Marching Home to the Beat of a Purloined Melody

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the March 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

On August 31, 1976 a district court in New York City ruled that former Beatle George Harrison was guilty of copyright infringement. Harrison was ordered by the court to pay nearly $1.6 million to the publisher of the song that Harrison had plagiarized, although that amount was subsequently amended to $587,000. The lawsuit involved Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord,” which rose to number one in the U.S. and in so doing made Harrison the first of the former Beatles to have a number one song as a solo artist. The song that Harrison plagiarized is “He’s So Fine,” which was released by the singing group The Chiffons in December 1962 and became a number one song in 1963. Although the presiding judge in the trial, Richard Owen, acknowledged that he believed that Harrison had not deliberately plagiarized “He’s So Fine,” the judge nevertheless asserted that what Harrison did was “under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.” U.S. copyright laws were certainly different at the time of George Harrison’s trial compared to the mid-19th Century, but a judicial fate like that of George Harrison’s could have befallen the person who composed one of the most popular and uplifting songs of the Civil War.

Patrick Gilmore

The person in question is Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, and at his peak Gilmore was as renowned and accomplished as George Harrison. Patrick Gilmore was born in County Galway, Ireland on Christmas day of 1829. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1849 and settled in Boston. Prior to his arrival in the U.S., Gilmore learned to play the cornet under the tutelage of a retired bandleader named Patrick Keating. At the time that Gilmore took up residence in his new country, he was already a very talented cornetist, and in 1852 he rose to become the leader of the Charlestown, Massachusetts Town Band. Within a year he became, first, the director of the Suffolk Brass Band and then the Boston Brigade Band. Soon thereafter Gilmore left the Boston Brigade Band to become director of the Salem Brigade Band, and it was under Gilmore’s leadership that this band played for the inauguration of James Buchanan. However, the members of the Boston Brigade Band had developed strong feelings of animosity toward Gilmore and his new band after Gilmore deserted his previous band to take his new position. As a result, the members of the Boston Brigade Band concocted a plan for an attack on the Salem Brigade Band at the train station when it returned from Buchanan’s inauguration. The planned attack involved destroying the instruments of the Salem band members and also injuring their lips to prevent them from playing. But the Salem band, which had no knowledge of the planned attack, took an earlier train to Boston than they had been scheduled to take and thereby avoided the harm that the Boston Brigade Band had prepared to inflict on them.

Although the Boston band’s vindictive attack never took place, the Salem Brigade Band somehow learned of the planned attack by their Boston rivals. Because of this, the Salem band was fearful of a repeat attempt by the Boston band. On the Salem band’s next trip, Gilmore arranged to have a sizable number of Salem ruffians accompany the band for protection. When the Salem band exited the train, ruffians who had been enlisted by the Boston band set upon them at the train station. But the Salem goons did what they had been brought along to do, and the Boston ruffians were on the receiving end of the iniquity that they had intended to deliver to the members of the Salem band.

During the year after the performance at Buchanan’s inauguration, Patrick Gilmore married Ellen O’Neill. The following year, 1859, Gilmore was lured back to be the leader of the Boston Brigade Band. In spite of the animosity that the band had previously felt toward Gilmore, the band recognized that Gilmore was an exceptional director who could elevate both the band’s prowess and its reputation. In addition to monetary inducement, Gilmore was lured back by a change in the band’s name to Patrick Gilmore’s Band. At this time in his life, Gilmore was highly regarded as a director of concert bands, and over the next 30 years Gilmore rose to even greater prominence.

At the start of the Civil War, volunteer regiments were permitted to have bands attached to them. In the fall of 1861 Gilmore had his entire band enlisted. The band was attached to the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and the band accompanied this regiment on its military campaigns. The band went to North Carolina with the expedition that was sent there under the command of Ambrose Burnside. In mid-1862, when it became clear that the war would not be the short conflict that many had forecast, the U.S. government decided to eliminate regimental bands as a cost-cutting measure. In August 1862 Gilmore’s band mustered out, but Massachusetts Governor John Andrew, the man who was instrumental in the creation of the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment, approached Gilmore to organize bands for Massachusetts regiments. Gilmore did so, and in 1863 he accompanied one of those bands as its director when the band returned to duty. Gilmore’s band was present at the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Gilmore’s band was stationed in New Orleans when the first Union governor of Louisiana was inaugurated on March 4, 1864. Gilmore was tasked with organizing the musical performance for the inauguration celebration, and he assembled a band consisting of 500 instrumentalists and a chorus of 5,000. This experience with a very large band and chorus inspired Gilmore to organize two prodigious musical events after the Civil War.

The World’s Peace Jubilee
John Philip Sousa

The two gigantic musical extravaganzas that Gilmore organized after the war made him the most prominent bandleader of his time. The first was the National Peace Jubilee in Boston in June 1869 to celebrate the return of the country to peace after the horrible conflict that had claimed so many lives and torn the country apart. The National Peace Jubilee was a five-day musical event that was held in a specially constructed hall with seating for 30,000. Gilmore assembled over 1,000 instrumentalists and over 10,000 vocalists as performers. One of the highlights of the concert was a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” which included church bells, cannon fired in synchronization with the music, a bass drum eight feet in diameter, and 100 Boston firemen striking anvils. As if this spectacular event were not enough, Gilmore organized another enormous concert, the World’s Peace Jubilee, which was held in Boston in June 1872. This was an even larger and longer event, 18 days in duration with 2,000 instrumentalists and 20,000 vocalists as well as famous bands and performers from Europe, including Johann Strauss, who made his only appearance in the U.S. Also performing were some famous American bands, including the United States Marine Band, which around that time had as one of its members a young man 17 years of age named John Philip Sousa. However, the World’s Peace Jubilee took place during the six-month period between Sousa’s first and second enlistments with the band, so Sousa likely did not perform at the World’s Peace Jubilee. Nevertheless, Sousa was greatly influenced by Gilmore, and in fact, when Sousa left the Marines for good, it was to become the director of a civilian concert band, which is the same kind of position that Gilmore had held for many years.

Patrick Gilmore and his New York band

The year after the World’s Peace Jubilee, Gilmore left Boston to become the leader of a concert band in New York City. He made this move in part because New York City had become the principal location of top concert bands. The band that Gilmore directed was the 22nd New York Regiment Band, and shortly after his move to New York City, Gilmore leased a venue for his band’s concerts. That venue was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, but it had been leased to P.T. Barnum, under whom the venue was called the Great Roman Hippodrome or, more grandly, Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome. After Gilmore leased the venue, he renamed it Gilmore’s Garden. A few years later, the Vanderbilt family took control of the facility and gave it a new name, although they retained part of the name that Gilmore had given to the structure. The Vanderbilt family renamed the facility Madison Square Garden, and this was the first iteration of that famous New York City venue, of which there have now been four different structures to bear that name, each one built to replace the previous one.

A sketch of P.T. Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome

Patrick Gilmore remained the leader of the 22nd New York Regiment Band for the next 19 years until his death. Under Gilmore’s leadership, the band became the best and most celebrated concert band in the U.S. Gilmore’s band toured throughout the U.S. and also in Europe, and the band was renowned not only for the extremely high quality of its performances, but also the very high number of performances that it gave. In the fall of 1892 the band was in St. Louis as part of a tour. On September 23 Gilmore conducted the band, and on the following night, while the band was being conducted by the assistant conductor, a message was delivered during the program that Patrick Gilmore had died. Gilmore’s body was transported to New York City, where he was buried. Two days after Gilmore’s death, John Philip Sousa conducted the first concert of the civilian band for which he had left the Marines in order to become director. One of Patrick Gilmore’s most important legacies is his innovation of instrumentation for concert bands that consists of a blending of brass and woodwinds rather than the predominately or exclusively brass instrumentation of the earlier 19th Century. Gilmore’s blended brass and woodwind instrumentation is still the prevailing format for concert bands today.

Sheet music for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”

Patrick Gilmore’s novel instrumentation for concert bands is one of his greatest legacies, but it is not his best-known legacy. Gilmore’s best-known legacy is the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” But while Gilmore composed the lyrics (under the pseudonym Louis Lambert), the jaunty melody is another matter. Even though sheet music that was published in 1863 by Gilmore’s publisher credits Gilmore’s pseudonym, Louis Lambert, for both the words and the music, there is reason to believe that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was, to put it kindly, borrowed from a soldiers’ drinking song named “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” Various lyrics exist for “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl,” but one set of lyrics for the first stanza is as follows. “A soldier I’m just from the war, hurrah, hurrah / A soldier I’m just from the war, hurrah, hurrah / A soldier I’m just from the war, where thundering guns and cannons roar / And we’ll all drink stone blind / Johnny, fill up the bowl.” This song’s melody is essentially the same as that of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and there is compelling evidence that Patrick Gilmore did not compose the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” but appropriated the melody from “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” For example, a copy of Gilmore’s lyrics that was published by Gilmore’s publisher contains the instruction that the song should be sung to the tune of “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” In addition, Gilmore admitted in an 1883 article that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” “was a musical waif which I happened to hear somebody humming in the early days of the rebellion, and taking a fancy to it, wrote it down, dressed it up, gave it a name, and rhymed it into usefulness for a special purpose suited to the times.” This comment from Gilmore, himself, is strong evidence that he did not compose the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Instead, that melody appears to have come from “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” In other words, Patrick Gilmore seems to have done just what George Harrison did with “My Sweet Lord” and “He’s So Fine.” (Some sources assert that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was taken from the Irish anti-war song “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye.” But there is evidence that this is not so, in particular the fact that the latter song was not published until after the Civil War.)

Patrick Gilmore has an illustrious musical legacy, but very few people know about that legacy. This is in contrast to John Philip Sousa, who gained his fame in a similar musical genre and whose legacy is well known. The reason for this difference is that Sousa composed many pieces, while Gilmore’s body of work does not contain many compositions of his own making. However, Gilmore does have one musical composition that is very well known, particularly to Civil War enthusiasts. The song that Gilmore composed, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” was one of the most popular songs during the Civil War because of its rousing melody and uplifting lyrics about loved ones returning from the war. But Gilmore almost certainly pirated the melody for this song, although he was not unique in this Civil War musical transgression. Two of the most iconic songs of the Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” likewise came into existence when someone set new lyrics to the melodies of pre-existing songs. This makes Patrick Gilmore no worse than the composers of those songs, Julia Ward Howe and Harry McCarthy, or, for that matter, no worse than a former member of the most influential and most innovative rock-and-roll band in history.

A Life Flavored with Sweet Vanilla and Bitter Injustice

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the February 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

Sketch of Edmond Albius

According to a recent survey by the International Dairy Foods Association, the best-selling flavor of ice cream in the U.S. is vanilla. If you are one of the people whose favorite ice cream is vanilla, then you should give credit to a slave for vanilla ice cream, because it is due to a slave that vanilla ice cream tastes like vanilla. Nowadays the majority of vanilla flavoring in foods results from chemically synthesized vanillin. Vanillin is the substance present in natural vanilla that is primarily responsible for natural vanilla’s flavor and aroma. Synthetic vanillin, most of which is manufactured from a petrochemical, is widely used as an artificial vanilla flavoring, because it is much less expensive than natural vanilla. In contrast, most vanilla ice cream sold in the U.S. has natural vanilla flavoring that comes from an extract of the fruit of the vanilla plant, that is, from vanilla beans. This is because the FDA requires that ice cream flavored with synthetic vanillin must be labeled as “artificial vanilla” or “artificially flavored vanilla.” Since companies are reluctant to market ice cream that is labeled in this way, vanilla ice cream in the U.S. is by and large flavored with natural vanilla, and a black slave named Edmond Albius was responsible for making that natural vanilla flavoring possible. Edmond Albius was not a slave in the U.S., but a slave in a French colony. The ingenious technique that he developed for cultivation of the vanilla plant is another example of how people in bondage were capable of much more than manual labor. This history brief focuses on Edmond Albius and his seminal contribution to vanilla production.

Hernán Cortés

For centuries in Mexico, vanilla plants were grown and vanilla beans harvested and used to make vanilla flavoring. In 1519 Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés led an expedition to Mexico, during which the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs. At that time the Aztecs routinely used vanilla flavoring. In his dealings with the Aztecs, Cortés learned about vanilla and brought this flavoring back with him to Spain, from which it was introduced into other European countries, such as England and France. Cortés also learned about chocolate from the Aztecs, and he likewise brought this New World delicacy to Europe. For many years, vanilla’s use was primarily as an additive to chocolate to reduce chocolate’s bitterness. In 1570 there was another Spanish expedition to Mexico led by Francisco Hernández, who was a physician for the Spanish king, Philip. This expedition was intended to be a scientific mission, and Hernández provided the first written descriptions of various New World plants, including the vanilla plant. Hernández claimed that extracts of vanilla beans combined with chocolate had medicinal properties and could “warm and strengthen the stomach; diminish flatulence; cook the humors and attenuate them; give strength and vigor to the mind; heal female troubles; and are said to be good against cold poisons and the bites of venomous animals.” Another health benefit of vanilla according to Hernández, although his experimental evidence for this is not known, was that it “causes the urine to flow admirably.” If Hernández was correct, then vanilla is a tasty substitute for Flomax. While the medicinal properties that Hernández claimed for vanilla should be a sufficient reason to consume it, an Englishman named Hugh Morgan, who was the apothecary for Queen Elizabeth I, was more taken by vanilla’s taste and suggested in 1602 that vanilla, by itself, be used as a flavoring. This began the steady and inexorable rise in the use and popularity of vanilla.

