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:

ALBERT PIKE’S MASONIC LIBRARY A Civil War Incident

By Bro. JOSEPH FORT NEWTON

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:

My DEAR BROTHER NEWTON:

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,

C.E. ROSENBAUM.

 

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

Benton

Colonel Thomas Hart Benton Jr.

SONY DSC

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…

 

 

 


A Hard Way to Die…at Jenkins’ Ferry

fort_wagner_201322 Caliber gunshot

Now…there are gunshot wounds and there are GUNSHOT wounds. Today’s blog is about one of the deadliest moments during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

The photograph on the right is a human skull with a 22 caliber gunshot wound. The photograph on the left is the skull of a Civil War soldier who was struck by “Canister Shot” – the same type that was used during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

“Case Shot” or what we refer to in America as “Canister Shot” was perhaps the most deadly of the ordinances used during the Civil War. Case Shot has its origins back to 1784, when Henry Shrapnel invented a new type of shot (now you know where the term “shrapnel” originated). By 1839, the one inch iron balls were housed in a tin case with a range of 300 yards or less. However, from 100-200 yards, the canister shot was extremely deadly. The Canister Shot at Jenkins’ Ferry consisted of a tin can filled with a hundred or so one inch iron balls.

At Jenkins’ Ferry, the Confederates were forced to make charge after charge across open ground. By mid-morning on April 30th, it was obvious to the Confederates that infantry charges were ineffective against the 5,000 Federal troops forming a wall behind makeshift breastworks 200 yards or so in front of them. The Confederates decided to bring artillery upon the field in an effort to dislodge the Federals. Lieutenant John Lockhart commanded a section of Ruffner’s Missouri Confederate Artillery Battery. Once he had placed his six pounders on the edge of Grooms’ field, he ordered his men to fire canister shot into the Federal line.

From my book, “Harvest of Death:”

“Lockhart turned and proceeded toward the sound of the fighting with his artillery pieces. As they entered Groom’s field, he saw smoke rising ahead of him and, believing it to be coming from Confederate forces, “sought to reach it.” As he moved toward the action, Lockhart realized too late he made terrible mistake. Out of the smoke and fog charged the 2nd Colored Kansas and 29th Iowa Union regiments. Lockhart shouted to his gunners to load their two six pounders with double canister shot and fire directly toward the approaching Federals. Two hundred and fifty yards in front of Lockhart’s guns, the 2nd Colored Kansas Infantry were working their way across Groom’s field.”

The effects of the canister were deadly as Union soldiers went down in the mud – parts of them literally blown off by the one inch iron balls. Today’s blog photograph is a graphic example of the power of canister shot.

The soldier in today’s photograph was colored soldier, but not of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. He was a member of the 54th Massachusetts, who was mortally wounded on July 18, 1863 during the attack on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th Massachusetts is immortalized in the movie “Glory” starring Matthew Broderick.

It’s obvious how this solider died. The same type canister shot fired at the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry was fired at this solider that day in South Carolina.

The 54th Massachusetts soldier’s skull is on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Springs, Maryland. It is a grisly reminder of a another time – when madness ruled.

There are no individual casualty reports for the 2nd Kansas Colored nor the 29th Iowa Infantries. It would have been interesting to see the casualty statistics for those units to determine the number of soldiers who went down as a direct result of the canister shot being fired point blank at them.

One interesting relic was discovered several years ago that sheds light on that question.

The relic was recovered from the middle of what was once Groom’s Field. It is a US belt buckle worn by the Federal soldiers at Jenkins’ Ferry. The only difference is this is has a portion of it blown off. It’s obvious from the size of the section missing that it was hit by canister. Now, when you consider where the buckle was located on the soldier charging across Groom’s Field, I believe it’s a fair assumption he did not survive that charge as, not only did the one inch iron ball impact his body, but the section of the belt buckle would have been driven into his body as well.

I have in my collection two pieces of canister shot that was recovered from the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield. While seeing it as it is today in a glass display case, it seems hard to imagine the gruesome history behind it. It is a solid reminder of how deadly war was in those Saline River bottoms.


