Tag Archives: Civil War

“The End Approacheth”

Portion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Portion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

The sun rose on Independence Day, 1863, to find the Confederate States of America reeling from two disastrous engagements at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

From Pennsylvania, Charles Pennypacker wrote to his cousin Ellen Fort in Todd County, Kentucky, that his fellow citizens had “rallied as one man” to defend the state against General Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate army.  July 1, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, “was but a repetition of ‘Shiloh,’” and on the next day Lee “hurled columns after columns of troops upon our lines.”  But on July 3, Charles reported proudly, “their whole army was in full retreat” toward Richmond and “we begin to see that ‘the end approacheth.’”

Like many tide-turning battles, Gettysburg left military historians asking “what if?”  In particular, how much blame did Lieutenant General James Longstreet deserve when, on the second day of battle, he delayed executing an early-morning assault that could have given the Confederates the upper hand?  Was Longstreet, who had made clear his disagreement with Lee over tactics, merely tardy, or was he insubordinate or even treasonous?

Confederate veteran J. W. Anderson looked forward to discussing the issue with a former comrade at their 1905 reunion in Louisville, Kentucky.  A defender of Longstreet, who he occasionally saw after the war, Anderson insisted that the relations between General Lee and his subordinate commander were “always of the most cordial manner.”  But a century later, the question still bothered Laban Lacy Rice, a Webster County, Kentucky native, polymath, and former president of Cumberland University.  In 1967, he sought the opinion of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “an expert who knows Gettysburg as I know my back yard.”

Replying from his farm, where he lived in retirement near the battlefield, Eisenhower concluded that Gettysburg had been “a succession of frustrations” for General Lee, and that his decisions could not be adequately examined in a short letter.  Nevertheless, Eisenhower judged Longstreet’s failure to attack early on July 2 as “his worse error of the battle.”  As for Pickett’s Charge, the ill-fated assault on July 3 named after one of Longstreet’s generals, Eisenhower did not think it could have been successful at any time during that day.  As Charles Pennypacker observed, “the end” had approacheth.

Click on the links for finding aids to these materials, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more of our Civil War collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Covered with Carnage”

Early in the morning of Sunday, April 6, 1862, Confederate soldiers surprised an encampment of troops under Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh Meeting House, two miles inland from Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.  Thus began the Battle of Shiloh, a clash that would shock the nation with its nearly 24,000 casualties—making it the costliest battle in American history up to that time.  Among those killed was Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston.  The previous fall, Johnston had set up headquarters in occupied Bowling Green, Kentucky, and his name is now associated with the fortification that once occupied the Hill on WKU’s campus.

General Albert Sidney Johnston

General Albert Sidney Johnston

One of the witnesses to the destruction at Shiloh was Jacob W. Davis of McLean County, Kentucky.  After suffering the loss of his wife, the disconsolate farmer had left his small daughter in the care of his brother George and enlisted in the Union Army.  In a letter to George written a few days after the battle, Davis reported hearing the “roar of cannon” that Sunday from his camp nearby.  The next day, as Davis’s company waited to cross the Tennessee River, the battle resumed with “uncommon fury. . . and raged with all terror that can be imagined for it cannot be described.”

Finally, Davis crossed the river on Tuesday and surveyed the battle scene.  The ground “was covered with carnage,” and he was sickened “at the awful sight of men & horses in confused heaps putrifying together.”  He estimated the losses on both sides to be in the thousands, and learned from comrades that the recent battle at Fort Donelson “was nothing to this.”  Small gangs of Confederates remained in the area, he reported, shooting stragglers from the Union side and mutilating their bodies.

Despite the horrors, Davis cast his mind back home to his deceased wife Katherine and their small child.  “If heaven so wills that I never get back,” he wrote George, he was to place a proper headstone on Katherine’s grave and “take special care” of “poor little Ada.”  Those duties would indeed fall to George, as Jacob now lies buried in Shiloh National Cemetery.

J. W. Davis gravestone, Shiloh National Cemetery

J. W. Davis, Shiloh National Cemetery

Jacob Davis’s letter is part of the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid and typescript can be downloaded here.  For more collections relating to the Battle of Shiloh, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections.

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Mrs. Hoffman

Mary Hoffman's Confederate service

Mary Hoffman’s Confederate service

If it wasn’t for her five children, perhaps she would have tried to enlist, disguised as a man.  Although Mary Elizabeth Hoffman never joined the unique ranks of such warriors, she didn’t allow her sex to defeat her personal crusade on behalf of the Confederacy.

