Killed at Jenkins’ Ferry….or Not

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Benjamin Cruzen was killed at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Well…that’s at least what they initially thought.

Cruzen was a member of Company E. of the 33rd Iowa Union Infantry. He had enlisted in Oslaloosa, Iowa in July of 1862, fighting his way across several Arkansas campaigns.

The 33rd Iowa was in the thick of the fight at Jenkins’ Ferry, part of the wall of 5,000 troops of the Union’s First Brigade that stood between the Confederates and the Saline River crossing where the Union Army was desperately trying to cross, attempting to make their escape back to the safety of Little Rock.

In the chaos of battle, Cruzen was missing. He was believed by his commanders that he had been killed in battle, one of the scores of blue uniforms covered in mud scattered across the river bottom.

The 33rd Iowa reported: Killed (9), Wounded (105) and Missing (9).

Actually, the Confederates had captured Cruzen – which considering he was thought to be dead – was at least a step up.

Benjamin Cruzen was marched, along with hundreds of other captured Union prisoners, to the Confederate Prison camp known as Camp Ford, near Tyler, Texas. Here he would remain for several months, before being paroled and returned back to the 33rd Iowa. He would continue to serve until the unit was mustered out in May of 1865 at Davenport, Iowa.

Benjamin was the last surviving member of Company E, dying April 19, 1933.

Another story of the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry.


Shallow Graves…and Wounded Hearts

Cornfield today

It’s hard to believe this was once a cornfield.

On the morning of April 30, 1864, this two hundred acre field was planted in corn – already ankle high. By days end, the field would be turned into a mud pit, with scores of dead and wounded soldiers scattered about it. One veteran of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry wrote that you could walk across the entire field, stepping from body to body, without ever touching the ground.

It’s even harder to imagine the scores of soldiers resting today in unmarked graves beneath it.

We’ve talked about it before – the horror that was the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. From my book, Harvest of Death:

“In their haste to abandon the field, both armies dug shallow graves to cover the scores of dead. The result of this make-shift grave digging was a gruesome scene, as residents reported wild hogs were roaming the battlefield rooting up and feasting on the fallen soldiers. The warm early May winds carried the smell of rotting flesh throughout the bottoms.”

After the battle, the Commanders would write their official reports which would become the basis of battlefield studies of Jenkins’ Ferry by historians and scholars. But it’s these letters, from a soldier to his wife, that are the most telling. They are raw – they are personal – and they are heart wrenching.

One such letter left behind is from Manual Yturri, a Captain in the Third Texas Volunteer Infantry, a unit of Walker’s Texas Division, written to his wife Elenita, following the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

“I went in the morning with twenty men to bury our men and to look for the missing man but they had already taken him to another hospital and so I couldn’t fine him. After we got to our battle camp I told the soldiers to begin to gather the dead from our regiment. My intention was to continue to look for the wounded individual I was missing while burying the dead. It had rained so much that it was mostly water and mud and we didn’t have shovels with which to bury the dead. I then went to the Yankee hospital to borrow some shovels but they told me they didn’t have anything to bury their dead. I then returned to our battle camp and I told the soldiers to make shovels from wood and they began to dig a big grave to bury everyone together. We buried six soldiers, one corporal, and one lieutenant, all from our regiment, on a mound and the grave was only a foot and half deep because if we dug deeper water would gush out.”

Sometimes, death came quickly. Other times, it lingered, death taking its time to harvest their victims. Captain Yturri wrote of one friend who stood alongside him during the heat of battle:

“..his head was injured and we could see his brains. He fell close to me; he was a little behind me and he fell in the water and I raised him, but seeing the bullets were flying every where. I told him to lie down because there was not even a pine close by to protect us and it was best for him to lie down. In the end he died crazed.”

The scene was just as dreadful on the Federal side. One Union veteran recalled:

“Of the most severely wounded, some were borne from the field, but most had to remain unheeded. The livings were too busy to attend the dead. It is hard to see a dead friend and comrade shot down by your side, and hear his piteous cries for help, and be unable to stop even to put a canteen of water to his lips, but to leave him like a dog as he fell.”

Imagine these men – grieving at the loss of their comrades – their friends – and not even having a shovel to dig a hole to give them a descent burial.

