Sunday, March 30, 2014

A nasty scrap with Col. Cross's brother

Squabbles over promotion were common during the Civil War, but few were as curious and contentious as the change of command of the 5th New Hampshire in early 1865. The contenders had both distinguished themselves in unusual ways.

One was Welcome Crafts. As we know from the three posts here, here and here, he had been humiliated for trying to lend money to subordinates at high interest, had fallen asleep and been captured on the battlefield and had barely escaped a court-martial for beating up a prisoner.

The other was Richard Cross, younger brother of Edward E. Cross, original colonel of the 5th. A daring battlefield record and strict leadership made Edward Cross a war hero in New Hampshire. Richard Cross was a drunkard and ne'er-do-well who had been court-martialed and cashiered.

The succession of commanders of the 5th ran:

Charles Hapgood
Edward E. Cross, colonel from August 1861 until his death at Gettysburg in early July 1863.

Charles Hapgood, colonel from July 8 until he was wounded at Petersburg on June 16, 1864.

James E. Larkin, major and later lieutenant colonel, from July 16, 1864, until he left the service on Oct. 12, 1864.

Welcome A. Crafts, major and later lieutenant colonel, from Oct. 12, 1864, until Feb. 21, 1865, when Lt. Col. Richard E. Cross was reinstated and given the job.

Richard E. Cross, until his appointment was revoked April 29, 1865, shortly after the war ended.

The final passing of the torch caused trouble, with Crafts leading the protest.

Mark Travis, my co-author for My Brave Boys, our history of the 5th under Edward E. Cross, used court-martial and pension records to tell the story of Richard E. Cross’s demise in 1864. From our epilogue in that book, here are the relevant portions of this account:

Richard E. Cross
“The intemperate Richard Cross had risen in the Fifth due to his brother’s influence; after the colonel’s death he fell not just from grace but from the army. At Point Lookout [a POW camp to which the regiment was assigned] in the spring of 1864 Colonel Hapgood and Major Larkin brought court-martial charges against Cross, then the Fifth’s lieutenant colonel. . . . Hapgood and Larkin, among other officers, accused Cross of wandering from camp at will, falling asleep drunk in a civilian’s bed while wearing muddy boots, and demonstrating leniency toward a Southerner convicted of striking a black soldier. . . .

“In a demonstration of the bullishness that ran in the family, Cross tried to leave Point Lookout with the charges still pending. The base commander had him removed from a steamer; defiantly, Cross boarded another one. This led to more serious charges, to which Cross and Hapgood alike reacted with horror. Cross attempted to resign from the army; Hapgood, citing the regiment’s reputation and the colonel’s memory, asked that the resignation be accepted. It was too late. Cross was tried in June of 1864, convicted, and cashiered.”

Sen. Daniel Clark
The story did not end there. Apparently, at Richard Cross’s request, Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore and U.S. Sen. Daniel Clark, both Republicans, figured out a way to have Cross reinstated. His service record reads, “cashiered Aug. 4, ’64,” followed by the notation declaring Cross’s “disab. resulting from dismissal removed Jan. 16, ’65.”

When Crafts learned of this, he went bonkers. He and Cross were near-contemporaries, and both came from Coos Country, New Hampshire’s northernmost. That region’s representative on the Executive Council, an advisory panel to the governor with a say in appointments and contracts, was 67-year-old David Culver of Lyme, N.H. Earlier in life, Culver had risen to the rank of general in a local militia. Crafts wrote Culver a scathing letter protesting the injustice of Cross’s exoneration and elevation to command of the 5th. He also sent Gov. Gilmore a copy of Hapgood’s original charges against Cross, pointing out that these had been sufficient to prompt Cross to try to resign.

“General [Gilman] Marston [also a New Hampshire congressman] or Colonel Hapgood, both of whom are known to you and are fully reliable, can tell you Cross is incompetent, intemperate and wholly unworthy,” Crafts wrote Culver. “That he was a ranting McClellanite and Copperhead until a short time before the election is a patent fact.”

Every officer in the regiment, as well as the brigade and division commanders, wrote the state’s adjutant general recommending that Crafts, not Cross, be appointed to lead the 5th. In the face of this overwhelming support, the governor “yields to the pressure from home Generals” and to Clark’s “immense influence,” Crafts wrote.

Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore
“We can regard it in no other light than a gross act of injustice which I am sure our Noble Hearted Governor would not be guilty of could he but look at the matter rightly. I cannot think that our Governor and Council will disregard the wishes and feelings of the boys who are fighting for them in the field and have from the beginning offered their lives for the ease and security they enjoy, or insult and disgrace them to please the miserable grumbling politicians who know nothing of the service and care much less.

“I am unwilling to believe that after I have saved the Regiment from demoralization and disgrace . . . my rights are to be invaded and my honor stolen by a recent convert from open disloyalty whose intemperance, incompetency and unworthiness will be as it has already been a disgrace upon the State and Regiment to which he belongs.”

Crafts disparaged “the argument set up by the friends of Cross” that when “wrongfully dismissed men” were reinstated, they should have the positions they might otherwise have risen to. “There was no rehearing – simply an arbitrary order and a great influence of Senator Clark would have been sufficient to have reinstated any other rascal as quick.”

