Just another site

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Catholic Sisters Provide Medical Care to Both Sides

Prior to the Civil War Catholics in the United States faced prejudicial treatment for many reasons.  Catholic Irish, Italian and German immigrants were flocking to the United States and they faced political and social mal-treatment in every aspect of their lives.

When the Civil War began there were not many civilian nurses available to care for the sick and wounded.  Being a nurse was not considered acceptable employment for a proper lady.  The shortage of nurses was greatly tempered by the work of the Catholic Sisters.  During the War some 640 sisters from 21 religious congregations served the armies of both sides.  They were eager to roll up their sleeves and scrub and clean not only the weeping and bleeding wounds but also the hospital wards and the miserably sick soldiers suffering from the plethera of contageous illinesses rampant in the army camps.  For this they asked only subsistance

A prime example is Sister Mary Lucy (Barbara) Dosh, a Sister of Charity of Nazarath who before the war was a music teacher in Paducah, Kentucky.  She was the first sister to die in the War for her efforts and was so highly regarded that after contracting Typhoid Fever which caused her death in December 1861. She was given a military escort home to Louisville composed of six Union and six Confederate officers.  Her body was loaded onto a Union gunboat (USS Peacock ?) and the escort stayed with her until she was laid to rest in St Vincent’s Convent cemetery in Uniontown.  She was 22 years old.

Another is Sister Anthony O’Connell, a Sister of Charity, who earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” at Shiloh.  She was one of the first to get permission for sisters to actually work on the battlefield.  She saw service on battlefields in Tennessee and Virginia. She developed the system of battlefield triage which is now standard procedure in the military and in civilian hospitals.  She was known to and admired by bot President Lincoln and Davis as well as Generals Sherman, Sheridan, Grant Rosecrans and McClellan.  She was known as the Florence Nightengale of America. 

The diligent, caring and charitable care provided by these ladies in black and white habits changed the attitude of thousands of Americans toward Catholics.  They just did good things and were not interested in any rewards or citations.  Their loving efforts changed the country.  


Who Said That Black Southerners Did Not Fight For The Confederacy?

It is commonly believed that all Southern blacks wanted to go North and defeat the Confederacy.  Well that does not seem to correlate with the number of Southern Blacks that applied for and received Confederate War Service Pensions.  I recently saw a document that listed the following pensioners:  North Carolina-18; Tennessee-267; Mississippi-28; Arkansas-9; and South Carolina-15.

One Confederate African-American was Tarheal William C.Revels of H Company, 21st North Carolina Volunteer Infantry. Revels enlisted on 5 June 1861 and he was wounded three times; once in the left leg at Winchester, once in the right thigh at Gettysburg and once in the right shoulder at New Bern.

Many free men of color lived and worked in cities such as Petersburg, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee. These free men of color were successful businessmen and often owned African slaves themselves. They felt the patriotic need to fight for their country as Northern whites did.

I found this information while visiting the Old Fort Jackson near Savannah, Georgia.

Gullah and Geechee

While on our recent trip through the “Golden Islands” of Georgia and South Carolina we took the opportunity to visit Sapelo Island, Georgia.  Sapelo is only accessable by boat or seaplane.  It was during “the day” a fine plantation growing premium Sea Island Cotton.  The island provided Live Oak timbers that were in demand for ship building in the era of sail, and some sugar cane.  Sea Island Cotton was the most expensive and desirable long staple fiber because it took dye well and provided an exquisitely soft textile cloth.  Of course, all this was accomplished by enslaved Africans.  The plantation was owned by Thomas Spaulding, a prosperous Georgia legislator, who is reputed to have owned some 350 slaves.

At the end of the Civil War, many of the enslaved population then freed, chose to remain on the island and gained ownership of some land.  They lived all around the island and because of the limited contact with the outside world maintained the Gullah language and traditions.  Gullah is really a English-influenced dialect of the African language they brought with them from their homeland in Western Africa.  Geechee is another name for the same language used by the Gullah people who call themselves Geechees. Efforts  by Lorenzo Dow Turner in the 1930’s and 40’s to study the language revealed that many of the words are found among the Seminoles in Florida as well as among the Seminoles who were forced to relocate to Oklahoma.  Some of the Seminoles served with the US Army and were recruited from a population in Coahilla Province in Mexico.  Three of the Gullah were awarded Medals of Honor in the 1870’s.

