Saturday, January 25, 2020

Orchard Knob: Chattanooga's fabulous outdoor art gallery

Battery E Pennsylvania Volunteers (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
PANORAMA: Monuments and cannon atop Orchard Knob.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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The best art gallery in Chattanooga, Tenn., may be on Orchard Knob, site of Ulysses Grant's headquarters during the Battle of Missionary Ridge. The bubble of earth in a working-class neighborhood is studded with magnificent Civil War monuments. On a brisk Saturday afternoon, I had this free outdoor gallery all to myself. About a mile away rises Missionary Ridge; its larger cousin, Lookout Mountain, rises in far distance. What a sight.

10th Michigan monument.
Close-up of bas-relief bronze plaque on 10th Michigan monument.
New York state monument.
27th Pennsylvania monument.
The Illinois monument and Missionary Ridge in the distance.
109th Pennsylvania monument
Monument to 5th and 20th Connecticut
                             PANORAMA: Monuments on west side of Orchard Knob.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Battery E Pennsylvania Volunteers monument (foreground) and others on the west side of Orchard Knob.
Illinois monument with Lookout Mountain in the distance.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A moment in time: Yankees at Washington Circle in April 1865

(Library of Congress)
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In April 1865, more than two dozen soldiers in Company I of the 9th Veterans Reserve Corps gathered for a photograph in Washington Circle in the nation's capital. Enlargements of the glass-plate image, believed to have been taken April 9, the day Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., are revealing. I spy two unshaven, young soldiers in the back row; a drummer boy grasping a pair of drum sticks and holding a large drum at far right; and in the background ...

... there's this impressive, bronze equestrian statue of George Washington. It was dedicated by President James Buchanan with great fanfare on February 22, 1860 -- Washington's birthday. Among the honored guests, according to the Washington Evening Star, were "surviving Officers and Soldiers of the Revolution, in uniform" as well as War of 1812 and Mexican War veterans.

At the far left of the image, we find this smartly attired officer, undoubtedly the commanding officer of this Veterans Reserve Corps unit. The soldier leans on an impressive dress sword, and on the front of his frock coat, he wears a badge or medal. Originally called the Invalid Corps, the VRC consisted of partially disabled or infirm soldiers who were designated to perform light duty. 

The soldiers wear gloves, probably an indication they have gathered for a ceremonial event.

And here's the youthful drummer boy. His eagle drum apparently is like this one auctioned by Heritage Auctions for $3,750 in December 2018, and here's a pair of Civil War drumsticks sold by The Horse Soldier of Gettysburg for $225. During the war, the Union Army contracted Noble & Cooley of Granville, Mass., and other firms to make military drums. Noble & Cooley is still in business today, although not at the original factory, which burned in 1889. (Here's a 2012 blog post on my visit there.)

In the left background, we find a soldier with large ears -- why so grumpy, sir? -- and a comrade sporting a beard any of these guys would appreciate.

A good view of their weapons of war.

March in this footwear? I think I'll pass.

And thanks to Google Street View, here's a October 2018 shot of the 1865 photograph site ... with a lot modern clutter, of course. The Washington statue, which cost the government $60,000, is still in the circle. Go here to tool around the image for yourself. Go here to download the 1865 image in jpeg and .tif formats from the Library of Congress Civil War photograph collection web site. Let me know what else you find ... or what I may have screwed up.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

'Sad havoc': A reporter's 1882 visit to Atlanta-area battlefields

1864 view of Kennesaw Mountain battlefield from behind Confederate lines. 
(The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Three, The Decisive Battles)

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From his vantage point atop Kennesaw Mountain, newspaper reporter George Morgan had an awe-inspiring view in the fall of 1882: spires of Atlanta in the far distance to the south, a "network of red road-beds," brown fields and a sea of swaying trees. Most of the ground within sight of the Philadelphia Times correspondent was consecrated two decades earlier by the blood of thousands of soldiers from both sides during William Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.

At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, Sherman's army suffered an estimated 3,000 casualties; Confederate commander Joseph Johnston's roughly 1,000. "Each acre of ground between us and New Hope's forests, indistinguishable at their distance of twenty miles, belongs to the battlefield," Morgan wrote.

Nearby, at Kolb's Farm, where the opposing forces fought on June 22, 1864, Morgan and his guide found bullet-scarred trees and remains of earthworks.

At New Hope Church, where Union General Joseph Hooker's XX Corps suffered heavy losses on May 25, 1864, the war-time church was a casualty, too.  "... even the foundation stones had been torn up [by soldiers]," Morgan recalled. ".... Every plank had been spirited, as though by Satan himself, clear away." But earthworks still stood in 1882 --  "as high as one's neck," the reporter wrote -- within a short distance of a new church built on the site.

On a bush-covered slope nearby, Morgan discovered bullets, a rusty canteen and an artillery shell. And in the "dark corner of a black-jack woods," his young guides directed him to a ghastly sight.