The only remedy, Crafts wrote, was for the council to press the governor to revoke Cross’s commission as colonel, which was dated Feb. 21, 1865. Otherwise, he said, the officers of the 5th would resign en masse.
Crafts wrote his letter on March 3. He was promoted to the brevet rank of colonel 10 days later. The war ended in early April. On April 29, eight weeks after Crafts wrote, Richard E. Cross’s appointment as colonel was revoked.

David Culver, the Lyme businessman who served on the Executive Council, died just after the war, on June 15, 1865. In his will he left money for a state college, but the hall constructed with his money went up on the Dartmouth campus. Culver Hall stood for nearly 60 years before it was demolished in 1929.

Culver Hall at Dartmouth College (Library of Congress)

Friday, March 28, 2014

A brutal beating in the 5th New Hampshire (part three)

One significant detail in the saga of Maj. Welcome Crafts is the dateline on both Private Henry Pitchenger’s complaint and the provost marshal’s suggestion that Crafts be court-martialed for abusing Pitchenger. Both were written in early November 1864 from the so-called Bull Ring at City Point, Va., which was Union army headquarters during the siege of Petersburg. (You can read the documents here, in the first post of this series.)

The Bull Ring was a prison camp housing men accused and convicted of desertion, cowardice, murder, rape and other crimes. Some Confederate prisoners were also held there. The camp comprised three one-story barracks surrounded by high wooden fences. William Howell Reed, an agent of the Sanitary Commission the Red Cross of wartime, called the Bull Ring “a pen of filth and vermin.” Reed heard a Union officer say he would rather spend six months at Libby Prison in Richmond than one month in the Bull Ring.

Marsena R. Patrick, provost
marshal of the Army of the
By late 1864, the makeup of New Hampshire regiments had changed drastically. Instead of companies of men from the same towns or counties, the ranks had been filled with bounty soldiers – paid substitutes from foreign countries. The desertion rate of substitutes was so high that several were executed as examples of the consequences of running away. Other deserters wound up in the Bull Ring or other makeshift military prisons.

Henry Pitchenger was a substitute from Montreal. He filled a spot in a regiment with a reputation for courage and proficiency in battle. When the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers came home after Gettysburg, war had reduced it to just over 100 men fit for duty of the 1,000 who had left the state less than two years before. Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, the corps commander under whom the 5th fought at Gettysburg, called these survivors “refined goal.”

Pitchenger joined the regiment more than a year after Gettysburg, in September 1864. He was in the Bull Ring when Maj. Crafts. his regimental commander, came looking for him.

Pitchenger wrote his complaint about being beaten  to Capt. Edwin Forrest Koehler, a Philadelphian serving as judge advocate at City Point. Kohler passed the complaint up the chain of command to Brig. Gen. Marsena H. Patrick, provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac. It is probably significant that Patrick asked none other than Hancock to authorize the court martial of Crafts for the ruthless beating of Pitchenger in the Bull Ring.

Brig, Gen. "Tucky" Collis
Patrick obviously believed Pitchenger’s claims. Most likely he interviewed neutral witnesses who supported Pitchenger’s accusations. Patrick was outraged. To expedite the court martial, he even suggested adding the Irish-born Charles H.T. “Tucky” Collis, a newly minted brigadier general, to a judicial panel already in session.

I could find no evidence that Crafts was court-martialed for his offense and some evidence that he was not punished at all. In the face of such powerful accusations of a violent attack on a private soldier in a prison camp, why was he spared?

Sometimes, especially in the absence of a full record, history is what we think happened. More records may turn up in the case, but on the basis of the evidence available, here’s what I think happened in the case of Henry Pitchenger and Welcome Crafts.

Probably Hancock or one of his subordinates reviewed the documents. Anyone would conclude on that evidence that Crafts lost his temper and pummeled Pitchenger without remorse.

But Pitchenger’s complaint  also revealed something of his own behavior in battle. His regiment had fought the enemy often from the trenches before Petersburg during October 1864, losing five men killed. Pitchenger wrote of at least one of these fights: “He (Crafts) has also shamefully ill-used me whilst in the regiment at the front which was the reason of my leaving the regiment as I had no chance at all for my life, being bucked and gagged while the shells were bursting within a few feet of me & in sight of the enemys sharpshooters.”

“Bucked and gagged” refers to a common form of corporal punishment during the Civil War. A piece of wood blocked the soldier’s mouth and was held in place by a band tied round his head. The soldier’s hands were tied. He was forced to sit and pull his knees into his chest, then reach his tied hands around his ankles. A rod placed beneath his knees and above his elbows kept him from moving.

Why other than for fear of Pitchenger’s running away would Crafts order this harsh punishment at the front? Crafts had known since First Bull Run that infantrymen had to be able to withstand enemy artillery shells and the presence of sharpshooters during battle. He also knew that at Petersburg desertion to the enemy by substitute soldiers in the 5th New Hampshire was so rampant that the rebels had stuck a sign above their trenches reading “Headquarters, 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. RECRUITS WANTED.”  