The lauguage is rapidly dimming but fragments are still clearly evident on Sapelo.  This island was owned after the Civil War by Howard E. Coffin, owner of the Hudson Car Company and later by R. J. Reynolds, Jr, the tobacco tycoon.  Spaulding’s plantation house is still there, has seen numerous renovations, and is available for tours, weddings and for use as a B&B for a reasonable fee. 

One interesting anomaly is the cluster of residents who live in an area called Hog Hammock.  A hammock in this sense is a geologically elevated area above the tidal marsh typically containing a grove or clump of trees.  Hogs apparently used to inhabit this area before it was turned into a community.  Apparently RJ Reynolds wanted to gather all the small property residents into one area and encouraged them to take his offer by promising to provide electricity to all in the community.

Wild Georgia schrimp, oysters and other seafood are a popular in the community.  Sapelo Island is home to the Sapelo Island Research Foundation, begun by Reynolds in 1949 for the ecological study of salt water marsh habitats. 

Sapelo, like Tangier Island and Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, is one of the few places in the US that proudly claims a unique historic language, Gullah.    

What Happened to Indigo?

There were five southern crops that required huge investments in slaves and were the basis for the Civil War:  Cotton, rice, tobacco, sugar and indigo.

Indigo was a cash crop grown in South Carolina and Georgia primarily.  The crop was introduced to cultivation in 1739 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney on her Wappoo plantation, located between the Ashley River and Stono Creek, near Charleston.  Sometimes called The Bluff this plantation with 20 slaves was one of three plantations Eliza managed for her family.

She had been educated in London and took a special interest in botany. but was also fluent in French as well as an accomplished musician. A very capable young woman, she made several tries at raising various strains of the plant and in three years was able to ship the first 17 pound trial of the blue dye to England.  Eventually the “blue gold” became a prized cash crop for the textiles industry with a 1748 shipment of 130,000.

Then why did indigo production in South Carolina stop?  The answer is not too complicated, its economics. Eliza received generous bounty of 6-cents per pound for her dye because the English producers wanted a cheaper source than the traditional Indian suppliers.  When the American Revolution occurred, Eliza and her family supported the patriot cause and the English consequently stopped subsidizing the production.  The product was also very costly in another way.  High slave mortality!!  The life expectancy of slaves involved in indigo dye production was at best seven years, a very expensive cost that planters did not want to continue to absorb.  The noxious odors associated with indigo processing are well documented. The fermenting liquid smelled so foul that processing facilities were always located well away from populated areas. Long-term exposure to the vapors given off by fermentation, oxygenation, and precipitation, as well as the presence of disease-carrying insects, explains why the life span for slaves involved with indigo processing has been reported to have been a mere five to seven years. 

So, eventually the production in South Carolina ended.  Spanish Florida and Central American production did continue for some time. 

The blue jeans that are so popular today are dyed by a synthetic blue dye. 

STL Civil War Roundtable Quiz for May 2013

1.  What Federal Naval Officer, who served with distinction at New Orleans, Port Hudson and the Second Battle of Ft. Fisher, ultimately rose to the rank of Admiral commanding the Asiatic Fleet during the Spanish American War?

2.  How many musicians were authorized in a standard Civil War Federal regimental band?

3.  Who commanded the CSS Virginia on the first day of the battle of Hampton Roads and who took command when that officer was wounded?

4.  Who commanded the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads (second day) with the CSS Virginia on 9 March 1862 and who succeeded him in command      when he was blinded during the battle?   

5. What was the largest frontal assault conducted in the Civil War?   Hood at Franklin, TN; Geo. Pickett at Gettysburg; Lee at Gaines’ Mill, VA; Bragg at Chickamauga; Hancock at Spotsylvania; or Horatio Wright at the Petersburg breakthrough?

6. What senior Union general was married to the daughter of a vice-presidential candidate, served as an artilleryman in the Seminole War, was brevetted as a staff officer on Winfield Scott’s staff in Mexico, was Superintendent of Geodetic Survey of the Great Lakes, engineered and constructed nine lighthouses and designed a hydraulic lamp that was adopted by the Lighthouse board for general use?