Here's Morgan's Page 1 story in the Philadelphia Times about his three-day visit to Kennesaw Mountain and other nearby Georgia battlefields -- one of a series of accounts of his trips to hallowed ground in the South in 1881-82. (Note: Morgan used an alternate spelling of Kennesaw throughout his story.)

Special Correspondent of The Times

MARIETTA, Ga., September 28 -- Jack Boxer gave a chirrup, held the lines taut so that his horses would prance impressively through Marietta's court house square and then reined the span out on the Kenesaw road, along which he sent them scurrying. The old guide was a thing to look at. With a stovepipe hat no less shiny than his eyes, and a swallow-tail coat of cloth, he seemed just to have sprung from the bandbox of polite plantation days.

"I'so much a-bleege, sah," he said, as when we had got into the country I held out a cigar; "I'se much a-bleege, but I nebber smokes befoah gemmen; no, sah, praise de Lawd I diden get fotch up like dese heah sassy town nigguhs. I was fotch up in a place like dat yo' see, sah, ober dare."

''That nice old house, with the man sitting under the oaks?"

"Yessah; dat man dare had mo'an six hunnered slabes, but de Yankees cotched 'im an' was gwine to hang 'im on one ob dem oaks. He passed fru de Red Sea, he did."

While Jack dwelt upon the war trials of the planter, who seemed to be a typical baron of the South's past, we moved along the grove of oaks and, trotting a mile beyond, drew sharply up at the base of the battle-scarred mountain for the summit of which we had set out.

A climb up Kenesaw

         GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Present-day view of Kennesaw Mountain terrain.

Kenesaw rises from the level land like an uneven dome. Its cap of stone touches the lower folds of the clouds and every side of the acclivity has a garb of green. So steep did the slope appear that I thought our ascent would be difficult, but the ride half way up was easy and in the climb that followed we stopped once only to catch our wind.

The entrance to the summit road is through a farm, which a darkey has blazed out near the foot of the eastern slope, the thrifty owner having paid for his land from the sale of timber, cut at the crest and hurled down the mountainside. Even among the stripped stalks of corn that stand in this little patch thus stolen from the wilds we struck heavy earthworks, rifle-pits and a continuous parapet that reaches up and over Kenesaw and along the crest of Little Kenesaw, encircling Marietta on the west. As we rode upward it was at the edge of this line, nor did we lose sight of it until we came to great piles of rocks on the summit.

Sights from Kenesaw's summit

       GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Present-day view from near Kennesaw Mountain summit.

That which was before us when we had clambered to the top of the mountain's tip-topmost boulder ought to have been a sight to brighten even the eye of the eagle which we happened to discover perched in the crotch of a dead tree within a stone's throw of our rocky outlook. But that bird of patriotic song seemed to be using the long-range spy-glasses, affixed by nature above his beak, rather in mousing out small creatures to pounce upon than in drawing thrills of delight from the grand panorama down on level earth -- the rivers shining in the sun, the network of red road-beds, the tops of trees swaying as waves of a sea, brown fields in the sedgy skirts of which one fancied he could see the rabbit coax his young to a frolic, and the many objects given strange beauty because thus looked upon in unaccustomed view.

Nor were these marked parts of the landscape long in our eyes. All the stretch of land from the rocks at our feet to the far sky-line in the west was the field of a whole month's combat, wherein a score of men fell between every two strokes of the clock --  a place of hot maneuvers with constant clash of arms, of continuous skirmish, of ceaseless crack of rifle and scream of shell. Each acre of ground between us and New Hope's forests, indistinguishable at their distance of twenty miles, belongs to the battlefield. Dim in the south rise the spires of Atlanta, as they appeared to [William] Sherman when he stood here gazing at the goal of his three grand armies, while just at the edge of Marietta, so near that we can count tombstones until  I tire, is a green hillside dotted with the graves of more than ten thousand Union dead.

Twenty miles of battleground

It was not long after sunrise the next day that we started on a long drive through this famous stretch of battle-fields. At Culp's Place [also known as Kolb's Farm] we found such evidences of the hot fight there as earthworks and chipped trees. Near towns as populous as Marietta war relics quickly disappear and even in timbered sections the darkeys have scraped up most of the lead.

At a debating society in Georgia not long ago a question before the members was: "Am fire more useful dan iron?" It is said that the champions of fire were about to carry the day when an old Solomon scattered them "as though with a bombshell by the remark: "Hole on dar, feller-citerzens! Ef hit haden' been furr iron de white fokes would 'er been lickin' de niggers yit!" And the old fellow might have added that if it had not been for the iron and lead left on the battle-fields many persons, white as well as black, living in their impoverished vicinities, would have fared worse than they did.

Endless lines of earthworks

While such uncanny things as the skull and cross-bones no longer bleach at Culp's nor by the side of the Dallas road to New Hope Church, whither we drove that day, they are found sometimes in ravines, as well as in untilled fields. Moreover, lines of earthworks extend for about twenty-five miles, from Kenesaw to Dallas and beyond.

