Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"The Spirit of the Age"

The Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry is perhaps best known for its commitment to educate the mostly illiterate slaves who joined its ranks in late 1863 and early 1864. In reading various accounts of the regiment's history, I am impressed with the African American men and the strides they made to better themselves and the white officers who linked leadership to literacy and education to citizenship.

These officers were more than men of their time. They were visionaries who contributed to the immediacy of a brutal and bloody war with a long view to addressing the future needs of what most assuredly would be a dramatically changed society in peacetime. This brings to mind the engraving of the eagle pictured here, with arrows and an olive branch gripped in it talon. It was scanned from the enlistment paper of a slave who joined the army in 1864. It represents the extremes that these men faced.

Last week I read through the original regimental order book of the Sixty-second, part of the collection of the National Archives. Preserved in this volume are all the handwritten general and special orders issued by the staff officers. Page after page, I was struck by the commitment of these men to the betterment of freed slaves.

General Order No. 36, transcribed here, caught my attention, for it illustrates both the weakness of man and the strength of human character. I like the phrase "the spirit of the age," which acknowledges this unique moment in history that transformed a race and rebuilt the very foundation of our modern democracy.
Hd. Qrs. 62nd Regt. U.S. Cold. Inf.
Brazos Santiago, Texas
November 9th 1864
General Orders
No 36

The Lieut. Col. Comdg. has learned with regret that several officers of this command have been in the habit of abusing men under their command by striking them with their fists or swords, & by kicking them when guilty of very slight offenses. This is as unmanly and unofficer like as it is unnecessary. An officer is not fit to command who cannot control his temper sufficiently to avoid the habitual application of blows to enforce obedience. Men will not obey as promptly an order who adopts the customs of the slave driver to maintain authority as they will him who punishes by a system consistent with the character and enormity of offenses and the spirit of the age. The time for enforcing authority with the sword is in case of willful disobedience of orders, mutiny, or cowardice in action, which in the ordinary course of events, will rarely occur.

While censuring the officers referred to, their commander makes allowance for the fact that, generally, the men who have received such punishment have been of the meanest type of soldiers; lazy, dirty & inefficient and provoking to any high spirited officer. But he is satisfied never-the-less that such treatment will not produce reform in them, while it has an injurious effect on all good men, from its resemblance to their former treatment while slaves.

By order of
Lieut. Colonel David Branson
Comdg. Regt.
R.B. Foster
1st Lt. & actg. Adjt.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"You Can Whip the Whole World"

In December 1864, Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore, pictured here, conducted an inspection of the post at Helena, Arkansas. During his visit, the troops marched in review for him. Two African American regiments, the Fifty-sixth and Sixtieth U.S. Colored Infantries, participated in the event.

An observer, James M. Alexander, watched the soldiers on parade as he stood near an artillery battery. He recalled an incident that occurred at the conclusion of the review. His account appeared in a letter published in the December 31, 1864, edition of The Christian Recorder. "There was an old colored man present, who had recently made his escape from the interior of this State, and who had been a silent spectator of the scene. As the General and his staff rode off, the artillerymen fired a salute. The old man advanced to the soldier nearest him, threw up his arms in amazement, and enthusiastically exclaimed, "Gentlemen, it's no use talking. You can whip the whole world."

I can imagine the old man's excitement, coming out of slavery and seeing others like him marching in precision along the path to freedom.

Photo of Maj. Gen. Gillmore from the Library of Congress.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

"The Men Always Felt This a Grievance"

If there was ever any question that African American soldiers could and would fight, no one bothered to tell Frederick Lyman Hitchcock, an officer in the 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry who suffered two wounds at Fredericksburg and went on to be colonel and commander of the Twenty-fifth U.S. Colored Infantry. After the war he had this to say about the character of the men in the Twenty-fifth:
"I desire to bear testimony to the esprit du corps, and general efficiency of the organization as a regiment, to the competency and general good character of its officers, to the soldierly bearing, fidelity to duty, and patriotism of its men. Having seen active service in the Army of the Potomac, prior to my connection with the Twenty-fifth, I can speak with some degree of assurance. After a proper time had been devoted to its drill, I never for a moment doubted what would be its conduct under fire. It would have done its full duty beyond question. An opportunity to prove this the Government never afforded, and the men always felt this a grievance."

