Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Two Photographs, Same Photographer?

Browsing through the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs on the Library of Congress website, I came across the image below of Private Henry Augustus Moore of Company F, 15th Mississippi Infantry. The youthful looking Moore holds a short artillery broadsword and a sign that reads "JEFF DAVIS AND THE SOUTH!" leans against his arm, which in turn rests on a table cover that appears to have leaves printed on it.

I remembered seeing the same "Jeff Davis" sign in a photograph that is in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society (above). I remembered the unknown man in the KHS photograph was much older looking than Moore. But, when I found the picture on the KHS digital collections the first thing that came to my mind is if the photograph was taken at the same place or by the same photographer as the Moore image. 

If I had to guess, I would say yes. The "Jeff Davis" sign is my first clue. Both not only say the exact same thing, but the "N" in the word "AND" is reversed in both signs--for some odd reason. Additionally it appears that both are leaning on the same leafy-looking table cloth. 

However, there are differences, too. Both men hold edged weapons, but they are not the same. The unknown man in the KHS photograph holds what appears to be a Bowie knife that has a flat hilt. Moore's weapon is definitely different. The unknown man wears civilian clothes, while Moore is in the distinctive uniform jacket of the 15th Mississippi Infantry. Additionally, Moore does not hold a gun, while the unknown man hold a double-barrel shotgun.  

Is it possible that these photographs were taken in Kentucky? The 15th Mississippi did fight at Mill Springs in January 1862. And that might explain why the Kentucky Historical Society has a photograph by what appears to be the same photographer. Who knows? Just another history mystery waiting to be solved.

Images courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society and Library of Congress.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sam Watkins and His Stake in Slavery

One of my favorite soldier stories is Company Aytch: A Sideshow to the Big Show. This book was originally published by Sam R. Watkins in 1881-82 in series form in his hometown newspaper and soon thereafter in book form. It has become a standard read for those seeking insight on how Civil War soldiers (especially Confederate soldiers) experienced the war.

Watkins was born on June 26, 1839, near the small middle Tennessee town of Columbia. Only twenty-one years old when the Civil War broke out, Watkins joined up and landed with neighborhood friends into Company H, known as the Maury (County) Grays, of the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. Sent to Virginia early in the war, Watkins and his regiment returned to Tennessee in early 1862. He participated in almost every fight the Army of Tennessee fought through the end of the war. His descriptions of fighting at places such as Perryville, Kentucky and Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, are among the most vivid of soldiers' accounts.

One thing that Sam did not mention much in his writing was slavery. This might seem quite natural on the surface, but doing a little digging shows that Sam had a huge stake in slavery and thus the cause of the Confederacy. Perhaps by 1882 most Southern soldiers wanted to see their fight for independence as something grander than a battle for a way of life built upon the labor of enslaved individuals. One has to wonder how different Sam's story might have been if the had taken the time to write it twenty years earlier (during the war) instead of a generation after the conflict ended.

One place Sam does mention slavery or at least alludes to it is in Chapter Three, "Corinth." Here he writes: "A law was made by the Confederate States Congress about this time allowing every person who owned twenty negroes to go home. It gave us the blues; we wanted twenty negroes. Negro property suddenly became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of 'rich man's war, poor man's fight.'"

Here Sam seems to make himself out as a "poor man." He, or at least his family, was anything but poor. Sam's father Frederick Watkins was very very wealthy. In the 1860 census, Sam is listed in Frederick's (F.H. Watkins) household. Sam was 21 and is listed as a clerk in a store. Frederick, age 44, is shown with personal property worth $157,912.00, much of which was his more than 100 slaves. In addition, he owned real estate worth $104,250.00, which encompassed two plantations in Maury County. In fact, one source I found noted that the Watkins' were the third richest family in a very wealthy Maury County.

Perhaps Sam should have asked his father for 20 of his slaves so he could have been exempt if he truly wished to be free of the soldier life. Rather, I suspect that Sam wanted anything but to be out of the army. With so much at stake he was probably quite willing to fight for what he and his family owned and cherished.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dying so Close to Home: The Pegram Brothers

Over the last couple of months I have posted about a number of United States Colored Troops soldiers from Kentucky who died while serving in Virginia and were buried there--far, far from home. Recently it struck me that readers might find it interesting to learn about two brothers, who fought for the Confederacy, and died near to their father's former home place in Dinwiddie County. 

