Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Veteran Cunningham 'felt the heart throbs of the South'

The bronze plaque on the grave of  Sumner Cunningham, founder of Confederate Veteran magazine.
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On Dec. 17, 1913, Sumner Cunningham, founder and publisher of the influential Confederate Veteran magazine, was sitting at his desk in Nashville, working on a proposal for a monument for the man who composed Dixie. It was the last work of a momentous life. Found slumped over, "insensible" and rocked by a "series of hemorrhages of the nose," Cunningham was rushed to a Nashville hospital, where he died days later. The longtime journalist, a Civil War veteran and Lost Cause proponent, was 70.

Sumner Cunningham died in 1913. He was 70.
"Friend to Man," read a Page 1 headline in the Nashville Tennessean the day after Cunningham's funeral. "Thank our God for letting Sumner A. Cunningham live in the south and do his fine work here," noted the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which passed resolutions praising "a most remarkable and unusual character."

Founded in 1893 by Cunningham, who  served in the 41st Tennessee during the war, Confederate Veteran was initially a fundraising newsletter for the construction of a monument in honor of Jefferson Davis in Richmond. Soon it became one of the most important publications in the South, the voice of Confederate veterans' organizations. In the magazine, Cunningham published everything of interest to veterans and their families -- battle accounts, book reviews, reunion information, death notices and much more. Unsurprisingly, the offerings were heavily pro-Confederate.

"For twenty years his only thought has been for our good and for our honor and the glory of our cause, keeping our history true and straight, and honoring those of our comrades, who, like [Stonewall] Jackson, have crossed over the river to rest in the shade of the trees," a North Carolina veteran wrote in Confederate Veteran in 1913.

Sometimes Cunningham published complaints.

Memorial for Sumner Cunningham, a "gallant 
Confederate soldier."
"History is a true narration of past events," wrote a Missouri member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. "The correct sources for which a historian should write are the records of the people whom he is writing. We do not want the children of America misled by the falsehoods that some of the present-day histories contain."

Aha! An early-20th century version of "fake news."

Cunningham didn't work solely on behalf of Confederate veterans. Obituaries noted his campaign to raise funds for a bust in Indiana for Union Colonel Richard Owen, who aided Confederate prisoners at Camp Morton. "... it is the most satisfactory undertaking of a lifetime," wrote Cunningham, "and I have learned a lesson of profit by associating with Hoosiers."

In eulogizing Cunningham, Dr. James Vance referenced Confederate Veteran and the role it played "in giving to the world a fair and impartial account of the great struggle between the states." Added Vance: "Sumner Cunningham was first a southerner. The South was his passion, and he worshiped it."

Cunningham, "the historian of the South," was buried in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville, Tenn., his boyhood home. "He felt the heart throbs of the South," reads the inscription on the bronze plaque on his grave.

In 1932, 19 years after its founder's death, Confederate Veteran ceased publication. In the 21st century, it lives on digitally.

Sumner Cunningham served in the 41st Tennessee, rising to sergeant major. 
"He gathered the history of his people written in tears but radiant with glory," reads the inscription 
on Sumner Cunningham's memorial in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville, Tenn. 
Cunningham's memorial is about 25 yards from the Confederate section in Willow Mount Cemetery.

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-- Confederate Veteran, January 1913February 1913.
-- Indianapolis Star, Dec. 21, 1913.
-- Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 21, 1913Jan. 8, 1914.
-- Tennessee Encyclopedia, accessed online June 12, 2019.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Moon pies & Patrick Cleburne: A Tennessee Civil War adventure

Connie Smith holds a copy of a late-19th century or early-20th century image of Confederate veterans 
from Tennessee. Her great-great grandfather, who served under Nathan Bedford Forrest, appears
 directly in front of the flag. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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Overshadowed by Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, William Rosecrans' Tullahoma Campaign in summer 1863 gets stiff-armed in the history books. In a series of small battles east of Nashville and Murfreesboro, the 42-year-old Army of the Cumberland commander ejected Rebels from Middle Tennessee. "Brilliant," The New York Times called Rosecrans' maneuverings.

How did Bell Buckle gets its name? An account pasted on the 
window of a counter at a Bell Buckle antiques store/cafe 
offers possibilities.
Channel your inner David McCullough and let these Tullahoma Campaign place names roll off your tongue:

Hoover’s Gap.

Liberty Gap.

Duck River.


Bell Buckle.

Ah, Bell Buckle, population about 500 and hometown of former "Hee Haw" star Molly Bee. (Use the Google machine.) To find my way there, I rely on finely honed backwoods instincts and lean on knowledge gleaned from  10 years at West Virginia University. Along the way, I make a left at a small church with a sign out front that reads (humorously): "Prayer. The Best Wireless Connection."

On June 24-26, 1863, at Liberty Gap, about 3 1/2 miles from Bell Buckle, Confederates under Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg clashed with Federals under Rosecrans. Chased from the gap, the Rebels retreated to Tullahoma.

About three weeks earlier, Bell Buckle was site of a Grand Review of nearly the entire Army of Tennessee. Among the attendees was British army Colonel Arthur Freemantle, who sadly witnessed the very worst of America: a political speech by a congressman from Arkansas.

