Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ky. posts Confederate pension records

For the first time, the complete collection of Confederate pension application files in Kentucky has been made available online.

"The applications are searchable by name, unit and county, and provide invaluable information to genealogists, local historians, and anyone interested in Civil War history," the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA)said Monday.

I took a quick look at a few records. They provide a glimpse of the economic challenges and circumstances facing Confederate widows.

In 1929, Mrs. A.T. (Helen) Forsythe, almost 71, applied for a pension in Bourbon County when she was no longer able to work.

Her husband, Alexander, surrendered as a private with the 9th Kentucky Calvary in Washington, Ga., at the end of the war. He died in 1909 (they were married in 1886 when she was 27 and he was 41). Mrs. Forsythe had property valued at less than $500.

Accompanying Mrs. Forsythe's pension application was a statement from a physician, who said the widow, living in Paris, Ky., was no longer capable, because of heart troubles, of working to support herself.

"Three or four years ago, I caused her to break up housekeeping," the doctor said. "She was a running a rooming house and making a good living and because of my advise (sic) she sold out and had to quit because she wasn't able to do it."

Any Confederate veteran or widow of a veteran living in Kentucky in 1912 or after could apply for a pension.

Pensions for Union veterans were funded by the federal government.

In some cases, the application and supporting documents are the only surviving records of a soldier's service, the KDLA said in a press release. More than 60 military units are listed.

More details | • Search records

Monday, February 27, 2012

Appomattox group sets 10 goals

A newly formed foundation is making it a mission to get Appomattox Court House National Historical Park ready to play its part in the sesquicentennial celebration of the Confederate surrender and the end of the Civil War in three years.

The Appomattox 1865 Foundation has been incorporated as a business since November, and is in the process of attaining nonprofit status. Organizers and park officials are optimistic the group will have an impact not only in the park’s near future, but down the road. • Article

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cousins squabble over medals

Two descendents of an Ohio man awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Civil War have agreed to a temporary custody arrangement for his medals. The dispute involves two medals given Sgt. Wilson W. Brown for his part in the Andrews Raid in Georgia in April 1862 and the key he used to escape from a Confederate prison immediately after the raid. • Article
Plans made for raid anniversary

Friday, February 24, 2012

Part 2: 'Forgotten hero' Octavius Catto pushed equality in Union army, society

War was on the horizon in Pennsylvania in June 1863. After a stunning victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee finally had found the opportune moment to put the Union army on the defensive.

In Philadelphia, and across the state, a call to arms was sounded. Volunteers for the militia were needed as gray legions marched toward the fields of southern Pennsylvania and an eventual fateful turn to Gettysburg.

“MEN OF COLOR. To Arms! Arms! NOW OR NEVER” read a large banner posted in downtown Philadelphia.

Fifty-five individuals placed their names at the bottom, among them O.V. Catto.

Just 24, Octavius Valentine Catto was a graduate and instructor at the Institute for Colored Youth. He had founded the Banneker Literacy Institute and was inducted into the Franklin Institute, a scientific organization. His many accomplishments included a stint as a professional baseball player.

The intellectual turned his attention to politics and public service. Catto, born in South Carolina to a Presbyterian minister, was determined to wage war on discrimination.

During that summer of 1863, Catto helped form a company of nearly 100 African-Americans.

“Answering the urgent call for volunteers as announced by the governor, they reported to the city arsenal for duty,” according to Andy Waskie, a Temple University professor who has written and lectured on Catto’s life and legacy. “They were uniformed and equipped and sent by train to Harrisburg to join the army. But the authorities there under General Couch ingloriously rejected the unit with the excuse that black troops were not authorized.”

Catto returned to Philadelphia and spent the next two years raising 11 African-American regiments for the Union cause. The units were organized at Camp William Penn, trained, equipped and sent to the front.

In 1864, Catto helped organize the Equal Rights League.

African-Americans at that time were not guaranteed the vote, and they did not have full access to the city’s street cars. Catto would devote the last few of his 32 short years to remedying those problems.

In 1870, an approved state amendment provided for African-American men to vote. Catto, a Republican supporter, actively campaigned for equality at the polls.