When Sherman would outflank [Joseph] Johnston the Southern strategist straightway would settle down behind a new line. A witty girl once said that all men are like lobsters -- break a lobster's claw and another will sprout; break a man's heart on the back piazza at night, when the romantic stars look down, and it heals again for breakfast. So, too, Johnston could mend his heart, his claw and his earthworks. These fortifications were seen in their undiminished strength when, after passing the foothills of Lost Mountain, which, seeing that it has such a name, must be the Charlie Ross of rocks, we left the Dallas road and came out of the woods at New Hope Church.

Sad havoc at New Hope

Earthworks at New Hope Church in 1864.  Reporter George Morgan found well-preserved earthworks
 here  18 years later. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
It is likely that between 75,000 and 100,000 men, who were minute parts of the vast armies that confronted each other at this famous church, are yet living, and if they can recall what the county around looked like then, they have in mind a clear idea of what the place looks like now. Few changes have come about. After the battle the Baptists who had been accustomed to gather at the meeting house looked in vain for their church. Even the foundation stones had been torn up for use in the earthworks that still stand as high as one's neck within ten feet of the new building. Every plank had been spirited, as though by Satan himself, clear away. But the Christian fights a great fight.

The New Hope congregation met one Sunday on the spot where their church had stood. They knelt amid ashes, and who shall say that the prayer then sent up by the good preacher did not go higher than the stars! Getting up from their knees they built a house with oak limbs and cedar branches, and under the arbor they met for years. Now a small frame building, paid for this very year, is the church of New Hope. It has taken the congregation just eighteen years to recover from the blow that the myriad black imps, riding in Sherman's sulphur, gave it.

Confederate entrenchments at New Hope Church, Ga., in 1864.
(National Archives and Records Administration)

Queer things for a churchyard

It would be easy to dwell to the length of a column in The Times upon the battle-field objects that are within sound of the singing and the hallelujahs. Around the church are oak, pine and black-jack trees cut by bullets. A few paces from the church door are rifle-pits, now pawed deeper by the horses that bring their masters hither on Sundays, and just across the road is a fort of white clay soil and overgrown with smart-weed.

Confederate General Leonidas Polk was killed 
at Pine Mountain (Ga.) by a Federal artillery shell
on June 14, 1864.  
(Collections of the Alabama Department 
of Archives and History)
Not less notable is the graveyard, with some of the mounds housed in, through which runs the ever-present line of earthworks. The occupants of this graveyard were by no means as jolly as three boys whom I met a little later. While Boxer slept in the buggy the boys took me to the slope, now covered with bushes, where [Joseph] Hooker made his fierce charges, as well us to the place where the countercharges of the enemy occurred. We picked up bullets, found a shell, examined a rusty canteen, and visited a dark corner of a black-jack woods where the skeleton toes of a soldier stick from the sod.

Similar sights came up at Pickett's Mill, the other end of the battle-field, and having seen them Boxer whipped his horses into Dallas. In passing over the same ground on the following day, being then bound back to Kenesaw and Marietta by way of Gilgal Church, I noticed that the armies left Egyptian cloverseed at New Hope, as they did at Resaca. The New Hope farmer prizes the plant also, and he regards it as a sort of recompense made by Providence for the destruction of the church.

The return ride by Gilgal had in it little of interest, except a good view of Pine Mountain, halfway up the northern side of which we drove. If Boxer could have pointed out the spot where fell General [Leonidas] Polk, who goes down in history as a good officer as well as a Bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church and a brother of a President of the United States, I should have gone to it, but Boxer was honest enough to confess that he did not know where to find the place. [Leonidas Polk was actually a second cousin of the 11th U.S. president.] One of the cannon balls sent by [George] Thomas killed the Fighting Bishop as he stood talking with [William J.] Hardee near the mountain top. So, too, when further along, we would have visited the place where General [Charles] Harker and Dan McCook got their death-wounds, but none save comrades may indicate where they lost their lives.

Confederate General William J. Hardee (left) was near Leonidas Polk when "The Fighting Bishop"
 was killed by Federal artillery. Union generals Charles Harker (middle) and Daniel McCook suffered
mortal wounds at Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. (Credits: LOC | Unknown | Ohio History Connection)

Red flowers in Kenesaw's Crest

Our second ascent of Kenesaw was made to get a good-bye glimpse of the ground across which we had come. On the road Boxer passed the time in telling me how Mr. V. J. Hames had cleared a tract of sixteen acres at an elevation of 1,800 feet and had succeeded in bringing up a thousand peach trees in the way they should grow. He showed me, moreover, after we had passed the orchard, millions of cypress vines, which plant was not known on the mountain before Johnston's men occupied it, and said that in July the whole crest is crimson with the little red cypress flower. In fact, I was so interested in this duplicate wonder of the clover story that not until we had gained the summit did I notice a thunder-storm swiftly approaching from the West. The sky had been dark with clouds all day, but the new cloud, bearing so close down upon us that it looked as though it would envelop our heads, was like an immense strip torn from the smutty curtains of Pluto's darkest chamber.

