“Follow Me:” Hamilton Allen Brown of Wilkes Co., N.C.

[Author's Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of Military Images magazine. It has been updated with additional research for inclusion in this blog]

“Liquor flowed freely and there were ½ doz. fights.” Thus one Southern rustic described a late April 1861 patriotic rally in the mountain town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, aimed at garnering recruits to defend a newly forming Confederacy. Two community leaders of pronounced stature, Montfort Sydney Stokes, Jr. and James Brown Gordon, led the gathering. Their efforts produced an exceptional company of men known as the Wilkes Valley Guards or Wilkes Volunteers. When the unit left Wilkesboro on May 27th with Stokes as its Captain and Gordon as 1st Lieutenant, a proud member asserted: “The company on that day numbered 110 and nearly every man was over six feet tall.” Also named 1st Lieutenant was Gordon’s younger stepbrother, 23-year-old Hamilton Allen Brown.

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry
Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

At Warrenton, N. C. on June 3rd, the Wilkes Volunteers officially became Company B of the newly formed 1st North Carolina State Troops. The First was one of ten regiments of “State Troops” authorized by law whose term of service was to be for three years or the duration of the war. Confederate staff officer McHenry Howard of Maryland, who would later come to know the First well, thought the organization exhibited “something of the espirit, called by some ‘uppishness,’ of regulars.”

Naval Academy graduate “Sydney” Stokes, judged by one observer to be “a splendid officer, well prepared to drill in regimental or brigade maneuvers,” became the regiment’s first Colonel. When Gordon soon transferred to the cavalry arm, Lieutenant Brown assumed the vacant captaincy of Company B, to rank from May 16th. For the balance of the war, Brown’s distinguished service career would be inextricably linked with fortunes of the 1st North Carolina Infantry.

Known to his intimates as Allen, Brown was born at “Oakland” in Wilkes Co., N. C. on September 25, 1837, the second son of a marriage between Hamilton Brown and widow Sarah Gwyn Gordon. His grandfather was a participant in the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain. Brown attended the U.S. Naval Academy as a member of the class of 1858, but did not graduate. When North Carolina seceded, Governor John W. Ellis called on the Wilkes Co. native to help train new recruits. This must have proven interesting, since Brown spoke with a pronounced stutter. One member of the 1st N. C. irreverently described a command from Brown as sounding: “A-a-a-a-a—damn—a-a-a—damnit—pst—pst—pst—a-a—forward, Company B!” His verbal orders were said to be often unintelligible to an untrained ear. However, subsequent events would soon demonstrate that Brown’s speech impediment did not diminish his ability to lead men in battle.

In the 1st North Carolina’s baptismal engagement at Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862, the regiment was brutally mauled while assaulting strongly fortified Union positions along Beaver Dam Creek. Colonel Stokes was mortally wounded and all other field officers either killed outright or severely injured. Enlisted casualties amounted to more than 150. While witnesses described initial Southern efforts to reform after the battle as “pathetic,” Brigade commander Roswell Ripley noted in his official report: “Captain [H.] A. Brown, of the 1st North Carolina, rallied the troops of his regiment, with other officers . . . and led [them] until relieved . . .”

In subsequent battles of the Seven Days, particularly at Malvern Hill, the young Captain again distinguished himself. For his performance in the fighting around Richmond, Brown earned promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st N. C. to rank from July 8, 1862. That same month he traveled to Raleigh to acquire 300 new conscripts for the regiment, men, he said, who “proved to be excellent material for soldiers, brave and willing . . .”

Brown capably led the revitalized First thru the subsequent Maryland Campaign. The Tar Heels escaped harm’s way at South Mountain but sustained losses of more than 50% on the fringes of the Miller Cornfield at Sharpsburg. At Fredericksburg in December, Brown and his regiment played a minor support role in the Confederate third line of battle and incurred only minor injury from long distance fire.