The Smell of a Good Cigar…

Smoke illuminated beam of light.  background

I don’t smoke – never have. But I know the smell of a cigar. It’s a unique odor, one that once you smell it for the first time, you will never forget it. I recently wrote a blog on a Civil War era time capsule that contained a cigar once owned by General Ulysses Grant. It is said that during the Civil War Grant smoked over a dozen cigars a day.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I have several writing projects on the table. My third book, “The Battle of Jenkins Ferry: A Student’s Guide,” will be available around Christmas. It is a view of the battle and the events leading up to the fight. It is geared toward a middle school audience. That means there is less of battle tactics and individual troop movements as there is an overview view of the campaign.

One of the other projects is a “what if” story of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. It is an alternative history of the battle based upon battlefield reports and diaries of the soldiers who fought there. “An Angry River” will show the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry in a completely new light. You’ll learn about the men who fought there – from the foot soldier to the Generals. You’ll be there as life and death decisions are made. This is my first attempt at writing historical fiction and I must say it is a challenge. The story of the battle with its troop movements comes easy to me. It’s the “other” that is challenging. Take for example the cigar we spoke of earlier. In one chapter, we find Confederate General Kirby Smith conferring with General Thomas Churchill. As they speak, Churchill withdrawals a cigar from his vest pocket and lights it, the blue smoke of the cigar swirling around him.

Now, it’s easy to write that, but it’s flat – one dimensional. In order for “An Angry River” to be successful, it has to do many things. First and foremost, it must be believable and that’s tough as part of my audience will undoubtedly be Civil War buffs and historians who know a great deal about that battle. If the story is not believable to them, it won’t be believable to anyone. Next it has to bring honor to those soldiers. It is difficult developing characters of existing historical people when, through the passage of time, about the only thing that remains are the vital statistics of the soldier. So you hope the person you write about would be pleased with how they turned out.

Then there is the cigar.

In “An Angry River,” I want you to smell that cigar smoke. I want you to watch as the wind whisks the blue smoke around as the two Generals confer on horseback. I want you to smell the leather of the saddle and harnesses. I want you to smell the wet wool of their uniforms – the two having written through pouring rain all morning.

That’s a lot of “I want.”

But in order to enjoy and appreciate what these men did 150 years ago, you have to travel back to April of 1864 in your mind. You have to stand alongside these men as life and death decisions are made.

“An Angry River” will do just that.

It is going to take a one dimensional battle and bring it to life as never before. I am very excited about this project. I’ve complete fifteen chapters thus far and spend a few hours each week working on it.

It’s at least a year away from being published – maybe longer. I’ll not put my name on it until it’s ready.

But already I am enjoying this project. As I research the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry, I am learning more and more about who these soldiers were. They are emerging from the paper and coming alive in my mind. Something I hope to do with “An Angry River.”

Stay tuned – you’re gonna like this book.


Iowa and Beyond…

 steering wheel

A few updates today.

I have postponed the trip to Iowa until spring. There were a number of reasons for this, including some nagging issues related to my left knee replacement. Rather than get 1,000 miles away from home and have the health issue flare up, I spoke with my hosts with the Civil War Roundtable in Waterloo who were gracious in their understanding of the need to reschedule. That being said, I will be in Waterloo, Iowa speaking to the Cedar Valley Civil War Roundtable on April 16, 2015. Also planned is a meeting with descendants of the 33rd Iowa Infantry as well as an opportunity to visit with descendants of General Samuel Rice, the Federal commander who was mortally wounded at Jenkins’ Ferry.

In addition to visiting Iowa, I am hoping to include a visit to Wisconsin while I am that far north. Hopefully, I will be announcing soon a time and location where I will be speaking in Wisconsin.

In addition, I am hoping to firm up plans to visit Kansas in 2015. At this time, there are a couple of Kansas related options. I would very much like to have an event at Fort Scott, which was the Civil War era fort where the the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries mustered in. I visited the fort in 2012 and would be excited to return to speak on the 2nd Kansas Colored and its role at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

I am looking forward to making this amazing drive across the heartland of America in 2015. I’ve never been one to fly when I have the opportunity to drive. It’s much more fun to see our country from the car than the cockpit.