Heaven's artillery on Kenesaw

Union entrenchments in foreground, Kennesaw Mountain in the distance.
(The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Three, The Decisive Battles)
As one ear-splitting crack of God's own great guns came fast and hard upon another I could not help letting fancy fly to the days when the mock thunder of Sherman's cannon roared against this same stronghold. Then, throughout the hot time when Sherman had his hand on Johnston's throat here, the parapets flashed in lines of red, the earth shook under close recoil and battle-clouds in sulphurous folds swathed the green. But now forks and streaks and zig-zags of white fire dance among the rocks or fall in bolts to the lowlands, whence roll deafening booms reverberating up and down tho sky.

"See heah, honey," protested old Jack, edging up and pointing to the western slope, where the rain had begun to roar like the rush of a cataract, "ain't we gwine to git outen dis?"

"Oh, it'll pass over. You said there were many things yet to see up here."

"Bress yer soul, honey, dar ain't nuflin moah up heah -- we'se seed hit all," continued the old man, who had changed his tune from that of an hour before.

In spite of the wild storm about to burst I thought of one Jim Duke, a scapegrace darkey, known in Western Pennsylvania as the biggest rascal out of jail, who once likewise changed his tune in a manner entirely worthy of Falstaff. Duke, being a rogue himself, thought everyone else a rogue. Going into a store one day to buy a plug of tobacco, Duke pulled from his pocket a purse which contained a handful of dimes. As he held the purse upside down the clasp gave way and out dropped the coin in a silver shower, scattering from one end of the room to the other. Duke stood aghast for a second and then, fearing that the crowd present would pick the money up, shouted: "God-a-mitey, gentlemen, let's all be honest!"

So my guide Boxer, fearful lest his beaver would be ruined by the rain, or lest his hard coconut of a head would be split by one of the thunderbolts waltzing around, had changed his tune.

Chased down the mountain

But Boxer's plea really was not needed. The storm was on and it was time for our heels to do quick work. We left the crest, struck down the mountain and with rocks rolling after us made two-forty time for the half-way place where the horses were hitched. Boxer led the way. Neither Phipps nor Arabi could have made better time in their flight than we did down Kenesaw.

At a particularly near crack of the storm's whip Boxer would redouble his wild leaps, as though hit in the back by a full-grown thunderbolt. His stovepipe stuck on the back of his head like a tin cup on cucumber, his long coat-tails flapped at half-mast horizontally in the breeze and his whirling legs seemed at every stride to measure off enough earth for a circus ring.

At last we got to the buggy and as Boxer thrust his stovepipe and his cloth coat under the seat, taking the storm bareheaded and in his shirt-sleeves, while he unhitched he said: "Bress de Lawd, honey, dat was wuss'erna hornet's nest or a fight at a co'n shuckin' down on de ole Ocheco-bee."


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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A death at Fort Fisher of a 'young man of unusual promise'

Robert Gillette of Hartford, paymaster aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg, was killed
when the magazine exploded at Fort Fisher on Jan. 16, 1865. 
(Library of Congress | Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs)

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After Federal soldiers forced the surrender of the Confederate stronghold at Fort Fisher, Union sailors on ships in the Atlantic off the North Carolina coast climbed the rigging of their vessels, cheered wildly, and marveled at "a regular Fourth of July scene on the ocean."

Roman candles and rockets fired from Union ships lit up the night sky. Steam whistles blew.
Jubilant Federal soldiers rejoiced in the conquered fort.

The celebration of the enemy's surrender Jan. 15, 1865, was like few in the Union Navy had seen during the Civil War.

Images by famed Civil War photographer Timothy O'Sullivan 
show the magazine at Fort Fisher (top) and a cannon 
crippled during  the Union attack in January 1865.
 (Library of Congress collection)
The land-and-sea assault on the strategic fort at the mouth of the Camp Fear River near Wilmington -- the "Gibraltar of the South," it was often called -- was successful but not without a high cost.

"Glory forever!"  Robert Hooker Gillette, a paymaster aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg, hurriedly wrote his parents back in Connecticut late that winter night. "Fort Fisher and the entrance to Wilmington are ours. Everything we have been fighting for they have just surrendered. ... Our losses are heavy and we have had a hard fight, both on land and sea, but the result is glorious."

Nearly 1,100 Union soldiers, marines and sailors were killed or wounded in the assault -- including Roswell Lamson, the captain of the Gettysburg, who suffered severe arm and shoulder injuries.

