Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Proud German Soldier

John Hormel, a native of the “Kingdom of Germany”, enlisted on August 9, 1862 and became a member of Company G of the 22nd Iowa Infantry. The 21 year-old worked as a blacksmith and stood five feet six and a half inches tall with black eyes and black hair; he was discharged in June 1865 from Company K of the 5th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps. On his discharge papers, he proudly and carefully used red ink to write “In Battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hills, Black River Bridge, and Seige of Vicksburg Where he was wounded.” The 22nd Iowa Infantry played the key role in the assault on the Railroad Redoubt on May 22, 1863 and suffered losses of 27 killed, 118 wounded, and 19 missing or captured. The sturdy trans-Mississippians went on to serve in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, but the assault at Vicksburg was their most memorable fight. For a recounting of the assault see Jeffry C. Burden's "Into the Breach: The 22nd Iowa Infantry at the Railroad Redoubt" in Civil War Regiments: A Journal Of The America Civil War (volume 2, #1, pages 19-35).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Finally: A Completed Manuscript

The last five weeks have been hectic and stressful leaving little time for blogging. A close relative has experienced serious health problems with the bulk of that responsibility falling on me. In better news, my manuscript A Constant School of Excitement: Albert C. Ellithorpe and the Civil War on the Frontier is at a publisher and being considered for publication. Ellithorpe, as I’ve mentioned in previous postings, served as an officer in the First Indian Home Guards, a tri-racial regiment that served exclusively in Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and Missouri. Major Ellithorpe led an adventurous life, and his colorful personality is evident in his journal, his twenty-three Chicago Evening Journal articles, and various other documents. It’s been a fun project, but I was happy to send the 297-page manuscript on to a potential publisher.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In My Mailbox Today

Today, I received a copy of Dr. Donald S. Frazier’s new book, Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi, the third volume in his Louisiana Quadrille series. The previous volumes are written in a lively way, are well researched, and packed with maps and illustrations. Frazier admits in his foreword, “This is not the book I intended to write….as I opened myself to the sources, I felt compelled to go where they led; that is the essence of history….As with the other books in the series, the military campaigns remain front and center…However, the sources revealed an almost obsessive concern over slavery. Actually, these soldiers, civilians, and politicians did not fret over the institution of slavery as much as control over the slaves themselves” (p. vii).

The book is 472 pages, and I’m starting it tonight!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Ironclad Missouri

This week I learned of the death of Civil War historian Raimondo Luraghi, the author of one of my favorite books A History Of The Confederate Navy (1996). Luraghi’s focus on Confederate naval strategy, leadership, and innovations made for a fascinating study. Before I read the book, I didn’t have a deep knowledge of Confederate naval history so there were many surprises for me in the book such as the story of the ironclad Missouri. Fittingly named for a trans-Mississippi state, the Missouri was constructed in 1863 in the naval yards of Shreveport, Louisiana, with rails from the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas Railroad and iron from a facility in Jefferson, Texas. It took quite some time to build the Missouri as the army sometimes absorbed necessary supplies. It doesn’t appear that the Missouri ever engaged in combat, but her presence, according to Dr. Gary D. Joiner, may explain why the huge Eastport led the advance of the Federal navy during the Red River campaign. Her commander, Jonathon Carter, surrendered the ironclad on June 3, 1865 at Alexandria.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thank you Dr. Benson

The press of business has led to an extended absence from the blog, but now my schedule allows me to begin posting again. Today, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic and in the mood to share a personal story.

