Before and After…


At one of my book signings, I was complimented on my penmanship. I happened to be signing a book for a young man and as I inscribed a note to him, his parents remarked to him that he should keep practicing his writing so he wrote as well as me.

I had to chuckle a bit inside, thinking that if they saw the absolute scribble that went into writing “Harvest of Death,” they might not use me as a writing role model at all.

My cursive writing, whether I am sitting under a tree on the battlefield or at a table in archives, is well…it’s dreadful. When an idea or thought enters my mind, I put thoughts to paper, often at a furious pace. The result is often a scribble that only I can understand.

I’ve learned over the years once I’ve completed a section, to go back over and print what I’ve written, making minor changes and adjustments to the text as I do the rewrite. Once that is done, then it’s faxed off to my book editor who works her magic, insuring the sentence structures and grammar is where it needs to be. The finished product is something I am very proud of – something that could not be done without a good editor.

Today’s photograph that accompanies the blog is a “before, during and after” photograph of sorts. I’ve taken snapshots of the various stages of one of my books (each are of a different chapter) to give you some idea of what my editor faces when she gets those overnight faxes. In most cases, she receives the hand printed sheets (though I’ve had a scribbled page or two make it through) and within days, I receive the polished sheets for my review and after a few back and forths over content, the finished chapter sits ready to be published.

The idea of today’s blog came not from my writings, but from trying to decipher others. I am working through some recently acquired genealogy material on my mother’s family – medieval English documents from the 15th Century. Not only are the documents written in Latin, but in a handwritten script that is almost impossible to decipher. The photograph below is a sample of the writing that I have to work with when researching the oldest of my family’s genealogy. I almost think whomever wrote these documents must have set under a tree inside a Civil War battlefield park scribbling out thoughts and ideas.

Probably not.


Latin document

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Passing the Torch….

Lauren & Ed Bearss

I met my hero last night.

I’ve blogged about historian Ed Bearss before. After all, when you speak of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield, you must include him. Without his book, “Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry”, the battlefield might have been lost to obscurity.

However, thanks to men like Ed Bearss and the late Pierce Reeder, the Leola Postmaster who first approached Bearss about Jenkins’ Ferry, the story continues to be told.

Ed was in Vicksburg last night at the Military Park for the premiere of a DVD on of his life. There was a crowd of about 125 on hand as we sat in the auditorium watching the video. It was a surreal feeling, watching the life story of this man the Smithsonian calls a “Living American Treasure,” as he sat less than ten feet away. The video, “An American Journey: The Life of Ed Bearss,” was very moving – and made more so by viewing it with one of my childhood heroes.

We all need heroes. Those who inspire us to endeavor to make this world a better place then how we found it. And Ed Bearss has done that for me. He inspired me to first learn about that hallowed ground along that Saline River. There would be no book ,”Harvest of Death,” without Ed Bearss.

Next to my children, Jenkins’ Ferry will be my legacy – I know that now. And that’s a good thing. Lauren and Ryan are everything to me and I know that one day, when I have passed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees, they will carry on my legacy.

And Lauren? She traveled to Vicksburg with me last night. She had an opportunity to meet Ed Bearss and  had her very  own copy of “Steele’s Retreat” signed by him. The photograph in today’s blog is already priceless to me. It felt as if the story of Jenkins’ Ferry was passing to a new generation right before my eyes.

I slept easy last night knowing the story that is Jenkins’ Ferry is in good hands.

Those soldiers would be proud of this young lady. I know I am.



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Mystery Solved…Perhaps…

Greyhound Commander

I recently came across a new book on which perhaps answers one of the lingering questions I’ve always had about the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

The final segment of the battle involved the Texas Confederate Division, commanded by General John G. Walker, taking the field in one final push to dislodge the Federal line. The result was disastrous for the Confederates as all three Brigade Commanders – General Horace Randal, General William Scurry and General Thomas Waul – went down within the stretch of minutes. Randal and Scurry would die of their wounds, Waul terribly wounded but surviving.

But where was General Walker through all of this? In the case of the other Division Commanders – General Thomas Churchill and General Mosby Parsons – they were neck deep in the decision making process at Jenkins’ Ferry, sitting atop the ridge overlooking the battlefield. But Walker has always been noticeably absent. Perhaps the new book will help shed light on all of this.