"Of vulgar appearance," the Britisher recalled, he delivered a "long and uninteresting political oration, and ended by announcing himself as a candidate for re-election. This speech seemed to me (and to others) particularly ill-timed, out of place, and ridiculous, addressed as it was to soldiers in front of the enemy. But this was one of the results of universal suffrage."

Boxes of moon pies in the popular Bell Buckle Cafe in Bell Buckle, Tenn.
Present-day Bell Buckle apparently is a bivouac for Moon Pies -- graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow center dipped in either chocolate, vanilla or who knows what else. They sell the things everywhere in town. In mid-June, the Chamber of Commerce holds its 25th annual Moon Pie Festival, which includes a Moon Pie parade, the crowning of a Moon Pie king and queen and the unveiling of the world's largest Moon Pie. At the popular Bell Buckle Cafe, boxes of the tasty treats -- in regular and mini size --  are stacked just steps from the front door. The highlight of my restaurant visit, however, isn't Moon Pies. Instead it's a sign near the cashier: "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with why Abraham Lincoln named Ambrose Burnside commander of the Army of the Potomac, is how Bell Buckle got its name. A local account speculates it's because Indians "carved a bell and a buckle on a tree as a warning to settlers about their cows." Let's go with that.

But this trip isn't about cows, bells, buckles or Moon Pies. My aim is to explore this area's rich Civil War history, so I drive down two-lane Bell Buckle Road toward Wartrace. In the winter of 1863, one of the greatest commanders of the war made his headquarters there.

At the Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery you'll find re-enacting gear mixed in with some patriotism.
On the road to Wartrace, population slightly north of Bell Buckle, a sign for a Civil War shop forces me to hit the brakes and stop. In a nondescript, gray building near an old barn, Connie Smith and her husband Jerry, a former blacksmith, operate Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery. The couple sells everything from replica brogans to officers' uniforms.

The  ghost of James F. Anthony can get a little bit horsey at the
 Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery in Wartrace, Tenn.
The Smiths receive orders from foreign lands as far away as Russia, Denmark, Australia and California. They have supplied actors in movies The Free State of Jones, The Last Confederate and others. A vintage baseball team from Franklin, Tenn., wears shirts purchased at Smith's shop. Connie even has outfitted the daughters of country music legend Loretta Lynn.

Clearly, Blockade Runner is nirvana for the re-enactor.

It also may be haunted.

"This place," Connie tells me in a hushed tone, "is spooked."

Smith has discovered books moved overnight and felt a strange presence in the business she and her husband have run since 1993. The culprit, she believes, may be the ghost of James F. Anthony of the 28th Tennessee Cavalry, Company G. She points to a horse bit, once owned by Anthony, in a display case. Making me slightly wary of my surroundings, she tells a brief story about the Confederate, who's buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Wartrace. Both my kids were born in Texas, I tell her, so no Rebel ghost will intimidate me. I remain strong.

Displayed in a Sutlery case, a relic of the December 1864
 Battle of Nashville. Connie Smith collects period Civil War dresses.
 Her husband Jerry collects Civil War artifacts.
Connie also has a more direct connection to the war: Her great-great grandfather William Daniel Chrisman served in the 4th Tennessee Cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Chrisman, who enlisted at 16, fought at Shiloh, Stones River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. In November 1864, he was captured before the Battle of Franklin, a clash that resulted in nearly 6,300 Confederate casualties. In an image of Confederate veterans, Smith proudly points to her ancestor near the back row.

After the war, Chrisman was active in Confederate veterans' organizations and attended the last Civil War reunion at Gettysburg in 1938. He died at age 92 in 1939, the last surviving Confederate veteran in Williamson County, Tenn.

"He told my momma stories of the Battle of Franklin," Smith says. "She loved to hear his stories."

Once at stage coach stop and inn, the circa-1852 Chockley Tavern is now a private residence. 
After the Battle of Stones River, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne visited here in 1863. 
A marker near the Chockley Inn explains the Battle of Liberty Gap, a Tullahoma Campaign clash.
I finally pull into Wartrace, home of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum and final resting place of Strolling Jim, a champion show breed horse. "Jim died in 1957 in the pasture where he spent his last years," reads the historical sign in front of the Walking Horse Hotel, which contains the Strolling Jim Restaurant. Naturally, the hotel may be haunted. Does this have anything to do with James F. Anthony?

A vintage Texaco pump in Wartrace, Tenn.
Before I inspect my objective, I tool around town, stopping to admire a vintage Texaco gas pump. I wave to a gentleman wearing a gray Alabama T-shirt. "Roll Tide," I say after rolling down the window. He eyes me warily, like I'm some kind of outsider. Perhaps it's my Connecticut license plate.

Directly across from train tracks and a large, red caboose stands a two-story, circa-1852 building that needs a little TLC. Wooden chairs and debris clutter the front-porch area. A maroon shirt hangs from a hook. "Welcome," reads a small sign near the front door of the private residence. This is the place.


