Sunday, November 19, 2017

How 'Captain Tim' & Co. miraculously escaped from Rebels

1894 image of 16th Connecticut Captain Timothy Robinson. (Connecticut State Library)
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On Halloween night 1905, more than a dozen 16th Connecticut veterans gathered at the Bristol, Conn., home of Timothy and Sophia Robinson to celebrate the couple's golden wedding anniversary. It was a grand occasion, one befitting for the old soldier and his wife, among the most respected members of the community.

This inscribed silver loving cup was given
 to the  Robinsons by 16th Connecticut vets
 in 1905. (Courtesy Garth Gustafson)
While the Robinsons stood in the front parlor where they had been married in 1855, Colonel Frank W. Cheney gave a short speech and then handed the couple an inscribed silver loving cup. "Presented to Captain Timothy B. Robinson, by his old comrades of the Sixteenth C.V., 1855-1905," the words on it read.

In a wonderful gesture, Cheney -- one of the 16th Connecticut's most beloved figures -- also presented Timothy and Sophia each a $20 gold coin. As long as they had the shiny gifts in the house, the 73-year-old veteran told them, perhaps tongue in cheek, neither of them would be out of money. Robinson thanked Cheney, according to a newspaper account, and then "everybody joined in a sort of old time reunion."

The gray-haired 16th Connecticut veterans, each of whom had suffered significant hardships during the war, had plenty to discuss. Many of them had been captured at Plymouth, N.C., in April 1864 and imprisoned at Andersonville, the deadliest of all Civil War POW camps. The captain's own brother, 19-year-old Henry, died there in the summer of 1864.

Henry Robinson, Timothy's 19-year-old 
brother, was captured at Plymouth, N.C.,
 on April 20, 1864. He died at Andersonville.
(Courtesy Garth Gustafson)
In brutal fighting at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the hard-luck 16th Connecticut's first battle, Cheney had been seriously wounded in the arm, knocking him out of the war for good. Eighty-three-year-old Charles Dixon, the 16th Connecticut's chaplain, had been briefly imprisoned at Andersonville and then in Macon, Ga., where he defiantly disobeyed the Confederate commander's demand that he not pray aloud for President Lincoln. Sixty-one year-old William Nott had survived Antietam, Andersonville and a little-known collision of ships on the Potomac River days after the war had effectively ended-- an accident that claimed the lives of seven other soldiers in the regiment.

But perhaps no man in the frame house on Wolcott Street that Tuesday night had a greater war story to tell than 71-year-old Timothy Robinson himself. His was a story of derring-do and survival behind enemy lines -- a tale that included a goat, the kindness and bravery of black men, a failed attempt in a rowboat to reach a Union blockader off the coast of South Carolina and, ultimately, a successful escape from a Rebel POW camp.

Sadly, by 1905, the two 16th Connecticut officers who shared in Robinson's amazing story had long since gone to their graves.
PRESENT DAY: Robinson's house on Wolcott Street, where the vets gathered Halloween Night 1905.

Inscribed scabbard for sword presented in 1862 to Timothy Robinson.
(Courtesy Garth Gustafson)
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Timothy Boardman Robinson was employed as a machinist at the E.N. Welch Clock Company in the Forestville section of Bristol -- an area that for decades had been hub of clockmaking in Western Connecticut. In August 1862, he enlisted in the Union army, mustering into Company K of the 16th Connecticut as a 2nd lieutenant under the command of Captain Newton Manross, a Bristol native and an assistant professor at a college in Massachusetts. Before they marched off to war together, Robinson and Manross were each presented an inscribed sword and scabbard from friends in Bristol.

A war-time image of Timothy Robinson, who
twice escaped from Rebel POW camps.
Barely a month after they were mustered in, 16th Connecticut soldiers found themselves on the front lines at Antietam as part of the IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Smashed in the left flank in the 40-acre Cornfield by veteran troops under A.P. Hill that Wednesday afternoon, the green Nutmeggers were routed, suffering more than 200 casualties on the bloodiest single day of the war. Struck by Confederate artillery, Manross was killed, one of three soldiers in his company who did not survive the battle; Robinson survived without any physical wounds.

Ushered to the war's backstage, the 16th Connecticut never saw major action again. And then came April 20, 1864 -- another tragic day that defined the Nutmeggers' Civil War experience. Nearly surrounded,  the regiment and the rest of the Union garrison in Plymouth, N.C., surrendered to Confederate forces under General Robert F. Hoke.
Forced by a Confederate to give up his prized sword and scabbard, Robinson -- who had been promoted to captain in April 1863 -- and other officers were inititally imprisoned at Camp Oglethorpe in Macon, Ga. Enlisted men -- including Timothy's brother Henry, who was wounded at the Battle of Plymouth -- were sent to Andersonville.

When the advance of Union troops under William Sherman in the fall of 1864 made prison camps in Georgia untenable for the Confederates, Robinson and other Federal POWs were transferred to a camp in Charleston, S.C. During a trip from Charleston to Camp Sorghum in Columbia, S.C., aboard a heavily guarded train, Robinson and 16th Connecticut captains Thomas Burke of Hartford and Charles Morse of  New Hartford leaped from a boxcar and escaped. Subsisting on parched corn, the exhausted men were captured asleep in the woods six days later by a hunter, whose dogs guarded the escapees while he went for help.

