12/28/14

The Crenshaw Woolen Mills

Until its destruction by fire on May 15, 1863 The Crenshaw Woolen Mills in Richmond, Virginia was one of the chief producers of Confederate uniform cloth and blankets. It was situated in a five story building on the grounds of the Tredegar Iron Works. One of its best known products was a blue-grey woolen broadcloth often used for officer’s uniforms that came to be  known as Crenshaw gray. The following article, entitled “CITY INTELLIGENCE – THE CRENSHAW WOOLEN COMPANY” appeared in the October 17, 1861 edition of the Richmond Enquirer and provides an interesting overview of the facility’s vital capabilities:

“Second in importance as an auxiliary to Southern independence, scarcely to the Tredegar Iron Works, and the Virginia Armory, is the Crenshaw Woolen Company, the factory of which immediately adjoins the Tredegar works, presenting in strong and proximate contrast the arts of peace and of war – the labors of the anvil and of the loom, made equally subservient to the success of a people engaged in an arduous struggle for their liberties.

Ruins of the Tredegar Iron Works, 1865. Arrow denotes the shell of the Crenshaw Woolen Mills which was converted to a pattern house for the Richmond Arsenal

Ruins of the Tredegar Iron Works, 1865. Arrow denotes the shell of the Crenshaw Woolen Mills which was converted to a pattern house for the Richmond Arsenal

The fabrics manufactured by the Crenshaw Company, chiefly the light, blue and grey cloths, adopted for the regulation uniform of the Confederacy; broad cloths and blankets, although lacking, it may be, somewhat of the high finish of those made in Northern mills, are certainly far superior in every other respect. This superiority is especially observable in the weight and strength of the material, and in the firmness of its color. Where Yankee cloth may be torn by the slightest exertion of force, it requires the exercise of considerable muscular power to rend that manufactured by the Crenshaw Company. The marked inferiority of the former in this respect, is due to the almost general introduction into Yankee manufactures, as a substitute for wool, of the material technically known as shoddy, which, while it cheapens the manufactured article nearly 25 per cent., without detracting in the slightest degree from its appearance to the inexperienced eye, renders it comparatively worthless for actual use. . .

Another fraud upon purchasers, extensively practiced by Northern manufacturers, is in the adulterated character of the dyes used in the manufacture of broad cloths, principally log-wood and chloride of tin, the effect of which is to give to the cloth a highly glossed color, superior even in appearance to that obtained from indigo – the proper dye – but which fades away before a few days of exposure to the weather. In this respect, also, the cloth of the Crenshaw Company is superior to much the greater portion of that which finds its way to this market from the North, and is seized upon with eagerness by inexperienced purchasers, willing to sacrifice substance to show. We have ourselves witnessed a practical comparison, by means of chemical tests, between the cloth of the Crenshaw Company and a specimen of that from Northern mills, the result of which was to establish beyond cavil the excellent – we may say – the honest coloring of the former, and the thoroughly Yankee – i.e., tricky and unreliable – nature of the colors employed in the latter. Even English manufacturers, we are told, use the spurious dyes.

Crenshaw Grey uniform coat worn by Lt. Charles Ellis Munford of the Letcher Artillery. Munford was killed July 1, 1862 at Malvern Hill. Photo courtesy the Virginia Historical Society www.Virginia Historical.org.

Crenshaw Grey uniform coat worn by Lt. Charles Ellis Munford of the Letcher Artillery. Munford was killed July 1, 1862 at Malvern Hill. Photo courtesy the Virginia Historical Society www.Virginia Historical.org.

The sudden blockading of the ports of the South bade fair for awhile to terminate, or very much cripple, at least, the operations of the Crenshaw mills, as far as the manufacture of broadcloths was concerned, by cutting off the supply of logwood; but fortunately the much talked about ship Tropic Wind, which ran the blockade in April, brought within available distance of Richmond a full cargo of the necessary material, found on board a wreck which was encountered on the coast of Cuba. The Crenshaw Company are now enabled to furnish their less fortunate manufacturing friends throughout the South with as much logwood as can be needed for months to come. Some difficulty was also at first experienced in procuring the cotton warp necessary for manufacturing purposes, and which prior to the war had been usually brought from England, but an ample supply, nearly as excellent in quality as the British warps, is now obtained through the agency of a manufactory established at Franklinsville, N.C., under the direction of Coffee, Foush & Co. The woolen warps necessary for their business are here made in the mills of the Crenshaw Company.

