December 30, 1863 Bermuda and the Confederacy

“As a consequence of the naval blockade, Bermuda — along with the Bahamas and Cuba — became a centre of Confederate commerce. A steady stream of fast-running ships from the South clandestinely skirted the Union blockade, passing through St. George’s carrying cotton from Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina for English manufacturers; they made the return journeys freighted with European armaments. Bermuda was both a transhipment point where cotton was directly exchanged for British weapons warehoused here and a refuelling depot for Confederate blockade runners making transatlantic runs.” – Hat tip BerNews.com


South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, the first of 11 states to do so. War broke out in April, and the Confederacy desperately needed ships for its fledgling Navy. The CSA needed manufactured goods as well, goods no longer available from the industrialized North. The answer, in both cases, was Great Britain. While remaining officially neutral, England soon became primary ship builders and trade partners for the Confederacy.

For the British military, Bermuda had already demonstrated its value. Bermuda based privateers captured 298 American ships during the war of 1812. The place served as a base for amphibious operations as well, such as the 1815 sack of Washington, DC. British Commander Sir Alexander Milne said “If Bermuda were in the hands of any other nation, the base of our operations would be removed to the two extremes, Halifax and Jamaica, and the loss of this island as a Naval Establishment would be a National misfortune”.

slide_18President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation soon after taking office, threatening to blockade southern coastlines. It wasn’t long before the “Anaconda Plan” went into effect, a naval blockade extending 3,500 miles along the Atlantic coastline and Gulf of Mexico, up into the lower Mississippi River.

Running the blockade was no small or occasional enterprise. The number of attempts to run the Federal stranglehold have been estimated at 2,500 to 2,800, of which about 2/3rds succeeded. Over the course of the war, the Union Navy captured over 1,100 blockade runners. Another 355 vessels were destroyed or run aground.

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Cotton would ship out of Mobile, Charleston, Wilmington and other ports while weapons and other manufactured goods would come back in. Sometimes, these goods would make the whole trans-Atlantic voyage.  Often, they would stop at neutral ports in Cuba or the Bahamas.

North Carolina and Virginia had long-established trade relations with Bermuda, 600 nautical miles to the east.

The most successful blockade runners were the fast, paddle wheeled steamers, though surprisingly little is known of the ships themselves. They were usually built in secrecy, and operated at night. One notable exception was the “Nola”, a 236-foot paddle steamer which ran aground on December 30, 1863, en route from London to North Carolina. Nola ran aground, attempting to escape threatening weather. She was wrecked near Western Blue Cut on Bermuda’s reefs, and remains a popular dive destination, to this day.

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The blockade runner “Nola” was known at various times as Montana, Gloria, and Paramount.

President Lincoln appointed Massachusetts native Charles Maxwell Allen Consul to Bermuda in 1861, where he remained until his death, in 1888. There were times when it was a great job, I’m sure, but not in the early days. “There are a great many Southern people here”, Allen wrote in 1862, “14 came in the steamer ‘Bermuda’. They & their friends are down on me & have threatened to whip me”. People were getting rich running the blockade.  Allen estimated that one blockade runner alone, which sank after three voyages, generated a profit of more than £173,000.

“The British colonial government monitored both sides to try to maintain strict neutrality, but only the latent threat of the powerful Royal Navy fleet based at Bermuda kept the belligerents from open warfare within British boundaries”. – Hat tip BerNews.com

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Today, the capital of Bermuda is Hamilton, moved across the island in 1815 from the old port of St. George, leaving the former capital in a kind of time warp, where you can walk down streets that look like they did 150 years ago. Portraits of Robert E. Lee and Confederate battle flags can still be found on the walls of the old port, beside paintings showing the harbor filled with blockade runners, lying quietly at anchor.

Once the office of Confederate Commercial Agent John Tory Bourne and Confederate Shipping Agent Major Norman Walker, today the Bermuda National Trust Museum tells the story of the island’s history, including Bermuda’s role in the American Civil War. The museum’s guide book explains: “The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless. Ships needed coal and provisions. Crews required lodging, food and entertainment between runs. Cargoes had to be unloaded, stored and reloaded, while crews and cargoes had to be ferried to ships lying at anchor. Bermudian pilots guided the ships through the reefs; those with skills as mates, carpenters, firemen and ordinary seamen signed on as crew. The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.

[http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-us-cs/csa-sh/csash-ag/advance.htm DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY — NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER WASHINGTON NAVY YARD WASHINGTON DC] Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1899. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Sheryl and I traveled to Bermuda a while back, and visited the old port at St. George. At some point we learned about the maritime history of the island. Making a living at sea in the 19th century was a dangerous business, so much so that one in ten married women living in Bermuda, were widows.

It occurred to me. All those Confederate officers and enlisted men were spending a lot of time in Bermuda.  The possibility that followed soon morphed into probability and then a certainty. At this point I can only wonder how many English citizens there are, residents of Bermuda and loyal subjects of the Queen, who can trace paternity back to the Confederate States of America.

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‘The ‘Bonnie Blue’ flies over bonnie St George’s’ H/T Royal Gazette

December 14, 1862 An Act of Compassion

On the morning of December 14, 1862, Richard Kirkland took as many canteens as he could carry, and stepped into the no man’s land between two watching armies.

One of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War began on December 11, 1862, when some 200,000 combatants collided in the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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The Union crossing of the Rappahannock was intended to be a surprise, depending on pontoons coming down from Washington to meet up with General Ambrose Burnside’s Union army in Falmouth, across the river from Fredericksburg.

The army of the Potomac arrived on November 19 with no sign of pontoons.  When they finally arrived, heavy snows slowed military operations for an additional week.  Lt. General James Longstreet and Lt. General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson had more than enough time to prepare defenses.

Burnside’s crossing began on the morning of December 11, as engineer battalions constructed bridges in the face of determined Confederate fire. Several groups of soldiers had to row across the river, the battle then moving through the streets and buildings of Fredericksburg as Union and Confederate troops fought the first urban combat of the Civil War.

On the morning of the 13th, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces occupied a seven-mile curving line, with the five divisions of Longstreet’s Corps on the left along Marye’s Heights, west of town.  Fighting began on both ends of the Confederate position, more or less simultaneously.  George Meade had some early successes against Stonewall Jackson’s dug-in positions on the right, but requested reinforcements never arrived.  By the end of the day, the old farmer’s term “slaughter pen”, had taken on new and heretofore unimaginable horrors.

Kershaw’s Brigade fire down from the stone wall at Marye’s Heights.

In contrast to the swampy approaches on the Confederate right, 5,000 soldiers under James Longstreet looked out from behind the stone wall on Marye’s Heights to an open plain, crossed from left to right by a mill run, 5-feet deep, 15-feet wide and filled with 3-feet of freezing water.

