Thursday, January 27, 2022

Confederate General John W. Frazer and the capture of Cumberland Gap

   Brig. Gen. John W. Frazer was in an awkward position. As Braxton Bragg stripped Confederate forces from east Tennessee to strengthen the Army of Tennessee prior to attacking the Federals around Chattanooga, Frazer’s brigade, posted at Cumberland Gap, was left behind. Frazer was a native of Hardin County, Tennessee, and received an appointment from Mississippi to the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1849. He performed garrison duty in New York, California, Virginia, and Washington State before resigning and joining the Confederate States army. He was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 8th Alabama Infantry, and then colonel of the 28th Alabama Infantry. On May 19, 1863, he was appointed brigadier general and assigned to command the 5th brigade, Army of East Tennessee. His command, composed of the 55th Georgia Infantry, the 62nd and 64th North Carolina Troops, the 64th Virginia Infantry, and the 1st Tennessee Cavalry regiment, was assigned to guard various gaps in and around Cumberland Gap.[1] 

Brig. Gen. John W. Frazer 

   Simon Buckner, Frazer’s immediate commander, wrote on August 21, asking Frazer if he needed ammunition or other supplies. “Matters do not look gloomy,” the letter stated. Toward the end of August, it appears that Frazer was getting ready to evacuate Cumberland Gap.  But that same day, August 30, Buckner ordered Frazer to “hold the gap…” and if he evacuated Cumberland Gap, to fall back to Abington. With Buckner gone, Major General Samuel Jones assumed commander of the department. From surviving correspondence, it appears that Frazer had not taken any action on the matter, for on September 7, Jones asked the War Department “Shall I order the evacuation of Cumberland Gap?” James Seddon proposed to Jefferson Davis that same question the next day: “Shall I authorize the gap to be held?” Davis, wanting to “save the railroad and the valuable position at Cumberland Gap,” allowed Jones to make that decision. Davis did not believe that the Federals in east Tennessee, filling the void left by the redeployed Confederates, were a serious threat.[2]

   But they were. Bypassing the Confederate stronghold at Cumberland Gap, Federal forces used a gap fifty miles southwest of the area. The attacking Federal force in East Tennessee was under the command of Major General Ambrose Burnside. He sent one brigade to approach Cumberland Gap from the south, while another Federal brigade was slated to move south from Crab Orchard along the old Wilderness Road toward Cumberland Gap. The two Federal forces appeared about the same time on opposite sides of Cumberland Gap. On September 7 came the first demand to surrender, a demand that Frazer rejected. Under the cover of darkness the Federals burned the mill Frazer was using to grind corn for his command, along with some of the meal. The next morning came another demand for surrender. While Frazer weighed his options, another demand of surrender was received, this one from Burnside, who had just taken Knoxville. At 3 o’clock on September 9, Frazer surrendered his entire force, except about four hundred men who had slipped off into the woods.[3]

   Frazer’s surrender to a smaller force was not without controversy. He was rumored to be drunk. “Two thousand men and guns & ammunition have also been given away at Cumberland Gap, where a drunken Brigadier named Frazer commanded,” Josiah Gorgas wrote in his diary on September 17, 1863.[4] War Department Clerk J. B. Jones wrote that the “country is indignant at the surrender of Cumberland Gap by Brig.-Gen. Frazier, without firing a gun, when his force was nearly as strong as Burnside’s. . . The country did not know there was such a general until his name became famous by this ignominious surrender. Where did Gen. Cooper find him?”[5] Frazer apparently did not consult the officers of the regiments in his command on September 9. He surrendered between 1,700 and 2,300 men, and most of those men were sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. Many of these men died of illness. Frazer was criticized by Jefferson Davis, and in February 1864, the Confederate senate voted unanimously against confirming his nomination as a brigadier. From Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, Frazer wrote an official report on November 27, 1864. Frazer criticized the troops under his command. They were “in a deplorable condition.” One of his regiments, the 62nd North Carolina Troops, the current brigade commander had been “for some time. . . trying to get rid of it.” Frazer considered this regiment “badly disciplined and badly drilled” One captain was under arrest for “disseminating papers hostile to the Confederacy among the command.” The 64th North Carolina Troops was small, “having been reduced by desertions. . . the colonel and lieutenant colonel had left in disgrace for dishonorable conduct.” The 55th Georgia Infantry, Frazer thought, was the best regiment he had, although the soldiers had recently ridden their colonel on a rail. His two artillery batteries had no experience. The “character, confidence, and condition of the troops hastily collected to defend the gap were such as to justify no hope of a successful defense against an equal number of the enemy. . . It is proper to state that the want of confidence in the troops was of gradual conviction in my mind. . .”[6] 