John Pegram (pictured above) was born on January 24, 1832, in Petersburg, the son of James West Pegram and Virginia Johnson Pegram. James West Pegram had been born on his father's Dinwiddie County plantation in 1804. James was a bright young man and received a Harvard education. He returned to Virginia and began practicing law in Petersburg. In 1841, the Pegrams moved to Richmond ,where Virginia gave birth to William Ransom Johnson Pegram, John's baby brother. 

James Pegram soon became president of the Bank of Virginia. His new position offered the opportunity to expand his wealth by purchasing cotton lands in Mississippi. In 1844, while traveling by steamboat to visit his recently purchased property, the boiler on the boat James was traveling on blew up near Louisville, Kentucky. His body was never located.

John went on to receive an appointment at West Point, where he graduated in 1854, in class top ten. Pegram served at several army posts in the West before the Civil War. Captured in 1861, Pegram was soon exchanged and back in Confederate service. Pegram made of tour of duty in Kentucky,Tennessee, and Georgia in 1862 and 1863, but transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia in the fall of 1863. 

After participating in the Overland Campaign, during the spring and summer of 1864, John was stationed near his hometown of Petersburg. On January 19, 1865, he married the noted Southern beauty Hetty Cary in St. Paul's Church in Richmond. On February 6, while Hetty waited at John's headquarters near Burgess Mill, John ventured out with his division to repulse a Union advance at Hatcher's Run, where he was shot and killed; just three weeks after his wedding day, and only a few miles from where his father grew up. John's body was recovered and his funeral was held in the same church where he was married. General John Pegram was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

John's younger brother William, or "Willy" as he was often know, also sought a soldier's life. Willy enlisted in a militia unit as a young man of about sixteen years. In 1859, Willy's militia company was on hand to witness John Brown's execution. Writing to his brother John, who at the time was in the United States army, Willy stated: "Before the Harper's Ferry outbreak this Regiment could not muster over three hundred and fifty men; now was have about seven hundred and fifty." 

With war on the horizon, but not yet a fact, Willy entered the University of Virginia in the fall of 1860. When war did break out, Willy joined the Purcell Artillery, a unit out of Richmond. The Purcell Artillery fought largely in A.P. Hill's Third Corps, where Willy rose through the ranks to colonel. Willy was on sick leave in Richmond when he learned of his brother's death at Hatcher's Run. The studious and bespectacled artilleryman took the misfortune as God's will, but felt the deep pain of losing a close sibling. 

Just two months after losing John, Willy lost his own life fighting beside his artillery at the Battle of Five Forks. He had been hit in the left arm and the bullet entered his side while he sat on his horse among his guns. Taken from the field in an ambulance to Ford's Depot, he died on the morning of April 2, just one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox; and only a few miles from where his brother had died and his father was born. Willy, like his brother John rests in peace at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, close, close to home.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Just Finished Reading - Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South

When visiting battlefields around the Petersburg and Richmond area one often hears and reads about who constructed the various earthworks that have managed to survive. Much of the lines that are still with us were built by the soldiers who fought behind them. However, the massive Confederate fortifications that ringed the cities of Petersburg and Richmond, and that are almost all gone, were most often laid out by military engineers but built by impressed slave labor.

I have always wanted to know more details about how the slave impressement system was implemented and worked, so I was pleased to find and read Jaime Amanda Martinez's book Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South (UNC Press, 2013).

The focus of Martinez's book are the states of Virginia and North Carolina-where slave impressement projects affected populations of free people of color, the enslaved, and of course, their owners. Massive fortification projects such as the defenses of Petersburg, Richmond, Lynchburg, and Saltville in Virginia, and in Fayetteville and Wilmington, North Carolina; along with road, railroad, and hospital work took the majority of impressed slaves.

Martinez points out that the battle between private property ownership rights and the tug of being a good citizen of the newly formed Confederate States of America put many owners into a difficult position. In a nation pledged to honor certain states' rights, the centralized nature of slave impressment made for some contentious moments, especially when slaves were not returned to owners in the promised amount of time or were killed or injured while doing government work.

