Monday, September 27, 2021

Southern Lighthouses and the War

    While we view lighthouses as interesting pieces of history, they also served a vital role in commerce in the 19th century. These lighthouses helped guide vessels in and out of ports and away from dangerous areas along the coast. Most commerce was transported by ships. Cotton grown in the South was loaded onto ships and moved to Northern ports, or ports in Europe, for the manufacture of cloth. At times, these finished products were then loaded back onto ships and shipped back to the South. Foodstuffs from foreign ports, iron products from foundries up North, coffee from South America—they were all shipped into Southern ports.

   Federal forts and armories are often mentioned in histories as being captured and surrendered to the Southern states as they withdrew from the Union. Lighthouses were also surrendered or captured. There were approximately 106 lights in the Southern states. Some of those were traditional tall lighthouses that we normally picture on the coast, while others were range lights, light ships, or beacons in rivers and harbors. For example, Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina, had a range light, completed in 1857. This was considered the front range light, while the steeple of St. Phillip’s Church was the rear light. Fort Sumter was pretty much a pile of rubble after the war ended, and the light was lost.[1]

Mobile Point (AL) Lighthouse (National Archives) 

    After various Southern states took control of the lights, and the North declared war, many of the lenses were removed from the lights and stored for safe keeping. Some lenses wound up in the interior of a state. Others were secreted away close by. The lens and machinery from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse were buried in an orange grove nearby. The last thing Southern forces wanted to do was aid the Federals in their attempts to blockade Southern ports.[2]

   Many of these towers became observation posts for Confederates, such as the Morris Island Lighthouse in Charleston Harbor, the Sabine Pass Light (Louisiana), the Point Isabel Light (Texas), and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (Florida). At the latter, Confederate forces not only observed from the darkened lighthouse, but used torches to signal waiting blockade runners when no Federal vessels were around.[3]

   Some of the towers were destroyed during the war. These include the Morris Island Lighthouse (Charleston); Bald Head Lighthouse (North Carolina); Mobile Point Lighthouse at Fort Morgan (Mobile); Sand Island Lighthouse (Mobile); and Hunting Island (Georgia), (but it’s unclear if the War or erosion destroyed the tower). Bruce Roberts writes that some of the towers that were made out of metal were salvaged by Confederate forces and melted for more important war-time needs. This apparently happened to the Bolivar Point Light near Galveston, Texas.[4]

Others were simply damaged. The Tybee Lighthouse (Georgia) had its lens removed and the top of the tower burnt by state forces. Likewise, the Bayou Bon Fouca Lighthouse was burned by Confederates. Confederate soldiers placed kegs of gunpowder inside the St. Marks Lighthouse (Florida), in an attempt to blow it up, but only damaged the tower. Likewise Confederates used the same method with the Matagorda Light (Texas). While unable to actually take the tower down, they did damage it so badly that it was dismantled in 1867.[5]

Egmont Key Lighthouse (FL) 

   Once the Federals reoccupied an area, they put the lighthouses back in working order. This is true with the lights on Amelia Island (Florida); Cape Henry (Virginia); Hatteras (North Carolina); Cape Lookout (North Carolina); Cape St. George Light (Florida)– (Confederates did hit this tower with a few artillery rounds); and the Skip Island Light (Mississippi – the Federals used the lens captured in a warehouse on Lake Ponchartrain).[6]

   There were, of course, lighthouses that never fell into Confederate hands, such as those around Key West (Florida).

   An interesting comparison study would be the number of ships that grounded out near some port because they had no lights to guide them in. We’ll save that for another post in the future. Another interesting study would be a claim by Mary Clifford. She writes that “Some lights during the Civil War had women keepers paid by the Confederate government.”[7]


[2] Carr, Cape Canaveral, 19-21.

[3] Itkin, “Operations of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron in the Blockade of Florida,” 198.

[4] Roberts, Southern Lighthouses, 90.

[5] Jones, Gulf Coast Lighthouse, 43, 86.

[6] Jones, Gulf Coast Lighthouses,  63.

