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Archive for the month “December, 2014”

The Three Largest Civil War Military Hospitals

I was reading the February 2015 issue of Civil War Times and in it was a regular feature entitled “Battlefield & Beyond” about Philadelphia and its monuments and historic sites. A small item about the 1863 opening of Mower General Hospital caught my attention so I crafted a trivia question which seemed appropriate.

What Civil War military hospital was the largest?

Philadelphia’s Mower General Hospital, opened in January 1863 with 3600 beds and 47 wards, and treated 20,000 patients from the Eastern Theater. Philadelphia was the largest city close to the front. Wounded were sent to Mower by from the huge Virginia battlefields. The hospital featured many amenities for the patients and staff, including plumbing to provide hot water, special medical wards that could be isolated for patients with infections, centralized storage for supplies, flush toilets, band music, etc. Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis treated 18,000 patients from the Western Theater where wounded arrived primarily by river boat. It had 3000 beds. Confederate Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond had a capacity of 3000 and treated some 17,000 wounded during the course of the war from the Virginia battlefields.

Each of these facilities has an interesting story.  Like so many other trivia biggest’s there can be arguments defending each for the true designation.  You can decide for yourself.  Enjoy!!


Confederate Patents

At the last roundtable meeting a friend gave me a magazine article about a wounded Confederate soldier and the impact of his wound which get me to thinking. Always dangerous but here is a piece of what I discovered.

How many patents were issued by the Confederate Patent Office?

266 patents were on record as of 17 October 1864. A few more may have been issued in 1865 but the records were lost as the Confederate government collapsed and records were destroyed. C. Williams of St. Louis received four patents, two for “Submarine Boat” (258 & 260) and two for “torpedo” (255 & 256). The first Confederate patent went to J. H. Van Houten of Savannah, GA for a breechloading gun on 1 August 1861. Confederate Private James E. Hanger received two patents (155 & 201) for prosthetic legs. Hanger had lost his left leg in the August 1861 West Virginia battle at Philippi and his company Hanger Limb is still doing business today as the Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc, the worlds largest manufacturer of prosthetics. B.H. Washington of Hannibal, Missouri received the most patents (7) for various machines.

Both Lincoln and Davis Evoke Prayers From Their Nations

My daughter, a middle school communication arts teacher, asked me a question that stimulated my interest. Even though I had heard about the prayer days I did not remember the specifics. So I looked it up.

On 28 February 1863 Confederate President Jefferson Davis announced the designation of a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer to be observed on 27 March 1863.

Not to be undone, US Senator James Harlan of Ohio, introduced the Resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The Resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The Resolution was adopted on March 3, and signed by Lincoln on March 30, one month before the fast day was observed. Harlan’s daughter was the future spouse of Robert Lincoln.

This was not the first such day of prayer. The Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 designated a day of National Prayer. In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington acknowledged a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. To enable his soldiers to observe the day, Washington ordered a one-day cessation of recreation and “unnecessary labor”. In March 1780, Congress announced a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” to be held on Wednesday, April 26, 1780. President John Adams designated the same in 1798 and 1799.

Every President since except Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson have supported a Day of Prayer.

The National Day of Prayer (36 U.S.C. § 119) is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. In 2015 the day is to be on May 7.

I am sure that many Civil War soldiers took advantage of the day Lincoln and Davis designated to mindfully seek Divine intervention and a quick solution to the horrible war.

Here is an excerpt from the Lincoln Presidential Proclamation:

“…and whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

“And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Maybe God is not dead!!

Shoes, Shoes, Everybody’s Got To Have Shoes

Union Civil War soldiers were issued what item of personal equipment that they affectionately referred to as “gunboats”?

Contract issue shoes which were mostly, but not always, provided without right or left varieties. They were black in color, three-quarter high, laced up and smooth top grain out but sometimes rough out. They were often referred to as “Jefferson bootees” because Thomas Jefferson started the trend in laced rather than buckled shoes to show his support for the French Revolution. Considering the amount of marching done by Sherman’s army they were always a major supply problem and they referred to them as “gunboats”, a term not uncommon today referring to large shoes. Civil war soldiers often wore thich socks to limit the development of blisters. Sometimes they were referred to as brogans, a British term for work shoes, since the majority of Confederate shoes were supplied through the blockade from English factories. The “Monticello” was the name of a Confederate shoe reportedly manufactured by a shoe factory in Monticello, Florida or possibly Alabama. It was memorialized on shoes worn by southern soldiers around a statue of RE Lee at Gettysburg.

Before the war, almost all army shoes were made at Susquehanna Arsenal in Pennsylvania. The pieces were cut out in the arsenal and then “farmed out” to independent workers who put them together in their homes on piecework basis. The same system was used for uniforms.

In a letter dated January 1862 from Colonel George W. Crosman, Assistant Quartermaster General, he described the purchase of 1,102,700 pairs of boots and bootees from contractors all over the North. Contracts were as large as 120,000 pairs from one manufacturer at Sing Sing, New York, to as small as 300 pairs from another factory in Pennsylvania.

Everyone was not happy with the issue. One complaint that was registered by the Washburn Congressional Committee regarding the short life span of a specific lot of shoes was answered by the comment that these shoes were supposed to be issued to the cavalry, who theoretically did not need a tough a shoe! (credit for much of this information to

Only Journalist To Be Court-Martialed in US History

Thomas Wallace Knox was court-martialed by Gen. Sherman for violating an order banning journalists from the 1862-63 Chickasaw Bayou/Arkansas Post expedition. He filed an unflattering and inaccurate account of Sherman’s leadership as a reporter for the New York Herald. He offered a retraction but Sherman wanted him tried as a spy and given a death sentence. He was acquitted on the espionage charge but convicted for disobeying orders and given a verdict of “expulsion from Union lines”. Knox was well known for his written attacks on Sherman and his force, which reintroduced into the public debate the issue of Sherman’s sanity. He was controversial for its publishing of important information pertaining to the Campaign.

