Saturday, February 27, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Battery Buchanan


  Fortifications below Wilmington, and along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, began not long after North Carolina left the Union. These fortifications would eventually grow into places well known to us today, places like Fort Fisher on the east bank of the river, and Fort Anderson on the west bank.

   In 1864, another fortification was constructed on the furthest tip of the peninsula, now known as Federal Point, but called Confederate Point during the war. The new fortification was called Battery Buchanan, named for Admiral Franklin Buchanan of the Confederate Navy. It was a two-tiered, oval-shaped earthwork one mile south of Fort Fisher. Within this sand battery were four cannons – two 10” Columbiads and two 10” Brooke Smoothbores. They were under the command of Captain Robert Chapman and manned by Confederate sailors, and then later Confederate States Marines.

   Even after the capture of Fort Fisher by Federal forces in January 1865, Battery Buchanan held, kind of. Some of the Confederate defenders of Fort Fisher fell back to this position, including the wounded Major General WHC Whiting, and Fort Fisher’s commanding officer, Colonel William Lamb. Yet these new soldiers found that the Battery’s defenders had spiked their guns and withdrawn across the Cape Fear River. With the threat of being overrun by the 27th USCT, those inside the abandoned Battery surrendered.

   The remnants of Battery Buchanan were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and the site is open for visits. More information can be found at the Fort Fisher visitor center.

   I have visited this site numerous times over the past twenty-five years. This image was taken in June 2012.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Limestone Cove, Tennessee

  History is full of little moments, little events that make up a larger picture. The gruesome events at Limestone Cove, in present-day Unicoi County, Tennessee, in November 1863, are the pieces of a small event in a much larger piece of history.

   From the fall of 1862, after the passage of the Confederate Conscription Act, there seems to be a steady stream of Unionists and dissidents crossing over the mountains of North Carolina and into Tennessee, attempting to get to Union lines. Often, these men had guides. Sometimes it was just a handful of men, but at other times, there were scores attempting to get through. At times, these groups were able to find sympathetic families who provided food. Many times, they were forced to steal for sustinence. The Confederate and state governments used home guard battalions and regular troops to try and stem the tide of men crossing over.

   John Q. A. Bryan spent the first part of November recruiting in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He gathered more than fifty new recruits for the Tenth Tennessee Cavalry (US), and soon they were making their way through the mountains toward Knoxville. On the morning of November 19, 1863, the group could be found at the home of Dr. David Bell in present-day Unicoi County. Born in Ireland, Bell had moved his family to Carter County in the 1850s. The Bells were affluent, slave owners, and pronounced Unionists. 

   From out of nowhere, elements of the Thirty-Fourth Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, burst upon the scene. As the mounted troops came into view, the Unionists broke for the brush. The majority escaped, and the Confederates were only able to capture seven. All seven were killed. Calvin Cartrel was shot, and then his brains "knocked...out"; John Sparks "was shot in the head... which completely tore the top of his head off, leaving his brains perfectly exposed"; William Royal was shot at least once, and then a "fence-stake" was used to "beat his head into the earth"; Elijah Gentry was shot and killed instantly; Jacob Lyons was shot and fell into a creek; B. Blackburn was shot in the shoulder, then beaten to death; and Preston Prewett was shot, and while imploring his captors to send word of his demise, had his brains knocked "out with the butts of their guns." Others were wounded. Jacob Pruitt sought a pension after the war for wounds sustained in the attack. A doctor testified that Pruitt was shot near the Bell home, "the ball having entered his body on the left side of spinal column, passing out through the stomach about one half of an inch above the naval." John W. Brooks was shot in the knee but hid behind a log and escaped death. Bryan was reported to have escaped, killing a soldier who pursued him. Just how many others were wounded and escaped is unknown. 

   Returning to the home, James Bell was dragged outside. His wife followed, attempting to intercede for Bell. The soldiers drove her back in the house, "threatening to shoot her if she offered to speak again in his behalf." According to an article written a few months later, Bell was "forced to lay his head on a chunk in the road, and with stones and clubs they beat his brains out. They took some of the blood and brains and rubbed them under his wife's nose, cursing her, and telling her to smell them!" Next, the band turned their attention to the home, which was burned. Those killed were buried close by the house in a cemetery now known as the Bell Cemetery. A Tennessee Historical Marker denotes the cemetery.

   You can read more on an earlier post here.

   I last stopped in the cemetery in April 2019.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: The Bushong Farm, New Market, Virginia

    On May 15, 1864, the battle of New Market raged across the farmland of the Bushong family while they hid in the cellar of their home. It must have been an incredible and horrific scene the family observed.

   In 1791, Henry Bushong obtained a 260-acre tract in Shenandoah County. His son Henry built a Federal-style home in 1825, and it was expanded in 1852. Also constructed were typical outbuildings for a farm of that time period – a blacksmith’s shop, hen house, summer kitchen, etc. The family grew wheat and oats and raised cattle, hogs, and horses.

   As part of the overall Federal campaign strategy for 1864, a Federal army under the command of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel moved up the Shenandoah Valley that spring. Their orders were to destroy railroads and other Confederate industries in the area, while at the same time, denying the local people the opportunity to plan crops that supported not only themselves, but the Confederate soldiers in the field. Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge assembled a small force, which included cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Institute. On the morning of May 13, Breckinridge moved north, taking the battle to the Federals. The Federals were discovered near New Market the next day, and at 1:00 am on May 15, Breckinridge moved his small command forward. Fighting lasted much of the day, with the Confederates slowly pushing the Federals back. At one point in the battle, two Virginia regiments broke under Federal artillery fire, forcing Breckinridge to plug the gap in his line with the VMI cadets. The Federals would eventually abandon the field.  

