Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Footprints Through Dixie- The Review

I must preface this post with a disclaimer:
I am not very adept at presenting my opinions to others which is what a book review really is, so bear with me.

If you read my post of July 25, 2012 you already have my recommendation as to the value of this book to those searching for members of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. At the time of that post I had barely read one third of it, and could not give much in detail for others to spend the time to read it. Now that I have finished reading it I can honestly say that I highly recommend Footprints Through Dixie to anyone interested in the common soldier. The soldiers lot was pretty much the same on both sides. Neither side had a corner on the market of travail.

What sets this book apart from the pack is the blend of Private J. W. Gaskill's diary and his later reflections many years after the war, told with a natural story tellers ease. One can almost taste the dust of the march, or see two friends buttoning their shelter halves together after a long day, then settling down to argue some point of strategy, dogs, cooking or what have you. Gaskill tells of a pair that would argue to the point of fisticuffs before the sergeant stepped in to soothe tempers. The pair would remain friends but would start another argument about another subject much to the irritation of company B. An additional strong point of the book is the narrowness of focus the author maintains throughout the book and he rarely delves into incidents that do not “fall under his observation”. He devotes his pages to the subject of company B in particular and the 104th OVI generally and thus he is able to weave a highly readable, sometimes amusing, other times heart wrenching tale.

The 104th was another Western regiment that spent considerable time in Kentucky and Tennessee chasing, for the most part, Confederate partisans such as John Morgan or the myriad loose knit bands that were a constant irritant to the Federal armies in the west. Hard duty to be sure for the infantry. In late September 1863 the regiment arrives at Knoxville Tennessee, and stays there through the long winter of '63-'64, enduring siege and bitter winter cold. It is about here in Gaskill's narrative that the tenor changes, imperceptibly at first, from a light, jovial tone to one of deepening despair. I have read many soldier diaries, regimental histories, and letters but never have I noted such a profound change in the authors writing. It is as if the author upon re-reading his diary and expounding upon it he is actually reliving the time. He is not afraid to let some emotion show. His experiences at Franklin and Nashville are the depth of his gloom. One really gets a sense of his anguish in the recounting of these experience. Beyond there and almost as imperceptibly as his descent, his reminiscences begin to brighten again on through to the end of the war. This book truly does allow some insight into at least one soldiers experience.
The Depths of Gloom

One weakness the book has is that some of the battles the 104th was involved in the author does not name. This mostly occurs with battles with Hood when he headed for Tennessee whilst Sherman was marching through Georgia after the fall of Atlanta. This is a minor sticking point since the book is not intended to be history. The author relies mostly on his diary in these areas without much addition either in recollection or use of the current histories of the time.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the book is a treasure for the genealogist. As a bonus Gaskill lists the names of men from the 115th OVI that were on board the transport steamer Sultana when she exploded. They were:
Lieutenant Jacob Shaffer
F.A. Clapsaddle
William Smith
Thomas Rue
Charles Detrick
Adam Hendricks
Alexander Laugheter
Robert Roath
Thomas Spencer
Benjamin Crew

All perished save for Shaffer and Clapsaddle. They were men of company F, of the 115th and from Stark county Ohio, the same county the 104th company B was raised from.
Footprints Through Dixie is one fine piece of work and makes a great bookend for Sam Watkins' Company Aytch.
See? I told you I wasn't very good at book reviews!

The Picket.

Footprints Through Dixie, Gaskill, J.W., 1919 retrieved from http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007659991
Sultana victims page 179
Battle of Franklin lithograph, Kurz and Allison 1891 retrieved from The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.01852/

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Footprints Through Dixie

Footprints Through Dixie is the diary of J.W. Gaskill, a private in Company “B”, 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It was published in 1919. The author states that the volume is compiled from his diary and it reads as though it has been edited for style and clarity but does not leave out the dates and places pertaining to his narrative of the war.

I am not finished reading it yet; I am only about a third of the way through the 186 pages, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in old diaries.

The main reason I am posting this before completely reading the book is because of the wealth of personal information contained in it. Anyone that has an ancestor that served in the 104th Ohio should definitely read it.

Here are a couple of examples:

During this skirmish, Elias Haines of Marlboro,shot a finger from his hand while drawing a load from his gun. After recovery he is detailed for duty with the supply train where he served until December 29, (1862) then deserted while we were encamped at Richmond, Kentucky. He afterward enlists in a cavalry regiment and serves until discharged from the army.”

And this:

The first death in the company is that of Joseph Holibaugh of Marlboro. On the morning of November 28,after coming off guard duty he walked to the company cook's quarters and while standing there he suddenly and without warning fell forward into the fire. He is quickly removed by comrades and the surgeon is called, who pronounced his death due to apoplexy. Comrade Holibaugh's body is sent to his home and buried near the village of Marlboro.”

These are only two of many such pieces of information that fill this book. The author states in his introductory that he tried to write something about every man in the company, and also as much as he could of other men in the regiment. Besides his diary he also used the company Orderly Sergeant's records to fill in some of the information. This is an important little work for genealogists. If you are looking for a deserter though you may not find him. Gaskill relates incidents of desertion but as far as I have read he does not name names. Officers are also highlighted, the good and the bad, and even transient officers are mentioned. The book gives details one will not find in the cold records usually searched in the hunt for ancestors serving in Civil War armies. It is interesting to see details relating to the death, discharge, promotion or transfer of the individual soldiers.