   Frazer spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. After his release in April 1865, he moved to Arkansas, and then to New York City where he died in 1906. James D. Porter, writing in 1899, believed that “when all the facts were made known,” Frazer was exonerated.[7] John W. Frazer remains one of those little-discussed Confederate generals and probably deserves more of our attention. Was he drunk while Cumberland Gap was surrounded? Maybe. The Federal colonel commanding the brigade moving from Crab Orchard thought so. Were the troops he had to work with subpar? When it comes to the 62nd  and 64th North Carolina Troops, well, they were not the best the Confederacy had to offer.  

[1] Davis, The Confederate Generals, 2:146-47.

[2] Official Records, vol. 30, pt. 4, 528, 568, 571, 572, 616.

[3] Kincaid, The Wilderness Road, 262-73.

[4] Wiggins, The Journals of Josiah Gorgas,­ 81.

[5] Robertson, A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary, 2:43.

[6] Official Records, vol. 30, pt.2 610-612.

[7] Evans, Confederate Military History, 8:309.

Monday, January 17, 2022

North Carolina’s Hospitals in Charleston

   Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate armies, issued General Order No. 95 on November 25, 1862. The twelve-point order dealt with the administration of Confederate hospitals, items such as the hospital fund, the requisition of clothes for the wounded, the duties of matrons, etc. Point number 10 specified that “Hospitals will be known and numbered as hospitals of a particular State. The sick and wounded, when not injurious to themselves or greatly inconvenient to the service, will be sent to the hospitals representing their respective States, and to private or State hospitals representing the same.”[1]

   It is not clear to what extent this order was adopted. In Richmond, the Confederate city with the best book on Confederate hospitals, there were several state hospitals. Many of these had more than one name or were later absorbed into the Confederate hospital system. These include the Mississippi Hospital (General Hospital #2); Second Georgia (General Hospital #14); First Georgia (General Hospital #16); Fourth Georgia (General Hospital #17); Third Georgia (General Hospital #19); First Alabama (General Hospital #20); North Carolina Hospital (General Hospital #24); Texas Hospital (General Hospital #25); Louisiana Hospital; South Carolina Hospital. There were at least 140 hospitals in Richmond.[2]

   Charleston, South Carolina, also became a hospital center for the Confederacy, with at least twenty-five hospitals. The war-time history of Charleston is well known. Many consider the bombardment of Fort Sumter to be the beginning of the war. The battle of Secessionville was fought in June 1862. Naval bombardments of the city and surrounding fortifications began in 1863, and the first and second battles of Fort Wagner were waged in 1863 as well.  There were numerous regiments that were assigned to duty in Charleston over the course of the war. The majority of soldiers who were there were, of course, from South Carolina, but there were troops from Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina there as well. 

White House, Charleston, SC
   North Carolina regiments assigned to the defenses of Charleston include the 8th North Carolina, 31st North Carolina, 51st North Carolina, and 61st North Carolina. Those four North Carolina regiments, part of the brigade commanded by Thomas L. Clingman, were assigned to the defenses of Charleston in February 1863 and remained in the city through the end of the year. The 8th and 31st participated in the battle at Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863. The 1st North Carolina Hospital in Charleston was established in August 1863 on one of the city wharves, but it was forced to relocate when the bombardment commenced. The new location was a “fine dwelling” at the intersection of Mary and American Streets. A chimney fire destroyed this building in January 1864.[3] It is unclear if during one of their moves if the hospital was redesignated the 2nd North Carolina Hospital. The 3rd North Carolina hospital was established at the White home on Charlotte Street. It was a large brick home that served as Daniel Sickle’s headquarters after the war.[4] Artilleryman Daniel E.H. Smith was taken to the hospital on Charlotte Street at one point during the war. “I was carried to the very top of the house and put to bed in an attic room. The Matron, or head nurse, was Mrs. Lining, a lady of good birth, who was very kind to me.” Smith mentions that a Dr. Meminger was in charge of the hospital.[5] It is not clear who Doctor Meminger was. 

The Charleston Daily Courier August 10, 1863. 