Maj. Gen Winfield Scott Hancock faced a choice
between the leader of a regiment he admired and
an abused soldier he abhorred.  
General Hancock knew these things, too. His choice was clear. He could order the court-martial of a decorated, wounded combat veteran who now headed a diminished but revered regiment in his command. Or he could ignore a serious and truthful complaint from one of hundreds of substitutes who had shown more cowardice than courage before the enemy.

I think he chose to work around Pitchenger’s complaint rather than act on it. Crafts’s record shows no blemish from this incident. He had made major on Sept. 6, 1864, and his promotion to lieutenant colonel was dated Oct. 28, a short time before Pitchenger’s complaint. He continued to lead the 5th. He was promoted to colonel just after the war, although he was not mustered at that rank. His two postwar promotions cited gallant and meritorious service during the Fredericksburg and Gettysburg battles.

As for the 22-year-old Pitchenger, he seems to have avoided punishment for running away. On Nov. 20, 11 days after lodging his complaint, he was returned to the 5th and placed in a new company. When the regiment mustered out in June 1865, he was listed as “absent, in arrest.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

'The gift that keeps on giving' (part two)

Let us begin our exploration of the papers in my last post with a brief wartime history of the man accused in them. He was Welcome Crafts, a soldier from Milan, N.H., who appears in two of my books – My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth, written with Mark Travis, and Our War: Days and Events in the Fight for the Union.

Welcome A. Crafts as a captain in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers.
When I told Mark of the latest Craft material, he said, “Ah, Welcome Crafts, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Crafts was born in 1835 in Milan, a lumber town in Coos County, the state’s northernmost. Milan’s population was about 300 at the time and just over 700 when the Civil War began. Crafts was educated in his hometown and in Norway and South Paris, Maine. He studied law in Lancaster, the county seat and the home of Edward E. Cross, a near-contemporary under whom Crafts would serve in the war.

Crafts volunteered immediately after Fort Sumter fell in April 1861. He was 26 years old and was elected captain of the Coos Volunteers. He entered the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers, the state’s first three-year regiment, as first sergeant of Company F.

When I was researching Our War, Bette Paine of Strafford , N.H., contacted me about her family Civil War letters. (I learned only later that she was the mother of our longtime veterinarian in Concord, Jim Paine.) Bette’s husband’s ancestor was Louville Brackett, a private from Milan and one of the men Crafts recruited.

Crafts and Brackett fought together in Ambrose Burnside’s brigade at first Bull Run. Afterward Brackett was listed among the missing. His sister Susan was distraught, especially when Louville’s name appeared on no lists as wounded or captured during the weeks after the battle.

In the packet of letters the Paine family saved was a letter from Louville Brackett’s first sergeant attempting to ease Susan’s worries.  But the equivocation in Crafts’s letter only made things worse.

He wrote that Louville had left the Bull Run battlefield safely, “seeming to bear a charmed life and to be impervious to shot or shell.” Comrades saw him hurrying through the woods as the retreat began but lost track of him when things became chaotic. “We hope that he is only taken prisoner and that he may be exchanged for some that we took,” Crafts wrote. Even if he was wounded, he assured Susan, the rebels had promised humane care. “We know not but feel (and hope and would advise you to feel) hopeful – yet prepared for the worst.”

From there Crafts’s letter descended into a weepy sermon. “There is sweet consolation in the reflection that he who dies in the service of his country is but perishing in the cause of God & humanity,” he wrote. “The liberty of enslaved millions will come through the blood of heroes. Just such in all ages of the world men have offered themselves up on the altar of their country – have bled and died to establish while we die to perpetuate those glorious institutions which bless our beloved land. O Susan I know your grief will be that of a devoted and affectionate sister. . . . We will mingle our tears as you mourn a brother lost & I a companion in arms, a comrade in the bloody fight & the dangerous retreat.”

The letter brought Susan Brackett no peace. She clung to every rumor that Louville was alive, every doubt about his death. But no trace of him was ever found, and the government finally sent her family his pay through July 21, 1861, the day of the battle.

Two months later, Crafts was recruited as a first lieutenant into the 5th New Hampshire, the regiment Col. Cross was assembling after returning east from Arizona.

Thomas L. Livermore
One early episode seemed to darken Crafts’s future with that regiment. Cross, a fiery disciplinarian, caught him lending money at high interest to enlisted men. He ordered him arrested, made him return any interest he had collected and told the borrowers they owed only the principal. Crafts’s punishment was to stand in camp without his sword as the details of his misbehavior were read aloud to the men of the 5th.

Thomas L. Livermore, a young sergeant in the regiment, summed up the incident in these words. “If I had subjected myself to such disgrace, I should have tried hard to leave my bones on the next battle-field.”

Soon afterward, Crafts faced more embarrassment. During the Seven Days campaign on the Virginia Peninsula, he fell asleep on the eve of the battle of Malvern Hill and was captured by the enemy. After a brief stay in Libby Prison, he was exchanged and returned to the 5th’s camp at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.

What spared Crafts from his mistakes was his bravery on the battlefield. This, of course, was the heart of soldiering.

