Friday, December 31, 2021

Top 10 Most Popular Posts of 2021

 Although 2021 lacked the usual number of posts in a given year, there were some that apparently stood out to readers. The following is a list of the ten most viewed posts in 2021.

9. (tie) Displayed the Greatest Courage:" Lt. James B. Backup, Co. I, 36th USCI  (March 16)

9. (tie) Picket Duty (March 31) 

8. Corp. James Gray, Co. E, 4th USCI (May 30)

7. Portrait of Rebel General Early (June 29) 

6. Recent Acquisitions to My Library (October 3)

5. Rufus Dawes on the Emancipation Proclamation (June 27)

4. The Negro on the Fence (April 24) 

3. The Black Regiment by George Henry Boker (April 26) 

2. Zooming in on a USCT Camp Scene (March 9) 

1. Corp. John Osborne and Late War Casualties (March 8) 

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Good Bye to the Old, and Hello to the New

This time of year often encourages me to stop and think about they year quickly passing away, and the one coming on the horizon. Looking back, there is so much to be thankful for. I am happy that I am gainfully employed in an occupation that I am passionate about and that provides for my needs. I am fortunate to be married to a beautiful, loving, and encouraging wife, who is a true blessing to my existence. I am thankful that I have a sufficient amount of free time and resources to do things like read for pleasure, write posts for this blog, and pursue other history-related initiatives that benefits my desire for learning, and as well as that of others.

I am fortunate that I was born and live in a society where I can have and do these things. Of course, by studying history, one doesn't have to look too far back to understand that not everyone in the past had the chances that most people do today. Imagine having the above image as your primary line of sight for a long 15 or 16 hour day, five and a half or six days a week, receiving no pay, and only the most basic of food, clothing and shelter necessities met, just because you happened to be born into a certain condition of no choosing of your own.  

It sounds cliché, but take a little time to count your blessings. But, this New Year Day, take it a step further, and take action . . . whatever you determine that to be, and make some type of positive contribution. Volunteer somewhere that needs help, send a financial gift to a worthy organization, offer words of encouragement; anything to make the world we live in a little bit better.    

Happy New Year!     

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Bully Document - Reward for Four Escaped John Brown Raiders

This document, which is held by the Library of Virginia, was issued by Gov. Henry Wise to offer a reward of $500.00 each for four of John Brown's raiders who escaped from the Harpers Ferry area. 

It sought the capture of Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, Francis Jackson Merriam, and Charles P. Tidd. Interestingly, it does not mention Osborne Perry Anderson, a free African American man who also escaped. None of the men were ever captured or convicted. Coppoc, Merriam, and Tidd served in Union regiments during the Civil War, and Anderson helped recruit soldiers for the United States Colored Troops. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

National Card Playing Day

There is a seemingly endless list of "national days" throughout the calendar year. Some are quite ridiculous, while others have excellent connections to the diverse shared history and culture of the United States. 

Today, December 28, is National Card Playing Day. Now, I've never been a big card player. I don't think the way my mind works relates well to many of the skills necessary to be a good card player. But, I've been known to enjoy some games as a way to pass the time and spend time with friends. 

The importance of cards to the people of the mid-19th century is quite evident. In a day long before modern diversions like television, the radio, the internet, and thus social media, card games were a favorite activity among just about everyone, no matter race, gender, or class. That ubiquity of cards and card playing is quite evident in the letters, photographs, and other documentary evidence of the period.

Have a great National Card Playing Day!

Monday, December 27, 2021

Books I Read in 2021

In some respects 2021 proved to be more challenging than 2020. While many of COVID-19's safety restrictions eased as cases reduced, demands at work increased. The summer and fall months were particularly busy. All of this goes to say that the time I normally devote to reading and the mental energy it takes to comprehend and process those books was just not on par with past the past several years. Similarly, the number of posts on this blog dropped to one of its lowest totals over its almost 13 year existence. 

However, this year also brought a number of wonderful learning opportunities that helped me grow and network in the history field. I suppose I should be thankful for what all I've been able to accomplish this year rather than compare it to those of the past, but, that's probably just the historian in me. 