Confederate artillery commander Edward Porter Alexander looked out on that field and said “a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it”.  He was right.  For six hours, the Union army threw one attack after another against the rebels behind that wall.  Fourteen attempts. 

Fredericksburg, Marye’s Heights as it looks, today

As the sun went down on the evening of December 13, the ground below Marye’s Heights was carpeted with the mangled, dead and dying bodies of Union soldiers.

The Army of the Potomac suffered over 13,000 casualties at Fredericksburg, about two-thirds of them in front of that wall.  Lee’s army, by comparison, suffered around 4,500 losses.  Watching the great Confederate victory unfold from his hilltop command post, Robert E. Lee intoned, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

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Union ambulance corps had all they could do to remove their own wounded from the plains looking up on Marye’s heights but dared not enter within Confederate range of fire, in front of that wall. 

All through the night of the 13-14th, the pathetic moaning of mangled and dying Union soldiers could be heard along the heights.

It’s easy to imagine that some Confederate soldiers reveled in all that carnage, but not all. The groans and the cries of agony, must have been difficult to hear.  There wasn’t a man among them who didn’t understand that, but for the grace of God, he himself could be out there.

For Sergeant Richard Kirkland, Company G, 2nd South Carolina Infantry, it wasn’t enough to sit and listen.  He could no longer stand to hear “those poor people crying for water”.  Kirkland left his position and made his way to General Joseph Kershaw’s headquarters, to ask permission to help.

On the morning of December 14, 1862, Richard Kirkland took as many canteens as he could carry, and stepped into the no man’s land between two watching armies.  No one fired. None so much as even moved.  Sgt. Kirkland worked his way alone from one wounded man to the next, straightening out a shattered leg here, there spreading out an overcoat, always with a quiet word of encouragement and a drink of water.

Angel of Marye's Heights

Kirkland was out there for no less than an hour and a half.  Alone in no man’s land, under the watchful eyes of two hostile armies. He never left until he had helped every fallen soldier, Federal and Confederate alike, on that part of the battlefield.

General Kershaw later gave this account:  “Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.”

Richard Kirkland would not survive the war.  He met his end while leading an infantry charge the following September, at a place the Chickasaw called “house or dwelling place of the king.“ Chickamauga. There is no way to know how many lives were saved by the courage, the kindness and the tender mercy of one man, this day in 1862.

Richard Rowland Kirkland is long gone now but the memory lives on. Of that singular act of courage and compassion, of the Angel of Marye’s Heights.

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November 18, 1863 The Gettysburg Address

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address. Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process. That working copy is lost.

Have you ever crossed that field at Gettysburg? The site of the final assault on the third day? You can feel the sense of history, stepping off Seminary Ridge. Only a mile to go. You are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance. Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you enter a low spot on what seemed like a flat plain. It’s almost imperceptible but the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight. You can’t help a sense of relief as you cross the draw. If you can’t see them they can’t shoot you. Right?

Then you look to your right and realize. Cannon would have been firing down the length of your lines that day, from Little Round Top. From your left, the guns of Cemetery Hill tear into your lines. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry. You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road. Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.

Finally you are over and now it’s a dead run. There’s a savage struggle to possess an angle in a stone wall, but it is not enough. The Bloody Angle. You have reached the “high water mark of the Confederacy”. The shattered remains of that splendid Multitude you joined only moments before, retreat. It is over.

The hill from which the Union center repulsed Longstreet’s assault of the third day was selected for a national cemetery, within the four months following the battle of Gettysburg. Work began to re-inter the dead from the carnage of July, on October 27.

Three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train in Washington.  He’d been asked to make “a few dedicatory remarks” on the following day, consecrating the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg where, even now on this day in 1863, workmen yet labored.

Lincoln was the President of a country torn by Civil War, a war so terrible that, before it was over, would kill more Americans than all the wars from the Declaration of Independence to the Global War on Terror, combined.

November 18, 1863. President Lincoln takes a break at the Hanover junction Station (PA), waiting to be joined by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Curtin’s train was late and the President moved on, without him. The Governor would have to find find another route to join the President, the following day.

Lincoln had been feeling poorly the day of the train ride, telling his secretary John Hay, he was feeling weak.  He would feel worse before that day was over. Hay noted that Lincoln’s face was ‘a ghastly color’, the day of the address.  No one knew it at the time. The President had entered the first stages, of smallpox.

His was not the keynote address.  That would be a 13,607 word, two-hour oration delivered by Boston politician Edward Everett.

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“A rare photo of the ceremonies. A group of boys stand at the fringe of a crowd. In the distance, several men wearing sashes can be seen standing on the speakers’ platform. Analysis of an enlargement of this photo reveals the image of Lincoln sitting to the left of these men”. Tip of the hat to http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com, for this image

After Everett’s speech, photographers began the careful preparation and setting, of glass plates. Each an thought he had all the time in the world. He did not.

There is no photograph of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address.

The 16th President of the United States stepped to the rostrum and delivered 271 words, in ten sentences.  In just over two minutes, Lincoln captured an entire vision of where the country was at that moment in time, where it had been, and where it was going.

Lincoln himself thought his speech a flop, but Everett later wrote to him, saying “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Then as now there were haters, a peanut gallery firing spitballs, from secure positions on the sidelines.  The Chicago Times described Lincoln’s remarks as “silly, flat and dish-watery utterances”. It all came out in the end.  Lincoln’s address is remembered as one of the finest English language orations since Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, at Agincourt.  The names of those croaking tree frogs at the Chicago Times, are all but forgotten.

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address.  Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process.  That working copy is lost.

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“The only known image of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg was uncovered in 1952 at the National Archives. It was taken by photographer Mathew Brady. (Library of Congress)” H/T Smithsonian.com, for this image

There are five known copies of the Gettysburg address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Each varies slightly in wording and punctuation.  He wrote two after the address, giving them to his two personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay.  He sent one to Edward Everett early in 1864 and another to George Bancroft, the former Secretary of the Navy turned historian.  Lincoln wrote a fifth copy in February known as the Bliss copy, for Colonel Alexander Bliss, upon learning the Bancroft version was unsuitable for publication. Preproduction technologies were unsuitable at that time, for documents written on both sides of the same page.

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Lincoln signed, dated and titled the Bliss copy.  This is the version inscribed on the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

One of my stranger childhood notions, was the idea that sounds never disappeared. They only diminished as they spread outward, like ripples on a pond.  If that was true (thought my nine-year-old self), could we not somehow capture and listen to the Gettysburg address, as it was actually delivered?

It’s a funny thing how some ideas, even the goofy ones, never completely die away.

October 19, 1864 Civil War comes to Vermont

Toronto was a logical outpost for Confederate operations, a natural relay point with Great Britain and a base from which to foment rebellion, in the north. All this fomenting cost money, and lots of it. The Confederate States came south to Vermont, to make a withdrawal.

