Potential Danger to KY Civil War sites

This story has nothing specific about any Civil War site in my beloved Kentucky, but it sure does seem like a dangerous precedent, with bad potential down the road.

I understand that this state does not always a good job of funding and caring for parks and historic sites, but I am not sure that this is a good idea. In fact, I think it is a bad one, with potential to be awful or terrible, whichever adjective is worse. How can we know if the private groups - in this case a church - can or will do any better? Will such groups even care about history or will they just look to turn such gifts into profit?

It is bad enough that this has happened to a site where Daniel Boone, one of the most famous names in Kentucky history, lived. What happens to sites without such a well-known name attached to them? As a person who loves the Civil War, I wonder what will happen to small Civil War sites around the state? This is a bigger issue than “just” Civil,War sites, but I admit that was my first thought when I saw this story, even though I appreciate all history. I admittedly am writing this story to fit in with this blog’s purpose.

What site will be next? There are rumors about White Hall State Historic Site, Home of anti-slavery politician Cassius Marcellus Clay, being given to Eastern Kentucky University, though that is not official, at least yet. Official or not, it is still concerning given what has already happened. 

Relevance of the Book Version of the Official Records of the Rebellion

Anyone that has ever researched the Civil War knows of, and has most likely used, the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, and virtually any book published bout the War includes these records (normally noted as "OR") in its bibliography. Readers of this blog surely know that already.

What I am wondering is: is the book version of these records still relevant?  In the age of compact discs and so many publications, including the OR, digitized online (see the OR  here or here ), with handy "find" features, is the original 128 book version of these records still worth having? 

A historical group I belong to is fortunate enough to have a full set of the OR (though one person suggested one volume is missing. I have not confirmed that.) The group now is considering putting these books in storage somewhere in order to display other items, probably additional non-Civil War military uniforms. 

This is not a Civil War group and its mission is beyond just that one period of time, so it is understandable that some people want to show other items from our collection, but the willingness to hide (or possibly even get rid of) the OR frustrates me.

I understand the books are online now and that we could purchase a CD of these books. Both of these options have search functions and take up much, much less space than the dozens of thick, heavy OR books. I have trouble arguing against such logic.

On the other hand, I like how these books look. They are a modern printing, with the dark blue covers, and I think the collection looks really good on the shelves. When I think of Civil War research, these shelves are what that looks like to me. These books ARE Civil War research. 

I must also reluctantly acknowledge that these books rarely leave the shelves in our office. We do not get a lot of Civil War researchers visiting us, though I have used them occasionally (but not very recently). Maybe a Korean War uniform would attract more interest from visitors, and it would be something unique to our displays. We have other uniforms on display, but none from that conflict. 

Again, I must admit that the logic behind changing exhibits seems strong and I have not found a good counter for it, but as a Civil War student, I really like the OR collection. Even if we do decide to remove it from display, I will absolutely make sure we either store these books safely or find a good home for them. In a worst case scenario, I would take them to my house, finding room to keep them, but that is unlikely as I know of another organization that would likely accept them. So from that sense, they are safe - they will end up well-stored or in another good home, so destruction is not a threat, but I still emotionally like seeing them in the office, on the shelves. They really do make a handsome collection, but maybe that's just the Civil War enthusiast in me, as others in the group do not share my view. It is frustrating on some level, but others have acknowledged that throwing away these volumes is not an option. I think I have expressed my feelings of the importance of the books enough at least to ensure they will be treated with respect, even if not on display. 

What do others think? Is it fine now just to rely on digitized versions of these records and forget about the actual books? I have used these new versions so and probably will continue to, but I still appreciate the book version. The convenience of the electronic versions is undeniable. I do still read actual books instead of e-versions, but for a research project, it is nice to hit "ctrl-F" or another find function to locate key information. I think the digitized versions of these records are a major improvement, but I do appreciate the original format. The Official Records are far from perfect sources, but seeing all those books shelved together still makes me happy, and I know this may not be logical. I make no claim to be another Spock. 😊 Hopefully this modern world finds a way to feature the convenient electronic copies while not losing the actual books. There still is a place for real books and real records. At least I hope so.

As I proofread and edit this post, perhaps it truly is more about books in general than just the OR, though the situation with the OR is real and did inspire my rant.

I also hope I'm not just being an old-fashioned, "get off my lawn" type of grouch, but as I read and re-read my post again, my main points seem to be about sentimentality more than practicality. That said, there is room for such feelings in the world today and while 128 volumes of several hundred pages each may not be the easiest or fastest approach to finding information, I do still find these books to be relevant. 

