Friday, January 24, 2020

You can learn the story of a rural Kentucky doctor who saved souls and also saved soldiers after the bloody Battle of Perryville

Bryan Bush at the Polk home (Kentucky State Parks)
At age 60, Dr. Jefferson Johnson Polk had all but retired, after having treated thousands of patients and delivering more than 800 babies in his hometown of Perryville, Ky., and surrounding communities. He concentrated on saving souls as a preacher.

But when the Civil War arrived in Perryville in October 1862, Polk joined other military and civilian physicians who rushed to save the wounded after the battle left 7,600 casualties and a strategic Union victory.

The role of Polk, a staunch unionist, in the clash’s aftermath will be presented Saturday (Jan. 25) at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site by park manager Bryan Bush, who has experience in portraying historical figures. Other dates for the presentation are Feb. 15, March 14 and April 11. Perryville is 45 miles southwest of Lexington.

Besides his medical practice, Polk was also a traveling minister, newspaper publisher, temperance lecturer and abolitionist,” says a press release about the talks. “His account of the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville is one of the more vivid and horrifying descriptions of the destruction resulting from a major battle during the Civil War.”

Dr. J.J. Polk
Polk and his son, William Tod Polk, also a doctor, treated the wounded at makeshift hospitals and the elder Polk’s home and office in Perryville. The two structures survive and are part of the town’s Merchants Row, a collection of buildings that are more than 170 years old. Many are occupied today by businesses catering to tourists and residents.
.
Dr. J.J. Polk documented some of what he saw in his autobiography.

“The first hospital I entered was Mr. Peters’ house. Here were about two hundred wounded soldiers, lying side by side on beds of straw. Notwithstanding they were wounded in every possible way, there was not heard among them a groan or complaint. In the orchard close by a long trench had been dug, in which to bury the dead; about fifteen were lying in a row, ready for interment.”

According to one history, Polk treated the wounded in a barn at the Goodnight property, where the farmer played a fiddle and gave the wounded whiskey to dull their pain. The musical group Granville Automatic recorded the song “Goodnight House” a few years ago about the scene.

The doctor wrote other vivid passages about what he encountered.

“I noticed at one spot six dead horses, the entire team of a rebel cannon. Turning my steps south toward Perryville, I saw dead rebels piled up in pens like hogs. I reached my home, praying to God that I might never again be called upon to visit a battlefield.”

The Polk home is part of Merchants Row, below (Courtesy of  Main Street Perryville)

Polk, a Presbyterian, moved to Perryville, then a bustling farm community in southwest Kentucky, about 20 years before the Civil War began. The community had mixed sympathies at the time of Fort Sumter.

The doctor is believed to also have treated soldiers at his home and tiny office about 25 feet away, says Vicki T. Goode, executive director of Main Street Perryville, which leases the Merchants Row buildings from the town and promotes preservation and economic growth in the small downtown district.

Wounded soldiers, mostly Union, were cared for at nearby homes, she told the Picket. “Some of them were there for a year following the battle.”

Dr. Polk's office in 2007 (Courtesy of Main Street Perryville)
Polk treated and befriended a captured Confederate officer from Prussia – Karl Langenbecker – who eventually helped treat others but died two months after the battle. “He is buried in Dr. Polk’s plot with a very nice headstone right next to Dr. Polk’s monument,” says Goode. Polk died at age 79 in 1881.

The Polk home and office are not currently being used. Some of his effects are in the 10-feet by 14-feet office, which needs restoration.

The office interior
Main Street Perryville has also maintained the home, including performing structural repair of the foundation, installing a new roof and making window repairs. The “mothballed” home is in good shape but still needs an interior restoration, Goode said. 

A postwar addition on the back of the home deteriorated and was removed.

Main Street Perryville has helped restore some of the old structures downtown and Goode says new businesses catering to businesses are set to open.

