Sunday, July 05, 2020

How a Civil War nerd spent his Fourth of July: Tebbs Bend!

Needing a shave, a beer, a toothbrush and a new ballcap, your humble blogger at his destination.
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What's the best way to practice social distancing outside? Go visit a Civil War battlefield. That's what I did on the Fourth, leaving Nashville at 10 a.m. for my first visit to the Tebbs Bend (Ky.) battleground. On the trip through the Bluegrass State, I passed the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green (does it have mannequins of 75-year-old bald men in the vehicles?), the epically named Rugged Truth Barber Shop in Columbia, a lemonade stand along a highway in gawd-knows-where and lots of roadkill.

Miles traveled to battlefield: 144. Mask wearers observed indoors in Kentucky: 0. (Sigh.) Time zones experienced: two. Arrival: 1:20 Eastern. Temperature at the field: Blistering.

The now-overgrown campsite of  25th Michigan Infantry, which whipped a much larger force of cavalry
at Tebbs Bend on July 4, 1863. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
This iron truss bridge used to span the Green River. Now it overlooks campsite of the 25th Michigan. 
Tebbs Bend battlefield scouting report: excellent wayside markers. (Damn. I read every ... single ... one. Alternate name: Battle of Green River Bridge. Inviting walking trails. Tour route: about three miles. Stops: 13. One 1907 iron truss bridge that used to span Green River. Two intimidating foxes spotted running through former campsite of 25th Michigan. Character of area: rural, much as it was in 1863. Rumors of bears in area. Hmmm ... not good. Visitors spotted on 157th anniversary of battle: three -- including one from my native Pennsylvania.

Site of Camp Hobson on the old James Allen Sublett farm.
Of course, one of those dang signs sucked me into stopping for this photo. From December 1861 to February 1862, this field was the site of Camp Hobson, a U.S. Army recruiting site and training camp. Nearly 2,000 volunteers -- they became the 13th and 21st Kentucky -- mustered into the U.S. Army here. Ah, I wonder what "treasures" they left behind.

Aptly named Green River.
There was little traffic on the battlefield road, so I stopped for this photo in the middle of the 21st-century bridge spanning the Green River, which 25th Michigan soldiers used for bathing. Probably looked something like this. (Avert your eyes!) Before the new bridge was built, the iron truss bridge was here; in 1863, a covered bridge spanned the Green River.

Confederates attacked toward the camera on the morning of July 4, 1863.
By sunset on July 4, 1863, the Confederacy was rocked by three defeats -- at Gettysburg, at Vicksburg and at this obscure battlefield. Here, on America's 87th birthday, 200 soldiers in the 25th Michigan under Colonel Orlando Moore whipped 2,500 dismounted calvary under Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan. Roughly 800 of Morgan's soldiers saw action, but still ... Casualties were very minor compared to Gettysburg and Vicksburg -- four dead and 16 wounded for the U.S. Army; at least 35 killed and 45 wounded for the Rebels.

Confederate artillery position astride Tebbs Bend Road. 
Nice wheels, Blogger Man.
From the small plateau in the first photo above, a battery of four Confederate cannon fired upon Moore's line (beyond the trees in the middle distance) early on the morning of the Fourth. I scanned the ground here for several minutes hoping to find evidence that these artilllerists were, as the wayside marker says, actually here in 1863. My "batting average" for relics spotted on battlefields is 215 points lower than this guy's lame career average.

In front yard of a mobile home, the Federals put their forward line. Check that: Home wasn't here in 1863.
So how did Moore pull this off against overwhelming odds and the vaunted Morgan, whose 1863 raids into Ohio, southern Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia alarmed the powers-that-be in Washington? Guts, smarts and, apparently, a little attitude. Choosing superb defensive terrain the day before the battle, Moore set up a forward line behind rifle pits and another line about 100 yards behind in an open field.

"The scene was beautiful and exciting," 25th Michigan veteran John Swanger wrote decades after the war about the defensive preparations, "the men, wakeful with the thoughts of the coming struggle, were jovial and happy; the brightened barrels of the arms glittering in the moonlight rendered the view soul-inspiring."

The rifle pits were manned by only 75 soldiers. These men were ordered to eventually retreat to their right and left, thus explosing the advancing Rebels to fire from the concealed main defensive line behind abatis of felled trees. To Moore's right, the steeps banks of the Green River; to his left, another stretch of the winding river.

Another of the excellent markers on Tebbs Bend battlefield. This one describes the Confederates'
demand for 25th Michigan Colonel Orlando Moore to unconditionally surrender. 
After Morgan's artillery pounded the Federals, Confederates approached with U.S. Army lines with a flag of truce. Their demand: unconditional surrender. Moore delivered what I like to think was the 19th-century equivalent of a one-finger salute: "This being the Fourth of July," he told them in this field, "I cannot entertain the proposition of surrender."

And this fight was on... 

Behind excellent defenses, Moore's men held off eight assaults. Corporal Morgan Wallace of the 25th Michigan was among the six Federal deaths. His femoral artery was severed by a bullet, and the married father of two young children bled out and died in 30 minutes. The 27-year-old soldier's effects, including two gold pens, a great coat, a pocketbook containing a dollar, 13 sheets of papers and 14 envelopes, were sent home to his wife, Ellen. Deep respect.