Born in Boyle County, Kentucky in 1825, Mary saw her husband William, a son, and three brothers enter Confederate service during the Civil War.  At home in Cynthiana, Mary jumped into the fray, delivering food, messages, aid and comfort to local rebels.  Though auburn-haired and fair-skinned, she often managed to pass through Union lines posing as an African American.  When some Confederate soldiers at a nearby hotel were cut off from their command and in danger of capture, Mary secured their horses, removed the incriminating weapons and uniforms from their saddle bags, and with the help of another Southern sympathizer later reunited the gear with its owners.

In April 1862, Mary resolved to head south to check on the welfare of her soldier menfolk, an undertaking that involved passing through numerous blockades and towns under martial law.  With a stash of letters concealed in her clothing, she was denied a pass at Chattanooga, but wagered the commandant in charge that she would get through anyway.  She did, by way of a midnight boat trip and a mule ride over mountainous terrain.  When she arrived at her husband’s camp, she spent several months ministering to his wounded comrades.  On the way back, she earned a pass from the commandant she had outwitted on the trip down.

In February 1863, however, Mary was arrested in Lexington and detained by the federals.  Once again, she donned a disguise, climbed out a second-story window, and escaped.  The Yankees caught up with her again and sent Mary and her husband, now discharged from service, north of the Ohio River where they would presumably make less trouble.  They were eventually paroled and returned to Cynthiana, where Mary’s husband met an early death after an altercation with a Union soldier and Mary, who died in 1888, would be remembered as a determined soldier of the South.

Click here to link to a collection describing the exploits of Mary Hoffman, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life (Part 2)

George Messer's letter

George Messer’s letter

When we last saw Civil War soldier George Messer in May 1863, the Illinois volunteer was at Camp Hobson (formerly Camp Joe Kelly) near Glasgow, Kentucky.  He was grumbling about “dog tents,” two-man canvas shelters no better suited for canines than humans.  Man’s best friend also gets a mention in another of Messer’s letters, recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Writing two months earlier to his wife Lottie, Messer had been somewhat more content.  Despite the cold temperatures of early spring, he was feeling well, had put on weight, and was hopeful that the war would end soon.  He described the dramatic changes made to the local countryside by Union troops seeking to protect their position from surprise attack.  “Timber around our camp it is to be cut off clean for five hundred yards all around,” he explained, “and five hundred more to be cut down and left lay.”  So thick was the coverage of trees and brush “that when it is cut down you could not shove a dog through it backwards.”

His comrades on picket duty reminded Messer of “cows on a stormy wet day,” when they would “put their backs to the storm and turn up one side of their heads to try and shun as much of it as possible.”  Nevertheless, the sentries had some fun with a lieutenant who had returned from town without his military pass, resulting in his brief incarceration in the guard house.  Messer noted with satisfaction that such “Shoulder Strap gentlemen” were granted no easier passage than a private when they ventured outside of camp.  In his “dog tent” letter, he had also expressed little affection for these epaulette-bedecked officers and their habit of grabbing credit for “great exploits” that were in fact the work of the common soldier.

Click on the links to access finding aids and typescripts of George Messer’s letters.  Click here to browse our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Pardon Me (Part 2)

Erasmus Gardenhire letter

Erasmus Gardenhire seeks a pardon

As we have seen, many Americans who pledged loyalty to the South during the Civil War were compelled to seek pardons in order to resume their economic and civic lives.  Although Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson issued general amnesties, members of the Confederate Congress and high-ranking Confederate Army officers were not covered by this blanket reprieve; instead, they had to petition specifically for a pardon from the chief executive.

Tennessee’s Erasmus L. Gardenhire was excluded from the general amnesty on two counts: not only had he served in the Confederate government, he had abandoned his judicial office to aid the rebellion.  Seeking support for his pardon application, on May 28, 1865 Gardenhire wrote to Jonathan Davis Hale of Nashville, who had served as a kind of intelligence chief for the Union command in Tennessee.  “I now desire to return to my allegiance and make a good citizen,” he assured Hale.  Having lost much of his fortune during the war, Gardenhire had “a large and helpless family of children, most of which are small daughters.” From Burkesville, Kentucky, he asked Hale to “use your influence with the proper authorities, that I may be permitted to stay with them and provide for them.”

Hale turned over Gardenhire’s letter and scrawled his endorsement on the back. “Dear President,” he addressed Johnson, who had served as military governor of Tennessee.  “You will remember Judge Gardenhire.  I am satisfyed he has suffered much both in mind & Body and I can forgive him if you will pardon him.”

Gardenhire filed his petition on August 18, but whether a pardon actually followed is unclear (Tennessee’s governor, William G. Brownlow, opposed it). Nevertheless, Gardenhire seemed to earn some measure of forgiveness, for he soon returned to his legal, political and judicial vocations.  President Andrew Johnson, meanwhile, was headed for a showdown with Radical Republicans in Congress and their ally, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, over Reconstruction policies.  Ultimately, Johnson’s attempt to fire Stanton and replace him with a more sympathetic cabinet member triggered the first impeachment proceedings against an American president.

