Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Help Save the Wyse Fork Battlefield

 Why preserve battlefields? That’s a great question. If we were to present that question to the millions of men who fought during the 1860s, what would they say? Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once said (at the dedication of the Maine Monument at Gettysburg in 1888) that “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” There is a lot to unpack there: bodies are gone but spirits linger… future generations will come to these “deathless fields, to ponder and dream.” Some battlefields are meticulously preserved. Shiloh, Perryville, and Sharpsburg come to mind as places where a person can stand and see what happened. However, it takes a great deal of work and perseverance to preserve these spots of land for future generations who want to come “to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them.”

The battle of Wyse Fork in North Carolina does not carry the name recognition that Gettysburg or Chickamauga does. Yet for the 20,000 plus Confederate and Union soldiers involved, it was just as real as some of the larger campaigns the armies waged. For the 2,600 who were killed and wounded . . . And now, the state of North Carolina wants to build a new interchange with US 70 and Wyse Fork/Caswell Station Road. This new interchange would destroy large portions of the March 10, 1865, battlefield.

Following the capture of Wilmington, Federal General John Schofield was ordered to capture Goldsboro and accumulate building supplies for Sherman’s army moving into North Carolina. Using New Bern as a starting point, Federal forces under the command of Brig. Gen. J. D. Cox advanced. On May 7, Federal forces ran into Confederates under Braxton Bragg at Southwest Creek, just east of Kinston. Bragg was hoping to delay or halt the Federal advance. Reinforced overnight by a division under D. H. Hill, Bragg planned to attack the Federals. The flanking force was a division under Robert F. Hoke, and he successfully flanked the Federal force, capturing artillery. Hill launched an attack later that day toward the Federal right flank and then sought to intercept the retreating Federals, which he never actually found. Bragg ordered Hill to return to his original position. Confederate forces captured over 1,000 Federals that day. Federal reinforcements arrived overnight and dug in. Early on March 9, Hoke again probed the Federal lines. That afternoon, Bragg ordered him to attack on the morning of May 10. Hoke attacked the Federal left, and Hill also advanced, but on finding twice their number, his troops were forced to fall back after the Federal force counterattacked. That night, they crossed the Neuse River and encamped near Kinston. (This summary was drawn from Barrett’s The Civil War in North Carolina. The best book on the subject is “To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming”: The Battle of Wise’s Fork, March 1865 by Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky.)

While the American Battlefield Trust has preserved a small part of the Wyse Fork Battlefield, the location of the Federal counterattack on March 10 is not preserved and is in danger of being carved up into an interchange. There is an alternative spot to put an interchange that will not destroy a part of the battlefield. This is a state project. Please contact your state representatives in the General Assembly  (house and senate) and ask them to preserve this important piece of battlefield property and stop the proposed by-pass in Lenoir County. You can find your North Carolina representatives here. You can also contact the American Battlefield Trust and ask them to get involved. There is a “Save Wyse Fork Battlefield” group on Facebook.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Fighting on both sides: Richard K. Meade, Jr.

Maj. Richard K. Meade, Jr. 
   There are a handful of men who have the distinction of fighting on both sides during the war. One of those is Richard Kidder Meade, Jr.  Born in Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1835, he was the son of Richard K. Meade, a U.S. Congressman and diplomat, appointed as US Minister to Brazil by President James Buchanan. Richard K. Meade, Jr., was a member of the West Point class of 1857, graduating third in his class. Among his classmates were E. Alexander Porter, Richard H. Anderson, Samuel W. Ferguson, and John S. Marmaduke. Assigned to the engineering corps in the US Army following graduation, he arrived in Charleston on December 10, 1860. Major Robert Anderson first sent him to Castle Pinckney, but Meade discovered that he did not have enough materials to finish the project assigned to him.[1]

   When Major Anderson chose to transfer his command to Fort Sumter, 2nd Lt. Meade used one of the barges to help move the troops. Meade was back at Castle Pickney when James J. Pettigrew arrived on the following day. Meade had no soldiers, just himself and an ordnance sergeant, along with several workers. When Meade refused to open the gate, Pettigrew’s men procured ladders and scaled the walls. Pettigrew demanded Meade surrender on order of the governor of South Carolina, which Meade stated he could not do. The US flag was hauled down and a red flag with a white star was run up. Meade refused to watch the flag go up and retired to his room to write his report. Meade also refused a parole, believing that to do so acknowledged South Carolina as a foreign government. Meade then headed for Fort Sumter.[2]