[7] Clifford, Women Who Kept the Lights, 35.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Reburying Confederates

    This past weekend, the decade-long task of disinterring Nathan Bedford Forrest from a park in Memphis and reburying him in Columbia, Tennessee, came to a close. Some people view this as a good thing: placing the famed Confederate cavalry general in a spot where people actually care. Others view this as a dangerous precedent. If one Confederate can be disinterred and moved, then how about the others? While this post does not usually support the idea of moving the remains of old soldiers from their resting spots, it has actually happened several times before.

   Forrest, following the war, returned to Tennessee, became president of a railroad, and then died in October 1877. He was originally buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Later, the remains of both he and his wife were interred under an equestrian statue in Forrest Park. In September 2021, their remains were reinterred at Elm Springs in Columbia, Tennessee.

   Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by his own soldiers on the night of May 2, 1863, during the fighting near Chancellorsville, Virginia. He lingered for several days before dying at Guinea Station on May 10. His body was transported to Lexington, Virginia, where he was interred in a family plot in the Presbyterian Cemetery. Later, his remains and those of his wife were removed to a different plot in the cemetery and reinterred under a monument bearing his likeness. The Presbyterian Cemetery was renamed the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in 1949, and then the Oak Grove Cemetery in 2020.

   Ambrose Powell Hill must be one of the most well- traveled post-mortem generals. Following his death near Petersburg, Virginia, on April 2, 1865, Hill was originally interred in the old Winston Family Cemetery near Coalfield, Chesterfield County. In 1867, Hill’s remains were moved to Hollywood Cemetery. In June 1891, the remains were again moved, this time to the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road. Thanks to a recent ruling by the Richmond City Council, it appears that Hill is going to be moved once again, possibly to Culpeper, Virginia.

   Patrick Cleburne, Hiram Granbury, and Otho Strahl were all Confederate generals killed at the battle of Franklin. All three were originally interred in the potter’s field at Rose Hill in Columbia, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter,  they were removed to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashwood, Tennessee. Many years later, all three were exhumed and reburied in different cemeteries. Patrick Cleburne was reburied in Helena, Arkansas. Otho Strahl was reburied in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Hiram Granbury was reburied in Granbury, Texas.

   Albert Sidney Johnston, killed in April 1862 at the battle of Shiloh, was originally interred in New Orleans. In January 1867, he was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.

   William Barksdale was mortally wounded in the fighting on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg. He died the following day and was buried in the yard of the Hummelbaugh House. In January 1867, Barksdale was reburied in the Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, Mississippi.

   Richard Garnett was killed during killed in a skirmish at Corrick’s Ford, Virginia (now West Virginia) on July 13, 1861. He was originally interred in Baltimore, Maryland. He was later reinterred next to his wife and a child in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Jefferson Davis reburial in Richmond, 1893. (The Valentine)

   It is not only some generals who have been reburied. Confederate president Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889. His body was laid to rest in a vault in Metairie Cemetery. After many requests, his widow agreed to allow his remains to be reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. He was reburied there in 1893.

   Confederate Senator Landon Carter Haynes passed away in Memphis on February 17, 1875. He was originally buried in Elmwood Cemetery, but later (1902) his son had those remains removed to Jackson Cemetery, Jackson, Tennessee, where he lies in an unmarked grave.

   There are doubtless many others whose remains have been moved over the years, such as the eight members of the crew of the C.S.S. Hunley who were reburied in the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2004. It would be nice to know how many of the 425 Confederate generals have been moved at least once. Of course, there are a handful whose current resting places are still a mystery anyway. We’ll save that for another post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Letitia Tyler and the first Confederate flag

   On March 4, 1861, Miss Letitia Christian Tyler was escorted to the top of the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. She was nineteen years old. Her grandfather was John Tyler, former president of the United States. Her father would serve as Regis
ter of the Confederate Treasury. Letitia was actually born in the White House while her grandfather was president and her father was serving as his private secretary. She was at the Alabama capitol building to raise the first Confederate flag.