Finally, Allie and I are starting to plan our getaway trip for our 20th wedding anniversary. We’ve always had our sights on Scotland, but the idea of a London and Paris trip seems mighty intriguing. My Walker family line has its origins in Wigton, Scotland where my ancestors departed in the mid 1600’s. My mother’s side of the family is bit more intriguing, being of French descent. The idea of visiting France is almost overwhelming to me. The sights of the French countryside, visiting the castles of my ancestors and of course, Paris. There is nothing I would like to do more than to visit the Pont des Arts footbridge in Paris and place a lock on the famous “locks of love” bridge honoring the love and commitment I have to this amazing woman I married. We’ve weathered storms, as everyone has, but we’ve emerged so much stronger. Every day is like a new day and the days get better and better. Add to that two of the most amazing children a father could ask for and, well, you’ve got that white picket fence life we all dream of.

 

 


Losing Your Love….at Jenkins’ Ferry

Randal and wife

One of more enduring stories surrounding the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry centers around General Horace Randal and his wife, Nannie.

Randal commanded a Brigade of  troops under Walker’s Texas Division at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. We know what happened to him…during the height of the battle as he and Generals William Scurry and Thomas Waul led their Texans into battle, all three were shot down. Scurry goes down with a gunshot would to the abdomen, Waul nearly has his right arm blown off and Randal is shot in the chest. It was a bad day for Texas.

Scurry would lay in the mud for hours, refusing to be moved. At the conclusion of the battle, once the Federals had made their escape across the Saline River, General Scurry asked if they had won the day. Assured they had, he uttered the now famous line, “Now take me to a nearby house where I can be made comfortable and die.” They did – and he did.

The Randal related story centers on his wife, Nannie. Horace Randal was married twice. He married Julia Bassett in 1858. She is the young lady shown with Randal in today’s blog. She was a beauty in the eyes of any generation. Their marriage ended tragically, as she died in childbirth in 1861, neither her nor the child surviving.

Horace Randal remarried in 1862 to Nannie Taylor with whom a son, Horace Jr. was born in 1863.

The story goes that following his wounding during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Randal was taken to a nearby house to be treated. His wife, Nannie, was said to be traveling with the army and was a few hours behind. Upon hearing the news, Nannie Randal rushed to her husband’s side, only to discover he had been mortally wounded. This was not unheard of, as wives of the commanders would sometimes travel with their husbands during some of the campaigns. It would have been interesting to know more about how she was traveling.

Upon the death of General Scurry, his remains were carried about ten miles south to the tiny settlement of Tulip, where he was laid to rest with full military honors. Following the service, the Confederates returned to Jenkins’ Ferry where they had camped following the battle and discovered General Randal had died. So, the entire procession was repeated with Randal’s remains carried to Tulip and buried alongside General Scurry. Here they would remain for about six months until the Texas troops returned to the area for the purpose of removing both Generals back to their native soil. General Scurry is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin and General Randal is buried in the Marshall, Texas. Scurry and Randal county Texas are named in their honor.

There are some fragmented pieces of information about Nannie Taylor Randal following the war. One story has her marrying a Federal officer and moving to Oklahoma where she died.

It must have a horrific day for Nannie Randal, as she rushed to her fallen Generals side, surrounded by death and destruction. Arriving at his bedside, knowing there was no hope, no chance of recovery, there now only for the death vigil.

She was lucky though and never realized it. There were scores of wives and mothers a lifetime away from Jenkins’ Ferry who never had the opportunity to spend those final moments with their loved ones, to know what happened to them, to see them buried with dignity.

No….there were too many wives and mothers who never knew what happened to their soldier – his remains forever lying in an unmarked grave in that dreadful Saline River bottom.

Not knowing is far worse that knowing sometimes.

 

 

 


A House in the Midst of Pickett’s Charge…

Medal of Honor

First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing is about to receive the Medal of Honor, 151 years after his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was Cushing, we are told, who was one of the ones instrumental in holding back the Confederate wave that day resulting in what will forever be known as the “High Tide of the Confederacy.”