"Here again commenced a course of treatment which was made none the less revolting by the five months experience they had already endured," an account noted, "and thoughts of escape did not die out among them."

A late-19th century illustration of Camp Sorghum in Columbia, S.C. Robinson and two
fellow 16th Connecticut POWs fled the camp in the fall of 1864.

Returned to Camp Sorghum, Robinson, Burke and Alfred Dickerson, a 16th Connecticut captain from Hartford, didn't stay put for long. After collecting wood with many other officers while on parole near the lightly guarded camp, the three malnourished soldiers snuck into the woods, beyond reach of their captors. The date was Nov. 3, 1864. The escapees' audacious plan was to somehow follow the Congaree and Santee rivers downstream to the Atlantic Coast, a staggering distance of more than 175 miles. From there, well, who knew?

"The night was dreary and rainy and the roads were very muddy," an account of the escape noted, "but, emaciated as they were by over six months confinement and exhausted with the labors of the day and with anxiety, they resolutely pushed on all night and the next day, carefully avoiding the habitations of men, and finding their subsistence in the fields they passed through."

A war-time image of 16th Connecticut
Captain Alfred Dickerson, who died in 1868.

He was only 27. 
In a surprising twist on Nov. 4, Robinson, Burke and Dickerson connected with five other Federal soldiers from Camp Sorghum, who had escaped by bribing a guard and survived for two days in a swamp. Luckily for the Connecticut men, the Western soldiers had met local blacks, probably slaves, who funished them with two rowboats as well as sweet potatoes, turnips and cornbread.

Sleeping and cooking by day and traveling mostly at night to avoid detection by the enemy, the bedraggled band slowly made its way down the Congaree and Santee rivers. Camped near the river bank one day, the men heard loud voices. "... we discovered a boat below us upon the river, being poled up the river by negroes," Dickerson recalled. "One of our party posted himself upon the bank of the river where he could hail the boat without discovering the presence of the rest of the party, and hailing down the negro in charge of the boat informed him that he was in want of provisions."

Continuing downriver, the man refused to stop.

When a Union officer informed the black man that he was an escapee from a Rebel prison, he "immediately landed," Dickerson recalled, and stayed with the soldiers all day, "cooking rations and giving very valuable information." Directed by their newly-made black friend, the soldiers stopped downriver that night at a farm, where they captured and killed a goat that supplied them with meat for the rest of their journey. Robinson and Burke each kept one of the animal's horns as a souvenir.

Several days later, the escapees met four other black men, who gave the group "a large quantity of sweet potatoes, salt and meat." Upon parting with them, Dickerson remembered, "they bade us God speed and a safe journey. Elated and happy with our success, we kept steadily forward and soon after we landed to again consult the negroes who told us we were but five miles from a battery mounting two pieces, upon the right bank of the river, guarded by rebel soldiers.

16th Connecticut Captain Thomas Burke,
 shown in a war-time image, 
died in 1887. He was 50.
"After receiving other information and provisions," Dickerson added, "we parted company with the last of our negro friends, and proceeded down the river, passed the battery in safety, and landing waited for darkness of the night to finish our journey to the coast. Thursday night, full of hope, we again took to our boats and meeting no interference, reached the coast safely."

More than a week after their journey had begun, the escapees finally had reached the mouth of the Santee River, which empties into the Atlantic. Miraculously undetected by the enemy, the group had passed two guarded bridges, two guarded ferrys and Battery Warren during their adventure.

But a huge challenge remained.

Way off on the horizon, they spotted the spars of a ship, undoubtedly a Union blockader. Taking their best boat, three of the men rowed about eight miles from shore before they were forced to turn around because of a fast-approaching storm.

Undaunted, Robinson, Dickerson and another fugitive made a second attempt at sunrise the next day, rowing their ramshackle vessel miles into the Atlantic. They finally were spotted by the Union blockader Canandaigua, whose crew was stunned to see them.  According to an account written years later:
"To the officers and men it seemed as if the thunder of their own guns must have startled these fugitives from the caverns of the deep, so incredibly daring was the voyage upon the foaming sea with a boat so leaky and so frail, as hardly to withstand a zephyr, and orders were at once given to take it aboard and keep it as a token of what men would dare to do."
Another boat was sent ashore to rescue the remaining five escapees. All eight former POWs were given new uniforms, and their tattered camp rags were tossed into the ocean.

"... When all were safe upon the deck of the ship and under the protection of the Star-Spangled Banner," Dickerson wrote, "our hardships ended and pleasure took the sway. Our feeling of joy when safe in the protection of our Government can be conceived only by those who have been called upon to undergo similar privations and hardship, and who beheld the dawn of Freedom upon their toilsome efforts."

With their stunning great escape complete, Robinson, Burke and Dickerson were given furloughs to return home.

Timothy Robinson, believed to be second from left in the front row, and other 16th Connecticut vets
at the Bristol, Conn., grave of  Newton Manross, the Company K captain who was killed at Antietam.
 The photograph was taken in June 1885. (Courtesy Bristol Public Library)

Each of the Connecticut escapees survived the war, but neither Thomas Burke nor Alfred Dickerson lived to see the end of the century.

Only 27, Dickerson died on Oct. 24, 1868, of a "very malignant type of erysipelas." His death "brought deep sorrow not only into the circle of his own family friends," an account noted, "but also into a much larger circle of those who knew and loved him." He left behind a wife named Mary and a three-month old daughter named Alfreda.

