The Perfect Vessel of Grief: Women and Mourning Photography

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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Unidentified girl in mourning holding a picture of her father. (photo via Library of Congress)

After her father died, the girl in the photo above went through a highly ritualized and formalized process of Victorian mourning. This process radically changed with the invention of photography in 1839. Now one could record the grieving process, which is what the photograph above accomplished. The photograph is a typical mourning portrait, depicting the mourner (the little girl in this case), with the photo of her deceased loved one in her hands. Like so many other photographs, this one recorded the grieving process, allowing loved ones to keep a piece of that person even after their death. 19th-century photographs also were often used to capture images of loved ones while they were dying. Photography was particularly apt for this kind of work as it was seen as a vessel of truth, intimately connecting the past and the present. 19th- century Americans realized that photographs told stories like few other objects could, and they used this storytelling ability to convey their emotions surrounding mourning.

Queen Victoria, after whom the Victorian era was named, went into deep mourning following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. Although mourning was already an important part of people’s lives before Albert’s death, it became even more so due to Queen Victoria’s highly public and drawn out mourning process, which was aided by the invention of the photograph. Mourning was such an important process because death was a constant feature of life in the 19th century. Disease, an overall lack of understanding of how to treat illnesses, and poor sanitary conditions shortened the average lifespan to about fifty years old. Due to the constant reality of death, funeral and mourning practices became an important aspect of everyday life. When someone was expected to die, their house would be draped in black crepe to let everyone know the family was expecting a death. The family would often prepare for death by taking portraits of the dying person. These portraits would later be sent out as part of memorial cards, informing one of the funeral and providing them with a keepsake to remember the dead by. In addition, the family would often take photographs with their deceased loved ones, especially infants, to further commemorate their life and passing.

After the death, women especially became vessels of grief. Women were thought to be more emotional and sensitive, so it was particularly their job to express their emotions over the loss of a loved one. They wore black, as well as jewelry specially made for mourning which would include a picture of the deceased on it. It was also common to include a lock of the deceased’s hair in the mourning jewelry. The child in the picture above is already preparing for her role as a mourner, which would only become more circumscribed as she aged. She is dressed in all black, is wearing mourning ribbons, and holds a picture of her father, who died in the Civil War. Although she is young, she is already learning how one dresses, acts, and behaves while grieving, as well as performing a central part of the mourning process.

An integral part of mourning processes like the little girl’s was the mourning portrait. These portraits did not begin with the invention of photography. In fact, many portrait companies were created to produce lithographs of the mourning process, such as the company that would come to be known as Currier and Ives. These lithographs usually depicted women in full mourning next to a tomb, which was oftentimes topped with an urn. There also was usually a weeping willow and a church in the background. These images typically showed women in exaggerated poses of sorrow, draped over the tomb next to them. Women were in these poses because mourning was very public; one had to show they were deeply aggrieved by the loss of their loved one. If women did not show their emotion, it was thought that they were cold and uncaring about the death of their loved ones. Since it was women’s jobs to mourn and be emotional, not doing so would have been considered a social faux pas. However, a woman could not be too emotional either, as that would have been unseemly for an era which also called for personal restraint in public. Not only did they have to “perform” their grief, but they also had to record it. They would hang these lithographs, and later, photographs, on the walls next to a portrait of their loved one, forever immortalizing their loved one’s death and their own grief at the dead’s passing. The photograph of the little girl is a continuation of the lithography process in a new medium. Now all at once, the girl has a picture of her father and of herself mourning her father.

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A typical mourning print done by Currier and Ives. (image via Library of Congress)

Photographs radically changed the mourning process because people saw photographs as somehow more truthful and organic than other artistic depictions, such as paintings. While it is true that the process of taking a photograph was staged, the photographer still could only capture material realities. One could not just add things into photos that were not actually there, at least not in the 19th century. In addition, by staging the photos in a certain way, people felt like they were able to convey a deeper truth and reality, unlike they could in paintings. Victorian Era Americans also believed that by looking at a photograph of someone you could see into their soul and see what they were feeling at the moment the photo was captured. A photo could therefore authenticate a moment in history, which was why photography became so important to the mourning industry, so much so that people built businesses out of traveling and taking mourning photographs. Mourning photographs served as proof of the mourner’s deep sorrow, more so than a lithograph ever could. The girl in the photograph has a haunting expression on her face and she looks much older than she actually is. The photo served to capture her emotion and the fact that she was forced to grow up by losing a parent long before any child should. Her father will always be with her though, and will never be forgotten, as is evident by the way she clasps his photograph to her.

The photograph was also important in mourning practices because it could capture the visual attributes of the deceased, either in the process of dying, or just before. On the brink of death, people were supposed to be resolute and accepting of their fate and if their face showed this in the photograph, family members would know that their loved one was going to heaven. The photograph, therefore, became a vessel for memory and a way to remember a loved one. Before the invention of photography, people only had an article of clothing or a toy to remember the deceased by. Photography now allowed loved ones to have a memento of the loved one’s appearance, which played a role in both the public and private mourning process. The girl in the photo could always remember specific details about her father’s appearance or demeanor, as she had a photograph of him. In addition, her father’s death no doubt served as a political statement and evidence that he fought and died in the name of the Union’s just cause. Such mourning photographs of Civil War dead thus played a significant role in perpetuating key, familiar tenets of 19th-century sentimentalism—that death, and familial grief for a loved one served a higher, patriotic purpose in which those who were left behind should take comfort. Therefore, not only did this specific image allow the little girl to remember her father’s death; she could also remember how she herself felt after his death, as she also had a picture of the mourning process. The photo was a way of transporting her into the past to ensure that she would never forget her father, the higher purpose for which he died, or his guiding influence.

Mourning photography fulfilled similar needs for many other families of the deceased, especially during the deadly years of the Civil War. In this way, the technology of photography was able to radically and rapidly change the mourning tradition. People quickly noticed and took advantage of the capacity for photography to capture landmark moments in history by capturing “truth,” be it all natural or staged for even greater or “more truthful” effect. In addition to providing a window into 19th-century mourning practices, this photograph also serves as a testament to how technological innovations throughout history have helped to better connect past and present, and affect sweeping cultural changes.


Sources:

Bedikian, Sonia A. “The Death of Mourning: From Victorian Crepe to the Little Black Dress.” Omega: Journal of Death & Dying 57, no. 1 (May 2008): 35–52. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Grootkerk, Paul. “American Victorian Prints of Mourning.” Southeastern College Art Conference Review 11 no. 4 (1989):276-283. Accessed October 1, 2018.

McConnell, Kent A. “Photography, Physiognomy, and Revealed Truth in the Antebellum South.” Southern Quarterly 52, no. 4 (Summer 2015): 32–53.