One of those Confederates marching toward Lieutenant Cushing that day was one of my ancestors.

John James House was a cousin on my mother’s side of our family. Her House family (that’s the actual surname) originated from Brunswick County, Virginia with her portion of the family eventually migrating to southern Arkansas.

John James House was a Confederate, serving with the 56th Virginia Infantry. He originally enlisted in the 21st Virginia before reenlisting in the 56th Virginia in February of 1863. His life would take a dreadful turn on the afternoon of July 3, 1863 as he, along with thousands of others, found themselves in southern Pennsylvania at a place called Gettysburg.

He was a part of Garnett’s Brigade of Pickett’s Division of Longstreet’s First Corp. On the afternoon of July 3rd, what would be forever be known as “Pickett’s Charge” commenced as House and thousands of other Confederates began the march toward the copse of trees. The results we all know were disastrous for the Confederacy as casualty rates for some units exceeded 50%.

Many were shot down as they made the march over open ground. Private House made it to the wall, where a sea of blue soldiers awaited him. After his capture, he was transferred, first to Fort Delaware and then at Point Lookout, Maryland, where he died on January 24, 1864 of chronic diarrhea – his personal effects given to friends before his death. He is buried in the mass grave at Point Lookout, forever surrounded by his comrades.

Nearly half of the 3,490 recipients of the Medal of Honor served during the Civil War. There was one such recipient that fought at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.

Union General Eugene Carr commanded the Federal Cavalry Division at Jenkins’ Ferry. He was not involved in the actual battle, as the overall commander, General Frederick Steele, had dispatched Carr and his Cavalry to Little Rock as soon as the pontoon bridge was operational across the swollen Saline River. Steele was concerned over rumors that Confederate Cavalry was headed toward Little Rock in an effort to seize the state capitol. Carr’s objective was to protect the city until the bulk of the Federal Army arrived back in the city.

Carr received the Medal of Honor for actions during the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas on March 7, 1862, where he was wounded in the neck, arm and ankle. The citation for the Medal of Honor read: “[Carr had] directed the deployment of his command and held his ground, under a brisk fire of shot and shell in which he was several times wounded.”

Carr would go on to make a name for himself after the Civil War, fighting throughout the Plaines in the Indian Wars. Among his scouts during those campaigns were James “Wild Bill” Hickok and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (is history cool or what?).

With the posthumous selection of Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, it caused me to ponder who from the 1864 Camden Expedition could be candidates for the Medal of Honor. Two names come to mind; General Samuel Rice, who was the overall commander of the Federal defenses during the battle. Rice would be mortally wounded during the battle. Also, Colonel Samuel Crawford, who commanded the Second Kansas Colored Infantry at Jenkins’ Ferry. Though not a popular choice amongst my Confederate brethren, Crawford none the less significantly affected the outcome of the battle by his efforts in capturing the Confederate artillery batteries that had been brought onto the field.

The articles on Lieutenant Cushing indicated it was a 25 year effort by some to have him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. This will no doubt open the gates for others who might wish to see a Federal soldier honored for their service during the Civil War. The odds of General Rice or Colonel Crawford obtaining such an offer would be slim, given the immense amount of effort it would take. In the long run, at the end of the day, does it really matter?

Private John James House stood on opposite sides with Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing that day 151 years ago at Gettysburg. They have both long since crossed over the river.

Bravery was exhibited by both armies that day at Gettysburg, just as it was at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Those who study the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battles of the Camden Expedition know the sacrifices of all of these brave men – Confederate and Union – so what better way to honor them than to never forget them.

That much we can do. They deserve nothing less.


Romancing the Flag…

Romancing the Flag

A Civil War blogger recently wrote a blog using the picture in today’s blog and entitled it “romancing the flag.”

Whenever I see a painting of a Civil War color bearer, I don’t see romance as much as I see ultimate honor and sacrifice. Sweeping forward ahead of his unit, he was most certainly a target, and at Jenkins’ Ferry, there were at least two Confederate bearers shot down carrying their battle flag across the hell that was Grooms’ Field.