From Bates' History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Vol. V, pp. 1026-1027.
I admire Hitchcock's confidence in his men, and his clear dissatisfaction for never having been sent to see the elephant with his command.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kendrick Allen, Buffalo Soldier

A note penned on the back of the carte de visite of Kendrick Allen, written by his commanding officer, praises him as an excellent soldier — a fine compliment to an eighteen-year-old sergeant new to soldiering in the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry. Allen served in the regiment from 1864 until 1866.

Five years later he returned to the military, this time in the regular army as a corporal in the Twenty-fourth U.S. Infantry, one of the Buffalo Soldier regiments. He later transferred to the Ninth Cavalry and retired as a sergeant in 1897.

This the first Buffalo Soldier I've documented. If you have any information about Sgt. Allen, please contact me.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

USCT Soldier Surfaces at Richmond Show

I had not been to the North South Trader's Show in Richmond for some years. My gut told me to make the trip yesterday and am glad I did. About a quarter of the way through the show I walked by C.J. Delery's table (he operates The Historical Shop, and I have a fond memory of a Pennsylvania show some years ago at which I of purchased a pristine group of officer cartes de visite, all members of the Fifty-third Massachusetts Infantry). Delery asked if he could help. I told him about my latest project and he pointed me in the direction of Howard Norton's table.

Within a few minutes I was at Howard's table looking at a quarter plate tintype of Pvt. William Wright of the 114th U.S. Colored Infantry. An airtight identification by way of a piece of paper attached to the back of the metal plate, inscribed in period pen.

To be certain that Wright was a member of the regiment, I whipped out my laptop only to find there was no wireless access in the building. So, I called up Anne at home and joked that I was stuck at the Civil War show and required immediate table-side assistance from "AnneStar." She logged on to our home computer and I guided her through the American Civil War Research Database operated by Historical Data Systems. In minutes she verified that Wright did indeed serve in the 114th. I left with the image, a detail pictured here.

Howard and I talked for awhile after completing the purchase. Turns out he had come into possession of this photograph six weeks ago after buying a group of images from a Missouri collector. Howard is a long-time dealer, and I've seen him at a number of shows. His soft Southern accent reflects his Mississippi roots and birth in Arkansas. He is sixty-eight years old. His father, a Spanish American War veteran, was the same age when Howard was born. We finished our conversation reflecting on our shared joy of Civil War photography. "The ability to see the face of a soldier, then read about his life and what happened to him in the war is a powerful thing and it puts me in a different place" I explained to Howard, who nodded his head in agreement. He knew exactly what I meant, "I know, I know. You're There. It takes you There."

Howard Norton said it better than I could.

You're There.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Recognize These Fellows?

Chris Marquez sent me a scan of an albumen photograph of fifteen Union infantrymen, most in the group are sergeants. On many of the forage caps can be seen the familiar cross-shaped badge of the Sixth Army Corps. The soldiers are gathered around a flag. In the distance is visible a group of cabins, perhaps winter quarters for these men.

Take a close up look at this large scan.

If you recognize any of these fellows, please contact Chris.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

James Henry Ward and the 36th Ohio Infantry

James Henry Ward is one of a large number of African American men and women connected with the military in an unofficial capacity during the war. You will not find their names in any database, and yet they were a vital part of the Union armies. Many served as personal servants, cooks, teamsters, and other support roles.

Ward's role is unclear. He is not listed as an official member of the Thirty-sixth Ohio Infantry, although a period photograph of this African American identifies him as a member of Company A of the regiment. In the photograph, he wears a military jacket.

Ward may have been a personal servant to an officer in Company A. Two captains commanded the company, Hiram Fosdick Devol and James Gage Barker. A number of lieutenants are on the rolls, including Augustus T. Ward (the surname suggests a possible connection), Jonathan N Patton, James C. Selby, and Andrew J. Temple.

It is possible he was connected to the Ward family of Marietta, Ohio.

I'd like to know more about James Henry Ward and his role with the Thirty-sixth. Hope you can help.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Frederick Douglass' Photograph Album

Today I had the opportunity to see Frederick Douglass' personal photograph album, part of the collection of Howard University's prints and photographs holdings at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center. The album holds four images per page (front and back) and contains a number of cartes de visite, including a portrait of Douglass' son Sgt. Maj. Lewis H. Douglass, who served in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. His image and story will be included in my book. The album binding is loose, and a number of pages are empty. Nevertheless, it belonged to Frederick Douglass, and I felt privileged to see it up close, thanks to Joellen El Bashir, Curator of Manuscripts. She was extremely helpful and made my visit a success.