Jefferson Davis in Montgomery

   The delegates meeting in Montgomery recognized quite early that the new nation needed a new flag. And they wanted one by the inauguration of the new provisional president, Jefferson Davis. On February 9, the delegates appointed a committee to select a flag. Some felt that the flag should be as much like the Stars and Stripes as possible. Walter Brooke, from Mississippi, introduced a resolution to adopt such a flag. There was so much opposition to the proposal that it was withdrawn. On March 4, the committee made its recommendations for the new flag. The committee reported that “A new flag should be simple, readily made, and, above all, capable of being made in bunting. It should be different from the flag of any other country, place, or people.” The new flag “shall consist of a red field with a white space extending horizontally through the center, and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag. The red space above and below to be of the same width as the white. The union blue extending down through the white space and stopping at the lower red space. In the center of the union a circle of white stars corresponding in number with the States in the Confederacy.”[1] The report was adopted and the manufacture of the first flag turned over to the “Sewing Establishment of the Messrs. Cowles, Market street,” in Montgomery.[2]

   Writing many years after the war, and confessing that “many of the details of the event” had faded from her memory, Letitia Tyler recalled “ascending the stairs that led to the dome of the building and that I was escorted by Hon. Hon. Alex B. Clitherall, one of the Confederate officials. Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Taylor and several other persons accompanied us to the top of the Capitol. Below us were vast throngs of people, who were watching and waiting for the signal to unfurl the flag of the new nation. On reaching the base of the dome I found the flag ready, and the cord was handed to me. Then I began to pull it, and up climbed the flag to the top of the pole and floated out boldly on the stiff March wind. The hundreds of people below us sent up a mighty shout. Cannon roared out a salute, and my heart beat with wild joy and excitement.”[3]

   Letitia C. Tyler never married. Her parents were, in fact, living in Pennsylvania at the time, and she was visiting with friends who lived near Montgomery when she was asked, by Jefferson Davis, to raise the new national flag. It is assumed that she moved to Richmond after her family arrived from Pennsylvania. After the war, the family moved to Montgomery where Robert edited the Montgomery Advertiser. Letitia C. Tyler died in Montgomery on July 22, 1924, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

[1] Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States, I:101-102.

[2] Montgomery Weekly Mail, March 8, 1861.

[3] Confederate Veteran, 24:199.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Guarding Prisoners During the Gettysburg Campaign

   The June 1863 battle of Winchester was a resounding Confederate victory and a good start to the Gettysburg campaign. Confederate forces under Richard Ewell were assigned the job of capturing or pushing out the 6,900 Federals garrisoning in and around Winchester, Virginia. The Federal force was under the command of Gen. Robert Milroy. One historian writes that the Federal soldiers, largely from Ohio and West Virginia, “had done little since their enlistments but guard duty on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and their fortifications were badly suited to resist a determined attack.”[1] 

Richard Ewell 

   Milroy believed that the gathering Confederate forces south of him were merely staging for a cavalry raid. When news arrived that a large Confederate force had near by, it was really too late to escape. The Confederates broke through the outer defenses on the evening of June 14, and Milroy ordered a retreat that began at 2:00 am the next morning. Four miles from Winchester, Milroy ran into Confederate forces at Stephenson’s Depot. It was an “ambush cleverly laid by Ewell.”[2] Leading the ambush were the three brigades under Allegheny Johnson. After three failed attempts to break through the Confederate lines, Milroy ordered his regiments  to each “leave to look out for itself, and what had once been Milroy’s command broke up in desperately fleeing fragments.”[3]

   Based upon returns from the Federal regiment, the loses were approximately 3,856 captured, although it is unclear just who was captured in Winchester and who was captured at Stephenson’s Depot. The heaviest-hit were the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, losing 714 men, the 18th Connecticut, with 513 men captured, and the 123rd Ohio, losing 445 men captured.[4]