One significant issue that arose with slave impressment was what to compensate owners when their property either ran away from projects or were injured or killed while in government service. Martinez contends that slaves were probably less likely to run away while working on fortifications where they were under tighter supervision than on most plantations during the war. The author found that fewer than ten percent of the cases reviewed by the Board of Slave Claims involved runaways. The Board was also provided funding by by Confederate government to pay claims to owners whose slave were killed or hurt while impressed.

Another issue was who would supply the slaves, and in what percentage. Covering this subject Martinez unearthed some very intriguing documents from owners to their governors and representatives seeking exemption from supplying their slaves for government projects. Some owners (often single women or women with husbands in the army) of few slaves claimed that they could not provide food stuffs for their own families without the labor of their slave men. Large slaveholders argued that if their slaves were taken they would not be able to harvest crops needed to feed the soldiers and the people of their communities.

While Virginia's slave impressment system was enforced by county courts, the practice in North Carolina was carried out by the state's militia. Martinez found that "Impressment by militia operated more efficiently than impressment via the county courts in Virginia, but it was also more prone to abuses and thus to alienating the state's slaveholders." And she contends that the impressment system worked in both states "because it had the support of the state and local governments." Governor Vance of North Carolina supported and enforced the slave impressment system in most instances. He viewed it a way that citizens could sacrifice for the greater good of the new nation. Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith of Virginia, too, supported the impressement system. However he sometimes granted exemptions, especially to owners in counties near Union occupation. This fear was founded in the belief that if slaves heard about impressments occurring, they would flee more readily to the Union army.

The research that Martinez incorporated into her work and her insightful interpretation of the primary source evidence is impressive. I highly recommend reading Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South to anyone wanting to learn more about this important aspect of the Confederate experience. The issues it brought about between owners' property rights, sacrifices for the greater good of the nation, and who would and would not be subject to its regulations makes for an intriguing and relevant read. On a scale of one to five, I give it a full five.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Fascinating Map

I located the above map of Virginia on the Library of Congress website. It was published on June 13, 1861, less than two months after the Old Dominion seceded from the Union. Using figures from the preceding year's census it shows the enslaved population percentage for each county. Virginia had more slaves than any state in 1860. Of course, being that it was compiled in 1861, two years before West Virginia was formed by the western counties, it includes them in its figures, too.

What I found most fascinating about the map was the numerous counties that had populations of almost half, half, or more than half enslaved. Fifty-one counties had at least forty-five percent of their populations enslaved. Two counties consisted of more than seventy percent slaves: Nottoway, just to the west of Dinwiddie; and Ameilia, adjacent northwest to Dinwiddie. Nineteen counties had sixty percent or more. Eighteen counties had fifty percent or more.

Forty-five counties had five percent enslaved or less; most of which were in the more mountainous counties that broke away in 1863 to form West Virginia or in the hilly country of the Old Dominion. Only two county's populations in what would become the "Wild and Wonderful" state approached or exceeded ten percent. This geographical disparity in slave population goes a long way in explaining the difference in politics and culture that led to West Virginia's secession from the mother state.

Another intriguing feature of the map is the band of higher slave populations that extend down the Valley of Virginia, especially those counties in the far southwest. Mountains on either side limited the appeal of slavery to counties such as Floyd, Carroll and Grayson to the east, and Scott, Wise, Buchannan, and McDowell to the west. But those counties in between; especially Washington, Smyth, Wythe, Pulaski, and Montgomery mostly had fifteen percent or more enslaved among their population. However, some mountain counties in the Old Dominion had fairly high slave populations, too, including Russell, Tazewell, Greenbrier and Monroe.

If you want a closer look at the map a "zoom-in" version is here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fight at Dinwiddie Courthouse - March 31, 1865

Civil War battlefields and places of engagement abound in my new neck of the woods. The almost ten-month long Petersburg Campaign in 1864-65 brought thousands of soldiers and millions of tons of supplies to formerly undisturbed Dinwiddie County. As the contending armies jockeyed for strategic and tactical positions they obviously clashed many times at various locations.    

One engagement occurred just about nine miles down the road from where I live. Dinwiddie Courthouse was a sleepy little town in the spring of 1865, when Union cavalry thundered into town. Actually, Dinwiddie Courthouse became more important during the previous summer. When the Union army cut the Petersburg Railroad, which ran south to North Carolina, at the Battle of Globe Tavern, that move necessitated that supplied sent north on the railroad be offloaded at Stony Creek Station, put on wagons, travel cross country to Dinwiddie Courthouse, and then northeast on the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg's Confederate defenses. 

