Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Looking for John Polk

   In Volume 8 the North Carolina Troops books series, on page 148, we find this:
Polk, John -----
Negro. Served as "body guard to Colonel Samuel Lowe" of this regiment.

Who was John Polk? Was he a slave owned by Colonel Lowe? A freeman? Inquiring minds want to know more.

I've been writing today about free persons of color and slaves attached to the Branch-Lane brigade. Talk about an area in which there is a total lack of research. There are, I believe, a couple of reasons for this gap. First, people seem more interested in adopting positions than actually doing the research to confirm or refute their ideas. The positions run the gambit from "There were no blacks in the Confederate army," to "There were no blacks willingly serving in the Confederate army," to "There were tens of thousands of blacks willingly serving in the Confederate army." Second - it's not easy to find good sources, especially when the "National Narrative" is already against you. Why is this? I believe the reason why we don't find more mention of black men serving right alongside white men in the ranks is this: it was not an uncommon practice prior to the war. They worked in the fields together, in towns together, often attended church together, and, given that the majority of slave owners only owned one or two slaves, often lived in the same house together.

On a couple of occasions here on this blog, I've talked about the Cozzens/Cossens/Cousins brothers. They were free people of color who voluntarily served in Company B, 37th North Carolina Troops. In one letter from another member of the 37th NCT, I have a list of men messing together. The Cozzens are included in that list. This clearly was no big deal to the writer of the letter.  While this is scant evidence of the theory that I proposed above, it is a start.

So just how many free men of color, or slaves, served in or simply served Confederate regiments? That is impossible to say. But I did a little sample. There were 139 men who served in the officers corps of the 37th NCT. Officers were, historically, better educated and wealthier and could afford slaves. I took the officers of two companies from Watauga, B and E. Out of the twelve officers in Company B, nine were from Watauga. In Company E, seven out of eleven were from Watauga. According to the slave census, only one officer in Company B owned slaves - Jonathan Horton. He owned five, and could possibly have brought one from home. Likewise, in Company E, only one man, William F. Shull, owned slaves. He owned three, and could have brought one from home. If that tally is true for every company, then there might have been one slave brought from home for each company. Of course, that slave would be attached to his master, and possibly his master's mess mates.  It is possible that this number would be greater in a regiment recruited earlier in the war. I've not written about a regiment recruited early in the war (yet), so I'm not sure. You might easily add three or four more for the field and staff. I also have some records of soldiers renting servants. But, they often do not specify whether they were renting slaves or freemen. So, maybe fifteen slaves or servants tending to their masters in a regiment?

In the Branch-Lane brigade, I have identified twenty-three men who served as teamsters during the war, a position traditionally occupied by black men. But so far, I have not been able to identify any of them as either free men of color or as enslaved. The research continues.

Back to John Polk. The scant amount of information we have simply says he was a "Negro" and that he was Samuel Lowe's "body guard." The record does not tell us if he was a cook, or teamster, or  if he was slave or free, or even how long he served.

I went and looked in the US Census. Samuel Lowe was from Lincoln County. I found a John Polk, age 35, in the 1860 Gaston County census. He is a freeman, and lists his post office in the King's Mountain area.

There is a John Polk in the 1870 US census for Cleveland County, North Carolina. He is listed as a black man, age 49, living in the home of Abe Polk, age 59. He was from North Carolina, and could read and write.

Of course, I have no idea if these are the same men, or even if this is the right John Polk. I also searched for Samuel Lowe as a slave owner on Heritage Quest. I could not find him listed.

People often mention the plethora of books about the war. Save for a literal handful, like Bell Wiley's Southern Negroes, 1861-1865; Durden's The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation; Blackerby's Blacks in Blue and Gray: Afro-American Service in the Civil War; and Barrow, Segar, and Rosenburg's Black Confederates, it appears that everyone is willing to just adopt some position, dig in, and hurl "bum shells" at those who disagree. That is a terrible shame, as men like John Polk deserve to have their stories told. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Branch-Lane update

Despite all of the traveling this summer, I've made some progress on the Branch-Lane manuscript. I've been working on a chapter about daily life. The first part of this chapter actually walks a reader through what a normal (non-campaign) day was like. I covered things like sleeping arrangements, roll call, food, drill, guard mounting/pickets, dress parades, and down time, while Sundays brought inspections and church services. The rest of the chapter deals with other aspects of daily life, like writing and getting letters from home, camp fun, gambling, snowball fights, music, visitors in camp, hygiene, and accidents. Yet to be included are sections on getting paid and clothing. Handled in other chapters will be the whole medical aspect (there was a sick call every morning), and military disciple.