“The Custom of Mourning During The Victorian Era.” Nps.Gov. Last modified 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Complicating the Civil War Narrative: The Lincoln Lyceum Lecture

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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Edward Ayers

On October 3rd, the 2018 Lincoln Prize-winning author and historian, Edward Ayers, gave a talk on his most recent book, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America. Ayers began the process of writing this book in 1991 while driving through the Shenandoah Valley and wondering how places so naturally beautiful could go to war with each other so quickly. In his book, he attempts to answer that question by looking at how the Civil War was experienced on the ground by normal, everyday people. He does this by following two communities from 1863 to the immediate post-war years: Augusta County, VA and Franklin County, PA. He began following these two counties in his previous book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, and The Thin Light of Freedom serves as a follow-up to that book. Ayers chose these counties because, on the surface, they seemed to be very similar. Both counties had similar soil and geographic features and they are relatively close in proximity. They also both initially supported the Union. However, despite their similarities, their inhabitants still went to war with each other and had very different opinions about the war. Augusta County ultimately sided with the Confederacy when Virginia seceded, which radically changed the lives of the county’s inhabitants, both black and white. By examining the war’s impact on both whites and blacks in these two communities, Ayers provides a fuller picture of the complex racial, social, economic, and cultural fabric of these societies. Ayers sees these counties as a sort of microcosm of the Civil War itself, in that they provide specific examples and concrete evidence for the larger, intangible legacies of the war, such as the fight over historical memory.

 

Ayers began his lecture by arguing that the Civil War was marked by boundaries of all kinds, not just regional ones. The war changed the boundaries that marked who was considered a human being and who was considered property. Time also made its mark on the lives of soldiers in that soldiers would often look back upon battles and see them as landmarks, or turning points, in their lives. Battles such as Gettysburg, where Ayers begins his book, had this effect. A man from Franklin County was at Gettysburg, and after the great victory near his home, he was able to sneak off to see his wife. His wife back home could hear the roar of battle but could not see it. After his visit, though, she was able to feel secure in the knowledge that her husband had survived the battle. For the soldier, his visit home after the great carnage at Gettysburg served not only as a much-needed break from the battlefield’s death and destruction, but also was a celebratory moment and a happy memory from which he could derive hope and purpose. However, on the Confederate side, the scene was very different. Confederates were not able to return home and celebrate their victory with their wives. Instead, they watched as wounded and mutilated men were dragged down the road by wagons, some of whom had not even seen a doctor yet. In contrast to the more hopeful Union soldier, the Confederates looked back upon the Battle of Gettysburg as a moment of immense and unmitigated suffering and loss.

Though the Confederates lost at Gettysburg, they were able to come back in 1864 and capture another Pennsylvania town: Chambersburg. In addition, the Union forces also occupied Staunton, the largest town in Augusta County, in June of 1864. When the Confederates took Chambersburg, the residents of Franklin County despaired over its loss. However, the Confederates relished in the terror of Chambersburg’s citizens and hoped that the county would never again be under Union control. An African American soldier defending the town wrote about how bravely his regiment had fought. The raid was particularly dangerous for this black soldier not only because he risked his life in battle, but also because he risked being captured and sold into slavery by the Confederates. However, he was determined to fight to gain the rights of black people to be acknowledged as human beings, to be free, and to vote, or die trying. Ayers used the experiences of town citizens, Confederates, and the black soldier to portray the range of emotions involved when the Confederates captured Chambersburg. Ayers showed this range of emotions and opinions in order to provide insight into what was at stake for each of these groups of people.

The citizens of these counties had differing opinions and feelings about many political and social issues, including the election of 1864. During the campaign season, northern Democrats vilified Abraham Lincoln. The Republicans and African Americans, on the other hand, believed Lincoln was correct in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and making the war not only about the preservation of the Union but also about ending slavery. Though he only gained 1% of the northern Democratic vote, Lincoln won in a landslide vote in the electoral college, ultimately ensuring the demise of the Confederacy. However, white Augusta residents vowed to never give up, and even offered to send their slaves to fight for the Confederacy. They had already lost so much, since much of the war was fought on their land, and were willing to sacrifice even their most prized “possessions”—their slaves– in order to preserve southern independence. In proposing to send their slaves to fight for the Confederacy, Augusta residents defied many other southern slaveowners who believed that slavery provided both the physical labor and the socio-political backbone that kept the Confederacy on its feet. The actions of southerners like the Augusta residents helped shape the Lost Cause narrative and southern memory of the war. For example, the idea that southerners would never give up influenced the Lost Cause idea that the southerners never did give up but were, instead, simply overrun by overwhelming numbers. Augusta residents’ willingness to give up their slaves also shaped the Lost Cause narrative, as southerners used such evidence to try to argue that the war was not about slavery, but rather about southern independence.

White southerners, such as those of Augusta County, entered the post-war world believing they were in the right and that God had been on their side, and they fought tenaciously to preserve such a narrative for posterity in their attempts to control the historical memory of the war. Immediately after the guns of war fell silent, the whites of Augusta County set out to decorate the graves of the Confederate fallen. In doing so, they sought to promote the notion that the Confederate dead were the only war dead that deserved to be honored, as they had fought for the only noble cause. The next day, the African Americans of Augusta County went out to decorate the graves of Union dead. With this action, they fought back against the white residents’ attempt to control historical memory of the war by arguing that the Union dead were more deserving of having their graves decorated because they had fought for the more righteous cause of freeing the slaves.

Due to African American resistance to the Lost Cause narrative, southerners did everything they could, both legally and illegally, to prevent African Americans from gaining suffrage and fully participating in American society. In this way, Ayers believes, the South committed its own suicide: If southerners had not fought so hard to deny blacks their rights, then the drastic reforms of the Radical Republicans in Congress that forever changed the fabric of southern society would not have been necessary. Ayers believes that the Radicals’ most important reform was the public-school system, which allowed African Americans to become educated. Southerners did not want blacks to have access to education because then they would become a threat to southerners’ visions of “proper” political and social order. Through public education, blacks would gain the knowledge and intelligence necessary to fight for suffrage and to stop discrimination. African Americans would then realize that they could achieve everything white people could, thus making them the equals of the white man. Such realizations would challenge the claim that white people were inherently superior and would ultimately undermine whites’ discrimination methods, such as segregation.

Ayers’s lecture provided an in-depth look at two counties which, on the surface, seem very similar but were actually radically different. His close analysis of Augusta and Franklin Counties offers a compelling window into the lived realities of the war for two specific communities, while unpacking some of the critical regional complexities that shaped those communities’ differing experiences of and reactions to the war. Additionally, his examination both of the long fight for historical memory and of the differing worldviews and experiences of all those involved in the conflict shows that a multi-faceted view of the war is necessary to fully understand the conflict and its legacies.

To Liberty, Honor, and…Cufflinks?: The Grand Army of the Republic

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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Grand Army of the Republic cufflink. (via Special Collections at Gettysburg College)

Borne of the Civil War, one fraternal organization quickly assumed such great authority that it re-shaped cultural prescriptions of manhood, dictated the northern public’s memory of the war, and even influenced presidential elections. This organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), was formed in Illinois in 1866 by veteran Benjamin Franklin Stephenson and its number of posts in the United States quickly increased. In order to be a member, one simply had to be a Union veteran. By the 1890s, there were 7,000 GAR posts around the country; approximately 1.3 million men, half of all Union veterans, were group members. Members would have worn these cufflinks, or more commonly, the badge with the same image on it, as status symbols. They purchased these cufflinks and badges not merely so that they could have another piece of jewelry, but so they could show everyone that they were one of the heroes who fought for the Union, one of the brave soldiers who were now part of the most powerful veterans’ organizations in the United States. Being a member of the GAR meant one had participated in one of the greatest wars of modern times (so they thought). In addition, these accessories indicated that one had not only participated in that war, but that he had fought on the right side– the side of liberty and freedom. These cufflinks became a symbol of one’s martial manhood, proving that one had served with courage and honor while fighting for a just cause. In this way, the GAR promoted its own history of the war– what is now known as the Treasury of Virtue. Similar to the Lost Cause narrative, it promotes a biased interpretation of history, in this case from the northern perspective. According to this narrative, all northern soldiers were noble, honorable, and heroic men who triumphed because they fought for the righteous goal of emancipation.