At daylight the next morning, Gillette and a party of officers slowly made their way ashore to inspect damage at the vast fort. As the 22-year-old from Hartford and two other officers stood on the parapet at about 8:20 a.m., a massive explosion -- "something louder than the boom of a 15-inch gun," according to a Baltimore American correspondent -- rocked the fort's magazine.

"A volume of smoke and sand rose fifty feet in the air, enveloping and hiding from view the whole of the immense work for four or five minutes," the New York Times reported on Jan. 19, 1865. "It was at once apparent that the magazine had exploded, and that it must have been accompanied with great loss of life." The explosion was so great, in fact, that it caused a large crater nearly 50 feet wide.

Although he was nearly 50 yards from the magazine, Gillette was struck by pieces of timber, thrown from the parapet and killed -- one of perhaps 200 men from both sides who died in the blast. His body was found covered in sand.

(A Confederate torpedo or black Union troops were originally suspected of causing the deadly explosion; however, an official inquiry determined that careless Federal soldiers, sailors and marines -- many of them drunk, firing their weapons and carrying torches in the magazine of the fort -- were to blame.)

Seaside view Gillette may have had as he approached Fort Fisher on Jan. 16, 1865. This image 
appeared in The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Five, 
Forts and Artillery in 1911.
Lamson was especially shocked by the death of Gillette, who was "as near and dear to me as a brother," the captain wrote to the parents of his dead paymaster later that day.

"The joy of victory is saddened by the loss of our comrades," Lamson noted in the letter to Francis and Elisabeth Gillette, "and there is no one whose fall is more generally mourned than that of your son, who was loved and respected throughout the fleet."

For Gillette, it was a tragic end to a remarkable, short life. From a prominent Connecticut family -- his Yale-educated father was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1854 -- Robert had accomplished plenty by the time he was 22. As a teenager, he sailed around the world aboard a merchant ship and visited China. He later traveled to California to visit his 23-year-old  brother, Frank, who died of consumption in Sacramento before his arrival. Robert brought the body back East to be buried.

Gillette's death shocked Roswell Lamson,
the captain of the U.S.S. Gettysburg.
Initially involved in recruiting troops at the start of the Civil War, Gillette aimed to secure a commission in the 16th Connecticut in July 1862. Instead, he was commissioned as captain in Company K of the 14th Connecticut on Sept. 6. But the young soldier didn't catch up with his regiment in Maryland until Sept. 18, one day after the Battle of Antietam.

Inexperienced as a leader of troops, Gillette was initially reluctant to take his position as captain.

"... I do not really know what to do," he wrote his parents on Sept. 17, 1862 from Middletown, Md., about 15 miles from Sharpsburg. "I shall not do anything dishonorable, but if it is so that I can I shall fight on my own hook, in the ranks, as a private, to-morrow, rather than take my place as captain. I should like a few hours with my men before going into action."

When he arrived at the battlefield, Gillette was shocked by what he saw.

"The whole field is covered with the dead and wounded, and it is an awful sight," he wrote his parents on Sept. 18.  "We are expecting every minute the firing will begin. The enemy's lines are close by, and all that we are waiting for on both sides is rest."

After the 14th Connecticut moved to Harpers Ferry days later, a fatigued Gillette became ill with a dangerous fever that shattered his health. Resigning his commission, he returned to Hartford. But he couldn't stay out the of service long. In 1863, he was appointed an assistant paymaster in the navy, serving aboard ships blockading the North Carolina coast. He later rose to paymaster, a position that entailed ensuring sailors were paid their wages but also included duties as Lamson's right-hand man.

Throughout his war experience, Gillette often wrote his parents, describing in vivid detail the toll the fighting took on soldiers. In his final letter home, he described about the assault on Fort Fisher.  "The officers and sailors who were landed to charge the Fort have been slaughtered like sheep," he wrote, "and the sand-beach in front is covered with their dead bodies. I am saddened by the loss of so many brave men, but the victory is glorious."

Close-up of the unusual gravestone for Robert Gillette in
Riverview Cemetery in Farmington, Conn.
Hours later, he too was dead.

Gillette was "a young man of unusual promise," the Hartford Press wrote in a lengthy obituary.

"He had good principles, and kept himself pure and upright," the newspaper said, "and his friends who were warmly drawn to him, by his affectionate and generous nature, saw no bad habits in him to overlook. His family have the heartfelt sympathy of the whole community." (9)

Robert Gillette's final resting place is in Riverview Cemetery in Farmington, Conn., a short distance from the Farmington River. His parents are buried to the right of Robert's gravestone, a block of marble topped by a slender, 5 1/2-foot stick of stone.

On the bottom right side of his tombstone are these words:

"I shall go into battle trusting in God that he will do by me what is best for us. All I hope is he will permit me to live. Soon all will be over and whatever is to be will have been."

Robert Gillette's tombstone (right) is next to the marker for his father, Francis, who well known for his
anti-slavery stance before and during the Civil War. Bottom: "I shall go into battle trusting in
God..." reads the inscription on the side of Gillette's tombstone. He was only 22 when he died.