Charles Morren

For a long time, the vanilla that was used in Europe was simply imported from Mexico. But eventually vanilla plants were brought to Europe with the objective of cultivating them for vanilla production. However, the outcome of this endeavor was a complete failure. The plants grew well and were capable of surviving for decades, but the plants produced no fruit, that is, no vanilla beans. Because of this, no vanilla extract could be made from the plants in Europe. The reason for this remained a mystery until 1836 when a Belgian botanist named Charles Morren discovered that the vanilla plants in Europe were not being pollinated. This is because Europe lacks the appropriate pollinator for vanilla flowers. The natural pollinator for vanilla is now thought to be a species of stingless bee known as the Melipona bee that is native to Mexico. The vast majority of flowers that exist on Earth, including those of vanilla plants, are hermaphroditic, which means that the flower contains both male and female reproductive organs. Vanilla plants belong to the orchid family, and like orchids in general, but in contrast to most hermaphroditic flowers, vanilla flowers have inside them a flap of tissue that separates the male and female organs. The natural pollinators of vanilla plants have evolved the necessary instinctive qualities to reach the pollen and effect pollination.

When vanilla plants from Mexico were distributed throughout Europe and its colonies, it was fortuitous that some plants were brought to a small island in the Indian Ocean. This island, which is named Réunion, is about 500 miles east of Madagascar and was a French colony at that time. The rationale for bringing vanilla plants to Réunion and places like it was that the tropical climate made such places suitable for cultivation of the vanilla plants. But the vanilla plants in those places, like the plants in Europe, never produced fruit, because they were not pollinated. One person living on Réunion, a man named Ferréol Bellier-Beaumont, had some vanilla plants, and he had always wondered why the plants never produced fruit. Bellier-Beaumont had also come to own a young black slave named Edmond, who, as was typical for slaves on Réunion, had no surname. Edmond’s mother, Mélise, died while giving birth to him in 1829, and Edmond never knew his father. Bellier-Beaumont, who had an interest in plants, took a liking to Edmond and taught him to care for the many plants that Bellier-Beaumont had on his plantation.

Manual pollination of a vanilla flower

Among the things that Bellier-Beaumont showed to Edmond was a procedure to manually pollinate watermelon flowers. A short time later, Bellier-Beaumont, to his astonishment, saw fruit growing on one of his vanilla plants, a plant that had been in Bellier-Beaumont’s possession for over 20 years without ever producing fruit. When Bellier-Beaumont asked Edmond about this, Edmond, who was 12 years old at the time, told Bellier-Beaumont that he had manually pollinated the plant. Bellier-Beaumont had previously tried to manually pollinate vanilla flowers, but without success. Edmond explained that he closely examined the vanilla flowers and noticed the flap of tissue that separates the male and female reproductive organs. Edmond said that he used a small stick to push aside the flap of tissue and then pressed the male and female organs against each other to transfer the sticky pollen onto the female organ. Edmond demonstrated his procedure to Bellier-Beaumont, and Bellier-Beaumont spread the word about this to others on Réunion. The year in which Edmond developed his manual pollination procedure was 1841. For context, in 1841 William Henry Harrison was sworn in as president of the United States. A little over a month later, John Tyler was sworn in as president of the United States. Also in 1841, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of the Amistad. In 1841 the island of Réunion exported no vanilla. By 1848 Réunion exported about 100 pounds of dried vanilla. Ten years later it was two tons, and in 1867, 20 tons. In 1898, 57 years after Edmond developed his pollination procedure, Réunion exported 200 tons of vanilla and surpassed Mexico to become the world’s leading producer of vanilla beans. Réunion exported not only vanilla, but also Edmond’s pollination procedure, and this procedure, which today is, by far, the predominant method by which vanilla flowers are pollinated, led to the development of the worldwide vanilla industry.

Ferréol Bellier-Beaumont freed Edmond in June 1848, seven years after Edmond first pollinated vanilla flowers, although Edmond would have received his freedom in December of that year when slavery on Réunion was abolished. It may have been that Bellier-Beaumont freed Edmond in anticipation of the abolition of slavery. Sometime after Edmond received his freedom, he was given the surname Albius. It is not known why this particular surname was chosen, but it is curious that the surname given to Edmond, who was a black slave of African descent, contains the root of the Latin word for white. After Edmond received his freedom, he moved to the city, worked as a laborer for a time, and then worked as a kitchen servant. One night a robbery occurred at the house in which Edmond worked, and for reasons that are not known, Edmond was accused. He was subsequently tried, found guilty, and in 1852 sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor. But three years into Edmond’s sentence, his former owner, Ferréol Bellier-Beaumont, interceded on Edmond’s behalf and was able to obtain Edmond’s release from prison. In the letter that Bellier-Beaumont sent to the governor to plead for Edmond’s release, Bellier-Beaumont wrote, “If anyone has a right to clemency and to recognition for his achievements, then it is Edmond.” The most interesting statement in the letter is one in which Bellier-Beaumont gave full credit to Edmond for the invention that led to the island of Réunion becoming, in the late 19th Century, the world leader in the production of vanilla. Bellier-Beaumont wrote about Edmond, “It is entirely due to him that this country owes [sic] a new branch of industry – for it is he who first discovered how manually to fertilize the vanilla plant.”

After Edmond’s release from prison in 1855, he married, left the city, and moved near Bellier-Beaumont’s plantation. Sometime after Edmond’s release from prison, there was a false claim that Edmond was not the person who developed the vanilla pollination procedure. A French botanist named Jean Michel Claude Richard insisted that he had developed the procedure years before Edmond showed the procedure to Bellier-Beaumont. Richard claimed that he developed the procedure in Paris and then went to Réunion in 1838 and showed the procedure to several people. Richard supposed that young Edmond had been present when Richard demonstrated the procedure, and then Edmond later showed it to Bellier-Beaumont. But Bellier-Beaumont wrote a letter to government officials on Réunion and refuted Richard’s account. In that letter, in which Bellier-Beaumont wrote that he had been Richard’s friend for many years, Bellier-Beaumont maintained, “Through old age, faulty memory, or some other cause, M. Richard now imagines that he himself discovered the secret of how to pollinate vanilla, and imagines that he taught the technique to the person who discovered it!” In that statement from Bellier-Beaumont’s letter, he offered a couple of specific suggestions for Richard’s claim to being the person who invented the vanilla pollination procedure, namely, “old age” and “faulty memory.” It can only be surmised what Bellier-Beaumont meant by the unspecified “some other cause” that he proposed as a possible explanation for Richard claiming to be the inventor of the pollination procedure. Perhaps Bellier-Beaumont was referring to something that is associated in a children’s taunt with pants on fire and is also the reason that Pinocchio’s nose grows. On the other hand, Bellier-Beaumont left no doubt about his recommendation for how to deal with the man who was trying to usurp credit for the pollination procedure. Bellier-Beaumont’s suggestion with regard to Richard was simply, “Let us leave him to his fantasies.”

Statue of Edmond Albius on Réunion

Fortunately, Edmond continued to receive credit for developing the pollination procedure. But sadly, while many people were reaping large profits because of Edmond’s pollination procedure, Edmond did not receive any financial prosperity from his discovery. Edmond Albius died in 1880 at the age of 51. In the local newspaper there was a notice dated August 26 that read, “The very man who at great profit to this colony, discovered how to pollinate vanilla flowers, has died in the public hospital.” The notice also contained the somber statement, “It was a destitute and miserable end.” Today a statue of Edmond stands in one of the towns on the small island which at one time, thanks to Edmond, was the leading producer of vanilla.

In the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard,” which was written by English poet Thomas Gray and published in 1751, there is a line that reads, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” In a way, this quote applies to those whose lives and talents were squandered in the desert of slavery. Countless people who possessed the ability to make important contributions and to live rewarding lives were denied the chance to do so, because they were forced to blush unseen and waste the sweetness of their talents in bondage. Edmond Albius almost was such a person, but, ironically, it was a flower that gave Edmond the opportunity to escape the terrible fate of blooming unseen in unfulfilling anonymity. In spite of living over a third of his life in slavery, Edmond made a contribution which is so important that it spread from the small island on which he lived to reach the entire world. At present the leading producer of natural vanilla is Madagascar, the much larger island that lies about 500 miles west of Réunion. While natural vanilla is produced in a number of different countries, Madagascar currently produces about 80% of the world’s natural vanilla, and all of the vanilla produced on Madagascar results from the pollination procedure that was invented by a 12-year-old black slave on a small island in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the vast majority of the vanilla flowers on planet Earth are now pollinated with the procedure that was developed by Edmond Albius. Whenever people enjoy the taste of vanilla, they should think of Edmond Albius, and maybe also give a silent thank you to him.

Two Wars at a Time: The War within the Civil War

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the January 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

On September 4, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced a car that it predicted would revolutionize American automobiles. That car was the Edsel, and rather than revolutionize American automobiles, the Edsel was, without exaggeration, a spectacular failure, so much so that the name Edsel is now synonymous with commercial failure. As part of the marketing campaign for the Edsel, Ford Motor Company coined a slogan to describe its new car, specifically, the car of the future. That dynamic slogan was intended to instill in people a high regard for the Edsel and to motivate them to purchase one. But the future for the so-called car of the future lasted only two years, because production ceased in 1959, and that slogan became a source of ridicule. In the Civil War, there was a slogan that someone introduced which also sounded dynamic and was intended to instill in soldiers a high regard for the person who introduced the slogan and to motivate the soldiers to buy into that person’s leadership. The Civil War leader in question is John Pope, who truly was an Edsel of an army commander. When Pope was given command of a Union army in the East, he introduced something of a slogan about himself when he wrote that his headquarters would be in the saddle. Pope’s intent with this slogan was to indicate to his men that he would not dawdle when it came to campaigns against the enemy. Instead, he would be aggressive and continuously on the move. But after Pope’s dismal failure at the second battle of Bull Run, many people twisted Pope’s slogan and said that if Pope’s headquarters really were in the saddle, then his headquarters were where his hindquarters should be.

John Pope

After John Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run, he disappeared from the Civil War as certainly as if he had fallen off the Earth. Shelby Foote, in his three-volume history of the Civil War, wrote that after Second Bull Run, Pope received orders “to pack his bags for the long ride to Minnesota.” In an earlier book about the Civil War, Bruce Catton wrote that after Second Bull Run, Pope “was under orders to go back into obscurity in the Northwest, far from the Rebel generals.” I remember when I read those words many years ago, I wondered why Pope was sent to Minnesota. This history brief focuses on that.

Taoyateduta (Little Crow)

The reason for John Pope’s trip to Minnesota was precipitated on August 17, 1862, 11 days before the beginning of the second battle of Bull Run. On that day, four Dakota Indians in southern Minnesota were returning from an unsuccessful hunting expedition and came upon a farm owned by white settlers. Minnesota had been a state for only four years, but during that time the white population had continued to increase significantly, and the Dakota were progressively squeezed into smaller territory. Prior to Minnesota’s statehood, treaties had been made between the U.S. and the Dakota which stipulated that the U.S. government would provide annuity payments to the Dakota for the purchase of food from white traders, and in return the Dakota would allow white settlement on land previously used by the Dakota as their source of food. However, these payments were consistently late, which caused the Dakota to frequently live in hunger, and after a poor crop season in 1862, the Dakota faced starvation. Because of this situation, there was a meeting on August 15, 1862 between government officials and members of the Dakota, including their chief, whose Dakota name was Taoyateduta and whose English name was Little Crow. At this meeting the Dakota once again complained about the late annuity payments and made clear that they had a desperate need for food. Although the white traders had ample food in their storehouses, the traders were unwilling to release it on credit. When the Dakota emphasized that many of their people were facing starvation, one of the white traders, a man named Andrew Myrick, reputedly scoffed, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” (Myrick may have made this remark at the meeting or sometime prior to it. The historical record is not clear when Myrick made this scathing remark, but the historical evidence is clear that Myrick said this, or some variation of this, in the presence of some of the Dakota.) Because of the dire situation that the Dakota were facing, tensions were very high between the Dakota and the white settlers in Minnesota, and when the unsuccessful hunting party happened upon a farm two days after the heated meeting, the four Dakota men killed five white settlers who lived on that farm.

Andrew Myrick

That night, after Taoyateduta and the other Dakota leaders were told of this incident, a council was convened, and the Dakota decided to go to war against the whites. There is evidence that the Dakota were aware that the U.S. was engaged in a civil war, and this influenced those Dakota who favored war, because they felt that the attention of the U.S. government was focused elsewhere. Taoyateduta opposed the decision to go to war and insisted that the Dakota had almost no chance of victory. But he also pledged to lead the Dakota, because he proclaimed in the council that he is not a coward and that he will die with them. Beginning on August 18, the day after the killing on the farm, Dakota war parties attacked whites, first white traders and government employees and then white settlements. The attacks were primarily along the Minnesota River in southern Minnesota, and in the next few days hundreds of whites were killed. One of the first whites to be killed was Andrew Myrick, the man who told the Dakota to eat grass. Myrick’s body was later found with grass stuffed in his mouth. Between the killing of whites and their fleeing from the region in panic, whole townships became depopulated.

Whites fleeing Indians, August 21, 1862

Some of the survivors of the initial Dakota attacks of August 18 fled to Fort Ridgely, a federal garrison on the Minnesota River that was built to protect the settlers in the region, and the white settlers who managed to reach Fort Ridgely told the men there about the Dakota attacks. Captain John Marsh, who had fought in the first battle of Bull Run, but was now stationed at Fort Ridgely, left the fort with 46 U.S. soldiers. This force moved several miles along the bank of the river toward the Dakota, but it ran into an ambush that the Dakota prepared. There was fierce fighting in which a number of soldiers were killed. The survivors attempted to escape by swimming across the river, and some were able to escape this way. However, Marsh was pulled under the water and drowned. In all, 23 of the men in that force were killed. On August 19, the Dakota attacked the town of New Ulm, but a downpour caused them to end the attack after two hours, and the town was spared. The Dakota made two attempts to take Fort Ridgely, but the fort successfully rebuffed both attacks, one on August 20 and one on August 22.