The imagery on the cufflinks also served to highlight the ideas of moral righteousness and martial fraternalism that the GAR tried to foster within its members Lady Liberty can be seen in the background–yet another concrete reminder that Union veterans had fought for a virtuous cause. A soldier and a sailor clasp hands in front of Lady Liberty, which symbolizes fraternalism, one of the goals of the GAR tried to promote. These cufflinks would have made it easier for men to recognize each other as fellow brothers-in-arms: They would know immediately that the man they had just met had gone through the same experience they had and would understand it as no one else could. It is hard to relate the horrors of war to someone who has never been through it, and the GAR provided an outlet for former soldiers to express these horrors and know that those around them would understand and empathize, instead of simply pitying them. Amidst the fraternal comfort of the GAR, that strict veil of 19th century manliness could be pulled aside; veterans could realize that they were not the only ones who had felt scared in combat or had been wracked with guilt over killing a man. To help facilitate these connections between veterans, the GAR held local, regional, and national meetings in which they would sit around campfires singing war songs and telling stories. Not only did this serve as a sort of therapy for the men, but it also allowed them to reminisce and be proud of their actions and the fact that they were part of so great a cause at so important of an historical moment.

Two figures kneel before the soldiers on the cufflink. Scholars debate over who these figures are supposed to represent. Some believe they are two orphan children, while others believe they are slaves. Either one would make sense. The GAR set up a fund to help widows and orphans and they also helped set up many homes for orphans. These activities went hand-in-hand with another goal of the GAR– that of charity. The GAR believed that those who had fought and died for the Union deserved proper care for their families. The government was hard-pressed to provide pensions for veterans, let alone to provide for the families of the fallen, so the GAR took this task upon itself. By doing so, members set an example, showing that veterans and their families deserved to be rewarded for their sacrifice, and thereby declaring them members “worthy of charity.” It is also equally plausible that the figures in front are slaves because GAR members liked to promote an image of themselves as the liberators of the oppressed.

The GAR used its moral authority of being on the side of righteousness to try to control the memory of the war. The GAR funded many Civil War memorials and monuments in order to promote its version of history. For example, in Arkansas, a state divided in its loyalties and with many more Confederate monuments than Union ones, the GAR made sure to make its presence known. The inscription on one of the three GAR monuments in Arkansas proudly proclaims that the Union soldiers’ “sacrifices cemented our union of states and made our flag glorious forever.” Not only did the GAR remember the Civil War through monuments, but it also started the official tradition that came to be known as Memorial Day, (though many others, particularly Southern women, had been observing similar days since the war ended). Originally known as Decoration Day, the commander-in-chief of the GAR designated that May 30, 1868, would be a day for the decoration of Union graves. 31 states adopted Decoration Day as an official state holiday by the next year. This ensured that those who had sacrificed their lives for the Union cause would never be forgotten. In addition, it also served as a reminder that those living veterans who would proudly wear their cufflinks to these events to publicize their fraternal identity, deserved to be rewarded for their services.

In order to fight for what they believed veterans deserved, especially pensions, the GAR became a very political body. After the Civil War, it was difficult for a president to be elected or even win a primary without the endorsement of the GAR. The GAR became a political arm of the Republican party, lobbying for certain presidents and political candidates. It was not until 1885 that a Democrat, Grover Cleveland, was elected president. However, Cleveland was not able to win immediate reelection because he vetoed a pension bill, which made members of the GAR angry . The GAR was very concerned with the welfare of veterans, and because of this they focused their lobbying efforts on obtaining pensions for veterans and their families. When politicians vetoed or opposed pension bills they were sure to feel the wrath of the GAR. Before the formation of the GAR, soldiers did not really take a large role in politics. Americans held that the ideal soldier was first and foremost a citizen and as such they should not take a role in government affairs. Americans were all too familiar with the unruly armies in Europe who did not protect the citizens but instead fought for money and power. American soldiers tended to return quietly to private life after they were done fighting because of this fear. The GAR, in contrast, was openly political and fought for what they believed they were owed.

This cufflink was much more than just a piece of jewelry. It was a way for comrades to identify each other and immediately bond over shared wartime experience . As such, it promoted camaraderie, friendship, and healing among veterans. Those who wore it were immediately identified as a member of a heroic class, and the white, northern veteran became the new model of honorable manhood. This cufflink also helped the GAR shape the memory of the Civil War. Its symbolism reinforced the idea that the Union had fought a just war that had saved global democracy and liberated an entire race of people. Additionally, the monuments and the traditions that the GAR started helped to promote a distinctly northern memory of the war, its causes, and consequences . As is evidenced by the actions of those who proudly wore these cufflinks, the post-war years were not, contrary to popular belief, all about reconciliation and a “forgive and forget” attitude; both sides tried passionately, and for many decades, to assert their own particular memory of the war. While the GAR was a veterans’ organization, it also became a political lobbying group. For the first time since the American Revolution, citizen soldiers became a tightly organized interest group dedicated to reshaping the political life of the country. No longer retreating back into their post-war private lives, these veterans but became directly involved in national politics, fighting for the material benefits and respect they believed they deserved in return for their sacrifice.


Sources:

Blight, David W. Race and Reunion. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Christ, Mark K. “Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: Grand Army of the Republic Monuments.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 77, no. 1 (Spring2018 2018): 67-73. Accessed September 16, 2018.

O’Leary, Cecilia Elizabeth. ““When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Emergence of the Grand Army of the Republic.” In To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism, 29-48. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

“The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies (Main Reading Room, Library Of Congress)”. Loc.Gov. Last modified 2011. Accessed September 16, 2018.

“Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty”: The Bible as a Vessel for Remembrance, Guidance, and Self-Understanding during the Civil War

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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The Bible of Lewis Tway

 

Courage, guidance, family, strength, self-understanding, and survival: These are just a few of the things that this Bible represented to the soldier who carried it. For Private Lewis Tway of the 147th New York Volunteers, this Bible provided a tangible link to all these things—a way to make sense of the at-times non-sensical chaos and carnage of war, a way to grow, learn, and adapt to the infinite physical and spiritual challenges of soldiering while still firmly rooting Tway in the foundational people and principles that gave his life meaning. Tway’s engagement with this Bible was never static; the evolution of that engagement, coupled with the multiple meanings that this Bible took on throughout the course of the Civil War were instrumental in shaping, and re-shaping, the man who carried it.