The one-person interpretations of Dr. Polk are on Jan. 25, Feb. 15, March 14 and April 11 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $4 for adults and $3 for children ages 12 and under. The state historic site is near the town of Perryville.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Picket rewind: No timetable yet for public access to well-preserved Rebel battery that was part of Potomac defenses

Remains of gun emplacements (Courtesy of Prince William County, Va.)
It’s been about four years since a Virginia county acquired the remains of a Confederate battery along the Potomac River that helped block ships from resupplying Washington, D.C., but the site is not any closer to opening to the public.

The well-preserved Cockpit Point Battery is in a “status quo” situation, said Rob Orrison, manager of Prince Williams County’s Historic Preservation Division.

Cockpit Point Civil War Park is a few miles east of Dumfries. The 113 acres are split by a busy railroad line that passes by a chemical facility and the Possum Point Power station, modern facilities that bookend the park. 

“We will do private tours by request if we can work it out with the railroad. But as of now, there is still no access,” Orrison recently told the Picket. “There is a plan for parking lot and trails, but nothing has been decided (location, size) or started.”

Sitting atop a 70-foot bluff, the fort had an air of mystery from the beginning. It was built in secret, with trees left in front to better hide the construction. Curious Federal troops on the Maryland side of the river eventually used a balloon to try to figure out how many men were at Cockpit Point and other batteries in the area.

Federal balloon gazed down on Confederate batteries (click to enlarge)
The Rebel emplacements thrown up early in the war saw relatively little action but did deter Federal vessels from sail upriver.

The Confederacy rotated artillery in and out of the fort. Sometimes there were six, sometimes fewer. A 30-pounder Parrott, nicknamed “Long Tom,” was used, along with guns from the Norfolk naval station. Between 100 and 200 men were in the garrison.

The Picket first wrote about the site in March 2017.

Orrison said those living near the property will be consulted before anything is decided about access and amenities.

“Everything is about timing and there are a lot of park projects that have started before this one that need to be completed before we start on this property,” he said.

“We do plan on access to at least the western portion of the property; the access to the Civil war earthworks is another discussion since there are security concerns with the railroad (and there are plans for high-speed rail along that line which could have an impact on timing).” Officials don't want visitors on site yet, fearing they could damage remaining lunettes and other features.

River view of the fort (Courtesy of Prince William County)
He said the property is monitored daily by ranger staff for vandalism and relic hunting.

A study conducted a few years ago for the county said it should work to maintain surrounding forest to protect surviving earthworks and take steps to prevent vandalism.

The first public tours of the property – the only way to see the site -- began in March 2017.

“Our Blockade Boat Tour is very popular. Our walking tour of the batteries were popular at first, but in 2019 we only did one and have none planned for this year as interest was not big in 2019,” Orrison said. “The biggest question, “When are you going to open this up?”

Friday, January 17, 2020

Legendary Ed Bearss would love to get letters from those touched by his dedication to histor, publisher says

Bearrs with former Georgia football coach Vince Dooley in 2009 (Georgia Battlefields Assn.)
[This story has been updated]

Well into his 90s, Ed Bearss roamed Civil War battlefields, a stream of devotees hanging on to every word as the expert described what happened on that particular piece of hallowed ground.

As "History's Pied Piper," Edwin Cole Bearss has more than lived up to the title of Jack Waugh’s 2003 biography of the decorated Marine Corps veteran and National Park Service chief historian emeritus.

But Bearss now is no longer physically able to participate in tours, according to his publisher. Nearing 97, the gravel-voiced legend spends his time at his Alexandria, Va., residence, according to Tom Broadfoot, whose publishing company has published numerous works written or edited by Bearss.  

[Updated Jan. 18 and 20: The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, said it wanted to tamp down concerns about Bearss' health, saying the historian this week spoke with CEO Keven Walker. "He was great; preparing for a trip and in good spirits," says the group. "The two are looking forward to getting together in a couple of weeks for their annual winter meeting, so things are business as usual. Ed appreciates the concern but would want everyone to know that he is just as ornery as ever and doing fine." Broadfoot later said he stands by his message.] 