The Federals were in no better shape to bury their dead. Surgeon William Nicholson would write of the grim task occurring at the Federal hospital the same day that Yturri was burying his friends just a few hundred yards away:

“On the second day we buried those who had died in and around the [federal] hospital, twenty-one white men and three Negroes. I placed poor Beans and Tom Irwin side by side on top of the pile, all in one grave, and the negroes in another.”

And so the living moved on – leaving the dead to rest forever on the battlefield.

But more importantly, I see these two men, Nicholson and Yturri, no longer as enemies – but as men with a common thread – to lay those among them to rest, as best as they could, in that dreadful water filled swamp.


Erasing History…

Eraser

Arkansas first established a holiday honoring Robert E. Lee in 1947. It was not until 1983 that Martin Luther King was recognized with a state holiday, the same year that President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating a national holiday for King.

Initially, several states were reluctant to recognize the holiday or else combined the holiday with other holidays, which was the case when, in 1985, then Governor Bill Clinton signed legislation combining Lee and King’s holidays into one.

The question I have is this. This Lee, who is being demonized in the press today as some treasonous scoundrel who sought only to further the cause of slavery, is the same Lee who, thirty years ago, received the support of the future President of the United States, Bill Clinton?

If Lee is as bad as his detractors say he is – then where were his detractors then?

In 1975, the United States Congress overwhelming approved a bill restoring the rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee.

President Gerald R. Ford’s Remarks Upon Signing a Bill Restoring Rights of Citizenship to General Robert E. Lee:

“I am very pleased to sign Senate Joint Resolution 23, restoring posthumously the long overdue, full rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee. This legislation corrects a 110-year oversight of American history. It is significant that it is signed at this place.

Lee’s dedication to his native State of Virginia chartered his course for the bitter Civil War years, causing him to reluctantly resign from a distinguished career in the United States Army and to serve as General of the Army of Northern Virginia. He, thus, forfeited his rights to U.S. citizenship.

Once the war was over, he firmly felt the wounds of the North and South must be bound up. He sought to show by example that the citizens of the South must dedicate their efforts to rebuilding that region of the country as a strong and vital part of the American Union.

In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.”

This resolution passed by the Congress responds to the formal application of General Lee to President Andrew Johnson on June 13, 1865, for the restoration of his full rights of citizenship. Although this petition was endorsed by General Grant and forwarded to the President through the Secretary of War, an Oath of Allegiance was not attached because notice of this additional requirement had not reached Lee in time.

Later, after his inauguration as President of Washington College on October 2, 1865, Lee executed a notarized Oath of Allegiance. Again his application was not acted upon because the Oath of Allegiance was apparently lost. It was finally discovered in the National Archives in 1970.

As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.

General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.

In approving this Joint Resolution, the Congress removed the legal obstacle to citizenship which resulted from General Lee’s Civil War service. Although more than a century late, I am delighted to sign this resolution and to complete the full restoration of General Lee’s citizenship.” 

Where was the outcry? Where was the media? Where was the outrage?

Robert E. Lee has been dead for almost 145 years. And though scores have been written about the General, I don’t believe any sensational, damaging documents have arisen since General Ford spoke of Lee and Bill Clinton signed the bill honoring Lee.

So why now?

Because we have reached a point in our society where good and descent people have become apathetic and allowed those with their own agendas to change the landscape of our daily lives. It is a landscape where, driven by fear of people “labeled” that good and descent people are afraid to plant their feet and say what is happening is just plain wrong.

And it’s not just those who seek to rewrite history to suit their agendas.

Have you visited a playground lately? Gone are the swings, monkey bars, tetherball games of our youth – all deemed “too dangerous” by those who, just as the ones who take the eraser to our children’s history books, decide that even the playground is worthy of their time. And of course, there are no more “Christmas plays” or “Christmas breaks” at school – instead, the word “holiday” has replaced Christmas so as not to “offend.”

Even our pastors are cautioned today to choose their words and sermons carefully, so as to not “offend” anyone.

Robert E. Lee will lose his holiday in Arkansas, just as he will eventually in Alabama and Mississippi.

And I find that just plain offensive.

I’ve remained out of the fray over political issues and vowed not to let these issues overflow into this blog. After all, the reason for the blog is to educate and share the heroism of those brave men – blue and gray – who fought in 1864 Civil War Arkansas. However, there comes a time when we have to step up and express distain for certain things, such as taking an eraser to history and seeking to twist history into something clean and polished where no one is offended.

History is what it is – the good and the bad – it is the fabric that has made our nation what it is.

And what of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the other slave holding Founding Fathers?