21-year-old Lewis Tway enlisted in the 147th New York in July of 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, and was discharged in July of 1865. The 147th saw heavy fighting in between: The Battle of the Wilderness, the Mine Run Campaign, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg were just a few of their major engagements. This Bible was carried through the carnage of those battles in Tway’s pocket. Soldiers had to carry everything with them wherever they went. Though merely a palm-sized New Testament, this Bible would have meant extra weight for Tway to carry, but he found it important enough to do so. Its black leather binding worn to brown in some places from constant use, the Bible conveys a sense of constant companionship and consultation for Tway. It has a latch in the front that Tway would have to consciously remove to open it, but he did so time and time again. On the front page, he wrote his name and his regiment, which would have served as a type of dog tag in the case of his death—no doubt a comforting notion to a soldier who would be fighting hundreds of miles away from home and family. It also had blank pages in it which Tway could use as a sort of journal and a place to reflect on his experiences of warfare.

The text of the Bible is very small, but Tway marked up a lot of the passages in it that resonated with him, even writing notes in the margins. Tway’s notes bear witness to the emotional and spiritual challenges he confronted as well as his evolving perspective on those challenges. For example, he circled in pencil, 1 Corinthians 15:20, which refers to the resurrection of Christ, and he writes the word “easter” next to it. He may have been reading this and remembering the comforts of home and how he attended Easter services before the war began, as well as how he celebrated the holiday with his family. Making such notations may have also been a way for Tway to get his mind off the horrors of war, by really thinking about and examining each verse and attempting to understand what they meant in the broader context of the Bible as well as the context of his life as a soldier. From instances like these it is obvious that Tway dedicated time to reading the small text of the Bible and reflecting on it and how its message intertwined with the realities of his daily life. As exhibited in Tway’s notations, Tway appears to have turned to the Bible for self-understanding and as a coping mechanism during some of what were likely the darkest, most confounding days of his life.

For men like Tway, the Bible was not simply a holy book, but a piece of home they could carry with them. Many men received their Bibles as gifts from family members or dear friends. While it is unknown how Tway received his Bible, he most likely got it before leaving home. Judging by how worn and well-loved the Bible looks, it was one of Tway’s most cherished possessions, perhaps one that was a reminder of who was waiting at home for him. While he was not married until after the war, he did have a sister that he was very close to and who was one of the few people he wrote to during the war. The Bible was a piece of home for Tway, a reminder of his sister and other loved ones for whom he was fighting, and who were waiting for him to come home. Along with this Bible, he also carried a picture of a little girl, possibly his sister, which would have complemented the Bible as a visual reminder of whom he was fighting for.

The weight of the Bible in Tway’s pocket also served as a reminder to keep the faith and resist the many temptations of army life, such as alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Religion, especially Christianity, was a powerful force in the lives of most 19th century Americans. They went to church every week and looked to the Bible for all forms of moral guidance and teaching. It was essential not to stray from those teachings, which was why so many soldiers, such as Charles O. Varnum of the 40th Massachusetts, were warned by their parents to be wary of temptation in camp. Such calls for caution were not unique to the Union. On the Confederate side, Carlton McCarthy’s likewise father said he would rather see his son dead than hear tales of his immorality. The army had long been known as a place of temptation and these fathers were correct in voicing concern over their sons’ moral health. The physicality of the book in Tway’s pocket served as a constant reminder from home to never stray from the teachings of the Bible that so strongly undergirded so many elements of Victorian society.

Tway also probably found himself looking to his Bible often for religious advice or guidance in the midst of a war where God often seemed quite absent amidst the constant and horrifyingly brutal deaths of friends and comrades, who succumbed not only to battle wounds but to debilitating diseases. Tway wrote in a blank page of his Bible, “where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” He may have been trying to fortify his own courage by reminding himself that constant faith in the Lord would liberate his own soul, both to perform great acts of courage in battle and to reach the gates of Heaven. However, by writing this notation in the midst of war, Tway may have been suggesting that he believed the spirit of the Lord was with the Union and on the side of liberty, and thus also with Tway, as a soldier in blue. His notation also may have referred to the liberation of slaves, as he joined the army after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Thus, Tway may have been reflecting on the political aims of the war through the lens of the Bible which, for many, imbued the Union cause with a comforting sense of sacredly ordained responsibility.

Like Tway, people on both sides of the conflict used the Bible as justification of their cause. The South tended to take a literal approach to the Bible, citing its many references to slavery as proof that God condoned slavery. The North tended to interpret the Bible less literally, saying that the characteristics of God as depicted in the Bible proved that He would not condone slavery. Due to passages found in the Bible, both sides believed that God was on their side and that He supported their cause. Indeed, not only soldiers, but entire armies felt that they were carrying out God’s will. For example, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Civil War song, is a deeply religious song written by a northerner who believed that the Union Army was doing God’s work. The North was on a Christ-like mission, according to the song: “As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” The Bible was proof that the war and the killing necessitated by it were acceptable to God. Thus, the Civil War transformed the Bible into much more than a book that one looked to for moral guidance. It became a moral justification for all the killing and carnage that went along with the war. For the North especially, the war took on an increasingly religious cause, with the Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of the slaves raised to a holy mission. Many northerners thus ultimately interpreted the war as a conflict fought under God’s will for the North and the Union’s great “democratic experiment ” to win and the oppressed to be freed, not merely a war to reunite the states.

Similarly, Tway seemed to have looked to the Bible for constant reassurance that his actions on the battlefield were indeed compatible with, and justified, by God. He marked Mark 10:17-20 in which a man asks Jesus what he has to do to achieve eternal life and Jesus answers that he must keep the commandments, one of which is not to kill. Tway was unable to keep this commandment during the war, but he seemed to have reconciled this fact both with the comforting knowledge that the cause in whose name such killing occurred was morally justified, and with other, specific verses in the Bible that gave more personal comfort. One of these, was Luke 15:7, which reads “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” As long as he repented, Tway knew he would still have a place in heaven. Tway was not the only soldier who worried about the apparent contradiction between soldiering and moral living; many dealt with immense guilt over the fact they had to kill their fellow human beings, even if they were the enemy. For these soldiers, the Bible provided moral guidance on how one could still achieve salvation.

In addition, the Bible also provided soldiers with temporary salvation from their present mental hell. Soldiers were constantly aware of the fact that they could die at any moment, which caused immense anxiety and depression for many. Tway became so preoccupied by the eventual reality of his own death, that he even wrote his own obituary after the war was over. This suggests that the war changed Tway by awakening him to the reality and eventuality of his own death. With death being a possibility every day during the war, Tway realized that it was similarly possible after the war and he made sure to take control of how he would be remembered. Many soldiers faced this same reality of possible death, especially before a battle; some looked to the Bible, praying that they would make it through safely, or praying for the strength to accept the Bible’s teachings about the preordained nature of death. Others looked to it after battle, as a way of coming to terms with the horrors they had witnessed and the carnage in which they had participated. For those on the verge of going into battle, carrying a Bible provided a sense that God literally was “by their side,” especially if one made it out of that battle alive and in one piece, which often caused immense gratitude towards God. The moral fortitude and sense of peace that many soldiers derived from the Bible also gave soldiers courage and the strength to face the prospect of death. This was especially necessary in a society where displays of cowardice could impugn both a soldier’s masculinity and sense of honor. Although Tway survived the war, he was wounded badly enough at the Battle of the Wilderness to receive a furlough so he could recover at home. The fact that he survived such a terrifying experience likely would have filled him with gratitude toward God and deepened the sense of personal closeness he felt to his Creator. Indeed, Tway likely clung to this very Bible not only during, but after his recovering as an act of devotion to God, who had saved his life.

