Monumental Questions: 1860s Civil War Monument Vandalization at Manassas

By Ryan Bilger ’19

On October 4, 2017, I awoke to the news that the Stonewall Jackson equestrian monument at Manassas National Battlefield Park had been vandalized. Having worked there as a Pohanka intern during the summer of 2016, I was saddened to hear this. Now, I have no great love for the Jackson monument. It makes the Southern general look like Superman atop a horse that appears to have had a good amount of steroids mixed with its oats and hay. Yet, I believed then, as I do now, that covering the monument in colored paint was an extremely inappropriate act of vandalism.

The incident raised questions in my mind. In this era of tense controversy over Confederate monuments, vandalization seems to have become a common occurrence. Is it a particularly new one, though? How much of a history is there of defacing Civil War monuments? I still remember the outrage that I felt, even at nine years old, when another band of anonymous cowards vandalized three of Gettysburg’s monuments in 2006, inflicting damage that took years to fully repair. How much further back do these stories go? As I pondered these questions, two examples from the battlefield at Manassas came to mind. One took place during the Civil War itself, while the other happened in the years following the war. Both constituted malicious acts that influenced the memory of those who fought and died in the two battles that took place on those hallowed fields. This phenomenon, then, does indeed have a history, one that stretches all the way back to some of the earliest days possible.

On July 21, 1861, as Union forces streamed up the side of Henry Hill in the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), Confederate defenders desperately attempted to push back the onslaught and earn an important victory. One of these units responsible for defeating the oncoming Yankees was a brigade of Georgia regiments under Colonel Francis Bartow. The Colonel stood as a father figure for his men, who referred to themselves as “Bartow’s Beardless Boys.” Sadly, their time with their beloved commander proved short, as he fell mortally wounded in the chest leading them in a counterattack across the hill. The soldiers of Bartow’s brigade decided almost immediately after the battle that they wished to honor their slain commander on the field on which he fell, and officers in the 8th Georgia set about ordering a monument to fulfill that purpose. According to Melvin Dwinell, a second lieutenant in the regiment and editor of the Rome Tri-Weekly Courier, the original Bartow memorial was a rounded column of “plain white marble, six feet long, four feet above ground, and about eight inches in diameter at the top.” The monument was dedicated on September 4, 1861, just over six weeks after Bartow’s death, at a ceremony attended by thousands of Georgia soldiers. These Confederates had erected one of the very first Civil War battlefield monuments, but unfortunately for them, it was not destined to last long as a reminder of the lost Bartow.

Bartow Monument
Artist’s rendering of soldiers standing by the Francis Bartow monument. Library of Congress, via Civilwartalk.com.

In the months after the construction of Francis Bartow’s monument, the marble shaft fell victim to a multitude of vandals. Observers noted that some visitors to Henry Hill, tourists interested in seeing the site of the great battle, had chipped away pieces of the memorial to keep as souvenirs. Others had damaged Bartow’s column by inscribing their names on it in pencil, perhaps to make memories or leave their mark on the battlefield; one correspondent wrote in December 1861 that it had been blanketed in writing to the point of “not so much space being left as one might cover with his finger nail.” The monument remained in this decrepit state until March of 1862, when Union troops took possession of the fields of Manassas, including Henry Hill. The site of a monument to a dead Rebel general surely galled many of these Federal soldiers, and one regiment took matters into their own hands. According to a New York soldier, members of the Fourteenth Brooklyn became “so exasperated at the treatment of their fallen companions as to break the marble monument erected over the remains of a secesh General who fell on that field.” They destroyed Bartow’s memorial in order to reclaim the memory of that space, and to deny it to Confederates like the fallen general. Georgia soldiers attempted to find the monument they had so lovingly dedicated after Confederates reclaimed Henry Hill in the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862, but they discovered only shattered fragments. The Francis Bartow memorial had thus fallen victim to two types of vandals: memory-making tourists and angry Federal troops. Even as the Civil War was still being fought, the memory of those who fell during its course became a flashpoint for controversy.

The impulse to memorialize the fallen of the two battles at Manassas evidently remained alive in the minds of many Northerners. Shortly after the Grand Review in May 1865, the U.S. Army approved the construction of two memorials on the Manassas battlefields. One was erected on Henry Hill near the remains of the Henry House, while the other was constructed at the Deep Cut, the sight of a fierce Union attack during the Second Battle of Manassas on August 30, 1862. The men of Colonel William Gamble’s cavalry brigade built the monuments, using red sandstone from the battlefield’s famous unfinished railroad, in about three weeks, and dedication ceremonies took place on June 11, 1865.

Monument_on_Battlefield_of_Groveton
Photograph by Alexander Gardner of the Groveton Monument, taken shortly after its dedication in 1865. Wikimedia Commons.

While the memorial on Henry Hill remained largely intact, the Deep Cut’s monument, often referred to as the Groveton Monument, suffered intense vandalism. The soldiers who built the monument had decorated it with shells and cannon balls found on the battlefield, as seen in Alexander Gardner’s photograph of it in June 1865. However, these artifacts presented attractive targets for relic hunters, and they soon set about picking the Groveton Monument clean to obtain them for themselves. These vandals pried the precious shells and balls out of the mortar with which they had been attached to the base, and some even took away pieces of the wooden fence surrounding it. By 1886, there was nothing left but an empty stone pylon, slowly becoming covered by the four trees that had been planted around it. The desire for personal gain and profit led to the vandalization of another Civil War monument, thereby disrespecting the legacies and the memory of the soldiers who had fought and died at Second Manassas.