Nearly 17 years later, on April 17, 1885, Burke -- "a man of warm heart and unquestioned courage" -- died of pneumonia at a hospital in Hartford, Conn. At the end of his life, he had suffered from financial hardship. "He had not the business turn that would give him success," the local newspaper reported in a front-page obituary, "and he saw hard days which he took quietly and without complaint."

A widower who had lost his wife in a boarding house in 1872, Burke was buried with military honors in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. He was only 50 years old.

Robinson lived well into the 20th century. Active in veterans' organizations, he served as president of the 16th Connecticut's regimental association for many years. Crippled by a cerebral hemmorhage, he died in Bristol on Feb. 6, 1918. He was 83.

In an obituary in the Hartford newspaper the day after his death, Robinson -- best known as "Captain Tim" to family and friends -- was referred to as "the survivor of one of the remarkable escapes of the war."

A war-time image of
O.P. Mills.
POSTSCRIPT: After the war, Burke gave Robinson his horn from the goat the escapees had killed in November 1864. Along with his own horn, Captain Tim displayed the strange souvenirs in his den in Bristol.

According to a descendant, Robinson's personal papers, including many of his war-time letters and his map of the successful 1864 escape route, were destroyed in a house fire in Winsted, Conn., in the early 1970s.

After the Civil War, the scabbard from the sword given to Robinson by friends in Bristol in 1862 was returned to him. But the sword, snatched by a Confederate at Plymouth, N.C., in the spring of 1864, remained missing,

By accident, a 16th Connecticut veteran learned Robinson's sword was in possession of  O.P. Mills, a former Confederate infantry officer and successful cotton mill entrepreneur in Greenville, S.C. Robinson's friends attempted to acquire the sword from Mills, who refused to return it, keeping it as a war prize. When Mills died in 1915, the sword was still in his family's possession.

The current whereabouts of the prized weapon are unknown.

Timothy Robinson's grave in West Cemetery in Bristol., Conn., is yards from the town's
Civil War memorial and the Robinson family memorial (background)

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-- Bristol (Conn.) Press, June 7, 1872.
-- Hartford Courant, April 18, 1885, Nov. 1, 1905, Feb. 8, 1918.
-- The Connecticut War Record, December 1864, Page 6. The letter writer signed his account of the escape "One of the Party." The man was undoubtedly Alfred Dickerson.
-- The Soldiers' Record, Oct. 31, 1868.
-- Timothy Robinson descendant Garth Gustafson supplied terrific information from his family's archives for this story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Details, details: Examining 1865 image of Charleston's City Hall

(George Barnard | Library of Congress collection)
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Of all the images taken by Connecticut-born photographer George Barnard in Union-occupied Charleston, S.C., in April 1865, this one of City Hall at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets is my favorite. Cropped enlargements reveal many cool details, such as ...

... these seven Federal soldiers relaxing on a bench in front of the ornate fence and railing to the grand building, constructed in the early 19th century ...

... and in a window on the Meeting Street side of the building (at left), another soldier leans against the sill ...

... while below him at street level, these two Yankees stare at the cameraman. Is that rubble in the foreground a result of the Union navy's frequent shelling of the city?

... and here's a Federal officer under a street lamp.

On the porch of City Hall, a Federal soldier leans against the railing. Note the musket in the background. ...

... while near the right corner of City Hall, a soldier with a musket resting on his shoulder stands near stacked arms.

Damage undoubtedly caused by the Union navy's shelling is apparent to the right of the Meeting street sign ...

... and on Broad Street, a man -- perhaps a Union sailor judging from his attire -- stands near what undoubtedly is more damage caused by the dastardly Yankee navy. Yards away from him another man leans against the building and stares down Broad Street. Perhaps his gaze caught this famous building.

As this Then & Now shows, City Hall survived The Late Unpleasantness, and the war-damaged building was repaired long ago. What else do you see in Barnard's photograph?

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

'A Real Love Story': Lt. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes' recovery

Lucy and Rutherford Hayes on their wedding day on Dec. 30, 1852. Nearly 10 years later, 
he would be seriously wounded at the Battle of South Mountain. (Library of Congress) 
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In late summer and early fall 1862, future U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes spent weeks in Captain Jacob Rudy's two-story brick house in Middletown, Md., in the heart of the beautiful Catoctin Valley.

The 23rd Ohio lieutenant colonel wasn't there on a furlough.

On Sept. 14, 1862, while leading his troops at Fox's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, Hayes was seriously wounded. "Just as I gave the command to charge," the 39-year-old officer wrote in his diary, "I felt a stunning blow and found a musket ball had struck my left arm just above the elbow. Fearing that an artery might be cut, I asked a soldier near me to tie my handkerchief above the wound. I soon felt weak, faint and sick at the stomach."

23rd Ohio Lt. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes
(Library of Congress)
While he lay in the field as the battle swirled nearby, Hayes had a "considerable talk" with a wounded Confederate. "I gave him messages for my wife and friends in case I should not get up," he wrote. "We were right jolly and friendly; it was by no means an unpleasant experience." Finally rescued by another Union officer, Hayes was carried out of  range of Rebel fire, placed behind a big log and given a large canteen of water.

After his wound was dressed, Hayes walked a half-mile to the small house of a widow named Elizabeth Koogle, remaining there for two or three hours. Still faint from loss of blood, he was taken by ambulance three or four miles or so into Middletown -- "Little Massachusetts," it was called, because of its pro-Union sentiment. Churches, private homes, barns and other buildings there were thrown open for scores of Union wounded. Hayes' association with local merchant Jacob Rudy, his wife Elizabeth and their two sons and five daughters began that night.

