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Archive for the month “April, 2013”

United States Colored Troops and the Medal of Honor

Someone once asked me what is the difference between a trivia junkie and a historian.  My answer is simply that I am gather bits of information and groups of related information that collectively are of interest.  The same techniques as a stamp collector or any other collector uses for enjoyment.

I have recently been interested in the US Colored Troops that were military organizations for free men of color and freedmen.  About 180,000 served in the army units formed as the war progressed.  Black sailors were not uncommon prior to the war and many served on the Federal blockading fleets.  The pre-war Regular Army only had jobs for blacks in the catagories of cook and teamster.  Only one African-American name is on Battle Monument at West Point and that is CC (colored cook) Jackson Kelly of the 4th US Cavalry, Regular Army.

With that as a background, there were 26 black men awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in the Civil War.  Eight in the Navy and 18 Army.   Of the soldiers, 14 of the 18 were awarded for combat at Chaffin’s Farm (a.k.a. New Market Heights) on 29 September 1864. One was awarded for Ft Fisher, one for The Petersburg Crater, one at Ft Wagner and one at Honey Hill, South Carolina.  Four of the Navy were awarded for the Battle of Mobile Bay.  Interestingly, one sailor was not African-American but Native American.  Native Americans were considered as colored men for enlistment purposes.  Private Bruce Anderson of the 142nd New York Infantry was the only instance of an award to a black man in an all white unit, which was truly rare.  One sailor had his award revoked for desertion.  

This information would not have struck me had I not made a list of all the awardees and the battle actions for which they were decorated.




Successful Businessmen Had Civil War Experiences

A Jewish Hungarian born immigrant served as a Private in the 1st New York “Lincoln” Cavalry Regiment under General Carl Schurz.  The unit fought under Gen Phil Sheridan in the 1864 Campaign in the Shenandoah Valley.  Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the Pulitizer publishing empire including the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World, and a famous  philanthropist, served from 1864 through the end of the War, about eight months.  He was recruited by a Massachusetts military recruiting group and his passage to Boston was paid by them.  Realizing that the recruiters were taking advantage of the immigrants, Pulitzer escaped their grip, made his way to New York and enlisted in the Lincoln Cavalry and pocketed the $200 bounty.  He was just 17 years old.  He was assigned to Company L and although he spoke three European languages, German, French and Hungarian, he never needed to learn English because the Lincoln Cavalry was made up of German immigrants.  Pulitizer did not learn to speak English until after the war.  Pulitzer rode in the May 24, 1865 Victory Parade in Washington, DC after which he was mustered out.

Another highly successful businessman who served in the cavalry was Eli Lilly of Indiana.  He had completed pharmaceutical training and opened a pharmacy in Greencastle.  He was recently married when the war  began.  Lilly recruited classmates, friends and business contacts and formed the Lilly’s Hooser Battery,  18th Indiana Light Artillery, composed of six 10-pound Parrott Rifles and about 150 men. The 18th served in the West in Tennessee,and Georgia and was in the Battle of Chickamauga.  The unit completed its three year enlistment and was mustered out in 1863. Lilly and many others then reinlisted in the 9th Indiana Cavalry serving with Wilson’s Cavalry Corps.  He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel . He was captured in Alabama and spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Cahaba, Alabama.  At war’s end was brevetted to Colonel.  After the war Lilly founded the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company in Indianapolis which exists to this day as a prominent player in the industry.  Lilly served as Chairman of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1893.




Jackie Robinson-An Unintended Dividend of the Civil War

 We just returned from seeing the new motion picture “42” starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie.  A really good movie that we enjoyed alot and it got me to thinking.

620,000 American men and boys on both sides died as a consequence of the Civil War.  The war was fought over the institution of slavery and it was this very institution which deterred the nations of England and France from coming to the aid of the Confederacy which with their help might have insured their independance.

True it took a long time for black people to achieve the freedom of opportunity they have today.  That is regrettable but fact.  However, that Jackie Robinson was able to take his rightful place as an American Athletic Hero was in some way due to the sacrifice of those  Civil War soldiers so many years previous. 