These stories from the Manassas battlefield remind us that Civil War monument vandalization is not a new phenomenon. Instead, it unfortunately has a long history, stretching back as far as the 1860s themselves. Each of these types of vandals acted on their own individual attitudes towards the war and its legacy; the relic-hunters saw it as a get rich quick opportunity, the soldiers of the Fourteenth Brooklyn felt that there was no place for Confederate memorialization, and the tourists used Bartow’s monument as a way to remember their trip. In effect, all of these vandals, based on their personal viewpoints, worked to alter and reshape popular memory of the war by altering monuments from their original, intended state or even destroying them entirely. The motivations may have shifted over the last century and a half, but the impact remains the same on the war’s memory: a destructive act that shows disregard for those who gave their lives in the conflict. The sad truth appears to be that as long as there have been Civil War monuments, there have also been those who wish to destroy them.


Sources:

Adelman, Garry. “The Deep Cut’s Missing Piece.” Civil War Trust. Accessed April 2018.

Panhorst, Michael W. “‘The first of our hundred battle monuments’: Civil War battlefield monuments built by active-duty soldiers during the Civil War.” Southern Cultures no. 4 (2014): 22. Literature Resource Center, EBSCOhost.

Pope, John. “The Second Battle of Bull Run.” Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine vol. 36 (1886): 441. Google Books.

Stonewall Jackson Monument Vandalized at Manassas National Battlefield Park.” INSIDENOVA.COM. October 04, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Zenzen, Joan M. Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.

The Sins of the Father: “Light Horse” Harry Lee and Robert E. Lee

By Savannah Labbe ’19

In early 1862, Robert E. Lee was not yet in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Instead, he was sent by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to inspect and improve the South’s coastal defenses. This job brought him to Cumberland Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, and while there, he visited the ancestral home of Nathanael Greene, where his father was buried in the family plot. Greene was a famous and talented Revolutionary War general who led the Continental Army to success in taking back the Southern colonies. Lee’s father, “Light Horse” Harry Lee helped Greene take back the colonies, which is how they became friends. In a letter to his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, he discusses the visit and remarks how the grave is “marked by a plain marble slab.” At first glance, Lee seems to be a dutiful son visiting his father’s grave, but there is much more to the story. The story begins with Lee’s father, “Light Horse” Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War hero who seems to be just the type of person that Lee would look up to and aspire to be.

Harry Lee quickly rose up through the ranks in the Continental Army. In 1779, he led a handful of men on a night raid on Paulus Hook, New Jersey. The men marched thirty miles in wet terrain that damaged their gunpowder. Armed only with bayonets when they arrived, they took the British completely by surprise and captured 158 prisoners. Lee was promoted after this, and Congress minted a gold medal in his honor, one of only seven such awards. He was then sent to the Southern colonies to help Nathanael Greene take them back from the British. The Southern colonies were most full of loyalist sentiment, so Greene and Lee were sent down to ensure that the British were not able to take advantage of this loyalty and cut off the South from the rest of the colonies. The campaign was surprisingly successful under the brilliant leadership of Greene, who only commanded roughly 1,000 regulars but was able to use militia and other partisan fighters to his advantage. During this campaign, Lee and his cavalry raided British outposts, cut supply lines, and gathered information on the enemy that helped lead to the ultimate success of the Americans in the Southern theatre. After the war, Lee was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1785, and in 1787, he was elected to take part in Virginia’s constitutional convention, in which he strongly fought for ratification of the Constitution. He later become governor of Virginia and was also elected to Congress.

800px-Lighthorse_restored
“Light Horse” Harry Lee. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Judging from his military record and his political ambitions, Harry Lee might seem the epitome of the American patriot. However, Lee had a dark side to him, one that became more prominent as the years wore on. One can see glimpses of Lee’s less favorable attributes during the Revolutionary War. Even though his actions at Paulus Hook were a success, he was court martialed due to insubordination and being too hasty in his actions. However, this charge did not stick. During the war, he was known for his brutal tactics. In 1778, he assisted General Anthony Wayne in capturing a fort at Stony Point, New York where he caught three deserters, one of which he ordered to be hanged and decapitated. He then sent the deserter’s decapitated head to Washington. He also interrogated a loyalist prisoner in North Carolina by pressing a red-hot shovel to his feet to get information out of him.

Lee proved to be somewhat ruthless and also vain and arrogant. He resigned his commission in 1782 because he felt he was underappreciated. He also was summoned by Washington to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, which was an uprising of farmers in Pennsylvania who were protesting a tax on whiskey, as they often used it as a type of currency and it was important to their economy. Even though the Rebellion was bloodless, and Lee did not do much besides provide a show of force, he was promoted to general and insisted that people call him general after that.

