Thursday, February 28, 2008


by Walt Whitman

Word over all, beautiful as the sky!

Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly
wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world:
. . . For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near;
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bivouac on a Mountainside

by Walt Whitman

I see before me now a traveling army halting,
Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer,
Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high;
Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall shapes dingily seen;
The numerous camp-fires scatter'd near and far, some away up on the mountain;
The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-sized, flickering;
And over all the skythe sky! far, far out of reach, studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

WARNING: genealogical ramblings ahead

I saw an article tonight about one of the last three children of a Civil War veteran still collecting VA benefits (more on that below), which prompted a pleasant internet session exploring the place where some of my ancestors first tread on this continent's soil

More than anywhere else (with the possible exception of Salem, NH) Beverly, Massachusetts is the place that held (and may still hold) the greatest concentration of my paternal ancestors in North America. Virtually everyone in this country with the surname Woodbury descends from one of two brothers who first came to Cape Ann in the 1620s looking to make a foothold for the Dorchester Company. The oldest brother, John, was one of the “Old Planters” who settled the first land grant in what would become Beverly.

A couple hundred years after these industrious fellows set down roots in the New World, one descendant, Levi Woodbury (photo at top), became a state governor (NH), a U.S. senator, Secretary of the Navy under Andrew Jackson, Secretary of the Treasury under Jackson and Van Buren, and ultimately a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. According to Wikipedia, “he is one of the few individuals to serve in all three branches of U.S. government and one of two people to have served in all three branches and also served as a U.S. Governor (the other being Salmon P. Chase)." Are you listening, Alex Trabek?

Approximately 360 years after the brothers arrived, my own résumé, by contrast, is significantly lighter than Levi's (to include the delivery of inter-office mail). Some are born to greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them, and the rest of us count it a major victory just to get our kids to school on time.

[As an aside, while I write this, an episode of Star Trek Voyager on Spike TV came on in the background: “The Q and the Gray.” This may be the weirdest Civil War connection I’ve yet seen in a science fiction series. The immortal Q transports Capt. Janeway to a version of the antebellum South, because he wants her to have his baby. Not kidding. See the synopsis here]

I’ve been to Beverly twice, and have a hankering to go back for a long enough sojourn to truly mine the holdings of the local historical society which, like so many New England societies, is a well-organized, long-established repository for some spectacular treasures. In the map above (click to enlarge), John Woodbury’s homestead at the head of the Bass River can be seen just below the word “Balch” in Balch Road. The house of his neighbor, John Balch himself, is the crown jewel of the Beverly Historical Society—well worth a visit. Have a look at it here.

My Beverly digression was prompted by this article (excerpt at the bottom of this post) by the Director of the BHS, writing on possibly the oldest “leap-year day” baby in America, one of the last children of a CW vet receiving benefits, and one of the last living children of a person born into slavery. It's an amazing thing to contemplate.

Her Beverly connection prompted me to spend time at the BHS’s website, eventually leading to the roster of the local GAR, which includes something like nine men with my surname. Can’t wait to send off for their NARA military and pension files. Even though the familial connections are a bit removed, there’s usually something interesting, and unexpected, contained in the records.

Beverly native celebrates a very special birthday
By Stephen P. Hall
Wed Feb 20, 2008

One other amazing discovery occurred as I searched back further into her family tree. I discovered that her father George lied about his age and joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry when he was about 15 years old in July of 1864, and later transferred to the 55th Regiment, and served during the last two years of the American Civil War. The enlistment papers indicate his stature at slight, at 5 foot, 5 inches tall. So add “surviving daughter of a Civil War soldier” to Florence’s list of amazing statistics and you can see we have a very special former Beverly resident celebrating her birthday later this month. I checked on the Internet and according to Veteran’s affairs there are only three children of Civil War veterans collecting VA benefits.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Edwin C. "3 Rugs" Bearss, High Private 17th Virginia "Wildcat" Cavalry