Henry Hastings Sibley

When word of the Dakota attacks reached St. Paul, the state capital, the governor, Alexander Ramsey, appointed Henry Hastings Sibley to lead the militia against the Dakota. (Henry Hopkins Sibley, a distant cousin of Henry Hastings Sibley, commanded a small Confederate army at the battle of Valverde and at the battle of Glorieta Pass, both of which are in present-day New Mexico.) The force of over 1,000 men led by Henry Hastings Sibley reached Fort Ridgely on August 28, and Sibley directed that a party be sent out to look for survivors and to bury the bodies of those who had been killed, because those bodies were still unburied. This party was attacked by the Dakota on September 2 at a place called Birch Coulee. Sibley sent reinforcements, and the battle of Birch Coulee became one of the most intense of the war. Subsequently, the Dakota attacked some settlements further north in central Minnesota, but by this time the residents were prepared to resist the attacks and fared much better against the Dakota.

Alexander Ramsey

In the meantime, Governor Ramsey contacted Abraham Lincoln and asked for assistance from the federal government. But the federal government was not inclined to send troops to Minnesota, because it considered other hostilities a higher priority. Nevertheless, the War Department did designate that region the Department of the Northwest, and on September 6, 1862 John Pope was ordered to assume command of that department and to take overall command of the military effort. The directive that Edwin Stanton sent to Pope told him to make his headquarters not in the saddle, but in “Saint Paul, Minn.” and to “take such prompt and vigorous measures as shall quell the hostilities and afford peace, security, and protection to the people against Indian hostilities.” Although the federal government was reluctant to send troops to Minnesota, it evidently felt that it could spare John Pope. However, there were some Minnesota volunteer infantry regiments that had been organized for the Civil War, but these units were retained in the state for use against the Dakota.

John Pope arrived in Minnesota on September 16, the day before the battle of Antietam. By the time of Pope’s arrival, the war in Minnesota had begun to turn in favor of the U.S. A week after Pope arrived, a force led by Henry Hastings Sibley fought a battle against the Dakota at Wood Lake. At this battle, as at the two clashes at Fort Ridgely, the U.S. used artillery against the Dakota, which was decisive in defeating them. (The battle of Wood Lake occurred on September 23, 1862, the day after Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.) After the battle of Wood Lake, the Dakota under Taoyateduta withdrew westward, and the war that came to be known as the Dakota War of 1862 was essentially over. Although accurate numbers are not known, it is estimated that there were approximately 80 U.S. military casualties, 150 Dakota dead, and 450 to 800 civilians killed during the war. There were more deaths in the Dakota War of 1862 than in the much more well-known Great Sioux War of 1876, which is the war that included the battle of the Little Bighorn.

Prior to the battle of Wood Lake, Sibley learned that the Dakota held almost 300 white captives. Negotiations between Sibley and the Dakota led to the release of almost all of the captives on September 26, and the remainder within the next few days. When John Pope received word of Sibley’s victory at Wood Lake and of the release of the captives, he replied in a dispatch to Sibley, “The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners, still alive, call for punishment beyond human power to inflict….It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux…They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.” Shortly after the release of the captive whites, over 1,600 Dakota women, children, and old men were taken into custody, and in early November they were marched to Fort Snelling near St. Paul and held there until the spring of 1863 when they were relocated further west, outside of Minnesota. Two months later the federal government passed legislation, the Dakota Expulsion Act, which made it illegal for any Dakota to live in the state of Minnesota. To this day, the Dakota Expulsion Act has not been repealed.

At the time of the release of the captive whites, many of the Dakota warriors, but not Taoyateduta, surrendered and were held as prisoners. Taoyateduta eventually fled to Canada. One of the real ironies of this war was that Taoyateduta was the person who led the Dakota in battle. Prior to the war, he recognized the necessity of negotiating with the U.S. government if the Dakota had any chance of being treated fairly, and government officials considered Taoyateduta a reliable spokesman for the Dakota. In 1858 Taoyateduta traveled to Washington and met with federal officials to discuss the plight of the Dakota and the failure of the government to adequately fulfill the terms of its treaties with the Dakota, although this meeting did nothing to alter the treatment of the Dakota by the government. Taoyateduta even adopted some white customs, such as the clothes he wore. When the Dakota decided to make war against the whites, Taoyateduta returned to his Dakota clothing. He also admonished the Dakota not to kill women or children. After the Dakota were defeated, Taoyateduta lived for several months in Canada and then attempted to return to Minnesota. Taoyateduta, along with his fifteen-year-old son, Wowinapa, snuck into Minnesota and had traveled to near the town of Hutchinson, which is about 70 miles west of St. Paul. On the morning of July 3, 1863, the day when a Confederate force under George Pickett made a doomed assault on a strong Union position in southern Pennsylvania, Taoyateduta and his son were picking wild raspberries when they were seen by a white man and his son, Nathan and Chauncey Lamson, both of whom shot Taoyateduta. Taoyateduta died of his wounds, and his body was later identified. Nathan Lamson received a $500 bounty for the killing of Taoyateduta. Taoyateduta’s body was mutilated, scalped, and decapitated, and his remains were not returned to his descendants for proper burial until 1971.

The check issued to Nathan Lamson

The Dakota men who surrendered on September 26, 1862 were tried in a military court for war crimes against civilians. Almost 400 Dakota men were tried from September 28 to November 5, 1862. There is no question that the Native Americans in Minnesota were treated atrociously by the U.S. government prior to the Dakota War of 1862. But there is also no question that atrocities were committed by some Dakota during the war. Unarmed civilians were murdered in cold blood, and women were raped. According to one gruesome eyewitness account, a Dakota warrior cut open the abdomen of a pregnant woman and ripped out the fetus. The story of the Duley family demonstrates the brutality that civilians experienced. William Duley became separated from his family when some civilians were fleeing from the Dakota. When the Dakota caught up to the group, two of William’s children, ages ten and four, were killed. William’s pregnant wife, Laura, and his three remaining children, one of whom was a baby, were taken captive. While in captivity, Laura miscarried the child she was carrying, and her baby died. After the war ended, Laura and the surviving children were released, but Laura had endured repeated assaults by Dakota men. Because of many such accounts of atrocities committed by the Dakota, there was profound anger toward them and intense sentiment for retribution. In all, 392 Dakota were tried, 323 were convicted, and 303 were sentenced to death. The men on trial did not have counsel and likely did not fully understand the proceedings, which in some cases lasted only a few minutes. Nevertheless, Pope and Sibley were satisfied that justice had been administered properly, and on November 7 Pope asked Lincoln for approval to carry out the sentences for the 303 who were condemned to die. Pope did this in a lengthy telegram to Lincoln which simply listed the names of those who were to be executed and did not include any of the information in support of the sentences. This long telegram was sent at a cost of $400 ($10,000 in 2018 dollars), an expense for which Pope was strongly criticized.

Rather than hastily comply with Pope’s request for approval to execute the 303 convicted Dakota, Lincoln, on November 10, insisted that Pope send him “as soon as possible the full and complete record of their convictions,” and, as a jab at Pope’s telegraphic monetary excesses, Lincoln instructed Pope, “Send all by mail.” Once in possession of the trial records, Lincoln had this information examined by two lawyers with the goal of determining if the death sentences were justified. After this analysis, Lincoln decreased the number of death sentences from 303 to 39. The principal criterion that Lincoln used in this decision was proof of participation in some kind of atrocity, such as murder of civilians or rape, as opposed to participation in a battle. Ultimately one more death sentence was commuted, and on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were executed by hanging in Mankato, Minnesota. This remains to this day the largest mass execution in U.S. history. For the execution, a very large scaffold was built, on which there were 40 trapdoors, all of which could be opened by cutting a single rope. In this way all of the condemned men would be hanged simultaneously. On the day of the execution, the 38 Dakota were put in position on the scaffold, and the rope opening the trapdoors was cut by William Duley, the man who lost three of his children and an unborn child in the war with the Dakota and whose wife was held as a captive by the Dakota along with other of his children.

A drawing depicting the execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862

During the Trent Affair, Lincoln famously said, “One war at a time.” When hostilities erupted in Minnesota in August 1862, Lincoln had a second war thrust upon him and was required to fight two wars at a time. Fortunately for Lincoln, the war in Minnesota, which was a war within the Civil War, was limited in scope and of short duration, certainly compared to the Civil War. But when the Dakota War of 1862 ended, Lincoln faced a major challenge, specifically how to respond to the 303 death sentences imposed on Dakota men, which was the determination that was made in part by John Pope, the person whom the Lincoln administration had chosen to oversee U.S. operations in that war. Lincoln’s decision was to sentence 38 of those 303 to death, because he believed that only those 38 deserved to be executed. However, Lincoln received harsh criticism for this decision, including from members of his own political party and particularly from the citizens of Minnesota, who let Lincoln know of their discontent in the election of 1864. Although Lincoln won the popular vote in Minnesota, his margin of victory was less than in 1860. After the 1864 election, Alexander Ramsey, the Republican governor of Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862, said that the Republicans would have fared better at the ballot box, “if he (i.e., Lincoln) had hung more Indians.” Lincoln replied to Ramsey’s assertion, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” In light of the harsh criticism that Lincoln received over his decision, one question to consider is whether Abraham Lincoln correctly handled the situation regarding the Dakota executions. Should Lincoln have ordered the execution of all 303 who were sentenced to death? Or, because of the way that the Dakota were treated prior to the war, should Lincoln have ordered that none of the Dakota be executed, in spite of what they did? Or did Lincoln, by putting 38 men to death, correctly resolve this complex issue, which arose out of the war within the Civil War?

It’s a Wonderful Connection

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the November 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

When the calendar moves to December, among the things we can count on are cold weather, very many holiday sales, and far too little time to prepare for the holidays. There are also sure to be plenty of opportunities to overdose on television broadcasts of holiday movies. These holiday movies include musicals such as Holiday Inn and White Christmas, animated films such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, and the stop motion film Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There are several versions of A Christmas Carol, including one with the Disney characters and another with the Muppets. (Who needs Alastair Sim and George C. Scott when we have Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog?) There are comedies such as Elf, Home Alone, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and there are sentimental movies such as Miracle on 34th Street and The Polar Express. There is also the movie A Christmas Story, which is both humorous and sentimental and is set in a house that, in real life, is in Cleveland. Of all the holiday movies, the one that is arguably the most inspirational and uplifting is It’s a Wonderful Life, because this movie’s story conveys the message that every person is valuable, even those whose lives seem ordinary and humdrum. But one little-known aspect of this movie is that it has a definite connection to the Civil War. One connection between It’s a Wonderful Life and the Civil War is that Jimmy Stewart, who had the male lead in It’s a Wonderful Life, also had the leading role in a 1965 movie named Shenandoah, a fictitious story about a Virginia family during the Civil War. But that movie is maudlin and insipid, and there is a connection between It’s a Wonderful Life and the Civil War which is much more substantive than that.

Philip Van Doren Stern

The story for It’s a Wonderful Life was written by a man named Philip Van Doren Stern. Stern was born on September 10, 1900 in Wyalusing, a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. Stern grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Rutgers University, and spent most of his adult life in New York City. He worked as a publishing editor, and during World War II he was general manager of a program that printed paperback editions of books that were small enough to fit in the uniform pockets of U.S. servicemen. Stern spent the last eight years of his life in Florida and died on July 31, 1984 at the age of 83. On the morning of February 12, 1938, while he was shaving, Stern had the idea for the story that became It’s a Wonderful Life. Although the idea for the story came to Stern like a bolt from the blue, laying out the entire story on paper became an excruciating endeavor. It was five years of writing and rewriting before Stern had a finished version of the story, which he named The Greatest Gift and which centers on a main character named George Pratt. Despite great effort, Stern could not find a publisher willing to take on the story, and in December 1943, Stern, at his own expense, had his 4,000-word story printed as a booklet, which he sent to 200 of his family and friends as a holiday card. In fact, Stern’s only child, Marguerite Stern Robinson, hand-delivered some of those cards when she was in the third grade. Somehow one of those cards made its way to a movie producer at RKO Studios named David Hempstead, who was intrigued enough to consider the story for a movie. But after more than a year and three scripts that were deemed inadequate, RKO unloaded the rights to the story to a small, independent film company that had recently been formed by a man named Frank Capra. And the rest, as they say, is history.

An original manuscript of The Greatest Gift
A copy of the book The Greatest Gift

Capra brought in some other writers to work on the screenplay, and these writers successfully adapted the story, which was renamed It’s a Wonderful Life. The movie opened in December 1946 and received mixed reviews. It also received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, but won only one, the Technical Achievement Award, which was conferred because of a method for simulating falling snow that was developed for the movie. The movie’s popularity following its release was disappointing. Ironically, It’s a Wonderful Life did not reach the lofty status it now holds until its copyright was not renewed in 1974. This allowed television stations and networks to broadcast the movie without paying royalties, and in subsequent years the movie was broadcast numerous times during the holiday season, sometimes at the same time on different television channels. The immense viewership that resulted led to an enormous increase in popularity as people became enthralled with the movie’s story and message. In 1993, through some legal maneuvering, the copyright again became enforceable, and now the movie is broadcast on a much more limited basis.

As is generally true for movie classics, there is a large amount of interesting trivia associated with It’s a Wonderful Life. For example, when the rights to the story were held by RKO Studios, the actor who was being considered for the role of George Bailey was Cary Grant. Also, in the scene in which George and Mary make wishes by throwing stones through the windows of an abandoned house, Frank Capra had someone ready to break the window on cue when Mary threw her stone. But Donna Reed hit the window and shattered the glass with her throw, and on her first try. Reed actually had an accurate throwing arm due to years of playing baseball in her youth. Reed’s accurate throw was an unexpected moment during the filming. Also unexpected, at least for Lionel Barrymore, was losing a $50 bet with Donna Reed that she could milk a cow. Reed grew up on a farm in Iowa, where she learned how to milk cows, and when she mentioned to Barrymore that she could do it, he challenged her, and she proved herself with a cow that was on set. Barrymore would not have lost such a bet, if another actress who was considered for the role of Mary had not turned it down. The actress who turned down the role of Mary was Ginger Rogers, because she considered the character too bland. One person who did not turn down a role in the movie deserved a bonus for hazardous duty, and that was Robert Anderson (not the commander of Fort Sumter, but the actor who played young George Bailey). According to Anderson, in the scene in which Mr. Gower slapped George, the slaps were so hard that blood actually came out of Anderson’s ear. After the scene was filmed, H.B. Warner, the actor who played Mr. Gower, comforted Anderson. Warner played a much more non-violent character in the 1927 silent film The King of Kings, which was directed by renowned director Cecil B. DeMille. In that film, Warner played Jesus Christ.

