Friday, January 31, 2020

"Interesting from Virginia"

In my ongoing search for sources containing information about prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I decided to try thinking outside the box a bit. Knowing that many of the Petersburg newspapers from the period of the campaign are not digitized yet but being aware that papers of that era reran stories from other newspapers I looked for some papers outside of Virginia. In the July 6, 1864, Raleigh Weekly Confederate, I located a story that originally appeared in the Petersburg Express on July 1.

This extended article, commenting on the results of the Union's Wilson-Kautz Raid across Southside Virginia in late June had several interesting parts under different headings. During the raid, the Union cavalrymen captured numerous wagons and supplies and freed scores of enslaved men, women, and children, who followed the raiders back toward their lines. Before they made it all the way back, they were attacked by Confederate cavalry under Gen. Wade Hampton at Sappony Church and infantry at Ream's Station. Hundreds of Union soldiers found themselves captive, as well as the slaves seeking their protection. 

The article mentions the heterogeneous lot: "the old and the young; the robust and the infirm; the quick footed and the the halt; the bright mulatta clad in tawdry finery, and the ebo-skin and the 'molungeoun,' dressed in homespun." There were supposedly so many that "they occupied nearly the whole of Bank street" in Petersburg.

From the Confederate perspective, these people were uprooted from their comfortable domiciles by the thieving Yankees. It is probably more close to the truth that they were willing to take enormous risks and endure much discomfort in fleeing for a chance at freedom. "And when we thought of these creatures driven from happy and contented homes, and made to walk many long and tedious miles, through heat and dust, until they were hungered and footsore, we could not resist the conviction that the authors of all their troubles had justly merited more that the felon's fate," the reporter wrote. This section of the article closed by stating, "Every Yankee prisoner taken in the raid should be punished, and we hope that our State authorities will see to it that not one escapes."

Immediately following "The Negroes" section was one titled "Yankee Officers in a Novel Capacity." It claimed that after the slaves were recaptured by the Confederates two of the pregnant women in the large group gave birth on the route to Petersburg. One mother gave birth "in the bushes on the side of the road, and the other in an ambulance." Apparently the Confederates made the captured Union officers serve as midwives during the births. Again from the Southern perspective this was only proper. "They [Yankees] profess great love for the poor negro, entice and steal them from human[e] masters and comfortable homes, and it is only right and proper that they should practice what they preach" by helping birth the babies. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

An Address to the People of the Free States

I've mentioned on here a few times how successful social media can be in advancing the study of history. Yes, along with all the mindless memes and political canting, social media can be a positive. Being able to share primary source documents to multitudes of people is something that I can appreciate, and hopefully you can, too. A perfect example comes from this morning's review of my Facebook feed. I've joined several "groups" that share information on Antebellum Southern, Civil War, and Reconstruction history. This morning I came across a partial transcription of the above document in the The Civil War Era Historian's Page.

Amazingly, I'd never seen this document. I'm not sure how I had not come across it, or at least references to it, in my reading and in searching the Library of Congress website. It just goes to show that one should keep their eyes (and mind) open to new information.

It is a pretty straight forward read and clearly shows the Confederacy's reactionary response to President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Here's the full transcription:

