Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally

Author: Elizabeth D. Leonard
Copyright 2011
The University of North Caroluna Press
(Civil War America, Gary Gallagher, Editor) 

Throughout most of his life, Joseph Holt was a well-known and well-respected lawyer and politician, known for his hard work and loyalty to the United States, but in the years after his public career ended and as national reconciliation became a popular theme, his fame slipped from public consciousness and knowledge of his work and effort to support the Union also disappeared. In 2011, however, Elizabeth Leonard wrote this book to tell the tale of Joseph Holt’s life and career, and help rescue him from historical oblivion. I wish I had read it sooner.

Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally  is a fine biography of an important, but often overlooked man. Leonard uses a smooth, easy-to-read writing style, combined with in-depth research, to tell the story of a man whose name is not often mentioned in modern Civil War books. Holt, however, had a long, fascinating career in politics and the law before, during, and after the war, and this book describes it in an enjoyable and informative fashion

The story starts with some basic family history and then progresses through a chronological telling of the story of Holt’s life and career.  It is sensible and effective arrangement and does a fine job of showing how Holt grew socially, intellectually and politically, including the support he received and challenges he faced from family, other people and his own natural personality traits. 

He was an intelligent man with a great work ethic, starting from his days as a student and lasting throughout his long political career. He had good family support, including financial support from his grandfather, but also faced the burdens of high family expectations, especially from two uncles who come across as unlikeable in this volume, an aunt, and his brothers, some more helpful than others.

Leonard’s work uses many sources, especially Holt’s own files, to analyze Holt’s personality and how it shaped his career and how people perceived him. He was a successful lawyer and an influential Democratic party speaker, but also chose to avoid seeking election to political office. Despite his reluctance to asking for support from voters, however, he willingly accepted appointment to high-profile public offices. He continued to be a private but proud man who cared deeply about his honor and reputation. He struck back against those he felt had wronged or insulted him. Again, this started during his time as a student, when he defended himself over criticism about a paper he had written, and lasted through the rest of his life, such as when he repeatedly defended his actions in the trial of the Lincoln assassins, even decades after the trial ended. This book strongly illustrates this part of his character. 

Holt’s life was one of apparent ironies and contradictions. One of these ironies, as explored often in this book, is how he remained so steadfastly loyal to the Union throughout the war, with a devotion beyond question, but was less faithful to both of his wives. In both marriages, he spent significant time living away from his bride before they moved in together, and during each marriage, he carried on correspondence, sometimes rather flirtatious, with other women, some of whom were themselves married. He apparently did love his wives, but also enjoyed corresponding with women, family or not, a habit he continued even after his second wife passed (he did not marry for a third time.) Calling him a “ladies’ man” may be an exaggeration, but his  corresponding with other women also brought him pleasure. 

Other contradictions helped define his life and career. He grew up a Democrat and was a solid party loyalist in the pre-war years, often speaking or writing on the party’s behalf. He then held multiple positions in the administration of Democrat James Buchanan, but became a strong supporter of Republican Abraham Lincoln, serving as judge advocate general in his administration. Holt was a slaveholder who supported the Union - not totally unusual, especially among Kentuckians - but he did eventually see the need to abolish slavery to win the war and keep the nation united, which was very rare for an owner of other humans. He was a Southern Unionist long before that term became familiar.

His ambition for higher position and authority and his willingness to accept appointed political offices contrasted with his basic shyness and his refusal to consider elective office. He was a private man in public office, but being an introvert did not stop him from using public writings to defend his reputation or actions. Like stereotypical southern men, he maintained  a strong sense of honor and was willing to overcome his preference for privacy in order to defend himself.

His personal characteristics, such as his sensitivity, sense of honor, privacy, work ethic, and pride combined to form a fascinating persona, and this book describes how such traits worked together in his personal and public lives.

