Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pontoon bridge across the Potomac at Berlin.

Alexander Gardner, November 1862, Berlin, Maryland

Art Institute of Chicago
New York Public Library

The "Weehawken" sinking, Dec. 6th, 1863

From Sketches for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
New York Public Library

THE MONITOR DISASTER; Particulars of the Sinking of the Weehawken
Correspondence of the Boston Traveler.
Published: December 14, 1863

For some time past nothing of interest has occurred at this point. We have had a few days of cold and nights of freezing weather. Yesterday, however, there occurred to the fleet the worst disaster of the siege. The famous iron-clad Weehawken, so gallantly fought by Capt. JOHN ROGERS, and recently by Commander CALHOUN, has sunk off Morris Island.

On Saturday, the 5th inst., we had a calm Summer's day. About midnight the breeze sprung up from the northeast, and blew a gale. The vessels that rode at their anchors so quietly on Saturday now plunged fearfully. The Ironsides lay about two miles from Sumter, the Montauk was on picket, the Nahant was to the northeast about two hundred yards, and the Weehawken to the southwest about a hundred yards. Commander CALHOUN had been sent home, unfit for duty, a short time previously. Commander DUNCAN, of the Paul Jones, took charge of the Weehawken on Saturday, the 5th inst.

During the forenoon of Sunday, Commander DUNCAN visited the flagship, and while there the Weehawken shipped a heavy sea, which entered the forward hatch and filled the anchor-room. This anchor-room is a water-tight compartment with a valve under the cabin door to let aft the water to the pumps, but at this time it must have been out of order, as the water could not get aft. The cabin door was closed, yet the bars that were to hold it in its place, (so as to keep the water in the anchor-room,) could not be found. The officers and men, inured to dangers of this kind, seemed to care but little for what was going on.

They went below and quietly partook of their dinner, but soon after they were astonished at the rapidity with which the water was gaining upon them. The executive officer commenced to pay out chain, but the hawse-pipe was soon under water and a six-inch stream came pouring in. The paying out of the chain did not relieve the ill-fated vessel. JOHN ROGERS was not there. Presently the cry "She sinks!" resounded through the vessel, and signals of distress were made to the flagship; boats were lowered from all vessels knowing the signals, but before they could reach her she sunk how first in five fathoms water, carrying with her twenty-six men and four engineers, including men in irons and men sick; also men at work in the engine-room—supposed the whole watch on duty at the time.

It is presumed that when the water reached the forward part of the boilers it made steam so suddenly as to suffocate all hands in the engine-room, as not one who was there escaped. The yeoman was picked up, but died soon afterward. Much credit is due Capts. AMMEN and BRADFORD of the navy for their great exertions made to save the perishing sailors. A charge of want of proper care would seem to rest upon the officers of the Weehawken. Some, however. have advanced the idea that the forward overhang of the lost vessel has broken off, but Mr. HUGHES, Inspector of Iron-clads, thinks that cannot be the case.

If the Weehawken is ever raised, it will then be known where the blame, if any, rests. The Weehawken had but recently returned from Port Royal, and had an unusual quantity of shot and shell on board, which probably settled her too far in the water. It is calculated that when these vessels are under water but fifteen inches, that two hundred tons would sink them bodily, consequently a much less weight would carry them down bow first.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Major General John A. "Black Jack" Logan, from the Library of Congress.

Civil War Trust's biography of John Logan is here

(1) Monument of Gen. John A. Logan, Chicago, Ill. (on horseback, with group of people, mostly seated on lawn, in foreground), c1900; (2) Logan, wartime portrait; (3) Washington, District of Columbia. The Grand Review of the Army. Gen. John A. Logan's 15th Army Corps passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury, May 1865, Mathew Brady.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Remember the Sultana

From The Sultana Documentary page on Facebook today comes this intriguing tidbit:

"Pat Jennings, Hartford Steam Boiler's principal boiler engineer, recently released new research finally explaining what caused this historic event over 150 years ago": 

The Sultana – Part 5: What caused the Sultana disaster?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Civil War Forum walks Pickett's Charge to cap off 20 years of battlefield tramping

The High Water Mark of the Rebellion
Last week, in Gettysburg, the good folks of the CompuServe Civil War Forum—one of the earliest and most enduring online Civil War Round Tables—held their 20th and last battlefield conference. Forty-some folks gathered from far and wide—from San Francisco (yours truly) and Albuquerque, from Toronto and Memphis, and many points in-between. It was a spectacular weekend in the company of some stellar Licensed Battlefield Guides, and an altogether fitting and proper close to two decades of battlefield tramping.
Trostle Barn, April 2016 
Timothy O'Sullivan image of the Trostle barn showing horses from Bigelow's 9th Massachusetts Battery.
Note the hole from a Confederate artillery shell visible in the south face of the barn in both photos. 
Stuart Dempsey kicked things off with a detailed look at 11th Corps actions on the First Day. Chuck Burkell then took the reins for a full day’s touring of the Second Day fighting, and Chris Army spent a morning with us looking over Culp’s and Cemetery Hills, and the East Cavalry Battlefield, including a stop at the old stone barn on the Rummel Farm. Chris also took us by Power’s Hill, where the Civil War Trust is spearheading efforts to preserve an additional 26 acres along the Baltimore Pike.