Seneca Falls, New York considers itself the inspiration for Bedford Falls. But Philip Van Doren Stern, who grew up in New Jersey, said in an interview that the town he had in mind for his story is Califon, New Jersey, which has an iron bridge over a river, similar to the bridge in the movie from which George Bailey planned to jump. Similarly, the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie are thought to be namesakes of the movie’s characters Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver. But Jim Henson’s writing partner, Jerry Juhl, claimed this is not so. Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, said that she never saw the movie until 1979, more than 30 years after it was made. Grimes may have waited decades before watching the movie, but anyone who watches the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life hears a cryptic reference to Philip Van Doren Stern’s original story that became the basis for the movie. In the opening lines of the movie, when the assignment to rescue George Bailey is being explained to Clarence, Clarence is told that George intends to throw away “God’s greatest gift.” Later in the movie, when Clarence explains to George that he has been given “a chance to see what the world would be like without you,” Clarence calls that opportunity “a great gift.”

One perhaps surprising piece of trivia about It’s a Wonderful Life is that it came under scrutiny by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee. A 1947 FBI memo noted that two of the writers who worked on It’s a Wonderful Life were “very close to known Communists and on one occasion in the recent past…practically lived with known Communists.” The memo further noted that a witness, whose name was redacted, “stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.” In other testimony, “[redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”

The FBI memo about It’s a Wonderful Life

After all of the foregoing information about It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone reading this is probably wondering when the connection between the movie and the Civil War is going to be explained. The connection between the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and the Civil War is this. Philip Van Doren Stern, the person who wrote the story that was used for It’s a Wonderful Life, wrote an impressive number of non-fiction books about the Civil War. Among Stern’s Civil War books are Prologue to Sumter: The Beginnings of the Civil War from the John Brown Raid to the Surrender of Fort Sumter, When the Guns Roared: World Aspects of the American Civil War, An End to Valor: The Last Days of the Civil War, Soldier Life in the Union and Confederate Armies, They Were There: The Civil War in Action as Seen by its Combat Artists, The Confederate Navy: A Pictorial History, Secret Missions of the Civil War, The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier, and The Man Who Killed Lincoln: The Story of John Wilkes Booth and his Part in the Assassination. Stern also wrote a novel about the Civil War titled The Drums of Morning. In its review of Stern’s Civil War novel, The New York Herald Tribune called it “the long overdue fictional answer to Gone with the Wind.” In contrast to Gone with the Wind, which romanticizes Georgia slaveholders, The Drums of Morning focuses on abolitionists in New England and Illinois. Philip Van Doren Stern was such an accomplished and acclaimed writer of Civil War history that the headline of his obituary in The New York Times does not mention his contribution to It’s a Wonderful Life, but calls Stern “A Specialist on Civil War Era.” The text of Stern’s obituary notes that he was “widely respected by scholars for his authoritative books on the Civil War era.” Although Stern’s most widely viewed piece of work is the story that became It’s a Wonderful Life, the work for which Stern was most highly acknowledged were his books about Civil War history.

There is a memorable scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey is beginning to come to the astounding realization that his world has been shockingly altered. George learned that the town in which he lived has come to be dominated by the greedy, heartless man whose devious, vicious schemes George had successfully thwarted. George watched as the pharmacist, Mr. Gower, was ridiculed by a large group of people, because Mr. Gower had made a mistake with a prescription that led to the death of a young boy, even though George remembered that he had made Mr. Gower aware of the error, and Mr. Gower had corrected it. George was told that his family’s company, for which he sacrificed all his dreams to keep afloat, had gone out of business. George’s own mother coldly expressed to him that she had no idea who he was, and she even referred to George as a stranger. George went to the house where he lived with his wife and children, but that house was uninhabited and dilapidated, and he was told that his children, Tommy, Pete, Janie, and Zuzu, had never come into existence. After experiencing all this, George stared wide-eyed in frightened astonishment at the gruesomely distorted world in which he now found himself, and the angel, Clarence, said to George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” The implicit message in Clarence’s statement is that there often are obscure connections in unexpected places. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life has such a connection. From now on, when you watch that movie, you will know that it has a little-known connection to the Civil War. As thoughtful as it might be to point out this connection to other viewers of the movie, even if you do this, you will probably not receive your angel wings. But if you do make people aware of this connection, then, when it comes to your wealth of knowledge about the Civil War, you may very well be toasted as the richest person in town.

The Enemy Within: The Confederate Invasion of the White House

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the October 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

Not surprisingly, whenever Confederate military forces invaded the North, feelings of fear and anxiety were raised among people living in the part of the country where the invaders roamed. This was most likely especially true when the invaders were the seemingly invincible Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, who carried out two invasions of the North. One of these was the invasion of Pennsylvania, which ended at Gettysburg, and the other was the invasion of Maryland, which ended at Antietam. Another major Confederate invasion of the North was the twin invasion of Kentucky by Braxton Bragg with his Army of Mississippi and Edmund Kirby Smith with his Army of Kentucky. This invasion, which caused great anxiety in southern Ohio, ended at Perryville. Even greater anxiety in southern Ohio was caused by the cavalry raid through that region that was led by John Hunt Morgan. The greater anxiety in Ohio was due to the fact that Morgan’s raid actually penetrated into the Buckeye State, in contrast to the invasion by Bragg and Kirby Smith, which never made it north of Kentucky. (As an aside, Morgan and his men were not the first Confederates to invade Ohio. That distinction belongs to Albert Jenkins and his Confederate cavalry, who invaded Ohio nine months before Morgan did. Jenkins’ raid into Ohio is described in the history brief of September 2013.) Another Confederate invasion that caused great anxiety, not so much in Ohio, but in the U.S. capital, was Jubal Early’s 1864 invasion that reached the outskirts of Washington. These and other Confederate invasions of the North were significant, but no Confederate invasion matched the extent of the one that occurred in late 1863. This invasion went farther than any of the other Confederate invasions, and, in contrast to Jubal Early’s invasion, penetrated not only into Washington, but into the White House. Even more astonishing is the fact that this Confederate invasion of the White House was authorized by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

Emilie Todd Helm

This invasion of the White House was a direct consequence of the battle of Chickamauga, which occurred in September 1863. During that battle, a young Confederate general named Benjamin Hardin Helm was mortally wounded. Helm, who was the commander of a Kentucky brigade that was known as the Orphan Brigade, was 32 years old at the time of his death. He left behind a widow named Emilie and three young children, Katherine, age six, Elodie, age four, and Benjamin, Jr., age one. Helm’s widow’s full name was Emilie Todd Helm, Todd as in Mary Todd Lincoln. Emilie was the half-sister of the wife of Abraham Lincoln. Emilie, who was born in Lexington, Kentucky on November 11, 1836 and was 18 years younger than her half-sister, Mary, was the daughter of the same man who was the father of Mary Todd Lincoln, but by his second wife. Emilie first met Abraham Lincoln in 1847 when she was 11 years old. The future president and his wife visited the Todd family in Lexington, and Emilie was so frightened by the tall, lanky man in the long, black coat that she tried to hide behind her mother’s large dress. After Lincoln exchanged pleasantries with the adults, he saw Emilie behind her mother, swept her up in his arms, and said, “So this is little sister.” From that day on, Lincoln always referred to Emilie as Little Sister, and he grew very fond of her.

Emilie married Benjamin Helm in 1856. Helm had graduated from West Point in 1851, although at the time of his marriage to Emilie, he was no longer in the army. Prior to the Civil War, the Lincolns and the Helms spent time together and came to enjoy the company of each other. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Helm’s brother-in-law, who was then the president of the United States, offered Helm a commission in the Union army. However, Helm declined the offer and instead served in the Confederate army. When Lincoln learned of the death of Benjamin Helm, he told a visitor at the White House, “I feel as David of old did when he was told of the death of Absalom.” After Helm’s death at Chickamauga, Emilie, who was in Atlanta, Georgia at the time to attend the funeral of her husband, wanted to be with her family in Kentucky, but Kentucky was in Union control. Lincoln issued a pass to Emilie to allow her to join her family in Kentucky, but during her journey there, Emilie was stopped at Fort Monroe by Union troops and was told that she had to take an oath of allegiance in order to travel to Kentucky. Emilie refused to do this, which led to an impasse, and Emilie feared that she would be forced to return south. Finally, one of the Union officers sent a telegram to Lincoln about the situation, and after a few very anxious hours, the officer received a reply from Lincoln. Lincoln’s telegram stated simply, “Send her to me.”

Thus it was that the wife of a dead Confederate general took up residence in the White House in December 1863. Lincoln was severely criticized by the newspapers for allowing the widow of a Confederate general to live in the White House while so many wives of Union soldiers were becoming widows. But the newspapers were not alone in hurling criticism at the president for his decision to allow this. Lincoln also received criticism directly, such as when Union General Daniel Sickles visited the White House and told Lincoln, reputedly in a loud voice, “You should not have that rebel in your house!” Lincoln calmly responded to Sickles’ agitated demand, “Excuse me, General Sickles, my wife and I are in the habit of choosing our own guests. We do not need from our friends either advice or assistance in the matter.” Lincoln further rebuked Sickles by informing him, “Besides, the little ‘rebel’ came because I ordered her to come.” In spite of the widespread criticism, Emilie recorded in her diary that the Lincolns were very caring and compassionate toward her, which is understandable since the Lincolns had lost their son, Willie, 22 months earlier, and Mary was still suffering greatly from that loss. In fact, Emilie recorded that when she arrived at the White House, “Mr. Lincoln and my sister met me with the warmest affection, we were all too grief-stricken at first for speech. I have lost my husband, they have lost their fine little son Willie…We could only embrace each other in silence and tears.” Emilie also wrote, “Sister Mary’s tenderness for me is very touching. She and Brother Lincoln pet me as if I were a child, and, without words, try to comfort me.”

Mary Todd Lincoln

stayed at the White House for a week. During her brief visit, Emilie had many heartfelt conversations with her half-sister and with Lincoln, which Emilie recorded in her diary. By the time of her White House visit, Emilie had lost not only her husband in the war, but also two brothers (who were Mary’s half-brothers), and Emilie wrote about one evening when she and Mary spent time together by themselves. “Sister and I dined intimately, alone. Our tears gathered silently and fell unheeded as with choking voices we tried to talk of immaterial things. We talked of old friends in Springfield and in Kentucky. Allusion to the present is like tearing open a fresh and bleeding wound and the pain is too great for self-control. And the future, alas, the future seems empty, of everything but despair.” Emilie also wrote about her half-sister’s constant attempts to alleviate Emilie’s grief and to put on a cheerful face for her husband. “Sister is doing everything to distract my mind and her own from our terrible grief, but at times it overwhelms us; we can’t get away from it, try as we will to be cheerful and accept fate. Sister has always a cheerful word and a smile for Mr. Lincoln, who seems thin and care-worn and seeing her sorrowful would add to his care.” In spite of Mary’s attempts to conceal her sadness from her husband, Lincoln was not unaware, and even asked Emilie to help ease Mary’s grief by visiting again. Emilie recorded the conversation in her diary. ” ‘Little Sister, I hope you can come up and spend the summer with us at the Soldiers’ Home, you and Mary love each other—it is good for her to have you with her—I feel worried about Mary, her nerves have gone to pieces; she cannot hide from me that the strain she has been under has been too much for her mental as well as her physical health. What do you think?’ he asked me anxiously. I answered him as I knew he wished me to do, candidly. ‘She seems very nervous and excitable and once or twice when I have come into the room suddenly the frightened look in her eyes has appalled me. She seems to fear that other sorrows may be added to those we already have to bear.’ ” Then Emilie added in a sadly prescient statement, ” ‘I believe if anything should happen to you or Robert or Tad it would kill her.’ ” Only 16 months after Emilie said this to Lincoln, he was taken away from Mary. And six years after that, Mary lost her son, Tad.

One especially telling moment came one morning when, as Emilie related, “Sister Mary was sitting in a drooping despondent attitude as I came across the room to kiss her good morning; the newspaper she had been reading dropped to the floor as she held her arms out to me and said, ‘Kiss me, Emilie, and tell me that you love me! I seem to be the scape-goat for both North and South!’ ” On one occasion, Emilie and Mary were talking about Emilie’s mother and the loss of Emilie’s two brothers. During this conversation, Mary made a comment about the grief that Emilie’s mother was surely feeling at the deaths of two of her sons. Regarding the sorrow that befalls a mother at the loss of a child, Mary noted that “a wound in a mother’s heart can never heal.” Mary’s somber words expressed a forlorn reality that she knew firsthand after recently suffering the loss of her young son, Willie, and earlier losing her son, Eddie.

One topic that never entered their conversations was the war. Emilie noted in her diary, “Sister Mary and I avoid any reference to the war or to any of my experiences in the South for fear of hurting each other. Her fine tact and delicacy fill me with admiration.” Emilie also wrote, “They were, both Sister Mary and Mr. Lincoln, careful not to allude to politics or to the South, or in any way to hurt me or make it difficult for me.” Emilie recorded that this put some constraints on their verbal interactions, but that they still found ways to express their feelings to each other. “Sister and I cannot open our hearts to each other as freely as we would like. This frightful war comes between us like a barrier of granite closing our lips but not our hearts, for though our tongues are tied, we weep over our dead together and express through our clasped hands the sympathy we feel for each other in our mutual grief.” On the one occasion that Lincoln had a conversation with Emilie that referenced the war, it was intended to console Emilie over the loss of her husband. “Mr. Lincoln in the intimate talks we had was very much affected over the misfortunes of our family; and of my husband he said, ‘You know, Little Sister, I tried to have Ben come with me. I hope you do not feel any bitterness or that I am in any way to blame for all this sorrow.’ I answered it was ‘the fortune of war’ and that while my husband loved him and had been deeply grateful to him for his generous offer to make him an officer in the Federal Army, he had to follow his conscience and that for weal or woe he felt he must side with his own people. Mr. Lincoln put his arms around me and we both wept.”