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Success at Camp William Penn

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting key individuals involved in the effort to renovate the museum dedicated to Philadelphia's historic Camp William Penn, the first federal recruiting and training camp for black soldiers. Director Joyce Werkman and Jim Paradis, author of two books, Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War and African Americans And The Gettysburg Campaign, generously shared their knowledge and experience during our meeting.

I came away with scans of two soldier images, a carte de visite of a chaplain and a tintype of a quartermaster sergeant. These are the nineteenth and twentieth images secured for the book.

I am very impressed with the dedication to making the renovated museum a reality. The depth of commitment to the project impressed me, and I urge anyone interested in preserving this unique museum and place to support the group behind the effort, the Citizens for the Restoration of Historical La Mott (CROHL). The village of La Mott is one of the first communities in America to encourage integrated living. Six post-Civil War houses in the community are said to have been built from wood salvaged from nearby Camp William Penn. Still standing is the camp's gate and gatehouse.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gettysburg USCT Cartes

During my last trip to the Gettysburg visitor center and museum, I noticed six identified cartes de visite of soldiers who served in the ranks of the USCT, and called the archives to find out if I could get scans of the images for use in my book. Spoke with Paul Shevchuk, who had helped me several years ago: I was researching Capt. Thomas R. Clark of the U.S. Signal Corps, who observed the opening stage of the battle from the Adams County Courthouse on July 1. Paul kindly showed me a collection of Clark's artifacts acquired by the museum, including Clark's cipher disk and a number of documents.

Paul came through again. He sent a CD containing scans of the six soldiers from the visitor center, and, much to my delight, four more scans of men not included in the public display.

Overnight, I was easily able to confirm the identities of eight men using and the American Civil War Research Database.

Two men require further research.

The first is identified in the scan only as Jesse Keepson. Could not find him in any database. However, the same photograph is credited to the Bill Gladstone collection as a member of Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry. Two other images from the 108th are also credited to Gladstone, which leads me to believe he bought them as a group. Armed with this information, I went back to American Civil War Research Database and searched through all the men of the 108th Infantry's Company F. Only one man named Jesse served in Company F, Jesse Hopson. I believe this is the same man, and will be contacting Paul to get a scan of the back of the carte de visite to learn more.

The second is identified as A.E. Jackson of the 78th U.S. Colored Infantry. Eight men with the first initial A and the last name Jackson served in the regiment, and none of the databases include a middle initial or name. To solve this mystery, I will need to visit the National Archives and request the military service records and pension files of all eight men. I also need to get a scan of the back of this image.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nicholas Biddle, Unofficial Soldier

That Nick Biddle went to war with a company of Pennsylvanians from Pottsville is beyond doubt, as evidenced by the carte de visite photo that shows him wearing the uniform jacket of the Washington Artillerists, which later formed the nucleus of Company B of the Keystone State's Forty-eighth Infantry. Moreover, that he suffered a serious head wound during the Baltimore Riots of April 1861 is an event for which he was recognized at the time as the first man wounded in the Civil War.

His military record is one that commands attention and respect for his sacrifice.

Only Biddle never served in the army officially. Men of color were not allowed to enlist. That would come later. Instead, Biddle served as an orderly to Capt. James Wren, who went on to become major of the Forty-eighth. By the time African Americans were allowed to join, sixty-five-year-old Biddle was finished with army life.

His story is unlike any other individual I've researched for my column and books, as all were formally enlisted soldiers. And yet his short-lived experience helps frame the larger issue of race for which our ancestors struggled to deal with in four bloody years of war, and his personal story the sacrifice and dedication of an American to his country.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unexpected Discovery at Antietam Monument

Yesterday I visited Antietam with my friend Chuck and hiked several battlefield trails in humid conditions under an overcast sky. Along The Cornfield Avenue we came upon the State of New Jersey Monument, dedicated in 1903 to the Third, Fourth and Thirteenth Infantries and Hexamer's Battery (Battery A, First New Jersey Artillery).

Along the base of the monument is inscribed the names of the governor and three veterans, all commissioners who helped make the monument a reality. The name of the third commissioner instantly caught my attention, for John James Toffey is one of the seventy-seven soldiers featured in Faces of the Civil War. That Toffey's name should appear at Antietam is unexpected, for he did not serve in these units (he was part of the Twenty-first and Thirty-third infantry regiments) nor participate in the battle.

Toffey (1844-1911) received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chattanooga in 1863.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Palm's Museum Dedicated to Veterans

For those who desire to learn about the Civil War from the perspective of the soldier in the trenches and the combat officer on the front lines, those interested in old photos of veterans, and those looking for an alternative to other museums and attractions in Gettysburg, Ronn Palm's Museum of Civil War Images delivers. Located on Baltimore Street, Ronn's museum contains a wealth of photographs and other relics from the Civil War years, all arranged on walls and in cases that allow visitors to get up close and study each and every artifact.

