Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Remarkable Photographs and Sketches of Camp Griffin on the Library of Congress Website

Over the last few years, I have devoted considerable attention to the Union Army encampments in the vicinity of present-day McLean, Virginia. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division established Camp Griffin in October 1861 on property near the villages of Langley and Lewinsville. (The Pennsylvania Reserves, meanwhile, settled down at Camp Pierpont, which stretched along the Georgetown-Leesburg Turnpike and passed through Langley.) Whenever possible, I've tried to publish illustrations related to the camps, including some of George Houghton's fascinating photographs of the Vermont Brigade at Camp Griffin.

Thanks to a fellow blogger at Chooeubhaokhaossian the Great's Temple of History, I recently discovered a treasure trove of photographs and sketches of Camp Griffin on the Library of Congress's Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  (Click here for the set of images.) The LoC's online collection appears to have expanded. I previously located a few Houghton photographs on the site, and in particular a set showing the separate companies of the 6th Vermont. Now several images (including a few photographs that are entirely new to me) are available for study and exploration. Moreover, the site offers some sketches by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, who was an artist for Harper's Weekly assigned to the Army of the Potomac. According to the LoC, Mead also made topographical drawings for Baldy Smith. I hope to return to some of these remarkable images in the future. For now, head over to the LoC website and take a look at life in camp around Washington during the first fall and winter of the war.

Here is just a sampling of the images:

"Union soldiers in front of tents, probably at Camp Griffin, Langley, Virginia," by George Houghton (courtesy of Library of Congress).
"Second Vermont Camp Griffin 1861," by George Houghton (courtesy of Library of Congress).
"Photographers on the Potomac. Camp Griffin, Virginia," by Larkin G, Mead (courtesy of Library of Congress).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 1864 in Washington City

As Thanksgiving Day fast approaches, I wanted to take a look like I do every year at how the holiday was celebrated in and around Washington during the Civil War. For each year of the Sesquicentennial I've been concentrating on Thanksgiving at the corresponding time 150 years ago. It's hard to believe that we have at long last come to the final Thanksgiving of the Civil War. In a year, the war would be over, and the long process of reunion and reconstruction begun. But in 1864, Sherman was on the march in Georgia, Grant was dug in before Petersburg, and Lincoln had just won reelection. The nation gathered around the table on November 24, hopeful that the bloodshed would soon end and peace would return to the land.

Like other places around the country, Washington City greeted Thanksgiving with enthusiasm. The Washington Evening Star provided readers with an overview of the holiday in the nation's capital:
Yesterday, the day designated by President Lincoln as a day of Thanksgiving, was very generally observed. Public offices, banks and places of business were closed, and the people set themselves to a hearty observance of the day, not forgetting to pay due attention to that estimable feature of the occasion, the Thanksgiving Dinner, which sent up its appetizing odor throughout the length and breath of the city. The weather was just the thing for thanksgiving day purposes, with a mild crispness, not cold, but cool enough to be bracing, and to make it pleasant to gather about the glowing fire and the smoking board at nightfall. (Nov. 25, 1864.)
The papers in particular discussed the Thanksgiving celebrations at the military hospitals in Washington, which were decorated for the occasion with patriotic banners and festive greenery. Convalescing soldiers feasted on a full Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the generosity of public and private donors. The menu for 500 patients at Armory Square Hospital was typical:
Roast beef, roast veal, boiled ham, roast turkey, roast goose, chicken pie, cranberry sauce, cranberry tart, apple pie, mixed cakes, jellies, smoked beef, bologna sausage, bread, butter, celery, oyster stew, oysters raw, cheese, crackers, ice cream, baked rock fish, boiled cod fish, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, [cole] slaw, picked cucumbers, pickled beets, apples, almonds, raisins, figs, coffee, tea, cocoa. (Wash. Daily Natl. Rep., Nov. 25, 1864.)
Other hospitals across the city served similar feasts, but "the non-receipt of the poultry" at the Quartermaster's Hospital caused a postponement of the holiday until Saturday! (Wash. Even. Star, Nov. 25, 1864.)

"United We Stand," Harper's Weekly, Dec. 3, 1864, by Thomas Nast (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net). The newsweekly offered some words of thanks: "THE American people have this year such reason as they never had before to give humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God. . . . First of all by a singular unanimity the people have resolved that the authority of their Government and the order of civil society shall be maintained, and have expressed their will by the re-election of the President whose name is identified with the defense of the Union and the perpetuity of the American principle. . . . They thank God that the great State of Maryland, torn by civil war, has deliberately renounced the system from which all our woes have sprung, and has led the march of the Slave States in the path of equal liberty and justice, the way of permanent peace. . . . They thank God that the defeat of rebels and the consternation of foreign foes foretell the triumph from which peace and prosperity shall flow."