The name of Vermont conjures many things in the mind of the hearer, the forested landscapes, ski slopes, maple syrup and mountain trout brooks. The first state to be admitted into the union formed by the 13 former colonies, the 14th state existed for as many years as an independent Republic, a distinction shared with only three other states: Texas, Hawaii and California.

Fun Fact: For a time, western districts of Florida also formed their own sovereign state: the Republic of West Florida. If you ever want to get a Texan going, ask them about the First Lone Star Republic“.

In the late 18th century, lands granted by the governor of New Hampshire led the colonial province into conflict with the neighboring province of New York.  Conflict escalated over jurisdiction and appeals were made to the King, as the New York Supreme Court invalidated these “New Hampshire grants”. 

Infuriated residents of the future Vermont Republic including Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys”, rose up in anger.  On March 13, 1775, two Westminster Vermont natives were killed by British Colonial officials.  Today, we remember the event as the “Westminster Massacre”.

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The New Hampshire Grants region petitioned Congress for entry into the American union as a state independent of New York in 1776″ – H/T, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Grants

The battles at Lexington and Concord broke out a month later, ushering in a Revolution and eclipsing events to the north.  New York consented to admitting the “Republic of Vermont” into the union in 1790, ceding all claims on the New Hampshire land grants in exchange for a payment of $30,000.  Vermont was admitted as the 14th state on March 4, 1791, the first state so admitted following adoption of the federal Constitution.

Organized in 1785, the city of St. Albans forms the county seat of Franklin County, Vermont.  15 miles from the Canadian border and situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, it’s not the kind of place you’d expect for a Civil War story.

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St. Albans Vermont, 1864

The Confederate States of America maintained government operations in Canada, from the earliest days of the Civil War.  Toronto was a logical relay point for communications with Great Britain, from whom the Confederate government unsuccessfully sought to gain support.

Secondly, Canada provided a safe haven for prisoners of war, escaped from Union camps.

Former member of Congress and prominent Ohio “Peace Democrat” Clement Vallandigham fled the United States to Canada in 1863, proposing to detach the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio from the Union in exchange for sufficient numbers of Confederate troops, to enforce the separation.  Vallandigham’s five-state “Northwestern Confederacy” would include Kentucky and Missouri, breaking the Union into three pieces.  Surely that would compel Washington to sue for peace.

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In April 1864, President Jefferson Davis dispatched former Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson, ex-Alabama Senator Clement Clay, and veteran Confederate spy Captain Thomas Henry Hines to Toronto, with the mission of raising hell in the North.

This was no small undertaking. A sizeable minority of Peace Democrats calling themselves “Copperheads” were already in vehement opposition to the war.  So much so that General Ambrose Burnside declared in his General Order No. 38, that “The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this” (Ohio) “department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested with a view of being tried. . .or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department“.

Hines and fellow Confederates worked closely with Copperhead organizations such as the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Order of the American Knights, and the Sons of Liberty, to foment uprisings in the upper Midwest.

In the late Spring and early Summer of 1864, residents of Maine may have noted an influx of “artists”, sketching the coastline.  No fewer than fifty in number, these nature lovers were in fact Confederate topographers, sent to map the Maine coastline.

Rebels on the great Lakes

The Confederate invasion of Maine never materialized, thanks in large measure to counter-espionage efforts by Union agents.

J.Q. Howard, the U.S. Consul in St. John, New Brunswick, informed Governor Samuel Cony in July, of a Confederate party preparing to land on the Maine coast.

The invasion failed to materialize, but three men declaring themselves to be Confederates were captured on Main Street in Calais, preparing to rob a bank.

Disenchanted Rebel Francis Jones confessed to taking part in the Maine plot, revealing information leading to the capture of several Confederate weapons caches in the North, along with operatives in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

Captain Hines planned an early June uprising in the Northwest, timed to coincide with a raid planned by General John Hunt Morgan.  Another uprising was planned for August 29, timed with the 1864 Democratic Convention in Chicago.   The conspirators’ actions never lived up to the heat of their rhetoric, and both operations fizzled.   A lot of these guys were more talk than action, yet Captain Hines continued to send enthusiastic predictions of success, back to his handlers in Richmond.

The Toronto operation tried political methods as well, supporting Democrat James Robinson’s campaign for governor of Illinois.  If elected they believed, Robinson would turn over the state’s militia and arsenal to the Sons of Liberty.  They would never know.  Robinson lost the election.

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Bennett Henderson Young

All this fomenting cost money, and lots of it.  In October 1864, the Toronto operation came south to St. Albans, to make a withdrawal.

Today, St. Albans is a quiet town of 6,918.  In 1864 the town was quite wealthy, home to manufacturing and repair facilities for railroad locomotives.  Located on a busy rail line, St. Albans was also home to four banks.

Nicholasville, Kentucky native Bennett Henderson Young was a member of the Confederate 8th Kentucky Cavalry, captured during Morgan’s 1863 raid into Ohio.  By January, Young had escaped captivity and fled to Canada. On October 10, Bennett crossed the Canadian border with two others, taking a room at the Tremont House, in St. Albans.  The trio said they had come for a “sporting vacation”.

Small groups filtered into St. Albans in the following days, quietly taking rooms across the town.  There were 21 altogether, former POWs and cavalrymen, hand selected by Young for their daring and resourcefulness.

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On this day in 1864, the group split up.  Announcing themselves to be Confederate soldiers, groups simultaneously robbed three of St. Albans’ four banks while eight or nine held the townspeople at gunpoint, on the village green.  One resident was killed before it was over and another wounded. Young ordered his troops to burn the town, but bottles of “Greek Fire” carried for the purpose, failed to ignite.  Only one barn was burned down and the group got away with a total of $208,000, and all the horses they could muster. It was the northernmost Confederate action of the Civil War.

StAlbansRaid, memoriaized

The group was arrested on returning to Canada and held in Montreal.  The Lincoln administration sought extradition but Canadian courts decided otherwise, ruling that the raiders were under military orders at the time and neutral Canada could not extradite them to America.  The $88,000 found with the raiders, was returned to Vermont.

The million dollars the Confederate government sunk into its Canadian office, probably did more harm than good.  Those resources could have been put to better use, but we have the advantage of hindsight.  Neither Captain Hines nor Jefferson Davis could know how their story would turn out.  In the end, both men fell victim to that greatest of human weaknesses, of believing what they wanted to believe.

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July 28, 1866 The President’s Sculptor

Every year, millions of visitors to the Rotunda of the Capitol stop to admire the work. Few possess so much as the foggiest notion that the artist, was an 18-year-old girl.

She was about 5-feet tall when her parents moved to Washington, a mere wraith of a girl of 14 summers, as yet unable to tip the scales at 90 pounds.    Her father Robert was a surveyor, come to the capital for a job in the cartography office.