   Following the battle, the prisoners were marched to the recently captured Federal forts. It would take several days to move all of the prisoners to Richmond. On June 16, captured Federals began to make the trip to Richmond. They, with their guards, would travel over 200 miles, part of it on foot, and part via rails. The 58th Virginia and the 54th North Carolina were assigned the task of escorting the prisoners. Colonel Francis H. Board, 58th Virginia, addressed the guards: “Men, these Yankees have fallen into our hands by the fortune of war. I want them treated like gentlemen. If I hear of any insults or abuse, it will be punished.” The men would walk from Winchester to Staunton, where they boarded the cars to Richmond. According to one Federal, it took six days, from June 18 to June 24, to reach Staunton.[5]

   The Federals often had harsh words about their captors and the citizens they met. The chaplain of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry complained that turnpike seemed to burn and blister his feet. “Half-clad, many shoeless and hatless and unfed, the cavalcade was a sorrowful one. The sufferings of the trip I cannot express. Nothing to eat but what we begged or bought off citizens who hated us intensely, shut their doors in our face, and from appearances would have been far better pleased with a visit from even his Satanic majesty himself. Indeed, unless the guard had [not] interfered in our behalf, we should have fared very badly.”[6] A captain in the 123rd Ohio was even harsher, writing that during the march to Staunton, “we were necessitated, by our unfortunate condition as prisoners of war, to submit to the most contemptible treatment, and outrageous insults, that an enraged and diabolical enemy could heap upon us. This detestable treatment was not confined, neither was it most rampant among the soldier guards; but the citizens outrivaled even the soldiers in the exhibition of hate and virulence. They seemed to take great intense delight in hurling their anathemas upon us with unmitigated fury, such as ‘d----d Yankees,’ Milroy’s thieves and robbers,’ ‘black abolitionists,’ ‘every one of you, out to be hung,’ &c. &c.” Of course, some vitriol might be expected. But at one point, the colonel of the 58th Virginia asked if their were any musicians among the Federals captives. When the answer was yes, he ordered them to the front, provided them with a fife and drum, and allowed them to play what ever airs they wanted, which included “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”[7]

   David Parker, 54th North Carolina, was one of those detailed to guard the prisoners. He wrote home that his column contained 2,200 Federal prisoners. “We had to march ninety two miles by land to Stanton. It took us five days. . . I tell you that we have had a hard time getting them here [Richmond]. We scarcely got to sleep any on the road. We had to stand guard two hours and only sleep two hours through the night and then march hard the next day.” On arriving in Staunton, the prisoners were placed in the cars, fifty per car. The guards were likewise divided up. Parker was assigned to continue the trip on to Richmond. “They then detailed twenty eight out of our regt to guard seven hundred of them to Richmond. We left Staunton a Tuesday evening about half an hour by sun and landed here the next evening.”[8] The Federal officers were sent to Libby Prison, while the enlisted men were sent to first to Castle Thunder, and then to Belle Island.

   The almost 4,000 men captured during the second battle of Winchester are not often counted as Confederates captured during the Gettysburg campaign. As Gettysburg concluded, General Lee placed “several thousand” Federal prisoners in charge of Maj. Gen. George Pickett, with orders to escort these men back to Virginia.[9] Kent Masterson Brown places the number at 4,000.[10] Stephen Sears places the number at 3,800.[11] If coupled with the 1,300 that Lee had paroled, and the couple of hundred that JEB Stuart had captured and paroled, the number of Federal soldiers captured during the Gettysburg  campaign probably came close to 10,000.

   If you are interested in this part of the Gettysburg Campaign, let me highly recommend The Second
Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg
(Savas Beatie, 2016) by Eric J. Wittenberg and Scot L. Mingus, Jr. It is a fantastic book at this overlooked part of the history of the war.

[1] Guelzo, Gettysburg, 60.

[2] Coddington, Gettysburg, 89.

[3] Guelzo, Gettysburg, 62.

[4] ORs, Vol. 27, pt.  2, 53.

[5] Wittenburg and Mingus, The Second Battle of Winchester, 379.

[6] Wittenburg and Mingus, The Second Battle of Winchester, 385.

[7] Wittenburg and Mingus, The Second Battle of Winchester, 382-383.

[8] Henry, Pen in Hand, 91.

[9] Hess, Pickett’s Charge, 354.

[10] Brown, Retreat from Gettysburg, 177.

[11] Sears, Gettysburg, 479.