Archive for April, 2011

Photo of the Day: 1st Minnesota Monument at Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

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Historians seek Stillwater Civil War unit’s flag

Company’s colors last mentioned in 1928 news story

By Mary Divine
mdivine@pioneerpress.com

Horace Voligny was one of 94 young men who joined Company C of the 8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and left Stillwater on Oct. 17, 1862.

Some, including William Wilson, William H. Morgan and John A. Harris, didn’t come back.

Those who returned began meeting annually in 1905 at the Keystone House in Stillwater, a hotel that Voligny owned and operated. They bought a bottle of wine and formed the “Last Two Men’s Club,” because “when the last two men were left, they would share the bottle of wine,” said Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.

In 1927, Voligny and John Blake cracked open the bottle of wine, and “while standing beneath their company’s historic flag … drank a toast for their departed comrades,” according to Blake’s obituary, published in the Stillwater Gazette on Oct. 17, 1928.

Now, 84 years later, Peterson is searching for that flag.

Peterson believes the flag ended up with Voligny, the last survivor of the group. Voligny was 93 when he died in 1931 at his house in Oak Park, now Oak Park Heights. “Under a ruling of the club, the flag was to go to the last survivor — Mr. Voligny,” Peterson said. “It was to be passed down to his children as a memento of the war.”

With the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and the publication of a new book, “In Their Own Words: Washington County in the Civil War,” published by the historical society, Peterson is hoping to bring attention to his quest. He has contacted some of Voligny’s descendants, including several great-grandchildren, but so far no one knows anything about the flag.

“I wish I did,” said Mike Voligny, Horace Voligny’s great-grandson. Voligny, a retired chiropractor who lives in Linwood Township in Anoka County, grew up in Bayport and graduated from Stillwater High School in 1959.

“I had never heard the flag story until Brent called,” he said. “I checked with a few of the relatives that I knew, and none of them had heard of it. It would be fun for it to turn up, and the historical society is the right place for it.”

Peterson said the flag would be a key addition to the society’s Civil War collection, which includes a canteen, sword and sash that belonged to Sam Bloomer, the color sergeant for the 1st Minnesota regiment; a cartridge case that belonged to Linda Culbertson, an Afton man who served in Company B, 3rd Minnesota regiment; and a dog tag of Layette Snow, a lumberman from Taylors Falls, Minn., who came to Stillwater when he enlisted in Company B, 1st Minnesota.

But no flag.

“Just think what a great donation it would be to our organization,” Peterson said. “It would be a wonderful way to honor those 94 men who fought in Company C to preserve the Union. Most of those 94 men were from Stillwater, Oak Park and Baytown.”

The 8th Minnesota traveled to Montana, Tennessee and the East Coast before ending up in Washington, D.C. It was by far the most traveled regiment in the Union Army during the Civil War, he said.

“The regiment was known as the ‘Indian Regiment’ because they helped quell the Dakota Uprising down around New Ulm, then chased the Dakota all the way into Montana,” Peterson said. “Then they were sent south, fought at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and ended up in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

According to newspaper accounts, “the ladies of Oak Park presented (the flag) to the company in 1862 when the boys went marching off to war.”

Here’s how a writer for the Stillwater Messenger de-scribed the flag presentation in a Sept. 30, 1862, account: “The ladies of Baytown and Oak Park presented Capt. Folsom’s Company with a splendid silk flag, the cost of which was some seventy dollars. So fine a present to so fine a company and on the part of so generous and patriotic ladies as those of Baytown and Oak Park, ought not to have passed by without some acknowledgment.”

The Last Two Men’s Club met at the Keystone House until 1909, when “Mr. Voligny sold the property and moved to a residence in Oak Park,” according to “In Their Own Words: Washington County in the Civil War,” written by Robert Goodman and Peter DeCarlo. “The club continued to meet at Voligny’s residence in Oak Park until the last two men.”

Mary Divine can be reached at 651-228-5443.

Little church that made it through Civil War celebrates recovery from flood

The waters of the Little Harpeth River engulfed Harpeth Presbyterian Church last May. / SUBMITTED

Written by Vicky Travis  The Tennessean 

HARPETH, Tenn. – What’s a little water to a 200-year-old, Civil-War-surviving church? To quote the pastor: Just one more thing.

Harpeth Presbyterian Church on Hillsboro Road just west of Brentwood took on about 2 feet of water throughout its sanctuary, hallways and offices during last May’s flood. The sanctuary reopened in November after its members, led by Pastor David Jones, worked to repair their beloved church.

