Posts tagged ‘Confederate’

Confederate Sunset at Pea Ridge

This video was shot by Jeffrey S. Williams, the moderator of This Week in the Civil War, on Aug. 22, 2011 at 8 p.m.

The Battle of Honey Springs – July 17, 1863

This engraving of the Honey Springs battle was published in Harper's Weekly.

Honey Springs was the most important Civil War battle fought in Indian Territory. It preserved Union ownership of Fort Gibson and dealt Confederate forces a blow from which they never fully recovered. It also opened the way for the Federal capture of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and helped justify the recruitment of black regiments by the Union army.

In April 1863, Colonel William A. Phillips and a Union column out of Kansas challenged Confederate authority in Indian Territory by occupying Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River. Confederate brigadier general Douglas H. Cooper decided to retake that vital post, and he began gathering troops and supplies at Honey Springs, a Confederate depot twenty miles southwest of his objective.

By mid-July, Cooper had massed a mixed force of 6,000 Texans and Indians at Honey Springs. He also had a four-gun battery. Another 3,000 Confederate soldiers under Brigadier General William L. Cabell were enroute from Fort Smith, and Cooper expected them at Honey Springs sometime around 17 July. Once these reinforcements arrived, Cooper planned to advance on Fort Gibson, whose garrison barely numbered more than 3,000 men.

Unfortunately for Confederate hopes, Major General James G. Blunt, the aggressive commander of the Union District of the Frontier, learned of Cooper’s offensive preparations. Blunt realized that he had to smash the enemy at Honey Springs before Cabell arrived or forfeit Fort Gibson. Organizing a field force consisting of 3,000 men and twelve cannon, Blunt forded the Arkansas above Fort Gibson on 15-16 July and followed the Texas Road south. A rainy night march brought the Federals within six and a half miles of Honey Springs by daybreak on 17 July.

Elk Creek at the Honey Springs battlefield

Blunt discovered that Cooper had advanced a mile and a half from Honey Springs to meet him at Elk Creek. Cooper took advantage of the timber fringing the north bank of the creek to deploy his Texans and Indians in a sheltered line one and a half miles long, but his position was not as strong as it looked. Blunt’s superiority in artillery offset the Confederates’ superiority in numbers. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of Cooper’s troops lacked serviceable firearms, and their gunpowder was an inferior brand imported from Mexico. An early morning rain turned much of this powder into useless paste, leaving many rebels virtually defenseless.

The battle opened at 10:00 A.M. with a one-hour artillery duel. The Confederates knocked out a Federal 12-pound Napoleon howitzer, but their main opponents responded by disabling a mountain howitzer. Dismounting his cavalry units to fight on foot, Blunt sent them and his infantry to rake Cooper’s line with rapidly delivered small arms fire.

In keeping with his abolitionist principles, Blunt entrusted the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the first black combat regiment in the Union Army, with holding the center of his line. After nearly two hours of fighting, Blunt directed the 1st Kansas to advance and capture the rebel artillery.

The black soldiers soon found themselves exchanging volleys with the dismounted 20th and 29th Texas Cavalry, posted in support of Cooper’s guns. In the midst of this standoff, the Union 2nd Indian Home Guard Regiment blundered into the 1st Kansas Colored’s field of fire. As the Indians scampered out of the way, the Confederates mistakenly assumed that Blunt’s entire line was giving way. The 29th Texas surged forward with a cheer. The 1st Kansas calmly permitted their opponents to close to twenty-five paces and then unleashed a series of destructive volleys that sent the Texans reeling to the rear without their regimental colors. A jubilant Blunt later reported: “I never saw such fighting as was done by the negro regiment. They fought like veterans, with a coolness and valor that is unsurpassed. They preserved their line perfect throughout the whole engagement and, although in the hottest of the fight, they never once faltered. Too much praise cannot be awarded for their gallantry.”

1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry, Colored, marker at the Honey Springs battlefield

With the center of the Confederate line shattered beyond repair, Cooper retreated across Elk Creek. Blunt drove the Confederates past Honey Springs and managed to save much of the depot’s stocks of foodstuffs from fires hastily set by his beaten foes. The fighting ended at 2:00 P.M., two hours before Cabell arrived on the scene with his 3,000 men from Fort Smith.

At a loss of seventeen killed and sixty wounded, Blunt had saved Fort Gibson and the Union foothold in Indian Territory. Cooper admitted to 134 killed and wounded and forty-seven captured, but his army had suffered a major blow. Henceforth, Confederate forces in Indian Territory would confine themselves to hit-and-run raids against Union supply trains.

[Written by Gregory J.W. Urwin in the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History by David S. and Jeanne Heidler. pp. 994-995]

For further reading:

Britton, Wiley. Memoirs of the Rebellion on the Border, 1863 (1993).

Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (1966).

Fischer, LeRoy H. The Civil War Era in Indian Territory (1974).

Josephy, Alvin M. The Civil War in the American West (1991).

Rampp, Larry C., and Donald L. Rampp. The Civil War in Indian Territory (1975).

Maryland seeks to buy 14 acres of land near South Mountain Civil War battlefield for $55,600

Civil War Cannons in Maryland

MIDDLETOWN, Md. (AP) — A Department of Natural Resources official says the state of Maryland is seeking to buy some land near the South Mountain Civil War battlefield.

