Sunday, May 31, 2020

4th Offensive Union Prisoners as Reported in the Richmond Daily Dispatch

Each of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's offensives to take Petersburg resulted in not only killed and wounded soldiers, they also produced thousands of prisoners. The high price for the territory gained with each move forward were casualties of all kinds. I am continuing to find prisoner reports in Richmond newspapers for most every offensive. The above short story, relaying information on the Battle of Globe Tavern, aka Weldon Railroad, and Second Deep Bottom, ran in the Tuesday, August 23, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch.

1,474 prisoners at Globe Tavern, and 30-some from Deep Bottom, goes to show the large numbers being captured, often when Confederates counterattacked the initial offensive. What I want to get a better idea about is if these prisoners are largely finding themselves in helpless circumstances (i.e flanked or surrounded) where they truly have no other real choice other than to surrender, or are there instances where the will to fight is lacking, whether as a way to preserve their lives or from physical exhaustion? And, do the reasons for so many prisoners being captured change over the span of the Petersburg Campaign?

The Daily Dispatch ran another notice (above) on Monday, August 29, 1864.  It mentions that since "Friday night last," which would be since August 26, 2,100 Union prisoners arrived at Libby prison in Richmond. The vast majority of these men were "captured in the neighborhood of Petersburg," likely at the Battle of Reams Station (Aug. 25), south of where the fighting occurred a few days earlier at Globe Tavern and where the II Corps suffered a significant defeat. The notice also mentions that an additional 300 were captured at Lynchburg.

The search continues.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Lt. William H. Appleton, 4th USCI, Medal of Honor Recipient

The 14 African American soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor for their heroic acts at the Battle of New Market Heights set a high standard for courage under fire. William H. Barnes, Powhatan Beaty, James H. Bronson, Christian A. Fleetwood, James Gardiner, James H. Harris, Thomas R. Hawkins, Alfred B. Hilton, Milton M. Holland, Miles James, Alexander Kelly, Robert A. Pinn, Edward Ratcliff, and Charles Veal, are all listed when internet search requests reveal information on New Market Heights medal recipients.

However, less well known, and often not named among the New Market Heights recipients are two white officers whose Medals of Honor also came through brave acts on September 29, 1864. Of the two, Lt. Nathan Edgerton, 6th USCI, has probably received more notice by being included in Civil War artist Don Troiani's amazing painting, "Three Medals of Honor." Edgerton is portrayed in the image protecting the national and regimental colors, along with fellow medal recipients, Thomas R. Hawkins and Alexander Kelly. The Medal of Honor recipient from New Market Heights that is most forgotten is Lt. (later Captain) William H. Appleton of the 4th USCI.

William Appleton was born in Chichester, Merrimack County, New Hampshire on March 24, 1843. Appleton appears in the 1860 census in his wheelwright father Samuel's household. At age 19, in May 1861, Appleton enlisted in Company I, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry. They fought at First Manassas, the Peninsula Campaign, 2nd Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg before Appleton joined as Company H's 2nd lieutenant in the 4th United States Colored Infantry when he officially joined the new unit in August 1863.

Appleton's service records indicate he was a faithful soldier, as he always shows as present for duty. He must have performed quite well during the 4th USCI's participation in the initial attacks on Petersburg's defenses, as his Medal of Honor citation includes the following: "The first man of the Eighteenth Corps to enter the enemy's works at Petersburg, Va. 15 June 1864." That heroic action must have also helped him earn his promotion to first lieutenant, which he received the following month.

Although the 4th USCI led the charge at New Market, during the fight, Appleton somehow came through it unscathed. Several of the 4th's other white officers were not as fortunate. Capt. Samuel W. Vannings of Company E was killed in action. Five other line officers were wounded: Capt. Wareham Hill, Lt. J. Murray Hoag, Lt. Thomas N. Price, Lt. Daniel W. Spicer, and Lt. W. Watson Gillingham. Appleton's Medal of Honor citation also states, "Valiant service in a desperate assault at New Market Heights., Va., inspiring the Union troops by his example of steady courage."