In a message this week, Broadfoot asked fans of Bearss to send him letters, which Bearss’ caregiving daughter says “make his day.” Her father is hard of hearing, so phone calls and visits are not beneficial. Memories and photographs are.

“If your interest is the Civil War, Ed has contributed greatly to your interest,” the publisher wrote.


Broadfoot asked people to write to Bearss about books he authored, or a tour or speech he gave, or just to thank him for his service to his country and the NPS. Among his accomplishments with the agency was the discovery and raising of the USS Cairo in the 1960s, when Bearss was historian at Vicksburg National Military Park. The majority of the public came to know him from his appearance in Ken Burns' 1990 “The Civil War” series on PBS.

The historian is “the man whom people follow to learn about history in a way that no person or book or map or video or other medium can emulate,” says Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association.

Several Facebook pages devoted to the Civil War included fond remarks this week about his remarkable memory and presentations, with a touch of wistfulness as Bearrs steps back.

One commenter on Civil War Pittsburgh’s page wrote: "The man never used notes! He remembers everything! If you were on any of his tours you were lucky. We've been blessed with his wisdom, character and good humor."

Author and historian Eric J. Wittenberg posted Broadfoot's email on Wednesday.

"Rarely has one person who was not an emperor or entertainer touched the lives of so many people, one Facebook commenter on that page posted. "A true national treasure."

Another person wrote: "About 15 years ago, Ed gave me the best advice about the best way to learn about CW battles. He told me, 'Walk the ground little lady, walk the ground!’ That has served me well for many years."

In Athens, Ga., in March 2019 (GBA)
A 2005 Smithsonian Magazine article captured part of his spirit and panache:

"As he talks, Bearss marches back and forth, brandishing a silver-headed swagger stick, tucking it from time to time under his withered left arm -- a casualty of a bullet at a battlefield on the other side of the world in 1944. He keeps his eyes tightly closed while he lectures, and he later tells me that way he can see the events of 1863 unfolding before him."

Crawford told the Picket that Bearrs, known for his booming voice, led GBA’s March 2019 tour. The guide cut back on such appearances later in the year because of limitations, Crawford said.

In 2014, Crawford was interviewed for the documentary, “American Journey: The Life and Times of Ed Bearss.” The program concluded with this statement: Ed Bearss is sui generis -- one of a kind.

Letters, in 12 to 14 point or equivalent, can be sent to Bearss, who probably will not reply or sign books. Send them to Ed Bearss, 1126 17th St. S, Arlington, Va. 22202

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

'No power on earth can deny': African-American soldiers are subject of MLK Day programming at the Atlanta History Center

Medal of Honor recipient William Carney
Sgt. Maj. Milton Holland took command of his company of the 5th U.S. Colored Troops when all its white officers were killed or wounded. In the 54th Massachusetts’ assault made famous in the movie “Glory,” Sgt. William Carney planted a flag atop the enemy’s fort and safeguarded its return to Federal lines.

Nicholas Biddle was left scarred after a mob in Baltimore attacked Pennsylvania troops. And Hubbard D. Pryor escaped slavery to trade his ragged clothing for a uniform with the 44th USCT.

These courageous African-Americans and other who served with or aided the Federal army during the Civil War will provide inspiration for those attending special MLK Day programming at the Atlanta History Center on Jan 20.

Among the highlights coming with free admission that day at the AHC and the Margaret Mitchell House are the touring exhibition “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” and a play in which an activist in 1963 imagines a conversation with four iconic freedom fighters.

The student-oriented soldiers experience will take place hourly between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the history center’s renowned Civil War permanent exhibit, “Turning Point.”

Take on the role of a real soldier who fought in the Civil War for the United States Colored Troops after volunteering for duty in 1863,” says the program description. “Presented with various real-life scenarios, you must make vital decisions that could affect your life and well-being.”