Confederate cemetery on the Tebbs Bend battlefield high above the Green River.
After taking a beating from Moore's mighty, little band of warriors, Morgan realized any further attacks would be futile. "The enemy, having met with a heavy loss, after a battle of four hours' duration, retreated, leaving a number of killed and wounded on the field greater than the entire number of the patriotic little band that opposed them," 25th Michigan veteran Harvey C. Lambert wrote years later.

One of the last battlefield markers I read before I headed home. "Michigan Man' Bo Schembechler 
would have loved it. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Thumbs up for this visit: Two. Photos taken: 43. Questions remaining about Tebbs Bend: Scores. (What's the real deal with this woman, who "tented with two of soldiers" of the 25th Michigan, "with whom she frequently went in swimming in the river"? Hmmm.) Suggested further reading on battle: Betty J. Gorin's Morgan Is Coming!the fine Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association web site and its Facebook page, which includes excellent videos. I'm digging in on this one.

Stop the insanity: Leave quarantine for a few hours for a battlefield near you.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Morgan Wallace dependents' pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via
-- South Bend (Ind.) News-Times, July 1, 1913.
-- The National Tribune, Feb. 28, 1889.

Monday, June 29, 2020

'Came only to die': Five black lives lost on Peach Orchard Hill

Under devastating fire, 13th U.S. Colored Troops advanced up Peach Orchard Hill on Dec. 16, 1864 -- 
the second, and final, day of the Battle of Nashville. This is private property in a residential area,
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In an affluent residential area of Nashville, only a slivers of ground remain undeveloped on Peach Orchard Hill, where U.S. Colored Troops fought courageously in their first battle of the war.

A historical marker near Peach Orchard Hill does not mention 
the black troops who fought there.
On my brief visit to battleground there Saturday, the scene seemed so incongruous: Traffic droned on busy Franklin Road a short distance away from the private property; near a backyard pool, a hare dashed into a clump of woods, yards from a broken wheelbarrow; and steps from a large bed of flowers, an air-conditioning unit hummed beside a large house. This place, also known as Overton Hill, is hallowed ground.

How could this be?

Of the 3,840 acres of core Nashville battlefield, only about 320 acres where the fighting occurred are preserved. And the role of black troops during the two-day battle is virtually unrecognized publicly on historical markers in the city. Along Franklin Road, one describes the fighting that occurred here, but few stop to read it, and the role of the U.S.C.T. isn't mentioned.

Oh, what a story we're missing.

On the afternoon of Dec. 16, 1864, 13th U.S.C.T. soldiers advanced toward the camera
 up Peach Orchard Hill.  In the distance is busy Franklin Pike. 

On the unseasonably warm afternoon here on Dec. 16, 1864 – the second day of the Battle of Nashville – three regiments of U.S.C.T  advanced up the steep, 300-foot hill into the teeth of strong enemy defenses near the crest. Canister and well-directed musket fire poured into them. And yet these ill-equipped and ill-trained men, directed by white officers, charged on.

A post-war image of
Union officer
Ambrose Bierce, who 
 impressed by the U.S.C.T.
“I never saw more heroic conduct shown on the field of battle,” recalled an Ohio officer, “than was exhibited by this body of so recently released slaves.”

Disabled by a wound, U.S. Army officer Ambrose Bierce watched from afar the advance of the “darkies” through “an intricate abatis of felled trees denuded of their foliage and twigs.”

“They did not hesitate for a moment: their long lines swept into that fatal obstruction in perfect order and remained there as long as those of the white veterans on their right,” he recalled decades later. “And as many of them in proportion remained until borne away and buried after the action. It was as pretty an example of courage and discipline as one could wish to see."

Even a Confederate commander, General James Holtzclaw, noted the valor of the black troops. In his sector, his men defended against soldiers in the 13th U.S.C.T. In its first -- and only -- major fight of the war, the nearly 600-man regiment suffered 55 dead among 220 casualties.

“Placing a negro brigade in front,” he wrote in his official report, “they gallantly dashed up to the abatis, forty feet in front, and were killed by hundreds. Pressed on by their white brethren in the rear they continued to come up in masses to the abatis, but they only came to die.

James Holtzclaw, a C.S.A.
general, wrote in his official

report about 
U.S.C.T. gallantry.
“I have seen most of the battle-fields of the West," he added, "but never saw dead men thicker than in front of my two right regiments.”

In his after-action report, 13th U.S.C.T. Colonel John A. Hottenstein wrote that his men advanced to the "very muzzles of the enemy's guns." But unsupported by artillery, the small regiment fell back, "but not for the want of courage or discipline."

"Them that was not killed," a U.S.C.T soldier recalled decades after the war, "was almost shot to death almost to a man."

From my vantage point on this private property, I gazed toward the present-day crest of Peach Orchard Hill. (Post-war construction of a road took away a chunk of the hill.) In his report, Holtzclaw wrote of five black color-bearers falling after they vainly attempted to plant their battle flag on Confederate earthworks. Another color-bearer was shot down a few feet of Holtzclaw's line. An Alabama officer leaped over the works to grab the prized trophy.

