Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gettysburg Lectures

Thanks to Scott Mingus over at Cannonball for posting the following, regarding free lectures at Gettysburg over the winter. I'll definitely be there for a few. Will you?


Jacob's Pen 6

Today's post remembers a poignant event through the voice of Frederick, Maryland, diarist Jacob Engelbrecht. If interested in attending Wednesday's commemorations in Charles Town, West Virginia, you will find information here.

Jacob's pen writes:

Execution this day - Captain John Cook & Edwin Coppie (Coppoc)white men and Shields Green & John Copland (John Anthony Copeland, Jr.) Negroes are to be hung at Charlestown, Jefferson County Virginia for treason and murder at Harpers Ferry Virginia on the 16 17 & 18th of October 1859. John Brown the leader of the conspirators was hung on the 2d instant the black men are to be hung this forenoon & the white men this afternoon.
- Friday December 16th 1859 9 o'clock AM

P.S. 2 1/2 o'clock PM December 16 Shields Green, & John Copeland were hung at 15 minutes after 11 o'clock. Cooks Corpse will be taken to Brooklyn New York & buried tomorrow (December 17, 1859). Edwin [Coppoc] corpse was taken to Ohio to be buried.

Edwin Coppoc

John E. Cook

John Anthony Copeland, Jr.

Although events surrounding John Brown's Raid are winding down, the Jacob's Pen series is just under way, as we will continue to witness the Civil War period throughout the sesquicentennial through the eyes of our favorite diarist. For brief summaries and biographies of those events and historical figures covered in the John Brown segments, click here.

All Engelbrecht photos and diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dusty Diamond: An Unexpected Gift

My Civil War bookshelf has a lot of volumes that have seen their share of battle. Some were heavily researched, dog-eared, and marked for college papers and essays; others I've re-read for pleasure so many times they're permanently deformed for life - paperback covers peeled back like permanently half-eaten bananas; many are stained by rain, mud, sweat, and ink, as they've tromped the fields with me over the years.

Today, I noticed a book on the shelf whose outer appearances out-nastify all of the others combined. The hardback cover clings desperately to life, shredded and frayed around a spine that long ago succumbed to an unknown fight. A heavy front cover is now a loose, floating, dead weight, only connected to the spine by a thin and withering cloth. Binding? Surprisingly, if you don't count the cover and a missing early chapter, the binding is actually the book's strongest physical asset.

Yet, this book has not suffered the pangs of research; I have rarely read it for pleasure; and it's certainly never been on the field with me. Due to its delicate condition and the allergens contained in century-old dust, I can count on my hand the number of times I've turned its pages.

'Century-old dust?' That's right. This recently rediscovered book is The Civil War through the Camera: with Elson's New History of the War, published in New York by McKinlay, Stone & Mackenzie in 1912. The ancient tome gives a narrative history of the war, aided by over a dozen reproduced paintings and hundreds of wartime photographs.

"Flanking the Enemy," by J.W. Gies (1901) For a better view, see 'n106' in the link provided below.

I feel like I've hit a gold mine. This diamond in the dust is blasting my eye-holes with images that reach to me straight from army camp, ship deck, and rail yard.

"SIGNALING ORDERS FROM GENERAL MEADE'S HEADQUARTERS, JUST BEFORE THE WILDERNESS" (1864) For a much closer view, see 'n351' in the link provided below.

Although I'm missing the title page and portions of the book up to Forts Henry and Donelson, my gut tells me that what I have here is a very early (1912-1920?), mostly complete edition of this spectacular resource. The only other information I have is from my good friend who gave it to me over ten years ago, who said that he got the book from his grandmother in West Virgina. In fact, there is (in my opinion) a beautifully handwritten inscription - in red ink - of a name and address on the front, inside cover.