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-- A Discourse Delivered January 29th, 1865 In Memory of Robert H. Gillette, Nathaniel J. Burton, 1865.
--  Hartford Press, Jan. 20, 1865
--  New York Times, Jan. 19, 1865

Saturday, January 11, 2020

One minute in the Bloody Cornfield at Antietam

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"Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled by bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores. The smoke and fog lift; and almost at our feet, concealed in a hollow behind a demolished fence, lies a rebel brigade pouring into our ranks the most deadly fire of the war. What there are left of us open on them with a cheer; and the next day, the burial parties put up a board in front of the position held by the Twelfth [Massachusetts] with the following inscription: ‘In this trench lie buried the colonel, the major, six line officers, and one hundred and forty men of the [13th] Georgia Regiment.”

-- Benjamin F. Cook of the 12th Mass describing the Sept. 17, 1862, advance of Georgians in the Bloody Cornfield. From The History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers, the Webster Regiment, published in 1882.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Stones River Slaughter Pen walk on battle's 157th anniversary

Union soldiers crouched behind these rocks, many bleeding from wounds, during the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862. A unique battlefield topography.

Monday, December 30, 2019

'Malled': Where five soldiers paid ultimate price at Stones River

Stan Hutson holds his tintype of Julius Waite near the site of the Union soldier's death.
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Much of the battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where more than 24,000 souls became casualties in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, is unrecognizable as hallowed ground today. The battlefield has been "malled," covered over by strip malls, housing developments and other urban schlock.

Earlier this year, Alabama native Stan Hutson -- who cares deeply about the battlefield -- took me to key points on the field. (Read my Civil War Times column.) We examined ground where soldiers paid the ultimate price outside what today is the national park, which encompasses only a fraction of the battlefield. Here are the sites where five Battle of Stones River soldiers were either killed or mortally wounded on Dec. 31, 1862.

While leading his men at roughly 9 a.m. on December 31, 1862, Union Brig. General Joshua Sill was killed in the area above by a bullet that struck him in the face and penetrated his brain. The 31-year-old commander died wearing General Phil Sheridan’s jacket, mistakenly picked up by Sill during a military conference earlier that day. The men, good friends, were roommates at West Point. “No man in the entire army, I believe, was so much admired, respected, and beloved by inferiors as well as superiors in rank as was General Sill," a Union officer said afterward.

Sill’s death site is unmarked, forgotten, in the midst of retail businesses.

Somewhere out there in the sprawl of Murfreesboro, Tenn., John Penland was mortally wounded.
In or near Hell’s Half-Acre, John Penland, a 45-year-old private in the 57th Indiana, was severely wounded when a cannon ball grazed across his stomach. After examining his map, Hutson figured the married father of nine children was shot near the busy road in the near distance, “between the Dollar General Store and that Gerber’s sign.” Penland, who had three sons in the Union Army, held in his intestines and walked a mile to his camp. He died from infection and fever on Jan. 4, 1863. Here's more on Penland on Find A Grave.

(Image courtesy Richard Penland)

Even at the doorstep of the national park, nearly within site of the heart of the Slaughter Pen, the 21st century leans ever closer into the 19th. Until 2017, this land upon which Mississippians, Tennesseans and Alabamians advanced on Dec. 31, 1862, was mostly open field, dotted with old-growth trees and a few houses. In the attack, James Lockhart Autry, a lieutenant colonel in the 27th Mississippi, was killed by a bullet to the head. The 31-year-old lawyer and politician from Holly Springs, Miss., was survived by a wife named Jeannie and a 3-year-old son, James II. Now the area where Autry was killed is occupied by a 116-bed hospital and a parking lot. Here's more on Autry on the Rice University web site

Autry photo: “Col. James Lockhart Autry,” Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, accessed December 29, 2019.

Suburbia has claimed the area where 22nd Alabama Private Abner Ball was killed. 
Abner Columbus Ball, a private in Company G of the 22nd Alabama, was killed the day after his 35th birthday. He left behind a wife named Nancy and four children – two boys and two girls. The farmer was buried on the battlefield; his remains were recovered and re-buried in Murfreesboro’s Evergreen Cemetery, where many Confederate dead of Stones River rest. Did Ball die by what’s now a tire store? Was he originally buried by the present-day gas pumps at the convenience store? Hutson and I stood in the approximate area where Ball died. But because the ground bears no resemblance to the 1862 scene, there's no way to be sure.

(Abner Ball photo courtesy Stephen Cone)

Julius Waite was killed near what today is a parking lot for a dental clinic.
Julius Berdan Waite, a 30-year-old private in Battery E of the 1st Ohio Light artillery, was killed in the opening action of the battle. Hutson owns a tintype of the soldier, "probably an image he sent to his wife,” he told me. In a Napoleonic pose, a bushy-bearded Waite, a farmhand as a civilian, stares straight ahead, the thumb of his large hand tucked inside his military jacket. The area where Waite was killed is near busy, five-lane Old Fort Parkway, a dental clinic, convenience store and an apartment complex construction site. About 15 years ago, the area was largely open fields.