After the war, Harry Lee’s life seemed to only go downhill. He was a big dreamer and an optimist, which caused him to get involved in a lot of land speculation schemes and get himself in a lot of debt. One of these schemes was to build a canal in Great Falls, Virginia that would link the United States to Western lands on the other side of the Alleghenies. He bought 500 acres around Great Falls that he hoped to make into a city named Matildaville (named after his first wife and second cousin, Matilda Lee, who died in 1790). Neither the city nor the canal came to fruition. He tried to get out of debt by borrowing more money and buying more land, but he only ended up digging himself deeper. He started selling property he did not even own, and he put up chains on the door of his house to keep creditors out. He became very mobile in the early years of the 1800s, hardly staying at home in order to keep from paying his debts. Finally, in 1808, he gave up running and turned himself in and was put in jail for two years, released only after he agreed to pay his larger debts through the sale of land. He had written a memoir while in jail and hoped to use this to get rich again but did not make any money off of it. He then continued to avoid his debtors, going to the Caribbean and returning to the United States in 1818, where he died while staying with Nathanael Greene.

Robert E. Lee was left with a confusing legacy of his father. In fact, he hardly knew his father, as he was only two years old when Harry was imprisoned; after that, Harry spent most of his time trying to escape creditors and was not home often. In what little time Lee had known his father, Harry was no longer a Revolutionary War hero but rather a swindler, even earning the new nickname Swindling Harry Lee. So, what influence did Harry Lee have on Robert E. Lee? It seems that most of what Lee knew influenced him not to be like his father. Lee only visited Harry’s grave for the first time in 1862, almost fifty years after the latter’s death. Lee could have easily visited before then but never did, indicating a dislike for his father and the legacy he left. He did mention the visit to his grave to his wife, but he had to tell her in the letter how his father came to be buried there, indicating that he did not really talk about his father to anyone, including his wife. In a letter he wrote a day later to his son he did not even mention his father’s grave, instead remarking on the beautiful gardens on the property.

As a result of his father’s influence, Lee never drank, and he was exceedingly frugal with his money. He was very hard on himself and his children to make sure that none of them ended up like Harry. For example, in 1851 he wrote a letter to his son at West Point, admonishing him for being second in his class when he should be first. Lee was also very concerned about his honor and maintaining his status as an upstanding Virginia gentleman, most likely because his father had tarnished his honor and had not behaved like a gentleman. Lee was determined to prove that he was different. The experience Lee had with his father helped shape the man he would become, providing a model for everything that Lee should not be. If anything, the person he became was much more like his mother. His mother made sure that he did not end up like his father and wanted Lee to grow up to be another George Washington; he even married a woman who was a descendent of Washington.

Parents always influence their children, and Robert E. Lee is no exception to this. The pressure to reclaim and reimagine his family image was very great and in many ways he did a very good job of that. Not only does Harry Lee influence how we view Robert E. Lee, Robert E. Lee also influences how we view Harry Lee. It is easy for us to overlook Harry Lee’s flaws and see him as only a great Revolutionary War hero since his son was also a great military figure and it is easy to assume it is just in their blood. Robert E. Lee would probably be happy that we see his father in such a way, as he tried so hard throughout his life to redeem his family name and salvage the reputation of his father. He did not want people to know who his father really was and hardly talked about him. Instead, he set out to help save the reputation of the Lee family by being nothing like his father and always doing his duty. He felt a duty to uphold his family name and he did so by trying to erase the sins of his father. Lee in fact overshadows his father in the history books. It is Robert E. Lee that everyone talks about, not his father. He is the Lee that everyone remembers and so in many ways it seems that Lee succeeded in reclaiming the family name.


Sources

Fellman, Michael. “Struggling with Robert E. Lee.” Southern Cultures no. 3 (2002): 6. Accessed March 23, 2018.

Lee, Robert to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. January 18, 1862. The Lee Family Digital Archive. Accessed March 23, 2018. https://leefamilyarchive.org/family-papers/letters/letters-1862.

Lee, Robert to George Washington Custis Lee. January 19, 1862. The Lee Family Digital Archive. Accessed March 23, 2018. https://leefamilyarchive.org/family-papers/letters/letters-1862.

Poole, Robert M. “Light Horse: Harry Lee Overreaching Hero of the Revolution.” American History 47, no. 2 (June 2012): 34-39. Accessed March 23, 2018.

Thomson, J. Anderson Jr., and Carlos Michael Santos. “The Mystery in the Coffin: Another View of Lee’s Visit to His Father’s Grave.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 103, no. 1 (1995): 75-94.

Looking Ahead to the 2018 Pohanka Internship Program

By Ryan Bilger ’19

This summer, 21 Gettysburg College students will head to the front lines of public history through the Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program. From Andersonville National Historic Site to Minute Man National Historical Park, these interns will carry forward the legacy of the late Brian C. Pohanka, while also developing their own skills in the field of public history. Brian Pohanka was an avid student of the Civil War who shared his love of the past through presenting and reenacting, as some of the interns who bear his name will do this summer. They will work at some of the sites most dear to him, including Gettysburg National Military Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Richmond National Battlefield Park.

To preview this summer’s experiences, I reached out to three of the 2018 Pohanka interns, each with different backgrounds and positions this summer. I asked them about what they expect to be doing at their sites, what they think they will gain from the experience, and how it will fit into their plans for the future.

Laurel Wilson ‘19

Site: Special Collections & College Archives at Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library

Majors/Minors: History and studio art/Civil War Era Studies and public history

Past Pohanka Experience: Antietam National Battlefield, 2017

What will you be doing this summer?