The central theme of the book, however, is Holt’s absolute and unwavering support for the Union. He did not want to see it split before the war, favored a strong effort to win the war to preserve it, and then was one of the foremost advocates of punishing the people responsible for the coming of the war, almost to the point of obsession. Nobody questioned his loyalty, though at the end of his career some people did wonder if his senses of loyalty and Unionism had gone too far as he attempted to punish Confederate leaders and others he associated with Lincoln’s assassination. This questioning led Holt to defend his actions and his honor yet again.

Overall, this is an excellent example of biographical writing, a well-written history and analysis of an important figure whom history has largely forgotten, despite his important roles in the the decades around, and including, the Civil War. He was a Kentuckian who influenced the war and many of his challenges - including being a slaveowner who supported the Union and a man whose family was split by the war - were similar to what many people in his homestate experienced. Contrasts with many fellow Kentuckians, however, also manifested themselves, especially his support of Lincoln and emancipation, two unpopular topics in his home state. Holt did not cave in to peer or even family pressure (from his uncles or proud southern brother Robert especially.) He was his own man in a difficult era, and the contradictions in his life demonstrate his individuality. This book shows how his personal traits and beliefs led him to handle the challenges he faced, and it does so in a very readable manner.  The author clearly did a lot of research and her finished work is an easy and quick read. I gladly recommend this book to people interested in the Civil War, especially those interested in lesser-known people or subjects.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ideas for 2018

To start the new year, I will not resort to the cliché of calling these resolutions, but I thought it might be a good idea to post ideas of some things I would like to accomplish about this blog and my interest in the Civil War in 2018. It still seems surreal that I have been doing this blog thing since 2009. So much has happened and changed since then, but I plan to keep on plugging away here. How many, if any, of these will happen this year, I do not know, but i do like at least having a list of items in writing.

1. Read more books. I have done pretty well at this in the last half of 2017, at least until my most recent cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago, but I want to do more. I have a few that I have not read yet, and a couple of those stand  out as ones I want to read first. 

2. Rearrange my bookshelves This might help the first one, but I would like to re-arrange my books so that they are in some sort of logical order. I did recently create a shelf for my Civil War books dealing with Kentucky, Cincinnati and “local” books (though there is one more I know I have, but I cannot find it and it is making me CRAZY!) but I need to do this with more books. I have a couple shelves semi-organized, but need to do more, though deciding how and what topics to use will be tough. At least one or two will be for Lincoln, and I think I will probably use “biographies” for another, instead of more specific ideas like “generals.” Perhaps an actual “to be read” pile or shelf would be nice as well 

3. Travel. I will not be a globetrotter, but I need to see a couple of places in Kentucky for the first time  (Richmond, Mill Springs, Wildcat Mountain) and revisit other places such as Perryville, Bardstown and Hodgenville. I will visit Cynthiana again and perhaps take one out-of-state trip, possibly to Springfield, Illinois. I would like to see Lincoln’s Home, the Lincoln Presidential Library, his tomb and whatever other Lincoln attractions are located there. I have thought about that for a while and think it would be fun, though a long drive. I do need to go to other battlefields like Shiloh, Franklin, Chickamsuga or back to Gettysburg or Antietam, but I don’t see those happening this upcoming year.

4. Post more often I’d like at least a couple of posts every month, though I can’t promise it. I look at my blogroll and a lot of blogs I started following a few years ago are now gone or inactive. I suppose podcasts are the current hot thing, but that does not interest me. I’ll keep on blogging as I enjoy it, especially when I come up with a good or fun idea for a post. Researching, writing, and editing/proofreading these remains fun for me and I do think it helps keep my mind sharp and learn new things about the war and about how to express my thoughts. It is a good creative outlet for me, no matter how many page views I do or do not get. 

5. Redesign this blog? I really like the current look, with all the blue coloration, but part of me is getting the itch to make some changes. It has had this same look for several years now and I kind of want to make changes, but every time I look at it and try to think of how to change it, I just do not come up with any ideas. I simply like how it looks. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but not a big deal in the long run. 