The book: “Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker’s History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi,” is actually a reprint of an autobiographical sketch General Walker wrote in the years following the Civil War while living abroad.

Edited by Richard Lowe, the book is written by an eyewitness to the operations within the Trans-Mississippi. From the reviews I’ve read, it deals with the issues faced in a raw way – the war still fresh on Walker’s mind. It talks of his anger toward General E. Kirby Smith over Kirby Smith’s decision to pull three divisions out of Louisiana when they had the Federals, under National Banks, literally on the run, and move them into Arkansas pursuing Frederick Steele.

But more importantly, the book mentions Walker being “seriously wounded” at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on April 9, 1864, three weeks before Jenkins’ Ferry. This might explain Walker’s absence during the crucial moments in the Saline River bottoms on the morning of April 30, 1864. I’ve ordered the book from and eagerly looking forward to reading it. Not only does it promise to give a new perspective on the Red River Campaign, but it might just explain some things about Jenkins’ Ferry from an eyewitness.

I don’t necessary endorse the book as I’ve not laid eyes on it yet. However, any such book would most certainly be welcomed addition to any Trans-Mississippi library, especially as this is the only eyewitness account of the Red River Campaign written by a Division Commander.

Once the book arrives, we’ll hopefully know the answer to one of the big mysteries of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Click Here to Order Your Copy of Greyhound Commander on



The “Go To” Book on Jenkins’ Ferry….

Old letters and pen as a background

I follow a few of the Civil War blogs that are floating about the internet. Each help to continue telling the story of the events 150 years ago that split our country apart. It takes quite a bit of effort to maintain a blog.

One of the first rules I’ve learned is not to fret over the number of people that read your blog but rather, focus on the quality of what you are blogging about. If you’ve followed my blog, then you know that this has been a time for rebuilding my blog, after my web provider accidentally erased my old blog during their transfer of my blog from one server to another. I’m pleased that the blog numbers are returning and many old friends that I’ve made over the last few years have found the new blog.

Imagine my surprise a few days ago when I found myself mentioned in one of Civil War blogs that I don’t happen to regularly follow. This fellow would have no idea that I peek in and read his work occasionally so the mention of me in his blog was completely unsolicited.

In his blog, he was discussing the advantages of self-publishing versus the conventional publishing house. He spoke of my book, “Harvest of Death,” calling it the “go to book” on the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Now that is about as high of an honor as an author can receive.

I’ve been pleased with the reception of Harvest of Death. Over 2,000 of you have purchased the book since it debut last April. I am particularly proud of the revised second edition of the book where I was able to add over fifty pages of photographs of many of the commanders, some never before published. There are a few topics related to the battle that I’ve considered adding for a possible third edition of the book. After all, as more and more stories about the battle come to light, sharing those stories are paramount to keeping the memory of those brave soldiers from fading away into history.

Among the topics that could be added pertain to the field names on the battlefield. There has been much discussion about the proper names of the four fields at the time of the battle. As we’ve discussed previously, I used the field names listed on the Gilmer Map – the Confederate Engineers map of the battlefield. Others have relied upon land records and family histories to present a different set of names which, between the three sets when you consider the names Ed Bearss used in his book, “Steele’s Retreat From Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry,” it does paint a somewhat confusing picture.

I believe those who have used the land records and family histories rightly deserve to have their stories heard. Though I will continue to refer to the field names from the Gilmer map, I am considering the possibility of adding a chapter in “Harvest of Death” that speaks about the issue of the field names.

I also believe that an additional chapter at the end of the book discussing what became of these two armies might be worthy. After all, I went into detail explaining how those two armies found themselves in that Saline River swamp that April weekend in 1864. It seems to make sense to give a brief history of what became of the two armies after they departed the horror that was Jenkins’  Ferry.

A third edition will not come soon. As some of you know, I have three writing projects on my desk right now and adding a a revision of Harvest of Death would not give it the attention it needs. I am hoping to have the the “Student’s Guide” on Jenkins’ Ferry completed within the next few months. “Mud & Politics: The Commanders of the 1864 Camden Expedition” is progressing and will be a good resource book on the Confederate and Union commanders who served during the Camden Expedition. I am learning not to place concrete dates out there as to when the books will be available. I am pleased that I have a book editor who nudges me along to insure I am getting the pages to her on time. If there is anyone who will insure you’ll read these books one day, it is her.

