Saturday, September 12, 2020

Heroes & hoop skirts: A visit to an obscure Tennessee battlefield

Marker for Confederate dead on the Britton's Lane battlefield, about 12 miles southwest of Jackson, Tenn. 
The battle date is incorrectly noted as Sept. 2, not Sept. 1, 1862.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Monument to Federal forces at Britton's Lane battlefield in rural Tennessee.
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With apologies to Confederate private-turned-famed author Sam Watkins, the Battle of Britton's Lane (Tenn.) was "a sideshow of a sideshow to the big show." But small doesn't mean uninteresting. Among the battle's backstories and main storylines:
A Confederate memorial, dedicated in 1897, 
on the Britton's Lane battlefield.
  • Federals camped in the area where a boyish-looking bandit known as the "Great Western Land Pirate" once roamed.
  • A Confederate commander who fought for the Union in 1861.
  • A Rebel officer whose close relative  became one of America's top 20th-century spies.
  • Federal prisoners held at a church where Confederate soldiers on leave later hid in an unusual place to avoid their own capture. 
  • And a stunning U.S. Army performance despite overwhelming odds.
Obscurity be damned, how could a visit be resisted? And so I drove 150 miles west from Nashville, departing Interstate 40 at Exit 76 and traveling through a southwestern Tennessee blur of cornfields, road kill and Trump-Pence yard signs. Arrival: 2 1/2 hours after departure. Initial battlefield impression: Where the heck am I?

Roughly 12 miles southwest of Jackson, Tenn., the Britton's Lane battlefield is, ah, isolated. To my right, I found a rolling field of scrub; to my left, a ridge and a strip of woods; above me, a circling vulture or two. No other human was in sight. On my phone, I found a non-functioning Google Maps app. Damn.

The publicly accessible section of the battlefield includes a Confederate mass grave, the obligatory Civil War Trails marker (they're everywhere!), a half-dozen other battlefield markers, a monument dedicated in 1897, a "cage" with a scraggly teamster and two faux horses, and a reconstructed war-time cabin that served as a battlefield hospital. (The bloodstained floors of the cabin, which originally stood about 3/4 of a mile away, are no more.)

A reconstructed version of the original Britton's Lane battlefield cabin.
A "cage" with a display of a teamster (below) and two faux horses.

Here's what else you need to know: In late August and early September 1862, about 3,000 Confederate cavalry troopers with bad intentions were roaming the Tennessee countryside near Jackson. In addition to protecting Jackson, an important Federal depot, the Yankees guarded the Mississippi and Tennessee Central Railroad and moved supplies throughout the area.

Confederate commander
 Frank Armstrong
(Library of Congress)
The Rebels' force was commanded by General Frank Crawford Armstrong, a 26-year-old son of a U.S. Army officer. (Francis Wells Armstrong died when Frank was only months old.) Born in Indian Territory, Armstrong was a graduate of the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts and served with Albert Sidney Johnston in the Utah Expedition against Mormon settlers in 1857-58. At the First Battle of Bull Run, he commanded Union cavalry, but Armstrong resigned his commission less than a month later and declared his allegiance to the Confederacy. In addition to overall command of raids in the area, he led a 2,000-soldier cavalry brigade.

Armstrong was joined by 1,000 horsemen commanded by Colonel William Hicks Jackson, a 26-year-old West Point graduate, who, after the war and death of his first wife, married the daughter of a man who owned a 5,300-acre Nashville plantation. His grandson, William Harding, became deputy director of the CIA in 1950.

Confederates were not especially enamored with the fighting capabilities of Armstrong. He was no Nathan Bedford Forrest afterall. They were also famished. "Without rations for man or beast," one of them recalled.

A map of the Britton's Lane battlefield published in the Union-controlled Jackson (Tenn.) newspaper on 
Sept. 6, 1862. The map was flopped in publication process. View corrected map. WARNING: For nerds only. 
(Library of Congress)
Battlefield marker for 7th Tennessee (CSA) Cavalry fallen at Battle of Britton's Lane.

