Thursday, July 29, 2010

CSS Alabama

(Above: photos of USS Cairo at Vicksburg National Military Park)

On this date in 1862, the CSS Alabama departed the shores of England where it had been constructed. The ship's career was short-lived, however, because she was sunk in 1864. Originally launched as Enrica, the ship never anchored in Southern waters. She was dubbed the Alabama in August of 1862 to the jaunting melody of "Dixie" following President Jefferson Davis'commission of the vessel as read by the captain.

In 1865, the USS San Jacinto was wrecked. What remained of the vessel was sold at auction, and added to the US Treasury. The total sum was $224.61.

Many ships have survived the ages throughout history, and new wrecks are being discovered all the time. It wasn't long ago that the turret to the USS Monitor was discovered, still containing the remains of the poor soldiers inside. Same goes for the CSS Hunley, one of the first submarines ever used which vanished off the coast of South Carolina in 1864 after torpedoing the USS Housatonic. And in today's news, a 150-year-old ship was discovered off the coast of Canada, which is thought to have been searching for the fabled Northwest Passage and lost its way.

I have seen a few remnants of boats during this era that still remain. One interesting artifact is located at Desoto Bend, near Omaha, Nebraska. Here, a museum houses what remains of a riverboat that sunk in the Missouri River around the time of the Civil War. There is also a wildlife refuge there where you can see a wide variety of water birds as they migrate during the fall. Another fascinating relic resides at the National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The USS Cairo was sunk into the murky waters of the Yazoo River during the siege of Vicksburg, but all of the occupants managed to escape before she went down. Nearly a century later, the boat was retrieved, and artifacts are on display at the museum inside the park.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Real Sons and Daughters

It amazes me to think that there are still people out there who can claim that they are "real" sons or daughters of Civil War veterans. According to several recent reports, it is estimated that around 300 real sons and daughters are still alive in the United States. Most of them are now in their nineties, which would make them pretty young when their fathers served. Although they were too young to recollect the war themselves, many can still amuse us with stories they grew up hearing from their parents.

In my UDC chapter, we have one real daughter who is a member. She is, of course, in her eighties, and still lives at home. The chapter members religiously send her birthday cards, gifts at Christmastime, and awards to bestow upon her.

Real sons of the Confederacy are thought to number around 100, real daughters are approximately 150, and Union children number only about 50. A recent story that appeared in the Culpeper, Virginia newspaper, featured a local 93-year-old man named Austin Brown. You can read about him at the following link:

My father-in-law, who was a WWII veteran, told some mind-blowing stories, but I was too naive to record them, and now I wish I had. So if any of you know a real son or daughter, take my advice: NOW is the time to get their story!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More Endangered Battlefields

Another battlefield has been added to the annual list of ten of the nation's most endangered. Picacho Peak in Arizona, where cavalry clashed 150 years ago, is in danger of becoming extinct because of state budget cuts. The park was slated to close on June 3, but fortunately, was saved by local funding for another year.

Picacho Peak is where, on April 12, 1862, Lt. James Barrett led Union troopers to this rocky spire located 50 miles northwest of Tuscon. There a skirmish took place with Confederate Rangers. As a result, Barrett was killed, the Federals retreated, and Yankees from California eventually came in to conquer the reigning Rebels.

Other endangered battlefields on the list compiled by the Civil War Preservation Trust include:
- Camp Allegheny in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. This is in danger because of a wind farm being built nearby.
- Gettysburg is again on the list because of a second attempt to bring in casino gambling.
- Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia. Another repeated appearance on the list due to Wal-Mart's attempt to move in.
- Pickett's Mill, GA. Faces funding cuts and was damaged by flooding last year.
- Fort Stevens, Washington, D.C. A proposed church community center would tower over the fort.
- Cedar Creek, VA. Mining expansions that will potentially eat up 400 acres.
- Richmond, KY. A new highway interchange with significant commercial growth.
- South Mountain, MD. An energy plant development.
- Thoroughfare Gap, VA. Possible construction of a 150-foot communications tower.

