Friday, April 23, 2021

Community salutes four Black veterans buried at NJ cemetery

This weekend, four Black Union Army veterans buried at a cemetery in Matawan, N.J., will receive some permanent company. A flagpole is being installed, and its American flag will be raised for the first time Saturday during a 10:30 a.m. ceremony. Among the graves is that of William Sherno, who likely fought in the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse and witnessed a pivotal moment in American history -- the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. -- Article

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Abraham Lincoln statue moved to battlefield in Kentucky

A replica statue of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky has been moved to a permanent home at a Civil War battlefield. Floyd County Judge-Executive Robert Williams told WYMT-TV that the statue is now at the Middle Creek Battlefield in Prestonsburg. The site is where Union forces halted a Confederate advance into Kentucky in 1862. The statue depicting the president seated is a replica of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was removed in 2019 from the law office of Eric Conn. Conn was sentenced to prison for Social Security fraud. -- Article

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

No longer kept in a drawer: Descendants donate Medal of Honor to Massachusetts town where hero recipient was laid to rest

Cecelia Miles, Col. Perry, veterans agent Donald Hirschy (Town of Dighton)
Cecelia Miles and her siblings came to realize that a Medal of Honor awarded to their great-grandfather for his actions during the Civil War shouldn’t be just a family heirloom, tucked away in a drawer.

Nearly a decade after Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson’s grave was found in Dighton, Mass., Miles recently drove from the Sioux Falls, S.D., area to the cemetery to present it to the town.

Dighton officials on that same day renamed an Elm Street span the Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson Memorial Bridge.

Anderson, a member of the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, received the honor for capturing the flag and color bearer of the 27th South Carolina during an August 1864 battle in Virginia.

Miles, a university associate professor, told the Picket she knew about the medal and Anderson while growing up in Florida, but the subject was not discussed much.

Anderson who died in 1882 at age 40 in Providence, R.I., was believed to be buried in Somerset, Mass. But Charles Mogayzel, a Korean War veteran and advocate for Medal of Honor recipients, in fall 2011 discovered the grave in Dighton. It had Anderson’s name but did have a Medal of Honor designation.

The late Mogayzel’s niece contacted Miles, who was putting together some information on her ancestor, through Ancestry.com.

“I wrote her back saying you may not believe this, but I actually have the medal. They were completely gobsmacked,” said Miles, who traveled to Dighton in 2011 for a ceremony at which a Medal of Honor marker was installed.

According to a Dighton proclamation, Anderson was born in Boston but was orphaned by age 8. At 14, he was relocated by the Orphan Train, a welfare program, to Raynham, Mass., and was put to work on a farm.

Military, veterans officials at renamed bridge (Town of Dighton)
He enlisted shortly after the Civil War began and participated in several battles with the 18th Massachusetts. According to the Taunton Gazette, regimental records showed that Anderson was about 5-foot-3 and had blue eyes and sandy hair.

The soldier earned the Medal of Honor for capturing the colors on Aug. 21, 1864, at the Battle of Globe Tavern, also known as the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad. The taking of regimental flags often disrupted communication among enemy troops.

The battle was a significant victory for the Union, netting a Confederate supply line and a portion of a railroad near Petersburg. Anderson received the medal from Maj. Gen. George Meade a month later.

Anderson was discharged at war’s end and settled in Somerset, where he and his wife raised three children, one of whom, Cecelia Ann, was Miles’ grandmother.

Miles, who traveled to Massachusetts with her husband, was presented a U.S. flag during the March 30 ceremony at the Dighton Community Church cemetery.

Col. Perry presents flag to Cecelia Miles (Town of Dighton)
“So many people who have never been in the armed forces don’t have the appreciation for what it takes to be awarded any decoration for military service,” Air Force Col. Bob Perry said, according to a press release from the town. “The Medal of Honor requires extraordinary dedication, valor and courage while under fire. Pvt. Anderson clearly demonstrated all of those traits.”

Officials said the medal will most likely be displayed in a glass case at Town Hall after the building receives some upgrades.

Miles said she is pleased the public will be able to see the medal and learn more about her great-grandfather, a Civil War hero. The ceremony, she said, was emotional.

“Everyone there was so pleased and proud. It just connected me to a much longer line of history and meaning than I had understood before.”