In early 1863, after the Battle of Stones River, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne, the “Stonewall of the West,” met with fellow officers at the Chockley Tavern, a stage coach stop and inn. He had a headquarters elsewhere in the small town, but the directionally challenged are never able to find it. Killed at Franklin, Cleburne was once buried among oaks and magnolias in a beautiful church cemetery near Columbia, Tenn. (In 1870, his remains were removed to his adopted state of Arkansas.)

After a brief brush with history, I head east, about a mile outside town. A historical sign there denotes the site of the long-gone Beechwood Plantation house, where Southern sympathizers lavishly entertained Confederate officers during the war, Cleburne among them. Confederate General William Hardee made his headquarters at Beechwood during the Tullahoma Campaign, and his troops camped in the surrounding fields, still largely open today. On the high ground nearby, private property, the remains of Confederate trenches may be found.

Before I depart Wartrace, I visit Hollywood Cemetery, hoping to find the grave of one James Anthony. Like our gray ghost, the marker proves elusive.

Tullahoma Campaign dead from battles at Beech Grove and Hoover's Gap are buried
 in Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, atop a knoll near Interstate 24.
A marker for the 18th Indiana Battery in Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery. 
The drone of traffic from nearby Interstate 24 fails to spoil the final stop on a Middle Tennessee Civil War adventure. In neat rows atop a knoll, unknown Confederates from Tullahoma Campaign battles at Beech Grove and Hoover's Gap rest in a small cemetery. In 1866, their remains were collected from isolated areas nearby. Did burial crews get them all?

At the end of Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, a large slab of gray granite -- the Nathan Bedford Forrest Farewell Order Memorial, erected in 1954 -- is inscribed with words from the general's address to his troops in Alabama following his surrender:
"Civil War, such as you have passed, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings and, so far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings toward those with whom we have so long contested and heretofore so widely but honestly differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities and private differences should be blotted out and when you return home a manly straightforward course of conduct will secure you the respect even of your enemies."
 After the war, Forrest became Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan.

    PANORAMA: Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, where unknowns rest in a former                        pioneer graveyard. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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-- The New York Times, July 1, 1863.

-- Freemantle, Arthur James Lyon, Three Months In The Southern States: April-June, 1863, Published by John Bradburn, New York, 1864.

Friday, May 31, 2019

True grit: How I survived my visit to Lone Jack (Mo.) battlefield

Somehow I managed a smile after birds destroyed my soul at Lone Jack (Mo.) battlefield.
The small museum on the battlefield was dedicated by former president Harry S. Truman in 1963.
A severe storm in the Kansas City area toppled trees at Lone Jack the night before my visit.
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My short visit to the Lone Jack (Mo.) battleground Saturday morning began inauspiciously. While photographing the battlefield cemetery, vicious birds targeted me for mischief. After a string of expletives nearly tied me in a knot, I found myself in the small Lone Jack museum, where a kindly docent explained the battle, urged me to visit the excellent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in nearby Kansas City and suggested where to eat tremendous BBQ. (Even U.S. presidents have eaten at Arthur Bryant's!) Then he pointed where I could wash the mess, courtesy of my fine-feathered enemies, off my hand and iPhone.

Confederates attacked Union lines (behind camera) 
through a field across the road on Aug. 16, 1862.
But I digress.

Here's what you need to know about the Trans-Mississippi Theater site: The battle, fought August 15-16, 1862, resulted in a Confederate victory. Estimated casualties: about 300. Confederates charged through a hemp field to attack Union soldiers in a cornfield, now long gone. The dead were buried on the battlefield and, according to the docent, some may lie in a trench that extends beyond the boundary of the small cemetery.

Former President Harry S. Truman, who lived in nearby Independence, Mo., dedicated the museum, housed in a circular stone and cement building, in 1963. "I tried to more than 42 years ago to erect a monument to the Lone Jack battle," Truman said on the 101st anniversary of the fighting. "They didn't think the battle was important then."

The battle lives on in popular culture -- well, at least for those who recall an actor named John Wayne. Asked in the movie True Grit how he lost his eye, Wayne -- who played Rooster Cogburn -- replied: "It was in the war. The Lone Jack, a scrap outside Kansas City." (You can't find this stuff almost anywhere else. Here's a clip from the 1969 movie.)

For at least one Union soldier, the battle was unforgettable. Wrote Stephen Benton Elkins, a captain of militia in the 77th Missouri and later Secretary of War and a U.S. Senator from West Virginia:

"I saw one battle while in the service, that of Lone Jack, and a most awful battle it was. Col. Emory S. Foster had a Union regiment which was attacked by the brother of Senator Cockrell, but Foster thought the Confederates were the guerrilla hands who raised the black flag, and never gave any quarter. So he refused to surrender, and every one of his officers was picked off. 
"The guerrillas were victorious. I went over the battlefield afterward, the blood, the cries for water and death, the naked bodies stripped of their clothing, the dead horses which served for ramparts, gave me a disgust for war, which makes it seem strange that I am here at the head of the war department of this great government."

              PANORAMA: A view of the battlefield cemetery and museum at Lone Jack.
                                        (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
A Confederate memorial in the small battlefield cemetery.
A  Union memorial (left) steps from the Confederate memorial at Lone Jack Cemetery.
Gravestone for Union corporal who was killed at the Battle of Lone Jack.