   More information about these North Carolina hospitals in Charleston is sparse. The Charleston Daily Courier advertised on August 5, 1864, that two good cooks were wanted at the “North Carolina General Hospital on East-Bay Street and Fraser’s Wharf.” The Soldier’s Relief Association of Charleston donated fifty shirts, fifty pairs of drawers, twenty-four fans, linen, and arrowroot, along with fifteen chickens, one bag of meal, three dozen eggs, potatoes and tea in August.[6] T. Player Edwards, hospital steward, acknowledged the receipt of cash from churches in Wilmington and the Ladies’ Aid Society in Asheville, along with items like potatoes, eggs, blackberry and catsup, shirts, drawers, socks, and six bottles of Calisaya bitters from individuals.[7] W. H. McDowell, assistant superintendent of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad, informed the people of Wilmington that the railroad would transport food and other provisions to the North Carolina Hospital in Charleston for free.[8]

   Finding a list of those treated at the North Carolina Hospital in Charleston is difficult. It appears that most of the records were lost. One newspaper informs us that there were eight South Carolina soldiers at the hospital in September 1863, while there were several North Carolina soldiers at the Citadel Square Hospital.[9] C. F. Townsend, Co. E, 51st North Carolina Troops, was sent to the North Carolina Hospital after being struck by a shell at Sullivan’s Island.[10]

   The Rev. E. T. Winkler, the Senior Chaplain of Hospitals in Charleston, wrote to the Biblical Recorder in late September, telling the editor that the North Carolina Hospital in Charleston was “thronged with the sick and wounded from” North Carolina and asked for fifty copies of the Biblical Record for the convalescing soldiers. Winkler wrote of one patient from North Carolina whom he considered one “of the bravest men whom I have ever met. . . who told me with his dying breath, ‘Tell my wife that when I fell in the field, I fell in the arms of Jesus.’”[11]

   In November there was an advertisement for two white male nurses, “recommended for sobriety and honesty” to work at the hospital. Not only was it a paid position, but rations were also furnished.[12]

   While Clingman’s brigade of North Carolina Troops was transferred in late 1863, the North Carolina Hospital in Charleston remained open. In June 1864, an article mentioned the new location and that surgeon J. G. Thomas was in charge.[13] This is undoubtedly Dr. James G. Thomas. A native of Kentucky. Thomas served in several hospitals in Oxford and Jackson, Mississippi, then as surgeon of the 39th Alabama Infantry before being assigned to Charleston. While in Charleston, he not only worked at the North Carolina Hospital, but also in the South Carolina and Georgia hospitals as well. Doctor Thomas was reassigned to Macon, Georgia, in June 1864. Thomas’s listing as surgeon seems to be the last time the North Carolina Hospital in Charleston is mentioned. Just when the hospital closed is unknown.

   It is possible that more information about the hospital might be difficult to obtain. Rebecca Calcutt tells us that many of the military records from Charleston were moved to Columbia towar the end of the war for safe keeping, and then lost in the fire in February 1865.[14] While there is a history of Clingman’s brigade, there are no histories of the 8th, 31st, 51st, of 61st North Carolina regiments. Maybe by looking into these regiments and others in the greater Charleston area, we can learn more about the North Carolina Hospital.


[1] Official Records, Series 4, Vol. 2, 199-200.

[2] Calcutt, Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals.

[3] The Charleston Mercury January 5, 1864.

[4] Calcutt, South Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 24, 27.

[5] Smith, A Charlestonian’s Recollections, 91.

[6] The Charleston Daily Courier August 2, 1864.

[7] The Charleston Mercury August 15, 1863.

[8] The Daily Journal August 19, 1863.

[9] The Charleston Daily Courier September 8, 1863.

[10] The Greenville Enterprise September 10, 1863.

[11] The Biblical Recorder October 7, 1863.

[12] The Charleston Mercury November 27, 1863.

[13] The Charleston Mercury June 7, 1864.

[14] Calcutt, South Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 1.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Longstreet, East Tennessee, and the weather of 1863-64

   In September 1863, Longstreet took part of his command and moved via railroad from Virginia to Northern Georgia, arriving in time to play a pivotal role in the battle of Chickamauga. After several weeks near Chattanooga, Longstreet moved his men to Knoxville, attempting to wrest control of the city away from the Federals. After the failed attack at Fort Sanders, Longstreet moved into East Tennessee. His force spent the winter there, occasionally battling with the enemy and trying to procure food. (You can read about some of their attempts to supply the army here.)