This is Ronn's way of remembering those who served, and he's created a space that puts soldiers first. Especially his beloved Pennsylvania Bucktails, with their distinctive forage caps, They fought with distinction on many a battlefield, including the hallowed ground all around the museum.

Two cartes de visite stood out for me: A solder seated in a photographer's makeshift tent studio, supplies stacked all about him, and a Pennsylvania artilleryman holding the Stars and Stripes Both are stunning examples of wartime portrait photography, and examples of what makes Ronn's collection one of the very best in the country.

I will be dedicating serious research time to a third carte: Silas L. Johnson of the Ninety-Sixth United States Colored Infantry (USCT). Also known as Silas Brown, the Mississippi-born former slave sat for an unidentified photographer sometime in 1864 or 1865. According to the 1880 census, his parents were born in Virginia.

I am indebted to Ronn for his generosity and kindness, and for the inscribed copy of his book, Pennsylvania Bucktails: A Photographic Album of the 42nd, 149th & 150th Pennsylvania Regiments.

On your next visit to Gettysburg, make time to visit the museum. It is a memorable experience.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mystery of William Hydorn Jr.

This Civil War era carte de visite, identified in period pen as William Hydorn Jr., has been in my possession for years. The inscription does not include the unit in which he served. I've never been able to link him to a military organization. His name (using this spelling or variations) does not appear on any federal rolls, and is curiously absent from databases online and at the National Archives. I've speculated that he may have served under an alias, or perhaps his record is misfiled, mislaid, or listed under an alternative spelling with which I am not familiar.

Recently I posted this image on Flickr, hoping to make a connection. Late last week, Sam Small of The Horse Soldier in Gettysburg contacted me. He had recently purchased a Union captain's coat and a sword. He had the saber professionally cleaned, which revealed an inscription: William Heydorne. Eventually his online search results led to my Flickr posting.

Turns out the sword is an exact match with the one held by the soldier in this image, and the rather narrow shoulder straps on the uniform coat in Sam Small's possession also line up with the coat worn by this officer.

Since then, I have been obsessed with discovering this man's military service record. Yesterday I made the first connection that aligns the information on this carte with a record: Capt. William Hydorn, Company F. Ninety-seventh Regiment, Tenth Brigade, Third Division, New York National Guard. His rank dates to Dec. 24, 1864. His residence is Grafton. This information from the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York (1866, Vol. 1).

This is a promising lead, and I am currently seeking more information.

My working theory is that this is William Willard Hydorn Jr. (1837-1874) of Grafton, N.Y., who served in the Ninety-seventh New York State National Guard. Commanded by Col. Schuyler Greenman, the 500-man regiment served the state from late 1864 until it disbanded in 1868. The unit never mustered for federal service.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Brothers' War

The title of this post conjures up images of soldiers North and South, Union and Confederate, Billy Yank and Johnny Reb. It is also a fitting headline to describe the esprit de corps that existed between two federal infantry regiments, the Second Massachusetts and the Third Wisconsin. Both organizations fought side by side in the same brigade during major operations through the war, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Sherman's campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas.

During the course of my research of Capt. Henry Newton Comey of the Second Massachusetts, I found this paper, reproduced in a regimental history book, presented by Comey and his fellow officers to the men of the Third Wisconsin:
Second Massachusetts Infantry, Camp Slocum,
Near Washington, D.C., June 4, 1S65.

We, the undersigned, officers of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, wish to express to the officers of the Third Wisconsin Infantry our heartfelt regret, that the fortunes of the service are about to separate our respective organizations.

From the campaign of 1862, in the Shenandoah Valley, to the present glorious close of this bloody war, we have fought and marched side by side with you in almost every rebellious State. To have been brigaded together for so long a time is in itself remarkable; no less so is it that between our two regiments there should have always existed such strong feelings of friendship and mutual regard, untinged by the slightest shadow of jealousy.

As we recall, now, some of the hard positions we have been in, we cannot help remembering how often our anxiety was lessened by the knowledge that the old Third Wisconsin was close at hand to support us. We know that you have had the same thoughts about us. Nothing in this whole war will be pleasantcr for us all to look back upon than this feeling of mutual respect and reliance. It not only elevated the tone of both of our regiments; but, we honestly believe, it went a great way towards making our brigade and division what they are now acknowledged to be, — among the very best organizations of the army.

