Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Informal Online Civil War Learning

Television features a lot of commercials about various online learning opportunities, usually for-profit institutions, though not always, but formalized schooling is not the only way the wonderful world wide web can help a person increase his or her knowledge.

I have been blogging for almost 7 years now (started in 2009, but took a break in 2013-14) and part of my blogging has been reading other blogs and sites. The development and growth of Facebook and Twitter in this same time frame has help me with that.

In the past, I had often heard about the many Civil War fanatics out there, but did not really meet many or see this phenomenon for myself. Volunteering at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum in 2006 helped me start to see some of this, but it wasn't until I got more involved in reading online sources that I realized how true it was.

Personally, I have always felt slavery was the unquestioned main cause of the war - perhaps the only one that mattered. I still strongly feel that slavery was the key issue, but in the past few years, I have seen stories of others who disagree with that. Completely. Some deny slavery had any role in the coming of the war, while others say it was only one piece of the puzzle and they include other pieces like "taxes," "big government," 'states' rights" and other subjects that they believe contributed to the war as much or more than slavery did. I have, of course, found many others who do emphasize slavery's role in the coming of the war, but the debate is bigger than I had known. The web has opened my eyes to this and helped me better understand how much passion for the war exists.

I've also seen arguments over other topics such as "Black Confederate," a topic that likely would never have crossed my mind if not for the information superhighway (there's a term you don't hear much anymore. Maybe I show my age by using it. :)  )

Of course, a very common and popular topic online, especially in the last year, has been the Confederate Battle Flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. When I was young, I attended a middle school called "South Campbell County" Middle School and the nickname was the Confederates. When you walked into the school, you walked over a large, rubber welcome mat, with a large CBF surrounded by gray. The school sold buttons, at least once, saying "the South will rise again" and at least one of my yearbooks had a drawing of a Confederate soldier holding a CBF on the cover. None of this was a big deal then, but I was just 13 or 14 years old and not paying attention to stuff like that. As I left the school to go to high school, the county renamed the school for a long-time superintendent. That is the explanation I heard and I never did hear anything about the mascot or any Confederate controversy. Of course, the school was (and still is) located in an area not especially diverse in terms of demographics, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened in the last year around here if it still had the same name and mascot as when I attended it.

Sorry for getting off topic there, but that is my main background with the CBF. I did not grow up in a  major Confederate are or with Confederate family heritage. It was just a school I attended, so when the recent controversies around this symbol popped up, I had a lot to think about (as did many Civil War enthusiasts, I suppose.) I don't like seeing statues and other objects destroyed or removed, but I understand why they may bother some people. It's a very complicated topic, but I think the flag does belong in museums, at re-enactments, in historical places, even cemeteries. The recent story about a Washington D.C. travel magazine refusing to publish an ad for a Civil War museum because the logo featured a CBF in it bothered me. That is an appropriate use for the flag, and helps show the museum's mission.

Of course, I do recognize misuses of the flag as well. Anyone who tries to intimidate others with it is a fool, and only reinforcing stereotypes of those who like the flag. Denying how it has Bernie used in that way is also a mistake. Of course, this online experience has shown me that there are more than a few people who love that flag but do not see how their own behavior hurts their cause, while others do not recognize any negative connotations with its past usage. That is one of the things that my online experience has shown me. People who say they support and love the Confederacy are real, not just some story or theory I have heard, and I see that more than ever now, thanks to the access the Internet provides. This is a bigger world than I had previously realized.

Anyway, it is obvious there is a lot of bad information online, but there is also good information and even the bad information can be enlightening. People who post incorrect information do exist and that is important to remember. Why do they do that? Do they really believe what they say? Do they honestly. Percy others to believe it?

Another point is how modern political belief can affect a person's interpretation of history. It seems like some people interpret the past in a way that attempts to validate their current views, especially of politics. Or maybe they go the opposite - take modern views that match what they see as their heritage. I do not personally understand why something that happened so long ego should determine what I believe is right in the present. Some of my ancestors owned slaves, for instance, but that has no nfluence in my political views. Other people take different approaches, perhaps not always consciously, and that is something else this "online classroom" had shown me,. 