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-- Stevens, Walter Barlow, Centennial History of Missouri, S.J. Clarke Publishing. 1921.

-- The Kansas City Times, Aug. 17, 1963.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Captain Tim's souvenir from Andersonville 'prison pen'

16th Connecticut Captain Timothy Robinson's Andersonville souvenir. (The piece of wood, not the banana.)
Image courtesy Robinson descendant.
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On post-war visits to Civil War sites, veterans often grabbed a souvenir -- a spent bullet, a piece of artillery shell, a sliver of stone from a wall, a brick from a war-time structure. During his visit to Andersonville, 16th Connecticut vet Timothy Robinson -- whose remarkable story is told here on my blog -- snatched a section of the old stockade fence at the notorious former prison camp.

Post-war image
of Timothy Robinson.
A Robinson descendant emailed me about the souvenir: “I’m happy to say it’s still in our family. The inscription reads, ‘From Confederate Prison pen, Andersonville, Ga.’

“Tim’s brother, Henry, was also in the 16th and both Robinsons were captured along with the rest of the regiment April 20, 1864, in Plymouth, N.C. Henry was wounded that day and being an enlisted man, he was sent to Andersonville. Tim, who was an officer and was treated better, ended up in Camp Sorgum, Columbia, S.C., from which he later escaped. But Henry died in Andersonville 4 months later and is buried there.

“Tim visited Andersonville at least once in his life and he was there for the October 1907 dedication ceremony honoring Connecticut war veterans who died at Andersonville.”

Known as "Captain Tim," Robinson served as president of the 16th Connecticut's regimental association for many years. Crippled by a cerebral hemorrhage, he died in Bristol, Conn., on Feb. 6, 1918. He was 83.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Andersonville's stream of death: 'Literally alive with ... filth'

A branch of Sweetwater Creek called the Stockade Branch flows through the 26.5-acre Andersonville site.
Modern visitors also face challenges here.

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In the hell of Andersonville, the most horrible area on the 26 1/2-acre grounds may have been a branch of Sweetwater Creek that flowed through camp. Federal prisoners used the water from Stockade Branch for drinking, washing, cooking, defecating and urinating.  "The Sinks" -- the camp latrines -- were built on hillside on the east side of the grounds near Stockade Branch. In diaries and memoirs, scores of prisoners wrote about the noxious smell in the immediate area. Wrote Robert Kellogg of the 16th Connecticut in  Life and Death in Rebel Prisons, published in 1865:
"In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then."
An inadequate water supply and food rations, as well as unsanitary conditions, led to scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery, the chief causes of death at the camp.

A present-day view of the branch of Sweetwater Creek that flows through Andersonville POW camp.
Here's what other Union prisoners said about the vile place:

"The stream of water that passes through here runs from west to east, dividing the camp into two equal parts. The rebel camps are north and south of this stream, with breastworks and battery of artillery on each corner, south and east are the cook houses and west of all is the railroad depot, about three-fourths of a mile away. The rebels wash their clothing and themselves in this stream, horses and mules are driven into it to drink, buckets, tubs and kettles belonging to the rebel camp and cook houses are washed here, and all the filth of the camps thrown into it; and then it runs through to us. We have to use it, although it is literally alive with vermin and filth of all kinds."

--  Prison Diary of Michael Dougherty, Late Co. B, 13th., Pa., Cavalry.

"The volume [of water] was not sufficient to wash
away the feces."
"With the warm weather the condition of the swamp in the center of the prison became simply horrible. We hear so much now-a-days of blood poisoning from the effluvia of sinks and sewers, that reading it, I wonder how a man inside the Stockade, and into whose nostrils came a breath of that noisomeness, escaped being carried off by a malignant typhus."

A Story of Rebel Military Prisons, 1879

"On different battle fields I have witnessed many horrible sights, but none to compare with what I saw to-day-a man lying on the bank of the stream being eaten to death by maggots. They could be seen issuing from his eyes and mouth, and his body was eaten completely raw in several places. We could do nothing with him but let him alone to die a miserable death."

-- Private Samuel Elliot, Company A, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves

"The sinks over the lower portion of the stream were imperfect in their plan and structure, and excrements were in a large measure deposited so near the borders of the stream as not to be washed away, or else accumulated upon the low boggy ground. The volume was not sufficient to wash away the feces, and they accumulated in such quantities in the lower portion of the stream as to' form a mass of liquid excrement."

The Horrors of Andersonville Rebel Prison, 1891

"One side of the swamp was naturally used as a sink, the men usually going out some distance into the water. Under the summer sun this place early became corruption too vile for description, the men breeding disgusting life, so that the surface of the water moved as with a gentle breeze. The newcomers, on reaching this, would exclaim: "Is this hell?" yet they soon would become callous, and enter unmoved the horrible rottenness. The rebel authorities never removed any filth."