The War Of The Rebellion: Official Records Of The Union and Confederate Armies is the key reference work relating to the war. While I was reading Bruce Catton’s This Hallowed Ground, I first became aware of endnotes and their significance. At the time I was eleven years old and developed a determination to see volume ten, part one of the Official Records. From the endnotes, I learned that this book held battle reports relating to the battle of Shiloh, and I badly wanted to read about the activities of the 16th Louisiana Infantry, a unit that my g-g-grandfather served in. The Shawnee Public Library did not have the set, but somehow I learned that the library at Oklahoma Baptist University did own a set. My mom, always willing to aid me in my endeavors, approached the O. B. U. library director, Dr. Stanley Benson, with me in tow. We told him that I wanted to see the Official Records, and he appeared startled. This was my first clue that few people asked to see the set. He graciously took us into the storage area where the volumes sat encased in dust. Dr. Benson was pleased that I knew about endnotes and still more impressed when I correctly informed him that volume ten, part one was indeed about Shiloh. At that point, he agreed to give my mom a special library card so that I could check out books. 

In the weeks following, the Official Records mysteriously emerged from the storage area and appeared (dusted) in the regular stacks. With my mom’s magic library card, I could check out volumes of the Official Records along with bound copies of original editions of The Confederate Veteran and many other prizes. Dr. Benson’s willingness to allow me to use the library collection certainly helped me maintain my interest in the American Civil War. I suppose it is not surprising that I decided to attend O. B. U. And it didn’t stop there…Dr. Benson also hired me as a student worker at the O. B. U. library and encouraged me to work toward a master’s degree in library science. It came as no surprise to him, though, that after earning the master’s degree I decided to work toward a Ph.D. in history with an emphasis on the American Civil War.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Soldier in the Fourth California Infantry

Recently, I purchased a small lot of Civil War discharge papers that I plan to use as the basis for small research projects in a couple of my classes. Among the lot was one for a California soldier whose company (D) served mainly in the Pacific Northwest. Marco B. Goodrich, a miner, enlisted on September 24, 1861 for a three-year term and was discharged on October 15, 1864 at Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory. Other tidbits: Goodrich was originally from Rockingham, New Hampshire, and was 36 years old when discharged meaning that he possibly participated in the California Gold Rush.

Friday, February 13, 2015

An Eastern Dandy Goes West

One of the classics of Civil War literature is War Letters, 1862-1865, Of John Chipman Gray And John Codman Ropes (1927). Recently, I read this book for the first time and enjoyed the well-crafted letters that revealed much about the personalities of the two friends. Both men were Bostonians. John Codman Ropes had a physical disability that prevented him from serving in the military, but he maintained a keen interest in the war that led to his authorship of some postwar studies.

John Chipman Gray served on Brigadier General George Henry Gordon’s staff and ended up on the periphery of the war. During the battle of Fredericksburg he was at Fairfax Station, Virginia; during the Chancellorsville campaign he was at Suffolk; and while the battle of Gettysburg was fought he was at White House, Virginia. Gray served in operations near Charleston, South Carolina, but that was the only major campaign he participated in. His travels even took him down the Atlantic coast, around Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Mississippi River and then the White River in Arkansas. This Eastern dandy liked New Orleans (“a very bright, pretty city, the streets are well paved and exceedingly clean”), but while on a steamboat admitted “it is rather hard to get used to the Mississippi water. Before drinking it is filtered in some way so that what is placed on the table looks merely like dirty water, but the water that you wash in is exactly the color of strong coffee with a little milk in it” (p. 359).

Gray conceded on his journey that some of his preconceived notions were inaccurate. “With regard to the general appearance of the Westerners, it is not so different from our own as I had supposed, but certain it is that discipline is most astonishingly lax…In Memphis there was a sentry whom I had to pass daily, he was always seated in an arm-chair, his gun rested on the wall near his side, he was often reading, and had another chair by him for the convenience of any friend who might like to stop and chat a while. This is no solitary instance, I might tell you of a dozen things as strange” (p. 364-365). He observed that “The run of officers and citizens that one meets in the towns and on the boats is much less rough than I had anticipated, and I have never seen officials more civil and accommodating than the Captains and Clerks of the river boats. My prejudices again the West have been materially lessened by the experience I have had” (p. 365).