When the Civil War broke out Knox enlisted in the California National Guard, where he was made a lieutenant colonel. He was wounded in a Missouri skirmish, and subsequently discharged. Col Tom Knox, as he was known, was a favored special correspondent who was described as going “into action with a revolver in one hand, his notebook in the other and a pencil in his teeth and he telegraphed to his paper the news of every battle before the smoke of combat had fairly cleared away”(from Offhand Portraits of New Yorkers by Stephen Fiske, 1884). He was a world traveler and as an author Knox wrote over 45 books, including a popular series of travel adventure books for boys and in 1887 he published Decisive Battles Since Waterloo.

Back In The Day-Mexican War Relationships

One of my favorite reference books on the Civil War is James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. I am constantly referring to this one volume history and I use it as a key to further research. It gives me ideas for trivia questions. Recent reading led me to these interesing personal relationships that McPherson cited in his prologue. I have expanded on them to include some specifics.

* General Winfield Scott had two bright lieutenants on his staff as engineers, Lt. PGT Beauregard and Lt George B McClellan. McClellan’s father was a personal friend of Scott.

* Captain Robert E Lee commended Lt US Grant, 4th US Infantry, for his actions at Mexico City. The commendation was conveyed to Grant by Lt John C. Pemberton. Both Lee (Appomattox) and Pemberton (Vicksburg) surrendered Confederate armies to Grant.  At Appomattox Lee said he did not remember meeting Grant.

* Lieutenants James Longstreet and Winfield Scott Hancock were comrads in the 8th US Infantry Regiment. Their service at Churubusco gained each brevet promotions.  Lt. Longstreet commanded Company A as( did this author many years later).

* Lieutenant George Pickett picked up the fallen unit colors of the 8th US Infantry at Chapultepic The colors were handed to him by Lt James Longstreet. Pickett carried them over the wall and onto the roof of the palace. He was made a brevet captain for this act.

* Col Albert Sidney Johnston of the 1st Texas Rifle Volunteers served Lt Joseph Hooker who was breveted for his action at Monterey, serving on Zachary Taylor’s staff.

* Two 3rd US Artillery officers at Buena Vista supported Col. Jefferson Davis’ Mississippi Rifle Regiment were Captain Braxton Bragg and Lt George Henry Thomas.

* Three of Scott’s engineers at Vera Cruze were Captain RE Lee, JE Johnston and George Meade.

* Cabin mates aboard the USS Cumberland were Raphael Semmes and John Winslow, They were the oponents at Cherbourg on the CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge.

December Quiz Answers

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable
November-December 2014

1. What railroad was referred to as “Mr. Lincoln’s Railroad”?
The Baltimore & Ohio RR
2. What two railroads crossed at Corinth, Mississippi and were the ultimate objective of Grant’s force encamped at Shiloh?
The Memphis & Charleston RR and the Mobile & Ohio RR
3. What was the use of a railroad “wye”?
It allowed a train to reverse direction without the use of a roundhouse.
4. What railroad ran south from St. Louis to Pilot Knob in the Arcadia Valley?
The St. Louis & Iron Mountain RR.
5. When the Jefferson Davis family was forced to leave their home in Richmond, Mrs Davis packed up all the childrens toys except one which she deliberately left. What was it?
A miniature cannon that their son Jeff Jr.would fire indescriminatly and scare the beegeebees out of Mrs Davis and the neighborhood. Little Jeff would acquire powder for his toy from cooperative Confederate soldiers and guards near their home and loudly blast away much to the displeasure of the household and neighbors.
6. What current professional sports teams have a name and logo that has Civil War connections?
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ logo has a blue kepi, jacket and cannons because Columbus, Ohio was a major supplier of Union uniforms throughout the war. The Calgary Flames were previously the Atlanta Flames with reference to the burning of Atlanta in 1864.
7. What distinction do Union chaplains Francis B. Hall, John M. Whitehead, James Hill, and
Milton L. Haney have in common?
All were chaplains who were awarded the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. Haney was called the fighting Chaplain but he was not the only one. Some 97 Union chaplains carried weapons during the conflict.

8. What Union officer refused promotion to Brigadier General but served with distinction as
head of the Bureau of Military Railroads from April 1862 to September 1863? His work
impressed President Lincoln. He was famous for requiring and that rolling stock should be
emptied and returned promptly to enable their rapid re-use as transport.
Col. Herman Haupt He was promoted to Brigadier based on three conditions he required. When the conditions were not acceptable to the War Department, the promotion was rescinded. The conditions were: formation of a Central Bureau of US Military RR’s, Difficulties with commanding generals be avoided and resolved via consultation, and The Chief of the Bureau be free to move to wherever his personal presence was required.
9. The town of Wadsworth, Ohio erected a monument to a civilian boy who carried water to
thirsty soldiers in what unusual vessel?
A leaky boot. Apparently there are several other statues of this same boy in other places.

10. After the Battle of Fredericksburg the Army of Northern Virginia encamped for the winter and General “Stonewall Jackson” enjoyed the company of a new little friend during the holidays. Who was she?
5-yr old Janie Corbin, daughter of Richard and Roberta Corbin at their Moss Neck Plantation. She died of scarlet fever 17 March 63 and tough, cold “Old Jack” wept openly.

copyright© 2014 John A. Nischwitz

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