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.
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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“.

March 13, 1865 Train Wreck

Pinned against the split boiler plate and slowly scalded to death, engineer William Ingram lived long enough to speak with would-be rescuers. “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.”

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 captured at Cold Harbor and 128 Union guards, heading from Point Lookout, Maryland to the Union prison camp in Elmira, New York.

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 delayed while guards located missing prisoners.  Then there was the wait for the drawbridge. By the time #171 reached Port Jervis, Pennsylvania, the train was four hours behind schedule.

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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. Kent might have been drunk that day, but nobody’s sure of it. He disappeared the following day, never to be seen again.

Railroad Station and Post Office Lackawaxen, PA

Erie 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 the two speeding locomotives.

The trains met head-on at “King and Fuller’s Cut”, a section of track following a blind curve with only 50’ of visibility. Historian Joseph C. Boyd described what followed on the 100th anniversary of the wreck:

“[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 against the split boiler plate and slowly scalded to death, engineer William Ingram lived long enough to speak with would-be rescuers. “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.”

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51 Confederate prisoners and 17 Union guards were killed on the spot, or died within a day of the wreck. 5 prisoners escaped in the confusion.

ShoholaTrainWreckCaptured at Spotsylvania in early 1864, 52nd North Carolina Infantry private James Tyner was incarcerated at the Elmira camp at this time.  Tyner’s brother William was one of the prisoners on board #171.

William was badly injured in the wreck, and survived only long enough to avoid being buried in a mass grave, in Shohola. He died in Elmira three days later, never regaining consciousness.

I’ve always wondered if the brothers saw each other that one last time.  James Tyner was my twice-great Grandfather, one of four brothers, farmers who laid down their tools and went to war for their home state of North Carolina, in 1861.

We’ll never know.  James Tyner died in captivity on March 13, 1865, 27 days before General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. 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.

Family Plot

A Trivial Matter

There were more Northern-born Confederate generals in the Civil War, than Southern-born Union generals.  The last government to formally repeal ordinances of secession and rejoin the Union was the Village of Town Line, New York.  In 1945.

March 10, 1864  General Grant’s Tomb

Though his life is remembered for other things, the final chapter of Ulysses S Grant’s story is one of the finest tributes to the common Family Man, in American history.

Hiram Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822. His family called him by his middle name Ulysses, or sometimes just “Lyss”, for short.

A clerical error changed the name of the future Commander-in-Chief during his first days at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He didn’t seem to mind though, probably thinking that “US Grant” was preferable to “H.U.G.”, embroidered on his clothes. Predictably, Grant became known as “Uncle Sam” or simply “Sam.”  It was as good a name as any though, as with future President Harry S. Truman, the “S” doesn’t actually stand for anything.

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The 1862 Civil War Battle of Fort Donelson secured the name, when then-Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant received a request for terms from the fort’s commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Grant’s reply was that “no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately, upon your works.” The legend of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, was born.

70675-004-F36BC7D1Grant was a light smoker before Donelson, generally preferring a pipe, if anything. A reporter spotted him holding an unlit cigar during the battle, a gift from Admiral Foote.  Soon, ten thousand cigars were sent to him in camp. The general gave away as many as he could, but the episode started a cigar habit which became one of his trademarks, and probably led to his death of throat cancer, in 1885.

On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a document promoting Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General of the United States Army, officially putting then-Major General Grant in charge of all Union armies.  Lincoln preferred Henry Wagner Halleck for the promotion, at the time fearing  Grant would challenge him for the 1864 Republican Presidential nomination.  Lincoln submitted to the will of Congress only after Grant publicly dismissed the idea of running for office.

46-year-old U.S. Grant was elected the 18th President of the United States four years later, going on to serve two terms after becoming, at that time, the youngest man ever so elected.

Memoirs-of-GrantGrant bought a house in New York City in 1881 and invested his considerable fortune with the investment firm of Grant and Ward in which his son Ulysses, Jr., was a partner. The firm collapsed in 1884, investors fleeced and left penniless, by Ferdinand Ward.

Broke, humiliated and already suffering the pain destined to be diagnosed as throat cancer, Grant took pen to paper, and began his memoir.

The penning of that autobiography is a story in itself.  Gravely ill and financially destitute, Grant soon understood with certainty, he was dying of throat cancer.  The proceeds from his unwritten memoirs were his only means of supporting his family after his death.