Following dinner, the patients enjoyed speeches, musical entertainment, and dancing late into the night. At Campbell Hospital, Gov. Oliver Morton of Indiana paid a visit. According to the Daily National Republican, the governor, "with his characteristic good nature, yielded to the pressing demands of the company, and, curing a pause in the dance, addressed them in a brief speech, full of patriotic wisdom and fervor." (Nov. 25, 1864.) The patients and guests  "were most enthusiastic in their praise of this gallant champion of the good cause, and gained new enthusiasm from this eloquent appeals," so much so that the dancing last until 11. (Nov. 25, 1864.)

"Thanksgiving-Day in the Army. After Dinner: The Wish-Bone," Harper's Weekly, Dec. 3, 1864, by Winslow Homer (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net).
On November 25, the Daily National Republican offered the following editorial to readers recovering from Thanksgiving Day excesses:
Second only to the American eagle is that other great American bird, the turkey. How many of the latter were laid upon the altar of their country yesterday we can state only approximately. Sheridan's army had turkey dinners, the armies of the Potomac and the James feasted on turkeys, and the soldiers in our hospitals had turkey to right of them, turkey to left of them. The gallants tars of the navy received cargoes of turkeys, which were duly stowed away under their hatches.
Sherman's brave boys probably dined upon sweet potatoes and spring pork, commonly called "shoat,"in the southern plantations. Sherman being beyond the reach of the Commissions and State Agencies, is obliged to forge upon a country where turkies (as well as the American eagle) are scarce, and his men are themselves "gobblers" about this time, unless they have been gobbled by the rebs. This last supposition has but little probability, however, for Sherman's army would make too heavy a meal for rebel digestion.
The soldiers in the camps and in the hospitals of the military department of Washington, fared sumptuously. . . and our citizens enjoyed the festival in their own houses with the unusual zest, after having duly attended service in the churches. Turkies were rather high, but "the goose" was higher, and the American Eagle soared above all. (Nov. 25, 1864.)
After a fully satisfying day of rest and celebration, the busy work of the nation's capital would resume in earnest. There was unfinished business to conduct; a war to be won. And as much as the citizens of Washington City had to be thankful for in 1864, they would have even more blessings to count in a year's time.

On a personal note, I'd like to wish all of my readers a Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the good times with family and friends, eat plenty of turkey, and see you in December.

Sources

Washington Daily National Republican,Nov. 25, 1864; Washington Evening Star, Nov. 25, 1864.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Fallout from the Report on the Contraband Camps in Northern Virginia, 1864

Back in September I wrote about the Union Army's investigation of the contraband camps in Northern Virginia during the summer of 1864. The inspectors' report, authored by Majors Elisha Ludington and Charles Compton, condemned the military's experiment in transitioning slaves to freedom and economic independence. The officers called the government farms in Arlington, Langley, Lewinsville, and Falls Church nothing more than "expensive toys" and recommended that they be disbanded once the current growing season was over. (Berlin et al. 341.) The report was sent to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and soon landed on the desk of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs.

The inspectors' conclusions did not sit well with Meigs, who had supported the efforts of Lt. Col. Elias M. Greene, the Chief Quartermaster of the Department of Washington, to establish the government farms on abandoned secessionist properties in Northern Virginia. The report singled out Greene's ideas for particular scorn. Meigs wrote to Stanton on August 15, 1864 to register his objections.
Lt. Col. Elias M. Greene, Chief QM of the Dept. of Washington (courtesy of Civil War Badges).

Meigs disputed the inspectors' accounting, arguing that the farms were actually turning a profit. In any event, the camps provided intangible benefits that far outweighed their cost. The farms ensured "healthful and useful employment for a considerable number of men and women who were not fit for the active and hard work of the army." (344.) The camps had also led to a drop in disease among the contrabands, who previously lived in crowded and unsanitary conditions in Washington City, and prevented the spread of smallpox to the white population of the nation's capital. Meigs further believed that the government had an obligation to care for the wives and children of those who were fighting for the Union. As he noted in his letter to Stanton, "the United States. . . must take care that they do not starve." (345.)

The Quartermaster General rejected the recommendation that the government farms be discontinued. However, he proposed that employment on the farms be limited to women and the infirm and that their pay "be reduced. . . to a mere reward, enabling the laborer to procure tobacco or some such luxury." (345.) Meigs overall defended Greene's contraband policies, and praised him for "the improvement in the condition, treatment and health of these poor creatures, and the cessation of the criticisms and complaints of the press." (345.)