   Major Anderson sought Meade’s opinion when the Star of the West was fired upon, and when Governor Pickens sent two men to demand the Fort’s surrender. At the later, it was Meade who suggested that the matter be referred to their superiors in Washington, telling Anderson that if they fired on the South Carolinians firing on the ship, “It will bring civil war on us.”[3] Meade was placed in charge of making bags for powder for the cannons prior to the battle. When the battle began on April 12, Meade found himself in command of a gun crew. He was also still in charge of making powder bags, which were soon running short.[4] 

The capture of Castle Pinckney

   At one point, prior to the battle, Meade received a note that one member of his family, his mother, or maybe a sister, was ill. Meade received a furlough to visit the sick relative. Abner Doubleday later wrote that Meade’s absence to Virginia, was a “strategic move to force poor Meade into the ranks of the Confederacy. . . He had previously been overwhelmed with letters on the subject. He was already much troubled in mind; and some months after the bombardment of Fort Sumter the pressure of family ties induced him (very reluctantly as I heard) to join the Disunionists.”[5] However, Doubleday would later praise Meade, writing that while he had never been under fire, Meade “proved [himself] to be [a true] son of [his] Alma Mater at West Point.”[6]

   Meade accompanied Anderson and the others to New York following the surrender of Fort Sumter. When Virginia left the Union, Meade resigned his commission on May 1, 1861. He soon pitched his fate with the Confederate forces and was appointed major of artillery in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. Meade was assigned as engineering officer to Magruder, then worked on the defenses in the Cape Fear area, with General Branch at New Bern, and served as engineer officer on the staff of James Longstreet about the time of the Seven Days campaign. Major Meade died of disease, probably typhoid, on July 31, 1862, and is buried at Blandford Church Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.[7]

[1] Detzer, Allegiance, 63.

[2] Detzer, Allegiance, 114, 134, 135.

[3] Swanberg, First Blood, 148.

[4] Detzer, Allegiance, 167; Burton, The Siege of Charleston, 48.

[5] Doubleday quoted in Hendrickson, Sumter, 138.

[6] Swanberg, First Blood, 305.

[7] Krick, Staff Officer in Gray, 218.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Famous Confederate Nurses

Drew Gilpin Faust, in Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in American Civil War, writes that it was “not the Confederacy’s ladies but its African Americans who care for the South’s fallen heroes. In the domain of nursing, as in the domestic world of cooking and washing, many Confederate ladies would prove themselves less able and less effective than their supposed inferiors.”[1] If Faust has any background research that examines the numbers of White verses Black hospital workers, it is seems to have been left out of her end notes. Of course, part of the problem with Mothers of Invention is that it focuses too much on women from slaveholding families, and not the other 99% of the Southern population.

The work of those mostly silent voices of Black hospital workers I cover in a post that you can read here. They were vital members of the staffs of Southern hospitals during the war. But to say that White Southern women were “less able and less effective” is a stretch. There were undoubtedly some African-American women who balked at the sight of the wounded and sick. Their voices are just silent, unrecorded then as they are now. There were many Southern women who did answer the call to serve as nurses and matrons in hospitals, and countless others who took soldiers into their homes to care for them when the hospital system became overwhelmed.

Others have pointed out conflicting evidence regarding Faust’s assumptions. In Susan Barber’s thesis “Sisters of the Capital: White Women in Richmond, Virginia, 1860-1880,” she found “that more upper class women worked as matrons than Faust suggests in Mothers of Invention.”[2] Elise A. Allison in her thesis, “Confederate Matrons: women who served in Virginia Civil War hospitals,” argues that Faust (and others) “focus their analyses on the writings left by a few prominent matrons and draw generalizations about all matrons based on this unrepresentative sample.”[3]

The Hospital Bill, passed into law in September 1862, stated that each hospital could employ two chief matrons, two assistant matrons, and two ward matrons for each ward. The chief matrons “exercise a superintendence over the entire domestic economy of the hospital.” The assistant matrons supervised the “laundry. . . the clothing of the sick, [and] the bedding of the hospital, to see that they are kept clean and neat.” The duties of the two war matrons were “to prepare the beds and bedding of their respective wards, to see that they are kept clean and in order, that the food or diet for the sick is carefully prepared and furnished to them, the medicine administered, and that all patients requiring careful nursing are attended to.”[4]

Ada Bocot was born in South Carolina in 1832. A widow by the time of the war, she volunteered as a nurse and in December 1861, arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, working in the Monticello Hospital. She continued nursing through 1863 when she returned to her home in South Carolina. Her diary was published in 1994 and offers glimpses of her life while in Charlottesville. Berlin, ed., A Confederate Nurse: The Diary of Ada W. Bacot, 1860-1863.