We’re not talking about just the building here.

“Something like that just rocks everybody,” says Jones, who still feels a whiff of anxiety on gray days. “But when I saw the number of members who showed up while it was still flooding, I knew it would be OK.”

OK, that is, whether they had a building there or not.

With the exception of that flooded-out Sunday, church services never stopped.

“After 200 years, we might have a little chip on our shoulder about that,” Pastor Jones said with a laugh.

The church, built in 1831, withstood the Civil War. It’s also been flooded before. In the 1970s, a tree fell and blocked the Little Harpeth River and its levee blew out, says Jones.

Floodwaters from the Little Harpeth River spilled into Harpeth Presbyterian‘s sanctuary last May. / SUBMITTED

Yet the Easter season is about renewal. And for this church of 350, renewal is a blessed word with lots of meanings.

“This Easter is a very special time for us,” says Jones, who has pastored at Harpeth for 12 years. “It’s about new life.”

A year after the flood, the church is inviting the community to celebrate its renewal and its new relationships with its neighbors in the squeaky clean sanctuary, which reopened in November. The Flood 2010: Celebrating how God provides will be the theme at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services on Sunday. A potluck will follow at noon. Speakers from the Wildwood neighborhood and Pastor Jones will share flood stories of hope.

Rise, fall and rise again

When the Little Harpeth River, which is right next to the church grounds, started rising on May 1, 2010, church members started filling bags with sand from the playground to stack against the signature red doors. Eventually, that effort was abandoned as the water rose and covered the sanctuary, offices and hallways in about 2 feet of water. It receded quickly, but it started raining again, so members moved pews, which were already wet on the bottom, up the hallway to the fellowship room, which is about 2 feet higher than the sanctuary. They also moved furniture and whatever they could grab from offices to that higher ground.

The water rose again on May 2 again spilling into the sanctuary, hallways and offices, across a playground, up the six or so steps on the outside door of the fellowship hall. And it finally stopped inches short of the door. “That was a double blessing,” says Pastor David Jones. Gratitude washed over them as did an urgent sense to go help someone else.

Photos of those days (and there are tons of them) remind Jones of the strength of the congregation and the volunteer spirit that spread miles around them. “Your pain is what you bring,” he says. Because members felt the pain of their own church — their safe place — flooded, they worked extra hard with their flooded neighbors. “We were one of them,” says Jones. “We understand. We know what it feels like.” About 10 households of church members were flooded, too.

So many members showed up to help at the church on Monday morning, May 3, that about two-thirds of them were sent off to Wildwood and Cottonwood subdivisions to help bail folks out there. When they heard of the huge need in Bellevue, they later went there, too.

‘Priceless’

The church suffered about $300,000 in flood damage. And there was one more thing to be grateful for: flood insurance. “We had to have it,” said Jones. “We’re in a floodplain.”

In fact, Jones and church member Ruth Knab tell the story of this church on this godforsaken land. In 1831, 20 years after the congregation started, a land-owner gave the low-lying land on Hillsboro Road next to the Little Harpeth River to the church. And until 1950, the church had just a dirt floor.

“Ironically, we’re on some of the most worthless land in Williamson County,” says Jones. “But it’s priceless to us.”

After the damage, Jones worried whether the building would be repairable. Once it was clear the foundation was OK, repairing was the plan. If they hadn’t been able to repair and had tried to sell, Jones and Knab guesstimate that they’d get next to nothing for it.

With the help of people in the congregation such as a contractor, a woodworker and many others, the church building was fully restored in November, seven months after the disaster.

Could it happen again? “I’m not worried,” says Jones.

Since then, Tennessee Department of Transportation has built a better levee on that part of the Little Harpeth River.

This story isn’t really about the building.

“God’s not through with us yet,” says Jones.

COMMEMORATION SERVICES

The Flood 2010: Celebrating how God provides
When: 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday, May 1. Potluck at noon.
Where: Harpeth Presbyterian, 3077 Hillsboro Road, Harpeth, Tennessee
More info: www.harpethchurch.org

Contact Vicky Travis at vtravis@tennessean.com or find her on Facebook.



From the Journal of Sgt. Sam Bloomer, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Part I

Periodically, This Week in the Civil War will feature journal excerpts from select Civil War journals. Today’s entry is from 1st Minnesota Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer.

The grave of Color Sgt Sam Bloomer, 1st Minnesota Infantry, at Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater, Minn.

