Monday, January 30, 2023

Cemetery manager secures headstone for Michigan soldier

The grave of a man who served in the Civil War has been formally marked at a northern Michigan cemetery. Claude Fields ensured that Ruel Boynton's service wouldn't be forgotten. Fields, manager of the Maple Grove cemetery in Empire Township, has performed research on many of the dead buried there, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. “We can’t have a vet in here with no headstone,” Fields said. “That isn’t right.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Bill Still, leader of U.S. maritime studies, including those of numerous Civil War shipwrecks, dies at age 90

William N. “Bill” Still Jr., a leading figure in the study of U.S. maritime history, including ironclads and other Civil War warships, has died at age 90.


Still died last week while in hospice care, according to Wilkerson Funeral Home and Crematory of Greenville, N.C.


The retired professor, author and lecturer co-founded the maritime history and underwater archaeology program at Eastern Carolina University, and was known for his study of USS Monitor, commerce raider CSS Alabama, ironclad CSS Georgia and the Confederate submarine Hunley.

“His impact on the history and nautical archaeology program at East Carolina University and on the legion of students that passed through that program will be a perpetual legacy,” program co-founder Gordon P. Watts Jr., wrote the Picket in an email this week. “He will be missed by all who benefited from his attention, none more than me.”


Watts, a former student of Still’s, is himself a renowned nautical archaeologist, and is among only a few people who found the remains of the USS Monitor off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 1973.


The two men, according to ECU, led conservation work on the famed ironclad’s propeller, which was recovered in 1983. It is exhibited at Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va.


Still, a native of Columbus, Ms., conducted research and wrote numerous works for the U.S. Navy over his career. From 1995-2005, he served as a member of the Secretary of the Navy's subcommittee on naval history. 


“He authored and co-authored dozens of books and publications focused on maritime history from the Civil War through World War II,” according to his obituary. Up until two weeks prior to his death, he was actively researching and writing the last installation of his series for the Secretary of the Navy, which began with Crisis at Sea and Victory Without Peace, focused on the U.S. naval force's withdrawal following WWI.”


John Quarstein, author and director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center, said Dr. Still “was a marvelous person, historian, lecturer, and writer. I believe his volume, ‘Iron Afloat,’ is the best book written about Confederate ironclads. He helped me with my writing, Civil War preservation efforts, and with my work about USS Monitor."


Still, known as “Doc” by graduate students, retired from ECU in 1994, a key figure in its prominence for graduate study in the field. He was considered a dynamic, caring and animated professor.

Jeff Johnston, formerly with NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said Still "was a true hero of ironclads and freely shared that knowledge."

The award-winning historian and author was preceded in death by Mildred Boling Still, his wife of 55 years. He is survived by four children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Colorado unit that fought Rebels and Indians during the Civil War put out a newspaper. The Library of Congress now has a rare complete set

A complete set of Soldier's Letter (Shawn Miller, Library of Congress)
The Library of Congress (LOC) has acquired extremely rare editions of a soldier-produced newspaper describing the actions of the Second Colorado Cavalry against Confederate guerrillas and troops in Kansas and Missouri and, later in the war, Native American fighters.

The bound copy of the full print run of Soldier’s Letter was among only a few complete sets of 50 editions to survive the war, the library said in a late December post about the acquisition. The unofficial camp newspaper was produced 1864-1865 in Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Riley, Kan.

Pvt. Oliver Wallace served as editor, working from contributions by other enlisted men and wives. Soldier’s Letter included poems, regiment history, rosters, letters to the editor and features about camp life, according to the American Antiquarian Society. (Colorado, by the way, was a territory during the Civil War, but this unit fought in the Midwest).

Though there is a long-standing national obsession with the Civil War, regimental newspapers never quite caught on as something to be preserved,” wrote Neely Tucker in the LOC blog post.

“More than 200 such papers in at least 32 states printed at least one edition, according to historian Earle Lutz, but they had mostly vanished by the time he surveyed the nation’s libraries, museums and major private collections in the early 1950s.

(From left) Lt. Col. Theodore Dodd, Col. James H. Ford and Pvt. William Waggoner (WCNB)
The LOC acquired the volume from a dealer in rare manuscripts. The volume was given to regimental commander James Hobart Ford after the Civil War as a memento.

The editions of the newspaper -- which each cost 10 cents -- are printed in pulp stock. Three pages in each edition included news, rumors, jokes and histories of the regiment, which was formed in 1863. The fourth page was left blank for soldiers to write letters or notes to family or friends. The troopers then mailed the pages home.

“Much of the war was over by the time Wallace started his paper, but he and his unnamed correspondents did note Lincoln’s assassination, accounts of skirmishes and the general tenor of the last days of the Confederacy,” wrote Tucker, who manages the LOC blog.

“The rebels have taken to smuggling in bacon past the blockage,” a short item noted in one edition of the anti-slavery camp newspaper. “The evidences multiply that they are on their last legs.”

Final issue sums up unit's history and number of complete editions (Library of Congress)
Another soldier wrote:

“Dear Mother:
Nothing of interest has transpired since I sent you the last two copies of the Soldiers Letter. We are still staying in Mo and will probably remain here some time. My health is good first rate. Plenty of fun Plenty to eat and nothing to do Capt Moses was maried [sic] last Thursday He givs [sic] a party to  night at his wives fathers you bet we will have a good time.”

The Second Colorado Cavalry was deployed  for some time in what was called the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the Civil War. Its actions included patrols, clashes and chasing Confederate Gen. Sterling Price in Missouri in 1864, engaging in multiple battles. Price's foray was a major defeat for the South.

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Missouri has a collection of Trans-Mississippi items in its museum, including 19 photos of Second Colorado Cavalry's soldiers (three above) and two documents, says curator Jeff Patrick.

Late in the war, the regiment was sent west to quell Indian raiders on the Santa Fe Trail and other locations. Although the Second Colorado Cavalry was not a participant in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of Indians in 1864 that killed scores of women, children and the elderly, the Soldier’s Letter editorialized the attack was not vicious enough.

Chris Rein, who wrote a book about the regiment, said in an interview with H-Net that the unit “had a fascinating history, and operated at the nexus of the Civil War and the conquest of the American West.”

He told the Picket in an email this week that accounts such as those by the regiment are "incredibly valuable for assessing the 'unit culture' of Civil War units. Letters, diaries, memoirs, etc. give an individual perspective, but newspapers were intended to appeal to a broader readership and therefore more accurately reflect collective views."

"The paper was published during the most pivotal period of the unit’s service in the 'Burned District' along the Kansas-Missouri border and therefore provides insight into that 'counterinsurgency' campaign, as well as the flaring hostilities on the Plains. It highlights how a regiment of staunch abolitionists could, at the same time, be among the worst Indian-haters in the West," Rein told the Picket.

Chandra Miller, in a 1999 article for the Kansas Historical Society, said the men of the Second Colorado Cavalry, created the Soldier’s Letter to fight isolation, boredom and vagueness of purpose.

“In each issue the Soldier’s Letter covered topics from the history of the regiment to civilian gossip, but the bulk of its pages was dedicated to reflections on the righteousness of American governmental institutions, politics and the eradication of slavery,” Miller wrote.

The newspapers have not been transcribed and thus are not online. The only way to see the full run is by visiting the LOC in Washington, D.C., or, according to Rein, the Denver Public Library, which he says also has a complete set.