-- Diary of  POW Prescott Tracy

Layout of  Andersonville and immediate surroundings drawn by Union veteran Robert Knox Sneeden.
He was imprisoned at Andersonville from February-December 1864. (Library of Congress)

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

'A wild yell': A future president describes attack at Resaca

Melea Medders Tennant, whose family has long owned land where the Battle of Resaca (May 13-15, 1864)
 was fought, at the remains of these Confederate embrasures.  Captain Maximillian Van Den Corput's 
"Cherokee Battery" of four Napoleons was placed here in front of the Confederate line. 
Amid the firing of canister by the enemy, Harrison's troops swept over this embrasure on May 15, 1864.
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Van Den Corput
At the Battle of Resaca (Ga.) on May 15, 1864, Colonel Benjamin Harrison of the 70th Indiana led an attack against a Confederate battery commanded by Captain Maximilian Van Den Corput. Two Union regiments overwhelmed the "Cherokee Battery," bayoneting some of the defenders. Under severe fire from a Confederate line 20 yards behind the battery, Federals were forced to retreat, leaving the abandoned cannon in no-man's land. Under the cover of darkness, Union soldiers advanced to the earthworks and dragged the four Confederate cannon back to their lines.  Here's an excerpt from the report Harrison -- who became 23rd U.S. president in 1889 -- wrote about the attack, paired with images I shot during a recent visit.

During the night of Saturday, the 14th instant, under orders, I constructed, with the assistance of Lieutenant and the brigade pioneers, a line of rifle-pits along the front of my line, and had moved in at daylight four companies to occupy them as sharpshooters and watch the enemy, when we were suddenly relieved by another brigade and marched around to a new position on the left of the Fourteenth Army Corps.

Benjamin Harrison, colonel
of the 70th Indiana.
In our new position we were informed that our brigade, supported by the other brigades of our division, was expected to assault the enemy’s rifle-pits, and without delay our brigade was formed in column of battalions in order of rank. My regiment leading, passed from the crest of an intrenched ridge, occupied by our forces, across an open field in the valley and up a steep and thickly wooded hill to the assault of the enemy’s breastworks, whose strength, and even exact location, was only revealed by the line of fire which, with fearful destructiveness, was belched upon our advancing column.

I moved my men at the double-quick and, with loud cheers, across the open space in the valley in order sooner to escape the enfilading fire from the enemy’s rifle-pits on our right and to gain the cover of the woods, with which the side of the hill against which our assault was directed was thickly covered. The men moved on with perfect steadiness and without any sign of faltering up the hillside and to the very muzzles of the enemy’s artillery, which continued to belch their deadly charges of grape and canister, until the gunners were struck down at their guns.

Having gained the outer face of the embrasures, in which the enemy had four 12-pounder Napoleon guns, my line halted for a moment to take breath. Seeing that the infantry supports had deserted the artillery, I cheered the men forward, and with a wild yell they entered the embrasures, striking down and bayoneting the rebel gunners, many of whom defiantly stood by their guns till struck down.

             PANORAMA: Harrison's troops charged up this hill to take the enemy battery.
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience)

"The men moved on with perfect steadiness and without any sign of faltering up the hillside and to the very 
muzzles  of the enemy’s artillery," Colonel Benjamin Harrison wrote. A Confederate cannon was placed here. 
               PANORAMA: A view from behind the position of the Confederate battery.
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Within this outer fortification, in which the artillery was placed, there was a strong line of breast-works, which was concealed from our view by a thick pine undergrowth, save at one point, which had been used as a gateway. This line was held by a rebel division of veteran troops, said to be of Hood’s command. When we first entered the embrasures of the outer works the enemy fled in considerable confusion from the inner one, and had there been a supporting line brought up in good order at this juncture the second line might have easily been carried and held.

My line having borne the brunt of the assault, it was not to be expected that it could be reformed for a second assault in time. The enemy in a moment rallied in rear of their second line, and poured in a most destructive fire upon us, which compelled us to retire outside the first line to obtain the cover of the works. At this point some confusion was created among our forces in and about the enemy’s works (several of our battalions in rear of me having come up) by a cry that the enemy was flanking us. This caused many to retire down the hill, and had for a time the appearance of a general retreat.

A late 19th-century print of Benjamin Harrison
leading an attack at Resaca. (Library of Congress)
I strove in vain to rally my men under the enemy’s fire on the hillside, and finally followed them to a partially sheltered place behind a ridge to our left, where I was engaged in separating my men from those of other regiments and reforming them preparatory to leading them again to the support of those who still held the guns we had captured, when I was informed that General Ward was wounded, and was ordered to assume command of the brigade and reform it, which duty I discharged and then urgently asked General Butterfield for permission to take it again to the works we had carried and still held, and bring off the guns we had captured. This was refused, and by his order the brigade was placed in a new position on a hill to the left of the point at which we had assaulted, to assist in repelling an attack made by the enemy.

To sum up the account of the day’s fight, I will add that detachments from my regiment, and, I believe, from each of the other regiments of the brigade, held the rebels from re-entering and taking the guns we had captured until they were brought off at night by a detail from the First and Second brigades. I would respectfully call your attention to the following points: First, my regiment entered the enemy’s works in advance of all others, and my colors, though not planted, were the first to enter the fort; second, the enemy’s lines were not penetrated at any other point than that where we entered, although assaulted by other troops on the left; third, my regiment, being in advance and having to bear the brunt of the assault, accomplished all that could have been required of them in entering the works and driving the enemy out.

