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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Nov-Dec 2013 Quiz Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis

Here is the quiz for Nov-Dec 2013.  It is a collection of questions about Presidents and their wartime roles.  ENJOY!!

1. Match the future US President with the Civil War unit he is associated with:

a. US Grant                           (           ) 70thIndiana                           

b. James Garfield                (           )  21stIllinois

c. Rutherford Hayes           (           )  42ndOhio

d. William McKinley           (           )  23rdOhio – (pick two)

e. Benjamin Harrison

2. Who were the only two US Presidents to have served in the enlisted ranks?


3. What affliction did Gen. Benjamin Harrison acquire while in Georgia that affected him the rest of his life and resulted in his being known as “kid gloves Harrison”?

4. Who was the future US President that risked his personal safety to bring cooked rations to his starving unit, the 23rdOhio, in a wagon with only two horses, over a distance of two miles under fire at Antietam?


5. Match these Civil War veterans and future US Presidents, Grant, Garfield, Harrison, Hayes, and McKinley with their appropriate Civil War achievements:

Captured Vicksburg                                                                                    (                       )

Served on Court Martial Board of Gen. Fitz-John Porter                      (                       )

Brigade Commander with Sherman in Atlanta Campaign                   (                       )

First General officer commander at Belmont, MO                                (                       )

Brigade Commander at Cedar Creek with Sheridan                             (                       )

Elected to Congress and resigned his commission to serve                (                       )

Heroic actions at Antietam as supply sergeant                                      (                       )

Planned Tullahoma Campaign as Rosecrans’ Chief of Staff                 (                       )

Captured Forts Henry and Donelson                                                         (                       )

Cleared the KanawhaRiverValley of East Kentucky in 1861                 (                       )

Brevet promotion to major in Shenandoah Valley 1864                       (                       )

Brigade Commander at Battle of Nashville 1864                                   (                       )

Elected to Congress and stayed on until the war’s end                        (                       )

Heroically supported Thomas on Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga     (                       )

Performed as surgeon at KennesawMountain                                       (                       )

Only US President to serve as enlisted non-commissioned officer    (                       )

One of two US Presidents wounded in action (Monroe was other)   (                       )


5. What were the Civil War nicknames of these five future US Presidents:

___________ Hayes, ____________Garfield,  ____________Harrison, ___________McKinley and ____________Grant?

6. What US President held the rank of Brigadier General in the Civil War but never served in the military?

7. How many words are in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? 

8. Who served as Quartermaster General for New York State in uniforming, arming, and equipping the over 200 regiments and 50 separate companies of state troops? 

Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz




Assistant Surgeon Dr. Benjamin Douglas Howard and His Legacy

Two significant medical developments were pioneered by Union assistant surgeon Dr. Benjamin Douglas Howard which improved battlefield survival rates even until today.  Howard, an 1858 graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which is now Columbia University Medical School, became intensily interested in the institution of slavery and set aside his medical credentials to move to St. Louis to pursue his abolitionist ideas.  He took a job as a clerk in a slave market and while working there became a “conductor” on the “underground railroad”.  Once discovered he barely escaped before being killed by his employers for his traitorous actions.  In May 1861 he was commissioned an Assistant Surgeon in the 19th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and served with them in the Antietam Campaign.  He treated General Hooker’s foot wound which allowed the general to return to duty in a matter of weeks.

He developed an interest in chest wounds which were considered fatal up to this time. Treating a sucking chest wound involved suturing the wound closed then covering with alternate layers of linen or lint and collodion which provides an airtight seal allowing the patient to breath without collapsing his lungs and suffocating which had been the reason for the high mortality rate.  Today every soldier in combat carries a sterile compress dressing and by using the plastic packaging  a soldier can administer first aid to a sucking chest wound as Howard prescribed with a high degree of success.

The Howard Ambulance which featured a spring suspension thereby reducing the complications of a very bumpy battlefield ride was his second major contribution.  It remained in service until the 1880’s.  It was heavily used by the French Army in the Franco-Prussian War.  His ambulance was used in some metropolitan medical use possibly in London and New York.