There are no time restraints on writing about past events. The past is always there. You can set your pen down for a week or a month or even a year and start right up where you left off. I am one of those who believe that when you leave this world, you should try to leave it a little better then how you found it. My legacy, beyond my children, will be my writings on the Camden Expedition. To have your work called the “go to book” is the highest honor that can paid a writer. I hope that my contributions about Jenkins’ Ferry will be read long after I am gone.

Though I’m not planning on leaving for a while – there are still too many stories yet to be written.

Stay tuned…



Forgotten by One…Remembered by Many…


Sometimes, I begin this blog with a specific idea in mind and by the time I have completed it, the blog has transformed into something different. Such is the case today.

I never met Union General Frederick Steele (obviously). But based upon those who knew him and left written accounts of their encounters with him, we can get a bit of an idea about who the man was. Of course there are the “knowns” about him:

He was known for his sharp, shrill voice, and the ability to “swear with precision and great velocity.”

He held a fondness for horses and horse racing and often wore a red-flannelled shirt whenever he attended a horserace, which he did often during the occupation of Little Rock.

He was the brother of Congressman John B. Steele, one of only ten Democrats who voted to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

He abandoned his wounded on the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry despite fierce objections by some of his officers.

The last, of course, would have a lasting impact on the future of his military career, as he was removed from command of the Union’s Seventh Corps, almost upon return back to Little Rock from the disaster that was the Camden Expedition.

For me, Steele has always been a bit one-dimensional, never quite able to get into his mind. Of course, it’s easier to escape into the mind of people such as Lee, Longstreet, Grant and dare I say Sherman. So much has been written about these men that it is easier to look upon them in more of a three-dimensional perspective. Steele is different. He is more distant, more aloof.

Then along comes colorized history.

Advances in computer technology continues to amaze me. So imagine my surprise a few months ago, when searching for a particular document related to General Steele, I come upon the image in today’s blog. Somehow, Steele looks less one-dimensional.

It is those eyes who gazed upon the Saline River in the pouring rain that April afternoon in 1864.

It is that mouth that gave the order to sink the pontoon bridge and abandon his wounded.

Sure, Steele had his reasons for his decision:

“This necessity I regretted, but thought it of more importance to secure the safe passage of my command across the Saline than to attempt to bring off wounded men for whom I did not have proper transportation. More were brought off than we could have carried away had they been as severely wounded as those who were left behind.”

Even as a child when I was first learning about Jenkins’ Ferry, I could not wrap my mind around how a General would abandon his wounded men. That opinion has not changed after almost forty years. We’re not talking a few either. Hundreds of critically wounded were left behind including the doctors themselves who were treating the scores of wounded at the field hospital on the battlefield.

Steele of course would blame Lincoln, Halleck, Banks and anyone else he could about his inability to provide transportation for his wounded. After all, he did not wish to make this march at all, putting it off until the very end when his old friend and West Point classmate, Ulysses Grant, ordered him out of Little Rock.

Credit to the Union survival at Jenkins’ Ferry goes not to Steele, but to men such as General Samuel Rice, General Frederick Solomon, Colonel Samuel Crawford. And of course the men – that wall of 5,000 Union soldiers that protected the way home.

Some might accuse me of “arm chairing” Steele’s decision. After all, I wasn’t there and were not standing in his boots that day. But it was his own officers who railed against him.

As I typed this, there was a television commercial for the “Wounded Warrior Project” – how ironic.

There is a program that helps todays veterans and their families readjust and cope following horrific wounds suffered in the battles America is fighting today.

One of the quotes from a soldier on their commercial sums up what every veteran, from every war, feels:

“There are so many men and woman on the battlefield. The greatest casualty is being forgotten.”

Those brave men were forgotten by their commander that day at Jenkins’ Ferry. But in the hearts of many, their story will never be silenced.

Take a moment and visit the link below for the Wounded Warrior Project – honorable men and woman who deserve our support.

