Wednesday, March 03, 2021

May Be One Of A Kind? 1864 Union Regimental Poll Book 

Lincoln: A Life In The Natural Environment

Lincoln and the Natural EnvironmentLincoln and the Natural Environment, James Tackach, 150pp., 8 illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, Southern Illinois University Press, 2019  $24.95 

Lincoln's life occurred during an era of transition from when most individuals were farmers who lived in relatively new states to a time when metropolitan regions and webs of commerce began to dominate the natural environment. During the early decades of Lincoln's life water powered then steam powered mills began to produce clothing, farm tools and machines, and domestic  goods. The first half of the 1800s most citizens lived on farms and in small communities. By mid-century, farmers and industrial workers had both come to dominate the interactions of the economy with the natural environment. 

On the eve of the Civil War, more than 70 percent of Americans lived on farms or in small farm towns, and agriculture was the nation's largest and fastest-growing business.

 Additional review at H-Net: 

Prisoners of War: Handwritten Newspaper By Confederates Held in Delaware

Confederate prisoners of war confined at Fort Delaware produced this newspaper by hand in 1865. The  New York Historical Society holds one of four surviving copies, each of which was likely passed around and read by multiple prisoners. The paper numbers four pages in total.

Like camps holding Union prisoners in the South, Fort Delaware, located on the Delaware River, was not a pleasant place. More than 40,000 Confederate prisoners of war cycled through the brick-walled prison between 1862 and 1865. Overcrowding, poor handling of sanitation, and short rations resulted in the deaths of many prisoners. Astonishingly, 56,000 men fighting on both sides died while imprisoned during the conflict. The paper numbers four pages in total.

Despite these conditions, the men at Fort Delaware evolved an informal economy, staged entertainments, and formed clubs. This newspaper was mostly concerned with covering these aspects of the prison experience. In their introductory column, the editors of the paper warn the reader that “nothing political will be indulged in” and promise instead to promote “public improvements, the Fine Arts, and Advancement of Literature.”

The “ancient toast” printed in the central column refers to “the old chivalric time.” Southerners before and after the Civil War were particularly intrigued by chivalry, knighthood, and the literature of Sire Walter Scott and this offering reflects that taste.  The newspaper also carries paid advertisements for barbershops, “washing and ironing,” dental services, and music instruction. If the first issue is any indication, the editors had no problem finding prisoners willing to underwrite this venture with their advertising dollars.

In The Civil War in 50 Objects, historian Harold Holzer wrote about this newspaper and  surmises that this edition of the Prison Times was probably one of very few produced. Vol. 1, No. 1 was “printed” the same month that the war ended.

Source: Slate, The Vault 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Fighting Means Killing: Soldiers View Their Work

978-0-7006-2628-1Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat, Jonathan M. Steplyk, University of Kansas Press, 294 pp., 14 illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, 2018, $29.95

Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat is quite possibly the first book-length study of soldiers' attitudes toward killing on the battlefields of the war. Others, such as Brent Nosworthy , Earl Hess, Gerald Linderman and others have addressed the topic within chapters. David Grossman's On Killing (1995) is offered by Steplyk as his model. Psychological conditions and mental health outcomes held and owned by battlefield soldiers are compared and contrasted with both the civilian and military training they received.

The author notes that the average soldier struggled to sublimate learned civilian resistance to provoking enemies' death on the battlefield. American society's culture and religious practices, generally speaking, provided barriers to combat effectiveness.

Like other historians, the author notes that hand-to-hand fighting was rare. Death by bayonet was more rare than death by sharpshooters which was less likely that death by massed muskets and artillery.  Steplyk believes that sharpshooters were somewhat tolerated and not hated outcasts on the battlefield.
He argues soldiers, at times, went to demanding lengths to limit, even avoid, killing, even to the point of putting themselves in jeopardy. 

Steplyk thoroughly considers the mortal and moral problems of race related massacres of surrendering troops. Participants, who justified these massacres, he concludes had their reasons and motives, which were both ideological and racial.