Her brother Robert headed south to Arkansas, to join with Woodruff’s Battery in service to the Confederate Army.  The year was 1861.  The District of Columbia was the capital in name only, of a nation at war with itself.

The elder Robert took ill and times got tough for the Ream family.  Despite her diminutive stature, Lavinia Ellen, “Vinnie“ to friends and family, took a job to help with family finances.  She was working in the dead letter office at the post office, one of the first women ever hired by the federal government.

Missouri Congressman James Rollins introduced Vinnie to sculptor Clark Mills in 1863, the artist who produced that statue of President Andrew Jackson, the one we’ve heard so much about recently, there in Lafayette square.

Washington, DC - June 02, 2018: Andrew Jackson's statue in Lafay
Washington, DC – June 02, 2018: Andrew Jackson’s statue in Lafayette Square and the White House.

The artist was amused when the young girl remarked “I can do that myself” and handed her a pail of clay with an invitation to try.  He was delighted when she returned a month later, this time with a surprisingly good likeness of an Indian Chieftain.  It wasn’t long before she became Mills’ apprentice.

Stories spread concerning the remarkable abilities of this young artist.  Vinnie’s talents blossomed and she left the post office to pursue her art, full time.  Senators and Members of Congress were her subjects.  Her faithful likeness of the glowering visage of that fierce opponent of slavery Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania Republican Congressman who would one day lead the impeachment effort against President Andrew Johnson, earned her an important and powerful ally.

It must have been an exciting time for a young girl in Washington DC, the horse-drawn ambulances, the ever-present blue-clad soldiers and more than anything, the raw-boned figure of the President of the United States, his carriage invariably accompanied by a squadron of brightly caparisoned, mounted Army officers.  Vinnie was interested in the figure of Abraham Lincoln.  The desire to sculpt the man’s likeness blossomed to an obsession as the titanic weight of office and crushing grief following the death of Lincoln’s 12-year-old son Willy, seemingly etched themselves across the President’s face.

Raised as she was on the western prairies of Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri, Vinnie was unacquainted with the “way things were done” in the nation’s capital.   Petite, quick with a smile and not a little ambitious, she could often get to “yes” where others hadn’t so much as a chance.

So it was in 1864, Vinnie was granted permission which would have been denied, to an older artist.  She herself explained “Lincoln had been painted and modeled before, and when friends of mine first asked him to sit for me he dismissed them wearily until he was told that I was but an ambitious girl, poor and obscure. … Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world I am sure that I would have been refused.”

Every day for five months, Vinnie Ream had a private half-hour with the President of the United States, the two speaking but infrequently as she set her hands about the work.  She was performing the final touches on the bust you see below, the morning of April 14, 1865.  General Robert. E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses Grant only five days earlier.  The most catastrophic war in American history was winding to a close.  That night, the President planned a welcome break from the cares of office, at a place called Ford’s theater.

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A nation was stunned following the Lincoln assassination.  Vinnie herself, prostrate at the death of her friend and hero.

There arose a movement in Congress, to honor the Great Man with a full-length statue, to be placed in the Rotunda of the Capitol.  A competition would be held, to determine the artist.  Washington was then as it is now, but Vinnie had learned a political lesson or two since those naive days of five years earlier.  The petition attesting to her talents and worthiness for the project was signed by Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, 31 Senators and 110 members of the House of Representatives.

SAAM-1917.11.1_1Then as now, Washington was a “Swamp” and a cesspit for the venal and self-interested. Now grown to an attractive young woman, Vinnie Ream was not without critics.  Kansas Senator Edmund Gibson Ross boarded with the Ream family during Johnson’s impeachment trial and cast the one vote absolving the President of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

Imagine how THAT must’ve sounded.

There were sleazy insinuations that she was a “lobbyist” or even a “Public Woman” (prostitute).

Newspaper columnist Mrs. Jane Grey Swisshelm sniffed about how Vinnie “carries the day” with members of Congress: “Miss .… Ream … is a young girl of about twenty who has been studying her art for a few months, never made a statue, has some plaster busts on exhibition, including her own, minus clothing to the waist, has a pretty face, long dark curls and plenty of them. … [She] sees members at their lodgings or in the reception room at the Capitol, urges her claims fluently and confidently, sits in the galleries in a conspicuous position and in her most bewitching dress, while those claims are being discussed on the floor, and nods and smiles as a member rises…

e05a173b8e8f1c1360a5e523c3ec3604One editor had the last word, however, printing Swisshelm’s column under the headline “A Homely Woman’s Opinion of a Pretty One.”

Ouch.

On this day in 1866, Vinnie Ream was awarded by vote of Congress, the commission to create a full-size statue of Abraham Lincoln. She was 18 years old, the first woman to receive a such a commission as an artist and the youngest of either sex, to create a statue for the United States government.

Even then, Vinnie was not without detractors.  Michigan Senator Jacob Merritt Howard remarked, “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work.”

Miss Lavinia Ream survived an effort to have her removed from her own studio by a vindictive House of Representatives, to enjoy the last word.  Her depiction of the Great Emancipator sculpted from a flawless block of Carrara marble stands in the Rotunda of the Capitol where it is seen by millions of visitors, from that day to this.

Ream-Lincoln

 

 

March 2, 1864 A Civil War Story

“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. ‘Can this be hell?’”.

In the early days of the Civil War, the government in Washington refused to recognize the Confederate states’ government, believing such recognition tantamount to legitimizing an illegal entity.  Accordingly, the Union refused formal agreement regarding the exchange of prisoners. Following the capture of over a thousand federal troops at the first battle of Bull Run (1st Manassas), a joint resolution in Congress called for President Lincoln to establish a prisoner exchange agreement.

In July 1862, Union Major General John Dix and Confederate Major General D. H. Hill met under flag of truce to draw up an exchange formula, regarding the return of prisoners. The “Dix-Hill Cartel” determined that Confederate and Union Army soldiers were exchanged at a prescribed rate:  captives of equivalent ranks were exchanged as equals.  Corporals and Sergeants were worth two privates.  Lieutenants were four and Colonels fifteen, all the way up to Commanding General, equivalent to sixty private soldiers.

Similar exchange rates were established for Naval personnel.ECWCTOPICPrisonerExchangeandParolePICParoledocumentsmall

President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of September 1862 not only freed those enslaved in Confederate territories, but also provided for the enlistment of black soldiers.  The government in Richmond responded that such would be regarded as runaway slaves and not soldiers.  Their white officers would be treated as criminals, for inciting servile insurrection.

The policy was made clear in July 1863, following the Union defeat at Fort Wagner, an action depicted in the 1989 film, Glory.  The Dix-Hill protocol was formally abandoned on July 30.  Neither side was ready for the tide of humanity, about to come.