7.  What was the Lieber Code and what is its significance today?

8. What railroad was the main supply route for both the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg?

Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz

The answers will be found at sometime after the May 22 meeting.

The Sail Ship Wanderer- an Interesting Story

The Wanderer was a schooner-rigged yacht built in 1857 on Long Island, New York.  She was a beautifully sleek sailing vessel that was built for speed, under full canvas 20 knots.  She flew the pennant of the New York Yacht Club on her first cruise down the Atlantic to Charleston; Brunswick, Georgia; Key West, Florida and New Orleans and return.

Her lines were so striking and her speed so obvious that she was suspected of being intended for the slave trade.  Being that the African slave trade had been made illegal in the US by the Slave Trade Act of 1794 it is interesting to note that there were concerns about this vessel in 1857.  I guess some people never get the memo!!  The original owner sold her to Charleston businessman William C. Corrie who made some modifications to her including the installation of fresh water tanks holding 15,000 gallons.  She was siezed in New york on suspicion of being fitted out as a slaver but released.  Sailing to Charleston the suspected outfitting was in fact completed.  Sailing to Angola she took on a cargo of 487 Africans and upon return to Jekyll Island, Georgia disembarked 409 on November 28, 1858.  This was the last documented cargo of Africans to the United States and the in-voyage loss was not unusual.

Wanderer was impounded at Key West during the bombardment of Ft Sumter and confiscated by the US Navy as a supply ship for the blockading squadron carrying, fuel and, yes, fresh water in those large tanks.  She was armed by the US Navy with one 20-pound Parrott Rifle and two 24-pounder Dahlgren howitzers to carry out her blockading mission with the East Gulf Squadron. She captured two Confederate runners, the Annie B. and the sloop Ranger in the spring of 1863. Assigned to a static mission at Key West and refitted as a hospital ship, the USS Wanderer deterioriated and was eventually sold as “unseaworthy”. 

She was lost on 31 January 1871 off Cuba.

I saw a small sign at the Jekyll Island Museum about the Wanderer and looked up much of the above on the internet and I encourage all of you to do the same.   Jekkyl Island became a resort for the very rich from 1888-1942 and was one of the Golden Islands we visited on our recent cruise.   I thought it was an interesting story and I hope you agree.  For much more interesting information see my book, “Collections of A Civil War Trivia Junkie” by John Nischwitz.



A Story of the Confederate Rose

While we were in the Charleston area we visited the historic Charleston City Market.  The Greek Revival style market building was completed in 1841.  But the history of the market goes back to 1788 when Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney, the American patriot and delegate to the Constitutional Convention, ceded the land to the City of Charleston to be used as a market in perpetuity.  The buildings stretched from Market Street to the river front and were originally used to market meat, vegtables and fish.  Scraps of meet were thrown out by the butchers to feed the buzzards which came to be known as the “Charleston Eagles”. 

The current Market Hall was built in 1841 for a Masonic Hall to replace the one recently destroyed by fire.  It was in the design of the Temple of the Wingless Victory in Athens, Greece.  Today it houses the Museum run by the Daughters of the Confederacy. 

Inside the market there are several vendors selling woven sweetgrass baskets.  This craft was brought over to Charleston by the Africans and today the only places where these baskets are found is in South Carolina and Western Africa,  the origin of the slaves imported to cultivate rice and cotton.

These crafters also tie palm fronds into a rose shaped flower called today the Confederate Rose.  The story goes that when Southern men left the area for service in the Civil War their wives and sweethearts gave them a rose as a keepsake.  When they returned the rose was presented back to the beloved and was placed by the front door in a pineapple to announce the return of the soldier to all the family’s friends.

The roses are made in just a few minutes and are frequently woven onto palm baskets as ornamention.   They are truly lovely. 

The Port Royal Experiment Seeks to Assist Freed Slaves During the War

After the Federal Forces captured Port Royal during the 3-7 November 1861 battle all the enslaved Africans in the area were essentially freed.  The white population in the region abandoned their plantations and fled leaving about 10000 slaves with no guidance,  management or resources.  What were they to do?   