Did these acts of valor happen near a present-day tool shed, 50 feet from a row of sunflowers? Or maybe it was somewhere else in the back yard of the large, white ranch house. Who knows?

I tried to imagine the "wild disorder" described by Holtzclaw of black soldiers as they tumbled down the hill and the broken bodies that lay on the muddy, blood-soaked ground.

Who were these men?

Culled from widow's pension records in the National Archives, here are glimpses of five black lives lost on Peach Orchard Hill.

13th U.S.C.T. Private James Byars, Company K

(National Archives via
"I was a solger in the war with James Byars," wrote Company K Private Preston Byars in a document found in James' widow's pension file (above). "I was shot in the sholder and I was taken from the field. I was told he was shot and killed. When I left his side I never saw him any more. He must have been killed for all in my command was almost killed. Them that was not killed was almost shot to death almost to a man."

After her husband's death at Nashville, Ruth Byars filed for a pension, which was approved at the standard $8 a month. Years later, the former slave re-married and her pension was discontinued, but the union did not last. Ruth's second husband deserted her in 1874.

"I am very much in need of a pension," Ruth, who worked as a cook, claimed in an 1891 affidavit for the Bureau of Pensions. "Get it as soon as you can."

James' final resting place is unknown.

13th U.S.C.T Private James Thomas, Company B

Amy Roberson said she was James Thomas' daughter, but the Bureau of Pensions rejected her claim.
(National Archives via
Seven months after he was killed in action at Peach Orchard Hill, Jacob's widow died in Nashville. Decades later, a woman named Amy Roberson filed for a dependent's pension, claiming she was the daughter of Jacob and Cynthia Thomas, both of whom were former slaves. She was born into slavery herself in May 1860.

A special investigator was assigned to the case by the Bureau of Pensions. Seeking evidence to buttress Amy's claim for a pension, the pension bureau interrogated former slaves and James' former masters. Their testimony gives stark picture of the times.

"He was a mere boy of about 17 years old when he left me," testified 73-year-old former slaveholder James Thomas Sr. He and his son, Sam, claimed Cynthia and James were never married.

A 73-year-old Methodist minister, a former slave who sold eggs, butter and chickens, disputed the slavemasters' testimony: "I performed the marriage ceremony on the [slavemaster Granville] Pillow place," Alfred Wilson testified, "uniting those two in wedlock. I remember it well. It was on a Saturday night and in the [slave] cabin of Cynthia's mother..."

Sarah Walker, James' sister, also belonged to James Thomas Sr. She left her master "when the Yankee army first came to Columbia [Tenn.]..." Walker testified she and her husband raised Amy after the deaths of Jacob and Cynthia.

Sarah also recalled saying goodbye to James with Cynthia on the morning of the battle. "I never saw my brother again," she said.

Ultimately, the Bureau of Pensions believed the testimony of former slavemasters over former slaves. Roberson's claim was rejected in 1890.

The final resting place of soldier James Thomas is unknown.

13th U.S.C.T. Private Lewis Martin, Company A

Probably unable to read or write, 39-year-old Lewis Martin signed this form with an "X" when he enlisted.
(National Archives via
Lewis, who was 5-foot-4 with black hair and eyes, enlisted in Franklin, Tenn., in August 1863.
On either Dec. 18 or 23, 1864, he died  from a lacerated wound to the left hip at Hospital No. 16 -- one of many medical facilities in Nashville during the war. Located on South College Street, the hospital served African-American soldiers and contrabands. The 39-year-old farmer was married to his wife, Minerva, for about 23 years. His final resting place is unknown.

13th U.S.C.T. Private Miles German, Company I

German's widow Ellen signed with an "X" this pension file document, which includes 
the birthdates of her five children.  (National Archives via
German enlisted in the 13th U.S.C.T. in Stevenson, Ala.., on Oct. 22, 1863, and was mustered into the regiment at Camp Rosecrans, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Miles, who died of his wounds in Nashville a little more than a month after the battle, was survived by his wife Ellen and five children: John, 8 in 1864; Jerry, 6; Augustus, 4; Alice, 3; and Martha Jane, 2.

In a terrific, detailed post on her excellent "From Slaves to Soldiers and Beyond" blog, researcher Tina Cahalan Jones wrote German was enslaved in Williamson County (Tenn.). After the war, Martin's remains were disinterred from somewhere in Nashville and re-buried in the national cemetery north of the city.

13th U.S.C.T. Private John House, Company H

(National Archives via
Months after the war was over, 13th U.S.C.T. Lieutenant Barnabas Ricketts wrote this note confirming House's death in a Nashville hospital on Dec. 16, 1864. John may have died at the Glen Leven Estate, where a makeshift Federal hospital was set up a short distance north of Peach Orchard Hill. Thirty years after her husband's death, Sophia House remained unmarried. John was buried in Nashville National Cemetery in a section with his U.S.C.T comrades.

