03/23/13

Original Diary of Unknown 26th NCT Soldier

Diary IIn February of 2011, the Society for the Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops received the gift of a unique artifact carried by an original member of the regiment. This item, a leather-bound soldier’s pocket diary belonging to an early enlistee of Company A, was generously sent to Col. Skip Smith by Mr. Paul Butler of Wichita, KS. Also included with the diary was a small gem cameo bearing the photograph likeness of a young woman named Lotta.

Mr. Butler relates his acquisition of the diary as follows: “The diary was originally found by Larry Kaufman of Derby, Kansas. He said that he found the diary with the gem tintype cameo tucked inside it about 5 years ago at an estate sale here in Wichita. It was in the bottom of a box of other papers. There were no other documents with this whatsoever. He purchased it for less than five dollars. Over the last 5 years he tried to transcribe it to the best of his ability. About 3 or 4 months ago he gave it to me. I had a lot of fun transcribing it as I am a history buff, with the Civil War being a point of particular interest for me. As soon as I realized what regiment it was from I really got excited, because of the huge part that I knew the 26th figured in during the war. At that point I went to your website and you all know the rest.”

While there is no soldier’s name inscribed inside the diary, the “Jeff Davis Mountaineer Riflemen” are mentioned several times in various entries. Mr. Butler was keen enough to research and identify that organization as Company A of the 26th NCT. The diary measures approximately 3 by 4 and ¾ inches and is in excellent condition. Unfortunately, the owner’s entries are limited and end in early 1862. Annotations are made in both pencil and ink, often with a draft pencil entry followed later with a final inked version.

At Col. Smith’s request I made an effort to decipher the various entries. For ease of readability I have eliminated redundant passages and restructured them, where reasonable, into some sort of date sequence. I have also taken the liberty of minor spelling editing. In other words, the flow of the diary has been considerably changed but the basic content has not. I also added the full text of the Biblical verses cited by the writer herein since they provide an interesting context on sermons of that period.Diary III

ENTRIES BEGIN

May the 18th 1861 I volunteer for 12 months.

June the 24th 1861 I enrolled my name. Mustered into service of the State of North Carolina as 12 months volunteers.

June the 29th 1861 Received a bounty of ten dollars.

June the 30th I hear a sermon [illegible] from 2 Corinthians 4 chapter no. 17 verse. [“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”]

June the 15th 1861 the Jeff Davis Mountaineers Riflemen leave Jefferson for Raleigh. Arrive at Statesville the 17th in the morning. Leave Statesville in the evening at 4 o’clock. Arrive at Salisbury in the evening took up camp for the night. Leave Salisbury at 8 o’clock the morning the 18th. Arrive at Raleigh in the evening at 11 o’clock. Sunday the 29th a sermon from Revelations the 19th Chapter and 11th verse [“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.”].

Took up camp on north side of Raleigh and remained there until July the 6th 1861 and then remained two miles north of Raleigh to Camp Carolina.

September the 2nd 1861 the J.D.M.R. left Raleigh. Moved to Morehead City the same day. Took up camp the [illegible]. Friday the 6th moved over the sound to Bogue Island. Wednesday the 12th moved back across the sound to Carolina City. Took up camp the same day in the evening.

October the 10th the Jeff Davis Mountain Rifles moved back to Bogue Island from Carolina City. Took up camp remained there until the present day.

Leave Camp Wilkes November the 29th 1861 arrive at banks [?] the same day took up camp.

Leave Camp Vance January the 27th took camp at Camp Branch the same day.

END OF ENTRIES

Lotta IIn an effort to possibly identify our “forgotten soldier” based upon key dates or other diary entries, fellow Society members Clint Johnson and Greg Mast helpfully reviewed 26th muster roles, Ashe County census records, and probed other sources. Thus far, it has proved impossible to pin point with any degree of certainty one particular soldier. Clint even sought the help of local Ashe County genealogical researcher Sandy Lassen who went to yeoman lengths in this “serendipitous journey” (as she called it) to identify Lotta in the gem cameo. While a couple of “Charlottes” emerge as possibilities for the woman in the picture, no substantive links to a 26th NCT member emerge.

Did the writer of this pocket diary die early in his service leaving his war story unfinished? Or, was it a souvenir pilfered by some Federal soldier following the 26th’s loss of all its baggage, knapsacks, and haversacks in the March 1862 Battle of New Bern? What was the relationship of Lotta to the young man? For the time being, these questions remain unanswered. One thing is certain, however. Thanks to the unqualified kindnesses of both Messrs. Kaufmann and Butler of Kansas this treasured memento of the regiment now appropriately resides among other valued artifacts in the Society’s permanent 26th North Carolina Troops collection.

by Bob Williams

03/17/13

The Last Bender

Mid-April 1865 found the battered remnants of General Joseph E. Johnston’s patchwork Confederate Army encamped in regular order among the bucolic hills and woods of Randolph County, North Carolina, near modern-day Redcross.  For the veteran Southern soldiers it was a time fraught with uncertainty and foreboding. Rumors of Lee’s surrender in Virginia were already afloat.  Speculation abounded that Johnston was meeting with arch-rival Federal General William T. Sherman for the same purpose. “Grapevine and haversack dispatches are in demand” observed a Georgia infantryman.  One officer frankly confessed “Everyone suppose[s] this army is to be surrendered shortly and of course there is great excitement about it . . . The whole army [is] badly demoralized.”  539747242_o

