Tuesday, September 22, 2015
For those who are in the area, I'll be presenting "A Constant School of Excitement: Albert C. Ellithorpe and the Civil War on the Frontier" this Monday, September 28th at 6:00 pm. The lecture will be in the Baird Hall Performance Studio on the Rogers State University campus in Claremore, Oklahoma. Hope to see you there!
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Typically I read one non-fiction book (often about the Civil War) and a fiction book. Recently, I finished reading Roughing It (1872), an autobiographical work by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) with some tall tales mixed in. After beginning it, I checked the chronology section in my Library of America edition and noticed that the book is about Clemens’ life from 1861-1866. So many young men were involved in the Civil War that it’s hard to believe that some, like Clemens, were able to neatly sidestep it. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate since he did serve in the Marion Rangers, a Missouri Confederate unit, however, that was for less than a month.
Soon afterwards he boarded a stagecoach with the newly appointed Secretary to the Nevada Territory, his brother Orion, and traveled far, far from the war. The book is an entertaining recounting of life in the Nevada Territory where everyone, it seemed, was engrossed with making, or trying to make, a fortune in the silver mines. Clemens employed tall tales and self-effacing humor in describing his unsuccessful attempts to make it big. After many pages, I had to ask myself…what about the War? It is a topic almost completely missing from the pages of his book. Was he trying to obscure the fact that he did not serve when so many other young men were in the military? Was the War really such a minor topic to those in the Far West? On the other hand, the book was a companion to his earlier Innocents Abroad (1869) written in a similar style.
His only extended story that related to the War is about Reuel Gridley, a defeated political candidate, who auctioned off in several western cities a sack of flour for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission. Clemens described the amazing enthusiasm at these auctions that resulted in raising an estimated $150,000 for the Commission.
If nothing else, the book shows some of the variety of wartime experiences and gives some insight into the life of one of America’s greatest writers. Four years after Roughing It came out, Clemens’ pen turned to Missouri with the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In a way, Mark Twain had finally returned home.
Monday, September 7, 2015
Recently, I went on a road trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, one of the most historic towns in the State. My first stop was Morgan’s Bakery in downtown Tahlequah where I succumbed to temptation and ate a glazed doughnut. Revitalized, I walked down the street to Capitol Square and tried to imagine what life was like there during the Civil War era.
My imagination was aided by an antebellum account. In the fall of 1841, Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock traveled to the Indian Territory to investigate charges of fraud in providing supplies to the Cherokees and the Chickasaws after their removal from the southeastern United States. On November 30, 1841, Hitchcock arrived in Tahlequah and wrote in his journal, “As we came in sight of the capital, I saw a number of log houses arranged in order with streets; or one street at all events, was clearly visible but the houses were very small. One house was painted: ‘The Committee sit there’; (some distance off) ‘to the left, the principal chief stays’—we saw a number of people. ‘There are cooks, public cooks we call them’ said Mr. Drew, ‘along those houses, meat etc., is furnished to them and they cook for the public. Everybody can go to the public tables. See there,’ said he, ‘you see some eating dinner.’ I saw some 20 at one table. ‘The nation pays the expense’” (pages 36-37).
Two years after Hitchcock’s visit, the Cherokee Supreme Court building was erected, and today it houses the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. The structure is one of the few surviving pre-war buildings in Oklahoma.
The log structures that housed many of the Cherokee Nation’s government offices were burned during the War and replaced by this handsome brick building in 1870.
Bear in mind that the Cherokee Nation experienced much devastation during the War and in the postwar period was forced to give up some of its lands in the Reconstruction Treaties. The Nation, though, proved to be exceptionally resilient and rebuilt its society and government in the postwar years. By the way, the monument in front of the building honors Cherokee Confederate soldiers. Seeing this begged a question--why is there no monument to the Cherokee Union soldiers?
Citation for Hitchcock quote: Foreman, Grant, ed. A Traveler in Indian Territory: The Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1930 (reprinted in 1996).
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Historians are quite fortunate when they find a regiment whose service was well documented by its members. An example of one of these for the trans-Mississippi was the 19th Iowa Infantry, a regiment that suffered heavy casualties at the battle of Prairie Grove and then went on to serve in Louisiana where 210 men were taken prisoner at Stirling’s Plantation. The survivors occupied Brownsville, Texas, and then ended the war serving in operations near Mobile Bay.
Three particularly fine surviving accounts document service in the 19th Iowa and from varying perspectives. Benjamin Franklin McIntyre enlisted at age 34 in Keokuk serving initially as a sergeant and then earning a commission as second lieutenant. His diary is one of the better surviving ones for a Federal soldier serving in the trans-Mississippi. He wrote about a variety of topics and since he was not captured at Stirling’s Plantation, he left behind an excellent account of duty in south Texas. On the other hand his diary abruptly ended in August 1864 so there is no account of his service along the Gulf in the last part of the war. For interested readers here is the citation for his published journal:
Tilley, Nannie M., ed. Federals On The Frontier: The Diary of Benjamin F. McIntyre, 1862-1864. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963.