They too will one day find themselves doing battle with the eraser of political correctness. I hope they fair better than Robert E. Lee.


Farewell! I Go Where Duty Calls…

Grinstead Tomb

Grinstead Tomb Today 2

“Before and after” photographs of Civil War related monuments have always fascinated me. Viewing photographs of monument dedications with throngs of veterans, woman and children surrounding the new marker stands in stark contrast to the monuments as they look today.

I recently came across an excellent article in the “Confederate Veterans Magazine” regarding the dedication of the tomb of Colonel Hiram Grinstead, who commanded the 33rd Arkansas CSA Infantry at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Early on the morning of April 30, 1864, as Grinstead lead his regiment across the muddy flooded cornfield toward a wall of 5,000 Union troops, he was cut down. One of the veterans of the 33rd later wrote an eyewitness account of Grinstead’s final moments:

“There was confusion in our lines every now and then and some of the boys would get a little shaky and start back to the rear. I recollect at one time that Colonel Grinstead darted in before one of these men who had started to the rear and with his sword drawn back in a threatening manner, I heard the Colonel yell out distinctly, for he was close to me, ‘If you don’t go back, I will kill you,’ and the man stopped and turned round and went back…Very soon after this Colonel Grinstead fell. I did not see him fall. But someone said ‘Colonel Grinstead is killed,’ and I looked and saw him lying on the ground.”

Days prior to the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Colonel Grinstead had written home to his wife. In it, he wrote these words to his children:

‘Tell the children to be good and that I love them the whole world full.”

It is an amazing contrast, one where a commander has such love for family and yet is prepared to do the unthinkable during the heat of battle. Perhaps, General Robert E. Lee explained it best:

“To be a good soldier, you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.”

Here is a portion of the Confederate Veteran article on the dedication to the tomb of Colonel Grinstead:

“The monument, which was erected in June, 1904, is of the finest imported Italian marble of the most durable character. It is exquisite in design and finish. The work was executed by Morris Bros, of Memphis, Term. The design is an original one, and was drawn especially for the use of this Chapter. A soldier’s shield, skillfully carved, forms a background for a Confederate flag, which gracefully falls unfurled. The inscription is as follows: “Col. Hiram Grinstead, born in Lexington, Ky., in 1829; fell at Jenkins Ferry, Ark., April 30,1864.” A handsome chain inclosure surrounds the burial lot, and there the pure, uplifted faces of blooming flowers tell the story of the resurrection morn. May 6, 1905, was selected for the regular exercises of Memorial Day, and upon this occasion the handsome monument to Col Grinstead was unveiled. Col. W. K. Ramsey was master of ceremonies for the day. A solemn invocation was offered by Rev. W. F. Evans. An edifying address was then delivered by Col. H. S. Bunn in his characteristic manner of thought and humor combined. Impromptu remarks, reminiscent in their nature, were made by Col. J. R. Thornton. The children of the public school, under the leadership of their teacher, Mr. Cannon, sang the national air, “America.” The master of ceremonies then asked the crowd to adjourn to meet at the grave of Col Grinstead, which was in a separate lot in the cemetery, stating that the best part of the programme would be completed there. This proved to be an address made at the unveiling of the monument and delivered in a happy, graceful style by Mrs. T. J. Silford, daughter of the late lamented Col. T. D. Thomson, who succeeded Col. Grinstead in command. When this was done, each grave, which had previously been designated as a Southern soldier’s by having a flag of the Confederacy placed upon it, was garlanded with flowers. Thus was finished one more tender observance of the memory of the beloved dead. In an address at the unveiling, Mrs. John T. Sifford said: “It is universal with men, whether civilized or savage, to admire those who have distinguished themselves in war. In following out this impulse of the human heart, we have met to-day to unveil this monument, erected to the memory of that brave and gallant soldier, Col. H. L. Grinstead. This has been the loving work of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Chapter named in honor of him whose ashes rest here.”

One of the saddest aspects when walking the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry is there are no markers to commemorate the spot where many of the brave men fell. You’ll recall that in the years following the Civil War, several members of Union General Samuel Rice’s staff traveled back to Jenkins’ Ferry and marked the spot of his wounding by carving their names upon a tree at the spot where he was brought down. Of course this tree didn’t mean so much to the man with the chainsaw years later who cut the tree down, forever destroying an irreplaceable piece of Arkansas history.