Work in archival research, processing, and digitizing materials, including creating a finding aid for a collection and transcribing Vertical File Manuscript materials

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I hope to gain valuable archival skills and to learn how Special Collections takes care of it’s amazing collection of historical artifacts and other resources. I am also excited to have the opportunity to work with the artifacts and manuscripts directly, as it is not something that everyone gets to do every day.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I hope to go into some kind of curatorial or archival work in the future, so the experience that I will gain from working in Special Collections will definitely be incredibly valuable for that. This internship will provide me with a basis of knowledge to continue building upon in the future, which is incredibly exciting.”

IMG_8483
The author giving a walking tour of Henry Hill at Manassas National Battlefield Park last summer. Photo by Cathy Bilger.

Jared Barna ‘20

Site: Manassas National Battlefield Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Working to orient visitors to the battlefield, through interpretive tour programs and answering questions at the Visitor Center desk.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I will gain knowledge about how to engage individuals with major questions about history and become a better public orator.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“This internship will help me decide as to whether I wish to work in the park service full time or if I want to become a high school history teacher.”

Cameron Sauers ‘21

Site: Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Develop and deliver educational programs and activities to K-12 students and families at Harpers Ferry

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I think Harpers Ferry will give me the chance to see how the public, especially young people, interact with our nation’s history.” The long and varied history of the site will also help in these observations.

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I have a desire to either work in the NPS system or continue on to graduate school. I would love to be able to teach students at the high school or college level.”

 

As for myself, I will be returning to the Pohanka program for my second summer as an intern, this year at Antietam National Battlefield. I expect that my duties will also include orienting visitors to the Antietam battlefield through programs and work at the front desk. I hope to continue refining my skills as a public historian and interpreter, and to bring the history of Antietam to the general public in an interesting and engaging way. This fits into my future goals of working in public history, whether in the National Park Service or at another historic site or museum.

This summer is shaping up to be an exciting one for the 2018 Brian C. Pohanka interns! Stay tuned throughout the summer, as we’ll be posting reflection pieces from the interns on their individual experiences!

Your Commencement Weekend Guide to Visiting Gettysburg

By Abigail Major ’19

Commencement weekend is nearing, which has inspired us to compile a list of Civil War activities and programs you can take part in during your visit. The following events and activities are suitable whether you are a Civil War buff, general history enthusiast, or are just curious about learning more about the Civil War.

On Campus

While you’re on campus, check out some of the many wayside exhibits along the campus walkways to get a better idea of the College’s role in the battle. During the battle, soldiers on both sides streamed through campus to get to—or away from—the action. Pennsylvania Hall, the venue for the Commencement ceremony, was used as a field hospital during the battle, treating some 700 soldiers.

Continue reading “Your Commencement Weekend Guide to Visiting Gettysburg”

A Slaughter Forgotten: A Reflection on the Wayside on Iverson’s Assault

By Zachary Wesley ’20

Nearly every visitor to Gettysburg can easily point to Pickett’s Charge as the bloodiest loss the Confederates suffered on the field during the three days of fighting here. However, few know that another Confederate assault during the battle rivaled the horrendous casualty rates of July 3. On the afternoon of July 1, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson ordered his North Carolina brigade forward against the Federal positions on Oak Ridge, essentially sending them to their slaughter.

I have had the distinct pleasure to work on a wayside detailing this assault over the course of this semester. When I received my project assignment, I knew of Iverson’s assault only in passing. Much of what I did know came in the context of the Federal soldiers who moved into position along Oak Ridge after the assault disintegrated. I quickly realized that what this attack lacked in terms of size (it was staged by only one brigade) it more than made up for regarding the sheer incompetence of its “commander” and the resulting slaughter.

Alfred Iverson had the necessary pre-requisites to be a fine commander. He was born to the well-known lawmaker Alfred Iverson Sr. in 1829 in Georgia and studied at the Tuskegee Military Institute. At the age of 17, he fought in the Mexican-American War and then served in Kansas during the period known as Bleeding Kansas. At the outbreak of the American Civil, Iverson received command of the Twentieth North Carolina Infantry and led this regiment during the Peninsula Campaign with great distinction. He was promoted after Antietam to command of the brigade he led at Gettysburg. The relationship between Iverson and his men, however, was far from harmonious. In the aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Iverson and his officers quarreled over the former’s attempts to elevate a personal friend to fill his former regimental command. Unsurprisingly, therefore, rumors moved amongst the men that their commander received his command via political influence. This fact only found further evidence based on his conduct during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Iverson’s brigade was part of the division of General Robert E. Rodes, which also included the commands of Brigadier Generals Junius Daniels, George Doles, Stephen Ramseur, and Colonel Edward O’Neal. Iverson’s men led the column on its advance from the west of Gettysburg, arriving at Oak Hill in the early afternoon. A coordinated assault was planned involving the commands of Iverson, O’Neal, and Daniels, with the latter to function in a support role. Much to Iverson’s amazement, O’Neal’s men advanced early due to a breakdown in communications. Henry Baxter’s Federals repulsed this unsupported attack with relative ease before shifting their front to plug the gap between themselves and the Federals to their left. At around 2:30 pm, Iverson’s men formed into line of battle and stepped-off with parade ground precision. The Federals took position behind a stone wall in their front, keeping weapons and flags below the edge of the fence. The Confederates advanced without skirmishers screening their advance–thus, there was little to no warning of the Federals that lay in their front.

iverson
This photograph of Alfred Iverson Jr. shows a man of considerable societal standing, a factor that would come to haunt him during the war. One of the charges that Iverson never lived down was that his various commands during the Civil War came not from his military experience but rather from political maneuvers. Worse, rumors swirled that Iverson’s decision to watch the assault from so far in the rear stemmed from drunkenness. Photo credit: GeorgiaInfo, an online Georgia almanac.