Anyway, this year I was able to complete 48 books; just less than one a week. As I've done in the past, I've highlighted those that I particularly enjoyed or found especially insightful. In addition, this year, I've separated them by the month that I completed them.


1. Not Even Past: The Stories We Keep Telling about the Civil War by Cody Marrs

2. The Big House after Slavery: Virginia Plantation Families and Their Postbellum Domestic Experiment by Amy Feely Morsman

3. Living By Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons by Evan A. Kutzler 

4. Family Bonds: Free Blacks and Re-enslavement in Antebellum Virginia by Ted Maris-Wolf

5. We Have it Damn Hard Out Here: The Civil War Letters of Sgt. Thomas W. Smith, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry by Eric J. Wittenburg

6. We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War by James W. Geary

7. Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship by Christopher James Bonner


8. Voices from the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War by Carleton Young

9. A Thousand May Fall: Life, Death, and Survival in the Union Army by Brian Matthew Jordan

10. Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Andrew Jackson Smith by W. Robert Beckman and Sharon S. MacDonald 

11. The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of of Conflict and Citizenship by Deborah Willis

12. Lone Star Confederate: A Gallant and Good Soldier of the Fifth Texas Infantry edited by George Skoch and Mark W. Perkins


13. Defend the Valley: A Shenandoah Family in the Civil War by Margaretta Barton Colt 

14. Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse by Kate Cumming, edited by Richard Barksdale Harwell

15. Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital by Donald C. Pfanz


16. The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War by Kenneth W. Noe

17. Confederate Exceptionalism: Civil War Myth and Memory in the 21st Century by Nicole Maurantonio 

18. Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive-Slave Haven in the Wary North by Jim Remsen


19. Slavery and the Underground Railroad in South Central Pennsylvania by Cooper C. Wingert

20. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo

21. Slavery and Freedom in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War by Jonathan A. Noyalas


22. The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation by Thavolia Glymph

23. The Colors of Dignity: Memoirs of Civil War Brigadier General Giles Waldo Shurtleff edited by Catherine Durant Voorhees 

24. Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice by Bruce Levine

25. Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Z. Conner with Chris Mackowski


26. How the Word is Spread: Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

27. Jubal Early's Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling

28. The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Traders Shaped America by Joshua D. Rothman

29. This Infernal War: The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard edited by Timothy Mason Roberts 

30. A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War by James P. Beard

31. Destroy the Junction: The Wilson-Kautz Raid and the Battle for Staunton River Bridge by Greg Eanes 


32. Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers during the Civil War by William Marvel

33. Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence by Kellie Carter Jackson

34. The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity by Douglas Crenshaw

35. Topsy-Turvy: How the Civil War Turned the World Upside for Southern Children by Anna Jabour


36. Sheridan's James River Campaign through Central Virginia by Richard L. Nicholas

37. His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham

38. War's Relentless Hand: Twelve Tales of Civil War Soldiers by Mark Dunkleman

39. Decisions of the Seven Days: The Sixteen Critical Decisions that Defined the Battles by Matt Spruill


40. Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-emancipation South by Brandi Clay Brimmer 

41. An Intimate Economy: Enslaved Women, Work, and the Domestic Slave Trade by Alexandra J. Finley 


42. The Great Battle Never Fought: The Mine Run Campaign by Chris Mackowski

43. No Excuses: The Making of a Head Coach by Bob Stoops

44. Grant's Left Hook: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign by Sean Michael Chick 

45. Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston by Mark Dunkleman

46. Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South by Diane Miller Sommerville


47. America's Good Terrorist: John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid by Charles P. Roland, Jr.

48. Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom by Tiya Miles


Sunday, December 26, 2021

Civil War Soldiers and Rain


An old saying goes: “April showers bring May flowers.” But few things brought more grief to Civil War soldiers than rain. Naturally, precipitation came during all seasons, not just spring, making it an ongoing challenge for fighting men to stay dry. In fact, soldiers’ efforts battling the elements came much more frequently than facing the enemy on the battlefield.