The CWPT calls its list, "History Under Siege," highlighting threats to what the trust calls "tangible links to our shared history." There are also 15 "at risk" sites on the list.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Famous Horses in the War Between the States

Last night I had the privilege of giving a presentation to my UDC chapter on a topic of my choosing. Since I am an avid horse lover, and my novel is about the Confederate cavalry, I decided to speak about famous Civil War horses. The most famous equines are listed below ...

Traveller (Gen. Robert E. Lee) – As a colt, he won 1st prize at a fair in Lewisburg, VA. First named “Jeff Davis” by his owner, Major Thomas Broun, who paid $175 in gold for him, General Lee always referred to him as “my colt.” Lee obtained Traveller in the spring of 1862, purchased him for $200 in currency and changed his name, and the two were seen together almost daily. Lee owned other horses: “Grace Darling,” “Brown Roan,” “Lucy Long,” “Ajax,” and “Richmond,” but all became unserviceable. He was astride Traveller when he rode to the McLean house at Appomattox Court House, and Traveller lived with General Lee at Washington and Lee University after the war. At Lee’s funeral, Traveller marched behind the hearse, his step slow and his head bowed as if he understood the importance of the occasion.

King Philip (Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest) – This horse charged and snapped his teeth at anyone wearing blue. After the war, King Philip chased off Yankees visiting General Forrest, and while pulling a wagon, went after policemen wearing blue uniforms. One of Forrest’s men noted, “Your negroes fight for you and your horses fight for you.” King Philip died later in 1865 from colic and is depicted at Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. General Forrest also owned “Roderick” and “Highlander,” who was shot in the carotid at Chattanooga. Forrest plugged the hole with his finger until after battle, whereby the horse dropped dead. The general had 29 horses shot out from under him, and is quoted as saying after the war, “I was one horse ahead.”

Cincinnati (Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant) – After the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863, General Grant went to St. Louis, where a man offered to sell him his horse if he promised to take good care of it. Grant accepted, renamed the stallion, and kept him until the horse died in 1878. Cincinnati was the son of Lexington, the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in the U.S., and nearly equaled the speed of his half-brother, Kentucky. Grant was offered $10,000 in gold for him but refused. This fact is profound since Grant was near poverty before he wrote his memoirs. General Grant only permitted two others to ride Cincinnati: President Lincoln and Admiral Daniel Ammen, who had saved his life from drowning when he was a boy. Grant was a horse lover who got along better with horses than he did people and originally wanted to be in the cavalry but was declined. Other horses he owned included Jack, who was with him until after the battle of Chattanooga and which Grant used for special occasions and parades. Grant donated him to the Sanitary Fair in Chicago in 1863-64 where the horse was raffled off and brought $4000 to Sanitary Commission. Grant rode “Fox” at Shiloh, “Kangaroo” at Vicksburg, and also owned “Egypt” and “Jeff Davis,” which in 1864, was captured from Joe Davis’ plantation (Jefferson’s brother).

Daniel Webster (Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan) – This horse was called “that Devil Dan” because of his speed. McClellan owned the horse from 1862 until after the war, and the animal died at age 23. McClellan said of his beloved steed, “No soldier ever had a better horse than I had in Daniel Webster.” The general, who invented the McClellan saddle, also owned “Black Burns” and “Kentuck.”

Highfly (Maj. Gen. JEB Stuart) –In the summer of 1862, Stuart was stretched out on a bench on the porch of a tavern waiting for General Fitzhugh Lee to arrive, but the Yankees arrived first. Stuart narrowly escaped on Highfly, but his hat with the long ostrich plume was captured. General Stuart also owned Virginia, a warm-blooded mare who saved Stuart from capture when he invaded Pennsylvania by leaping over a wide gulley and escaping capture.

