Saturday, January 30, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Cumberland Gap


Lay down boys, take a little nap

Lay down boys, take a little nap

Lay down boys, take a little nap

14 miles to the Cumberland Gap!

   For those of us living in the east, Cumberland Gap has a special history. It is the site of an ancient road used by Natives to travel, at times trading with others, and at other times, making war. Daniel Boone passed through the Gap in 1775. He traversed the Gap several times on a route we now call the Wilderness Road, taking settlers into Kentucky.

   During the Civil War, both North and South viewed Cumberland Gap as a strategic stronghold. The gap sits on the juncture of the state lines of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Cumberland Mountains are a long mountain chain that runs along the Kentucky-Virginia border, and on into West Virginia. There are other gaps (like Pound Gap), but Cumberland is the most accessible.

Braxton Bragg and his rebel band

Braxton Bragg and his rebel band

Braxton Bragg and his rebel band

Run George Morgan in the Bluegrass land

   At the beginning of the war, many thought that the Cumberland Gap area would be the site of a major conflict. If Federal forces could seize the gap, then Federal soldiers could move into Unionist East Tennessee, seizing control of the railroad in the area. Southwest Virginia with its salt and lead mines could be easily taken; after that, western and central North Carolina, then back into middle Tennessee could all be vulnerable. And there was a plan kind of like this in November 1861. East Tennessee Unionists planned to destroy several of the railroad bridges in East Tennessee, while Federal soldiers passed through the Gap and seized control before Confederate sources could react. Several of the bridges were burnt on the night of November 8, but the Federal soldiers never came.

   Cumberland Gap changed hands several times during the war. Confederate forces held the Gap from the start of the war until June 1862. Then in September 1862, it was abandoned by the Federals, and the Confederates again assumed control September 1863. The defenses at Cumberland Gap were seen as impregnable. While the Gap never fell in a battle, it was all to easy to cut off lines of supply and starve out the defenders. Confederate forces that defended the Cumberland Gap at various times included the  29th North Carolina Troops, 58th North Carolina Troops, 55th Georgia Infantry, 62nd North Carolina Troops, 64th North Carolina Troops, 64th Virginia Infantry, 1st Tennessee Calvary, and others.

Rebels now give a little yell

All you rebels give a little yell

All you rebels give a little yell

Scare the Yankees all to Hell

   Cumberland Gap has been a national park since 1940. The park today covers 24,000 acres and is one of the largest parks in the eastern United States. There is a great visitor center, campground, and numerous trails, some of which explore some of the defensive works constructed by Confederate and Federal forces during the war.

   I have explored this park numerous times over the years. My last visit was in December 2020.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Federal Prisoner of War Camps in the South


   Prisoners of war were an inconvenient reality of the war years. When the first batches arrived in Richmond following the battle of first Manassas, no one really knew what to do with them. Almost 1,300 Federal soldiers were brought to the Confederate capital. Brig. Gen. John H. Winder quickly impressed the John L. Ligon and Sons Tobacco Factory building and converted it into a prison. That was the beginning of the system of military prisons across the South.  

   There were at least 118 military prisons in the South. Many of them were opened for only a short amount of time. For example, the prisons in Alexandria, VA; Boerne, TN; Camp Groce, TX; Camp VanDorn, TX; Charlotte, NC; Dalton, GA; Galveston, TX; Greensboro, NC; Houston, TX; Huntsville, TX; Jackson, MS; Marietta, GA; Millen, GA; St. Augustine, FL; San Antonio Springs, TX; San Pedro Springs, TX; and, Savannah, GA were all open for a year or less, sometimes much less.

      No one is sure how many Union and Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner during the war. Numbers range from 400,000 to 674,000 men. One historian believes that 409,000 of these prisoners were captured Federal soldiers.  

   Major prisons of the South included Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia, with 39,899 prisoners; Camp Lawton in Millen, Georgia, with 10,000 prisoners, many of them transfers from Camp Sumter; Belle Island, Virginia, with 10,000 prisoners; 15,000 in other various Richmond establishments; Danville, Virginia, with 4,000 prisoners; Salisbury, NC, with 10,321 prisoners, Savannah, Georgia, with 6,000 prisoners.

