Thursday, May 30, 2013

A souvenir from Harpers Ferry

Brig. Gen. Simon G. Griffin (fourth from left) and his brigade staff. Griffin lived in Concord before the war, in Keene after it. In the 1864 campaign he headed the Second Brigade of the Second Division of the 9th Corps.
During the spring of 1864, three veteran New Hampshire regiments – the 6th, the 9th and the 11th – joined two from Maine and one from Vermont in a New England brigade under Brigadier General Simon G. Griffin. A chapter in Our War begins on the late April day when these men proudly paraded past Willard’s Hotel in Washington, D.C. After they had passed the hotel balcony from which President Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside reviewed them, a soldier heard a spectator say: “New England troops – God bless them!”

The brigade was destined for Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, a string of bloody battles in the Wilderness and beyond. My mission in Our War was to show through the experiences of a few soldiers in these regiments the travails of the many. One soldier I chose was Orlando W. Dimick, a 24-year-old 11th New Hampshire lieutenant from Lyme.

Recently I had the pleasure of telling a short version of his story during a presentation to the Lyme Historians, the busy historical society in this beautiful town in western New Hampshire.

Lt. (later Capt.) Orlando W. Dimick
The story is a good one. Dimick was captured at Spottsylvania the night of June 12, 1864. He spent months in officers’ prisons in the South before escaping and making his way across 250 miles of hostile territory to freedom.

One of his corporals wasn’t so lucky. The prisoner train dropped Cpl. Webster D. Huse of Enfield, N.H., off at Andersonville, Ga., where, in the prison known as Camp Sumter, he died of disease that October.

The Lyme Historians publish a fine newsletter, and lo and behold the current number (Spring 2013) contains a letter from Dimick that I had not seen.

His capture, imprisonment and escape lay nearly two years ahead. He addressed this letter to a cousin from near Harpers Ferry, Va.., in 1862 The 11th was then on the way south after its recruitment late that summer.

Dimick had left Dartmouth College after his freshman year to join the 11th. His letter shows what a clear and informative writer he was – something I benefited from when I used his account of his captivity to tell his story in Our War.

Here is the a large chunk of the letter.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sandy Hook [Md.], Oct. 5, 1862

Dear cousin,

We are now on the Maryland side of the Potomac, about a mile below Harper’s Ferry which lies on the Virginia side of the Potomac, at its junction with the Shenandoah and between the two rivers. I went through the place yesterday and beyond it about a mile and a half to Bolivar Heights to visit the Fifth N.H. Volunteers.* The town is a desolate looking place now but looks as though it might once have been a very busy and pretty place.

The brick walls of most of the government buildings are still standing, the woodwork having been burned, except the engine house in which John Brown was taken. This, I believe, is the only one of the government buildings which remains unharmed. The other buildings were none of them burned that I saw in the village. We had to cross a pontoon bridge to get over there. The railroad bridge, which you will remember the rebels burned when they last evacuated the place, has been rebuilt so that the cars crossed last Thursday for the first time. On the walls of the engine house can be seen where were the holes which John Brown made for port holes to shoot through which are now filled with new brick. Enclosed you will find a heart which I whittled from a piece of wood that I cut from the door post of the building.

The old soldiers here are strong against Col. Miles who surrendered here and say if the rebels had not killed him, his own soldiers would have done so. You are probably familiar with the newspaper representations of the needless surrender and I believe they agree nearly with those I have heard from the soldiers here. Certainly the position of Maryland Heights is a very commanding one, and it seems to me together with the fortifications on the Virginia side and the number of men he had, he should have held the place.**

I find too, that since I came to Washington every soldier and officer that I have heard speak of McDowell pronounce him a traitor and say if it had not been for him, Jackson or at least his army would have been taken at the Bull Run battle.*** . . .

The Lyme boys are all well except Thrasher is at Washington and has had a fever but is getting better and hopes to join us soon [Edwin Thrasher, a 21-year-old private, was discharged and sent home ill two months later]. Kibbee was at Frederick City when we came from there day before yesterday [Pvt. Howard C. Kibbee, 18, was also from Lyme].

There were all sorts of rumors in camp, and have been for more than a week about peace measures which I will not relate for I take but little stock in them myself. If they are true, we shall all know at the proper time. . . .”

*Along with the rest of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s army, the Fifth was resting on Bolivar Heights after fighting at Antietam 18 days earlier.

**Col. Dixon S. Miles mounted a poor defense of Harpers Ferry. Stonewall Jackson’s men took Maryland Heights, and rebel artillery pounded Harpers Ferry from there. Miles knew his force was helpless. On Sept. 15, 1862, two days before Antietam, he was hit in the leg by an artillery shell while surrendering Harpers Ferry and his troops. He died the next day. 

***This is a reference to the Second Bull Run battle, Aug. 29-30, 1862, in which Irvin McDowell was among the generals blamed for defeat. He was also the losing general at the first Bull Run battle on July 21, 1861.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Colonel Cross, in his own words

Colonel Edward E. Cross was one of New Hampshire's most compelling Civil War soldiers. While I was working on Our War, several fellow historians with an interest in Cross helped me find documents that Mark Travis and I did not see before we wrote My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth. Today I thought I'd share one of the more interesting of these letters with you.

It requires a little background. I used the letter in the Our War chapter about Cross's striking statement to a friend in July 1861. "I am ready for the wars," he wrote. But what did he mean?

Cross had been interested in "things milingtary" since his youth, but his principal military experience came between January 1859 and June 1861, which he spent in Arizona. At the time, Arizona was not yet a territory in its own right but part of the New Mexico Territory.