6. Get involved in re-enacting or living history? I have purchased a Union infantry private’s frock cost and have ordered some pants which will need hemming. I still need other garments - a shirt, suspenders, socks, brogans and a kepi at least - but have started the process. I suppose i am not sure I want to re-enact, but probably have more interest in living history to represent the museum where I volunteer. Perhaps I will try both, but the living history is what I have been interested in and why I have looked into these purchases for a couple of years. I think wearing a uniform will improve my perspective on the soldiers who fought, especially if I do re-enact and will let me communicate it better as well. 

That seems like a good list, at least to ponder and to try to conquer. I guess now it is time that will tell how man6 of these I attack or accomplish. 

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Battlefield Musings, or Cynthiana I Hardly Know Thee

I have posted about the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation previously, and though I have not written about it lately, I’m still involved with it and still hope this group can bring more awareness about the battles to people in the town and everywhere. My own experience has shown me that there is a need for such a group to create more attention and publicity for the battles of Cynthiana. I wish it had existed a couple of decades ago.

I still am no expert on the battles or town, but  my involvement with this group has educated me about these battles, through visits to the town, during which I saw many of the fighting spots, and by introducing me to Kentucky Rebel Town, a fine book about the town and the actual battles. I just finished reading it recently. My visits and this reading have helped both my understanding and my perception of these battles and the area where they occurred.

This is the first real “city” type of battlefield I have visited. I admit I am not the most well-travelled Civil War student. I visited Gettysburg and Antietam a couple of decades ago and my recent battlefield treks have all been to Perryville, though one regret is not making a trip to that beautiful land this year. These are mostly traditional types of battlefields, with an emphasis on fields, especially Perryville (though perhaps my memory of Gettysburg is not good, as I believe there was urban fighting there.)  I remember those battlefields as having so much open ground, fields of grass, hills, streams, and small patches of woods. The biggest obstacles on most of the fields were wood and stone fences and perhaps corn or wheat fields. Uneven ground and other natural terrain features added to the challenges the soldiers faced, but there were not as many man-made structures like the various buildings in Cynthiana. I know some fighting took place in the town of Perryville, but the vast majority was in the surrounding hills and fields. 

Cynthiana gives me the opposite feel of  those “fields.” Some fighting here took place in fields, but much of it occurred in the actual town, with houses, buildings, streets, a bridge and railroad tracks in the way of the fighting. Soldiers used the railroad depot, the courthouse and other buildings for shelter, and their opponents resorted to burning many  buildings in the absence of artillery. It still was war, but a different kind. It just seems difficult for me to picture Civil War soldiers marching  up and down those city streets, going from building-to-building, while others fired shots out of windows or intentionally set fires to numerous buildings. Maybe this helps me understand better what some modern soldiers face in urban warfare today or maybe some of the TV shows that discuss modern warfare can help me understand this past type of fighting better as they show even re-enacted urban battles.

This sensation I get is different than what I sense at the Open Knob or the Slaughter Pen at Perryville or Devil’s Den at Gettysburg and the Sunken Road at Antietam. Cynthiana is an old town that just happened to be the site of two battles. I know the other places I mentioned “just happened” to be battle sites as well, but they feel to me almost like they are where battles are supposed to take place. This town does not strike me like that at all. This is a city, with people living there and modern businesses occupying buildings. The others are empty fields, not living  quarters. The town is for visiting, for living in, for a seat of government to exist in, not for a battle during a major war  - or so my gut continues to insist. 

I realize that some of this is exaggeration, as there was fighting in fields around Cynthiana, especially during the 1864 fighting, and I have not seen all of  that land. (Most of it is private property.) That being said, the feel in the actual town is just different to me.  (I do understand there was also in-town fighting in many other places during the war, and that structures like Burnside’s Bridge or buildings in Fredericksburg influenced those battles, so I acknowledge that Cynthiana is not totally unique, except to my own limited experiences. This post is, however, about my own personal feelings.) as I write this, I begin to suspect it is the people and businesses in town compared to the vast emptiness of the fields that create this sensation.  