On Oct. 10, 1871, “voting transpired with acts of violence and intimidation,” Waskie told the Picket. “The police were in support of this. They were pushing black men out of line.”

An unarmed Catto was shot to death that tumultuous day, as he tried to stop the violence. Six years later, Frank Kelly, a white Democratic Party operative, was acquitted of the murder.

Catto became a martyr to the cause of equality -- only to slip into relative obscurity. A marker on his grave reads, “Forgotten Hero.”

Catto’s life story is finally drawing more recognition. The city is helping fund a statue in his honor and two ceremonies this weekend will recognize his sacrifice and service to the community. • (Related Picket article)

“Octavius Catto was not exceptional,” his great-great-nephew, Leonard Smith, told the Picket this week. “There were thousands of Octavius Cattos.”

Still, Smith feels pride in what his ancestor accomplished.

Smith, 68, said he principally learned from his grandmother about Catto and Catto’s father, William, whom Smith finds to be even more admirable.

“Civil rights has been a struggle in this country since the first landing and the first slave,” said Smith, a Williamsburg, Va., resident. “It did not start in the 1960s.”

The retired hospital administrator has done extensive research on his family, including those who helped in the Underground Railroad. Smith spoke with the authors of 2010’s "Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America.”

Service, Smith said, runs deep in his family.

“There is pride and a feeling you must have education and help others,” Smith told the Picket. “There are certain things that are ingrained.”

Storyteller Bob Branch, 58, is a historical re-enactor in Philadelphia who portrays Catto around town.

Two summers ago, he began working for Historic Philadelphia, an organization that interprets history and makes it relevant at several venues in the city.

“In school, the overwhelming (percentage of) black and white Philadelphians never heard of who he was,” said Branch, who grew up there.

“Each presentation I tailor to the audience. I will go the first person and dress as he would dress. I will intersperse direct quotes from Catto,” said Branch, who also makes appearances for other Philadelphia groups and churches.

Branch, an engineer, said he has a personal identification for the struggle for equality. His father, he said, was not allowed to play baseball for his school. Branch’s physics teacher in high school singled him out for “wasting time.” And a college professor did not think he was cut out for his eventual profession.

“I was free, but I wasn’t equal,” said Branch.

Younger people, especially, want to know why Catto was murdered.

“The question is, ‘How come we haven’t heard of him before?’ My answer is that history is quite often selective,” said Branch.

Despite gains made during and since Catto’s time, Branch said he remains concerned about equal access to education. And Smith cited economic inequities.

Saturday, Catto will be remembered in an annual wreath-laying ceremony and at the Union League, where the Pennsylvania National Guard will reissue a medal in his honor, to two Guard members who have exemplified remarkable public service.

Murray Dubin, co-author of “Tasting Freedom,” said Catto and others helped lead America’s first civil rights movement.

"I'd love to tell you that Martin Luther King knew about Catto and that's why he did what he did, but I can't prove that," Dubin told NPR in 2010. But it was the shoulders of Catto and dozens of other men and women "that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Ralph Abernathy ... stood on top of."

Photo of Robert Branch as Octavius Catto, J. Holder for Historic Philadelphia, Inc. Wreath photo courtesy of Gen. George Meade Society

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Recalling loyalty oath in Nashville

150 years ago today, Nashvillians gathered at the West bank of the Cumberland to catch their first glimpse of men they considered the enemy. State historian Walter Durham says the Union takeover was essentially peaceful. The real fight was over loyalty…at least in words. • Article

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ceremony will remember Philadelphian who recruited troops, exemplified service

Read part two

Octavius Catto -- Civil War volunteer, educator, orator, civil rights champion, National Guard major, politician and ballplayer -- deserved a better place in this nation’s collective memory.

After Catto was murdered on Philadelphia’s election day in October 1871, a large crowd attended his funeral. City offices were closed. He was buried in his major’s uniform. Then, with a few exceptions over the next 140 years, his accomplishments and legacy faded into obscurity.

That’s beginning to change.

