Science, Signals, and Service: The Smithsonian Institution’s Role During the Civil War

By Danielle Jones ’18

Today, the Smithsonian is known for its world-famous exhibits, massive collections of American and natural history artifacts, and its contributions to research around the world. But many people don’t know the role the Smithsonian played during the Civil War. The Smithsonian Castle was finished in 1855 and would become the first home of the research center, the library, and the US Museum. The government recognized the importance of the Institution and, after war was declared, the US Secretary of War ordered Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian Secretary, be issued twelve muskets and 240 rounds of ammunition “for the protection of the Institute against lawless attacks.” The building was in a vulnerable position because it was situated in between the Capitol Building and the White House, and cut off from the rest of the city by the Washington Canal . The Institution was witness to soldiers on parade, as well as to the thousands of wounded soldiers sent back to the city after the First Battle of Bull Run. It suffered no war damage, but suffered from financial woes because Congress was more focused on paying for the war than paying the interest on the Smithson bequest. The inflation and currency devaluation of the era also affected finances.

Image of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington DC, with the unfinished Capital Building in the Background. The hand-written caption, “Washington, D.C. April 1865” is incorrect because the castle was terribly damaged in a fire in January of 1865. Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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Confederate Women and Union Soldiers in Sherman’s March to the Sea

frank-1By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Lisa Tendrich Frank, an independent historian, editor, and writer on issues related to the American Civil War and American women.  She received her PhD from the University of Florida and has taught at universities and colleges across the U.S.  Dr. Frank is the author and editor of several books and articles on women’s and American military history, including The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman’s March (LSU Press, 2015); The World of the Civil War: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2015); and “Bedrooms as Battlefields: The Role of Gender Politics in Sherman’s March,” (in Alecia P. Long’s and LeeAnn Whites’s edited collection, Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War, LSU Press, 2009).  She has also worked as a consultant for various non-profits and as a public lecturer.

CWI:  What was the nature of the interactions between General Sherman’s army and Confederate women during the infamous March to the Sea?

FRANK:  The interactions between Union men and Confederate women were incredibly gendered throughout the march through Georgia and the Carolinas. As a result, physical confrontations were rare. Instead, Union soldiers and Confederate women traded verbal barbs and largely fought over feminine material possessions. Union soldiers frequently entered and ransacked homes occupied by the region’s most privileged women, entered their bedrooms and parlors, and then seized various domestic treasures. Soldiers destroyed and stole an endless list of items that had no military value but instead struck at the heart of femininity and included wedding gowns, lingerie, sheet music, personal diaries, artwork, jewelry, and pianos. Continue reading “Confederate Women and Union Soldiers in Sherman’s March to the Sea”

Unfortunate Events and Special Circumstances: Why the Rupp Family Tells the Civilian Experience at Gettysburg

By Savannah Rose ’17

Is the Jennie Wade story important to remember? Is she the ideal image of the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg? When it comes to the civilian experience at Gettysburg, tourists flock to the Jennie Wade House Museum to hear the tale of a young girl caught in the crossfire of a major battle. Wade’s circumstances were unusual for the battle, but her story is better known due to its excitement and tragedy than because of its representativeness. The lesser-known story of the Rupp family gives us a better idea of what civilians experienced when the two armies entered their town. Like most families during the battle, the Rupps escaped danger by avoiding the conflict, emerging unharmed. So what was the civilian story of the Battle of Gettysburg? Whose struggle better conveys the civilian experience? Is it the tragic story of a single civilian casualty, or the experience of a family that hid in their basement to escape harm?

The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.
The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.

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Civil Law and Civil War–This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of ‘Em

By Jacob Ross ’15

In old westerns the sheriff rules supreme. But as we often have seen, the sheriff and outlaws cannot coexist in the same town. That truth is based in the fact that the sheriff and outlaws are at their core the embodiment of two mutually exclusive concepts. While sheriffs represent the crux of civil authority and social order, outlaws characterize civil anarchy and the state of war. This political situation of opposed states of society can manifest itself in various scenarios, such as when two armies locked in battle occupy the territory of a civil government. Such a situation was present during the Battle of Gettysburg as titan Union and Confederate armies descended upon Adams County, Pennsylvania into the jurisdiction of the Adams County Sheriff Department.
“Plan of the Town of Gettysburg, Adams Co. Penna..” From 1850 survey by J. G. Sidney, CE. Gettysburg College Special Collections, Gettysburg, PA.