The Dinwiddie Courthouse (pictured above) that was used during the Civil War and occupied by General Philip Sheridan as his headquarters, was built in 1851. Sheridan apparently was not impressed with the little town and described it in a derogatory manner. 

The battle near Dinwiddie County had its roots in a movement two days before, on March 29. On that day, Sheridan, in command of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry along with overseeing the II and V Corps attempted a flank movement on Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia's positions southwest of Petersburg.
Meeting terrible weather conditions, which has turned the county's dirt roads into holes of mud and quicksand, the movement slowed to a snail's pace. 

Confederate cavalry  under Lee's nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, and a division of infantry under Gen. George Pickett attacked the Union cavalry just north of Dinwiddie Courthouse on March 31. The Confederates drove back Sheridan's men almost back to Dinwiddie Courthouse but quickly arriving Union reinforcements stopped the rebel advance. Repeated Confederate attacks were made without benefit.

Later that day, Pickett, unable to make headway due to the additional Union arrivals, chose to withdraw to the important county road intersection of Five Forks and dug in. Lee informed Pickett that he must hold Five Forks due to its close proximity to the Southside Railroad, which was Lee's last remaining supply line into Petersburg now that the Boydton Plank Road had been secured at Dinwiddie Courthouse and with additional fighting to the north at White Oak Road the same day. Fighting would break out at Five Forks on April 1. After initial success the defeat there would and help spell doom to Lee's  Army of Northern Virginia.

Almost half of  Dinwiddie County's population were enslaved. Many took the opportunity to make their way to the nearby Union forces where they were employed as laborers, and some as soldiers. Others provided vital information about Confederate forces, distances and best routes of travel, and terrain features. The image above shows Sheridan and his staff speaking with an African American man and boy with Dinwiddie Courthouse in the background. 

Sheridan's cavalry force included many talented officers. Included in this image from the left is Gen. Wesley Merritt, Sheridan, Gen. George Crook, Gen. James William Forsyth, and Gen. George Armstrong Custer. These men would do much to harass and finally successfully cut off the Confederate retreat at Appomattox, just one week and two day after their fight at Dinwiddie Courthouse.

Sheridan staff image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

150 Years Ago Today: Juneteenth

Driving up to Washington DC last weekend I heard several radio announcements promoting a local annual Juneteenth celebration. I wondered to myself how many people listening to the broadcast actually knew what Juneteenth meant historically. I seriously doubted many did, but in the wake of this week's tragedy in Charleston, it is important to me to try to highlight episodes our nation's troubled past in hope of making for a better present and future. Understanding the roots of our contemporary issues is important to correcting them. 

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger (pictured above) issued General Orders Number 3, from Galveston, Texas, which stated that President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would be enforced in the area making the slaves there free. Owners were to now obligated to pay wages to their former human property. The news must have been quite a shock to those white Texans who had been fortunate enough avoid the war for the most part. 

However, the order also placed stipulations on the former bondsmen. They were expected to stay where they were, keep working (but now for wages), and warned to not flock to Union outposts. The change in status for the freedmen with these ensuing demands must have been difficult for those seeking to reunite separated families or divorce themselves from excessively oppressive or abusive former owners.   

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
General Orders, No. 3
The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A. . G.  

Juneteenth is a day for celebration and reflection. Celebrate that our nation moved closer to fulfilling its promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as stated in the Declaration of Independence.  But take time to reflect, too, and remember those generations of the enslaved (both North and South) who never were able to taste liberty or enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elizabeth Keckley's Dinwiddie County

Driving south from Petersburg on Boydton Plank Road (US Hwy. 1) in Dinwiddie County several highway markers are encountered on either side of the road. Most of them reference the various Civil War actions that happened along this important supply route into the Cockade City in 1864 and 1865.

However, just south of the town of Dewitt, but before reaching McKinney, a marker sits on the left side of the road and almost on the bank of Sappony Creek which tells the fascinating tale of a mixed race woman who lifted herself from the slave quarter to the White House. Her story is an inspiration for the hard working individual.

