Sunday, December 27, 2020

Books I Read in 2020

With Christmas now in the rearview mirror, and with the New Year just around the corner, it's time to share the list of the books that I read during 2020. This year was particularly challenging for many different reasons, but if there was a silver lining to 2020, it was perhaps that I had a little more time to read while being limited with the number of available outside-the-house activities. As with the past four years' lists, I have highlighted those books that I found particularly interesting or enlightening, offered a fascinating argument, or challenged me to think about new ideas. It appears that I will not get any more titles read before January 1, 2021, so here is this year's list:

1. Dear Ma: The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock, First Defender and 1st Lieutenant, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry by John David Hoptak

2.  Lincoln's Greatest Journey: 16 Days that Changed a Presidency, March 24-April 8, 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau

3. The Geography of Resistance: Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

4. Four Days in 1865: The Fall of Richmond by David D. Ryan

5. Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Homefront by J. Matthew Gallman

6. Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the 18th Century Frontier by Honor Sachs

7. A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War by Lesley J. Gordon

8. Lee's Bodyguards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy

9. The Underground Railroad: A Selection of Authentic Narratives by William Still

10. The Rest I Will Kill: William Tillman and the Unforgettable Story of How a Free Black Man Refused to become a Slave by Brian McGinty

11. Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, 1862-1867 by Patricia C. Click

12. Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital by Stephen V. Ash

13. The Woman's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War by Stephanie McCurry

14. We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1830 by Katy Simpson Smith

15. Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War edited by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long

16. Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee edited by John N. Fain

17. Masterful Women: Slaveholding Widows from the American Revolution through the Civil War by Kirsten E. Wood

18. All for the Union: The Civil War Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes edited by Robert Hunt Rhodes

19. The Orphan Mother: A Novel by Robert Hicks

20. Gettysburg: The First Day by Harry W. Pfanz

21. Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America by Matthew Fox-Amato

22. Antietam: The Soldier's Battle by John M. Priest

23. Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina by Judkin Browning

24. Virginia's Civil War edited by Peter Wallenstein and Bertram Wyatt-Brown

25. The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War: A History and Roster by James K. Bryant

26. Men is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America by Brian P. Luskey 

27. Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management by Caitlin Rosenthal

28. Make the Fur Fly: A History of a Union Volunteer Division in the American Civil War by Timothy B. Mudgett

29. Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War by Gary Gallagher

30. Freedom's Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner edited by Jean Lee Cole

31. The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul by Andrew Delbanco

32. An Environmental History of the Civil War by Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver

33. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 edited by Gary Gallagher

34. A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868 by Anne Sarah Rubin

35. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Richard

36. Vicksburg's Long Shadow: The Civil War Legacy of Race and Remembrance by Christopher Waldrep

37. The Politics of Black Citizenship: Free African Americans in the Mid-Atlantic Borderland, 1817-1863 by Andrew K. Diemer

38. Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930 by Patricia Schechter 

39. To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866 by Benjamin F. Cooling

40. Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians edited by Gary Gallagher and J. Matthew Gallman

41. Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel

42. Why Learn History When It's Already on Your Phone by Sam Wineburg

43. American Lucifers: The Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750-1865 by Jeremy Zallen

44. Honor in Command: Lieutenant Freeman S. Bowley's Civil War Service in the 30th United States Colored Infantry edited by Keith Wilson

45. Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America by James Marten 

46. After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War by Gregory P. Downs 

47. Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill by Harry W. Pfanz

48. Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina's Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era by Richard M. Reid

49. As If It Were Glory: Robert Beecham's Civil War from the Iron Brigade to the Black Regiments edited by Michael E. Stevens

50. Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War edited by J. Matthew Gallman and Gary W. Gallagher

51. The Children by David Halberstam 

52. Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South by Barbara Krauthamer 

53. Driven from Home: North Carolina's Civil War Refugee Crisis by David Silkenat

54. The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion by A. Wilson Greene

55. Confederate Waterloo: The Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, and the Controversy that Brought Down a General by Michael McCarthy