The US Army began construction the following month on the Rock Island Prison, built on an Island between Davenport Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. In time, Rock Island would become one of the most infamous POW camps of the north, housing some 12,000 Confederate prisoners, seventeen per cent of whom, died in captivity.illinois-1864-rock-island-bird-s-eye-view-114349732-5b6e3d7b4cedfd0025fd2c3d

On this day in 1864, the first prisoners had barely moved into the most notorious POW camp of the Civil War, the first Federal soldiers arriving on February 28.

This was Camp Sumter, better known as Andersonville.  Conditions in this place defy description. Sergeant Major Robert H. Kellogg of the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, entered this hell hole on May 2:

“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. ‘Can this be hell?’”.

Over 45,000 Union troops would pass through the verminous open sewer known as Andersonville. Nearly 13,000 died there.

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Andersonville

Now all but forgotten, the ‘Eighty acres of Hell’ located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago was home to some forty thousand Confederate POWs between 1862 and 1865, seventeen per cent of whom, never left.  No southern soldier was equipped for the winters at Camp Douglas, nor the filth, or the disease.

Nearby Oak Woods Cemetery is home to the largest mass grave, in the western hemisphere.

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Camp Douglas of Chicago, known to many as “The Andersonville of the North’

Union and Confederate governments established 150 such camps between 1861 and 1865, makeshift installations of rickety wooden buildings and primitive sewage systems, often little more than tent cities.   Some 347,000 human beings languished in these places, victims of catastrophically poor hygiene, harsh summary justice, starvation, disease and swarming vermin.

The training depot designated camp Rathbun near Elmira New York became the most notorious camp in the north, in 1864.  12,213 Confederate prisoners were held there, often three men to a tent.  Nearly 25% of them died there, only slightly less, than Andersonville.   The death rate in “Hellmira” was double that of any other camp in the north.

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Hellmira

Historians debate the degree to which such brutality resulted from deliberate mistreatment, or economic necessity.

The Union had more experience being a “country” at this time, with well established banking systems and means of commerce and transportation.  For the south, the war was an economic catastrophe.  The Union blockade starved southern ports of even the basic necessities, while farmers abandoned fields to take up arms. Most of the fighting of the Civil War took place on southern soil, destroying incalculable acres of rich farm lands.

The capital at Richmond saw bread riots as early as 1862.  Southern Armies subsisted on corn meal and peanuts.  The Confederate government responded by printing currency, about a billion dollars worth.  By 1864, a Confederate dollar was worth 5¢ in gold.  Southern inflation climbed past 6000 percent, by 1865.POW StoryCaptain Henry Wirz, commandant of the stockade at Camp Sumter, was tried and executed after the war, only one of two men to be hanged for war crimes.  Captain Wirz appeared at trial reclined on a couch, advanced gangrene preventing him from sitting up.  To some, the man was a scapegoat. A victim of circumstances beyond his control. To others he is a demon, personally responsible for the hell of Andersonville prison.

I make no pretense of answering such a question.  The subject is capable of inciting white-hot passion, from that day to this.

A personal note:

Six generations from his immigrant ancestor, James Tyner could trace his lineage through veterans of the Indian wars, the Revolution and the War of 1812.  One of those farmers who left the soil to fight for his country, Tyner died in captivity in “Hellmira”, about a month before General Robert E. Lee met General Ulysses Grant, at Appomattox.

Corporal Jacob Deppen of the 128th PA Infantry was captured and held prisoner for a time, before being paroled.  Deppen re-enlisted with the Army of the James.  He and the sole surviving member of the four Tyner brothers, Nicholas Tyner, would lay down their weapons at Appomattox.  Former enemies turned countrymen, if they could only figure out how to do it.

William Christian Long, the first to ‘anglicize’ his name from Wilhelm Lang, was Blacksmith to the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  Long survived the war, his name may be found on the Pennsylvania monument, at Gettysburg.

Archibald Blue of Drowning Creek North Carolina wanted no part of what he saw as a “rich man’s war” and ordered his five sons away.  He was murdered for his politics in 1865.  The killer was never found.

Four men who played a part in the most destructive war, in American history.  Without any of these four, I wouldn’t be here to tell their story.

Rick Long

Family Plot
Family cemetery, Scotland County, North Carolina

 

July 15, 1864 The Great Shohola Train Wreck

Telegraph operator Douglas “Duff” Kent had one job that day, and that was to hold that eastbound coal train, until West #171 passed Shohola station. It didn’t happen.  He may have been drunk, but nobody’s sure. Kent gave the all clear at 2:45 on this day in 1864. The main switch was opened, and Erie #237 joined the single track heading east out of Shohola. Only four miles now separated the two speeding, 30-ton steam locomotives.

The wood burning steam locomotive #171 left Jersey City, New Jersey on July 15, 1864, pulling 17 passenger and freight cars. On board were 833 Confederate Prisoners of War and 128 Union guards, heading from Point Lookout prison in Maryland, to the Union prison camp in Elmira, New York.  “Hellmira”.

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“Jupiter 1864 train engine, typical of the type of engine used during the Civil War Era”. Tip of the hat to http://www.civilwaralbum.com/misc11/shohola1.htm, for this image

Engine #171 was an “extra” that day, running behind a scheduled train numbered West #23. West #23 displayed warning flags giving the second train right of way, but #171 was running late. First delayed while guards located missing prisoners, then there was that interminable wait for the drawbridge. By the time #171 reached Port Jervis, Pennsylvania, the train was four hours behind schedule.

Telegraph operator Douglas “Duff” Kent was on duty at the Lackawaxen Junction station, near Shohola, Pennsylvania. Kent had seen West #23 pass through that morning with the “extra” flags. His job was to hold eastbound traffic at Lackawaxen until the second train passed.

Duff Kent had one job that day, and that was to hold the eastbound coal train, until #171 passed Shohola station. It didn’t happen.  He may have been drunk, but nobody’s sure. He disappeared the following day, never to be seen again.

shohola stationErie Engine #237 arrived at Lackawaxen at 2:30 pm pulling 50 coal cars, loaded for Jersey City. Kent gave the all clear at 2:45. The main switch was opened, and Erie #237 joined the single track heading east out of Shohola.

Only four miles of track stood between two speeding, 30-ton steam locomotives.

The trains met head-on at “King and Fuller’s Cut”, a pass blasted out of solid rock and named after the prime engineering contractor. The section of track followed a blind curve with only 50-feet visibility.

Engineer Samuel Hoitt was at the throttle of #237. Hoitt would survive, having just enough time to jump before the moment of impact. One man in the lead car on #171 was thrown clear. He too would live. There were no other survivors among the 37 men on that car.