April 29, 1861  The new Co. left Stillwater by wagons for Fort Snelling. Mustered in for 3 months. Organized as follows: C.A. Bromley Capt, Mark W. Downie 1st Lieut, M.T. Thomas 2nd Lieut, Louis Muller 1st Sergt, Thos Sinclair 2nd Sergt, Wm M. May 3rd Sergt, A.A. Capron 4th Sergt, Zebulan Binns 5th Sergt, Chas M. Lockwood 1st Corp, Wm S. Puison 2nd Corp, A.L. Reichard 3d Corp, David Lord 4th Corp, George A. Oliver 5th Corp, Ralph W. Smith 6th Corp, H.C. Van Vorhes 7th Corp, Samuel Bloomer 8th Corp, Andrew Connelly and F Stirneman Musicians.

Co. quartered in a building outside the walls formerly used as a stable for horses which the Co. cleaned & fitted up. Meals furnished by contract. Drill and guard duty.

May 3, 1861  Call for enlistment for 3 years or during the war with option to return home. Nearly all reenlisted.

Civil War exhibit at Library of Congress focuses on people

Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear
As Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear, the Library of Congress has kicked off its remembrance with “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” a special exhibition showcasing more than 400 Civil War-era ambrotype and tintype photographs.

By: Chuck Myers, McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A young girl gazes out with a fixed, forlorn expression from inside her gilded oval portal.

Attired in a simple stripe-patterned, black gown with mourning sleeves attached at her diminutive shoulders, she cradles a small picture believed to be of her father, a soldier, killed in battle.

The moment, captured in a photograph, cannot but tug at the heartstring of any onlooker. But what makes this particular impression exceptionally unique is its enduring emotive power — nearly 150 years after it was created.

This touching and rare image is found presently among a splendid array of American Civil War photographs on view here at the Library of Congress through Aug. 13.

As Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear, the library has kicked off its remembrance with “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” a special exhibition showcasing more than 400 Civil War-era ambrotype and tintype photographs.

The exhibit focuses on soldiers and ordinary people from the North and South who endured the hardships of the four-year conflict.

Drawn from some 700 photographs gifted to the Library of Congress by the Liljenquists, of McLean, Va., in 2010, this unique assemblage resulted from a concerted family effort over the past 15 years.

Jewelry businessman Tom Liljenquist and his three sons, Jason, 19, Brandon, 17, and Christian, 13, collected the photographs through online purchases and by calling on Civil War-era artifacts dealers in towns and cities primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“It’s just been a real labor of love collecting these photographs over the years, making the trips to Gettysburg (Pa.), Fredericksburg (Va.), Sharpsburg (Md.) and numerous other places,” said Tom Liljenquist.

Ambrotypes and tintypes are early photography processes developed in the mid-1850s. The ambrotype involved combining an underexposed glass negative against a dark background. The tintype was produced on a thin iron plate coated with photographic emulsion, which, when exposed to light, resulted in a positive image. Ambrotypes and tintypes frequently were presented inside a keepsake case or ornate frame.

This rare ambrotype photograph of an African-American soldier shows him seated with his family during the American Civil War. This vintage photograph is found in the exhibition, "The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection," at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., through August 13, 2011. (Library of Congress/MCT)

Picture-making forms

Both picture-making forms remained popular during the war, but eventually gave way to the roughly baseball card-size, albumen print cartes de visite (CDV).

“I guess the reason why we focused on the ambrotypes and tintypes was, well, the contrast, especially with ambrotypes, and the tonality, which makes them just works of art,” said Liljenquist. “And when the ambrotypes went to tintypes, a little something was lost, and when the tins went to CDVs, more was lost.”

Arrayed over six display cabinets, five representing Union individuals and one chock full of Confederates, the light-sensitive pieces vary in plate size, and sit arranged in tight tile-like ranks.

Striking intimacy

The images possess a striking intimacy that personalizes the conflict. Moreover, many of the pictures may denote the last record of some of the individuals.

Part of the viewing enjoyment lies in reading gestures that offer hints about the sitter’s personality. A shot of a seated Confederate, for example, shows him holding a rifle with his arms raised slightly, as if ready for action. Nearby, a possible rebel cavalryman appears more formal and distinguished, with rose tinting on his cheeks and gold accents on his collar and buttons. In another, a cigar protruding from an unidentified Union soldier’s mouth instills the view with a casual cockiness.