Wounded Warrior Project




Just How Old Are Those Trees….


I spent part of this past weekend at Jenkins’ Ferry State Park to soak in the serenity of that place. Last week, there was a windstorm that roared through the county, uprooting trees throughout the area. Part of the reason I drove down there Sunday was to look for any visible damage. I am happy to report the park survived the severe weather.

In some respects, it was a bit of a melancholy visit as time is starting to take its toll on some of the sentinels who have stood watch at the park since the days during and immediately after the battle. They have witnessed generations of visitors, all the while remaining silent and watchful.

I am speaking of the trees.

Those mighty oaks have been such a part of that part since its inception. If you’ve ever visited Jenkins’ Ferry State Park, then you’ve met the trees I speak of.

The state parks officials have begun thinning out the sick and damaged trees. It is a necessary task as the chances of one of these enormous oak trees crashing down during a storm increases each day. Ever since I was a child, I have wondered just how old those trees are. Could they be old enough to be actual witness trees? A witness tree is a tree that stood during a moment when history occurred around it. It doesn’t have to be just Civil War related. For example, there are trees in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas that witnessed the horror of November 22, 1963.

I have always been under the impression that dating the trees at Jenkins’ Ferry would be difficult because all trees grow at different rates, depending upon the conditions around it. I’m sure, as wet as the area is, those trees have enjoyed a healthy life versus trees in drier climates who have had to struggle to attain the amount of water needed to sustain them.

While there Sunday, I took some time to walk amongst these trees and decided to revisit the tree dating issue. I have located an interesting website, maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The site, “How old is that Tree?” seemed exactly what I was looking for. The concept is taking the diameter of the trees and plugging in a generic growth formula. Though not exact, it might at least provide a ballpark age of some of the trees. Here is a link to their website:

How Old is that Tree?

I’m planning another visit to Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. This time to map and measure the diameter of each of the trees in the park. Once I’ve completed mapping the park, I’ll create a “tree map” of the site, showing the species of each tree as well as its diameter and approximate age based upon the Missouri numbers. Afterward, I’ll pass the map on to my friends at the Grant County Museum for placement in their archives. Who knows, someone might actually wonder about such things a generation from now.

This will by no means be scientific but it will at least provide a ballpark age. More importantly, it might answer the age old question as to whether any of the trees inside the part were witnesses to the events of April of 1864.

That would be amazing to know.

Stay tuned…



Death by the Numbers…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Army Wife

Located within the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park are a set of markers set alongside the Saline River at the site where the Federal Army placed their Pontoon Bridge during their escape to Little Rock on April 29-30, 1864. The markers are designed to provide an overall summary of the campaign and the battle that occurred near there.

For most, these markers are their only introduction to one of the largest and deadliest Civil War battles in Arkansas history. While I appreciate the efforts of the Arkansas State Parks to place the markers, there is one statistic on the marker that is just plain wrong and that one set of statistics completely rewrites the scale of the horror that occurred there.

Here are the casualty numbers listed on the marker:

Confederate: 365 wounded 90 killed 1 missing

Union: 471 wounded 78 killed 40 missing

Total: 827 wounded 168 killed 41 missing

For anyone who has studied the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, they can tell you those numbers are so far off. It’s not just those of us who have spent a lifetime studying that battle. The men themselves who were there that day offer numbers.

In an article in the “FORT SMITH NEW ERA” newspaper, dated August 6, 1864 entitled “Interesting Account of the Fate of our Wounded and Prisoners Down South,” one of the Federal Surgeons,  Dr. C.R. Stuckslager with the 12th Kansas Infantry, offers a more realistic figure of the Confederates killed and wounded at Jenkins’ Ferry:

“The rebel medical director reported their loss of killed and wounded at 904. Maj. Cabell told Dr. S. that they had buried over 200 on the battle-field (of their own dead.) Another rebel officer told the Doctor that in killed, wounded, and missing they lost 1024.”

Regarding the number of Federal soldiers killed and wounded, Dr. Stuckslager recalled:

“At Jenkin’s Ferry the Doctor’s [Stuckslager] burial party interred thirty-eight of our men on the field, and a rebel sergeant, charged with the same duty, reported eighteen that he had buried, making fifty-six in all. Of the two hundred and eighteen severely wounded (all those slightly wounded having been sent to Pine Bluff) eighty-four died.”