Camp Sumter
   The prison system was a complex operation during the war, and it leads to many different topics for exploration: just how did the system grow during the war years? What types of prisoners were housed at different facilities? What types of soldiers constituted the guard units at prisons? How were prisoners transported between prisoner of war camps? How many escaped? Who were the men responsible for overseeing prisoner of war camps? Was Henry Wirz any more of a war criminal than Albin Francisco Schoepf? How did local churches work with the prisoners in their communities? Were some local citizens sympathetic with the prison population? How brutal were prisoners towards each other? How many Federal prisoners galvanized and joined Confederate regiments? What were the medical situations like not only for the prisoners, but for the guards as well? How did the exchange system break down? What became of the prison sites after the war?

   While there are books on various prisons, I feel the best overview to date is Lonnie R. Speer’s Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War (1997). Over the course of the next few months, my plan is to try and explore many of the topics listed above. I actually have already started with this post a couple of weeks ago. Check out that post here.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: The Rowan Artillery at Gettysburg


  The men of the Rowan Artillery have two distinctions at Gettysburg. They were one of the few North Carolina units in Longstreet’s corps, and they made up the far right of the Confederate line.

   Lt. Gen. James Longstreet had no North Carolina Infantry regiments in his corps. His men came from Alabama, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia. He did have three North Carolina artillery batteries: Manly’s, Latham’s, and the Rowan Artillery under Captain James Reilly. Captain Reilly himself is an interesting story. Born in 1823 in Ireland, he ran away and joined the army, then deserted and came to America. He enlisted in the US Army and was assigned to the 2nd US Artillery, serving in the Mexican War. Eventually, he was promoted to ordnance sergeant, and in 1859, was assigned to Fort Johnson in Southport (then Smithfield), North Carolina. At the start of the war, he resigned and joined the Confederate army. Reilly was commissioned a lieutenant in the First North Carolina Artillery, and a month later, promoted to captain and assigned to command the Rowan Artillery.

   At the time of the battle of Gettysburg, the Rowan Artillery was a part of Hood’s division, and with the division moved through Culpeper Court House, Upperville, and crossed the Shenandoah River at Snicker’s Ford. On June 27 they were at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. They went into action on July 2 on the extreme right of the Confederate line. One member of the battery, about two weeks after the battle, wrote about the fight on July 2, 1863:

“We halted that night at about 12 o’clock and on the morning of 2d at about 2 o’clock we again took up the line of march and arrived at the border of yesterday’s battle field early in the forenoon. Here we remained till near noon, then our Division (Gen. [John B.] Hood’s) marched to the extreme right of the Confederate forces and opposite to the strongest point of the enemy’s line. The Division arrived at this point between three and four o’clock. The batteries commanded by Capt. [James Reilly], [Alexander] Latham and [Tyler] Jordon were immediately placed in position and opened fire on the enemy who replied with spirit, but in a short time two of the his was silenced, and after a brisk fire of some fifteen to twenty minutes on our side the order to cease firing rang out as the long line of infantry came on a line with the batteries. The Artillery ceased to belch forth the missiles of death, but held their position though under fire, to resume the work of destruction as soon an opportunity should offer. After waiting for some time and no opportunity offering to renew the fire, the guns were withdrawn, except one of Capt. Reilly’s, which had an axle shot off. About five o’clock Capt. Reilly’s Battery took a position some two or three hundred yards to the left of its first position, and sent forth a destructive fire of shells over the heads of our infantry into the yankee lines, and continued the fire until the Confederate troops ascended up near the top of the first hill. During the firing from this position, one of the three inch guns bursted [sic], and fortunately, wounded slightly but one man. Night soon closed the bloody drama for that day, and the success of our division was the capture of three 10 pounder Parrott Rifle Guns, and driving the Yankees from the top of the first hill, which was from forty to fifty feet elevation above the low ground between the two armies to the second, which was some fifty or sixty feet higher than the first, and immediately in its rear. The front of both hills was very steep, amounting almost to cliffs. Before dark, Captain Reilly’s disabled gun was brought off the field and next day repaired, and one of the captured guns took the place of the bursted gun and the Battery was again ready with its full compliment of guns for the fight on the third.”


The site today is marked by two cannon and an iron plaque, just feet from another marker showing the far right of the Confederate line.

   I last visited the site in July 2018.  

