Monday, March 31, 2008

Watauga County program tomorrow

Folks - I’ll be doing a program (and signing books) on Watauga County and the Civil War tomorrow at the Watauga County Public Library in Boone (NC). Program starts at 5:15 pm and is free.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

North Carolina Civil War Trail Markers - Caldwell County

Today, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the dedication of two North Carolina Civil War Trail Marker dedications in Caldwell County. It was great to see some old friends and to meet some new friends.

The first dedication took place at 2:00 pm at St. James Episcopal Church in Lenoir. On April 14, through April 16, 600-900 North Carolinians were imprisoned in St. James and on the church’s grounds. These men had been rounded up during Stoneman’s Raid through western North Carolina. St. James Episcopal Church is one of just a few war-time structures in Lenoir.

Following the program, which due to the weather was held indoors, and the unveiling, with the three volleys by reenactors (members of the 22nd, 28th, and 38th regiments), we moved north on US 321 to the Patterson community. A portion of Stoneman’s command, two brigades under Brig. Gen. Gillem, came through this portion of Caldwell County about two weeks earlier, and destroyed a textile factory. The sad part of its destruction was that the factory supplied as much material, like blankets, to Unionists in east Tennessee as it did Confederate soldiers in North Carolina. Regardless, it, along with several other buildings, was burned to the ground.
Following this dedication service, we were fed dinner by the Ruritans.

Hats off to Becky Phillips of Fort Defiance, who emceed today’s programs, and John Hawkins, of the Caldwell Historical Museum, who headed up the program. If you get a chance, stop by and visit these two great places. One of the new markers is just a couple of blocks from the museum and the other, on the way to Fort Defiance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

58th NCT and Dalton executions, pt. 1

I finished writing about the battle of Dalton on Monday. The 58th NCT was in the front lines, but was not heavily involved. They only skirmished with the enemy and were under a heavy artillery bombardment for a time on February 25. The next part, the last part of this chapter, is the execution of almost a dozen members of the 58th NCT for desertion in May 1864. This is not something that I am looking forward to writing about. Yes, there were executions for desertions in the 37th NCT regiment, but not so many at one time.

Here is an extract from my history of the 37th North Carolina Troops regarding the execution of deserters. This kind of gives you an idea of what took place.

The Thirty-seventh would witness the execution of two members of their brigade, Allen Abosher and Esom Fugit of the Thirty-third. Both of these soldiers had been pardoned before for desertion and had been ordered to report back to their regiment, but had taken the opportunity to desert again. They were captured on August 27, and ordered to be executed on September 19. The entire Light Division would witness the procedure. The division was drawn up into a "hollow square," a formation that contained troops on three sides, with the last side open. The two condemned men, with their hands tied, along with their guards, passed in front of each regiment, to the slow beat of a drum. Abosher and Fugit then were tied to separate stakes, a few feet apart, and were blindfolded. At the command to fire, 24 men detailed as executioners fired their rifle-muskets from a distance of fifteen feet, killing both deserters instantly. Each regiment then passed in review of the bullet-riddled bodies before they were buried, impressing on the minds of the soldiers of the Light Division what the consequences of desertion were. Chaplain Kennedy of the Twenty-eighth called the gruesome occasion "a very revolting site."

An unofficial gathering of officers and men of the brigade was held at the camp of the Thirty-seventh the day following the executions. Several men offered "temperate and patriotic" speeches to boost the morale of the men and to counter the sway of the anti-war movement back in their home regions. But, the desertions and the executions continued. Seven more men were executed the next week, four for desertion and three, from the Thirty-seventh, for misbehavior in the presence of the enemy while the brigade was in line of battle at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The three from the Thirty-seventh were Private James S. Greer (Company B), who had deserted first during the battle of Fredericksburg, and then again on March 21, 1863; Private Green W. Ford (Company H), who deserted some time after February 1863; and Private Sampson Collins, who deserted sometime around the battle of Gettysburg. Private Greer had also sought to persuade two of his nephews "over which he had unbounded influence" to desert from the Thirty-seventh. All the men were tried by a courts-martial, convicted, and ordered to be executed. Private Greer, in his testimony before the court, stated that Holden's newspaper had provided the motivation for his crime, and that of the others. All seven men were executed on October 6.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I’d ruther be on the Grandfather Mountain

The 58th North Carolina was stationed in Dalton, Georgia, as provost guards from late January to late February 1864. Over the weekend, I was doing some research, reading parts of Rebel Watchdog by Kenneth Radley, on the role of the provost guard during the war.