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help me explore my understanding of the war and why it interests me so much. I understand this is not the most scholarly post ever, but it is helpful for me to think about this subject and put it my thoughts in a (hopefully) sensible order. I am trying not to keep rambling, but my apologies if this post is too long. 

In addition to my perception of the area, I have done more soul-searching about my previous interest, or lack thereof, in these particular battles. I still am embarrassed that I had not realized the extent of the fighting only an hour away from where I live and had not explored - or even studied - it all before the last two years. Better late than never, I suppose - at least that is what I tell myself now. How many times in my past had I ridden down U.S. 27 to Lexington or to eastern Kentucky without realizing what I was bypassing? My family did stop and read the historical markers once or twice, and a few years ago we noticed the “John Hunt Morgan” bridge sign, which certainly got our attention, but I never realized that actual battles took place here or what the fighting was like. The battles of Cynthiana were not famous, and that apparently affected my interest in what happened there. Hopefully the foundation mentioned before can create enough attention and help others not make the mistakes I made.

The extent of the Union defeat of Morgan’s men in 1864 was something else that had escaped my attention until recently as well. He is a very famous soldier, especially in this area, and here was the end of his final major raid, a pretty severe defeat that scattered his forces and hurt his reputation in Richmond. That is a big deal - not Appomattox or Vicksburg, but certainly not irrelevant. Why did I not realize this?

When I did first hear of these battles, I shrugged them off as being “minor” or “small” fights, with only a couple of thousand men involved and a fairly low number of casualties. I thought of them more as skirmishes than actual battles. No famous landmark or legendary action/charge existed or took place here and Morgan was the only soldier here of whom I had heard. This fighting seemed less important and interesting to me, and I did not try to visit the scene of the fighting or read more about the battles. Shame on me.

The fighting was not on grandiose scales, like the most famous battles of the war, but these were still men being killed and wounded, families being torn apart, property being damaged and destroyed. These soldiers all had stories, hopes and dreams, and sacrificed those to fight in this town, for whatever their personal motivations were. They had families and friends, some in or near the town. If the war was about slavery, that institution existed here; if it was about keeping the nation intact, political sentiments were bitterly divided here. This town reflected the nation as a whole in those regards, a “Rebel Town” in a Union State that “joined the Confederacy after the Civil War.”  The stories of these soldiers, the local population and the land all have importance like at more famous examples of battlefields. This is hallowed ground. THIS PLACE MATTERS.

Rankin House was under construction in 1864 but the walls and roof were finished

Harrison County Courthouse

Marker on courthouse grounds

Looking East on Pike Street, sight of fighting & burning

Licking River, where covered bridge crossed & soldiers forded or swam

Looking north on Main Street
Cynthiana certainly feels more intimate than other battlefields, if that word makes sense. Maybe words like “compact” or just “urban” work better.  It just feels different to me than the wide open fields of grass and hills, yet much of what happened here was so similar. It was still fighting, two armies trying to kill, capture or wound their enemies. Here, burning buildings and fording or swimming across the river were more important than artillery or building earthworks. A Civil War battle without major cannon fire? Oh, what I did not know!

Seeing the railroad tracks that still run through town is another moment from these trips that has helped reshape my perspective of the fighting. One of the major topics of Civil War study is the advance of various technologies, including the use of railroads to transport troops to important areas. I certainly have read about Joseph Johnston moving Confederate troops before First Bull Run or the Union moving thousands of men to the western theater, but standing on the tracks at Keller’s Bridge, near where Union troops disembarked, soon to be fighting for their lives, or on the tracks in the actual town near the former site of the depot, made that more real to me, not just something I had read in a book. It’s not quite the same as holding a period rifle or artifact, but it’s close. Once again, visiting a battlefield can produce a better (or st least different) realization or visualization of the war than reading books or watching videos can. Standing on those railroad tracks is not so different than standing on a patch of grass or the slope of a hill. I just wish I had taken advantage of the proximity of this battlefield years ago. 