Throughout the book, firsthand sources are relied upon by the author. He provides the foci of when, how and why soldiers withheld their fire and at other times directed the fire of their immediate comrades in arms. Informal structures of parley, truce, and accepting surrenders are described as the soldiers experienced them. He author balances primary and secondary sources as he considers the wartime motivations and post-war justifications by the veterans. Readers who have thorough knowledge of the war's troops and battles, along with readers who are less immersed in American Civil War history, will find the text accessible and intriguing.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Primary Souce: 45th Pennsylvania' Hospital Steward's Report on South Mountain

  “It’s too damned hot here” – A medical history of the 45th Pennsylvania’s first battle

A common theme in Civil War history is examining how soldiers described their first experience in combat. Many referred to this with the period phrase “seeing the elephant.” After experiencing their first combat, however, those who survived lost that na├»ve excitement they first carried into combat.
The same also applies to the medical teams that accompanied their regiments into their first battle. For the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first blood came at the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. The regiment had spent almost its entire first year of the war in coastal South Carolina, and lost many more men to disease than it had to Confederate bullets or shells. The men spent their days drilling, building fortifications, and performing other hard labor as necessary.
In the regimental history for the unit, published in 1912, Hospital Steward James A. Myers described the first time the 45th Pennsylvania’s medical personnel went into action and the chaotic first taste of combat.

Full Text Link:National Museum of Civil War Medicine

 Image: James A. Meyers, Hospital Steward, 45th PA. Image taken from regimental history on

Friday, March 13, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Lee Is Trapped And Must Be Taken

"Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863, Thomas Ryan, Savas Beatie Publishing, 342 pages, 33 illustrations, index, bibliography, $32.00, 2019. 

 A remarkable accomplishment of scholarship. Using scores of enlisted men's letters and reflections, commissioned officers' reports, newspaper, and civilian recollections Ryan and Schaus offer a fast-paced, day-by-day account of the decisions and the happenstances of the Army of Northern Virginia's flight from Gettysburg Battlefield as the Army of the Potomac attempts to catch the fast-moving Rebels. 'Lee Is Trapped and Must Be Taken' is now must-reading alongside Brown's 'Retreat From Gettysburg', and Wittenberg's/Petruzzi's/Nugent's 'One Continuous Fight'.

 Front cover

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

News From The National Archives: Did the Confederate Government Pay Slaves?

Confederate Slave Payrolls Shed Light on Lives of 19th Century African American Families

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

refer to caption

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 4, 2020 — For all of March 1862, a man named Ben cooked for the Confederate military stationed at Pinners Point, VA, earning 60 cents a day that would go to his owner.A few months later and 65 miles away,  Godfrey, Willis, and Anthony worked on “obstructions of the Appomattox River” at Fort Clifton.

Then there were Grace, Silvia and Bella, among several women listed as laborers at South Carolina’s Ashley Ferry Nitre Works in April 1864, near the names of children like Sarah, Eugenia and Sampson.   

They are single lines, often with no last name, on paper yellowed but legible after 155 years, among thousands scrawled in loping letters that make up nearly 6,000 Confederate Slave Payroll records, a trove of Civil War documents digitized for the first time by National Archives staff in a multiyear project that concluded in January. Continued at  Full Text Link: National Archives

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Life During Wartime--Living, Dying and Surviving in Richmond, Virginia

Rebel Richmond Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital,Stephen Ash, University of North Carolina Press, 296 ppages,  illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, 2019.  $35.00.

Reviewed by Michael E. Woods (Marshall University) Published on H-CivWar (January, 2020)

A fresh-faced lieutenant screams from a hospital bed. Shopkeepers fence stolen goods, while an equally entrepreneurial embalmer smuggles deserters and draft dodgers out of town in coffins. Neighbors hear a confectioner lashing an enslaved girl with a leather strap; the next day, the four-year-old child is found dead. In a filthy shack near the wharves, a young prostitute dies alone from a laudanum overdose. These kinds of stories are rarely commemorated with monuments or dramatized in reenactments. But they are all Civil War stories, and they all find a place in Stephen V. Ash’s outstanding Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital

Richmond was a national capital and a target for attack, a commercial hub and a manufacturing powerhouse, a haven for refugees and a place of captivity. But although historians have thoroughly documented the city’s political and military histories, the experiences of its humbler residents, whose numbers swelled to more than 100,000 during the conflict, have received less attention. The purpose of Ash’s book is to explore “how ordinary Richmonders”—black and white, enslaved and free, male and female, rich and poor, civilian and soldier—“fared in the maelstrom of war” (p. 3).

Ash quite logically emphasizes Richmond’s uniqueness, but the city’s prominence in both history and historiography means that this book will fascinate not only local historians but also readers interested in everything from common soldiers and women’s history to class conflict and slave resistance.
Ash surveys life in wartime Richmond in a series of thematic chapters. The city’s diverse population was fractured along lines of wealth, status, and occupation, but most Richmonders faced an increasingly severe struggle to get by as neighbors multiplied and resources dwindled in what one local paper aptly called the “metropolis of the South” (p. 19).

