Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Subject Waiting For A Historian

While looking for some additional background information about Albert C. Ellithorpe, an officer in the First Indian Home Guards, I found a short piece about him in John Carbutt’s Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago (1876). The sketch states that Ellithorpe “remained in the service until the end of the War, passing through many hard-fought battles and ‘bushwhacking’ fights, and sharing in all the rough-and-tumble experience of those terrible years on the frontier—a kind of experience which was so entirely different from that of the Armies in other parts of the country—so much more wild, exciting and critical that none but those actually under [James G.] Blunt’s command can appreciate its character. If the detailed history of that Army of the Frontier could be fully and faithfully written, it would be one of the most thrilling narratives of peril, bravery, self-sacrificing endurance under hardship, bloody encounters and bold and dashing deeds, that mark the annals of modern warfare” (p. 257). Excusing some of the hyperbole near the end, I think the author is correct that such a history would be “different,” “wild,” and “exciting.” It would certainly be a lot more interesting to read than yet another book about_________________ [you fill in the blank].

Friday, April 19, 2013

Encounter Near Fort Chadbourne, Texas

Recently, I finished reading volume one of The Butterfield Overland Mail, 1857-1869, a three-volume work by Roscoe P. Conkling and Margaret B. Conkling. The trail passed by Fort Chadbourne, located about halfway between present day Abilene and San Angelo, Texas. The following passage documents an encounter on the plains between passengers and “secessionists.”

“The last east-bound through Butterfield Mail passed through Fort Chadbourne on March 12, 1861, when the post was in Confederate hands. Anson Mills, who was one of the eight passengers, gives an account of their experience. ‘The secessionists,’ he writes, ‘had organized several companies of state troops commanded by the McCullough [McCulloch] brothers and others… We met part of this force under the younger McCullough, near Fort Chadbourne, and we were all excitement to know what they would do, as it was rumored they would seize the mail company horses for cavalry. Marching in columns of two, they separated, one column to the right and the other to the left of the stage coach. We told the driver to drive fast and to say that we were carrying United States mail. The soldiers laughed at this, and four of them taking hold of the right-hand wheels and four of the left, the driver could not, with the greatest whipping, induce the horses to proceed. They laughed again and called out: ‘Is Horace Greely aboard?’ Horace Greely [sic] had been lecturing in California, and had announced his return by the Butterfield route. The soldiers were familiar with his picture, and after examining us, allowed up to proceed’” (volume 1, p. 343).

I’ve never visited the fort, but I was impressed to learn that the Fort Chadbourne Foundation has been active in restoring this historic site—looks like a neat place to visit!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trans-Mississippi Union Flags

Recently, I resurveyed the topic of Confederate trans-Mississippi battle flags, and now it’s time for a look at Union flags. As mentioned in my earlier posting, there are a handful of books devoted to Confederate trans-Mississippi battle flags, but I’m not aware of a single book that concentrates on Union flags of the trans-Mississippi. If there is such an item, then please let me know. There are some odd patterns relating to historical writings about the trans-Mississippi; for example, it seems to me that the Union perspective is slighted in regards to several topics. Besides the lack of works about Union flags, there are several campaigns that are traditionally studied from the Confederate point of view. These include the New Mexico campaign, the Red River campaign, and Price’s Missouri Raid. Hopefully, this imbalance will eventually be redressed.

Now, back to the main topic of the day! There are four websites that feature trans-Mississippi Union battle flags. The Kansas Historical Society features the Keep the Flag to the Front online exhibit, a multi-part series that has photographs of several significant Kansas battle flags. Missouri’s flags are highlighted by the Missouri State Museum—this website, of course, has both Union and Confederate banners. The State Historical Society of Iowa is to be commended for their well-organized Honor the Colors: Iowa’s Civil War Battle Flags website. Iowa troops played a prominent role in the trans-Mississippi and western theaters, and many of their flags survived the conflict. The most recent addition is The Battle Flags of Minnesota, a website of the Minnesota Historical Society. Almost all of Minnesota’s soldiers served either in the trans-Mississippi or the western theater, and the website has an extensive collection of photographs of their surviving banners. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

You Know That You're a True Trans-Mississippi Enthusiast When...

Food for thought: You know that you're a true trans-Mississippi enthusiast when... the first historical event that comes to mind when thinking of April 9th is the battle of Pleasant Hill (Louisiana) rather than the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Party Time in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Of late, I have been reading volume one of The Butterfield Overland Mail, 1857-1869, part of a three-volume work by Roscoe P. Conkling and Margaret B. Conkling. Reading about old trails and other transportation routes has always been fascinating to me, but the books also give some insight into trans-Mississippi culture on the eve of the Civil War. The following passage tells about the reaction of Fort Smith residents to a historic moment in time:

“The first west-bound Overland Mail from Saint Louis arrived at Fort Smith at five minutes after two o’clock on the morning of Sunday, September 19, 1858. As already stated, the passenger list included John Butterfield Sr.; Hugh Crocker, Waterman L. Ormsby, and Judge J. F. Wheeler and family of Fort Smith. Mr. Butterfield was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Memphis mail had arrived fifteen minutes in advance of the mail from Saint Louis. Though both mails arrived at such an early hour on Sunday morning, the news spread rapidly and soon house windows were illuminated, horns were blown and general excitement prevailed. Many of the inhabitants crowded around the mail coach to get a glimpse of the first west-bound mail bags….” The Conkling’s continue by quoting from the Fort Smith Times of September 22, 1858: “’While the mail was being made ready a general salute in honor of the event was fired from the canon [sic] of the city by a party stationed for the purpose, after which the mail for California was started, amidst the cheering and rejoicing of a large number of our citizens, who soon afterward adjourned to champagne at Everle’s where all spent a pleasant time till broad daylight, answering the first salute by a volley of ‘popping corks’ from sparkling Catawba. Each one felt well satisfied that he had done his part’” (pp. 219-220).

Less than three years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Smith residents were glowing with civic, and perhaps even national pride. Reading passages like the one above emphasizes even more to me the great tragedy of our Civil War.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cool Newspaper Websites

While doing background research for a project, I discovered some cool newspaper websites. Newspapers are among my favorite sources, and these sites not only provide access to many digitized newspapers but also allow for easy searching. Although not exclusively related to the Civil War era, there are plenty of newspapers from that time period included on these websites. The granddaddy is the Chronicling America project, a joint venture of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Chronicling America features a vast array of digitized newspapers. There are a number of State ventures too including the California DigitalNewspaper Collection that has digitized 61,351 issues; that equals 544,474 pages. The Colorado Historic NewspapersCollection is a favorite of mine with 600,000 + digitized pages available for view. Stories about mining ventures, accidents, murders, the war in the East, and many other topics fill the pages of Civil War era Colorado newspapers, and of course the wonderful advertisements make for interesting reading. Historical research has entered a kind of Golden Age. If someone had told me twenty years ago that someday I could view images of Civil War era newspapers on my computer screen, I would have thought they were crazy!