Richmond, January 5, 1863.
Citizens of the non-slave-holding States of America, swayed by peaceable motives, I have used all my influence, often thereby endangering my position as the President of the Southern Confederacy, to have the unhappy conflict now existing between my people and yourselves, governed by those well established international rules, which heretofore have softened the asperities which necessarily are the concomitants of a state of belligerency, but all my efforts in the premises have heretofore been unavailing. Now, therefore, I am compelled e necessitati rei to employ a measure, which most willingly I would have omitted to do, regarding, as I always must, State Rights, as the very organism of politically associated society.
For nearly two years my people have been defending their inherent rights—their political, social and religious rights against the speculators of New England and their allies in the States heretofore regarded as conservative. The people of the Southern Confederacy have—making sacrifices such as the modern world has never witnessed—patiently, but determinedly, stood between their home interests and the well paid, well fed and well clad mercenaries of the Abolitionists, and I need not say that they have nobly vindicated the good name of American citizens. Heretofore, the warfare has been conducted by white men—peers, scions of the same stock; but the programme has been changed, and your rulers despairing of a triumph by the employment of white men, have degraded you and themselves, by inviting the co-operation of the black race. Thus, while they deprecate the intervention of white men—the French and the English—in behalf of the Southern Confederacy, they, these Abolitionists, do not hesitate to invoke the intervention of the African race in favor of the North.
The time has, therefore, come when a becoming respect for the good opinion of the civilized world impels me to set forth the following facts:—
First. Abraham Lincoln, the President of the Non-Slaveholding States, has issued his proclamation, declaring the slaves within the limits of the Southern Confederacy to be free.
Second. Abraham Lincoln has declared that the slaves so emancipated may be used in the Army and Navy, now under his control, by which he means to employ, against the Free People of the South, insurrectionary measures, the inevitable tendency of which will be to inaugurate a Servile War, and thereby prove destructive, in a great measure, to slave property.
Now, therefore, as a compensatory measure, I do hereby issue the following Address to the People of the Non-Slaveholding States:—
On and after February 22, 1863, all free negroes within the limits of the Southern Confederacy shall be placed on the slave status, and be deemed to be chattels, they and their issue forever.
All negroes who shall be taken in any of the States in which slavery does not now exist, in the progress of our arms, shall be adjudged, immediately after such capture, to occupy the slave status, and in all States which shall be vanquished by our arms, all free negroes shall, ipso facto , be reduced to the condition of helotism, so that the respective normal conditions of the white and black races may be ultimately placed on a permanent basis, so as to prevent the public peace from being thereafter endangered.
Therefore, while I would not ignore the conservative policy of the Slave States, namely, that a Federal Government cannot, without violating the fundamental principles of a Constitution, interfere with the internal policy of several States; since, however, Abraham Lincoln has seen fit to ignore the Constitution he has solemnly sworn to support, it ought not to be considered polemically or politically improper in me to vindicate the position which has been at an early day of this Southern republic, assumed by the Confederacy, namely, that slavery is the corner-stone of a Western Republic. It is not necessary for me to elaborate this proposition. I may merely refer, in passing, to the prominent fact, that the South is emphatically a producing section of North America; this is equally true of the West and Northwest, the people of which have been mainly dependent on the South for the consumption of their products. The other States, in which slavery does not exist, have occupied a middle position, as to the South, West and Northwest. The States of New England, from which all complicated difficulties have arisen, owe their greatness and power to the free suffrages of all other sections of North America; and yet, as is now evident, they have, from the adoption of the Federal Constitution, waged a persistent warfare against the interests of all the other States of the old Union. The great centre of their opposition has been Slavery, while the annual statistics of their respective State Governments abundantly prove that they entertain within all their boundaries fewer negroes than any single State which does not tolerate slavery.
In view of these facts, and conscientiously believing that the proper condition of the negro is slavery, or a complete subjection to the white man,—and entertaining the belief that the day is not distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent,—and in view of the future harmony and progress of all the States of America, I have been induced to issue this address, so that there may be no misunderstanding in the future.
Richmond Enquirer Print.
Document and Transcription Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

21st Annual Longwood University Civil War Seminar

The very first post, way back on March 3, 2009, on Random Thoughts on History, was my review of that year's version of the Longwood University's Civil War Seminar. 2009's version, its 10th annual, was on "Secret Missions and the UnCivil War." This year's edition, the 21st annual, is themed as "Lifting the Veil on Sundry Aspects of the Civil War." It will occur this coming Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Jarman Auditorium on the campus of Longwood. The event, like that in 2009 is free to the public. It includes an impressive lineup of speakers as shown below:

8:30 a.m. Doors open

9:00 a.m. Introduction by Dr. David Coles

9:10 a.m. John Coski: How Civil War Prisons Help Us Better Understand Pretty Much Everything About the Civil War

Civil War prisons typically are a sidebar to the textbook study of the War. Examined more closely, prisons and the prison experience shed light on nearly every aspect of the War – from the nation’s unpreparedness for a long war to the increasingly “hard” and uncivil war to the central importance of race to the experience of soldiering to the conflicting memories of the War. This program will explore these and other aspects of Civil War prisons.