East Tennessee ca.1863 (LOC)

   Longstreet’s men spent the next five or so months in east Tennessee. They were often cold and hungry, and the weather played a role in the war as it frequently did.

   In December 1863, Longstreet’s men moved from Knoxville toward Bean’s Station. Lewellyn Shaver, a member of the 60th Alabama Infantry, reported that it rained on December 14, and that the men marched “ankle deep in mud and inclining their heads to the rain as it fell. . . A more dismal day, or a condition more uncomfortable and forlorn can scarcely be conceived: blankets, wet and heavy—clothes, ditto. . . the temperature cold and penetrating…” After the battle of Bean’s Station, Shaver recalled the dead, “their pallid faces drenched and beaten by the rain-drops.”[1] After the war, Longstreet wrote that following the Confederate victory at Bean’s Station, “the weather grew very heavy and the roads, already bad, became soft and impracticable for trains and artillery… As winter had broken upon us in good earnest, it seemed necessary for us to give up the game of war for the time, seek some good place for shelter, and repair railroads and bridges, to open our way back to Richmond.” [2]

   Following the battle, Longstreet’s command moved to the vicinity of Morristown where they constructed winter quarters. Shaver wrote that for the next four weeks, it was intensely cold, with blankets and warm clothing in scant supply. The men had to travel in the snow to cut trees for their camp.[3] Moxley Sorrel, on Longstreet’s staff, stated that at the end of December, the “cold was intense, the record showing the lowest temperature for many years… the glass went down to zero and the entire army was quiet in the effort to keep warm.”[4] James Longstreet complained of a “bitter freeze of two weeks [that] had made the rough angles of mud as firm and sharp as so many freshly-quarried rocks…”[5]

   It was through the snow that the soldiers moved, arriving in Dandridge on January 29, 1864. Sorrel also wrote that the affair at Dandridge was conducted while it was “bitter winter weather, the ground sharp with ice…”[6] William R. Montgomery, 3rd Batt. Georgia Sharpshooters, wrote that they moved twenty miles through the mud and snow. “Had to lay out 3 nights without any covering (in the snow) save the wide expanded arch of Heaven which you may imagine was by no means pleasant.” On the day he wrote (January 19, 1864), the ground was covered with snow and the wind blowing.[7]

   After a skirmish and remaining in the area several days, they moved to Brabson’s Ferry. Shaver recalled that the camp would be remembered because of the “intensity of the cold.” They soon returned to their camp near Dandridge where they built a bridge over Lick Creek. He also reported more rain during this time.[8] Montgomery wrote on January 20 that it had rained for three or four days. Snow prior to that had been 10 inches in some places.[9]

   There was more of the same in February. Lt. Richard Lewis, 4th South Carolina, wrote on February 21 that those in camp were exposed “to the cold and chilling blast of winter.”[10] The weather moderated some over the next couple of weeks. Around March 1, the 60th Alabama moved to Zollicoffer and stayed there several weeks. The weather had improved enough for the men to resume drill. Lieutenant Lewis wrote again of rain on March 9.[11]

   W. R. Stillwell, 53rd Georgia Infantry, writing on April 3, 1864, recalled moving from Greeneville to Bristol. It took four days to cover the fifty-hour miles, in the snow.[12] After reaching Zollicoffer, Lieutenant Lewis wrote of his tramp, echoing Stillwell. Their march started with snow and sleet, then more snow and blistering winds. On reaching the camp at Zollicoffer, he and his comrades were able to “lay down and bask in sunshine for an hour or two” before pitching camp.[13]

   From these few glimpses we can make some logical deductions. While there were some good days (which get mentioned less in correspondence home), the weather was rough on Longstreet’s men during the winter of 1863-64. Frequent cold fronts passed through the area, bringing snow and sleet. On the nice days, warmer temperatures and sunshine thawed the roads, making travel difficult for supply wagons. Many letters and reminisces mentioned broken-down commissary wagons and artillery pieces sunk to their hubs. A more probing question is: was this all normal, east Tennessee weather? Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver argue that since the 1850s, the Tennessee River Valley area had been in a La Nina cycle. The Tennessee River, which had frequently flooded, was quiet.  However, in 1862, there were heavy rains. The rising Tennessee River allowed the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson.[14] Kenneth W. Noe writes that the winter of 1863-64 in East Tennessee was “exceedingly harsh.”[15] The poor weather taxed animals charged with bringing supplies, and the lack of clothing and shoes hurt the chances of Confederate forces wanting to advance on Knoxville or into Kentucky. From these accounts, we might surmise that the winter of 1863-64 was a little on the unusual side. We may also find a greater appreciation of the terrible hardships faced by these men as they fought a foe much more fearsome than the Union army: Mother Nature.