John Braskey told The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown newspaper on Tuesday that the two parcels near Middletown total 14.6 acres. One is a 9.1-acre parcel atop South Mountain that saw action during the battle. The smaller piece has scenic value.

The land belongs to the Central Maryland Heritage League. The group says the state has offered a fair price of about $55,600.

The deal would require approval by the state Board of Public Works.

South Mountain is Maryland’s only state-run Civil War battlefield. Federal and Confederate forces clashed there on Sept. 14, 1862, three days before the Battle of Antietam.

State considering land near South Mountain State Battlefield

By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

6:21 PM EDT, August 16, 2011

The state has offered to buy land near South Mountain State Battlefield.

The parcels are the 9.1-acre Wise South Field and the 5.5-acre Mahaffey Woods, said John Braskey, the Western Maryland regional administrator for land acquisition and planning for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The land belongs to the Central Maryland Heritage League, a nonprofit group based in Middletown, Md.

Executive Director Bill Wilson said the league is interested in selling the parcels to the state. He said the state offered to pay $55,575, a price he called “eminently fair.”

He said the league is awaiting further instructions from the state on how the contract will be drawn up.

The final agreement will be sent to the state Board of Public Works for its approval.

South Mountain State Park runs along the border of Frederick and Washington counties.

The Department of Natural Resources’ website says the Civil War battle fought there on Sept. 14, 1862, was the first in Maryland and a turning point in the war.

“The Union victories at South Mountain and Antietam (fought three days later) led President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation,” the DNR’s website says.

Wilson said the Wise property, at the top of South Mountain, encompasses land around Reno Monument and is battlefield land.

The Mahaffey property is about a quarter mile away on Reno Monument Road and is part of the viewshed around the battlefield.

Both parcels have easements that don’t allow development.

Wilson said the Central Maryland Heritage League and the state have talked about a possible sale for at least five years.

The idea resurfaced recently. A July 21 letter from the Department of Natural Resources to Terry Baker, the president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, says there is a “potential real estate acquisition” in Washington County.

The DNR contacted Washington County because the properties “straddle the county line,” the letter says.

On this date in Civil War history: August 1, 1861

Thursday August 1, 1861

General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A.

General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A. Army, and adviser to President Davis, arrived in western Virginia on an uncertain mission to coordinate an inspect the various Confederate force there. However, the mission soon developed into his taking command, replacing W. W. Loring, who had succeeded slain Gen. Garnett.

Way to the southwest in New Mexico Territory, John R. Baylor, with his “buffalo hunters” who were really Confederate soldiers, proclaimed in the name of the Confederacy the possession of all New Mexico and Arizona south of the 34th parallel. Pro-unionists of New Mexico, however, considered it more of a “Texas invasion.” There was a slight skirmish at Endina, Mo. Brazil recognized the Confederate States of America as a belligerent.

President Davis wrote from Richmond to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas on military matters and said, “We must be prompt to avail ourselves of the weakness resulting” from the moral effect produced by the Bull Run defeat of the Federals. The U.S. Senate debated a bill to suppress insurrection and sedition. The Onandaga County, N.Y. , Cavalry, eighty strong, left for war with a young bride, Mrs. Cook, accompanying her husband as “daughter of the regiment.” President Lincoln appointed Gustavus Vasa Fox Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Fox had been chief clerk of the department and already had a prominent role in the administration of thing naval.

[Source: Long, E.B. with Barbara Long, The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865]

Civil War comes back to life on Virginia battlefield

By Fabienne Faur (AFP)

Reenactors gather to reenact the 1st Bull Run/1st Manassas Battle in Virginia on July 23, 2011(AFP, Karen Bleier)

MANASSAS, Virginia — The cannons boomed and the guns flared as the mists of times parted, and north and south squared off again on a Virginia field in a living reminder of the first major battle of the Civil War.

“We know the war is over,” said Ron Miller, proudly attired in the uniform of the southern Confederacy, which went on to win this battle 150 years ago, though not ultimately the war.

But he said “it’s important that our country remembers its heritage and its history. I do this to teach our history to our children.”

This weekend, under baking hot temperatures, thousands of spectators were gathering to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861 at Manassas, in the southern state of Virginia.

Miller, whose great-grandfather and great-great grandfather fought in the four-year Civil War, is one of hundreds of history fans who at weekends don the uniforms of their forefathers and reenact battles from the war that forged modern-day America.

With their red wool shirts and black trousers, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry reenactors prepare to do battle at the 150th anniversary of 1st Bull Run on July 23, 2011(AFP, Karen Bleier)

“Look how they load the cannon,” Miller, 60, told children watching him intently as more than 8,700 reenactors as well as some 375 cavalry horses from the US, Canada and Europe were Saturday and Sunday recreating history here.

The re-enactment of the battle is just one of hundreds of events being held around the United States to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the 1861-1865 war.

“I’ve always been fond of history,” Miller told AFP, saying he was inspired by the tales handed down by his relatives. His great grandfather had even enlisted at 14 and fought in every major engagement.

Across the vast site outside Manassas, white tents were erected to serve as bivouacs and give historical insights into life in this corner of the South, 150 years ago.

A man dressed in the style of a French Zouave soldier was taking a nap, as lone violinists played softly nearby.