The regiment was mustered in August 12, 1862, at Massilon, Ohio and served until June 28, 1865. The 104th saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina as part of the 23rd Army Corps, Army of the Ohio.

The Picket


Footprints Through Dixie, Gaskill, J.W., 1919, Pages 28 and 34, Retrieved from

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Foraging: What About Tomatoes?

I have read a lot about the American Civil War over the years. That reading has included every thing from scholarly works written by trained historians to the diaries and letters of the common soldier. I would venture to say that 90 per cent of the literature about the war touches, to some degree, the subject of foraging. All manner of edibles are mentioned including meat on the hoof, meat smoked, and meat salted. Fish and sundry other aquatic foods such as crab and oysters are much in evidence especially if an army is camped for an extended period near a river or along the coast. Of course vegetables are always mentioned, as are the fruits and nuts that grew in abundance in all parts of the divided nation. Even on rare occasion okra can be found as part of a foraging soldiers bill of fare along with the tubers Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. In all my recollection however, I do not recall ever seeing tomatoes mentioned. I wonder why?

That may be partially answered by the fact that the tomato is not one of the best traveling fruits to ever be harvested. It would be difficult for a forager to return with this item in good order to his mess. In the case of the long range foragers of William T. Sherman, it would be next to impossible. Those guys went for miles and other more sturdy items probably took first place.

Another answer may be that the plant was grown more as a decorative vine than as a food source so finding a plant laden with fruit may have been difficult and dependent on what time of the year the soldiers passed by. The vine may not have been in blossom yet or the fruit still green or even after the time of harvest.

Once upon a time, too, the tomato was thought to be poisonous, and if you ate one and survived you must be a witch! So superstition might have played a big part in the soldiers reasoning to pass this vegetable by. (The tomato was not declared to be a vegetable until 1893, by the US Supreme Court no less, although botanically it is a fruit. [1] This disagreement in itself may be why it is never mentioned. What hungry soldier would want to argue the point?)

It is just one of those questions that enter my mind from time to time as I research things relating to the war. It is inconsequential of course but haven't you ever been reading and have an “I wonder...” question enter your mind? Actually this question was one of those, popping into my head while enjoying a vine ripened tomato, the real deal not the hot house kind that are next door to eating wax.

It just seems to me that a big old tomato would sure perk up a chunk of salt pork and hardtack like it does the BLT sandwich or hamburger we all enjoy and it would have been worth jotting down in a diary or letter just to let the folks at home know the soldier was eating well enough. But then again if superstition was a factor, eating them may be cause for alarm to the homefolk.

Who knows?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Newburgh, Indiana: First Northern town Occupied by Confederates

The rebels have taken possession of Henderson, Ky., on the Ohio, below Evansville. They have also crossed the river and taken Newburg, Ind.; killed one of our men and taken 250 of our sick in hospital prisoners. They took 250 arms and destroyed the hospital stores. A boat has left Evansville with arms. I will send an extra train with artillery, arms, and infantry immediately.

O.P. Morton


150 years ago today, this was the strident message Oliver P. Morton, governor of Indiana sent to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on July 18, 1862. Adam Rankin Johnson would be the first Confederate commander to occupy a Northern town and Newburg, Indiana would have the dubious distinction of being the first town occupied.

This rebel soldier, not long in command and at the head of between 30 and 60 men, (accounts vary as to the actual number of soldiers) accomplished what no other Confederate leader had done. Less than six months previous to this Johnson was but a private scouting for Nathan B. Forrest, then for John C. Breckenridge. Now a Captain, in what can only be described as a “band”, self styled as the “Breckenridge Guards” he made manifest the fear of every state governor along the Ohio River. Invasion!

He did it through bluff, using two sets of old wagon wheels, a length of pipe, and a blackened log, resembling a section of artillery placed conspicuously on the south bank of the river. He threatened to shell the town if his demands were not met. The town surrendered. He and his men did make off with 250 stand of arms, powder, percussion caps, medical supplies, and food, carried south on a flatboat that made several trips.

Adam Rankin Johnson

Although this raid had no lasting material impact, Johnson did cause some panic along the Ohio River and beyond and gained his nickname; “STOVEPIPE”. He and his troopers would become a thorn in the side of the Federal soldiers and government for most of the war. He would also have a price on his head from then on.

It may be trivial in import when stacked against grander raids as Morgan was then carrying on, or larger battles or more illustrious personages, but incidents like this are what makes this time period fascinating.  It is a “Side Show to the Big Show” as Sam Watkins subtitled his memoir, “Company Aytch”.

I wanted to add this little piece as a “Sesquicentennial Moment”, for posterity so to speak and I plan a more in depth post on the raid soon.

* The spelling of Newburg in the body of this post reflects the common spelling of the towns name in the mid 1860's. The spelling in the title is how it is spelled today.

The Picket

Monday, July 16, 2012

Occupation of Henderson, Kentucky

It had not been many days since Adam Rankin Johnson and his two companions had attacked the Provost Guard at Henderson, Kentucky. In the interim the good citizens of the town set forth a resolution condemning the band as “guerrillas and outlaws” that was signed by good Union men including Archibald Dixon, past Governor of Kentucky.

Johnson read the resolution in the Henderson Reporter, and promptly decided to issue a statement of his own. On July 10, 1862 he wrote a letter to Governor Dixon and all the citizens of Henderson. Robert Martin would hand deliver this missive to Dixon even though the town was thick with Federal troops. In the letter Johnson declared that all of the men under his command at the time of the attack were regularly enrolled “Confederate soldiers”. There were only three men involved, all being in the Confederate army so this statement was entirely true. He went on to say that all those who had signed the resolution “has declared war against the Confederate States, and against us, and I inform you emphatically and plainly that if that resolution is not rescinded in the next issue of the paper, we will consider you as enemies and confiscate your property.” The next issue of the Reporter contained a full retraction.

After Bob Martin delivered Rankin's message, he coolly went to the livery stable and had his horse fed and cared for. Then, in the company of one other man, he made his way to a friends home and ate dinner. Doctor Thomas Johnson, his host, was a staunch Unionist but as was often the case during this war, he made Martin a welcome guest. Adam Johnson was his son.

After dinner, Martin walked about town a while then posted himself casually on a rail fence and watched Yankee infantry and artillery at drill, quietly counting their number. After a time he returned to the stable to retrieve a horse. He had conspired to make off with one of the fine Federal cavalry horses that were also there. Rather disappointed no one was around to fight for the animal, he chose his new mount, climbed aboard and was just in the act of absconding when the stable owners son, Jimmy Quinn, entered. Quinn latched onto the reigns and declared the rebel had made a mistake, and he should dismount and saddle his own horse. Of course Martin was pleased to have some sport. He drew his revolver and thrust it in the young mans face and said if the lad did not let go, he would surely shoot him. Jimmy was unmoved and declared that if he were shot, Martin would be killing a true son of the Confederacy. Jimmy was between a rock and a hard place. His family was well known for their pro Southern stance and if Martin took the horse, the Federals would undoubtedly suspect that Jimmy had aided in the theft and they would burn the stable, their only means of income and the only property they owned. Martin thought on it and then dismounted. The youth had to much grit to shoot anyway, and he was not about dealing hurt to true patriots of the South. It would not be long before 18 year old Jimmy would join the ranks of the Breckenridge Guards.
In the days following Johnson and his small core of followers did not remain idle, and spent their time recruiting in the country. At the time they entered and occupied Henderson on July 17, 1862 the band counted about 30 men. The occupation of the town was unopposed, the Federal garrison and a number of cavalry that had chased the rebels had departed, bound for Louisville, the day before. Johnson, by Martin's reckoning, had expected to find at least 600 cavalry there.
Among a delegation of citizens sent to greet the burgeoning group were the mayor, the county judge, and a future governor of Kentucky. A concern the delegation had was what were Johnson's intentions in dealing with the Unionist population, a number of whom had crossed the Ohio River to safety. Johnson responded by saying that his letter to Governor Dixon was still in force, that is, basically, that if the citizens did not oppose the rebels, they would be left alone. Otherwise they would be considered enemies of the Confederacy and treated accordingly. This calmed the delegation and the inhabitants of the town. The Stars and Bars now fluttered above the courthouse. In time the judge and mayor would be counted among the men of Johnson's troop. [1]
Of course it was not all that easy for on the river the armed steamer “Brilliant” was on station. Her master, Charles G. Perkins, a volunteer sailor, came, in person, and demanded that the flag be taken down or he would shell the town. Johnson refused. To insure no such thing occurred, Johnson held Perkins “hostage” until he was ready to leave which was about nightfall when he had completed collecting stores and arms about the town. He most likely left to make sure there would be no excuse for anyone, besides Perkins, to fire upon the town. [2]
Brigadier-General Jeremiah T. Boyle, Military Governor and commander of the District of Western Kentucky sent warning to Major general Don Carlos Buell on July 18:

Mr. Sinley, a responsible man and uncle to Captain Starling of Major general Crittendens staff, arrived here today from Henderson, saying that a band of guerrillas has taken possession of that place. There is more danger in Kentucky than is realized.[3]

It should be remembered that John Morgan was now about two weeks into his raid through Kentucky and Johnson's action was but a fan to those flames.  Two days later Boyle again contacts Buell and the dispatch in part reads:

There are bands of guerrillas in Henderson, Daviess, Webster, and Union counties. A rebel captain (A.R. Johnson) issued a proclamation at Henderson that the Yankee government had surrendered Kentucky to Jeff Davis...” [4]

The story of the proclamation is probably hearsay, although Johnson did issue a call to Confederate arms to the citizens there. [5]  Boyle also informed Buell he would clean out Johnson's and the other guerrilla bands after he "was rid of Morgan".  

The occupation of Henderson produced quite a stir but held no great value to the Confederate war effort. It did yield some new recruits, about 50 rifles, food, and medical supplies. [6]
July 18 would produce similar results, only that day would see Johnson and his command across the Ohio River. They would assume their place in the history of the American Civil War with the occupation of Newburg, Indiana, the first northern town to fall into the hands of Confederate soldiers.