We assure you that in our own State, wherever the Second Massachusetts is known, its brother regiment is also famous.

Whenever any of us have been at home, among the first inquiries would be, " How is the Third Wisconsin ? " It has been with pride that we have answered, "It is the same staunch old regiment that fought at Antietam and Chancellorsville."

These are not compliments, but expressions of plain, honest feelings. We have been knit together by deeds, not words; deeds, which, as time goes on, we shall look back upon with continually increasing pride.

Together we have shared dangers and hardships, victories and defeats, and it is hard now for us to part; but, in the natural order of things, the war being over, you go towards your homes in the West, we stay near ours in the East. Let us not, however, though separated by thousands of miles, forget these old associations. Let us rather cherish them with our fondest recollections: let it be a story to hand down to our children and children's children, how the Second Massachusetts and Third Wisconsin fought shoulder to shoulder through the great rebellion, and achieved together glory and renown. We ask you to accept this testimonial as a slight evidence of our affection and esteem. We bid you farewell, and God bless you, one and all.

C. F. Morse, Lieutenant-Colonel, com.
James Francis, Major.
C. E. Munn, Surgeon.
John A. Fox, Adjutant.
E. A. Howes, Quartermaster.

Captains. — Daniel Oakey, F. W. Crowninshield, E. A. Phalen, George A. Thayer, Theodore K. Parker, Dennis Mehan, Henry N. Comey, William E. Perkins.

First Lieutenants. — George J. Thompson, Jesse Richardson, Moses P. Richardson, William T. McAlpine, Jed. C. Thompson, William D. Toombs.

Source: Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-65, pp. 282-284.
The Third Wisconsin responded with an equally respectful and heartfelt reply. While espirit de corps between regiments was not uncommon, it is rare in my experience to come across and exchange of papers that recognize and honor the bonds between them.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lt. Col. Henry Chew's Hottest Battle

I've been researching the military service of Lt. Col. Henry Chew with the idea of highlighting his actions at the Bliss Barn during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Among the first details I learned of his war experience was how he came perilously close to being struck by a cannon ball at Gettysburg, and how he had been involved in keeping Confederate sharpshooters in check at the Bliss Barn until overwhelmed by superior numbers.

I continued working the Bliss Barn story, poring over various accounts, while also tracking down other source material related to other events in Chew's civilian and army life.

Last week at the Library of Congress, I requested History of the Men of Co. F, With Description of the Marches and Battles of the 12th New Jersey Vols., by Pvt. William P. Haines, a member of the company. Hoping to find more detail about Chew, I felt the request was a bit of a long shot, for Chew never served in this company.

Turns out Co. F is a remarkable read, chock full of detail. It is divided into three parts: A history of the battles in which it participated, profiles of every man who served in Company F, and an update on what became of them. The second part is most unique, for the profiles are detailed and interesting without overwhelming the reader. However, the first part caught my attention, as various writers from the company and regiment penned chapters about each battle. Chew wrote the chapter on Ream's Station. He noted that of all the battles in which he participated in, this was the hottest.

Instantly I knew that my profile of Chew would focus on his role at Ream's Station. Thanks to Pvt. Haines and his most excellent Co. F.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Searching for a Likeness of Albert Luke Frakes

Corporal Albert Luke Frakes (1841-1868) served in Company D of the 142nd Indiana Infantry from 1864-1865. Chances are he posed for a photograph before, during, or after his one year term of enlistment. One of his ancestors, George Frakes, would like to find it. If you can help, please email George:

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

"How Sad a Task"

This evening I was scanning the History of the Eighth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers, looking for references to Maj. Henry Howard Huse. I found numerous references to the major, some of which will be incorporated into his forthcoming profile.

As is often the case, I found an interesting anecdote unrelated to the subject of my profile. This one is part of a diary entry penned by Chaplain Daniel Plummer Cilley (1806-1888) three days after the June 14, 1863 failed Union assault on Port Hudson.

Rev. Cilley wrote, "The flag of truce is up and the dead and wounded are being removed. I saw 114 dead soldiers buried in one long grave. I have 'wallets,' papers, and pictures to send to the friends, one of the latter articles, the photograph of a very pretty young lady. How sad a task it is to tell of death and suffering to those at home. I cannot get the scenes out of my mind."

Cilley's straightforward accounting of what he saw, and his candid expression of feeling, caught my attention.

I wonder if he carried the memory of those tragic scenes for the rest of his life.

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