Despite the baking sun, Kevin Zepp, 60, stood tall in his simple gray wool trousers marked with the colors of his Alabama regiment.

“If you were a farmer or a worker in a factory, you had these trousers. It’s like the modern jeans, you put the military stripes on it,” he explained.

Sheltering under a tree, Karen Quanbeck, 52, explained that she was playing the role of Catherine Barbara Broune, a peasant woman who had worked with her brother, a priest, to transport the wounded and find medicines.

And while this weekend’s events hold a special historical significance, there are hundreds of volunteers who dress up in costumes throughout the year to bring the Civil War back to life across the country.

“We meet once a month,” said retired teacher Nancy Anwyll, from Springfield, Virginia. “I’ve had an ancestor in the Civil War on both sides. I’m trying to learn more what they had to endure, I have to learn what they went through.”

War broke out in April 1861 soon after 11 southern states formed the Confederate States of America. While the exact causes of the war are still hotly debated, there is no doubt that an over-riding issue was slavery.

The agricultural South relied heavily on slaves to work their rich cotton plantations and feared the new US president, Abraham Lincoln, would eventually set them free.

Federal cavalrymen prepare to clash at the 150th Anniversary of 1st Bull Run Reenactment on July 23, 2011(AFP, Karen Bleier)

While Lincoln declared an end to slavery in 1863, race relations remain one of the nation’s most divisive issues.

“A lot of differences we had during the civil war do exist today — the state rights, the race relations — there’s a lot of things we can still work out today,” said Dennis Rabida, 46, from New Jersey.

Retired soldier Dan Byers said he had come to “honor his ancestors,” recalling that the northerners had “invaded our country,” the South.

The clashes in Manassas were ferocious, pitting a northern Union army of some 30,000 against a slightly smaller Confederate force.

In the end, the Confederates won the battle, although they were to go on to lose the war. About 5,000 troops on both sides died on the Manassas battlefield that day, but by the end of the war, the toll was 600,000 lives lost.

On this date in history: July 21, 1861 – Battle of 1st Bull Run/1st Manassas

Manassas Junction, Virginia, was the magnet that attracted the armies of North and South to the banks of Bull Run in July 1861. There two railroads, the Manassas Gap and the Orange & Alexandria, connected thirty miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The Orange & Alexandria was a natural line of advance for a Union army marching southward from Washington, while the Manassas Gap was important because Confederate forces in northern Virginia were divided. Eleven thousand men under Joseph E. Johnston guarded the Shenandoah Valley, while Pierre G.T. Beauregard had 22,000 men at Manassas, Centreville, and Fairfax Court House. The Manassas Gap linked these two armies and made it possible for the South to concentrate its forces wherever the threat was greatest.

The commanding general of the Union army, Winfield Scott, opposed an offensive into Virginia. Such a move, Scott feared, would only exacerbate sectional tensions. He also had little faith in the ninety-day volunteers that had been gathering around Washington since April. President Abraham Lincoln, however, believed a quick offensive against Manassas was worth a try and ordered Union general Irvin McDowell to organize a 35,000-man army for an operation against Manassas. McDowell shared Scott’s apprehensions over the reliability of his untrained army, but received little sympathy from Lincoln, who admonished, “You are green it is true, but they are green also.”

General Irvin McDowell

On 16 July, McDowell’s army began its march out of Washington, but did not reach Fairfax Court House until the evening of the seventeenth, giving the Rebels time to evacuate their advanced outpost there. McDowell’s lead division, under Daniel Tyler, reached Centreville the following day and found Beauregard had already evacuated the town to concentrate behind Bull Run. Tyler then pushed on toward the Bull Run crossings, provoking a sharp skirmish at Blackburn’s Ford, in which the Confederates thrashed Tyler’s force and forced it to withdraw back to Centreville.

Beauregard’s army was now positioned in an eight-mile line that was strong on the right, where the Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed Bull Run and a series of fords – Mitchell’s, Blackburn’s, and McLean’s – provided convenient crossing points. Alone at the far left was Nathan G. Evan’s brigade overlooking a stone bridge where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed Bull Run.

After the setback at Blackburn’s Ford and reconnaisances demonstrated that Beauregard’s right was too strong to be attacked, McDowell learned that Sudley Ford, a few miles upstream from the stone bridge, was weakly defended and offered a convenient route around the Confederate left. So on 20 July he drew up a battle plan that called for Tyler to march his division west along the Warrenton Turnpike from Centreville toward the stone bridge, followed by David Hunter’s and Samuel Heintzelman’s divisions. Tyler would make a demonstration at the bridge to make Beauregard think the main attack would come there, while Heintzelman and Hunter turned north and moved to Sudley Ford. There they would cross the run at 7:00 and then march south along the Manassas-Sudley Road to crush Beauregard’s left and rear.

Rails of the Manassas Gap Railroad Jan 1865 (Andrew Joseph Russell photo)

It was a good plan. However, its success, like McDowell’s entire campaign, depended upon whether Robert Patterson’s army in the Valley could prevent Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard. Unfortunately for McDowell, Patterson failed, and on 19 July units from Johnston’s army began boarding railroad cars bound for Manassas.