A Document from the Siege of Cincinnati

Here is some ephemera from late summer of 1862, when Confederates commanded by Henry Heth threatened the City of Cincinnati, then the 6th largest city in the United States, and an important Union supply area. These couple of weeks became known as the Siege of Cincinnati, which I have mentioned several times before, in whole or in part.

Dr. John (J.R.) Flowers was a private citizen at the time of this document, but officially enlisted into the Army as an Assistant Surgeon in the 52nd Pennsylvania Infantry on December 15, 1863. He was promoted to Surgeon on March 23, 1865 and mustered out with the unit on July 12, 1865 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Not related to him, but an interesting note on Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it does cite sources. Still take this as seriously or not as you wish.)  about the unit he joined states that the regiment had been in South Carolina, where the 52nd Pennsylvanians were on hand to witness the ill-fated, but intensely courageous, July 16, 1863 assault by the 54th Massachusetts  on Fort Wagner, later recounted in the 1989 Academy Award-winning film, Glory. They then participated with other Union troops in the subsequent siege on the fort from mid-July through early September, at which point CSA troops abandoned the fort.

This pass allowed him to move through the defensive lines in northern Kentucky (behind Covington and Newport, the two largest cities in northern Kentucky) and across the Ohio River to Cincinnati and back.

This image from Pinterest shows the approximate locations of the defensive positions overlaid on a map of modern towns and roads. I just saw this map and it is a quite handy overview. It at least shows the relation of the defenses of Cincinnati to the city itself, giving an idea of where this pass allowed the doctor to go.

If this is the same man (this pass came with typed notes showing the same information as I found about Dr. Flowers)  questions about why he was in the Cincinnati area in 1862 are valid. Was he an aide-de-camp or other volunteer for one of the units there, or was he there as a civilian for some reason? Perhaps future research or someone who reads this will find these answers, but this document remains but a small reminder of the military presence in the region during that time. 

Sidney Burbank, American Soldier


In a post I made early last year about the fascinating story of Lieutenant  Gilbert Ely, I briefly mentioned an officer named Sidney Burbank. This reference probably meant little to most readers, but I had previously started doing some research on General Burbank for another project and, after re-reading that entry, I decided to share Burbank’s story here. He held higher rank than Gilbert Ely, but, like the Lieutenant, was a largely unknown American soldier, and I think his story is one worth sharing as well.

Sidney Burbank was born in Lexington, Massachusetts on September 26, 1807, the newest member of a military family. He was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan Burbank, who had been wounded during the War of 1812. Sullivan’s father, Captain Samuel Burbank Jr., had served in the American Revolutionary War, apparently receiving a promotion after the Battle of Bunker Hill. 

Sidney attended West Point and graduated seventeenth out of forty-six in the class of 1829, which famously included future Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston, as well as Ormsby Mitchel, who became a Union general and an astronomer who founded the Cincinnati observatory. Burbank ranked second on the class roll of conduct.

He served as a Second Lieutenant in the First Infantry in the 1830s, and returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of tactics. He then fought in the Indian Wars, including the Black Hawk War and the Seminole War. He was promoted to Captain and served in various outposts throughout the west, including Fort Crawford in Wisconsin and Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. In this role, he also helped establish Fort Inge and Fort Duncan, both in Texas. Burbank apparently had no involvement in the Mexican War.

In 1855, he received promotion to Major and in 1859 was appointed as Western Superintendent of Recruiting Services, headquartered at the Newport Barracks in Newport, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. 

Newport Barracks

He remained there until 1861, when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Regiment of the U.S. Army on May 14. His new regiment received assignment as the guards at Alton Federal Military Prison in Illinois. This unit was there when it opened and received its first Confederate prisoners in February of 1862. 

One small example of his duties occurred on June 4, 1861, when he mustered the First Kentucky Infantry regiment into the U.S. Army at Camp Clay in Pendleton, Ohio, a small Cincinnati neighborhood. At this point, Kentucky was still trying to maintain neutrality in the war, so some Kentucky regiments, both Union and Confederate, organized in neighboring states and many non-Kentuckians joined these units, including the Lieutenant Ely mentioned previously.

Around this same time, some companies of the 13th Infantry were stationed at Beech Woods Battery (later renamed to Phil Kearney Battery) in Northern Kentucky, not far from the Newport Barracks. Burbank commanded these troops and served as commandant of Cincinnati in September, as the “Siege of Cincinnati” was taking place. One of the local defensive positions guarding against a threatened Confederate invasion, Burbank Battery, was named in his honor. (Ironically, most of the physical defenses of Cincinnati were not in the actual city, but, rather, among the hills of Northern Kentucky, as engineers took advantage of the terrain and the bend in the Ohio River.)