The Famous Old St Louis Courthouse- Witness To History

The Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis is a historic building that has had a unique history and contribution to the fabric of our nation. It has been the site of slave auctions, human rights decisions, and architectural firsts. 

 The courthouse is no longer used for jurisprudence.  It is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial which includes the famous St. Louis Arch.  But the story is so much more.  The land was donated by two of the founding fathers of the city, Rene August Chouteau and John Baptist Charles Lucas.  The present courthouse was begun in 1831 and had a major renovation in 1851.  In 1861 William Rumbold replaced the old cupola with a cast iron dome that was the prototype for the US Capital dome in Washington, DC.

The courthouse was the site of the two Dred Scott trials of 1847 and 1850.  In both cases the Scott’s lost and their case wet to the US Supreme Court which also ruled against them in 1857.  Their attorney was Roswell Field the father of the famous poet Eugene Field.  The name of the case Dred Scott vs. Sandford was actually a clerical error as the Scott’s owner’s name was really John F. A. Sanford.  In 1872 Virginia Minor sued for women’s suffrage and lost there as well.  Fifty years later women finally got the vote.

 The courthouse steps on the east side were the usual location of slave auctions conducted under the auspices of the city sheriff.  These auctions were only for probate purposes and conducted in order to clear holdings of the deceased.  There were other auctions at nearby slave pens for normal business intercourse. There is a room in the courthouse that was used to teach runaways to read and acted as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Interestingly, the central rotunda has spectacular acoustics.  A speaker standing the center of the main floor could easily be heard throughout the ground floor and in all the encircling balconies.

 The Dred Scott Case is considered an accelerator of the hostilities of the Civil War.  President-elect James Buchanan was so concerned about the verdict that he tried to insure the verdict was rendered before his inauguration.  From 1814 to 1860 more than 300 freedom suits similar to the Scotts’ were filed in St. Louis.   This was not uncommon as there were many free blacks working shoulder to shoulder with enslaved in the warehouse and riverfront districts.  The Old Courthouse was center stage for all these historic events and others.    

Civil War Signalling

The Myer Wig-wag system was developed by Army Surgeon Albert J. Myer just prior to the war.  By moving a flag from top center down to the side and back a dah (dash) or dih (dot) could be sent.  Left for dah and right for dih.  All the dah’s and dih’s for a letter would be completed before the signalman returned to top center.  Example dah-dah is the letter A. This system is called The General Service Code and is different than the Morse Code.  The General Service Code was discontinued in 1912. Usually sent from a tower or clearly visable terrain point, these signals alerted commanders to the movement of the enemy or other information of import.  Crossed wigwag flags became the symbol of the Signal Corps.  The square flags were red with a white center square for use against a light terrain background and white with a red center square against a dark background.  Dark blue with a white center was also an option.  The contrast with the background color improved receiving visability.  Flags in different sizes were available in two, four and six feet square.  The larger the flag the greater the distance a signal could be received.  Messages could be easily encoded for secrecy.  Night operations employed a specially designed kerosene torch.



The Uniquely American Artform of Minstrelsy and Its Impact on America

Dan Emmett, T. Brigham Bishop, Edward Pearce Christy, Gustave and Charles Frohman and others had an immense effect  on humanizing blacks in the eyes of Northerners, energizing the growing antislavery movement prior to the Civil War.

 They were minstrel show proprietors who sponsored “plantation music” entertainment around the country including the musical works of Stephen Foster, Bishop and others.  The artform continued up until the 1960’s when the blackface performances were considered too racially biased to be acceptable to the general public.  The minstrel show featured a musical core of banjoists and other plantation musical artforms and burnt cork faced “endmen” who’s humor was ultimately considered bad form.  The host of the performance was “Mr. Interlocator” who often was the foil for the endmen.  Bishop set up a performance tent in Chattanooga to entertain the Union troops there in 1863-64.  Full houses were the norm.  He had daily performances featuring his own musicial compositions along with those of Foster and others.  Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted,lazy,buffoonish,superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr’actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. In 1848, blackface minstrel shows were the national art of the time, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience.  It is easy to see why they became out of favor as they were the ultimate in political incorrectness.  In the later years they were a staple form of entertainment for local organizations as fund raisers.  

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