I still enjoy reading books, and need to do more of that, but the online world certainly has given me new perspectives on the Civil War and the people who study and/or enjoy it. There are a lot of people and beliefs in this world and the past few years has made that obvious to me. My small personal world has certainly grown in the past few years. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

1861 Poem: The First Guns of Sumter

This is from the Covington Journal of April 20, 1861, its first edition that mentioned the start of the Civil War. (Its editers apparently did not receive the news of Fort Sumter in time for the April 13th issue.)

This was certainly a pro-southern piece, written in the northern tip of Kentucky, a state of both Union and Confederate sympathies. I also noted the different references to "slaves," "Abolition's horde," "Abolitionsm," and "slavish myrmidons," indicating its author had a belief in a key issue in the war. 



THE FIRST GUNS OF SUMTER
By J.A. Hart 

Hark! the sound O, Southern brothers, that comes booming o'er the waves;
Sumter's deep-mouthed cannon, loud proclaiming you are slaves,
'Tis the thundering announcement of vile Abolition's horde,
That Southern Rights can be sustained but by the crimsoned sword.

How have we truly hoped for peace, have treated and have prayed,
Have trusted Abolitionism and meetly been betrayed!
Now through the banner of the breeze - draw the fulchion of the free,
And swear that while we trust in God, we'll bend no supplicant's knees.

Our wives, loves, sisters call on us - our mothers urge us too,
To seize our swords and take the field against our haughty foe;
With more than Spartan heroism they bid us to go forth,
And meet the slavish myrmidons thrown on us by the North.

We'll meet them, too - and that like men - though numerous as the sands,
With Right to lead and rifles in our steady, true right hands,
The God of Battles shall decide in this our last appeal,
If Liberty shall still be crushed beneath Oppression's heel.

Be our cities desolated, and our rvers stained with blood,
Be our best and bravest hidden 'neath their verdant native sod;
But never let a Southerner, who bows alone to God,
Debase his mother's teaching e'er or kiss a tyrant's rod.

Sweet Liberty! can men resign or tamely give thee up, 
Or listen to the siren's song, or taste the poisoned cup,
Of proffered peace, when purchased by what's dear to every heart -
The right to think, and feel and speak and set a manly part?

No! Spurn the siren, scorn the cup, and strike oppression down,
And peace shall yet triumphant'y your brows with laurel crown!
Fear not - our God when pleases Him, will give you his reward,
And still remain, throughout all time, your anchor staff and guard.
---
Covington, Ky., April 17, 1861


Image courtesy Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

1862 Letter from the Siege of Cincinnati: Private William G.Johnson, 97th Ohio

Several months ago, I posted about an envelope I had acquired along with the letter inside. My intent was to follow that post up quickly with the transcription of the letter and some research on it. I clearly failed to follow up on that intention, for no one particular reason, but now I have fixed that and here is the text of the three-page letter as followed by my research and thoughts on it. (I have left the spelling and grammatical errors as they appear on the original, as they make it feel more genuine and do not hurt its readability. I did not add the distracting "sic" either, but did, however, break it up into paragraphs.)

Page 1 of letter

----
Covington, Kentucky
September 8, 1862

My dear wife. I sit down this after noon in the enemy country to write you a few lines to let you no how I am getting along. I am well and hope these few lines will find you injoing the same blessing.  

We left Zanesville yesterday morning and arrived here about three o’clock last night. Sabers were left in Zanesville and Walter Barnett allso Matt left camp with out leave and has not been heard of since. 

I do not no how long we will be here. We may leave in one hour’s time and we may not leave for one week. I heard that the 85th Ohio was here and I have been out looking for James and the rest of the (illegible - army?)  but I could not find any of them nor hear from them. 