April 30, 1864 was a bad day for the color bearers on both sides at Jenkins’ Ferry.

On the Confederate side, as the 33rd Arkansas Confederate Infantry moved over open ground across Grooms’ Field toward the Federal line, the infantry unit was mowed down, with scores of the 33rd Arkansas going down in the mud. Among them was Captain Washington Dickson, who, seeing the color bearer of the 33rd Arkansas go down wounded, picked up the Confederate battle flag and continued across the field. Captain Dickson would go down himself, shot three times as he carried the flag. Captain Dickson would die at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Captain Dickson was not a soldier – he was a Dentist, as an ad he placed in a Magnolia, Arkansas newspaper reflects:

“Living in Lamartine Community, Dr. W.T. Dickson offers his professional service in dentistry, stating these terms-“cash” or a note with 10 % from date.”

But he answered the call of duty and enlisted in the Confederate Army, serving alongside his brothers, Christopher and Josiah.

After his death at Jenkins’ Ferry, his body would be carried back to his hometown of Waldo, Arkansas, where he was buried in an unmarked grave.

Things were just as bad on the Federal side.

As they charged across Groom’s Field, one of the units firing deadly volleys into the 33rd Arkansas was the 40th Illinois Infantry, under command of Colonel John Garrett. The 40th was firing furiously, with Colonel Garrett reporting his unit alone fired over 50,000 rounds during the battle. Though they were positioned behind makeshift breastworks of fallen trees, the 40th suffered their share of casualties as well.

Among some of those who went down were the color bearers of the 40th Illinois – three of them:

Color Corporal Robert Bare – severely wounded in the right side

Color Sargent Mortimer Nelson – severely wounded in left shoulder

Color Corporal Thomas Davis – severely wounded in left thigh

But they weren’t alone, as others in the 40th went down as well. Below is a list compiled by Colonel Garrett:

Private Phillip Mudgett – Killed

Corporal William Thompson – severely wounded in the right arm

Corporal Kyman Thurston – two fingers were shot off

Private William Reagan – severely wounded in the breast

Private Joseph Kindle – severely wounded in the lower jaw

Private Francis George – severely wounded in the neck

Private Joseph Runyon – wounded in the side

Private Ebenezer Mother – severely wounded through the neck

Private Birchem Blackwood – severely wounded in the left leg

Private Nehemiah Kitchen – severely wounded in the bowels

Sargent Thomas Canaday – Killed

Private John Hunt – Killed

Private James Auld – Killed

Private Charles Schrader – Killed

1st Lt William Baird – severely wounded in the right leg

Private Henry Smidt – severely wounded in the left leg

Private Wilson Stradley – severely wounded in both hips

Private Henry Brown – slightly wounded in the hip

Private John Seams – severely wounded in the calf of left leg

Private John Polson – slightly wounded in the back

Private William Dotson – middle finger shot off of left hand

Private Eugene Wines – severely wounded in right arm

Private Ernst Hartz – slightly wounded in left side

Sargent Robert Simmons – Killed

Sargent John Dawson – severely wounded in the right arm

Corporal Benjamin Ford – mortally wounded in the bowels

Private Samuel Rees – severely wounded in the bowels

Private John Mark – severely wounded in the left leg

Private Peter Keasler – severely wounded in the left leg

Private John Cole – severely wounded in the right arm

Private Ashley Cody – slightly wounded in the head

Private Milton Walker – slightly wounded in the shoulder

Private Isaac Lee – mortally wounded in the left breast

Private David Patrick – severely wounded in the left thigh

Private James Hogan – slightly wounded in the left hop

Private John Burkhead – slightly wounded in the right foot

Reading the types of wounds suffered, it must have been a hellacious six hours in that river bottom, as wave after wave of Confederates bore down on the Federal line.

Romance?

A soldier with the 33rd Arkansas recalled the moments prior to stepping off into battle at Jenkins’ Ferry:

“After our regiment had stood there in line for twenty minutes it was ordered forward and into action. There was nothing of the romance of war or battle. No waving of banners; no martial music; no thronging of women, children and gray-haired men to the battlements of a beautiful city to witness the sentiment about this. The rain pattered down steadily. The men stood in the ranks, cold, wet, and hungry and gazed down into that dismal, cheerless swamp.”

