Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Buffalo Soldiers: New Illinois museum pays homage to Civil War cavalry officer who later formed African-American regiment

Benjamin Grierson is included in this display (Jacksonville Area Museum)
An Illinois community has opened a museum that celebrates its culture and history, including a Civil War cavalry general who went on to lead a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers, the celebrated African-American troops who served in the West.

The Jacksonville Area Museum, which formally opened its doors this past weekend, has a display that details President Abraham Lincoln’s ties to the community and individuals from that time period.

Among them was Brig. Gen. Benjamin Grierson (left), whose Jacksonville mansion is available for tours by appointment. Grierson, a music teacher and band leader before the conflict, wrote music for Lincoln’s presidential campaign in 1860.

He joined the cavalry and in November 1862, became a brigade commander in the Army of the Tennessee. In 1863, he led a successful raid deep in enemy territory that drew Confederate resources away from the Federal assault on Vicksburg. He took part in other successful campaigns in the next year and a half.

Perhaps Grierson’s biggest legacy is the formation of the 10th Cavalry Regiment after the war. The Buffalo Soldiers, who later on comprised several regiments, are remembered for their courage, discipline and low desertion figures when compared to other units.

The 10th was formed in 1866 and based in Fort Leavenworth and then Fort Riley, Kan. It took part in several campaigns against Native tribes. Initially, Buffalo Soldier units were led by white officers. They often faced prejudice within the U.S. Army.

Grierson was a colonel when he commanded the troops for a few years. He exhibited his own bravery when it came to colleagues.

Buffalo Soldiers of 25th Regiment in 1890 (Library of Congress)
“Grierson's faith in these troops, his respect for Native American culture and his lack of West Point credentials all combined to distance him from his fellow officers and superiors,” the National Park Service says. “Nevertheless, Grierson went on to a distinguished career in the post-war army and he retired a brigadier general in 1890.”

A native of Pittsburgh, the soldier lived in several states, including Illinois. He died in Michigan in 1911 and is buried in Jacksonville, a community of about 20,000 residents west of Springfield.

The museum, which is housed in an old post office, includes a portrait of Richard Yates, Illinois’ Civil War governor and a reference to James Jaquess, a soldier and private agent for Lincoln during the war. Jaquess spoke with Confederate President Jefferson Davis about potential peace.

Opening weekend at the old post office (Jacksonville Area Museum)
Among items in the museum’s collection are 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. He died in 1877 from wounds received while fighting the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Big Hole in Montana.

David Blanchette, board chairman of the museum, told the Picket the English items are not currently on display, but will be brought out on special occasions.

An intriguing item in the collection, which the Picket wrote about in March, is a rusted bayonet uncovered by a resident while using a garden tiller in May 2002. He donated it to the museum this year.

No one knows for sure how it got there, but Blanchette says it could have been left by a soldier with the 21st Illinois Infantry, which marched through the town in July 1861.

Bayonet discovered in resident's yard (Market House Antiques)
The unit was commanded by Col. Ulysses S. Grant, who was leading the troops to Missouri, where he would begin his rise to fame.

For now, the bayonet remains on display at Market House Antiques, near the museum.

Gov. Richard Yates
“Most customers are amazed by the bayonet and think it is a great find,” says owner Nick Little.

Jacksonville’s Civil War history is only a small part of the exhibits, which cover industry, the arts, local colleges and more.

“The public’s reception so far has been tremendous and very supportive. This newest attraction for the city of Jacksonville should prove to be a great educational and economic development resource,” said Blanchette.

The Jacksonville Area Museum is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. There is no admission fee, although a $5 donation is suggested.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Captured Civil War maps among hundreds now available for viewing and downloading at National Archives site

Sketch of Confederate and Union artillery positions at Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861

A large number of Confederate maps are among nearly a 1,000 Civil War maps that have been digitized and are available to download, the National Archives said this week.

The maps from the Army Corps of Engineers consist of manuscript, published and annotated maps relating to areas in the Southern states, the archives said. They are in an online catalog unit knows as the Z file.

De Soto Parish, La., map captured from Confederates (National Archives)
The maps mostly cover areas in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, the archives said in an article.

The Z file unit includes often-requested parish maps of Louisiana captured from the Confederate army.

The file unit has items that were created in the mid-19th century, either during the Civil War, or in the years just before and after the war.