The marker inside the park states 78 Union soldiers were killed. Here we have an eyewitness account of one of the surgeons treating the wounded who personally reported 84 were dead – and that’s just of the ones he treated.

Confederate causality figures from Jenkins’ Ferry are very spotty at best. In fact, one entire division, Walker’s Texas Division, did not submit (or they were lost) their casualty reports. Considering how thick in the fight Walker’s men were, there is no doubt his casualties would have been high, not to mention three of the brigade commanders (Randal, Scurry and Waul) all went down, with Randal and Scurry dead by sunset and Waul critically wounded, his arm nearly blown off during the charge.

Days after the battle, a former slave, Jane Osbrook, visited the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield. Her eyewitness account appears to confirm the large number of those buried across the battlefield:

“The next Sunday [after the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry], my father carried all us children and some of the white folks to see the battlefield. I [re]member the dead was lyin’ in graves, just row after another and hadn’t even been covered up.”

A Confederate soldier later recalled the overwhelming scene of the battlefield:

 …the dead of our army in some places was thick enough to walk on and in every direction where our lines were formed you could distinguish the position of our forces by our dead.

Civil War historian Ed Bearss places the Confederate casualties at 800-1000 and the Federals at about 700 killed and wounded. I would agree with those numbers. Taken together, I believe a figure of around 1,800 is close to the number of both armies who were killed and wounded. That’s a pretty big gap from the 995 listed on the marker located inside the park. 

Some of you might be asking, “what’s the big deal?” Well…it is a big deal, on several fronts. First of all, I believe that by underestimating the casualty figures on the park’s marker, it gives a serious misrepresentation of the scale that was the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. It turns a significant battle into nothing more than a large scale skirmish which does a disservice to the men who fought there.

Reading the diaries and stories left behind by the soldiers who fought there, it is obvious that to them, this was their Gettysburg, their Waterloo. It remained the single most emotional moment in their lives. There was absolute horror at Jenkins’ Ferry which those men never forgot.

And what of the men? Is it proper to place inaccurate figures that, in essence, wipe out almost a thousand men who were killed or wounded? Does their tragic contribution to this event not deserve to be told?

I would like to see the Arkansas State Parks Department update this marker with a more accurate representation of the casualty figures. Perhaps, making a formal presentation to them might have an impact. It is something to ponder.

Does it really matter how many men died at Jenkins’ Ferry? Ask that mother or wife of the soldier who never returned home – who sleeps today in an unmarked grave in the Saline River swamp. Ask that mother or wife who never knew what became of their loved one. Most of all…ask that child, who would forever mourn the loss of their father – never having a grave to place a single rose upon.

They deserve much more.


General Sherman Slept Here…

Tappan House

People who know me know I’m not exactly a big fan of General William T. Sherman. It’s sorta that scorched earth policy across the deep south that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Now granted, it was Sherman who said “War is Hell” and by his thinking, the only way to end the war was to do what he needed to do.

Today’s blog is about a Jenkins’ Ferry General and the unexpected houseguest he had.

General James Tappan commanded a Brigade during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Prior to the war, Tappan had moved to the Northeast from his native Tennessee where he graduated Yale University in 1845. From there, he moved to Vicksburg where he practiced law. Tappan would later move to Helena, Arkansas where he served as Circuit Court Judge as well as serving two terms in the Arkansas State Legislature.

In 1858, Tappan purchased a home in Helena.

In the first volume of the Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, Professor John Hugh Reynolds wrote this about the home:

“…Built by General J.C. Tappan in 1858 after he had bought a frame shell from a Mr. Maloney, is a two-storey frame house painted green and white, with wide porches and stately columns, surrounded by a large undulating lawn thickly dotted with, shade trees, magnolias, Japanese persimmon and flowers. During the war when the Federal troops under General Curtis were camped around Helena, General Tappan made a narrow escape from this home which was occupied from time to time by Federal officers prominent among whom was General Sherman. This magnificent antebellum home suffered fearfully from the ravages of war, but a lucrative law practice enabled General Tappan to rehabilitate it…”

General Sherman….