Wary of an attack on Jackson, a Yankee force was looking for them. Composed of a light artillery company and infantry from Illinois (including Shiloh veterans) and an Ohio cavalry unit, the 600-man force was led by 49-year-old Colonel Elias Smith Dennis, a long-haired, former politician from Illinois.

Colonel William Jackson
commanded CSA soldiers.
For at least one Union soldier, the countryside near Jackson was a "lonesome, Godforsaken region," full of "hair-raising hoots, screams and yells of the owl and the blood-curdling songs of the myriads of musketoes." Daytime was "ominous," nighttime "hideous," recalled Benjamin F. Boring of the 30th Illinois.

Near Denmark, Tenn., where the Yankees made a temporary home, notorious horse thief, slave stealer, counterfeiter and highway robber John A. Murrell supposedly murdered a fellow traveler. ("The Great Western Land Pirate" died in 1844, months after leaving the Tennessee State penetentiary.) "Recollections of this camp," Boring recalled decades later, "haunt my memories still."

On the morning of Sept. 1, the enemies unexpectedly met four miles from Denmark. The Federals took a superior defensive position behind a rail fence on a slight rise by a dusty lane on the Britton family farm. The ensuing battle called for as "great a degree of nerve and pluck," Boring wrote, " was required to face the leaden hail at Shiloh or to stem the artillery at Gettysburg."

Union commander
 Elias Smith Dennis
"Pretty warm work," another Union veteran recalled. Not all 30th Illinois soldiers were battle-ready. Some were spotted sampling the goods at an old still in the rear.

Attacking in waves as infantry and cavalry, the Rebels were more a "yelling, hooting" throng than an organized fighting force. "... they seemed," Boring remembered, "to be firing at the sky."

"A mob of cotton pickers," another Union veteran remembered.

"Many of our foe were bareback riders, their arms mostly double-barrel shot-guns" Boring wrote. "The manner of their riding, the way they flopped their arms and legs and their wild shooting would have struck one humorously but for the circumstances. Their shyness of attack as well proved to us they were not regularly organized, uniformed, and disciplined troops but a body of toughs hastily raised among the old men and boys of the surrounding country ..."

Union POWs from the Britton's Lane battle on Sept. 1, 1862, were briefly imprisoned on the second floor 
of the Denmark Presbyterian Church. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
A Civil War Trails marker explains the significance of the historic church, built with slave labor in 1854.
Days after the war began, 104 local men formed a company called "The Danes," who later became 
part of the 6th Tennessee Cavalry (CSA). 
In the four-hour fight, Confederates captured more than 200 Yankees, a large wagon train and two cannons. But they were driven off with heavy losses -- more than 100 killed and dozens wounded. The U.S. Army suffered less than 10 dead.

"How so many men got out of that field alive is one of those unaccountable things that sometimes occur in war," a Confederate veteran wrote.

Armstrong's men, meanwhile, put nearly 90 POWs in the Masonic Lodge on the second floor of the Denmark Presbyterian Church, where local Rebel soldiers reputedly hid under the hoop skirts of their girlfriends to avoid their capture by Federal soldiers in 1863. Union captives from the Britton's Lane battle were paroled, but not before some of them apparently scrawled their names near floorboards of the church -- marks that remain today.

A view through a window of the first floor 
of the Denmark Presbyterian Church.
Eager for good news 19 months into a war the Union was losing, Northern newspapers played this battle up as a huge win.

"One of the fiercest and most brilliant little battles yet recorded in this fearful struggle for constitutional liberty," the Chicago Times called it, adding the Illinois boys fought like "pent-up tigers."

"Desperate engagement and brilliant Union victory," proclaimed a headline in the New York Herald.

To puff up the accomplishment, newspapers exaggerated the size of the Confederate force (8,000 men!) and played up Union exploits. The Times described an incident in which a Confederate captain put a pistol to the head of a 20th Illinois captain and ordered him to surrender. "But our hero was too soon for him," the newspaper reported, "for the words had no sooner passed from his lips than the gallant Captain of the Twentieth shot him dead from his horse."

