Monday, March 23, 2020

Confederate Wagon Trains, Teamsters, and Wagoneers


   Over the years, I have collected quite a few volumes on the War. They include general reference works, biographies of military and political figures, books on places, and on battles. In only one of these multitude of volumes can I find one chapter on the subject of wagon trains. That would be found in Earl Hess’s Civil War Logistics, and this chapter looks at the role of wagon trains mostly on the Federal side.

  When most people think about Confederate wagon trains, the retreat of Confederate forces from the battle of Gettysburg is the primary event that pops into mind. Under the command of Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, that wagon train of supplies and wounded stretched 15 to 20 miles (probably more) and was attacked several times by Federal cavalry. While these transportation systems are now an important piece of history, seeing a wagon or a train of wagons was a common occurrence in the 1860s.

   Turning first to Army Regulations (1863, Confederate. The Federal 1861 regulations are almost identical), we find that each infantry regiment is entitled to six wagons. A textbook regiment is 1,000 men, so overall, that is not a lot of room to haul food, mess equipment, and officer’s baggage on campaign. Of course, save for the opening days of a campaign, regiments were seldom at full strength. By mid-1863, at least in my experience, a regiment had 400-600 men. Plus, the medical department for each regiment “is allowed two four-wheeled, and the same number of two-wheeled ambulances; and one wagon for the transportation of hospital supplies.” Federal regulations actually specified the size of the wagon – 22x41x114 inches, inside measurement. It seems this was omitted from Confederate regulations. Of course, we know that wagons were always in short supply for the Confederacy. The wagon train for a regiment was under the command of the colonel of that regiment. The actual commander of the wagon train was the wagon-master, who, according to regulations was under the command of the quartermaster’s Department. The wagon-master had command over the teamsters or wagoneers. Strangely enough, a “wagon-master” is not a rank that I have encountered on the Confederate side.

   Digging a little deeper, Scott’s Military Dictionary (1861) tells us that for “each regiment of dragoons, artillery, and mounted riflemen in the regular army there shall be added one principle teamster with the rank and compensation of quartermaster-sergeant and to each company of the same two teamsters, with the compensation of artificers.”  (610) It is interesting that there is no mention of the Infantry.

Edwin Forbes, "The Supply Train" 1876.
   So how well do these numbers stand up to what actually happened? That, my friends, is a hard conclusion to reach. Just how many wagons were with each regiment? Five to six seems to be the rule. In August 1862, when Col. John B. Palmer was ordered to move his regiment, the 58th North Carolina Troops, from the present-day Johnson City area to Cumberland Gap, he was instructed to take just five wagons (Hardy, The Fifty-Eighth North Carolina Troops, 39). A field officer in Colquitt’s brigade (ANV), writing in December 1862, complained that his brigade (five) regiments only had thirty-seven wagons, six of which were worn out. He needed six foraging wagons, but only had one.” (Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army, 212) What I do now know is this: does the number of wagons, both for Palmer and Colquitt’s brigade, include the ambulances and wagon for transporting medical supplies? Or, were those two always separate?

  Peter Wellington Alexander, a correspondent for several war-time Southern newspapers, fills us in with several important observations early in the war. Writing in December 1861, he has this to say about the Quartermaster’s Department: “It is the duty of this department to provide transportation, fuel and quarters for the men, and forage for the teams and staff and cavalry horses. The rules adopted in the Army of the Potomac [later Army of Northern Virginia]—and the same is true, I presume, elsewhere—had been to impress all the transportation and forage in the counties adjacent to Manassas. Where the owners were willing to part with their teams or provender, they received pay for them; otherwise, they were seized and the owners turned over to the government for remuneration. There cannot be fewer than 1,500 to 2,000 wagons, and six to 8,000 horses, in the service of the Quarter-Master’s department for that division of the army… At first drivers were impressed with the wagons. Now, they are detailed from the ranks, of the army—young men who have no experience in driving and who complained that they did not enlist to drive wagons. They were required to alternate, and thus every day or two there was a new driver, who was ignorant both of the ability and disposition of the horses, and who soon teaches them bad habits.” (Styple, Writing and Fighting the Confederate War, 59)

  There is a lot to unpack, at least for early war, in that statement. The Confederate army would have had next to no wagons at the start of the conflict. Maybe a handful found at various captured military post throughout the South, but really not enough to provision and equip the army. So, military officials bought or impressed both wagons and teams. I’m sure this is not only true for Confederate forces in Virginia, but Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina as well.