Richmond’s population may have tripled during the war as bureaucrats, soldiers, refugees, impressed slaves, and drifters, driven by force or free will, crowded into the city. With housing scarce and rents soaring, civilians squeezed into rented rooms, hotels, and offices while soldiers and enslaved laborers lived in nearby barracks and encampments and a growing number of captives—including political prisoners and captured Union soldiers—languished in jails and camps. And although proximity to a rich agricultural hinterland had kept antebellum Richmond well fed, wartime disruption and overcrowding created a parallel crisis of sustenance. As with the housing shortage, public efforts to increase food supply met with mixed results: most Richmonders did not starve, but the poor and the wards of the Confederate government waged a desperate struggle for subsistence.
Unlike food and shelter, jobs were plentiful in a city where fierce competition for workers pitted private manufacturers against public-sector employers and the military. Even though Confederate officers detailed soldiers to work in factories and other productive enterprises, the labor shortage remained acute, so considerable numbers of enslaved people, free blacks, and white women and children filled the void. Of course, with so many strangers coming and going, old fears of insurrection and new apprehensions of disloyalty fostered an atmosphere of suspicion.

Deserters and Unionist agents did not topple the city’s Confederate power structure, but the prevalence of crime and immorality, coupled with resistance by enslaved people, made many affluent white Richmonders fear the worst. The outbreak of Richmond’s infamous bread riots in April 1863 seemed to portend a more general uprising of the city’s motley underclass, and for the last two years of the war, local officials mixed poor relief with paramilitary repression in an effort to keep order. The proximity of military force reassured Richmond’s elite, but the proliferation of military hospitals, complete with the sights, sounds, and smells of suffering and death, provided a constant reminder of the war’s costs.

Ash has indeed brought “wartime Richmond to life as a city of flesh-and-blood men, women, and children of many sorts who responded in very human ways to extraordinarily trying circumstances” (p. 5). The success of this rich social history stems from diligent archival research. Ash delved into a variety of manuscript materials, including personal correspondence, the records of the Southern Claims Commission, church and hospital records, and letters received by the Confederate Provost Marshal’s Office and the Confederate Secretary of War.

These dusty files yielded a trove of poignant stories that demonstrate how Richmond’s diverse residents navigated a city shaken to its core by an increasingly revolutionary conflict. From the arrest of an African American bartender who allegedly spoke to a white man with “insolent and provoking language” (p. 175) to hospital matrons’ attempts to brighten their dreary living quarters, Rebel Richmond compellingly illuminates how Richmonders lived, labored, and died in a city where the war sometimes reached the suburbs and was never far away.

This book complements previous accounts of wartime Richmond by Emory M. Thomas and Ernest B. Furgurson, which relied (particularly in Thomas’s case) more heavily on published materials.[1] It also will provide opportunities for comparative analysis if read alongside other urban histories, such as Wendy Hamand Venet’s study of Civil War-era Atlanta and William Warren Rogers Jr.’s work on Montgomery.[2] Indeed, what Richmond shared with other Confederate cities may be as important as what set it apart. Richmond’s status as a political, industrial, and military center certainly made it a distinctly attractive target for Union strategists and a singularly powerful symbol of Confederate nationalism, and Ash quite reasonably underscores its uniqueness.

But many aspects of Richmond’s story had parallels in other Confederate cities. Union war planners coveted New Orleans and Atlanta; manufacturing boomed in Selma and Augusta; refugees streamed into Raleigh and Columbia. Rebel Richmond therefore underscores the centrality of cities to the story of the Confederacy. As Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers have pointed out, for all the obvious importance of Southern plantation agriculture, and for all the Lost Cause paeans to an agrarian way of life, cities were at the heart of the Confederate project, from the meeting of secession conventions to the manufacturing of war materiel and the marshaling of armies.[3] Rebel Richmond demonstrates this point brilliantly and poignantly. Regardless of where they came from or why they were there, Richmonders—all 100,000 or more of them—experienced an emphatically urban Civil War.

Bibliographic Notes:
[1]. Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate State of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971); Ernest B. Furgurson, Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
[2]. Wendy Hamand Venet, A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014); William Warren Rogers Jr., Confederate Home Front: Montgomery during the Civil War (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999).
[3]. Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, “Introduction: Historians and the Urban South’s Civil War,” in Confederate Cities: The Urban South during the Civil War Era, ed. Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): 1-23.
Full Text Source:

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Gettysburg: The Living and The Dead as Viewed by a Poet and a Photographer

GettysburgGettysburg: The Living and the Dead, Kent Gramm with photography by Chris Heisey, Souhtern Illinois University Press, 225 pp, profusely illustrated, 2019, hardcover, $29.95.