He fought with the Fifth at Fair Oaks, Va., on June 1, 1862, and in the initial battles of George B. McClellan’s retreat across the Peninsula. In the Bloody Lane at Antietam that September, he was wounded by grapeshot, his scabbard bent by a ball. In Our War I tell the story of how Sgt. Eldad Rhodes, who lived in Lancaster, served in the same company as Crafts and was shot through the lung at Antietam, retrieved the scabbard for Crafts.

On Dec. 13, the 5th marched up Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg into withering fire and suffered terrible losses. Crafts was shot below the left knee while climbing a fence near the Stratton House. He lay wounded on the field till morning. He returned to the regiment before Gettysburg and fought courageously there.

Edward E. Cross's gravestone in Lancaster, N.H.
Col. Cross was mortally wounded near the Wheatfield. It fell to Crafts after the battle to bring his body home to Lancaster. My friend Robert Grandchamp recounts this journey in his recent biography of Cross. Crafts secured a wagon to carry the body to Westminster, Md., and took it by train to Baltimore, where it was embalmed and clothed in a dress uniform. Another train took Crafts and Cross’s body to Concord, where they arrived July 6. They moved on to Lancaster the next day with no official escort or acknowledgement. Cross might have been New Hampshire’s greatest Civil War hero, but the Republican establishment at the time held his extreme Democratic politics against him.
Crafts next served as deputy provost marshal at Point Lookout, a camp in Maryland for Confederate prisoners. In 1864, he and the 5th returned to battle at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Crafts also led the regiment through its last campaign, which included heavy losses at the battle of Five Forks two days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In fact, at the time he was accused of beating up a man in the Bull Ring at City Point, Va., in November of 1864, Major Crafts was already in command of the 5th.

But what was the Bull Ring, who was Henry Pitchenger, and what happened to the charges against Crafts?

I’ll take on those questions and more in the next post.

Monday, March 24, 2014

He 'kicked me several times in the Privates' (part one)

Dave Nelson and Dave Morin, buddies from the 5th New Hampshire re-enactors, regularly share with me their finds concerning the 5th and other regiments. As an attachment to a recent email, they passed along scans of the following papers regarding a Major Crafts (it’s misspelled in the papers), an officer in the 5th.

After many years of reading letters and records about New Hampshire regiments, especially the 5th, I’ve developed enough familiarity with their context to put most of them in perspective. Today I thought I’d simply post transcripts of the papers. In subsequent posts I’ll follow up with what I make of them.    

Bull Ring, City pt. Nov 9th, 1864

Capt Korhler


I wish to complain of the brutal treatment I received this evening from Major Krafts of the 5th New Hampshire Regt. On being recognized by him in the Bull Ring. He asked me if I knew him. When I answered civilly that I did, whereupon he struck me repeatedly in the face and about the Head with his closed fists & kicked me several times in the Privates.

I then asked him what that was for when he repeated the assault using abusive language & threatening to have a dozen Bullets put into me. All this in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Guard & many others who can be brought to prove this.

Also when outside the gate of the Bull Ring he repeated the assault strikin me in the Face & attempting to kick me in the Privates & using threatening language to the effect that he wanted to put a number of Bullets into me.

He has also shamefully ill-used me whilst in the regiment at the Front which was the reason of my leaving the regiment as I had no chance at all for my life, being bucked and gagged while the shells were bursting within a few feet of me & in sight of the Enemys Sharpshooters.

I am ready & willing to take a solemn Oath to The truth of this statement & can produce any number of witnesses to that part of it which took place inside the Bull Ring & at the gate of it.

I am Sir

Your Obed Servt
Henry Pitchenger

Office of the Provost Marshal,
Armies operating against Richmond
City Point, Va.
November 10th  1864

Maj. Gen. W.S. Hancock
Commdg. 2d Corps

I enclose, herewith, a “statement” which speaks for itself, and a copy of charges preferred, this day against Major Krafts, 5th New Hampshire Vols.

It appears that the major applied at my office, last evening, for permission to see some of his men in barracks. The permit was given, with the result as stated, – only the facts are very much worse. The Surgeon and other officers here being witnesses, as well as men, would it not be advisable to have him tried before a Court now in session here? I will have Bvt. Brig. Gen. Collis added to it, as President. The officer of the guard is to be tried here for permitting the outrage, and allowing him to leave without arrest.

The Major is not yet in arrest. Will you order it?

Please drop me a note, by messenger, or telegraph.

I have the honor to be, General,

Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
M.R. Patrick
Provost Marshal General

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gallery: Faces of the Dartmouth Cavalry

Sanford S. Burr, captain of the
Dartmouth Cavalry. After the war
Burr quit the law to be a furniture
designer. He invented and patented
a folding bed, but he did not always
prosper. He died in 1901.
They were square-jawed and nattily dressed. They were college men with grand futures opening before them. And for three months in the middle of 1862, they went off to war as the Dartmouth Cavalry.

In time, as lawyers, judges, educators and businessmen, some of them would participate in politics and all would take pride in their status as veterans. My last post gave a brief history of their service, and I've posted pictures of several of them below.