10:15 a.m. Jonathan White: Dreams of War and Peace: The Remarkable Night Life of Civil War Americans

The Civil War placed new and unique strains on nineteenth-century Americans, and their nightly visions reflected those hardships. Sometimes the war intruded on people’s slumber, vividly bringing to life the horrors of the conflict. For others, nighttime was an escape from the hard realities of life and death in wartime. In this talk, Jonathan White will explore what dreams meant to Civil War-era Americans, and how their dreams reveal that generation’s deepest longings—their hopes and fears, desires and struggles, and guilt and shame. When Americans recorded their dreams in their diaries, letters and memoirs, they sought to make sense of the changing world around them, and to cope with the confusion, despair, and loneliness of life amid the turmoil of a war the likes of which they had never imagined.

11:30 a.m. Gary W. Gallagher: The Civil War in Film

The Civil War generation created four major memory traditions regarding the great American conflict--the Union Cause, the Emancipation Cause, the Lost Cause, and the Reconciliation Cause. Hollywood has drawn from those traditions in films that both shaped and reflected popular perceptions of the conflict. This lecture will examine how prominently each of the four traditions has figured in films between 1915 and the present.

12:30 p.m. Lunch

1:45 p.m. Elizabeth R. Varon Armies of Deliverance: Lincoln's Coalition for Winning the War

In her comprehensive history of the American Civil War, Varon, University of Virginia professor of American history, argues that the Union was motivated to fight not only to free the slaves, but also to redeem white Southerners from the tyranny of the planter class and the slaveholding economy. This politics of deliverance helped unify the North and contributed to the Union victory, but it failed to grapple with resistance from white Southerners who rejected the North’s terms and undermined Reconstruction. Interweaving military and social history, Varon offers new perspectives on the attitudes, goals, and frustrations of both sides.

2:45 p.m. Trevor K. Plante Civil War Records and Treasures at the National Archives

The presentation will highlight Civil War-era gems held at the National Archives. As well as provide an overview of records that are helpful to Civil War historians, educators, students, and family historians.

Schedule is subject to change

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Courage Nets Captives: Pvt. Richard Smith, 95th New York Infantry

Some of the accounts that I've located about prisoners of war taken during the Petersburg Campaign are simply amazing feats of bravery. Take for instance the case of Pvt. Richard Smith of the 95th New York Infantry. Smith received the Medal of Honor for his courage at the Battle of Globe Tavern, fought along the Weldon (Petersburg Railroad) south of the Cockade City from August 18-21, 1864.

On the battle's final day the Confederates with an ad hoc division led by Gen. William Mahone tried to hit the Union left flank which was dug in along the railroad. Mahone's assault failed and resulted in heavy casualties. During their withdrawal, numerous Southerners became captives.

Col. J. W. Hoffman, commanding the brigade that included the 95th New York, mentioned Smith in an official report recommending him for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. It reads:

Headquarters 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps
November 25, 1864
To Brigadier General L. Thomas, Adjutant General, United States Army:
General: I have the honor to report that a medal of honor be awarded to Private Richard Smith, Company B, 95th Regiment, New York Volunteers, a mounted orderly at these headquarters, for distinguished gallantry in the action of August 21, 1864, on the Weldon Railroad, Virginia

When the enemy, after having charged on the left flank of the division, turned to retreat, Private Smith rode out alone, and, riding around a body of the enemy, ordered them to face about and follow him. His courage on this occasion so intimidated them that he brought within our lines as prisoners, two commissioned officers and twenty men. For this gallantry Private Smith was mentioned in my official report of the action on the Weldon Railroad, to which I have the honor to refer you. 

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. Hoffman, Colonel Commanding Brigade

Smith appears in the 1860 census as a 20 year old "brick laborer," who lived with "brick manufacturer" Joseph Barns, his family and about 15 other brick workers in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York. Rockland County is on the west bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City. Pvt. Smith enlisted in the 95th New York in November 1861.

Smith survived the war, as I located him in the 1870 census, still living in Haverstraw, and still working in a brick yard. At that time Smith lived in the household of Nelson Jones and his family. Find A Grave shares that Smith lived until 1918, and was buried in Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw.

Smith's official citation simply (and incompletely) reads: "Captured two officers and 20 men of Hagood's brigade while they were endeavoring to make their way back through the woods." 