In early 1863, the 1st N.C. was reassigned to a newly formed, mostly Virginia, brigade in what was called the old “Stonewall Division.” It was a move that displeased Brown. Wishing to be in an all North Carolina unit, he later warranted: “Trouble and discomfiture were necessarily entailed by such an arrangement . . . we were often neglected and sometimes forgotten in the distribution of army stores, clothes, provisions, etc.,” Perhaps of more importance to the young and ambitious officer, Brown further observed: “The field of promotion was also narrowed, and our achievements on the field frequently shared by others.”

Yet, the new mixed brigade performed well enough at Chancellorsville in May. Brown led them briefly near battle’s end after successive commanders had fallen. It proved to be the 1st North Carolina’s bloodiest engagement of the war. “We captured piles of fat knapsacks and fatter Dutchmen,” Brown boasted of the action. During Lee’s second invasion of the North, the First gained further laurels (and booty) at Stephenson’s Depot near Winchester. They were less fortunate at Gettysburg where attacks against sturdy Federal works on Culp’s Hill proved both futile and costly. Brown later asserted that with proper and timely reinforcements, he might have seized the Baltimore Pike in the Union rear on the evening of July 2nd.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow's New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow’s New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

At the Battle of Payne’s Farm in November 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Brown lost the middle finger of his right hand to a gunshot wound. When infection subsequently set in, threatening lockjaw, he was forced to relinquish command of the regiment for a time. While recuperating, Brown received well-deserved promotion to Colonel of the 1st North Carolina to date from December 14th. He spent the balance of the winter bringing his unit to a state of “perfect discipline and efficiency.” The Spring Campaign of 1864 was very nearly the new Colonel’s last. At the Wilderness on May 5th, he personally assisted in capturing two guns of Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery in Sander’s Field. “It is . . . a fact known to the entire brigade that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his horse, and held possession of the horse until required to turn him in,” a witness recorded.

A week later, Brown suffered the most severe of his 13 war wounds. He was shot in both shoulders when the First was overrun in the “Mule Shoe” at Spotsylvania. All but 30 men of the regiment were captured, and her colors lost. The injured Colonel himself was captured and recaptured three times, “the last time from the enemy’s ambulance corps, who, in turn, were made prisoners,” he remembered. Brown’s wounds were deemed so serious that a nearby Chaplin conducted a burial service over him while he was still alive! In later years, Brown maintained that “hearing his own [funeral] . . . brought him back to life rather than laying him away.”

After a lengthy convalescence, Brown returned to the army in August 1864 to find his skeleton regiment reassigned to the North Carolina brigade of William R. Cox. Brown was given command of the newly formed sharpshooter battalion for Jubal Early’s Second Corps. He ably led the battalion through spirited engagements at Martinsburg and Third Winchester. In the latter action Brown narrowly escaped a severe wound when a bullet struck his pocket watch. He avoided capture by a Union cavalryman by begging off that he was too severely wounded to hobble to the rear. Brown then escaped to fight again. At Cedar Creek the aggressive Colonel spearheaded Early’s surprise assault on Sheridan and claimed the temporary capture of sixteen Federal guns. Following the disastrous Valley Campaign of 1864 the sharpshooter battalion spent the winter along the siege lines west of Petersburg. In March of 1865, Brown was captured in a free for all fight at Fort Steadman during “Lee’s Last Grand Offensive.” He was sent northward, ultimately taking the oath of allegiance at Fort Delaware on June 24, 1865.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Second Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Third Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Brown returned to Wilkes County after the war where, in 1868, he married his cousin Amelia Selina Gwyn. Later moving to Columbia, Tennessee, Brown became a “planter of modest means” and fathered four children. He died on April 9, 1917 and is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in his native, Wilkesboro, N.C.

Of the courageous North Carolinian a later biographer wrote: “It was stated that Brown never ordered a man into battle, but instead always said, ‘Follow me.’” Hamilton Allen Brown clearly deserves an honored spot among the Fighting Colonels of the Confederacy.

By Bob Williams


Comfort from the Enemy


The timely arrival of A. P. Hill’s division from Harper’s Ferry to bolster Lee’s battered line at Sharpsburg on the afternoon of September 17, 1862 stands as a classic moment in Confederate battle history. Several contemporary accounts claim that considerable numbers of Hill’s men were clad in blue uniforms captured from the Federal garrison, thus enabling the surprise element of their assault. Certainly at no point in it’s history was the Army of Northern Virginia in more ragged condition, and one of Hill’s men admitted to capturing at Harper’s Ferry an “immense quantity of stores . . . [including] meat, crackers, sugar, coffee, shoes, blankets, underclothing, &c.”