Chuck Burkell joined us again Saturday afternoon to conduct a walk of Pickett’s Charge. Highlighting our evening events was a moving and memorable talk on “The Meaning of the Gettysburg Address,” by Scott Hartwig at the Dobbin House. Scott was the historian at Gettysburg NMP for 34 years, overseeing a monumental transformation of the park facilities and landscape.
Homing in on the copse of trees, left of center
CompuServe Civil War Forum: Twenty Years of Battlefield Conferences
1997: Antietam and Harpers Ferry with Dennis Frye and Tom Clemens.
1998: Chickamauga and Chattanooga with Jim Ogden; talk by Sam Elliott.
1999: Petersburg with Chris Calkins; talks by Bill Miller, Will Greene, Noah Trudeau; Museum of the Confederacy with John Coski; Hollywood Cemetery
2000: Vicksburg with Ed Bearss; side-trip to Port Hudson; Terry Winschel
2001: Gettysburg, with Jeffry Wert and Wayne Wachsmuth
2002: Shiloh with Stacy Allen; speakers included Wiley Sword and Larry Daniel
2003: Fredericksburg with Bob Krick; side-trip to Chancellorsville; side-trip to Guinea Station with Frank O'Reilly
2004: Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove with Bill Piston and Bill Shea
2005: 1st and 2nd Manassas with Scott Patchan; speakers included Bill Miller and Gary Ecelbarger; side-trip to Loudoun County sites with Steve Meserve
2006: Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville, with Thomas Cartwright; side-trip to Stones River with Jim Ogden; side-trip to grave site of Sam Watkins with David Fraley
2007: Appomattox with Ed Bearss, Ron Wilson, and Patrick Schroeder; side-trip to Battle of Lynchburg
2008: The Campaign for Atlanta with Greg Biggs, Charlie Crawford, Steven Woodworth, Steve Davis, Russell Bonds, Gordon Jones, and J. D. Fowler
2009: the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign with Scott Patchen and Steve Meserve
2010: Civil War New Orleans, with Prof. Justin Nystrom, and Charlie Nunez
2011: The Seven Days, with Bobby Krick, and Chris Furgeson
2012: The Battle of Bentonville with Mark Bradley; Wilmington and Fort Fisher with Chris Fonvielle
2013: Fort Sumter and Secessionville, Charleston, with Pat Brennan and Richard Hatcher
2014: Ball's Bluff and Monacacy, with James Morgan, and Benjamin F. Cooling
2015: Mobile Bay and Pensacola, with Richard McMurry
2016: The Battle of Gettysburg, with D. Scott Hartwig, Stuart Dempsey, Chris Army, and Chuck Burkell

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ambrose Bierce on Cheat Mountain

Trail at the site of the Cheat Summit Fort, atop Cheat Mountain in the Monongahela National
Forest of Randolph County, West Virginia. Photo by Carol Highsmith. Library of Congress.
It was in the autumn of that "most immemorial year," the 1861st of our Lord, and of our Heroic Age the first, that a small brigade of raw troops—troops were all raw in those days—had been pushed in across the Ohio border and after various vicissitudes of fortune and mismanagement found itself, greatly to its own surprise, at Cheat Mountain Pass, holding a road that ran from Nowhere to the southeast. Some of us had served through the summer in the "three-months' regiments," which responded to the President's first call for troops. We were regarded by the others with profound respect as "old soldiers." (Our ages, if equalized, would, I fancy, have given about twenty years to each man.) We gave ourselves, this aristocracy of service, no end of military airs; some of us even going to the extreme of keeping our jackets buttoned and our hair combed. We had been in action, too; had shot off a Confederate leg at Philippi, "the first battle of the war," and had lost as many as a dozen men at Laurel Hill and Carrick's Ford, whither the enemy had fled in trying, Heaven knows why, to get away from us. We now "brought to the task" of subduing the Rebellion a patriotism which never for a moment doubted that a rebel was a fiend accursed of God and the angels—one for whose extirpation by force and arms each youth of us considered himself specially "raised up."
from "On a Mountain," by Ambrose Bierce. Read Bierce's Cheat Mountain story in its entirety at the Civil War Trust site. Photo by Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

antidote to idiocy . . . Brooks Simpson and the neo-Confederates

A handy go-to link to send to your friends and associates who are confused by the weed-like tenacity of neo-Confederate propaganda, which has found new life in the internet age.

[September, 2000]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two recent Civil War discoveries at the National Archives

The National Archives in Washington holds unknown and uncountable little treasures, and it's always a thrill to hear of some new tidbit coming to light. Archivists and researchers spend long hours, weeks and years, combing through, organizing, and cataloging items in the nation's miscellanea without catching a glint of a shiny nugget in the pan, or without understanding the significance of particular documents. But sometimes they hit paydirt, and know it at a glance. Interesting discoveries are regularly reported, and two Civil War-related items caught my attention this week. 

A true golden nugget surfaced recently in the form of a letter written by Walt Whitman on behalf of a dying soldier. According to (quoting The Washington Post), "Catherine Cusack Wilson was doing volunteer work for a digitization project on Civil War widows’ pension files when she ran across the letter. Ruane writes that she saw the postscript 'Written by Walt Whitman, a friend' on the correspondence, and realized that the letter, dictated by an illiterate soldier at Washington’s Harewood Hospital, was penned by the poet."


Another neat find was an 1864 letter that makes passing reference to the Free State of Jones, uncovered by historian Adam Domby. That's a particularly timely item given the upcoming May release of a movie on that subject, based on Victoria Bynum's book. Victoria discusses Domby's find on her blog, Renegade South. I conducted an online interview with Victoria about her book way back in 2001, when Matthew McConaughey was still a harmless Wedding Planner. I'm looking forward to the release of the new film.