Meigs's letter to Stanton was endorsed by the Inspector General, Col. James Hardie, and sent to Maj. Ludington with a request to take another look at the report's conclusions. Although Ludington lowered his cost estimate for the government farms, he still found that they ran at a loss to the government. He refused to take make any other changes or alterations to the original report.

Despite Meigs's best efforts, Greene lost his job over the inspectors' findings and criticisms. He was sent to the Western Theatre, and his duties largely fell to Capt. Joseph Brown, an assistant quartermaster of who became head of the Department of Washington's Bureau of Freedmen and Government Farms. The government farms, however, continued in operation against the inspectors' recommendations. Unfortunately, Brown would prove far from sympathetic to the plight of the freedmen and women living in the contraband camps.

Source

I am grateful once again to the historians of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project who compiled the primary source documents referenced here in Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993).




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Political Disturbances in the Streets of Washington City, October 1864

As the presidential election of 1864 drew near, political tensions in Washington City reached a breaking point. Partisans of both President Abraham Lincoln and the Democratic nominee, Gen. George B. McClellan, mobilized to show their support. Although residents of Washington City could not legally vote in the election, their interest in national politics ran deep. Others lived and worked in Washington, but could claim the right the cast their ballots elsewhere, most notably the Union soldiers who garrisoned the defenses around Washington. Lincoln and McClellan supporters attended rallies, paraded through the streets, and debated the issues in barrooms and hotel lobbies. Given the intensity of the passions on both sides, it is perhaps not surprising that the nation's capital witnessed political unrest and violence in the weeks before election day.

On October 21, 1864, thousands gathered for a huge torchlight procession for the Lincoln-Johnson ticket. Only a few days before, Gen. Phil Sheridan had won a stunning victory over the Confederates at Cedar Creek. Among the marchers were government employees, soldiers, delegations from military hospitals, and members of city and state Lincoln-Johnson organizations. They carried elaborate patriotic banners, proclaiming fealty to the President and Union generals in the field.

As the procession neared Democratic headquarters at Parker's Hall, someone threw a stone, cutting one of the marchers above the eye.  The police rushed to calm the crowd and maintain order, but more trouble soon arose in front of the hall, when a young onlooker grabbed a torch from the hands of a solider in the procession.  The soldier retook the torch and began to beat his assailant before the police intervened and arrested the civilian. Just then, someone set fire to the Democratic flag hanging above the street. According to the Washington Evening Star:
. . . the lower portion of muslin, containing the names of McClellan and [George] Pendleton, was consumed before the flag could be drawn in, [and] caused considerable excitement at that point, but the active exertions of the police prevented any serious difficulty. There is some dispute as to whether the flag was fired accidentally or purposely, but the weight of the evidence is that one of the horsemen in the procession in resentment of some provocation, real or imagined, applied his torch to one corner of the flag in passing under it.... (Oct. 22, 1864.)
The flames were extinguished, and "the flag was run out amid cheers from the McClellan men, who afterwards held indignation meetings in the hall and on the sidewalk...." (Wash. Evening Star, Oct. 22, 1864.) The procession finished without any other serious incidents, but tensions were clearly running high.
Poster for Democratic nominees George McClellan (for President) and George Pendleton (for Vice President) (courtesy of Wikipedia)
McClellan-Pendleton flag from the 1864 presidential election (courtesy of Legendary Auctions).

According to the October 22 edition of the Washington Daily National Republican, "[t]he act of burning the McClellan flag last night is universally condemned, and no doubt due reparation will be made by the Union clubs." Although the paper implied that McClellanites had likely provoked the procession, "the act of burning the flag at Democratic Headquarters was as unjustifiable as it was rash." (Oct. 22, 1864.)

A few days later, on October 25, the Democrats held a flag raising in the city's Sixth Ward. As a procession of McClellan supporters neared the event, they shouted "d__d flag burners" and "dirty niggers" to a group of people who had gathered in front of a Lincoln & Johnson Club meeting hall. (Wash. Even. Star, Oct. 26, 1864.) A fight erupted, although the police "succeeded in restoring order." After the McClellan-Pendleton flag appeared above the street, "a number of fights  took place at times, and amid the cheers and groans of the opposite parties, several bricks and stones were thrown." (Oct. 26, 1864.) The Evening Star reported:
Towards 10 o'clock the uproar became so great that it was impossible for the speakers to be heard, and they came down from the stand and attempted to form a procession, when a shower of stones came down--but by which party it was commenced it is impossible to determine, there being so many conflicting report--and quite a number were struck, and some badly injured. (Oct. 26, 1864.) 
A "number of pistol shot were fired," and one of the bullets grazed a young drummer boy. (Oct. 26, 1864.) The police helped to prevent a further outbreak of violence between "Navy Yard boys" and the McClellan supporters.