Visitors to the White House sometimes were not considerate about excluding the war as a topic of conversation. For instance, when a senator from New York named Ira Harris visited Lincoln, Harris tried to goad Emilie by asking her “several pointed questions about the South.” Emily refused to take the bait and instead, “as politely as I could I gave him non-committal answers.” Failing to provoke Emilie in this way, Harris then proclaimed, “Well, we have whipped the rebels at Chattanooga, and I hear, madam, that the scoundrels ran like scared rabbits,” to which Emilie defiantly responded, “It was the example, Senator Harris, that you set them at Bull Run and Manassas.” Emilie recorded in her diary that Lincoln was not present when this exchange took place, and Emilie also recorded that when Lincoln was later told what Emilie said, he gleefully retorted, “The child has a tongue like the rest of the Todds.”

Emilie Todd Helm, later in life

After her brief stay in the White House, Emilie completed her journey to Lexington to be with her family, and she spent most of the rest of the war in Kentucky. She lived there for a short time after the war, but found life under military rule too difficult. She then moved to Madison, Indiana, a small city on the Ohio River, where she worked as an organist in a church. After several years there, when life in Kentucky returned to normal, Emilie moved to Louisville and taught music. After living in Louisville for a few years, Emilie moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where she was appointed postmistress and served in that capacity for 12 years. When her time as postmistress ended, Emilie moved to a plantation near Lexington that her son, Benjamin, Jr., purchased, and she lived there until her death on February 20, 1930 at the age of 93. Emilie’s father had seven children by his first wife, including Mary Todd Lincoln, and nine children by his second wife, including Emilie Todd Helm. Emilie was the last surviving child among these siblings and half-siblings. Befitting her family’s dual loyalties to the North and the South, Emilie, in her later years, was the Todd family representative at several events that honored Abraham Lincoln and was also active in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She also attended a number of reunions of the Orphan Brigade, the Kentucky brigade that her husband commanded until his death at Chickamauga. The post-war members of that brigade gave Emilie the title “Mother of the Brigade.”

Emilie in later life (seated left) with her daughters, Elodie (seated right) and
Katherine (standing)

Emilie’s daughter, Katherine, who, at the age of six, accompanied her mother when Emilie stayed at the White House after her husband’s death, wrote a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln titled The True Story of Mary, Wife of Lincoln. This biography, which was published in 1928, concludes with Katherine speculating about what Mary would have said had Mary been able to convey a message to those who attended her funeral. Katherine surmised that Mary would have told everyone, “At last I am content—happy.” Mary’s husband recognized that one source of happiness for Mary during her earthly life was sharing time with her half-sister, Emilie. Lincoln put this into words during Emilie’s White House visit when he implored Emilie, “Stay with her as long as you can.”

The Southern invasions of the North that were led by Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, Edmund Kirby Smith, John Hunt Morgan, and Jubal Early all had one thing in common, specifically, all of them were unsuccessful, because they all failed to achieve their objective. In contrast, Emilie Todd Helm’s invasion of the White House was successful, because it attained its objective of bringing comfort to Emilie after the loss of her husband, and it had the further benefit of bringing comfort to Emilie’s half-sister, Mary Todd Lincoln, who was still grieving over the loss of her son, Willie. Nevertheless, Emilie’s invasion and occupation of the White House caused great controversy for Abraham Lincoln, because he did not simply approve this, but, as he, himself, said, he ordered it. However, from our perspective of looking back in history, one consequence of Emilie’s White House invasion was to add to Abraham Lincoln’s standing as a genuinely and universally compassionate leader at the time of our nation’s greatest crisis. Unlike many of that period, such as Dan Sickles and Ira Harris, who harbored only feelings of hostility toward those who stood in opposition to them, Lincoln was able to access the better angels of his nature and feel sympathy toward the wayward part of the country.

Lincoln’s public attitude toward those who opposed him set an example for all U.S. presidents who serve during a time when our country is beset by bitter strife and fierce division. For that matter, Lincoln set an example not just for all U.S. presidents, but for all Americans. Even though those who opposed Lincoln had taken up arms against the country, Lincoln did not publicly denigrate or demonize them. Lincoln was never sympathetic toward the Confederate cause. But Lincoln did feel sympathy for the suffering of those who embraced that cause. These qualities, which would have served the country well during Reconstruction had Lincoln not been taken away by a bullet from John Wilkes Booth’s derringer, were clearly displayed after a disputatious exchange between Lincoln’s ten-year-old son, Tad, and Emilie’s six-year-old daughter, Katherine, who was with Emilie when she lived at the White House. As Emilie told of the incident, Tad showed Katherine a photograph of his father and said to Katherine, “This is the President,” to which Katherine “shook her head and said very emphatically, ‘No, that is not the President, Mr. Davis is President.’ ” Tad then shouted, “Hurrah for Abe Lincoln,” and Katherine shouted back, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis.” Finally, Tad appealed to his father to resolve the argument, and Lincoln said, “Well, Tad, you know who is your President, and I am your little cousin’s Uncle Lincoln.” When Lincoln said this to his son, and when he allowed a grieving widow of a Confederate general to stay in the White House, he was living the words that he had spoken to the country when in 1861 he admonished his fellow citizens, North and South, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” Those words applied in 1861, and they still apply today.

What I did on my Summer Vacation

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the September 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

The stereotypical first assignment for students who are returning to school after the summer is to write a report about what they did on their summer vacation. Since the September meeting is routinely the first meeting after the Roundtable’s summer break, this history brief is about something that I did on my summer vacation. The Roundtable’s president for 2018-2019, Dan Ursu, chose Southern invasions and raids of the North as the theme for this session. With that in mind, this history brief focuses on an invasion of the North, in fact, an invasion of that state up north, which all Ohioans know is the correct pronunciation for the state whose name is spelled M-i-c-h-i-g-a-n. The invasion that is the subject of this history brief was not a Southern invasion, but a British invasion. And not the British invasion of the 1960s that was led by the Beatles, but a British invasion that occurred during the War of 1812. However, there is a Civil War connection, which will become clear below. The subject of this history brief is the battle of the River Raisin, which took place in southeastern Michigan from January 18 to 22, 1813. Like a number of Civil War battles, the battle of the River Raisin goes by a couple of names, one for the body of water near its location and one for the town near its location. Hence, this battle is known as the battle of the River Raisin and the battle of Frenchtown.

I learned about this battle several years ago when my wife, Karen, and I were driving to visit our daughter and her family in Holland, Michigan. Our usual driving route takes us north on U.S. route 23. Just before exit 15, there is a brown sign indicating the presence of a National Park at that exit. This sign states that the park at exit 15 is the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, which is one of only four National Battlefield Parks in the U.S. Most people who are reading this are now probably thinking that that number cannot be correct, because there are certainly more than four battlefields in the National Park System. The explanation is that there are a few different designations for battlefield sites in the National Park System, including National Military Park, National Battlefield, National Battlefield Site, and National Battlefield Park. In the National Park System, there are four National Battlefield Parks: River Raisin, Manassas, Richmond (Virginia, not Kentucky), and Kennesaw Mountain. This makes River Raisin the only one of the four National Battlefield Parks that is a non-Civil War site, and it is the closest of the four to Cleveland. This past summer, after driving by that brown sign numerous times, I finally was able to visit the River Raisin battlefield.

James Winchester

The battle of the River Raisin was one of most terrible defeats in U.S. military history, in particular because of what happened in the aftermath of the battle. In August 1812, the British captured Fort Detroit, which gave them a base for invasion of the U.S. Frenchtown, which lay on the northern bank of the River Raisin, was less than 40 miles south of Fort Detroit and in the path of a British invasion into Ohio. As a prelude to an invasion, a small British force and their American Indian allies occupied Frenchtown. The U.S. army that was in that area was under the command of Major General William Henry Harrison and was at that time in northwest Ohio. Harrison’s objective was to retake Fort Detroit, and he split his army into two columns, one under his direct command and the other under his second in command, Brigadier General James Winchester. Harrison began to make preparations for a winter campaign, and he ordered Winchester to keep his column in contact with Harrison’s column. But when Winchester received a report that the British and Indians had occupied Frenchtown, Winchester sent a detachment of about 700 men under the command of Colonel William Lewis. This force, which consisted of largely untrained troops, most of whom were from Kentucky, was able to drive the smaller British and Indian force out of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813. Winchester and 300 more men arrived following this engagement, and Winchester decided to occupy Frenchtown, even though he was 30 miles from the army’s other column. The action on January 18 is usually referred to as the first battle of the River Raisin.

Map of the area around Frenchtown, which was located on the northern bank of the River Raisin
Henry Procter

Although Winchester had disobeyed his order to stay in contact with the other column of the army, Harrison was pleased when he learned that Winchester had driven the British out of Frenchtown. Accordingly, Harrison dispatched some reinforcements to Frenchtown, and also sent a messenger, Captain Nathaniel Hart, with orders to hold Frenchtown. When Hart arrived at Frenchtown, he was horrified to find that Winchester had made no preparations for a likely British counterattack. The Kentucky militia who were part of Winchester’s force were housed in various buildings in Frenchtown, and the regular army troops were camped in the open east of the town on the right flank of the American force. There were no fortifications facing north, the likely direction of a British attack, other than a picket fence that happened to be on the northern side of Frenchtown. Moreover, Winchester stayed in a house south of the River Raisin and had the army’s supply of ammunition and gunpowder kept at that house. These poor dispositions were made in spite of reports from civilians that a large British and Indian force was on the move toward Frenchtown. Winchester believed that it would be some time before the British could mount a counterattack, but at that time, a force of 600 British troops and 800 Indians, under the command of Colonel Henry Procter, was advancing toward Frenchtown.

U.S. troop reenactors at River Raisin battlefield

The British and Indian force arrived within striking distance of Frenchtown on the night of January 21, 1813 and took up positions for a dawn attack the following day. The American perimeter was so poorly guarded that reputedly the enemy force was able to move within musket range before it was detected. When the British attack was launched, the Americans were caught completely off guard. The troops on the right, who were camped in the open, were overwhelmed in 20 minutes. Although these troops returned fire, many were quickly killed or wounded, and their position soon became untenable, with artillery and musket fire from the British to their front and attack by the Indians on their right flank. The surviving troops were routed and ran across the frozen River Raisin in their rear. However, they were pursued by the Indians, and of the approximately 400 American troops on the right who fled, over 200 were killed or mortally wounded, and the remainder were captured. Among those captured was James Winchester, who had been awakened by the sounds of battle and rushed to the front.

The troops on the left, who took position behind the fence, held out longer and maintained strong musket fire and a stiff defense, and even repulsed some British attacks on their position. However, when Winchester was brought to the British commander, Henry Procter, Procter warned Winchester that if the Americans did not surrender immediately, then Procter would not guarantee their safety from the Indians once they did surrender. In light of this warning, Winchester signed a letter of surrender, which was sent under a flag of truce to the U.S. troops who were holding out on the left. After seeing the letter, these troops wanted to continue to fight rather than risk a fate at the hands of the Indians. But with their ammunition dwindling and a pledge of safe treatment from their British captors, the Americans decided to surrender. One person who was instrumental in negotiating the guarantee of safe treatment of the U.S. prisoners was an American officer who was one the troops behind the fence, a man named George Madison, who was a cousin of President James Madison. After the battle, George Madison, who was born in Virginia but moved to Kentucky sometime prior to 1784, was held as a prisoner of war in Quebec for a year until a prisoner exchange.

The fighting on January 22, 1813 is usually called the second battle of the River Raisin. The grim U.S. toll for this battle was over 300 killed, about 90 wounded, and about 500 captured. British commander Henry Procter was concerned about a U.S. counterattack and departed Frenchtown with most of his British troops and with those prisoners who could make the trek through the cold and snow. Left at Frenchtown were the Indians and some British troops. The small number of British troops were ostensibly left to protect the American wounded who, because they were too weak for the journey, remained at Frenchtown. Before Procter left, he promised to send sleighs to transport the wounded Americans. But on January 23, 1813, the day following the battle, the remaining British troops departed, and the wounded U.S. troops were left with the Indians, who were already filled with a desire for vengeance because of U.S. expansion into their lands and the losses that they had suffered in the battle. What followed was a massacre of wounded U.S. prisoners, who were helpless to defend themselves. According to accounts of survivors, the Indians tomahawked wounded men and also set fire to buildings in which wounded Americans were housed and then tomahawked men as they fled from the burning buildings. Some of the wounded men died in the flames.

Painting depicting the massacre of U.S. troops at River Raisin
Tecumseh

The Indians were under the overall command of Tecumseh, but Tecumseh was not present at the battle or the massacre. Rather, other Indian chiefs were in command of the Indians at the battle and its aftermath, and it has been surmised that had a strong commander like Tecumseh been present, he may have been able to prevent the massacre, had he been of a mind to do so. Those Americans who were not massacred at Frenchtown were led northward by the Indians to Fort Detroit. Along the way, those who were too weak to keep up were killed, and their bodies were left where they were murdered. This brutal march of wounded men, a number of whom were killed for being unable to keep up, was a War of 1812 equivalent of the Bataan Death March more than a century before the World War II atrocity. Exact numbers of American deaths in what became known as the River Raisin Massacre are not known, but estimates range from 30 to 60, which brought the total number of U.S. deaths at the battle of the River Raisin to as many as 400. Of the approximately 1,000 Americans who fought at the battle of the River Raisin, only 33 were able to avoid death or capture. The bodies at Frenchtown and along the route to Fort Detroit remained unburied for months until Frenchtown again came under U.S. control. The battle of the River Raisin was the worst U.S. defeat in the War of 1812 and had the highest number of American deaths of any battle in the war. In fact, 15% of the American combat deaths in the War of 1812 occurred at the battle of the River Raisin. The massacre that occurred after the battle led to the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin.”