   Second, the drivers of these wagons came from the ranks. For many who write about the war, we often see long wagon trains driven solely by impressed or hired slaves/free people of color. That might be true, especially after mid-1864, but not entirely. I’ve noticed over the years quite a few men detailed from the ranks to drive wagons. In the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, I documented fourteen men who served as teamsters. The average age was 36. (The youngest, fourteen, the oldest forty.) The records are really spotty, as with most Confederate regiments. All of these men save two were listed as teamsters when the compiled service records of 39th Batt. VA Cav. end in December 1864. Only one of those men, Pvt. Alexander J. Ramsey, was listed as being sick and wounded prior to being assigned as a teamster. I can’t really say that those who were disabled or unfit to march with the infantry were assigned to this duty. Another interesting example from the 39th Battalion is Pvt. Anthony S. Butts. Private Butts was conscripted into the Confederate army in 1863, and was assigned to ANV headquarters staff. For the rest of war, right up until Robert E. Lee arrived in Richmond on April 15, 1865, Butts was driving Lee’s personal ambulance. Of course, the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry did not function as a traditional cavalry command. Many of these men detailed as teamsters, like Butts, were serving in other commands.

   Did Black men serve as teamsters? Yes. Where they prominent in that role? I really can’t say. There were a couple of attempts in 1864 to get detailed men back in the ranks. Marion Hill Fitzpatrick wrote in November 1864 that “Jeff Davis recommends the calling out of Forty Thousand able bodied negroes [for teamsters].” (McCrea, Red Dirt and Isinglass, 528) Obviously, some of them could have been used to replace white men detailed as teamsters.  Some regiments did have Black teamsters. The 30th Virginia Infantry had six. (Pamplin Historical Park) Tim Talbot has an account on his blog of a member of the 1st Maine Cavalry capturing (in late 1864) ten Confederate wagons loaded with provisions, along with their “drivers (all colored men).”

   How did the men in the ranks feel about the men detailed as teamsters? Another good question. Joshua Lupton, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, was detailed to serve as the wagon master for ANV Headquarters staff. His brother John thought Joshua’s assignment was an easy one. All he had to do was “issue forage to General Lee's horses twice a day.” (Hardy, Lee’s Body Guard, 25) Undoubtedly, there was some resentment over this “easy assignment." At Appomattox, when the time came to surrender, those men who had been detailed as teamsters were sent back to their regiments to march in the proceedings. Brigadier General James H. Lane felt that these men should all be placed in a group together. "I did not wish to surrender any but those brave fellows who had followed us under arms,” he wrote after the war. (Fayetteville Observer, June 8, 1897.)

   I think this subject needs a lot more research, so, more to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Robert E. Lee versus the USS Monitor


    The USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia came upon the scene about the same time. They were innovative war machines, and their famous duel in Hampton Roads in March 1862 heralded a new mode of warfare. Their duel was the first meeting between ironclads, changing naval history. There was a great concern that the Monitor would sail up the James River and attack Richmond.

   On March 18, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote to area commander Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder concerning a possible attack by the USS Monitor. How could Magruder defeat the seemingly undefeatable ironclad? Lee had an idea. “Should the Monitor appear before your batteries, it has occurred to me that by reserving your fire until she arrives near and discharging by word of command or simultaneously your heavy guns at her turret at the time when her gun was protruded for delivering fire, if the gun was struck it would be disabled, or if the turret was hit by a number of shot it would be deranged or capsized from its center.” (Official Records, Series I, Vol., 11, Part 3, page 385.)

   Magruder’s best opportunity to try Lee’s strategy would be if the USS Monitor steamed up the York River. The distance between the batteries at Yorktown and on Gloucester Point was only a third of a mile. Elsewhere, the distance was between one and a half and two miles, until the town of West Point was reached. Would Lee’s plan work? The idea of hitting the muzzle of one of the Dahlgren cannons is plausible. Such a shot might have damaged the gun in such a way that it could not be brought back into the turret for reloading, or it might have forced the gun off its carriage, creating carnage in the turret. But even at the short distance between Yorktown and Gloucester Point, hitting such a target as the muzzle of a cannon protruding from a turret just a few feet above the water line would be difficult, to say the least.

   The USS Monitor did steam up the James River in May 1862, but it was after the fortifications near Yorktown, where Magruder’s command was located, had been abandoned. The Monitor was unable to elevate its guns high enough to duel with the Confederate works at Drewry’s Bluff. The other ships in the Federal naval flotilla were damaged after more than three hours of battle. The ships dropped back down the James River to refit.