Under fire, Union soldiers drag a Confederate cannon from Ven Den Corput's Battery from the earthworks.
(Library of Congress)
"I cheered the men forward, and with a wild yell they entered the embrasures, striking down and
 bayoneting  the rebel gunners," Harrison wrote. Another view of remains of Confederate embrasure.

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SOURCE: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 38, Part 2.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

A 16-year-old in Wilderness: Brains, blood, 'scores of wounded'

"Powder smoke hung high above the trees in thin clouds," Frank Wilkeson wrote about the Wilderness.
(Alfred Waud | Library of Congress)
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Think about what many 16-year-olds do today. Learn to drive a car. Sneak a beer in the woods behind their parents' house. Date. Play video games. Shoot hoops in the high school gym.

Frank Wilkeson
At 16, Frank Wilkeson, a private in the 11th New York Light Artillery,  watched soldiers shoot to kill in god-forsaken thickets and woods in Virginia. The teenager, who joined in on the bloodletting himself, witnessed up close the gruesome results of warfare.

"A dead sergeant lay at my feet, with a hole in his forehead just above his left eye," Wilkeson wrote about his experience at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. "Out of this wound bits of brain oozed and slid on a bloody trail into his eye and thence over his cheek to the ground. I leaned over the body to feel of it. It was still warm. He couldn't have been dead for over five minutes."

A son of a well-known journalist, Wilkeson enlisted in 1864 after running away from home. On July 1, 1863, his older brother Bayard, a lieutenant in the 4th United States Regular Artillery, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg.

After the war, Wilkeson became a journalist, and in 1886, a book of his war-time experiences was published. Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac is an eloquent, and unvarnished, look at  war. Wilkeson's Chapter 11, "How Men Die in Battle," is like a gut-punch to the soul, Saving Private Ryan without the images.

At the Wilderness, Wilkeson eagerly joined the battle, although the 11th New York Light Artillery had no fighting role at the time. Here's his remarkable Wilderness battle account from his book, excerpted and published in U.S. newspapers in the summer of 1886:

The night before the Battle of the Wilderness, Frank Wilkeson slept near the Chancellor house, shown here
 in a circa-1900 view. (Image courtesy Pat Sullivan | Spotsylvania Memory Blog)
On the night of May 4. 1864, I slept under a caisson that stood in park close to the Chancellorsville House, in Virginia. I was awakened by a bugle call to find the battery I belonged to almost ready to march. I hurriedly toasted a bit of pork and ate it, and quickly chewed down a couple of hard tack and drank deeply from my canteen, and was ready to march when the battery moved.

It was a delightful morning. Almost all the infantry which had been camped around us the previous evening had disappeared. We struck into the road, passed the Chancellorsville House, turned to the right and marched up a broad turnpike toward the Wilderness forest. After marching on this road for a short distance we turned to the left on an old dirt road, which led obliquely into the woods. The picket firing had increased in volume since the previous evening, and there was no longer any doubt that we were to fight in the Wilderness.

The firing was a pretty brisk rattle, and steadily increasing in volume. About 10 o'clock in the morning the soft, spring air resounded with a fierce yell, the sound of which was instantly drowned by a roar of musketry, and we knew that the battle of the Wilderness had opened. The battery rolled heavily up the road into the woods for a short distance, when we were met by a staff officer, who ordered us out, saying:

 "The battle has opened in dense timber. Artillery cannot be used. Go into park in the field just outside the woods."

We turned the guns and marched back and went into the park. Battery after battery joined us, some coming out of the woods and others up the road from the Chancellorsville House, until some 100 guns or more were parked in the field. We were then the reserve artillery.

Union VI Corps fights unseen enemy in the woods at the Wilderness. (Edwin Forbes | Library of Congress)
Ambulances and wagons loaded with medical supplies galloped onto the field, and a hospital was established behind our guns. Soon men, singly and in pairs or in groups of four or live, came limping slowly or walking briskly, with arms across their breasts and their hands clutched into their blouses, out of the woods. Some carried their rifles. Others had thrown them away. All of them were bloody. They slowly filtered through the immense artillery camp, and asked with bloodless lips to be directed to a hospital.

Powder smoke hung high above the trees in thin clouds. The noise in the woods was terrific. The musketry was a steady roll, and high above it sounded the inspiring charging cheers and yells of the now thoroughly excited combatants.  At intervals we could hear the loud report of Napoleon guns, and we thought that Battery K of the Fourth United States Artillery was in action.

By 11 o clock the wounded men were coming out of the woods in streams, and they had various tales to tell. Bloody men from the battle line of the Fifth Corps trooped through our park supporting more severely wounded comrades. The battle, these men said, did not incline in our favor. They insisted that the Confederates were in force, and that they, having the advantage of position and knowledge of the region, had massed their soldiers for the attack and outnumbered us at the points of conflict. They described the Confederate fire as wonderfully accurate. One man who had a ghastly flesh wound across his forehead said: "The Johnnies are shooting to kill this time, few of their balls strike the trees higher than ten feet from the ground. Small trees are already falling, having been cut down by rifle balls. There is hardly a Union battery in action," he added, after an instant's pause.

