Sunday, October 31, 2010

No Halloween?

I have just finished going through a number of published accounts written by soldiers in the trans-Mississippi and found no mention of either Halloween or All Souls' Day. All Souls' Day at the time of the Civil War was mostly recognized by Roman Catholics and Anglicans, religious groups that did not have large numbers of adherents in the trans-Mississippi. It appears that soldiers in the trans-Mississippi did not sit around the campfire on Halloween and tell each other ghost stories; or if they did, it doesn't appear to be reflected in the written record. If you know of any written accounts by trans-Mississippi soldiers about Halloween or All Souls' Day, then please let me know.

In the meantime, Dale Cox has posted links to some Arkansas ghost stories on his excellent blog, Arkansas in the Civil War.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"times are hard here and a fair prospect of being worse[.]"

Vicki Betts, a librarian at the University of Texas at Tyler, has worked extensively with the Confederate Citizens records that are available through Last week, she sent me her transcription of the letter below written by Henry Bass of Arkansas to his brother and gave me permission to post it on my blog. The letter documents how guerrilla activities destabilized southern society and hurt loyalty for the Confederate cause. Interestingly, Dr. Daniel E. Sutherland makes the same basic point in his important book, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role Of Guerrillas In The American Civil War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Lake Enterprise Ark. March the 29th 1863

Dear Brother

I received your kind letter in February and was very glad to hear from you all again[.] I would have writen to you before now but the mal is stoped crossing the river[.] I have a chance of sending this across by hand my health has improved a great deal since I wrote to you though I am not well yet[.] I have no strength and the least exposure make me sick[.] times are hard here and a fair prospect of being worse[.] the Federals are on the Mason Hills within fiften miles of us and will be here as soon as the water gets out of Beof river bottom which will be about June[.] there has been a great many negroes Brought in here from the river and the fedrel troops say they are coming after them as soon as the waters fall and there is nothing to hinder them from coming[.] we have no troops in the country and I hope will not have for if we had we would [have] two evils instead of one and my experience is that the southron troops injures a country as bad as the federals[.] the only differece is the Southerons take all that people has to live on and then Burns the cotton when they here of yankees coming and is taken with a leaving but they leave the negroes and the yankees comalong and find nothing els and they locate on Mr niger and so it goe[.] I have been a close observer of passing events since this war Broke out and have become disgusted withe the whhole concen under the title of Confederate States from the venerable head down but it will soon be over with and then I am afraid our country will suffer from jahawkers than we have from honerable war for we have plenty of men that have no honer and they only want an opportunity to rob and plunder and will be strend [?] by the absence of law[.] I have heard plenty of men say in the army if the south faild that they would jahawk as long as they lived and men of that class dont care who they rob

I think if I remain at home I will be over to se you in the summer when I can come through the swamp if I do not I will come as soon as the war is over[.] we have had a very wet cold Spring there is nothing planted here yet[.] I have all my corn land ready to plant and will plant this week[.] we had a severe storm last night and is very cold to day

So far we have plenty to live on corn is worth a dollar Bacon 30 cts Sugar 35 cts flour $80 per bbl coffee none Salt is worth $2.50 one hundred miles from here at the Salt works it has sold there as high as ten doller per bushel write to me and it may get here some time

Yor Brother Henry Bass

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Great Cast Of Characters

Recently, I read Albert Castel’s book, Civil War Kansas: Reaping The Whirlwind and found it to be a well-rounded account of that troubled place. My copy of the book is a reprint edition published by the University Press of Kansas in 1997, and it is notable for its new preface penned by the author. Castel explains that he did most of the research for his dissertation (the basis for the book) in the fall of 1954. He lived at the YMCA in Topeka while doing most of his research, and he discusses his long days reading documents and taking notes. Researchers of that era certainly had many challenges due to the absence of photocopiers and personal computers.

If you have never read Civil War Kansas then I heartily recommend that you pick up a copy sometime. It is of reasonable length (232 pages of text), is well written, and presents a colorful cast of characters and events. In those 232 pages of text, I do not believe that Castel once described a person of integrity. James G. Blunt, D. R. Anthony, Thomas Carney, Marshall Cleveland, Charles R. Jennison, James H. Lane, Samuel C. Pomeroy, Sterling Price, William C. Quantrill, Charles Robinson, John M. Schofield—all were men of sometimes startling character flaws. Castel does not shy away from discussing corruption, jayhawking, and unseemly political fights. Military events are featured as well with chapters devoted to Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence and Price’s Missouri Raid.