Elizabeth Keckley was born to her mother, a slave, and her white master father, Armistead Burwell, in 1818 on Burwell's Dinwiddie County, Virginia plantation. Burwell's wife, likely resentful of Elizabeth's existence, beat young Elizabeth on a number of occasions.

In 1832, as a teenager, Elizabeth was loaned to Armistead Burwell's son Robert, who lived in Chesterfield County. A move to Prince Edward County, where Robert worked for Hampden-Sydney College, and then to Hillsboro, North Carolina, brought Elizabeth a ton of grief, but also widened her world view.

In Hillsboro, Elizabeth became pregnant by a local white man. She named her light complexioned son George. Her years in Hillsboro came to an end when Elizabeth and George were sent to St. Louis to serve a Burwell daughter. In St. Louis Elizabeth was able to earn enough money working as a seamstress to buy her and George's freedom in 1855.

In 1860, Elizabeth and George moved to Baltimore, Maryland, seeking better opportunities. Soon they moved on to Washington DC, where word quickly got out among the various politician's wives about Elizabeth's impressive seamstress skills. Soon she was covered in orders for her beautiful dresses.

Elizabeth met the new first lady Mary Lincoln on the president's inauguration day in 1861. After an interview, Elizabeth was hired to serve as fashion conscious Mary's dressmaker and dresser. During their time together Elizabeth and Mary formed an intriguing friendship. The women likely bonded over, among other things, their shared loss of sons. Keckley's son, George, passed as white and joined a Union Missouri unit, but was tragically killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861. Mary, of course, lost her son Willie while in the White House.

Keckley wrote a book of her life's experience in 1868, which strained her relationship with the ever-sensitive Mary Lincoln. Elizabeth died in 1907, in Washington DC, and was buried in a local cemetery. She was later re-interred in nearby Landover, Maryland.

Elizabeth Keckley's story of overcoming persecution and oppression by hard work and advancement is not all that unique among those whose lives spanned slavery and freedom, but her particular situation, going from slave to working in the Lincoln White House is one that should be better known. And, to think, that story started in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Memorializing the Battle of Old Men and Boys

Petersburg, rightly so, has many monuments that commemorate various aspects of the town's long history. Some are enormous, some are elaborate, some stand out, others are, well, fairly inconspicuous. One of the town's monuments that often gets passed by without much of a glance is located on Crater Road not all that far from the exit entrance of Petersburg National Battlefield. Long ago it was placed on a mound of dirt that is a survivor of the Dimmock defensive line that once ringed Petersburg. 

The monument was placed in 1909; during an era of massive Confederate memorialization. It was placed by the group that oversaw the erection of the majority of Confederate monuments, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

When speaking to people who grew up in Northern states but who have since moved to former Confederate states, they often explain to me that they did not receive the emphasis on the Civil War era during their education that Southern schools seem to provide. I think that in part, some of that is related to monuments such as this one.

The stone marker remembers the group of old men and boys who went out to Petersburg's defensive line on June 9, 1864, to make a stand against an early Union effort to attack and capture the town. To me, it attempts to hearken back to the era of America's bid for independence and the famous "minutemen." Simply put, monuments such as this one emphasize, that for the most part, the South experienced the war in fundamentally different way than the majority of the North.   

On June 9, 1864, Virginia Reserves, composed of mainly of males excluded from normal military service (old men and young boys), held a portion of the defensive line at a southern approach (Jerusalem Plank Road) to the "Cockade City." Commanded by Raleigh Colston and Fletcher Archer this group of men composed of silver hairs and beardless boys beat back a Union cavalry attack by men commanded by Gen. August Kautz. A second concerted attack by dismounted cavalry and supported by artillery breached the Dimmock line, but due to the reserves' stubborn defense, reinforcements arrived in time to beat it back, too.

The scratch force suffered heavy casualties. The end of the day's fighting saw fifteen killed, eighteen wounded, and forty-two captured among the aged and youthful defenders. However, their stand helped prevent the potentially quick capture of Petersburg. Less than a week later Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved his Army of the Potomac south of the James/Appomattox Rivers and focused on Petersburg. That campaign would last almost ten months before the city was finally fell along with Richmond on April 3, 1865.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dinwiddie County's Own Winfield Scott

Yesterday I spent part of my morning roaming some of the main thoroughfares and back roads of Dinwiddie County. In doing so, I took some time to snap a few shots of the numerous highway historical markers that dot the area around the town of Dinwiddie (formerly known as Dinwiddie Courthouse). 