Monday, January 20, 2020

"Come In Out of the Draft"

Respectfully Dedicated to all Disconsolate Conscripts

"Come in Out of the Draft, or The Disconsolate Conscript"

As it was warm, I thought, the other day,
I'd find some cooler place the summer months to stay;
I had not long been gone, when a paper to me came,
And in a list of conscripts I chanced to see my name.
I show'd it to my friends, and at me they all laugh'd;
They said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

Oh, soon I hurried home, for I felt rather blue;
I thought I'd ask my dad what I had better do:
Says he, "You are not young,-you're over thirty-five:
The best thing you can do, sir, is-go and take a bride."
My mother on my smiled, my brother at me laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

I soon made up my mind that I would take a wife;
For she could save my cash, and I could save my life.
I call'd upon a friend, I offer'd her my hand,
But said she "she couldn't see it, for she loved some other man."
She told it to her ma, and at me they both laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

So next I advertised, and soon a chap I found
Who said that he would go for just two hundred down.
I took him home to sleep. Says I, "now I'm alright."
But, when I woke, I found that he'd robb'd me in the night!
I went and told the mayor: the people 'round me laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

I to the provost went, my "notice" in my hand;
I found a crowd around, and with it took my stand.
I waited there till night, from early in the morn,
And, when I got inside, my pocket-book was gone!
I thought I should go mad! but everybody laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

I've tried to get a wife, I've tried to get a "sub,"
But what shall I do, now, really, is the "rub."
My money's almost gone, and I am nearly daft:
Will some one tell me what to do to get out of the draft?
I've asked all my friends round, but at me they all laugh'd,
And said, "How are you conscript?- come in out of the draft."

Words by Ednor Rossiter
Music by B. Frank Walters
Lee & Walker, Philadelphia, 1863

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Worthless as an Officer, Useless, Unenergetic . . . and a Coward"

Some people are just not cut out for certain jobs. Either their personality does not fit the responsibilities of the job or they do not have the required skills to do the job well. In some careers a bad fit is not always critical, but in others it is. The military is one occupation where bad leaders often get weeded out quickly, especially in combat situations.

In reviewing the service records of white officers in the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), I came across Capt. Carl Von Heintz, who commanded Company B, for a time. Von Heintz, a German immigrant, attended a military academy in Berlin and served in his native land's military. During the American Civil War he first served as a captain in the 108th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a predominately German regiment from the Cincinnati area. The 108th Ohio formed in the summer of 1862 and was captured by John Hunt Morgan's raiders in November 1862 at Hartsville, Tennessee. Held briefly as prisoners of war, the Buckeyes were released within a couple of months. Von Heintz resigned his commission in February 1863.

In the summer of 1863, Von Heintz accepted a captain's commission in the 5th USCI. White officers were required to receive certification from a board of review before being assigned to a regiment. Apparently Von Heintz passed his exam. He was 41 years old when he joined the unit.

Von Heintz joined the 5th USCI at Camp Delaware, where they trained. Other than a 15-day approved leave of absence in March and April 1864, Von Heintz's compiled service records show him as present for duty. However, his July-August card states, "Dishonorably dismissed the service July 29, 1864." Another card says "Dismissed for cowardice July 29, 1864." Interestingly, a document from a few months earlier, in March 1864, in Von Heintz's records mentions a recommendation "to major in one of the Regiments now being raised in Virginia accompanied by recommendations of his superior officers." The colonel of the 5th, James Conine, wrote "Approved and Respectfully forwarded. Capt. Von Heintz is fully qualified to fill the position of Major." Lt. Col. Giles Shurtleff had praise, too. "I take pleasure in endorsing the application the applicant has had a long experience in Military service and in my opinion would make a good Major," the lieutenant colonel wrote. So, what happened to change Von Henintz's superiors' opinions of his ability to lead?

A July 3, 1864 letter, written from Petersburg, Virginia, by Von Heintz serves as his resignation letter "for reason of physical disability. As my feeble constitution and advanced age render myself entirely unfit for the service. I have come to the conclusion that the interest of the service require that I should vacate my position in favor of an officer better able to endure the fatigue and hardships of the campaign." So, again, what happened to move Von Heintz from the point of asking for a promotion to major in March to resigning in early July?

On July 11, 1864, Brig. Gen. Martindale recommended that Von Heintz be dishonorably dismissed. Apparently an examining surgeon found Von Heintz "physically sound." Lyman Allen, surgeon for the 5th USCI gives us good insight. He wrote at length about Von Heintz's shortcomings:

"I certify that I have carefully examined this officer, and find that he has a constitution weakened by his manner of life before entering the service, and by advanced years, that he has little energy or endurance, that he has always failed to discharge his duty when the Regt has been actively employed, that, on the only occasion when he was with the Regt. under fire, he was brought to me on a stretcher, unable to stand, or to converse with common reason, while his sudden illness and rapid recovery made it probable that his sickness was the effect on his nerves of the excitement of the battle, that he is consequently, in my opinion, totally unable to perform the duty of an Officer in his position during the present campaign, and that he should leave the service."