Even sadder to me though, are the scores of dead who remain upon those bloody fields – now a majestic forest, time having healed the land where so many fought and died. To these men, there were no marker dedications – no tomb to place a wreath upon. The dead sleep tonight – in the cold lonely ground that is Jenkins’ Ferry.

Some time after his death, a poem surfaced that was attributed to Colonel Grinstead:

A SOLDIER’S FAREWELL TO HIS LOVE

by General H. L. Grinstead

Farewell! I go where duty calls,
and faith and honor point the way
Where many a high-souled hero falls
Upon each bloody battle day.

I go; for I would scorn to be
A laggard in the glorious strife
That shapes our nation’s destiny
And wakes us to a nobler life.

I fain would gird my idle sword
That all too long hath lain at rest,
While I upon thy lightest word,
Have hung, ’til now, supremely blest.

O! oft amid the din of firhgt,
When swift the hurtling bullets fly,
Thy image pure shall glad my sight,
And nerve my arm for purpose high.

Like crested knights of ancient song
Who fought to please their haughty loves,
I’ll think of thee and still press on,
Knowing thy soul the deed approves.

For thou art worthier far than they
Thoughtful and modest, fir and true
Like the sweet flower that shuns the day,
But opes to drink the dvening dew.

I covet not the warrior’s crown,
Nor other boon or guerdon claim,
But as I float life’s stream adown
Dearest to know that love the same

As when beneat the star-lit dome,
I wooed and won thy guileless heart
Such as now bids the tear drops come
To bathe thine eyes e’re we part.

O! brighter than Italian skies
And purer than the lily’s hue,
Thy beaty shames the dolphin’s dyes
And send the life blood coursing through,

My veins, as speeds the lightning flash,
When mountain storms all wildly roar,
And foaming billows leap and dash
And, wearied, break upon the shore.

Time cannot dim such love as ours–
Distance no barrier interpose;
Its light shall guide the fleeting hours,
Unquenched, till life, itself shall close.

Weep not! I soon will come again
To claim and clasp my gentle bride,
I go to prove how madly vain
Th’ insulting foeman’s boasted pride.

Grinstead Picture


Lee…Washington…Where Does it End?

Washington

There is much to talk about this morning.

As I mentioned in my last blog, the tide of political correctness has descended upon our state, as the sabers are already rattling on both sides of the Robert E. Lee holiday “issue.”

There is already a bill filed in the Arkansas Legislature to end the “dual status” holiday between Lee and Martin Luther King Jr.:

HB1113 – TO ELIMINATE THE DUAL STATUS OF THE STATE HOLIDAY CELEBRATING ROBERT E. LEE’S BIRTHDAY ON THE SAME DAY AS THE STATE HOLIDAY CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAY OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

But why now, when the holiday has been around since the 1980’s?

The answer I believe is simple – the media.

Some in the media felt it would be interesting to engage their viewers on the issue through social media – namely their Facebook pages. The results were well, not pretty.

The comment section of the Facebook posts had people landing on both side of the fence over the issue. Some saw Lee only as that traitorous scoundrel who led the Southern states into rebellion while others saw Lee as a symbol of the Old South, where a man’s word used to be his bond and honor and duty meant everything.

The issues I have on all of this are deep. First, I continue to be concerned over this trend among so many that get their news only through Facebook. And posting a news story on Facebook is similar to creating a listing on Wikipedia – there are no mechanisms in place that insures the accuracy of what is being reported. For example, a couple of years ago, there was a Facebook post that indicated a white Little Rock Police officer had shot an unarmed black youth on a busy midtown street in Little Rock. This “news post” spread like wildfire and within an hour, hundreds were gathered, many angry, some throwing objects at the police officers gathered there to investigate the shooting. True, there had been a shooting. However, it was a black officer who shot middle aged black man who had pointed a gun at the officer. This “news story” on Facebook quite nearly created a mob scene.

So now we have Robert E. Lee – and already there are “news stories” circulating on Facebook about the “controversy” around the state of Arkansas honoring such a man with a holiday.

Of course the slavery issue is being tied into the mix with some making Lee out to be some slave master who worked tirelessly keeping the institution of slavery alive and well in the cotton states.

None of these social media “news stories” mentions how Lee was initially offered command of the entire Union Army – declining when it was confirmed that the Union intended to invade Virginia as part of their plan to bring the states back into line.

None of these social media “news stories” mentions how Lee worked tirelessly toward rebuilding the education system in the south following the Civil War through his work as President of Washington College.

