Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

While many minority groups have had their contributions and accomplishments during the Civil War recognized, one group of Americans has received little attention. Muslim Americans are rarely the focus of Civil War scholars and are typically viewed as a demographic relevant only to more modern history. This should not be the case. In fact, Muslim Americans have served in virtually every armed conflict in United States history and left their mark on every era, including the Civil War. A simple search using the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) reveals several names associated with Islam, including two Mahomets, two Hasans, three Rahmans, three Alis, 17 Saids, and 58 Hassans. In his Muslim Veterans of American Wars, Amir N. Muhammad theorized that as many as 292 Muslim last names appear in muster roles. Additionally, as many as 15% of African slaves brought to America are believed to have practiced Islam. While these summary statistics provide an overview of the scope of Muslim American involvement in the Civil War Era, their personal stories truly show their importance in shaping America.

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The 55th Massachusetts marches through the streets of Charleston in February of 1865. Published in the March 18, 1865 edition of Harpers Weekly. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hajji Ali, an Ottoman camel driver, landed in Indianola, Texas aboard the USS Supply in 1856. Recruited by the U.S. government, he was to take part in one of the oddest military experiments in the pre-Civil War Era. A year earlier, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to create the Camel Military Corps to patrol the newly acquired lands in the desert Southwest. When the camels arrived from the Ottoman Empire, they were met with awe and amazement from locals. The U.S. soldiers assigned to the new Camel Corps were equally bewildered and were unable to manage the exotic beasts. Enter Hajji Ali, nicknamed Hi Jolly by his American comrades. The first mission for the camels was to bring Lt. Edward Beale on an expedition searching for a possible Southern route for the transcontinental railroad. Sadly, and indeed ironically given the mastermind behind the creation of the Corps, the Civil War dashed any hopes for the future of the Camel Corps. Hi Jolly lived on, and became a local legend along with the dozens of camels that roamed the Southwest for years. Continue reading “Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War”

Intersections of Religion and War: Examining a USCC Diary

By Savannah Labbe ’19

While most don’t immediately associate religion with war, there is no doubt that it plays a role in most, the Civil War included. The Civil War brought with it new levels of death and destruction that the government was unprepared to deal with; it didn’t have the resources to adequately care for the influx of wounded soldiers, which was painfully evident after Bull Run when the number of soldiers needing medical care was more than the hospitals could handle. In the wake of the Battle of First Bull Run, the general public as well as the government saw the need for a civilian organization to help care for and comfort wounded soldiers. On November 14, 1861, a few months after the battle, the United States Christian Commission (USCC) was created by representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to fill this void. Its headquarters were set up in Philadelphia, and a layman named George Hay Stuart was appointed to head the Commission. The Commission was made up of volunteer delegates who were unpaid, though they were reimbursed for travel costs and other expenses they acquired while in the field. These delegates would go to the field for usually only a few months, during which time they were encouraged to keep a diary; many did just that.

USCC headquarters in Germantown, VA. Photo via Library of Congress.
USCC headquarters in Germantown, VA. Photo via Library of Congress.

A diary from a delegate that spent a few months in Louisville gives us a glimpse into his everyday life. The diary was issued by the USCC and bears their stamp on the front; the first few pages detail the duties of a delegate and provide other useful information and instructions. A delegate was expected to visit hospitals, camps, and battlefields to distribute supplies and religious materials. He was also supposed to speak to the men individually as well as collectively and hold meetings of prayer. In addition, the Commission provided the delegates with supplies such as stamps, envelopes, paper, clothing, food, and coffee for distribution to the soldiers. Continue reading “Intersections of Religion and War: Examining a USCC Diary”

"A National Sin": Samuel Simon Schmucker, Founder of Gettysburg College, on the Peculiar Institution

By Meg Sutter ’16

Many music and art students at Gettysburg College would recognize the name Schmucker as their building, or affectionately their ‘home,’ on campus. Alumni might even remember Schmucker Hall as their library. However, if asked who founded Gettysburg College, most students and alumni would probably not know his name. Fortunately, our campus is celebrating Founders Day this week to remember those, including our founder Samuel Simon Schmucker, who helped make our college #Gettysburgreat.

Samuel Simon Schmucker was born in 1799 in Hagerstown, Maryland to German immigrants. His father, John George Schmucker, was a pastor in Hagerstown before moving to York where he continued his ministry. Samuel Simon Schmucker attended the York County Academy before going to the University of Pennsylvania and then the theological seminary at Princeton. In 1820 he was granted membership in the Lutheran Synod and, by the next year, was ordained as a minister by the Maryland and Virginia Synod. As part of the Synod he was elected to a committee in charge of planning a Lutheran theological seminary. Gettysburg was chosen as the location for the seminary, perhaps because there was a large population of German Lutherans in the Gettysburg area and in Adams County. Classes opened at the Lutheran Theological Seminary on September 5, 1826, but after a year, Dr. Schmucker came to the conclusion that many of his students were not prepared in the manner they should be to continue theological studies. He devised creating a preparatory school to solve the problem. On June 25, 1827, the Classical Preparatory School opened and shared the same building as the Seminary. Due to financial problems, Dr. Schmucker bought the property in 1829 and changed the name of the Classical School to the Gettysburg Gymnasium. As both schools grew, there became a need for the Gettysburg Gymnasium to once again reestablish itself. Dr. Schmucker drafted and proposed a bill to make the Gettysburg Gymnasium into a college “for the education of youth in the learned languages, the arts, sciences, and useful literature.” On November 7, 1832, Pennsylvania College was “opened for the reception of Students.”