Special Order 206, from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commander of the Army of the James states that he "finds no occasion personal hearing of his [Von Heintz's] case, but from the endorsements of all of his commanders setting for that he is worthless as an officer, useless, unenergetic, debilitated by his own course of life, and a coward, he is hereby dishonorably discharged the service of the United States, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance subject to the approval of the president."

Capt. Von Heintz was not the first man undone by the stresses of combat, nor would he be the last. However, it was probably for the best of everyone that he was dismissed from his leadership role or more harm could have potentially come to the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in his company. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"Subjected to the Vilest Insults"

In reviewing the service records for white officers in the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), I came across a letter included in the compiled records of 2nd Lt. John B. Viers of Company F. The 5th USCI, a regiment in Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine's Division of the XVIII Corps, Army of the James, joined with the 36th and 38th USCIs to form Col. Alonzo Draper's Brigade. Draper's Brigade made up the second wave of assaults at the Battle of New Market Heights on morning of September 29, 1864. Although the 5th USCI took terrible causalities at New Market Heights, later in the day they engaged many of the same foes at Fort Gilmer that they had battled in the morning, who had fallen back.

During the assaults on Fort Gilmer, Lt. Viers received a wound to his leg. Unable to fall back with his regiment, he was made a prisoner. However, he received a quick parole from the Confederates (probably because he was wounded) and was exchanged. He then went to the hospital complex at Fort Monroe for treatment and recovery. While being transported on a steamboat Viers related his story to a fellow Union soldier, Major William H. Hart of the 36th USCI. Major Hart in turn relayed Viers' account to Col. Draper. Here is Hart's letter to Draper transcribed to help you read it.

Camp 36th U.S. C. Troops
Army of the James
In the field, Oct. 12, 1864.

The following is a correct statement of the conversation held by me with Lieut. Viers , 5th U.S.C.T., who was wounded, and taken prisoner in the assault at Fort Gilmer, on the afternoon of the 29th ult. I saw Lieut. Viers on board the "City of New York," at Aiken's Landing on her last trip down the [James] river, Oct. 9. He stated to me that after the assaulting party had retired, the rebel soldiers (who he afterwards learned, belonged to the 15th Geo[rgia] Regiment came out of the Fort, and bayoneted all the colored soldiers who were so badly wounded that they could not walk; they also flourished their bayonets over him, called him the vilest names they could utter, and probably would have killed him on the spot had not the officers of these men came to his rescue, they (the officers) ordered the men to desist, and had Viers carried into the Fort, where he was again subjected to the vilest insults from the likes of a Confederate naval officer. This officer admitted, however, that the "damned niggers fought like devils."

I remain, Col.
Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.
W. H. Hart
Maj. 36th U.S.C.T. 

Col. A. Draper
36th U.S.C.T.
Field Hospital, 18 A.C. 

As this piece of evidence attests, battlefield atrocities by Confederates toward black Union soldiers, and vice-versa, happened during the Petersburg/Richmond Campaign. Confederates did not view African American soldiers as legitimate combatants, despite fighting in uniforms and equipped the same as white Union soldiers and led by white officers. Instead, blacks in Union blue were perceived by Confederates as more akin to slaves in rebellion, whether they had been previously enslaved or not. After the example of Fort Pillow in April 1864, United States Colored Troops often assumed that Confederates would not give them the opportunity to surrender, and thus some did not give their Southern foes the chance either. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Capt. Augustus Merrill - Capturing the Enemy and Earning the Medal of Honor

Maybe only second to capturing a flag, taking enemy combatants helped a number of Union soldiers earn the Medal of Honor. One of those men was Capt. Augustus Merrill of Company B, 1st Maine Veteran Volunteer Infantry, who received the special medal on October 23, 1891. On April 2, 1865, Merrill was among the VI Corps (Hyde's Brigade, Getty's Division) soldiers who broke through the Confederate earthworks on the ground occupied today by Pamplin Historical Park.