Don Miguel Antonio Otero
Cross went there as an officer and investor in a silver-mining company. On behalf of the company, he started The Weekly Arizonian, the first newspaper in Arizona, and later manged a mine. Inevitably he was drawn into the effort to secure the area -- namely to make it safe from attacks and thefts by Apaches and other American Indians.

By late 1859, his reputation was already such that Don Miguel Antonio Otero, New Mexico’s delegate to Congress, asked him to report on how and where to position U.S. troops to make New Mexico Territory more hospitable for settlers and miners. As I write in Our War, Cross's report to Otero was "a tour de force."

Edward R. Sweeney, author of a comprehensive biography of Cochise, found the report in the National Archives, and John Fahey, a mutual acquaintance, shared it with me.

Here is Cross's Dec. 29, 1859, letter to Otero:

A Civil War veteran speaks from experience

Recently I spoke about Our War at the library in Dunbarton, N.H. As usual, I did a little research beforehand. I learned that 130 able-bodied men lived in the town in 1861 and that Dunbarton was asked in various call-ups during the war to supply 54 soldiers. Sixty-five men volunteered for service, and the town provided 15 substitutes – men from elsewhere to whom the town paid bounties to fill its draft quotas later in the war.

A map on a battlefield marker  at Third Winchester shows the 14th New
Hampshire's charge. The regiment was part of Brig. Gen. Henry W. Birge's
brigade (blue arrow closest to left side of Confederate line). Maj. James
Breathed's rebel artillery, at left on map, pounded the attacking Yankees.    
Two brothers who were natives of Dunbarton fought with the 14th New Hampshire Volunteers at the third battle of Winchester, Va., on Sept. 19, 1864. On our drive to Florida in March, my wife Monique and I stopped at the battlefield and the Union and Confederate cemeteries there. The battlefield is still farmland, lovely and rolling, well-marked and well-preserved, a joy to walk.

With a little preparation you can see exactly what happened to the men of the 14th. They took heavy fire from Confederate artillery under Maj. James Breathed on their right flank as they marched out of the woods and into an open field. The wheat had recently been harvested, leaving the stalks cut to stubble. Confederate Col. William H. Payne said of Breathed: "(He) fought the Yankees because he hated them. When he entered a battle, it was to kill. . . . He would have thought it an insult to his dead comrades to dream in a nightmare that we were rightfully beaten and that they had died in a foolish cause." 

Brig. Gen. Henry Birge, in whose brigade the 14th New Hampshire advanced across what is known as the Middle Field at Winchester, described the charge:

"[We] crossed this field under an artillery and infantry fire from the enemy . . . and when within 200 yards charged with fixed bayonets at double quick. [We] broke his line on the entire front and drove him through and out of the woods. As the troops entered the woods, I was ordered by Gen. Grover to halt and hold that position and not to go farther into the woods, but the charge was so rapid and impetuous and the men so much excited by the sight of the enemy in full retreat before them that it was impossible to execute the order, and the whole line pressed forward to the extreme edge of the timber." 

The Union troops were now exposed, and the rebel counterattack was fierce. Brig. Gen. William Emory, the Union corps commander known as "Old Bricktop," summed up what was happening to his men this way: "My God! This is a slaughterhouse."

Fifty-four men of the 14th New Hampshire were killed and scores more wounded.

Dunbarton, N.H., celebrated its centennial on Sept. 13, 1865, almost exactly a year after this battle. The war was over but fresh in mind. David Macurdy, one of the two brothers originally from Dunbarton who fought in the 14th New Hampshire, spoke that day. Macurdy, who was 33 years old, had been wounded at Winchester leading his company. His younger brother Mathew, a sergeant in the company, had been killed.

Initially a first sergeant in the 14th New
 Hampshire, David A. Macurdy was a
captain by Third Winchester. (Photo
courtesy of David Morin.)
Capt. Macurdy’s speech for the town’s hundredth birthday conveyed his thinking about the war during its immediate aftermath. The Wirz he mentioned was Henry Wirz, commandant at the notorious Camp Sumter prison in Andersonville, Ga., which I write about in Our War. Wirz was hanged two months after Macurdy’s speech, although based on my reading, he had tried his best to improve the conditions he inherited when he took over the camp. I see him as a scapegoat for higher-ups who thwarted his quest for better food and sanitation.

Here is what Capt. Macurdy said to the veterans in the Dunbarton crowd in 1865, five months after Appomattox:

“My fellow soldiers, we who have survived the terrible conflict of the past four years, and are permitted to return to the embraces of the loved ones at home and the peaceful pursuits of civil life, let us make as good and faithful citizens as we have been soldiers. Then we shall have the proud satisfaction of having done our duty faithfully to our country in its time of need, and to our fellow men.

“And to the misguided people of the South, to the rank and file of the rebel armies, we offer pardon. At the same time we demand that justice be meted out to the leaders, to those who have murdered our brothers by the thousand in the southern prison pens. It is difficult to conceive of a punishment for those men too severe. The trial of Wirz, now going on at Washington, is daily developing facts in connection with the Andersonville prison too revolting to be mentioned here. Thousands have there suffered and died from starvation, martyrs to Truth, Liberty and Law. Their memories shall be ever cherished by a grateful people. Their graves, although far from the homes they loved, where no wife, mother or sister can scatter flowers or wet with their tears, shall ever be kept sacred.

Soldiers who died in and around Winchester lie in the National Cemetery. 
“We trust that sweet peace will smile on our beloved land for all time to come, but if treason shall again raise its unholy head, if traitors shall again assail the old flag, our swords, our muskets, our lives are pledged on our country’s altar. And we swear by the graves of our dead brothers, scattered all over the South, we swear by the grave of our murdered President, that hereafter traitors shall receive a traitor’s reward, and the assassin the assassin’s doom.”