Reviewed by Matthew A. Borders, (National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program; review published by H0Civil War, January 2020.
I knew that this work, Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead, would be a challenge from the beginning. An artistic work, the book looks at the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere through a myriad of lenses, peoples, times, and writings. This is not, nor does it purport to be, another military history of the Battle of Gettysburg. That being said, it is set up in a manner that would familiar to anyone who has read military histories of the battle. Gettysburg has four distinct chapters, covering the first day of fighting with twenty separate entries, the second day with thirty-five entries and the third day with fourteen entries. It ends, as many histories of the battle do, with a chapter on the aftermath, which contains nineteen individual entries.

Each entry, be it a poem or short story, is accompanied by an image. This structure struck me not only as a familiar choice, but also possibly a deliberate one to help the reader. As most are already familiar with the three traumatic days of the battle, this structure seems designed to place the reader into the right mind-set of each day and its aftermath.

That may be the reason why I found the first chapter so jarring. Set up as it is, even with a snippet of the famous 1889 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain speech just before the table of contents to set the stage, the first chapter has little to do with the Battle of Gettysburg as the opening poems are broad enough to describe almost any conflict. This is not a bad thing, and in fact can bring the past and present closer together as it reveals shared passions, fears, and sorrows. As the chapter continues, however, Gramm also reveals much of himself. There are numerous references to the Vietnam War in this chapter (entry 8: Blood Trail, entry 9: 'Stang, entry 18: Stayin' Alive) and sprinkled throughout the book. The war is seen as a mistake and or something to be protested by the author.
Some of his stories go so far as to use the memory of historical figures from the Battle of Gettysburg as inspiration for these protests. There are several very well-written short stories in this chapter taken from the soldier's perspective and even one apparently real letter from a migrant worker in 1927 who worked in the orchards around Gettysburg. In all, this is a very scattered chapter that feels lacking in focus.

Much like the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg itself, which saw the longest period of fighting, stretching well into the night on some parts of the field, the second chapter is the longest. It is also where I feel the book finds its focus. Of the thirty-five entries, again mostly poems and short stories, the majority focus on the Battle of Gettysburg or its participants. It is also where we start to see a large helping of one of the subthemes of Gettysburg, the supernatural. This had been hinted at since the beginning of the book, but over a third of the entries of this chapter have to deal with ghosts or spirits tied to or trapped on the battlefield, for any number of reasons. Some are trying to communicate with the living to dissuade us from repeating the follies of history, some are still fighting the battle, and some are searching for fallen loved ones. This a theme that is hard to escape in Gettysburg, as the town itself is awash in ghost tours of dubious quality and historic accuracy.

The best aspect of Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead is the bravery of the author to tell his stories and poems through a broad range of voices. Both Union and Confederate soldiers are portrayed, sometimes with sympathy towards their enemies, often with the passions and hatreds of the war on full display. We hear the voices of women—those caring for the wounded, watching over the dead, pining for the lost, or educating the current generation. Veterans both old and new are written about, as are former rangers, battlefield guides, museum curators, and even a reenactor in one story. I will admit I was surprised to see the author use an African American dialect in two of his entries, a bold decision and a commendable effort to include the whole story of the region. The story that spoke to me the most, however, and which in today's climate of intolerance struck me deeply, comes nearly at the end of the work, entry 85: North and South (pp. 207-09). Two fathers, one from Wisconsin and one from North Carolina, tour the battlefield together, discussing fatherhood, loss, and the war. Both are products of their regional bias, neither having really dealt with anyone from the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line. This story ends with two men having a better understanding of the other and a promise to memorialize a loss from a much more recent conflict. I sincerely hope that this story, presented from the perspective of a writer, is the fulfillment of that promise.

It would be a mistake to review Gettysburg: The Living And The Dead without touching on the beautiful photography of Chris Heisey. The images are as diverse as the stories and poems themselves, and sometimes suffer from the same out-of-place feeling that some of the writings have. Every poem or story has at least one image attached to it. Most of these are dramatic shots of the battlefield landscape or the monuments on it. Entry 31: War Means Fighting (pp. 79) is one such example of an oddity, as it has a praying mantis on page 78 to accompany the story. Surprisingly, almost a quarter of the images are wintry shots of the battlefield or monuments, and there are numerous autumnal landscape shots. Considering the sweltering July conditions in which the battle was fought, the snow-and-ice-covered images are beautiful, if unexpected.

While I had some concerns reading this work, I am glad I did. Our cultural landscapes, even our most studied, such as Gettysburg National Military Park, have meant and continue to mean different things to different people. While I may not understand all of the author and the photographer's perspectives and choices for Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead, it is obvious that they care deeply for this historic landscape, the history that happened here, and its visitors.

Citation: Matthew A. Borders. Review of Gramm, Kent; Heisey, Chris, Gettysburg: The Living and the Dead. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020. URL: