Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving- A work of Fiction

November 26, 1863

Dearest Carrie,

I take some time to write and inform you that I am well as are all of the boys from home.

No skirmishing today except between the graybacks and fleas. Harper and Boyd are after each other hammer and tong as well. It is hard to say which is worse. At least the boys draw little blood and usually retreat after a spell. I can't say the same of the vermin. They are always in line of battle, charging and pawing for the best patch of ground, moving to and fro across the field. Only a little water and fire, strategically applied, deters them. Their casualties mount and they beat a hasty retreat until the fire and water are removed. Then they are back, with reinforcements and renewed vigor. I tell you the field is tinged crimson in places.

Today we are observing the day of thanksgiving as called for by Mr. Lincoln. The camp is still, hushed. The boys speak only in quiet tones, and now Boyd and Harper are in retreat, a handshake seals their truce. It is not melancholy that produces the quiet, for a smile plays around the lips of each man. They are not broad, but faint little curls around the corners, and each eye holds a far off gaze with small embers of happiness being kindled there, produced by fond recollections of home. It all seems long ago now.

The supper fires are all going now, and the smiles the boys wear are broadening. The smell of bacon, beef, and biscuits waft across the camp. Rations are plentiful. We have all learned to cook for ourselves but it is a poor substitute for the feast prepared by the loving hands at home. At least we suffer no ill effect from it. My table will have food foraged from the country. Schneider brought in a dozen squirrels and Boyd claims to have shot the deer Harper brought in, who says otherwise. I being a corporal was called upon to settle the matter. After inspecting the carcass, three bullet holes were in evidence but the boys were to busy arguing to notice. I declared someone else had shot the deer, perhaps a Johnny Reb. They seemed a bit shaken by that prospect. Boyd and Harper in fact had shot it but only as the deer was about to lay down and die. They went along with the verdict. Since I was the judge presiding, I also declared that they should take part of the meat to your brother Jimmy's mess as “punishment” for disturbing our day of thanksgiving with their bickering. Boyd, ever the fractious one, huffily declared that we did not need all of it anyway! The mess rang with laughter, including Boyds! The punishment benefited our mess as Jimmy sent back some tobacco, canned peaches, and an apple pie he had procured from a Secessh house. I felt bad for that household but I know Jimmy. He would not have left that family destitute. We ate our fill, and the boys are resting now. Boyd and Harper are still honoring their truce, and the company is content. All remains quiet. Our smiles continue but the fires in our eyes, once blazing, now burn low. The far away countenance resumes its place on each face. No, it is not sadness that places it there. Each man is lost in his own memory and contemplating what they are thankful for. And they are homesick, as I am homesick. We all long for the day peace is restored and we can return home but not a man in the company is willing to return until their duty is fully performed.

I must tell you what I am thankful for before I close. I am thankful for you, dear wife, and the home you keep ready for my return. I am thankful that you are in fine health and spirits which bodes well for our child you now carry inside you. I am thankful for the innumerable blessings that God has bestowed on us, a Kind Providence has seen fit to keep me this side of the sod, and has favored me with good health. His mercy has kept most of the boys in the company in the same order. We do mourn the loss of a few comrades but trust in His wisdom about such affairs. The assurance of His salvation and the abiding knowledge that those gone from us will rise at the final trumpets call is something we are all thankful for. I am most thankful to The Most High that holds the future in His hands and in His infinite wisdom and mercy we will all return home soon.

I must close now. It is nearing evening and the company has been assigned picket duty and I must see to details. Do not fret about your husband or your brother. We are watching out for each other. The skirmishing has broken out again but not in our front. I think the fleas are mounting a counter attack. Write soon.
Your faithful Husband,

Thanksgiving Day, 1863, probably did not produce many letters like this. The armies in the east and the west were rather busy for so late in the year. Grant and Sherman had their hands full just prior to November 26 while fighting Bragg in Tennessee at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and then pursuing him into Georgia. Burnside was also having difficulty with Longstreet at Knoxville. In the east, Mead was involved in crossing the Rapidan River and kicking off the Mine Run campaign.
It is unlikely that very many soldiers in the primary theaters of the war would have had time to “observe a day of thanksgiving as called for by Mr. Lincoln.” It is possible they mentioned the day, in passing, in letters home or in their diaries. This letter is a simple flight of my own fancy. It combines the staple fare of a typical soldier letter home: camp life, thoughts of home, family, and duty to the country. Thanksgiving days were common in the United States from its very beginning. The soldiers would have had fond memories of those days to reflect upon. Since many of them had never been more than a few miles from home, it strikes me that a national Thanksgiving Day in camp would evoke a lot of emotion, reflection, and produce the “faint smile” and “far away gaze”. It has been the same all throughout our history. Men and women have been far from home serving the country we all love. For those men and women past, present, and future I am thankful.
For the Most High God and the assurance of his salvation I am, above all things, truly thankful.
I hope you enjoyed my letter even if it might not be totally accurate historically. I also hope it reminds you to be thankful today and every day.

Thanks for stopping by! I am always thankful for that!

The Picket

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ephraim S. Dodd- A Terry Texas Ranger

It was during this winter that one of the saddest events in all our career happened: the hanging of E.S. Dodd by the enemy. He was a member of company D. He was of a good family and well educated. For many years he kept a diary, setting down at night the happenings of the day. He was taken prisoner with this diary in his pocket. On that evidence alone he was condemned and executed as a spy.” [1]

So writes L. B. Giles in his reminiscences, “Terry's Texas Rangers”.
Members of the 8th Regiment (Terry's) Texas Cavalry

Not much is known about Ephraim Shelby Dodd. The introduction to his diary states that he was originally from Kentucky. At the outbreak of the war he was living in Texas at the home of an uncle at Austin. It also says his occupation was as a school teacher. [2] The US Census of 1850 lists him as the son of Travis and Nancy Dodd of Garrard County, Kentucky, and he was then 11 years old. [3]* He was an only child. He does not appear in the 1860 census, apparently a step ahead or behind the canvassers. He enlisted in Company D, Eighth Regiment (Terry's) Texas cavalry on April 6, 1862, at Corinth, Mississippi for the duration of the war. [4]
Fortunately the diary written by Dodd does exist and is available. His words can in fact be construed as treacherous. Names of people Dodd came in contact with are mentioned, with rare exception, which does not seem to be the work of a competent spy. He was a cavalry scout accused of being a spy. The time encompassed by the diary is from December 4, 1862 to January 1, 1864. It does contain a few suspicious entries, such as the first one which reads:

Thursday, December 4th, 1862- I went out from M. to Mr. ___ five miles from town. I went from there to Gen'l Morgan's Headquarters, leaving the Knox county filly at Mr. ___ and riding Walkers horse. I took supper at Lewis Black's, Morgans Headquarters. The Gen'l was in town but came in just after supper.
Supper at Morgan's headquarters would be enough to arouse the suspicions of even the rawest recruit. Add to that the blanking out of names in the entry. This may be because the name was illegible to the transcriber, or perhaps Dodd did it intentionally. There are other instances where the names of certain people are left blank but they are few. Another entry reads:
Friday, 15th, [May, 1863] To-night stopped to see two Lincolnites; got six-shooter from one; single barrel from the other; stopped at Squire Henry's; got some cherry bounce; played off Yankee on him; got all the information we wanted and went on to Wickwires...” [5]
Are these the only entries that would lead the Federals to condemn Dodd as a spy? No, but the diary is rather mundane. Typical of other diaries, he writes about the weather, the local people, especially the ladies, and day to day life. There are no particularly exciting things to mention and a couple of entries simply say “Nothing worthy of note today.” What else would lead to the charge of espionage? Coupled with other factors, the Yankees may have had good cause for their conclusion.
Entitled to pay for horse. Absent without leave.