None of these social media “news stories” mentions how Lee worshiped alongside former slaves at his home Church, when many churches of the day were still segregated.

And what of this slave issue?

If we are going to deny Lee a holiday based solely on the fact that he processed slaves – then these same legislators should introduce a bill removing George Washington’s holiday as well. After all, Washington owned vast amount of slaves on a sprawling Virginia plantation.

So if Lee was a scoundrel for owning slaves – what does that make Washington?

Exactly.

George Washington – like Robert E. Lee – was an honorable man whose sense of honor and duty overshadowed his entire life.

The Civil War was a painful period in our nation’s history. Trying to sanitize our history through political correctness is, as I said yesterday, madness.

Each February, we honor George Washington the man – for his contributions in building our nation.

Washington risked the hangman’s noose standing by his convictions just as Lee, who following the war, expected to be captured, tried, and hung at any time for his part in the rebellion. But it never happened.

Lee lived just a short five years after the way, dying of a massive stroke in 1870.

I am not as concerned about this “holiday issue” as I am the scores of those around us who, partly through indifference or the result of a broken down education system, choose not to stay informed about the world around them, but rather, react to whatever the latest trend is in social media.

To them, I say learn more about this man Robert E. Lee and you’ll find he was an honorable man who stood by his principals, no matter how unpopular they were.

And to those who wish to blot Lee’s name from history based solely on the issue of slavery?

Then you best introduce that bill removing Washington’s name as well.

I enjoy telling the story of the brave men – blue and gray – who fought across 1864 Arkansas. These men, like Lee and Washington, were honorable men who stood by their principals. They deserve to have their stories told and and this trend to edit history just for the sake of making it more politically correct is just plain wrong.

 


Remembering Robert E. Lee…

Lee Blog

Tomorrow is Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

So much has been written about Lee; hundreds of books and thousands of articles. Historians have examined every facet of his life with entire books written about quotes uttered during his lifetime – writers and historians trying to get into the mind of this man.

And of all of the quotes and stories about Robert E. Lee, one quote has always stood out to me as summing up Lee’s post war philosophy and way of life.

A few years after the battle, Lee was taking one of his daily rides on his horse Traveler when he happened upon a country home. Dismounting to pay his respects to the lady of the house, the lady proceeded to give General Lee a tour of her property. The centerpiece of the tour was a tree…a sturdy old tree that once stood proud, now a victim to the ravages of war – the tree having been ripped apart by musket and cannon fire. That day, it barely clung to life.

The old lady was bitter about the damage and blamed the Union Army. She was one of many in the South who “never forgot.” She made hate and bitterness the centerpiece around that tree. She proudly showed General Lee that tree, expecting Lee to echo her fiery spirit of hate and revenge toward the Yankees. Asking Lee what she should do with the tree, he replied…

“Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

Today we fight a different battle – one of political correctness, where those absolutely terrified of upsetting anyone are willing to sanitize our history for the sake of not offending any person or group.

“Robert E. Lee Day” continues to be celebrated by a handful of states across the south, including Arkansas. Sadly, eventually the day will come when the wave of political correctness will invade the statehouses and legislators, fearful of offending anyone, will vote to end the holiday.

It amuses me somewhat whenever I talk to some, who think of Lee only as some treasonous scoundrel, and how amazed they are to learn that it was Lee who was first offered command of the entire Union Army, turning it down, preferring honor above rank. And it was Lee who dedicated his post-war years educating our young people, believing that education and hard work were the keystones of the south rising from the ashes.

It is not the “General” that Arkansas and those states honor, but rather the man Lee, a man who still ranks among the most respected men in American history. The more you read of Robert E. Lee, especially his pre- and post-war careers, you’ll discover a complicated man, one committed to honor and a sense of duty.

In some ways, our country is as divided today as it was 150 years ago. And no matter the reasons, erasing history just for the sake of political correctness is not the solution…it is madness.

Bitterness and strife…so prevalent today as it was 150 years ago. Sometimes we just need to let go of the past and move forward.

I’ve never tried to justify the actions of my ancestors – I shouldn’t have to, nor have I ever felt the need to. I wasn’t there nor did I face the decisions those men faced at the time so it is unfair for those in the 21st century to judge the actions of those of the 19th century. After all, I’m sure those in the 23rd century might find fault with much of our way of life today. We do the best we can – that is all we can do.

That was a different time, when men placed honor above all else.