Another Democratic rally and McClellan flag raising took place on November 1. This time, "there was a large detail of police. . . including a number of mounted, on the ground to suppress any disorder. . . . (Wash. Even. Star, Nov. 2, 1864.) The Evening Star observed that "there were some on both sides who undoubtedly were prepared for a fight," but the strong police presence prevented another outbreak of violence. (Nov. 2, 1864.)

Today, the streets of Washington seem calm compared to the disorder and chaos of 150 years ago. The stakes were high, and political passions erupted in displays of aggression and violence. Within a week of the Democratic rally on November 1, Lincoln would emerge victorious at the polls. The McClellan-Pendleton flag would fly no more.

Sources

Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 (1941); Washington Daily National Republican, Oct. 22, 1864; Washington Evening Star, Oct. 22, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, 1864.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Visit to 1862 Battlefields and Return Trip to Cold Harbor

This past weekend I attended wedding festivities in the Richmond area. Having a little "down time" before the ceremony on Saturday, I managed to secure a "free pass" to tour some Civil War battlegrounds not far from our hotel. My father-in-law (a.k.a. "the Colonel") was nice enough to accompany me, and we were soon on our way to visit a few sites belonging to the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

As followers of my Facebook and Twitter feeds have probably seen by now, I first stopped to explore Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines' Mill. I've always been more of an early war enthusiast, so I was excited to finally tour the location of two of the Seven Days' Battles. Much of the Beaver Dam Creek field is unfortunately lost, but the National Park Service has saved a key piece of the terrain along the stream. Gaines' Mill was more extensively preserved, and I walked the loop trail with the Colonel to get a feel for the Union position and Confederate assaults, including John B. Hood's famous attack. We were really the only people out on the battlefields that morning, which provided time for quiet reflection and study.

A view across Beaver Dam Creek. At this location on June 26, 1862, Confederate troops under A.P. Hill and D.H. Hill attacked a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves positioned on the east bank (left). The modern footbridge crosses the creek and takes visitors to the traces of the historic Cold Harbor Road and the site of the Union line near Ellerson's Mill (now gone).

The Watt House served as HQ for the Union V Corps commander, Gen. Fitz John Porter, during the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

Looking down the slope towards Boatswain's Swamp at Gaines' Mill. Late on June 27, Confederate regiments under Hood charged up this hill and helped to break the Federal line as part of a massive frontal assault by Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Looking at the position of the 5th Massachusetts Battery at Gaines' Mill. Confederate soldiers, including Hood's brigade, surged across the field from the right and overwhelmed the Union line. Overall, the Federals lost 23 guns at Gaines' Mill. A desperate charge by the 5th U.S. Cavalry failed to halt the onslaught.

Being so close, I also decided to return to the Cold Harbor battlefield, which I had visited back at the end of May for the 150th anniversary of the battle. Part of my tour this summer focused on finding the ground where my ancestor, Pvt. William Baumgarten of the 102nd Pennsylvania, fought on June 3, 1864. (For details of the 102nd's role, see my previous post.) Readers may remember that my iPhone lost power, and I was unable to snap pictures just as I was placing the 102nd Pennsylvania's position.  I also went to Cold Harbor National Cemetery back in May, but once again, couldn't take any photos. Not so this past weekend. I made sure that my phone was fully charged and set out to capture some meaningful images related to William's participation in the battle.
The 102nd Pennsylvania advanced on the Confederate line over ground to the northwest of Tour Stop 3 (courtesy of National Park Service).
Looking towards the area where the 102nd Pennsylvania likely advanced on June 3, 1864.

The Pennsylvania Monument stands guard over graves at the Cold Harbor National Cemetery. 
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania erected the monument in 1909 to honor those regiments from the Keystone State "which participated in the operations from May 31 to June 12, 1864, incident to and during the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia, June 1-3, 1864."

One side of the Pennsylvania Monument lists the infantry regiments that fought at Cold Harbor, including. . .
. . . the 102nd Pennsylvania.

The morning tour of three battlefields was a pleasant surprise. When I left for Richmond last Friday, I wasn't sure whether I'd have the chance to visit some of the nearby Civil War sites. In the end, not only did I get to see two 1862 battlefields for the first time, but I also had the opportunity to reconnect with my family's Civil War past at Cold Harbor way earlier than I had anticipated. Not bad for a bit of spare time before attending a wedding. Then again, such things are often possible in the Commonwealth!