To make matters worse for McDowell, his plan began unraveling from the minute he awoke his men at 2:00 A.M. on 21 July. First, it took an hour for Tyler to get on the road toward the stone bridge. His division then marched at a snail’s pace through the pitch black night until it finally reached the stone bridge at 5:30 A.M. Yet the flanking force had only just begun moving north toward Sudley Ford. At 6 A.M. Tyler began his demonstration by firing an artillery shell across Bull Run; Hunter’s lead brigade under Union General Ambrose Burnside was three miles from Sudley Ford. To make matters worse, Burnside found the road leading to their crossing point was little more than a cart path. Not until 9:30 A.M. – over two hours behind schedule – did the 13,000-man Union flanking force begin crossing Bull Run.

By 8 A.M. Evans had begun to suspect that Tyler’s force at the stone bridge was in fact a feint, a suspicion that was confirmed by a warning from a Confederate signal station: “Look out for your left, you are turned.” Leading 200 men to watch Tyler, Evans led 900 men north to Matthews Hill. By midmorning, the Confederate force on Matthews Hill had swelled to 2,800 with the arrival of Francis Bartow’s and Barnard Bee’s brigades. Their goal was simply to slow down the Federal army and buy time for Beauregard and Johnston to shift forces north to save the Confederate flank.

They bought an hour and a half. By 11:30 A.M. McDowell’s flanking force had crushed the Confederate line on Matthews Hill and sent the Rebels fleeing southward. “Victory! Victory!” an ecstatic McDowell shouted to his men on Matthews Hill. “The day is ours.”

This was not how Beauregard had expected the battle to develop. He had massed his forces on the right so he could attack McDowell’s left and rear and won the approval of Johnston, who had arrived at Manassas on 19 July to assume overall command, for the scheme. Yet, the complex and confusing orders Beauregard issued for the operation and the crisis on Matthews Hill compelled the Southern commanders to abandon this plan and begin shifting forces northward.

The Henry House and the Bull Run Monument on the Manassas Battlefield during a Spring storm. (Photo by Rob Shenk)

Henry Hill, approximately a mile and a half south of Matthews Hill and six miles north of Manassas Junction, would be the key to the battle. If McDowell could capture it, his victory would be complete. But instead of immediately pushing his 18,000 men southward to drive the beaten and disorganized remnants of Evans’s, Bartow’s, and Bee’s commands off Henry Hill, McDowell decided to have only James B. Ricketts’s and Charles Griffin’s batteries fire at the hill from Dogan’s Ridge.

Beauregard and Johnston took full advantage of McDowell’s generosity and began moving reinforcements to Henry Hill. The most important to arrive, Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade, reached the hill around noon. Upon his arrival, Jackson ordered his five regiments of infantry to take cover on the reverse slope of Henry Hill and began rounding up artillery pieces. By the time McDowell decided that he would have to fight for Henry Hill, Jackson had thirteen guns in position.

At around 2 P.M. McDowell ordered the batteries on Dogan’s Ridge to Henry Hill so they could blast Jackson’s line at short range. Ricketts arrived on the hill shortly thereafter and placed his guns south of Henry House, with three hundred yards of open ground between him and Jackson. Griffin’s battery then arrived on Ricketts’s left and a massive duel commenced between their eleven guns and Jackson’s artillery.

The Confederates got the better of the exchange. The Federals were now within range of Jackson’s smoothbore cannon, which they had not been on Dogan’s Ridge, and began taking significant casualties. At the same time, the Confederate line was now too close for the rifled Federal guns to be effective and most of their shells sailed harmlessly over the heads of the Confederates. To make matters worse, McDowell’s efforts to push up infantry support to Ricketts and Griffin were unsuccessful, while Jackson’s line grew stronger by the minute.

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson got his nickname at First Bull Run/First Manassas (Library of Congress)

Then, as the guns roared, a legend was born that would fire Southern hearts for years to come. As he rallied his troops behind Jackson’s line, General Barnard Bee beseeched them to “follow me back to where the fighting is.” When they asked there that was, Bee dramatically pointed to his left and shouted, “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall; let’s go to his assistance.”

As this was going on, Griffin concluded that a change of tactics was necessary if the Federals were going to break the Confederate line. He then took two guns back to the Sudley Road, turned south, swung around Rickett’s guns, and positioned them on a slight rise to Ricketts’s right. From here, Griffin hoped to hit Jackson’s line with a destructive enfilade fire.

At approximately 3 P.M. Griffin observed an unidentified force moving toward his new position from the right. Although a number of men in this force were wearing blue uniforms, Griffin deduced that it was hostile and ordered his men to load their guns with canister. Just then, McDowell’s chief of artillery, William Barry, told Griffin: “Don’t fire there. Those are your battery support.” Griffin disagreed. “They are Confederates,” he protested, “as certain as the world.” Barry was adamant: “I know they are your battery support.” Griffin reluctantly yielded to the judgment of his superior.

The unidentified force was in fact Confederate William Smith’s battalion of Virginia troops. Seventy yards from Griffin’s position they stopped, lowered their muskets, and fired a devastating volley at the Federal gunners. Smith and Arthur Cummings’s 33d Virginia Infantry Regiment then charged and captured Griffin’s guns. Sensing the tide had turned, Jackson then ordered two of his regiments to charge Ricketts’s battery. Soon Ricketts’s guns were in Rebel hands as well.