Yet, all this begs the question: Just how frequently did the average Johnny Reb avail himself of wearing pieces of Federal uniform? Research seems to indicate that, while authorities did not wholly sanction such a practice, the average soldier in the ranks was more driven by necessity and probably did it if he could get away with it. Even as early as the Valley Campaign of 1862, Stonewall Jackson found it necessary to issue an order to his army which stated: “No soldier is permitted to wear any article of the Federal uniform.”

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and "SNY" (State of New York) belt plate.

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and “SNY” (State of New York) belt plate.

While this order caused an almost “universal shedding of blue jackets, new trousers, U. S. belts, and comfortable caps,” such stopgap measures were only temporary.Virginia artilleryman Edward Moore recalled a number of men in his battery wore Union forage caps. Moore, himself, kept a blue sack coat for extra warmth. Likewise, John Casler of the Stonewall Brigade picked up a blue blouse during the Seven Days that he wore until being assigned skirmish duty. He ditched the garment afraid he might be “popped over” by one of his own men as an enemy. The rich larder of Federal stores captured at Manassas Junction gave other Rebs an opportunity to upgrade their wardrobe, and South Carolinian Berry Benson pillaged a pair of sky blue trousers he wore through Antietam.

In the western theater, the story was much the same. After Shiloh, one observer noted: “Unless he knew better, a stranger would mistake our army for first rate Yankees. Fully three-fifths of the men are dressed in federal hats and overcoats.” At Perryville in October, 1862 Confederate General Pat Cleburne reported that his men were shelled by their own artillery: “ I can only account for this blunder from the fact that most of our men had on blue Federal pants.” Cavalryman Bedford Forrest outfitted his command several times at the expense of the Federal government. “Every man had a complete Yankee Suit consisting of hats, coats, pants, jackets, and boots,” a Mississippian recollected. This posed an inherent problem which in 1864 caused Forrest to direct: “All men and officers belonging to this command who have blue Yankee overcoats and clothing and who do not have them dyed by [December] 20th the coats especially will be taken from them.”

Interestingly, a small cottage industry developed around recycled Union clothing. A Texas soldier who admitted that men of his brigade stripped Union dead at Fredericksburg, also noted that much of the scavenging was done by civilians or soldiers in support roles who made a “business” out of it. He further noted: “the [stolen] clothing, when washed, was good stock in second hand stores and its benefit was that it supplied the wanting soldier and the poor citizen at a low price.”

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

By Bob Williams


The Blue and the White?!

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Just prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862, the 1st Missouri Regiment of Sterling Price’s Southern army received its first government-issue uniforms. “The cloth was of rough and coarse texture,” one member recalled, “and the cutting and style would have produced a sensation in fashionable circles: the stuff was white, never having been colored . . . [and] the wool had not been purified by any application of water since it was taken from the back of the sheep. In pulling off and putting on the clothes, the olfactories were constantly exercised by the strong odor of that animal. . Our clothes, however, were strong and serviceable, even if we did look somewhat sheepish in them.” These drab jackets came with large wooden buttons which appeared quite distinctive when offset with black cartridge box belts.

Undyed uniforms of this type seem to have been quite commonly furnished to Confederate troops, particularly those serving in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters of operation. The 2nd Texas Infantry wore similar white uniforms into the fight at Shiloh, prompting one Federal prisoner to ask: “Who were those hellcats that went into the battle with their grave clothes on?”

The elite 3rd Louisiana nearly rebelled when they received an issue of uniforms “made of coarse white jeans” in March 1863. At first they refused to wear them, except by special order. Later when the regiment was ordered on a forced march, “some of the men suggested the propriety of wearing the new white uniforms on the approaching expedition, which would be among the swamps of the Yazoo valley. The suggestion was universally adopted, affording a rare opportunity to give the new clothes a thorough initiation into the mysteries of a soldier’s life. Thus the regiment assembled the next morning arrayed as if for a summer’s day festival.” The Third continued to wear these garments thru the Vicksburg Campaign, and fought valiantly.