When Confederate cavalry demanded the surrender of a 20th Illinois teamster, a Union-controlled Jackson (Tenn.) newspaper wrote, the man replied, "Surrender, hell that's ‘played out,’ ” then somehow whipped his mule to escape the enemy. It also reported the discovery on the battlefield of a carpet bag containing a suit of officer's clothes and the commission of hard-driving Confederate cavalry commander Robert "Black Bob" McCulloch.

"Our men were left masters of the field," the Jackson newspaper wrote, "and one hundred and eleven dead rebels told how fearfully they had been dealt with."

Unsurprisingly, the battle aftermath was dreadful. Throughout the area, Confederate wounded filled houses. On the battlefield, "men lay on their faces, sprawling on the hard, dusty road, underneath dead or crippled horses, among logs, etc.," Boring recalled. "One old fellow, badly wounded, was lying in a yellow-jackets' nest, and calling piteously to be helped out. He was dragged out, set up against a tree, and given a canteen of water; but he soon fell forward on his face."

A war-time image of Benjamin F. Boring
 of the 30th Illinois.
Early the next morning, area women grimly flocked to the battlefield to attend to their dead.

"... it was a novel as well as a sad scene," Boring recalled, "as we marched away for Canton Station, to see those women and girls pulling the dead bodies of their friends out from among dead horses, logs, brush-heaps, etc, gathering them up out of the road, washing their dirty, bloody faces, laying them out on the grass along the road, crying and taking on over them, amid the jeers and remarks of the tougher class of soldiers as they passed by."

But a local 14-year-old had perhaps the most grim assessment of all, In a diary entry, she wrote:
"Very hot day. Papa got to Mr. Britton's house. Lot of soldiers been hurt... Papa went up road to see where fite was. Boys come here to get water for horses. Sade they won and yank run... awfull smell & boys hurting Papa says to Mama many died at end of lane at woods. Papa says many horses dead on top of Boys. ... many died last nite many was put in soil where they was to hot on bodies and many flies... awfull smel much sadness. Fences down, awfull flies ...
"... new earth," she added, was "everywhere."

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-- Big Black Creek Historical Association (This is source for diary entry of 14-year-old.)
-- Chicago Times, Sept. 5, 1862, report (via New York Times, Sept. 14, 1862.)
-- Hubbard, John Milton, Notes of a Private, E.H. Clarke & Brother, Memphis, Tenn., 1909.
-- Union-controlled Jackson (Tenn.) newspaper, Sept. 6, 1862.
-- Tennessee Historical Quarterly, "The Armstrong Raid Including the Battles of Bolivar, Medon Station and Britton Lane, Harbert L. Rice Alexander, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1962, Pages 31-46.
-- The National Tribune, Sept. 13 and 20, 1883, Feb. 15 and Sept. 20, 1894.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

In search of 'Old Brains': A Shiloh-to-Corinth (Miss.) round trip

Your dazed blogger at Shiloh following an awful bug attack.
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At the spring of 1862 Siege of Corinth (Miss.), his only field command of the war, Henry Halleck wasn't known for bold initiatives or lightning strikes. Plodding and overcautious, the 47-year-old Union commander took more than a month to conquer the strategic northern Mississippi town that eventually was abandoned by a vastly outnumbered enemy.

Mr. Bold, Henry Halleck, also known
as "Old Brains. (Library of Congress)
"Old Brains" had more than 100,000 troops! No wonder Abe Lincoln finally put this guy behind a desk for good.

"We have let them slip through our fingers," a Union soldier wrote about the Confederates' escape.

Bleh. Let's not be like "Old Brains."

On our Civil War journeys, let's emulate J.E.B. Stuart: Be bold, deliver a few great results, occasionally ride aimlessly through the countryside, and when appropriate, party like it's September 1862. (But when riding a bicycle, do not stick a plume feather in your helmet.)

Summoning my inner Stuart, I drove from Shiloh, Tenn., to Corinth, Miss., and back on Monday, following the serpentine road “Old Brains” himself may have taken. (And then I returned to Nashville. It's not called "Labor Day" for nothing.) It was stunning I made the roughly 40-mile Shiloh-to-Corinth round trip at all because a massive insect violently struck my helmet earlier, nearly knocking me from my road bike at Shiloh.