While many of the photos communicate a confident air, some suggest apprehension. An ambrotype of a wide-eyed young Union soldier clutching his rifle and sword conveys an uneasy feeling, perhaps about what may lie ahead for him on the battlefield.

Appropriate backdrops

Figures are posed before backdrops appropriate to their military service. One African-American Union soldier, for instance, stands proudly before a painted scene of artillery and a U.S. flag fluttering in the background.

Many of the subjects sat for photographers in a studio setting. Other works, such as the tintype of a Union soldier perched on an overlook on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, and another of Union soldier John E. Cummins standing by a horse, take on a more vivid air with their outdoors locations.

Most of the portraits highlight a single sitter. A few feature two or more subjects, including one exceptional gem in the exhibit.

An ambrotype of an African-American Union soldier presents him seated with his wife and two small children. A close inspection of his left lapel reveals a wonderful detail — a small round pin supporting the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

The compact nature of the presentation leaves little room for any accompanying text about the subjects. But a user-friendly touch screen interactive directly across from the photographs solves this dilemma.

Pick one of the six cabinet displays on view, and you’re on your way. Once a user finds an image of interest, he or she can zoom in and navigate around it for a greater detailed examination. Any available information about the person likewise appears with the selected photograph.

Nearly half of Americans identify states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War

By EDWARD L. AYERS

New York Times Opinion Pages

new poll from the Pew Research Center reports that nearly half of Americans identify states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War. This is a remarkable finding, because virtually all American textbooks and prominent historians emphasize slavery, as they have for decades. Even more striking, the poll shows young people put more stock in the states’ rights explanation than older people. The 38 percent of Americans who believe slavery was mainly to blame find themselves losing ground.

Of course, there’s no denying that states’ rights played an important role as the language of secession. But how might historians convey a more precise, comparative sense of the role slavery played in the states’ decision to secede? New computer-assisted techniques allow historians to draw clearer conclusions from immense amounts of data, including newspapers, public records and legislative proceedings. And few states left behind a better, more information-rich record of their secession debates than Virginia.

Virginia, a visitor from South Carolina during the secession crisis noted with exasperation, would “not take sides until she is absolutely forced.” In retrospect, it may seem surprising that Virginia took months to decide what to do. The state, after all, had more enslaved people than any other, became famous as the capital of the Confederacy, suffered more battles than anywhere else, and held to the memory of the Lost Cause with a special devotion, long after the war had ended.

But in 1861 it was by no means clear what Virginia might do. After South Carolina seceded in December 1860, quickly followed by six other states in the Lower South, Virginia’s General Assembly responded by calling for a special election in February 1861. Each county in the state would send delegates to a convention to debate the matter thoroughly and then recommend a course of action for the Commonwealth. The great majority of the 152 delegates arrived in Richmond that winter as Unionists, expecting to find a way to save the nation, the state and slavery. Virginia’s convention debated until April — so long, in fact, that secessionists built bonfires of protest in the streets of the city.

The weeks of debate in Richmond were transcribed by local reporters and then gathered and edited in 1965, totaling nearly 3,000 pages. Historians have long mined this record for material to support a wide range of arguments, but until recently it has been impossible to assess the debates as a whole — to measure, for example, exactly how often and in what contexts delegates invoked various words and phrases.

New computer-assisted tools and techniques can find and evaluate patterns of language and emphasis, otherwise hard to see, among those debates. Researchers at the University of Richmond have developed a computerized text that allows us to explore those hundreds of speeches over time and space, to find connections buried beneath parliamentary procedure and exasperating digressions. Those tools, available to the public online, also make it possible for people to explore the Virginia debates themselves, to address this enduring question with their own curiosity and ingenuity.

Some of the patterns in the speeches quickly undermine familiar arguments for Virginia’s secession. Tariffs, which generations of would-be realists have seen as the hidden engine of secession, barely register, and a heated debate over taxation proves, on closer examination, to be a debate over whether the distribution of income from taxes on enslaved people should be shared more broadly across the state. Hotheads eager to fight the Yankees did not play a leading role in the months of debates; despite the occasional outburst, when delegates mentioned war they most often expressed dread and foreboding for Virginia. Honor turns out to be a flexible concept, invoked with equal passion by both the Unionist and secessionist sides. Virtually everyone in the convention agreed that states had the right to secede, yet Unionists in Virginia won one crucial vote after another.