Many years after the battle of the River Raisin, one survivor of the massacre and the march, a man named Thomas Dudley, wrote an account of his experiences. According to Dudley’s account, which is dated May 26, 1870, on the morning of the massacre Dudley, who had been badly wounded in the shoulder by a musket ball, was being housed in a room with three other wounded officers, who are identified in Dudley’s account as Major Graves, Captain Hart, and Captain Hickman. Hart, a Kentuckian whose sister, Lucretia, married Henry Clay in 1799, was the man who was sent by William Henry Harrison to tell James Winchester to hold Frenchtown after the engagement on January 18. The building in which these four wounded men were housed was used by the townspeople as a tavern, and Dudley wrote that the Indians entered the building, removed barrels from the cellar, broke open the barrels, and drank the contents of the barrels. Then some Indians came into the room which held the four wounded men, and Graves and Hart quickly left the room. The Indians removed Dudley’s coat, hat, and shoes, and as they were leaving the room, they tomahawked Hickman. Dudley managed to leave the building onto a porch, and from inside the building he heard Hart negotiating with an Indian for passage to a British prison in return for $600. The Indian agreed and placed Hart on a horse, but after they went only a short distance, Hart was shot off of the horse and died, although it is not clear if Hart was shot by the Indian with whom Hart had negotiated passage to the British prison or by another Indian. Hickman, the man who had been tomahawked, was then brought out of the building and thrown into the snow, where, according to Dudley’s account, “he breathed once or twice and expired.” Dudley stood in the snow for some time while Indians passed by him, which caused Dudley to wonder what fate awaited him. Then a young Indian approached Dudley, who showed the Indian his shoulder wound. The Indian put a coat around Dudley’s shoulders and led him off for the trek to Fort Detroit. When the Indian saw that Dudley lacked shoes, he gave his prisoner a spare pair of moccasins. Along the march, the Indian gave Dudley some food and also gave him a blanket at night. Dudley also wrote about seeing the Indians displaying the scalps they had taken. The following day, the Indians and their prisoners reached Detroit, where the British took charge of the prisoners. Dudley credited the young Indian who cared for him with saving his life and wrote, “Let me here say my Indian captor exhibited more the principle of the man and the soldier than all the British I had been brought in contact with.” Eventually Dudley was paroled and allowed to return to the U.S., where, as he wrote near the end of his account, “I lived to be fully avenged upon the enemies of my country in the battle of the 8th of January below New Orleans.” Dudley, of course, was referring to Andrew Jackson’s victory at the battle of New Orleans.

Richard Mentor Johnson

After the battle of the River Raisin, William Henry Harrison canceled his winter campaign against Fort Detroit and instead constructed Fort Meigs in present-day Perrysburg, Ohio to protect against invasions by the British and also to use as a base of operations for another advance into Michigan. After the battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, a U.S. force captured Frenchtown. The British army under Henry Procter retreated from Michigan into present-day Ontario, where they were defeated at the battle of the Thames by an army under William Henry Harrison. It was in the battle of the Thames that Tecumseh was killed, perhaps by Richard Mentor Johnson. Johnson never claimed to have killed Tecumseh, but the legend that he was the man who killed the famous Indian chief came to life after the battle. This legend became a campaign slogan in 1836 when Johnson was the Democratic candidate for vice president, and his slogan was “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” Although Johnson did not receive enough electoral votes to win the vice presidency, he became the only vice president ever elected by the Senate under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment.

William Howard Taft and Libbie Custer at the dedication of the statue of George Armstrong Custer

Another casualty of the battle of the River Raisin was the settlement of Frenchtown. Before the Indians left Frenchtown, they set fire to all of the buildings, and the entire town was destroyed. When Frenchtown was rebuilt after the war, it was renamed Monroe after President James Monroe. Monroe, Michigan has a connection to the Civil War in that it is the place in which George Armstrong Custer spent much of his childhood. In fact, travelers who use exit 15 off of U.S. 23 to drive to Monroe go part of the way on South Custer Road. Monroe, Michigan also has the distinction of having hosted four presidential visits. The first was by Andrew Johnson on September 4, 1866 as part of a midterm campaign tour to support Congressional candidates. Johnson was accompanied on the trip by Secretary of State William Seward, Ulysses Grant, and George Armstrong Custer. Monroe was a stop for Johnson between Toledo and Detroit, but the crowd that gathered in Monroe reportedly was disappointed, because the people did not see Grant, who left the train in Cleveland. The second of Monroe’s presidential visits was on June 4, 1910 by William Howard Taft, who attended a dedication ceremony of an equestrian statue honoring George Armstrong Custer. The statue, which still stands, was unveiled by Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, and is only about a mile from the River Raisin National Battlefield Park. The third presidential visit was by Bill Clinton on August 15, 2000. This visit included both the president and the vice president. The visit was part of a campaign tour for Al Gore, and both Clinton and Gore were present. Moreover, they were accompanied by their wives, Hillary and Tipper, which made this visit particularly distinctive, and the Clintons were also accompanied by their daughter, Chelsea. The fourth presidential visit to Monroe was by the man who defeated Al Gore, George W. Bush, who visited Monroe on September 15, 2003, three years and one month after the Clinton-Gore visit. The purpose of Bush’s visit was to tour the Monroe Power Plant as a way of highlighting his policies for energy generation and energy security.

Statue of George Armstrong Custer in Monroe, Michigan

The U.S. presidents who visited Monroe, Michigan did not tour the River Raisin battlefield, but that battlefield is nevertheless worth visiting because of the historic and tragic events that took place there. Although there is a connection between the city of Monroe and the Civil War, the battle that was fought on the land which Monroe occupies was part of the War of 1812, not the Civil War, and the National Park which preserves that battlefield is quite small compared to Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam. Nevertheless, the River Raisin battlefield is worth a visit by Civil War enthusiasts. After all, touring battlefields is what Civil War enthusiasts do, and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park is only about a two-hour drive from Cleveland. But if Civil War enthusiasts insist on seeing something related to the Civil War when they visit a battlefield, then they can go for a look at the statue of George Armstrong Custer in downtown Monroe.

The History that the Victors Chose Not to Write

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the March 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

There is a well-known axiom that all is fair in love and war, or, as the expression appears in its earliest known form, “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” This expression is used to justify that in love and in war, it is acceptable to resort to anything in order to achieve the ultimate goal. Since our organization is the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, which focuses its interest on a war, this is not the appropriate forum to discuss whether or not this axiom applies to love. On the other hand, there is more than enough evidence to prove that this axiom applies to war, and a great deal of such evidence can be found in the Civil War. Far too often, the axiom that all is fair in war has been used to justify cruelty, and there are many examples of cruelty in the Civil War. Perhaps the most well-known is the treatment of Union prisoners at Andersonville. But the Confederates were not alone in their cruel treatment of enemy prisoners. It is not as widely known that Confederate prisoners of war in Union prisons were also subjected to cruel treatment. The cruelty that both sides inflicted on prisoners is disturbing for the most basic, primal, and biological of reasons. Of all the species that exist on planet Earth, the one that displays the worst cruelty is Homo sapiens. This is because cruelty in other species arises from instinct, but for humans, cruelty very often arises by choice.

The prevailing perception, which has been influenced primarily by Andersonville, is that Union prisoners of war were treated far worse than Confederate prisoners. But the numbers tell a different story. One criterion that is useful in assessing the treatment of prisoners of war is the death rate of prisoners as a percentage of the total number of prisoners. Accurate numbers are likely impossible to obtain, and there is a disparity in the numbers depending on the source. But in general the numbers from different sources do not differ by much. The total number of prisoners of war that died in Union prisons was almost 26,000 and in Confederate prisons was just over 30,000. Expressed as death rate, slightly more than 15% of the total number of prisoners in Southern prisons died. In Northern prisons, about 12% of the total number of prisoners died. In other words, the overall death rates in Union and Confederate prisons differ by only three percentage points.

Confederate prisoners at Rock Island Prison

It is also useful to examine the numbers for individual prisons. Based solely on death rate, Andersonville, with a death rate of 29%, was the worst prison of the Civil War. Three of the most notorious Northern prisons were Camp Douglas in Chicago, Elmira Prison in Elmira, New York, and Rock Island Prison, which, technically, was in Illinois, but was on an island in the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Moline, Illinois. Camp Douglas has the distinction of being the place where the Union confined a Confederate prisoner named Henry Stanley, who is famous for the quote, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Rock Island has the literary distinction of being the place of confinement of Ashley Wilkes, the fictional character in the novel Gone with the Wind. (The prison where Ashley Wilkes was confined is not mentioned in the movie, but it is mentioned in the book.) The death rate at Rock Island was almost 17%. (In the novel Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell indicated that the death rate at Rock Island was 75%, which is a gross exaggeration.) For Camp Douglas, there is some uncertainty about the death rate due to misconduct with regard to the burying of bodies of dead prisoners. The Camp Douglas death rate has been reported to be between 17% and 23%, but the 17% number is likely the most accurate one. At Elmira, which the Confederate prisoners called Hellmira, the death rate was just over 24%, which is only somewhat lower than Andersonville’s 29%. However, there was a much higher number of prisoner deaths at Andersonville compared to Elmira, nearly 13,000 and almost 3,000, respectively. The only reason that the total number of prisoner deaths at Elmira was much lower than at Andersonville, despite their similar death rates, is that over the course of the war, Elmira confined less than a third of the total number of prisoners that were confined at Andersonville.

Maps of Chicago showing the location of Camp Douglas

Another useful way to assess prisoner of war camps is by examining the living conditions at the prisons. It is well-known that the living conditions at Andersonville were beyond deplorable. However, the living conditions at Northern prisons were likewise horrific. As at Andersonville, overcrowding in Union prisons was rampant, with some prisons confining as many as twice the number of prisoners that they were designed to hold. This situation was made worse in mid-1863 when prisoner paroles and exchanges were suspended due primarily to the Confederacy’s refusal to exchange black prisoners. By late 1863, the Lincoln administration was under pressure from the public to resolve the prisoner exchange impasse, but the administration’s attempt to do so worsened the situation. To address the problem, the Lincoln administration appointed Benjamin Butler as a special agent for prisoner exchange with the responsibility of negotiating with his counterpart in the Confederacy to resolve any specific issues so that prisoner exchanges could be resumed. The naming of Butler was just another impediment to the resumption of prisoner exchanges, because Butler, due to his harsh treatment of the residents of New Orleans during his time as military governor there, had been proclaimed by Jefferson Davis “an outlaw and common enemy of mankind.” A Richmond newspaper denounced the appointment of Butler as an attempt by the U.S. “to interpose the obnoxious Beast in the way of a solution of this vexed problem.” Because of the failure to resume prisoner exchanges, overcrowding in the prisons was not alleviated, and prisoners on both sides were forced to remain in the appalling living conditions of the prisoner of war camps.

Elmira Prison
William Hoffman

In addition to overcrowding, the living conditions for Confederate prisoners in Union prisons included rations that were of poor quality and low amount. This situation was exacerbated in the spring of 1864 when the U.S. War Department, in response to poor treatment of Union prisoners in Confederate prisons, reduced the rations for Confederate prisoners. On May 3, 1864 William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners for the Union army, sent a letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. In that letter Hoffman described the appalling condition of recently paroled Union prisoners whom Hoffman had personally seen as they were returning to Union lines. Hoffman further stated in his letter to Stanton, “I would very respectfully urge that retaliatory measures be at once instituted.” On May 19, 1864 Hoffman proposed reducing the rations for Confederate prisoners, even though these rations, at Hoffman’s suggestion, had already been reduced on April 20, 1864. After input from, among others, Chief of Staff Henry Halleck to alleviate the effect of Hoffman’s “retaliatory measures” on sick and wounded prisoners, Edwin Stanton approved this second reduction in rations for Confederate prisoners. In addition to the inadequate food, the drinking water at Union prisons, like the drinking water at Andersonville, was contaminated. One such example was Elmira Prison, for which the drinking water came from a pond within the camp, but this pond was also used as a latrine.

Elmira Prison

Similar to Andersonville, the prisoners in Northern prisons lived in filth, and poor drainage led to persistent standing water in the camps, which was a source of disease. For instance, a Union officer named Henry Lazelle, who was sent by William Hoffman to inspect a prisoner of war camp, wrote in his lengthy report, “The spaces between the clusters of quarters are heaped with the vilest accumulations of filth which has remained there for months, breeding sickness and pestilence. All the refuse of the prisoners’ food, clothing and the general dirt of a camp is gathered here and no care has been taken for its removal.” The prisoners in Union prisons had woefully inadequate clothing and living quarters, which left them exposed to the elements. For example, in his directive regarding Rock Island Prison, Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs stipulated that “the barracks…should be put up in the roughest and cheapest manner, mere shanties, with no fine work about them.” Because of the northern climate, this meant that the prisoners were forced to endure winter without sufficiently warm housing or clothing. Prisoners at most Union prisons faced sub-freezing temperatures with flimsy quarters, ragged clothing, and insufficient firewood. Moreover, medical facilities in Union prisons were inadequate, both with regard to the number of beds and doctors and also with respect to the quality of treatment. A Northern physician commented about prisoners released from Elmira, “The condition of these men was pitiable in the extreme and evinces criminal neglect and inhumanity.”

Prisoner roll call at Rock Island Prison

In a report specifically about Camp Douglas, Henry Bellows, the president of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, made an assessment of the camp after he personally inspected it. Bellows’ assessment, which is dated June 30, 1862, perhaps best summarized the situation at Union prisons in general, and his assessment reads like something that could have been written about Andersonville. Bellows wrote, “The amount of standing water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of unventilated and crowded barracks, of general disorder, of soil reeking with miasmatic accretions, of rotten bones and the emptyings of camp-kettles is enough to drive a sanitarian to despair….The absolute abandonment of the spot seems the only judicious course. I do not believe that any amount of drainage would purge that soil loaded with accumulated filth, or those barracks fetid with two stories of vermin and animal exhalations. Nothing but fire can cleanse them.” This assessment of Camp Douglas was in a letter that Bellows sent to William Hoffman. Bellows felt that the condition of Camp Douglas was so poor that he recommended a new prison camp be built in a place with better drainage, and that the new camp be constructed with barracks that had better ventilation. In response to Bellows’ report, Hoffman sent a letter to Montgomery Meigs. In that letter Hoffman mentioned Bellows’ assessment of Camp Douglas and stated, “I do not agree with him as to its fearful condition.” Meigs refused to authorize Bellows’ extensive recommendations, calling them “expensive” and “extravagant,” and approved only modest repairs, in particular repairs to the leaky barracks.