I came across this four line poem on page 72:

I’d ruther be on the Grandfather Mountain
A-taking the snow and rain
Than to be in Castle Thunder
A-wearin’ the ball and chain

Radley cites Thomas’s biography of Richmond, Virginia, as his source. I also have this book and looked it up. Thomas writes that the quote came from a book by Arthur Palmer Hudson, titled Folklore Keeps the Past Alive, page 27. I do not have a copy of this book, so I’m going to Ill it. I’ll let you know what I turn up.

Anyone else ever heard of these lines from an as-of-yet unknown bard?

Friday, March 21, 2008

First battle of Dalton, GA

Writing in 1971, Connelly, in his history of the Army of Tennessee, has this to say about the first battle of Dalton:

By February 21, the head of Hardee’s column began to arrive in Montgomery, but soon a change in plans of grave importance occurred. On the night of February 22, Johnston received intelligence reports of a projected advance against Dalton. With half of his infantry gone with Hardee, Johnston pleaded for their return. The next day, while General George Thomas’ corps skirmished west of Dalton with Johnston, the government countermanded Hardee’s orders. By the next day, the affair had ended. Thomas withdrew to Ringgold. (294)

That’s it. And no other source that I’ve consulted yet has any more detailed information. (If you know of a source that goes into good details of the event, please drop me a line.)

So, I’ve spent the past few days poring over the Official Records and a couple of maps in an effort to understand this battle. It took some doing, but I’ve figured out the battle occurred on both sides of Rocky Face Ridge. There is a map in the Atlas, but it only shows the action on the west side of the Ridge. Once I figured that out, events fell into line.

Official Reports for the Federals are numerous. However, there are no reports for the 85th and 86th Illinois, under the command of Col. Daniel McCook, the two Federal regiments in which I am most interested. I did find online a history of the 85th Illinois by Aten. There is also a book on the 86th, but it does not appear to be online.

So, here is a summary of events. A reconnaissance of the Confederates forces in North Georgia is called. The IV and XIV Corps are selected. Part of the First Division, IV Corps, under Brig. Gen. Charles Craft, heads down the east side of Rocky Face Ridge, toward Dalton. There, just south of Buzzard’s Roost Gap, they encounter the brigade of Henry D. Clayton. Clayton claims that he stops the Federal advance. The next day, February 25, Clayon’s brigade is replaced by Brig. Gen. Alfred Cumming’s brigade, and the battle of the east side of the gap is renewed, with Pettus’s brigade being fed into the battle from their reserve position. Then, on February 26, Granberry’s Texas brigade drives the Federals out of Dug Gap.

On the west side of the mountains, the fight was between the Federals of the First and Third Brigades, Second Division (Jefferson C. Davis’s) of the IV Corps, and the Confederate brigades of Stovall, Moore, Gibson, Reynolds, and Clayton. Action on February 23 amounted to little more than skirmishing between Stovall and Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan (10th Mich. and 60th Illinois). February 24 was the story: skirmishing. On February 25, the two regiments under Morgan attack Stovall and Stovall pushed then back. Stovall and Moore’s brigades are on the right, with Gibson in reserve. On the Confederate left, Reynolds’s brigade begins skirmishing with the 85th and 86th Illinois. Clayton feeds his regiments into Reynolds’s line, extending Reynold’s left. The Federals retreat, and by February 27, are back over on their side of Tunnel Hill.

So what has this got to do with the Old North State? The 58th and 60th North Carolina Troops are in Reynolds’s brigade. Reynolds, on the evening of February 25, reported his losses in these two regiments, as "24 wounded, 3 mortally." One of those was the 58th’s sergeant major, James Inglis, a native of Scotland who resided as a carpenter in Caldwell County prior to the war.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Elizabeth City and the Civil War

Large armies never marched where I live. And the largest military action of the war was when Stoneman’s Raiders came through, their advance guard fighting a skirmish with a company of local home guard in Boone. Most of the "military" action pitted either the home guard against small bands of Unionist-leaning irregulars, or, were family/community related. Chris Meekins’s new book, Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation, highlights the war that a local population on the other side of the Old North State experienced.