View of Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge (National Archives)
“The records in the file span various subjects including, but not limited to, cities, counties, battlefields, railroads and fortifications,” says the National Archives’ “The Unwritten Record” blog.

The Z file touches on a small amount of maps available in the entire Civil Works Map File series.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mackinac Island in Michigan briefly housed three Southern prisoners. Here's what we learned about them during a recent visit

Civil War-era barracks are in the background of this fort view (Picket photo)
Above the throng of tourists enjoying the restaurants, water views and fudge shops of Mackinac Island in Michigan stands a fort that briefly held three Southern prisoners during the Civil War.

I recently spent a few hours on the island, gawking at the Grand Hotel, moving to the side of roads to make way for carriage rides and taking a look at picturesque Fort Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw), which is perched above the harbor. Before the visit, I did not know anything about its brief Civil War episode.

Fort Mackinac, now a state park, is most famous for two clashes during the War of 1812. But during the summer of 1862, it housed three Tennesseans who military Gov. Andrew Johnson (later president) had ordered arrested for support of the Confederacy and “treasonous inclinations.”

Johnson felt that the wealthy, planter class of the South was part of the reason for the war and he wanted the three men removed from Tennessee,” the fort’s website says.

Washington Barrow, Judge Guild and William G. Harding
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arranged for the trio to be sent to Michigan.
Fort Mackinac had largely been used as deployment center during the mid-19th century and was not in much use when the Civil War began.

But after the arrests of Judge Josephus Conn Guild, Washington Barrow and William G. Harding, officials prepared their quarters and secured a 90-member militia unit, the Stanton Guard, from the Detroit area.

The prisoners, all from the Nashville area, were able to walk the grounds on their own, being confined to their quarters at night. They could walk downtown under guard but were not allowed to interact with anyone. The men were never criminally charged; instead they were considered political or state prisoners.

One of the blockhouses at Fort Mackinac (Picket photo)
The park’s website provides this information about the three:

“Judge Guild was originally from Virginia, had served in the Tennessee legislature and was a founder of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Washington Barrow was a lawyer who served as a congressman and attorney general in Tennessee. He signed the Tennessee secession ordinance and helped finance a Confederate cavalry company. William G. Harding owned the 3,500 acre plantation Belle Meade where he raised thoroughbred race horses. He served as adjutant general of the Tennessee militia.

A rifle firing demonstration on the grounds (Picket photo)
According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia, Guild was outspoken in his support for the Southern war effort. Early in the Civil War, Harding headed the Military and Financial Board of Tennessee, which spent $5 million arming and equipping Rebel soldiers. 

The three prisoners were on the island during its most pleasant months. Perhaps with thoughts of a possibly harsh winter ahead, Guild and Harding took a loyalty oath and were allowed to return to Tennessee.

Barrow was shipped to the military prison at Johnson’s Island in Ohio. He refused to take an oath but was exchanged in March 1863.

“Barrow returned to Tennessee, ran unsuccessfully for Confederate governor of the state, and spent the balance of the war as a private with the retreating Army of Tennessee,” the encyclopedia says. “After the defeat of the Confederacy, Barrow returned to Nashville, broken in health and financially ruined. He died within the year.”

Fort Mackinac was largely not garrisoned for the remainder of the war.

Several of the park’s 14 buildings go back before the Civil War, including its signature blockhouses and barracks that housed the Stanton Guard.

I enjoyed strolling the grounds and ramparts, and took in seasonal rifle firing and signal flag demonstrations put on by the staff.

Much of the programming focuses on the Army’s use of the fort in the 1870 into the 1890s, when it was deactivated.

Fort Mackinac is one of few surviving Revolutionary War forts.

The briefly constituted Stanton Guard at Fort Mackinac

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Park renamed for former slave, Civil War vet to be dedicated

The town of Dedham, Mass., is making sure a Civil War veteran who was enslaved before he joined the US Navy is not forgotten.

A park will now bear the name of William B. Gould, who was born in 1837 in Wilmington, North Carolina, and escaped in 1862 and served on Federal ships. He died in Dedham at the age of 85. 

The latest chapter in Gould's remarkable legacy will take place this Thursday with the formal dedication of the park. -- Article

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

In 1864, drunken soldiers caused a deadly fracas in Elmira, N.Y.