Bibles were also used as momento mori, objects proving the soldier had died a “good death.” Achieving the “good death” was essential for 19th -century Americans. One was supposed to die at home, surrounded by family, and demonstrating a preparedness for death. It was believed that the last moments before death were reflective of what that person’s afterlife would be like. For instance, it was thought that if a person were to die screaming, they would be sentenced to perpetually scream in the afterlife. Screaming was a sign that the deceased was not prepared for death nor resigned to God’s will, so their place in heaven was uncertain. With soldiers fighting hundreds of miles away from home, and facing unimaginable horrors and prolonged suffering , the good death was hard to come by on the battlefields of the Civil War. Thus, surviving soldiers constantly struggled to justify the death of a fallen comrade when writing to his family. Families wanted to hear that their soldier had died a heroic death, and was calm and serene at the end, accepting of his fate. When no one was around to see how the soldier died, momento mori served as hints as to if the soldier faced death with bravery and acceptance or cowardice and denial—hints that fellow comrades could convey to family to comfort them in their grief. A Bible was an important momento mori because it showed that the deceased was a believer and had held onto his Bible until the last second, proving that he had accepted God’s will. If Tway had died during the war, his Bible would have helped assure his family that he had a place in heaven. Although Tway survived the war, his Bible likely still played an important role in how he remembered and internalized his wartime experiences. An active member in postwar veteran’ organizations, Tway clearly derived great pride and meaning from his military service. Such meaning was deeply shaped by the religious lens through which he had understood his soldiering experience and the war, its causes, and its consequences. His Bible had helped him, physically, morally, and spiritually survive the war and ensured that he could help contribute to the restoration of the Union and the liberation of four million souls.

Tway
Lewis Tway

As is evident, the Bible took on many meanings for Tway and many other Americans during the war, and it helped shape the wartime experiences and worldviews of soldiers in camp and on the battlefield. Tway used the Bible, as many other soldiers did, as a lens through which to view his experience and explain what was happening to him. The Bible was able to affirm for him that, while what he was doing was technically a sin, he could still earn a place in heaven should he kill in the name of liberty, and repent sufficiently for taking a life. For many other soldiers, the Bible provided the same comfort in the face of battle and possible death. It provided them with courage to face the ensuing carnage and an explanation as to why they deserved to live when so many of their friends had died. For these soldiers and Tway, the Bible helped shape their wartime experiences and provided them with hope, courage, and guidance amidst a kind of carnage and death they had never experienced before.


Sources:

Faust, Drew Gilpin. “‘This Is My Last Letter to You’. (Cover story).” Civil War Times 47, no. 1 (February 2008): 28-35. Accessed September 3, 2017.

MacDonald, G Jeffrey. “Gettysburg Museum Looks at Faith Roles in Civil War.” The Christian Century 130, no. 17 (August 21, 2013): 17. Accessed September 3, 2017.

Miller, Randall M. “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis: A Comment.” Fides Et Historia 39, no. 2 (Sum 2007): 13-22. Accessed September 3, 2017.

MS-011: Lewis Tway Collection. Gettdigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA. Accessed September 10, 2018.

Trampling Mrs. Lee’s Roses: Union Soldiers at Arlington

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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Mary Custis Lee

“I would not stir from this house even if the whole Northern Army were to surround it,” wrote Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, to her daughter, Eleanor Agnes Lee on May 5, 1861. The Civil War was still in its infancy when Mary Lee wrote this letter, having begun a month earlier on April 12, 1861. Her husband had already sided with the Confederacy but there had not been much fighting yet. Even still, Mary Lee’s life was changing and would continue to change irrevocably throughout the war, especially in relation to Arlington House. Arlington House was the only home Mary Lee had ever known. It had been her childhood home, built by her father George Washington Parke Custis in 1802, and was the home where she raised her own children. Little did she know that by the end of the month, she would be gone from Arlington House.

Arlington House is just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. It is two miles from the White House and not much farther from other important governmental buildings. If the Confederates had been allowed to occupy Arlington, they could potentially have shelled the White House from there. Of course, the Union could not allow this to happen. So, on May 24, 1861, 10,000 Union soldiers under the command of Charles W. Sandford occupied the Arlington estate. When they arrived, the Lees had already fled, leaving only their slaves behind to take care of the estate in their absence. Union soldiers occupied the grounds until 1862, when Lincoln issued the initial Emancipation Proclamation and slaves began to flood the D.C. area. So, in a highly symbolic gesture, a refugee camp for freed slaves called Freedman’s Village was set up by the Federal Government on the grounds of the house that belonged to a man fighting to uphold slavery. This camp turned into an expansive village, eventually including a chapel, hospital, and dozens of family homes. The government also sponsored workshops to help teach the freed slaves skills that would be useful in the labor force and in finding employment.

Not only was Arlington House made into a camp for former slaves, it was also made into a cemetery for Union dead. In 1864, the casualty toll began to increase dramatically. In May alone there were 44,000 Union casualties. Many of the wounded were sent to Washington hospitals to hopefully recover, although many succumbed to their wounds. At first, the dead were buried in the cemetery at the Soldier’s Home, a military retirement home in Washington D.C., but that was full by 1864. Another place was needed, and Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs suggested Arlington, as he believed the grounds there were perfect for that use. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton agreed, and on June 15, 1864, he issued an order declaring the Arlington grounds a military cemetery. Burials began swiftly after this order. Meigs personally oversaw the burial of 65 Union officers, including his own son, John Rodgers Meigs, in Mary Lee’s rose garden and ordered all burials after that to be done as close to the mansion as possible so that it could not be used as a residence again.

Even though the Union had taken great strides to make Arlington House its own, when the war ended, Mary Lee set out to get her house back. While the government has the right to seize property during wartime, under the concept of eminent domain, it still must provide just compensation to the landowner. The Lee’s were never compensated, though, because Arlington was seized under the authority of the Doolittle Act of 1862. The Doolittle Act was an attempt by the Union government to raise money for the war effort. It allowed government commissioners to assess and collect taxes on real estate in “insurrectionary districts” and then auction off the property if the tax was not paid. Arlington was assessed, and it was determined that Mary Lee owed $90.07 for the property. Mary Lee attempted to send a cousin, Phillip Fendall, to pay the tax in December 1863, but the commissioners said they would only accept payment from the landowner, Mary Lee, in person, meaning she would have to cross Confederate and Union lines to pay the tax. There was, however, nothing in the act that said the landowner must pay in person.