 As if to provide much needed succor to the forlorn troops, several Confederates roaming the neighboring countryside for food made a fortuitous discovery that considerably improved, albeit temporarily, the bleak appearance of things. Captain Samuel T. Foster of Hiram Granbury’s old Texas Brigade recalled:

 “Soon after we arrive[d] at our new camp today some of our men found two barrels of Old Apple brandy buried under the root of an old pine tree that had blown down. One barrel of it was brought to our brigade and tapped – Everyone helped themselves, and of course some get funny, some get tight some get gentlemanly drunk and some get dog drunk, of this latter class are all the officers from our Major up. Kept up a noise nearly all night, but no one gets mad – all in good humor.”

 Lieutenant R. M. Collins of the 15th Texas Infantry was even more graphic (and candid!) in his description of the ensuing bacchanalia:

 “The writer was standing at the head of the street we had made by our tents on either side when he noticed a big, handsome, blossom-eyed fellow by the name of Maxwell coming out of the pine thicket carrying a camp kettle. He beckoned to us to come. Says he, ‘Smell in the kettle.’ We smelled. It was about half full of apple brandy. We turned it up, drank as long as we could hold our breath, caught it, and drank again. The third breath was expended in the question ‘Where did you find it?’ He pointed over towards the pine thicket. By this time the boys were going that way in crowds. We followed on, of course. When we got there the boys had raised the forty-gallon barrel of apple brandy from the hole in the ground caused by the wind having blown a great oak tree up by the roots. Some old North Carolina fellow had used it as a grave for his pet barrel of brandy which he was saving for his own use when the cruel war should end . . .Be that as it may we can say with confidence that few barrels of brandy have ever made a more jolly barrel than ours was on that occasion. In a very short time the bulk of our brigade was ‘over there’ around that barrel.bender 2

 By general consent the writer was appointed to issue it out. A faucet was soon made from a boot-leg, cut to fit and twisted into the bunghole. Then commenced the drawing of it in canteens and camp kettles and each canteen must need run too full and rather than pour it out so the stopper would go in we would drink it. The truck was so exhilarating and self-esteem elevating it was not long before we considered the service was menial. We resigned our position and lit out for the camps. All hands got drunk. Even our chaplain, the Reverend Hayes, a very excellent man, got drunk as an ‘English lord.’ The effect of the fluid extract of apples on the mental and physical outfit of the writer was such that he cannot keep in the middle of the road in an effort at describing what the boys said and done during the remainder of that day and night.”

 Speaking of the aftermath Lieutenant Collins confessed: “The next morning we were a hard looking set, and for the boys we plead as an excuse for this spree the peculiar surroundings. We were just at the threshold of the dying days of the Confederacy…”

 Today, a state historic site at Bennett Place, near Durham, North Carolina commemorates the location of Johnston’s formal surrender to Sherman. Yet, not a single marker denotes the location of Johnston’s camps near Redcross. Surely though, somwhere in the neighboring woods of Randolph County  a recently upturned, wind-blown tree pays quiet homage to two found barrels of apple brandy and the last bender of “Uncle Joe’s” once formidable Confederate army.

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By Bob Williams
[Excerpts from Unwritten Chapters of the War Between the States by R. M. Collins and One of Cleburne’s Command: The Civil War Reminisces and Diary of Capt. Samuel T. Foster, Granbury’s Texas Brigade, CSA, edited by Norman D. Brown]

03/10/13

A Guided Tour to Petersburg’s “Fort Hell”

FH Parapet

Few points on the opposing siege lines around Petersburg, Virginia were considered more dangerous than Union Fort Sedgwick, appropriately nicknamed “Fort Hell.” This prominent earthen fortification was strategically located astride the vital Jerusalem Plank road, just a few hundred yards southeast of Confederate Battery No. 29, variously called Fort Mahone or “Fort Damnation.”

 Construction on the vital entrenchment was begun in mid-July 1864, preparatory to the explosion of General Ambrose Burnside’s famous mine. Even as early as July 21st, Union Colonel Charles Wainwright noted: “The new work at the plank road gets on slowly. I was right in my surmise that the rebels would not like it; they make it so hot for the workmen that it has already been christened Fort hell by the men.” It was completed in time to furnish supporting artillery fire during the abortive “Crater” affair. Throughout the remaining siege, Sedgwick’s formidable walls seemed to act as a magnet in drawing extremely accurate artillery fire from Southern guns. In addition, opposing picket lines between the two strong points were separated by less than 100 yards, and the firing was generally constant.