Gettysburg Gymnasium
Gettysburg Gymnasium at Washington and Carlisle Streets, ca. 1882. Photograph courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Continue reading “"A National Sin": Samuel Simon Schmucker, Founder of Gettysburg College, on the Peculiar Institution”

From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"

By Jen Simone ’18

In times of intense despair, it can seem impossible to have any hope. All of us get caught up in the tragedies occurring all around us and begin to believe that life is a constant struggle without any good in it. Christmas time, though often a time of mourning for people who have recently lost loved ones, also is a time of restored hope for many.

Christmas carolers may arrive at your door this season offering to sing the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The carol tells of a man who is troubled by the hateful world, but then has hope restored as he is reminded of God’s power. Though two stanzas concerning the Civil War were removed for the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was based on the poem “Christmas Bells” written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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Portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1868 with the beard he grew to cover his burn scars. Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

The poem begins with the peacefulness that characterizes Christmas:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Continue reading “From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"”

The Saint Patrick’s Battalion:  Loyalty, Nativism, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century and Today

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Two decades before the Irish Brigade covered itself with glory, an earlier unit of Irish immigrants had won renown for its service during the Mexican American War. Calling themselves the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, these men marched under a flag of brilliant emerald decorated with Irish motifs: a harp, a shamrock, and the image of Saint Patrick.

Unlike the Irish Brigade, however, the Saint Patrick’s Battalion fought against the U.S. Army. Led by the disgruntled Irish immigrant John Riley, this elite battalion was comprised of roughly two hundred Irish-American deserters who pledged their loyalty to General Santa Anna and the Mexican government. When Los San Patricios were defeated and captured by U.S. forces, fifty-seven deserters were sentenced to hang for their crime.

In American memory, Riley is a traitor, a deserter, and a mercenary. But this summer while exploring County Galway, Ireland, I stumbled upon a monument to his memory given to his hometown by Mexico in recognition of his service. The experience delivered to me some perspective. To pass judgment on Riley and his men, we must understand their times.

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Although surprising to American sensibilities, the people of Mexico gave this monument to Clifden, Co. Galway, in honor of John Riley (or Reilly) for his service as commander of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Photograph by the author.

Continue reading “The Saint Patrick’s Battalion:  Loyalty, Nativism, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century and Today”

Antebellum Spiritualism and the Civil War

By Kyle Schrader ‘16

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Victorian Séance circles to commune with the dead were popular expressions of Spiritualism. Photo Courtesy
Victorian Séance circles to commune with the dead were popular expressions of Spiritualism. Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Spiritualism in Antebellum America prepared many Americans to actually accept the deaths of loved ones in a superior way. In books such as This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust, Spiritualism and its infusion into American society is seen to have enabled many Americans to come to terms with loved ones’ deaths through the belief that a “Spirit World” existed and that life after death was better. Unlike the other Christian movements of the nineteenth century and earlier, however, the Spiritualist movement guaranteed and, indeed, “proved” the existence of an afterlife to many people (even those as mainstream as President Lincoln).

As a Pohanka intern at Seminary Ridge Museum, Kyle Schrader is spending his summer researching antebellum spiritualism. Photo credit Kyle Schrader.
As a Pohanka intern at Seminary Ridge Museum, Kyle Schrader is spending his summer researching antebellum spiritualism. Photo credit Kyle Schrader.

Though Spiritualism may have had an effect on the Civil War, the War’s effect on Spiritualism was far greater. The War caused the movement to cease many of its activities, reducing its public presence and awareness as the war raged on. When the war ended, people sought comfort in national pride, spiritual unity, and organized religion. Spiritualism was far too unorganized (as the founders wanted) to attract people after being out of the public spotlight for so long. Thus began the recantation movement that damaged Spiritualism’s strength and nearly disbanded the movement altogether. Continue reading “Antebellum Spiritualism and the Civil War”

An Institution Sanctioned by God?: Slavery and Religion in the North and South

By Tyler Leard ’16

While a young student at the University of North Carolina, Iveson Brooks, an optimistic student of promise, wrote several speeches arguing that slavery was an impediment to the future. After graduating, he decided his best prospects following graduation lay in the Baptist ministry. By 1851, while his piety remained, Brooks’ antislavery had vanished, replaced by a deeply conservative outlook which held slavery as not merely essential to southern society, but as intended by God. In his pamphlet, A Defense of Southern Slavery against the Attacks of Henry Clay and Alexander Campbell, Brooks argued that slavery was not only allowed by the Bible, but was an integral part of Christianity “intended to exist until the Day of Judgment.” This passage, found in the Old Testament, was one of many instances in which Brooks read that the Bible implied that God desired a hierarchical society. Like many other southerners, Brooks argued that the curse laid upon God to the descendants of Ham, whose descendants were allegedly the people of Africa, sanctioned slavery along racial lines.

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Continue reading “An Institution Sanctioned by God?: Slavery and Religion in the North and South”

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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A Soldier’s Hymn

by Andrew Bothwell, ’13 ???Evening Twilight??? 1 I love to steal a while away From every cumbering care, And spend the hours of setting day In humble, grateful prayer. 2 I love in solitude to shed The penitential tear; And all his promises to plead Wh…

By Andrew Bothwell ’13

“Evening Twilight”

1        I love to steal a while away
From every cumbering care,
And spend the hours of setting day
In humble, grateful prayer.

2        I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear;
And all his promises to plead
Where none but God can hear. […]

5        Thus, when life’s toilsome day is o’er,
May its departing ray
Be calm as this impressive hour
And lead to endless day.

Corporal Charles A. Rubright of the 160th Pennsylvania Volunteers found little solitude during the beginning days of July 1863. He arrived at Gettysburg on July 2nd after days of arduous marching, the final leg ending early that morning. The commander of a detachment of “Pioneers,” he was soon ordered to the front and left of his brigade on Cemetery Ridge to clear intrusive trees, fences, brush, etc.

Continue reading “A Soldier’s Hymn”