Undyed clothing also saw some usage in the eastern Confederate armies as well. One Federal soldier viewing the battlefield of South Mountain in 1862 observed: “All around lay the Confederate dead – undersized men mostly, from the coast district of North Carolina, with sallow hatchet faces, and clad in “butternut” – a color running all the way from a deep, coffee brown up to the whitish brown of ordinary dust.”

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

While surely not the only source, one supplier of undyed cloth was the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. There, inmates were put to work looming and weaving millions of yards of jeans cloth for indigent Texans and the Confederacy as a whole. Most of the material was not dyed after manufacture in order speed production and reduce the cost of manufacture. Large quantities of this durable “stuff” were made into jackets and trousers. Its inherent light weight made such clothing extremely suitable for wear in the heat and humidity of the Deep South. Much of Bragg’s army was said to have been attired in this “penitentiary clothing” at Chickamauga.

While not positively identified examples of the Huntsville output, several excellent specimens of undyed Confederate jackets survive today. One is attributed to Private James Prentice of the 38th Arkansas Infantry. Another, worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry, is in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society. Appler was wearing this jacket when severely wounded at Champion Hill in May 1863.

This distinctive clothing proves, once again, that the Civil War was more than the “Blue” vs. the “Gray.”

By Bob Williams


Sidney E. King: Premier Historical Artist

Gallant charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, June 18, 1864

Gallant charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, June 18, 1864

Historical art prints of famous scenes from the War Between the States and other conflicts are all the rage now. Countless paintings by such fine artists as Don Troiani, Rick Reeves, Dale Gallon, Dan Nance, Mort Kunstler, Dale Gallon, Keith Rocco and others are readily available to history buffs. Thoroughly researched and superbly rendered, these works have done much to help us visualize how a particular battle or historic event may have played out. They have also helped refine our understanding of how the average fighting man of the time might have truly looked.

Yet, well before all the artists listed above came along there was a fellow by the name of Sidney E. King. If the name is not familiar, many of his works will be. They grace most of the National Park Service historic sites in the eastern United States. In fact, during his lifetime, King produced over 200 mural style paintings for the NPS. His story is an interesting one.

Born in Massachusetts in 1906, King knew from early on he wanted to be a painter. Those plans were nearly thwarted by the Depression. After losing a studio he had established the young artist eventually found a job as a sign painter. During WWII King camouflaged combat planes at Quantico, VA and designed aircraft insignia. Settling near Fredericksburg, VA, he continued to paint and eventually found gainful employment with the National Park Service. After that, his work commissions came fast and furious from many directions. King soon firmly established himself as an outstanding muralist noted for his meticulous research and historical accuracy. He proved a master of oils, acrylics, and water colors.

"Shoot and be damned!" The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

“Shoot and be damned!” The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

King became perhaps best known for his series of paintings of the Jamestown, VA settlement which were on display as early as 1957, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the US on the colony’s 350th anniversary. He also produced an outstanding series for the Yorktown National Battlefield Park. His Civil War related works include numerous murals for the Richmond, Petersburg, Manassas, Kennesaw Mountain, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg Battlefield Parks. Several of those paintings accompany this blog post. They are highly detailed and show actual occurrences and participants of the battles depicted.

King is also known for painting the largest mural ever to be rendered in the United States. Titled “Creation,” it measures 400 feet long by 75 feet high and covers the encircling walls of the dome on Mormon Temple Square in Salt lake City, Utah. He also illustrated many magazine articles and books including W. W. Hassler’s Colonel John Pelham: Lee’s Boy Artillerist and A Pictorial History of Jamestown by J. Paul Hudson.

Until the age of 92 the prolific Sidney King continued to paint six days a week and held two shows a year at his studio near Bowling Green, VA. He also taught art at Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw, VA. When he passed away at age 95 in Caroline County, VA, a true prodigy was lost.

So, next time you visit an eastern National Historical Park take a look around. There you are sure to find at least several superbly rendered paintings with the bold signature “S. E. King” standing as fitting memorials to this wonderful but little known historical artist.