We could learn a lot from Robert E. Lee.

 


New Year…Civil War…Elvis…A Busy Year Ahead

Pink Cadillac

Happy New Year.

My hope is that you’ve all had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and have entered 2015 hopeful of the opportunities that are before us.

A few thoughts this morning.

My third book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” is finished. It’s now in the hands of my editor who will work her magic with the result being the first in-depth study of the first battle of the 1864 Camden Expedition. We’re well on track to have the book available for purchase by April.

I’m well underway in my research for my next book, “Treacherous Ground: The Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas.” Though not as large as Jenkins’ Ferry, the Battle of Poison Spring was just as deadly. The research is progressing well with some interesting eyewitness accounts of the battle interspersed with the official reports of the commanders. Just as it took time to write “Harvest of Death,” so it shall with “Treacherous Ground.” The result will be the third in a series of books on the Camden Expedition.

2015 looks to be an exciting year with trips planned to Iowa, Kansas and Wisconsin – speaking to groups about the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. I am hoping to add Texas to the schedule in 2015 with trips to San Antonio and Fort Worth. You can always visit my website www.1864arkansas.com to keep up with the latest speaking engagements.

And there’s something new to report this morning. I’ve been working on a completely non-Civil War related project for a time. It’s a good fun distraction and has allowed me a good break from what at times can be a mind-numbing project working on individual troop movements during the heat of battle. For years I’ve known of a connection between Elvis Presley and Arkansas. During the early 1950’s, Presley performed in over forty concerts across the state as well as visiting Arkansas three times in the 1970’s. I remember growing up listening to my Mother tell the story of meeting Elvis during one of trips to the state. “We talked about whose Mother made the best brown beans and cornbread,” she would say with a big grin, reflecting on her time with Presley. That along with a few other personal stories of some of my friend’s encounters with Presley sparked my interest in Elvis before he was “the king.” During 1954-56, Presley trekked across Arkansas, playing in every imaginable venue, from honky-tonks to high school auditoriums. I discovered there are no books focusing on Presley’s time in Arkansas – and that is where the idea of a book came. “Elvis in Arkansas” will be a fun book to publish, and will be filled with fun facts and stories about an interesting time in Arkansas history. 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of many of Elvis’ performances in Arkansas as well as what would have been his 80th birthday (hard to imagine that).

And the image in today’s blog? You’ve no doubt heard of the famous pink cadillac Elvis owned that was a gift to his mother – the one on display today at Graceland. But did you know this was Elvis’ second cadillac? The first one he bought which was described as his “dream car” carried he and Scotty Moore and Bill Black all across the Ark-La-Tex, performing in hundreds of shows. On June 5, 1955, after a performance in Hope, they drove off into the night, headed toward Texarkana. Near Fulton, Arkansas, a brake line caught fire, causing the vehicle to catch fire – a total loss. Witnesses reported seeing Presley sitting on the side of the road watching his dream car burn. After they arrived in Texarkana, Scotty Moore (the guitarist in Elvis’ band) returned to Memphis and retrieved the new pink and white Ford Crown Victoria Elvis had recently purchased for his parents. After returning to Memphis, Elvis purchased a new Cadillac to replace the one that was burned in Arkansas. This second Cadillac is the famous “pink cadillac” that people see when they visit Graceland. This is just one of the interesting stories that “Elvis in Arkansas” will be filled with. It will be a good fun book.

2015 is going to be an exciting year.

 


Colonel Charles Kittridge…

KIttridge1

It seems like the 36th Iowa Union Infantry was everywhere during the 1864 Camden Expedition. Elkins’ Ferry, Poison Spring, Mark’s Mill and Jenkins’ Ferry – they saw action at all of them.

The commander of the 36th Iowa was fighting that spring of 1864 about as far from his birthplace as a man could be. Colonel Charles Kittridge was a New Englander, born in 1826 in Portland, Maine. After moving with the family to Vermont, Kittridge eventually migrated with his family to Illinois and from there he moved to Iowa, settling in Ottumwa in 1855 where he worked in the grocery business.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the 7th Iowa Infantry, elected Colonel of the regiment. At the Battle of Belmont, Missouri in November 1861, Kittridge was severely wounded and captured.

According to the book, “Iowa Colonels and Regiments:”

“…[Kittridge] was shot twice; through the arm, and through the thigh, the ball in the latter case passing between the bone and the femoral artery. Having finally recovered he re-joined his regiment on the 30th of the following March; but his wounds had disabled him for duty as a line officer, and he was compelled to tender his resignation, which was accepted on the 11th of June, 1862.”