The city of Philadelphia has allocated $500,000 for a statue of Catto. A book about the man dedicated to equality, at a very personal price, was published two years ago. Local historical groups and societies have sponsored wreath-laying ceremonies around the time of his birthday.

This Saturday (Feb. 25), Catto’s dedication to community and public service will be remembered with the reissuing of a special medal to two members of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Previously, it was awarded only once, shortly after Catto’s death at age 32.

The ceremony begins at noon at the Union League, 140 S. Broad St., following a separate 11 a.m. wreath-laying at Sixth and Lombard streets near Catto’s home, sponsored by the Catto Society and the Gen. George Meade Society.

The Catto medal was created in the martyred citizen’s honor by a division commander and given to a deserving soldier, said Lt. Col. Lauren E. Muglia, director of policy and legislative affairs, with the Guard. “It disappeared at one point.”

Three Catto descendants will attend Saturday's Guard ceremony.

The Philadelphian’s contributions to his city are numerous. He fought vigorously, and successfully, for the desegregation, of its mass transit system after the Civil War. He also helped win voting rights for African-American men in Philadelphia.

Ultimately, he was killed on election day by a white man while trying to ensure others had the right to safely cast their ballots.

Andy Waskie, a professor at Temple University, said Catto rushed to enlist in the Union army after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. That ultimately led to the formation of U.S. Colored Troops.

When Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee moved his army toward Pennsylvania, the governor called for 50,000 citizens to form an emergency militia.

“Catto saw this as an opportunity,” Waskie told the Picket. He volunteered as a private and organized nearly 100 African-American volunteers into a company. “They were uniformed and mustered on June 17, 1863.”

They arrived at Harrisburg to receive weapons and further orders. But a general denied them service, on a technicality.

Disappointed but undeterred, Catto in the following months and years, working with the Union League and Frederick Douglass, helped recruit 11 African-American regiments for the Federal army.

“These units added greatly needed strength to the Union armies in the field,” according to the Pennsylvania National Guard. “A number of these troops distinguished themselves in combat and several Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery.”

Catto had several gifts.

“He was a noted orator and rallied the troops to enlist,” Waskie said. “He set the agenda. He was a nationally known figure.”

Catto joined the National Guard soon after the end of the Civil War.

Bob Branch, 58, portrays Catto for Historic Philadelphia and other groups. His presentations include quotes by Catto and conversations on issues the intellectual faced.

“The struggle for equal rights is an ongoing struggle,” Branch said.

Coming Friday: A deeper look at Catto's life. Photos of 2011 wreath-laying ceremony courtesy of Gen. George Meade Society. For more information on the wreath-laying ceremony, contact Andy Waskie at andy.waskie@temple.edu

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recalling Florida's 1864 clash

About 600 men, women and children put on the wool uniforms of the Confederacy and the Union this past weekend to face off on a battlefield about three football fields long. They re-created the meeting of 5,500 Union men and 5,200 Confederates in the Battle of Olustee, which ended in a decisive Confederate victory. The event is in its 36th year. • Details

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Early lineup for Shiloh anniversary

Shiloh National Military Park and two re-enactments will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. Tennessee also is planning observations at Pickwick Landing State Park. • Details

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love endured 33-month separation

After Sarah Long kissed her husband, Hezekiah, goodbye in late summer 1862, he seldom penciled romantic prose to her. The 37-year-old Hezekiah joined the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment in August 1862. They communicated only by letter, and Hezekiah wasted little pencil lead on amorous passages. Yet, in his taciturn way, he reminded Sarah that he loved and missed her. • Article

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Re-enactors fund coat preservation

A coat worn by a North Carolina officer who was badly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg has been stowed away at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh since 1914. A group of Civil War re-enactors has donated $10,000 to the museum so Collett Leventhorpe's coat can be preserved and put on display for the first time. • Article

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Trust releases Malvern Hill app

A multimedia, GPS-enabled guide to Virginia’s Battle of Malvern Hill, the final clash of the Seven Days campaign, is now available for free download. And that’s regardless of whether you’re an Apple acolyte or prefer the Android system. • Article

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Johnson as Tenn. military governor

