Face to Face With a Rebel

bradbury-imagesIsaac Bradbury is the subject of my latest Faces of War column, published monthly in the Civil War News. The Union navy ensign from Machias, Maine, spent his service along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and saw plenty of action as part of the massive federal blockade that choked the life out of the Confederacy. An excerpt:

He continued, “You can imagine my feelings the first time I was under fire, we got nigh in too the Batterys and they opened on us, and we in return engaged them. Death & destruction was all around, the shells as a majority all over shot us, so at the flash of every gun of the ‘Rebs’ all the officers & men on the spar deck would throw themselves flat on their faces, and as the shells went over us a screaming they made anything but delightful music, in fact I thought I would rather be at home hearing the ‘Machias Cornet Band’ playing ‘Home Sweet Home,’ I think it would be far preferable. But I was doomed to be put to a severe test for a shell suddenly burst among the men cutting one in two and severely wounding several others. The one that was killed fell towards me and the blood spouted over my uniform.”

Read the rest of his story.

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American Indians in Confederate Territory

wolfMy latest Disunion post is the story of Payson Wolf and his comrades in Company K of the First Michigan Sharpshooters. An excerpt:

On the morning of June 18, 1864, Pvt. Payson Wolf trudged through the streets of Petersburg, Va., with other battered and bloodied Union prisoners of war. The captives were herded into an old tobacco barn with hundreds of other bluecoats to await their fate in the hands of Confederate military authorities.

Only hours earlier, Wolf had come out on the wrong end of a rare nighttime assault, which put him and his comrades in an advanced position near the formidable defenses of the Cockade City. They had been attacked by veteran North Carolina troops and compelled to surrender after a brief and brutal fight.

The prisoners were quickly divested of their muskets; one company of Tar Heels jumped at the opportunity to trade their worn weapons for the captured guns. They soon noticed that the wooden musket stocks had been ornately carved with fish, snakes, turtles and other animals – perhaps their first clue that their captives were no ordinary Union soldiers.

Read the rest of his story. 

Participated in the “Powder Boat” Affair

Iowa-born and Oregon raised Roswell Hawks Lamson (1838-1903) graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1862. He was promoted to lieutenant, and commanded the gunboats Mount Washington, Gettysburg and Wilderness. In the latter vessel, he participated in the December 1864 attempt to destroy Fort Fisher using a boat loaded with 215 tons of gunpowder. The “powder boat” exploded, but did not damage the fort.

Lamson sat for this carte de visite in the Napoli, Italy, studio of Fratelli Alinar of Napoli. He resigned from the navy in 1866, and returned to Oregon.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/8026096@N04/14054414882/

“Wild Dayrell”

dayrell-compositeMy latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News is the story of Benjamin Franklin Wood, an engineer in the U.S. navy. He served on the Sassacus when it encountered the blockade-runner Wild Dayrell 150 years ago yesterday.

An excerpt:

Holden observed, “The curling tongues of flame that now shot out from the decks of the Wild Dayrell showed that the torch had been faithfully applied; clouds of lurid smoke poured from the holds, and enveloped the whole of her light masts, sails and rigging.”

He added, “To insure complete ruin of her engines, and to preclude the remote possibility of her ever serving again either her owners or the rebels, both the Sassacus and Florida took position, and shot after shot was fired through the iron hull. Bursting shells soon tore immense holes in bows and stern, or threw masses of shattered deck and cargo high into the air.”

The Wild Dayrell was no more.

Read the full story.

Lost With His Entire Command On Egmont Key

Ensign Isaac S. Bradbury, a sailor from Machias, Maine, spent a significant portion of the Civil War on blockade duty off the coast of North Carolina aboard the gunboat Cambridge. He survived the war and continued on in the navy. But his career was short lived: On January 4, 1866, while in command of the armed tug Narcissus, he and his entire company of 32 men were lost when the ship wrecked on Egmont Key, Fla.

His image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Lost With His Entire Command On Egmont Key

Wounded at Perryville

Joseph W.R. Stambaugh of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry suffered a wound in the side during his first big fight at Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862. He made a full recovery and joined the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland, with which organization he served on detached duty in Tennessee until November 1864, when he joined the First Veteran Volunteer Engineers. He mustered out of the army as a captain at the end of the war. He died in 1890.

I’ve had this image in my collection for years. His story appeared in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. The image came to my attention the other day after trading emails with author and historian Greg Mast, who is working on a new book about North Carolina men who served during the Civil War. Although Stambaugh wore Union blue, he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., according to his military service records. Later census records state that he was born in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is unusual in my experience to have such confusion about a soldier’s state of origin.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Wounded at Perryville

Book Talk at the Polk County Historical Association

Polk County logoI presented a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War at the Polk County Historical Association in Columbus, N.C., on Tuesday. I had a great time thanks to PCHS president Anna Conner, who made all the arrangements, and Al Creasy, who made sure the projector was up and running. (It was!)

This was a homecoming for me. My mother Carol has lived in the area for 35 years. She and my brother Gary and sister-in-law Wendy came out, and I did not heckle me off the podium! Also in attendance was my great friend Allan Pruette, who came with a folder full of clips of my work from my days at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and elsewhere.

I met a number of local folks, including Craig, Garrett, and the venerable James Payne. Thanks to all for attending.

I truly enjoyed my visit, and having the opportunity to share the stories and photos of these men who participated in the Civil War. Book sales were strong, and I appreciate the support.

The talk was captured on video, and will be available on CD for members to borrow from the PCHS library. Kudos to the association for making this service available. Anna pointed out several of the videos that were oral histories of now-deceased citizens of the county.

Fun fact: Polk County is not named for the eleventh president, but William Polk, a Revolutionary War colonel who survived Valley Forge and participated in numerous engagements with Washington’s army.

New on Disunion: A Regiment is Sacrificed at Gettysburg

BrownleeMy latest contribution to Disunion is now available. Corp. James Brownlee of the 134th New York Infantry suffered multiple wounds during the first day’s fight at Gettysburg. An excerpt:

Union forces along the northern edge of Gettysburg, Pa., occupied a precarious position on July 1, 1863. Advancing Confederates poured deadly volleys into the rapidly thinning blue ranks as a steady stream of wounded trickled into the normally peaceful Pennsylvania town.

A federal division commander in the thick of the fray, Gen. Carl Schurz, was running out of options. A former German revolutionary who became an influential voice among fellow political refugees, he sent his aides in search of reinforcements. While he waited for help, he received reports that Union troops on his right and left had buckled under the intense pressure of the Confederate juggernaut.

A mile south, Cpl. James Brownlee watched and listened to the raging battle from the heights of Cemetery Hill. A farmhand who had emigrated from Ireland with his family when he was a boy, Brownlee and his comrades in the 134th New York Infantry could clearly see the fighting where Schurz was hotly engaged.

Read the full profile.