Union soldiers carry wounded from the battlefield. (Alfred Waud | Library of Congress)
By noon I was quite wild with curiosity, and, confident that the artillery would remain in the park, I decided to go to the battle line and see what was going on. I neglected to ask my captain for permission to leave the battery, because I feared he would not grant my request, and I did not want to disobey orders by going after he had refused me. 1 walked out of camp and up the road. The wounded men were becoming more and more numerous. 1 saw men, faint from loss of blood, sitting in the shade cast by trees. Other men were lying down. All were pale, and their faces expressed great physical suffering.

As l walked I saw a dead man lying under a tree which stood by the roadside. He had been shot through the chest, and had struggled to the rear; then, becoming exhausted or choked with blood, he had lain down on a carpet of leaves and died. His pockets were turned inside out. A little further on I met a sentinel standing by the roadside. Other sentinels paced to and fro in the woods on each side of tho road, or stood leaning against trees, looking in the direction of the battle line, which was far ahead of them in the woods. I stopped to talk to the guard posted on the road. He eyed me inquiringly, and answered my question as to what he was doing there, saying: "Sending stragglers back to the front." Then he added, in an explanatory tone: "No enlisted men can go past me to the rear unless be can show blood.''

He turned to a private who was hastening down the road, and cried:


The soldier who was going to the rear paid no attention to the command. Instantly the sentinel's rifle was cocked, and it rose to his shoulder. He coolly covered the soldier, and sternly demanded that he show blood. The man had none to show. The cowardly soldier was ordered to return to his regiment, and, greatly disappointed, he turned back. Wounded men passed the guard without being halted. These guards seemed to be posted in the rear of the battle lines for the express purpose of intercepting the flight of cowards. At the time it struck me as a quaint idea to picket the rear of an army which was fighting a desperate battle.

I explained to the sentinel that I was a light artilleryman, and that I wanted to see the fight.

"Can I go past you?" I inquired.

"Yes," he replied, "you may go up. But you had better not go," he added. "You have no distinctive mark or badge on your dress to indicate the arm you belong to. If you go up you may not be allowed to return, and then, he added, as he shrugged his shoulders indifferently, "You may get killed. But suit yourself."

 So I went on.

Union V Corps soldiers receive ammunition while under enemy fire.  (Alfred Waud | Library of Congress)
There was a very heavy firing to the left of the road in a chapparal of brush and scrubby pines and oaks. There the musketry was a steady roar, and the cheers and yells of the fighters incessant. I left the road and walked through the woods towards the battle grounds, and met many wounded men who were coming out. They were bound for the rear and the hospitals. Then I came on a body of troops lying in reserve, a second line of battle, I suppose. I heard the hum of bullets as they passed over the low trees. Then I noticed that small limbs of trees were falling in a feeble shower in advance of me. It was as though an army of squirrels were at work cutting off nut and pine cone-laden branches preparatory to laying in their winter's store of food. Then, partially obscured by a cloud of powder smoke, I saw a straggling line of men clad in blue. They were not standing as if on parade, but they were taking advantage of the cover afforded by the trees, and they were tiring rapidly. Their line officers were standing behind them or in line with them. The smoke drifted to and fro, and there were many rifts in it. I saw scores of wounded men. I saw many dead soldiers lying on the ground, and I saw men constantly falling on the battle line.

I could not see the Confederates, and, as I had gone to the front expressly to see a battle, I pushed on, picking my way from protective tree to protective tree, until I was about forty yards from the battle line. The uproar was deafening. The bullets flew through the air thickly. Now our line would move forward a few yards, now fall back.

I stood behind a large oak tree and peeped around its trunk. I heard bullets "spat" into this tree, and I suddenly realized that I was under fire. My heart thumped wildly for a minute. Then my throat and mouth felt dry and queer. A dead sergeant lay at my feet, with a hole in his forehead just above his left eye. Out of this wound bits of brain oozed and slid on a bloody trail into his eye and thence over his check to the ground. I leaned over the body to feel of it. It was still warm. He couldn't have been dead for over five minutes. As I stopped over the dead man bullets swept past me, and I became angry at the danger I had foolishly gotten into.

Wounded soldier uses a pitchfork to hobble along in the Wilderness. (Edwin Forbes | Library of Congress)
I unbuckled the dead man's cartridge belt and strapped it around me, and then I picked up his rifle. I remember standing behind the large oak tree and dropping the ramrod into the rifle to see if it was loaded. It was not. So I loaded it, and before I fairly understood what had taken place I was in the rank of the battle line, which had surged back on the crest of a battle billow, bareheaded, and greatly excited, and blazing away at an indistinct, smoke and tree-obscured line of men clad in gray and slouch hatted.

As I cooled off in the heat of the battle fire, I found that I was on the Fifth Corps line, instead of on the Second Corps' line, where I wanted to be. I spoke to the men on either side of me, and they stared at me, a stranger, and briefly said that the regiment, the distinctive number of which I have long since forgotten, was near the left of the Fifth Corps, and that they had been fighting pretty steadily since about 10 o'clock in the morning, but with poor success, as the Confederates had driven them back a little.