Centreville, Virginia after the July 1861 battle. (Library of Congress)

Just then McDowell finally managed to get infantry up to his beleaguered artillerymen and a desperate struggle ensued in which the guns changed hands several times. The Federal effort was fatally compromised, however, by McDowell’s failure to commit fully his superior numbers and the fact that, although McDowell managed to get fifteen regiments into the battle, not once did more than two join the fight together. Finally, at around 4 P.M.  a spirited charge by two regiments from Confederate colonel Phillip St. George Cocke’s brigade pushed the last Union forces off Henry Hill.

As the battle raged on Henry Hill, McDowell ordered Oliver O. Howard’s brigade to Chinn Ridge. If Howard could seize the ridge, he would be on the western flank of Henry Hill and in an ideal position from which to deliver a decisive stroke against the Confederate line. Just then, however, Arnold Elzey’s and Jubal Early’s brigades, the last Confederate reinforcements from the Shenandoah Valley, reached the battlefield. At 4 P.M. they arrived on Chinn Ridge and crushed Howard’s command. Beauregard then ordered his entire line forward. This convinced McDowell that his army had enough for one day, and at 4:30 P.M. the Federal retreat began.

The ruins of the Cub Run Bridge after the July 1861 battle. (Library of Congress)

With their army “more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat,” the Confederate high command was unable to organize an effective pursuit. The Federals were thus able to recross Bull Run well enough, but then a Confederate artillery shell capsized a wagon on the Cub Run Bridge, creating a bottleneck on their line of retreat. Whatever order had existed until then evaporated as panic gripped the exhausted Union troops and the civilians who had come out to Centreville to watch the battle. The retreat degenerated into a chaotic flight back to Washington, and what had been a closely fought battle became a decisive Southern victory. Altogether, nearly 900 men had been killed and over 2,700 wounded, numbers that would pale in comparison to later battles, but nonetheless shocked a nation that had naively expected a relatively bloodless war. 

Southerners had anticipated that one victory such as Bull Run would persuade the North to abandon the effort to restore the Union by force. Lincoln, however, made it clear after the battle that he would continue the fight by organizing new armies for the long war to come. Thirteen months later the men in blue and gray would beet again in battle on the plains of Manassas.

Written by Ethan S. Rafus for Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2000) (pp. 312-316).

For further reading:

Davis, William C. Battle at Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War (1977).

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenant’s: A Study in Command, vol. 1 (1942-1944).

Hennessy, John. The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence July 18-21, 1861 (1989).

Johnson, Robert Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Being for the Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers (1887-1888).

U.S. War Department. War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (1880-1901).

Remembering the 1,040-man West Michigan regiment who fought in Civil War 150 years ago

By Garret Ellison | The Grand Rapids Press  

GRAND RAPIDS — In the shadow of the old South High School on Hall Street SE, current home of the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center, sits a boulder steeped in history.

A Civil War memorial boulder is re-dedicated during a ceremony commemorating Cantonment Anderson Saturday outside the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center. The ceremony included several readings, and a speech from Mayor George Heartwell. (Emily Zoladz | The Grand Rapids Press)

The large rock, inscribed with the words “Cantonment Anderson,” is a tribute to the Third Michigan volunteer infantry regiment soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, and it rests on the site of the regiment’s original muster in May 1861.

The boulder, first dedicated in a reunion of surviving regiment members 100 years ago, was rededicated in a memorial ceremony on Saturday, two days shy of the regiment’s 150-year departure anniversary.

A new informational tablet also was unveiled that details the history of the spot and the men who left there to fight and die in the war.

“These were real people in a very real time,” said historian David Britten, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee schools and author of the book “Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard.”

By horseback, stagecoach and train, scores of men from the surrounding counties arrived in Grand Rapids following the call by President Abraham Lincoln for troops to preserve the union following the April 12, 1861 attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate rebels.

They organized into companies on 40 acres at the Kent County Agricultural Fairgrounds along Kalamazoo Plank Road, or what’s now South Division Avenue. It was not a beautiful spot, said Britten, but rather a swampy area in need of proper barracks.

The name “Cantonment Anderson” is an apparent homage to Major Robert Anderson, former commander of South Carolina’s Fort Sumter, said Bruce Butgereit, executive director of History Remembered Inc.

Excerpts from soldier’s letters describe a race track that was used for camp drill and a semi-circular, two-story hall that lodged 700 men in shared ship-style bunks with a straw beds and blankets. The smell was apparently quite awful.

Meals were mostly beef, bread, butter and potatoes, with an “indescribable” soup for dinner and coffee in the morning. Camp was a rowdy place full of men who “soon found out what it was like to be in the south wearing wool in July,” said Britten.

The 1,040-man regiment left for the front via the rail depot at Leonard and Plainfield, marching through downtown to the waved handkerchiefs and tearful good byes of the city’s residents, said Butgereit.

The Third Michigan saw action in a dozen campaigns before being disbanded mid-war, when the remaining men were rolled into the Fifth Michigan regiment, Britten said.

Men from the “Old Third” fought and died in storied battles like First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Appomattox and Gettysburg.

The regiment was originally commanded by Colonel Daniel McConnell, who resigned after six months. Stephen Champlin took over as colonel. He died in 1864 and is buried in Fulton Street Cemetery.