The Picket

1- Johnson, Adam R., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, 1904, pages 97-103
2- Mulesky, Raymond, Thunder from a Clear Sky, 2006, page 48
3- War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union an Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 16, Part 2, page 181
4- O.R. Series 1, Volume 16, part 1, page 748
5- Muelsky, pages 46-47
6- O.R. Series 1,Volume 16, part 2, page 994

Sources 1, 2, and 5 retrieved from Googlebooks
Source 3, 4, and 6 retrieved from http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/sources/records/

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This Hallowed Ground: A Civil War Primer

The book in the image above is the first book on the American Civil War I ever read. That is the very book and not another picture found on the Internet and used to illustrate this post. This copy was purchased by my Dad in about 1971 or '72 and it cost .95 cents.[!] When he finished reading it, he let me read it. That was a thing with my Dad, he did not mind if someone read a book or newspaper of his, but DO NOT try and read those things UNTIL he was finished! Then it was OK.

I was ten, maybe eleven years old when I read it the first time, old enough to discern the big words and some of the facts that were behind those words. It is a bit worn, some pages are loose and they are beginning to turn yellow. That just gives it character. I had to be careful as I read it again this second time and I enjoyed it as much as I did then.

Bruce Catton wrote as a journalist (which he was) wrote with the idea that someone reading a newspaper had neither time or inclination to plod through a piece. The same thought held true with a book. The work must be easily understood and contain the facts necessary to the story. In this aspect he has very few peers, and this book has no peer as a primer on the war.

Although Catton does not get into much detail on any one aspect of the war and antebellum years, he leaves very little out of the grander scope of the conflict. Slavery is identified as the root cause, but he also acknowledges states rights arguments, (while remembering slavery), nativism, and good old fashioned greed as driving forces that brought about the final rupture of the states.

Battles and campaigns are covered lightly except for the Vicksburg Campaign which he devotes several pages to. What he does do with the battles is show them as somehow being intertwined and how one relates to another and showing how the Confederacy was being slowly worn away because of them.

True to Catton, he lets the soldiers tell the story since, after all it was their story. He relates a story where the colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry, one Sam Grant, issued orders to the colonel of the 15th Illinois Infantry to detail some of his men to clean the 21st's quarters. That colonel being away at the time, the lieutenant colonel was in command and he indignantly protested and offered Grant his sword and stating he would resign before he would order his men to do such a thing. Grant rescinded the order and no doubt saw the fibre these western volunteers were made of. The men of the 15th, it was said, had no love for Grant thereafter, at least until he began to show them what fibre he was made of as a commander.

Other incidents show that Grant was the father of hard war, and that when he reached the east bank of the Mississippi River during the Vicksburg campaign his foragers roamed the countryside and brought in so much plunder to feed his army that William T. Sherman was aghast at the practice. Of course he would learn the trade himself one day.

Although "This Hallowed Ground" is written from a Northern vantage point, it is not biased against the Southern soldier. They are always referred to with respect and at times admiration, and Catton is careful to call them "Americans" throughout the book. He shows no personal bias in the narrative.
It may not be the best book ever written on the American Civil War but in my estimation it is the best primer for someone that is just getting interested in the war.
And it is an enjoyable read for those who have been around for a while.

The Picket

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blog Additions at The Picket

This post is intended to draw your attention to my Blog Roll since I have added a couple of great blogs to the list. I believe folks that do such a good job presenting their work through their blogs should get some recognition and I do not mind sending the readers of The Picket to their sites.

First up is "A Day in the Life  of the Civil War",  by Living In Vermont. I do not know the persons name, or what they do for a living and to preserve their privacy I have not asked. I can tell you that this blog is a gem! It is a "morning coffee" blog as you can read it in a short amount of time without being late to work or overrunning your coffee break. It focuses on the lesser known things of the war and often gives web addresses pertaining to the post just written. Some of them turn out to be quite well documented and interesting in their own right. I believe you will enjoy this one.

The other blog recently added is Tim Talbott's "Random Thoughts on History". This is another "morning coffee" blog but a little more in depth and always contains good stuff. Mr. Talbott does many book reviews, some books are new, some are old, but always helpful when trying to pick your next read. He also does a lot of work on slaves and  the slavery issue. It is not entirely centered on the American Civil War or the years surrounding it, but I would say 95 percent is a good percentage!

Both blogs are updated regularly, almost daily I should say, and are worth a look so please, loyal reader, check them out. I am sure they would be glad to have you visit!

Another recent addition here at The Picket is not a blog but the "Follow Me By Email" gadget. I added that since my posts tend to be irregular, and it will save you all the time you take clicking to a post you have already read. I am still working toward posting more often but until then please follow by email! And become a follower here if you have a Google account. There is room for you.

Thank you for stopping by here at The Picket. Without someone to read it, even occasionally, it would not be as much fun. As always I hope when you do stop by you enjoy the read.

The Picket

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Changed Perspective: July 4th, 1864, in Diaries

Hell had broken loose that Spring of 1864. Places that once were unknown beyond the local populations would become synonymous with death and suffering. Names like Marietta, Kennesaw Mountain, and Resaca lay in the path of William T. Sherman and his army, and the Confederacy was slowly being ground away from the west. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant were locked in the embrace of death with names like the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor being forever etched upon the memories of the citizens of both sides.