The fire was rather hot and the men were falling pretty fast. Still, it was not anywhere near as bloody as I had expected a battle to be. As a grand, inspiring spectacle it was highly unsatisfactory, owing to the powder smoke obscuring the vision. At times we could not see the Confederate line, but that made no difference, we kept on firing just as though they were in full view. We gained ground at times, and then dead Confederates lay on the ground as thickly as dead Union soldiers had behind us. Then we would fall back, fighting stubbornly, but steadily giving ground, until the dead were all clad in blue.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

At cemetery in Resaca, Georgia, a detour into soul of South

Clad in Confederate gray, a drummer and fifer play Dixie. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Melea Medders Tennant holds a copy of an image of  Daniel, John and Pleasant Chitwood 
of Company A of the 23rd Georgia. Daniel is her great-great grandfather.  Company A was known
 as the "Bartow County Yankee Killers."
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My Sunday road trip plan is simple: Hike a trail at the Resaca battlefield in northwestern Georgia, then briefly visit the Confederate Cemetery nearby. Drive to another battleground. Return to Nashville. Instead, I take a 90-minute detour into the soul of the South.

A program for Confederate Memorial Day Observance
 at the Confederate Cemetery at Resaca, Ga.

A man in white shirt greets me shortly after I park my car near the cemetery. “Hello, handsome,” he says, surely in jest. In the gravel lot, 28th Georgia reenactors await instructions from their commander.  At the stone cemetery gateway, their comrade stands at attention, a Civil War-era replica musket by his side.

Big day, another reenactor tells me, it's Confederate Memorial Day Observance. “Are you going to stay for the ceremony?” he asks. “Oh, no, I need to head down the road to Chickamauga.” I tell him.

And so I begin my slow walk through the cemetery.

Under a canopy of tall trees, visitors find gravestones for the Confederate dead of Resaca. More than 450 soldiers, mostly unknowns, rest in the 2 1/2-acre grounds. A miniature Confederate flag adorns each grave. A large, white stone cross memorial atop a mound of earth serves as the cemetery centerpiece. “To the unknown dead,” read the words inscribed on the crossbar.

On a gray, granite memorial stone a few yards from the entrance, an etching of a photo of an angelic-looking young lady mesmerizes. Mary Green is buried elsewhere, but the spirit of the Resaca woman surely lingers on the grounds.

A memorial stone for Mary J. Green, the driving force behind the Resaca (Ga.) Confederate Cemetery.
Confederate reenactor Darrel Wilson stands watch near the cemetery entrance.
28th Georgia reenactors fire a salute in honor of Confederate dead.
Local United Daughters of the Confederacy president Melea Medders Tennant puts her hand over her heart
while a wreath is placed at the foot of the cemetery memorial.
Shortly after the war, Union dead from the Battle of Resaca on May 13-15, 1864, were removed and re-buried elsewhere. Confederate fallen lay neglected in makeshift graves throughout the battlefield -- in fields, in woods, on hillsides and even on the Green family's farm near the Conasauga River. Determined to give them a decent burial, Green and other family members formed an association that led to the creation of the cemetery in 1866. Mary's father, a railroad superintendent, donated the land.

Adorned with a Confederate flag, the grave of a known soldier 
from the 17th Alabama. Most of those buried in the cemetery
are unknowns from the Battle of Resaca.
By 1:45 p.m, a few dozen people, mostly locals, are gathered. A 30ish man with long hair sits on a low, stone wall bordering the cemetery. Pinned to his tan sport jacket are two Sons of Confederate Veterans ribbons. Others sit on small, white folding chairs near the cross memorial. One of them tells of his Confederate ancestor. Captured in Mississippi, he says, he joined the Federal army.

Promptly at 2 p.m., the ceremony begins. Eyes turn to three flags, the staff of each embedded in the ground. The Pledge of Allegiance is followed by a pledge of allegiance to the Georgia flag. Then comes an acknowledgment of another symbol: "I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence, and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands ..."

I listen intently to a few opening remarks by the great-great-granddaughter of a private in Company A of the 23rd Georgia, the "Bartow County Yankee Killers." Lifelong Resaca resident Melea Medders Tennant remembers the cemetery as a place for picnics. "Awe-inspiring," she calls it. Then the president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy glances at the stone archway at the front of the cemetery.

Sons of Confederate Veterans ribbons.
 "I always felt like I have stepped back in time," Tennant says, "when I go through that gate in the rock wall."

This sun-splashed Sunday is much like the long-ago cemetery dedication day. "What a beautiful day the Lord has made," says John Biddy, commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter.

Steps from markers for unknowns, 28th Georgia reenactors fire three "honor volleys in memory of our Confederate veterans."

As a large wreath is placed at the foot of the memorial cross, Tennant puts her hand over her heart. A fifer, drummer and banjo player play Dixie. "Oh I wish I were in the land of cotton. Old times there are not forgotten," attendees sing.

A Baptist preacher gives a benediction, invoking Robert E. Lee and Gettysburg. Eager now to see more of the Resaca battlefield, I say good-bye to new acquaintances.

What an experience. What questions I have.

At the center of the cemetery, a memorial cross honors unknown Confederate dead.

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