So, too, did a mutual admiration society.

While he recovered, Hayes grew quite fond of the Rudys -- he felt "as snug as a bug in a rug" while he lay in an upstairs room in their house. "I am comfortably at home," he wrote his mother the day after he was wounded, "with a very kind and attentive family here named Rudy."

Two days after he was wounded, Hayes was free of pain when he lay still. He delighted in sampling Elizabeth Rudy's currant jellies, and the family's youngest son, 8-year-old Charlie, enjoyed describing for Hayes the troops as they passed their house on the busy National Pike. "Charlie, you live on a street that is much traveled," Hayes said. "Oh, it isn't always so," the youngster replied, "it's only when the war comes."

In April 1877, a lengthy, and remarkably detailed, account of Hayes' stay with the Rudys was published in the New York Herald. Under the headlines "Reminiscences of His Treatment With A Friendly Family" and "A Real Love Story," Rudy's wife and daughters Kate and Ella recounted their experiences with Hayes, sworn in as 19th U.S. president the previous month.

When the ambulance carrying Hayes and army surgeon Joseph Webb, his brother-in-law, arrived about sunset at the Rudy's house on the National Pike, near the western edge of town, the family was in the midst of their own health crisis. Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Webster Rudy, the couple's eldest son, was seriously ill with smallpox, and daughters Laura, 11, and Ella, 9, had scarlet fever.

Still, the Rudys welcomed the disheveled and badly wounded Hayes, whose uniform was spattered with dust and mud. The officer was carried up the narrow staircase and placed in a bed in a room next to the one where Daniel lay ill. Webb and his brother, James, also an army surgeon, tended to Hayes' wounded arm. A highly respected local physician named Charles Baer aided them. The two black servants who accompanied Hayes and Joseph Webb in the ambulance to Middletown slept on the floor of Daniel's room.

               Then & Now: Rudy house in Middletown, Md. (Google Street view)
Early-20th century postcard of the Rudy house, where Hayes recovered from his wounds.

When Lucy Hayes, the lieutenant colonel's 31-year-old wife, arrived from Ohio more than a week after the Battle of South Mountain, Elizabeth Rudy made an instant connection with the mother of five young sons. "... the moment she crossed our threshold," she told the reporter, "I knew she was a good woman and a natural lady. Of course her husband was rejoiced to see her and hear about his children, and she was relieved to know that his wound was not so dangerous as she had imagined it. She made herself easily at home here at once."

Mild-mannered Rutherford Hayes didn't talk much, Mrs. Rudy recalled, and when he did, he never had a cross word to say about the Rebels. "... though he suffered constantly and got little sleep for a week and longer," Ella Rudy said, "he was always cheerful. He not only wouldn't be cross -- he wouldn't allow any extra trouble to be taken on his account. Mother used to ask him if she could not 'do something' for him. He always thanked her, but said no ... "

Lucy Hayes, Rutherford's wife,
 in 1877.  (Library of Congress)
While her husband recuperated, Lucy often visited with wounded Confederate and Union soldiers in hospitals in Middletown, taking them grapes and other delicacies. "She had a great many favorites," Mrs. Rudy said, "but she was attentive to all, and admired by everybody."

In late September, Hayes was well enough to walk about Middletown. He preferred the unpaved south side of the street, sometimes sloshing through shoe-deep mud, instead of the paved north side, causing the town's tongues to wag. In early October, he and his wife visited the Lutheran Church cemetery, where they could watch the sun set and admire gorgeous fall foliage. On his 40th birthday on Oct. 4, Hayes and Lucy traveled with Jacob Rudy and two other men to the South Mountain battlefield. "Hunted up the graves of our gallant boys," he wrote in his diary. Later that month, Hayes finally returned to his home in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife.

Weeks after Hayes' departure, every member of the Rudy family contracted smallpox. Charlie died from the disease on Nov. 4.

In the summer of 1864, with the Union army again in western Maryland, Hayes found time to visit with the Rudys."They were so kind and cordial," he wrote in a letter to Lucy. "They all inquired after you. The girls have grown pretty -- quite pretty."

Captain Rudy, who died on Christmas Day in 1876, had not forgotten about the soldier he took into his home in 1862. "Mr. Rudy said if I was wounded," Hayes told his wife, "he would come a hundred miles to get me."

Clearly, Hayes remained close to the hearts of Elizabeth, Kate and Ella Rudy, too.

"So you all fell in love with the patient Colonel?" the reporter asked Elizabeth Rudy during his 1877 visit.

"We fell in love with him directly," she replied.

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-- Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Ninteenth President of the United States, Volume II, 1861-1865, Edited by Charles Richard Williams, The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1922.
-- New York Herald, April 9, 1877

Monday, November 06, 2017

Then & Now: Explore Fox's Gap at South Mountain battlefield

THEN: General Jesse Reno monument images by Fred Wilder Cross, circa 1920s.
NOW:  John Banks, Nov. 4, 2017.
(HOVER ON IMAGES for NOW photos; effect does not work on phones, tablets.)