Private John House's grave in Nashville National Cemetery.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- San Francisco Examiner, June 5, 1894. (This is source for Bierce comment about worthiness of black soldiers.)
-- Lewis, G.W., The Campaigns of the 124th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with Roster and Roll of Honor. The Werner Comapany, Akron, 1894.
-- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate ArmiesVol. 45, Part 1.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

On the trail of Patrick Cleburne in Wartrace, Tennessee

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Patrick Cleburne
Was Patrick Cleburne a drinker? If so, the Irish-born C.S.A. general may have raised a glass or two of his favorite beverage at the Chockley Tavern in rural Wartrace, Tenn. It was a gathering spot for Confederate officers during the 1863 Tullahoma Campaign. That’s my new friend Blossom (above), who told me and my brother-in-law about the old place (built 1852) during our bike ride stop this afternoon.

Cleburne, who lived in Arkansas, was killed at the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.

Bike ride by the numbers: 20 fairly easy miles, four barking dogs (one with anger issues), one beer in Wartrace.

A good day.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Re-discovered Antietam map gives new life to a soldier's story

A cropped enlargement of the S.G. Elliott's Antietam map shows dozens of Confederate graves (dashes)
and 10 U.S. Army graves (crosses) near the Dunkard Church. The "apostrophes" mark sites

 of dead horses. EXPLORE A COMPLETE, HIGH-RES VERSION on New York Public Library site.
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The Civil War community was abuzz earlier this week after the American Battlefield Trust trumpeted a newly re-discovered map of the Antietam battlefield. Drafted in 1864 by cartographer Simon Green Elliott, it includes the location on the battlefield of more than 5,800 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Elliott marked U.S. Army graves with crosses; Confederates' with dashes. He even denoted the location of dead horses -- 269 in 40 locations, according to National Park Service research.

The remarkable map -- similar to a well-known Gettysburg graves map created by Elliott -- is a stunning visual of the carnage from the battle on Sept. 17, 1862. The tattered original, found online by researchers Timothy Smith and Andrew Dalton, is in the collection of the New York Public Library, which had it digitized.

A cropped enlargement of an Alexander Gardner image shows
the grave of a 51st New York soldier by a stone wall 

near Burnside Bridge.  (READ MORE ON MY BLOG.)
Many questions remain about mapmaker Elliott, who also was a shady railroad engineer, and this amazing resource. Did he have aid, military or otherwise? Where did Elliott create it? Did he keep detailed notebooks of his work and, if so, do they survive? How accurate is the map? Mistakes have already been noted. The grave of a "J.O. Burns" of the 16th Connecticut in the 40-Acre Cornfield, for example, must be  another soldier -- perhaps Jesse Barnes of Canton, Conn. No soldier with the surname "Burns" in that regiment was killed at Antietam.

But there's no doubt Elliott's creation will fuel story-telling and much more for historians and others. It might fuel some anger, too -- the Antietam visitors' center footprint appears to cover 1862 soldier gravesites. In 1866-67, the remains of hundreds of soldiers were exhumed from battlefield graves and elsewhere in the area for re-burial in Antietam National Cemetery. Could more rest on the hallowed ground?

Besides "Burns," the names of 49 other soldiers and their marked gravesites appear on Elliott's map. I focused on one -- "J. Adams 155 Pa," who, according to the map, was buried near 17 other U.S. Army soldiers a short distance from Main Street in Sharpsburg.

Unlike the other named soldiers, Joseph Adams, a 39-year-old coal miner from Elizabeth Township, Pa., wasn't a battle casualty at all.

According to S.G. Elliott's 1864 map, Joseph Adams was buried in a field outside Sharpsburg,
near a mass grave for 17 Union soldiers and a strip of woods. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
By the time the 155th Pennsylvania arrived in Sharpsburg, the Battle of Antietam was over. But Private Adams and other soldiers in the newly formed regiment got an ugly eyeful in the western Maryland village.

"On porches and in back yards were to be seen terrible effects of battle, many dead bodies of Confederate soldiers, terribly mangled, lying where they fell," according to the Zouave unit's regimental history. "The scenes being the first introduction that the new troops had to real war made a deep impression upon all."

Surprisingly, Company G -- whose officers were the "most inexperienced, and least competent at that time" -- was sent on a reconnaisance across the Potomac River in Shepherdstown to aid the 118th Pennsylvania. (The Corn Exchange was routed on the bluffs near the town on Sept. 20, 1862.) Meanwhile, the rest of the 155th Pennsylvania set up camp near the river.

A cropped enlargement of Alexander Gardner's photograph
 of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. It was used as 
a V Corps hospital by the U.S. Army.  Private Joseph Adams died here.
(Library of Congress | READ MORE ON MY BLOG.)
During the day at Camp McAuley, soldiers enjoyed the picturesque scenery; at night, they listened to music until the wee hours. One afternoon, officers were among the many in the regiment who gathered in a grove to watch two privates settle a dispute "according to the Marquis-of-Queensberry rules of the London prize ring." (The mock bout ended in a draw.)

But the seemingly carefree atmosphere was soon fraught with peril. Typhoid fever swept through General Andrew Humphreys' III Division in the V Corps. Two newly appointed assistant surgeons reported to the 155th Pennsylvania at Camp McAuley, but they were handicapped by a lack of medical supplies, hospital tents and other accommodations.

"This camp was .... the scene of much suffering and misery because of the inadequate provision for the care of the sick," the regimental history noted, "and the increase of the mortality among the soldiers war very great." Enlisted men and officers were incensed, and "discipline was severely impaired."