Appleton's courage netted him not only the Medal of Honor; he also earned promotion to captain in Company E to fill the vacancy of the deceased Samuel Vannings. The 4th USCI transferred to North Carolina and participated in the fighting to capture Fort Fisher in January 1865, the capitulation of Wilmington, and the occupation of Goldsboro and Raleigh. They remained in North Carolina, being among the USCT units that did not have to go to do duty on the Texas-Mexico border. Appleton and the 4th USCI mustered out of service in May 1866.

William Appleton's post-war life is unfortunately not easy to track. He received his Medal of Honor in 1891 and died at 69 years old in 1912. He was buried in his native Merrimack County, New Hampshire in Evergreen Cemetery. May he not be forgotten for his heroic part in preserving the Union, ending slavery, and his service in the United States Colored Troops. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

"God Bless the Old Sixth Corps"

The VI Corps was among the most accomplished in the Army of the Potomac. Through several different leaders, the VI Corps time and again carried out its orders and did so well. Their battle record was enviable for any similar sized unit in the American Civil War. Fighting under the "Greek Cross" corps badge they developed a fine reputation.

I get to talk about the VI Corps at work often. They were, after all, the stars of the April 2, 1865, breakthrough at Petersburg, which is preserved today by Pamplin Historical Park. I've made it point to try to learn what I can about their service during the Civil War, particularly in 1864-65.

This past week, while reading about the VI Corps' role in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, when they were detached from the Army of the Potomac to serve the the Army of the Shenandoah, and led by Philip H. Sheridan, I came across a reference to a song titled "God Bless the Old Sixth Corps."

Written in 1865 by Thomas P. Ryder (1836-1887), and as one might imagine, the song gives the VI Corps a heap of well-deserved praise.

God Bless the Old Sixth Corps

God Bless our noble army!
The hearts are strong and brave,
That have willingly come our standard
From treason's grasp to save,
But from the Western Prairie
To Atlantic's rocky shore,
The truest, noblest hearts of all
Are in the Old Sixth Corps.

Then, ere we part tonight, boys,
We'll sing one song the more.
With chorus swelling loud and clear
God bless the Old Sixth Corps!

In the thickest of the battle,
Where cannon's fiery breath
Smites many a strong heart pressing,
On to victory or death.
The foremost in the conflict,
The last to say, "'tis o're",
Who know now what it is to yield
You'll find the "Old Sixth Corps."


There's many a brave many lying,
Where he nobly fought and fell,
There's many a mother sighing,
For the sons she loved so well.
And the Southern winds are breathing
A requiem where they lie,
O' the gallant followers of the cross
Are not afraid to die!


Our truest, bravest heart is gone,
And we remember well
The bitter anguish of that day
When noble Sedgwick fell.
But there is another left,
To lead us in the fight,
And with a hearty three times three
We'll cheer our gallant Wright!


Then on! Onward we will press,
Till treason's voice we still,
And proudly waves the "Stripes and Stars",
On ev'ry Southern hill.
We'll struggle till our flag is safe,
And honored as before,
And men in future times will say,
God bless the Old Sixth Corps.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Henry McNeal Turner Comments on USCTs Executing Confederate Prisoners

In conducting my research on prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I've come across instances where soldiers captured on the battlefield were killed by their captors. The most famous example of this type of atrocity comes from the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864), where Gen. William Mahone's division counterattacked and in the process executed black soldiers of the IX Corps' 4th Division. Many of the United States Colored Infantry soldiers went into that engagement yelling, "Remember Fort Pillow" for motivation. Of course, Fort Pillow refers to the fight on April 12, 1864, where Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry demanded surrender of that Tennessee military installation along the Mississippi River. When the Union interracial garrison force refused the Confederate demand, the Southerners overran the defenses and killed scores of the black soldiers who attempted to capitulate. There are also references to African American soldiers being killed after surrendering during the early actions of the Battle of New Market Heights and also later that day at Fort Gilmer.

While reading Will Greene's Campaign of Giants there was mention that black soldiers killed some Confederate soldiers in retaliation for Fort Pillow. During the June 15, 1864, assaults on Petersburg's Dimmock Line of defenses, USCTs in Gen. Edward Hincks's division of the XVIII Corps successfully breached the earthworks, capturing some of the defenders, a few of whom were apparently dispatched.