Unfortunately, not much has been preserved from the Adams County Sheriff of the time. In the nineteenth century it was common for county sheriffs to take the documents accumulated during their term as sheriff home with them after their service ended. Ultimately, these documents were not seen as important enough to save. This has led to a faceless, even non-existent consideration of civil law enforcement during the battle. In fact, common history has even incorrectly identified the Adams County Sheriff during the battle. Sources ranging from the Adams County Sheriff’s website to published local histories such as Jim Slade and John Alexander’s Firestorm at Gettysburg mistakenly list Adam Rebert as sheriff during the battle. This myth was probably started by inattention to political context. Although it is true that Adam Rebert was sheriff in 1863, knowledge that Rebert’s election was on the second Tuesday of October, that his commission was not granted from Governor Andrew Curtain until November 16, and that he did not take his oath of office until November 23 indicates that Rebert was not even sheriff when President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, let alone during the battle. Therefore, let the public record be corrected to note that the sheriff during the Battle of Gettysburg was instead Samuel Wolf, elected in 1860.

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Baltimore on the Border: First Blood

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore…
-Maryland, My Maryland

In the study of the Civil War, the violence between brothers, neighbors, and countrymen is most frequently explored through the eyes of great armies clashing on the field of battle. But in the American Civil War, as in any modern conflict and especially those dividing a people amongst themselves, a citizen did not have to wear blue or grey to feel passionately about the war. In Baltimore, Mayor George William Brown and paper merchant Samuel Epes Turner, took strikingly different stances on the war despite their geographical proximity to the fighting. Fort Sumter may have seen the first shots of the war, but the infamy of first blood belongs to the civilians of Baltimore and the Union soldiers they confronted.

As a border state that was considered by Brown to be “neither dead nor asleep on the subject of slavery,” Maryland found itself sharply divided in loyalty. Brown, a Confederate sympathizer, reasoned that “the house of every man is his castle, and he may defend it to the death against all aggressors.” Epes, meanwhile, was “almost ashamed . . . that in this age of the world, enough men could be found to break up such a government as ours.” He was not representative of most Baltimoreans. In general, Maryland – especially in its most eastern reaches – was initially inclined toward ambivalence or the South.


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Personal Civil War Poetry

By Andrew Bothwell ‘13

As far as popular literature is concerned, the discussion of Civil War poetry often begins and ends with Walt Whitman. Other poetry of the time has often been deemed by modern audiences as mediocre and mere propaganda. The poetry of Civil War soldiers and civilians, however, held a greater purpose than the amusement of future generations.

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When War Comes to Town: The Story of Mary McAllister at the Battle of Gettysburg

by Tiffany Santulli, ’13 July 1-3, 1863 was an unprecedented time in the town of Gettysburg. When we look back at these three days we remember the famous generals who led here and the countless soldiers who died. Rarely do the citizens of this sma…

By Tiffany Santulli ’13

July 1-3, 1863 was an unprecedented time in the town of Gettysburg.  When we look back at these three days we remember the famous generals who led here and the countless soldiers who died.  Rarely do the citizens of this small town enter into the picture. Over the course of three days these townspeople had their entire lives turned upside down.  Some fled the approaching conflict, but others decided to stay, despite their fear, and face the horrors of war head on.  One such citizen was Mary McAllister.

In 1863, at age 41, Mary was considered a spinster.  She lived with her sister Martha and Martha’s husband, John, and they made their livelihood by running a small general store on Chambersburg Street.  When the battle commenced Mary did what she could to aid the wounded and feed the hungry soldiers.  While she may have been no hero, there is little denying her bravery.


On the first day of battle Mary left her home to go across the street to aid the wounded soldiers at Christ Lutheran Church.  There, Mary experienced the grim outcome of battle firsthand.  Mary recalled that the church was packed with the wounded as surgeons and doctors went about their business:

“Every pew was full [with the injured]; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They [the surgeons] cut off their limbs and threw them out the window.”

Mary pressed-on in the horror, doing what she could, until “a shell struck the roof and they got scared…”  Mary was so frightened by the incident that she ran to her home.  Sadly for Mary, she could not escape the war there: “The rebels were sending grapeshot down the street and everyone who was on the street had to get into the houses or be killed and that is the way some of these Union men got into our [the McAllister] house.”

