon him.

There was another mode of dealing with soldiers accustomed to sleep with their mouths open. A long train of paper would be made and laid, with one end in his mouth, and the other off some distance. The end farthest away would then be lighted, and the paper would burn gradually up towards his face, and presently awake him with its light and heat. On such occasions it was a comical sight to observe the curious emotions displayed upon his face--the uncertainty for a time, and then the sudden consciousness that brought him to his feet with startling suddenness."

Saturday, June 7, 2014


The racism of the mid-nineteenth century never ceases to amaze me. However, in my opinion, why it was that way is important to try to understand. 

I found the above article in the May 12, 1870, edition of the Cynthiana News, a Kentucky newspaper. The changes that the post-Civil War constitutional amendments meant for Kentucky were frightening to many of the state's whites, who had previously only dealt with most African Americans through the social control of slavery. Now, there was no more slavery, blacks were to be considered citizens and received the attending rights, and of course - and maybe scariest - black men had gained the right to vote.  

While those amendment changes help in explaining the racism presented in this article, its logic is difficult to figure. Abraham Lincoln had argued back in 1858 in the debates he held with Stephen A. Douglas, that just because a man (or party) believed that African Americans were created equal, that did not necessarily mean - or lead - to a white man wanting to marry a black woman. 

However, I suppose there is no logic needed when it comes to propaganda, which is what this article is to me. There is no solid evidence backing up its claims and its only intent was to prevent whites from voting for the Republican Party. Apparently strategies such as this worked well in Kentucky; where a Republican governor was not elected until 1895, and former Confederates dominated politics in the state into the 20th century. In addition, many of those white Kentuckians who had fought for the Union in the Civil War held no favor for the Republican Party and fused with former Confederates in the Democratic Party. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph

Unknown Tennessee Confederate cavalrymen and their camp slaves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Cold Harbor, June 3

After repulse on June 1, and a relative day of stalemate on June 2, Gen. Grant resumed attacks on June 3. Just before daybreak the Union II Corps under the command of Gen. Winfield S. Hancock set off for the Confederate earthworks, hoping to break the line.

Observing the attack was Frank Wilkeson of the 11th New York Artillery Battery. A mere youth not yet 20 years old, Wilkeson wrote about his war experiences less than 25 years after the war. The 11th was in the artillery brigade of the II Corps under command of Col. John C. Tidball (pictured above third from right).

Of the day Wilkeson wrote:
"To our left, to our right, other batteries opened; and along the Confederate line cannon sent forth their balls searching for the range. Then their guns were silent. It was daylight. We, the light artillerymen, were heated with battle. The strain on our nerves were over. In our front were two line of Union infantry. One well in advance of the other, and both lying down. We were firing over them. The Confederate pickets sprang out of their rifle pits and ran back to their main line of works. Then they turned and warmed the battery with long-range rifle practice, knocking over a man here, killing another there, breaking the leg of a horse yonder, and generally behaving in an exasperating manner. The Confederate infantry was always much more effective than their artillery, and the battery that got under the fire of their cool infantry always suffered severely. The air began to grow hazy with powder smoke. We saw the line of slouch-hatted heads had disappeared from the Confederate earthworks, leaving heads exposed only at long intervals. Out of the powder smoke came an officer from the battle-lines of infantry. He told us to stop firing, as the soldiers were about to charge. He disappeared to carry the message to the other batteries. Our cannon became silent. The smoke drifted off the field. I noticed that the sun was not yet up. Suddenly the foremost line of our troops,which were lying on the ground in front of us, sprang to their feet and dashed at the Confederate earthworks at a run. Instantly those works were manned. Cannon belched forth a torrent of canister, the works glowed brightly with musketry, a storm of lead and iron struck the blue line, cutting gaps in it. Still they pushed on, and on, and on. But, how many of them fell! They drew near the earthworks, firing as they went, and then, with a cheer, the first line of the Red Division of the Second Corps (Barlow's) swept over it. And there in our front lay, sat, and stood the second line, the supports; why did they not go forward and make good the victory? They did not. Intensely excited, I watched the portion of the Confederate line which our men had captured. I was faintly conscious of terrific firing to our right and of heavy and continuous cheering on that portion of our line which was held by the Fifth and Sixth Corps. For once the several corps had delivered a simultaneous assault, and I knew that it was to be now or never. The powder smoke curled lowly in thin clouds above the captured works. Then the firing became more and more thunderous. The tops of many battle-flags could be seen indistinctly, and then there was a heavy and fierce yell, and the thrilling battle-cry of the Confederate infantry floated to us. "Can our men withstand the charge?" I asked myself. Quickly I was answered. They came into sight clambering over the parapet of the captured works. All organization was lost. They fled wildly for the protection of their second line and the Union guns, and they were shot by scores as they ran. The Confederate infantry appeared behind their works and nimbly climbed over, as though intent on following up their success, and their fire was the fury of hell. We manned the guns and drove them to cover by bursting shell. How they yelled! How they swung their hats! And how quickly their pickets ran forward to their rifle pits and sank out of sight! The swift, brave assault had been bravely met and most bloodily repulsed. Twenty minutes had not passed since the infantry sprung to their feet, and ten-thousand of men lay dead or wounded on the ground."