But I was uber-determined to visit the “Crossroads of the Confederacy," where Halleck set up shop after Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard abandoned it for good on May 30, 1862. Join me for the ride.

En route to Corinth, near the Shiloh battlefield, I found this. Damn, I'm a sucker for every historical marker -- especially ones nearly obscured by weeds ...

... And unsurprisingly, I also discovered a Civil War Trails marker near the site of Albert Sidney Johnston's last bivouac. (They. Are. Everywhere.) The next day, April 6, 1862, ASJ was mortally wounded at Shiloh. Shot behind the right knee, the 59-year-old commander bled to death in a ravine -- even though he had a tourniquet in his pocket. (Quick plug: Read my Civil War Times column about Shiloh battlefield markers -- including the one at Johnston's death site.) ...

Keeping an eye out for angry dogs, I slowly walked down the lane to the bivouac site. Hey, did Johnston's staff forget something? ...


Albert Sidney Johnston
Here's the story, according to info in the wayside exhibit: "This site was not marked by the Shiloh Battlefield Commission when Shiloh National Military Park was being developed. Only a small sign was placed on Highway 22 pointing to its location. Fortunately, there were local citizens who knew the location of this site.

"In 1862, James Wood (1831-1923) lived on the site of his Cotton Gin which was just north of the present restaurant at the intersection of Highway 22 and 142. Having learned that a battle was coming, he gathered his family and a few possessions, and late in the afternoon of April 5, 1862, headed southwest along the Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road. This old road is still partially visible in the woods just north of this site.

"At this location, now marked, he found General Albert Sidney Johnston camped under a large Post Oak tree."

Over the years, Woods' relatives frequently pointed out the site to visitors. ...

... and sprinkled along Route 22, near the national military park, you'll find these fabulous, old cast-iron Shiloh historical tablets. The veterans themselves determined where most of these were placed. This one happens to be smack-dab in someone's front yard. ...

... and this one, which desperately needs TLC, denotes the position of a brigade of Johnston's Army of the Mississippi. Off to our main destination ...

"Corinth, Mississippi, to be Waterloo of the war," the New York Herald predicted in early April 1862," before the result of the Battle of Shiloh.

Well, Beauregard's boys held out much longer than expected -- thanks to Halleck's case of the slows  and some ingenious subterfuge that included Quaker guns in earthworks.

A few miles north of downtown Corinth, the National Park Service maintains a small site where you can view Confederate earthworks in the woods. Trust me. They are out there. Somewhere. ...

... and deep in those same woods, I also found this. Hmmm... not encouraging.

Finally, the Crossroads of the Confederacy! 

On my last visit to Corinth, I ignored this famous junction, visiting instead an indoor Civil War axe throwing venue on North Fillmore. ("Whether you want to channel your inner lumber jack or just try out a fun and competitive hobby," according to this tout, "axe throwing is a fun and unique sport that’s taking North America by storm.") Hmmm ... that wouldn't cut it for me this time.

Corinth was at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston, hence the U.S. Army’s huge interest in occupation. Strange as it may seem, this humble town helped keep the Confederate Army fueled for fighting in the Western theater and beyond. "More important than Richmond," some big-wigs in the Federal command called Corinth.

There's a museum at the depot, but it was closed because of the holiday. Bummer.

... but there's still plenty to see near the railroad junction. Here's the site on Fillmore Street of long-gone Rose Cottage, where Johnston made his HQ and after Shiloh his body lay in state.

... and here's the beautiful, privately owned house down the street that Confederate general Leonidas Polk used as headquarters.

... and on Polk Street Street stands the old W.L. Duncan House, used by Beauregard as a headquarters and later by Union General William Rosecrans during the Battle of Corinth in early October 1862. (It's now a private dwelling.) Confederate Private Thomas Duncan wrote his war-time recollections here in his boyhood home, which once stood on Jackson Street. 

...and on Jackson Street, we find the outstanding Verandah-Curlee House, the exclamation point of my visit. OMG! OMG! Owned by the city and open for tours, it was used by Confederate generals John Bell Hood and Braxton Bragg as a headquarters and by "Old Brains" himself in 1862. Ah, I could feel my IQ rising as I soaked in this scene. The site of Ulysses Grant's HQ, now occupied by Corinth police headquarters, is directly across the street.