Henry McNeal Turner, chaplain for the 1st United States Colored Infantry, seems to corroborate this information in his June 30 report to the Christian Recorder newspaper. In this letter Turner gives some details about the fights at both Baylor's Farm and along the Dimmock Line. Turner also tells about the motivation of Fort Pillow, and black soldiers killing Confederate prisoners; albeit doing so in careful phrasing. Turner wrote:

"The rebel balls would tear up the ground at times and create such a heavy dust in front of our charging army that they could scarcely see the forts for which they were making. But onward they went, through dust and every impediment, while they and the rebels were both crying out -- 'Fort Pillow.' This seems to be the battle-cry on both sides. But onward they went, waxing stronger and mightier ever time Fort Pillow was mentioned. Soon they boys were at the base of the Fort, climbing over abatis, and jumping the deep ditches, ravines, &c. The last load fired by the rebel battery was a cartridge of powder, not having time to put the ball in, which flashed and did no injury.

The next place we saw the rebels was going out the rear of the forts with their coattails sticking straight out behind. Some few held up their hands and pleaded for mercy, but our boys thought that over Jordan would be the best place for them, and sent them there, with few exceptions."

So, what does Turner mean by "over Jordan would be the best place for them?" Going over the Jordan River to the "Promised Land" is a metaphor for going on to the afterlife, and would have well been understood by mid-19th century Americans.

At this, Turner's first mention of dispatching Confederate prisoners, he writes with a somewhat cavalier attitude. However, toward the end of the correspondence he offers some deeper thoughts on killing prisoners. He wrote:
"There is one thing, though, which is highly endorsed by an immense number of both white and colored people, which I am sternly opposed to, and that is the killing of all the rebel prisoners taken by our soldiers. True, the rebels have set the example, particularly in killing the colored soldiers; but it is a cruel one, and two cruel acts never make one humane act. Such a course of warfare is an outrage upon civilization and nominal Christianity. And inasmuch as it was presumed that we would carry out a brutal warfare, let us disappoint our malicious anticipators by showing the world that the higher sentiments not only prevail, but actually predominate."

Turner's last thoughts on battlefield atrocities stands in stark contrast to that offered by some of the Richmond newspapers, who called for continued acts by Confederate soldiers.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

For the past ten years or so a handful of environmental Civil War studies have appeared in print. Books like Nature's Civil War by Katherine Shively Meier, Ruin Nation by Megan Kate Nelson, and War Upon the Land by Lisa M. Brady, among a few others, have helped shed light on how armies and the environment influenced one another. Adding to this growing body of literature is An Environmental History of the Civil War, coauthored by Appalachian State University professors Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver. I've seen and heard a couple of online interesting interviews with the authors about the book's topical areas and how they shared research and writing responsibilities. As I am a proud Appalachian State alum, I look forward to diving into it.

Since the late 1990s, I've been collecting hardback editions of UNC Press' Military Campaigns of the Civil War series. Noted historian Gary Gallagher edited all of the books in the series until the last couple of books, which were Cold Harbor to the Crater, co-edited with Caroline Janney, and Petersburg to Appomattox, solo edited by Caroline Janney, who followed Gallagher as the John L. Nau Professor of Civil War history at the University of Virginia. The only edition that I was lacking was The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. Well, I found a decent price on a used copy and I now have the complete set. I've heard rumors that additional editions covering eastern theater campaigns not previously examined, such as First and Second Manassas, may be published in the near future. Let's hope so!

One of the 13 "soldier comrades" at Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier's permanent exhibit ,"Duty Called Me Here," is 28th Massachusetts Infantry soldier Peter Welsh. Some of this Irish Brigade fighting man's letters are used to help tell his experience within the exhibit. However, I'm looking forward to reading his full extant body of letters which are collected in Irish Green & Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, edited by Lawrence Frederick Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard. There is nothing quite like reading the words right from the soldiers' pens.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Random Thoughts on History Cited in 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winner for History

A few months back, I decided to Google "Tim Talbott and "Random Thoughts on History" just to see what turned up. Among the first hits was a link to the recently published Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel. By coincidence, several months earlier, I had read an article in Smithsonian magazine on the book's topic, also penned by the author.