After he returned home to Iowa and successfully healed of his wounds, he was appointed Colonel of the 36th Iowa Infantry. .

As I pointed out, Kittridge and the 36th Iowa were  in the thick of the action at most of the battles of the Camden Expedition, especially at Elkins’ Ferry where Kittridge beat back repeated assaults by the Confederates under Marmaduke.

But it was after the Federal Army had made their escape back to Little Rock that Colonel Kittridge’s story gets interesting.

Again, quoting from “Iowa Colonels and Regiments:”

“During General Steele’s absence from Little Rock, Colonel Anderson of the First Iowa Cavalry, who was left behind, assumed command of the post; but, soon after the return of the army, that officer resigned his commission, when Colonel Kittredge was made Post Commandant. Colonel Kittredge continued at Little Rock till the spring of 1865, when on the suggestion of General Reynolds he was dismissed the service. I will state briefly what I know of this unfortunate affair.

In the winter of 1864-5, Lieutenant-Colonel Drake of the 36th Iowa preferred charges against Colonel Kittredge, which I have never seen, and which, if I had, and could state them, would afford to the reader little interest. Early in March, 1865, Colonel Kittredge went before a general court-martial convened at Little Rock, for trial. Brigadier-General Cyrus Bussey was President of the Court, and Colonels Benton, Mackey and Thompson were among its members. The case was tried, and resulted, I am told, in a finding of “not guilty,” as regarded every charge and specification. The record was then made up, and sent by the Judge Advocate to General Reynolds, for approval; but that general, instead, forwarded the papers to the President, with the recommendation that Colonel Kittredge be dismissed the service. General Reynolds’ recommendation was of course complied with; for he had been recently sent to Little Rock to relieve General Steele, for the express purpose of renovating the Department of Arkansas, and all his recommendations were promptly endorsed. I should state further that, one of General Steele’s staff-officers, who remained behind after the departure of that general for New Orleans, and who was a bitter friend of Colonel Kittredge, was acting on the staff of General Reynolds at the time the colonel’s papers were sent up.

After receiving his dismissal the colonel returned to his home and proceeded thence to Washington to make inquiry into the proceedings in his case. He was gone only a few days when news came that the order for his dismissal was revoked and he reinstated. He left Washington immediately for St. Charles, Arkansas, where his regiment is now stationed in garrison.”

Now (and this is interesting)…

After the war, I’d lost track of Kittridge in the sources that I have so I am exploring the internet and located his gravesite in El Paso County, Colorado and, while trying to determine how he had made it out to Colorado after the war, I stumbled on this on the University of Colorado’s website:

“The Kittredge Complex is named after Colonel Charles W. Kittredge, a member of Colorado’s first House of Representatives, who authored the 1877 bill that initiated the operation of the University.”

That’s a WOW moment for sure!

Now there is no doubt there is much more to that story, one I will be researching soon enough. Something I enjoy doing (and others have expressed their appreciation to this as well) is to add a brief biographical sketch in my books of the commanders who fought in the battles I write about. I have already completed the section of “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas” that includes Kittridge’s biography. Now, I will now update his biography to include his post-war association with the University of Colorado.

And one final note on the education front…Colonel Francis Drake, who was mentioned above, also served with the 36th Iowa. After the war, Colonel Drake founded Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Two 36th Iowa Colonels – both committed to educating future generations.

 


So Many Yankees…

Shelby

Yesterday, I mentioned “Hail & High Water,” my upcoming book on the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas. Elkins’ Ferry was the first of five significant battles between the Confederate and Federal armies during the 1864 Camden Expedition, the others being Prairie D’Ann, Poison Spring, Marks Mill and Jenkins’ Ferry.

I’ve worked on Elkins’ Ferry for about two years and the resulting book will be the first in-depth study of the battle ever published. I’m proud of how the book has turned out. Though not the largest of the Arkansas Civil War battles, it was still significant as it was the first major clash between the two armies.

Something interesting about the book that has developed are the photographs that I am including. I always like to include photographs of as many of the commanders as I can in my books. I feel it helps the reader to visualize the men who made those decisions that occurred in the heat of battle.

Unfortunately, the passage of time has caused many of the images of these men to fade into history, especially among the Confederate forces.

