In light of Den Bolda’s great inaugural post on Union uniform coats, I thought I would share a paper I wrote for a class I took on material culture a couple years ago that dealt with Civil War soldiers. Being involved in reenacting since then, I have a greater appreciation for the objects and materials that constituted a soldier’s life and person during the war. On Friday, I head to Fort Sisseton for their history festival, so I will be absent from the blog for the weekend, but will post soon after I return on the fun of the weekend.
To aid the Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site, Stuart, Joe, and I headed down on Saturday to do some living history for the day. We met the new supervisor, Thomas Casler, who is quite enthusiastic and interested in reenacting as well. We put out a bit of equipment and set ourselves up in the guard-house. Though the day started slow and rainy, it eventually picked up. We did pass the time as soldiers might have (although illegally) by playing cards (our pot was coffee beans). About thirty people came out throughout the day, including one couple who traveled all the way from Philadelphia, coming to North Dakota to visit forts and the Badlands.
Several youngsters came with their parents and we demonstrated the sequence for firing the weapons and talked about our gear. We also raised and lowered the flag over the post. Overall, it was a good day, despite the iffy weather, and we had a good time helping them commemorate Memorial Weekend. Our next trip will be to historic Fort Sisseton in South Dakota to take part in their annual historic festival. Below are some pictures (courtesy of Thomas Casler) from our day at Abercrombie.
I would like to welcome friend and fellow reenactor Den Bolda to the writing staff of this blog. Den brings a lot of great knowledge to the table in the realm of reenacting and material culture related to the war. Look for postings from Den in the near future and give him a hearty welcome.
In light of my recent visit to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School to present on the war, I wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to educators that are likely getting to the Civil War in their history curriculum to ask questions about the war that they would like more information on. Any topic goes.
Teachers, if you are interested in using this site to enhance your Civil War curriculum, please use the comment section of this post to ask your question, or a question from your students. I, or one of my esteemed colleagues, will do our best to answer the question in a separate post. If you are interested in having students do brief writing assignments on the war as guest posts, please let us know and we can make that happen (I will edit the commenting on such posts to ensure safety). We look forward to your questions.
On Wednesday, May 16, members of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (Joe Camisa, Stuart Lawrence, Den Bolda, and I), also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, brought some of our gear and presented on the Civil War to an eager group of fifth grade students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, MN. Special thanks to Mrs. Cheri Puetz for allowing us the opportunity to come and talk with her students. It was a beautiful day and we were situated in the shade. We set up a tent, as well as our colors, and a small ground cloth with some soldier equipment on display. We also dressed and wore some of our gear. It was a lot of fun and we had kids from the lower grades coming up to us and asking us questions for an hour after school let out, which was really awesome. They were really excited by our stuff and if we did not need to return to Grand Forks so soon, we would have stayed longer. There were some good questions posed and the students came away with a great introduction to their study on the war. Below are photos taken from that day, courtesy of Mrs. Puetz.
Today marks this blog’s fifth birthday. My little blog is just growing up so fast, as it seems like yesterday it was only a couple posts and an idea (couldn’t resist relating it to someone turning five). It also marks my 250th post as well. While I have not reached some of the goals I set out from last year, I am happy that I have been able to keep this site up with being busy with Ph.D. studies. I have covered some of the events related to the sesquicentennial of the war over the last year, as well as some of the excitement of reenacting (we have a great season lined up this summer). I have tackled a couple tough subjects, which have sparked some great discussion. We currently have over 150,000 hits and I hope to make 200,000 by year’s end. I am looking to get a couple new writers posting to the blog to keep the content a bit more regular, but with summer upon us, I hope to also get posting more often as well. Now having a laptop with a webcam, I hope to do a few video posts as well, so look forward to those. I want to thank you all for your readership and support.
In Savannah, Georgia, one of the busiest ports on the Atlantic for container vessels, government officials are attempting to deepen the waterway connecting the port to the Atlantic. There is a significant obstacle to their plan, the remains of the CSS Georgia, an armored gunboat that was scuttled by Confederate forces to avoid capture by William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army when he captured the city in December 1864. Currently, the vessel is on the National Register of Historic Places and dredging is prohibited within fifty feet of the wreckage.
In order to allow for the port expansion, the Army Corps of Engineers is going to raise and salvage the remains of the Georgia. Currently, two large pieces of the armor, as well as cannons, parts of the engines, and a propeller. The Corps notes that caution will be in order, as munitions are present and may still be active. The wreckage is important, as the war was the beginning of the age of iron-hulled vessels and was a fine example of what the South could do, despite a lack of industrial base. It will also represent what went wrong for the Confederacy during the late war.