Site of Civil War-era railroad depot, tracks still existing

I certainly will keep reading and studying more about the fighting in and near this town and am equally sure that more trips to the town and the area will be parts of my education. I do wonder if the feel of the battle area (perhaps I will use that term in place of “battlefield”) will change once it is not so new to me or when I have learned  more about it. Or will the urban nature of so much of the combat ensure that it will always have a different feel than the open pastures and meadows of the more traditional battlefields? I look forward to finding that answer. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful for the Civil War?

In this time of giving thanks - a good idea, but one that probably should be a year-around activity - the thought “I’m thankful for the Civil War” came to mind.

I immediately second-guessed myself - am I really thankful for a scourge (thank you Mr. Lincoln for that descriptive word) that led to 700,000 deaths and many more injuries and illnesses? Can I truly be thankful for such destruction and suffering?

I then naturally start the not unexpected debate with myself. Of course, I am extremely thankful for the abolition of American slavery. Of course, I am thankful for keeping the nation together, though that is more being thankful for the result than for the war. I am thankful that so many battlefields from the war are preserved and so many artifacts have survived. I am thankful that the Civil War is not just a forgotten page of the past. 

I am thankful for having something that fascinates me so much, gives me something to study and even to write about. I collect some Civil War items, as well as books. I’m thankful for that ability. I’m thankful to volunteer at a Civil War museum and with a new Civil War group.  I certainly appreciate the people I’ve met through Civil War related activities and experiences I have had. What would I be doing with my time if not for the many interesting aspects of the Civil War?

But can I really be “thankful” for a war? The elimination of slavery is the strongest point for saying yes, for I do not know when, how or even if it would have gone away without war and it’s elimination was a necessary step fo4 this nation. From that viewpoint, yes I am glad the war happened, but I still find it strange to say I’m thankful for such a destructive war. Is the immense benefit of freedom worth that absolutely awful price (even if that freedom was not instantaneous for too many people?) I have to say “yes,” but it still seems difficult to understand the concept of being thankful for something that required such horrific killing and destruction.

Early in the days of this blog, I wrote a post asking if the Civil War was a good thing  I suppose that this post is simply a re-wording of that question, but even 8 years later I have uncertainty in how exactly I want to answer it. Perhaps I will write about it again in the future. I am surely thankful for this platform on which I can ponder such issues.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sound Bites of History: The Gettysburg Address


I don’t know that I have anything new to say about this famous speech, but I felt it appropriate to publish it here again today. I have made a couple of entries on it over the years, and probably will do so again. How can someone write about the Civil War and not at least mention this speech? I can’t. It’s remarkable that such a short speech can be so powerful. 

Anyway, Lincoln obviously lived well before the current era of radio and television coverage and of political sound bites, but I’ve always thought of him as a master of sound bites in some weird sense. He produced many brief, but memorable phrases that would probably be sound bites if created today, and a few of them come from this brief speech. “Four score and seven years ago,” “all men are created equal,” “the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here,” “new birth of freedom,”and “government of the people, by the people, for the people” are ones that stand out to me, even if not all were his original creations. He had many others in other speeches and writings, but these catch my attention in this speech (and I probably could add a couple more.)

I fully realize this is nothing original or earth-shattering, but I wanted to commemorate this short but powefrful speech today. Here is the Bliss copy of the speech, from the Abraham Lincoln Online site.

Bliss Copy
Ever since Lincoln wrote it in 1864, this version has been the most often reproduced, notably on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It is named after Colonel Alexander Bliss, stepson of historian George Bancroft. Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers (see "Bancroft Copy" below). However, because Lincoln wrote on both sides of the paper, the speech could not be reprinted, so Lincoln made another copy at Bliss's request. It is the last known copy written by Lincoln and the only one signed and dated by him. Today it is on display at the Lincoln Room of the White House.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review: Kentucky Rebel Town by William Penn

By William Penn
Copyright 2016
The University Press of Kentucky

As I review another book, I also review another study of Kentucky in the Civil War. That is certainly a topic that has dominated much of my recent Civil War reading. It has been an enjoyable and informative process - I look forward to finding more on this subject to explore.