Dear Mary. I suppose you have got my likeness. I sent it you you by CAS last  Saturday. Mary, I told CAS to tell you to give mother three dollars. Do so if you have not. 

Dear Mary I would love to have seen you once more before I left but I could not. Now Mary cheer up and keep in good spirits for I will take good care of my self and I do want you to do the same.

I must close for my time is limited. You need not write to me untill you here from me again. May God bless you Mary. 

Fare well, from your true and affectionate husband,

W.G. Johnson 
----

William Johnson had been born in Ohio in 1840, probably in Guernsey County. He enlisted as a private in Company B of the 97th Ohio Infantry regiment, on August 1, 1862, for a three-year term. (The company mustered in on September 1, 1862 at Camp Zanesville, Ohio.) He did not serve the entire term however as he was discharged on January 15, 1863 in Gallatin, Tennessee on a surgeon's certificate of disability, just a couple weeks after the Battle of Stone's River. Records do not indicate what caused the disability.

The Walter Barnett mentioned in the letter was a sergeant in the same company and a neighbor of the Johnson family. He was wounded at Kenesaw Mountain in 1864 and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, so he obviously did not desert as the letter indicated he may have done. 

"James" was likely William’s younger brother. He was a private in company I of the 85th Ohio, a three-month regiment that was also involved in the defense of Cincinnati.  

The identities of "Matt" and "CAS" are unknown. A search of the 1860 census showed one "Mathew Lennon" as a neighbor of the Johnson household. The only military record for him, however, shows he joined the 122nd Ohio Infantry.  It was also organized in Zanesville, but not until September 30, after this letter was written. Might Mathew have joined a three-month regiment like the 85th Ohio and then changed to the 122nd somehow? Perhaps his paperwork was incomplete or lost? Or, probably, "Matt" was someone else. 

No candidate for "CAS" seems obvious. (I capitalized it in my transcription, but it was in small letters in the document. My assumption is they are a person's initials, based on the context.)

I also wonder about the "likeness" he sent home. Did it make it there? How long did it survive? Perhaps it is still in someone's collection, stuck in a pile of old photographs of unidentified men and women. Or maybe one of his descendants still has it.

Anyway, Ohio Civil War Central tells the story of how Johnson and his comrades in the 97th Ohio ended up in Covington and its actions following this scare to Cincinnati, then the country's sixth largest city.

"On September 7, 1862, officials dispatched the 97th via railroad to Covington, Kentucky, where, the following day, the regiment took up a position near Fort Mitchel. Confederate General Kirby Smith was currently leading a raid in northern Kentucky, and authorities believed his goal was to capture Cincinnati, Ohio, which was located just north of Covington and across the Ohio River. The attack never materialized, and on September 20, 1862, the 97th boarded the steamer Emma Duncan and sailed for Louisville, Kentucky, arriving two days later. The regiment immediately joined the Army of the Ohio, which was preparing to pursue Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army.  The Army of the Ohio departed Louisville on October 2, 1862 and engaged a portion of Bragg’s command on October 4, 1862 in a small skirmish at Bardstown, Kentucky. On October 8, 1862, the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky occurred. The 97th fought well in this engagement."
Fort Mitchel, courtesy sonofthesouth.net
It is noteworthy that he referred to Covington as "enemy country." It is part of Kentucky, which was a slave state, but also remained in the United States. Covington lies along the northernmost border of Kentucky, on the south side of the Ohio River, the unofficial border between north and south at the time, at least west of the Mason-Dixon Line. Underground Railroad stations existed throughout the region, but, on the other hand, when John Hunt Morgan escaped from prison in Columbus, Ohio, he supposedly found a safe house one night in the Covington/Fort Mitchel area. Both sides of the war enjoyed support in the area, so it was not unreasonable for a northerner, even one from a state bordering Kentucky, to think of it as "enemy country," though it certainly caught my attention.