It appears that he was quite often away from his regiment, especially from mid May 1863 until the time of his capture. “Piruting” as he called it. This is probably a misspelling of pirating, and it is always used to describe activities that are beyond simple foraging. He was listed as a deserter for one excursion he took in Allen County, Kentucky. The duration of that trip was May 9th to 31st! The regiment was on detached duty at Granville,(Jackson County) Tennessee at this time and Dodd makes no mention that he was under orders to scout for that length of time. In fairness, he and his small band of troopers did encounter a few Yankees along the way, and they hid from them. However, this can be construed as the party was gathering information on troop strength and disposition. Also during this trip, another mention of Morgan's men is set down in his diary:
Wednesday, 13th, (May '63) I met some of Morgan's men; Harper with them. I joined them and went 'cross railroad at Mitchellville,(Tennessee) over to Wickwires, 8 miles from the railroad. Stopped at Mr. Simpson's and got breakfast. Miss Sue Offutt and Miss Jimmy Wickwire there. After breakfast went to the woods and staid all day.” [6]
The railroad is the Louisville and Nashville, and the combination of Morgan and railroads did not set well with the Federals. Dodd would refer to Morgan in his diary on several occasions. It was on this trip that Dodd met the “Lincolnites”, and first passed himself off as a Yankee soldier.
Read in the context of time and place, Dodd's entries for November and December 1863 are the most damning. At that time Dodd and his friends were operating in Sevier and Blunt (Blount) counties of Tennessee and some of their activities take them to Louisville. (Blount county, now part of Knoxville Metropolitan area). Entries for December 6 and 7 mention a particular desire to reach the Planters Hotel there but they were deterred by a large force of Union soldiers near the town. The Yankees would move on shortly and Dodd went on to the hotel the evening of the 7th. For what purpose, other than supper, he does not mention, but he makes reference to the large enemy force, and the fact that they had walked to “within three hundred yards of their campfires.” And this excerpt of the entry for December 10, 1863:
Thursday-10, We start for Longstreet for or via Sevier. Gave it out and started for the vicinity of Bess' Mill.
Longstreet was still menacing Knoxville, although much of the fighting around that city was over by the time Dodd was captured. Dodd's Federal captors could assume, understandably, that Dodd had been gathering information and was to deliver his findings to that general. His entries calling out troop movements in late November and early December surely did not help his case.
Dodd also mentions on several occasions that he left his clothes with someone, or that he had picked them up. It is possible he was leaving them to be mended. Or perhaps he was changing from his uniform to civilian attire. Was it something else?

Monday,7 (December, 1863) I passed as a Yankee with Mrs. Henry.” [7] and:

Friday, 11 Started this evening for Sevier (Sevierville). Got as far as Little River at Mr. McLane's and turn back. Two Yanks rode right through us.” [8]
Was he in a habit of wearing the blue when he went on a scout? Another excerpt of the entry dated December 10th, 1863 reads:

Went to see Mr. Jo Gray, a Lieutenant in the Yankee Army. He was not at home; took two horses and a negro.” [9]
Although he makes no mention of stealing clothes, it is possible that the lieutenant had a spare uniform or two, and Dodd outfitted himself. He was not alone though, he had perhaps a half dozen men with him. The low light or darkness of the evening may be the reason they went unnoticed regardless of how they were dressed.
However, C.C. Jeffries lends credence to the Yankee uniform theory as he writes in his book, Terry's Rangers:

But while he was a bold scout,as to being an out and out spy,that was something else. Evidently he did not consider himself a spy, for while he was partially clothed in a Federal uniform, he had on his hat a “Terry Texas Ranger” button. And he must not have thought that the diary would prove incriminating, if he was caught, else he would not have written in it as he did.” [10]
Sadly, Mr. Jeffries does not cite a source for this nugget.
We do have one piece of evidence from historical record that might be directly linked to the Dodd case. It is General Orders Number 7, Department of the Ohio. It reads as follows:
Hdqrs., Department of the Ohio,
Knoxville, Tenn., January 8, 1864
Our outposts and pickets posted in isolated places, having in many instances been overpowered and captured by the enemy's troops, disguised as Federal soldiers, the commanding general is obliged to issue the following order for the protection of his command, and to prevent a continuance of this violation of the rules of warfare:
Corps commanders are hereby directed to cause to be shot dead all the Rebel officers and soldiers (wearing the uniform of the US Army)captured within our lines.
By command of Major General Foster. (John G. Foster) [11]
Henry Curtis, Jr.
Assistant Adjutant General
This order was enclosed with a letter dated January 17, 1864, from Foster to Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet. The letter discussed earlier correspondences between the two generals, as well as informing Longstreet of Dodd's conviction and execution. The letter also had appended to it another enclosure, which held the specifics of the charges and trial of Dodd. (General Orders Number 3, Department of the Ohio, January 5, 1864. Unfortunately this enclosure was not included in the Official Record.)
Whether or not General Orders Number 7 actually stems from the Dodd case is strictly conjecture but it was issued on the day of his execution. Perhaps Dodd provided a ready example to show grounds for implementing this order. It does lead one to believe that he was indeed captured in a Federal uniform.