Old Sorrel (Gen. Stonewall Jackson) – This mare was also known as “Little Sorrel” because she was so small that when Jackson was mounted, his feet almost touched the ground. He obtained her on May 1, 1861 while in command of the garrison at Harper’s Ferry when a train with supplies for Union troops was captured. She was then thought to be 11 years old. In 1884, Old Sorrel appeared at a state fair in Hagerstown, Maryland, where almost all her mane and tail hair was plucked out by souvenir hunters. When she died, she was stuffed, and is now at the Solder’s Home in Richmond.

Winchester (Gen. Philip Sheridan) – Originally named “Rienzi,” he was given to then Colonel Sheridan in the spring of 1862 while Sheridan was stationed at Rienzi, Mississippi, but the horse’s name wasn’t changed until after Sheridan’s famous ride to Winchester in the Battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864. Winchester was so revered that when he died, he was stuffed and given to the Smithsonian Institution. Sheridan also owned “Alderbaron” prior to Winchester.

Baldy (Brig. Gen.George Meade) – The horse was with him at 1st Bull Run (wounded twice) and Antietam, where he was left for dead but later discovered grazing with a deep wound in his neck. He was also at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, where he received a bullet lodged between his ribs. Meade kept him with the army until the following spring, then sent him to pasture in Pennsylvania. After the war, Meade retrieved his charger, fully recovered, and the two became inseparable. Baldy followed Meade’s hearse, lived 10 more years, and upon his death, his head and two fore hoofs were mounted and are now cherished relics of the George G. Meade Post, Grand Army of the Republic in Philadelphia.

Lexington (Gen. William T. Sherman) – This horse was a Kentucky thoroughbred who attracted admiration due to his fine form. Sherman was astride Lexington when he entered Atlanta, and following the war in 1865, rode him in final Grand Review in Washington. Sherman also owned Sam, a half-thoroughbred bay that made one of the longest and most difficult marches ever recorded in history from Vicksburg to Washington. He died of extreme old age in 1884.

Moscow (Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny) – This was a white horse that made the general very conspicuous during battle, so he switched to a bay named “Decatur” and then to “Bayard.”

Other Famous Horses include:
Lookout (Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker) – obtained in Chattanooga and named after a battle that took place there
Almond Eye (Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler)
Nellie Gray (Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee)
Billy (Maj. Gen. George Thomas) named after his friend, General William T. Sherman
Fleeter (Belle Boyd)
Dixie (Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne) – killed at Perryville – Cleburne was killed at Franklin, Tennessee
Rifle (Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell)
Beauregard (Capt. W.I. Rasin) - ridden by Rasin to Appomattox and survived until 1883
Black Hawk (Maj. Gen. William Bate)
Fire-eater (Gen. Albert Johnston)
Old Fox (Col. E.G. Skinner)
Slasher (Maj. Gen. John Logan)
Boomerang (Col. John McArthur)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on Nathan Bedford Forrest

Last Sunday, local SCV camp and UDC chapter members gathered together at Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis to celebrate the illustrious general's birthday. This celebration has been marked every year, sometimes with noted speakers such as Shelby Foote, Jeff Shaara, and last year, Bertram Hayes-Davis, Jefferson Davis' great grandson.

This year's speaker was Judge Melvin McClure, who enlightened the crowd with his topic about General Forrest's horses. The general had 29 horses shot out from under him, and is quoted as saying he was one horse ahead (meaning he killed 28 Yankees). The first battle where General Forrest lost his mounts (2) was at Dover, Tennessee in February 1863, and the last horse killed was at Selma, Alabama in April 1865. At the battle of Chattanooga, "Highlander" received a fatal wound to his carotid artery. General Forrest plugged the hole with his finger until after the battle, whereby the horse immediately died.

Judge McClure's most amusing story was that of "King Phillip," a white horse with a dark mane and tail. This spirited animal hated the sight of anything in blue, and reportedly snorted, bolted, and snapped his teeth in the air while charging toward the Federals. One soldier told the general, "Your negroes fight for you and your horses fight for you." After the war, General Forrest was riding in a wagon which was being pulled by King Phillip, who saw police officers in blue. To the general's chagrin, the horse immediately charged after them, embarrassing his master. Sadly, King Phillip died of colic later that year. He is represented as a statue, standing regally with his master atop, in Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, which is represented in the above photos.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Birthday General Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest was born on this date in 1821. In his honor, a large gathering of local Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy took part in a celebration ceremony at Nathan Bedford Forrest Equestrian Park in Memphis, Tennessee. There were many spectators on hand, and members of the Children of the Confederacy bestowed wreaths and Confederate flags at the base of the general's statue.