[1] Shaver, A History of the Sixtieth Alabama Regiment, 31-32, 36.

[2] Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox, 515.

[3] Shaver, A History of the Sixtieth Alabama Regiment, 37.

[4] Sorrel, Recollections of a Confederate State Officer, 220.

[5] Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox, 526.

[6] Sorrel, Recollections of a Confederate State Officer, 219.

[7] Montgomery, Georgia Sharpshooter, 100-101.

[8] Shaver, A History of the Sixtieth Alabama Regiment, 40.

[9] Montgomery, Georgia Sharpshooter, 103.

[10] Lewis, Camp Life of a Confederate Boy, 82.

[11] Shaver, A History of the Sixtieth Alabama Regiment, 41.

[12] Hattaway, The Stillwell Letters, 246.

[13] Lewis, Camp Life of a Confederate Boy, 86, 88.

[14] Browning and Silver, An Environmental History of the Civil War, 46-51.

[15] Noe, The Howling Storm, 353.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Feeding the Confederate Garrison at Fort Clinch

   In 1861, as various Southern states left the Union, they seized and assumed control of various forts in Southern ports. As in the case of Fort Sumter, it took a battle for the facility to switch hands. A handful of forts were never captured, like Fortress Monroe in Virginia and Fort Pickens in Pensacola. However, many other forts only had a caretaker, usually an ordinance sergeant, and a few workmen. This is true with Fort Caswell, Fort Macon, and Fort Clinch.

   Fort Clinch was not even close to being completed at the start of the war. Sitting on Amelia Island on Cumberland Sound, the fort was begun in 1847, and the construction was slow Only two walls were completed, and no cannons were mounted. On January 7, 1861, Fort Clinch was seized by state troops. Over the next couple of months, various Confederate organizations rotated in and out of the area until the fort and island were abandoned on March 3, 1862. Among the Confederates stationed on the island during this period of time were the 3rd Florida Infantry, 4th Florida Infantry, Marion Light Artillery, 24th Mississippi Infantry, and the Marion Dragoons.[1]

Feeding this new influx of men on a remote island was a challenge. In December 1862, they numbered over 4,500. At the same time, there were a couple of advantages. Foodstuffs could be brought up the St. Mary’s River, could come up the Amelia River, or, they could come from the interior via the Florida Railroad.  Records from the Florida Railroad mention freight such as “Substance Store” in reports filed in January 1862. The garrison commander contracted with C. L. Holbrook to provide pork, dry goods, and vegetables from Fernandina and St. Marys, Georgia. It is unclear just who Holbrook was. M. Wood and Company were contracted to supply beef rations. Wood lived in Callahan, Florida. Callahan was roughly 25 miles from Fort Clinch. However, it would have been easier to deliver the supplies elsewhere and have the quartermasters on the Island take charge. “M. Wood” is probably Michi Wood, a wealthy Prussian immigrant, 43 years old and a merchant, who listed his place of residence as Fernandina.[2]

   One of the soldiers stationed on the island, T.M. Broome, wrote home that “The rations which we receive each day are of the best quality available to us; we have beef three times a week with pork and fish, oysters, clams and crab, along with rice, onions and yams. The corn are right fine; our bread ration comes from the many bakers of the town, with our own mess providing biscuits and sweet bread. Wild game is abundant… the weather allows for us to fish when not posted to duty… the citizens are always offering biscuits, sweet bread and cookies. My friends and neighbors are always visiting the men of the volunteers with treats and goodies.”[3]

   Finding more information on this subject is a challenge. None of the regiments listed above appear to have regimental histories. The Washington Ives letters have been published (4th Florida), but begin in June 1862. There is a history of the 1st Florida Special Battalion and 10th Infantry Regiment, by Don Hillhouse, but copies are scarce. The 1st Florida Special Battalion was stationed on the island and at Fort Clinch. There is no history of the 24th Mississippi Infantry, either. Ofeldt’s new history of Fernandina and Fort Clinch does not go into much detail on the subject, unfortunately .

[1] Ofeldt, Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War, 51.

[2] 1860 US Census, Nassau County, Florida; Confederate Citizens File, Business, M346, RG109, NARA; Ofeldt, Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War, 37.

[3] Ofeldt, Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War, 37.