Kentucky Rebel Town is a deeply-researched work concentrating on the north-central Kentucky town of  Cynthiana and its home of Harrison County. Using information found in many sources such as newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, census records and more, author Bill Penn demonstrates that this county and town offered more moral and military support for the Confederacy than did most of Kentucky, and though support for the Union cause also existed locally, Confederate sympathy was more prevalent, especially before Union troops occupied camps in the area. He makes a persuasive case that Cynthiana truly was a “Rebel Town,” using a wide variety of historical records to support his argument.

This book is well-written, without the distraction of proofreading or editing errors. It compares the Confederate support in Cynthiana to the rest of the state, using information like public events and voting records, as well as biographical information of important local citizens and leaders and the political positions they held. Many different local people and families are mentioned throughout the text, making this a good possible source of information for some genealogists. It also includes an impressive selection of photographs of key people and places discussed throughout the text. Such photographs are always good additions to books like this, and that is the case here.

Among the challenges the author faced when researching and writing this book was a lack of period maps of the area. He did, however, manage to create and include several helpful ones based on his understanding and interpretation of existing evidence and modern development in the area. He also frequently mentions names of modern roads among discussions of old roads where something occurred. This is a helpful part of his writing.

In addition to his interpretation for the maps, the author offers frequent analysis of evidence he found, such as determining the probable location of events, or identities of people when period records were not specific. Such explanations and interpretations of unclear evidence occur often in the book. This goes beyond the mere repeating of established facts and details and adds to the understanding of the events being discussed. This is a strong part of this book and the author’s writing.

This book is a valuable work on many fronts, but especially to people who are interested in Kentucky’s role in the Civil War, its reputation as a Confederate state, and even in-state politics during the war years, especially regarding reaction to Federal policies and occupation. It also provides a detailed look at both the 1862 and 1864 battles of Cynthiana and the fighting done by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, a key part of this work. Students of Morgan’s career or of Civil War cavalry raids will also find this book to be well worth the time.

The book’s organization is a very good and logical one. It includes end-notes and an informative section showing Union and Confederate Orders of Battle for both battles. Each chapter covers multiple related topics, but each also contains different specific sections for these topics. That helps the book flow more smoothly than books which do not break up chapters thusly, and makes it easier to read and understand. The order of the topics is also sensible, starting with the early war years, then the war and ending with a discussion of how local support of the Confederate cause did not end with the war. The author shows that some people regretted the war’s outcome. This organization makes the book even better. 

Overall, Bill Penn’s Kentucky Rebel Town is a fine book, a well-investigated and detailed discussion of how one Kentucky town and county offered more sympathy for the Confederate cause than did most of the state, especially early in the war, It also provides a good overview of the battles of Cynthiana and John Hunt Morgan’s performance in those contests. I find this book to be a terrific addition to the existing studies of Kentucky in the Civil War era and gladly recommend it to fellow Civil War enthusiasts and others interested in Kentucky history.

Location of Cynthiana, courtesy 

Note: The author is a member of the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation group. I am a member of the same group and have met him multiple times. I have tried not to allow this to influence my review, but I thought I should share this information with readers. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Postcard From the Past: Reunion of the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

I recently acquired this neat old postcard and after discussing it with a friend who is interested in the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (9th OVI), decided to look at it more closely and discuss it here.

The unused card is in far from mint condition, but is still in good enough shape to be readable. It is unlike any other postcard I have or have even seen, and certainly different than what modern postcards show. Both the image and the amount of text on it are different than today’s cards.

It is not a surprise that this group had a 50 year reunion of their mustering into the army. People have always liked reunions and this occurred during the age of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and other groups of former soldiers. Civil War veterans were quickly aging or passing away, so events like this were not uncommon. It is cool that they took this picture with these honorees, but turning it into a postcard seems a strange thing to do, though as a lover of history,  I’m glad they did and that it has survived the past century.