One of the stone markers indicating the location of Elmira Prison

In spite of Henry Bellows’ grim assessment regarding the land where Camp Douglas once stood, that location is now a residential area. In contrast, Andersonville became a National Historic Site in the U.S. National Park Service, and a reconstruction of the prison stands on that site. Unlike Andersonville, nothing of Camp Douglas remains standing, not even a reconstruction of all or part of the prison. At one time a small plaque stood near the site of Camp Douglas, and this was the only tangible evidence to document that the prison once stood there. That plaque was not put up by a government agency, but by a private citizen named Ernie Griffin. Griffin, who has since died, was not sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy, but was an African-American who was interested in history and whose grandfather was a member of a Colored Infantry Regiment. After Griffin’s death the plaque was removed. Similarly, nothing remains of Rock Island Prison, which was completely demolished after the Civil War, and no reconstruction of the prison was done to commemorate the suffering of the Confederate prisoners who were confined there. The site where Elmira Prison once stood is now a residential area, although there are small stone markers to indicate the location of the prison. Recently some reconstruction of the prison was completed by a non-profit organization, most notably a prisoner barracks, and the grounds now operate as a museum and education site for the general public, but this commemoration of the suffering of Confederate prisoners at Elmira did not come about until over 150 years after the last prisoners left the camp.

Plaque marking the location of Camp Douglas

An important question is why wretched conditions existed in both Northern prisons and Southern prisons. Certainly there is not simply one reason, and there is controversy about the reasons. But if a single reason were to be offered, it would be different for each side. For the South, a shortage of supplies, such as food, was a primary reason for the despicable conditions in the South’s prisoner of war camps, although there is no question that the Confederacy could have made the conditions better. For the North, a principal reason for the dreadful conditions in its prisons seems to be negligence, and there is reason to believe that a motivation for the poor treatment of Confederate prisoners was retaliation for the mistreatment of Union prisoners. Both sides were plagued by problems in dealing with contractors who sold food and other supplies, such as lumber, for the prisons. For the North, one significant issue with contractors was their tardiness in providing supplies and services for the prisons and the government’s failure to seriously address this problem. For the South, a significant issue with contractors was their unwillingness to sell their goods to the government for Confederate currency rather than to sell goods to private entities for greenbacks or gold. In addition, for both sides, a significant reason for the appalling treatment of prisoners of war was a lack of preparation for dealing with large numbers of prisoners, perhaps due to the fact that both sides anticipated a short war. As stated in the book Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War by Lonnie R. Speer, “The truth is, the care and feeding of prisoners is, and always has been, the last concern—the least of any government’s worries—at the beginning of any war. In the Civil War, the situation was worsened by the general contention, of both sides, that it would be of short duration and permanent facilities for POWs would not be necessary.” This lack of preparation became an even more serious problem when prisoner exchanges were suspended in mid-1863. Some of the Northern prisons, such as Elmira, Camp Douglas, and Rock Island, had conditions that were so deplorable that each of these prisons has been referred to as the Andersonville of the North. Based on available information, it is an exaggeration to equate any Union prisoner of war camp with Andersonville. Nevertheless, the expression “Andersonville of the North” is useful in that it makes clear that Northern prisons did not operate at standards that can in any way be considered acceptable with regard to the treatment of prisoners.

The axiom that all is fair in war is widely known. Another well-known axiom that applies to war is that history is written by the victors. While the source of this axiom is not known with certainty, this expression is quite often true with regard to how the events of a war are recorded for posterity. After the Civil War, a Southerner expressed this sentiment in a more acrimonious way when he said about Northern versions of the war’s events that “the spoiler is now busily and rapidly taking from us, by the pen, the truth of history more precious to us than all the spoils of war which were ever captured by his sword.” Biased writing of history frequently involves more than simply a less-than-objective narrative of the war. One technique that has been used to skew the recording of a war’s events was, interestingly, put into song in the musical Wicked. This technique involves clever wording to color the history that the victors write. In the musical Wicked, the Wizard cynically sings to the Wicked Witch, “Where I’m from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it – ‘history.’ / A man’s called a traitor – or liberator. / A rich man’s a thief – or philanthropist. / Is one a crusader – or ruthless invader? / It’s all in which label is able to persist. / There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities. / So we act as though they don’t exist.” While not relevant to prisoner of war camps, it can be argued that the Civil War provides an example of the first of the Wizard’s pairs of contradictory terms, traitor or liberator, as they are applied to a prominent player in the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, in contrast to fellow Virginian George Washington. Both of these men were the principal military leaders in a rebellion against the government, but history has labeled the one whose side lost a traitor and labeled the one whose side won a liberator. Had the outcomes been the reverse for the rebellions in which these two men participated, perhaps the victors who wrote the history of the wars in which Lee and Washington fought would have used the opposite term to define them. More relevant to prison camps, Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville, who, by any objective reckoning deserved punishment for war crimes, was vilified in an 1865 Northern publication as “The Demon of Andersonville.” In fact, Wirz suffered more than vilification. Wirz lost his life for the atrocities at Andersonville. On the other hand, William Hoffman, the Commissary General of Prisoners for the Union army, was lauded by the U.S. government, because he saved the government $1.8 million by, among other measures, reducing rations for Confederate prisoners, failing to provide prisoners adequate clothing and housing, and mandating the construction of inadequate hospital facilities at prisoner of war camps. Hoffman saw his wartime efforts characterized by his superiors as “faithful, meritorious, and distinguished.” Thus, a person on the losing side who was responsible for many prisoner deaths was labeled by the victors a “demon,” and a person on the winning side who was responsible for many prisoner deaths was labeled by the victors “meritorious” and “distinguished.”

Clever wording is not the only technique that is used to color the account of a war. It is also often true that the victors, in their desire to make themselves appear noble and their cause just, neglect to publicize certain events that occurred in a war, or at least do not publicize these events with the same fervor as they do for other events of the war, or, in the words of the Wizard in Wicked, act as though certain moral ambiguities don’t exist. Regarding the atrocities in Union prisoner of war camps, these were largely allowed to escape scrutiny in the aftermath of the Civil War, because the victors directed the attention of the nation on atrocities in Confederate prisons. The conditions that existed in Union prisons were for the most part not publicized, but the atrocities that took place at Andersonville and other Confederate prisons were widely reported in the aftermath of the Civil War during the time when attention was focused on military tribunals and punishments for Confederate war crimes. While a number of accounts of personal experiences in Union prisons were written by Confederate prisoners of war shortly after the conflict, it was not until decades after the war that thorough accounts of Northern prisons were published, which brought a comparable level of scrutiny to Union prisons as had been focused on Confederate prisons in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. It is true that several years after the Civil War accounts of the war from the perspective of the South were published by former Confederates, and these accounts were by no means objective narratives, but this does not change the fact that Confederate prisoners in Union prisons, like Union prisoners in Confederate prisons, were treated inhumanely.

The treatment of Confederate prisoners provides evidence that no side in a war, any war, has a monopoly on cruelty. In reality, cruelty has always been and always will be an inseparable component of war. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman expressed this quite well when he wrote, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” In spite of this, there are justifiable limits to cruelty in war, and treatment of prisoners is one aspect of war that lies outside these limits. The available evidence indicates that Andersonville was the worst prisoner of war camp in the Civil War, so if anyone deserved punishment for prisoner of war atrocities, it was anyone who was responsible for what happened at Andersonville. But were those who were responsible for Andersonville the only ones who deserved to be punished? Civil War enthusiasts are intrigued by discussions of Civil War-related questions, which is why the Roundtable holds an annual debate. With that in mind, here are some questions that involve Civil War prisons. Henry Wirz was one of only a handful of people who were executed because of war crimes that were committed during the Civil War, and every person who was punished for war crimes was a Confederate. But were there any members of the Union army who deserved punishment for war crimes, in particular atrocities at prisoner of war camps? Or do the victors win not only the privilege of writing history, but also the privilege of setting the standards for guilt and innocence regarding wartime atrocities? And do the victors also win the privilege of applying these standards differently to themselves and to the enemy?

It is important to acknowledge that both sides in the Civil War failed to treat prisoners of war in accordance with proper rules for treatment of prisoners or, for that matter, in accordance with an acceptable code of humanity. The reason why it is important to acknowledge that both sides were guilty is expressed in a statement from an unlikely source. This statement refers specifically to atrocities that were committed in a different war than the Civil War and were so unspeakably horrible that no other wartime atrocities should ever be compared to them. Nevertheless, the statement eloquently expresses why it is important to acknowledge wartime atrocities, particularly if ‘our side’ was guilty, because failure to acknowledge atrocities that ‘our side’ committed is the first step in allowing such behavior to become an acceptable part of our moral code. The statement was made by Rod Serling in an episode of the television program The Twilight Zone, and the quote has been altered in this history brief by replacing the original names in the quote with names that make the quote more pertinent to the Civil War. The altered quote is as follows. “All the Andersonvilles must remain standing. The Andersonvilles, the Elmiras, the Rock Islands, the Camp Douglases ̶ all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers.”

America, Love it or Leave it

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the April 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

William Hutchinson Norris

America, love it or leave it. People who lived during the 1960s are familiar with this expression, because it became popular during the Vietnam War as a way of declaring unwavering, even unquestioning support for the United States in the face of strong anti-war protests. But this expression can, in a sense, also be applied to those who joined the secessionist movement that culminated in the Civil War. The secessionists of the mid-19th Century were dissatisfied with America, and they chose to leave it, but in a way that involved taking some of the country’s territory with them. The secessionists no longer loved America, and their goal was to leave America by forming a separate country from land that was part of the United States. With the defeat of the secessionists, their attempt to separate from the U.S. ended in failure, and shortly thereafter some former Confederates decided that their hatred of America was still so intense that they would leave America in the more typical sense, that is, by departing from the United States without taking any U.S. territory with them. Of all the former Confederates who chose this course, the most successful ones were those who followed the example of William Hutchinson Norris.

Norris was born on September 25, 1800 in Georgia, but he later lived in Alabama, where he served in the 1830s and 1840s as a member of the state legislature, both as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Norris also served in the Mexican-American War. In late 1866 Norris, who had become embittered with the reunified United States, left the state of Alabama and emigrated to the state of São Paulo in Brazil. Norris purchased several hundred acres of land located 80 miles northwest of the city of São Paulo, and a short time later his family joined him in Brazil. The settlement that was begun by the disgruntled former Confederate grew into a thriving community, due to the fact that other former citizens of the Confederate States of America followed Norris to the place that he chose as his post-Civil War residence. Estimates of the number of former Confederates who migrated to the area range from a few thousand to 20,000. Eventually the community that Norris established came to be known as Americana, and its residents were called Confederados.

Map showing location of Americana

Americana was not the only destination for former Confederates, but it was the most successful. Former Confederates migrated to other countries in addition to Brazil, such as Mexico, and to other locations in Brazil, including along the Amazon River. But for the most part, none of these settlements met with success. Moreover, a large number of former Confederates who left the post-war U.S., including some who settled in Americana, became so disenchanted with their new places of residence that they returned to the U.S. However, Americana not only survived, but thrived, and it became the only settlement that persisted as a separate community of former Confederates. As such, William Norris and those who followed him to Americana chose their post-war home well. One factor that may have led them to Brazil was the fact that slavery still existed in Brazil after the Civil War, and it was not until over 20 years later that slavery was abolished in Brazil.

A major factor that drew former Confederates to Brazil was the incentives that Brazil’s leader, Emperor Dom Pedro II, put in place to attract Americans to his country. Dom Pedro actively sought migration of former Confederates to Brazil, because he felt that they would bring superior agricultural techniques and better crops, including cotton, which the Brazilian emperor hoped to use to make his country a major supplier for textile mills in England. To induce former Confederates to move to Brazil, ads were placed in newspapers across the South, agents were sent to the states of the former Confederacy to recruit people to move to Brazil, the cost of travel to Brazil was subsidized by the Brazilian government, and land was sold at an inexpensive price to the new immigrants from the southern U.S. There were some in Brazil who were wary of attracting a large number of American settlers, because they recalled what had happened to Mexico after Americans were allowed to settle in Texas and California. But perhaps Brazil’s greater distance from the U.S. allayed those fears, and as it turned out Dom Pedro received much of what he had hoped for. Although cotton did not do well in Brazil, the former Confederates established some important crops, such as pecans, peaches, watermelons, and some better strains of rice, and also introduced some technological advances, such as better plows and improved methods for managing draft animals.

The cemetery and obelisk in Americana

The village of Americana remained quite insular for a few generations. One reason for this was the religious difference of the Protestant Confederates and the Catholic Brazilians. This resulted in the residents of Americana constructing their own cemetery, because burial of their deceased in Catholic cemeteries was not permitted. The Americana cemetery still exists, and in the middle of that cemetery is an obelisk monument containing plaques of the Confederate battle flag and the surnames of the original inhabitants of Americana. One grave in the Americana cemetery is that of a person named W.S. Wise, who is the great-uncle of Rosalynn Carter. In 1972 Rosalynn Carter visited Americana with her husband, Jimmy, who was governor of Georgia at the time. Visitors to Americana as recently as the 1970s wrote about residents speaking in English with a southern drawl.