Emily Mason was born in Kentucky, but by the time of the war was living in Virginia. Mason helped establish the hospital at White Sulphur Springs, and later worked at hospitals in Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Richmond. Her war-time accounts were also published in The Atlantic Monthly: “Memories of a Hospital Matron,” 90, No.1039 (September 1902).  

Kate Cumming, born in Scotland, came to the United States with her family, settling in Mobile, Alabama. She volunteered as a nurse in Corinth, Mississippi, in April 1862, and went on to serve in several different hospitals throughout the war, including those in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Her diary was published in 1866: A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Juliet Opie Hopkins was born in present-day West Virginia, and after her marriage, relocated to Mobile, Alabama. During the war, she helped establish Alabama hospitals in Richmond, Virginia, and earned the title “Florence Nightingale of the South.” She was wounded twice in the left hip while supervising the removal of wounded soldiers during the battle of Seven Pines in May 1862. Hopkins died in 1890 and was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[5]

Sallie Chapman Gordon Law was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and later moved to Georgia, and then to Tennessee. In April 1861, she helped organize a hospital in a home in Memphis. Later, Law worked at Overton Hospital in Memphis, and then Law Hospital (named for her) in La Grange, Georgia. In 1892, her story was published in Reminiscences of the War of the Sixties between the North and South.  

Ella King Newsom was born in Mississippi and, after marrying, moved to Tennessee. She worked on the Southern Mothers’ Home Hospital and the Overton Hospital, both in Memphis. Newsom also organized or worked in hospitals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Corinth, Mississippi, the Crutchfield House Hospital in Chattanooga, and in Marietta and Atlanta. The Newsom Hospital, originally organized in Chattanooga, was named for her. Newsom was also called “The Florence Nightingale of the South.”[6]

Phoebe Yates Levy Pember was born to a Jewish family in Charleston, South Carolina. She was widowed and living in Georgia when, in December 1862, she began working at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Pember was chief matron of one of the five divisions at Chimborazo, the largest military hospital in the world, and left some remarkable and often quoted details of her experience in A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, published in 1879.

Kate Mason Rowland was born in Detroit, Michigan, and moved to Richmond, Virginia, prior to the war. During the war, she worked in several hospitals and was matron at the Marine or Naval Hospital at the end of the war. Her diary has never been published.

Sally Tompkins, from Matthews County, Virginia, ran the Robertson Hospital in Richmond during the war. When the Confederate government began consolidating small hospitals in the summer of 1861, the Robertson Hospital, due to its efficiency, remained open. To circumnavigate the regulation requiring hospital administrators to be commissioned, Jefferson Davis appointed Tompkins a captain of cavalry. Her hospital had the lowest death rate of any hospital in Richmond, although many serious cases were sent there. Tompkins’s hospital remained open until June 1865.[7]

Joanna Fox Waddill was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Mississippi when young. When the war came, she served in hospitals in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, eventually becoming a matron in a hospital in Lauderdale, Mississippi.

Augusta Jane Evens Wilson was born in Columbus, Georgia, and lived in Russell County, Alabama, and San Antonio, Texas, prior to the war. In 1860, she was living in Mobile, Alabama. She worked at a hospital in Mobile during the war and corresponded with Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.[8]

These are just a few of the many women who were clearly able and effective in their roles as caregivers for the injured and sick, regardless of their stations in Southern society.  

[1] Faust, in Mothers of Invention, 112.

[2] Barber, “Sisters of the Capital,” 103-104.

[3] Allison, “Confederate Matrons,” 7.

[4] Official Records, Series IV, Vol. II, 199.

[5] Schroeder-Lein, Civil War Medicine, 138-39.

[6] Schroeder-Lein, Civil War Medicine, 229-30.

[7] Schroeder-Lein, Civil War Medicine, 303-04.