William married Mary Harper in 1865. They had eight or nine children, as records I found varied. He spent much of his life in Ohio, but by 1895 lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was in Minneapolis in 1905 and in the Minnesota Soldier's Home in the same city by 1910.

MN Soldier's Home, courtesy cityhistory.us









Mary passed away in 1916 and William lived until January 5, 1921 when he died at the soldier's home. He is buried in section C, lot 204 at Hillside Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Rest in peace, private William Johnson.

Courtesy findagrave.com

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Random Thoughts, including Perryville

I know I have not posted frequesntly in recent weeks and a couple of my posts have simply been typing of old newspaper articles without a lot of analysis. I like those posts, as the articles are ones I think are unique, at least to the area I live, as I am using an obscure old local newspaper, but I realize they do not appeal to all people. I do want to post more original thoughts and comments for thought and discussion and hope to do so, but I have been going through some stuff that has distracted me. Fortunately, I have found a new job, which will be starting in a couple of weeks, so that may allow me to focus more time here.

Anyway, as this hot summer continues, I've been thinking about the soldiers who marched and tried to camp in such weather. I have walked over the Perryville battlefield in hot weather before, even carrying a backpack full of drinks & snacks, but that was nothing like the equipment soldiers carried, though they would have loved the convenience of bottled water. I also was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and gym shoes, not wool pants and coat and brogans.As hot and tiring as my hike was, it was nothing compared to the soldiers' experience. Plus, I knew I was going to sleep in a cool air-conditioned room on a nice bed, not on hard ground during a hot, humid night, possibly with enemies just a few hundred yards away. I did not have to rely on old hardtack for supper, nor did I have to build a fire to  try to cook any meat I was lucky enough to have. The sheer boredom of so much of their time, plus the various physical challenges, including marching so many miles would have only  made a tough situation worse. I also wonder how bad our modern warriors have it on various fields throughout the world.

This little rambling session also reminds me that Perryville will be having a big re-enactment this fall. I hope to get to see it, though my new work may involve some weekends. The 2012 re-enactment was a pleasure to watch, one of the more memorable trips I have taken in recent years. Even if I go as just a spectator and not a volunteer, I think it would be neat to see this year's event, as they will be focusing on the area near the Bottom Farm and the burning barn. I have heard they have some neat plans for that, if the weather cooperates. I hope they will be able to pull off everything they have discussed.

At least they have good news about the preservation efforts there, as this article discusses. It is terrific to read and I am very pleased with it. The entire battlefield saved so far is in such nice shape and I'm sure the new acquisition will be well taken care of as well

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ancestors in the war: Henderson Turner



Henderson Turner and his 2nd wife Sarah (I'm descended from his 1st wife.)

 My 3 times great grandfather Henderson Turner provides an intriguing story, probably the most interesting of those of my ancestors involved in the Civil War. He was the grandson of Roger Turner, a Revolutionary War soldier who served with multiple volunteer companies from Surry and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. The farm Henderson owned on Turkey Creek, Ky.  may even have been given to his grandfather as a land grant for his war service. (It appears that one of Roger's uncles, Roger Turner Jr. (Roger was a popular name it seems) fought for the British during the war and had his land confiscated afterwards. I have not found any Confederates in my family tree, but apparently had a Tory.)

Most of what I post about Henderson will come from family oral tradition, as little official documentation exists about his military service.

This family lore claims that Henderson served in the Civil War but never mustered out, making him ineligible for pensions, though no official records confirming that have been found. I have also heard that he may not have any official paperwork due to his age. He was born in May of 1847, so he apparently was only 15 years old when he entered the service. If so, he may never have mustered in either, which would eliminate the possibility of any paperwork. He may have snuck into camp with his half-brothers who did officially join the army. Henderson perhaps served as a scout for their unit. Whatever his role, he would not have been the only boy to serve in the military during the war, though many others were drummer boys.