Ephraim Shelby Dodd was captured near Maryville, Tennessee by Union Home Guards on December 17, 1863. The next day he was taken to Knoxville. He would remain there until his trial on or about January 5, 1864, and execution on the 8th. ** He is buried there on the grounds of Bleak House. (Now Confederate Memorial Hall, Chapter 89, United Daughters of the Confederacy) His diary and the likliehood of his wearing a Federal uniform would, together, be his undoing.

It is interesting to note that January 8, 1864 witnessed another hanging. Another young man had also been convicted of spying for the Confederacy and sentenced to death. David O. Dodd, also of Texas, was hanged in Little Rock, Arkansas. He would be remembered as The Boy Martyr of the Confederacy.
I should say that I found some other things about E.S. Dodd but did not include them here. Things pertaining to his hanging mostly. They seemed to be sensationalized third or fourth hand accounts written well after the fact. I did not want to propogate myths and in my humble opinion that is what they were.

The Picket

1- Giles, L.B. (1911), Terry's Texas Rangers, Austin, Texas, Von Boekman- Jones Co. Printers.
2- Dodd, Ephraim Shelby, Diary of Ephraim Shelby Dodd, 1862-1864, Austin: press of E.L. Steck, 1914. Introductory
3- United States Census, 1850, Ephraim S Dodd in the Household of Travis Dodd, Garrard county, Garrard, Kentucky, United States; citing dwelling 902, family 953,
NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 201. Retrieved from 11-17 -2012
4- Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers who served in Organizations from the state of Texas, National Archives Microfilm Publications Number 323, Roll 50, Pages 335-340. 1960 Retrieved from
5-Dodd, page 16
6- Ibid
7- Ibid, page 29
8- Ibid, page 30
9- Ibid
10- Jeffries, C. C., Terry's Rangers, First Ed., Vantage Press, 1962, page 88. from
11- War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, (O.R.) Series 3, Volume 4, page 54. From Cornell University, Making of America,
Muster card from 4, above, page 337
Terry's Rangers circa 1863 from University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting Fort Bend Museum, Richmond Texas
At Find A Grave Wayne Sampson, photographer

*The author of the diary's introduction tells us that E.S. Dodd was not yet out of his teens when the war started. After looking through several different genealogical sites, the only person listed as Ephraim S. Dodd was listed in the 1850 US Census and was then 11 years old. Dodd would be approaching or already be 22 years old in 1861. The common misspellings such as Dodde, Dodds, and Dode all had no results for Ephraim Shelby. Likewise the initials E., E. S., and S. produced little other than females or men who lived far beyond the war.
** One of the cards in the Compiled Service records erroneously states Dodd was sent to Camp Chase Ohio. It is dated January 8, 1864, the date of his execution. His last entry, January 1, 1864, says that he was among a group of prisoners set to depart Knoxville on January 2 for Strawberry Plains. One could surmise that they were bound for Camp Chase. A letter sent from the Office of The Provost Marshall General- East Tennessee states otherwise. Dodd was in fact hanged at Knoxville.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 1864... And 2012

November 8: This was election-day for President, the proudest day of my life. I was eighteen years and four months old, and cast my first ballot, which was for Abraham Lincoln. The McClellan men were scarce in our regiment.”
William Bircher, drummer, 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (Veteran) [1]