It wasn’t romance that day in those Saline River bottoms….it was honor.

 

 

 

 

 


Ballparks & Battlefields…

DICKEY-STEPHENS-BALL-PARK-BIRDSEYE-WEB-READY

Often, when I speak to groups, there is always the statistical portion of the talk, where I try to put into perspective the number of men who were in that Saline River swamp on April 30, 1864. But somehow it seems, the numbers never seem to have the impact that I expect. I believe that is because it’s just hard to wrap your mind around the number of people who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry.

So today, I thought it would be interesting to compare the number of troops in a different manner – a 21st century way.

The Federal Army’s Third Brigade set up their line of battle in the tree line between Grooms’ and Tucker’s fields. We’ve spoke of this before – 5,000 Federal troops were placed in a line, forming a wall of defense against repeated Confederate attacks. 5,000 men shoulder to shoulder in those river bottoms. Now consider this:

Dickey Stephens Ballpark in North Little Rock has a capacity of 5,000 people.

The 2012 population for the entire city of Sheridan, Arkansas is 4,770 people.

So, if you were to gather the entire population of Sheridan; every man, woman and child, and transport them by bus to Dickey Stephens Ballpark to enjoy a summer night of baseball – filling the stadium – you would still have 230 less than formed that wall of blue in the Saline River bottoms. And if we used a standard school bus to transport the group? It would take 69 school buses to move that group from Sheridan to North Little Rock and you would still have less people gathered than just the Federal line alone at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Ever attended a concert at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock or a Razorback Basketball game in Fayetteville? Filling each of those venues to absolute capacity and it would still be less than the number of soldiers who were gathered in the Saline River bottoms that April day.

The battle of Jenkins’ Ferry may be considered small on a Gettysburg or Fredericksburg scale…but it was just as deadly.

And those 5,000 Federals? I think you’d much rather enjoy a night at the ballpark then to face this.

Breastworks

 

 


The Future…

future

Following the Civil War, both armies sought to commemorate the close bonds they had developed during the war. Organizations such as the “Grand Army of the Republic” (GAR), the fraternal organization for veterans of the Union Army as well as the “United Confederate Veterans,” named for their Confederate counterparts soon sprang up.

Our nation’s “Memorial Day” tradition of honoring deceased veterans by decorating their graves was initiated by the GAR on May 30, 1868.

Realizing that as they ranks aged, a day would come when the last veteran would pass away, causing the extinction of the organizations, the GAR and the UCV created groups made up of the sons of both groups thus the “Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War” and “Sons of Confederate Veterans” were created.

The GAR ceased to exist, with the death of its last member, Albert Woolson, who died on August 2, 1956 at the age of 109.

The UCV lost it’s last member on February 26, 1951 with the death of James W. Moore, who died at the age of 99.

Today, both heritage groups, the SUVCW and the SCV, seek to continue to honor their Civil War ancestors. The 7,000 members of the SUVCW and the 31,000 members of the SCV share a similar goal – preserving the legacy of their ancestors. It is an honorable endeavor, one I hope will continue for generations to come.

My son Stephen Ryan is far too young to know much outside of his toy box, books and stuffed animals. But one day, I hope he will develop a love of history and an appreciation of where he came from. My ancestors served in both armies during the Civil War, with my Walker family literally torn in half because of the war.

It would be heartbreaking to see these organizations slowly ebb away due the lack of young people entering their ranks.

Today’s generation is becoming more and more “virtual.” By that, it seems so many are content to pass away their younger years sitting in front of a video game. There’s even a television commercial where the mother shuts off the power to the house in order to force her son outside to play. It’s imperative that groups such as the SUVCW and the SCV give significant consideration to how to attract younger members to their ranks. The key to that of course, is fathers passing down the love of history and heritage to their sons. That is what I hope will happen here one day. But the young person has to willingly embrace their heritage, you cannot force history upon anyone.

To learn more about these groups, click on the links below:

Sons of Confederate Veterans

Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War


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