Thursday, April 1, 2021

James Longstreet, worried Confederate service might disqualify him, sought a federal pension based on his Mexican-American War wound. A namesake society now has his letter

James Longstreet is at center at 1888 Gettysburg reunion (NPS photo)
The Longstreet Society recently acquired a brief but fascinating letter from the legendary Confederate general seeking a federal pension 20 years after the Civil War’s end.

In an Oct. 2, 1885, letter from Gainesville, Ga., where he lived the last 25 years of his life, James Longstreet expresses guarded hope that his valiant service in the U.S. Army in the Mexican-American War will outweigh any concerns about him later fighting for the Confederacy against the Union.

Here’s the transcription of his correspondence to officials in Washington, D.C.

The general's pension request (click to enlarge, courtesy of The Longstreet Society)
“I beg your indulgence to inquire if I am entitled to a pension for a severe wound received in storming Chapultepec in Mexico on the 13th of September 1847.

“At the same time I will ask that the matter be so investigated that it shall not reach the newspapers, unless the decision should be favorable as an advance discussion will put me in position not very pleasant.

“I have frequently been told by surgeons who examine applicants that my claims is a just one, but the fact of being in the Confederate Army since the war casts a doubt in my mind, as to (the) law in this case.

“I remain Respectfully +
truly your obt servant

James Longstreet”

The Longstreet Society, based in Gainesville, said it believes the letter was successful but it wants to verify that.

Jeffry D. Wert, author of the 1993 book “General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier,” told the Picket he was reasonably certain Longstreet (left) did not receive the federal pension, “which was the case for high ranking Confederate officers.”

But it is difficult to know for sure.

“When the general's house burned to the ground, history lost much, if not nearly all, of his personal papers,” Wert wrote in an email.

Interestingly, the U.S. Pension Bureau worked to provide benefits for Union – not Confederate – veterans. The latter usually turned to their states for pensions and other relief. The Clara Barton Museum says the agency distributed about $138 million to nearly 1 million Union veterans and surviving relatives.

Longstreet, a West Point graduate, served in several battles during the Mexican-American War and suffered a thigh wound while carrying the flag for the 8th US Infantry at Chapultepec. He handed the flag to George E. Pickett, who would also gain fame during the Civil War as Longstreet’s subordinate at Gettysburg. Longstreet continued serving in the U.S. Army until the Civil War.

Dan Paterson, great-grandson of the general, said he did not know whether Longstreet got the federal pension. Helen Dortch Longstreet, the general’s second wife, apparently did receive a stipend for his service in Mexico, Paterson said.

A pension card on Ancestry.com notes an 1887 application from the general for the "Mexican War" and another for Helen in 1904, after his death. James was married to his first wife, Maria Louisa, until her death in 1889.

James and Helen Longstreet in 1900 (courtesy of Dan Paterson)
The pension was not something I recollect coming up in discussion when my grandmother was still around in the 70's when we were kids,” Paterson wrote in an email.

A search of the Georgia Archives shows Helen applied in 1937 – 33 years after the general’s death – for a pension from the state as a widow of a Confederate veteran. Helen, 69, indicated James had received a state pension while living in Gainesville.

A letter, in approving Helen’s pension request, said the general “performed actual military service as a Confederate soldier and was honorably separated from such service.”

The letter did not indicate what amount the widow would receive.

Helen Longstreet's pension request (click to enlarge, Georgia Archives)
Maria Lagonia, vice president of the Longstreet Society, said the group spent less than $1,000 to purchase the letter from a seller on eBay.

The individual “worked with us on the price because he felt (and so did we) that the James Longstreet Museum was a good safe home for the letter and because we could share it with our visitors.”

In 1885, when he wrote the letter, Longstreet was both famous and infamous in the South, depending on one’s point of view. He remained immensely popular with the Confederate veterans he once led. His most masterful moments during the Civil War were at Chickamauga, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Antietam.

The veteran of Indian wars and the Mexican-American War was devoted and loyal to Gen. Robert E. Lee, who leaned heavily on Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The latter was killed at Chancellorsville only a few months before Gettysburg.