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Fort Macon

  Located on Bogue Banks on the North Carolina coast, Fort Fisher was the second fort constructed on this spot. The first was known as Fort Hamilton. Fort Macon was named in honor of Nathaniel Macon, a North Carolina politician who served in both the US House and Senate. The fort was seen as a way to protect the towns of Beaufort and Morehead City. (Blackbeard was known to sail in and out of Beaufort Inlet; Beaufort was captured by the Spanish in 1747 and the British in 1782.)

   Fort Macon was a part of the Third System of US fortifications and designed by Brig. Gen. Simon Bernard, US Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in 1826 and was finished in 1834, costing $463,790. Because of poor management, the fort was in a sad state of affairs in 1861.

   The fort was under the command of Ordinance Sergeant William Alexander. He and his family were the only ones present on April 14, 1861, when the Beaufort Harbor Guards arrived to seize Fort Macon. By the next day, two other companies of North Carolina volunteers had arrived at the fort. On April 17, a force of sixty-one free and twenty-one slaves, all African-Americans, had arrived at the fort to begin maintenance work. Over the next few weeks, a railroad was laid to the wharf, and thirteen 24-pounder cannons were shipped, and in some way, mounted at the Fort. Various volunteer companies from the eastern portions of the state garrisoned Fort Macon, with Col. Charles C. Tew appointed commander. Then, that summer, Tew was replaced by Maj. William L. DeRossett, then Lt. Col. John L. Bridgers, followed by Col. Moses J. White. Later, the independent companies were mustered into traditional regiments or were designated as members of the 1st North Carolina Artillery.

   Due to the threat of attack, the newly mustered 26th North Carolina Troops was assigned to the fort in September 1861, along with the 7th North Carolina State Troops, the latter staying for a month. This was followed by a company of the 3rd North Carolina Artillery. In early 1862, Federal forces began a campaign that resulted in the capture of Roanoke Island and New Bern. The Federals turned their attention to Fort Macon next. Although hopelessly surrounded, the garrison at Fort Macon refused to surrender. On April 25, 1862, Federals began to bombard the fort, which was hit an estimated 560 times. The fort surrendered the next day.  

   Fort Macon was repaired and garrisoned by Federal soldiers for the rest of the war, including Company G, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, the last company to leave the fort in June 1865. Following the war, the fort was used as a civil and military prison. It was deactivated in 1877 but garrisoned by state troops during the summer of 1898. In 1903, it was abandoned and sold as surplus military property in 1923. It was acquired by the state of North Carolina in June 1924 for $1, and in 1936, became one of the state’s first state parks. The fort was leased to the US Army in World War II, maned by Coast Artillery troops.

   Fort Macon is still a state park, in an excellent state of preservation, with a fantastic museum and education center. For more information, see Paul Branch’s Fort Macon: A History (1999).

   I last visited the fort in June 2018.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The types of prisoners at Salisbury Prison

   Recently, The Scuppernong Press released a small book, edited by Donna Peeler Poteat, on Salisbury Prison. It is actually a post-war reminiscence of Dr. Adolphus W. Mangum. Born in 1834 in Orange (now Durham) County, North Carolina, Mangum was a graduate of Randolph-Macon College, who was also in the ministry, riding circuit in Hillsborough, and then pastoring a church in Chapel Hill. He was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1860, he moved to a church in Salisbury. When the war came, Magnum became chaplain of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, but later in 1861, resigned due to poor health. Back in Salisbury, he worked with prisoners at Salisbury.

   Magnum wrote his reminiscences in 1893, and they appeared as two separate articles in the Charlotte Observer in May and June. He provides some interesting information regarding the prison. The site, an old cotton factory, was conveyed to the Confederate States on November 2, 1861, as a prison “for Confederates under sentence of court martial, and those arrested for alleged disloyalty, for deserters from the Federal army and for prisoners of war.” Those are four different groups of men: court martialed Confederates; disloyal Southerners; Federal deserters; and, Federal prisoners of war.[1]