The one piece of documentation that does exist is the 1890 Veterans' Census which lists him as a private in Company K of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry, a Union regiment, from October 10, 1862 until March 24, 1864. If these dates are accurate, he had not even turned 18 - the minimum age to join the military - when he left the service. Another part of the family legend claims that he left the army at the Newport Barracks, along the Ohio River in northern Kentucky, and walked all the way to his home in Breathitt County, which is about a three hour drive even today. Unfortunately, he apparently left Newport before getting any discharge papers, so his application for a pension was denied.

Henderson's great-granddaughter, my great-aunt, had heard much of this information and wrote a brief description of him in a story in a local history book called Common Folk, Volume 2, published by the Breathitt County Historical Society. She described “Grandpap Hent” as a tall and skinny man whose legs nearly dragged the ground when he rode a horse. That must have made him an interesting-looking figure when scouting or serving in the cavalry.

In his later years, he lived with one of his children but sometimes became upset and threatened to leave and go someplace else only to have one of his grandchildren beg him to stay, which he inevitably did.

Henderson died May 29, 1933, at 86 years of age and is buried in the Hannah Sebastian Cemetery.

Here are pictures of his headstones, courtesy findagrave.com. A descendant applied for a veteran's headstone for him, and this was approved, so someone in that office saw enough evidence that he had served.




Why Henderson may have left the service in Newport instead of at Camp Nelson, where most of the regiment apparently mustered out - the two places are more than 100 miles apart - is another mystery, perhaps going back to his youth and unofficial status in the military. Or perhaps family oral legend may not have this part correct. Nonetheless, it is an interesting story to ponder. I just wish there had been some documentation, but oral tradition is a different sort of history and can be important itself. Without it, very little else is known of his military career and I admit is intriguing to have such a story in my family tree.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Review: Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Civil War by James McPherson


Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Civil War 
By James M. McPherson 
2015, Penguin Books


Embattled Rebel is another enjoyable book I have recently read. It is a quick read and, like most of James McPherson's books , has a good, smooth flow that makes it a pleasant and easy book to read. 

It is not a long book. One of the blurbs on the back cover calls it "concise," and that is an apt description. It is not a full biography of Davis or a detailed retelling of the war, but, rather, a quick look at Davis' performance as Confederate President.

It does a fine job of providing a balanced look at Davis' performance, his strengths, his flaws and the many challenges he faces. Overall, I thought it tended to be mostly sympathetic to Davis, but it did describe some of his failings such as his poor health, his inability or refusal to delegate work, his insistence on handling detailed paperwork and the poor relationships he had with some Confederate political and military officials.

On the other hand, he had a tremendous work ethic, plenty of military knowledge and experience and was extremely devoted to "the cause." People criticized his decisions or personality, but not his devotion to the Confederacy.

I read the paperback version of the book and one thing I found interesting about it was the cover. The top of the book cover featured McPherson's name, with the book title at the bottom of the page. McPherson's name is also in slightly larger font than the book title. I found this apparent emphasis on the author over the title to be an interesting approach. I have not noticed this on any other book I've read. 

Embattled Rebel is a fine book about one of the key figures of the Civil War. It is a quick, easy read, with a balanced view of its subject. It is a good, pleasant read and a fine addition to my bookshelf. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Female soldiers in the Civil War?

This came from the Covington Journal of April 13, 1861 - too soon for it to mention Fort Sumter, but it did include other national news including this interesting note. Women soldiers in the Civil War is not an unknown topic, with many stories of women dressing as men and serving in various armies, but the idea of an organized company of women working as a military unit is new to me. I wonder if this was true and what happened to them, especially once southern troops were mustered into Confederate service instead of state service.

Military Spirit in Mississippi

The Holly Springs (Miss) Herald learns that the county of Chickasaw in that State has already ten companies of volunteer soldiers ready to be mustered into the service of the State. It adds this: in addition to these, the country has a regularly officered and drilled company of young ladies, who have pledged themselves, in the event that the men are called into service, to protect their homes and families during their absence, and see that the crops are properly cultivated and full crops raised not only for the supper of the country, but for the armies of Mississippi.