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Archive for the month “January, 2013”

What Was the First Colored Regiment to Be In Combat in the Civil War

There are several regiments that deserve the designation of true firsts.  The first colored regiment to be formed totally from escaped slaves from a Confederate state is the 1st South Carolina Volunteers formed 31 January 1863. 

The 1st Louisiana Native Guards was a regiment of free men of color who volunteered to serve the Confederacy from New Orleans on 2 May 1861.  The Confederates would not use them and many of the soldiers eventually formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard Regiment (US) in 27 Sep 1862.  There were three Native Guard Regiments the 1st was of free men of color, the 2nd was made up of liberated slaves and the 3rd was composed of run away slaves.  These units participated in the first organized assault on the defenses of Port Hudson 27 May 1863.

The 54th Massachusetts Vol Infantry, formed of runaways and some free men of color, was formed in March 1863.  Their first combat action was on James Island 16 July 1863.

But the first colored unit to be engaged in combat was the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry which was engaged 29 October 1862 in the Battle of Island Mound, Missouri where they were lured into a rebel trap from which they fought their way out achieving a victory. 

The very first African American Regiment was the 1st Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Army which served from 1775-1783.


The Only Monument to US Regular Army Officers and Men Killed in the War Of The Rebellion

There are many monuments to heros and units of the Civil War from both sides scattered over many battlefields, cemeteries, courthouses and other prominent places throughout the States involved in the Civil War.  But there is only one that honors the officers and men of the Regular Army.  The overwhelming number of units that bore the brunt of the fighting were volunteer units.  At the beginning of the war there were only about 16000 US Regulars scattered over the West and along the seacoast fortifications along the East Coast.

The only monument to the Regulars is Battle Monument that includes the 46 foot tall and the five foot six inch diameter polished monolithic granite shaft that stands at Trophy Point at West Point.  The shaft was at the time the largest turned granite shaft in the world.  The monument includes the names of 188 Officers and 2042 Regular Army Enlisted Men. (total 2230 names)  It is crowned by a bronze statue of ‘the Lady of Fame”.

The officers’ names are arrayed around the base of the granite shaft.  The enlisted men are displayed on bronze bands around eight granite orbs surrounding the central shaft.  The names are grouped by unit and the officers, many who were promoted to temporary general officer rank, are listed in their permanent Regular Grade.  For example Major General Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general killed in action was killed at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri and is listed as a Captain.

There is only one name of a black man on the monument because there were only two jobs that could be held by a black in the pre-war Regular Army-Colored cook and teamster.  CC Jackson Kelly of the 4th US Cavalry has that distinction. 

The first Regular Officer killed was Lt John Trout Greble, 2d US Artillery, at the Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia 10 June 1861

Confederacy Was More Advanced Than the Union In This Field of Medicine

Dentistry.  President Davis was an early advocate for a Dentistry Corps while Secretary of War for President Pierce.  CSA Medical Director William A. Carrington commented that dentists “plugged, cleaned, and extracted teeth”, in addition to “adjusting fractures of the jaw and operating on the mouth“. The South began conscripting dentists in 1864.  Soldier teeth were very important for general health and performing their combat duties.  Teeth were necessary for biting cartridges.  The inter-dental splint made of vulcanized India rubber for treating gunshot related facial and jaw injuries was developed by Dr. James Baxler Bean, MD, DDS in 1863 at an Atlanta hospital. He pioneered other dental advances.

What Happened to the Battle Recognition of All the Battles West of the Mississippi?

Battle actions are recognized by streamers on the flags of all service organizations above company level.  The US Navy flag carries one Civil War streamer with three silver stars, each denoting five separate actions.  The Marines and Coast Guard flags have one Civil War streamer each that is unadorned.  That means it is just a ribbon half blue and half gray with no lettering or other devices.

The US Army flag has twenty-five streamers, each representing a major campaign such as Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chancellorsville and Manassas.  It is interesting to note that there are no battle streamers recognizing actions west of the Mississipi River.  The area encompassing Missouri, Arkansas, West Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma (then called Indian Territory) and the territories of Arizona and New Mexico.  Additionally there were battles in Kansas as well.  Americans from all these states campaigned, fought and died as did their brothren in the East.  However, for various reasons the inportant battles like Pea Ridge, Wilsons Creek, Westport, the Red River Campaign and the others seem to have been forgotten.

A petition drive is underway to ask the Secretary of The Army to correct this oversight by designating a Battle Streamer for the “Trans-Mississippi 1861-65” to provide some recognition to all the 2,000,000 or so men, white, black, brown and red who served in this oft forgotten theater of operations during the Civil War.

A copy of the petition is available on my website:  Please feel free to download or copy the petition and send signed copies to me at the address in the website.

The 1865 Missouri Ironclad Oath Had To Be Overturned

What was the Missouri Drake Constitution of 1865 and why was it overturned by the US Supreme Court?

The Missouri State Constitution of June 1865, named for Charles Frances Drake its author and prime-supporter, was  a harsh and retributive legislation that required the taking of the “Ironclad Oath” in order for persons to be allowed to preach, teach, practice law and medicine and almost all occupations other than labor and business enterprise.  It probably would not have passed had not poll books been sent to Union Army units.  The Supreme Court overturned the constitution because it required a perjury oath from ex-Confederates and their supporters as it specified ex-post facto behavior as being a limiting factor in taking the oath.  Southern supporters had but two choices: lie of refuse the oath and thereby suffer the consequences.  The results of either could be horrendous. The overturn was a result of a challenge made by the Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis over the preaching of a Catholic Priest, Father John Cummings of Louisiana, in Pike County, Missouri, who was convicted of preaching without taking the oath. It was declared null and void on January 14, 1867 by a vote of 5 to 4.