This will be a wonderful opportunity for preserving another part of Civil War history, as only a few other naval vessels from the period have been preserved, including the USS Cairo, which sank in the Yazoo River in Mississippi, soon before the Vicksburg Campaign, which I have visited a couple time and is well worth seeing.
Information courtesy of Associated Press.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported, which FoxNews.com picked up, that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois are in a quandary over a stovepipe hat supposedly having belonged to Mr. Lincoln. The hat, which is of beaver felt, bore the mark of a Springfield hat maker, and was the same size as Lincoln’s head is disputed over how a farmer came to own the hat. The story holds that William Waller acquired the hat from Lincoln in Washington during the war, but this is not supported by evidence. The other possibility is that Waller received the hat after one of the 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas, but there is no evidence to support this.
The hat is part of a larger collection of Lincoln artifacts that the ALPLM acquired several years ago for a significant amount of money and the hat is appraised at $6.5 million. Both articles insist that the hat is not a fake and that the Museum was not duped, but that it needs to be somewhat cautious in how it presents the story to the public, suggesting that both scenarios be noted. Having visited the site a couple of times, I have seen the hat (assuming it is the same one), which also (if I recall correctly) may have had his fingerprints on the brim, which were slightly visible. It is a truly humbling experience to view artifacts related to the man.
Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer doubted the stories, as there is no evidence that Lincoln gave away the hat, but does note that the hat likely belonged to Lincoln, but that increased effort is needed to trace its origins. I have to agree with Mr. Holzer, as, even in that day, a beaver hat was not something casually given away, as it was still a fairly expensive item.
It will be interesting to see where this story goes, but I urge anyone heading to Springfield soon to check out the site and see the artifacts. While the museum itself has a lot of technological aspects that are designed to make it more accessible to the public, which is not my thing, but worth seeing, the library is really worth a stop, as they hold a large amount of wonderful historical items, including manuscripts, newspapers, and other materials for scholars researching on a wide array of topics related to Illinois history, the Civil War, and Lincoln. I donated a copy of my thesis to the library as a thank you for providing assistance and material that went into it.
That this story came out on April 15 is appropriate, as it is the anniversary of the death of Mr. Lincoln in 1865. May he continue to rest in peace.
Here are some clips off YouTube related to the Battle of Shiloh that come from Ken Burns’ The Civil War.
Yesterday, April 6, and today mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle is significant in several ways, some which are explored in a New York Times article published yesterday. One of my buddies and fellow reenactor attended one of the 150th events last weekend and there is a buzz about them on one of the major reenacting forums. However, this battle is still one that is popular for people to read about and study, though not to the level of Gettysburg, but one of the most studied in the Western Theater.
The battle that began near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, near a small church called Shiloh, which meant place of peace, came to symbolize the carnage that characterized the Civil War. The Union forces were pushing down the Tennessee River towards the rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. Having achieved two important victories in February against Forts Henry and Donelson, the Union was beginning to take the war to the South, under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. It was part of the larger strategy to gain control of the major inland waterways to cut the Confederacy in two. Confederate forces were hopeful of thwarting the Union strategy by delivering a major blow in the West, which reflected the state of the war in the East that was going in the South’s favor.
On April 6, General Ulysses S. Grant had established his camp on the bank of the Tennessee River, at Pittsburg Landing, the night before and was not prepared for General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Confederate army, which was encamped nearby. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Union camp that morning, which sought to drive the Union away and back up the river. Though initially caught off guard, Union troops rallied and fought a bitter fight against the Confederates along a line extending from the river for over a mile to Owl Creek. Part of the Union line engaged in heavy fighting, which became known as the Hornet’s Nest, where Union forces held firm. Fighting raged all along the line, with hundreds falling, including General Johnston, who was wounded in the back of the knee and bled to death. Johnston was the highest ranking officer killed on either side during the war.
After the first hard day of battle, a storm raged, with lightning flashing, showing hogs among the dead. Wounded soldiers came to a small pond to drink and bathe their wounds, dying the water pink, earning the small body the name “Bloody Pond”. William Tecumseh Sherman approached Grant under a tree, sheltering during the storm after the first day, and said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”
The second day, April 7 brought bad luck for the Confederates. The Union army was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which arrived the previous night. Further, the Confederates were disorganized by the loss of Johnston, which placed P.G.T. Beauregard in command, who did not realize he was outnumbered. In addition, Confederate command was rife with problems revolving around personality conflicts and subordinates not following Beauregard well. Facing a Union counterattack, Confederates were forced back from their gains the previous day and withdrew from the field, eventually back to Corinth.