In mid-October, 19-year-old Abraham Overholt of Company E died of disease in the V Corps, III division hospital at the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. He was given a military funeral and buried in the church cemetery among the freshly dug graves of other soldiers.

At about the same time, Adams was suffering from either typhoid fever or dysentery -- symptoms of both can include severe, often bloody, diarrhea. He also was sent to the Lutheran church hospital,  where the father of five children died on Oct. 26, 1862.

In documents from his widow's pension filed, let's tell the rest of the story.

(National Archives via | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
In this declaration for a widow's pension from 1865, we find important details of Adams' family life. On May 19, 1846, he married his wife, Mary Jane, in a Presbyterian church in Saltsburg, Pa. The couple had five children: Ann, 15; William, 10; Mary, 8; Sarah, 6; and Laura, 3.

From left: 155th Pennsylvania Private William Rankin, Lieutenant James Strong and Private Philip Douglass.
Rankin and Douglass were at Joseph Adams' funeral. Strong was one of Adams' commanding officers.
(PHOTOS: Under The Maltese Cross: From Antietam to Appomattox)
(National Archives via | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
In this signed deposition from August 1866, William Rankin and Phillip H. Douglass -- veterans of the 155th Pennsylvania's Company I -- noted they "visited [Adams] and helped to take care of him while he was in the regimental hospital in Sharpsburg." They attended the funeral for Adams, "a man of good moral character." Adams' cause of death was misspelled "disentary."

(National Archives via
In this document, 155th Pennsylvania 1st Lieutenant James Strong, one of Adams' commanding officers, noted the cause of Adams' death (typhoid fever) and that he "attended to" the private's burial.

Did Adams also receive a military funeral, as Private Abraham Overholt had earlier in October 1862? And why was Joseph buried in a strip of woods, near the mass grave of 17 other Federal soldiers, instead of in the cemetery by the Lutheran church where he died? Was the church cemetery graveyard already filled by late October? Or was there another reason for this burial location?

Joseph Adams' gravestone
at Antietam National Cemtery.
(Find A Grave)
Thanks to Simon G. Elliott and his newly re-discovered Antietam map, we have another source to use to explore the stories of soldiers from the bloodiest day in American history. And who knows -- perhaps a Civil War photography collector or Adams descendant will read this post and share with the rest of us a war-time image of the 155th Pennsylvania soldier.

Postscript: James Strong, "a gallant and faithful officer," was killed at Quaker Road, Va., on March 29, 1865. He left a wife and six children "in a little cottage by the coal works on the Youghiogheny" to mourn, according to the regimental history.

In 1868, William, Sarah and Mary Adams were living at a soldiers orphans home, perhaps a sign Mary Jane was struggling financially. Mrs. Adams initially received a widow's pension at the standard rate of $8 a month.

By 1867, Joseph Adams' remains had been recovered from his burial site in a field near a strip of woods and re-buried in the newly established national cemetery in Sharpsburg. Adams, who served only 73 days in the U.S. Army, rests under Grave No. 3,601.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
-- Explore a complete, high-res version of the Elliott map.


-- Joseph Adams' widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service (via, Washington, D.C.
-- Under the Maltese Cross, Antietam to Appomattox, By Pennsylvania Infantry 155th Regiment, The 155th Regimental Association, Pittsburg, Pa., 1910.
-- 1860 U.S. census

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Great escape of the U.S. Army at Spring Hill, Tennessee

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On the night of Nov. 29 and early morning of Nov. 30, five Union divisions slipped past the Army of Tennessee camped astride the Columbia Turnpike at Spring Hill, Tenn.

"The rebels were in line of battle south of town, a quarter of a mile from the Pike along which we marched, and their long lines of campfires burnt brightly," 59th Illinois Lieutenant Chesley Mosman recalled. "Staff officers were stationed along the Pike to caution the men not to talk or let their canteens rattle so as to make a noise; that those were the fires of the enemy. So we passed time sub silentio if not 'with averted eye.' "

The next day, behind defenses at Franklin, the U.S. Army held off a five-hour asssault by the Confederates, who suffered horrendous casualties.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Where Albert Sidney Johnston fell at Battle of Shiloh

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Albert Sidney Johnston
In 1902, Confederate Army commander Albert Sidney Johnston’s wounding site at Shiloh was marked with a large monument that includes pyramids of 8-inch shells and an upright 30-pounder Parrott tube. A bronze plaque on the old cannon notes the time of Johnston’s mortal wounding: “2:30 p.m., April 6, 1862.”

Fifty yards away, in the ravine, a large, red-bordered historical tablet marks the spot and time -- 2:45 p.m – of Johnston’s death. A large crack snakes through the cast iron, slicing between the last two letters in the general’s first name. In raised, red letters, visitors may read details of Johnston’s death.

This video was shot months before a fallen tree (below) narrowly missed severely damaging the old marker.

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Meet the eagle-eyed birdwatchers at Shiloh battlefield

Shiloh National Military Park's resident bald eagles live in a nest in the pine in the far distance.
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They sit in their lawn chairs along Brown's Landing Road at Shiloh National Military Park, their eyes (and cameras) trained on the sky, searching, searching ... searching. Yards away, in Cloud Field, four cannon marking a Federal battery position loom ominously.