The Year 1864 was not a good year for some of the men of the Thirty-Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The men had been formed and mustered into Federal service In August , 1862, “for three years or during the war” with some of their officers already veterans, and all ready to serve. The regiment had seen much fighting including fights at South Mountain and Antietam, and Fredricksburg. They transferred west for a time and saw service in Kentucky and East Tennessee, before returning to the east for the Wilderness and the battles beyond. On this July 4, some of the men had been prisoners of war, held at the prison camp at Andersonville Georgia. One of the men, Sergeant Henry Tisdale, was captured May 24 while fighting at the North Anna River (Hanover Junction) in Virginia. He shared a portion of his journal chronicling his life as a prisoner with the committee compiling the regimental history. Here is what he wrote on that bleak day:

Woke to thoughts of home, inspired by “the day we celebrate”. For the last two weeks I have been saving up the extra rations allowed me of the meal and rice,we four having determined to have a Fourth of July dinner, if possible. (his messmates were two other men from the Thirty -Fifth and one from a New York cavalry regiment) The extra rations have at times been liberal, so by scrimping a little we saved what, put upon the market brought us the sum of two dollars and seventy cents. With this we concluded to have a bean soup. We purchased of the Reb sutler two onions for sixty-five cents, six potatoes for eighty cents, a red pepper for twenty-five cents, one and a half pints of beans for thirty-five cents and pork for forty cents. We had a jolly time cooking it and smacked our lips as heartily in eating it as ever at in Fourth of July in the Old Bay State.” [1]

Whilst the Bay Staters were celebrating the day with a fine meal of bean soup, Sergeant Onley Andrus of the Ninety-Fifth Illinois, which was mustered into Federal Service in September, 1862. He writes from Memphis to his sister:

Yesterday was the “Glorious Fourth” at least up in Gods country. I suppose you make it so,but here patriotism is at a discount. I was in the city yesterday a while. The Militia was out and paraded the principle streets. The only noticeable feature in their maneuvers was the long faces and their growlings and mutterings at such proceedings,as it was very warm. The day passed off very quickly at our camp. Only a few got tight, and them not very.” [2]

This is quite a comparison. The boys from Massachusetts were still celebrating with what they had, and the boy from Illinois complains it is hot.

Corporal James E. Hall of the Thirty-First Virginia is still keeping his diary. He has also had a bad year, but his troubles began on another July day in 1863. On July 3 he was wounded at Gettysburg, and as he trailed the Army of Northern Virginia southward as one of the walking wounded he was captured the afternoon of July 5. That was a sad 4th for him also. At first he was confined at Fort Delaware, having arrived there on July 10. He would remain there until October 25 when he was transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland, where he arrived October 27, 1863.

On this July 4,1864 he records:

All quiet still today. Two gunboats lying close to the Point have exhibited an unusual number of national flags,as this is their national day. Have heard no salutes yet.” [3]

Hall was quite faithful about writing in his diary so it may be presumed that he did not hear any “national salutes”. If he had he would surely have noted it. Another thing to notice is his reference to the Fourth as “their national day” and completely dismissing the promise it had once held for both sections. Hall would remain at Point Lookout until February 10, 1865, when he was exchanged. He went on furlough, which was cut short, and rejoined the regiment on March 16, near Petersburg, Virginia. He would see the end of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865.

The end was near, but so far away on the Fourth of July, 1864. Attitudes concerning the day had changed dramatically since the first summer of the war. As can be seen by the diaries of the two prisoners, one still holds the day in high esteem, while the other dismisses it as being their day.

The ladies of the south hold it dear, yet realize their own independence may never come. They also use the day to vent their wrath upon the “Yankees”. Some of the diaries, which were not used here, give no notice whatsoever of the day. As with the 1862 diary entry of James H. Hougland, First Indiana Cavalry, then in Arkansas, writes:

On a scout. 2 companies of the Illinois 33rd, 2 companies of Indiana 8th cavalry, Wisconsin 11th, Indiana cavalry crossed Little Run. Saw Horseshoe and Strate lakes. Saw where the Rebels had camp. Charged. Had a fight at mouth of Rat River. Killed & took prisoners & clothes & provisions. Some of the Rebels ran off naked. Camped at Mr. Stokes's on Little Run. Had plenty of provisions. Pot of coffee.[4]

It is true that coffee was a much welcome commodity to both sides, but what of the day?

July Fourth, 1865 will see the Union whole once more. Unity however will be some time in coming.

The Picket

1- Carruth, S., Cutter, T. E., Snow, E.F., et al, (1884) History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, Boston. Mills, Knight & Co. printers
2- Andrus, O., Shannon, F.A., (1947) The Civil War Letters of Sergeant Onley Andrus, Urbana
3- Hall, J. Edmond, Dayton, R. Woods, (1961). The Diary of a Confederate Soldier: James E. Hall.[Lewisburg ? W. Va.] Page 62
4- Hougland, J. H., (1962), Civil War Diary of James H. Hougland,Company G, First Indiana Cavalry,for the Year 1862., Bloomington, Ind,:Monroe County Civil War Centennial Commission and Monroe County Historical Society, 1962

Source 1 retrieved from Googlebooks, http://books.google.com/
Sources 2-4 retrieved from Hathi Trust, http://www.hathitrust.org/

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Year of Turning Points: July 4th, 1863, In Diaries

Gettysburg. Vicksburg. Names that would go down in American history, remembered for the frightful cost in lives they exacted on the two sections of the divided United States.

Gettysburg is often referred to as the turning point of the war, but at the time it had yet to gain that distinction. Battered, hungry, and tired, on July 4, 1863, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Mead's Army of the Potomac eyeballed each other. Sporadic musketry would break out on occasion but it was of little consequence. Lee would slip away late in the day under cover of darkness and rain.