When the Tar Heels got within 50 yards, the Federals rose and opened fire, knocking massive holes into the Confederate ranks. The stunned ranks then attempted to return fire before falling back into a gully over which they had previously advanced. Within twenty minutes, white handkerchiefs appeared along the edge of the gully–the Confederates were surrendering. Over 900 of Iverson’s 1, 384 men had been killed, wounded, or captured. Meanwhile, Alfred Iverson remained comfortably in the rear, enraged at the supposed cowardice of his men. In recalling the disastrous assault, Iverson recalled “I saw white handkerchiefs raised, and my line of battle still lying down in position, I characterized the surrender as disgraceful; but when I found afterward that 500 of my men were left lying dead and wounded on a line as straight as a dress parade, I exonerated … the survivors.”

The aftermath was a horrific scene. The dead remained in neat, packed rows. Their boots remained in a straight line, as if they were standing in formation–the blood flowed like streams, staining the ground a crimson hue until the rains following the battle. Iverson’s sheer incompetence and disregard for his men was on full display in his conduct on July 1, 1863. The unwritten code of Southern honor held that the gentleman officer should lead his men by example; the soldiers were to courageously face their enemy and willingly sacrifice their lives for their country. Although many of the men in the assault ultimately surrendered, they fought until the situation became too desperate to warrant further resistance. Their commander, however, comfortably watched the slaughter unfold from the rear, divorced from the reality of the firestorm his men confronted. Unsurprisingly, his men never forgave him for his actions, essentially refusing to acknowledge him as their commander. Iverson was relieved of command on July 19 before being transferred to Georgia, much to the disgust of his former soldiers. They had hoped that he would be removed from any command in the Confederate army.

The casualties sustained by Iverson’s command are matched in scale by only one other brigade to take the field at Gettysburg: Richard Garnett’s Virginians. In considering this idea, it seemed strange to me that the latter is celebrated as a high-point of Southern heroism while the former is largely forgotten. Surely, some of this emerged from the early Lost Cause emphasis on Virginia and her soldiers. Iverson’s men being North Carolinians, their sacrifices were largely glossed over. Of course, the scale of Pickett’s Charge also dwarfs the maneuvers against the Union soldiers on Oak Ridge. Nevertheless, the sheer slaughter seems a more likely candidate. Just as my work last semester on the Virginia Memorial Wayside, historical memory played a key role in my perspective. In some respects, therefore, the surviving Tar Heels got their wish. The double-edged sword of memory largely placed Iverson on the periphery of Civil War history, though it also erased the brutality of the assault his men undertook on July 1. To most of us, therefore, Iverson’s assault truly is a slaughter forgotten.

Senior Reflection: Our Time as Fellows

By Anika Jensen ’18

As Jeff, Jen, and I move ever closer to commencement, we want to take a moment to reflect on our time as Civil War Institute fellows. We have been part of this fellows program for three years and spent countless hours researching topics we are passionate about, engaging with the Civil War community, and creating an active academic atmosphere for our fellow budding historians. Our time at Gettysburg may be coming to an end, but the experiences we have had here will continue to shape our futures. Here is what the CWI fellowship means to us:

My involvement with the CWI began the day after my high school graduation when I attended the Summer Conference as a scholarship student.  Though I was not necessarily a Civil War buff at the time, I knew at that moment that I wanted to get more involved with the Institute.  I began a Fellowship and have enjoyed every minute of it, from researching and writing blogs to becoming the social media coordinator.  Being a CWI Fellow has brought me so many opportunities, not only to enhance my academic experience, but also to meet the wonderful staff at the CWI.  The Civil War Institute has greatly shaped by experience at Gettysburg, and I am so grateful for my time here.Jen Simone

Jennifer+Simone
Photo credit: Civil War Institute

Continue reading “Senior Reflection: Our Time as Fellows”

Between the World and Them

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

The first time I learned the story of the Bryan family and their Gettysburg farm was when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. For Coates, there was something poetic about the fact that the climax of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most well-known battle—a moment forever enshrined in Confederate memory thanks to the likes of William Faulkner and Ted Turner—occurred on land owned by a free black man and his family. Pickett’s Charge—the greatest symbol of Confederate martial honor in the Civil War canon—had been repulsed on property that represented so much of what its participants fought to prevent: freedom, prosperity, and dignity enjoyed by African Americans.

Continue reading “Between the World and Them”

Perspectives on Our Past: The Killed at Gettysburg Stories of Franz Benda and Augustus van Horne Ellis

By Ryan Bilger ’19

Once again, I have spent the semester working on the Civil War Institute’s Killed at Gettysburg project. This project continues to be one with which I feel a strong connection, as I have always taken an interest in the stories of Gettysburg’s fallen. As such, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work on it again.