To prevent the good folks at Civil War Interactive from reporting that I went a week without updating my blog, here are a few random photos from past Civil War Forum battlefield conferences. This first image, above, was from the 2007 gathering at Appomattox, and is an exclusiveI'm confident that I have scooped all other Civil War blogs with this unpublished image of one of Ed Bearss's lesser-known Civil War ancestors. Ed was one of our three guides that day, and at the close of the tour, Appomattox NHP historian Patrick Schroeder surprised us by arranging for this rare photo (and one of historian Ron Wilson's ancestor as well) to be mounted in the exhibit area. It probably was not intended to be committed to the interneteffectively until the end of timebut maybe this exceptional image will lead to the discovery of other fighting rug portraits.

Below, the aforementioned Appomattox historians Ron Wilson, left, and Patrick Schroeder.

Here was fought the Battle of Sutherland's Station, April 2, 1865.
In the photo, Ed Bearss and his backup singers.

Jumping now from Virginia to Tennessee, the grave of Sam Watkins, Company Aytch, Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

The one and only Jim Ogden, historian at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, in this instance photographed at Stones River. Non-regulation tie.

My kitchen counter. Did someone say pitchers and catchers will be reporting soon?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Answers to the Google Earth Quiz (No. One)

If for one reason or another you're reading this blog entry without having seen the previous one (January 30), you might want to scroll down to that earlier entry first, and have a look at the mystery photos there.

Thanks to everyone who gave it a shot (more in the Civil War Forum, than in the blog). I may need to fine tune future entries—it's obviously very disorienting to see things from this perspective, and difficult to identify out of context, even to people who spend inordinate amounts of time studying maps. Future quizzes may include more distinctive geographic features from the satellite perspective.

In order, the January 30 images depict:

No. 1: Franklin, Tennessee. Pushpin on the left points to the Visitor Center/Museum at the Carter House; pushpin No. 2 (the red roof) points to the Carter House. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see a map showing the location of the Carter House at the heart of Hood's massive assault.

No. 2: Vicksburg, Mississippi. The visible earthworks in the crook of the road intersection at left are what remains of the Stockade Redan where, during the May 19, 1864 assault, the colors of the 1st Battalion, 13th USI reached the ditch fronting the Confederate defenses, earning that unit the motto, "First at Vicksburg."

No. 3: Lookout Mountain—the northern point, around which the "Battle Above the Clouds" was fought. That water is Moccasin Bend in the Tennessee River, just downstream from downtown Chattanooga.

No. 4: Gettysburg, scenes of the first day's fighting. The white diagonal road is, of course, the Chambersburg Pike. The diagonal line above the Pike is the railroad cut. The road coming out of the bottom of the photo, a little left of center, is Reynolds Avenue along McPherson Ridge. It is more or less the same area seen in this map.

No. 5: Yellow Tavern. The monument barely seen in the trees just below the pushpin is the J.E.B. Stuart monument. From the NPS driving tour: "Confederate artillery near this location goaded Custer into a second attack at 4 p.m. The Federal charge broke through Lomax's line (behind you, as you face the monument), but was turned back by Company K of the First Virginia Cavalry. The action drew J.E.B. Stuart into the fighting, where he received his fatal wound. The monument marks the approximate spot where Stuart was shot. It is now under the care and protection of the United Daughters of the Confederacy."

No. 6: Spotsylvania: the Mule Shoe. Check the map below to see where the angle was (just to the right of the road intersection near the center of the photo). The faint trail across the field in the left center marks Emory Upton's approach. As I followed that trail through the woods, I thought of my mother's great-grandfather, in the 5th Wisconsin, who was shot in the knee during Upton's May 10th assault.

No. 7: Okay -- that was a hard one. Kennesaw Mountain.

No. 8: Pea Ridge. The structure in the clearing a little right of center is the reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern. Look at those woods. You can't begin to imagine how many ticks are out there.

No. 9: Manassas. What else? The Henry House on Henry Hill. Below: Bull Run, Va. Ruins of Mrs. Judith Henry's house, by George Barnard.