Early Defender of His Homeland

montageLt. John Grimball was in the Civil War from the Star of the West incident in January 1861 through the surrender of the Shenandoah in November 1865. His story is featured in the current issue of Civil War News. An excerpt:

Later that year he reported for duty to the Shenandoah. Grimball and his shipmates hunted Yankee merchant ships on the high seas during a yearlong cruise. Their exploits inspired Southerners during the waning months of the Confederate nation and prompted Northerners to brand them pirates. The Shenandoah continued to operate for months after surrender of the gray armies and dissolution of the government. The crew had heard rumors of the downfall of the Confederacy but had no confirmation of it.

“We were now the only Confederate cruiser afloat, and as we continued our course around the world, passing from ocean to ocean, meeting in turn ships of various nationalities, I always felt that whenever our nationality was known to neutral ships the greetings we received rarely warmed up beyond that of a more or less interested curiosity, and while we had many friends ashore who were most lavish and generous in welcoming us to port, underlying it all there appeared to exist a wish of the authorities to have us ‘move on.’”

Read his full story.

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Captured on Patrol

beville-collageFrancis Bartow Beville of Savannah, Ga., suffered a severe wound that ended his combat service at the First Battle of Manassas. Still willing to serve, he joined the Confederate navy and wound up enduring great privations as a prisoner of war. His story was just published in the Civil War News. An excerpt:

On July 21, 1861, during the First Battle of Manassas, Bartow was shot and killed as he led a desperate charge against a Union battery. Casualties in the Eighth were heavy, and they included Beville. A minié bullet struck him on the right side of the chest below the collarbone. His comrades carried him from the battlefield and a surgeon operated to cut the Yankee lead out of his back. Beville recuperated from his wound in a private home in Richmond. Nerve and muscular damage limited motion to his right arm and hand, and he received a discharge from the army before the end of the year.[i]

No longer able to perform in combat but still eager to serve, Beville found a way back into the military and a return to his Savannah home: In early 1862 he received an appointment to the navy as a midshipman and was assigned to the formidable casemate ironclad Atlanta. Here he received basic training on active duty—the Confederacy would later establish a naval school ship in Richmond for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the Union blockade choked the life out of the Southern economy and slowed the flow of supplies to the Confederacy military. Savannah was no exception. Desertions by soldiers and sailors increased, including one trio that escaped into the marshes below Savannah on or about March 14.

Read his full story.

A Brilliant Engagement at Hill’s Point

lamsonRoswell Hawks Lamson is one of the lesser known naval officers who served in the Union navy, and yet three warships have been named in his honor. His story, recently published in the Civil War News, details how he became such a respected military figure.

An excerpt:

Lamson leapt into action. He called to the nearby Stepping Stones, the ferryboat with theMount Washington in tow, and had her pull alongside. He transferred all the officers and men to the vessel. The long towlines were cast off and the Stepping Stones moved out of harm’s way.

Lamson remained on the disabled ship with a bare bones crew. They wheeled a small howitzer behind a side-wheel paddle box on the upper deck and returned fire. Some of the men grabbed carbines and they used them to hold the sharpshooters at bay.

Read the full story.

Surviving Andersonville

landonThe story of James William Landon of the 5th Iowa Cavalry is the subject of my latest New York Times Disunion post. An excerpt:

“During the daytime we hid in the brush and swamps and during the night we would travel,” Landon explained. “About five days of this kind of retreat elapsed when I was wounded by a rebel. We were crossing over a ridge pursued by four men in rebel uniform. They were anyhow four hundred yards behind when one of them fired the shot that wounded me. Though we knew that the enemy was after us we did not know that they were so close until the report of the gun was heard.”

Read the full story.

Civil War Book Discussion at The Ivy

IMG_4365Last night’s event at The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore was unique and wonderful—four authors and historians gathered to talk briefly about their books, followed by a Q and A period with the audience and book signing. I snapped this photo from my seat at the far left of the table.

Next to me sat Michael C.C. Adams, author of Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War. He’s followed by Lawrence M. Denton, an authority on secession crisis, Claudia Floyd, author of Union-Occupied Maryland, and (standing) Ed Berlin, co-owner of The Ivy.

My thanks to Ed, my fellow authors, the audience for making my visit thoroughly enjoyable. Special thanks to Robin Noonan of Hopkins Press, who arranged my appearance.

The Civil War Through Different Lenses

african-american-faces-garvin-200DPIA hearty “huzzah” to all the fine folks who organized and those who attended last night’s lecture about African American Faces of the Civil War at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, Va. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit—the hour whizzed by! Delighted to meet Cheryl Ann Regan Kramer, who frequents my Facebook author page, and Al Falcone, a veteran of World War II and maker of beautiful pens. The lecture was organized by the indefatigable Rick Britton, who I met a couple years ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Rick and Victoria Britton treated me to dinner afterwards, and had a wonderful time talking about the Civil War, photography, art, and may other subjects. A great day!