On the 100th anniversary of the wreck, historian Joseph C. Boyd described what happened next.  Let him pick up the story:

ShoholaTrainWreck“[T]he wooden coaches telescoped into one another, some splitting open and strewing their human contents onto the berm, where flying glass, splintered wood, and jagged metal killed or injured them as they rolled. Other occupants were hurled through windows or pitched to the track as the car floors buckled and opened. The two ruptured engine tenders towered over the wreckage, their massive floor timbers snapped like matchsticks. Driving rods were bent like wire. Wheels and axles lay broken. The troop train’s forward boxcar had been compacted and within the remaining mass were the remains of 37 men”. Witnesses saw “headless trunks, mangled between the telescoped cars” and “bodies impaled on iron rods and splintered beams.”

Pinned by cordwood against the split boiler plate and slowly scalded to death, engineer William Ingram lived long enough to speak with would-be rescuers. Frank Evans, one of the guards, remembered: “With his last breath he warned away all who went near to try and aid him, declaring that there was danger of the boiler exploding and killing them.”

Evans describes the scene. “I hurried forward. On a curve in a deep cut we had met a heavily-laden coal train, traveling nearly as fast as we were. The trains had come together with that deadly crash. The two locomotives were raised high in air, face to face against each other, like giants grappling. The tender of our locomotive stood erect on one end. The engineer and fireman, poor fellows, were buried beneath the wood it carried. Perched on the reared-up end of the tender, high above the wreck, was one of our guards, sitting with his gun clutched in his hands, dead!. The front car of our train was jammed into a space of less than six feet. The two cars behind it were almost as badly wrecked. Several cars in the rear of those were also heaped together…Taken all in all, that wreck was a scene of horror such as few, even in the thick of battle, are ever doomed to be a witness of.”

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King and Fuller’s Cut

Estimates of Confederate dead are surprisingly inexact. Most sources report 51 killed on the spot or dying within the first 24 hours. Others put the number as high as 60 to 72. 17 Union guards were killed on the spot, or died within a day of the wreck. 5 prisoners appear to have escaped in the confusion.

Captured at Spotsylvania early in 1864, 52nd North Carolina Infantry soldier James Tyner was in the Elmira camp at this time. Tyner’s brother William was one of the prisoners on board #171. He was badly injured in the wreck, surviving only long enough to avoid the 76′ trackside trench outside of Shohola. William Tyner died three days later in Elmira, never having regained consciousness.

I’ve always wondered if the brothers saw each other, that one last time. James Tyner was my Grandfather twice removed, one of four brothers who went to war for what each saw as his nation, in 1861.

We’ll never know. James Tyner died in captivity on March 13, 1865.  Twenty-seven days later, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Of the four brothers, Nicholas alone survived the war, laying down his arms when the man they called “Marse Robert” surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, to walk home to the Sand Hills of North Carolina.

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Note the shape of the stones themselves. Union tombstones from the Civil War era have rounded tops. Those marking Confederate graves are pointed at the top. It’s been said the pointed top was there to prevent “Yankees” from sitting on Confederate headstones. This photo taken in the family cemetery, in the “Sand Hills” of North Carolina.

Best,

Rick

Afterward
Two Confederate soldiers, the brothers John and Michael Johnson, died overnight and were buried in the Congregational church yard across the Delaware river, in Barryville, New York. The remaining POWs killed immediately or shortly thereafter were buried in a common grave that night, alongside the track. Individual graves were dug for the 17 Union dead, and they too were laid alongside the track.

shohola6lgAs the years went by, signs of all those graves were erased. Hundreds of trains carried thousands of passengers up and down the Erie Railroad, ignorant of the burial ground through which they passed.

The “pumpkin flood” of 1903 scoured the rail line uncovering many of the dead, carrying away at least some of their mortal remains, along with thousands of that year’s pumpkin crop.

On June 11, 1911, the forgotten dead of Shohola we’re disinterred and reburied in mass graves in the Woodlawn National Cemetery, in Elmira, New York.  Site of the largest mixed mass grave, of the Civil War era.

April 15, 1865 The President’s Box

Major Rathbone would heal in time, but he never came to terms with his own failure to protect the President. He was tormented, distraught with guilt, unable to understand what he could have done differently, but, What!? Surely there must have been…Something.

When Jared Rathbone passed away in 1845, the Albany, New York businessman left a considerable fortune to his widow Pauline and their two sons, Henry and Jared.

harrisira-230x300New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Harris, himself a widower and father of four, joined his household with hers when the couple married, in 1848. There were now six kids. A regular 19th-century “Brady Bunch.”

Pauline’s son Henry and Ira’s daughter Clara became close friends and later, more. Much more. They were step-siblings, yes, but there was no “blood” between them. Such a relationship seems not to have been so ‘odd’ then, as it may seem, today.

With the incoming Lincoln administration, Ira Harris was elected to the United States Senate, replacing Senator William H. Seward who’d been picked to serve in the new administration.

By the time of the War between the States, Clara Hamilton Harris and Henry Reed Rathbone were engaged to be married.

udvwxyoaRathbone served the Union army for the duration of the war, becoming Captain in the 12th Infantry Regiment and participating in the battles at Antietam and Fredericksburg. By the end of the war, Rathbone had attained the rank of Major.

Meanwhile, Senator Harris’ daughter Clara formed a friendship with the First Lady of the United States, Mary Todd Lincoln.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, before and after photographs tell of the burdens, born by the chief executive of a nation at war with itself. Making matters worse, the Lincolns lost two of their four boys in childhood, by war’s end. In April 1865, a night out must have seemed like a welcome break. An evening at Ford’s Theater. The play, a three-act farce by English playwright Tom Taylor. “Our American Cousin”.

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The Lincoln’s companions for the evening of April 14 were to be General Grant and his wife, Julia, but the General had other plans. It was probably just as well, because the ladies didn’t get along. Mary suggested her neighbor Clara Harris, of whom she was quite fond. And besides, didn’t Clara’s fiancée Major Rathbone cut a dashing figure, in his blue uniform.

The story of that night is familiar, the assassin creeping up from behind.

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John Wilkes Booth was himself one of the great actors of his day, and chose his moment, carefully. Raucous laughter and applause could be expected to follow the line “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdolagizing old man-trap!”

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John Wilkes Booth dagger, used to attack Rathbone

The bullet was fired at point-blank range, entering the President’s head behind the left ear and coming to rest, behind the right eye.

Rathbone sprang to the attack but the assassin was ready, the dagger slashing the Major nearly bone-deep, from shoulder to elbow. Rathbone made one last lunge, knocking Booth off balance in his leap to the stage, below.

Henry bellowed out. “Stop that man!” Clara screamed.  “The President’s been shot!”  Witnesses remembered Booth cried out “Sic Semper Tyrannis”. Thus always, to tyrants. And then, he was gone.

In the President’s box, all was chaos. The first lady was inconsolable, alternately sobbing and shrieking, like a wildcat. Rathbone was losing blood at a prodigious rate, a major artery slashed in the scuffle.