 Confederate causalities included 43 killed and 474 wounded. The Federals lost 96 killed and 520 wounded. The Bushong farmhouse and outbuildings were turned into a hospital for both sides for the following week, and bloodstained floors survive as witnesses to the battle. The farmhouse survived the battle, and surprisingly, survived the war. The property remained in the family until 1942, when it was deeded to the Virginia Military Institute in 1964. Today, it is the centerpiece of the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park.

   I last visited the Bushong Farm in November 2011.  

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Confederate Naval Flags

    The Confederate Navy has a remarkable history, a history that does not get nearly enough print time. Part of the challenge is the loss of records at the end of the war. But there are still plenty of avenues to explore.

CSS Alabama Ensign Mariners Museum 

   Confederate Naval flags are just one of those subjects. A ship could have two or more flags. A naval jack is flown from a jackstaff at the bow (or front) of the vessel, while an ensign is frown from a mast. An ensign is usually much larger than a jack. There are also naval pennants and signal flags. Unfortunately, we really don’t have any photographs of Confederate naval vessels under sail, or steam, so our images are limited to artist renditions or surviving flags (we’ll talk about written accounts in another post). In May 1863, Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory adopted regulations for naval flags. The Second National was the official ensign. According to regulations, the width of the flag was to be two-thirds its length. “The Jack,” according to the same regulations, was “to be the same as the union for the Ensign, except that its length shall be one and a half times its width.”

CSS Alabama Ensign  Mariners Museum

   It seems that the majority of the surviving Confederate naval flags are the Ensigns. These are usually First or Second National flags and are usually quite large. At the same time, no two Confederate naval ensigns seem to be the same size. The First Nationals in the old Museum of the Confederacy’s collections are recorded as such (in inches): CSS Calhoun, 61x150; CSS Jeff Davis 77x92; unknown, 53x132; and, another unknown 80x120.

Other vessels had Second National flags. The CSS Albemarle lost two Second Nationals when the ship was captured in October 1864. The first was 105x200, and the second was 80x125. The Second National of the CSS Shenandoah measured 88x136. The museum’s collection has only one Confederate naval jack – from the CSS Savannah--which measures 63x103.

Several flags from the CSS Alabama, probably the second-most-famous of all Confederate naval vessels,  survive. One of those is a First National, 64x112 ½ inches. The flag is considered an “auxiliary flag,” and according to tradition, was found floating among the flotsam after the battle with the USS Kearsarge (it was purchased from a shop in Paris in 1884). It is possible that this flag was also used on the CSS Sumter. This flag is at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia has both a First National Ensign (33x50) and a Second National Ensign (108x186) in its collections attributed to the CSS Alabama.  The Tennessee State Museum has a Second National, measuring 106x209. This flag was captured by a sailor from the USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864.

CSS Jeff Davis Ensign, Museum of the Confederacy

The Alabama Department of Archives and History also has the flag of the CSS Florida, a Second National measuring 72½ x 142¼; and, the Second National of the CSS Huntsville (could not find the size).

CSS Savannah Naval Jack, Museum of the Confederacy

The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Museum has a Confederate Naval Jack. It measures 22 ¼ x 30 ½. It has a red field with eleven stars in a Christian cross pattern.

There are undoubtedly other naval flags out there. The National Civil War Museum in Columbus, Georgia, has several naval flags in its collection, but a good online description could not be found. The above post is not to be seen as a definitive account.


Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War Alabama (2001)

Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War North Carolina (2003)

Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War South Carolina (2000)

Rose, Colours of the Gray: An Illustrated Index of Wartime Flags from the Museum of the Confederacy’ Collection (1998)

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Darien, Georgia


   It is easy to miss the exit for Darien, Georgia, while zipping along I-95. Yet while the Federals did not have Eisenhower’s interstate system to work with, they did not miss Darien in 1863.

   Settled in 1736 by Scottish Highlanders, the community was originally known as New Inverness. The name was changed to Darien in honor of Darien Scheme, another Scottish colony in Panama. The new colony was seen as being on the edge of the frontier between the Spanish and the English, and hence there were two forts built at different times to protect the frontier: Fort St. Georgia, followed by Fort Frederica. In 1739, the colonists in Darien signed the first petition in Georgia against the introduction of slavery into the colony.  During the American Revolution, Darien became an important port town. Rice and cotton were rafted down the Altamaha River for export. The port town continued to grow following independence, and the county seat was moved to Darien, which was incorporated in 1816. Later, yellow pine was rafted down the river and shipped North to meet a growing demand for building materials.

   In June 1863, Darien was raided by two African-American regiments stationed at nearby St. Simons Island. Those two regiments were the 2nd South Carolina Infantry (US), commanded by Col. James Montgomery, and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, commanded by Col. Robert G. Shaw. Most of the town was looted and destroyed, including the homes of black residents and slaves and the First African Baptist Church, reported to be the oldest African-American church in the country. Colonel Shaw would later call the raid on an undefended site of little strategic importance, a “Satanic Action.” Local citizens fled to the nearby community of Jonesboro as refugees. The burning of Darien was featured in the movie Glory (1989).

   Some parts of the town were later rebuilt, but there are still ruins visible, ever after 160 years.

   As an aside, John McIntosh Kell (1823-1900), a Confederate naval officer on both the Sumter and the Alabama, was born nearby at Laurel Grove Plantation.

   I last visited Darien in December 2013.