Typical was Isaac Walker, a farmer's son from Fryeburg, Maine. He studied Greek and Latin as a boy, entered Dartmouth at 16 in 1859 and later served as principal of Pembroke (N.H.) Academy for decades. He was also chairman of the school board in Pembroke and New Hampshire editor of the New England Journal of Education. As a veteran of the Dartmouth Cavalry, he joined the George Washington Gordon post of the Grand Army of the Republic. (You can read about Gordon here.)

Another cavalryman was Nathaniel H. Clement. He was born in Tilton, N.H., the son of Zenas Clement, the state treasurer and a close friend of Franklin Pierce's. After Pierce appointed Zenas to a lucrative customs job in Portsmouth, N.H., Nathaniel entered the high school there at the age of 11. At Dartmouth, he was the youngest member of the class of '63. He was short and wore a short coat known as a "spencer."

Clement was the top scholar in his class the first three years and finished second his final year, maybe because he took off time off to serve with the Dartmouth Cavalry. After the war he came a prominent lawyer and later a judge in Brooklyn. He died in 1899 at age 55.

Private William Gage  of Concord  was captured during a Dartmouth
Cavalry mission. He was paroled after just  few weeks in prison
and returned home at about the same time as the rest of the company. 
Cpl. Charles Caldwell of
Byfield, Mass..
Pvt. William Greene of
Westborough, Mass.

Pvt. Edwin M. Ambrose of Ossipee, N.H.
After graduation Pvt. Isaac Walker of Fryeburg, Maine, became
principal of Pembroke Academy. 
Cpl. Nathaniel H. Clement
of Concord, N.H.
Nelson Wilbur of Unadilla, N.Y., was
captured, then paroled in September.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

'We fought and bled and almost died'

Private William L. Flagg, the ladies' man
of the class of '63, was 'never known to
flunk.' His poem praised the Dartmouth
Cavalry -- with a sense of humor. 
No deeds so slight ever won such glowing praise as the service of the Dartmouth Cavalry during the Civil War. Writers lauded these college men on horseback even for what they didn’t do.

On class day at graduation in 1863, the cavalryman William Lapham Flagg began the drumbeat with a poem of many stanzas ending with this one:

In after years when history’s read
Of colleges and college bred,
In times of danger, war, and noise,
No brighter page will meet the eye,
No Poet sing a sweeter lay
Than that which does a tribute pay
The “Dartmouth Cavalry Boys.”

In 1898, William A. Ellis of Norwich University wrote:. “A book could be written filled with incidents, both ludicrous and thrilling, of their exploits.”

Five years later, John Scales, Dartmouth class of ’63, had a go at the company’s legacy in his book for the 40th class reunion. The college, he wrote, “has just occasion to feel proud of that company of cavalrymen, not only for what they did, but for what they were willing and prepared to do, had more been demanded of them.”

Sanford Smith Burr persuaded many
Dartmouth classmates to sign up. He was
elected captain of the company.
The Dartmouth Cavalry was the brainstorm of Scales’s classmate Sanford Smith Burr of Roxbury, Mass. Burr had died in 1901, but Scales remembered him as “one of those nervous, wiry, wide-awake fellows not overly fond of books.” In May of 1862, Burr began urging classmates to volunteer for three months as cavalrymen. He found 35 takers on campus. Norwich contributed 23 men, Bowdoin, Union, Williams and Amherst a total of 10 and other colleges 17. In the end the company was 85 men strong.

Nathaniel Berry, the governor of New Hampshire, declined their services. Undeterred, Burr wrote to other New England governors. He got his wish when William Sprague IV, the 31-year-old governor of Rhode Island, invited the company to join the 7th Squadron, Rhode Island Cavalry.

To the cheers of well-wishers from Dartmouth, Burr’s company boarded the night express at White River Junction on June 18, 1862, and arrived in Providence just after noon the next day. Here the men began what Scales called “the change from students in gay attire with their minds pictured full of the glory of war, to cavalrymen in Uncle Sam’s army.”

The change was “ludicrous in the extreme, and, at the same time, in many cases most affecting.” Providence residents threw a banquet for them, and the company went to church as a body for a service attended by “the best people of the city.”

They reached Washington, D.C.,on June 30, had their first taste of hardtack and drew lots for horses. Few of them had ever ridden a horse, and some of the horses assigned to them  had not been broken. The Dartmouth Cavalry’s first ride amused those who saw it.

After just 2½ weeks of drill, the company headed west. It spent a month or so riding about on patrols in the Shenandoah Valley and around Harpers Ferry. The men’s main task was reconnaissance. They captured a few rebels and had a few of their own captured in return.

Their service coincided with some of the heaviest fighting of the war. The Seven Days battles on the Virginia Peninsula were ending just as they arrived in Washington. Second Bull Run was fought on Aug. 29-30, 1862, the battle of South Mountain on Sept. 14 and Antietam on Sept. 17.

The last was the bloodiest day in American history. The Dartmouth Cavalry remained in service nearby for a few days after the battle but saw no action.