Being that it was a Kentucky-based story, involving slavery and law, and involving a historical personality (Zeb Ward) with whom I'd researched when I lived in the Bluegrass State, I was certainly interested in obtaining the book and immediately placed it on my book "wish list."

In Sweet Taste of Liberty, McDaniel cited my article from "Random Thoughts on History" about some African American men previously owned by Zeb Ward and who enlisted in United States Colored Troops regiments during the Civil War. It is an honor for a fellow historian to use some of my research, but it is especially so when that historian's study results in such a prestigious award as the Pulitzer Prize.

Hoping to get a copy of Sweet Taste of Liberty for a reasonable price, I have checked my wish list often to monitor the used price rate. I probably should have grabbed a copy at the $15.00 it was once going for, because now that it has earned the Pulitzer it is priced over $40.00. Proof positive of the effects book awards can have.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Henry McNeal Turner Comments on White Soldiers' Attitudes toward Black Soldiers after seeing them in Combat

In my last post I shared some comments by 1st United States Colored Infantry chaplain, Henry McNeal Turner, on how Union soldiers in Washington D.C. treated black people. He observed a marked difference in the attitudes of early enlistees (1861) verses later (1862) ones. I shared my personal take on this as probably partly from a backlash response in the government's changed war aims after the release of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. I concluded that post wondering if Turner ever observed a positive change in white Union soldiers' attitude toward black soldiers after  finally having the chance to see the African American soldiers in combat.

Well, I just finished up Freedom's Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner and I found my answer. In his June 30 report to the Christian Recorder Turner concluded this column by stating:

"Before closing I would say that the brilliant achievements of our boys in front of Petersburg was more than timed, and did more to conquer the prejudice of the Army of the Potomac than a thousand newspaper puffs. Providentially, the most of that immense army had to pass right by the forts taken by the colored soldiers. Every soldier with whom I came in contact had but little to say except to pay the most flattering compliments to the brave colored men of our division. After that the white and colored soldiers talked, laughed, and ate together with a friendly regard, not surpassing by any previous occasion. Let the forts of Petersburg hereafter add new stars to the glorious constellation, which are glittering with untarnished brilliancy above the horizon. Let them stand a monument to his bravery, heroism, and daring."

In the next post I will share some of Turner's comments on black soldiers' treatment of Confederate prisoners during the June 15 attacks at Petersburg.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Henry McNeal Turner Comments on Changes in Union Soldiers' Attitudes toward African Americans

I am currently reading Freedom's Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner, edited by Jean Lee Cole. Turner is not that well known to students of the conflict today, but he was quite a powerful presence in the African American community in Washington D.C. during the Civil War era.

Born free in 1834 in South Carolina, Turner eventually became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church by age 19. In the late 1850s, Turner and his wife moved to Baltimore to gain further education in the ministry. Moving on to Washington D.C. to lead a church just before the Civil War, Turner also provided insight into happenings in the capital city as the nation divided. Writing for the Christian Recorder, the newspaper for the AME church, Turner provides historians with an important African American voice we do not often hear.

After Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, it produced a degree of immediate backlash. Many Union soldiers, particularly those from the border states, and southern parts of free states, commented on their motivations being to maintain the Union and not to fight to free the enslaved. A number of border state officers resigned their positions over the issue. However, we rarely hear how the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation affected the black community in some of these areas.

Although Turner credits the observable change in Union soldiers' attitude toward people of color being with early enlistees versus those called later, writing and commenting on this on September 27, I think that the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation's release contributed the lion's share of the attitude change.