Most of these Union soldiers did not stay long in Mary’s home as they soon found themselves trapped by the Confederates. The injured remained in Mary’s house but the rest were taken away as prisoners.  After they left, Mary went to the church again to retrieve a surgeon for the wounded. The surgeon suggested to Mary that she and Martha should hang something red outside the house to indicate that it was a hospital so that the Rebels would leave them alone.  Mary and Martha took his advice, but as they were fastening a red shawl to a broom to hang out their window, they witnessed a rather disturbing scene.  Some of the Confederate soldiers came riding down the street, firing off their guns and yelling.


They stopped in front of the church where they exchanged some words with the wounded men on the steps.  A few minutes later Mary heard a pistol shot and she saw a man lying dead on the pavement.  She heard the men on the steps say “Shame! Shame! That was a Chaplain!” and the men on horseback responded that “He was going to shoot.” But the wounded men retorted by saying “He was not armed.”  A few minutes later the Rebels “…rode off again, shooting as they had come.”

The second day of battle was calmer for Mary.  She cooked and baked for the wounded and at one point she left her home to get a few Union officers some liquor that they had requested.  She went to a drug store and made her purchase, but before she left, a shell struck the building, leaving a hole, and the store owner warned her “you will be killed if you stay.”  Mary went home and gave the liquor to the officers whom she assumed would be giving it to injured men.  Instead, the men divided the alcohol amongst themselves and Mary “never went for any more.”

On the final day of battle Mary went to her warehouse to retrieve a barrel of molasses she had there. Inside she discovered some Rebel soldiers eating it.  When Mary told them to stop they insulted her and one of them even threatened to shoot her.  Mary solved the issue by confronting a Rebel officer who made the men leave.  He told Mary if she was disturbed again to go to his headquarters and he would handle it. Mary was not bothered any further.

Mary’s story may seem mundane in comparison to other accounts of the battle.  What makes Mary’s story compelling, though, is that it is of an ordinary civilian caught in the Battle of Gettysburg; she was trying to live her life amongst the turmoil of war.  The citizen’s story is often overlooked but Mary’s narrative offers us a rare insight into just what the ordinary civilian faced when war came to their doorstep.


McAllister, Mary. An Account of the Battle of Gettysburg by a Citizen of Gettysburg. Gettysburg College Special Collections: 1938.

Patriotism or Greed? More to the Story?

“Undoubtedly many of the citizens of Gettysburgh and vicinity are patriotic and generous, but they had a queer manner of showing it.”

By Sean Parke

July-24_crounse_articleThis blog post is a continuation of a topic first introduced in my earlier post entitled “Patriotism or Greed? Damage Claims after the Battle of Gettysburg.”

The adjacent artifact is a newspaper article by Lorenzo L. Crounse , a reporter for The New York Times. The  first post in this series cited an article that he wrote on July 7 and (published on the 9th) about the lack of patriotism among the citizens of Gettysburg (Click here to view Crounse’s July 7 article). The above article was written on July 21 and published on the 24th. This report is in response to a piece in the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel which defended the reputation of Gettysburg civilians and was signed by over twenty clerics and businessmen.

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Patriotism or Greed? Damage Claims after the Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg brought the reality of war to northern civilians. Typically when people discuss the experiences of the citizens of Gettysburg they include tales of bravery, such as the well-known hero John Burns…


The Battle of Gettysburg brought the reality of war to northern civilians. Typically when people discuss the experiences of the citizens of Gettysburg they include tales of bravery, such as the well-known hero John Burns, or the tragic Virginia “Jennie” Wade.  The stories rarely include themes of greed, selfishness, or unpatriotic behavior. However, this was a claim made against the citizens of Gettysburg in 1863. Lorenzo L. Crounse , a reporter for The New York Times wrote on July 5 that, “The actions of the people of Gettysburg are so sordidly mean and unpatriotic as to engender the belief that they were indifferent as to which party was whipped. . .. they have only manifested indecent haste to present their bills to the military authorities for payment of loses inflicted by both armies . . . .” This post will explore this accusation through an examination of a damage claim submitted by a Gettysburg resident.

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