In an early stab at alternate history, Scales found more glory for the company here. Most mainstream historians have blamed George B. McClellan, general of the Army of the Potomac, for not pursuing Robert E. Lee after Antietam. Scales also considered him the villain. “If McClellan had done his whole duty in that battle,” he wrote, the Dartmouth Cavalry “would have joined in the fight and Lee’s army would have been either captured or annihilated.”

Charles W. Morrill of Canterbury, N.H.
The cavalrymen mustered out in Providence and returned to Hanover in early October. Their captured troopers had been paroled from Confederate prisons by then. Scales was present at their homecoming. “Conquering heroes, the world over, never had a more royal greeting on their return from war!” he wrote.

Nathan Lord, Dartmouth’s president at the time, favored slavery, an opinion that would cost him his job in 1863. He and some of the faculty discouraged Dartmouth men from joining the army, but many from the college enlisted and had experiences more typical than the Dartmouth Cavalry’s.

For instance, Charles W. Morrill, class of ’63,  was drafted after graduation. The son of a Canterbury farmer, he joined the 8th New Hampshire Volunteers in Louisiana just as that regiment was being converted from infantry to cavalry. Morrill had horses shot out from under him in two battles, contracted chronic diarrhea and died in the military hospital at Cairo, Ill., on the way home.

The company poet Flagg was not unaware of the gap between the Dartmouth Cavalry’s noble intentions and its actual experience. More than one couplet of his class poem is comical, including this one:

We fought and bled and almost died,
Not in battle, but in learning to ride.

[More faces of the Dartmouth Cavalry here] 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Civil War created a boom for Yankee's circus

Yankee Robinson
Would you take a free ticket from this man?

He was a 19th century American showman and circus entrepreneur named Fayette Lodawick Robinson. In a country where a powerful anti-immigrant political movement would rise out of the ashes of the Whig Party in the 1850s, the name sounded a bit too foreign, not to mention flamboyant. He adopted the professional name Yankee Robinson, a decision that would have consequences.

Robinson was born in Avon, N.Y., in 1818 and learned the shoemaking trade from his father. Between 1837 and 1845 he followed in his father's footsteps, but the lure of the road finally drew him to his true calling.

The country was in the final stages of the Second Great Awakening, during which millennialists, utopians and communalists popped up everywhere. With a collection of religious paintings in his buggy, Robinson set out for the West, giving exhibitions along the way.

Before long he found work as a singer and actor in traveling troupes, circuses and a floating theater on the Mississippi River. He took the name “Yankee” in 1852 and built his own circus and comic show a few years later. One staple in the repertory was a minstrel based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

It was during this period that he hit upon the idea of dispensing “free tickets” to his show. He acquired a large number of 1854 and ’55 half dollars and had them counterstamped “Free Ticket to Yankee Robinsons Quadruple-Show.” Advertising on coins was common at the time, and defaced coins retained their face value. Apparently when Robnson brought his show into a new town, he used these half dollars to pay his expenses. Then he accepted the “free tickets” for admission. But of course he kept the coins, so the free tickets cost each lucky recipient half a dollar.

Free ticket!
One possible measure of the success of this sales ploy is the large number of such coins still in existence. Another is that Robinson again used common currency to advertise his show during the Civil War.

In 1857, the U.S. Mint abandoned the large cent and began making pennies roughly the size of pennies today. Until 1864, the new pennies were made of copper-nickel on a thicker planchet than modern cents. In 1861 private coin manufactures – die-sinkers – began issuing patriotic tokens heralding the war effort. They also made cent-size merchant tokens that advertised the businesses that bought them. These were known as storecards and circulated as legal tender.

Robinson was prolific user of storecards. His bust adorned some of them, and others depicted him from waist to top hat with a musket on his shoulder above the legend “Yankee Robinson The Great Comedian.” In all there were 21 variations of Robinson tokens in bronze, copper, copper-nickel and tin. Presumably he would set up his tent in a community, and he and his minions would freely spend the tokens in town as advertisements for the show.

In 1859, Robinson’s chosen name betrayed him. When John Brown and his band raided Harpers Ferry, Yankee and his circus happened to be in Charleston, S.C. He fled, leaving his tent and equipment where they stood.

The front and back of a Yankee Robinson storecard.. Such tokens were
used as pennies during the Civil War and served as ads for the circus. 
Robinson’s business prospered during the war, as did shows of almost any kind. He and a partner had receipts of $1 million in 1865.

A newspaper account of Robinson’s show the following year makes it clear it had grown into a full-fledged circus – “The Great Yankee Robinson Circus,” as the Quincy, Ill., paper called it. “Besides many cages, chariots, wagons, etc., the procession was headed by the magnificent forty-horse-band-car, which in itself was a sight worth seeing,” the paper reported.

Robinson was a hit in Chicago on that tour and moved on to Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Press also gushed over the mile-long procession. Robinson owned a camel, a small elephant and a bull that acted with “great agility,” the Press reported. “Yank knows how to run a circus and will be in full blast today and tomorrow at the Second Ward Park.”