Merrill's Medal of Honor citation simply reads: "With six men captured 69 Confederate prisoners and recaptured several soldiers who had fallen into enemy's hands." The actual happenings were, of course, much more dramatic. Thankfully, Merrill shared his daring story in the 1901 book Deeds of Valor: How American's Heroes Won the Medal of Honor.

Under the title "A Profitable Reconnaissance," Merrill relayed that after breaking through the Confederate line they pivoted to the southwest (left) and he was deployed in front of the sweeping VI Corps working with a company of skirmishers to determine the level of remaining Confederate resistance. Merrill remembered, "I took twenty men, deployed them as skirmishers, and advanced through the woods, coming upon an old camp. Here I captured a lieutenant and three men belonging to [A. P.] Hill's Corps, who informed me that slight resistance would be made 'this side of Hatcher's Run.'

When our line advanced I pressed on, meeting no opposition, picking up the rebel stragglers and sending them to the rear, until I reached Hatcher's Run and found that the enemy were in position on the opposite side. Supposing that the Corps was following in that direction, and not having very definite instructions, I determined to dislodge the Confederates from their position if possible. To my left was a bridge over which the telegraph road [Boydton Plank Road] runs, defended by strong  works on the other side. Near the bridge was an old wooden mill [Burgess Mill]. With a small party of men who volunteered for the occasion, and who belonged to five or six different regiments of this [VI] Corps, I moved along the run to the right through the woods, my left flank on the run. The eagerness of the men induced me to keep some distance. We came to an old dam, where we discovered indications that a crossing had been made that morning, and immediately moved over by the left flank, the enemy firing a few shots as we crossed. It was a dangerous place; one man fell into the run, but came out safely, however, minus his musket, leaving me fifteen armed men. With these I advanced and captured the skirmish line, firing but a few shots. Guarding the prisoners closely, I moved on and soon came upon a rebel guard surrounding Captain John Tifft, Ninth New York Artillery. We captured the guard and released the captain, making the number of prisoners we had thus far taken sixty-four, mostly Virginia sharpshooters, who told of their various raids on our picket line during the winter, and acted as thought they would like to overpower our small squad and march us off. I told them it would be useless to resist, as we had a large force in the rear, and their whole line would be taken. Two of my men then reconnoitered the woods and came to the open field, where they found a line of battle behind the enemy works facing the Second Corps. Their left then rested on Hatcher's Run, we being directly behind them. I took the prisoners across the run and marched them to the rear without being molested by the enemy. The reconnaissance was a complete success in that the information gained was of much value to our commander.

Three of the men, who upon my request had volunteered to remain and watch the movements of the enemy captured five more prisoners, making our total sixty-nine. A receipt for sixty-four was given me by the provost-guard, Second Division, and the three other men got credit for the capture of five."

I had not previously come across accounts of the provost guard issuing receipts for prisoners of war as Merrill relates, but it certainly makes sense and seems like a logical way to make official counts. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other references to receipts issued to captors.

Image courtesy of Find A Grave.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lt. Freeman Bowley's Capture at the Crater, Part II

Back on December 22, I shared the capture story of Freeman S. Bowley, who at 18 years old served as a lieutenant in the 30th United States Colored Infantry.

Made a prisoner of war at the Battle of the Crater, and after making his way behind enemy lines, Bowley and the other officers, non-commissioned offers, and enlisted men were purposely marched through the streets of Petersburg and subjected the white residents' ridicule.

However, before leaving the battlefield, Bowley remembered that behind the Confederate lines, "The guards were now separating the prisoners, putting the officers in a group by themselves. Our names and regiments were about to be taken. Should we of the colored troops deny our regiments and give the name of a white regiment? I thought of the black man who had rallied with me in the Crater, and who had died to the last man. Then I told my comrades that we were United States officers, and I believed that our Government would protect us . . . and that I, for one, should face the music, and if I died, I should die without denying the brave fellows we had left behind in that trap of death."

Bowley's first documented encounter with a Petersburg citizen was with a woman selling huckleberry dumplings behind the lines to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Asking $4.00 for each, Bowley only had $7.00 and told her such. She snatched it away and said, "Yo' Yanks is a miserable lyin' set of thieves, come down yere to steal we'uns niggers. If I was a man I'd get a gun and shoot ye dead; I'd get a sword and chop yer to pieces!"

