Question of the Week: 9/26-10/2/22

George McClellan got (and still gets) criticism for his relative inactivity after the battle of Antietam. If you were McClellan, what would you have done at the end of September/beginning of October 1862?

(Same historical scenario. No what-ifs except you’re the commander!)

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Civil War Trails: Skirmish in the Streets of Smithfield

Albert Burckard of Carrollton and Dee Campbell of Smithfield became the first visitors to the new sign only minutes after it was installed.
Photo courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Museum.

Press Release

Late last month a new Civil War Trails sign was installed along Main Street in front of the Isle of Wight County Museum in downtown Smithfield. It was the result of over two years worth of work as Civil War Trails, Inc. teamed up with the Isle of Wight County Museum staff and the Smithfield and Isle of Wight Tourism office. The new sign is a replacement for a damaged marker and now puts guests into the footsteps of the where the Civil War skirmish took place.

This new sign is one of four Civil War Trails sites in the County and part of the Civil War Trails program which connects visitors to over 1,400 sites across six states. The program enables visitors to stand in the footsteps of history and to imagine the historic events. Each Civil War Trails site is marketed internationally by state tourism offices, regional destination marketing organizations and municipal partners. This means the educational product is part of a much larger economic development mission. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: National Museum of Civil War Medicine

In honor of the recently launched Medical series on the blog, I thought we’d highlight a special museum for this week’s ECW Weekender.

Before my visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick Maryland, the most I knew about Civil War Medicine came from passing remarks in memoirs, books, and the acclaimed series “Mercy Street”. My understanding of the subject was minimal and cursory at best, and tainted by myths about amputations and inept physicians at worst. The museum goes above and beyond to educate the masses and set straight the story of the nurses, doctors, and wounded of both sides. A museum of its depth and thoroughness in one singular subject is rare.

Logo of National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Situated in a historical part of Frederick, the façade is deceiving. It may look narrow from the front, but the length of the building is evident as visitors travel from room to room. The flow of exhibits takes a chronological look at the advancement of medicine before, during, and after the war, beginning with the education of doctors in the first half of the 19th century and ending with the treatment of wounded veterans in the latter half. Rooms are packed with artifacts and panels that add details to the lives of those who experienced and administered medicine during the Civil War. Everyone from nurses, doctors, the soldiers themselves, and their animals (horses, mules, etc.) were impacted by the medical advances made in the field. Notable figures and their contributions are seen everywhere, such as Clara Barton and Johnathon Letterman. No study of the Civil War is complete without the comprehension of this topic, and all may benefit from a visit to the museum, no matter their level of study. Continue reading

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The 100th Indiana’s Flag

160 years ago this month, the 100th Indiana Volunteers joined Federal service. The regiment (known as the Persimmon Regiment after fall 1862) saw action in the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battles for Chattanooga, and then in all campaigns of the Army of the Tennessee’s XV Corps to war’s end. At the Grand Review in May 1865, the regiment had the honor of leading Sherman’s troops down Pennsylvania Avenue.

At the end of the war, the men recorded on the 100th’s national color in detail their service. It is today at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship

This handsomely produced, visually stunning book “examines the public’s memory of the Civil War and how the presence and lack of images of black soldiers influence our modern perceptions of the war in the archive.” Carefully curating a vast collection of words and images—letters, diaries, recruitment broadsides, stereographs, family albums, and cartes de visite—author Deborah Willis, the chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, invites readers “to see and hear the world of the black soldiers and the wives and mothers of the Civil War.” It is at once a history of presence and absence—a history of remembering and forgetting. Continue reading

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Civil War Medicine: Andrew Henderson, John Pope, and a Challenging Medical Decision at Sea

Civil War era warships were cramped with little privacy with sailors still sleeping in hammocks instead of beds. Officers generally had better living conditions, with the tradeoff of separation from the enlisted crew in status, activity, and expectations. Though they may have a cabin to call their own, officers generally felt more isolated. After all, a warship might only have two or three junior line officers, a couple of staff officers in supporting roles, and the vessel’s captain. This created quite the conundrum when it came to medical care. Warships generally had a medical officer assigned as ship’s surgeon, but that might be the loneliest billet of them all.