The finest wool used in these manufactures is brought from South America, but the Merino wool raised in Fairfax county, in the vicinity of the now classic locality of Manassas, and the Texas wool, are very nearly equal to the South American, requiring perhaps, but care and systematic attention to render it fully so. At all events, the Virginia and Texas wools are far superior to that elsewhere to be found within the limits of North America, and are quite good enough to meet the chief requirements of the finest manufactures.

The Crenshaw Company – the only one, by the way, in the South now engaged in the manufacture of broadcloths – employ at present 25 broad looms, and an addition of 15 more are now in the course of construction; 5 sets of carding machines – three in each set – and 8 spinning jacks, comprising about 270 spindles in each. About 130 work people in all are employed, 25 of whom are females, the latter earning wages to the average amount of about $7.50 a week each. Several children ranging in their ages from 10 to 12 years, are also employed in the light and simple labor of filling shuttles. The male employees are principally foreigners, from the English, Irish, and German factories. Their labors are superintended by experienced overseers from England.

There are 8 dye vaults in the establishment, with an aggregate capacity equal to about 2,000 pounds per day; and 4 double fulling mills, in which the cloth, in its rough state of manufacture, is shrunk, to render it firm preparatory to receiving the final finish. The operation of raising the nap of the cloth, is an exceedingly simple one, and is performed upon a gig mill of a German mill.

CrenshawThe Crenshaw Works are now exclusively engaged under a Government contract, in the manufacture of regulation cloth for army uniforms, blankets, and stocking yarn, all for the use of the army. About 5,000 yards in all of cloth is manufactured weekly, and about 450 blankets. The latter, of which large numbers have already been furnished to the army, are quite equal to the English army blanket, many of which are made of shoddy, and superior to those of the Yankees. The blankets of the Crenshaw Company are 60 by 80 inches in dimensions; are made wholly of wool, and weigh but 3 7/8 pounds.”

Today the surviving structure of the old Crenshaw Mills building serves as a visitors center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Please left click on images for larger views.

by Bob Williams

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12/19/14

The Hardee Hat Pin

One of the most attractive insignia items utilized during the Civil War period was the enlisted man’s brass “Eagle” cap and hat ornament, often called the “Jeff Davis” eagle or Hardee Hat pin. This device,  initially prescribed in the 1851 Army Regulations, was intended to be a metallic rendering of the Arms of the United States, to wit: “the escutcheon on the breast of an American eagle, displayed, proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows . . . and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto: “E PLURIBUS UNUM . . . over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory breaking through with a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, on an azure field.”

Photo courtesy Cowan Auctions

Photo courtesy Cowan Auctions

The pin was to be made of “yellow metal,” sometimes called “pressed brass.” Its original purpose was to serve as a pompom eagle on the Model 1851 shako cap. However, in 1858, when the tall, black felt Hardee hat replaced the shako as the standard headgear for the U. S. Army, other uses were found for the brass eagle device. The 1858 dress regulations stipulated that for mounted services the brim of the hat was to be “looped up on the right side, and fastened with an eagle attached to the side of the hat.” For infantry and artillery, hats were required to be looped and pinned on the left side. However, during the war, as the army changed from Scott’s to Hardee’s tactics, many infantrymen turned up the hat’s right side in order to better facilitate the new “Shoulder Arms” position.

While the reproduction eagle hat pins offered today have two long brass wires soldered on the reverse for attachment purposes, the original devices were constructed quite differently. Specifically, soldered to the reverse of the brass eagle near the top and middle were two wire loops, which were “pegged” by means of a leather thong to the side of the hat. Below these loops, at the bottom of the eagle, was a small hook of brass or iron wire. The purpose of this hook was to engage an “eye,” either of black metal or looped thread that had been sewn to the underside of the hat’s brim. Thus, the hat brim could be turned up or down “at will,” without altering the insignia’s position on the hat. And it made the hat much more utilitarian in blocking the rain and sun.