Saturday’s ceremony was presented by the Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and the Gen. John A. Logan Camp No. 1, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

The Schubert Male Chorus sang the national anthem and “America,” as color guard volunteers in period dress performed rededication rituals preceding the tablet unveiling.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell read an account from a book by acclaimed Civil War author Bruce Catton, describing the actions of the Third Michigan in a battle near Sharpsville, Pa., where the greenhorn regiment had a “baptism by fire.”

It’s easy to forget that 150 years ago, battles were fought hand-to-hand, said Heartwell.

More than half of the Third Michigan suffered some kind of casualty, said Britten, whether it be a battle injury, disease or the result of primitive field medical treatments that often did more harm than good.

More than 286 Third Michigan men died in service. Some were captured by the Confederacy. Two men received Congressional Medals of Honor; Benjamin K. Morse, buried in Lowell, and Walter L. Mundell, buried in St. Johns.

“This boulder and tablet ensures that they haven’t been forgotten,” said Butgereit. The original boulder was placed on site by the Sophie deMarsac Campau chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on June 13, 1911.

Press stories about the dedication in 1911 said about 130 members of the regiment survived at the time and 65 of them attended a banquet to mark the 50th anniversary of their deployment at the Morton House in downtown Grand Rapids.

“As the soldiers gathered the air of patriotism and the ardor for the flag and its meaning was so prevalent it seemed old Cantonment Anderson never would be forgotten,” the Press wrote of the original dedication of the boulder. “It will be remembered long after the passing of the men who immortalized the neighborhood. School children will see the boulder and oft be reminded of the men in whose honor it was placed.”

Britten said the 126th Army National Guard Cavalry Regiment stationed at the Grand Valley Armory in Wyoming traces its roots to the Third Michigan.

E-mail the author of this story: localnews@grpress.com

Banners of glory: NY state to display Civil War flags in new exhibit at Capitol

By Chris Carola, The Associated Press

In this June 8, 2011 photo, Sarah Stevens, a textile conservator for New York state, does restoration work on a 7th New York Regiment Armory flag in Waterford, N.Y. Eight Civil War flags will go on exhibit at the Capitol in Albany on July 12 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

WATERFORD, N.Y. — A Confederate flag with links to president Abraham Lincoln and the first Union officer killed in the Civil War will be the centrepiece of an exhibit featuring New York’s large collection of banners from the conflict, state officials said Thursday.

The flag Col. Elmer Ellsworth was carrying after removing it from the roof of the Marshall House in Alexandria, Va., on May 24, 1861, will be part of an eight-flag exhibit opening July 12 in the “War Room” on the second floor of the state capitol. It’s believed to be the first time the banner will be on public display since the war, according to Christopher Morton, assistant curator at the New York State Military Museum.

Ellsworth, the 24-year-old leader of a New York infantry regiment, was shot and killed by innkeeper James Jackson. Ellsworth had just descended from the roof of Jackson’s hotel where the staunch secessionist had been flying the flag since shortly after the war broke out in April 1861. A Union soldier fatally shot Jackson after the innkeeper fired a shotgun into Ellsworth’s chest.

With the war’s first major battles still weeks away, Ellsworth became the North’s “first martyr,” while Jackson received equal billing in the South.

Adding to the notoriety of Ellsworth’s death — and the Marshall House flag — was his status as a close friend of Lincoln and his family. The young officer had spent time playing with the president’s young sons at the White House, where Lincoln, using a spyglass, could see the large Confederate flag flying in neighbouring Virginia, which had seceded from the Union on May 23. A day later, Lincoln ordered Union troops to cross the Potomac River and occupy Alexandria.

Ellsworth and a small detachment headed to the Marshall House, where he was shot on a stairway inside the inn while holding the bundled-up flag.

“It has an appeal to both the North and the South,” Morton said of the banner, which has large swaths missing thanks to souvenir hunters who cut out pieces in the aftermath of Ellsworth’s death. “I can’t say it’s the most important flag for the whole war, but it’s certainly up there.”

The Capitol exhibit, “1861: Banners for Glory,” features seven other flags unfurled that year. It runs through June 2012, the first of five such exhibits commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war.

State textile conservators have been working on the banners in the exhibit as part of New York’s decade-long effort to conserve its collection of 2,000 battle flags dating back to the War of 1812. About 900 are from the Civil War. Most are from New York units, although a handful of Confederate flags are among the collection.

Many of the flags are ripped and holed from bullets and shrapnel. A few still show blood stains, a vivid reminder of the terrible toll colour bearers suffered on the 19th-century’s smoke-obscured battlefields, where flags were used to mark a regiment’s position and serve as a rallying point.

Sarah Stevens, one of the state experts who works on the flag collection, said she tries to push aside thoughts of the men who held the historic flags she’s conserving, but the condition of many of the 150-year-old relics doesn’t make it easy.

The Marshall House flag is “stained with blood” believed to be Ellsworth’s, Stevens said. The banner is an example of an early Confederate flag known as the “Stars and Bars,” a forerunner to the better-known rebel battle flag typically used by Southern armies later in the war.