(Waite image courtesy Stan Hutson)

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Rambling: A year of listening, observing and learning

Ken Rutherford on the Cross Keys (Va.) battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley.
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In rambling from Picacho Pass, Ariz., to Resaca, Ga., over the past year, I've focused on becoming a better listener. A better observer, too. Ah, what stories can be mined -- and what lasting connections can be made -- if you do. "If you make listening and observation your occupation," a smart person once said, "you will gain much more than you can by talk."

Here are people who have enriched my life over the past year:

On Father's Day weekend, Ken Rutherford and I toured the Cross Keys, Port Republic and Piedmont battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. We talked about the Civil War, football, life and his life-altering experience: In 1993, Dr. Rutherford, a professor at James Madison University, was critically injured in a landmine explosion in Somalia. His legs were amputated. Ken's tremendously inspiring. Read my Civil War Times column.

W.C. "Burr" Datz holds a copy of an old image of the creation of the Robert E. Lee sculpture behind him.
Moments after I pass through the white doors of Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus in Lexington, Va., docent W.C. "Burr" Datz springs into action. “Do you have 10 minutes?” the Long Island native asks from atop the stage. Datz, whose white beard gives him a passing resemblance to Robert E. Lee, is flanked by a large painting of George Washington to his right and one of Lee to his left. Next to him is the chapel's original wooden podium, a work of art that dates to 1868. Behind Datz is the main attraction: a small room that houses Edward Valentine's impressive memorial sculpture of the recumbent Lee. Read more.

Stan Hutson in the Slaughter Pen at Stones River (Tenn,) battlefield.
“It’s all gone,” Stan Hutson tells me, referring to core Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield. Remorseless developers have pounded the life out of much of this great battlefield, where more than 24,000 souls became casualties in one of the bloodiest fights of the Civil War. Our aim on this deep-blue sky afternoon is to find where five of them fought and received their mortal wounds. What would we see on this battlefield lost? Read my Civil War Times column.

Larry DeBerry at his relic shop near the Shiloh (Tenn.) battlefield.
Shortly after greeting a visitor at his small museum/shop near the Shiloh (Tenn.) battlefield, 72-year-old Larry DeBerry deploys a time-tested technique to win him over: He tells a great story. "See over there?" he says, gesturing to painted toy figurines that fill several shelves at Shiloh Battlefield Museum and Souvenirs. The longtime accountant tells how he acquired the massive set (from an elderly man in New Mexico) and points out figurines of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong ("look at that receding hairline") and a reviled Japanese World War II military commander (Hideki Tojo) whose name escapes him. Later, DeBerry hands me a very special gift. Read more.

Trapper Haskins founded a vintage baseball league -- it plays by 1864 rules -- in Middle Tennessee.
On the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, I met Trapper Haskins at Duncan Field, scene of savage fighting in April 1862. The National Park Service granted permission for his Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball to play a doubleheader on the hallowed ground. In 2007, Haskins, a custom wood worker, was in Port Huron, Mich., working on a Gloucester schooner. At the local library, he saw a flyer for a vintage baseball team seeking players. He joined and was hooked. Read my story in America's Civil War magazine.

Along a wall at the H Clark Distillery in Thompson's Station, Tenn., site of the 1863 battle, sat a massive tub of brown liquid. Spent grain, it's called. A local farmer takes this waste product from the alcohol-making process and feeds it to his cows, a pleasing feast for the animals. “The cows love our bourbon mash,” Kim Peterson, the distillery's tour experience manager told me. "They come running for it. Then they just lay in the field, chilling.” She wants to shoot video of the cows enjoying the mostly alcohol-free slop someday. What a scene that must be. Read more.

At Point Park atop Lookout Mountain, Tenn., I briefly spoke with a group of Union reenactors portraying a Kentucky unit. The distinctive smell of burning firewood filled the air. Small talk led to a discussion of Civil War flags, which led to this image of Todd Watts of Nashville. The flag was a tremendous backdrop for a photo that was an exclamation point for a great day walking an awe-inspiring battlefield.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on our right is the oldest living fossil,” a reenactor said in jest about 83-year-old Jere McConnell at the reenactment at Resaca, Ga., in May. Jere sat by a tent eating a hamburger, giving visitors pointers in between bites. Wearing Federal blue pants and Confederate homespun, he told me he has reenacted for 30 or so years. What a distinctive face! Read my Civil War Times column.

And then there's 76-year-old Charles Garvin, a reenactor since 1962. He was chewing on the stubby remains of an unlit cigar at Resaca as we talked about his hobby. He made me laugh when he mentioned a reenactor who used to put moonshine in his canteen. “He put in some water," he told me, "to make it 100 proof.”