Will their quarry come from the east, from near the banks of the Tennessee River? Or will they come from the south, following the approximate course of the Hamburg-Savannah Road? Then something appears in the distance. Could it be?

"Look up there," says Faye Armour, pointing to the flapping figure in a baby-blue sky dotted with billowy clouds. "Oh, it's just a heron."

Shiloh eagle-watchers Faye and Ronald Armour.
Meet the six-person Shiloh bald eagle photographers/social club, a group of friends whose birdwatching adventures on hallowed ground sometimes last until dark. The object of their attention during their frequent Shiloh visits are the resident eagles that nest in a massive pine roughly 100 yards away. The two adults were named "Hiram" and "Julia" by the park staff. That's homage to General Ulysses Grant --- whose real name was Hiram, and his wife, whom some small part of me wishes was named Lady Bird. 

The eagles have made their home at Shiloh, where Grant whipped the Rebs in April 1862, since the fall of 2007, according to the National Park Service web site.

Faye, 69, is a retired floral designer; husband Ronald, also 69, is a retired electrician. The couple, married for 52 years, live in Selmer, Tennessee -- about 15 miles away as the eagle flies. The county is best known as home of the famous crime-fighting sheriff, Buford Puser. (Ronald even recalls seeing Puser -- whose story was told in the 1973 movie Walking Tall -- on the night he died in a car accident in 1974.)

Faye, whose ancestor George Washington Foster fought as a private for the 66th Illinois at Shiloh, and Ronald first came to the battlefield to see the eagles in 2012. "They flew over the trees," Ronald says, "and we just fell in love with it." The next year, the couple came armed with cameras for eagle photography.

As she awaits an eagle sighting, Faye cradles a $2,000 Canon 7D Mark 2 camera with a $1,500 lens. Some who come here for eagle shooting bring cameras that cost much more. Clearly, this can be serious business.

"I even gave up fishing to come here," Ronald says, half-kiddingly.

A bald eagle captured in flight Saturday.
On this gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the Armours are joined by four friends. When they aren't shooting picture of eagles, the group enjoys shooting the breeze at the battlefield. There's lots of laughter from this bunch, which has become so close that they even have vacationed together.

In pre-Covid 19 times, their spot at Shiloh might be occupied by dozens of eagle photographers. But the disease has thinned the flock, so to speak, and the Armours and their friends are the only shooters. In their years photographing eagles, the group has met battlefield visitors from Australia, Scotland, England, Germany, Israel and elsewhere around the globe.

As for the eagles, well, they can be a little flighty. By roughly 5 p.m., only two adults and an eaglet have been spotted by the group, which started gazing at the Shiloh sky about noon. "Eagles," one the Armours' friends chimes in with a chuckle, "have minds like Confederate generals -- minds of their own." When the eaglets are small, the adults tend to be more active, bringing in plenty of food to feed their young.

With my bird brain stuffed with knowledge, I slowly walk to my car for the trip back to Nashville. Before departing, I glance over my shoulder. Sure enough, the collective gaze of the eagle-eyed group is aimed skyward.

"When the eagle comes in," Faye assures me with a smile, "you will be totally ignored."

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Grievously wounded at Fredericksburg, vet has face 'restored'

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On Dec. 13, 1862, Private Oliver Dart of the 14th Connecticut was grievously wounded in the face by a piece of artillery shell at the Battle of Fredericksburg. When another soldier in his regiment saw Dart's wounds, he was aghast. "Poor Oliver Dart," he said. "As he rolled over he looked as though his whole face was shot away."
A circa-1866 image of Oliver Dart with a
bushy beard and mustache. (Image courtesy of
Dart descendant Frank Niederwerfer)

Months later, Dart somehow had the fortitude to have his image shot in a studio in Hartford -- perhaps evidence for his pension claim. Dart, whom I wrote about in the February 2018 issue of Civil War Times, endured surgeries on his face, and he eventually grew a beard in an effort to cover up his grievous wounds.

"In time he recovered," a post-war account noted, "though the wound was always visible and in later years his mind was somewhat affected, undoubtedly due to the shock and the suffering that ensued from the injury." In the summer of 1879, Dart died of consumption at age 40.

Several years ago, Dart's Connecticut descendant, Frank Niederwerfer, was thrilled to receive a copy of an 1863 image of Oliver discovered by his friend Allen Crane in the National Archives. And recently, sketch artist Doug Fortin drew an image of what Oliver might have looked like without the wound.

"... my pard Dan Hayden came to my house with a huge surprise," Niederwerfer wrote on Facebook. "He had a friend reconstruct my great-great uncle Oliver's face using two other pictures of Oliver (1863 wound picture and post-war picture) and his older brother's picture. This picture helps complete Oliver's legacy. ... I have had a crazy connection to Oliver for 40+ years and to have this collection of pictures is very special."

Frank Niederwerfer, descendant of Oliver Dart, holds an image of the 14th Connecticiut private at the
 site of the old Rowe house in Fredericksburg, Va. Dart was cared for at the divisional hospital there.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Dart family history.
-- Oliver Dart pension file, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
-- Page, Charles Davis, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Meriden, Conn.: The Horton Printing Co., 1906.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

'My hart akes for you': Nashville National Cemetery snapshots

More than 16,000 Union soldiers were buried at Nashville National Cemetery.
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Union General George Thomas, commander of the Department of the Cumberland in Kentucky and Tennessee, was blunt when he talked about a location for a proposed national cemetery near Nashville. Put it near the Louisville & Nashville Railroad tracks, the Virginia native said, so anyone from the North traveling to the city can see the enormity of the sacrifice to perserve the Union.