Stevens, associate conservator at the state’s Peebles Island Resource Center in Waterford, works in the climate-controlled warren of spacious rooms in a converted textile mill on an island where the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers meet north of Albany. Owing to the fragile conditions of the Civil War banners, the painstaking preservation process and last year’s state budget cuts, they’ve conserved only about 500 flags.

The cost of the Capitol exhibit was covered by a $30,000 grant from the Coby Foundation, a New York City organization that funds projects in the textile and needle arts field. Another $13,000 in private donations from historic groups and individuals paid for the banners’ preservation, according to the state parks department, which operates the Peebles Island facility, the headquarters of the state Bureau of Historic Sites.

New York’s collection of Civil War battle flags is the largest in the United States, Morton said.

“It not just the quantity … it’s the quality, the historic significance, the relevance that makes the New York state collection the most grand in the nation,” he said.

New York began collecting flags from its state regiments while the war still raged. The first ones arrived in Albany in 1863, and an official flag presentation ceremony was held two years later on July 4, nearly three months after the conflict ended.

By then, the Marshall House flag was already in the hands of New York state, Morton said. Like hundreds of others, it remained furled around a staff and displayed in tall wood-and-glass cases in the Capitol, where more than a century’s exposure to humidity and light caused further deterioration of the banners.

Some of the flags remain in the Capitol displays, awaiting their turn at the conservators. Others are stored at Peebles Island or the military museum in Saratoga Springs, 50 kilometres north of Albany. Morton said the state hopes to someday have the entire collection under the same roof.

Historian Recounts Role of Chinese Americans Who Fought In US Civil War

by Dave DeForest, Voice of America

Many people would be surprised to know that there were some Asian faces in the
crowds of white and black soldiers serving in the American Civil War.

The participation of Asians, and in particular Chinese Americans, comes into focus this month as the United States marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the war.

It began in 1861 after the election of an anti-slavery president, Abraham Lincoln. Fearing the eventual abolition of slavery, eleven southern states bolted from the union, setting up the pro-slavery Confederate States of America.

The rebels resisted military efforts by the North to bring them back into the union, sparking four years of war that left more than 600,000 people dead.

Even though there were only about 200 Chinese-Americans living in the eastern United States at the time, 58 of them fought in the Civil War. Because of their previous experiences at sea, many of them served in the U.S. Navy.

Only one Chinese-American soldier was actually born on American soil.  The rest had come to the U.S. through the Pacific slave trade, adoption by Americans, independent immigration or the influence of missionaries.

Author Ruthanne Lum McCunn, an expert on Chinese-American history, says three Chinese-Americans rose to the rank of corporal in all-white units. “This might not seem like much but if you look at the way the armed services were operating at that time, it actually was significant,” she said.

Corporal Joseph Pierce, who as a child was brought to the United States from China by his adoptive father, fought in several major campaigns of the war including Antietam and Gettysburg. He was honored by having his picture displayed at the Gettysburg Museum.

“It is also important to remember that not all the Chinese who fought in the Civil War fought for the Union,” McCunn said. “At least five have been identified as fighting for the Confederacy,” she pointed out.

Two of these, Christopher and Stephen Bunker, were children of Siamese twins Chang and Eng, who had been brought to the U.S. to appear in the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  The twins, of Chinese heritage, became prosperous, slave-owning farmers in North Carolina. It was not surprising, therefore, that their sons should fight for the South.

With so few Asians in the country, many Americans were puzzled as to how Chinese should be classified racially. “At the time of the 1860 census, there was only the differentiation of white, black and mulatto [mixed race],” McCunn explained.

Many people in 1800’s America had never even seen a person of Asian background. “There was a young Chinese, John Tomney, who served in a New York outfit, and when he was captured, a rebel general asked him, ‘What are you—a Mulatto, Indian or what?’” McCunn said.

Indications are that the Chinese soldiers were treated fairly well in the ranks. “I think whereas these men seemed to have been accepted by their fellow soldiers, what’s important to remember is the institutional racism of the time,” McCunn said.

Racism, of course, was at the heart of the system of black slavery and it is not surprising that Asians would also suffer discrimination.

Even though an 1862 act of Congress promised U.S. citizenship to any honorably discharged foreign veteran, Chinese Americans were denied that right because an earlier law allowed the naturalization of whites only.

“There were Chinese, like Edward Day Cohota, who not only served in the Civil War, but became a soldier in the regular army after the war, and served for 20 years—he was denied citizenship,” McCunn said.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which until 1943 made it technically illegal for Chinese to become citizens, although the law was inconsistently enforced.

Years after the war, Cohota was said to have enjoyed telling his children that he had voted repeatedly–in fact, had cast his ballots for Republicans for 30 years–before it was found out that he was not really a citizen and therefore not qualified to vote.

In 2008, Congressman Mike Honda, himself of Asian descent, persuaded Congress to pass a resolution honoring the contribution of Asian-Americans in the U.S. Civil War.

Even so, Ruthanne McCumm points out, Chinese-Americans are yet to be included in any histories of the war and their participation is unknown to many.

In North, Civil War sites, events long ‘forgotten’

By RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – The gravesite of a Union Army major general sits largely forgotten in a small cemetery along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

A piece of the coat worn by President Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated rests quietly in a library attic in a Boston suburb. It’s shown upon request, a rare occurrence.