So, can you imagine being a Confederate General, having to flee your home, being miles away fighting across Southern Arkansas, and then learn that William T. Sherman is occupying your house. I’m sure that muddy Saline River swamp was not the only thing that dampened Tappan’s spirits.

After the war, Tappan returned to Helena (and his home, which thankfully Sherman didn’t burn down) where he practiced law and was once again elected to the Arkansas State Legislature.

General Tappan died in 1906 at Helena and is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery near the graves of General Patrick Cleburne and Thomas Hindman.

For my friends in the north who read my blog, I guess perhaps you have to live in the deep south to still have a bit of a bad taste in your mouth about General Sherman, though I accept that he did what he felt he had to do to end the war.

But you have to admit, it might be a bit unnerving having the General occupying your bed, literally, while you are fighting for your life across Southern Arkansas.



One Freemason Helping Another…in Civil War Arkansas

Albert Pike

If you’re a Freemason, then you probably know the name Albert Pike.

Pike was Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Supreme Council from 1859 until his death in 1891.

The Scottish Rite “House of the Temple,” located in Washington D.C. includes an “Albert Pike Museum.” Here is a description of the exhibit from their website:

“The Albert Pike Collection features Pike’s personal Library. The collection contains, in addition to his personal memorabilia, a model of the monument erected in his memory, the original of which is located at Third Street and Indiana Avenue, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., near the U.S. Department of Labor building. This is the only statue in the District of Columbia honoring a Confederate General. Also included in the Pike Room’s displays are first editions and holograph copies of many of Pike’s works; his original desk, lamp, clock, and chair; many Personal items including Masonic regalia, a representative sampling of his large collection of pipes, and a plaster-cast death mask.”

His personal Library…

That is topic of today’s blog for it seems there is a connection between Albert Pike, his Library, and an officer who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Colonel Thomas Benton Jr. commanded the 29th Iowa Infantry during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Benton, a Freemason from Iowa agonized over the impending Civil War. On June 4, 1861, Benton addressed his Grand Lodge and spoke of the coming crisis:

“[Freemasons] have labored, though feebly and ineffectually, to avert the awful crisis. It has been my good fortune to press the fraternal hand in various parts of our country, from New England to Texas, and from the Atlantic to the Missouri. This consideration alone were sufficient to enlist my undivided energies in word and deed to perpetuate the friendly relations once so common among us as a people.”

Shortly afterward, Benton enlisted in the Union Army, becoming commander of what would be the 29th Iowa. In September of 1863, the Union Armies Seventh Corps, under command of General Frederick Steele, captured Little Rock.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, Pike moved to Arkansas in 1833 where he practiced law and newspaperman. During the Civil War, Pike served as a Brigadier General in the Confederacy, commanding several Native-American regiments.  By the Civil War, Albert Pike was a well known Freemason who’s home in Little Rock contained one of the most extensive Masonic libraries in existence at the time. Once Little Rock was captured by the Federals, there was a concern that, being a Confederate General, Pike’s home might be burned by some over zealous Union sympathizers. To that end, history records that a fellow Freemason, Colonel Thomas Benton, sought to protect Pike’s home and it’s Library – the same Library now housed in the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington D.C.

The story is not without controversy. This is best illustrated by an article that appeared in “The Master Mason” publication in May of 1925:



IN AN ADDRESS entitled “Albert Pike, the Mason,” delivered before Iowa Consistory, No. 2, celebrating the centennial of his birth, in December, 1909, I made the following statement, in reference to an incident during the Civil War: “When the Union Army attacked Little Rock, the commanding general, Thomas H. Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa, posted a guard to protect the home of Pike and his Masonic library.” The statement has been called in question a number of times, most recently by Brother Charles E. Rosenbaum, Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, in the following letter:


I have repeatedly seen in print sketches of the Life of General Albert Pike that have been credited to you. In each one of these occurs the statement on the printed sheet, which I enclose. I have underscored that part of it that I would very much like confirmed by you if you can give me any authority for the statement therein contained. Several times I have intended writing you on this subject to ask you the source of your information, but other and more important things intervened, and I deferred doing so.