The former President suffered constant and unbearable pain during his last year, as the cancer literally throttled the life from his body. Grant wrote at a furious pace despite his suffering, often finishing 25 to 50 pages in a day.  No re-writes, no edits. There was no time for that. Grant wrote every word with his own hand, every word of the two-volume memoir a literal race with death.

Many of his wartime contemporaries felt they received too little credit in Grant’s retelling of events.  That may be understood under the circumstances.

In June 1885, the cancer spread throughout his body, the Grant family moved to Mount MacGregor, New York to make him more comfortable. Propped up on chairs and too weak to walk, Grant worked to finish the book as friends, admirers and even former Confederate adversaries, made their way to Mount MacGregor to pay their respects.

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US Grant in 1885

Ulysses S Grant Grant was a gifted writer.  He finished the manuscript on July 18, 1885.  Five days later, he was gone. On release, the book received universal critical praise. Mark Twain, who published the memoir, compared the work to the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. Gertrude Stein admired the book, saying she could not think of Grant, without weeping. Ulysses Grant’s memoirs quickly became a best seller, his family receiving 75% of the net royalties after expenses.  The book earned $450,000, over $10 million in today’s dollars, comfortably re-establishing the Grant family fortune.

Grant’s wife Julia died on December 14, 1902, and was buried with her husband in Grant’s monumental tomb overlooking the Hudson River, in New York City.

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So, next time someone asks you who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, you can tell them.  It’s Hiram Ulysses Grant.  If you really want to show off, don’t forget to include his wife, Julia.

A Trivial Matter

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding. In a horse-drawn carriage.

March 8, 1863  I Can’t Replace those Horses

Some sources report the general was “sleeping it off”, possibly following an evening’s celebration with a young lady of southern sympathies. 

Small and frail as a boy, John Singleton Mosby was often the target of much larger bullies.  Many years later, he’d write in his memoirs.  He never won a fight.  Seems that he never backed down from one, either.

Like fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee, Mosby opposed secession.  When it came, he left the Union along with his home state of Virginia.

Mosby participated in the 1st Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) as a member of the Virginia Volunteers Mounted Rifles, later joining James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart as a Cavalry Scout.  A natural horseman and gifted tactician, information gathered by Mosby aided Stuart in his humiliating ride around McLellan’s Army of the Potomac in June, 1862.

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Dr William Gunnell House

In 1863, JEB Stuart authorized Mosby to form and take command of the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry, a regiment sized unit operating out of north central Virginia.  These “Partisan Rangers”, 1,900 of whom served between January 1863 and April 1865, were under the authority of Stuart and Lee and subject to their commands, but were not a traditional army unit.  “Mosby’s Rangers” shared in the spoils of war but had no camp duties, and lived scattered among civilian populations.

Known for lightning raids on the Virginia countryside, Mosby’s 43rd Cavalry would be called together to strike a specific target, dispersing afterward and making themselves next to impossible to run to ground.  So successful were they that parts of Virginia’s Piedmont region are known to this day, as “Mosby’s Confederacy”.

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Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton

In Early March 1863, a Federal brigade was stationed near Fairfax Court House south of Washington.  Mosby received word that two ranking officers, Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham, were headquartered in the town itself.

“Sir” Percy Wyndham was an English officer and adventurer, a professional soldier and veteran of the Italian Risorgimento, the French Navy and the Austrian Army’s 8th Lancers Regiment. In October 1861, the Englishman came to America, to offer his services in the American Civil War.

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Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham

For some time now, Wyndham had chased Mosby’s rangers across the Virginia countryside. There was a special kind of hate between these two men. Sir Percy had even gone so far as to call the man, a horse thief.  Mosby retorted “The only horses he had every stolen had Union troopers on their backs armed with two pistols and a saber.”

With his nemesis in sight, Mosby’s Rangers formed up for a raid on the night of March 8, 1863.

As it turned out, Wyndham was away that night, visiting in Washington city.   General  Stoughton was asleep in his quarters in the home of Dr. William Gunnell.

The “Gray Ghost” and a small detachment entered the Gunnell home in the small hours of March 9.  Mosby’s rangers quickly overpowered a handful of sleepy guards, and crept upstairs to where the General slept.

Let Mosby’s own words, paint the picture:

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The Fairfax Raid, by Civil War artist Mort Kustler

“There were signs in the room of having been revelry in the house that night. Some uncorked champagne bottles furnished an explanation of the general’s deep sleep. He had been entertaining a number of ladies from Washington in a style becoming a commanding general”.