Photo Courtesy Cowan Auctions

Photo Courtesy Cowan Auctions

How much field service did the Hardee hat pin actually see? In the famous Iron Brigade at least, even as late as January 1864, one of it’s regiment’s was receiving “hats, together with bugles, eagles, cord and tassels, and feather,” but it is unlikely that the eagle devices saw much use after that time, except on dress parade. As a matter of information, there are as many as a dozen different die variations of the eagle hat pin, and while on most stampings the eagle faces to the left, right facing eagles have also been noted. Additionally, photos of the period show that soldiers sometimes exercised creative license and wore these pins on other headgear including forage caps. While not typical, it did happen. C’est le guerre!

by Bob Williams

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12/9/14

Silent Sentinel: Confederate Fort Stevens

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The roughly twenty mile segment of Interstate 95 that runs between Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia provides easy access to some of the most extensive Confederate earthworks remaining in America today. If one looks closely,  entrenchments can be seen nearly everywhere in the woods along this route. Many are from the Howlett Line that guarded Bermuda Hundred and include Battery Dantzler and Parker’s Battery. Additionally, atop nearby Drewry’s Bluff along the James River, stand the well preserved and foreboding ramparts of Fort Darling. Here, in May 1862, Southern artillerymen thwarted an attempt by the Federal navy led by the famous Monitor to ascend the James and capture Richmond.

Several sections of both the Richmond inner and outer defense lines also remain, including a hidden little gem of a fort that played a key role in the little known 1864 Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. This three-gun Condederate earthwork is known as Fort Stevens. It lies in a small park by that name in a quiet residential neighborhood just off the Willis Road exit of I-95. Back in 1864, Fort Stevens anchored the intersection of Richmond’s outer and inner defense lines south of the city. When Federal troops under General Benjamin F. Butler seized much of the abandoned outer line on May 14th, the earthwork assumed strategic importance. It soon became storm center of heavy Union artillery and sharpshooter fire as Confederate defenders sought to blunt further advances of Butler’s army.

A graffiti marked interpretive sign in Fort Stevens gives a good idea of its appearance on May 14, 1864.

A graffiti marked interpretive sign in Fort Stevens gives a good idea of its appearance on May 14, 1864.

Fort Stevens itself is a plump semi-circle of earth with a deep ditch in front and a traverse to the rear that does not completely enclose the work. Inside are two ground level positions for heavy guns and three elevated ramps for light field pieces. On May 14, 1864 the sand-bagged interior of the fort was manned by four guns belonging to Captain James D. Hankins’ Virginia battery, also known as the Surry Light Artillery. They were supported by elements of the 27th South Carolina Infantry of General Johnson Hagood’s brigade. That afternoon the Federals positioned portions of several batteries within fairly close range and attempted to reduce the bastion with concentrated artillery fire. They were unsuccessful despite the fact that two of the Surry battery’s limbers were exploded and the muzzle of one cannon struck. Additionally, Union sharpshooters concealed in the abatis of the abandoned exterior line made it difficult for the grey cannoneers to work the guns. Narrowly escaping a bullet in the head was QM Sergeant Servetus M. Williams, great-grandfather of your blog host. Another member of Hankin’s Battery opined: “Twelve hours under continued fire is enough to test the endurance of the strongest and hardiest of men.”

QM Sgt. Servetus M. Williams of the Surry Light Artillery. While resting against a cannon wheel in Fort Stevens a sharpshooters bullet took out the spoke above his head.

QM Sgt. Servetus M. Williams of the Surry Light Artillery. While resting against a cannon wheel in Fort Stevens a sharpshooters bullet took out the spoke above his head.

Surprisingly, the following day was quiet as Confederate forces under General P. G. T. Beauregard marshalled for an attack against Butler’s tentative legions, which seemed to be mostly content with making defensive preparations. In a dense fog on the morning of May 16th, Beauregard launched his expected counterstroke. Fort Stevens served a pivot for the two pronged Southern offensive led by North Carolina Generals Robert F. Hoke and Robert Ransom, Jr. Initially the fog produced considerable confusion among the two Confederate wings. Yet the assault was vigorous and persistant enough to convince the defending Federals to call it quits. Butler soon withdrew to his defenses at Bermuda Hundred and Richmond was saved. For many reasons however, it was not the stunning Confederate victory it might have been.

Fort Stevens saw no further combat during the war and slowly faded into obscurity. Thanks to fairly recent efforts The Chesterfield (VA) County Department of Parks it remains today preserved for posterity, along with several nice interpretive markers. While visitors other than recreational ones are few, it’s definitely worth a look by any serious history buff. And as an added enticement, there is a very good local BBQ place close by! Please left click on images for larger view.

By Bob Williams

The star on this interpretive marker shows the position of Fort Stevens in relation to other Confederate defensive works.