The language of slavery is everywhere in the debates. It appears as an economic engine, a means of civilizing Africans, an essential security against black uprisings and as a right guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Secessionists and Unionists, who disagreed on so much, agreed on the necessity of slavery, a defining feature of Virginia for over 200 years.

The language of slavery, in fact, became ever more visible as the crisis mounted to the crescendo of secession in mid-April. Slavery in Virginia, delegates warned, would immediately decay if Virginia were cut off from fellow states that served as the market for their slaves and as their political allies against the Republicans. A Virginia trapped, alone, in the United States would find itself defenseless against runaways, abolitionists and slave rebellions.

But the omnipresence of the language of slavery does not settle the 150-year debate over the relative importance of slavery and states’ rights, for the language of rights flourished as well. The debate over the protection of slavery came couched in the language of governance, in words like “state,” “people,” “union,” “right,” “constitution,” “power,” “federal” and “amendment.” Variants of the word “right,” along with variants of “slave,” appear once for every two pages in the convention minutes. When the Virginians talked of Union they talked of a political entity built on the security and sanction of slavery in all its dimensions, across the continent and in perpetuity.

Contrast this with white Republicans in the North, for whom the real issue was the threat slaveholders presented to the nation. For too long, Republicans argued, slaveholders had overridden popular majorities at home and in the United States as a whole, dragged the country into war, and corrupted the Supreme Court, the presidency and the Senate. The Republicans pointed out that only a quarter of white Southerners owned even a single slave and that the rest of Southern whites suffered from the dominion of slaveholders.

But the Republicans miscalculated, underestimating the unanimity of white Southerners, whatever their other divisions, over slavery. Entire states, not merely individuals, possessed and were possessed by slavery. Secessionists and Unionists in Virginia sought to protect the single greatest unifying interest in the state — enslaved labor — with the single language they possessed for doing so, a language of political right. The South sought to protect slavery’s interests in the only way available to them, through shifting their allegiance to a new federal system, the Confederate nation.

In short, the records of the Virginia secession debate demonstrate how the vocabularies of slavery and rights, entangled and intertwined from the very beginning of the United States, became one and the same in the secession crisis. Virginians saw themselves as victims, forced into action. Walter Leake, a delegate from Goochland County, lamented that “Northern fanaticism” had brazenly claimed “the power of the Federal Government for the purpose of advancing their selfish interests, and not for the purpose of saving the Constitution or advancing the rights and interests of all.”

The “disease which has called together this convention,” Leake lamented, was the North’s fixation on slavery. That fixation was not a mere “derangement; it is chronic, it is deep-seated,” and it must come to an end. “It is necessary for the Northern people to correct their sentiments upon the subject of slavery, it is necessary that they should abstain from intermeddling with the institution before any harmony or quiet can be restored.” No one could doubt who, or what, was to blame for the crisis of the Union.

Lincoln’s call for non-seceding states to contribute militia to put down the rebellion in South Carolina after the firing on Fort Sumter forced a choice. Virginia, willing to stand aside while the Union was dismantled, would not raise its hand against the “subjugation” of a “sister” slave state. If the federal government could coerce South Carolina it could coerce Virginia. The call for troops drove a choice between the North and the South and the secessionists seized that moment to push Virginia into disunion.

Perhaps, given new tools and perspectives, Americans can change the focus of our arguments about the “primary cause” of the Civil War. If the North fought to sustain the justice, power and authority of the federal government, the corollary, many assume, must be that the South fought for the opposite, for the power of the states.

But the equation did not balance in that way: the North did not fight at first to end slavery, but the South did fight to protect slavery. It is vital that we use the tools newly available to us to grasp this truth in its immediacy and complexity, before it fades even further from view.

Edward L. Ayers is the president and a professor of history at the University of Richmond. His book “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America” won the Bancroft Prize in American history.

Norfolk 4th-grade teacher who held mock slave auction placed on administrative leave

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A fourth-grade teacher in Norfolk who staged a mock auction of black and mixed-race students as part of a Civil War history lesson is on administrative leave.

Norfolk Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Michael Spencer tells The Virginian-Pilot an investigation of Sewells Point Elementary teacher Jessica Boyle will be completed no later than next week.

Spencer says a recommendation on any personnel action could go before the school board as early as May 18.

Division spokeswoman Elizabeth Thiel Mather has said the teacher separated black and mixed-race students from their white classmates and auctioned them.

Principal Mary B. Wrushen apologized to parents in a letter earlier this month. She said the activity wasn’t supported by the school or division.

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