People often characterize western North Carolina as being pro-Union. And, certain parts of it were. But it is not just western North Carolina. When the governor called for a convention in February 1861 to consider taking North Carolina out of the Union, only 579 votes separated the two sides (46,672 in favor, 47,269 against). Paquotank County, where Elizabeth City is set, cast 585 votes. Seventy-three percent of those votes (426) were for not calling a convention and for keeping the state, more specifically, Elizabeth City and Paquotank County, in the Union.

Meekins walks his readers through local history. His introduction gives us a glimpse of the northeastern section of North Carolina prior to the war. From this introduction, we learn of the importance of the canal system that connected the area with the port at Norfolk. Just as western North Carolina was more connected to South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee, due to the lay of the land, the northeastern part of the state was more connected to Virginia than other parts of North Carolina.

Through the next 134 pages, readers look at the war, both in terms of military action and in violence against civilians. The war in and around Elizabeth City was a constant struggle between the two opposing sides. The Federals would arrive one day, only to leave shortly thereafter. Confederates, usually irregulars, would move in after the Federals left. When the Federals were present, they would usually demand loyalty oaths from the civilian population. But once the Federals left, those who took the Oath would be subjected to retribution by pro-Confederates.

One thing that caught my attention was in the last chapter. A raid was conducted by the Federals in late July 1864. The next few paragraphs list a long line of loyal citizens who lost livestock, foodstuffs, and other articles to these "protectors of the Union." As was the case in western North Carolina, those who lived in the northeastern section never knew who the enemy was.

I do wish that Meekins would have taken the story a little further. Yes, formal hostilities end, but what happened when those who supported the Confederacy came home? Were there reprisals for the Unionist activities during the war? While Elizabeth City was burned early in the war, what survived? Is there anything today for visitors to see? How about the Confederate monument that was dedicated on May 10, 1911? Why does a county so pro-Union have a Confederate monument? It would also have been nice to have a map of Elizabeth City. The period map of the region at the beginning of the book is good, but what about something just showing the city?

Overall, I really enjoyed Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation. The period illustrations from sources such as Harper’s Weekly add a nice touch. The book is endnoted, but there is no bibliography, nor is there an index. I’ve worked with the History Press myself, and I know that they do not want indexes. I wish that they would change that policy. For those interested in the war and northeast North Carolina, Meekins’s book is a must have.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Endangered battlefields

The Civil War Preservation Trust’s annual report on the most endangered Civil War sites has just been released. Antietam and the proposed cell phone tower tops the list. What is surprising is the number of "non-large" battlefields that made the top ten, like Natural Bridge, Florida.

There were no North Carolina sites in the top ten. There was one Tar Heel site in the "15 Additional Sites at Risk." That site is the battle of Yadkin River Ridge.

Fought on April 12, 1865, this skirmish six miles east of Salisbury, pitted a makeshift Confederate force against elements of Stoneman’s command. The fight was more of an artillery duel, with Federal loses estimated at 16 killed, with Confederate losses at one or two killed, and a few wounded. The Federals decided that the Confederates were too strongly entrenched and retreated back to Salisbury. You can read more about the battle at Yadkin River Brigade here.

The Civil War Preservation Trust wrote that

In August a developer seeking to build a racetrack near the site of the last Confederate victory in the Carolinas began excavations and grading activities without county permits, repeatedly ignoring stop work orders from government officials. Although a court eventually issued a restraining order against the developer, they still predict a summer 2008 opening.

Not a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust? Please join. It is a great organization!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It is always good to read the brochure

What would you learn about North Carolina and the War by visiting the capital(capitol) in Raleigh? Not much! Yes, they do give you a brochure that has some information about the War and about the reconstruction time period in it. But with so many visitors, they take the brochure and wander through the building without reading the text. There are very, very few interpretive markers within the granite walls. It seems that the few markers present are devoted to African-Americans. That is not to say that North Carolina’s African-American history is not important. Not at all. I would be the first to argue otherwise. I just hoped for more from our state capital.

The building itself is grand, albeit small. I personally enjoyed the re-creation of the state library, while my six-year old son enjoyed the recreation of the state geologist’s room. One of the displays discusses the damage to the west stair case. The display, complete with a wheel barrow, would leave you to believe that the damaged steps were caused by a slaves hauling wood in the wheel barrows up to the fireplaces in the house and senate chambers. It is only by reading the brochure that you learn an equally plausible reason: whiskey barrels for use by corrupt Federal officials. It seems that Gen. Milton S. Littlefield used the West Hall Committee Room as a makeshift bar while he was in Raleigh following the war.