Lt. Charles Wilkens of the 1st U.S. Infantry commented from Corinth, Mississippi, about working in the rain. “I woke up the next morning at five, had the mules fed and harnessed, about this time it began to rain. . . . It rained all day on Monday, and when I got in was about as wet as a ‘drowned rat,’” he wrote. Others who were more fortunate and could avoid the frequent deluges did so. Quartermaster Sgt. John Warrington Caldwell of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry noted, “It has been raining all day long. [It] commenced some time last night, so it has kept me inside of the tent nearly all day. As I had nothing to do outside, I thought I had better keep dry.” Those that could not avoid it grumbled. Writing to his sister Ellen, Sgt. Thomas Benton of the 19th Indiana, closed a letter: “This is a very disagreeable day in camp; raining all the time.”

Rain, of course, produced muddy roads. One astute Confederate is said to have commented of the Tullahoma Campaign in the summer of 1863, that the word Tullahoma came from two Greek words, “’Tulla’ meaning mud, and ‘Homa,’ meaning more mud.” Muddy roads made it difficult for man and beast. At about the same time, Pvt. Cecil Fogg of the 36th Ohio Infantry claimed, “We left there on the 24th of June. It commenced raining that day , and rained nearly all the time for 3 days, and it rained every day but one since . . . . the roads are awful, and teams [horses and mules] can hardly get along at all.”

At other times rain brought much needed relief. Confederate Maj. Thomas K. Jackson, wrote in September 1863 that, “A delightful rain is falling now, cooling the air & laying the dust. How welcome it is! For the heat has been intense & the dust was most suffocating during the past ten days.” Lt. Joseph Younger of the 53rd Virginia wrote from Petersburg’s trenches in August 1864, “We have had a nice shower since I have been writing, and it looks like [it will be] coming down again shortly.” Most soldiers though found the rain annoying. Capt. James M. McCoy of the 20th Ohio writing after the Battle of Shiloh noted, “Here we lay upon our arms in line and endeavored to sleep. But a very heavy rain coming up put all such notions out of our heads.”

Those soldiers who had rubber blankets cherished them. Corp. William Farries of the 24th Wisconsin stated, “It rained hard all day, but thanks to my rubber blanket I kept dry.” Those without shelter suffered terribly. Capt. Samuel McConnell of the 7th Florida Infantry wrote his sister in Sept. 1864 that, “Since last Sunday it has been raining constantly, and the weather is still bad. Being without tents we do not have a very pleasant time in such weather.”

Rainy weather was just one more threat to soldiers’ health. Combined with sometimes inconsistent and almost always monotonous food, bad water, and unsanitary living conditions, rain made soldiers’ constant daily struggle for survival that much more challenging. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Bully Image -Shoeing a Mule

"Shoeing a Mule" by Edwin Forbes

Rappahannock Station, Virginia, October 12, 1863

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Civil War Soldiers and Express Services


In the present-day “can’t get here fast enough” world of package and mail delivery, it is somewhat comforting to know that Civil War soldiers, too, relied on express companies to eagerly send and receive items they deemed necessary for both comfort and survival.

Chaplain E. L. Clark, 12th Massachusetts Infantry remarked that a kind donor provided “$14 for the express of my library to the regiment.” However, “It just paid the freight,” he complained. But he seemed proud that his regiment now had “400 books and 500 magazines in circulation among our boys.” Cecil B. Fogg of the 36th Ohio Infantry was on the lookout for an expected overcoat. “My overcoat has not arrived yet, but I suppose it is safe as it is in the hands of the Express boat,” he wrote his father in December 1863. In January, he still did not have his coat, but indicated, “If it don’t come, I will get paid for it by the Express Co.” Similarly, Confederate commissary officer Maj. Thomas K. Jackson’s wife asked about his urgency for new footwear: “Uncle John received your letter and desires me to say the shoes are finished & wishes to know if he must send them by express,” she inquired.