These words speak to the fire that still remained in the hearts of Union veterans just after the war. At the Winchester cemetery today, the dead of the 14th New Hampshire – probably including Mathew Macurdy, the captain’s brother – lie beneath an obelisk in a mass grave. Thus when David Macurdy  spoke of “our dead brothers, scattered all over the South,” he spoke from personal experience.

(Accounts of Monique's and my visit to Winchester are here. and here. Since that visit, It has been decided that the battlefield will be improved to look even more as it did on Sept. 19, 1864. That story is here.)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Standing proudly before a fate unknown

Men of Company A, 16th New Hampshire Volunteers, on the Lyme Common in 1862. 
On the second floor of the smartly restored Academy Building in Lyme, N.H., hangs a blown-up photograph of about 45 men from Company A of the 16th New Hampshire Volunteers. The men stand erect on the town common before the white buildings and nearly barren hills of Lyme.

The picture captures what must have been a proud moment for the men and their families. Nothing about it hints at their grim future.

The picture was probably taken in late October or early November of 1862. The soldiers are unidentified, but Company A was recruited in and around Lyme. Most likely the men are from Lyme, Orford, Dorchester, Hanover, Lebanon and other local towns. Two officers stand in front of the enlisted men. Possibly they are 38-year-old Lt. Bela Sawyer of Lyme and 26-year-old Capt. Elias Smith of Plainfield.

The 16th New Hampshire was a nine-month regiment recruited to help fill the state’s quota in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 troops. (The normal Union enlistment term was three years.) After mustering in, the regiment trained briefly on Concord Heights and headed south on Nov. 23. In its nine months of service the regiment never fought in a battle. Instead it was sent to guard Fort Burton, a former rebel outpost in the Louisiana bayou country.

This proved to be as deadly an assignment as almost any in the Union army. I found many letters and accounts of the regiment’s time at Fort Burton and its return home in August 1863. Sick men died all along the way, and many more died after reaching home. The dying continued for months after they regiment mustered out on Aug. 20.

Using the data in regimental rosters, I calculated that of the more than 900 members of the regiment, 300 died of the fevers, diarrhea and dysentery they contracted in Louisiana. I used these calculations and the  documentary record to write one of the most tragic chapters of Our War.

Below, from Augustus Ayling’s Register, is a list of dead Company A men from Lyme and neighboring towns. The age listed after each name is from the time of enlistment, in late 1862. As you’ll see, some died in Louisiana, some on the way home (Vicksburg, Miss., Mound City, Ill., Buffalo, N.Y.), some after reaching Concord.

There are 30 dead men in all from just one of the 16th New Hampshire’s ten companies. Eleven of them are from Lyme. No doubt some of the men in the photograph on the Lyme Common are on this list, but there is no telling who or how many.

Pvt. Charles J. Allen, 22, Lyme, died June 7, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Charles M. Avery, 36, Orford, died June 17, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Charles Baker, 36, Orford, died June 17, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Lewis Biathrow Jr., 23, Grantham, died June 5, 1863, New Orleans.

Cpl. Ransom Brocklebank, 43, Plainfield, died June 14, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Benjamin W. Chapman, 41, Plainfield (musician), died Aug. 5, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. George F. Chase, 19, Lyme, discharged with disease July 10, 1863, died Jan. 4, 1864, Lyme.

Pvt. Norman D. Comings, 20, Cornish, died Aug. 14, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Freeman J. Converse, 22, Lyme, died Dec. 23, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Joseph B. Cutler, 39, Plainfield, died June 21, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Seneca Ellis, 45, Cornish, died Aug. 26, 1863, Cornish.

Pvt. Phineas P. Gilbert, 33, Lyme, died Aug. 29, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Asa F. Gordon, 21, Lyme, died May 25, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pvt. Edwin R. Houston, 31, Dorchester, died May 5, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pvt. John L. Howard, 21, Lyme, died Aug. 24, 1863, Orford.

Pvt. Ira A. Johnson, 39, Plainfield, died August 4, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. Joseph Moore, 24, Lyme, died Aug. 21, 1863, Concord.

Pvt. Frank Norton, 28, Lebanon, died Aug. 18, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Alphonso Palmer, 18, Orford, died Aug. 9, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. Frank B. Porter, 19, Lyme, died Sept. 13, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Austin Ramsey, 27, Lyme, died Aug. 18, 1863, Concord.

Pvt. Enoch P. Smith, 33, Orford, died July 26, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Silas Spaulding, 38, Cornish, died Sept. 20, 1863, Cornish.

Pvt. Alonzo Stark, 27, Bath (musician), died June 16, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Irenus Stark, 21, Lyme, died June 3, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pt. Luther S. Stone, 18, Plainfield, died July 7, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. John M. Vinton, 23, Plainfield, died June 16, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. John H. White, 23, Lebanon, died Aug. 12, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Edward C. Whittaker, 26, Lebanon, died July 25, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. William W. Williams, 18, Lyme, died Aug. 26, 1863, Buffalo, N.Y.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A place out of time

Although it can lead to long drives and long days, one of the pleasures of my speaking tour to promote Our War is the chance to see new places and meet new people. That was certainly the case Sunday afternoon at the annual meeting of the Lyme Historians, whom I had never heard of until their president invited me.

Lucy Marie and her grandfather
Half the fun was getting there. After I had accepted the invitation, my son and his wife scheduled the baptism of Monique’s and my astonishing granddaughter, Lucy Marie, for that morning. They live in South Portland, Maine, nearly two hours from our home in Concord. Lyme is on the western edge of New Hampshire, at least three hours from Portland.