The so-called Battle of Chemung occurred on Feb. 24, 1864, in Elmira, N.Y. It was indirectly related to the Civil War – and did not involve Confederate troops. Books and newspaper accounts over the years detailed deadly fights between  soldiers, including alcohol-fueled cavalry troopers from Michigan who were in town. A 1923 article called it a “real battle between two heavily armed forces resulting in the killing and wounding of many of the combatants." Civilians were among the casualties -- Article

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Influential Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania chief historian John Hennessy is hanging up his hat after a 40-year NPS career

John J. Hennessy, who says his role was to reflect the evolution of thought on key events in the American story, is retiring this month as chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.

Tuesday (Sept. 1) was his last day of work at the site.

Hennessy last month announced on Facebook the upcoming conclusion of his 40-year service with the agency, which started as a seasonal employee at Manassas National Battlefield Park and continued at Fredericksburg, where he held his position for two decades.

The Delmar, N.Y. native said he hopes to do more historic interpretation and writing. He is the author of several Civil War books, including “Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas.” He has contributed to “Mysteries and Conundrums,” the park’s blog, and maintains his own website “Remembering.”

“The world has changed incredibly in 40 years, and our business of public history has changed along with it,” Hennessy wrote on Facebook. “I cannot imagine a better time and place to be a public historian. Never has our work as public historians been more important to our nation.

After he announced his retirement, hundreds of followers thanked Hennessy for his service at Manassas and Fredericksburg, including leading tours and speaking at events.

One wrote, “You were the historian working the Manassas Battlefield when my Mom and Dad drove down from Massachusetts in the ‘80s for a visit. My Great Grandfather had fought for the 44th New York at ... Manassas, and you spent the time explaining where he fought, pointing to the ridge/fields. We will always be grateful for you, John.”

Hennessy was of help to the Picket over the years, including articles over the death of a Georgia general at Fredericksburg and the search for a burial site for Federal soldiers who died in the battle.

Fredericksburg Superintendent Kirsten Talken-Spaulding told the Picket that Hennessy’s “contributions are extensive and ongoing.  While he is retiring from the NPS, he will still be contributing to the annals of scholarship of history.  For that we should all be grateful.”

Civil War historians Brooks Simpson and Kevin Levin have extolled Hennessy for pushing the boundaries of interpretation of battlefields and factors contributing to the war and their legacy today, including the Confederate battle flag. They say Hennessy faced criticism from some, but stood firm.

“The chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park combines the talents of a skilled military historian with an ability to reflect upon the broader issues of war and peace, slavery and emancipation, and history and memory,” Simpson wrote in 2015.

In 2011, the historian spoke with the Daily Gazette in his native New York about his interest in the Civil War.

“My dad took me to Antietam in the fourth grade, but I don’t remember too much about the trip. I do remember that in the fifth grade I wrote a book about the Civil War that was 87 pages long. I can’t imagine what I said, but ever since then I’ve read a lot and was always interested in history.” He told the newspaper he considers Antietam to be the most compelling Civil War battle site.

Hennessy has said he originally expected to pursue a business career and his time at Manassas would be a brief break between college after graduating in 1980 and joining the “real world.” It turned into a four-decade career with the NPS.

Before joining the staff at Fredericksburg in 1995, Hennessy worked at the New York State Historic Preservation Office and Harpers Ferry Center.

Of working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Hennessy told the Daily Gazette: “What’s unique about us here is that our story illustrates vividly how the war touched all kinds of different people, not just the soldiers. Traditionally, our story has been told through the soldiers’ eyes, but here we talk about civilians and slaves, and how this community was just consumed by the war. The surrounding landscape was devastated by the two opposing armies for almost two years, and it’s a story with a lot of texture and richness, and it reverberates throughout the American landscape. The story here is told in all sorts of ways: politically, socially and militarily.”

Hennessy wrote last year on his personal blog that while the NPS should not be an agent of social change, public historians have an important role to play in the process of change.

“Using the best scholarship available and thoughtful and dynamic presentation, we need to illuminate brightly the path that brought us to where we are, and then hope that our programs prompt listeners and readers use that information (and, perhaps, inspiration) thoughtfully as they engage in the ongoing quest to improve our nation.”

The park paid tribute to the historian in a Facebook post on Sept. 10.

“He wrote many of our visitor center exhibits and interpretive signs and established many popular park programs such as the History at Sunset series. Over the years, John's efforts have made the history on the ground come alive.”