After June 3, no more attacks occurred at Cold Harbor. Instead, Grant chose to once again maneuver around Lee and headed south across the James River for the vital railroad town of Petersburg where more hellish fighting would occur for the next nine months.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.    

Monday, June 2, 2014

Barber Philip Rawls and Census Errors

So, it has taken a while, but I finally made my way through every Kentucky county in the 1860 census in my search for the state's free black barbers. More to come on that in a later post.

In an effort to save some time I focused pretty much exclusively on the race column. Rolling through the mircrofilm, if there was a "B" for black, or "M" for mulatto, I stopped and looked at their occupation, if they weren't a barber, I simply moved on. Interestingly, there were a handful of "Indians" noted - mainly in the eastern counties.

Anyway, running through the Nelson County census I came upon the above listing. I naturally stopped due to the notation of Eliza Rawls being listed a "mulatto." I saw that she was a "wash woman" and was getting ready to move on when I saw "barber" two spaces below. Looking at the name, it listed Phil Rawls, a 53 year old male. O.K., but where it was supposed to list Phil's color, it was blank. When the color box is left blank that most often indicates that the individual was white. But, it seemed strange that a white man would be in the household with a mixed-race woman, who was also listed as the head of the household.

I wondered how I might be able to corroborate Phil Rawls's race; then it finally hit me to check another census. I had previously gone through the 1850 census looking for black barbers and did not find any for Nelson County, so I suspected on first thought that he would not be on there. But, going back to the mircofillm, I quickly found him. He was listed as a 43 year old black male with no occupation noted (see below).

Hmmmm? So, of course, I wondered how many other errors are on these census records. Not that Rawls wasn't listed as a barber in 1850 - after all, he could have learned the trade between 1850 and 1860. But, how many individuals had their race mislabeled? And therefore, how many more free blacks were there in Kentucky than is credited? Was the census taker negligent, tired, distracted? Mistakes happen, I suppose. 

Another question. Why is Phil listed as the head of household in 1850 and not in 1860? Was is because Eliza is the one listed with real estate and personal property values in 1860? Not sure. Once again, more questions than answers. More questions than answers. But, as far as barber Phil Rawls's race, that is answered.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Cold Harbor

Until recently I have been somewhat negligent of observing the various 150th anniversaries of battles. However, with the Civil War Sesquicentennial now in its last year, and thus quickly coming to and end, I feel a certain obligation to share more of the soldiers' stories when possible. They are after all the ones that deserve the most attention.

If you have viewed the Ken Burns Civil War series from PBS you have likely heard quotes from Elisha Hunt Rhodes (pictured). Rhodes enlisted as a private in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry when a young man of 19. The 2nd Rhode Island was with the Army of the Potomac from First Manssas to Appomattox. By the end of the war, Rhodes was commanding the regiment. Along the way he kept a diary of his experiences and observations.

Although the 2nd Rhode Island was part of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division of the VI Corps, the unit missed much of the fighting on the first day of Cold Harbor only by seemingly good luck. Rhodes wrote the following on June 1, 1864:

"This morning our Corps started at an early hour and had a hard march to Cold Harbor where we arrived this afternoon. We were here in 1862 under McClellan, and some of the scenes are familiar. On arriving we formed in line of battle in the rear and in support of the Vermont Brigade. Artillery firing was kept up by both sides until dark, and then we went at our old trade of digging sand. Quite a respectable line of earthworks was made, and we lay down behind them for a little rest. Our brigade just missed a share in the assault that our Corps made just before dark. We were formed in two lines, the 10th and 37th Mass. in the first line and the 2nd R.I. and 7th Mass. in the second line. Just as the line was ready to move forward a force of Rebels with a Battery appeared on our left flank and opened fire. Gen. Thomas H. Neill, now in command of our Division, rode up and ordered our Brigade to move to the left and protect the threatened flank. As we left the line the 2nd Conn. Heavy Artillery, a Regiment two years old but without active service having been on duty in Washington, took our place. This regiment numbered more men than our entire Brigade, and in their charge they lost the Colonel (Kellogg) and a large number of officers and men. Our Brigade charged front and advanced on the enemy and drove them from our flank. When we returned we found that the battle was ended, and but for the Artillery all was quiet."