The baptism was in the Cathedral of St. Luke. Lucy Marie warmed up her voice properly early in the service and provided the sound-effects -- solo, no less -- during the holy rite. She hit her crescendo right on cue, as the priest doused her head. The other two babies, oblivious to what was expected of them, remained silent throughout.

Monique and I had to leave for Lyme right after the service. We were perplexed when the GPS did not take us to I-95, the Maine Turnpike. We are new to the GPS, but after it guided us out of a barren wilderness in west Georgia last winter, in GPS we trust. Sort of. As we followed the monotone prompts, we fended off suspicions that we were headed for Canada. 

The GPS guided us across central Maine and upper-central New Hampshire almost entirely on country roads. In three hours we drove less than a mile on an interstate. It was beautiful, one part nostalgia, one part new, all clothed in the spring green that still prevails just south of the White Mountains.

We entered New Hampshire at Freedom where, when our children were small long ago, we climbed Prospect Mountain. This is no 4,000-footer, but like many of our hikes, it was notable for its high view-to-strain ratio. Farther on, we saw the incisor-like peak of Mount Chocorua, a much harder climb that we made twice with our boys.

As we approached Chocurua on one of those hikes, our middle son Yuri kept falling behind as he stopped to examine the creatures in the small pools on boulders in a marsh. This was a boy who loved showing us the bones in owl scat. This curiosity proved to be a harbinger. He majored in biochemistry in college and is now a cardiologist.

Warren's Redstone rocket
When we passed Squam Lake, we remembered the day a ranger on the fire tower on nearby Red Hill pointed out to us where the Henry Fonda character in On Golden Pond crashed his boat. After driving by signs for Castle in the Clouds, the Loon Center and the Polar Caves, we turned back west. We were just a couple of miles short of Warren, where we had taken the boys one Sunday to see a real Redstone rocket. It stands in a park, as though waiting for some modern-day Alan Shepard to hop aboard. (You can read about its 1971 overland journey from Alabama to Warren here.) 

Then we reached roads we had never driven before, leaving Wentworth and passing Mount Cube Farm in Orford. This was the home of the late, sometimes loony (he wanted to arm the New Hampshire National Guard with nuclear weapons, example) Gov. Meldrim Thomson. The Thomson name is still on nearly everything in the town.

From Orfordville we drove south into Lyme. In a subsequent post (or maybe two) I’ll tell you about the fruits of my two hours with the Lyme Historians, the group that has banded together to learn, preserve and protect the town’s history.

Meanwhile, the trip there was eventful enough to be worth its own post. In so many ways, outwardly at least, this rural, very-north-of-Boston region defies the passage of time. Constancy, tradition and respect for the past are New Hampshire assets. I'm not saying I expected to see the Boys in Blue mustering on the town commons we passed, but they would not have looked out of place.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gallery: What the rebels won at Gettysburg

Detail of Louisiana's monument, dedicated in 1971 on the Gettysburg battlefield.
The Confederates didn’t win much at Gettysburg, but they did win the battle of the monuments. It took a while, and they won it only in aesthetics, not in numbers.

There are 1,328 monuments and memorials on the battlefield. Despite the seeming exactitude of this number, it is almost always preceded by “approximately,” leaving room for the possibility that even today stone sentinels are hiding somewhere on the vast battlefield. Nearly all the Union monuments were put up during the late 19th century to honor specific regiments, brigades, corps and states. This is no surprise. Gettysburg is in a Union state, and the Union army won a decisive victory there.

From the Virginia monument (1917)
The first Confederate monument, Virginia’s, went up in 1917, more than half a century after the battle. Several other states erected monuments during and just after the centennial of the war.

In part, the addition of these monuments, even in the 1960s, was a sop to Jim Crow America. They represented the triumph of reunion over abolition as the object of the postwar peace, a preference that began with the Civil War veterans themselves. No matter which side they fought on, the white veterans had much more in common with each other than they did with the African-Americans freed by the war. When Reconstruction failed, most northerners accepted the racist regime that supplanted the so-called peculiar institution.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1965)
Because the Confederate monuments came later, they appeal much more to modern sensibilities than their Union counterparts. Some Union monuments have an antiquated Victorian charm or a neat specificity about the things soldiers carried, but most are stiff and stodgy. By contrast, the faces and postures depicted on southern monuments are romantic and heroic, befitting the myth of the Lost Cause. These are solid men, selfless and fearless men, shapely men, supermen -- little clusters of Clark Kents rendered in stone and bronze. Some statues even look biblical, conjuring visions of the archangel Gabriel trumpeting the saints into line of battle or Moses leading his beleaguered people to the Promised Land.

Over the years, my friend Dave Sullivan, a watercolor artist and photographer who helped me assemble the more than 100 photographs that appear in Our War, has shot many pictures of the Confederate statues at Gettysburg. I’m posting several of them in this gallery.

To my eye their well-chiseled beauty exceeds that of their far more plentiful brethren in the fields and ridges just across the Emmitsburg Road, a short but deadly charge away.

Detail from the Mississippi monument (1973)

Virginia (1917)
North Carolina (1929)

Detail from the North Carolina monument, dedicated in 1929.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why couldn't Franklin Pierce just keep his mouth shut?

When I was researching Our War, Peter Wallner ran the library at the New Hampshire Historical Society. Peter is the author of Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son and Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union, a two-volume biography of the 14th president. His knowledge of the period and the Historical Society’s collections were invaluable during my work.

For a post on this blog, I asked him this question:

Unlike James Buchanan, the other Doughface president of the 1850s, Franklin Pierce spoke out during the Civil War, at first anonymously through the Democratic press and later publicly. This seems to run counter to the established behavior for former presidents. Why did Pierce feel compelled to participate in politics, and what effect do you think his speaking out had on his reputation?