As before, I have focused on two soldiers in my research this spring, one an enlisted soldier in the ranks and one a regimental commander. The latter, Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry, has a life-sized statue of him on the battlefield, while the former, Private Franz Benda, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, remains obscure. Both of them, though, lived fascinating lives, and each of their deaths reverberated far beyond the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. Through text narratives and interactive story maps, I sincerely hope that both of their stories can be told to broader audiences who can thus gain a greater appreciation for these men who heroically gave their lives for the cause of the Union.

bilger 1
Company H, 26th Wisconsin Infantry. These men would have been among Franz Benda’s comrades. Photo courtesy Oshkosh Public Museum.

Writing about these two soldiers has been extremely valuable for me in that it has encouraged me to think about different perspectives. For example, Franz Benda immigrated to the United States from his birthplace in Bohemia at a young age. He and his parents built a new life for themselves as farmers in Wisconsin, and the young man appeared well on his way to achieving a piece of the American dream. Everything changed in 1862 when he joined a regiment that made up part of the ethnically-diverse Eleventh Corps. The unit’s failures at Chancellorsville brought down heavy nativist criticism against Franz Benda and his comrades, making them feel as though they did not belong as fighters for the Union.

His story also ended in a heartbreaking fashion, as after his death at Gettysburg, his parents lost their farmland and died in poverty. While I knew the stories of the Eleventh Corps before this project, I had never taken the time to deeply consider what it must have been like for a young man like Franz Benda to experience that sort of pain and shame, much of which was undeserved. To consider his family’s tragic loss of both the human life of their son and the way of life they had made together. Benda’s story provides a powerful example of how soldiers could reach such psychological lows in the Civil War, and how the friends and relatives of those who died often lost so much more than their loved ones. As such, I feel proud to have developed a concise narrative of his life and legacy so that more people can learn about these themes as I did.

27108106118_dd906c9629_k
A statue of Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis atop his regiment’s monument gazes out over the field where he gave his life for the Union. Photo by the author.

The story of Augustus van Horne Ellis has raised other valuable questions in the course of my research. For example, what qualities of a man and a leader could inspire those he commanded to include a statue of him atop their monument decades after his death? Ellis’s story is one of leadership and loss delicately intertwined. He clearly had the sort of strong personality to win over the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, as they elected him captain in his first term of duty. Ellis led his men well at First Bull Run but also had to grapple with the heartbreaking loss of his brother at that battle. He became known as a strong disciplinarian and a good recruiter, leading to his becoming colonel of the 124th New York, a regiment he played an instrumental role in raising and with which he forged a strong bond. Ellis died near Devil’s Den leading his men in a valiant but ultimately brutal charge, sealing his place in their memories as a brave commander to the last. Yet, his young wife of just four years had to deal with the loss of her husband in a profoundly emotional way that changed the course of her life. These twin narratives intersected throughout the short life of Augustus van Horne Ellis in different ways, raising issues of what it meant to lead men in the Civil War and what it meant to lose loved ones as well. Just as Franz Benda’s story creates certain important questions in the mind of the reader, Ellis’s does too, and I am happy to be able to bring the New Yorker’s story to the public.

The stories of the past continue to hold relevant connections to the lives of the present, and the Killed at Gettysburg project this semester has been valuable to me in this way. Considering the perspectives of others, whether that of a young, poor immigrant private or of a colonel born and bred in the nation’s largest city, remains extremely important today, in addition to the specific details of their lives and legacies. Working on the Killed at Gettysburg project has once again been highly enjoyable for me, and I hope that through it more people can ponder the lessons of the past and how we can apply them to our presents and our futures.


Sources

Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.

McAfee, Michael. “The Sons of Friends and Neighbors: Orange County’s 56th and 124th Regiments of New York Volunteer Infantry.” The Hudson River Valley Review 22, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 1-9. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/pdfs/hrvr_22pt1_mcaffee.pdf.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pula, James S. The Sigel Regiment: A History of the Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865. Campbell, CA: Savas, 1998.

Weygant, Charles H. History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment N.Y.S.V. New York: Journal Printing House, 1877.

A Radical Idea: Charles Ellet’s Rams

By Savannah Labbe ’19

ellet
Photo credit: Special Collections at Musselman Library. https://gettysburg.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p4016coll2/id/1703/rec/15.

The political cartoon above shows an engineer named Charles Ellet attempting to get a meeting with General George McClellan. Ellet contacted many government officials and important men to try to get his ideas recognized and implemented. Ellet was born in Pennsylvania in 1810 and was inspired to become an engineer when he watched the opening of the Erie Canal. At age 20, he went to Paris to learn his craft, attending lectures for civil engineers and examining bridges, railroads, and other structures. He returned to the United States afterwards and in 1835 went to work as an assistant engineer for the James River and Kanawha Canal Company. This company was working to connect the Virginia tidewater region to the Ohio River. In 1854, his family went on a vacation touring Europe. The Crimean War was going on at that time, and Ellet witnessed two warships collide accidentally, causing immense damage to one of the ships. This was when Ellet’s passion was born. Because of this event, he came up with the idea of building a steam-powered ship to be used specially for ramming. He would promote this idea to anyone who would listen, which is how he came to be knocking on McClellan’s door.