In the past, I have integrated the daily life into the chronological sequence of the book.  I thought with the Branch-Lane brigade book that I could probably better explain what life was like by keeping it all together. I guess you, the readers, will tell me what worked better.

In writing a brigade history, I have found scores of illustrations from their letters to illustrate the various points. That's great. But, at the same time, I can only use a couple out of maybe ten or more. It is a challenge, but I hope you will enjoy what I've come up with. The Daily Life chapter will probably be the largest chapter in the book.

It is my hope to have the Daily Life chapter finished up by the end of the week. Then it is on to Chancellorsville. I image this will be the most challenging, considering the number of things written regarding the mortal wounding of Jackson.


Onward and upward.... 

Friday, July 31, 2015

On the road in August

Things are slowing down just a little over the next month. If you are out and about, please come join me!
August 1 - Ft. Fisher - 2:00 pm
August 4 - Pvt. Lorenzo Bennett Camp SCV, Bennett Place, Durham
August 6 - 47th Regiment NC Troops Camp, SCV, Wake Forest
August 7-9 - Emerging Civil War Conference, Fredericksburg, VA
August 10 - Big Ivy Mountain Guard Camp, SCV, Barnardsville
August 11 - Tour for the Beech Mountain Club
August 13 - Southminster Retirement Community, Charlotte
August 17 - Mitchell County and the Civil War, Spruce Pine Public Library, 6:30 pm
August 18 - Col. John B. Palmer Camp, SCV, Burnsville
August 20 - Moses Wood Camp, SCV, Gaffney, SC
August 24 - Avery County and the Civil War, Public Library, Newland, 6:30 pm
August 25 - Gen. William Kirkland Camp, SCV, Chapel Hill

August 31 - Yancey County and the Civil War, Public Library, Burnsville, 6:30 pm

Monday, July 27, 2015

Putting little pieces together

I've been working on the story of the band of the Thirty-third regiment today. It is at times frustrating that someone can write an entire book on the band of the 26th NCT, and yet I can only come up with a paragraph on the band of the 33rd NCT. Both bands primarily came from Forsyth County.....

I have said many times that the work I do is like a massive jigsaw puzzle, except I will never have all of the pieces. And that is just what it is: pieces. For example. Julius F. Stauber served in Company I, 33rd North Carolina Troops. He was an original member of the band. In August 1862, he died of disease in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia.

It appears that many of band members in the 33rd NCT were members of Bethania Moravian Church. Their pastor during the war was Jacob Siewers. He recorded in his diary on December 12, 1862: "Samuel Stauber returned this afternoon with several others from Virginia with their deceased sons." The 1860 Forsyth County Census shows a Samuel Stauber with a son named Julius.


Pieces.... That is all I have. Just pieces.....  

Monday, May 11, 2015

George Stoneman

Continuing the theme of interesting questions that arise during the Q&A, I thought we would spend a little time looking at the life of George Stoneman, the Federal cavalry commander who led the raid through western North Carolina in March and April 1865. Instead of a full biographical sketch, I thought we would cover a few points.


George Stoneman commanded the Federal cavalry during the battle of Chancellorsville. As part of Hooker's plan of battle, Stoneman was to lead the Federal Cavalry beyond Lee's lines, destroying vital railroad junctions, cutting Lee's supply lines and forcing the Army of Northern Virginia back. Rain first caused Stoneman's men difficulty, forcing him to recall part of his advance. Later the plan was changed by Hooker to be solely to destroy the railroads and lines of communication.  While Lee was concerned about Federal cavalry in his rear, he basically ignored Stoneman and, in the end, defeated Hooker and the Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker blamed Stoneman for the defeat. It only took the Confederates a few days to repair the damage. Stoneman was replaced as commander of the Federal cavalry corps in the Army of the Potomac before the month of May ended.


