Thursday, May 30, 2013

It Doesn't Get Any More Trans-Mississippi Than This

In spite of my great love for sea novels, I have not delved much into Civil War naval history. It is a fascinating area, though, and I was reminded of this when I recently read “The Shenandoah” by “An Officer Thereof” in volume five of Histories Of The Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina In The Great War 1861-65 (1901).

Built in England and christened the Sea King in 1863, the vessel was purchased by the Confederacy and renamed the Shenandoah. This cruiser embarked on an amazing odyssey around the world that has been recounted in several books. After the war ended, but with the crew of the Shenandoah unaware of this fact, the vessel cruised along the Aleutian Islands and into the Bering Sea capturing several Yankee whalers. True, Alaska was not yet part of the United States, but it makes for a great trans-Mississippi tale. Here is an account of a part of the cruise from “The Shenandoah”:

“The Shenandoah continued as far north as the mouth of Chijinsk Bay, but being forced away by the ice she stole along the coast of Siberia on her still hunt amid frequent storms and great danger from floating ice. On 14 June [1865] no ships having been sighted, [James I.] Waddell changed his course toward the Aleutian Islands, entered Behring [sic] Sea on the next day and almost immediately fell in with a couple of New Bedford whalers. One of them, the William Thompson, was the largest out of New England, and valued at $60,000. These ships were burned.

The following day five vessels were sighted near an ice floe. The Confederates hoisted the American flag, bore down upon them, and order the nearest, the Milo, of New Bedford, to produce her ship’s papers. Her captain complied, but was enraged to find himself thus entrapped. He declared the war was over. Waddell demanded documentary evidence, which the captain could not produce. His vessel was seized and the Shenandoah started after the companion ships with the usual result. For several days following the Shenandoah had things all her own way and the prizes were frequent and valuable. She struck fleet after fleet of whaling ships, only to consign them and their contents to the flames. On 29 June, alone, five ships, valued collectively at $160,000, were destroyed and a day or two later she reached the climax of her career, burning within eleven hours eleven ships, worth in the aggregate nearly $500,000….

Her depredations were at an end, for early in August she spoke the English bark Barracouta…and from her received New York papers which gave conclusive evidence of the end of the war…and imparted to Commander Waddell the more personally interesting information that the United States government had sent six gun-boats on his track to the Arctic regions to ‘catch the pirates and hang them on sight.’

Upon receipt of the news Commander Waddell put sixty men to work painting a 16-foot belt of white around the vessel, stowed the guns below the deck, trimmed her as a merchantmen and made Liverpool…

On 5 November, 1865, the Shenandoah entered St. George’s channel, having sailed 22,000 miles without seeing land….

She had visited every ocean except the Antarctic, covering a distance of 58,000 statute miles. The last gun in defense of the South was fired in the Arctic ocean from her deck on 22 June, 1865.” (pp. 348-349)

Monday, May 27, 2013

The First Indian Home Guards Regiment: "I am much embarrassed..."

It is entertaining to read assessments of Civil War regiments contemporary to that time. Civil War regiments were a varied lot, and it was rare to have one that served well during their entire service. For example, the First Indian Home Guards, a unit comprised of refugee Creek and Seminole Indians from the Indian Territory, had served well at a skirmish at Locust Grove (3 July 1862) and during the Prairie Grove campaign, but their behavior in camp was another matter. The following is an assessment written on 19 January 1863 by Colonel William A. Phillips, the obviously frustrated commander of the Union Indian Brigade:

“The regiment did some service in June and July [1862]; it became badly demoralized for want of sufficient and competent officers; partially broke up in August; was collected in October, and had white first lieutenants mustered, under General Blunt’s order. Some 300 or 400 of the regiment, who had gone to Leroy [Kansas] in August, and who had refused to leave it, got down with the train just at the time the Army of the Frontier was rebrigaded. The regiment has drilled very little; are indifferently informed as to their duties.

These Creeks are about equal in scale of intelligence to the Delawares of Kansas; they are inferior to the Cherokees. They are now in bad shape, get out their details slowly, sometimes desert a post, or a party when sent on duty; yet I would be lacking in my duty to them or the Government if I failed to say that, with one or two good field officers, military men, and two, or even three, company officers, they could be made very effective. No party of them should be sent without a competent officer. Their own officers are, with few exceptions, useless, but there are one or two men of influence amongst the captains, brave fighters in the field, and of influence not to be overlooked. This Creek regiment gives me much more concern than either of the others….