If you actually read the brochure, which many people do not, you would also learn that:
most of the desks are original, meaning that they were in the building during the war; that one of the tables in the House was used to sign the Secession Ordinance of 1861 (the lower curved table); that Sherman’s troops "rifled the mineral collection" when they came through in 1865; that there was not a war-time underground escape route for the governor; and that the "secret rooms" above the offices in the House chamber were not for Confederate spies. Why we need Confederate spies in a largely Confederate dominated House is not explained.

If you get a chance, visit the state capital in Raleigh. The monuments on the grounds are impressive. The building itself is impressive. Everyone should visit at least once.

By the way, the above photograph is of a bust in the likeness of US Sen. (and Confederate general) Matt Ransom. He is found with three of our governors, and George Washington, in the Rotunda.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Off to Hickory for a book signing this evening.

An anonymous friend wrote about my recent post on Raleigh that:
"That's, the state capitol, not capital (which would be Raleigh itself)."

That’s actually a rather complicated point. The "capitol" refers to the building in Washington, D. C , where the United States Congress holds their secessions, or to a building occupied by a state legislature (per Webster’s). Since the legislature no longer meets in the building, it is not the capitol per se. However, since the governor still has his office in the building, it is the capital, the official seat of government of the state. But the brochure says "capitol," so let’s call it a draw.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ok - I think I am way too busy. My goal was to have the 58th NCT manuscript done by the end of March. I am parked at January 1864 as of today. Yesterday, I wrote about Joe Johnston taking command of the A of T, and about his January 8 General order No. 5. I was hoping to at least get to the start of the February 1864 battle of Dalton, but other things are crowding my time.

What are those other things? We finally decided on three North Carolina Civil War Trail markers for Avery County: the Blalocks/Grandfather Mountain; The Banner House/underground railroad; and, the Cranberry Iron Mines. I am trying to work up some good text for all three of these. Plus, I’ve been invited to speak at the end of the month at the dedication of two NC Civil War Trail Markers in Caldwell County. Both of these deal with the Stoneman’s 1865 raid.

Also, I am writing text for the brochure for the National SCV convention being held in North Carolina in July 2008. It is a great honor, and I have six pages to fill up. I just have to decide what I’m going to write.

Also, I’m working with the Mitchell County Historical Society on a project. My editor wants to see a proposal for this project by Wednesday, and I’ve not even started.

That’s not to mention the "Save the old Linville Depot" project going on at the Avery County Historical Society, and that I finished the newsletter for them this week.

Then there is that pile of email awaiting my attention.

Well, I guess I need to go and work on that proposal.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Different worlds

Ok, I said that I would post when I got home. However, today, on the grounds of the state capital, something caught our eye that I wanted to write about while it was still fresh in my mind.

We are in the eastern part of the state - my wife is going to Johnston Community College for a class on Tuesday. On the way over, I wanted to stop at the old state capital for a bit of research on an un-named project. And, we want to take the kids to the Natural Science museum.

We had finished our tour in the capital, and I wanted to walk over the grounds. I had noticed some good light on the monument to the Women of the Confederacy on our way in and I wanted to try and get some good photos. As we walked behind the statue, we noticed a lady sitting to one side of the monument. At first, we didn’t even notice her, as she was completely swathed in a burka. The astonishing contrast between this woman, covered from head to toe in obedience to the strictures of Islam, could not have been more different from the bronze matron in whose shadow she sat. The woman on the monument is beautiful in a serene, profound way as she hands off the symbols of Confederate heritage to a young boy. Her sculpted hair and clothing adhere to the fashion dictates of her own time, but are flowing, natural in their lines. She is not concealed, covered up or otherwise hidden away. She is displayed, but there is nothing lewd or provocative about her dignified persona. In contrast, the woman sitting below had no identity other than that of her religion. Although she was flesh and blood and the monument’s figure is cold bronze, there was no question which seemed the more alive. It was truly a moment to ponder. To see these two women on the same spot of earth is both a vivid reminder of the remarkable world in which we live, and the yawning chasm that still exists in the way we each see the world.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Off to Raleigh

Folks - I will be away for a couple of days - off to Raleigh. I’ll resume posting when I return.