56. An African American History of the Civil War in Hampton Roads by Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander

57. Two Brothers: One North, One South by David H. Jones

58. Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess

59. Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles by Brian K. Burton

60. Fighting for Citizenship: Black Northerners and the Debate over Military Service in the Civil War by Brian Taylor

61. A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac by Zachary A. Fry

62. Strike Them a Blow: Battle Along the North Anna River, May 21-25, 1864 by Chris Mackowski

63. Hensonville's Heroes: Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania by Cheryl Renee Gooch

64. The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans edited by Brian Matthew Jordan and Evan C. Rothera

65. A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland by Sydney Nathans

66. Friendly Enemies: Soldier Fraternization throughout the American Civil War by Lauren K. Thompson

67. The Untold Story of Shields Green: The Life and Death of a Harper's Ferry Raider by Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. 

68. For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops by Kelly D. Mezurek

69. Slavery's Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation edited by Dionne Ford and Jill Strauss

70. Rot, Riot, and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson's Struggle to Save the University that Changed America by Rex Bowman and Carlos Santos

With some quarantine time and curtailing my travels in 2020 I was able to get 12 more books read than I did in 2019. 1.3 books per week is not too bad. We'll hope 2021 brings another year of happy reading. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

More on the Burning of the Albert Boisseau House

About two years ago I shared some information that I located in a Richmond newspaper concerning the burning of the Albert Boisseau house , on October 4, 1864, following the Battle of Peebles Farm. I mentioned in that article that if I ever found anything else about this incident I would share it. 

Well, while doing some research at work this past week, I found some corroborating information. While trying to learn how former U.S. Congressman and Confederate brigadier general, Roger A. Pryor  ended  up captured (then serving as a private in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry) on November 27, 1864, near where the Union picket line ran by the remains of the Albert Boisseau house, I happened upon the the name of Capt. Henry S. Burrage. Not knowing anything about Capt. Burrage, I looked him up and found he served with the 36th Massachusetts Infantry (IV Corps). With that information I searched further and found that he helped write a history of the 36th Massachusetts after the war. I located a copy of the book and found the following account on page 268: 

"October 4th. Comparative quiet prevailed until the afternoon, when there was a lively breeze on the picket line. In our immediate front, and held by our pickets, was a deserted house, to which reference has already been made, lately occupied by Dr. Boisseau. As this house stood on rising ground, and commanded a view of the enemy's line, it was surmised that it might be made the object of an attack. In anticipation of such an event, Captain Morse, with his company, was, on the 3d instant, detailed as a reserve picket force, and[] took up a position in a small rifle-pit near the house a short distance to the rear of the picket line. The rebels had during the day kept up a desultory fire, which made the position of the few men stationed in the building somewhat uncomfortable; but nothing unusual was noted until about four o'clock, when the enemy attacked the picket line of the Second New York, of our brigade. The capture of this line let the enemy into the rear of the picket pits of the Thirty-Sixth, and those adjacent to the house were precipitately evacuated; but the reserve force held its ground until convinced that the enemy was present in superior numbers, when it fell back, leaving the house and a few men in his possession. Our loss was four men captured,—Corporals Charles Bottomley and George H. Mills, of Company C, and privates Reuben Jackson and Lyman McDowell, of Company E. Mills and Bottomley were shortly afterwards paroled; but Jackson and McDowell were fated to swell the ranks of that mighty army the story of which is sadly told by the words, "Died in rebel prisons." The picket line was at once reinforced, and the captured posts were retaken. A second attack of the enemy was unsuccessful. After dark, in accordance with orders, Captain Burrage, who was brigade officer of the day, gave directions for the burning of the building. It was soon a mass of flame, and presented a brilliant spectacle, the weird effect being heightened by the sharp crack of the rifles as the outposts on both sides blazed away at random, each desirous to show to his antagonist that he was not to be caught napping. At daylight on the morning of the 5th the disputed property was a heap of ruins, and our pickets who had been drawn back, on account of the fire, took possession of their old pits without opposition."