October 29, All things have been quiet with us since the last date. The regiment voted for President. Commissioners were here from Connecticut. Each voter was given two ballots and an envelope. One for Lincoln and one for General McClellan. The voter, taking his ballots to his tent or anywhere he chose, put in the envelope the one of his choice, seal, and return to the commissioners who carried the vote home. I was not old enough to vote. I could carry a gun and do as much duty as any man.”
Charles Lynch, 18th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Lynch was 19 years 8 months old. [2] Strange. The commissioners may have been the reason

At roll call, on the morning of the 8th, the tickets were dropped into hats, brought together, and counted. The proceeding was all together fair. There was no bribery or undue influence used. The count showed 615 votes for General McClellan and 1,665 for Mr. Lincoln.”
This casting of ballots had a twist. They did not count toward the final tally of the election of 1864. The reason? The balloting was held at Camp Ford, a Confederate POW camp housing Union soldiers. It is near Tyler, Texas. The voting was held upon the suggestion of the camp commandant, a Colonel Brown, who:
 “was astonished at the result. He had predicted another result, now he declared that Mr. Lincoln would be re-elected,and admitted the probable collapse of the Confederacy. He bought three gallons of whiskey, and with his officers, got gloriously drunk over the “indication”. [3]

I certainly hope my readers here in the US exercised their right and privilege to vote. These men served you 150 years ago to give you that freedom.

The Picket-
And I voted!!!!!!!!!

1- Bircher, William, A Drummer boys Diary, 1889, p 140

2- Lynch, Charles H., The Civil War Diary, 1915, p 132
3- Forty Sixth Indiana Regimental Association, History of the Forty Sixth Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry, 1888, page 132

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Different Approach to Andersonville

The prison pen at Andersonville, Georgia (Camp Sumter) has been the subject of several books, numerous magazine articles and myriad blog posts. It has also been the subject of at least one movie, the 1996 Turner Pictures Worldwide film “Andersonville”.

Generally these efforts relate the squalor and deprivation these men endured. They also tend to lean heavily on the Swiss born commandant, Henry Wirz. Portrayed as cruel and murderous, Wirz would later be convicted of war crimes and executed.

This post will not actually follow the pattern of earlier scholarship on the subject. It may prove interesting to some readers while hold no interest for others. It will look at things concerning different aspects of the soldiers held at the prison. More specifically, it looks at roughly 400 men and boys that were given the sacraments of “penance and extreme unction” by Fr. H. Clavreul, a Catholic priest who had been ministering to the prisoners of war in Savannah, Georgia before transferring to Camp Sumter in July 1864. He ministered in the camp until August 20, 1864. He would be taken ill with what he describes as “continued vomiting” and he would be sent back to Savannah at the insistence of his fellow priest, a Father Whelan. He does not give any details about his malady other than the vomiting. He does relate that he:

Spent that day and following night on board the train wholly unconscious, recovering my senses only when, on arrival at Savannah, they dragged me from under the car seat where I was lying.”

Perhaps his troubles were related to his diet, which closely mirrored that of the prisoners:

cornbread, cow peas, and parched corn coffee.”

This is only conjecture as to what caused his ailment. But scurvy, diarrhea, and dysentery were common in the camp, so it is no surprise he would be touched in some way by illness. Fortunately he would recover sufficiently to resume his duties in late September '64 at Savannah. This was just as an influx of 10,000 prisoners transferring from Andersonville arrived there.
The Dead Line at Andersonville
Clavreul's diary is the only source drawn from for the following numbers and any conclusion drawn here is not to be taken as definitive. They are merely related to a very small segment of the whole terrifying experience that was Andersonville and the American Civil War.

The soldiers and sailors that Fr. Whelan and Fr. Clavreul ministered to were a melting pot to say the least. Of the total Fr. Clavreul ministered to, only 80 are listed as being native born Americans. They came from northern and southern states, with New York leading the grim toll of dead with 26. Pennsylvania was close behind with 24. The other men hailed from Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut, Tennessee, Vermont, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

There were 39 native Canadians among Fr. Clavreul's flock. An interesting number when compared to the number of native born sons. They are listed as simply being from Canada or in some cases the province the man was from is noted. Upper Canada (Ontario), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are defined as the land of nativity in these instances.