Civil War Kansas does a good job of reminding readers that the Civil War era was an incredibly tumultuous period.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Danger in the New Mexico Territory

Diseases took their toll during many marches and in many encampments during the war. Although Arkansas, as seen in previous postings, was the site for many deadly outbreaks certainly there were other dangerous places too. One of the most interesting campaigns of the war was the invasion of the New Mexico Territory by Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s army comprised of Texas units. Although the battles of Val Verde, Glorieta Pass, and Peralta garner much attention (and rightly so), the men in the ranks suffered more from microbes than from bullets. The number of Confederates, though, who succumbed to disease during the campaign is unknown although approximations can be made. Dr. Donald S. Frazier in his Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (1995) estimated that “150 Rebels had died in combat or from wounds. Others died daily from pneumonia or other diseases…. [Altogether] Sibley’s Army of New Mexico had lost more than 600 men while the Unionists had lost less than half that number, mostly battlefield casualties” (Frazier, p. 240). Martin Hardwick Hall in his older book, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign (1960) stated “At least eighty had been killed outright on the several battlefields, while some of the over two hundred wounded later died of their wounds. Diseases such as smallpox and, particularly, pneumonia carried many to the grave. The three hospitals left behind in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Socorro were filled with sick and wounded, and all along the line of retreat the Confederates had abandoned those too ill to continue….It is probably not an exaggeration to estimate that, either because of battle or disease, around 500 Confederates had lost their lives during the course of the campaign” (Hall, p. 202).

Numbers can be difficult to grasp, so here is an account written near the end of the campaign by Sergeant Alfred B. Peticolas of the Fourth Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers that puts a more human face on the problem of disease:

“Monday, 12 May 1862 [Franklin, Texas]

Still lying in camp. Talk of a baker to bake bread for the Company. The Paymaster has been up a week and is busy paying off the troops. Coffee is making out a muster roll; a tedious job. Clark is quite sick. John Kuykendall and W. B. James are down with the measles. Major Hampton is dangerously sick and has been delirious. Lieut. Roeder has been unwell for several days and is now taking the measles. Clark and W. B. James have gone to the hospital. John Kuykendall refuses to go, though he has a contagious disease.” Five days later Peticolas reported “Clark died on Thursday and we buried him yesterday. Purcell and Kleberg are sick; Purcell has yellow jaunders [sic]. Clark died with billious fever and the yellow jaunders combined. All the men are more or less unwell, and it is distressing to notice how general is the debility in camp” (Don E. Alberts, ed., Rebels on the Rio Grande: The Civil War Journal of A. B. Peticolas, Albuquerque: Merit Press, 1993, p. 129, 131-132).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Shock: A Civil War Battle That I Had Never Heard Of

I suppose that title manages to reflect not only a certain arrogance but also ignorance as well. While reading through my Saturday copy of The Tulsa World, I happened across an article about an investigation led by Dr. Douglas Scott, a well known forensic archaeologist. He and his team are attempting to find the site of the Battle of Marshall (Missouri); the headline notes that this is a “famous Civil War battle site.” Huh? I wracked my brain and came to the conclusion that I had never heard of the Battle of Marshall. This was a humbling moment for someone who has studied the Civil War in detail for 37 years. The article notes that this battle, fought on 13 October 1863, marked the conclusion of a raid by Colonel Joseph O. Shelby into central Missouri. The battle featured much action but hardly any bloodshed and yet the encounter was enough to cause the Confederates to retreat back to Arkansas. James M. Denny, the leading expert on the event, is quoted in the article, and the website of the Mid-Missouri Civil War Round Table features a lengthy article by him on the battle.

Work responsibilities have led to a decline in the number of my postings of late—hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up the pace again later this month.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hurrah for the Kansas Historical Society!

According to the Summer 2010 Reflections, a publication of the Kansas Historical Society, thousands of records have already been digitized by that organization, and there are plans to digitize all of their Civil War collections. By going to the website for the Kansas Memory project you can see that many documents are now available. Documents can be accessed in a number of ways such as by subject, by collection name, by date, etc. In a casual perusal I noticed the following goodies have already been digitized: a postwar account written by Asbury Thornhill to the National Tribune that describes his capture in the Indian Territory and his captivity at Camp Ford in Texas; letters by Cyrus Leland of the 10th Kansas Cavalry; a letter written by H. M. Simpson describing Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence, Kansas; the correspondence of Henry A. Strong of the 12th Kansas Infantry; Samuel J. Reader’s diary and autobiography describing the Bleeding Kansas years and his service as a militiaman during Price’s raid into Missouri; and the letters of Samuel Worthington who served in the 11th Kansas Cavalry. There are many additional documents and photographs available online on the website. Perhaps someday researchers will no longer need to use either microfiche or microfilm!