There is it. October 4 is the date the Albert Boisseau house was burned, and the account gives the reason why it was incinerated. It, along with the neighboring Pegram house (just off the map to the south), and later, the Robert H. Jones house (also known as Oak Grove), became caught between the lines and thus victims of the flames of war.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Leasing the Enslaved Created Family Separations at Christmas and the New Year


The Holiday Season is typically a time of sharing and looking forward to a fresh start in the New Year. However, for enslaved men, women, and children, Christmas and New Year often created uncertainty and anxiety.

During slavery it was common in Virginia and other slaves states to lease or rent enslaved people for an agreed upon rate and time period. The contracts between the parties—those who were leasing out and those who sought additional laborers—more often than not ran on a yearly cycle. Leases typically started on New Year’s Day and ran to Christmas Day.

Leasing enslaved individuals could solely involve two private parties, but sometimes a middle man got involved, serving as a broker. As shown in the accompanying advertisement, which appeared in the December 12, 1860 edition of the Petersburg Daily Express, commission merchant brothers Alexander and James Donnan, who operated an office in Petersburg, offered to locate enslaved people for those who had specific labor needs. For their services the Donnan brothers received a commission or “finder’s fee.”  

When thinking of separations involving enslaved family members during the antebellum and Civil War years, we tend to focus on sales. Sales from upper-South states like Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky to the growing “Cotton Kingdom” states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and East Texas happened frequently. However, it is also important to also remember that separations between husbands and wives, and children from parents occurred as well in leasing agreements. The distances for leasing may have involved dozens of miles rather than the hundreds of miles that went with sales, but the anguish of parting from loved ones was no less a painful experience. From the perspective of the enslaved, it mattered little whether their family member was 1,000 miles away or 10 miles away when there was little to no opportunity for contact to enjoy the love and support of the family circle.   

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Dying Far From Home: Sgt. Jacob A. Moss, Co. H, 5th USCI


What’s in a name? For a Civil War soldier, in a day before carrying one’s identity was a common practice, a name and the reputation behind it was sometimes all a man had. That is one reason why it is disappointing to find so many soldiers’ names misspelled on their government gravestones.

A case in point is Sergeant Jacob A. Moss. His grave marker spells his last name as Morse, which apparently comes from his inventory of effects form in his Compiled Military Service Record, as that is the only record that incorporates that particular spelling. Several earlier documents from various sources confirm his last name as Moss.

Jacob Moss was only 21 years old when he enlisted in Company H of the 5th United States Colored Infantry at Lancaster, Ohio, on June 29, 1863. Jacob may have been following the example of his younger brother, Charles, who at 19, enlisted in Company G, 12 days before in nearby Chillicothe.   

Jacob and Charles Moss appear in the 1850 census living in Fairfield County, Ohio. They resided in the household of their parents, Edmund and Martha and siblings. Edmund worked as a blacksmith. He, Martha, and the three oldest children were all born in Virginia. Jacob was the first of the siblings born in Ohio. He along with his three older siblings attended school, an opportunity that would not have been readily available in the Old Dominion. Included in the Moss household, too, was Fleming Crump, an 18 year old blacksmith born in Virginia. Crump was likely serving as an assistant or apprentice to Edmund Moss. One wonders if Edmund and his family left the slave state of Virginia as an enslaved or free people of color.

Interestingly, the 1850 census also shows Jacob Moss in the Crump household in Fairfield County, Ohio. Other records tell us that Fleming Crump enlisted in the 27th USCI in 1864. The Moss and Crump families likely were related. Jacob Moss does not appear in the 1860 census, but his father and brother do. They are the only residents in their Ross County, Ohio, household.  