I think I should actually get a bumper sticker that reads, "Stops frequently for historical markers," because I noticed that I received a few strange looks from some of locals. They must have thought it a bit strange for some dude to be out taking pictures of the highway markers they pass everyday. That made me in turn wonder how much they knew, cared about, or understood the important historical people native to their area. I'm sure, like most everywhere else, some seek out and treasure their local history while others take it for granted and could care less.

Dinwiddie County was formed from Prince George County in 1752, over twenty years before the Revolutionary War erupted. It was named in honor of colonial Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie. Over the years many notables have called Dinwiddie County home, but one of the county's most famous natives is General Winfield Scott. 

Scott was born on his father William's plantation, Laurel Hill, just south of what became Dinwiddie Courthouse on June 13, 1786. Young Scott was provided a good education for time by his mother's wishes. However, by the time he turned seventeen, both of his parents had passed away. Scott studied law at William and Mary College in Williamsburg for a short time before apprenticing in the profession in nearby Petersburg as well as his hometown of Dinwiddie Courthouse.   

Scott's law career, like his formal college education was quite brief. During his time studying law Scott participated in the local  militia activities where he got a taste of the military, and while the United States Military Academy at West Point had been established in 1802, Scott apparently found his way into army life through other means when was commissioned as a captain of light artillery in 1808. Scott ran into trouble though when he criticized a superior officer, was thus court-martialed, and suspended from duty for a time. However, Scott must have shown some promise as he was soon reinstated and made a lieutenant colonel. 

At about the same time the War of 1812 provided Scott with opportunities to show his military skill. He took advantage of his situation and quickly rose through the ranks. And although captured at one point in the conflict he rose to brevet major general by the end of the war.

During the antebellum years Scott drew a number of duties, many of which included punitive actions against Native Americans, including the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and enforcing the Indian Removal Act. Scott also was involved in the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina in 1832-33. 

Winfield Scott's greatest reputation was gained during the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Scott led a United States force that captured Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico coast and then traveled inland toward Mexico City, which he eventually captured although often opposed by superior numbers.

Scott attempted to use his wartime fame to obtain the presidential nomination of the Whig Party at the war's conclusion. However, the nomination went to one of his subordinate officers, Zachary Taylor, who won the 1848 election. Scott did finally gain the party's nomination in 1852, but was overwhelmingly defeated by Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce.

In 1855, Scott was promoted to "brevet" lieutenant general, a rank not achieved since George Washington. And although Ulysses S. Grant would be the next "full" lieutenant general, Scott's military expertise was widely acclaimed as civil war broke out between the North and South. As a Virginian, Scott, like Robert E. Lee, had a difficult decision to make, but unlike Lee, Scott chose to remain with the Union cause.

As commanding general, Scott formulated a plan that came to be known as the "Anaconda Plan," which sought to defend the capital, blockade the southern coastal ports, take control of the Mississippi River, and invade the South on multiple fronts. Criticized for this seemingly over ambitious plan, in what was then believed would be a short war, Scott's plan is actually what eventually won the war for the Union.

Scott's age and physical disabilities began to tell in 1861, and he resigned his commission on November 1. Gen. George B. McClellan was soon placed in command by President Lincoln to fill the void. Although Scott did live to see the Union restored, he died about a year after the Civil War, on May 29, 1866. He was buried at West Point, New York.

Today, Dinwiddie County High School's nickname is the "Generals." That moniker probably comes from well known Civil War commanders such as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Philip Sheridan, James Longstreet and others who traversed the county fighting for their respective causes in 1864 and 1865. But in my opinion it should also apply to the less famous, but arguably just as important historical figure, native son Winfield Scott.

Scott photograph and "Anaconda Plan" image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Family Plow

One of my earliest posts way back in 2009 was about the simple plow. In that post I mentioned that as a boy I had remembered often seeing a horse/mule drawn shovel plow that my grandfather and his two sisters had shared on their neighboring south central Kentucky farms.

My guess is that the history of that plow probably goes way beyond that of my grandfather's generation. Being that it is a wood-beam plow hints that at least parts of it likely go back to the nineteenth century. It is difficult to be definitive on its age, as the only real significant change over time was the move from wood-beam to iron/steel-beam plows near the turn of the twentieth century.