In fall 1866, the Nashville Union American reported, "a gang of negroes" began clearing the site Thomas suggested, and by late that year, the grounds were ready for the burial of Federal dead. "Some time will be required to complete this worthy undertaking," the local newspaper noted, "as there are about twenty thousand soldiers buried near this point, and some fifty or sixty per day will probably be average removals."

Railroad tracks bisect Nashville National Cemetery.
George Thomas would be pleased.
In a remarkable effort, the U.S. Quartermaster Department recovered Union remains from battlefields, hospital cemeteries, church graveyards and elsewhere in the region for re-interrment. By early spring 1867, 12,000 Federal dead were buried in the national cemetery -- at "an expense of $1.10 on each body." More than 16,000 Federal soldiers rest today under pearl-white tombstones on the  beautiful, rolling grounds.

If you can ignore the hum of traffic on busy Gallatin Pike, the 64-acre cemetery remains an oasis in what was countryside six miles or so north of downtown Nashville in the 19th century. From the bottom of a hill on the 64-acre grounds, the waves of gravestones seem overwhelming. Almost on cue during my visit, graffiti-scarred CSX cars rumbled by on train tracks that still bisect the cemetery. The Rock of Chickamauga" would be pleased.

Perhaps "Pap" Thomas would be pleased, too, that I paid respects Saturday to three Wisconsin soldiers. Here are snapshots of their lives:

Edward Soper's gravestone in Nashville National Cemetery is in Section J, site 14605.
The death of Edward Soper, a 5-foot-11 private in the 44th Wisconsin with blue eyes and dark hair, was especially heart-rending. In early April 1865, the 25-year-old carpenter from Manitowoc was on night guard duty in Nashville. According to his captain, he "fell over a bank," discharging his weapon into his knee. He died from the wound at Post Hospital (125-bed Cherry Street Baptist Church) in Nashville on April 9 -- the very day Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant, effectively ending the war.

"I called to see him the evening before we left [for Paducah, Ky.]," Captain John W. Moore wrote Soper's widow, Josepheen, "and I found him very bad but had no idea of it resulting so seriously and do asure you that the notice of his deth was very astonishing to me and do asure you that I simpathize with you. My hart akes for you." (See full transcript below.)

Besides Josepheen, Edward left behind two children: Charles, 4, and Flora, almost 5 months.

(National Archives via

Hed quarters, Co. "E." 44th Regt. Wis,. Infantry
Paducah, April 18, 1865

Mrs. Josepheen Soper

Dear Madam:

It is my painful duty to inform you that I have just received the sad intelligence of the deth of your husband Edward Soper. He died on the 9th Inst. Post Hospital Nashville, Tenn. We left him there when we left. He was on gard a few days before and in the night fell over a bank and shot his nee. I called to see him the evening before we left and I found him very bad but had no idea of it resulting so seriously and do asure you that the notice of his deth was very astonishing to me and do asure you that I simpathize with you . My hart ...

(National Archives via
... akes for you. The will of Providence seams hard yet we as Christians should bare it with fortitude and submition. Every infirmation that you may nead herafter I will be very hapy to communicate to you. I now close by Praying that the God of the widow and the orphans may sustain you in your affliction.

I have the honor of subscribing my self yours very respectfully.

J.W. Moore
Capt. Co "E", 44th Regt. Wis. Infantry
Paducah Ky.

Wilhelm Spickermann's gravestone is in Section D, site 3342. I placed a penny, Lincoln side up, atop 
German immigrant Wilhelm Spickerman served in the 15th Wisconsin, a hard-fighting regiment filled with so many Scandanavians that it became known as the "Norwegian Regiment" or "Swedish Regiment." The 35-year-old private from Manitowoc enlisted in November 1861 and toiled for a time as a wagoner, but he apparently was ill so often that he spent more time in the hospital than fighting Johnny Rebs. In December 1862, he became sick and was left behind with the commissary supply train. Months later, he spent time in the camp hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Sadly, Wilhelm wasn't given a furlough when two of his three children died in Wisconsin while he was in the army. (The Spickermanns' lone surviving child, a girl named Minnie, was 2 in 1863.)

Death certificate for Wilhelm Spickermann, who died from 
chronic diarrhea in Hospital No. 15 in Nashville on Nov. 21, 1863. 
(National Archives via | CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
Ill again in early November 1863, Spickermann died of chronic diarrhea at Hospital No. 15 in Nashville on Nov. 21, 1863. The 400-bed facility near the notorious Smokey Row, site of the city's infamous brothels, was known as the “Soldier’s Syphilitic Hospital.”

Spickermann's wife, Sophia, filed for a widow's pension, which was approved in 1864. Years later, things got really strange.

In 1878, Widow Spickermann was dropped from the pension rolls because her $8-a-month allotment had gone unclaimed for three years. In October 1892, the 60-year-old applied to restore it. An agent from the U.S. Pension Bureau sought her out for an interview to confirm her "widowhood." The intrepid special investigator was, ah, dubious about her request.