The truth about the matter as I understand it is that the only Thomas H. Benton that we know anything about of national reputation was a Senator from the State of Missouri during the Civil War period. The general who took possession of Little Rock and its vicinity for the Federal Army was General Steele. These are undoubted facts. So far as the surrounding of General Pike’s home with soldiers to protect his library is concerned, that all reads very well, but it is likely as near the truth as Senator Thomas H. Benton being Grand Master of Iowa at the time and general in command of the Federal Forces in Little Rock.

Of course I realize that I am treading on dangerous ground to ask one as noted as yourself for information on a subject on which, no doubt, you are much better informed that I am, but if my information is wrong I certainly want the facts straight.

Thanking you in advance for any consideration you will give the subject, I remain

Sincerely and fraternally yours,



NATURALLY one does not keep in mind the authority – chapter and verse – for a statement made sixteen years ago. I referred the matter to the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, where I first read it. The Grand Secretary, Brother C. C. Hunt, has been good enough to furnish the following brief of the facts, giving the reference where they may be found in the Proceedings of the Supreme Council: 

In regard to Brother Rosenbaum’s letter questioning your statement regarding Thomas H. Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa posting a guard to protect the home of Pike and his library, I would refer you to page 127, Proceedings of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction for October 25, 1895. On that date the Supreme Council went in a body to Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, District of Columbia, to hold appropriate services over the grave of Albert Pike. T.S. Parvin gave the memorial address and in reference to a remark of the Library of the Supreme Council there is printed the following:

“It is due to history and to the memory of a dear friend and Brother that an incident, of no little importance, touching our great Library, the gift to the Supreme Council of General Pike, be placed upon our records, that honor may be given to whom honor is due.

“I had the facts, first by letter, and then, upon his ‘return from the war,’ from the lips of Colonel Thomas Hart Benton, Jr., at the time Grand Master of Masons in Iowa (my superior officer). Thomas H. Benton, Jr. (“nephew of his uncle” of that name), ex-State Senator, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Grand Master 1860-’63, entered the Union Army as Colonel of the 29th Iowa Infantry and was later promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier-general, and in command of a division encamped for a time at Little Rock, Arkansas.

“It was at this period, when the passions of the Union soldiers were aroused against General Pike, who was at the head of the Indians in the Confederate (Rebel, as they said) Army, that the soldiers of his division determined to burn the house and everything, including the valuable library of General Pike, wherever found. The Grand Master, Colonel Benton, hearing of this, rushed to its rescue, and to guard against, any further attempt at its destruction, made the General’s house his headquarters and placed a guard over his library.

“But for this noble deed of Iowa’s Grand Master, my bosom friend for half a century, this Supreme Council would today be without, instead of possessing, one of the most rare and valuable libraries in the land.

“General Benton was too modest to publish this, save to his intimate friends. Of him we may say, in General Pike’s own words, “He has lived – the fruits of his labors live after him;” and you, my Brothers, are enjoying them, as it was this service that made it possible for General Pike in later years to place his library in our House of the Temple and dispose of it, as he did, for his honor and our good.”

There is, however, one mistake in the statement, which Brother Rosenbaum criticizes, and that is in calling Thomas H. Benton the commanding general. At that time our Thomas H. Benton was a colonel, commanding the second brigade of a the third division, under General Steele. (See page 471, part 1, Volume 29, Series 1 of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.) Also, the Thomas H. Benton referred to as colonel at the time the Federal troops took possession at Little Rock, was at that time Grand Master of Iowa and was serving his second year. He was in the army at the time of the Grand Lodge communication in 1863 and his deputy acted for him in presiding over the Grand Lodge.

Thomas H. Benton was a nephew of the Senator Thomas H. Benton, to whom Brother Rosenbaum refers.

Every Grand President and President throughout the universe is bound to summon and convene his Knot on the 17th of March in each year, that being the anniversary festival of St. Patrick, the patron of the Order, except it fall on a Sunday, in which case the meeting shall be convened for the following day.

No Friendly Brother may quarrel with or affront another Brother. If, however, through the frailty of human nature a member of the Order shall so far forget the love he owes his Brother and the obedience due to the statutes as to proceed to anger with him and to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the Order, he is not to decide his own quarrel according to the laws of pretended honour by the barbarous practice of duelling, but with due obedience he must submit his differences to the decision of the Knot who will cause the offender to make sufficient and honourable payment for his error. Any great breach of the known rules of friendship to a Brother or general disrespect for the rules of the Order will be punished with perpetual discontinuance and no person so totally discontinued may ever again be admitted to the Order.