George Stoneman led another raid in Georgia in July and August 1864. Stoneman commanded one part of the cavalry of Sherman's army.  Sherman ordered the cavalry to break up the Macon and Western Railroad near Jonesboro. Stoneman proposed that after "destroying" Confederate cavalry in the area, he move to Macon, and then on to Andersonville, where he could free 23,000 Federal prisoners. The movement began on July 27. In Monticello, Stoneman learned that the bridges over the Ocmulgee did not exist, and chose to move on towards Macon, instead of turning back towards the west and linking up with other Federal forces. When he reached the outskirts of Macon, he found thousands of militia troops. Soon, Confederate cavalry closed in. On July 31, at Sunshine Church, Stoneman attempted to fight his way out. In the end, Stoneman surrendered his command. Stoneman was the highest ranking officer ever captured by the Confederates. He was exchanged in late September for Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan (captured during the battle of Jonesboro).


George Stoneman led a raid into North Carolina and Virginia in March and April 1865. After much delay, the raid began on March 20, 1865, moving through Morristown, Tennessee, on March 23, and skirmishing with home guardsmen in Boone on March 28. Instead of writing a blow-by-blow account, I would like to consider the question that has arisen more than once: what was Stoneman's directive? US Grant wrote to Stoneman's superior on January 31: "Stoneman might penetrate South Carolina well down towards Columbia, destroying the railroad and military resources of the country, thus visiting a portion of the state which will not be reached by Sherman's forces. He also might return to East Tennessee by way of Salisbury, N.C., this releasing some of our prisoners in rebel hands." Stoneman's goal was to destroy the railroad and "military resources" of the places that he went.



There you have it - three points that have come up in my discussion regarding George Stoneman. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Statesville: the Last North Carolina State Capital during the War

Continuing my "Stump the Historian" series today. Last week, I spoke at the Iredell County Public Library, and the claim of the Vance House as the last North Carolina Confederate capital was brought up. According to an early linen postcard, the Vance House was the "Former Capital of North Carolina During Vance's Occupancy."


Hmm, the only problem with that claim is that Vance had already abdicated his position as governor before he got to Statesville.


On April 12, 1865, Vance left Raleigh, and by April 13, was meeting with Generals Johnston, Hampton, and Secretaries Regan and Breckinridge in Greensboro. Vance eventually went on to confer with Jefferson Davis in Charlotte, but returned to Greensboro and attempted to contact General Sherman. Sherman had already left North Carolina, and Vance had to deal with General John M. Schofield. Vance offered to surrender on April 27, but Schofield told him to go home. Vance issued a proclamation on April 28, calling for a return to social peace and an end to the strife caused by the war. It was his last official act. Instead of returning to Raleigh, Vance went to Statesville. He had sent his family to Statesville on the approach of Sherman towards Raleigh. When Stoneman approached the town, Vance's family fled to Lincolnton. Just when they returned, I have not found. Vance arrived in Statesville on May 4 and was in Statesville when he was arrested on May 13, 1865.


W. W. Holden, who was Vance's political rival, and who was appointed Governor of North Carolina by US President Andrew Johnson on May 29, 1865, firmly believed that once Vance left Raleigh, he relinquished his position as governor.


In looking through various biographies on Vance, I can find nothing that states that he attempted to conduct the business of the state from the house he rented in Statesville. He was only there for nine days before his arrest and transfer to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D. C. 



So, I would argue that Statesville did not serve as a capital of North Carolina. Thoughts? 

Monday, May 04, 2015

On the Road in May.

It looks like things are going to calm down just a little over the next month. I have not quite as many places to go, but I am taking the Capitals of the Confederacy talk to different states. Not only will I be in North Carolina, but in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida as well. I look forward to meeting with folks and continuing the conversation!

May 2 - Rocky Ford, NC
May 5 - Creedmore/Stem, NC SCV
May 7 - Elizabethton, TN  SCV  
May 11 - Gastonia, NC SCV
May 12 - Rock Hill, SC  SCV
May 19 - Ocoee, FL SCV
May 20 - Leesburg Public Library, FL
May 22 - New Smyrna Museum of History, FL  
May 23 - Ft. Myers, FL  SCV