"And strange to say too; but there is the greatest difference in the world between the last soldiers called for by the President and the first. The first or former soldiers who came to the defence of their country, seemed to have had nothing at heart by their great and glorious mission, and every other consideration appeared to be a matter of contempt, or regarded as undeserving attention; they passed to and fro among the people and treated everyone respectfully; such were the manners and becoming courtesy of every northern soldier that the colored people delighted to render every assistance in their power; they would take them to their houses and give them the best to eat the market could afford, and divide the last penny they had to make them comfortable, and it was almost unnatural to hear a harsh word spoken by any of them to a colored person. But these last recruits which are coming into the field, are all the time cursing and abusing the infernal negro, as some say, nigger. In many instances you may see a regiment of soldiers passing along the street, and knowing them to be fresh troops, you may (as it is natural) stop to take a look at them, and instead of them thinking about the orders of their commanders, or Jeff. Davis and his army, with whom they must soon contend, they are gazing about to see if they can find a nigger to spit their venom at. And I believe it is to kill off just such rebels as these that this war is being waged for, one in rebellion to their country [Confederate], and the other in rebellion to humanity [Union], for that man who refuses to respect an individual because his skin is black, when God himself made him black, is as big a rebel as ever the devil or any of his subalterns were . . . ."

Tuner, an early proponent for black Union soldiers, went on to recruit for the United States Colored Troops and served as chaplain for the 1st United States Colored Infantry.

I am interested to see later on if Turner observes and comments about a change in the other direction after white Union soldiers see black men in combat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Just Finished Reading - Men is Cheap

“Free Soil, Free Labor, and Fremont” was an early rally cry for the emergent Republican Party in the mid-1850s. To many of its Northern proponents, the idea of free labor provided not only a better economic model, but also staked claim to a moral high ground over the labor system practiced in the 15 slave states. As most Northerners perceived it, allowing laborers the ability to choose their profession and their employer, and to earn their living by the sweat of their brow or by their ingenuity and intellect without competition from slave labor was clearly superior. Northerners also felt that slave labor hindered innovation and discouraged industrial trades. However, as Brian P. Luskey informs us in Men is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, the free labor system was not without its fair share of flaws, too.  

Organized into six chapters, Men is Cheap also includes a helpful contextual introduction and fitting conclusion. In this study we see that the Civil War provided a good testing ground for the free labor system. As the war progressed political decisions and military actions produced events that offered certain individuals and organizations, who were perhaps more interested in personal gain than national advancement, numerous opportunities to cash in. Corruption involving Union war material manufacturing contracts have long been part of Civil War scholarship, but until recently, labor fraud in relation to the Union cause has largely remained out of the spotlight.

Focusing heavily on what were then called “intelligence offices,” which operated somewhat like a shadier version of today’s employment agencies, Luskey exposes a clear contradiction between the ideals of free labor, and how under the pressures of wartime necessity it sometimes became manipulated into the corrupt exploitation of vulnerable and marginalized populations who had few options. While viewed by many Northerners at the time as less than model citizens, intelligence office brokers also ironically filled the manpower needs (on the battlefront as well as on the home front) that ultimately helped facilitate Union victory. They provide quite the intriguing paradox.

Not surprisingly intelligence office brokers seemed to target those most vulnerable. They sought out the unemployed and immigrants in the North to fill substitute roles for soldiers who could afford to buy their way out of service. These middlemen also located recently freed African American men (once they were finally allowed to officially enlist) to fill the state quotas required by the federal government. Agents combed the refugee camps to find freedwomen and children, as well as white Unionist refugees, to work in Northern homes and on Northern farms at low wages. Even the Confederate soldier was not out of bounds to these brokers. Confederate prisoners and deserters who pledged the oath of allegiance to the United States could obtain employment with the federal government through intelligence office agents. For a price, agents moved workers to where the work was needed, often, of course, with little regard for the working conditions or ultimate fate of the worker. In doing so, these middlemen commodified the worker, not so differently than how the slave trader had the enslaved.

Men is Cheap did not provide much discussion about reform efforts, nor the use of fraudulent free labor as a political tool. Perhaps there were few attempts at reform due to the constant focus on prosecuting the war, but I would be surprised, if at minimum, the Democratic Party or “Copperhead” factions did not at least mention instances of this abuse if effort to gain political ground.

Regardless, Men is Cheap makes a significant contribution to the body of Civil War scholarship, particularly that relating to the growing genre of labor history. How the United States came to regard labor developed in part from the Civil War years, and its relevance is still clearly present in today’s society.