Clara’s new dress was soaked with the blood of her fiancee, her face splashed and clothing drenched through layers of petticoats to the skin, beneath. The small group was taken across the street to the Peterson house, the President laid out on a bed. Henry Rathbone faded in and out of consciousness due to blood loss, raving in his delirium how he should have caught the assassin, his head on Clara’s lap, her handkerchief stuffed into the void where the bicep used to be.

There wasn’t even time to clean off her face. Mary Lincoln would just begin to calm down when she’d see Clara again and fall apart, wailing “My husband’s blood!”. It wasn’t, but, no matter. Perception is reality. The death vigil lasted this way, for nine hours. The 16th President of the United States passed away at 7:22 the following morning, April 15, 1865.

Lincolns-Death

Major Rathbone would heal in time, but he never came to terms with his own failure to protect the President. He was tormented, distraught with guilt, unable to understand what he could have done differently, but, What!? Surely there must have been…Something.

Clara Harris couldn’t bring herself to wash that dress, nor did she burn it. She hung it in a guest room closet, blood and all, in the family’s vacation home in New York.

Today, the demons afflicting the mind of Henry Rathbone may possibly qualify, as symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  At the time, what monsters lurked in the man’s head could only be guessed at as a mental illness which had no name, crept into his soul. He was possessed with that night. Was I not quick enough? Or brave enough? Or Strong enough? It was MY fault. A Better Man would have taken that bullet. Or Stopped that man. No he wouldn’t…yes he would…but…I…what, the, hell, is WRONG WITH ME???!!!

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The Dress

Washington DC was saturated with All Things Lincoln in April 1866, and Clara fled to the family home in Albany, to get away. There in that closet hung the bloody dress. On the anniversary of the assassination, she thought she heard laughter, she knew she did, coming down the hall. Abraham Lincoln’s laughter.

Others reported hearing the same thing in the following years. The sound of laughter. A single gun shot.

Major Rathbone and Clara Harris were married in July 1867 and the couple had three children, Henry rising to the rank of brevet Colonel, in 1870. That was the year he resigned from the army, but work was hard to come by, due to increasing mental instability.

Rathbone convinced himself that Clara was unfaithful.  She planned to take the kids away. He would fly into rages and she considered divorce, but couldn’t bear the thought, nor the stigma.

Clara went so far as to have the closet bricked up with that dress inside, like Montresor bricked up Fortunato. It changed, nothing. The family traveled to Europe and back in search of a cure, but Rathbone’s condition only worsened.

Despite all this or possibly because of it, President Chester Arthur appointed Rathbone American Consul to the Province of Hannover in Germany, in 1882.

Rathbone

Henry was pale and thin, afraid to go outside and tormented by hallucinations. So fearful was he that Clara would leave him, he would not leave her to be alone, not even to sit by a window.  What Clara’s life was like during this time could only be guessed at.  Her husband said he was afraid of himself.

In the early morning hours of December 23, 1883, Henry Rathbone entered or attempted to enter the room where the children slept.  Alarmed that he meant them harm, Clara  maneuvered her husband back to the master bedroom.  There he drew a revolver and shot his wife before stabbing himself, in the chest.  Six times. He lived. She died.

He said he was defending her, against an attacker.

The three children, Henry Riggs, Gerald Lawrence and Clara Pauline, went to live with relatives. Henry Reed Rathbone was convicted of their mother’s murder and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany, there to spend the next twenty-eight years.

Henry Reed Rathbone died on August 14, 1911 and was buried, next to his wife.

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The gun that killed Lincoln

German burial customs are different from those in the United States. Grave plots are generally leased for a period of 20 – 30 years, with an option to renew. In 1952, officials with the city cemetery at Hannover/Engesohde looked over visitation records, and determined there was no further interest, in Clara Harris or Henry Rathbone.

Over the years, some 15,000 books have been written about the 16th President and his wife.  Little is known of their guests from that night, at Ford’s Theater.  In 1952, the remains of Henry and Clara Rathbone were exhumed & incinerated, and thrown away.  As if they had never once lived.

 

A Trivial Matter
Forty-five years after the Lincoln assassination and one before the death of his father, Future member of the United States House of Representatives Henry Riggs Rathbone unbricked that closet back in New York and burned the hated dress, the dress which had stolen his childhood, murdered his mother, and cursed his family.

April 13, 1861 Fort Sumter

By the time the war got going, every seceding state but South Carolina sent regiments to fight for the Union, and even that state contributed troops. A surprising number of northern soldiers resigned commissions and fought for the south, including Barre, Massachusetts native Daniel Ruggles, Ohio Quaker Bushrod Johnson and New York native Samuel Cooper, to name a few.  

When the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, the state government considered itself to be that of a sovereign nation. Six days later, United States Army Major Robert Anderson quietly moved his small command from the Revolution-era Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston harbor, to the as-yet to be completed Fort Sumter, a brick fortification at the mouth of the harbor.

President James Buchanan, a northern democrat with southern sympathies, believed secession to be illegal, but there was nothing he could do about it.  For months the President had vacillated, offering no resistance as local officials seized every federal government property, in the state.  Buchanan’s one attempt to intervene came in January, with the attempt to reinforce and resupply Anderson, via the unarmed merchant vessel “Star of the West”. Shore batteries opened up on the effort on January 9, 1861, effectively trapping Anderson and his garrison inside the only federal government property in the vicinity.

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Mississippi followed with its own ordnance of secession that same day, followed quickly by Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Texas seceded on February 1.

The newly founded Confederate States of America could not tolerate the presence of an armed federal force at the mouth of Charleston harbor.  Secessionists debated only whether this was South Carolina’s problem, or that of the national government, located at that time in Montgomery, Alabama.  Meanwhile, the Federal government refused to recognize the Confederacy as an independent state.

Neither side wanted to be seen as the aggressor, both needing support from the border states.  Political opinion was so sharply divided at that time, that brothers literally wound up fighting against brothers.  By the time the war got going, every seceding state but South Carolina sent regiments to fight for the Union, and even that state contributed troops.

A surprising number of northern soldiers resigned commissions and fought for the south, including Barre, Massachusetts native Daniel Ruggles, Ohio Quaker Bushrod Johnson and New York native Samuel Cooper, to name a few.  But now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (I love that name) had resigned his post as superintendent of West Point and offered his services to the Confederacy.  Beauregard was placed in charge of Charleston in March, and immediately began to strengthen the batteries surrounding the harbor.

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Fort Sumter was designed for a garrison of 650 in the service of 130 guns, nearly all of them pointed outward, positioned to defend the harbor against threats from the sea. In April 1861 there were only 60 guns, too much for Major Anderson’s 9 officers, 68 enlisted men, 8 musicians, and 43 construction workers.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4.  The resupply of Fort Sumter became the first crisis for the new administration. Lincoln notified South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that he was sending supply ships, resulting in Beauregard’s ultimatum:  the Federal garrison was to evacuate immediately, or Confederate batteries would open fire.