Jimmy Carter in the Americana cemetery

More recently the city of Americana, which has a population of over 220,000, has become almost fully integrated into Brazil. Where residents of Americana used to marry almost exclusively among themselves, many if not most current residents are of mixed ethnicity, and for the most part Americana has been assimilated almost entirely into Brazilian culture. In spite of this, there is one trace of the Confederacy that can still be found in Americana, and that is the annual Festa Confederada, a celebration of the Confederate origin of Americana in which the men dress in Confederate uniforms and the women dress in hoop skirts. Confederate battle flags are displayed throughout the festival, including on the large dance floor. The residents of Americana insist that there is nothing political associated with the Confederate battle flag, nor does it have any significance with regard to slavery or racism. According to the residents of Americana, the Confederate battle flag represents only the city’s heritage of its founding by former Confederates, but the prominent displaying of the battle flag at the Festa Confederada would be problematic nowadays in the U.S.

Festa Confederada

Shelby Foote ends his three-volume narrative of the Civil War with a quote from Jefferson Davis. According to this anecdote, Jefferson Davis was being interviewed many years after the Civil War, and he was asked why he had led the movement that had as its goal the dissolution of the United States. Davis’ reply was simply, “Tell the world that I only loved America.” Although the expression “America, love it or leave it” did not come into vogue until more than three-quarters of a century after Davis’ death, Jefferson Davis, by his own words, was on the love-it side of that expression. Perhaps this explains why Davis did not do like many of his former C.S.A. countrymen and leave the reunified U.S. to live elsewhere, although for the first two years after the Civil War, Davis had some help in selecting his post-war residence, because he received mandatory input from the U.S. government regarding any inclination he may have had to depart from the United States. In fact, visitors to Fort Monroe can see the petite lodgings where Davis spent part of the all-expenses-paid sojourn that he received courtesy of the U.S. government. In contrast to Jefferson Davis, there were many former Confederates who opted for the leave-it side of the love-it-or-leave-it expression, and these include William Hutchinson Norris and all those who followed him to Americana in Brazil. Fortunately for these former Confederates, they chose a South American location that they found desirable, unlike Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who ended up in Bolivia, which reputedly was fatally unpleasant for them. The former Confederates who went to Americana decided to leave the country that they no longer loved, and they were able to establish a life for themselves and for their descendants in which they did not have to live under the rule of their Yankee conquerors. Although these former Confederates did not achieve the Confederacy’s goal of leaving the U.S. by forming a separate country, they nevertheless were able to set up a community outside the U.S. that still exists today.

The First Memorial Day

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the May 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

John Logan

Near the end of May, we in the U.S. participate in an annual remembrance of those who gave, as Abraham Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion” in defense of our country. This is done on the day that has come to be known as Memorial Day. This commemoration was codified by John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was an organization of Union veterans who had fought in the Civil War. On May 5, 1868 Logan issued his directive for this commemoration in his General Orders No. 11, in which he specified that the remembrance would take place on May 30, 1868. Logan’s directive stated that May 30, 1868 “is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.” The wording that Logan used led to the day of commemoration being called Decoration Day, although the Grand Army of the Republic stipulated in a follow-up directive that “the proper designation of May 30th is Memorial Day” and further stipulated that it should be an annual event. After World War I, Memorial Day came to be a day to remember those who died not just in the Civil War, but in all of America’s wars. On Memorial Day, when we commemorate those who gave their lives for our country, we are following a long-standing tradition, a tradition that began in 1868. Or did it?

A sign in Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, Mississippi denoting the
April 25, 1866 commemoration

Although John Logan’s General Orders No. 11 codified Memorial Day and the practice of spreading flowers on the graves of those who died in war, there is compelling evidence that there were Memorial Days in the U.S. prior to 1868. One such place where this happened is Columbus, Mississippi, which is in northeast Mississippi and is the birthplace of noted American playwright Tennessee Williams. In the spring of 1866, four women met and decided to honor the Civil War dead who were buried in the local cemetery. These four women are Jane Fontaine, Kate Hill, Martha Morton, and Augusta Cox. On April 25, 1866, a large group of women, who had been brought together by the four who met, went to the cemetery and spread flowers on the graves of the war dead. As it happened, there were not only Confederate dead in that cemetery, but Union dead as well. The women were perhaps moved by the thought that the Union dead, although the enemy, were also someone’s husband, son, father, or brother, and they spread flowers not just on the graves of the Confederate dead, but on the graves of the Union dead as well. In its report about the event, a local newspaper in Columbus, Mississippi wrote, “We were glad to see that no distinction was made between our own dead and about forty Federal soldiers, who slept their last sleep by them….Confederate and Federal — once enemies, now friends — receiving this tribute of respect.” Because of the observance that was organized by those four women, Columbus, Mississippi claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Other places in the U.S. also claim to be the location of the first Memorial Day, including Knoxville and Memphis in Tennessee, Jackson, Mississippi, Kingston, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Carbondale, Illinois, and Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia. There is even a Columbus, Georgia which disputes the claim of Columbus, Mississippi as the birthplace of Memorial Day and insists that the Columbus in Georgia rightly has this distinction. One feature that was common to all of these commemorations was the placing of flowers on the graves of the war dead. In 1966 a Congressional resolution that was affirmed by President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day, even though the first observance in that city happened later than the commemorations in other places. Those who support Waterloo’s claim assert that the observances in other locations did not involve the entire community. Whichever place can rightly claim the distinction as the first location of Memorial Day, it is almost certain that John Logan’s inspiration for a nationwide observance came from the commemorations that occurred in these various places. There are different explanations for how this inspiration came to Logan, including one that involves his wife, Mary, suggesting it to him after she observed the graves of Confederate dead strewn with flowers during a post-war trip to Petersburg, Virginia.

One aspect of the observance in Columbus, Mississippi, which distinguishes that commemoration, is the fact that it was, as far as is known, the first in which both Union and Confederate dead were honored. In this sense, the observance in Columbus, Mississippi had the kind of inclusiveness that such ceremonies should have. In contrast, John Logan’s General Orders No. 11 lacked this spirit of inclusiveness and reconciliation, in that Logan stipulated in his order that Memorial Day is intended for honoring those “who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” In addition, a later clarification in a resolution that was adopted by the Grand Army of the Republic indicated that the observance was meant “to preserve the memory of those only who fought in defense of the National Unity.” Perhaps John Logan and the Grand Army of the Republic, with the gruesome hostilities still fresh in their memories, can be excused for their lack of inclusiveness. However, when the Columbus, Mississippi newspaper reported how the local women honored the fallen of both sides, the newspaper noted that the magnanimous conduct of the women “proved the exalted, unselfish tone of the female character.”

Article about Jennie Vernon from the
Mobile Register of June 18, 1868

One of the most noble expressions of the same spirit of reconciliation that was displayed by the women of Columbus, Mississippi occurred in Lafayette, Indiana during the first national observance of Memorial Day in 1868. Lafayette, Indiana had been the site of a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War, and Confederate prisoners who died there were buried in a local cemetery. In the spring of 1868, while a committee in Lafayette was making preparations for the national observance, a girl named Jennie Vernon, who resided in Lafayette, sent a wreath and a note to the committee. The note read, “Will you please put this wreath upon some rebel soldier’s grave? My dear papa is buried at Andersonville, and perhaps some little girl will be kind enough to put a few flowers upon his grave.” Jennie’s father was Samuel Vernon, a member of a cavalry company, who was captured on October 17, 1863 and sent to Andersonville. Samuel Vernon died on June 24, 1864 and is buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. In 1879 Jennie married a man named Charles Crain, and she lived in Lafayette, Indiana for the rest of her life.

Francis Miles Finch

The spirit of reconciliation that was displayed by the women of Columbus, Mississippi on April 25, 1866 inspired a literary expression of that same spirit of reconciliation. This literary expression is a poem that was written by Francis Miles Finch, a lawyer and judge who lived in Ithaca, New York, and who composed poetry as a hobby. Finch reputedly saw a news report in the New York Tribune about the commemoration that was organized by the four women in Columbus, Mississippi, and he was so moved that the women honored the dead of both sides that he composed a poem titled “The Blue and the Gray.” The words of Finch’s poem address the grief felt by those, in both the North and the South, who lost loved ones in the Civil War. Moreover, the final verse seems to speak to the inclusive actions of the women who spread flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate dead and how that act of reconciliation helped to remove the feelings of animosity from former enemies. Finch’s poem reads in part, “By the flow of the inland river, / Whence the fleets of iron have fled, / Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver, / Asleep are ranks of the dead: / Under the sod and the dew, / Waiting the judgement-day; / Under the one, the Blue, / Under the other, the Gray. / These in the robings of glory, / Those in the gloom of defeat, / All with the battle-blood gory, / In the dusk of eternity meet: / Under the sod and the dew, / Waiting the judgement-day; / Under the laurel, the Blue, / Under the willow, the Gray…. / No more shall the war cry sever, / Or the winding rivers be red; / They banish our anger forever, / When they laurel the graves of our dead! / Under the sod and the dew, / Waiting the judgement-day; / Love and tears for the Blue, / Tears and love for the Gray.”

When we observe Memorial Day, we should keep in mind that this commemoration grew from a number of local remembrances into an annual nationwide observance. It does not matter which city can rightly claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, because, in reality, the many people who took it upon themselves to decorate the graves of the war dead are truly the ones who gave birth to Memorial Day. The most important aspect of this observance is not who did it first. The most important aspect of this observance is to remember and honor all those who gave their lives for our country. In this regard, John Logan, in his General Orders No. 11, expressed well the sentiment and respect that should permeate Memorial Day. Logan wrote, “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Sealed with a Kiss

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved
This article was the history brief for the February 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

The word sarcasm comes from an ancient Greek word that literally means to tear the flesh. This makes sense, because a figurative tearing of the flesh is what sarcasm does, and what sarcasm is intended to do. However, sometimes sarcasm can be problematic, because too often, the line between sarcastic and hurtful is difficult to discern. In fact, I know someone who was so concerned that her sarcasm might be perceived as hurtful that one year she gave up sarcasm for Lent. (For me personally, I don’t know what would be a more challenging Lenten sacrifice: giving up sarcasm or giving up chocolate.) Although there can be issues with sarcasm, there are some situations in which sarcasm is warranted and in which the target of the sarcasm is deserving of it. Such a situation is the subject of this month’s history brief. The main characters in this story of sarcasm are Jordan Anderson (whose first name is sometimes spelled “Jordon” or “Jourdon”) and Patrick Henry Anderson, who went by his middle name, Henry. Prior to the Civil War, Jordan was a slave who was owned by Henry. During the war Jordan and his family obtained their freedom, and shortly after the war the family moved north. While Jordan was living in his post-war place of residence, he received a letter from Henry with a proposal that Jordan return to the plantation to work for his former master. The letter that Jordan sent in response is an exquisite piece of sarcasm. In recognition of February being Black History Month, Jordan Anderson and his brilliantly sarcastic letter are the subject of this month’s history brief.

Jordan Anderson

Jordan Anderson was born in December 1825 in Tennessee, although the exact location is not known. When Jordan was age seven or eight, he was sold to a person named Paulding Anderson, who owned a plantation east of Nashville, Tennessee. Paulding then gave Jordan to his young son, Henry, to be Henry’s personal slave. Eventually Henry came to own the plantation, and Jordan continued to work there as one of Henry’s most important slaves. Sometime in 1848, Jordan married a slave named Amanda, who went by Mandy, and they had 11 children. In 1864 Union soldiers arrived at the plantation and gave Jordan and his family their freedom. Jordan immediately left the plantation, but not without some personal danger, because Henry shot at Jordan as Jordan was departing. Luckily for Jordan, Henry failed to hit his target, in part because a man named George Carter grabbed the gun from Henry. Jordan subsequently worked at a Union hospital, where he met a surgeon named Clarke McDermont. After the war ended, Jordan and his family, with help from McDermont, moved to Dayton, Ohio, and McDermont arranged for Jordan to meet with McDermont’s father-in-law, a lawyer and abolitionist with the romantic name of Valentine Winters, who helped Jordan find a job. In July 1865 Jordan received a letter from his former master, Henry, who was facing financial difficulties and desperately needed workers for that year’s harvest, particularly a worker like Jordan, who possessed the skills to oversee the harvest. Because Jordan could not read, he took the letter to Valentine Winters, who read the letter to Jordan. Since Jordan could not write a response himself, he asked Winters to write a letter that Jordan dictated, and this letter was sent to Jordan’s former master, Henry.

Valentine Winters

The letter begins, “Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jordan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house….Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again….I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

“I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing, have a comfortable home for Mandy….Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again. As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864….Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly—and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, that earnings would amount to $11,680….Please send the money…in care of V. Winters, esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future….Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any payday for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows.”

The letter continues with a telling request for assurance regarding the safety of Jordan’s daughters, whom Jordan described as “now grown up” and “good looking girls.” In a statement that alludes to one of many reprehensible acts by slaveowners, Jordan went on, “I would rather stay here and starve and die if it come to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters.” In an obvious reference to the pre-war proscription against educating slaves, Jordan also asked about schools for his daughters. The letter is signed, “From your old servant, Jourdon Anderson. P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.” Not surprisingly, Jordan did not go back to the plantation. His former master, Henry, who was drowning in debt, sold the plantation and died two years later at age 44. Jordan remained in Dayton for the rest of his life and died in 1907 at the age of 81. Descendants of Jordan Anderson still live in Dayton.

Those who are of my musical generation probably remember a singer by the name of Brian Hyland. Brian Hyland had three recordings which peaked in the top five in the U.S. One recording, “Gypsy Woman,” reached number three in 1970. Another of Brian Hyland’s top-five recordings, which went all the way to number one in 1960, was “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.” The third of Brian Hyland’s top-five recordings peaked at number three in 1962. This one was “Sealed with a Kiss.” As most people know, the expression “sealed with a kiss” refers to a letter that is filled with so much affection that the sender seals the letter with a kiss. I suspect that when Jordan Anderson sent the letter to his former master, he did not seal it with a kiss. In fact, in light of the sarcasm in Jordan’s letter, it seems that as far as Jordan was concerned, if there was any kissing associated with that letter, it was that his former master could kiss a certain part of Jordan’s anatomy.