The capture of Casey’s Redoubt at the Battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865







By Bob Williams


The Homefront Connection


One vital but often overlooked source of clothing for the Confederate soldier in the field was, of course, the “folks at home.” In fact, except for elaborately dressed militia companies that existed in various locales prior to the war, home produced clothing was the rule rather than the exception until state and Confederate manufacturing facilities could swing into high gear.

References to clothing from home in contemporary letters are frequent. On August 2, 1861 a Georgia private made this request: “I wish Ma would send me a coat; let her make it of gray woolen cloth she once made me a hunting coat from . . . It must be a jacket, buttoning all the way up the front military fashion, with a short collar to stand up; buttons either brass or silver, oval shape, nearly half inch in diameter; put a short tape 1/3 inch wide upon the shoulder, running front to back. Let it be warm, pockets inside and on both sides.”

Another Georgian in the 35th Regiment placed an even heavier order to help him survive the upcoming winter of 1862-63: “[Send me] 1 close bodied coat made in uniform style. 2 pairs of jeans pants lined. Be careful not to make them too large. 4 shirts, 2 nice and 2 plain. 2 pair of drawers. 3 or 4 pair of socks. One pair of heavy home made boots as the winter is severe . . . Also a head cover to sleep in. My pants and coat I want made of gray cloth or one pair of the pants gray and the other pair brown. Also a good heavy vest. You may think it strange of me for sending for so much but I am tired of being unclothed.”

One enterprising Virginian even set up an 1860’s version of Men’s Warehouse by selling his home made clothes. To his wife he wrote” I have sold my pants, vest shoes, and drawers for sixty-one dollars so you can see I am flush again . . . You will have to make me more pants and drawers, if you can raise the material make two pair of pants and four pair of drawers and I will have a pair of pants and two pair of drawers for sale and in that way will get mine clear . . . If you could make up a good supply of pants, vests, shoes, and drawers I could be detailed to come after them.”

This mailing of clothing was not always one-way. An Alabama soldier soldier sent some of his government-issue clothing home, commenting: “I send you a couple of shirts and a pair of drawers. Use them as you please. I had rather wear your make. The reason I drew them was that they are so much cheaper than you can make them. You can use them in making clothes for the children.”

The practice of wearing home made clothing persisted throughout the war. Even as late as 1863 an English observer noted: “I was told that even if a [Confederate] regiment was clothed in proper uniform by the government, it would become parti-colored again in a week as the soldiers preferred wearing the coarse homespun jackets and trousers made by their mothers and sisters at home.”

By Bob Williams


A Common Militia Belt Plate


Independent state militia companies were very much a part of early American life in the years immediately following the Mexican War. As such, a number of enterprising and reputable businesses provided stock and custom uniforms and equipage to many of these organizations. Some units were extremely prestigious and wealthy; others were not. It is therefore not surprising that many unique accouterment items of varying quality were produced which later saw field service on both sides during the Civil War.

While the various styles of militia belt plates run into the dozens, one particularly interesting two piece design seems to have been adopted with some frequency by military organizations on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. This “standard” buckle is of the interlocking pattern, with an ornately scrolled Victorian design on the wreath, and a spread winged eagle on the tongue. It is neither particularly attractive nor very well made. Its maker is unknown. Nevertheless, it was extremely popular design among many well-appointed New England Militia companies, and others. Photographic evidence shows at least some members of the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, 18th Massachusetts Infantry, 44th Massachusetts Infantry, and 8th New Hampshire wearing this plate. There is also a museum piece documented as being worn by a soldier in the “Volunteer Maine Militia.”

On the Southern side, this same plate is seen upon the person of a member of the Petersburg City Guard (later of the 12th Virginia Infantry) and an unidentified North Carolina infantry lieutenant. They appear to have seen use both as sword belt plates and on enlisted men’s waist belts. An excellent example on its original belt is in the Gettysburg NBMP museum collection.