Here is Peter’s response:

In his autobiography, published in 1885, Ulysses S. Grant, acknowledged his friendship with Franklin Pierce during the Mexican War. “I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals,” Grant wrote. He felt the need to correct history as it characterized Pierce, describing him as “a gentleman and a man of courage.”

Peter Wallner is the author of a two-
volume biography of Franklin Pierce,
New Hampshire's only U.S. president.
Dying of cancer at the time he was writing, Grant had nothing to lose in praising Pierce. The 14th president may have felt the same way during the Civil War when he was outspoken in opposing the war, particularly the policies of President Lincoln. Pierce had no political aspirations at the time but felt a need to defend his party and the policies of Jacksonian Democracy, which he had always espoused.

Throughout his political career Pierce had warned of the centralizing tendencies of the opposition party. Whether that party was Federalist, Whig or Republican, he believed its entire motive was to increase the power of the government in Washington to control the common people for the benefit of the privileged classes.

To Pierce, only three things would come of a stronger central government, and all were bad for the average citizen: he would be taxed and drafted to fight in wars, and his freedoms would be restricted. The Civil War was the fruition of all of Pierce’s fears, as the Lincoln administration used the national crisis as the excuse to tax, to draft and to restrict constitutional rights.

Pierce was particularly angered by the violations of the Constitution resulting from Lincoln’s policies. He first objected to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by executive order when the Constitution specifically stated that only Congress may suspend the writ. This was followed by the shutting down of newspapers that had criticized the President, the jailing by the military of at least 38,000 northern civilians, military trials of civilians and the persecution of political figures like Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham.*

Knowing Pierce’s views on the war, the Lincoln administration kept a close surveillance of his activities. Secretary of State William Seward suspected Pierce of treasonable activity on a trip to Michigan. These accusations increased Pierce’s anger, and he insisted on a Senate investigation, which cleared his name.

As more and more former friends and colleagues, many of whom were serving in the Union army, complained to the former president of their treatment by abolitionist Republicans, Pierce spoke out publicly. 
He chose a Democratic Party rally in Concord, N.H., on July 4, 1863, attended by as many as 25,000. 
Warned by friends that he could be jailed for expressing his antiwar views, Pierce lashed out at Lincoln: “True it is, that any of you, that I, may be the next victim of unconstitutional, arbitrary, irresponsible power. But we, nevertheless, are free men, and we resolve to live, or if it must be, to die, such.”

Pierce’s speech was roundly criticized in the national press as defeatist or even treasonous, and, as usual, his timing was poor. News of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg reached Concord in the midst of the rally. The Irish anti-draft riots in New York later in July were also blamed in part on Pierce’s antiwar speech. Pierce retreated to the sidelines, making no further public pronouncements during the War.

Peter Wallner,
Pierce biographer
Grant was right: Pierce was courageous, perhaps even foolhardy, in speaking out so publicly at a time of national emergency. But he raised an important issue that has never been clarified: What powers does a president have in wartime?

In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that the Constitution is “a law for rulers and people, equally in time of war and peace.” The 9-0 decision by a court made up largely of Lincoln appointees overturned the conviction by a military court of an Indiana man during the Civil War. Legal scholars have noted that the ruling has been frequently ignored by later presidents during national emergencies.

Pierce sacrificed what was left of his reputation by opposing the president’s policies during the greatest national crisis in U.S. history.  He never retreated from his opposition to the war and to the policies of the Lincoln administration, but his conduct during the war added the charge of treason to his reputation as a failed president.

*For more on the suppression of constitutional liberties during the Civil War see: Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Frank L. Klement, Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984); Jeffrey Manber and Neil Dahlstrom, Lincoln’s Wrath: Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels, and a President’s Mission to Destroy the Press (Naperville, Ill., Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005); Joel H. Silbey, A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War, 1860-1868 (New York: Norton, 1977).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lost and found: Jeremiah Durgin's sword

Here, in part, is the breathless entry I made in my journal in Westbrook, Conn., on June 2, 2011, the morning after my wife Monique and I drove down to meet Marcy Fuller in that town:

Capt. Durgin
“Marcy Fuller is a descendant of the Durgin family of Fisherville (now Penacook, N.H.). We made contact on the internet. She wrote me that she had the Civil War letters of Jeremiah S. Durgin, his three sons and assorted family members. And does she ever! Her collection is one of the best I have seen – four notebooks of letters and several amazing photographs – not just CDV [carte-de-visite] portraits but shots from the field. One Durgin relative, named Herman Currier, was a photographer in Penacook. In addition to pictures by him there are several stereoscopic images by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, including two Gardner images of bodies at Antietam. Probably Currier collected these.

“Jeremiah Durgin served in the 7th New Hampshire, his two older sons in the 2nd and his youngest son in the 18th. I have only begun to read the letters. The very first one I read was from Clara Farnum of Concord to her cousin Abner F. Durgin in the field with the 2nd New Hampshire at Washington before First Bull Run. Clara knew Charles W. Walker, the lieutenant killed when he fell of the troop train in New Jersey. One of my early ‘days’ [chapters] is about him, but Clara will supply the personal detail and the human feeling that were missing from my account of his out-sized funeral.
The Durgin children, ca 1855: Abner, Hiram, Sarah, Scott.

“These letters are a great find, one my best ever. . . . They are mine for as long as I need them.”

In fact, Monique could not believe that Marcy Fuller had allowed me, a stranger, to drive off with such a family treasure. I kept the letters for more than a year. They informed several chapters in Our War, but the main one was the story of the Durgins themselves. This was a tragic tale of a family shattered by the war.