Entering the chamber, Mosby lifted the general’s nightshirt and slapped his bare backside, with a sword. Confused, Stoughton sputtered awake, demanding “What is the meaning of this“. “General, did you ever hear of Mosby“, came the question.  Stoughton replied, “Yes, have you caught him?” “I AM Mosby,” said the Gray Ghost, “he has caught you. Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Courthouse;.  Be quick and dress.”

That night, John Singleton Mosby and 29 rangers captured a Union General, two Captains, 30 enlisted men and 58 horses, all without firing a shot.  On hearing the story the next day, President Lincoln lamented:  “I can make another Brigadier in 5 minutes, but I can’t replace those horses“.

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March 2, 1864 A POW story

Four men, each of whom 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.

In the early days of the Civil War, the government in Washington refused to recognize the Confederate states’ government, believing any such recognition would amount to legitimizing an illegal entity.  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 (Manassas), a joint resolution in Congress called for President Lincoln to establish a prisoner exchange agreement.

In July 1862, Union Major General John A. 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.

My twice-great grandfather, Corporal Jacob Deppen of the 128th Pennsylvania Infantry,  was paroled in such an exchange.

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.

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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.

The pictures at the top of this page were taken at 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?” “God protect us!” and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then”.

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.

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 from the beginning, 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 exceeded 9000%, by 1865.

Captain 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.

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Family cemetery, Scotland County, North Carolina.  Note the peaked tops of Confederate stones.  It’s said they were shaped that way, so no Yankee could sit on them.

On a personal note:

There are many good reasons to study history, among which is an understanding of where we come from.  How do we know where we’re going, if we don’t understand where we’ve been.

Should our ancestors be towering historical figures or merely those who played a part, the principle applies on the micro, as well as a larger scale.

Among those farmers who laid down their tools were the four Tyner brothers of North Carolina:  James, William, Nicholas and Benjamin.  My twice-great Grandfather, Private James Tyner, 52nd North Carolina Infantry, was captured at Spotsylvania Courthouse and imprisoned at “Hellmira”.  He died in captivity on March 13, 1865, less than a month before General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  Nicholas alone survived the war, to return to the Sand Hills of North Carolina.

Corporal Jacob Deppen of the 128th PA Infantry re-enlisted with the Army of the James, after his parole.  He and 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 was Blacksmith to the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and 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, each of whom 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

October 31, 1883 The Dress in the Closet

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

An historical ghost story, for your Halloween enjoyment.   But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Albany, New York businessman Jared Rathbone passed away in 1845, leaving a considerable fortune to his widow Pauline, and their four children.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Harris, himself a widower, joined his household with hers when the couple married, in 1848.  There were now eight 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 Harris and Henry Rathbone were engaged to be married.

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Rathbone 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 had conceived 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 had 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 the theater.  The play, a three-act farce by English playwright Tom Taylor.  “Our American Cousin”.197030-Abraham-Lincoln-Before-And-After-Civil-War

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

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

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 skull 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 as he leapt to the stage, below.  Witnesses remembered that he 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, 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 the 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 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.

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Major Rathbone would heal, in time, but he never came to terms with his 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 to burn it.  She hung it in a guest room closet, blood and all, in the family’s vacation home in New York.

What demons afflicted the mind of Henry Rathbone can 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 YOU???!!!

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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 heard laughter, she knew she did, coming down the hall.  Lincoln’s laughter.

Others reported the same thing in the following years.  The sound of laughter.  A single gun shot.  But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

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, and that 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.

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US Capitol as it looked, in 1872

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

“Trick or Treating” had yet to take hold by this time, back in the United States.  For most, October 31, 1883 passed pleasantly enough:  Fall festivals, children bobbing for apples, young women consulting mirrors or tossing nuts into fires, to see whom they would marry.  Not so, Henry Rathbone.  He had Monsters in his head.

Two months later, December 23, Henry Rathbone shot his wife, and stabbed himself, in the chest.  Six times.  He lived.  She died.

He claimed 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.

In 1922, Henry Riggs Rathbone would be elected to the United States House of Representatives.  Twelve years earlier he unbricked that closet and burned the hated dress, the dress which had stolen his childhood, and murdered his mother, and cursed his father.  But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

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“The modern day home where Union Army Officer Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris resided”. Hat tip, HISTORIAN’S OFFICE, TOWN OF COLONIE.

Afterward

Burial customs are different in Germany, than 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 Hanover/Engesohde looked over visitation records, and determined that there was no further interest, in Clara Harris or Henry Rathbone.  The couple was exhumed and their remains burned, and disposed of.  Like they were never even there.

But there are no such things as ghosts.

Right?

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