Bowley explained that "A detail of guards came and took away all the negro prisoners who were able to work. The task of burying the dead was assigned to them. All the negroes had been stripped of everything by shirt and drawers. Blouse, cap, trousers, shoes and stockings had all been taken. We who were prisoners were soon moved to another position in a hollow. Near us was a battery of artillery, the pieces trained upon us."

"Our captors proposed to make a grand spectacle of us for the benefit of the Petersburg citizens! I was in the third file of officers, and as the head of the column reached the streets of Petersburg we were assailed by a volley of abuse from men, women and children which exceeded anything of the the kind that I ever heard. The women were particularly bitter. 'Why didn't you kill all of the Yankee wretches?' they asked of our guards a dozen times along the route."

The captives were held on small islands in the Appomattox River. Bowley remembered "No wonder the citizens had a poor opinion of the Yankees! We were indeed a hard-looking crowd. There was almost every nationality among the whites, and the negroes and Indians added variety of color. All of us were covered with red dust, our faces and hands were blackened by powder, our eyes were bloodshot, and many of us were bloody from wounds or the blood of comrades. Every union officer who had worn a hat had been robbed of it, and wore instead an old, dirty, greasy rebel slouch, with the cotton tassels hanging down behind. We gladly availed ourselves of the opportunity to get a good wash from the banks of the river. Bathing was prohibited. Crowds of people came to see us. We were hungry, and clamored for rations, and were told that the rations would come 'after a little.'"

In a Part III post, I'll share Bowley's travels to the prisoner of war camp he would call home for over half a year.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

I must have landed on his good list this year because Santa Clause was quite good to me. Friends and family know my reading obsession, and thankfully they feed it with gift cards and "wish list" purchases.

One of the primary five regiments who attacked at the Battle of New Market Heights was the 36th United States Colored Infantry, originally designated as the 2nd North Carolina Colored Infantry. Raised largely in occupied areas of northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, this unit was composed of both formerly enslaved men as well as free men of color. The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War: A History and Roster by James K. Bryant, II, is sure to provide a compelling look into this important regiment.

For decades a lone interpretation of Reconstruction dominated. However with revisionist works that emerged by historians such as John Hope Franklin and Kenneth Stampp in the 1960s things changed as sources emerged and were unearthed which helped tell other stories. Reconstruction studies often focus on the era's political and social issues, and rightly so, but too little light has made its way to the United States army's occupation of former Confederate localities, especially during the immediate six year following the Civil War. After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War by Gregory P. Downs seeks the remedy this void.

I've recently slowed down my formal book review submissions for various publications due to other projects that are taking more of my time. However, I will be reviewing Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy for the Civil War News. This unit, which was recruited to serve as scouts, guides, and to carry messages and orders for the Army of Northern Virginia, provided invaluable service during its operation. I'm looking forward to learning more about their Civil War experience.

In a post a few weeks ago I shared Lt. Freeman Bowley's (30th USCI) account of his capture at the Battle of the Crater. That account came from Bowley's memoir, originally published in the National Tribune, the newspaper of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1899. Available in book form too, and titled Honor in Command: Lt. Freeman S. Bowley's Civil War Service in the 30th United States Colored Infantry, it is edited by Keith Wilson. I recalled Wilson's name from his previous book Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers during the Civil War. Memoirs always have to be read with an air of caution, especially those produced decades after the events they recall, but they can also be useful and insightful.

From the dust jacket description of Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America by Matthew Fox-Amato, it states: "Exposing Slavery explores how photography altered and was, in turn, shaped by conflicts over human bondage. Drawing on an original source base that includes hundreds of unpublished and little-studied photographs of slaves, ex-slaves, free African Americans, and abolitionists as well as written archival materials, it puts visual culture at the center of understanding the experience of late slavery. It assesses how photography helped southerners to defend slavery, enslaved people to shape their social ties, abolitionists to strengthen their movement, and soldiers to pictorially enact interracial society during the Civil War." Color me intrigued!

Happy reading!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Slavery Propaganda, 1841

One does not have to do much more than scroll through Facebook or other social media to see endless amounts of political propaganda. Individuals, special interest groups, and political parties often utilize it in either an attempt to sway individuals to their particular point of view or demonize their opponent's position. The primary idea behind propaganda is to elicit an emotional response rather than a rational one. In addition, the image quality of much modern propaganda is professional looking which seeks to increase its credibility.