Some soldiers sent their pay home via express. Adams Express was a popular choice for United States soldiers. Confederate soldiers often used the Southern Express Company. Capt. John Doty, 104th Illinois wrote his brother from Chattanooga: “We were paid on Sunday last, and have sent part of my wages home to John, and suppose he has received it, or will by the time this reaches you. It will come by express from Springfield, Ill. . . . From here we have an express office, and that is the only safe way we have of sending money home,” he explained. Similarly, Pvt. John Downes, 35th Iowa explained, “I sent father 75 dollars by express. I wish you would tell him to see to it, and if you please, write to me when he gets it.”

Speed of delivery was important to soldiers who were on the campaign and moved often. Pvt. Marcus S. Nelson, 14th Missouri, wrote to “Friends at home” from Corinth, Mississippi: “If you send me those things by express, send them immediately, as we may be ordered away from here in the course of a few weeks, perhaps a few days.” A soldier in the 2nd New Hampshire requested his siblings send a 25 to 50 pound box of maple sugar. “You might nail it over a little, and mark on it, keep dry, and send it by express,” he wrote.

The express companies of the day often proved yet another vital line of communication and connection to the home front that soldiers depended on. Everything from pay, to care packages, to comrades’ last effects found their way to and from home and the front lines by using express services. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Dying Far From Home - Pvt. Edward Williams, Co. C, 6th USCI


During the Civil War, soldiers sometimes attempted to describe the nature of combat to friends and loved ones unfamiliar with warfare. In the years since the conflict, scholars have also tried to give us an idea. Soldiers and historians alike have used terms such as chaos, pandemonium, and bedlam in effort to relate the stressful battlefield situations that participants experienced. Some soldiers, especially those who had previously “seen the elephant,” and thus knew what was in store, were able to steady their nerves, hear commands, and will themselves to obey those commands despite the many surrounding dangers. Others, unable to stand the potential threats to life and limb, either froze up, ran away, or found other ways to make their personal safety their main priority.

The United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers who fought at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864, likely included men who ranged the wide spectrum of combatants. After all, they were human. However, the African American men who fought at New Market Heights realized this engagement presented a unique opportunity to prove themselves in battle, and as black soldiers they had unique motivations that often compelled them to subdue their fears and do their duty come what may.

We do not have eye-witness documentation to tell us how well Pvt. Edward Williams held up to the furious fire dealt out to him and his comrades of the 6th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) at New Market Heights. But, the sheer number of casualties inflicted upon the regiment does give us some understanding of the trial by fire they endured that day. Pvt. Williams’s life journey to September 29, 1864, also tells us something of his character and commitment.

Born a free person of color about 1836, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, most of Edward Williams’s young life went unrecorded. The earliest documentation appears to be the 1850 census in which he appears as a 13 year old “mulatto” laborer in the Montgomery County, Whitemarsh Township home of Henry (age 60) and Diana (age 42) Jackson. Also in the household are three young Jackson children: Rosan (7), James (4), and Hannah (1). Additionally listed are Edward Williams (13), Thomas Williams (19), and Susannah Cox (84). Perhaps Diana Jackson was Edward and Thomas’s mother, who had remarried to Henry Jackson and had the three youngest children with him. Susannah Cox may have been either Henry or Diana Jackson’s mother and the grandmother to the children.

It appears that Edward Williams’s next appearance in the public record is the 1860 census. In that enumeration, an Edward Williams who is African American, is living in the household of a white family in Montgomery County’s Upper Providence Township. Although the census taker recorded Edward’s age as 20, that information, which was about 4 years off, may have come by way of Martha Rambo, the head of household, who may have estimated Edward’s age.

Edward Williams also appears in a June 1863 draft registration listing for neighboring Chester County. On it Edward is a 28-year old single laborer. It was soon after Edward Williams registered for the draft that he volunteered, enlisting in Philadelphia on August 3, 1863, in Company C, 6th United States Colored Infantry. Williams’s enlistment provides a few more physical details about him. Described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, Williams’s complexion is noted as “black.”

As the 6th USCI filled with recruits, it trained at Camp William Penn, just outside of Philadelphia. Being in close proximity, perhaps Edward was able to see and communicate with family and friends during his time at Camp William Penn. Edward’s comrades of Company C came from diverse backgrounds. Included among the men were: shoemakers, barbers, farmers, miners, coopers, sailors, plasterers, teamsters, blacksmiths, gardeners, waiters, coachmen, porters, and like Edward Williams, general laborers. 