   Court Martialed Confederates: The number of Confederate soldiers court martialed for some infraction of the Articles of War is unknown. One historian estimated the number at 20,000, based upon ledgers that survived the fires in Richmond on the night of April 2, 1865. Many of those found guilty were sentenced to loss of pay, reduced back to the ranks if a non-commissioned officer, company punishment, or if an officer, cashiered from the service. Or punishment could be confinement or hard labor. There were two places where these periods of confinement were conducted: Castle Thunder in Richmond, and Salisbury. There were Confederate soldiers confined at Salisbury. Pvt. Samuel S. Bryant (57th Virginia Infantry) was one such prisoner. Bryant was absent from his command from June 1863 until March 1864. He was tried for desertion, found guilty, and ordered to be confined on bread and water.[2] It is unclear just how many Confederate soldiers were confined at Salisbury over the course of the war. On December 1, 1864, the Adjutant and Inspector General’s office issued an order releasing all of those court martialed and ordering them to return to their regiments. Bryant was one of them, along with 155 others at the Salisbury Prison Camp.[3]

   Disloyal Southerners: While for generations writers portrayed the South as one big happy family, there were many who objected to secession and to the Confederate government. One conservative account places the number of political prisoners, those arrested for being disloyal, at 4,108 civilians.[4] In February 1863, at the bequest of the Confederate Congress, the commandant prepared a list of political prisoners then confined at Salisbury. The list contains 131 names. They included C.C. Sheets, a Winston County, Alabama, law student, suspected of “treasonable conduct”; R.B. Elliott a overseer from Tarboro, North Carolina, suspected of being a spy and “trading with the enemy”; and, George Billingsly, a Claiborne County, Tennessee, blacksmith, charged with “aiding and supplying stock for the enemy at Cumberland Gap.” [5] It is unclear just how many political prisoners passed through the Salisbury prison camp.

   Federal deserters: There were roughly 2,000 Federal deserters confined at the Salisbury prison. Many of them simply walked off picket post and into the Confederate lines. An interesting case is that of Peter and Jacques Sneyers, members of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry (substitutes). They were captured on September 30, 1864, near Petersburg. Both of their Compiled Service Records contain “Memorandum from Prisoner of War Records” and both state that they “joined the Rebel army while a Pris of war at Salisbury, N.C. date not given.” Mangum tells us that “A Col Tucker came there for the purpose of getting recruits from their number for the Confederate army. Only foreigners were allowed to enlist. Nearly eighteen hundred took the oath. . . Some may have taken this step in good faith. . . but the greater number chose it as the only means of escape from their terrible den. They were called ‘galvanized Yankees,” and though most of them made scarcely a show of fighting when the test came, a few stood their ground and fought with true courage.”[6]

   Federal prisoners of war: Mangum tell us that the first prisoners of war arrived on December 9, 1861, numbering 120. An additional 176 arrived on December 26, and 80 more on February 7. “These different installments came from various points – some being captured in Virginia, some on the coast of North Carolina and some by the Army of the west in Kentucky. By the middle of March, 1862, their number aggregated nearly 1,500.” [7] Over the course of the war, a little over 10,000 men were incarcerated. An estimated 4,500 died.[8]

   Mangum talked about many other issues, such as prison escapes, the death of a Confederate surgeon, African-American prisoners brought in during the last months of the war, along with the horrors of the prison itself. He considered his story one of “dark history of this great reservoir of misery and death.”[9] If you would like to read more of Dr. Adolphus W. Mangum’s account, check out the book through The Scuppernong Press:



[1]  Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 3.

[2] Bunch, Military Justice in the Confederate States Army, 8, 70.

[3] Brown, The Salisbury Prison Camp, 259-260.

[4] Neely, Southern Rights, 1.

[5] Brown, The Salisbury Prison Camp, 233.

[6] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 32.

[7] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 5.

[8] Speer, Portals to Hell, 339

[9] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison, 36.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Old Alabama State Capitol


While in Montgomery, Alabama, the commissioners from the various Deep South states began to debate just where the permanent capital of the Confederate States of American should be located. Many places were advanced as possibilities, including Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Pendleton, South Carolina; Alexandria, Virginia; and Selma, Shelby Spring, Spring Hill, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The later even went as far as to send a delegation to Montgomery to confer with the Confederate commissioners. Tuscaloosa had once been the capital of Alabama, and the old capitol building was still in good repair.

   Alabama has had several capitals. The Territorial Capital (1817-18179) was at St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River. Then in Huntsville, it was in Cahaba, and from 1826 until 1846, in Tuscaloosa. The capital then moved to Montgomery. The capitol building in Tuscaloosa was designed by William Nichols, the state architect, and located on Childress Hill. The Greek Revival and Federal style building had a copper dome, visible to boats on the Black Warrior River. The building had three main wings, and an entrance hallway. One wing housed the Supreme Court, another the state house, and the third, the state senate. Nichols went on to design the University of Alabama campus, much of which was burned by Federal soldiers in 1865. 