The Plot to Kill Jeff Davis

kingstonSamuel Tilden Kingston, an assistant surgeon in the Second New York Cavalry who accompanied his comrades on the ill-fated Kilpatrick Raid against Richmond, is the subject of my latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion. Kingston rode with a 500-man column commanded by Col. Ulric Dahlgren, who was killed in action. Papers reportedly found on his body ordered the assassination of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet. Kingston fell into enemy hands when he remained behind with wounded troopers. He was sent to Libby Prison and condemned to death as a felon. An excerpt:

Dahlgren’s body, which had been unceremoniously dumped in a muddy grave near the place he fell, was disinterred and put on display in Richmond. “Large numbers of persons went to see it. It was in a pine box, clothed in Confederate shirt and pants, and shrouded in a Confederate blanket,” reported The Richmond Whig on March 8, 1864.

While this circus played out on the streets of the capital, Kingston and his white cellmates were informed that they had been condemned to death as felons for their role in the alleged assassination attempt. “This news appeared to have a very depressing effect on Dr. Kingston,” noted Lieutenant Bartley, a fellow prisoner.

Kingston’s cough and cold worsened, and he lost his appetite. On March 21, as he lay near death, the Confederates removed him from his cell and sent him North. He survived the trip home, and with good food and care came back to life. He eventually returned to the regiment, was promoted to full surgeon, and served in this capacity until the end of the war.

Read the rest of the story.

Dakota County in the Civil War

crooksThe Dakota County Historical Society’s latest newsletter includes an article about the Minnesota county in 1863. The article touches on regional conflicts with Native Americans, and among the illustrations is a photograph of William Crooks from my collection. Crooks served as the colonel of the Sixth Minnesota Infantry. In this excerpt, Col. Crooks toasts Gen. Henry Hastings Sibley. The toast was recounted by a correspondent for the St. Paul Pioneer with the nom de plume INVALIDE:

To the far west of Dakota County, Sibley’s Indian Expedition was encamped at Camp Hayes at the “Great Bend” of the Sheyenne River during the Fourth of July. That evening, as reported by INVALIDE, Sibley and his staff as well as the field and staff officers of the different regiments of the Expedition, were invited to dine together at the headquarters’ mess tent. Colonel Crooks offered a toast to the health of the Brigadier General Commanding. Sibley replied saying: “I trust there is no gentleman present, or in this camp who would shrink from any sacrifice needed to accomplish the proposed objects of this expedition. For myself, I am not only willing to make any personal sacrifice, but am determined so far as I am concerned. I will endeavor to execute to the utmost of my ability, the important trusts developed to me. I shall take no backward step that I can avoid, until I secure Little Crow and his band of murderers.”

No one knew at the celebratory dinner, or could have known, that Little Crow had been shot and had bled to death the day before in Minnesota. Sibley would not have his prize.”

Book Talk at Reynolds Community College

ghazala-ronI’m overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the fine team at Reynolds who made last night’s book talk a reality. Heartfelt thanks to Lisa, Ashley, and especially my good friend Ghazala Hashmi (pictured here). The friendship Ghazala and I share extends all the way back to high school, and I’m so happy to reconnect with her after so many years. She and I caught up over dinner at a local Thai restaurant before the talk.

The event took place in the Massey Library auditorium on campus and was well attended. I was delighted to see a number of young faces in the audience, and applaud the teacher who gave one group of high school students extra credit for attending the presentation. I was also impressed with the raffle—four copies of “African American Faces of the Civil War” were given away, and another four copies of the book written by the author who will appear at the next event. In all the talks I’ve participated in, the book raffle is a first.

All of this happened on my birthday, and at the end of the presentation, event coordinator Lisa Bishop stepped up to the podium and asked everyone to wish me a happy birthday on the count of three. That was icing on the cake!

After the event, we all walked out into the lobby of the library for refreshments and a book signing. I met and signed books for a number of attendees, including Wendell, a teacher who planned to use the book in his class.

Great day!

Lieutenant Rogers Recovers Captured Guns at Gettysburg

rogers-groupThe exploits of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his Twentieth Maine Infantry at Gettysburg are well known among those with an active interest in the Civil War. Far less known however is the story of another Maine unit, the Sixth Battery, First Light Artillery, and its role in stopping the Confederate juggernaut in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard about the same time Chamberlain and his troops were fighting nearby on Little Round Top.

The story of Lt. William H. Rogers and the rest of his battery at Gettysburg is the subject of my latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News.

An excerpt:

The fighting in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg was a Union artilleryman’s nightmare. Advancing Confederates had torn into the poorly positioned Union Third Corps and ripped it to shreds. The destruction of the federal line at this critical point uncovered a wide a dangerous gap in their front. Onrushing rebels plunged into the void and drove shattered ranks of federal infantry back, leaving artillery batteries unsupported and exposed.

Read the full story.