About a decade later, in1872, Mary Lee petitioned Congress for compensation, at the very least be paid for the property that had been taken from her. The proposal to pay her was resoundingly defeated by a vote of 54 to 4. Mary Lee died the next year, never seeing her house again after she had left it in May of 1861. Her son then took up the fight to get the house back. He sued the government officials that had seized Arlington, and his case went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In 1882, in the case of United States v. Lee, the Supreme Court decided that Custis Lee was indeed the legal owner of Arlington House. Lee claimed that the government had violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment by claiming title to the land through an invalid land tax and not compensating Mary Lee for the land. The Supreme Court agreed with Lee, by a vote of 5 to 4, making it clear that the Constitution cannot be suspended during wartime. Lee was not as concerned with getting the actual property back as he was with getting the government to pay for it. With all the bodies and the controversy it would cause to have them disinterred, Lee agreed to the government’s proposal to purchase Arlington for $150,000 on February 7, 1883. Lee had gotten what his mother wanted all along, though she was not alive to see it.

Arlington_House,_with_Union_Soldiers.jpg
Union soldiers standing in front of Arlington House

The circumstances surrounding Arlington are all highly symbolic. The fact that it was turned into a camp for freed slaves was meant to send a message to Robert E. Lee, as were the bodies that were buried there. Housing freed slaves and burying Union soldiers on his property was a way of punishing Lee for his betrayal. The Union soldiers buried on his lawn served as a constant reminder of his responsibility in causing their deaths. The struggle that Mary Lee and her son went through to be justly compensated for their property shows that there were still lingering wounds and bad feelings between the North and the South, as Congress was not willing to admit legal fault to the family of an ex-Confederate. Now Arlington, the house so dear to Mary Lee, serves as a burial ground for soldiers of the United States—soldiers who were her husband’s enemies. Arlington can be seen as somewhat of a microcosm of the Civil War and its legacy. It was close to D.C., the capital of the Union, but was a highly contested area by both sides. Originally belonging to a Southerner, the North took it back during the war and it was highly contested even after that. In the courts, Custis Lee fought it out with the Federal government and he won a symbolic victory, but ultimately the government got what they wanted, to keep Arlington as a cemetery for Federal soldiers. Arlington’s legacy is complicated, much like the legacy of the Civil War.


Sources:

Gaughan, Anthony J. “Taking Back Arlington.” Civil War Times 50, no. 6 (December 2011): 32-39. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Gaughan, Anthony J. “The Arlington Cemetery Case: A Court and a Nation Divided.” Journal of Supreme Court History 37, no. 1 (March 2012): 1-21. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Lee, Mary Randolph Custis. “Petition of Mary Ann Randolph Lee.” January 22, 1872. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Lee, Mary Randolph Custis to Eleanor Agnes Lee. May 5, 1861. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Poole, Robert M. “The Battle of Arlington.” Smithsonian 40, no. 8 (November 2009): 50-57. Accessed April 16, 2018.

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.

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“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.

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.

Inspirations of War: Innovations in Prosthetics after the Civil War

By Savannah Labbe ’19

In early 1861, a Confederate soldier named James Edward Hanger waited on the ground to die. Minutes before, his left leg had been shot off above the knee while he was sitting with his comrades in the loft of a barn in Philipi, Virginia. As soon as the cannonball burst through the barn, the rest of the men fled, leaving Hanger behind. He was found by enemy troops and brought to a doctor, who amputated his leg. Hanger became the first person to have a limb amputated during the Civil War. When one thinks of Civil War injuries, amputations often come to mind, and, to be sure, there was an unprecedented number of amputations performed during the Civil War. Surgeons on both sides performed at least 60,000 amputations during the war and 45,000 patients survived the surgery.

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Soldier with an amputated arm. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

This increasing number of amputees presented a new problem. Before the Civil War, peg legs and other prosthetics were not very common, but now there was a new demand for this kind of product. James Hanger, who had been sent to Camp Chase until he was exchanged two months later and sent home to Churchville, Virginia, was so frustrated with his peg leg that he stayed in his room for months, trying to build a better one. He was aided in this endeavor by his engineering education from Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, which he attended for two years until he dropped out to join the Churchville Calvary at the start of the Civil War. When he emerged from his room at Camp Chase, he had created a comfortable leg that had a foot and hinged at both the ankle and knee. He wanted to share his creation with other veterans, so he set up Hanger Inc., which is still one of the largest prosthetic manufacturers today.

Many others took up the call to create prosthetic limbs, and the industry blossomed after the war, especially as the government paid for Union veterans to buy replacement limbs. Since Confederates had rebelled against the government and were not considered to be veterans, they were not eligible for this program, although some states such as North Carolina and Virginia set up programs similar to the federal one. By 1870, the federal government had paid $500,000 for 7,000 veterans’ limbs. Of course, some probably did not actually get a limb since the federal government just gave the stipends to the soldiers and allowed them to spend it how they pleased. However, most of them likely did buy a limb in order to walk better or to feel normal and whole again. In addition, ideas of manhood and masculinity during this time period stressed self-sufficiency, and especially for veterans who had lost a leg, amputations made it much easier for them to walk around and fulfill a normal masculine role. However, many veterans did view their amputated limbs with pride, as they served as an outward mark of their bravery and sacrifice for their country.

The Civil War created a change in government policy regarding veterans. In the Revolutionary War, Congress struggled to pay the Continental Army, both during and after the war, and many veterans did not get nearly as much payment as they were promised. In addition, pensions for Revolutionary War veterans were rejected by the public because they believed it would diminish the patriotic nature of veterans’ service. The Civil War was the first time that the government really showed much concern for its veterans. The most vocal advocates for government recompense for veterans were the limb manufacturing companies themselves. Their campaign was so successful that they got the federal government to pay for research grants for innovations in prosthetics as well as limbs for any Union veteran that needed one. Civil War soldiers not only received limbs but also pensions and government hospital care, after much lobbying by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The GAR was a political organization, which allowed it to accomplish so much in a way that veterans of the Revolutionary War could not, due to public fear that a strong military establishment would form an upper, aristocratic class and could possible use force to radically change the government or impose their will on the people. The Civil War was when the government, at the behest of groups like the GAR, began to assume responsibility for their veterans and felt like they had a debt to repay them.

Many parallels can be drawn between the Civil War and the present. Since 2003, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been losing limbs at twice the rate of previous wars, including the Civil War. Like in the Civil War, this has provoked innovation in the field of prosthetics. In the Civil War it was all about making the limb comfortable, but now the focus is on making the limb just like the one that was lost, making it realistic and able to move around and even grab things, in the case of prosthetic hands. Computer chips and wireless technology are being utilized to make “robot hands” that are mobile and able to pinch, grip, and flex. There have even been some limbs made with sensors that are able to pick up small signals from the brain and move  in response. This research is again being funded by government grants in order to meet the need of veterans, just like in the Civil War.

Throughout history, conflict has been the driving force for change, with war being the ultimate conflict. While war causes immense suffering, it also has the ability to create, to inspire. As the author Stephen Cushman puts it, war can be a “belligerent muse.” Not only does it provoke innovations in science and technology like prosthetics, it inspires works of literature and art. War creates specific needs, and those needs are often met by advancements in science. It can be the driving force of not only inherently harmful technology, such as the atomic bomb, but it can also be used to help. War also has the ability to transform, as one can see in the example of the change in the relationship between the government and veterans. The Civil War really established a precedent for repaying the debt owed to veterans who sacrificed so much to preserve the ideals that the republic was founded upon.


Sources

Brink, Tracy Vonder. “The Man Who Built a Better Leg.” Cricket 44, no. 9 (July 2017): 21. Accessed February 10, 2018.