William Henry Harrison Clayton enlisted at age 22 in Keosauqua and became a company clerk. Clayton documented his service in regular letters to his parents and to his brothers. He had the misfortune to be captured at Stirling’s Plantation that resulted in a ten-month incarceration at Camp Ford, Texas, and a sizable gap in his correspondence. Following an exchange, he returned to his regiment and wrote about the final actions near Mobile Bay. Taken together, McIntyre’s and Clayton’s writings dovetail nicely in a chronological sense but provide varying perspectives of service in the 19th Iowa Infantry. The citation for Clayton’s letters is:
Elder, Donald C., III, ed. A Damned Iowa Greyhound: The Civil War Letters of William Henry Harrison Clayton. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.
Finally, the 19th Iowa Infantry was the subject of one of the earliest Civil War regimental histories. Published in 1865, History of the Nineteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry by J. Irvine Dungan is an interesting history that discusses all of the regiment’s campaigns, but it is challenging to even locate a copy. Luckily, the Internet Archive has a digital copy available.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Louisiana State University Press has officially accepted my manuscript, A Constant School of Excitement: Albert C. Ellithorpe and the Civil War on the Frontier, and set a fall 2016 publication date for it. Preparing Ellithorpe’s writings for publication was a genuine pleasure, making it my favorite research project thus far.
Monday, August 10, 2015
To commemorate the anniversary of the battle of Wilson’s Creek here are the words of “M,” a soldier from Company G of the 2nd Kansas Infantry, taken from a letter he wrote to a newspaper eight days after the battle:
“This was my first battle—the first time in my life that I had men shoot at me, I returning their shots as well as I could, and seeing men fall dead at my side. I cannot say that I was frightened, for there is an excitement about the matter that completely banishes fear, and makes one blind to the danger around him. I saw the men fall, heard their groans, saw the enemy and heard their bullets whistling around me, with, I believe, as much unconcern as I would at witnessing a fire into a covey of quails. I had too much to attend to, to think of getting frightened.
For about half an hour, we held the ground undisturbed. Not a gun was fired. In the mean time, I drew some ‘grub’ from my ‘harversack,” and made a tolerably comfortable meal. It was rather a novel ‘hotel’ in which to ‘dine,’ but still I relished it, not withstanding cannon were booming from the opposite hills, with an occasional ‘shell’ whizzing over my head.
But this calm did not last long…[Going to the support of part of Captain James Totten’s battery, the enemy] advanced [toward it] and soon opened upon us one of the most terrific fires I had heard during the day. Before the firing had commenced, we had been ordered to lay down. By this means we were not so much exposed. Part of the boys went down, others standing, all busy pouring a hot volley into the enemy. Co. G was in the rear of the two pieces, and it seemed to me as if the main fire was directed at this point. It was a perfect blaze, and the balls flew like hail over our heads, cutting the limbs off the trees over our heads at a fearful rate. The artillery soon left…But the Kansas Second stood firm, and soon after had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy retreat down the hill” (pages 74-75).
M’s article was from Richard W. Hatcher, III and William Garrett Piston, eds., Kansans At Wilson’s Creek: Soldiers’ Letters from the Campaign For Southwest Missouri (Springfield, MO: Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, 1993).
Sunday, August 9, 2015
The last few weeks have been busy yet I’ve reached the point where I feel recharged and ready to begin a new academic year. Following my mom’s death, I moved across town into her house. It had been a number of years since I had last moved so…oh my…what a process! I had certainly accumulated too much in the other house so it was a good time to weed out and let go of belongings that I no longer wanted or needed. However, most of my books (and certainly all of the ones about the trans-Mississippi) moved with me. Some of the collection is still boxed up and awaiting the arrival of some pine bookcases. Besides moving I traveled with a friend to beautiful Scotland!!! There, we stayed with friends who live near Glasgow, and what a wonderful time we had with them. They graciously took us to many fascinating places including Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Falkirk Wheel, the Kelpies, Linlithgow Palace, Stirling Castle, Bannockburn, Culloden, Loch Ness, Fort George, Killiecrankie, the Robert Burns birthplace, and even more. It was grandly fun in part because I had never been overseas before; now I’m eager to go on another big trip.
Quite honestly, I never saw anything with any connection to the trans-Mississippi Civil War although we did pass close to Paisley, the birthplace of William A. Phillips, the commander of the Federal Indian Brigade. It was so much work for me to move across town. Just think what it was like for a Scotsman to migrate to Illinois and then to Kansas, as Phillips did, in the mid nineteenth century.