On the 2.5-mile trail at Fort Pillow (Tenn.), I met a terrific couple from Louisiana, Carolyn and Mike Goss from Bossier City. Carolyn's great-grandfather George "Washie" Johnson, who served in a Louisiana regiment, lost a leg at the Battle of Mansfield (La.) on April 8, 1864. He was probably only a teenager. After the war, "Washie" eventually turned to drinking and gambling. (He apparently had a fondness for slot machines.) Johnson also befriended a former slave named Dick Chaney, who was treated like a member of the family. When Chaney died, he was buried next to the Johnson family cemetery in Louisiana, outside the fence. Years later, Carolyn discovered the fence was extended around Chaney's grave. How cool. Read more.

No one on the planet knows more about the rich Civil War history of Culpeper County, Va., than Clark "Bud" Hall. No one is as passionate about saving hallowed ground there than the ex-FBI agent and former Marine. “Young Americans fought, bled, and died on our Civil War battlefields,” he told me, “and I profoundly believe we share a collective responsibility to secure and save these sacred fields.” Above, Hall leans against a pillar at Powhatan Robinson’s war-time home, “Struan.” It was used by Union Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren as a headquarters and by the Army of the Potomac as a hospital in the aftermath of the Battle of Morton Ford’s in early February 1864. Hall knows the 1840 house and its owner well; its expansive porch is a perfect place for a man with a full flask and an active imagination. Read my Civil War Times column.

As a steady rain sent many fans scattering for shelter in the bars at the NFL draft in Nashville in late April, David McCormick watched from behind the counter at Ernest Tubbs Record Shop. The 69-year-old Tennessee native has worked at the store since 1968, owned it since 1972. Outside the Lower Broadway landmark, a large sign proclaims “Real Country Music Lives Here. Our 72nd Year.” Inside, the aisles are filled with country music albums and memorabilia. "It’s a joy for me every day to meet people from all over the world who may find something here they want," McCormick said. Oh, man, I wish I asked him one more question: "Did you know your building was used as a Civil War hospital during the Union occupation?" Read my Yardbarker story.

Retired chimney sweep John Mack – you can call him “The Mad Hatter” -- aimed to persuade visitors at the Resaca reenactment to purchase replica coonskin caps. The 6th Alabama, the “Raccoon Roughs," wore them, he insisted. Years ago, Mack was passionate about the Revolutionary and French and Indian wars, leading an inquisitor to believe the caps with real raccoon tails may simply be, ah, re-purposed.

Melea Medders Tennant has lived on the Resaca (Ga.) battlefield most of her life. "I can’t tell you how many times I've been working, pulling weeds and [visitors] come by telling me about a great-great uncle or great-great granddaddy who fought here." Occasionally, Tennant gives them a bullet she found on the battlefield. Melea regrets not keeping a diary to document meetings with battlefield tourists. On a Saturday afternoon, Tennant took me to see the remains of embrasures for Captain Maximillian Van Den Corput's "Cherokee Battery" of four Napoleons (above). It used to be her family's property. Read more.

On a Sunday morning, Gary Burke and I stood on a graffiti-marred, modern overpass in South Nashville to view a seldom-seen railroad cut. It was there on Dec. 15, 1864, that Burke's ancestor and his comrades in the U.S. Colored Troops were caught “like pickles in a barrel” during the Battle of Nashville and routed by Confederates. Burke once sneaked into the cut — it’s about 10 feet deeper than it was during the war — because he wanted “to feel the fear that went through them.” Read my Civil War Times column.

At the Resaca reenactment, Robert Miller sat at table with a pile of his books on the 129th Illinois, his great-great grandfather's regiment. He ancestor was killed at the northwestern Georgia battlefield, less than a quarter-mile from where we talked on a blazing-hot Saturday. The 78-year-old retired computer programmer from Oklahoma enjoyed telling me about Private Joseph Peters of Company F. Miller eagerly agreed to be photographed holding a copy of an image of his ancestor. We shook hands as we parted. It was one of the firmest handshakes I can remember.

In the pre-dawn darkness in Plains Ga., Mayor Lynton Earl Godwin III – almost everyone calls him “Boze” -- talked about his friend, Jimmy Carter.  He has known the former president most of his life. “He has not forgot where he comes from,” the 75-year-old told me. “He hasn’t changed one bit.” How I got to Plains in the wee hours on Super Bowl Sunday was, well, a little odd. The day before in nearby Andersonville -- site of the notorious Civil War prison camp -- I stopped in a small antiques store. "Does President Carter still teach Sunday school in Plains?" I asked the lovely woman behind the counter. "He sure does," she told me. "You should go." I had nothing to wear but a sloppy sweatshirt and black sweat pants. It's OK, she said. And so I booked a room in Americus, got up super-early the next morning and ...

... attended a Sunday school lesson  with these nice folks.


Enjoy the journey.


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