Described in his service records as a five feet six inch tall blacksmith, with a “brown” complexion, Jacob Moss formally mustered into U.S. service at Camp Delaware, Ohio in July. Although his promotion date is not included among his service records, by the end of October 1863, Jacob was a sergeant. Over the next 11 months, Sgt. Moss apparently always answered roll as “present.”

Moved from the Petersburg front to north of the James River, the 5th USCI, along with the rest of the 3rd Division of the XVIII Corps, received orders to attack the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights on the morning of September 29, 1864. Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Maj. Milton Holland, also fighting in the 5th USCI, remembered, “The shot and shell of the enemy mowed down the front ranks of the colored troops like blades of grass beneath the sickle’s deadly touch. But, with a courage that knew no bounds, the men stood like granite figures. They routed the enemy and captured the breastworks.” During the second concerted assault at the Battle of New Market Heights, led by the 5th USCI, Sgt. Moss received a wound to the head damaging his skull. Removed from the battlefield and transported to the general hospital at Fort Monroe, Jacob died of his wounds three days later on October 2. In addition to his army issued clothing, which consisted of a cap, blouse, trousers, drawers, shirt, shoes, and socks, he also owned a money purse and a knife.

Jacob’s brother Charles also received a wound at New Market Heights. However, Charles’ service records are not clear if he fully recovered, although his hospital stay proved lengthy. Charles appears in the 1880 census, living in Columbus with his wife Sarah and their three sons. That census noted that Charles had not worked during the last year due to consumption (tuberculosis). Other documentation shows that Fleming Crump died on June 7, 1906. He was buried in the Dayton, Ohio, National Cemetery.

Today, Sgt. Moss rests in peace in grave number 3868 in the Hampton National Cemetery. Although his gravestone misspells his name, we remember him and his courageous participation in the Battle of New Market Heights. He and his family earned a worthy reputation for their service and sacrifice.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Zooming in on the 27th USCI Winter Encampment near Petersburg

 Not too long ago I came across the above photograph on the Library of Congress website while searching for USCT images. It is described as the winter encampment of the 27th United States Colored Infantry, near Petersburg. Raised in Ohio, 27th USCI fought in the IX Corps, until consolidated into the all-African American XXV Corps during the winter of 1864-65.

Zooming in on parts of the photograph give us some better detail, but being that the photograph was exposed far away from the subjects it shows, many of the people are blurry. Regardless, it is a fascinating rare look into a USCT winter encampment.

In the left center of image are five black soldiers. One sits on what may be a small cart of some kind. Whatever it is, its wheels appear to be too small for an artillery carriage. The soldier on the back left wears a light blue great coat, and at first he escaped my attention. To his left is a soldier resting on a wheel of the cart. He looks to have chevrons on his fatigue blouse, so he is likely a sergeant or corporal. The man sitting on the axel of the wheels may also be a non-commissioned officer. The winter cabin these five soldiers stand in front of has a double-barrel chimney. Soldiers used old discarded barrels as an easy means to extend their chimney smoke above their quarters.

Another group of soldier appear on the left side of the photograph. Some of these men appear to be white, and thus are likely the regimental officers. A few non-commissioned officers and enlisted men may be among them as well. There are a variety of structures in use behind the men. A couple of tents that may or may not have log bases are directly behind them. A vertical log winter quarter is visible through the trees. While most cabins utilized a horizontal log construction method with interlinking logs at the corners, some soldiers around Petersburg chose to build their cold-weather homes by digging a footer trench and then making vertical stockade walls daubed with clay. The most famous example of this type of construction in the area was Gen. U.S. Grant's headquarters at City Point.

Soldiers often commented that the winter of 1864-65 was an especially cold one at Petersburg. Frequent days below freezing and lots of sleet and ice covered the ground. This photograph appears to corroborate those accounts. A detail (above) shows what looks to be icicles on the earthwork ditch in the foreground of the photograph.