The battle was the bloodiest in American history up to that time, and some claimed more casualties were suffered than all American wars combined to that time. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing), while Confederate losses were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). In addition to Johnston, Union general W.H.L. Wallace was also killed. Though initially vilified for his handling of the battle and the cost, Grant’s career was cemented by this victory. Though rumors circulated that he was drunk and calls for his job were made, Lincoln retained him, saying “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” Sherman also emerged a hero, and was a trusted subordinate and friend of Grant. This battle is quite important for the course of the war in the West and there are several great books on it, including:
Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
On Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day), several of us in the 5th Minnesota, Company D, also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, participated in the Fargo (ND) St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was a great time, as the weather was very nice, with the high in the low 70s, which for those of you not from the Dakotas is quite warm for March (usually we are dealing with snow still on the ground in some way and have had storms adding to the pack). Stuart and I drove down to rendezvous with our colleague Joe Camisa, who is in graduate school with us at UND and then on to meet up with the rest of the crew. Joe was quite a trooper, as he had driven all night from central Michigan and still managed to march with us.
The crowd was quite big and we marched behind the pipe and drum band, which was cool, especially when they played “The Minstrel Boy”, as we were “technically” going to portray the Irish Brigade (we’ll do that next time). We did a great job keeping our line tight at shoulder to shoulder and were able to keep in step most of the time. This was my first parade as a reenactor, but I participated in marching band in high school, so I am versed in marching for a parade. It was a good time and I look forward to doing this in the future. Below are some great pictures from the day (thanks to all who were able to take pictures).
Though it is almost the end of the day, February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Though opinions on him range quite a bit, depending on one’s views on the war, it cannot be denied that he was one of our greatest presidents, facing a daunting challenge and seeing the nation through our bloodiest war, only to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet within days of the war’s conclusion (at least for the most part). The interest and scholarship recently blossomed on his 200th birthday in 2009, but there are still many who are interested in the life and accomplishments of this man from Illinois. In any event, Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
For much of the last several decades, the accepted figure for the number of dead was 620,000, making the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Now, that figure is being questioned. Initially reported in September, the December 2011 issue of the journal Civil War History (not affiliated with this blog) has an article dedicated to this subject. If you have access to a library, I urge you to check it out.
Using census data, some historians now believe that the war actually cost more in dead than we have thought, by almost twenty percent. According to these new studies, the number of dead ranges anywhere from 750,000 to as much as 850,000, which is much more staggering than the 620,000 we have accepted for so long.
This poses the biggest historical question, why is this important? First, it is important because it illustrates the problems of how we accounted for our war dead as a nation. Particularly, the case of African-American dead, as around 180,000 served in the war (I am not getting into a debate about black Confederates on this). Second, it brings a whole new significance to the war in American history in terms of its effect on population. That twenty percent or more died than previously believed means that a higher percentage of the population was killed and otherwise affected by the fighting. It also means that if we place such a figure against our contemporary population figures, the death toll becomes even more stark, as the new figures are almost three percent of the wartime population, which translates to roughly nine million dead in today’s figures. Finally, it raises questions as to whether all the dead from the war have been accounted, as while it may not seem important 150 years later, it is important to understanding how the military has handled the dead, both good and bad, from America’s conflicts.
Our understanding of death and the war was greatly aided by the publication of Drew Gilpin Faust’s marvelous book This Republic of Suffering (2008). Faust examined how death and the carnage of war influenced society and is one of the more groundbreaking studies within recent Civil War historiography. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for such findings to become accepted and how long before textbooks change the figures, but if the methods hold up, this will shape how this war is remembered for years to come.
Today, I had to do something I have not done before on this blog, send a real comment to trash. Now, I have had my share of spam comments that get through, usually full of links, but I usually am welcoming of comments, as they are opportunities to discuss and debate, but this comment to my recent update on the Texas license plate controversy was too abrasive to be posted, as the email address included “Nsdap”, which is the abbreviation for the full name of the Nazi party. This sent up a red flag for me. The comment was also borderline white supremacist in its tone, so I had no choice, but to trash it, as such a comment would have only led to trouble.
Please remember when commenting to not use foul language, or racial slurs, as they are not welcome here. Also, hard-core neo-Confederate posts that add nothing to the discussion and only serve to inflame will either be edited or deleted. I do this because I want this civility on this site that anyone, young or old, can view. I do not do this lightly, as I want to be balanced, but some things do go beyond common decency and need to be dealt with. Those of you who have posted good comments over the years, thank you and please continue to do so. Those who have yet to comment, please consider it, but watch what you say, as we can disagree, but be respectful as well. Thanks for your understanding on this.