 Thanks to Northern cameramen Timothy O’Sullivan and others, Fort Sedgwick was probably the most photographed of all Union works at Petersburg. Up until the 1960s, it was also among the best preserved. Particular interest in the site was generated by the discovery in 1925 of several Union and Confederate tunnels near the fort. Their popularity prompted landowner David Lyon to develop Fort Hell Park, a “famous Civil War Shrine.” Lyon constructed a wooden entrance into one of the tunnels, restored and rebuilt several of the bombproofs and living quarters, and established a self-guided walking tour. He even built a museum and gift shop stocked with numerous and assorted relics recovered on the grounds. A hefty display of 8 and 10-inch mortar shells testified as to the appropriateness of the fort’s sobriquet. Soon, the privately run, tree-dotted historical park was attracting daily “throngs of people from all over this and other countries,” reported Confederate Veteran magazine.

FHOQ Sadly, all vestiges of this unique site were bulldozed in 1967, to make way for a shopping center and parking lot. As a youth growing up in nearby Richmond during the ‘60s, this writer made numerous excursions to “Fort Hell” before its destruction. In addition to prowling the earthworks and tunnels, I soon became friends with the owner at that time and was graciously allowed to relic hunt in the back, non-public reaches of the work. In addition to a considerable number of Minie balls and shell fragments, I still retain a copy of the park’s tour brochure and map as a souvenir of long-lost Sedgwick.

 Reproduced here for the first time is the rare and long out of print “Your Guide to Tour Fort Hell,” with its highly detailed tour map. This map and guide become especially meaningful when utilized in conjunction with contemporary photographs of the earthwork found on the Library of Congress website:  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/ [keywords Fort Hell; Fort Sedgwick]. Viewed altogether, they provide a fascinating insight into a typical Civil War earthwork. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

Fort Hell I 001         Ft. Hell II 001

 by Bob Williams

03/8/13

The Edenton (N.C.) Bell Battery

In her 2/26/13 blog entitled “Soldiers’ Aid Societies” Brenda McKean mentioned the famous Edenton Bell battery, whose cannon tubes were cast from bells donated by the local community. Readers may be interested to know that two of these surviving guns, named Saint Paul and Edenton, pharm now grace the waterfront of the historic and picturesque eastern North Carolina colonial town. They are readily accessible to visitors. Below are two fairly recent photographs that show both the guns and a supporting historical marker giving a concise history of the Edenton Bell Battery. Kindly left click on photos for enlarged versions and to enhance readability of  marker.

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IMG_0229

 by Bob Williams

03/4/13

“Red Infantry”

A number of key Southern cities, including Wilmington, Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, and Richmond, were guarded throughout the war by regular garrisons stationed in earthen or permanent masonry fortifications. These works bristled with guns of heavy caliber, and were manned by units specifically raised and designated as Heavy Artillery. Such service was attractive to many soldiers, since it avoided the onerous rigors of active campaigning.hat_front Their duties were primarily “parade ground” in nature, although the “heavies” were often called on to fulfill provost responsibilities or act as prison guards. These units were generally well drilled both as artillery and infantry. Being close to bases of supply, they were also usually well uniformed, and their distinctive red trimmed gray jackets or red kepis set them apart from front line troops. They were frequently chided as “bandbox soldiers” by front line troops.

Yet, in 1865 many of these heavy artillerymen had the opportunity to prove their metal in combat, fighting alongside their veteran infantry brethren. When Richmond fell that April the heavy artillery garrison units were formed into a combined command under Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield. This unit was well known for its excellent military bearing and proficiency of drill. Armed in most cases with obsolete .69 caliber smoothbore muskets, these “Red Infantrymen” joined in the retreat from the burning Confederate capital. At Sayler’s Creek on April 6th, they fought valiantly until overwhelmed, losing heavily. Particularly distinguished were the 10th and 19th Virginia Heavy Artillery Battalions and the elite Savannah Volunteer Guards unit of the 18th Georgia Heavy Artillery Battalion. Crutchfield himself was killed, but the garrison troops courageous stand earned the respect of friend and foe alike.

In the Carolina’s Campaign, a goodly portion of the retreating Confederate forces were heavy artillery units from various seacoast garrisons in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Also armed and equipped as infantry, these artillerymen saw considerable action in a number of heated engagements. At Averasboro, North Carolina in March, 1865 such units as the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery, the Gist Guard Artillery, and Bonaud’s 28th Georgia Battalion bore a key role in both days of fighting. Bonaud’s battalion had earlier distinguished itself in the bitter Battle of Olustee, Florida in February 1864.

victoryAt Bentonville in March 1865 a number of North Carolina Heavy Artillery units from the Wilmington shore defense garrison fought manfully. Particularly conspicuous, not just for their bright uniforms, was a command of mixed artillery and infantry under Lt. Colonel John D. Taylor. Included were elements of the 1st NC Heavy Artillery, the 36th NC, Adam’s NC battery, and portions of the 40th NC Infantry. The impetuosity of Taylor’s hodge-podge force in a frontal assault against earthworks manned by Sherman’s seasoned troops nearly led them to disaster. Almost 60% of the erstwhile garrison soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured by battle’s end. Lt. Col. Taylor was among the seriously injured.

All in all, the brief fighting history of the Confederacy’s “Red Infantrymen” provides a unique but little known chapter of the war’s dying days.

 by Bob Williams