"From the evidence," he wrote, "it appears that claimant resided in Wisconsin till about 1867 when she went to New York City, and took up with a man named William Hoffman, 'kept house,' for him till 1872, when they left together to Stillwater, Minn., taking with them his boy and her girl, that she continued to keep house for Hoffman, and was known only as Mrs. Hoffman, from the time they landed in Stillwater until about 1883, when they left Stillwater and located at West St. Paul, Minn,, where she has kept house for him in an old tumble-down two-story frame tenement house."

Spickerman and Hoffman lived together in a poor section of St. Paul known as the Wagner Block, along the Mississippi River.

"These shanties are occupied by foreigners who are poverty-stricken and of questionable repute morally," the investigator wrote in his report, "and the neighborhood is anything but safe or inviting after dark. It was difficult for me to obtain testimony from these people as they were suspicious."

As for Hoffman, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1868, the agent was especially scathing. He arrived in America with a girl named Mary, "whom he had gotten in a family way," and she deserted him after the child was born. The couple were never married. "He is a libertine," the agent wrote of Hoffman, "and, while he was supporting claimant was running after women of ill-repute."

Hoffman's record for "truth and sobriety" were "bad," added the agent, whose moral outrage oozed from the pages of the widow's pension claim.

Close-up of the gravestone for Wilhem Spickermann.
"When the character of this man, his past life, and his desire for women, are taken in connection with the fact that claimant has slept in the same room with him almost from the time he got rid of his paramour (in 1868) ... and has been supported by him, and allowed herself to be known only as his wife and under his name, without attempting to deny it, it is quite evident that she either is the wife of William Hoffman, or is not rendering that respect to the memory of the deceased husband, Wilhelm Spickermann ..."

Widow Spickermann's claim, the agent concluded, was of "very doubtful merit."

Sophia told a quite different story: When she moved to Stillwater, she made money sewing until her eyes got bad. Then she became the housekeeper for Hoffman, a laborer three or four years her junior whom she first met in New York. When the woman who Spickermann thought was Hoffman's invalid wife died, Sophia moved in with him in St. Paul. "It was while I was keeping house for Hoffman," she wrote "that I dropped my pension. I thought I had a living in my hands and did not want to bother about my pension."  Besides, Hoffman's eldest son, Johnny, believed she was his mother. If she continued to draw the pension, Sophia said, Johnny could find out she was previously married and his feelings might be hurt.

Yikes, this one's a head-spinner.

As for all the talk that she was William Hoffman's wife, well, Spickermann insisted that was just rubbish. They never even slept in the same bed, Sophia claimed in a deposition, adding, "I have never had any sexual intercourse with William Hoffman at any time." Sophia said a miffed Hoffman sometimes even showed her the door, telling her, "I keep you long enough, go, and see how you get along." She said she also took care of Hoffman's teen-aged son, Henry, an aspiring baker, "as if he was my own son." He even called her "Ma."

William Hoffman, too, denied he was married to Spickerman, whom he insisted was merely his housekeeper. "If I marry," he said, "[his son's mother] may put me in state's prison." He said he only supplied Sophia with a place to live and clothes for Minnie. The investigator was highly skeptical. "Unreliable," he wrote next to Hoffman's name in his report.

Hoffman's Wagner Block neighbors offered conflicting stories. Some said he and Sophia lived as man and wife; others weren't so sure. "I don't know her name," one of them said, "but it ain't Hoffman."

Ultimately, the U.S. Pension Bureau rejected her pension request. Years later, the bureaucrats re-examined her claim when she was no longer living with Hoffman. But "a careful review of all the evidence on file," the agency wrote in 1898, "fails to show that injustice was done her."

Oh, Lord, what would Wilhelm think?

George West, who died of disease, rests in Plot E, gravesite 778.
When grievously ill George West got to Hospital No. 19 in Nashville, the 37-year-old soldier was "insensible ... and without a knowledge or consciousness of the fact that he was discharged" from the army, the captain of his company recalled.

A note signed by government undertaker William Cornelius 
regarding the disposition of George West's remains.
(National Archives via
On Feb. 18, 1863,  West -- a 5-foot-6 private with dark hair and black eyes -- died there of erysipelas, an especially ghastly infection that attacked a wound, killing and blackening tissue. The mortality rate was 46 percent. Compounding the 21st Wisconsin private's misery, he also suffered from partial paralysis of lower extremities and chronic diarrhea.

William Cornelius, a local undertaker contracted by the Union Army to bury Federal and Confederate dead, buried West in Grave No. 3567 in the Soldiers' Cemetery in Nashville, near Fort Negley. (My gawd, there could be thousands of more bodies still there.)  After the war, the private's remains were re-buried in Nashville National Cemetery.

West was survived by his wife, Jane, and their two children -- a 1-year-son named Julius Elton and a daughter named Georgia Edith. She was born the day her father died.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Nashville Union and American, Sept. 9, 1866, Dec. 14, 1866.
-- The (Nashville) Tennessean, April 14, 1867.
-- Widows' pension files for Edward Soper, Wilhelm Spickermann and George West, National Archives and Records Service via