   Lee v. the Monitor… who knew.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Books on Richmond and the War.


Often, people ask me about books. And that’s ok. I’ve read a few over the past three decades. At times, it is really hard to answer those questions in a general sense. But, when it comes to more specific questions, like best book on a battle, or a certain topic, that can be easier to answer. Over the past year, I have read, or re-read, several volumes about Richmond, the Confederate capital. There are other volumes about the Confederate capital, but I find these the most helpful. (These are in order of date published.)

Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital (Stephen Ash, 2019) – The dust jacket states that Ashe “guides readers from the city’s alleys, homes, and shops to its churches, factories, and halls of power, uncovering the intimate daily drama of a city transformed and ultimately destroyed by war.” The various chapters examine housing, food, work, crime, and other aspects of the city during the war. I struggled somewhat with the chapter entitled “White Supremacy and Black Resistance.” That implies that only white people, most upper society white people, were racist. Everyone was racist in that period of time. Many people did not like the Irish, or the Catholic. In reading Jones’s famous A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary, he never really mentions the enslaved, but he sure detested the Jews. Ash gives some space to overlooked areas of war-time Richmond, such as the “Soldier’s Home” on Cary Street. Soldiers passing through the Capital and required to wait on connecting trains could stay at the Soldier’s Home, instead of having to wander the streets throughout the night, looking for a place to bed down. (51) Overall, Rebel Richmond is a good read.

The Confederate State of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital (Emory M. Thomas, 1971, 1998) This is probably the first book I ever read on the Confederate capital. The edition I now have is the second, with the new introduction. Emory writes in the introduction that as a boy, growing up in Richmond, the War in general and the Confederacy in particular, was a lot of “sad stories told principally by people in flowered dresses, floppy straw hats, and white gloves.” Later, Thomas admits that “the Confederate experience possessed genuine intellectual viability.” (vii) While Thomas should have admitted a debt of gratitude to those ladies in white gloves for saving multitudes of letters and diaries and oral traditions, I still like his book. He uses footnotes so it easy to track down sources (instead of flipping back and forth). Thomas broaches several important subjects, such as the relationship of weather to crop production, the meat panic in January 1864, and the CS Commissary borrowing food from the city to feed Lee’s army in March 1865. There are some who criticize Thomas, especially his biography of Lee. Overall, I still think The Confederate State of Richmond a good read and important contribution (probably the first scholarly) to the study of the Confederate capital.

Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War (Ernest B. Furgurson, 1996)--At almost 400 pages, Ashes of Glory is probably the most detailed history of the Confederate capital to date. Furgurson introduces us to a wide range of characters. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Mayor Joseph Mayo, Capt. Sally Tompkins, Rev. Moses Hoge, spy Elizabeth Van Lew, and a host of others make their appearances through the text. There are good descriptions of the relationship (or lack thereof) between Robert E. Lee and Lucius Northorp, of Northorp’s sacking, of the spy network, the escape of Federal prisoners from Libby Prison, the work of such industries as Tredegar Iron Works… Overall, it is a pretty comprehensive look at the Confederate capital. “In this work of great verisimilitude and potency, Furgurson resurrects a city in crisis and dramatically personalizes the conflict that was our nation’s coming-of-age,” the book’s jacket tells us.

There are, of course, many other volumes. Moore’s Complete Civil War Guide to Richmond (1978) contains a lot of useful information for those who like to explore the city. Kimball’s Starve or Fall: Richmond and its People, 1861-1865 (1976) is somewhat dated and probably replaced by Ash. Parker’s Richmond’s Civil War Prisons (1990). Manarin’s Richmond at War: The Minutes of the City Council, 1861-1865 (1966) is essential primary source reading. Burns’ Curiosities of the Confederate Capital: Untold Richmond Stories of the Spectacular, Tragic, and Bizarre (2013) is a fun read. There are two medical- related books: Calcutt’s Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals (2005) and Green’s Chimborazo: The Confederacy’s Largest Hospital (2004) are both important reads, as is Dew’s Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R. Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works (1966).

Parker’s Richmond’s Civil War Prisons (1990) looks interesting, but this is one I have never read nor own, as is Casstevens’ George W. Alexander and Castle Thunder: A Confederate Prison and its Commandant (2004). There are, of course, other books that have been written over the years, but these three, Ash, Thomas, and Furgurson are my go-to books about the Confederate capital. (Or course, I might be remiss to not mention my own Capitals of the Confederacy [2015] that has two chapters on Richmond.) This list leaves out first-person accounts, like DeLeon, Jones, McGuire, Putnam, Pember, and Kean.