MONUMENT PANORAMA: Jesse Reno was killed near here on Sept. 14, 1862.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Fred Wilder Cross, military archivist for the state of Massachusetts from 1918-38, was drawn to Civil War battlefields, none moreso than Antietam and South Mountain. "There are few places that I have visited or of which I have ever dreamed," he wrote in 1926, "that have such a hold upon my heart as the picturesque hills and broad valleys of Western Maryland."

During summer trips to the area in the late teens and early 1920s, Cross took hundreds of images of the battlefields with a camera he had purchased in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1912. At Fox's Gap at South Mountain, he photographed the monument for Union Major General Jesse Reno, who was mortally wounded during the battle on Sept. 14, 1862, and many other nearby sites. Decades after the fighting, the battlefield looked to Cross much as it did in late-summer 1862. Farmer Daniel Wise's cabin, used as a makeshift hospital after the battle, was long gone, but the fields where the armies had clashed remained much as they appeared during the Civil War.

On a brisk fall Saturday afternoon in 2017, curious Appalachian Trail hikers examined the Reno monument while a handful of Civil War buffs pointed to the site of the infamous Wise well, where the  bodies of Confederate dead were unceremoniously dumped. Across Reno Monument Road -- the old Sharpburg Road in 1862 -- a bird-watcher traipsed through a field where a rookie regiment from Michigan had charged more than 155 years ago.

The battlefield had definitely changed since Fred Cross' long-ago visits. Here's a Then & Now look:


Union veteran Uberto Burnham in Daniel Wise's field at Fox's Gap. The Reno monument appears
 in the background. (Black-and-white images by Fred Wilder Cross | William Christen collection)
In this view of farmer Daniel Wise's field, the Reno monument appears in the right distance.
                     PRESENT-DAY PANORAMA: Daniel Wise's field is largely wooded. 
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
The Central Maryland Heritage League wants to restore Wise's field to its 1862 appearance.
During a visit to Antietam with other veterans in 1920, Uberto Burnham struck up a conversation with a man who he said knew more about the Maryland Campaign than he did. That man was Fred Cross, who suggested they visit Fox's Gap and the old South Mountain battlefield.

"The next morning we took the bus on Boonesboro pike," recalled the former 76nd New York private, "and at that village connected with the Hagerstown bus which went through Turner's Gap, now a paved road. Quite early in the forenoon we found ourselves on the battlefield. I could hardly realize the situation."

Cross photographed Burnham in Wise's field, where the old man leaned on his cane and gazed across the landscape where he charged 58 years earlier.

"It seemed to me almost a vision," he wrote in a story published in 1928 in The National Tribune, a newspaper for Union veterans. "I took great interest in looking over the field."


The view looking toward the Old Sharpsburg Road. The Reno monument is at left. Wise's small 
log house stood just out of camera range at right.  (Fred Wilder Cross | William Christen collection)
      PANORAMA: The 17th Michigan charged from right to left here in Wise's pasture.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

"As soon as we had fixed the point of rendezvous, I secured a small detachment of men and started to care for the wounded who had been left in the field. Just as we finished removing or caring for the wounded in the field a few rebels without arms appeared coming into the field, ostensibly looking for their dead or helpless comrades. I quickly observed that they were pilfering from our dead as well as their own, and also gathering up arms, occasionally discharging a musket into the air."

-- Gabriel Campbell, 17th Michigan Captain, in letter to Ezra Carman in 1899.


THEN: Unknown photographer, 1912 (History of the 45th Regiment
 Pennsylvania |  NOW: John Banks, Nov. 4, 2017.
 (HOVER ON IMAGE for NOW photo.)

              PANORAMA: Reno Monument Road -- the old Sharpsburg Road -- cuts
                     through Fox's Gap. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

"We pushed steadily on and presently took a by-path that diverged to the left from the turnpike, and continued on over the rough ground and wooded hill until we came to a clearing where the column formed line of battle near an old log house, the right of the line of the Forty-fifth resting on the road. It must have been then not far from eleven o'clock. The Rebels were pelting us with grape and canister and it was only by lying down that we avoided serious punishment. Between us and the enemy was a cornfield on a side hill; then a piece of thin woods and, as we found out later on, an open space beyond the timber."

-- Private Eugene Beauge, 45th Pennsylvania


"Our regiment has been badly used since I was with it. Last Sunday at the Battle of South Mountain or Blue Ridge it lost 134 killed and wounded. I saw the place to-day where 28 were buried in a row on the battlefield. They are buried as nicely as possible and each grave is marked plainly with a headboard. Poor fellows! Dwight Smith and Jimmie Cole lie together and the first tears that have started from my eyes since my mother died fell on their graves. They were indeed the most intimate and truest friends I had in the army and fell at their posts, fighting like true soldiers and brave men."

-- 45th Pennsylvania Lieutenant Samuel Haynes, whose regiment suffered severely at Fox's Gap.

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-- Cross, Fred Wilder, South Mountain and Antietam, Part I, self-published 1925 and 1926, respectively.
-- Gabriel Campbell letter to Ezra Carman, Antietam National Battlefield library.
-- History of the Forty-Fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, edited and arranged by Allen D. Albert, Private of Company D, Grit Publishing Co., Williamsport, Pa. 1912.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Charleston Then & Now: Castle Pinckney (hover on image)

THEN: Unknown, 1861, S.C. Historical Society | NOW:: John Banks, Oct. 15, 2017.
(Sorry, hover effect does not work on phones, tablets.)