Throughout the photograph, but particularly in the right foreground, tree stumps are clearly visible. Those areas still timbered around Petersburg were almost totally denuded during the winter of 1864-65. The trees were used to build the soldiers' winter quarter cabins, burn for fuel and cooking their food, and to construct their earthworks and defensive obstacles. Wood got to be so scarce during that winter that some accounts tell us soldiers cut stumps a second time closer to the ground for firewood. I would not be surprised if the standing trees that are shown in this photograph did not eventfully succumb to the soldiers' axes before evacuating the camp.    

Friday, December 4, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

November provided quite a book haul for me. Between my birthday gifts from my wonderful wife, a few good deal purchases here and there, and a couple of gifts from friends, I added a number of interesting new titles to my ever-growing library.

Hinsonville's Heroes: Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania by Cheryl Renee Gooch is a slim volume, but don't let its size fool you. It is packed full of amazing stories about USCT veterans from one small southeastern Pennsylvania community. I received this one for my birthday and thoroughly enjoyed reading it already.

I recently had the pleasure of providing a guided tour of the Seven Days Battles to Mr. Gibert Kennedy and his wife. Kennedy is the author of the recently published A South Carolina Upcountry Saga: The Civil War Letters of Barham Bobo Foster and His Family, 1860-1863. He wanted to see a number of the places where his ancestors fought in the 3rd South Carolina during the Seven Days. He kindly gave me copy of the book as thanks. I am a huge fan of soldiers' published letters, so I certainly look forward to enjoying this one. 

We were fortunate to have Chris Mackowski as our November speaker at the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable. I had requested Chris to speak about the fighting at the North Anna River during the Overland Campaign. He did a fantastic job of explaining the Army of the Potomac's offensive movements and the Army of Northern Virginia's counter actions. To help reinforce what he shared and to learn more, I got a copy of his book on the subject, Strike Them A Blow: Battle along the North Anna River, May 21-25, 1864. I've already finished reading it and I highly recommend it.

Chris was selling a number of his books at the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable, and Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union, which he co-authored Albert Z. Conner, Jr., caught my eye. The winter of 1862-63 was a trying time of the Union's eastern theater army. With the defeat at Fredericksburg, and yet another failed general, a lot was on the line. 

When I was a junior in high school I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time. Alex Haley's writing was captivating and Malcolm's life story was so eye-opening. I've read a few other Malcolm X biographies over the many years since, but this one really has me intrigued due to the many interviews the other conducted over about 30 years. The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne is getting good reviews, so I'm sure I'll enjoy digging into it and learning new things about this complicated man's life. 

When I lived in Kentucky, I ventured out to the western part of the state to share with some teachers about my then research project about Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid. On that trip I made a side excursion visit to Fort Donelson National Battlefield for the first time. At the visitor's center I encountered the story of Andrew Jackson Smith. Smith, a Kentucky native, ran away and joined in with an Illinois regiment serving as an officer's body servant. Wounded at Fort Donelson, Smith later joined the 55th Massachusetts when African Americans were finally allowed to enlist. For his heroism during the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina, Smith would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor in 2001. Smith's biography is now available with the new book Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Andrew Jackson Smith, by W. Robert Beckman and Sharon S. McDonald. 

A book that I've has on my "wish list" since even before it was released is Diane Miller Sommerville's Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South. I was so happy to receive a copy for my birthday. The psychological distress caused by the experience of war, both on the frontlines as well as on the home front, along with the tremendous amount of change, affected Southerners across racial and gender lines. I am a firm believer that wars cast long shadows that in turn produce psychological trauma simply too great for some to endure.     

I follow Civil War book news pretty closely. So, sometimes, I am a little surprised when I miss a title. I recently happened across Alfred C. Young III's Lee's Army during the Overland Campaign: A Numerical Study while browsing through the LSU Press online catalog. I'm not sure how it previously escaped my attention. To understand the Petersburg Campaign, a definite center of my interest, it is necessary to understand the campaign that preceded it. I also enjoy numerical studies, so this work should help kill two birds with one reading.

Happy page turning!