Clarke, Frances M. War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Cushman, Stephen. Belligerent Muse. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Daloz, Kate. “A Call to Arms (And Legs) in the Civil War and the Iraq War.” Huffington Post, n.d. Accessed February 11, 2018.

Gannon, Barbara A. “A Debt We Never Can Pay, A Debt We Refuse to Repay: Civil War Veterans in American Memory.” South Central Review 33, no. 1 (Spring2016 2016): 69. Accessed March 3, 2018.

Herschbach, Lisa. “Prosthetic Reconstructions: Making the Industry, Re-Making the Body, Modelling the Nation.” History Workshop Journal, no. 44 (1997): 22-57.

Separate but Equal? Gettysburg’s Lincoln Cemetery

By Savannah Labbe ’19

The most well-known cemetery in Gettysburg is, of course, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Another cemetery in Gettysburg that receives less attention is the Lincoln Cemetery, currently located on Lincoln Lane. This small cemetery is home to around thirty Civil War veterans. Why were these men not buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, a cemetery created for all veterans of the Civil War? The answer: they were African-American. While they were allowed to fight for their freedom, even in death, these men were still not equal to the white soldiers they fought beside.

Some Union soldiers were willing to fight for abolition, but many did not believe in racial equality, even in the army ranks. The most famous of example of this is General William T. Sherman, who detested the freed slaves who followed his army as it marched through Georgia and South Carolina. He also had to be forced by Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers in his army, remarking in his memoirs that his army “preferred white soldiers.” The Civil War was also often seen in its immediate aftermath as a war about reunion, with the abolition of slavery being a necessary side effect. Burying African Americans next to white soldiers could therefore hamper reconciliation efforts between North and South, as cemeteries often became places of shared memory and reverence for both sides. With this in mind, it is not surprising that these veterans of the United Sates Colored Troops were not allowed in the main cemetery in Gettysburg, and another place for them to be buried was needed. The cemetery created to fill this need was what would eventually become Lincoln Cemetery.

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Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1866, a group was formed for the express purpose of finding a good place to bury the community’s African American veterans. This group was called the Sons of Good Will, and it originally had three members: Basil Biggs, Nelson Mathews, and Thomas Griegsby, all of whom were African American. Biggs was also involved in reinterring bodies in the Soldiers National Cemetery, hired as a laborer by the government. This was a very lucrative opportunity for Biggs and others who wished to make money to pay for all the property that had been destroyed during the battle. Perhaps his experience doing this spurred him to create a similar cemetery for African American veterans of the Civil War.

In 1867, the Sons of Good Will bought a half-acre of land in a neighborhood located in what is still known as the “third ward” of Gettysburg, where African Americans were required to live–attempts to move out of it were always denied by the local government. It was on the outskirts of town, and as such, its residents were always subject to getting their land taken away as the town expanded. A prominent landowner in this part of town, Eden Devan, sold the first plot of land to the society for $60, to be paid in two installments. Most of the land that the cemetery was created from was bought from African American members of the community, just like this first half acre. The cemetery came to be known as the Good Will cemetery after the society that founded it. It would eventually house not only the thirty USCT veterans but also many members of the African American community.

In 1906, the Lincoln Cemetery merged with the other black cemetery in town, which was located near the AME Zion Church. The church no longer could afford to maintain their cemetery and appealed to the Sons of Good Will for help. This led them to the decide to disinter and reinter all the bodies in the Good Will Cemetery, which now became the only African American cemetery in Gettysburg. In addition, the town wanted the land that AME Zion’s cemetery was located on, and they pushed for the consolidation of the two cemeteries. In 1916, after the Sons of Good Will ceased to exist, due to the death of most of the members, so some of the land on Good Will Cemetery sat was sold to Lincoln Lodge 145, was an African American Elks Lodge. The members of this organization became the cemetery’s caretaker, especially in 1920 after all of the lots were sold and entrusted to their care. This is how it came to be known as the Lincoln Cemetery. The Lincoln Lodge was responsible for the cemetery until around 1934, when its last member became incapable of caring for it. After that, the care of the cemetery fell into hands of concerned citizens and members of the community.

As no one in particular was in charge of the cemetery, it fell into disrepair. This was a common problem in African American cemeteries everywhere, and it followed a pattern of destroyed African American cemeteries in towns whose white cemeteries were kept in pristine condition. In many instances, this pattern continues today. An example of this is in Richmond, Virginia. The African American East End and Evergreen Cemeteries there are overgrown with many headstones knocked over, while the nearby Oakwood Cemetery is kept in good condition, as the Virginia government provides money to the Daughters of Confederate Veterans for its upkeep. In a similar situation, the Lincoln Cemetery became overgrown, so much so that one could hardly tell that it was there. Often, people used the cemetery for parking. Headstones were knocked over, and the cemetery became a mess.

In the 1970s, the Gettysburg College service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega cleaned up the cemetery as one of their projects. Eventually, care of the cemetery was given back to the AME Zion Church, which appealed to the town to help with maintenance. The town agreed. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association was established in the late 1990s to help preserve the cemetery and raise awareness of its existence. Now, there is a locked fence around the cemetery due to concerns of vandalism and a lack of respect for those buried there. The association also holds an annual Memorial Day service complete with a parade, and the cemetery is in much better shape than it has been over the years. There are also waysides around it that provide interpretation in order to help people learn about the history of the cemetery and understand that even though the USCT veterans buried in the cemetery fought for freedom and citizenship, they were still segregated in death. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association works to preserve not only the cemetery itself but also its memory and the memory of African Americans who fought in the Civil War

This cemetery is interesting for many reasons, one of them being the fact that, despite its existence, two African American Civil War veterans were still allowed to be buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Why were these two allowed to be buried here when everyone else was denied access? One of these men was Charles Parker, a member of the 3rd USCT. He was originally buried in Yellow Hill Cemetery until 1936, when he was reinterred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Yellow Hill Cemetery was located in Butler Township, and the surrounding area was home to a thriving African American community until it was abandoned in the 1920s. The cemetery was left without anyone to care for it, so many of the bodies in the cemetery were moved to the Lincoln Cemetery. Parker’s reinternment was part of Worker’s Progress Administration project to locate all the graves of Civil War soldiers. In Gettysburg and the surrounding towns, this job was taken up by Henry Stewart. When Stewart found Parker’s body, the Yellow Hill Cemetery was in serious disrepair, so the decision was made to move him to Soldier’s National Cemetery.

The story of Henry Gooden, the other African American man buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery, is more perplexing, however. Gooden died in 1876 and was reinterred in 1884. This raises many questions as to why Gooden was allowed to be buried there when only one other African American man was. There is scant information on Gooden. Perhaps he especially distinguished himself during the war. It seems unlikely that he would have been allowed to be buried there without anyone really noticing or caring, given the racial feelings of the day. Gooden was buried in the United States Regulars plot in Section D, as part of the prominent Civil War section of the cemetery, alongside white soldiers, with the same granite marker. He was given an equal place among the rest of the dead; the records do not provide an answer as to why this was so. Gooden’s case is an unusual one, as he was the one of the very few that was granted equality in death. In contrast, the African Americans in Lincoln Cemetery remained unequal, have largely been forgotten about, left behind by history, in a cemetery that was poorly taken care of for far too long. These men were good enough to fight beside white men, but only two were good enough to be buried beside them, a perfect example that freedom did not mean equality.