Vicksburg, Mississippi had been been the target of Ulysses Grant's Army of the Tennessee for several, unfruitful months. After finally getting below the city and over to the east bank of the Mississippi River, Grant was able to chase Confederate John Pemberton's Army of Mississippi back into the defenses of the town after fighting at places like Champion Hill and Big Black River. After two bloody assaults on the citys works May 19 and 22, the siege of the city began. Vicksburg fell this July Fourth.

Needless to say, the events at these two places dominate many of the diaries and letters for this July 4 and the days following, but not all of them.

William Bircher had difficulty even entering the army in the summer of 1861 due to his age and small stature. In October, with the aid of the captain of company K, Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and the permission of his father who also joined, the lad entered the service as a drummer.

The Second was a part of William Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland and was engaged in the Tullahoma Campaign. July 1-3 had been passed marching and fighting Braxton Bragg’s rear guard. His diary entry of July 4, 1863, gives little indication that he knew anything about the happenings at Vicksburg or Gettysburg:

My seventeenth birthday. A salute of one hundred guns was fired—not on account of my birthday, but the birth of the republic. Marched four miles out on the Hillsboro road.”

Bircher would not mention Gettysburg at all in the next few days, but wrote that rumors abounded in camp that Lee had been captured with 2500 men. He does not acknowledge the fall of Vicksburg until his entry of July 8. In fact he gave more notice to John Hunt Morgan and his excursion through Indiana and Ohio during the same month than to either of the major Union victories.[1]

Ebenezer Wescott of the Seventeenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry had a front row seat at Vicksburg and in a letter to his mother dated July 7 he writes:

...the Rebels marched outside their breastworks, stacked their arms and laid their colors across them then marched back again. We had guards in the line. They marched up and took possession of their arms, and we formed our line and marched into the city to the music of more than three hundred cannon, beside fife, and drum, and brass bands.
It was the finest Fourth of July celebration I ever attended and will probably never attend another equal to it.” [2]

The two above accounts show that patriotism was alive and well in Federal ranks, but Wescott of Wisconsin most likely could attribute much of the fanfare to the victorious end of a long, hard campaign, but the significance of the day was not lost on the troops.

Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr, the Confederate lady from Ravenswood, West Virginia, is still
keeping her diary. Her angst toward the Federal soldiers is unabated from 1862.

Saturday, July 4. A new Co. from Parkersburg (Captain Devin's) are here to drill the militia (a sort of a trap to get the poor men to enlist to fight for the Union.)

Not a word about July 4 until, almost as an afterthought, she sets down the following:

Sunday, July 5. Yesterday passed off so quietly I hardly knew it was the “Glorious Fourth”. People have to much to occupy their attention in these diggings to think of celebrating the anniversary, etc. The Yanks have all left today and we are once more in possession of our homes, which was not the case while they were with us. A rumor reaches us of a great battle at Gettysburg. Of course Gen'l Lee is victorious although the Yankee papers are not willing to give him full credit for it. We also hear that a division of the Southern Army is at Beverly where they had an engagement with the enemy and crushed them. A report that Vicksburg has fallen I do not credit. I must have better proof than mere hearsay.” [3]

Even in 1863 the Confederacy was still clinging to the hope of their own eventual independence. Why would any “true Southerner” doubt that their armies had been victorious? For that matter why would they believe “rumors” of disaster befalling their armies? It is an interesting aspect to the times that people would still cling to their cause and beliefs despite mounting evidence otherwise. In the days following Mrs. Barr still had trouble believing that Gettysburg was less than a Confederate victory and that Vicksburg had indeed fallen. She dismisses the notions as false due to the fact that the sources of such talk were “Yankee”.

Captain Stephen Minot Weld, leaves us a most poignant reflection on this Independence Day, 1863. His diary entry for the day laments:

This year I expected to spend the Fourth in a battle, and find myself instead in Philadelphia. Were it not for the errand that brought me here I should have enjoyed the day very much.
We started for Mr. Landis's house, 1829 Spruce Street at 6A.M. From here the body was taken to the Lancaster depot, and placed in a private car. Only the generals brother and sister and staff were present. We reached Lancaster at about 12 M., and there found an immense crowd of women, men, and children waiting at the depot. We got into some old wagons and drove to the cemetery. Here a chapter of the Bible was read, and prayer delivered, and then poor General Reynolds disappeared from us for some time to come.” [4]

Weld was an aid to Major General John F. Reynolds at Gettysburg. Reynolds had dispatched him with a message to Major General George G. Meade to hurry the Army of the Potomac along. The Confederates were advancing, in strong force, and beginning to drive Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry pickets in along Chambersburg Pike to the north and west of town. Reynolds was ahead of his troops (First Corps) but would bring them up as quickly as possible. He declared he would fight the Rebels, through the streets of Gettysburg if necessary, but Meade must hurry. Weld covered the 14 miles to Taneytown in one hour and twenty minutes on a blown horse and delivered the message to Meade. On the return trip he met the ambulance bearing Reynolds' body. The general had been killed shortly after Weld had left him.

A braver man or a better soldier than General R. never lived.”  Weld would declare in a letter to his father dated July 3.