OK, we're done with ya, Corinth. Until next time ...

... and whoa! On the return trip to Shiloh, I was jolted by this unusual sight outside Larry DeBerry's Shiloh museum/shop.

OK, time's up. Thanks for riding along.

Let's keep history alive.

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Saturday, September 05, 2020

Archaeology at Chickamauga: Hey, I'm really digging this

Professor Morgan Smith of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga at the Brotherton farm dig site. 
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In a National Park Service-sanctioned effort, Professor Morgan F. Smith and his students at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga endeavor to determine the location of a war-time road on the battlefield. It’s part of a “cultural resource survey” before the park removes trees and other vegetation to restore the Brotherton field to its war-time appearance. (Brotherton cabin and some fabulous Union monuments are nearby.)

Brotherton cabin near the dig site.
Smith’s team will dig more than 100 holes — like the one pictured below — and sweep the ground with metal detectors. I spotted Dr. Smith & Co.'s tent minutes after I arrived on the battlefield on Friday and was compelled by my inner archaelogist to stop.

So far, the group has turned up an ancient Indian arrowhead and a nail or two, probably post-war. Given the fierce fighting here, they undoubtedly will turn up bullets and other battlefield artifacts.

If I could magically re-do my career, I would become an archaeologist. Or perhaps a star lefty for the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Check out UTC's Facebook page for Chickamauga updates.)

Professor Smith's team will dig more than 100 holes like this on the Brotherton farm site.
More metal found on site, including a nail (left), probably post-war.
The most intriguing find so far is the ancient Indian arrowhead at left.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2020

'Blown out of existence': The 1862 Hazard Powder Co. disaster

A circa-1910 postcard view of Powder Hollow in Hazardville, Conn., where Augustus Hazard produced gunpowder during the Civil War. (Dexter Photo | Public domain)
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On the morning of July 24, 1862, Hartford Daily Courant readers found an interesting mix of news in the state's leading newspaper:

A short article on cantankerous General Henry Halleck's appointment as commander in chief of all Federal land forces; a report from Virginia of tendered resignations of "many officers" in the beleaguered Army of the Potomac; and closer to home, the story of "a rum-crazy individual" who hopped off a train downtown, walloped a policeman on Asylum Street, and promptly was tossed into jail.

By January 1864, Augustus Hazard's Connecticut 
mills were producing 12,500 pounds
 of gunpowder a day.
But the most compelling news in the Courant originated from aptly named Hazardville, Conn., about 20 miles north of Hartford. At about 3 p.m. the previous day, five massive blasts rocked the Hazard Powder Co. mills, killing 10 people, nine of them employees. Among the dead was a man taking a bath and another walking his mule. "Blown out of existence," the Courant described victims of the disaster -- the second such castastrophe at a Northern munitions factory that year.

The company was owned by 60-year-old Augustus George Hazard, a politically well-connected businessman whose friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis raised eyebrows in the North. Colonel Hazard's mills produced thousands of tons gunpowder for the Federal war effort -- more than any Northern company except one. Hazard's gunpowder was even used in the pummeling of Fort Sumter by Rebel gunners on April 12, 1861 -- the opening salvos of the war.

Born in Rhode Island in 1802, Hazard was the son of a sea captain. After his family moved to Connecticut, Augustus worked on a farm in Columbia there until he was 15, learned the trade of house painting, and eventually settled in Savannah, Ga, where he became a dealer in paints and oils. While in his adopted state, Hazard may have even joined the Georgia militia, earning the rank of colonel -- a title that stuck with him the rest of his life. Highly successful, he became part-owner of a coastal shipping company that did a brisk business between New York and Savannah. The Colonel was especially interested in one product: gunpowder.