The Union forces enlisted the aid of Northern Charities who sent teachers to the region called the Sea Islands or Golden Islands to teach and train the former slaves trades and the necessary reading and mathamatics necessary to go on with their lives.  These islands along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts were some of the most profitable plantation lands in the South and the slaves were very interested in the learning experience.  This was the area that in 1865 General Sherman issued his General Order #15 which provided ”40 acres and a mule”.

The Penn School, now called the Penn Center, located in Frogmore on St Helena Island, South Carolina near Beaufort. was founded by Laura Towne and Ellen Murray from Pennsylvania in 1862 about six months before the Emancipation Proclamation.  They named the school after the Quaker William Penn.  The school taught academics as well as trade crafts such as sewing, weaving, blacksmithing and carpentry until 1948.  

The experiment was to determine if the Black population could learn in a school environment.  Were they trainable?  The answer was a resounding “yes”.  Had this type of effort been continued as it is believed President Lincoln envisioned, the history of the African-Americans in the United States might have been much different.

When we were there recently we met Ms Victoria Smalls, a lovely lady working in the Penn Center.  She is a decendent of Robert Smalls, the black pilot who comandeered and surrendered the CSS Planter to Union Forces 13 May 1862.  He became the Republican Representative from the seventh district of South Carolina In the US House of Representatives in 1862.  Smalls was instrumental in convincing President Lincoln to enlist Africans into the Union Army.



Barrier Islands of South Carolina and Georgia

Ms Junkie and Junkie just returned from an Intracoastal Waterway cruise through these incredibly interesting tidal lands.  The relationship of this area to the Civil War is not widely known and I will be discussing the trip and the history in the next few blog posts. 

In early America, slavery of a different sort came with the English in the form of indentured servants.  This allowed servitude for a defined period of time until the servant had fulfilled his or her obligation, which could be many years.  But chattel slavery eventually replaced it as the rice cultivation of the coastal island began to grow.  Chattel slavery was an institutionalized condition that was written into law and was of lifetime duration.  Some early African arrivals were in the endentured servant  catagory and eventually became free men of color and many of these were working throughout the South in places like New Orleans, Petersburg, Charleston and Savannah.    

The first English planters in the Carolinas and Georgia came from Barbados with deep pockets which they needed to get the plantations started.  These families included the Draytrons, Middletons, Lucas’, and Pinckneys.  Prior to the African slave trade South Carolinians sold indigenous Indians into slavery throughout the colonies.  Historians estimate that between 1670 and 1717, 24000 to 51000 indian slaves were sold which they used to finance the importation of Africans.  It is interesting that about 500,000 African slaves were imported into the US and their major entry point was Sullivan’s Island near Charleston because of the rice business.  Barbados had 500,000 slaves all to its own used in cultivating sugar, tobacco and indigo.  These crops did not do well in the lowland area and the Africans suggested to their masters that they could grow rice because the weather and soil conditions were similiar to their homeland in western Africa.  The five ethnic tribes of Ibu, Bantu, Uruba, Goola and Mandingo became the most desirable because of their experiences in the African regions of Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Benin and CongoAngola.  The accomplishments of these planters and their enslaved workforce created over time the rice fields that rival in dimension the Pyramids of Egypt.  African slaves seemed to do better in the coastal islands than the colonists due to their natural resistance to the diseases that were common in the Tidewater area such as malaria and yellow fever.

The first strains of Carolina Gold rice were introduced into cultivation by Dr. Henry Woodward in 1665.  The seeds came from Madagascar and for more than 200 years South Carolina was the leading producer of rice in the US.  The rice was a strain that could thrive in salt water marsh which is the composition of the barrier islands area.  The demand for rice was driven by the demands of the British Army for transportable rations. Rice cultivation was labor intensive and heavily dependant on cheap labor. 

The rice has a distinctive taste derived from the salt marsh and after the war the collapse of the plantations virtually eliminated the cultivation of this product.  Today the Carolina Gold rice is only grown in Darlington, South Carolina.  It is very expensive as compared to white rice. 

Later, cultivation of Sea Island long staple cotton, was introduced in the area and it was the finest and most expensive cotton in demand at that time.  To be continued…

Post Navigation