A quick Internet search led me to some interesting initial results. First, I learned that "Elson" was Henry William Elson (1857 - 1935), a prolific writer and professor of history at Ohio State University. Also, in this period of the sesquicentennial, I was interested to learn that another edition of the same year (1912) was published by the Civil War Semi-centennial Society, Patriot Publishing Company. As the centennial commemoration was affected by the context of the times - namely, the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement - what context(s) helped to color the commemoration during the semi-centennial? Finally, I was excited to find that this very book is offered in digital format, so that all of us can enjoy its jewels online, without further deteriorating my precious find.

"CAIRO CITIZENS WHO MAY HAVE RECALLED THIS DAY" (1861) The caption reads, in part: "With his hands thrust in his pockets stands General Grant, next to General McClernand, who is directly in front of the pillar of the Cairo post-office. The future military leader had yet his great name to make, for the photograph of this gathering was taken in September, 1861, and when, later, the whole world was ringing with his praises the citizens who chanced to be in the group must have recalled that day with pride." For a much closer view, see 'n44' in the link provided above.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. If you have similar stories of surprising finds, more information about anything mentioned in this post, or enjoy browsing the digital version, feel free to share your thoughts!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Silent Night: Antietam Illumination

What a day for the first snow of the season!

Tonight's Antietam Illumination looks to be one of the most poignant yet. As they do every year, volunteers are lighting 23,000 candles around the battlefield to represent each casualty on that horrific day in 1862. Seeing the field aflame while slowly winding through the park is a stunningly somber reminder of the human cost of war. The glow of the flames seems to form one collective light that reaches back in time to offer a voice for the departed, urging us all to appreciate the true spirit of the holiday season with those we love. Last time we drove through the illumination, we listened to Mozart's Requiem; tonight, I think we'll reflect in silence.

Click here for information about tonight's illumination. For a park video about the occasion, click here.

For the record - I've called the park and they emphatically shared that, despite the snow, the event is definitely happening as scheduled.

Finally, if you make it tonight, please let us know about your experience!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jacob's Pen 5

Our favorite diarist, Frederick's own Jacob Engelbrecht, covers the news on this day, one hundred fifty years ago. But first, a final message from Old Man Brown:

Images from: Nelson, Truman. The Old Man: John Brown at Harper's Ferry. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.

Charlestown, Va. 2nd, December, 1859.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood. I had as I now think vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

Twenty-eight miles east of the gallows, Jacob notes the occasion:

Execution - This day between the hours of 8 o'clock AM & 12 o'clock M [noon], Captain John Brown (commonly called Ossawattamie Brown)is to be hung at Charlestown, Jefferson County, Virginia for insurrection & murder at Harpers Ferry on the 16, 17, & 18 of October 1859. He had his trial & was found guilty October 31 after 5 days of trial. Four others were subsequently found guilty for the same offence (abolitionists, freeing the Negroes)and are to be hung December 16. Their names are Captain John E. Cook & Edwin Coppie - white men, & Shields Green & John Copeland [-] Negroes.
- Friday, December 2d, 1859, 10 minutes till 10 o'clock AM.

PS - 2 1/2 o'clock afternoon. He was hanged 30 minutes after 11 o'clock AM. His body was taken by his widow to North (?) Essex County, New York.

All Engelbrecht photos and diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tromp Shot 4

Today's Tromp Shot:

Bare winter woods hover over the eerie green waters of Ambrose Bierce's Chickamauga Creek.

Near Chickamauga National Battlefield Park (Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jacob's Pen 4

It's time I provide an image to go along with the "Jacob's Pen" series. Below is a picture of Jacob Engelbrecht of Frederick, Maryland, the diarist whose reflections we will follow throughout the sesquicentennial.

Am I alone in thinking that Engelbrecht looked at least a little like Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan?


On October 21, 1859, Jacob documented the items with which John Brown hoped to wage a war on slavery. I cannot attest to its accuracy, but it's certainly eye-popping. This entry exposes Brown's level of planning and the extent of support from his Northern abolitionist backers.