This style plate was extremely popular with many military bands. However, instead of the eagle motif, such monikers as “Boston Brigade Band,” “German Band,” “Band, 2nd R. I. V.,” and “Woodstock Coronet Band” (later part of the “Stonewall Brigade Band”) were displayed on the tongue portion. Other variants of this plate had specific company names inscribed on them, including “Richardson Lt. Guard,” “Charleston City Guard,” or the “Sutton Light Infantry.” The tongue portion of a “Richardson Lt. Guard” [5th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, a 9 month regiment] pattern was dug from a Federal camp on Hilton Head Island many years ago. One specimen with assumed North Carolina provenance bears the letters “GLG” and is attributed to the “Gaston Light Guard” of New Bern.

Various examples of these type plates are not uncommonly found in camp and battle sites up thru the mid-war period. They comprise a unique part of mid 19th Century militaria and of this country’s militia heritage.

By Bob Williams


A Self-Guided Tour of Confederate Ft. Harrison

The Fall of Fort Harrison, September 29, 1864 as depicted by artist Sidney E. King. Photo by Author

The Fall of Fort Harrison, September 29, 1864 as depicted by artist Sidney E. King. Photo by Author

In a continuation of our series of posts providing walking tour maps and guides to Civil War sites, we offer this close up look at Confederate Fort Harrison, a key work on the defense lines east of Richmond. Federals captured this large earthen fort on September 29, 1864 in a surprise pre-dawn assault. Although lightly defended, the small Confederate garrison waged a brisk defense, costing the attacking Union forces heavily. While the Federals maintained control of the fort they were unable to further exploit the dent in Richmond’s defense perimeter as Southern troops from other sections of the line heroically plugged the gap. It was, as they say, a near run thing.

Considering the recapture of Fort Harrison vital, General Robert E. Lee launched a counterattack the following day aimed at ousting the Unionists. The attacking Rebels never really stood a chance. Many of the defending Federals were armed with seven-shot Spencer carbines that poured out a literal sheet of fire. Casualties among the Confederate forces, including the North Carolina brigades of Kirkland, McKethan, and Scales, were devastating. Lee was forced to call off the assault as a bad enterprise.

In the end, Fort Harrison remained in Federal hands and was considerably strengthened into a fully enclosed earthwork. It was renamed Fort Burnham, in honor of Union Brigadier General Hiram Burnham who was killed in the September 29th attack. Confederate forces meanwhile constructed a secondary defense line in their Chaffin’s Farm defenses that effectively sealed off the breach. They made one further attempt to repair the broken line on October 7th but it too failed. However, it was not until Richmond fell on April 3, 1865 that Union troops ever reached the city.

Fort Harrison/Burnham today is well preserved, along with many secondary works, as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Presented below is an excellent walking self-guided tour of both the Confederate and Federal sections of the fort. This brochure was printed in 1961 and has been long out of print. Your blog host is pleased to make this excellent tour map once again available to enhance your battlefield experience when visiting this fortification. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

FHI 001FHII 001FHIII 001

By Bob Williams


Fred Olds, faux Confederate

Anyone with even a passing interest in North Carolina history owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Fred A. Olds. An inveterate and unapologetic collector of the first order, Olds’ passion for acquiring and preserving artifacts and documents related to the Old North State was boundless. By the end of the nineteenth century he had amassed a huge collection that included land grants, marriage bonds, portraits, photographs, military relics, and other assorted records. These he generously donated in 1902 to the state of North Carolina as the core of its Hall of History exhibit, then located in the state library. For the next thirty years Olds served as “collector” for the state and built the foundation for today’s North Carolina Museum of History.

Old’s was regarded with considerable disdain by professional historians of the day. To many, he was more of an acquirer than a true historian or curator. One scholar, perhaps not without a tinge of jealousy, declared Old’s work “a horrible example to be avoided.” He was often accused of playing fast and loose with facts in order to stimulate interest and enthusiasm. Yet, whatever his shortcomings, Old’s had a tremendous ability to infect others with his love of North Carolina’s rich historical past. He would freely admit that his purpose was as much to entertain as it was to instruct. He was considered a modern day Pied Piper to school children across North Carolina. He also conducted tours of the Hall of History to such visiting dignitaries as King Albert of Belgium and Marshal Foch.

