Monday, September 30, 2013

"'With hurrah we went ahead...'": Newtonia, Missouri

Newtonia is a village in southwestern Missouri with a population of 199 according to the 2010 census. Several Civil War actions occurred in and near Newtonia including the First Battle of Newtonia on September 30, 1862. Native American regiments participated on both sides of the engagement, one of the few times that occurred during the war. For the Union the 3rd Indian Home Guard, primarily comprised of Cherokee Indians, served during the battle. The 1st Choctaw Regiment, the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, and the 1st Cherokee Battalion participated on the Confederate side. The 9th Wisconsin Infantry, a German regiment organized in Milwaukee, suffered the heaviest losses. Private Michael Zimmerman wrote that the men advanced on Newtonia “ full of joy and fighting spirit…With hurrah we went ahead not realizing the danger before us.’” After an unsuccessful charge on a position held by the 31st Texas Cavalry, the 9th Wisconsin retreated and then was cut apart when support troops fled. Altogether the 9th Wisconsin lost 28 killed and 167 captured; 51 of the captured were wounded.

The quotes from Michael Zimmerman are from: Michael E. Banasik, Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1996), p. 202.

Another source on the battle is:
Wood, Larry. The Two Civil War Battles of Newtonia. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"'California is by it bound to the rest of the Union.'"

October 10, 1858, was a special morning in San Francisco, California, although the residents initially ignored its uniqueness. No one greeted the first westbound Butterfield Overland Mail coach; perhaps they didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. The run was made from St. Louis to San Francisco in “just twenty-three days, twenty-three hours and a half” according to through passenger Waterman L. Ormsby. The next day, though, the press caught on, word spread, and the news “‘caused an immense excitement’” according to the San Francisco Bulletin. The editor wrote “‘The importance of this enterprise cannot be too highly appreciated. California is by it bound to the rest of the Union. We are not hereafter to depend on the caprices of a foreign government for mail facilities with the East, nor have we to be subjected to the danger of the sea. Immigration will soon pour into the vast and rich country between us and the Atlantic States. The telegraph and railroad will soon, as a matter of course, follow. California will ere long be the leading state of the Union and San Francisco will occupy that proud position in the commercial world which nature has designed.’”

The above passage is a reminder that unifying forces, such as the Butterfield Overland Mail, were occurring while sectional tensions were increasing. Only three days before the arrival of the Overland Mail, the fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate took place.

All quotes are from: Roscoe P. Conkling and Margaret B. Conkling, The Butterfield Overland Mail, 1857-1869 (Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1947), v. 2:316-318.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

More Attention for the Trans-Mississippi

Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize winner, Steven Hahn has authored “Slave Emancipation, Indian Peoples, and the Projects of a New American Nation-State” that appears in the most recent issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era. “Hahn argues for considering emancipation in the South and the destruction of Indian sovereignties in the Trans-Mississippi West as related projects for nation building. They represented, in Hahn’s words, ‘Wars of the Rebellions.’ And they suggest that Reconstruction unfolded as a national project, not only a southern one” (p. 305). When a “big name” writes about a topic, other scholars follow in their wake. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, increased attention is being paid to the trans-Mississippi during the Civil War era. Can’t wait to see what else gets published about the trans-Mississippi in upcoming years.

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Hell with the fires burned out"

In early August 1864, skirmishing occurred around Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate garrisons at Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan surrendered in Mobile Bay, both sides took a short break in the Atlanta campaign, and in Dakota Territory a Union force made one of the most horrific marches of the war. Brigadier General Alfred Sully aptly called the march through the Badlands, “Truly hell with the fires burned out.” Sioux Indians attacked the force for three days as it marched through the arid canyon 
land region. Admittedly, I used to view these Indian wars as totally separate and distinct from the Civil War, but in recent years my perspective has broadened. As Paul L. Beck points out in his recent book, Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863-1864, the strategy and tactics used in the campaigns were like those employed in other theaters of the war, and operations in the eastern theaters impacted these campaigns against the Indians. Recently, I picked up a used copy of Gregory F. Michno’s Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1860 and found it fascinating to note that entries for the war years make up almost 30% of the book. This conflict was not just one between the Blue and the Gray.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

African-Americans and Combat in the Trans-Mississippi

An alert reader sent me information about two more accounts of African-Americans experiencing combat in the early days of the war. Elizabeth Keckley, a mulatto, worked as a seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln and became Mary Todd’s confidante as well. Keckley detailed her life story as a slave and White House employee in Behind the Scenes; Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Fours Years in the White House (1868). What I didn’t realize is that Keckley had a son that was killed at the battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. Historian James S. Price has documented this on his Freedom by the Sword: A Historian’s Journey Through the American Civil War Era blog. George W. D. Kirkland’s service, then, is an early example of a mulatto serving in the Union Army. There is also a possibility that a small number of runaway slaves experienced combat during a skirmish at Boonville, Missouri, on September 13, 1861. James F. Thoma wrote a short article about this episode titled “The Negro Soldier in the Second Battle of Boonville: The Earliest Combat Soldier.”