"A list of articles captured by the military of Maryland & Virginia found on the premises of John Brown & others: 102 Sharps Rifles, 102 pistols of Massachusetts Arms Company, 56
powder flasks, & 4 large powder flasks, 10 kegs of powder, 23000 percussion rifle caps,100,000 percussion pistol caps, 1300 ball cartridges for Sharps rifles, 160 boxes Sharps
primer, 14 pounds lead balls, one Major General's sword,55 old bayonets, 12 old artillery swords, 483 standard spears, 150 broken handles,4 swords, 16 picks, 40 shovels &c.
- Friday October 21, 1859 3 1/2 PM"

Jacob followed the story over a week later:

"The trials of the rioters at Harpers Ferry, Virginia was commenced on the ultimo. The trial of John Brown (the commander)was the first & terminated yesterday (the 5th day of trial) when the jury rendered a verdict of 'guilty for high treason & also guilty for murder in the first degree.' Copee [probably John Anthony Copeland, Jr.]& [Shields]Green Negros were both found 'guilty.' Also Captain John E. Cook found 'guilty.'
- Tuesday November 1, 1859 12 M. [Noon] (John Brown is sentenced to be hung December 2, 1859)"

All diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tromp Shot 3

Today's Tromp Shot:

October dusk on the Brawner Farm at Second Bull Run.

Manassas National Battlefield Park (Manassas, Virginia)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jacob's Pen 3

I've been fortunate to tromp a lot of ground lately, and the weather has allowed these boots to grow muddier by the day.

Thursday evening I attended a lecture sponsored by the Frederick County Civil War Roundtable at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The topic was the role of Frederick's militia during John Brown's raid in Harpers Ferry. On Friday and Saturday, I ventured to Harpers Ferry for the fantastic commemoration of that raid. Tomorrow, I plan to make my first visit to the Ball's Bluff battlefield (Oct. 21, 1861) near Leesburg, Virginia. As I must also travel to Northern Virginia, I may stop by Manassas while down there so I can catch up on efforts there to restore the ground to historical appearances.

Obviously, I have - and will have - much to share. This will soon begin with a series of posts on the sesquicentennial events in Harpers Ferry; for now, we follow the events of 150 years ago as observed by Frederick's Jacob Engelbrecht:

The Harpers Ferry riot has thus far been silenced and the following have been killed & wounded: Dean, Captain Oliver Brown & Captain Watson Brown (sons of old John Brown), Lieutenant Albert Hazlett - Pennsylvania, Lieutenant William Leman - Maine, Stewart Taylor - Canada, William Thompson - New York, Captain John Kagi of Ohio, Lieutenant Jeremiah Anderson of Indiana. Negros: Daingerfield of Ohio [Dangerfield Newby], Luis Leary - Ohio. Wounded Captain Aaron C. Stephens, (Whites) old John Brown (chief). Total number killed on both sides up to this time is 16. Luke Quinn United States Marines was killed October 18.

Friday October 21, 1859 2 o'clock PM

All diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jacob's Pen 2

Jacob Engelbrecht continues his coverage of John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry as seen from his Frederick, Maryland storefront home. 150 years ago, today, Jacob writes:

Tuesday October 18 - Report this morning is that 16 persons were killed yesterday.

October 18, 2 3/4 o'clock PM - Our 3 companies just now returned home.

All diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jacob's Pen 1

Many students of the Civil War are familiar with the letters, journals, and memoirs of soldiers from both sides. These sources offer extraordinary insights into the daily life and sentiments of those fighting the battles of our nation's defining moments. But how were these defining moments viewed - how were they felt - on the home front? Luckily for students of local history in the Frederick County, Maryland, area, we have The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by the Frederick County Historical Society.

Throughout the sesquicentennial (150 year) anniversary commemorations of the Civil War, we'll view that period from the perspective of this first-generation German-American pro-Union storekeeper. Entries are written verbatim - spelling mistakes, erroneous reports, politically sensitive language, and biased opinions included.