A large display of flags adorned the grounds, as did many wreaths, and the crowd was entertained by several speakers and members of the 52nd Regimental String Band, who performed a few period songs.

A Benediction and musket salute wrapped up the ceremony. I will write more about the event later this week, as well as Nathan Bedford Forrest's lasting impact, particularly in the Memphis region.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Civil War in Missouri

On a recent trip through the Midwest, my spouse and I stumbled upon a significant battlefield near Springfield, Missouri. The Battle of Wilson's Creek, also known as Oak Hills, took place on August 10, 1861. The Union army overran the Confederates in an attempt to take "Bloody Hill," where Union General Lyon was killed. Losses totaled 1,317 for the Federals, and 1,222 for the Confederates.

According to the park ranger, next year's 150th anniversary reenactment promises to be an astounding event, with over 4,000 reenactors participating. The Battle of Wilson's Creek introduced Missouri to the War Between the States. Over the course of the next three and a half years, Missouri experienced fierce fighting (mostly in the form of guerrilla warfare), since it was a border state, and both sides sought control.

By the end of the war, Missouri had witnessed so many battles that it ranks third as the most fought-over state in the nation. The top two are Virginia and Tennessee, respectively.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gettysburg and the Definition of "Shoddy"

One of the most infamous battles of the Civil War took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1-3, 1863. Several factors came into play, determining the location of this decisive battle. While General Lee led his Confederate army into enemy territory in an attempt to intimidate Union troops, invade the north, and impede upon Washington, the Rebel army was also in desperate need of shoes. It just so happens that there was a shoe factory in Gettysburg. So hence, the Confederates came in search of shoes, and yet found so much more - most likely what they realized they didn't bargain for.

The Civil War introduced mass production to America. Northern cities began constructing various clothing items, Bibles, and ammunition in mass quantities to supply the Union army. Within months of the war's start, manufacturing was changed forever. Child labor was commonplace, as were sewing factories, where women worked from 12-16 hours a day. Because there was such a high demand for these products, the advent of "shoddy" commenced.

Uniforms supplied to the Federal army were rapidly stitched together in a frantic attempt to keep up with the War Department's demand to supply troops. In 1861, 75,000 men volunteered to fight for the Union army, but the War Department only had enough uniforms for 13,000. Even though the infantry wore out shoes faster than what could be manufactured at the beginning of the war, within months, clothing companies found ways to keep up with demand, and managed to supply the Union army until the end of the war. This was far superior to that of the Confederacy, which was unable to supply its troops with clothing. Therefore, many new recruits enlisted wearing only their own homespun garments.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Here's wishing everyone a happy 4th of July. It was on this occasion in 1863 that two very important events played out: Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The battle of Gettysburg, after three days of heavy fighting, ended on July 4th, with both sides thinking they were victorious. It was realized later that the Confederate army had actually suffered a defeat: the first major loss of the war. And at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union General Grant succeeded in taking the town after a month-long siege, thus securing the Mississippi River for Federal use.

I have recently read certain sentiments expressing disenchantment about celebrating our national holiday because of the outcome of these battles, as well as the way the South was treated after the war, which I find completely understandable. However, I also consider it to be somewhat disrespectful to descendants of that war: veterans who fought and died for this country in subsequent wars, including both World Wars, the Korean War, which my dad fought in, the Vietnam War, and all other wars since. These servicemen and women deserve our respect by our saluting Old Glory, singing the national anthem, and honoring them with celebration.

Our founding fathers sacrificed home and health to secure our freedom. This 4th of July, let us honor those who so loved, cherished, and believed in our country that they laid down their lives unselfishly. God bless America!