Sources

“Area Speaker Invited to Centre County.” September 17, 2005. The Gettysburg Times.

FREED WESSLER, SETH. “BLACK DEATHS MATTER. (Cover story).” Nation 301, no. 18 (November 2, 2015): 20-25. Accessed March 4, 2018.

History.” Sons of Goodwill/Lincoln Cemetery. Last modified 2013. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Myers, Betty Dorsey. Segregation in Death. Gettysburg, PA: Lincoln Cemetery Project Association, 2001.

“Salute to USCT Set for November 19.” November 12, 2008. The Gettysburg Times.

Sherman, William T. The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889.

“1,565 Graves of Civil War Veterans Located.” October 17, 1936. The Gettysburg Times.

Spreading the Flames: The United States, Cuba, and the Fear of Africanization

By Savannah Labbe ’19

In the years leading up to the Civil War, the fight over slavery played out in many different arenas, notably in Kansas and Nebraska. While Bleeding Kansas was arguably the most well-known and violent clash over slavery before the Civil War, there were others as well. One flash point over the question of slavery resulted from political unrest in Cuba. In the 1850s, Spain owned Cuba, an economically prosperous island with an economy based on African slave labor. However, Spain was under pressure from Great Britain to end slavery in Cuba, and because Spain was in enormous debt and was financially reliant on the British, who were morally opposed to slavery, the Spanish government began to take steps towards abolishing it. They started the process by counting how many slaves were on the island and how many each owner possessed. They also let slaves find other jobs, as long as they returned some of their earnings back to their owners.

These measures and the issues in Cuba frightened some Americans, including many Southerners, who feared “Africanization.” Africanization, or the prospect of the island and its government coming into the hands of newly-freed black citizens, was seen as a threat to the island’s white landowners as well as the United States itself. This kind of unrest in Cuba could spread, like a fire, to the United States. In addition, as James Buchanan–then the minister to Great Britain–wrote in the Ostend Manifesto that discussed the US-Cuba situation, Americans would be “unworthy of [their] gallant forefathers” if they allowed “Cuba to be Africanized and become a second [Haiti], with all its attendant horrors to the white race.” The United States felt they had to do something. Military filibustering, a type of irregular warfare used to incite a revolution or some form of political change, was going on in Cuba already. However, these efforts to overthrow Spanish rule of Cuba by force were not producing results, so the government under President Franklin Pierce decided to pursue a more public policy-oriented approach to the issue. Pierce then directed three of his European diplomats to meet in Ostend, Belgium to discuss options.

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Political cartoon depicting Buchanan as a bewildered old women, not knowing what to do with the Ostend Manifesto and the issue of Cuba. “The Bewildered Old Woman,” 1860, GettDigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 2/12/18, https://gettysburg.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p4016coll2/id/268/rec/12.

Buchanan, along with minister to Great Britain J.Y Mason and minister to Spain Pierre Soule, were the three diplomats who would eventually pen the Ostend Manifesto. They concluded at their conference that it was in the best interest of the United States to purchase Cuba for as much as $120,000,000. Cuba was important to the United States economically, and it was in an important position, “[commanding] the mouth of the Mississippi.” This would be an advantageous deal to all parties involved, as the money would help Spain with the “overwhelming debt now paralyzing her energies” and give her extra money to modernize her economy by building railroads. The manifesto also strongly suggested that if Spain was not open to selling, they would be in “imminent danger of losing Cuba, without remuneration.” In other words, the United States would take it by force. Neither the Spanish nor the American governments acknowledged this document or officially recognized it, and Spain was not willing to sell. However, the document is important because it is an example of the United States’ justifications for continuing imperialism and an additional U.S. government endorsement of slavery. It is also an interesting example of “gunboat diplomacy,” in which the United States threatened force to get what they wanted. While the Manifesto was endorsed by Pierce to begin with, the uproar that it caused between the sections of the United States made him unable to recognize the document and forced him to distance himself from it. In addition, Pierce’s interest in Cuba was overshadowed by domestic issues, such as the problems in Kansas.

An interesting question arises from this issue: why was the United States so interested in Cuba when they had so much going on at home? Perhaps the president and other politicians were trying to distract people from the domestic strife, but Cuba could have erupted into violence between the North and the South just as easily. Northerners were angered by the manifesto, as it was a clear attempt by Southerners to spread slavery and increase their power in congress. While the South could gain much from Cuba, the North saw little potential, as the island would mostly be divided into multiple slave states. It seems that this episode in our history was a result of a Southern-dominated government. The South feared that a neighbor so close to them being free would possibly, in the words of the manifesto, spread the “flames” of insurrection to “seriously endanger or actually consume the fair fabric of our Union.” The memory of the Haitian Revolution, in which slaves freed themselves and rose up against the French, ended in 1804 and was fresh in Southern minds. This was exactly what Southerners feared–a slave uprising resulting in a new government led by former slaves. Such an uprising could spread and produce disastrous socio-political results in the southern United States. The best way to prevent such a subversion of power was to control Cuba, and thus, Southerners pushed the American government to buy it.

Despite Northern concerns, the government, most notably Franklin Peirce and his secretary of state, intended to build upon the expansionist legacy of James Polk. Hence, they continued to pursue their course on Cuba, and it cost them. In the 1854 mid-term elections, the Democrats lost their majority in the House and now had no hope of getting Congress to appropriate funds for Cuba. In addition, the Cuba issue, along with Bleeding Kansas, caused a split in the Democratic Party between Northern and Southern Democrats over the issue of slavery. This split proved irreparable and would continue to deepen during the Buchanan’s presidency. It would then help Lincoln rise to power in 1860, as the Northern and Southern Democrats each supported a different candidate, splitting the Democratic vote and making it easier for Lincoln to gain a majority. Because of the split in the party and growing Northern hostility to the measure, the idea of acquiring Cuba was dropped. However, there was much potential for Cuba to become another Bleeding Kansas as filibusters continued to try to annex Cuba by force. If these efforts had worked, or if Cuba had been purchased by the United States, the Civil War may have taken a different turn, starting earlier and erupting over the issue of Cuba. Even still, Cuba played a significant, but often overlooked role in the coming of the war.  The Cuba question illuminates the valuable contributions that a more international or global approach to the study of the Civil War can reveal about this tenuous time in American history.


Sources:

Ambacher, Bruce. “George M. Dallas, Cuba, and the Election of 1856.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 97, no. 3 (1973): 318-32. Accessed January 25, 2018.

Buchanan, James, J.Y. Mason, and Pierre Soule. “The Ostend Manifesto.” October 18, 1864. Accessed January 25, 2018.

Connolly, Michael J. ““Tearing Down the Burning House”: James Buchanan’s Use of Edmund Burke.” American Nineteenth Century History 10, no. 2 (June 2009): 211-221. Accessed January 25, 2018.

Urban, C. Stanley. “The Africanization of Cuba Scare, 1853-1855.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 37, no. 1 (1957): 29-45. Accessed January 25, 2018.