The vagaries of showmanship caught up with Robinson during the 1870s. He went broke and dropped out of sight. But he had one final act in 1884 when he teamed up with the five Ringling brothers, a family of jugglers and actors. Alas, “Yankee Robinson and the Ringling Brothers” lasted only a few months. At 4 p.m. on Sept. 4, Robinson died in New-Jefferson, Iowa. He was 66 years old.

His obituary in the New York Times cited his Shakespearean acting career and his role as “The Drunkard” in a circus skit. The obituary also hailed him as second in renown only to P.T. Barnum as a circus impresario.

The Times added that Yankee was descended from the eminent divine John Robinson, who had come to America with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and helped found the Congregational Church. Perhaps this was true.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hits, sleepers and a host of visitors from Kimball Union

Among the KUA grads who went to war was
Herbert B. Titus of Chesterfield, N.H. He served
in the 2nd and the 9th New Hampshire regiments,
wrote letters from the front to the Keene Sentinel
and was badly wounded at Antietam. Just after the
war he was promoted to brevet brigadier general.
Students at Kimball Union Academy used the Our War blog in their Civil War studies during the last few weeks. Nothing is more gratifying to me as a historian than to know that my work is reaching rising generations.

Graduates of Kimball Union in Meriden, N.H., played a huge role in New Hampshire’s Civil War history. Many of them have both major and minor roles in my book.As I’ve learned more about these soldiers, I’ve written several blog posts about them. Here, here, herehere and here, you’ll find individual posts about graduates of KUA, and here is a listing of many from the school who served in the war.

The blog now has well over 200 posts. To this month’s lists of entries that have generated the most hits, I’m adding a list of posts I especially like that are not on the most popular lists. As usual, you can click on any title on the lists to go directly to the post. Let’s start with . . .

10 sleepers

Recent hits

This list of the top 10 posts from the last two months includes all three parts of the edited 1861-63 diary of the Exeter, N.H., pastor Elias Nason. I’m not surprised these have been popular. Nason provides a clear window into life on the home-front during the first three years of the war.

All-time Top 25

The biggest change on this list during the last month was the move of the post on Kimball Union Academy’s Civil War history from the 22nd spot to the 12th. Hits on of these posts range from 160 to 539. The number in parentheses is last month’s ranking.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Let us 'crush the eggs of rebellion'

“Why did the Civil War happen?” seems like a simple question, but it is not. It has a northern answer and a southern answer. Historians often disagree in their interpretations of the key events that, in retrospect, formed the winding road to this brutal, fratricidal war. The historical record is dynamic, not static.

The minds of North and South at the start of the war are easier to know. Though diverse in their opinions, Americans spoke and wrote them freely. I'm always on the lookout for clear voices on this subject, whatever opinion they expound. Thus I loved finding a letter written by Capt. William W. Dobbins of Erie, Pa., on May 19, 1861.

Daniel Dobbins, shipbuilder and captain,
helped Oliver Hazard Perry win he Battle of
Lake Erie. Dobbins's son William later
wrote a book about the battle. 
Dobbins was the son of a military hero. Daniel Dobbins (1776-1856) was a shipbuilder and ship captain whose dominion was the Great Lakes. After escaping capture by the British during the War of 1812, he helped Oliver Hazard Perry win the battle of Lake Erie.

In 1861, weeks after the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, W.W. Dobbins, a distinguished maritime officer himself, received a letter from an acquaintance. Its writer had just returned from the South, and he wrote Dobbins in Erie to say:

“There is, underlying the secession sentiment, a deep and abiding love of the old union silently praying for deliverance from despotism which has few parallels in the history of the world.”

Dobbins could not let this stand.

“This is my opinion and has been for some time,” he wrote to his friend. “The leaders of secession are ambitious, self-sacrificing, corrupt and desperate. It is ‘life and peace’ as ‘death and disgrace’ for them. Therefore they play a desperate game, and so far have monopolized the enthusiasm, all of which they turned to this account in the way of firing the minds of the middle and lower class of the Southern people against the administration of Lincoln and the North, making them believe the whole North had become completely abolitionized and sought the destruction of slavery at any hazard. Whereas the Union men in the South, such as merchants, planters, manufacturers, etc., who are not politicians were and are browbeaten and kept down by the dictatorial and coercive course of the former.

“But as they say, ‘Let  them once be confronted by the strong arm of the federal power, and they will soon crush the eggs of rebellion out of which are hatched the serpents of disunion.’

“It is to be hoped as soon as Virginia votes on secession* (I presume that is all the govt. is waiting for) a vigorous offensive policy will be adopted and when once commenced  I desire to see the whole power of the North used to the best advantage, and the matter settled as soon as possible.

“I am an advocate for the abolition of slavery. But I want those pompous barons in the seceding states humbled and convinced that the united North, although borne long with their insolence, have not done so from fear, but on the other hand, were activated by a spirit of forbearance as long as there was a possibility of a peaceful solution of the matters at issue.”

Dobbins was in his early 60s when he expressed this opinion. In 1876, a year before his death. an Erie publisher brought out his book on his father’s war: History of the battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813) and reminiscences of the flagships “Lawrence” and “Niagara.”