Regimental flag of the 6th USCI.

   Tabbed to command Company C was Captain Daniel Dill. Enoch Jackman served as 1st lieutenant. Frank Osborne held the 2nd lieutenant’s position. 1st Sgt. George Ellet served as go-between with the company officers and the enlisted men and helped keep the company in line. Unfortunately, Lt. Jackman and First Sgt. Ellet both numbered among the casualties at New Market Heights; Jackman survived but Ellet did not. Providing spiritual guidance for the regiment was Rev. Jeremiah Asher, who was only one of fourteen African American ministers that served in the United States army during the Civil War.

Rev. Jeremiah Asher, chaplain of the 6th USCI.

Following their training, the 6th USCI transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia and participated in raids on the James and York River peninsula in eastern Virginia, freeing enslaved people and recruiting more soldiers for USCT regiments. Williams likely participated in some of these actions, but during the month of October his service records indicate that he was detailed as a waiter for the regiment’s officers. We do not know whether Williams enjoyed his time around the officers or if he found waiting on them demeaning.

Enslaved children freed by the 6th USCI during their Virginia raids. Image courtesy of Pamplin Historical Park

In early May 1864, the 6th helped secure City Point, Virginia, a vital position at the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers that would become the nerve center for the Union army during its efforts against Petersburg and Richmond. On June 9, the 6th USCI participated in Maj. Gen. Benjamin Bulter’s ill-fated attempt on Petersburg, which was lightly defended at that time. During the day the infantry force under Gen. Quincy Gilmore demonstrated to the northeast of Petersburg and skirmished with the Confederates. It was either in this day’s sparing or perhaps the following day’s picket duty that Pvt. Edward Williams received an undescribed wound. It appears that Williams’s wound was serious enough to require him to spend time in a hospital, but fortunately minor enough to not keep him away from the regiment for very long.

Williams’s wound prevented him from participating in Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s first major offensive against Petersburg, which occurred on June 15, 1864. However, his comrades in the 6th USCI did fantastic work throughout the day capturing several Confederate positions and a number of artillery pieces. During the continued fighting around Petersburg through the summer of 1864, a number of USCT men, including Pvt. Williams, served at Dutch Gap on the James River, constructing a canal in effort to bypass some of the Confederate shore batteries.

Leaving their position at Dutch Gap, the 6th USCI moved to Deep Bottom landing on the night of September 28, 1864. There they received orders to assault the Confederate position along the New Market Road about two miles to the north the following day. On the foggy morning of September 29, the 6th USCI followed closely behind the 4th USCI as they both crossed the fields and swampy ground in front of the Confederate defenders. Upon reaching the double lines of abatis obstacles placed by the rebels to slow the assault, the two black regiments started taking extremely high casualties, losing over half their men as killed, wounded, or captured. The 6th USCI lost 46 men killed, 20 fatally wounded, five missing in action, and 112 wounded. One of the badly wounded was Pvt. Edward Williams.

During the attack Williams received a gunshot wound to his abdomen. Evacuated from the field after the USCT attack eventually drove off the Confederate defenders, Williams received transportation by ship down the James River to the general hospital at Fort Monroe. There he lingered for several days until he succumbed on October 6, likely from peritonitis, a bacterial infection common with abdominal wounds.

Today, Pvt. Edward Williams rests in peace in grave number 1389 in the Hampton National Cemetery among fellow black and white veterans who battled for the goals of abolishing slavery and maintaining the United States intact. As with many other aspects of Williams’s brief life, one wonders what his personal primary motivations were when he enlisted in the 6th USCI. Did he hope his efforts as a soldier would produce a world where he would be recognized as a citizen with all of the guarantees of the Constitution and an equal opportunity of success in life? We’ll likely never know, but his service in the United States army did help achieve those things, and so much more than he probably ever imaged for all of us in future generations. For this, we remember and thank Pvt. Edward Williams for his brave sacrifice!