The card shows the men standing in front of a hard-to-see background, apparently a sign or banner, which includes the event name as well as a listing of the unit’s battles, much like regimental flags showed. It does look like somebody wrote in some letters to complete words that may have been hidden behind the men.

The following two lines appear at the top of the background image:
Nor shall their glories be forgot,
While fame the record keeps. 

These lines are a slight rewording of two lines from the poem “Bivouac of the Dead” (written by
Kentuckian Theodore O’Hara after the Mexican War.) They also are similar to lines I’ve seen on various GAR postcards, naturally focusing on the courage, victories and patriotism of those being honored.

The men are wearing dark suits, each with ribbons on them. The ribbons likely were specifically made for this reunion, as such decorations were popular at events like this.

None of the three men featured the long, thick facial hair that many Civil War soldiers wore fifty years previously, but perhaps it was not coincidental that the safety razor had been patented just a decade before this reunion.

I really like that it includes the names and ages of the three veterans. So many old pictures have survived without identification on them, so it is great that this one fortunately is different. It is truly cool to have such facts included with the image.

Seeing the men’s names listed here naturally made me curious about them. I have been able to find out a few details about their lives and service

Frank E Kaiser was born June 6, 1843 in Germany. He enlisted in Company C of the 9th Ohio on January 1, 1864 as a private. He was discharged, still a private, on June 7, 1864, when the unit’s 3-year term of service expired. He may have also been in the 1st U.S. Veteran Volunteer Engineer Corps, at least according to the National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors list of Civil War soldiers. If so, his correct discharge date was apparently September 2, 1865 when that unit was mustered out. He died on January 14, 1928 and was buried in the Vine Street Hill Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Gerhard Ferber was a corporal when he joined Company F of this unit on April 22, 1861, in the aftermath of the firing on Fort Sumter and beginning of the war. This was when the regiment mustered in at Camp Harrison, before reorganizing as a 3-year unit at Camp Dennison. Ferber was apparently one of the original members of this unit, which at first had too many volunteers as it organized in the midst of a great patriotic fervor. He still was a corporal when he mustered out with
the regiment 3 years later. He had been born on September 29, 1820 in Germany and passed away May 31, 1917 in Cincinnati, where he was interred in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Henry Spaeth enlisted in  Company C of the  9th OVI on May 27, 1861. He earned promotion to 2nd Lieutenant on in September 1, 1862 and perhaps changed companies at that time, to Company D.  He earned further promotion to 1st Lieutenant in February 1864 and was discharged with the rest of the regiment on June 7, 1864. He had been born December 25, 1838 in Wertenburgh, passed away on March 23, 1922 and was buried in River View Cemetery in Aurora, Indiana. He also was  a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

The phrase “Cumberland’s Iron Brigade” at the bottom is especially intriguing. I had not heard it before and asked for some help with it. Thanks again to social media, a friend found that this appears to have been a post-War nickname, possibly self-given by regimental members to make them seem as tough as the men of the famous Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. This is based on an remark and note in the book We Were the Ninth: A History of the Ninth Regiment, Ohio Voluntary Infantry, April 17, 1861, to June 7, 1864, by Constantin Grebner, translated and edited by Frederic Trautmann (1987).

The 9th OVI was a nearly all-German regiment recruited in Cincinnati, apparently the same city where their reunion took place in 1911. Here is another picture from that reunion, from a regimental history site. That site has much more detailed information on this entire unit and its history than this entry will describe.

The book Cincinnati Germans in the Civil Wartranslated by Don Tolzmann discusses this unit briefly and here are a couple more sites that have some good information on this unit.

I never know what will attract my interest about the Civil War or specific pieces of it. In this case, it was a bent-up, torn old postcard that caught my attention and turned it one of the fascinating local units of the war. I’m sure I’ll start paying more att3ntion in the future when I see references to the brave men of the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as well as to other postcards I happen to see.