In this Friday, March 25, 2011 photo, a workman does repairs at the Framingham History Center behind a statue of a Union soldier in Framingham, Mass. Volunteers also hope to raise about $1 million to repair the cracked walls and leaky ceiling of the History Center, which houses much of the town's memorial to the Civil War. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

A monument honoring one of the first official Civil War black units stands in a busy intersection in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse, barely gaining notice from the hustle of tourists and workers who pass by each day.

As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, states in the old South — the side that lost — are hosting elaborate re-enactments, intricate memorials, even formal galas highlighting the war’s persistent legacy in the region. But for many states in the North — the side that won — only scant, smaller events are planned in an area of the nation that helped sparked the conflict but now, historians say, struggles to acknowledge it.

“It’s almost like it never happened,” said Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center in Framingham, Mass. “But all you have to do is look around and see evidence that it did. It’s just that people aren’t looking here.”

Massachusetts, a state that sent more than 150,000 men to battle and was home to some of the nation’s most radical abolitionists, created a Civil War commemoration commission just earlier this month. Aging monuments stand unattended, sometimes even vandalized. Sites of major historical events related to the war remain largely unknown and often compete with the more regionally popular American Revolution attractions.

Meanwhile, states like Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri not only established commissions months, if not years ago, but also have ambitious plans for remembrance around well-known tourist sites and events. In South Carolina, for example, 300 Civil War re-enactors participated last week in well-organized staged battles to mark the beginning of the war.

To be sure, some Northern states have Civil War events planned and have formed commemoration commissions. Connecticut’s 150th Civil War Commemoration was set up in 2008 and has scheduled a number of events and exhibits until 2015. Vermont, the first state to outlaw slavery, started a similar commission last year to coordinate activities statewide and in towns.

And some Massachusetts small non-profit and historic groups are trying to spark interest through research, planned tours and town events.

But observers say those events pale in comparison to those in the South.

That difference highlights Northern states’ long struggle with how to remember a war that was largely fought on Southern soil, said Steven Mintz, a Columbia University history professor and author of “Moralists and Modernizers: America’s Pre-Civil War Reformers.” For Northern states like Massachusetts, Mintz said revisiting the Civil War also means revisiting their own unsolved, uncomfortable issues like racial inequality after slavery.

“We’ve spent a century and a half turning (the war) into a gigantic North-South football game in which everybody was a hero,” Mintz said. “In other words, we depoliticized the whole meaning of the war. And insofar as it was captured, it was captured by the descendants of the Confederates.”

Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group open to male descendants of veterans who served in the Confederate armed forces, boast 30,000 members across the Old South.

The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War has 6,000 members.

Kevin Tucker, Massachusetts Department Commander for the Sons of the Union Veterans, said some Northern descendants don’t even know they’re related to Union veterans. “I found out after my father did some research and discovered that my great-great-grandfather had collected a Union pension,” said Tucker, of Wakefield. “Until then, I had no idea.”

Mark Simpson, 57, South Carolina commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his family knew for generations about his great-great-grandfather’s service in the Confederacy. “I visit his gravesite every year and put a flag down,” Simpson said. “He is real to me.”

Mintz said the North has another factor affecting its Civil War memory: immigration from Italy and Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. He said those populations, and more recent immigrants, sometimes struggle to identify with that war compared to more contemporary ones.

Then, Mintz said, after the Civil War a number of Northerners moved West — and to the South.

History buffs with the Framingham History Center in Framingham, Mass., a town where residents say “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first sung, said they are using the sesquicentennial to bring attention to long-forgotten local Civil War sites and personalities. Included in a planned event is a celebration at Harmony Grove, site of many anti-slavery rallies where abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison famously burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution and called it a “pact with the Devil.”

Today, only a small plaque in front of a house announces the historic site now surrounded by industrial lots, train tracks and a motorcycle shop.

Volunteers also hope to raise around $1 million for Framingham’s dilapidated Civil War memorial building to repair its cracked walls and leaky ceiling. The building houses a memorial honoring Framingham soldiers killed in the war and an American flag that flew over the Battles of Gettysburg and Antietam. (Murphy said the flag was discovered in the 1990s after being forgotten in a case for 90 years.)

Fred Wallace, the town’s historian, said that more importantly, volunteers wanted to bring attention to General George H. Gordon, a long-forgotten Union hero from Framingham who was a prolific writer and organizer of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. “I don’t understand how this man was lost to history,” said Wallace, who has researched Gordon’s life and is now writing a biography on him. “He was in the middle of everything.”

During a recent afternoon, Murphy took a reporter and photographer to Gordon’s gravesite, which she said would be included in a planned walking tour. But Murphy couldn’t locate the site and a cemetery official needed to comb through maps to find it.

Murphy said putting the pieces together of Gordon’s life is part of the fun, even when it surprises residents.

“When I was told that I lived in what used to be a barn of Gen. Gordon’s horse,” 81-year-old Ellen Shaw said, “I was like … General who?”

Since then Shaw has joined history buffs in searching for what they believe is a marker announcing the gravesite of Ashby, Gordon’s horse in many battles. She hasn’t located it on her property.

“I hope I find it one day when I’m just walking around outside,” Shaw said. “Then I can say, ‘Glad to meet you. Sorry we forgot about you.'”

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