Sherman’s Prescience on Hooker

I came across a letter the other day from “Uncle Billy” Sherman to his wife, written on this date in 1863. Grant was preparing for his move across the Mississippi for what would become his overland campaign against Vicksburg, but in the east, the Army of the Potomac was also getting ready for its own spring campaign. Among the other items he discussed with his wife, Sherman shared some thoughts about the eastern army’s commander that proved amazingly prescient: Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: 22 Acres to Save at Bristoe Station

Bristoe Station battlefield is bordered by development. In fact, a compromise between developers and preservationists are the only reason the park exists. Chances to preserve this battlefield are few and far between and become more difficult frequently.

The 22 acres the American Battlefield Trust is attempting to save is at the core of both battles fought at Bristoe Station: the first on August 27, 1862 and the second on October 14, 1863. Continue reading

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Echoes of Reconstruction: When Frederick Douglas Stood Up to Anti-Asian Violence and Exclusion

ECW is pleased to welcome back Patrick Young, author of The Reconstruction Era blog

This 1886 advertisement promoted a washing machine as a replacement for Chinese laundries.

Americans’ fear of non-white, non-Christian immigrants began in 1848 with the arrival of the first ship full of Chinese in San Francisco Bay. The Chinese came to wash the clothes of gold miners, transport supplies to mining camps, and provide sweat labor, but some Americans thought they were part of an invading force sent by the “Celestial Empire” to destroy America.

These fears did not die during the Civil War. Andrew Johnson explained that he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in part because it recognized that the children of Chinese immigrants were U.S. citizens if born in this country. Similar concerns were raised over the 14th Amendment’s Birthright Citizenship Clause.

For all the fear the Chinese aroused, they never made up more than a small percentage of the total immigrant population during the Civil War Era. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Williamsport, Maryland (Part 2)

Doubleday Hill

Perched on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal from the Maryland side sits a set of cannons, resting in the old fortifications built in 1861 to protect Williamsport and the important transportation resources in the area. It’s called Doubleday Hill.

When I first pulled into Williamsport, Maryland and started figuring out—boots on the ground style—what I wanted to see, the cannons at the top of the hill certainly caught my eye. Then I saw the name: Doubleday. Was it that Abner Doubleday? Yes, indeed. He really travelled around during the Civil War. Continue reading

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A Poet’s Perspective: Melville on Running the Batteries at Vicksburg

Herman Melville in his poet years

It was the spring of 1863, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was concocting a plan to seize the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. As President Abraham Lincoln had made clear, Vicksburg was key to achieving victory over the Confederates and ending the war.

With help from Admiral David Dixon Porter, Grant launched a plan that in modern terms could be described as a “Hail Mary” in the fourth quarter with one final chance to score. The plan required Porter and his fleet to navigate a miles-long stretch of the Mississippi controlled by the Confederates. Porter made his pass on April 16, 1863.

The scene as described by poet Herman Melville: Continue reading

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On The Eve Of War: Chancellorsville, Virginia

Adapted from That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White

The Wilderness was once one of the must rugged parts of Virginia and would be the backdrop for two large battles during the Civil War—Chancellorsville in 1863 and The Wilderness in 1864. Despite its name, though, the Wilderness was not entirely wild. A number of small farms had been cut out of the rough, second-growth jungle and important roads and farm tracks plunged through the forest. Continue reading

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Colors Draped in Black

There are some events in our lives that no one can escape. Everyone has a story of “where they were when” for such events. Thankfully, these events do not happen often, but when they do, they leave an unmistakable impression on our memory.

Thomas Nast memorialized Lincoln’s death with Columbia weeping over the fallen president’s casket while a Federal soldier (left) and sailor (right) weep from afar. (sonofthesouth.net)

In 1865, I would imagine at least two events fit this category. Where were you when you learned about the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia? And, where were you when you heard about President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and death? The latter event is widely remarked on in contemporary sources who were near and far to Washington, DC, on the night of April 14, 1865. Postwar regimental histories also shed light on how Lincoln’s soldiers viewed this tragic turn of events. Continue reading

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Confederates on the Titanic

A large number of Civil War veterans no doubt read about the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, one of history’s deadliest maritime disasters. Some of those veterans may have noted a few familiar names. At least one Confederate and the relatives of three Confederate generals were onboard.

Continue reading

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Book Review: Storm Over Key West

Storm Over Key WestStorm Over Key West: The Civil War and the Call of Freedom
By Mike Pride
Pineapple Press, 2020, $26.95

Reviewed by Jon-Erik Gilot

A few months before the COVID pandemic hit I had the opportunity to travel to Key West, which I discussed in this ECW post. While I cannot say I was overly familiar with Florida’s Civil War history prior to my trip, after visiting Fort Taylor on the southern tip of the island – an incredibly impressive site even though a full story lower than its Civil War size – I was hooked. I came home and landed Lewis G. Schmidt’s exhaustive six-part study on the Civil War in Florida and dug in. If we are being honest, studying Florida’s role in the Civil War lends itself well to someone like myself who has a penchant for West Virginia’s Civil War history. Both were bemoaned as military backwaters by the officers and enlisted men stationed there, where boredom and disease were more likely to claim a soldier than shot or shell. Continue reading

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On the Eve of War: The Missouri Bootheel

Located in the extreme southeastern corner of Missouri is the “Bootheel,” a region named for its unique shape as it protrudes into Arkansas from the famous 36,30’ latitude line. The counties of Dunklin, Pemiscot, New Madrid and portions of Mississippi, Stoddard, and Butler make it up. On its eastern side is the mighty Mississippi and on the western side the St. Francis (or, Francois) River, making it notoriously prone to flooding and nourishes its fertile and distinctive soils.[1] These conditions, along with its very flat topography, make the Bootheel a swampland. Additionally, the region was plagued by earthquakes from the infamous New Madrid fault line. Its geographical location and unique topography placed the Bootheel in a prime, strategic position both armies would utilize in their operations in the west.

By early 1861, the Bootheel Region consisted of approximately 30,000 people, both free and enslaved. Mississippi and New Madrid counties had the highest proportion of enslaved in the region, both exceeding 25% of their overall populations. Cotton, wheat, and corn were grown in the alluvial soil. Continue reading

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