Perhaps as part of his showmanship, Old’s posed at some point for a series of photographs showing him wearing various Confederate uniform examples from the hall’s vast collections. Readers of the blog may recognize some particular items of clothing and equipment including General Johnston Pettigrew’s uniform coat! Taken altogether, these images provide an interesting glimpse of the North Carolina Confederate soldier as he may have looked and fought. They also capture a bit of the warmth, charm, and enthusiasm of Fred Olds, dapper father of the North Carolina Museum of History. All photographs are from the museum’s collections. Readers may left click on photos for enlarged views.

Olds NC jacket1 Olds NC 3 Olds Pettigrew OLds NC7

Olds NC2 Olds NC4










By Bob Williams



A Soldier’s Vest

Readers of this blog may be interested in seeing photographs of an unusual civilian-style summer weight vest in my possession with identified Confederate provenance. This unique item of clothing was handed down to me by my late paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Clyburn Williams of Richmond, Virginia. The vest has a standing collar with front panels and interfacing made from a white cotton pique (pronounced pea-kay) of intricate raised design. It is completely hand sewn with nine exquisitely rendered buttonholes down the left front. No buttons remain although some of the original attachment threads do. The back panel and interior lining are of coarsely woven cotton homespun. The vest is pieced on the left side interior in two places, a trait seen on many items from this period. The accompanying photographs provide additional detail. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

Accompanying this garment is a note in my grandmother’s handwriting certifying: “This vest was worn by one of Grandmother Vaughan’s brothers – during the Civil War.” Said “Grandmother Vaughan” was originally Anne Elizabeth Yancey of Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Anne Yancey had four brothers, three of whom had known Confederate service records. They are:

Edward Bozeman Yancey: Wright’s Co. Halifax (VA) Artillery. Enlisted as private at age 23 in Halifax Co. on 3/18/1862. Promoted to Ordnance Sergeant and served at Franklin Depot from Jan.-June 1863. Transferred to Ordnance Department at Petersburg on unknown date. Battery played key role in Battle of the Crater. Captured in retreat from Richmond/Petersburg and paroled at Farmville 4/21/1865. Died at South Boston, VA, 4/23/1918.

James K. Yancey: 1st Virginia Infantry. Enlisted at age 36 on 1/23/1863 in Halifax Co., VA in Company “I.” Occupation listed as shoemaker. Wounded at the Battle of Clay’s Farm [on the Howlett/Bermuda Hundred lines] on 6/16/1864. Admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 5 on 6/20/1864. Died of wounds 9/23/1864.

Patrick Henry Yancey: 20th Virginia Infantry. Enlisted at Clover Depot, Halifax Co., VA as a private in Company “H” [Clover Rifles] on 5/28/1861.Described as being 5’10” tall, having a light complexion, and blue eyes with light hair. He was 5 feet 9.9 inches tall. Pre-war occupation shown as clerk. Made POW on 7/11/1861 when entire company captured at the Battle of Rich Mountain, WV. Paroled on 7/17/1861 at Randolph County, WV. Reenlisted in Company H, 20th Virginia Infantry Regiment on 5/28/1862 after parole deemed invalid. Regiment disbanded October 1862. Subsequent war service undetermined. Yancey Street in South Boston, VA is named after him.

William F. Yancey: No definite Compiled Service Record found. Born 7/12/1833. Anecdotal family record indicates death by fever in Corinth, MS, date unknown.

Unfortunately, we will likely never know which of the men above owned this vest or the extent of its actual war usage. Nonetheless, it remains a splendid example of Civil War era material culture.