When Major Anderson’s response was found lacking, shore batteries opened fire at 4:30 am on April 12th, 4,003 guns firing in counter-clockwise rotation. Abner Doubleday, Federal 2nd-in-command and the man erroneously credited with the invention of baseball, later wrote “The crashing of the shot, the bursting of the shells, the falling of the walls, and the roar of the flames, made a pandemonium of the fort.

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Two years later at Gettysburg, Norman Jonathan Hall would lose over 200 men from his brigade, in furious fighting at a critical breach in Union lines, near the”copse of trees”.  One day, a brass plaque would mark the spot of the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.  On this day, Lieutenant Hall raced through flames to rescue the colors, after a direct hit on the main flagpole knocked the flag to the ground.  His eyebrows were permanently burned off his face, but Hall and two artillerymen were able to jury-rig the pole so that, once again, Old Glory flew over Fort Sumter.

Thousands of shells were fired at Fort Sumter over a period of 34 hours. Federal forces fired back, though vastly outgunned. For all that, the only casualty was one Confederate horse.

The first fatalities of the Civil War occurred after the federal surrender on April 13. Allowed a 100-gun salute while lowering the flag the following day, one cannon misfired, killing Private Daniel Hough and mortally wounding Pvt. Edward Galloway.

The following day, Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army.  Lee’s home state of Virginia seceded three days later, followed by Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The Civil War had begun, but few understood what kind of demons had just been unleashed. Robert Rhett, the rabble rousing editor of the Charleston Mercury Newspaper, offered to personally eat the bodies of all the slain in the coming conflict. Not wanting to be outdone, former Senator James Chesnut, Jr. said “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed,” promising to personally drink any that might be spilled.

The war between the states would destroy the lives of more Americans than the Revolution, WWI, WWII, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.

 

A Trivial Matter
Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 with only 39.8 per cent of the popular vote in a four-way race against Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Constitutional Unionist John Bell and Southern favorite, Kentucky Democrat John Breckenridge.  President Lincoln did not receive a single electoral vote from south of the Mason-Dixon line.

March 24, 1921 The Civil War, Laid to Rest

As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

The past met the present that April Friday, seven short years ago.  Re-enactors dressed and equipped for another age, leading the hearse carrying twin gold boxes down roads lined with Patriot Guard riders.  There the blue sack coats and slouch hats of another era met the black berets and service caps, the crisp, midnight blue of the ASU, the modern “dress blues” of the United States Army.   There were uniforms new and old, veterans and historians and children and throngs of the curious, with cell phone cameras.

The last veteran of the Civil War was being laid to rest.  That doesn’t even begin to tell the story.

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Willis Meadows was nineteen in the spring of 1862, joining his brothers and cousins in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, assigned to the western front along the Mississippi and defending what he would have described as the “War of Northern Aggression”.

On July 1, 1863, the Union armies of General US Grant made the final drive on the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi”, the fortified strong point of Vicksburg.

Meadows watched the oncoming blue uniforms, the sharpshooter sheltered behind the iron boiler plate, picking off his enemy through a hole in the iron.

Peter Knapp was 21 that day, approaching from the east with three other Union soldiers from Company H of the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  Their job was to take out Confederate snipers. Knapp spotted Meadows firing from his shelter and took aim, firing at that peephole. Willis Meadows fell over with blood running down his face, the bullet entering through his eye and coming to a rest, near his brain.

The battle moved on leaving Meadows where he lay. There was no question the man was dead, except, he wasn’t. Federal troops picking up the dead afterward discovered this one, still breathing. Union surgeons probed for the bullet with no success before deciding to quit. Such a procedure was far too dangerous. Meadows was placed on a POW ship and later paroled to a Confederate hospital where he spent the rest of the war, first as a patient and later as nurse’s aid.

Knapp was captured a few months after Vicksburg and held in a number of Confederate POW camps, including the dread hell on earth known as Andersonville.

After the war, Meadows returned to the farm in Lanett Alabama, just over the Georgia state line. He later married though the marriage bore no children and may have died in obscurity, except it wasn’t meant to be.

Knapp farmed for a time in Michigan and married in 1887 before moving to Kelso, Washington.

The decades came and went. The assassinations of three Presidents. The panic of 1893. The War to end all wars. Willis Meadows was seventy-eight this day in 1921, when he began to choke. He grasped his throat with both hands as violent spasms wracked his old body.  The fear that this was the end turned to certainty as the lights began to dim, and then the object flew from his mouth and clattered across the floor.  It was that bullet, lodged in his head nigh on sixty years.

The “Coughs Up Bullet” story was national news in 1921.  Eleven years later, the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon was published in 42 countries and 17 languages.

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Mr. Ripley missed the most surprising part.

The story came and went with the next twenty nine years, until one Henry Kilburn brought a diary to the attention of a Washington state newspaper editor, in 1950.  Seems Kilburn’s family fell on hard times and the Knapp family, childless, adopted Kilburn’s sister, Minnie Mae.

It was Mae Knapp who gave that diary to her brother.  It was Peter Knapp’s diary.

Peter Knapp had seen that story back in 1921 and realized, he had to have been the man who fired that bullet. The pair met months later and compared stories. It was true.  As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

Alice Knapp of Nehalem Oregon was the child of another era, a woman born into the age of DNA who loved to study genealogy.  Alice was investigating her husband’s roots in 2009 when she came upon Peter’s story, now dead some eighty-five years. Inquiring as to where the man had been buried, Alice was stunned to learn that he wasn’t. Even more astonishingly, neither was his wife, Georgianna.  Childless, the cremated ashes of the couple were sitting on a storage shelf, unclaimed and forgotten all those years.

Alice explained, “I felt the ashes had to be buried or at least scattered somewhere.  Not sitting in some storage locker.”

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In April 2012, CBSnews.com reported:

“The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a ritual for the dead based on a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from 1873. The funeral also included a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a bugler…performing “Taps,” and the laying of wreaths. Following a musket salute, a folded U.S. flag was presented to Alice Knapp”.

So it is the last known veteran of the Civil War was laid to rest, only seven short years ago. 151 years to the day, following the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter.

 

A Trivial Matter
In October 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman told US Secretary of war Simon Cameron he needed 60,000 men to defend the Kentucky territory, and 200,000 to go on the offensive. Cameron considered the request “insane” and cashiered the commander, very nearly leading to Sherman’s death by his own hand. General Ulysses S Grant, long rumored to have a problem with alcohol, did not see craziness in the disgraced commander, but a unique sort of quiet competence. Later in the war, a civilian ran his mouth at General Grant’s expense. Sherman came to the defense of his friend and commander, saying “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other“.