The engraving on the sword's guard reads: "Presented to Capt. Jeremiah
D. Durgin Co. E. 7th Reft. N.H. Vols for his service as provost marshal
at Saint Augustine, Fla,, 1862."  The sword is pictured above.
Marcy Fuller and I have stayed in touch since the book came out. I saw her early last month when she drove up to Concord for Mark Travis’s and my joint book presentation at the City Auditorium.

The other day, during an internet search, she made a remarkable find herself: Jeremiah S. Durgin’s ceremonial sword, given to him when he was provost marshal of St. Augustine, Fla., early in the war. It was a job he came to loathe, as his letters home to his wife Caroline show. That may be why he didn't bring the sword home with him from the war. But it’s a beautiful sword, and you can see all the photos of it and read more about it here.

Thanks, Marcy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Caught sleeping on Pinckney Island

Although I haven’t read all the Official Records of the Civil War, I have read many, and I have yet to see a regimental commander hang a subordinate officer out to dry the way Col. John H. Jackson did in the summer of 1862. A dead subordinate officer at that.

Slaves and soldiers on a S.C. cotton plantation (Henry P. Moore photo)
Pinckney Island (see map here) is just north of Hilton Head, where the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry was headquartered. Along with the 4th and 7th New Hampshire, this regiment served in the  Union Army’s Department of the South along the South Carolina coast southwest of Charleston. Henry P. Moore, a Concord photographer, camped with the regiment in the spring of 1862 and chronicled its life there.

I happened upon Col. Jackson’s report while researching for a talk the other night at the Bedford Public Library. I was looking for information about the fate of soldiers from Bedford, particularly those from the 3rd who were at Pinckney Island, S.C., during the wee hours of Aug. 21, 1862.

After Union troops occupied Hilton Head and Port Royal to the north in late 1861, many former slaves were left behind when their owners fled. Some were put to work on the cotton plantations on Pinckney Island. Company H of the 3rd New Hampshire, under Joseph C. Wiggin, a 32-year-old lieutenant from Sandwich, N.H., was sent to the island’s eastern end to guard against Confederate attacks.

Sure enough, before daylight on Aug. 21, six boatloads of rebel soldiers landed. Apparently unimpeded, the raiders marched on Company H’s camp. Lt. Wiggin heard the gunfire and went out to see what was happening. The next volley was aimed at him. He was later found dead near his tent with eight or nine bullet holes in his body.

Four privates were also killed and several men wounded in the attack. Thirty-six were taken prisoner. Some of the casualties were probably shot by comrades firing in the dark. Among the dead was George Adams, a 20-year-old private from Bedford. Thomas Adams, possibly George’s brother, was captured, along with William Butterfield and John Lockling, two Bedford teenagers. William Nichols, another Bedford private, was severely wounded and had to leave the regiment.

Josiah Plimpton (center) of the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers. Plimpton investigated the ambush of
Company H on Pinckney Island. His colonel's scathing report was based on his findings. (Henry P. Moore photo).  
The 3rd New Hampshire’s colonel, Enoch Q. Fellows, had resigned early that summer and had just taken command of the Ninth New Hampshire, which he was about to lead to South Mountain and Antietam. It fell to the 3rd's John H. Jackson, who was promoted to colonel to replace Fellows, to determine and report how the rebel ambush had caught Company H sleeping. He sent his major, Josiah I. Plimpton of Milford, to Pinckney Island to investigate.

Based on Plimpton's probe, Jackson contributed the bottom line to the following string of official correspondence about the incident. I wonder how Jackson's report might have read if Lt. Wiggin had lived to tell his side of the story.
Maj. Gen. David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, to Rear Adm. Samuel F. Dn Pont:

Hilton Head, Port Royal, S. C., August 21, 1862.

ADMIRAL: The enclosed report has just been received. Can you spare a gunboat to go round the island and if possible cut off the retreat of the enemy?

Enclosure: From Col. John H. Jackson to Hunter from Grahams Plantation at Hilton Head:

Headquarters, 3rd New Hampshire, August 21, 1862; 7:30 a. m.

Col. John H. Jackson
SIR: I have just received reports from Pinckney Island that the company posted on the eastern end of the
island were surprised this morning by apparently three companies of the rebels. The lieutenant in command was taken prisoner and about 40 men. One sergeant and 5 privates escaped, and are reported on their way to these headquarters. They report the rebels at 6 o’clock this morning on the island in some force and wearing a blue uniform similar to our own. I have notified all my officers to have all their commands in readiness to move on to Pinckney Island. As you have been notified from Seabrook, I wait further orders, thinking you may think proper to send a gunboat to cut off the retreat of the rebels.

From Jackson to Henry W. Carruthers, post adjutant:

Grahams Plantation, Hilton Head, S. C., Aug. 21, 1862 10:45

SIR: Yours in reply to my communication of this morning is received. After sending my report I learned from some of those who escaped from the island that Lieutenant Wiggin was left on the island either killed or wounded badly, and that a number of our men were left there either killed or wounded. Major Plimpton, with a detachment from each of the four companies on the river, immediately landed on Pinckney Island to investigate the whole affair as far as possible and to recover those of our men who were killed or wounded.

Lieutenant Wiggin and 1 private, killed in resisting the attack, have been sent to Seabrook’s Wharf with some wounded men, who need the attendance of a surgeon. I gave Captain Emmons orders to send to Hilton Head for a surgeon, which I suppose he has done ere this. I have a report at this moment from the captain commanding the picket on the western end of the island, who has visited his posts, and they report all quiet during the night; heard no guns, cries, or anything of the kind, and also report that the enemy’s pickets present no unusual appearance. They have fired however on our pickets a number of times this morning. I shall be able to send 40 men tonight to occupy Company H’s former position.