If only those who continue to demand “freedom” and “equality” would realize that that will never be achieved without individual effort like Jackie’s.   Jackie was a three letter man at UCLA in football, track and baseball.  He was an OCS graduate in the US Army tank corps, and commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He left college just shy of graduation to take a job.  He did not become a Hall of Fame Baseball player without lots and lots of work and effort.  That effort is what is needed to drink deeply of the freedom of opportunity this country offers.  Why, when US taxpayers are paying in the $10,000 per year range to educate each student in our public schools are so many not making the effort to take advantage of the free education?  It is hard to be sympathetic to those who do not thrive when they do not take advantage of the opportunities presented.

Jackie Robinson is demonstrable proof of what can be achieved.  Even more so today do to efforts of men like him.

Ambrose Powell Hill-Firey Commander of Lee’s “Fire Brigade”

AP Hill was the Confederate general  put under arrest by both Generals James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson and he was the general most often called upon to lead a counterattack or provide a covering force for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  His timely arrival saved the day at ANtietam, Cedar Mountain and 2nd Manassas.  He loved the tumult of battle and was fond of wearing a fire red calico shirt in the melee so he could be easily recognized. 

The Longstreet issue was about an article in the Richmond Examiner regarding Frayser’s Farm.  Longstreet believed Hill had put the writer, John Daniel, up to it.  Hill had not.  The issue got blown all out of proportion.  The Hill-Jackson Feud occurred as a result of a Jackson staff officer giving a Hill staff officer orders and thereby violating the chain of command. Hill was very close to his men and often acted impetiously in combat but personally was courteous and considerate to senior and subordinates alike.

General Hill was mentioned in both General Lee’s and General Jackson’s last words. Lee’s last words, “Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent.”  And Jackson’s , “Order A.P Hill to prepare for action!  Pass the Infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” These deathbed testimonials clearly show how much Hill’s courageous and tenacious fighting ability was valued by his superior officers.

“Powell” Hill was killed at the very end of the war, shot from the saddle while attempting to stop the “breakthrough” of the Petersburg defense line on 2 April 1865.  He was shot at close range by Corporal  John W. Mauck of the 138th Pennsylvania just seven days before Lee surrenderd at Appomattox.

Hill was a tough, hard driving commander who often had to overcome his own infirmaties to be present for duty. 

Hill was close friends with fellow West Pointers Harry Heth and Ambrose Burnside as well as being the West Point roommate of George B. McClellan, who he rivaled for the affections of Ellen B. Marcy who eventually married McClellan. 



St Louis Civil War Roundtable April Trivia Quiz

1.   How did the Secret Service, a unit of the Treasury Department, become involved with security for the President of the United States?

2.  What Confederate warship was scuttled in 1864 and is currently going to be raised by the Corps of Engineers in order to clear the ocean channel to a large southern port it was built to defend?

3.  Which of the following amputation categories had the highest mortality rate: ankle, hip, knee, or thigh?

4.  Match the name of the location with the Headquarters of the General named.

PGT Beauregard at 1stManassas                       (a) Chancellorsville      

George G. Meade at Gettysburg                       (b) Phillips House                    

George H. Thomas at Nashville                         (c) In the saddle

Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg              (d) Leister House

Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville                    (e) Weir House            

John Pope at 2ndManassas                                 (f) St. Cloud Hote

5.  What was the famous cavalry unit that performed legendary reconnaissance for the South in 1861 and served as bodyguard,escort and scouts for Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Stonewall Jackson?

6.  What was the source of the wooden stocks for the CS Model 1855, .577cal. rifle that were manufactured in Richmond until 1865?

7. Who was the highest ranking officer, from either side, killed during the Civil War?

8.  Private William D. Brown of Company D, 18thIowa was wounded at Cow Creek, Kansas 22 Oct 1864.  How many times was he shot?

Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz

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The answers will be published on April newsletter in about 7 days.

Partisan Lt. Jesse C. McNeill and His Thrilling Adventure

On the night of 21-22 February 1865 Lt Jesse C. McNeill and his partisan ranger unit (Co. E 18th Virginia Cavalry, part of John Imboden’s command) accomplished a very noteworthy feat in Cumberland, Maryland.

They kidnapped General George Crook from the Revere House Hotel and Generals Benjamin F. Kelly and West Virginia Adjutant General Thayer Melvin from the Barnum House Hotel in their nightclothes.  The generals were taken from bed in their rooms without disturbing the occupants of adjoining rooms.  Several thousand Union soldiers were in the town at the time. The partisans were able to gain the Union countersign “Bulls Gap” from captured Federal pickets. The capture of Gen. Kelly must have been particularly satisfying to McNeill because Kelly had ordered the arrest of McNeill’s mother, sister and younger brother and their imprisonment at Camp Chase, Ohio in 1863.  The partisan unit had been formed by John H. McNeill, Jesse’s father who died of wounds he received during a raid in the Shenandoah Valley.  Shortly thereafter Jesse assumed the leadership role. 