So, what are your favorite books on Richmond and the War?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

It was Scott, not Grant, who won the war.



   The more deeply I read into Confederate history, the more convinced I am that it was Winfield Scott, not U.S. Grant, who actually “won” the War. Scott had a storied life. Born in Virginia in 1786; graduate of William & Mary, and then studied law; appointed to the U.S. Army in 1812; commander-in-chief in 1841; the acknowledged genius of the Mexican-American War; Whig nominee for president in 1852… (the list could go on). In the early days of the war, it was Scott who developed the Anaconda Plan.

Winfield Scot                            Robert E. Lee
   If you have spent any time delving into the 1860s, you’ve probably seen reference to the Anaconda Plan. We usually see it mentioned, nod our heads, and move on. However, after working on “Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia” for the past couple of years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Scott’s plan really should get more attention. Regarding the Anaconda Plan, Bruce Catton writes that Scott knew it would take time to build armies. “[T]herefore, by blockading the sea coast, seal off the inland borders as well, then drive down the Mississippi, constricting the vitality out of the Confederacy—and, at last, send in armies of invasion to break the Southern nation into bits,” the Confederacy could be beaten. (29-30) Of course, a lot of people didn’t listen to Scott. They wanted quick action – on to Richmond was the cry. We know that didn’t work out very well. And after four years of Federal armies losing hundreds of thousands of men, the blockade finally strangled the Confederacy. When Fort Fisher fell, closing the Cape Fear River and the port at Wilmington, the Confederate armies quickly succumbed.

   Now that’s not to say that Sherman’s operations in Georgia and the actions of Hunter and Sheridan in the Valley did not help contribute to the Confederate demise. They did, especially in regard to foodstuffs. But even before Sheridan moved down through the Shenandoah Valley, Lee’s army was dependent on food coming through the blockade, mostly through the port of Wilmington. That, and the illicit trade through Federal lines, is what really kept the Army of Northern Virginia going the last year of the war (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post). We could just as easily push this conversation back further. They were hungry after the first battle of Mannassas, and foodstuffs are what pushed Lee into Maryland in September 1862 and Pennsylvania in July 1863.

   There will be some who will say that old Hardy is just succumbing to the Lost Cause mythology: that the South was defeated not through military might, but because the men were cold and hungry. I have come to believe that the latter is more true than some will want to believe. As I have worked on “Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia,” I have largely stayed away from post war-war reminiscences. Instead, I have focused on diaries and letters, creating a real-time look at problems of foodstuffs, at least in the army in Virginia. Based upon the trends, I can see when the soldiers were hungry, when they were well fed (which seldom happened), and how it affected their moral.  And that is really a key point. A huge percentage of soldiers, at least in the ANV, once they get to a breaking point regarding food, leave. Many head home. Some wander around trying to find or steal food. Others head to the Federal lines, where food has been promised to those who desert. In the end, Lee’s army, which had plenty of munitions of war, simply ran out of men.

   But don’t take my word for it. Military historian John Keegan writes in The American Civil War that Scott’s plan was the “North’s fundamental strategy.” (321) Stephen Wise concludes the same in Lifeline of the Confederacy: “Defeat did not come from the lack of material: instead the Confederacy simply no long had the manpower to resist, and the nation collapsed.” (226)

   In the end, Scott’s military legacy is overshadowed by Grant and Sherman. Scott was an old man at the start of the war, retiring early on, and passing away in 1866. Had the Federal navy been able to blockade the Southern ports more quickly, then maybe the Confederacy might not have existed as long as it did. It’s just something to consider, another thought to ponder in this complex story .   

Monday, February 10, 2020

Confederate Wayside Hospitals


   There are many different types of Confederate hospitals. A regiment in camp early on in the war would set up a hospital in a tent or local building. (Later in the war, at least in the ANV, these regimental/brigade hospitals were combined into a division hospital, at least in the ANV). Going into a battle, a brigade would establish a hospital for wounded well behind the lines. Like a camp hospital, a series of tents or structures, or both, would be utilized. Once the wounded were well enough to be moved, they were transferred to a large city-wide hospital complex. After these were organized, the wounded would pass through a receiving hospital before being transferred to a general hospital. Any large city (and probably quite a few towns) connected to a railroad could have a general hospital. If a sick or wounded soldier could go home, he was given a furlough and sent in that direction. Hospitals sprang up across the South to serve these soldiers. They would give the men food, possibly a change of bandages, and a place to wait while waiting for a connecting or refueling train.