Jacob's home town of Frederick, Maryland, is about twenty miles east of Harpers Ferry. As the anniversary of John Brown's raid kicks off the six-plus year sesquicentennial, we'll begin Jacob's Civil War story here, on October 17, 1859.

At 8 o'clock that morning, Engelbrecht recorded a typical entry in his diary about the arrival of a new minister for the new German Methodist Missionary congregation in Frederick. Two hours later, he would make note of an event whose shockwaves forever changed our nation.

"Harpers Ferry riot - The Independent Bell & the United or Swamp Bell are both now ringing (Swamp first) calling together the military companies of our city. The report from Harpers Ferry is that there is a kind of insurrection among the Negros of Jefferson County Virginia & want to seize the United States arms there or that the workmen at the Ferry are somewhat rebellious.
- Monday October 17, 1859 10 o'clock AM"

Later that day:

"Monday October 17 1/2 past 3 o'clock PM - Our three town companies Captain Sinn, Captain Ritchie, & Captain Hobbs just started for the cars at the Depot for the scene of War - Harpers Ferry."

All diary entries in the "Jacob's Pen" series come directly from The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, published by The Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Southern Rats

There's a scene in the film Gettysburg where Tom Chamberlain asks some Tennessee Confederate captives to explain what motivates the southern soldier's fight. "Ahm fah-tin' fo mah rats. All of us heah, that's what we-uhs fah-tin' fo," says one (w/ typical Hollywood indulgence). Chamberlain looks very confused and asks, "For your what?" "Fo ouwah rats," repeats the man. Viewers are meant to laugh at Chamberlain's inability to realize the soldier is fighting for his rights. Or is he?

Following is an anecdote from a real Tennessee veteran. In his famous memoir, Company Aytch, Private Sam Watkins of the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry writes:

"While stationed at this place, Chattanooga, rations were very scarce and hard to get, and it was, perhaps, economy on the part of our General and commissaries to issue rather scant rations.

"About this time we learned that Pemberton's army, stationed at Vicksburg, were subsisting entirely on rats. Instead of the idea being horrid, we were glad to know that 'necessity is the mother of invention,' and that the idea had originated in the mind of genius. We at once acted upon the information, and started out rat hunting; but we couldn't find any rats. Presently we came to an old outhouse that seemed to be a natural harbor for this kind of vermin. The house was quickly torn down and out jumped an old residenter, who was old and gray. I suppose that he had been chased before. But we had jumped him and were determined to catch him, or 'burst a boiler.'

"After chasing him backwards and forwards, the rat finally got tired of this foolishness and started for his hole. But a rat's tail is the last that goes in the hole, and as he went in we made a grab for his tail. Well, tail hold broke, and we held the skin of his tail in our hand. But we we were determined to have that rat. After hard work we caught him.

"We skinned him, washed and salted him, buttered and peppered him, and fried him. He actually looked nice. The delicate aroma of the frying rat came to our hungry nostrils. We were keen to eat a piece of rat; our teeth were on edge; yea, even our mouth watered to eat a piece of rat. Well, after a while, he was said to be done. I got a piece of cold corn dodger, laid my piece of the rat on it, [ate] a little piece of bread, and raised the piece of rat to my mouth, when I happened to think of how that rat's tail did slip.

"I had lost my appetite for dead rat. I did not eat any rat. It was my first and last effort to eat dead rats."

Photo: https://secure.seabreeze.com.au/img/photos/kitesurfing/2559681.jpg

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lookout Mountain: Then & Now

After the battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland reoccupied Chattanooga along the Tennessee River. Looking down on them from the heights of Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain was Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee.