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12/6/14

The 2nd Virginia Infantry at the 1st Battle of Kernstown

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Editorial note from your blog host: This article was originally prepared several years ago as pre-reading for a campaigner-style event in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It was first published in “Rebel Boast.” Rather than consign this research to oblivion I have chosen to preserve it for posterity here in the hope that readers might find this information useful at some point.

By Spring of 1862,  the men of the 2nd Virginia Infantry had experienced as much real war as any unit in Confederate service at that time. Composed of Scotch-Irish stock from the northern Shenandoah counties of Berkeley, Clarke, Frederick, and Jefferson, the 2nd was built around the nucleus of a pre-war Virginia Militia regiment. It was ably led by Colonel James W. Allen. In late April 1861, the 2nd was brigaded at Harper’s Ferry with other Virginia units under an eccentric ex-professor from VMI named Thomas J. Jackson.

Samuel T. Cowley, a representative member of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. Note small size pre-war "US" belt plate. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Samuel T. Cowley, a representative member of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. Note small size pre-war “US” belt plate. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Under Jackson’s stern eye, the Valley men received much needed military instruction. They also soon earn the sobriquet “Innocent Second” because of their discipline and comely deportment in camp. First engaged at Falling Waters in July, the 2nd would gain eternal fame at Manassas for the brigade’s (and its commander’s) gallant performance in this signal Southern victory. Henceforth, Allen’s regiment along with the 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia would be members of the “Stonewall Brigade.”

When Jackson was given command of all Confederate forces in the Shenandoah in November, leadership of his old brigade was given to Richard B Garnett. A series of ill-considered winter campaigns conducted by Jackson in freezing weather reduced his new army more severely than several major battles might have done. The 2nd VA and all of “Jackson’s Pet Lambs” suffered as severely as any but their devotion to their leader remained constant.

In early March 1862 Union General Nathaniel P. Banks advanced from Harper’s Ferry against Jackson’s base of operations at Winchester. Grudgingly, “Stonewall” withdrew his vastly outnumbered army southward, ever vigilant to a chance to strike the slowly pursuing Federals. Sensing hesitation on the part of Banks, he found his opportunity on May 23rd. After a grueling 20-mile march, Jackson attacked the Federals near Kernstown, just south of Winchester.

Three companies of the 2nd Virginia infantry were deployed as skirmishers and assisted Confederate cavalry in developing the Federal position along the Valley Pike. Finding this sector strongly defended, Jackson ordered the balance of Garnett’s brigade to support an advance ½ mile farther to the left. Fighting grew intense as Garnett moved to the assistance of another Confederate brigade. Nowrejoined by its skirmish companies, Colonel Allen described the actions of the 2nd VA: “ [A staff officer] ordered us forward and after crossing [a] ridge the fire of musketry began on our left and front . . . I brought my regiment into line by the right flank . . . Seeing a wall in front in possession of the enemy, my object was to get possession of it; but owing to the rapid firing of the enemy and the thick undergrowth only the right succeeded in reaching it, which they held until the order to retire was given at 6 p.m. Thus the men were exposed to a severe fire for nearly an hour, during which time they did not lose an inch of ground.”

Federal forces drive Garnett's brigade from their position behind the stone fence. Painting courtesy Keith Rocco.

Federal forces drive Garnett’s brigade from their position behind the stone fence. Painting courtesy Keith Rocco.

They did, however, begin to run out of ammunition. The arrival of large contingent of Federal reinforcements rendered the Stonewall Brigade’s position further untenable. Garnett wisely ordered his men to fall back before they were completely engulfed. Yet Jackson was furious and vainly sought to rally the fugitives. He not only berated Garnett but later placed the brigadier under arrest. It was with tremendous regret that Jackson ceded the field, and the victory, to the Federals, but not before every wounded man had been retrieved.

Map by Hal Jesperson showing movements of 2nd Virginia during the battle.

Map by Hal Jesperson showing movements of 2nd Virginia during the battle.

Truthfully, at Kernstown, Jackson had bitten off more than he could chew. His impetuosity combined with a lack of proper reconnaissance cost him more than one-fourth of his little army. The 2nd Virginia’s losses alone totaled 6 killed, 33 wounded, and 51 missing. Yet for “Mighty Stonewall” and the 2nd Virginia there would be other days, other battles, and other victories. Several were just weeks away.

by Bob Williams