   To date, there has not been much published on Confederate Wayside Hospitals. In Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein’s The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine, we find a brief entry. Schroeder-Lein tells us that “Wayside hospitals were often initially developed and at least partially staffed by local women’s relief organizations…” In May 1863, the Confederate Congress passed a law directing the surgeon general to establish “way side” hospitals. Schroeder-Lein concludes that there were seventeen such hospitals in Virginia, with others in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. (159) She probably dug that list out of an appendix in Cunningham’s Doctors in Gray. Cunningham does not say much about wayside hospitals. He does provide a list of hospitals, but surely that list is incomplete. There had to be more than two hospitals in Tennessee during the war, for example.

Marker for the Wayside Hospital in Columbia, SC. 
   My first real encounter with a Wayside Hospital came while I was working on Civil War Charlotte. There were three different railroads that converged in Charlotte. Two of those, the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad, which connected Charlotte to Columbia, and the North Carolina Railroad, which connected Charlotte to Salisbury, was a major route connecting the Deep South with the Upper South, especially after the loss of the line through East Tennessee in September 1863.

   It is not clear when the ladies in Charlotte formed their wayside hospital. There is mention of the Hospital Association of Mecklenburg County in July 1861, but this looks to largely be concerned with a group of ladies who went to the Peninsula of Virginia to minister to the sick of the First North Carolina Volunteers. The first real mention comes in July 1862, following the Seven Days campaign, when Dr. R. K. Gregory was appointed “as surgeon of the Hospital at Charlotte, established by the citizens for the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers passing through or detained at this point.” (Charlotte Democrat July 15, 1862). In 1896, Miss Lily W. Long wrote an article published in the Charlotte Observer about this first hospital: “The first Hospital in Charlotte was established by the ladies in a large building used as the washhouse for the military institute, now the graded school. This building has since been removed. Here all arrangements were made for the care of passing soldiers. Every day two members of the hospital association went there with supplies of all necessary articles and gave their time and strengths to nursing and caring for our men. After a while the Confederate government took charge of the Wayside hospital, placed it under the care of the Medical department and used buildings of the Carolina Fair Association on what is now Middle Street, between Morehead and the railroad crossing, south….”

Part of the NC Military Institute in Charlotte served as a
Wayside Hospital.
   Richard Gregory, a Greensboro, North Carolina native and former US army doctor, was assigned as post doctor for both the General Hospital and Wayside Hospital in Charlotte. Gregory asked the ladies of Charlotte and the surrounding area to supply old sheets, pillow slips, counterpanes, and lint, along with "any delicacies, such as would gratify and be suitable for the sick and wounded" to be left in his office. It appears that women were active in the Wayside Hospital. At times, the Charlotte Daily Bulletin ran work assignments for the next few days. On November 26, Mrs. Sinclair and Mrs. Carson; Thursday, Mrs. C. C. Lee and Mrs. Capt. Lowe, and on Friday, Mrs. Overman and Miss Patsy Watson. On Monday, November 3, the duty fell to Mrs. Lucas and Mrs. Wilkes; Tuesday Mrs. C. Elma and Mrs. E. Britton; Thursday, Mrs. Coldiron and Mrs. John Howie; and, on Friday, Mrs. N. Johnston and Mrs. R. Surwell.

   Jumping across the state, we have the Wayside Hospital in Weldon. Walter Clark, in volume four of North Carolina Troops, tells us the Wayside Hospitals were established in Weldon, Goldsboro, Tarboro, Raleigh, Salisbury, and Charlotte in the summer of 1862, and replaced by General Hospitals in September 1862. I don’t believe this is accurate, as Wayside and General hospitals are still listed as separate entities through 1864. (624) I don’t see, in Cunningham’s list, evidence of Weldon ever having a General Hospital. Regardless, there are some interesting tidbits about the hospital in Weldon found in Cornelia Spencer Edmondston’s diary   (I will confess here that I am extracting these from Toalson’s No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentery, & Desertion.). In February 1864, Edmondston writes of purchasing 38 dozen eggs from another local lady for the hospital. She is paying $1.00 a dozen. Twenty-five dollars has been donated, while her family covers the remining $13. (29) On March 20, Edmondston wrote: “Mr Wilkinson, the Agent of the Hospital, has been here for supplies. His trip was almost unsuccessful, for besides some Potatoes which Mr E had bought for him, some Lard which we could ill spare from the plantation but felt forced to sell him, & some Peas which Mr E gave him squeezed from the seed peas & the few household things I could contribute (very few indeed) & some eggs, 27 doz, which we bought from the negroes, he went back as he came. No one else had anything to spare, so swept is our country by Gov. Agents and Commissaries.” (71)

   There is a lot to unpack in those two diary entries. People contributed money to support the Wayside Hospital in Weldon; items were purchased locally for the hospital; the hospital had a person who traveled around the area looking for supplies; and, government officers impressed a lot of the food in areas, making the local support of these hospitals difficult.