Overcoming the stench of pelican poo, eight fellow Center for Civil War Photography Image of War seminar attendees and I ventured into the seldom-visited Confederate fortification in Charleston Harbor earlier this month. The site of this 1861 photograph of young African-American near the entrance to the small fortification was among the stops. Union POWs, who had to overcome much more than pelicans, were kept at Castle Pinckney, now owned by the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans. (The group purchased the historic property for $10 in 2011.)

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Meet man who documented, loved South Mountain, Antietam

In a circa-1944 photo, Fred Cross stands next to a sign at Chancellorsville. Cross loved to visit
Civil War battlefields, especially Antietam and South Mountain.
(William Christen collection)
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Fred Wilder Cross was so knowledgeable about the Civil War history of his home state of Massachusetts that a friend swore he could call the roll of many of its regiments from memory. He greatly admired the heroics of John Mosby -- Cross owned at least six books on the Confederate guerilla -- and relished walking Civil War battlefields, often with a half-dozen or so friends from Virginia and Maryland, whom he called "The Battle-field Expeditionary Force." Cross, who only stood about 5-2 or 5-3, was always the "General" of the Force, while his friends in the merry band he called "Colonel or "Major" or a lesser rank.

Jim Clifford, shown in Confederate attire in the 1980s,
  was a "major" in "The Battle-field  Expeditionary
 Force" of Fred Cross.  (Photo: William Christen collection)
In the 1940s, when he was in his 70s, Cross traveled from his Cape Cod-style house near railroad tracks in South Royalston, Mass., to his second home in Florida. He went by bus because trains didn't stop at battlefields. A first-class Civil War geek, Cross refused to stay in tourist hotels during his trips south. Instead, he preferred to sleep and eat in historic homes on battlefields, where he enjoyed talking with descendants of those who lived at the sites during the war.

"He would not sponge on any of the battlefield folks he stayed with," insisted a friend years later. And although he was a Yankee -- "one hundred percent Massachusetts" -- Cross was well-liked by his Southern hosts. "I'll say this for 'general' Cross," the man remembered, "he appreciated a good soldier and a brave man on either side and said so!"

And when you walked hallowed ground with General Cross, oh, what an experience that was.

"He never stopped talking of what happened at that spot, at that instant, and who did what to who!" Jim Clifford, a "major" in "The Battle-field Expeditionary Force," recalled of those excursions with Cross in the 1930s and '40s. "And [he was] waving his arms around and walking fast as he could travel! I mean, he was going a streak and you better listen to him and not interrupt the flow of facts."

Cross' resume was impressive -- he was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College in 1900, a principal of Massachusetts high schools and served as a member of the Massachusetts general court from 1914-1918 and as a state senator representing South Royaltson in 1917-1918. From 1918-1938, he was the military archivist for Massachusetts, compiling during his tenure a 6,500-page history of the state's men who served during the Civil War.

But Cross' real calling, of course, was as a  "battlefield tramper."

"The Battle-field Expeditionary Force" on the steps of the famous Stone House at Manassas.
 From left:  Edward Hofer, Richard D. Steuart, Robert E. Lee Russell, Fred Cross and John Winters.
(Image courtesy Stephen Sylvia and Michael J. O'Donnell via John Winters)
Of all the battlefields Cross visited, Antietam and South Mountain were easily his favorites. His love affair with the Civil War history of western Maryland may have begun with his first visit there in July 1903, when he was 34. On summer vacation in 1919, he was accompanied to the state by his wife, Ida May, and daughters Bertha May and Dorothy. On other trips in the 1920s, he traveled to the region alone, documenting his experiences with a camera he had purchased in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1912.

"There are few places that I have visited or of which I have ever dreamed that have such a hold upon my heart as the picturesque hills and broad valleys of Western Maryland," Cross wrote in 1926. "A most beautiful and romantic country, much of it rich in agricultural resources, its low mountains not too lofty to be ascended with ease, their summits presenting to the traveler most wonderful landscapes, every hill and road and stream abounding in historic associations; there is a lure to this section, which calls me back to it again and again."

Fred Cross, who stood 5-2 or 5-3, was 
a "very nice, kind, old friendly man,"
recalled his friend, Jim Clifford.
(Image courtesy William Christen)
Eager to follow in the footsteps of Massachusetts soldiers, Cross walked Fox's Gap, Crampton's Gap, Turner's Gap, Antietam and elsewhere. He was keen to visit with the locals there, interviewing them about what happened in the area during the Civil War. Sometimes, an interview subject had first-hand knowledge of war-time events.

In Sharpsburg, a resident told of aiding the clean-up at Henry Rohrbach's farm, used as a makeshift hospital by the Union army's IX Corps. The smell of the wounds of a dying Federal Major General Isaac Rodman became so offensive in the house, the man told Cross, that he had to eat outside on the Rohrbachs' porch. "Such incidents as these are not pleasant to relate," Cross wrote, "but they represent the actual and terrible character of war."

During a visit to Antietam in 1919, Cross spoke with a man named Alexander Davis, who said he worked for the Nicodemus family at the time of the battle. "Uncle Aleck" told of burying bodies of Massachusetts soldiers in a hollow days after the battle. While digging graves alone, Davis told Cross, he was approached by a soldier who asked if he had seen the body of Jimmie Hayes, a private in the 19th Massachusetts. Just then, Davis turned over a body in a blanket to reveal Hayes, who was identified by letters that had fallen from the 18-year-old private's blouse. The soldier wept at the sight of his brother.