Biographical sheet at the Atlanta History Center
Museum interpreters will lead the immersive experience, said Joanna Arrietta, director of author and family programs at the AHC, which is in the city’s Buckhead neighborhood. She said the talks also will include the 8th, 55th and other USCT regiments.

Arrietta says: “We prioritize children participating first and allow adults to participate and follow along within our space constraints. Educators lead the group; each participant is given a profile sheet of a USCT soldier, and travels through the exhibit in role, through the lens of the USCT experience of the Civil War. Scenarios such as everyday soldier life (pay, medical access) and combat (the Battle of the Crater) are explored in this interactive walking tour.”

Milton Holland
Students at first are given a few fictionalized facts about a particular soldier but then learn their actual story as they go through the program. The handout includes a factual biographical sketch and resources for participants to learn more on their own.

Formal formation of black units followed the adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation.

About 175,000 soldiers served with the USCT, and they are credited with helping to turn the tide at several battles and campaigns in the last two years of the wear. Regiments had free men and former slaves. About 19,000 African-Americans served in the U.S. Navy.

Carney was the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor, which also was awarded to Holland, who won distinction at Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. You can learn more about Holland here, Carney here, Biddle here and Hubbard here.

USCT units were led by white officers and it took time for soldiers to receive pay equal to their white counterparts. They still had limited career opportunities and faced some racism within the Union army. Some freed men captured by Confederate units were sold into slavery.

(Atlanta History Center)
But they served with distinction, with soldiers earning 25 Medals of Honor and black regiments making up about 10 percent of the Federal army by the war's end. Among engagements in which they proved their courage was the July 1864 Battle of the Crater at Petersburg.

Frederick Douglass wrote of them: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Monday, January 6, 2020

Kenner Garrard: Federal cavalry leader had a big moment during Atlanta Campaign, but it was his subordinates who shined the most

Brig. Gen. Garrard
At a busy intersection in Loganville, Ga., across from a CVS, Walgreens and Tire Dock, stands an historical marker that recalls a bright spot during Federal cavalry operations in the Atlanta Campaign.

On July 20, 1864, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman ordered Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard’s three brigades to leave left-flank guard duty at Decatur, just east of Atlanta, and ride 30 miles east to Covington. They were to destroy bridges and a section of the Georgia Railroad, which reinforced Confederate forces in Atlanta.

“He marched late on the 21st. Next morning the destruction was begun. At Covington, he burned the depot, a newly built hospital center, 2,000 bales of cotton, and large quantities of quartermaster and commissary supplies. After destroying 2 railroad and 4 wagon bridges, 3 trains and 6 miles of track, he turned north toward Loganville, arriving here about noon on July 23rd.

After describing further destruction and the capture of horses and mules in Lawrenceville, the sign concludes: “Garrard’s raid cut off all communication between Atlanta and Augusta and destroyed any hope that the Army of Tennessee – the hard-pressed defenders of Atlanta – might receive supplies or reinforcements from the Eastern Confederacy.”

David Evans, author of the acclaimed “Sherman’s Horsemen” – which details six Union raids -- said “at a cost of only three men killed, one wounded, and one missing, his 2nd Cavalry Division damaged the Georgia Railroad so severely that it was not repaired until after the war.”

(Picket photo)
Notwithstanding Garrard's success during this raid, historians and others have pointed out that Sherman did not have much confidence in his top cavalry division commanders. They lacked aggressiveness and competence and, as with Garrard, mostly suffered from self-doubt. And, observers say, Sherman was often ineffective in using his troopers to meet objectives.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said Garrard may have been the best division chief – when compared to Edward McCook, Judson Kilpatrick and George Stoneman -- “but that’s not saying much.”

“Sherman favored Kilpatrick's aggressiveness, which led to some noteworthy accomplishments but also some near-disasters," Crawford tells the Picket. "The U.S. cavalry in the Atlanta Campaign was better served by some of the brigade commanders."