   This post is just an introduction. Was there a Confederate Wayside Hospital in your community? Please feel free to share and maybe we can compile a more complete history of this piece of Confederate history.


 
Wayside Hospitals, per Cunningham

Alabama
Demopolis          Surg. H. Hinckley
Eufaula                 Surg. P. D. L. Baker
Selma                    Surg. W. Curry
Talladega             Surg. G. S. Bryant

Florida
Madison              Asst. Surg. J. Cohen

Georgia
Fort Gaines         Surg. E. W. McCreery

Mississippi
Guntown             Surg. J. M. Hoyle
Liberty                  Surg. R. M. Luckett

North Carolina
Charlotte (No. 6)               Surg. J. W. Ashby
Goldsboro                           Dr. L. A. Stith
Greensboro (No. 2)         Surg. E.B. Holland
Salisbury (No. 3)               Surg. J. W. Hall
Tarboro (No. 7)                 Dr. J. H. Baker
Weldon (No. 1)                  Surg. H. H. Hunter           
Wilmington (No. 5)          Surg. J. C. Walker

South Carolina
Florence              Surg. T. A. Dargan
Greenville           Surg. G. S. Trezevant
Kingsville             Surg. J. A. Pleasants

Virginia
Burkesville          Dr. T. R. Blandy
Lynchburg           Surg. A. C. Smith
Petersburg         Surg. M. P. Scott

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Writing County-Specific Civil War Histories


Over the past few days, while working on the Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia project, I have spent some time looking through some Virginia county histories. I am trying to find some more details about civilians and boxes from home. I have some good sources, but I can’t pull everything from my work on North Carolina. I need a little more “diversity.”

I often talk to people who are interested in local history in some form or fashion. And looking at the old, worn, and tired county histories found on shelves today, we need a new generation of county historians willing to do the hard work and provide their communities with fresh material. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m just going to talk just about mid-19th century United States. Many of these ideas could be applied to other time periods.

What makes a good war-time local history book? That’s a great question. I know what I like to see: numbers, an understanding of how the war as a whole relates to a local story, and for many people, names.

Let’s start with the last aspect: names. For many people, they want to know how their ancestors were involved. Were they good Confederates, bad Unionists, or some of the many dissidents who tried to avoid the war altogether? Oftentimes, we just get fragments of people’s lives: a muster roll sheet, a pension application, maybe service as a juror. But those three things can tell us a lot. When did a man enlist? If 1861, he probably had some type of conviction about the war. If 1862, he was probably forced in by Conscription. (That’s not to say he was Conscripted, but he did understand the law). If he received a pension application, then he served until disabled, or until the end of the war, and was favorably viewed by the local pension board, and the state. If he can be found serving as a juror, then for at least part of the war, the court system was still functioning.

Middle point: an understanding of the how the war as a whole relates to a local story. So many local histories that I study have a few paragraphs about the 1860s, and never put anything into context. For many counties, the war is far away, in Pennsylvania or Mississippi, and the only interaction is the stories sent back home by the soldiers in the field. But that is not exactly true, is it? Caldwell County, North Carolina, had two companies in the 26th North Carolina Troops. At the battle of Gettysburg, these two companies sustained almost 100 percent casualties. Those losses, all at one time, had an enormous impact on that county. Battles, conscription, tax-in-kind, reconstruction, deserters, the underground railroad… having that understanding about how the war as a whole fits into the local scene makes a better book.

First point, last: numbers. For the past 25 years, I have lived in Southern Appalachia. I have strong roots here, ancestors who were here during the American Revolution, the Civil War, and on into the 1960s. There have been some good books about the area during the war years. Inscoe and McKinney’s The Heart of Confederate Appalachia and Fisher’s War at Every Door come to mind. Yet there is a huge hole when it comes to more localized studies. I frequently hear (and at times refute) that all counties in the area were pro-Union, and that simply is not true. How do I know? I’ve taken the time to break down a couple of counties by the 1860 census, line up soldiers, and count. Until others tackle this type of project, we’re just simply not going to know. Maybe some of those east Tennessee counties had a majority that were pro-Union, but until someone takes the time to really look, it is just a guess.