A cabal, which included former generals Jubal Early and John Gordon, claimed Longstreet stubbornly resisted Lee’s plans at Gettysburg, resulting in the loss of the July 1863 battle – and perhaps the war.

They said Lee’s “Old War Horse”, his principal subordinate, was insubordinate at Gettysburg. That he wouldn’t support the attacks. That he moved his 14,000 troops in a slow manner.

Longstreet’s supporters and some scholars counter this. Although Gettysburg may not have been his best effort, they say, the general fought effectively on Days 2 and 3. The veteran, however, earned enmity when he dared to criticize Lee’s actions at Gettysburg publicly, and he spent the rest of his life trying to restore his reputation.

Two years after war’s end, Longstreet said that he believed in reconciliation and black suffrage. His business in New Orleans began to fail after critics accused him of being a scalawag – a Southern white who supported Reconstruction.

After the war, Longstreet held several federal offices and was a friend of President Ulysses S. Grant and Dan Sickles, former foes on the battlefield. While living in Louisiana, Longstreet led a black militia against unruly white supremacists.

Old Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville is home to The Longstreet Society (Picket photo)
Southerners did not forget that affront or his Republican Party loyalties. While there is no evidence he was progressive on race, Longstreet thought giving blacks full citizenship and voting rights was the practical thing to do.

Besides defending himself, the aging warrior also contended with the effects of a grievous wound to his throat, the result of friendly fire during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

Longstreet moved to Gainesville in the late 1870s. He bought the 120-acre farm near downtown and pruned muscadine vines on property that featured an old colonial-style home.

The home burned in April 1889, and the general’s wife, Maria Louisa, died in December. (photo at right, courtesy of Dan Paterson). The fire destroyed the home, Longstreet's uniform, sword, a sash given to him by J.E.B. Stuart, relics, papers and more.

He held other offices, wrote his memoirs, “From Manassas to Appomattox,” and ran a hotel, which today is the home of the Longstreet Society.

In 1897, The “Old War Horse” at age 76 married Helen, 34, at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta. “She would live until 1962, spending many of those years defending Longstreet against his many harsh critics,” the society says.

James Longstreet, 82, died in January 1904. He is buried at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville.

Richard Pilcher, president of the Longstreet Society, said the organization has few items directly related to the general. Among the documents are those related to promotions and civilian and political appointments.

Lagonia said the society will display the pension request letter on special occasions. It is seeking donations to help with the purchase.

We like to study Longstreet's non-military life as well as his military and political life. The letter was very personal and allowed us a glimpse into his thoughts and circumstances,” she wrote in an email.

The Atlanta Journal article about 1897 wedding (courtesy of Dan Paterson)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

This bayonet was found by an Illinois man tilling his garden. Did it belong to a soldier serving in Grant's first Civil War command?

The bayonet in its temporary exhibit (Nick Little, Market House Antiques)
Ulysses S. Grant camped here.

So reads a marker on the edge of the county fairground in Jacksonville, a city of 20,000 in west-central Illinois. The future American hero and the first men he commanded during the Civil War passed through the community only months into the conflict.

It would have been easier and quicker to put them on the train. But Col. Grant wanted the farm boys, merchants and bankers who joined the 21st Illinois Infantry to be infused with more discipline and “good preparation” as they prepared for eventual battle.

Grant in 1861 (NPS)
On July 3, 1861, the Mexican-American War veteran led the regiment out of Camp Yates in Springfield toward Quincy about 100 miles away. Thirty miles into the march, they made a stop in Jacksonville, on July 5, where they rested at the Morgan County Fairground.

Some 140 years later -- in May 2002 -- a resident on West Lafayette Avenue, a few parcels from the fairground, was using a gas-powered tiller for a garden when it struck something metal. The item, about 8 inches beneath the surface, was a rusted but intact bayonet, slightly bent from the impact with the tiller. He also reportedly found unfired musket balls.

Bob Anderson last week donated the bayonet, believed to be from a Springfield (Mass.) musket, to the Jacksonville Area Museum, which will display it after the venue opens later this summer. 

“There is no way to confirm with absolute uncertainty” that the bayonet is related to the 21st Illinois, David Blanchette, board chairman of the museum, told the Civil War Picket. But given its age, location and having been underground for such a long time, it could well be, he said.