"Incidents, ludicrous as well as pathetic, the old gentleman often told me," Cross wrote about Davis, whose tales included the story of a stubborn battlefield bull. The night before major fighting erupted at Antietam, according to "Uncle Aleck," the "bovine majesty" refused to leave the barnyard of farmer David R. Miller, whose cornfield became site of horrific fighting on Sept. 17, 1862.  "In the morning, doubly excited and maddened by the artillery fire which began before dawn," Cross wrote, "the bull smashed through the barnyard gate, and with flaming eyes and waving tail charged along through the entire length of the cornfield which that day won its bloody name, and never stopped in his mad course until he had reached the banks of Antietam Creek."

Claimed Cross: "Some of the soldiers who were lying on their arms in the edge of the cornfield, and in the early gray of the morning saw the terrible apparition sweep past, laughed over it until their dying day."

An early 1920s image of the monument at Fox's Gap for Union General Jesse Reno, who was
 mortally wounded on Daniel Wise's farm. (Fred Wilder Cross | William Christen collection)
Another view of Jesse Reno monument by Fred Cross. (William Christen collection)
A page from Fred Cross' South Mountain report includes images he took of the monument 
for Union Major Jesse Reno and the sunken road near Fox's Gap, scene of brutal fighting.
Confederate dead were piled here.  (Fred Wilder Cross | William Christen collection)
Union veteran Uberto Burnham in Daniel Wise's field at Fox's Gap. The Reno monument appears
 in the background. (Fred Wilder Cross | William Christen collection)
Fred Cross took this photo of the Middletown, Md., house where Ohio officer Rutherford B. Hayes,
 a future president, recovered from his South Mountain wounds. (William Christen collection)
Fred Cross took this panorama of the South Mountain battlefield in September 1922.
(William Christen collection | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
In the 1920s, Cross gathered his experiences at South Mountain and Antietam into self-published reports that included the many photographs he had taken of the battlefields. He later shared the reports with friends, including Clifford.

In his South Mountain report, Cross included a photo of Carlton Gross, whose family's house was struck by Rebel artillery during the battle. "This little house was under fire during the artillery duel that proceeded the infantry attack, and a Confederate cannonball is preserved in the house, which was fired into it on the morning of September 14, 1862," Cross wrote. "It came in at the right end of the house ... pierced the westerly wall and the open front door, and wedged itself in the wall beside the door casing. I have a section of the shattered door casing in my collection at home."

In an image taken by Fred Cross in the 1920s at South Mountain, 
Carlton Gross holds a six-pound Confederate cannonball
that passed through his family's house during the battle on 
Sept. 14, 1862.  (William Christen collection)
Labors of love, the reports included images of Union Major General Jesse Reno's monument at Fox's Gap; the Middletown house where 23rd Ohio Lt. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, a future president, recovered from his South Mountain wounds; and a New York veteran's visit to a farmer's field where he had fought decades earlier.

In one of his reports, Cross wrote:
"I have prepared and annotated this collection of pictures because of the pleasure that I enjoy in revisiting in fancy the scenes, which hold for me such surpassing interest, and because of the feeling that, perhaps, long years to come my children may like to view again in these pages the scenes, which they once visited with me -- scenes that are so intimately and pathetically connected with our Country's history, and that have always filled and thrilled me with such absorbing interest."

After Cross' death in 1950, Jim Clifford and John Winters, a "colonel" in  "The Battle-field Expeditionary Force," traveled separately from Virginia to their friend's house near the railroad tracks in South Royalston. Cross had put his friends in his will, designating each to receive some of the many Civil War relics and books he had collected during his lifetime.

The grave of Fred Cross, 
the "one hundred 
percent Massachusetts" man.
(Find A Grave)
In wood boxes, Winters and Clifford packed up hundreds of books from Cross' collection, including the Official Records, as well as cannon balls and projectiles by the dozens. Clifford was bequeathed a large, oak bookcase that held belt plates, bottles, buttons, pieces of exploded shells -- scores of war relics Cross had collected from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania battlefields.

Later, Clifford visited Cross' grave, only 50 yards from the house where the "hundred percent Massachusetts" man was born. It says so right on his gravestone.

"His tombstone [was] erected and carved to his specifications," Clifford recalled in 1987. "It was tall -- maybe four feet and five or six inches thick, and made of pure black slate. Beautiful and solid looking. His wife͛'s, too."

Cross' heart apparently was as big as his love of battlefields. Next to his friend's grave, Clifford found a marker for a homeless Union veteran, whom Cross had befriended and aided.

"Wonderful of Mr. Cross," Clifford wrote. "This alone should get him into the kingdom of heaven."

NOTE: I thank William Christen, who generously shared photos and detailed information from his terrific collection and archives on Fred Wilder Cross.

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


-- Cross, Fred Wilder, South Mountain and Antietam, Part I, self-published 1925 and 1926, respectively.
-- Hagerstown Daily Mail, Feb. 16, 1934, March 13, 1934.
-- New York Times, March 9, 1950.
-- Jim Clifford correspondence with William Christen, Nov. 15, 1985, Dec. 3, 1985, Dec. 23, 1985,  Jan. 22, 1987, Feb. 1, 1987.