There is a book title “Who Dares Wins” that would be a appropriate name for this raid.  Isn’t it interesting how far one can go with a little huzpah! 

The part of the story about the countersign is to me very interesting.  Sentries or pickets are given a challenge and password to be used during the hours of darkness and limited visibility.  It works like this.  The picket when observing an intruder will challenge “Bulls”.  The response from a friendly person would be “gap”.  The sentry would then allow the unidentified visitor to approach.  Challenge and password are changed daily and are often crafted of words that might be difficult for an intruder to pronounce.  Tongue twister phrases would be commonly used.  Since orientals have a difficult time pronouncing the “L” sound, that was commonly used in World War II for example.  Europeans similiarly with the “V” or “W” sound. 


The Disadvantage of the Brutal Attack Conditions at The Muleshoe

One of the most difficult military maneuvers is preparation for a dawn attack in inclement conditions over unfamiliar ground.  That is precisely what General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps had to contend with at Spotsylvania in May 1864.

The rain fell in torrents and the ground became very slippery during the dark hours of the night and the force was compressed so as to generate the maximum combat power to the front.  Twenty thousand blue coats moved through the wooded countryside as they moved into position.  The attack was launched at 0400. Hancock’s force hit the tip of the Muleshoe salient just after first light.  Fortunately there was mist and ground fog that covered their movement through the open ground in fron of the Southern defenses but they did not have the advantage of a heavy artillery preparation.

The Confederates were well dug in behind an abitis of sharpened trees and branches.  If you have ever had to climb through a fallen tree you have an idea how difficult this can be considering every pack strap, canteen, shoe lace, backpack or rifle can catch on every twig or branch all the while under heavy rifle fire.  Their log defenses were chest high but their artillery had been withdrawn by General Lee anticipating a move by General Grant.  Some of the guns had just been returned to position so they were just in the process of settling in when the attack hit.  Confederate gun powder had been damaged by the wet weather.

Confederates lost 20 guns and thousands of prisoners but reformed an secondary line and held off the Union attack avoiding a general disaster.   

Jesse James and the Civil War Legacy He Personified

We have just returned from a trip to western Missouri and Kansas.  We took the opportunity to visit the James-Samuel Farm in Kearney, Missouri.  Here is the story we heard.

Jesse James was shot by Bob Ford on April 3, 1882.   He was the son of a Baptist minister who was very well educated for that time and who went off the California gold fields to preach where he died after six months. 

Jesse’s older brother Alexander Franklin “Frank” James was equally literate, could read Greek and Latin and was an avid Shakespearian scholar.  Jesse, although younger, was able to read and write with great facility for that time.

How did this seemingly intelligent man become the globally known outlaw icon? 

Jesse’s family came from Kentucky.  They were slave holders in western Missouri,  religious, educated and having strong family values.  Frank went to join the Missouri State Guard and was wounded at Wilson’s Creek fighting for the sesesh.  He returned to the family farm in Clay County to recuperate.  The local Unionist militia came to the farmstead to find him and in the process Jesse was beaten and their step-father Reuban Samuels was tortured by repeated hangings.  Jesse ran away to join the guerrillas. 

He and Frank served under several noted secesh leaders including George Todd, Bloody Bill Anderson and William Quantrill.  They were well schooled in violence.  The war ended and the James boys continued to rob trains, stagecoaches and banks, in the belief that the prosperous owners of these enterprises were Unionists who had preyed on the poor of their homeland.  The last raid of the gang was to Northfield, Minnesota to relieve the bank there of the funds that they believed were deposited by former General Adelbert Ames. 

Much of the population supported or somehow cheered the exploits of the James gang as retribution for past injuries. at the hands of the Union.  When Bob Ford killed Jesse on that April day, Jesse had been using a feather duster to clean and straighten a picture high on the wall of their meager home.  The picture was of a rendering that said “In God We Trust”.  How ironic!  The well known words commonly found on US currency.  With the death of Jesse James the Civil War was finally over.       

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