Nothing but active steps to supply necessary orders can save the First Indian Regiment from utter demoralization. My orders to drill are disregarded. As I compel the regiments to draw on consolidated provision returns, I have difficulty in getting reports from them. I am much embarrassed, as arresting all the officers of a regiment is not to be thought of, and permitting it to run loose has a bad effect on the rest. I earnestly desire instructions and necessary authority to myself or some others. In the mean time I shall do the best I can” (Official Records, vol. 22, pt. 2, 57-58).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"A regiment of officers"

Judging from the accounts that I have read, the Union Army of the Frontier was rife with political intrigue—basically on a par or, shockingly, perhaps even worse than the Union Army of the Potomac. Today, I was studying some documents in the Official Records and found a letter written by Colonel William Weer on the eve of the First Indian Expedition into the Indian Territory. The expedition itself turned into a bit of an embarrassment for Weer because Colonel Frederick Salomon arrested him, but that is a story for another day.

Here is a short excerpt from the letter written by Weer on June 26, 1862, from Humboldt, Kansas:

“Commissions to officers from the Governor are pouring in daily. I am told that the Tenth [Kansas Infantry] is rapidly becoming a regiment of officers. To add to these difficulties there are continual intrigues, from colonels down, for promotions and positions of command. Officers are leaving their posts for Fort Leavenworth and elsewhere to engage in these intrigues for more prominent places. The camps are filled with rumors of the success of this or that man. Factions are forming, and a general state of demoralization being produced. I can see no remedy for these evils but the prompt punishment of all officers who in this manner seem more anxious for better pay than for better improvement in the knowledge of their duties” (Official Records, vol. 13, 441-442).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Scholarly Articles about the Trans-Mississippi

Each year “Southern History in Periodicals: A Selected Bibliography" is published in The Journal of Southern History. After perusing the list, I pulled out citations for the following articles published in 2012 that pertain to the trans-Mississippi:

Bearss, Edwin C. “The Federals Raid Van Buren and Threaten Fort Smith.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 188-202.

Beilein, Joseph M., Jr. “The Guerrilla Shirt: A Labor of Love and the Style of Rebellion in Civil War Missouri.” Civil War History, v. 58 (June 2012): 151-179.

Bledsoe, Andrew Scott. “The Homecircle: Kinship and Community in the Third Arkansas Infantry, Texas Brigade, 1861-1865.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Spring 2012): 22-43.

Campbell, Jacqueline G. “’The Unmeaning Twaddle about Order 28’: Benjamin F. Butler and Confederate Women in Occupied New Orleans, 1862.” The Journal of the Civil War Era, v. 2 (March 2012): 11-30.

Hulbert, Matthew C. “Constructing Guerrilla Memory: John Newman Edwards and Missouri’s Irregular Lost Cause.” The Journal of the Civil War Era, v. 2 (March 2012): 58-81.

Hulbert, Matthew C. “Texas Bound and Down: An Untold Narrative of Missouri’s Guerrilla War on Film.” Journal of the West, v. 50 (Fall 2011): 27-33.

Kamphoefner, Walter D. “Missouri Germans and the Cause of Union and Freedom.” Missouri Historical Review, v. 106: 115-136.

Monnett, Howard N. “A Yankee Cavalryman Views the Battle of Prairie Grove.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 151-163.

Roberts, Bobby L. “General T. C. Hindman and the Trans-Mississippi District.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 110-121.

Shea, William L. “The Aftermath of Prairie Grove: Union Letters from Fayetteville.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 203-216.

Shea, William L. “Prelude to Prairie Grove: Cane Hill, November 28, 1862.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 122-150.

Stith, Matthew M. “’The Deplorable Condition of the Country’: Nature, Society, and War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier.” Civil War History, v. 58 (September 2012): 322-347.

Thompson, Alan and Mark K. Christ. “The Prairie Grove Campaign: An Introduction.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 107-109.

Wilder, Jeremy H. “The Thirty-Seventh Illinois at Prairie Grove.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 71 (Summer 2012): 164-180.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Was a Balloon Used in a Trans-Mississippi Campaign?

Recently, I’ve been rereading A Southern Record: The History Of The Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry (1866) by William H. Tunnard. The 3rd Louisiana Infantry assembled a fine combat record at Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Iuka, Corinth, and the siege of Vicksburg. While reading about the advance of the Confederate army toward Wilson’s Creek in early August 1861, I came across the following puzzling passage:

“The next day [August 4th] was the Sabbath, bright, beautiful, and golden. All remained quiet until nearly noon, when a balloon was discovered hovering over our camp, which sailed eastward in the direction of the enemy. All was bustle and activity, as the troops rapidly assembled in their respective quarters. A report soon prevailed that the enemy had penetrated the left of our position, and the balloon was a preconcerted signal for an advance on our front and flank. It proved a false rumor, and the army reposed in security and quietude” (pp. 46-47). 

After reading this, I checked several other sources but was unable to find any corroborating accounts. So, the appearance of a balloon during a trans-Mississippi campaign makes a great story, but I’m afraid it’s just an “old soldier” tale. Unless, of course, you have some corroboration?