I have two type histories under my belt. Civil War Charlotte was released in June 2012, and Watauga County in the Civil War in October 2013. Two others are in the works, and maybe more in the future. So, I have a little experience in the matter. The volume on Watauga County is better, I believe. We learn as we go. But, instead of just lecturing people who need to be involved in this type of research, or maybe you feel inspired to jump into this line of work (it is a labor of love), here are some tips. (I’m also happy to field questions.)
  •         The 1860 census. Create a spreadsheet based upon the 1860 US census for whatever county you are working on. Pull out the men ages 11 to 60. I find it helpful to leave them as they appear in their districts. This allows me to see enlistment and desertion patterns. In your spread sheet, include name, age, birth/death dates, CS/US, when they enlisted, deserted, returned, paroled, imprisoned, what regiment/company they served in, slave ownership, personal wealth, and where they are buried. The latter allows you to see migration patterns. If your state does not have a troop book series, start with pension applications. Most are online these days. Look for patterns and then go explore others in those same companies. This is a very time-consuming study, but the backbone of the project.
  •          Look for resources EVERYWHERE. Former county or community histories; both CS and US pension applications; family histories; family files at the local library; Southern Claims Commission, both allowed and disbarred; church/association histories; newspapers, both local, regional, and state (war-time and post-war); the Official Records; the Supplement to the Official Records; Confederate Veteran; slave census; slave narratives; local or regional historical and genealogical society newsletters; court records… (this list could go on ad infinitum). It has been my experience that material comes ONE OR TWO SENTENCES AT A TIME. Enough of these sentences might allow us to put a paragraph together. I once found a family history stating a man served as the local salt commissioner during the ar. I already knew that salt was a big deal. This one sentence was what I needed to really tie that story in locally.
  •          Document everything, where it came from, using some standard form of documentation, like MLA, or Chicago, or something. A history book without documentation is just about worthless. People need to know that you are just not making stuff up.
  •          Assume that not everything you read is going to be true. People misremembered events, some of them lied; stories get confused over the years. It is always nice to be able to back up a story with something else from the time period. Also, a letter from 1862 or 1863 is a better source than a story from a grandson. It is not always possible to back up events. In this case, preface your writing by saying something like “According to the family…” That way, your readers know that this may not be exactly factual. At the same time, it is important to capture as many stories as possible. The person reading your final product is probably not going to root through the 1000 sources that you did.
  •        Read other county-level studies. It is not easy to find these. Only 20 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have been covered. Virginia has done better over the years. Tennessee and Alabama are horrible. As far as actual recommendations, hmm… Jordan’s Charlottesville and the University of North Carolina in the Civil War, was ok, as was Shaffer’s Washington County, Virginia, in the Civil War, Williams’ Lexington, Virginia and the Civil War, and of course, my Watauga County, North Carolina in the Civil War.
  •          Unless you know what you are doing, try to get a traditional publisher to publish your book. Unless you have access to a proofreader, copy editor, peer review, and someone to set it up, it is not going to turn out very well as a self-publish. Also, as badly as I hate doing this myself, always include an index (and notes, see #3 above). Use high-quality images. Get a couple of other people to read it and give comments. They will see things you do not.

So that’s my list. I’m sure there will be others that pop into my head over time, and maybe some updates. This post goes along with a couple I wrote a few years back on writing regimental histories. If I can ever help, please feel free to drop me a line.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Fate of Black Confederate Prisoners of War.


      Lt. Col. William S. Pierson Hoffman’s Battalion was in a pickle. A group of new prisoners recently captured at the fall of Port Hudson had arrived at the prisoner-of-war processing center in New Sandusky, Ohio. The four officers, Col. I.G.W. Steedman (1st Alabama), Capt. R.M. Hewitt (Miles Legion), Capt. O.P. Amacker (9th Louisiana Batt. Cav.), and Lt. J.B. Wilson, (39th Mississippi), had brought along six servants, “four colored and two white, the latter small boys.” When the officers had surrendered, the six servants were permitted to accompany them. “Their journey had taken them from Port Hudson, to Governor’s Island in New York, and finally to the outskirts of Johnson’s Island. “Please give me such directions as you think proper,” Pierson asked Col. William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners in Washington, D.C., regarding the matter. (Official Records, Series 2, vol. 6, 397-398).