The whole book is here, but here is Dobbins’s brief preface, which includes a paragraph about his father:

*A Virginia convention voted to secede on April 17, 1861, just after the South captured Fort Sumter, but the decision was contingent on the approval of the voters. Ratification came on May 23, four days after Dobbins wrote his letter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

More faces (including Bixby's dog's) of the 6th N.H.

Here I've gathered more photos from the 6th New Hampshire Volunteers from several sources. My friend Dave Morin provided many of them. (Earlier posts in this gallery are here and here.)

A poignant story in Our War recounts the sinking of the West Point, a transport steamer, after a collision on the Potomac River in August 1862. The chapter is called "The newlyweds," after John and Kate Cummings, who were married in December 1861 at the 6th's training camp in Keene. But the story extends to all three couples involved, the three 6th officers and their wives. All six are pictured here, though the shot of Maj. Obed G. Dort of Keene is clearly postwar.

I began researching the story after seeing the names of two of the women, Kate Cummings and Sophia Scott, on the Civil War monument in the town of Peterborough. The Peterborough Historical Society has good files on the tragedy, including the letters of John and Kate Cummings.  

Here is the color guard of the 6th New Hampshire Volunteers. Judging from the condition of the banners and the
uniforms, the photo was probably taken early in the war.

Here's a different shot of Lt. John S. Smith. You can read a letter from him here.

Sgt. Frank Corcoran of Exeter
was wounded at 2nd Bull Run
and captured at Poplar Springs
Church, Va. 
Sgt. Charles H. Wiley of Newmarket,
N.H., was captured at Poplar Springs
Church, Va.,  on Sept. 30, 1864. Less
than three months later, he died of
disease at Salisbury, N.C., prison.  

In a letter included in an earlier post, 6th officer John S. Smith described
Phin Bixby, his major and later colonel, as "a fellow of infinite jest." Here
Bixby poses with his dog. The mystery is how he and the photographer
kept the dog still for the long exposure time required in the 1860s.

Julia Dort came south to see her
husband but drowned in the accident.
Maj. Obed G. Dort of Keene lost his wife
Julia in the sinking of the West Point.

Charles L. Scott of Peterborough, lieutenant colonel of the 6th, was on the steamer West Point when it
sank in the Potomac River after a collision. His wife Sophia and two other wives of 6th officers drowned.
Sophia Scott drowned in the West Point disaster. The veterans'
monument in Peterborough honors her and Kate Cummings.
Kate Cummings came to Virginia to visit her
husband but drowned on the way to meet him.
Capt. John Cummings, a newlywed,
mourned his wife after the accident.

Sherman Cooper of Claremont was
the 6th's surgeon for 18 months.
Marshall L. Brown of Keene served as
a hospital steward for most of the war.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

More space for diverse voices

From Robert Azzi's Middle East portfolio: Homeowners decorate the walls of their homes to celebrate the
successful completion of a family member's pilgrimage to Mecca.
I met Robert Azzi years ago because of a coincidence. We had both been Nieman Fellows, meaning we had been given the gift of a year to roam Harvard at will. The coincidence was that we were among the few former Niemans from New Hampshire.

Robert, who lives in Exeter, is a photojournalist who spent many years covering the Middle East. You can see some of his pictures and read of his experience here. After 9/11, when all Muslims suffered suspicion and ostracism, Robert wrote for the Monitor's opinion pages to share his perspectives as a Muslim and an Arab who deplored the attacks.

His writing has a strong moral core. He makes the point that the bellicosity of American foreign policy is often the result of a misreading (or non-reading) of history and a failure to comprehend the consequences of war on innocent people and on our own country's reputation.

I bring this background up for a purpose. One of the fine things the Concord Monitor has done during the last year is to expand its opinion section. Five times a week, Wednesday through Sunday, my longtime colleague Felice Belman edits a creative, interesting, interactive, reader-driven section called The Forum. (Felice also writes most of the daily editorials and edits the regular editorial page on Monday and Tuesday.)

Today's Forum pages include Robert Azzi's column on the U.S. response to the Russian grab for the Crimea. He embraces the restraint President Obama has shown. He cites many historical precedents where Republican and Democratic presidents have exercised restraint with good long-term effect. And he chides Republicans who carp from the sidelines about Obama's weakness rather than stand for solidarity in American foreign policy. You can read this fine piece here.

To give you a sense of the full plate Felice Belman served up today in The Forum, the section also includes:

-- Reporter Kathleen Ronayne's excellent analysis of how Republican senators who supported a Medicaid compromise last week managed to sidestep the howling of their party's Obamacare haters.

-- A wistful farewell to Garry Trudeau's daily Doonesbury strip by Katy Burns, a regular columnist for the Monitor from Bow, N.H.

-- Felice's editorial assessing the ability of Gov. Maggie Hassan to get things done through compromise and bipartisanship, a lost art in Washington.

-- My column on Concord's homeless population.

I should add that the section included 15 letters from readers, including one arguing against all-day kindergarten, one supporting each of the two contenders in Tuesday's Executive Council election and one contending that the state's heroin epidemic could have been avoided.

News is still the heart of a newspaper, but creating a forum for community voices and opinions is a vital function as well.