On Pinckney Island there are a large number of contrabands and several well-cultivated plantations. The contrabands need protection and the plantations are valuable for their produce. I have been all over the island lately, and came to the conclusion that it needs five or six companies on the island to prevent these raids on our pickets. Please inform me if I shall continue to post pickets on that end of the island.

From Jackson to Hunter:

Hilton Head, S.C., September 1, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to present the following report respecting an attack on the picket of this regiment stationed on Pinckney Island. The attack took place just before daylight on the morning of Thursday, August 21.

The enemy landed on the island from six boats, five of them landing above the pickets, and approached the camp from the side where no guard was stationed and fired a volley before they were discovered. The other boat came around the point to where one of our pickets was stationed very near the camp. The sentinel challenged twice and the lieutenant stepped from his tent and approached him. He had gone but a short distance when a volley was fired from the enemy, they being then in the camp. Lieutenant Wiggin was found dead a short distance from his tent, with eight or nine wounds on his body. The rebels remained but a short time on the island, and took but little of the company property and did not destroy the tents. The enemy have presented no unusual appearance since the attack.

Our loss was: Killed, 1 lieutenant, 3 privates; total, 4. Wounded, 2 privates; total 2. Missing, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 29 privates; total, 36. One of the wounded men has since died, and the other was severely wounded and may not recover. A number of the rebels were either killed or wounded, according to the report of one of the corporals who was taken prisoner, but the squad having him in charge was fired upon, probably by their own men in the darkness, and the fire was returned. In the confusion the corporal escaped, the guard at his side being shot dead.

On the 6th of August 3 men of Company H deserted from Pinckney Island, and a new disposition of the pickets was immediately made and the utmost vigilance urged upon the lieutenant (Wiggin) commanding that post. At different times two detachments of fresh men were sent to Pinckney Island to prevent the old pickets from relaxing their vigilance from great fatigue. At the time when the last detachment was sent I accompanied it, and examined all the picket posts, and pointed out particularly the necessity of great vigilance at the very point where the enemy landed on the 21st ultimo, and called the particular attention of the lieutenant to the importance of the post.

Since the surprise of the company (H) I have learned that the lieutenant (most unaccountably to me) removed entirely the guard at that post and the patrol from that point along the road to their camp. Lieutenant Wiggin proved himself a brave man at the battle on James Island, June 16, and nothing previous to this unfortunate affair has ever happened to shake my confidence in his ability as an officer. It was a great lack of vigilance and judgment on his part, and his too strong sense of security cost him the loss of his life and the regiment the loss of nearly an entire company. Every precaution was taken on my part to prevent any surprise of that post.

With great respect, your obedient servant,

Colonel, Commanding Third New Hampshire Volunteers.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Making the Civil War relevant

Tom Jameson, who lent me Capt. Frank Butler’s wartime correspondence to use for Our War, recently emailed me a photo of Butler’s spurs. Butler was a young 5th New Hampshire officer from Bennington, N.H., who rode with Col. Edward E. Cross to Gettysburg and later served on the staff of Maj. Gen. William F. Smith. His correspondence allowed me to tell his story in the book and the story behind the story in an earlier post on this blog.

Capt. Frank Butler's spurs, with a 5th New Hampshire regimental badge.
The clover-shaped badge identifies the regiment as being in the Second
Corps. Red signifies the First Division. 
Before Tom Jameson delivered bound transcripts of the Butler letters to archives in Bennington and Concord, he hired a young historian to put them in order. Her name is Katie Knowles, and she is working on her doctoral dissertation at Rice University in Houston, Tom’s hometown. Knowles also teaches American history, including the Civil War.

Tom gave her a copy of Our War some time ago, and the other day she agreed to answer a question for this blog. Here is what I asked her:

How, as a teacher, do you make the Civil War relevant to female and minority students?

Here is her answer:

Part of the challenge is bringing aspects of warfare that occur off the battlefield into the classroom. We are all squished for time and it is difficult to go beyond the highlights of major battles when trying to tell the entire story of the war in one or two lectures during a U.S. history class.

Most of our students cannot relate to the life of a soldier because they are not soldiers themselves. Those who are or were know battle in incredibly different ways from the Civil War soldier. Bringing in the total experience of war, any war, can help bridge the time gap for students and provide a fuller picture of the consequences.

In my Civil War lectures I cover some major battles, but I also talk about the moving of soldiers, by rail and by foot, and how this would be the more typical daily life of soldiering – walking and walking and sleeping and walking. I talk about the weaponry and how it caused so many awful wounds resulting in amputation, and the problems of death from disease or wound infection. I use the story of Capt. Frank Butler, who is in your book, as an example of an individual soldiering experience.

As someone who studies women’s history, I am very aware of gender and the role it plays in the life experiences of men and women. For soldiers of the Civil War, I talk about the need many men felt to serve their country – Union or Confederate – to fulfill their role as men. Similarly, many black soldiers, formerly enslaved, were able to assert their manhood in donning the garb of a soldier.

Katie Knowles and her dog Lulu, named after Louisa May Alcott.
My interest in the Civil War era began when I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as a girl. Wanting to know more about the war that served as a backdrop to her novel, I began reading other books and was drawn into the complexities of the period. I think it is imperative to understand war through women’s eyes – as nurses, cross-dressing soldiers, fundraisers and family and friend of the soldier.

Northern women largely experienced the war by waiting and working as the men they knew went off to risk life and limb. Southern women experienced this part of war at home, but often the war literally came to their doorstep, with troops occupying homes and farms transformed into battlefields.