A circa-1909 image of Augustus Hazard's mansion in Enfield, Conn., miles from Hazardville.
 The mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1969 when it served as an inn. 
(Enfield Public Library | CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
By 1843, Hazard had assumed full ownership of a gunpowder company in Enfield, Conn., naming himself president and general manager. "Shrewd, energetic" and with deep interest in politics, the ardent Democrat became one of the state's wealthiest men. Hazard and his wife, Salome, settled in Enfield, where he raised a family and built a mansion on Enfield Street, a few miles from his rapidly growing company. In Enfield, the couple entertained such notables as gunmaker Samuel Colt, statesmen and lawyer Daniel Webster and Davis, the U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce from 1853-57.

As U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis visited
Augustus Hazard in Connecticut. He later became

 president of the Confederacy. (National Archives)
When the czar of Russia needed gunpowder during the Crimean War in 1845, he turned to Hazard and the leading U.S. supplier., the E.I. duPont mills in Wilmington, Del. In 1849, Hazard made a mint supplying miners with gunpowder in the California Gold Rush.

In the late 1840s, the makers of Magical Pain Extractor used the well-known gunpowder producer as an endorser for their product, which supposedly cured sore throats, ulcers, hemorrhoids and ringworm and soothed the debilitating effects of barber's itch, frosted toes and even burns. Hazard claimed Magical Pain Extractor "saved the life and cured a person dreadfully burnt by a powder mill explosion."

By the outbreak of the Civil War, the sprawling Hazard Powder Co. in Enfield covered over 400 acres and included massive infastructure: rolling and granulating mills, woodworking, ironworking and machine shops, packing houses, magazines, hydraulic presses and more. In all, there were nearly 125 buildings.

Power to operate the mills' 25 water wheels and three stream engines came from the nearby Scantic River. Canals carried water to the complex, where Hazard also made gun cartridges and fireworks. In a vote of employees in the industrial village, the factory zone was even named "Hazardville" in the Colonel's honor.

Know more about Hazard Powder Co. explosion? Email me at

Work at Hazard's company was difficult and often dangerous. In April 1855, Hazard's eldest son, 23-year-old Horace, was mortally wounded by a gunpowder explosion at his father's mill. Later that year, a wagonload of powder exploded, killing a teamster and his two horses, injuring a young girl, and damaging the roof of a powder mill. The next year, three workers, horribly burned in an explosion, died. And in September 1858, the superintendent and three workmen were instantly killed in another blast.

The company mandated strict safety rules. Fearful of sparks setting off gunpowder, Hazard banned iron and steel tools. For obvious reasons, so were pipes and matches. Workers wore shoes made with wooden pegs instead of iron nails. Large, stone blast walls separated buildings. Even Hazard, though, couldn't plan for unexpected mischief by Mother Nature: In late April 1861, a lightning strike on kegs of powder produced an explosion heard as far away as Hartford. No one, thankfully, was injured.

A bird's-eye illustration of the sprawling Hazardville, Conn., complex in 1880.
(Office of the State Historian and CTHumanties)
During the Civil War, Augustus Hazard advertised in the Hartford Daily Courant for workers.
But Hazard's company suffered its deadliest day in late July 1862. In the immediate vicinity of the mills, the explosions of tons of gunpowder produced an otherworldy landscape of dead cows and horses, uprooted trees, toppled fences and acres of grass that looked "as if heavy rollers had passed over it."

Windows were shattered and roofs damaged at houses at least two miles away. Ten miles away, in Springfield, Mass., "houses were jarred as if by an earthquake." The rumble of the explosions was "distinctly heard" as far as Northhampton and West Brookfield, Mass., roughly 50 miles distant.

Marker in Old Hazardville (Conn.) Cemetery
for 40-year-old Arthur Beach, who was "blown
  to atoms" with five others in the press room 

at the Hazard Powder Co. (Find A Grave)
Thousands came to view the horrific scene. "One of the most appalling calamities that has occurred in this vicinity for many years," the Boston Journal reported. The cause of the blast was a "mystery," newspapers said, and probably never would be known because all the witnesses were dead.

The human toll, of course, was heart-rending. James Beach, who worked in the fireworks building, was washing in a brook after his shift when blasts rocked the grounds. The 28-year-old's body was discovered in the water with a heavy rock upon it. Beach had started work at the company only days earlier.