The Friendly Brothers profess themselves to be lovers of all mankind, and are therefore to endeavour by their advice and example to promote and encourage among men the practice of all the social virtues.

Although there was no settled system of relief it was readily and handsomely accorded to any Brother who might be in distress and want.

Colonel Benton is buried today in a simple grave in Marshalltown, Iowa devoid of any masonic symbols often found on Freemason’s tombs. Albert Pike on the other hand lies today among the splendor of the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington D.C.

It’s not known if either of their paths ever crossed or if Albert Pike even knew of Colonel Benton’s efforts to preserve his home and library. But his magnificent Library survives today, and perhaps we can thank a Colonel at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry for that.

Pike Home

Albert Pike Home – Little Rock, Arkansas


Colonel Thomas Hart Benton Jr.


Albert Pike Tomb – Washington D.C.

Benton Grave

Colonel Thomas Benton Jr. Tomb – Marshalltown, Iowa

Deutschen bei Jenkins Ferry…

43rd Ill Poster

Sometimes, you happen upon some new information that, although it might take some time to sort it all out, you are too excited to wait for weeks or months to share your finding.

So goes the story of Gustav Philipp Korner.

Have not ever heard the name before? Well, neither have I before today. But it is a name that I am sure I will get to know more over the coming years.

Korner was a native of Frankfurt, Germany, settling in Illinois where he excelled in the political arena. He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, serving from 1853 to 1857. Several sources report he was an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln and worked tirelessly for Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860.

Korner was rewarded for his hard work in helping to elect Lincoln when he was appointed United States Minister to Spain in 1862. The “minister” position is what we refer to today as an “Ambassador.” One of Korner’s responsibilities in Spain was to insure that country did not enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

Following Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, Korner was selected to serve as one of Lincoln’s pallbearers, the highest honor that could be paid to those who knew the president.

Now…you should be asking what in the world does any of this have to do with Jenkins’ Ferry or 1864 Arkansas.

Well…it does, and in a “wow” way.

Korner was one of the founders of the 43rd Illinois Infantry, a unit that saw action at Jenkins’ Ferry.

The 43rd Illinois Infantry was under the command of Colonel Adolph Engelmann. Engelmann was a native of Bavaria, who had immigrated to America before the outbreak of the Civil War. It was Engelmann who commanded the rear guard of the Federal Army as it held back the Confederates at the skirmish at Guesses’ Creek, south of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield on the morning of April 29, 1864. After holding back the initial Confederate assault, Engelmann and his 43rd Illinois were neck deep in the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30th.

Adolph Engelmann was the brother-in-law of Gustav Korner.

How many people could say their brother-in-law was one of Abraham Lincoln’s pallbearers? 

How many people could say their brother-in-law was one of those instrumental in saving the Federal Army from disaster in the Saline River swamp?

Finding the “Korner connection” has opened up new opportunities to learn more about the 43rd Illinois Infantry. Take for example the photograph in today’s blog.

Todays’ photograph is a recruiting poster for the 43rd Illinois Union Infantry. The unit was composed of numerous soldiers of German descent. In fact, several of the soldiers who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry spoke only German. Add to that is an interesting relic recovered from the battlefield now housed in the Grant County Museum in Sheridan. It is a German coin, dropped by a soldier during the battle. I hope in the coming weeks to find a translation of the recruitment poster.

I also understand there exists a snare drum used by the 43rd Illinois during the Civil War. I learned this fact in my initial research of Korner. I hope to locate the drum soon and post a photograph of it.

The icing on the cake (just when you think things couldn’t get any better), In my very early research on the Korner connection to the 43rd Illinois, I discovered that Civil War era correspondence written by Adolph Engelmann exists. The next step is to locate the archives of the letters and determine if any of the letters cover the time Engelmann spent in Arkansas as part of the Camden Expedition.

Today was just a “wow” kinda day, opening an entire new chapter in the story of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Stay tuned…




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