It must have been an eerie feeling for Rhodes to know that seemingly only fortune saved the 2nd Rhode Island from the devastation that the 2nd Conn. Heavy Artillery (who actually fighting as infantry) suffered in taking the Rhode Islanders place. The Nutmeg State men lost 323 men killed or wounded in their furious charge on the Confederate earthworks at Cold Harbor. With the constant fighting through May and into June, Rhodes must have wondered when the same might happen to him and his men.    

Thursday, May 29, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Bad is about to get Worse in Virginia

After the severe fighting at Spotsylvania and more at North Anna, things were only about to get worse for the men that followed Grant and Lee. The Battle of Cold Harbor was only days away.

One of those men was Capt. Andrew J. McBride of the 10th Georgia Infantry. McBride's regiment was part of Gen. Goode Bryan's Brigade in Gen. Joseph Kershaw's Division (pictured) of Longstreet's Corps.

At the time of his writing McBride was about 28 years old and before the war had been an attorney. He had received a minor wound during the fighting in the Wilderness and would be injured severely enough at Cold Harbor to sit out the rest of the war.

150 years ago today, McBride wrote:
"Battle Field
May 29th 1864
The great battle is not yet over, there is only a lull - the first for twenty five days, the sullen roar of artillery even now reminds us that the last act of the bloody tragedy is yet to be enacted. - we all feel that Palida Moss is only temporarily satiated and even now hovers over the fair fields and blooming vales of Virginia ready to begin a carnival more cruel and more horrible than any he has yet held on the "dark and bloody ground" of the Old Dominion. - Aye we all feel, that yet another hecatomb of human bodies, slaughtered at the bidding of Abraham Lincoln, must rise to satiate the bloody Molock of the North. Alas! yes almost before the shriek of his wounded who perished in the flames of the burning wood in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania have died upon our ears, almost before their blood dried upon the earth, the is ready with an unparalleled cruelty to offer new victims - Oh what strange dreams must fill his brain in the deep "silent watches of the night?" or if perchance in the "visions of the night" the Ghosts of his murdered victims (whose charred and blackened bodies now lie scattered by the thousands through the Wilderness and upon the heights of Spotsylvania) should pass in review his dream would indeed be more terrible than the reality witnessed by Richard the third - There are may incidents of a thrilling interest which I would like to relate, but cannot now. Grant after three desperate efforts, on as many different roads had been forced to his Gunboats on the Pamunky and York rivers, he is not at a position which he could have reached without the loss of a single man, but what a fearful price he has paid for it? his loss cannot have been less than fifty thousand while ours will not greatly exceed fifteen thousand - the great difference can be quickly and satisfactorily accounted for when it is remembered that we have fought most of the time, behind breastworks - but enough of these battles you will see better accounts of them in the papers. . . . I have been in command of the regt since the first day of the fight and have but little time to write if I can I will write to you before going into battle but I can hardly tell when that will be though it may be in a few hours."

If McBride thought Grant's previous attacks were "desperate," one can only image what he thought about the Union charges at Cold Harbor on June 1 and 3.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Pickett's Mill

To the east of the fighting at New Hope Church was the Confederate right flank. After being thwarted on May 25, Sherman sent Gen. O. O. Howard to go around the rebel right flank and force Johnston out of his defensive line. When Howard made his move on May 27, he ran into the hard-fighting division of Gen. Patrick Cleburne (pictured). Fighting late in day, the battle continued after dark with a night charge by Cleburne's Confederates.

Among the men in Cleburne's command was Captain Samuel Foster of the 24th Texas Cavalry (dismounted). Foster wrote of the action at Pickett's Mill:

". . .We find some Ark.[ansas] troops on the end of our line, and we form on to their right making our line that much longer and it also puts us just about where the scouts said the Yanks were going to try to flank our Army. Our position is in a heavy timbered section with chinquapin bushes as an undergrowth. From the end of the army, where the breastworks stop we followed a small trail or mill path as soon as our Brigade got its whole length in this place and the command is to halt! and at the same instant the cavalry skirmishers came running back to our lines, saying that we had better get away from there, for they were coming by the thousand. . . .