The only remains found of the six men who worked in the 20-by-30-foot press room, where the disaster probably originated, was a detached foot discovered about a quarter-mile from the blast zone. Arthur Beach, James' 40-year-old brother and the married father of seven children, worked there. So did luckless Patrick Fallon, who was on his first day on the job, and Henry Clark, a married father of five. Leno Monsean, another press room victim, had only recently been married.

Crossing a bridge over a nearby stream with his mule, a man was nearly obliterated by the force of a blast. The animal was "torn into two parts," the Courant reported, "one half being thrown across the stream and the other into a field several hundred feet distant."

'Human gore': More on deadly Civil War explosions on my blog

The initial explosion almost instantaneously triggered four more at surrounding buildings. Tossed into the air by a blast, a timber or large piece of iron struck Celia Smith, fracturing her skull and mortally wounding her. The niece of a grocer on Main Street in Enfield died hours later. To escape injury, Smith's panic-stricken colleagues in the cartridge-making building burst through doors and leaped through windows.

James Beach worked in the Hazard Powder Co.
fireworks building. He was bathing in a stream
when he was killed in the explosion on July 23, 1862.
He's buried in Old Hazardville Cemetery

 near his brother, Arthur, who also
was killed that day. (Find A Grave)
The catrastrophe could have been much worse. A building packed with coarse, unground gunpowder was damaged, but it didn't explode. Enough gunpowder was in another building, the Courant reported, "to have destroyed the whole village" if it had exploded.

"It is remarkable," the newspaper wrote, "that there were no more lives lost."

En route home via train from New York, Hazard received word of the disaster at a stop in Berlin, Conn. His financial losses were estimated at $15,000 -- $12,000 for the roughly 10 tons of gunpowder that exploded, $3,000 for five wooden buildings destroyed. But that was merely a dent in Hazard's booming business.

"The loss will not interfere with the operations of the company," the Courant reported, "as there are 75 mills left."

Hazard began re-building almost immediately. Orders for the Federal Army would be filled on time. By January 1864, the Hazard Powder Co. was producing 12,500 pounds of gunpowder daily, nearly a quarter of the Union total.

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-- Boston Journal, July 24, 1862.
-- Brooklyn Evening Star, Dec. 5, 1855.
-- Enfield (Conn.) Historical Society.
-- Find A Grave.
-- Hartford Daily Courant, Sept. 17, 1858, April 25, 1861, July 24, 25, 1862.
-- The Memorial History of Hartford County Connecticut 1633-1884, edited by J. Hammond Trumbull, Boston, Edward L. Osgood Publisher, 1886.
-- The New York Evening Post, March 22, 1849.
-- The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 25, 1856.

Connecticut-based reseacher Dan Hayden contributed to this post.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Battle of Nashville's Peach Orchard Hill ... and peppers?

Sloping terrain near the crest of Peach Orchard Hill.
Are there Civil War relics in this ground?
Lifelong Nashvillian Jim Cooper, who used to be an avid relic hunter, examines the ground.
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I spent part of Thursday afternoon examining terrain in a neighborhood near the crest of steep Peach Orchard Hill, where regiments of U.S. Colored Troops fought courageously in their first battle of the war on Dec. 16, 1864 — the second day of the Battle of Nashville. Somewhere up here Confederates fought from behind their works.

Rick Allen briefly searched his property.
Now you must bring your imagination when you visit this site, located in a gated community. Sadly, all of Peach Orchard Hill — also known as Overton Hill — was developed for housing long ago. But if you can blot out the drone of nearby traffic, you can almost see men like former slave James Thomas of the 13th U.S.C.T. advancing up this slope.

Bonus from my visit: Gracious host Rick Allen introduced me to his uncle, Jim Cooper, a lifelong Nashvillian. He’s knows this battle. Back in the day, he found quite a few artifacts in Nashvile while relic hunting around the city, which looked before development exploded. Today's Nashville features a lot of find neighborhood restaurants ... and construction cranes.

(Double bonus: Rick gave me peppers from his garden. He warned me they are hot ... and for the record, I’d like to confirm his scouting report.)

Rick briefly brought out a borrowed metal detector to see what he could find in his yard. Nothing ... yet. Let’s keep history alive.

Warning: These peppers are HOT!

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