The photograph ratio of Confederate vs Federal soldiers is very disproportionate, with images of only three of the Confederate commanders (Greene, Marmaduke and Shelby) included the book compared to fourteen of the Federal officers. However, it is important to note that the Confederate forces at Elkins’ Ferry were significantly less than the entire Union Seventh Corps that was marching head on toward them. It was hard fight, make no mistake about it – but it seems unrealistic from an “armchair general” standpoint that Marmaduke could have realistically expected to have defeated an entire Federal Corps. The Confederate forces in Arkansas were scattered all across Southern Arkansas that spring in 1864 with the bulk of the Trans-Mississipi forces in Northern Louisiana, pushing back an attempted invasion of Texas by the Union.

I plan to have “Hail & High Water” out soon – certainly in time for the anniversary of the battle in April. I am pleased to see there is a grassroots campaign organized to preserve a significant portion of the battlefield. The Nevada County Museum in Prescott is heading up that effort. I will update you all on their efforts as their preservation efforts continue.

The image in today’s blog is Confederate General Joseph Shelby – known for his decision to march he and his men to Mexico at the end of the war rather than surrender. Shelby was in the thick of the fight at Elkins’ Ferry.

Very soon you’re going to read about the first of the battles of the Camden Expedition.

It’s a shame that many of those men are now only names – their faces lost forever.

That is truly sad.

 


Christmas Eve 2014…

CW Christmas Eve

Today’s blog image first appeared in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly Newspaper. It is entitled “Christmas Eve 1862.”

Tonight, it’s Christmas Eve 2014. So much has passed this year. We are at the end of the events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Camden Expedition. It was an eventful year with events at Jenkins’ Ferry and Poison Spring bringing attention to the battles of 150 years ago. There were enormous crowds at the Jenkins’ Ferry event and hopefully, the area residents came away with knowing that Jenkins’ Ferry is much more that a local swimming hole.

And of course there was Ed Bearss. I had the opportunity to meet and hear Ed speak twice in 2014, at Jenkins’ Ferry in April and Vicksburg in November. Those who follow my blog know that Ed has been a hero of mine for over forty years. Now, along my hallway at home where various photographs, certificates and plaques hang, there is a large photograph of Ed and I taken together at Vicksburg. There is also a photograph of my daughter, Lauren, and Ed. It is already one of my favorite photographs – a passing of the torch so to speak. Lauren has developed an interest in all things Jenkins’ Ferry which I hope she will carry on to the next generation.

A few weeks ago, I spent a cold weekend at the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park where I had set up to sell and sign copies of my books. It was – well – a miserable weekend weather wise. From pouring down rain to cold winds, the weekend never reached 5,000-10,000 spectators they expected. However, the reenactors were there and they seemed oblivious to the foul weather. I was impressed, as I always am, with the professionalism of these gentlemen who bring honor to the Civil War ancestors. I had the opportunity to visit with several of them – blue and gray – and found them immersed in their characters and a credit to their uniforms.

I had the opportunity to meet so many of you in 2014 – from Arkansas to Texas. Some residual health issues prevented me from traveling to San Antonio but that is only a temporary issue – I intend to make meeting my friends in the Alamo Guards a priority in 2015.

2015? There is already so much to look forward to. I’ll be traveling to Iowa, Kansas, Texas and Wisconsin next year, as well as several events across Arkansas, telling the story of the Camden Expedition along the way.

I have two books on the horizon – one of which – “Hell & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” comes at a good time as efforts are underway to acquire portions of the original battlefield that was Elkins Ferry – fought alongside the Little Missouri River in April 1864. It would be the first clash of the two great armies snaking their way across Southern Arkansas – but certainly not the last.

Yet as I reflect upon the year that was and hopeful of the year yet to come, I am drawn back to the image in today’s blog. 150 years ago tonight there were scores of families ripped apart – as wives mourned the husbands who lay that night upon battlefields so far away – the wives often not knowing if their husbands were alive or dead. These woman kept the home fires burning – they kept the family together – through blood, sweat and of course tears. And the soldiers? Lying tonight upon freezing ground, many without the comfort of a blanket to keep them warm. Though cold and hungry, they held firm to their beliefs.

I think of the tears wives and husbands shared this night so long ago. But I also think of the tears shed tonight –  from wives and soldiers today who defend the cause of freedom so far from home.

The battlefields may be different – but the tears of separation are the same.

So tonight, I remember the families of 1864 and say a prayer for the soldiers of 2014.

Amen.

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