Moccasin Point (Then)

Photo caption: "From heights such as this Lookout Mountain perch over Moccasin Point on the Tennessee River, General Braxton Bragg's Rebels controlled nearly all routes to Chattanooga, thus throttling the flow of supplies to the Union army in the town." But this position was not as effective as one would imagine. The artillery did not have the necessary range to cover the entire vicinity; because of the extreme angle of the slopes, gunners could not lower their guns enough to cover all attacks; a dense fog (precipitation or battle smoke?) helped mask Union attackers; and, importantly, southern troops suffered from extremely poor provisions.

Moccasin Point (Now)
Private Sam Watkins, Company H, First Tennessee (Confederate), remembers his time spent on Lookout Mountain: "Maney's brigade fortified on top of Lookout Mountain. From this position we could see five states. The Yankees had built a fort across the river, on Moccasin Point, and were throwing shells at us continually. I have never seen such accurate shooting in my life . . . The soldiers were starved and almost naked, and covered all over with lice and camp itch and filth and dirt. The men looked sick, hollow-eyed, and heart-broken, living principally upon parched corn, which had been picked out of the mud and dirt under the feet of officers' horses. We thought of nothing but starvation."

The stranglehold snapped on November 25, when the Federals (joined by Sherman from the west and Hooker from Virginia, and placed under overall command of U.S. Grant) wrestled Lookout Mountain from the southerners' grips in the "Battle Above the Clouds," helping to unlock the valley for Sherman's subsequent march to Atlanta.

Lookout Rock (Then)
In the pre-dawn hours of November 25, 1863, Captain John Wilson and five others of the 8th Kentucky climbed Lookout Mountain and planted the regiment's national flag. Photo caption: "Captain [John] Wilson poses . . . with the five soldiers of the 8th Kentucky who helped him signal victory by carrying the first Union flag to the crest of the mountain. From left to right stand Sergeant Joseph Wagers, Private Joseph Bradley, Sergeant Harris Davis, Private William Witt, and Sergeant James Wood. The bearded, 49-year-old Wilson balances at the edge of the stone outcropping, holding the flag. All of the men were granted 30-day furloughs for their brave and inspiring action."

Lookout Rock (Now)

Wilson remembered: "Those who have seen the awe-inspiring precipice at the top of the great mountain can realize what a serious undertaking was before us . . . Dim daylight was dawning. We crept cautiously upward, clutching at rocks and bushes, supporting each other, using sticks and poles and such other aids as we could gather. At every step we expected to be greeted with deadly missiles of some sort from the enemy. But fortune favored us, and before sun-up I, in front, reached the summit and planted the flag on top of Lookout Mountain. It was the highest flag that was planted during the war . . . [We] were the lions of the day in the Union army."


-Mathless, Paul and Henry Woodhead, ed. 1863: Turning Point of the Civil War. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Inc., 1998.

-Watkins, Sam. Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show. M.Thomas Inge, ed. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tromp Shot 2

Today's Tromp Shot:

Worthington House porch offers a July afternoon rest in the shade.

Monocacy National Battlefield (Frederick, Maryland)
(Click photo for larger view.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tromp Shot 1

While trying to figure out various technical issues with my blogging site, I figured I could at least post some of my favorite battlefield photos. Thus begins "Tromp Shots," (semi)daily posts of personal favorite photos I've taken over the years. If you have similar shots you'd like to share, feel free to send a link!

Today's Tromp Shot:

Louisiana heralds the closing of another day over the fields of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg National Military Park (Adams County, Pennsylvania)
(Click photo for larger view.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Living Memory

Today's will be the first in a running series of posts dedicated to extra-ordinary memorials I've stumbled across in my Civil War travels. Various aspects make a memorial atypical, such as its design, location, and subject. Also helping a memorial to stand out are the answers to important questions: Who funded and raised the monument? Why did they choose this subject? In what context was it completed? In this sense, a memorial adds much historical value to its many stories it shares. Please join me in exploring this unique side of Living Memory.