Starting today and until it is relocated to the new museum, the bayonet will be display at Market House Antiques on State Street in downtown Jacksonville.

The donation came to light in a recent newspaper article and when the museum posted a Facebook item and photograph.

“It isn't hard to imagine a soldier who was being rushed off to war accidentally leaving it behind when the 21st Illinois left its overnight camp on the way to the Mississippi River,” Blanchette said in the post.

City to tell its story in a big way

The old post office will house exhibits (Jacksonville Area Museum)
The Jacksonville Area Museum, scheduled to open in late July, is preparing and building out its exhibits at its home in the city’s old post office. Jacksonville was founded in 1825.

The local convention and visitors bureau describes the town as “a community rich in historical treasures, with thriving arts, education, and culture, and wrapped in Midwest hospitality. Centrally located between St. Louis and Chicago, and near Springfield, Jacksonville offers an excellent place to live, work, and play.

Blanchette says other Civil War items in the museum collection include letters, photos, diaries and a sword that belonged to Lt. William L. English, a Jacksonville native who served in the conflict and during the Indian Wars (left, in photo).

English died in 1877 from wounds received while fighting the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Big Hole in Montana. The museum has swords from other members of the English family.

The museum hopes the bayonet donation will encourage others to do the same, whatever the subject.

The venue is developing "engaging exhibits and original artifacts that tell the Jacksonville area's important, fascinating and often surprising history."

(A footnote: Heavyweight boxer Ken Norton was from Jacksonville and excelled in high school sports.)

These men needed a strong dose of discipline

Grant wrote in his memoirs about his brief time leading the 21st Illinois, from late June until Aug. 7, 1861, when he was commissioned a brigadier general and received a new assignment.

The men of the regiment, shortly after they enlisted for 30 days, refused to be led by their elected colonel, who apparently sometimes joined them in their carousing in their off time. Grant, then 39, was appointed to command the unruly unit, which was mostly made up of recruits from the eastern part of the state.

“I found it very hard work for a few days to bring all the men into anything like subordination; but the great majority favored discipline, and by the application of a little regular army punishment all were reduced to as good discipline as one could ask,” he wrote.

(Courtesy of Nick Little, Market House Antiques)
The regiment was ordered to proceed to Quincy on July 3. By that time, the men were performing company drill and were more like soldiers. When they reached Jacksonville, Grant was on horseback, leading the men along State Street. Few people knew who he was.

The fairgrounds were then called Camp Duncan and it was used for drilling raw recruits. The Morgan County Fair is still held most years on the 30-acre site purchased by local farm leaders in 1858. The Illinois State Fair, now held in Springfield, was held there a year before Grant’s men stopped by.

According to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier newspaper, A.Y. Hart, a member of the regiment from Mattoon, years later recalled their brief stay in July 1861. Several accounts say the regiment rested at the fairground and left before nightfall.

“Col. Grant stationed himself at the gate at the fairgrounds and examined our canteens for whiskey,” Hart said. “One man of my company bought a coffee boiler, stopped the passage between the boiler and spout with wax, filled the boiler with whiskey and the spout with milk, and Col. Grant passed him in.”

Grant is promoted and destiny takes over

The fairgrounds monument (Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau photos)
Shortly after leaving Jacksonville, the regiment learned its destination was changed to Ironton, Mo., with Grant ordered “to halt where I was and await the arrival of a steamer which had been dispatched up the Illinois River to take the regiment to St. Louis.”

“The boat, when it did come, grounded on a sand-bar a few miles below where we were in camp. We remained there several days waiting to have the boat get off the bar, but before this occurred news came that an Illinois regiment was surrounded by rebels at a point on the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad some miles west of Palmyra, in Missouri, and I was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to their relief. We took the (rail) cars and reached Quincy in a few hours.

The regiment spent time in several towns in Missouri, across the river from Quincy, and then moved down to Ironton, where the promoted Grant was put in charge of the southeast part of the state.

The 21st Illinois, with a new colonel, went on to fight in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Grant, as we know, would go on to be general-in-chief of the U.S. armies and the 18th president, from 1869 to 1877.

The folks in Jacksonville recall their part of Civil War history.

“It was on Grant’s way to being an important part of U.S. history,” the museum’s Blanchette says.