Perhaps at this point in the war the observance of Independence Day was getting a little shopworn. Although two of the soldiers record “national salutes” that day in their diaries, there is not much beyond that. As we see, the lady rebel forgets the day, and the next day states the people are just to busy to observe it. It must be remembered that she was in the minority in the town of Ravenswood, but she makes no mention of the Unionists marking the day with celebration either. It had “passed quietly”. It appears that two years of bloodshed had taken the luster from it. 1864 would be little different, and in ways, much worse.

The Picket


1- Bircher, W. (1889) A Drummer Boys Diary, St. Paul, Minn. St. Paul book and stationary co. Page 67

2- Wescott, M. Ebenezer (1909), Civil War Letters, 1861-1865, [Mora? Minn.] Letter No. XIII

3- Barr, H. Fitzhugh, The Civil War Diary of Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr (Barre), 1862-1863, Ravenswood, Virginia (West Virginia): Marietta, Ohio :Marietta College, 1961 Page 26

4- Weld, Stephen W., (1912) War Diaries of Stephen Minot Weld, 1861-1865, Privately printed, The Riverside Press, Cambridge Mass.

Sources 1-3 retrieved from http://www.hathitrust.org/

Source 4 retrieved from http://openlibrary.org/

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 4th, 1862, in Diaries

By the Fourth of July, 1862, the citizens of the United States and Confederate States had came to the realization that the war was not going to close soon. Since 1861 the casualty lists had lengthened dramatically since the battle at Bull Run/ Manassas (First). That July's casualties seemed miniscule when compared to the bloodletting at Shiloh in Tennessee and the battles outside Richmond during McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (Gaines' Mill and Fair Oaks to name two). Yet there were still many relatively new regiments in the armies of both sides that had yet to see much of the war outside of camp life, and some had yet to even fire their muskets in anger in so much as a skirmish. And of course there were still regiments from the summer of '61 that had “seen the elephant” up close and more often than they cared to see. Some of their thoughts concerning Independence Day made their way into diaries, letters, and regimental histories just as others had in the summer of 1861. The following are examples of such thoughts.

On July 4, 1862, Young Samuel E. Nichols of Brookfield, Massachusetts, wrote a letter to his brother Alpheus. Samuel was then attending school at Amherst College.

And another reason why I should settle up everything this term is that the possibility is I may never come back to college. Have you not thought within the past few days, days undoubtedly of disaster to Union Arms and awfully destructive to our brothers in the field, days whose results seem almost inevitably to decide a policy unfavorable to us from arrogant, intermeddling and jealous nations, have you not thought, I repeat, that it was our imperative duty to take the places of our fallen soldiers, to meet the expectations of whom we have bidden Godspeed, and who are now in extreme peril and also to increase the original strength of the army, which with all its actual strength has nevertheless proven to weak? “Not men enough.” is the cry that passes from lip to lip. Now where are the 15 regiments that are to be formed in Massachusetts to come from, unless such men as you and I signify our willingness to go? I do not expect to go but I think it is my duty” [1]

Clearly Nichols is expecting to enlist despite his claim in the last line. He is but 20 years old, and he is expecting to go to the war and he brings up the “arrogant, intermeddling and jealous” nations, Britain and France, to coax his brother into joining also. Disaster on the battlefield and the threat of foreign intervention was a strong inducement to take up arms to defend the Union.
In less than three weeks, Samuel Nichols would enlist in the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at Northampton. By his letters it does not appear that Alpheus joined his brother in the ranks.
In stark contrast to the exuberant Nichols is the diary entry of Corporal James E.Hall of the 31st Virginia Infantry. By this July 4 he had over a year of marching and fighting in Western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. He was 20 years old as well. He writes:

We have been marching all day, but I am lost as to the country about here. Damn such a way of spending the Fourth. I am so awfully tired of war I hardly know what to do.” [2]

Hall at this point was down on the Peninsula but seems to have missed some of the fighting due to illness.

Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr, relates the following in her diary July 4, 1862:

Formerly the anniversary of American Independence. The Union Sunday School assisted by the abolition friends are having a picnic, speeches,etc. in the woods.” The speeches were
interrupted by a guerrilla attack at a nearby town. The Federal soldiers in the crowd, a small cavalry unit, flew to their aid. She continues:

I hear the picnic turned out (as such affairs usually do) stale, flat, and unprofitable. The ball that was to come off in the evening was indefinitely postponed. By a paper and dispatches we gladly welcomed the gratifying news of the success of our arms near Richmond. The information is very scanty coming as it does through Federal sources.” [3]

Mrs. Barr was a Confederate sympathizer living in Ravenswood, Jackson county, West Virginia. The Fitzhugh family had founded the town and at the beginning of the war they were one of only 13 families in the area to hold to such sympathy. From the Fitzhugh mansion she said she could look into “Yankee-Land”, or Southern Ohio. The “success of our arms” she refers to is the Seven Days Battles of June 25- July1 1862.

Kate Cumming, a nurse who attached herself to the Army of the Mississippi, (later Army of Tennessee) was at Mobile, Alabama when she wrote:

The day that a few years ago by us was commemorated with so much pride as a nations anniversary for liberty won,now how changed! Part of that nation seeking to enslave the other!”