Captain John Pope, USN was not the general from 2nd Bull Run, but commanded USS Richmond on the Gulf blockade in 1861. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

A naval surgeon was generally well educated, but they were not part of the chain of command regarding combat operations. They would never command a ship, instead focusing their time on keeping the crew healthy, caring for the sick, and treating casualties. As the ship’s sole medical expert, the proverbial buck stopped with them. Often there was no one else to call on regarding questions of treating a patient. Sometimes vessels in close proximity could transfer surgeons temporarily, but generally naval surgeons had a more imposing task than their army counterparts who could draw on supplies and staff at nearby hospitals or get assistance from the surgeon of a nearby regiment for a particularly tricky situation. The case of Captain John Pope and Surgeon Andrew A. Henderson highlights just how naval surgeons could be called on to make tough calls with little support that could significantly affect operations, while simultaneously examining the mental strain of command and defeat.

Yes, I said John Pope! But not Major General John Pope of the battle of Second Bull Run. There was in fact another John Pope in the United States Navy. This John Pope held the naval rank of captain in 1861, equivalent to an army colonel, and commanded USS Richmond, a steam sloop-of-war mounting 22 heavy cannon, mostly all 9-inch Dahlgren shell guns. Continue reading

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Civil War Medicine: Help! How Do I Find…?

This year I’ve been referencing The Medical & Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion rather frequently. However, it can get frustrating to use the volumes without a cheat-sheet guide. Like the Official Records of the battle reports, the Medical & Surgical volumes are set up in a very precise way which does make sense once decoded.

In an effort to help other researchers, here are the cheat-sheets I made for myself which is basically an extended table of contents for the set. You can read and reference the volumes online through the National Library of Medicine: Continue reading

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ECW Podcast: Wreaths Across America

Wreaths Across America is one of America’s most poignant holiday events. This year, Emerging Civil War is helping support efforts at Winchester National Cemetery. Sarah Kay Bierle and her mom, Susan Bierle, talk about the project and a special event sponsored by ECW to support it.

Listen for free here on our website or by using Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Please be sure to subscribe on your preferred platform to receive two new episodes each month directly into your listening feed. Continue reading

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BookChat: James Longstreet and the American Civil War by Harold Knudsen

It’s the 159th anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga—a good showing by Jimmy Longstreet, so a good day to talk a little about a new book by Harold M. Knudsen, James Longstreet and the American Civil War: The Confederate General Who Fought the Next War, published by Savas Beatie. (You can find out more about the book here.) Knudsen is a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Army.

CM: James Longstreet was long considered one of the most controversial figures in the Civil War, but haven’t perceptions about him changed over the past few decades?

HK: Yes, I think they have in recent decades quite a bit. He was the target of a character assassination by Jubal Early, William Pendleton, and some writers in the Southern Historical Society Papers after 1870, when Lee died. These people saw him as a traitor for becoming a Republican and getting involved in politics in the Reconstruction decades, and so invented lies about his war record as retribution. They were in positions to drive narratives, and they did so quite fervently. This propaganda was (in varying degrees) brought into the early 20th century historiography about the war as well. Continue reading

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Civil War Medicine: Sound Medical Advice…Or Not

Antebellum medicine has an established reputation as being backwards and entrenched in archaic medical practices that often caused more harm than good. This is certainly true when considering “heroic medicine” and its use of blood-letting, leeches, and dangerous poisons like arsenic and mercury. However, there were some parts that early nineteenth century people did get right… or at least partially right. And those beneficial practices helped to save the lives of Civil War soldiers as women, some independently trained in domestic styles of nursing, volunteered their time and talents in the hospitals.

In her book, The Family Nurse or Companion of the American Frugal Housewife, published in 1837, Lydia Maria Child compiled a collection of tips and useful guides for housewives and mothers to combat disease and illness within their homes. In some rural communities, access to a professional physician may not have been realistic or affordable. Circuit doctors may have only come around to their community once every few weeks at best, or several months at worst. That wasn’t helpful when mothers had to nurse a child with a severe cough or a husband with a cold. Her book was intended as a “household friend, which the inexperienced may consult on common occasions, or sudden emergencies, when medical advice is either unnecessary, or cannot be obtained.”[1] In her preface, she references the assistance of other doctors and physicians whom she solicited advice or confirmation for the safety of certain procedures or medicines, sourcing them several times throughout the book. Continue reading

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