Ellet was fairly well known before the war, as he had done congressional surveys of the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys and had built the first suspension bridges in the United States. At the beginning of the war, he wrote to President Abraham Lincoln to ask if he could raise a corps of civil engineers to make a survey of the terrain of the border states to help familiarize the army with them. Lincoln approved of the idea, but said it was ultimately up to McClellan, which is why Ellet sent dozens of requests for an interview with McClellan. They were all ignored, which angered Ellet, so he decided to publish a pamphlet criticizing McClellan, saying that he was too busy with parades to actually fight the war and that he never knew where the enemy was or what they were doing. The political cartoon above is about Ellet’s quest to get McClellan to listen to him.

One thing the cartoon portrays very accurately is Ellet’s persistence. In the pamphlet about McClellan’s leadership, he also took the chance to advertise his idea about steam rams, even though it was quite off topic. He sent letters to various members of Congress, the President, and Cabinet members to convince them to buy into his steam ram idea. No one really listened or took him seriously until March 9, 1862 when, for the first time, two ironclads faced off. The contest between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor showed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that something needed to be done to stop the Confederate ironclads. While the Union also had ironclads, it was clear from the battle between the Virginia and the Monitor that ended in a draw that just one ironclad would not be able to defeat another. So, either a fleet of ironclads was needed to go up against one enemy ironclad, which would be expensive and time consuming to create, or a fleet of rams that could accomplish the same goal much quicker and by using less money. And, of course, right after this happened, Ellet sent another pamphlet on his steam rams to Stanton, which led Stanton to invite the eager engineer to his office. Stanton had Ellet go to Hampton Roads and figure out how to stop the Virginia. As it turned out, the Federal commander there, John Wool, had already figured out how to defeat the Virginia, and Ellet was not really needed there. Wool’s idea was much the same as Ellet’s. He commissioned a fleet of fast steamboats that could ram the Virginia. Instead, Stanton sent Ellet to the Mississippi River Valley to convert river steamers into rams.

Ellet left for the valley immediately and began working on his project. He was commissioned as a Colonel and given money to buy the necessary ships and equipment. He was also given the authority to recruit civilians and requisition local military units to help him and serve on his ships when they were completed. He ended up buying seven steamers. He reinforced the ships with extra timber but only put iron on the front of them to reinforce the ramming prow. He wanted the ship to be as lightweight as possible, so it could move fast enough to damage an enemy ship before the enemy could get too many shots off. He put no cannons on the ships, in the interest of keeping it light but also because he felt that naval cannons were useless and fast becoming obsolete because of iron plating and the fact that ships could now move much faster while it still took the cannons a long time to get off a shot. So, Ellet believed the future of naval warfare was in ramming.  In many ways he was right at the time, as the cannons took a long time to load and were not very accurate. However, future improvements in naval armament technology, such as rifled breech-loading cannons, proved Ellet’s prediction to be false.

Ellet’s steamers would see their first action on June 6, 1862. Five Federal ironclads were anchored in the Mississippi near Memphis, and some Confederate “cottonclad” ships, which were reinforced with extra timber, iron rails, and lined with cotton to protect from enemy fire, had spotted them and moved to engage them. As the first shot was fired at the First Battle of Memphis, Ellet and his steamers arrived. Ellet used his rams to disable a few of the Confederate ships and helped win the battle for the Union. When used correctly, rams would move fast against an enemy ship, hit it hard and do a lot of damage and then retreat into safety. Of course, sometimes the rams would get stuck or be equally damaged by the blow. However, this did not happen to Ellet.  Ellet’s son, who had been an assistant surgeon in the Union Army before the war and quickly transferred to his father’s unit when it was created,  then went into the city of Memphis, took down the Confederate flag and raised the stars and stripes. This was one of the first steps in an important campaign to take control of the Mississippi River and divide the Confederacy in two. Unfortunately for Ellet, this would be the only time he would see his steamers at work. During the battle, he went out to inspect the front of the ram that he was on, exposing himself to the enemy. He was shot just below the knee, and while this was not a grave injury, it was complicated by the fact that he had both dysentery and measles, which prevented him from recovering adequately. He died on June 21, 1862 and was later buried with full military honors.

 

While Ellet’s persistence is satirized in the cartoon, it was an important aspect of his character that helped him get his idea recognized. His persistence was much like that of Christopher Spencer, who worked tirelessly to get the Union to use Spencer repeating rifles. The persistence of these men was a good thing for the Union, because without it, the Union would have completely missed out on technology that could have helped win the war. Ironclads were a new technology introduced in the Civil War, and the Union Navy had to find a way to neutralize them. Ellet’s method was fit for the technology of the time. Ships could not really get off many shots before a ram could get close enough to disable them. The Mississippi River campaign was very important to the Union war effort, and Ellet helped that campaign succeed. Ellet’s story also serves as a greater lesson, which is that it is important to be open to new ideas and technologies, especially in times of war. These technologies can be decisive, and while they may seem unnecessary or too radical at the time, it is better to give them a chance than to dismiss them without even hearing them out.


Sources

Coley, Jeannette Cabell. “Charles Ellet Jr.’s Unique Fleet of Rams Helped the Union Gain Control of the Mississippi River.” America’s Civil War 16, no. 4 (September 2003): 16. Accessed April 1, 2018.

Milligan, John D. “Charles Ellet and His Naval Steam Ram.” no. 2 (2013): 121. Accessed April 1, 2018.

Stephens, H.L. December 28, 1861. GettDigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accessed April 1, 2018. https://gettysburg.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p4016coll2/id/1703/rec/15.