As soon as the skirmish line was put in position our men commenced firing at the enemy skirmishers who were not more than forty to fifty yards from us. One of my men Joe Harrison who never could stop on a line of that kind without seeing the Yanks ran forward through the brush, but came back as fast as he went, saying that they fired a broadside on him, but didn't hit him - He took his place on the skirmish line behind an Oak tree about 14 inches in diameter - The enemy kept advancing through the bushes from tree to tree until they were (some of them) in 30 or 40 feet of our line - nor would they give back. I had three as good men as ever fired a gun killed on this skirmish line - W J Maddox, T L Doran & T F Nolan. The two first named were shot thru the neck and killed instantly, the last one shot in the bowels and died in about 15 hours later. When the sun was about an hour high in the evening we were ordered back to the line of battle. And it seems that the enemys line of battle was advancing when the order came for the skirmishers to fall back.

The frolick opened in fine style as soon as we got back into our places - in stead of the two skirmish lines - the two lines of battle open to their fullest extent. No artillery in this fight - nothing but small arms.

Our men have no protection, but they are lying flat on the ground, and shooting as fast as they can. This continues until dark when it gradually stops, until it is very dark, when every thing is very still, so still that they chirp of a cricket could be heard 100 feet away - all hands lying perfectly still, and the enemy not more than 40 feet in front of us."

After the night charge which netted some Yankee prisoners, and Foster gained some "crackers bacon & coffee) Sherman moved back west. Foster commented on the terrible sights he witnessed the following morning:

"About sun up this morning we were relieved and ordered back to the Brigade - and we have to pass over the dead Yanks of the battle field of yesterday; and here I beheld that which I cannot describe; and which I hope never to see again, dead men meet the eye in every direction, and in one place I stoped and counted 50 dead men in a circle of 50 ft. of me. Men lying in all sorts of shapes and . . . just as they had fallen, and it seems like they have nearly all been shot in the head, and a great number of them have their skulls bursted open and their brains running out, quite a number that way. I have seen many dead men, and seen them wounded and crippled in various ways, have seen their limbs cut off, but I never saw anything before that made me sick, like looking at the brains of these men did. I do believe that if a soldier could be made to faint, that I would have fainted if I had not passed on and got out of that place as soon as I did - We learn thru Col. Wilkes that we killed 703 dead on the ground, and captured near 350 prisoners."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Battle of New Hope Church

After the clash at Resaca on May 15, Sherman continued moving south. Avoiding the well defended Allatoona Pass, the Union commander left his communications with the railroad and headed southwest. Johnson's Confederates continued to give resistance, rapidly throwing up earthwork defenses when possible.

On May 25, Union forces under Gen. Joseph Hooker ran into rebels from Gen. A. P. Stewart's Division near New Hope Church. One of the Union soldiers engaged that day was Corporal Edmund R. Brown of the 27th Indiana Infantry Regiment, which was in Thomas H. Ruger's (pictured) brigade. Of the fighting here Brown wrote:

"Suddenly, a most terrific fire of both musketry and artillery was opened upon us. We were at the foot of, or passing up, a gentle slope. On the crest, barely a few rods distant, was a long parapet blazing with [gun] fire and and death. The undergrowth was so dense that few, if any, of us were aware of what we were coming to, until the storm burst. It came with so little premonition on our part, that it almost seemed as if the position had been purposely masked, and that we had been decoyed to our death. This impression may have been prevailed among us to some extent afterwards. It is scarcely necessary to say that such was not the case. The timber which, for lack of time and means, the enemy could not cut away, had, until now, prevented them from seeing us, as well as us from seeing them.

It would be impossible to conceive of a more appalling, terrifying, if not fatal, rain of lead and iron than this one, which our line met at New Hope Church. The canister and case shot in particular, hissed, swished and sung around and among us, barking the trees, glancing and bounding from one to the other, ripping up the ground, throwing dirt in our faces and rolling at our feet, until those not hit by them were ready to conclude that they surely would be hit. Milton's words were none too strong to apply to the situation:
'Fierce as ten furies and terrible as hell' 

Yet the boys only cheered the more defiantly, and, while loading and firing with all their might, gained ground to the front. Just in the hottest of the fight there was a downpour of rain. In the damp and murky atmosphere the smoke from our muskets, instead of rising and disappearing, settled around us and accumulated in thick clouds. The woods in which we were immersed became [weird] and spectral. Eventually it became almost a battle in the dark. When we were finally brought to a standstill it was impossible to make out with any distinctness even the position of the enemy. Our aim was directed almost wholly at the flashes and reports of their guns."

Fighting along this line continued with battles at Pickett's Mill (May 27) and Dallas (May 28). The terrible fighting at Kennesaw Mountain was less than month away and the prize of Atlanta was only a few tough miles ahead. But many lives would be expended in attacking and defending the important rail city.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.