Visiting Frederick, Maryland's Mount Olivet Cemetery is always a moving experience. In fact, that will be the subject of an upcoming post. For now, let's just walk towards the crowded crest in the center of the grounds. We'll pass a row of tombstones to our right that seems to extend for miles. These are Confederate soldiers killed mostly in the nearby battles of South Mountain, Antietam, and Monocacy. Turning south, we view the Monument to the Unknown Southern Dead. It would be easy to end our visit here; however, we'll follow the circle walkway until we find this "Living Memory" lying low to the ground.

So far, this is the only memorial I've seen that chooses to honor the children who "served and died in the Civil War."

Here is a close-up of the artwork. This nonpartisan lament depicts a drummer boy with Union and Confederate flags spread as angels' wings.

Loving hands recently visited as evidenced by the offerings placed before the memorial.

Brian Downey's highly regarded site, Antietam on the Web, provides the example of Johnny Cook (1847-1915), a former paper boy from Cincinnati, Ohio. This fifteen year old bugler of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery earned a Medal of Honor for his brave actions at Antietam. His medal citation explains that after many of his comrades were killed or wounded along the Hagerstown Pike Cook "volunteered to act as a cannoneer, and as such volunteer served a gun under a tense fire of the enemy." Here is the site of this action.

As the memorial attests, not all child volunteers survived the war. In fact, while viewing this tribute I thought of the fact that many of the soldiers on both sides were children themselves. Those on the homefront suffered tremendously, too. For an intriguing study of the effect of the Civil War on our nation's youth, read James Marten's The Children's Civil War. In addition to a thorough study, Marten includes an excellently detailed bibliography that provides an ideal starting point for further research. Next time I visit the children's memorial at Mount Olivet, I'll try to remember Marten's words: "There may be no statues . . . [to] children among the tens of thousands staring out over old battlefields, no tarnished medals on frayed ribbons lying in velvet-lined museum displays. But Civil War children will be remembered; their stories are their monuments" (Marten, 5).

Friday, September 25, 2009


October promises to be an exciting month. I plan to make my first visit to Ball's Bluff, a battlefield I've been meaning to see for a long time. Lincoln lost his good friend Edward Baker here (he named a son after the senator), as Union troops were embarrassingly pushed across the field, down the bluff, and into the river. I find it interesting to visit battlefields from 1861, when idealism still reigned supreme and both sides still felt victory was the next battle away. Also, I haven't visited too many sites where autumn provided the conflict's backdrop. This should prove a sensual environment for reflection.

Competing with Ball's Bluff for my enthusiasm is my personal kick-off to the sesquicentennial commemoration! The next six years (if not more) will be an exciting time for CW students, as each 150th anniversary earns special attention. I plan to begin with John Brown's raid of Harper's Ferry. First comes a presentation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, where David Shriver Lovelace will present "John Brown's Raid, October 1859 - the Frederick Militia" to the Frederick County Civil War Roundtable. The following evening, I hope to join other trekkers for a five-mile procession from Brown's staging area at the Kennedy Farm (MD) to Harper's Ferry (WVA). I'll definitely bring my notebook and camera, as my intention is to document as many of the sesquicentennial events as possible. Regrettably, I probably won't be able to make any of the exciting symposiums, plays, and tours planned for Harper's Ferry and Charles Town that weekend. But I'll get my fix, that's for sure!

For more information on events during the John Brown's Raid sesquicentennial commemoration, click here.

The Language of Place

By way of introduction, I'm posting a photo of one of my favorite spots on any Civil War (CW) battlefield. For such an incredibly serene place, the air is pregnant with the myriad of emotions soldiers left here almost 150 years ago. I feel the fear and desperation of troops huddling under the bluffs, and I sense a blend of anxiety and confidence from incoming reinforcements. The shoreline still remembers cradling this springtime scene - it's obvious when one takes the time to listen to the language of the place. Can you name this spot?
We have a winner (Adam): The Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing, Shiloh National Military Park (TN).