On September 16, he was promoted again, this time to Colonel of the Second Infantry Regiment. In 1863, he led this regiment and others as a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac. He commanded these troops at the famous battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Here is his official report  from the battle in Pennsylvania, where his forces suffered heavy losses on July 2. 

He served in this role until early 1864, but, advancing in age as the war continued, he suffered issues with his health and eyesight. He received less stressful assignments, including responsibility for a draft rendezvous (where drafted soldiers were enrolled into the army) in Columbus, Ohio. He then rejoined the Second Infantry regiment in its headquarters at the Newport Barracks in June of 1864 and remained there until 1866, when the army transferred his command to Louisville.

Before this transfer, he had suffered a great personal loss when his son, Captain Sullivan W. Burbank, died in June of 1864 due to wounds received at the Battle of the Wilderness a few weeks previously. According to Ronald Coddington’s book Faces of the Civil War (2004, Johns Hopkins University Press), at the start of the war Sullivan had asked his father to find him a commission in the army. Sidney succeeded in doing so, but upon learning of his son’s death, felt tremendous guilt and sorrow over his son’s fate, as virtually any father would.

As the previously-mentioned transfer shows, he remained in the army after the war, as a military life was his destiny since birth. In 1866, he received a promotion to Brevet Brigadier General in the regular U.S. Army, effective March 13, 1865. He worked on rebuilding the Second Infantry and served on various boards and positions in these years. His work included recruiting duty and serving as President of the Army Examining Board for candidates to be appointed to the army, a title he received immediately after his transfer to Louisville. 

From 1867 to 1869, he was Assistant Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau in Kentucky. The Freedman’s Bureau existed to provide assistance to former slaves as they transitioned to freedom, but it faced many challenges in its brief existence, including financial troubles and racism. 

Burbank retired from the army in 1870 after forty years of service, and moved back to Newport, living not far from the barracks where he had served. He remained a resident of this city for over a decade, living on Front Street from 1870 until his death in 1882. 

In an example of the way the Civil War could affect American families, census records indicate that his wife Isabella (neé Slaughter) was a native of Virginia (as were her parents), though her loyalty surely remained with her husband’s side during the war. It is unknown how or if her family relations existed during and after the war. It is possible her family members were Southern Unionists who supported the Union cause, but perhaps they favored the Confederacy, yet still remained on good terms with the Burbanks. Another possibility is that the family ties broke apart during the war and then reconciled at a later point, but some families, like that of Union General George H. Thomas, another Virginian, saw their family bonds completely destroyed by the long, bitter war.

The Burbanks had three children, including two sons (Sullivan and Clayton) who served in the army, as well as daughter Frances, who married soldier William Maize, adding to the family’s military tradition. Clayton also was stationed in the Newport Barracks in the post-war years.

Sidney Burbank passed away on December 7, 1882 at the age of seventy-five, due to old age and inflammation of the bowels. He left behind an estate valued at just more than $10,800. According to his obituary in the Cincinnati Enquirer, his funeral was a private service at his home, with family and a few military colleagues present. He was laid to rest in a “beautiful casket, with massive silver ornaments.” The lid included a silver plaque with Burbank’s name and birth and death dates on it. His body wore a full Brigadier-General’s uniform, and flowers decorated the casket. He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in section fourteen of Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. 

Sidney Burbank was a lifelong military man from a military family and led a long and honorable military life, in peacetime and in war. 

Rest In Peace, General Burbank. 

Happy 200th Birthday Mary Lincoln

I do not have a long, detailed post prepared for Mrs. Lincoln’s 200th birthday, so perhaps shame on me, but this is certainly a noteworthy date, one that I did want to discuss, even if only briefly.  200 is a big number and Mary was an important figure, one of the most famous women among the familiar names in American history. She was also a Kentuckian, which naturally adds to my interest in her life.

Here is the review I did of Catherine Clinton’s fine biography of Mary. It is a terrific book that I highly recommend. It describes the challenges Mary faced, including self-inflicted troubles. One of the more interesting and well-known facets of her life was how the Civil War split her family. Stuart Sanders penned (maybe current lingo should say “typed”) a really fine essay on her younger sister Emilie Helm (link is to my review) and their relationship. Both of these works are valuable in understanding Mary’s life.

I still also wish that the people who produced the film Lincoln would do a movie focusing on Mary. I do need to read other biographies on her in Lieu of such a film, but for now I find it appropriate to recognize the 200th anniversary of her birth and hope that other people think of her today and even on other dates. She is definitely a fascinating persona from the state and nation’s history.

Happy birthday, Mrs. Lincoln. I hope you have found the peace and happiness that eluded you for much of your life.

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