In taking the oath one swore that they had not participated in the rebellion or given aid or comfort to anyone who was involved.  Writing a letter to a Confederate son or husband disqualified a person from being allowed to take the oath.  Obviously, this affected all the educated, experienced and influential members of Missouri society who fought for the South.  The loss of this segment of the population would have serious economic and political implications for the entire state of Missouri. Many talented and influential people fled the state rather than sign the oath.

Southern States Confiscate Federal Property and Facilities

When it became clear that secession was at hand, individual Southern states began occupying Federal forts and taking control of arsenals and other important property.  Three US Mints were taken, post offices, seacoast forts, six US Revenue Cutters and lighthouses and  lighthouse tenders.

Only four coastal defense forts were never siezed.  They were Fortress Monroe at the tip if the Virginia Peninsula, and Ft. Wool ( previously called Ft. Calhoun) in the center of the entrance to Hampton Roads, Ft. Taylor at Key West, Ft. Pickens at Pensacola.  These posts helped immensely in imposing the Union Blockade.

The Revenue Cutters and Lighthouse  tenders served as blockade runners and various other duties including siezing federal commercial shipping early in the war.  Seizing the lighthouses themselves undermined blockading efforts and often the lights were moved in the effort to force Union ships on the rocks.

Seizing post offices and the postage therin generatred some revenue during the early months until The US Postmaster General declared all current postage invalid and reissued new stamps. 

The mints taken were in Charlotte, NC, New Orleans, LA and Dahlonaga, Georgia.  These facilities netted the Southern States gold and silver stocks as well as already minted coinage.

Arsenals seized netted small arms, and field artillery ans well as supplies and tooling.  The Harpers Ferry Arsenal was one of the two most technologically advanced production facilities in America.  The tooling was rtemoved to Richmond for the most part after Virginia seceded.

The cost to the Union ran into the millions of dollars.   

Here is another little known Civil War legacy accomplishment

What was the Great Glanders Epixootic of 1861-66 and what was its effect on both armies during the Civil War and after?

It was the explosive epidemic of the equine respiratory disease Glanders among horses and mules of both armies.  It spread to the civilian sector and left a legacy that figured into the beginning of modern agricultural medicine.  As an example, over 15 months at the Lynchburg, VA Confederate Quartermaster Depot, of the 6875 animals stabled, 1000 were sent to Lee’s army, 3000 died and 449 had to be  put down. The rest were considered unfit for service!  Drs. John Jay Terrell and John R. Page did extensive research at Lynchburg in what is considered a landmark study of early pathological experimentation.  Their work is regarded as the first important American contribution to Veterinary Medicine.  Dr Terrell is also credited with innovations in the treatment of smallpox which he developed concurrently while working at the Lynchburg Pest House. 

This is just another obscure Civil War story which I stumbled upon today while researching something else.  Reflection on the broader aspect of this and the inpact on the economic recovery of the South after the war leads me to ponder what else could have happened to damage the ravaged countryside?        

Young Franklin Buchanan-The Confederacy’s Only Full Admiral

At age 14, young Buchanan received a midshipman’s warrant in January 1815, just in time to miss his desired opportunity to fight the British in the War of 1812.  He was ordered to report to the USS Java and to serve under the heroic Captain Oliver Hazard Perry aboard this new construction frigate.  What an opportunity!!  However the ship was not to embark for two months and so young Buchanan asked for a two-month furlough so he could get some sea experience aboard a merchantman bound for the West Indies.  Now this all sounds like a storytale but 14-yearolds in 1815 had a bit more grit than most of our sons today.  Buchanan sounds like a man with a career vision.

Buchanan eventually reported aboard the Java and began his midshipman training.  In those days midshipman were assigned aboard a war ship and mentored by the Captain and his lieutenants.  On the largest man-of-wars a chaplain might be assigned to instruct in classic languages as well as Spanish and French.  Instruction in navigation, shipboard  duties and managing the compliment of sailors was standard.  At so point later the midshipman would be allowed to sit for the lieutenants exam.  Promotion to lieutenant could take 10 or more years.

Buchanan demonstrated the toughness and determination that would eventually characterize his performance as a fighting Confederate naval commander.

Confederate Hard Luck Admiral-Franklin Buchanan

After a recent bout with pneumonia I am back. While recovering I spent a lot of time preparing research for an upcoming presentation I will be giving at the end of February. Franklin Buchanan (pronounced Buck-anan) was a classic example of a talented man who rose to the highest professional assignment in the US Navy prior to his resignation to go south as a result of the secession crisis in his home state of Maryland.

Buchanan began his naval career at the tender age of 14 as a midshipman and some forty-five years later he was assigned to command the US Washington Navy Yard. Having desided to resign he turned over his responsibilities in a classic professional manner. Along the way he achieved several historic accomplishments which I will delineate in more detail in future installments. In the mean time I highly recommend your looking into the career of this marvelous American hero.

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