Friday, October 27, 2017

For Charleston TinTypist, work-of-art photography isn't a snap

Christine Eadie, the Charleston TinTypist, explains the old-time photographic process.
Before the tintype is "fixed," it appears as a negative.
Eadie "fixes" the image, turning it from a negative to a positive.
Eadie's nearly complete image of Center For Civil War Photography Image of War attendees.
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On an unseasonably hot October afternoon in Charleston, S.C.,  60 Center For Civil War Photography Image of War seminar attendees gathered in the shade of a huge tree next to the historic Old Exchange. Twenty feet away, Christine Eadie pulled the cap on her vintage wooden camera for about three seconds, exposing an aluminum plate coated with collodion and silver nitrate.

Then the real magic began.

Eadie, the Charleston TinTypist, hustled over a cobblestone street a short distance to her portable darkroom, where she developed the plate in a bath of chemicals. As the image of the CCWP group slowly appeared on the plate as a negative, she washed off the developer using distilled water, stopping the development.

When Eadie brought the plate out of the darkroom, she "fixed" the photograph, turning it from a negative to a positive image before our eyes. Once the plate was dry, she varnished it to seal it and protect it from the air. (For an in-depth take on Eadie's process, go to her web site here.)

For the Charleston TinTypist, the photograph was one of her biggest challenges -- the Australia-born artist, who has been shooting tintypes since 2013, had never created a single image of so many people. But the final product dazzled at least one amateur photographer, who prefers an iPhone and picmonkey to create his "tintypes." It takes 35-40 minutes for a work-of-art tintype to be created by Eadie, who recently answered five of my questions about her remarkable craft.

You travel to re-enacting and living history events throughout the Southeast, photographing people at those events. What is that experience like?

Christine Eadie's finished product, a tintype of five Confederate re-enactors.
Eadie: It's been fun! The people I meet are generally really wonderful people. I've made a lot of new friends just by travelling around. What I love about working with the people at these events is the fact that most of them already understand what I am doing and they appreciate my efforts. I also meet a lot of spectators who are photographers who are fascinated with the process. I have had a chance to travel to places I've never been to before. In the last couple of years, I have traveled up and down the East Coast and made hundreds of tintypes. It's amazing to me how many people at these events tell me they follow me on Facebook.

I find it interesting that I am often met with a lot of pre-conceived notions -- people assuming I hadn't done any photography before I got into making tintypes. I was shooting film from the age of 11 and did commercial digital work (portraits, weddings and fashion) before I ever learned how to make tintypes. I've also been exhibiting my artwork in galleries for over 12 years. People seem so surprised when I tell them that. I guess because most Civil War photographers were first reenactors who got into the process that way. I was the opposite.

Of course, there are many challenges involved with doing the wet-plate process at a three-day event in the middle of nowhere. Most people don't realize just how challenging it is. Usually these events are held in a field or at an old battle site. Not only do I have to bring along a portable darkroom -- chemicals, camera, backdrops, props, etc. -- but I have to be as period correct as possible and sleep in a tent and put up a canvas canopy for shade. The chemicals can act a little crazy sometimes in the hot humid summers in the Southeast. I have to put my chemicals on ice in the summer. It's one of the most technically challenging photographic processes in the best of circumstances. Contrary to what some people believe, it is not all that financially rewarding even when you're at the top of the field and going to the biggest events. Many photographers have given up going to reenactments altogether because it's just so much trouble for very little financial gain. I'm going to stick with it for now and see how it goes.

"... in a roundabout sort of way, I feel as though I have
already photographed Lincoln," Eadie says.
(Library of Congress)
If you could go back in time, what would your approach be to photographing Abraham Lincoln?

Eadie: I'd probably be extremely nervous about photographing a real president. I'd look at other portraits that had been made of him before and try to do something a little different. I did photograph a man who does a very good Lincoln impression. He has been reenacting for many years. When commissioning me to make his portrait, he said, "I have been photographed by just about every tintype photographer there is who goes to reenactments. Let's see how you do!" No pressure or anything. Of course, I really tried hard to make a great picture for him. Thankfully I must have done a good job because he loved the picture so much he put it on his business card. He came back the following year and had another one made. So in a roundabout sort of way, I feel as though I have already photographed Lincoln.

If you could ask Civil War photographers Alexander Gardner or Mathew Brady questions, what would those be?

Eadie: Honestly, I'd probably be more interested in checking out their set up and look at their gear! Based on what I'd see, I'd probably ask boring technical questions. I would ask them for any advice they could offer.

"It would pain me to see these soldiers
and their wounds in real life,"
Eadie says. (Soldier image from
National Museum of Health and Medicine)
Some of the more poignant Civil War portraits are of soldiers with grievous battlefield wounds. What approach would you take if you photographed such a soldier? 

Eadie: I haven't really thought about that before. Had I been offered that commission, I probably would have turned it down because it would upset me to see the wounds. I am very squeamish. It would pain me to see these soldiers and their wounds in real life.

Is there a Civil War photograph you especially admire, and why?

Eadie: I admire good photographs no matter when or where they were taken. I have a couple of books of Civil War photography, and I have to admire the technical expertise of some of the photographers. It takes a lot of practice to get to the point of making clear and clean wet-plate images out in the field. I can't really think of any particular photograph that really sticks out in my brain. I prefer portraits in landscape settings or in camps that show how life was back then. The posed portraits are great, too, but you can learn so much more from the more candid pictures of camp scenes. I like it when I see some motion blur from flags waving in the wind or anything out of the ordinary. Photographs that tell a story are my favorite.

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