Well, when my grandmother passed away in 2010, I got to get reacquainted with the old plow. In fact, I felt such a draw to this piece of family history that I bid and won it when pieces of her estate were auctioned the following fall. I kept the plow in a storage closet at my apartment while I live in Frankfort. When I moved to Petersburg, the plow made the 500 mile trip with me. But finding that I had no place to store the old plow I needed to find it a new home.

I donated the family plow to Pamplin Historical Park where it will be eventually used to help interpret various agricultural implements. I think it will make a good fit, as the shovel plow was commonly found on South Side Virginia farms and plantations throughout the nineteenth century.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Petersburg Campaign Ancestor

If one visits Pamplin Historical Park's Breakthrough Trail it is rather quickly observed that the Confederate unit posted where part of the line broke was the 37th North Carolina. At the time the 37th was in Gen. James Lane's Brigade, of Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox's Division of A. P. Hill's Third Corps. Lane's Brigade had moved into this position along Arthur's Swamp and inherited the earthworks when they were vacated by Gen. Samuel McGowan's Brigade in last days of March. On the morning of April 2, 1865, the 37th bore the brunt of the Union VI Corps attack; and snapped.

A soldier not with the 37th on that fateful morning was my ancestor Levi Ham. Levi was not like the majority of Civil War soldiers. Compared to his comrades, Levi was old. When he enlisted in Company A in Ashe County's Jefferson, North Carolina, on May 1, 1862, he was in his mid-forties. The recent conscription law likely prompted Levi's enlistment. However, his service records indicate that he did indeed volunteer. Other Hams that served in Company A included Isaac, Jackson, Thomas, and William, all likely Levi's relatives.

Apparently Levi was mustered into Confederate service at Gordonsville, Virginia, for the duration of the war. Levi's early months in the army seem to have been quite difficult for him. He is noted as being admitted to the hospital in Danville, Virginia, on September 17, 1862, while his regiment was participating in the bloody battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Levi was suffering from chronic rheumatism.

Levi returned to the 37th on November 3, 1862, but must have relapsed, as on November 8, he was admitted to Richmond's massive Chimborazo Hospital. Twenty days later, Levi was transferred to a hospital in Scottsville.

Levi's service records note that he was absent without leave from August 1, 1863. However, it seems that at that time he had transferred to Company G of the 21st Virginia Cavalry, a unit that was raised from the southwest Virginia mountains bordering his Ashe County, North Carolina home. His records for the 21st show that he enlisted with it on July 10, 1863 at Rich Hills. The record also indicates that his horse was "at home," and thus he was "not ordered up." Confederate cavalry usually had to supply their own horses, and apparently Levi could not obtain his.

By September 1, 1863, Levi had returned to duty with the 37th after his brief stay in the cavalry. Levi was then present for duty from September 1863 to February 1865. As part of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the 37th fought in the terrible Overland Campaign during the spring of 1864. Horrific clashes with the Union Army of the Potomac occurred at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. The Tarheel unit arrived in Petersburg in June 1864. They fought in several battles around the "Cockade City,"  and Richmond, including Deep Bottom, Reams Station, and Jones's Farm. Sometime during this period, according to his 1905 North Carolina pension application, Levi received a gun shot to the knee, which happened "near Richmond."

The winter of 1864-65 was particularly difficult on the troops of both armies in the Petersburg and Richmond earthworks. Somehow Levi received a "furlough of indulgence" dated February 4, 1865. The furlough described Levi as forty seven years old, five feet eight inches tall, with a "fair complexion and dark eyes, dark hair." It noted Levi was "by profession a farmer." The furlough was signed by Lt. Thomas L. Norwood, who commanded Company A at that time.

Apparently Levi never returned to the 37th. Perhaps he found home more to his liking than army camp life. His last service record states that he was "absent without leave since 27th Feb. 1865." Or, perhaps Levi found his family needing him more than he felt his comrades did back in the Petersburg earthworks. Levi was one of many thousands of soldiers at this point in the war who asked themselves which commanded stronger allegiance, home or army?  It seems Levi chose home. Even if his family was not suffering with his absence, maybe he had just seen enough of that terrible war and had suffered enough for his cause.