Before The Post: The Women Journalists of The Waterford News

By Anika Jensen ’18

Long before Katharine Graham and Arianna Huffington established themselves in the traditionally male-dominated world of journalism, three women living through the uncertainty of the Civil War years broke into the field by controversial means: subversion. Lida Dutton (19), Lizzie Dutton (24), and Sarah Steer (26) were staunch Unionists of comfortable wealth living in Loudoun County, Virginia, a pocket of Unionist sentiment and abolitionist Quaker faith, in 1864 when they established the Waterford News, a pro-Union newspaper written, edited, and distributed in Confederate territory. The Waterford News provided an illustration of daily life in a southern town while simultaneously boosting morale for Federal soldiers (often in the form of editorials, riddles, and poems) and criticizing Confederate sympathizers. In May of 1864, for example, the women published a poem titled, “To President Abraham Lincoln” that consisted of a few four-line rhyming stanzas. Proceeds were donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Running until the end of the war, The Waterford News  allowed these three young women to voice their dissent while directly supporting the Union cause through financial means, all while living in an increasingly hostile Southern environment.

lida-dutton.jpg
Lida Dutton. Photo credit: Waterford Virginia 18th, 19th, and 20th Century History, waterfordhistory.org.

These women broke new ground by choosing to overcome traditional female domestic confinement and serve the war effort by sharing their voices publicly. Steer and the Dutton sisters were brought up in Quaker households where girls were educated alongside boys and where slavery was scorned as sinful. They held similar Unionist views as their families, which had to reconcile two Quaker sentiments: nonviolence and abolition. While some Quakers did break convention and join the army to help end slavery, James Dutton, Lida and Lizzie’s brother, chose to head north to Maryland in an attempt to escape Confederate enlistment. Before launching their newspaper, the Dutton sisters and Steer even cared for Union soldiers and hid them in their homes. Furthermore, the world of journalism–especially war correspondence–was traditionally dominated by men, so by lending their voices to their cause in the face of adversity and fear, the women of The Waterford News joined a select group of outspoken women whose rhetoric influenced the war. There were, of course, a number of women writers documenting their wartime experiences, including Mary Chesnut and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Steer and the Duttons distinguished themselves as journalists, rather than memoirists or novelists. After the war, Lizzie and Lida married Union veterans and left Waterford, while Sarah became a teacher at Waterford’s first school for black children, established by the Freedman’s Bureau with the help of local Quakers.

waterford-news-1-1
Photo credit: Waterford Virginia 18th, 19th, and 20th Century History, waterfordhistory.org.

Despite their emboldened actions, however, Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah were not unlike most other women living through the Civil War. They endured a Union blockade which, they complained, meant they could not buy nice clothes and other fineries (though, granted, other women lived through much more extreme forms of poverty). They managed family farms and businesses while the men were hiding from Confederate recruiters, taking on new and often stressful responsibilities. They worried about the safety of fathers, brothers, and friends who were fighting or hiding from Confederate forces, and, most importantly, they had to endure four long years of war and all of its accompanying hardships. Being a Union sympathizer in a southern state was particularly challenging: Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah were at risk of violence from both sides, including partisan raids by John Mosby and Federal orders to burn southern towns. The threat of angry Confederates trying to silence dissenters was pervasive. Still, Steer and the Dutton sisters can be said to embody the wider challenges that women faced during the Civil War.

lizzie-dutton
Lizzie Dutton. Photo credit: Waterford Virginia 18th, 19th, and 20th Century History, waterfordhistory.org.

Where, then, do we place Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah in the realm of women’s Civil War history? While they endured many of the same hardships as other women, they held a certain degree of privilege afforded to them by both their gender and their race. In the 19th century, women were not considered official political actors, nor were they believed to be publicly influential enough to warrant any legitimate threat through the written word. (Ironically, though, politicians and generals alike repeatedly appealed to women of both sides to “fulfill their feminine duties” of as “republican mothers” and contribute their “invaluable” support to the war effort through charity work, nursing, and other duties both public and private). Additionally, Victorian society emphasized gentlemanly conduct toward women, giving the Waterford women a degree of safety and allowing them to subvert Confederate authority. Unfortunately, this was not granted to all women. Black women especially were at a higher risk of violence from both Union and Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, and there are many cases of reported (and likely far more cases of unreported) sexual assault against black women by white soldiers.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women war correspondents such as Martha Gellhorn and Dickie Chapelle covered monumental events including the Spanish Civil War, the U.S. invasion of Panama, D-Day, and the Vietnam War, paving the way for future female journalists like Lynsey Addario, who has photographed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gellhorn, Chapelle, and Addario have all faced incredible challenges as women in the field of war journalism: Gellhorn stowed away in the bathroom of a hospital ship in order to go ashore during the invasion of Normandy, and Chapelle was killed in Vietnam. Both women had to subvert authority with a certain degree of defiance to find their place in the world of war correspondence, much like Steer and the Duttons did, and while it is highly unlikely that Gellhorn, Chapelle, or Addario had ever heard of The Waterford News, one cannot help but acknowledge the progress that women war journalists have made since 1864.


Sources

Waterford News: A Pro-Union Newspaper Published by Three Quaker Maidens.” The History of Waterford Virginia: A National Historic Landmark.

MacLean, Maggie. “Women of Civil War Waterford.” Civil War Women. March 8, 2015.