Independence Day, 1862 and the people of the land North and South still remembered the day but with wide and diverging views as shown in particular by the words of the two Southern ladies. Soldiers attitudes are changing somewhat, but patriotic fervor still lingered to a degree, although Confederates were under conscription since April. The year still held the promise of foreign intervention on behalf of the Confederacy and it was in the forefront of thought in the minds of the people in the North as well.

But it was only July 4. Although Shiloh, Pea Ridge, and The Seven Days battles had cost much in the way of treasure and blood, the sequel to Manassas, Antietam, Stone's River, and Fredricksburg lay ahead. The divided United States had seen nothing yet.

The Picket

1- Nichols, S. Edmund, Underhill, C. Sterling.(1929) Your Soldier boy Samuel: letters of Lieutenant Samuel Edmund Nichols,Amherst '65, of the 37th regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.[Buffalo]: Priv. Print. Page 14
2- Hall, J. Edmond, Dayton, R. Woods, (1961). The Diary of a Confederate Soldier: James E. Hall.[Lewisburg ? W. Va.] Page 62
3- Barr, H. Fitzhugh. (1963). The Civil War Diary of Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr (Barre): 1862-1863, Ravenswood, Virginia (West Virginia). Marietta, Ohio: Marietta College Pages 9-10
4-Cumming, K. (1866) A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee Louisville, Kentucky. Page 37
All retrieved from http://www.hathitrust.org/

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 4th, 1861 in Diaries

Independence Day in the United States is always filled with food and fireworks as the citizens celebrate the day our forbears declared we were to be a sovereign nation and no longer willing to be governed by England. The day was observed in both sections of the country over the course of 84 years. 1860 would see the last July 4th celebration with the nation whole and undivided. During the years 1861- 1865 the populations of both sides, civilian and soldier alike, would at least remember the day.

The following extracts were gleaned from diaries of soldiers and civilians, soldier letters, and regimental histories. They are for the year 1861.

July 4, 1861 had yet to see much of war. Fort Sumter had surrendered in April, but beyond a few very minor skirmishes not much had happened since and the First Battle of Manassas was still nearly three weeks in the future. There was nothing yet to show what lay ahead and almost every one believed it was going to be a short war.

Private Edward H. Basset of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry writes in his diary that:

A national salute was fired here on July 4th. In the evening some fire ballast rockets were set off over Washington and Alexandria. We were 7 or 8 miles from Washington, and the light from some of the balls thrown was enough to read by.” [1]

First Bull Run would be the baptism of fire on “the altar of Mars” for the boys of the First Minnesota.

A musician in the Nineteenth Ohio Volunteer Militia, a ninety day outfit, offers glowing reflection on the founding fathers in his regimental diary and includes the following line:

...to-day the true sons of those noble old sires are contending for the rights guaranteed to them by the Declaration of Independence against foes that are far more unprincipled and dangerous than the minions of Geo. III in the days of '76, but may they, as the enemies of our country did at that time, be made to feel that the arms of freemen are long and strong and Tyranny shall feel their power.” [2]

Eloquent to say the least, and if one did not know the source of this, it would leave the impression a Southern Confederate may have written it. Such was the reverence of the day and the foundation it provided for the country as a whole. And such was the passion that led people of both sides to proclaim resistance to tyranny made theirs a noble cause.
The Nineteenth O.V.M. would participate in the Battle of Rich Mountain July 11, its only action of consequence, before it mustered out in August, 1861.

Jesse W. Reid, a private in the Fourth South Carolina Volunteer Infantry wrote in a letter to his wife on July 2:

We are all anxiously awaiting the Fourth of July; it is only two days off. After it is over it will not be long till we know what to depend on.”

The South Carolinian was very aware that the United States Congress was set to convene on Independence Day. The next line Reid betrays his apprehension as to what course that body would choose to follow.

A great many men here seem to flatter themselves that there will be but little fighting done. I can't say how it may be, but I very much doubt that doctrine. We will all soon know more about it.”

In a letter dated July 5, Reid tells his wife:

On yesterday, the Fourth, the ladies and gentlemen of Leesburg and surrounding country came here in great numbers. The ladies presented us with a beautiful flag. A Virginia officer made the presentation speech in the name of the ladies. The acceptation speech was made by
Warren T. Wilkes, of Anderson, in the name of the regiment. We all agreed that it should never trail in the dirt. The Fourth is over. We will soon know what to depend on.”

The Fourth South Carolina Infantry would soon be fighting at First Manassas. In a letter to his wife written three days after the battle he concludes:

Although the fight is over the field is yet quite red with blood from the wounded and the dead.” [3]

It would appear that Reid, Basset, and “The Musician” now knew what they “could depend on.”

That first Independence Day of the war was still viewed by the country with the naivete of children. Independence for the South would surely be secured or the Union preserved before the next July 4th arrived, long before the turning of the calender to 1862 even. Remembered by both sections, July 4th still had meaning to both and neither fully comprehending what was about to unfold.
Bull Run was only a faint rumble of thunder over the horizon, a spectre of horror as yet unseen.

The Fourth of July would be different for the United States forever after.

The Picket


1- Basset, E.H., Basset, M. Harrison, Bull Run to Bristow Station Page 6-7

2- “A Musician” (1861) Three Months in Camp and Field:Diary of an Ohio Volunteer, Page 42

3- Reid, J. W., (1892), Diary of the Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, Page 16-17, 26

All retrieved from http://www.hathitrust.org/