It comes as a mild surprise to find 188 men from Ireland in the group. The surprise is that it far outstrips the next group, those from Germany, or Germanic states, by nearly 3 to 1. The Germans had 59. The rest of the world had representatives a well. 8 Frenchmen were ministered to, as well as 8 Englishmen. Switzerland had 5 and tiny Belgium had 2. Holland and Spain added 1 each. Looking at these figures and remembering this is a small segment of the entire Union army, one might see why nativists at the time would be against emancipation of the slave. It also could shed light on Southern perceptions that “mercenary hordes” were sent to trample Southern rights.

Beyond the geographic origins of Fr. Clavreul's group is the age. At 26.6 years, it appears that the average age of these prisoners was about the norm, perhaps a bit older. The youngest was William Plummer, 14 years old and he came from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the diary does not list his regiment or his rank. Surmise would say that he was a musician, perhaps a bugler or drummer. The oldest man given the sacraments was 62 years of age. James Burcham was a ships carpenter in the US Navy, but no vessel is identified. He was from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and one of a handful of sailors attended by Clavreul.There is a surprising number of men in the late 40 to late 50 age group which may account for the slightly higher average age. Eighteen men were between the ages of 45 and 59. Another 33 men were between the ages of 40 and 45 years old. Taken together, 12 per cent of Fr. Clavreul's little flock were older than 40 years! It should be remembered that Andersonville was an enlisted mans pen. Although Clavreul's list does not specify the occupation of these men, it is almost certain it contained a few tradesmen and professional men. Even the loss of a farmer or day laborer would rob the country of the experience level this age group offered.

Another interesting note was of a more personal nature to these men. Nine of the prisoners were baptized in their final hours.

When Fr. Clavreul again took up his duties again at Savannah, he lists another group of prisoners he ministered to. It is a much shorter list, comprising about 100 names. Strangely it encompasses roughly the same length of time as he had spent at Andersonville. It too is heavily laden with foreign born soldiers, and the ages are about the same. The smaller number may be attributed to better conditions as compared to Andersonville. The final entry to the Savannah list reads:

November 24th, Heard confession of 72 Irishmen, names unknown.
Fr. Clavreul writes two telling passages in the diary.

All those whom I administered I found in a dying condition and I have little doubt that they died on the very spot that I found them.”
The list of dead at Andersonville does not include those prisoners who were attended by Fr. Whelan, likely as numerous as those whom I myself attended.”
Of course there is so much more to Andersonville Prison but as mentioned there are numerous other projects in print and on the web that deal with it. This post was an attempt to show something a little different and to look closer at the men as a part of the whole, rather than looking strictly at the whole.
Looking at the Irish, their number tends to bear out the conclusion that they were more than willing to fight for their adopted home in spite of being on a lower rung of society.

The age range is surprising as well. The 40 and older group is an interesting find. Something tells me that the Union army was aging as rapidly as the Confederate army, but for different reasons. Conscription may have something to do with it. It is rare to find any reference to the age of the Federal soldier as individuals while quite common to find the age of the Confederate soldier being noted.
The baptism of the soldier is also interesting. Clavreul would baptize nine more soldiers while ministering at Savannah. The last rites were not the only function a priest performed.

Nowhere in this diary is there to be found anything approaching political statement. The author strictly adheres to relating his duties to the reader. Even after the passage of years when he adds some reminiscences to it the narrative does not diverge from this. Only on the subject of a monument to Henry Wirz does he offer anything beyond his duties. He writes in response to a friends letter:

Now, I think, the poor man is no more worthy of a monument now, as he was at the time deserving of being hanged. His name should be forgotten.”

This little diary only has 17 pages, and it is sadly lacking in specifics on the soldiers listed. Only in a few cases are the regiments noted. It should still be a help to the genealogist though. Digging into it as I did, it proved to be a true gem and quite an interesting find. Well, at least to me!
Andersonville Survivors Medal

The Picket
Clavreul, H., Diary: With the names of the Federal soldiers to whom he ministered at Andersonville, Ga. July and August 1864 Robbins, George, editor. 1910. Retrieved from Hathi Trust,

Photo from Library of Congress collection
The Survivors medal is from the diary frontispiece. I was unable to ascertain if it was a national or state medal. Perhaps one of you know for sure. If so please leave a comment!