Just weeks after federal troops took over Tennessee's Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Andrew Johnson arrived in Nashville. "As a military governor, I think he was successful," says University of Tennessee Professor of History Emeritus Paul H. Bergeron. The author has written a new book, "Andrew Johnson's Civil War and Reconstruction," about the still controversial, often reviled Johnson. It focuses on that important period in the life of the man who became America's 17th president. • Article

Friday, February 3, 2012

Balloon replica to find air in July

The Genesee Country Village & Museum in New York will be getting a big lift this summer with the arrival of a replica of a Civil War military balloon. The Intrepid is expected to make its debut during the July 4 holiday. Just as in Civil War times, the balloon will stay tethered to the ground. • Article

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Forgotten Fort Heiman briefly stood as sentinel, but has a 'fascinating story'

One of three "sister” forts that Confederate forces defended on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers is the subject of talks this weekend at Fort Donelson National Battlefield.

Fort Heiman, built in Kentucky just across from Fort Henry, is considered a “forgotten” or “unfinished” fort, said Douglas Richardson, chief interpreter with the park.

The National Park Service this month is marking the 150th anniversary of the first significant Union victory in the war, when Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, opening the way to Nashville and the South’s interior. Along the way, he earned the sobriquet “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

Fort Henry is long gone, under what is now called Kentucky Lake. But visitors can still see entrenchments at Heiman, which was hastily constructed to protect Henry.

“The bluff provides a spectacular view,” said Richardson. “You will see some very good examples of Civil War earthworks.”

At 1 p.m. this Saturday-Monday (Feb. 4-6), rangers will lead vehicle caravans from the park headquarters at Donelson (Dover, Tenn.) to Heiman, about 22 miles to the west.

Slaves began constructing it in January 1862, mere weeks before Grant’s forces approached Fort Henry. About 1,100 Confederates at Fort Heiman were ferried across the Tennessee River back to Henry when one of two Federal divisions moved toward the high ground on the Kentucky side.

Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, Henry’s commander, left a few troops at Heiman (click map to enlarge) “to taunt and harass any of the Union advance guys,” Richardson said. The first Union units to reach the post found some stew and bread, apparently still warm. “They had a Confederate-made dinner.”

Tilghman sent a large contingent of troops to Fort Donelson when he realized he was outgunned, outmanned and in a poor location. Fort Henry was a good deal underwater because of flooding.

Fort Henry fell on Feb. 6, 1862, but the loss 10 days later of Donelson, and about 12,000 troops who surrendered, was much costlier.

“It wasn’t in the most ideal spot,” Richardson said of Fort Henry. “The commanding general was fighting both Mother Nature and the ironclads.”

Slaves sought refuge at Heiman once it was in Union hands. Eventually, the site was abandoned, only to be used by Nathan Bedford Forrest (left) and his Confederate cavalrymen.

The general used the fort as a base on Oct. 28, 1864, to capture a Union steamboat. Forrest also raided the Federal supply depot at Johnsonville, about 30 miles south on the east bank of the Tennessee River.

The National Park Service acquired Heiman’s 163 acres in 2006 after Calloway County (Ky.) residents, concerned about a possible residential development, rallied to protect the land.

At the time, park superintendent Steven McCoy said Heiman has "a fascinating story. It helps illustrate the bigger picture of the war, the struggle of brother against brother. That to me is what's exciting." The Civil War News had an article about the acquisition.

The property features trenches and a redoubt considered to be in very good condition.

Richardson said the park eventually would like to increase Fort Heiman’s visibility.

“We need to do some infrastructure work to give folks a good idea of what is happening here,” he said. Crews also are cleaning up from 2011 storm damage.

Trenches are currently hidden in forestation and there is little visitor information on the site, accessible by a Kentucky road. The area is mostly visited by recreational users.

The NPS has no historic images of any of the three forts – and, for that matter, few primary documents about Heiman. They are seeing some of those documents, including those regarding troop movements, on auction sites such as eBay.

“When it comes to research, it is a work in progress,” Richardson said.

Photos of Fort Heiman earthworks and map courtesy of National Park Service.

More information on all the anniversary events this month at Fort Donelson
Contact information, address, park info.
Animated account of Henry, Donelson battles