Prisoners at Fort McHenry.
   The question that Pierson posed to his superior is an interesting one: just what was the policy of the Federal government regarding captured Confederate camp servants (both enslaved and free)? It is possible that the Federal government did not have a policy, as the question appeared several times. Louisville, Kentucky’s provost-marshal, Col. Henry Dent, asked the same question in December 1862: “Several slaves have been brought to the prison with their masters who were captured, said slaves having acted as cooks &c. I should like to know what shall be done with.” Dent realized he could not turn them loose. They would be arrested, jailed, and then sold for jail fees. Neither could he send them North, where “they are liable for their value by civil proceedings. Our people protest against their being let loose in our midst.” (Official Records, Series 2, vol. 5, 36)

   An interesting clue is found in a letter from Col. Peter Porter, 8th New York Volunteer Artillery, stationed at Fort McHenry, written to Colonel Hoffman on October 6, 1863. Hoffman had obviously written to Porter on the matter, for Porter quotes Hoffman: “You state that Captured negroes are ranked as Camp followers, and therefore [are] Prisoners of War.” William Duane’s A Military Dictionary (1810) defines camp followers as “Officers servants, sutlers, &c. All followers of a camp are subject to the articles of war equally with the soldiery.” (164) All of the servants of officers, captured by the Federals, were considered prisoners of war. But what to do with them? Colonel Porter continues: “It is respectfully suggested that they be employed in the services of the Government as paid laborers and teamsters—thus rendering service to the Government, and avoiding the return of such as were slaves. It is further suggested that those among them who are freed men with families and desire to go should be sent south with the first installment of prisoners going thither—as exchanged prisoners or not as the Government thinks best.” (Peter A. Porter to William Hoffman, October 6, 1863, Letters Received from the Commissary General of Prisoners, Record Group 107, National Archives, quoted in James M. Paradis, African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign, 60.)

   To some degree, that appears to be what happened. Bvt, Brig. Gen. W.W. Morris, commanding Fort McHenry, wrote to Lt. Col. Wm H. Cheeseborough about the disposition of black prisoners. He had 64 “Negroes, Servants of Officers in the Rebel Armies” who had arrived at the fort since the battle of Gettysburg. According to Morris, 16 “had enlisted in the Negro Regt now in process of Organization in Balt[imore]—four… have been enlisted as Assist Cook in Co D 5th N.Y. Artillery, now at this post—four… left clandestinely with the 21st Reg-N.Y. I[nfantry]. National Guard, on its return to New York-, the balance, forty, are still here and chiefly employed in police duty.” So it would seem that soon after these black Confederate prisoners arrived in a prison camp, they took the Oath of Allegiance and were released. (W.W. Morris to Wm H. Cheeseborough, July 30, 1863, Letters Received from the Commissary General of Prisoners, Record Group 107, National Archives, quoted in James M. Paradis, African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign, 59-60.)

      However, there is some evidence that not all of these black Confederate prisoners were enthusiastic about taking the Oath of Allegiance. The Staunton Express, reprinting a piece published on October 13, 1863, told its readers that “The Petersburg Express is informed by Lieut. Daniels, who has just arrived at Petersburg from Fort Norfolk, that some 35 or 40 Southern negroes, captured at Gettysburg, are confined at Fort McHenry. He says that they profess an undying attachment to the South. Several times Gen. Schneck had offered to release them from the Fort, it they would take the oath of allegiance to the Federal Government and join the Lincoln army. They had peremptorily refused in every instance, and claim that they should be restored to their masters and homes in the South. They say they would prefer death to liberty on the terms proposed by Schneck.”
   On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss the Staunton Express article as hyperbole. Yet there are accounts that support the idea of black Confederate prisoners refusing to take the Oath and gain their freedom.  Lieutenant Robert Park, 12th Alabama Infantry, wrote in July 1864, while near Washington, D.C., that his “negro cook” Charlie was missing. Park believed he had been enticed to leave or “forcibly detained by some negro worshipper.” Yet Park discovered in December that Charlie was being held as a prisoner of war at Fort McHenry, refusing to take the oath. (Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 1, No. 5, 179, 379)

   There are undoubtedly more black Confederate prisoners of war who refused to take the Oath and remained prisoners of war until the very end. Historians are largely silent on the issue. Since many of the prisoner of war register books have been digitized and are now online (through familysearch), we can uncover more of these stories.