  After the capital moved to Montgomery, the building was given to the University, who in turn leased it to the Baptist State Convention which established the Alabama Central Female College. The College appears to have remained open throughout the war, escaping the fire set by Union troops on April 4, 1865.

   On August 22, 1923, a fire, possibly caused by faulty electrical wiring, burned down the old building. Its ruins are now a park in Tuscaloosa. If you are interested in learning more, please check out this site.

   I last visited this site in June 2018.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: The grave of Lewis Powell, alias Paine, Geneva, Florida

 The war is full of interesting stories. (All of history is full of interesting stories.)  Cemeteries also provide many bizarre tales of the past. The lovely Geneva Community Cemetery in Geneva, Florida, hosts a part of one such story. The cemetery is well maintained and boasts many graves of veterans of various conflicts. There is some nice tombstone art displayed on some of the graves. However, one of the most unobtrusive markers helps to tell a truly strange story of history. Lewis Powell, a member of the 2nd Florida Infantry and later, of Mosby’s Rangers, is buried in two different places. Of course, stories abound regarding strange partial burials. The two that come to mind are the burial of Stonewall Jackson’s arm at Locust Grove, and the case  of Dan Sickles (US), who lost a leg at Gettysburg and then proceeded to regularly visit the leg at the Army Medical Museum.

Lewis Powell (LOC)

   Lewis Powell was born in Randolph County, Alabama, in 1844. His father was a pastor who moved around, pastoring or starting churches in Georgia and Florida. The Powell family appears to have been living in Hamilton County, North Carolina, when Lewis enlisted on May 30, 1861. He was mustered in as a private in the Hamilton Blues. The Hamilton Blues became Company I, 2nd Florida Infantry. The 2nd Florida Infantry served in the Eastern Theater of the war, in Longstreet’s corps. Powell was wounded at Gettysburg – shot in the right wrist. He was captured and spent time in at the hospital at Pennsylvania College and at Camp Letterman. Later, he served as a nurse at various Federal hospitals in Baltimore, where, on September 7, he escaped.

   Powell did not return to the 2nd Florida. Instead, he joined Mosby’s Rangers, earning the nickname of “Lewis the Terrible.” He participated in a number of engagements through 1864. Around the first of January 1865, Powell made his way to Richmond, then to Alexandria and into Union lines, using the alias, “Lewis Payne.” In Baltimore, he met David P. Parr, a Confederate agent. Powell went on to meet John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Southern sympathizer. Booth was already planning to kidnap US President Abraham Lincoln and recruited Powell to help. Booth’s plan later changed to assassinating Lincoln. Powell’s role was to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward. On the night of April 14, Powell entered the Seward home in Washington, D.C., and attacked Seward in his bed. Powell was apprehended three days later at the Surratt boarding house and imprisoned, first on the USS Saugus, then at the Washington Arsenal.

   At the ensuing trial, Powell was found guilty and sentenced to death; he was executed with three others on July 7, 1865. The four, along with the body of Booth, were buried at the Washington Arsenal. They were moved in 1867 to another spot within the Arsenal grounds, and then in 1869, President Andrew Johnson agreed to turn the bodies over to the families. What actually happened to Powell’s body is not clear. It is possible it is buried in a mass grave at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C… except for his skull. In 1991, Powell’s skull was discovered at the Smithsonian Institution. It appears Powell’s skull was removed by A.H, Gawler in 1869 or 1870, and then donated to the Army Medical Museum in 1885. It was given to the Smithsonian on May 7, 1898. The Smithsonian found a great-niece, who claimed it, and two years later, his skull was buried next to the grave of his mother, Carolina Patience Powell, at the Geneva Cemetery in Seminole County, Florida.  If you visit the cemetery, you’ll find the marker, pictured here, near the stone dedicated to Powell’s mother. They are both located under a tree in a quiet spot that belies the strange nature of the partial burial here.   

Lewis Powell's grave in Florida.

   The literature surrounding the Lincoln Assassination is vast. For more information on Powell, check out Betty J. Ownsbey’s Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy (1993).

   I last visited this site in December 2020.