Evans said Garrard “was extremely cautious and very careful of the lives of his men and horses. He also commanded the best-equipped and best-officered cavalry division in Sherman's army. 

“Two of his three brigades were armed with Spencer repeating rifles and carbines and all three of his brigade commanders, Colonels Robert H. G. Minty, Eli Long, and Abram O. Miller, were exceptionally gifted officers. Their combat capabilities more than made up for any of Garrard's failings.”  

Garrard, 37, by the time of the Atlanta Campaign, had performed well at Gettysburg with the 146th New York Infantry and then was sent to the west to lead cavalry. 

The West Point grad had some success early in the Atlanta Campaign as Sherman’s forces moved on Atlanta from northwest Georgia, but it became clear that Garrard’s actions, or lack of concise action, often led to disappointment.

“It seems Garrad was sometimes -- though certainly not always -- affected by self-doubt,” said Crawford. “McCook and Stoneman also wavered in some situations. It seems Kilpatrick never doubted himself, even when he should."

At Resaca, Sherman ordered the division to destroyed railroad track. Worried he would be separated from infantry and after finding no bridges, Garrard returned to the main army.

A disappointed Sherman wrote: “I regret exceedingly you did not avail yourself of the chance I gave you to cut the railroad … I want you to dash in and strike the retreating masses in flank and all around. … Do not spare horseflesh, but strike boldly.”

It took several days for Garrard to cut the railroad.

Weeks later, Garrard’s raiders took part in an episode that brought him lasting enmity from local residents.

On July 5, 1864, Garrard and his Union troopers were battling the home guard for a vital bridge at Roswell, but the Rebels set it afire. Garrard was surprised to see a most unexpected banner above the Ivy Woolen Mill at the river. It was a French national flag.


Theophile Roche, a journeyman weaver from Paris who claimed at least part ownership of the mill, had concocted the idea of flying the French flags to show the mill was not part of the Confederacy, therefore not subject to seizure or destruction.

Garrard walked into Ivy Woolen Mill on July 6 to discover bolts of cloth with the letters CSA woven in. He was shown records indicating the material would be used to make uniforms for Confederate troops.

Garrard ordered the mill burned and moved along the river to the Roswell Manufacturing Co., a larger complex that had nothing to do with the French flag incident but did make goods for the South. Federal forces set it afire, too.

Union troops rounded up 400 of the Ivy Woolen and Roswell mill workers (a contingent that included 87 men -- some soldiers, some deserters), and then added those who worked at the Sweetwater Creek mill, which had also been captured, for a total of nearly 600 people. Five hundred were women and children.

Marker in Loganville (Picket photo)
From the Northern perspective, the workers were American citizens in open rebellion – a policy that outraged Southerners.

Sherman wrote to Garrard: “I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by cars to the North...The poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing, providing they have the means of hauling, or you can spare them.”

The 600 were shipped out July 10 and 11, with stops in Chattanooga and Nashville. Many were sent to Ohio and Indiana after they arrived in Louisville, Ky., where they were initially imprisoned in a hospital. A few died of typhoid, measles and other diseases. Only a few ever returned home.

Garrard’s men moved in to Atlanta and were deployed to the east in the weeks before his successful Covington raid.

Maj. Gen. Stoneman
Sherman’s use of his cavalry in raids south of Atlanta was largely disappointing. Such was the case about a week after Covington. Maj. Gen. Stoneman rode toward Macon, with the hope of reaching the large Confederate prison at Andersonville to the south.

On July 31, 1864, Stoneman was defeated and captured at the Battle of Sunshine Creek.

“It was Garrard's failure to keep Joe Wheeler's Confederate cavalry from pursuing Stoneman's column that ruined his reputation,” Evans told the Picket.

Later in the war, Garrard was moved to the command of infantry, and he performed well at the November 1964 Battle of Nashville. He was cited for gallantry.

Garrard resigned from the army in 1866 and returned to Cincinnati. He died in 1879 at age 51.