1vest front 2vest interior4vest piecing

5vest pocket6vest buttonholes

By Bob Williams


Bartering in the Civil War South

Faced with frequent fluctuation of commodities prices and unstable currency values, Southern businesses out of necessity chose to barter with civilians for “operating capital” rather than shut down. The Orange County (N.C.) Factory Cotton Mill at one time refused Confederate script and would accept only wool or cotton in exchange for yarn, which poorer women did not have. Citizens needed the yarn to make socks and other garments which could be sold to earn money to purchase food. The mill later also bartered for bacon, tallow, or lard in exchange for cotton yarn. Always in short supply, raw wool was also requested by many mills from individuals.

barteringFrancis Fries, owner of the Fries Woolen Mills in Salem, N.C., offered to trade cotton yarn for corn. One citizen father writing to his soldier son informed him: “I hauled my butter…to the factory and bartered for thread and cloth…they paid fifty cents per pound in cash for the balance. They gave me one bunch of thread for ten pounds of butter, one yard of cloth for a pound of butter…they paid me thirty cents per pound of cheese, two dollars per bushel of chestnuts…”

People of Watauga County, N. C. cut hickory saplings, bundled them, and traveled to Saltville, Va. to trade wood for salt. The hickory was used to make barrel hoops. Notices desiring barter appeared in nearly all newspapers. “I will exchange fruit trees, roses, grapevines, and other nursery stock for cotton, at market prices,” advertised Thomas Carter. “The North Carolina Rail Road wants persons to deliver 100-200 cords of wood. This newspaper will pay 20 cents a pound for clean cotton and linen rags, delivered to this office.”

Another publisher posted this announcement: “For the use of the hands in our office, we desire to obtain bacon, meal, potatoes, and any other article of food which can be spared. In exchange we will give envelopes, paper, pens, ink, books, power, caps, tobacco, shoe tacks, and many other useful goods; or will pay cash as may be preferred. We want these necessities of like for the use of our employees only . . .”

There are many interesting examples of various barter mediums. One lady employed by the commissary department received tobacco in place of currency. Women working at the Arsenal in Fayetteville took home Alpaca cloth in lieu of money. A female diarist penned that she send some lard to a merchant in exchange for spun thread. The Richmond Dispatch noted that ten-penny nails were being passed in the Upper Piedmont of Virginia as equal to five cents each. Families combed old out buildings for these nails to trade. Proprietors of boarding houses and hotels sometimes demanded food instead of rent money. “Our landlords will not board except for provisions, putting board and provisions both at old prices, or what will buy them, which runs board up to $150 per month . . .”

Even the North Carolina quartermaster general was willing to barter with civilians. The state had plenty of factory-made cotton yarn but lacked wool. A notice appeared in one newspaper from H.A. Dowd, AQM, that he was prepared to exchange cotton yarn for wool at one bunch of yarn for three pounds of washed wool and one bunch for four pounds of unwashed wool. One bunch was considered equal to five pounds of factory cloth which could be made into fifteen yards. A hank was 840 yards of cotton thread, which weighed one pound. One pound of yarn cost 75 cents to one dollar and would make four pairs of socks.

Agents were appointed to make exchanges at Oxford, Tarboro, Catherine Lake, Kinston, Concord, Rockingham, Pittsboro, Asheville, Hendersonville, Louisburg, Fayetteville, Statesville, and Colerain. In 1860 according to the Agricultural Census, the state raised just over one-half million sheep with Randolph County the highest number and Carteret County the lowest. Sheep had become a necessary animal just like the mule.

00747vApproximately 80 percent of the southern cotton supply was sent to Great Britain in the decade before the war. In 1850, England bought nearly two million bales of cotton from the South. King Cotton provided four to five million jobs to them. When the South first seceded, they initially withheld cotton from England which at that time had a stockpile. After two years of Federal blockade, shipments permanently decreased and 40 percent of English mill workers lost their jobs. This became known as the cotton famine.

Antebellum North Carolina had thirty-nine cotton mills and seven woolen mills. In November of 1861 Governor Henry T. Clark asked proprietors of these cotton mills to make an exclusive contract with the state, break existing contracts with private individuals, and sell only to the government. The mills were to receive no more than a 75 percent profit. Agents roamed in and out of the state to buy wool and raw materials. It was at this point that civilians had to revert to making their own cloth if they could not afford the high prices for fabric. This homemade cloth was known as “homespun.” It could be made of only cotton, only wool, only linen, or a mixture. The “jeans” cloth known in the war era was generally a weave of both cotton and wool.

By Brenda McKean, author of  Blood and War at my Doorstep: North Carolina Civilians in the War Between the States.