Of course, propaganda is not a recent phenomena. Looking back through history at almost any issue leads to numerous examples.  Controversial institutions like slavery abound with many cases.

The above image, published in 1841 by artist Edward Williams Clay, shows an idealized plantation scene. On the left side to the picture an elderly enslaved man sits while a woman, who appears to be his wife, stands by his side. A baby, perhaps their grandchild or great grandchild  sits at the old man's feet, illustrating the generations. In the background, younger enslaved men and women dance while a fiddler saws away with his bow. Further in the background the slave quarters are visible. All of the enslaved people are modestly but well clothed. The caption cloud above the old man says "God bless you massa! you cloth and feed us. When we are sick you nurse us, and when too old to work, you provide for us."

On the right side of the image, a slave owner, his wife, and two children stand wearing the day's high fashion. Behind the paternalistic father figure, an enslaved nurse holds the white family's baby. The caption bubble above the white man says, "These poor creatures are a sacred legacy from my ancestors and while a dollar is left me, nothing shall be spared to increase their comfort and happiness."

Apparently, this image is only half of full picture. According to the Library of Congress, the other half showed this picture in opposition to another showing England's so called "white slaves" or factory workers, who labored without any of the supposed guarantees that enslaved people received from their owners in America's slave states. This was a common apology for pro-slavery Northerners. Pro-slavery Southerners also used this argument but more often substituted Northern poor wage laborers in place of those from England.

Edward Williams Clay, a Philadelphia native, appears to fit the bill of a pro-slavery Northerner. He made a career as an illustrator often depicting African Americans in demeaning images. His Life in Philadelphia, is a collection of cartoons featuring grotesque and exaggerated images of the black experience in the City of Brotherly Love.

Image artists like Clay, as well as musicians who played mistral music, crafted one-sided portrayals of both free and enslaved African Americans that influenced how whites perceived black people. Showing blacks to be inferior in every way with their visual and musical depictions, many whites ingrained these false one-sided but influential images, tainting race relations for generations.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association

Historian James S. Price concludes his excellent book The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs By The Sword with a quote from a poem by the pioneering African American historian, and former United States Colored Troops soldier, Joseph T. Wilson's Voices of a New Race.

"No marble shaft or granite pile mark the spot
Where they fell - their bones lay harvested from sun rot,
In the Nation's cities of the dead. Hannibal led
No braver than they through Alpine snow, nor wed
To freedom were Greece's phalanx more, who o'er gory
Followed Butler to New Market heights that day."

Originally published in the late 19th century, this poem identifies a void on the monument landscape; a landscape quickly being filled at that time by veterans and their descendants from both the North and the South. Over one hundred years later the glaring void that Wilson viewed is still empty. However, that is about to change.

To help remedy the lack of memorialization at the site of this significant, yet too often overlooked battle, I've recently formed a non-profit organization called the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association (BNMHMEA). Its primary purpose is to erect a suitable and substantial monument to honor the brave USCT soldiers of the Third Division of the XVIII Corps, Army of the James, who courageously fought that desperate morning battle on September 29, 1864.

Permission for placement of the monument at Four Mile Creek Park (near the interchange of I-295 and Hwy. 5) in Henrico County has been granted. This location, just a stone's throw from the core battlefield, will allow visitors the opportunity to come visit the monument, pay their respects, and learn more about the brave men who fought there for the end of slavery, the preservation of the Union, and their right to citizenship in the United States.

Although a lot has been accomplished in getting things to this point, so much more needs done. The next step is to establish a website for the organization. The website will serve both as an educational tool as well as a way of keeping up with the progress on the monument and as a means for fundraising.

We are pleased to mention that another monument to the New Market Heights USCT soldiers is being planned for erection in Richmond. That organization, called the Honor the 14 Foundation, and BNMHMEA will be working closely together to see that both memorials are completed.

To achieve our goals of doing the brave men who sacrificed so much at New Market Heights proper justice, it is going to take a tremendous amount of effort and support. I hope you will consider giving in someway to this worthy initiative. Being a recognized 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, all financial donations are tax deductible.
Gifts can be sent to:
Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association
P. O. Box 52
Sutherland, VA 23885

Please spread the word! Let's give those brave men the recognition they so greatly earned. This monument will help ensure that future generations have the opportunity to come honor and learn from their example of patriotism and sacrifice for the greater good.