Drew Gilpin Faust’s book This Republic of Suffering does a great job of connecting the soldier’s experience to that of the family waiting at home. I think your book also does this well, being a story of individual soldier experiences, but also very much about the families they left behind.

Black women are probably the most absent group in the story of the Civil War, largely because information about them is hard to find. This is where I often refer my students to historical fiction. Through imagination, historical accuracy and the knowledge that our past is filled with people just like us, novels like The Secrets of Mary Bowser and Paradise Alley bring us stories of the war that can’t be recovered from the archives.

When thinking about slavery during the Civil War, we often focus on the legal changes such as the Emancipation Proclamation or the military policy of accepting runaways as contraband. These are an important part of the story, but they don’t acknowledge the extreme deprivations the majority of enslaved people in the South experienced.

Their homes were war zones for four years. When planters talk of burning their cotton, it is the slaves who must go out to the field or to the lint house to set it on fire, destroying the crop their own hands first planted. There are numerous instances of both Union and Confederate troops committing atrocious acts upon enslaved and free people, black and white, all across the South – raping, pillaging, destroying property.

Many enslaved people were forced to leave their homes when owners abandoned land to try to escape Union troops, taking their slave property with them. I read to my students a quotation from the WPA interviews of a man who, as a young boy during the war, was forced by his owner to march hundreds of miles in winter without proper clothing or shoes. His mother became ill and unable to continue, so the owner shot her dead and left her on the road. The son's memory of the Civil War, the war that killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, is yet another tragic story of the loss and hardship that war caused.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A riddle wrapped up in an enigma

This monument in Canterbury honors many soldiers from Concord as well as Canterbury. One like it used to stand in a
square in Penacook,a village in the Concord city limits. When was it redone and moved and why? (Dick Stevens photo).
In an earlier entry on one of the local heroes in Our War, I lamented that I didn’t know of any monument that included the name of George W. Ladd on its honor roll. This was true when I wrote it, but it is false now. The story behind the flip-flop may interest you. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it involves a riddle wrapped up in an enigma.

Ladd's cousin was Luther C. Ladd, a native of Alexandria, N.H., and, as a member of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteers, one of the first four men killed in the Civil War. Some accounts say he was the first. He was shot down in the streets of Baltimore on April 19, 1861, at the age of 17.

George Ladd, who lived with his mother and stepfather in West Concord, N.H., joined the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers a short time later. In Our War and in an earlier blog post, I tell the story of George’s romance by mail with Carrie Deppen, a Pennsylvania girl. George wrote of his cousin’s death in his first letter to Carrie: “When I heard news of his death, I told my folks I would go and try and revenge his death.” His brother joined a New York artillery company.
Concord's Civil War arch was dedicated in 1892. 
George was wounded at the second battle of Bull Run and died on Sept. 25, 1862, after an amputation in a Georgetown hospital. He is not named on his hometown Civil War memorial because the Concord monument – the arch on Main Street in front of the New Hampshire State House – lists no names.

Not long ago, at a talk before the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, I met Dick Eastman Stevens, the local chapter’s secretary and chaplain. He told me about a Civil War memorial in the cemetery in Canterbury Center, a town adjacent to Concord. On one bronze panel, he said, were listed soldiers from three wards of Concord – East and West Concord and Fisherville. He speculated that Canterbury might have honored these “neighbors” – the word is on the monument – because of the proximity of Canterbury to the capital’s three northern wards.

George Ladd of Our War is honored here.
Within a day or two, Dick sent me a photograph of the monument. In a way the picture deepened the mystery, but in another it made me smile: Right on the bronze panel labeled “1861 Wards 1, 2 & 3 1865: Comrades in War – Comrades in Peace” was the name “Geo. Ladd.” Like all the men who went to war, Ladd wanted to be remembered for it. And there it was.

Across the top of the granite stone to which the bronze tablets were affixed was this legend: “Erected 1926 by a grateful private of Co. I First Ohio Reg.’t. Art’y, 14th Corps, Army of the Cumberland.”

An Ohio artilleryman buying an elaborate monument for the soldiers of Canterbury and three Concord neighborhoods? What was going on here?

I turned to Augustus Ayling’s Register, which lists basic  facts about the service of thousands of New Hampshire soldiers. Under the section on men who joined out-of-state units, I found one George P. Morrill of Canterbury, the benefactor referred to on the monument's legend. He had entered Co. I. of the Ohio Light Artillery as a 20-year-old private on Aug. 19, 1864, and come home at war’s end.

Morrill was from an old Canterbury family. Born April 21, 1844, on his father’s farm, he was the seventh son of Capt. Davis Morrill and Sally Peverly Morrill. After the war he served as both town moderator and state representative.

Dick Stevens proved to be even more curious about the monument than I was. He identified Morrill through records in the Canterbury town library. In the 1927-28 town report he found a set of photographs showing three war memorials surrounding the soldier statue in Boudreau Square in Penacook (formerly Fisherville). The memorials honored soldiers from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the World War. They are no longer in the square, although the soldier statue is.

The missing monument for the Civil War faced east toward the W.I. Brown post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the chief organization of Civil War veterans. The lettering at its top reads “Gift of Geo. P. Morrill ‘Dilgers Battery,’ one of the twelve, 1st Ohio Reg L.A. 1926-27.” The inscription is not the same as it now reads in Canterbury, according to a note on the photo..

On the basis of this note, it seems likely the Penacook monument was altered and moved to Canterbury. Neither Dick nor I have a clue about what happened to the Spanish-American and First World War monuments that used to adorn Boudreau Square.

Despite a lack of clarity on wheres and wherefores of these monuments, I'm glad George Ladd's name made it onto one of them.