Click on the links to access finding aids relating to these Civil War pardons, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Full Disclosure

Edward Crossland and his bio

Edward Crossland and his bio

It was an impressive resume, probably written for the Congressional Directory, that Edward Crossland (1827-1881) composed on letterhead of the 42nd Congress of the United States.  Elected as a Democrat in 1870 to represent Kentucky’s First Congressional District, the Hickman County native was a lawyer and former state representative who had resigned a judgeship in order to go to Washington.  Among his accomplishments, Crossland carefully noted the margin of his electoral victory–7,930 votes to 2,980–over his GOP opponent.

As is common in a mid-term election, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Party had lost seats in the House, but retained its overall majority.  Also expected, perhaps, was Crossland’s omission, in these first years of Reconstruction, of some dramatic biographical details: as an officer in the Confederate Army, he had seen battle in Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the last being under controversial Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” in U.S. Grant’s words) as he tried to defend Selma in the last days of the Civil War.

Crossland’s non-disclosure of his military career might have led to a flurry of cable news comment today, but there was no cause for concern among his supporters in the South, where Democratic candidates successfully ran against Radical Republicans and their civil rights agenda.  On March 11, 1871, in fact, the Hickman Courier expressed relief at the news that Crossland had been duly sworn in as a member of Congress.  “Many leading men in this District,” the editors reported, “entertained serious apprehensions that Radical vindictiveness would seek to exclude him from the seat to which our people had elected him.”

Edward Crossland’s handwritten biography is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other Kentucky political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life

On May 23, 1863, Illinois volunteer George Messer, nursing a swollen ankle and the first signs of scurvy, penned a letter to his wife from Camp Hobson near Glasgow, Kentucky.  Some of his news, he admitted, “may appear somewhat ridiculous but it is nevertheless true.”  He and his comrades had been ordered to surrender their tents in exchange for new ones.  He then described the wedge-shaped tents that appear in so many images of Civil War encampments.  Each soldier carried one half of the tent, a two-pound sheet of canvas about six feet square.  When buttoned at the top, supported with poles or saplings, and anchored to the ground, they formed a rudimentary shelter for two men.  Judging these accommodations to be more fit for canines than humans, the soldiers quickly dubbed them “dog tents.”

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

Messer noted sarcastically that when his regimental commander required the men “to appear like Gentlemen on all and every occasion,” yet made them haul and use these “low and unhandy” tents, “it is more than enough to cause the soldier to be pleased and satisfied.”  His mates had made sure to communicate their “satisfaction” the next morning while preparing for roll call.  “You never heard such barking as the boys made,” he wrote, “they imitated from the Bull dog down to the little Rat terrier and they would frequently break out into a fight in imitations of dogs.”  A couple of unpopular promotions had also rankled the men, but Messer admitted that the wisest course was “to quietly submit” to these recent affronts.  In such circumstances, however, he found the rumors of a military draft disquieting. Imagine the barking then, he implied: “There is enough of the soldiers dissatisfied now and those that would be drafted into the army would be more so.”

George Messer’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and typescript.  For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Pardon Me (Please!)

Josiah Pillsbury's respite

Josiah Pillsbury’s respite

On December 10, 1861, the Confederate States of America officially recognized a group of secessionists calling themselves the Provisional Confederate Government of Kentucky.  This “shadow” regime, however, never gained legitimacy in Frankfort; in fact, it chose Bowling Green, then under occupation by Confederate forces, as its capital.  (A historical marker commemorating the designation stands on WKU’s campus).

The first governor of Confederate Kentucky was Scott County lawyer George W. Johnson.  In need of someone to fill the position of Auditor, and because his first choice had declined, Johnson asked Josiah Pillsbury of Bowling Green to serve in a temporary capacity.

Pillsbury’s reward for doing this favor for his friend was to find himself, along with other officials of the Provisional Government, indicted for treason by a Warren County grand jury.  In “claiming to be auditor in said pretended government,” read the indictment, Pillsbury had acted “in usurpation of the regular legitimate and constitutional government of the state” and cooperated with an army in “open rebellion” in order to wage war on the good citizens of the county.

Horrified, Pillsbury wrote a “my bad” letter, now in the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society, to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette.  He had wanted no part of the Confederate government, he insisted, but accepted the Auditor’s position only to accommodate Johnson until a replacement could be found. Supporting Pillsbury’s request for clemency were prominent Bowling Green attorneys William V. Loving and Robert Rodes.

Governor Bramlette obliged, but the document filed with the Warren County court was not a full pardon.  The constitution, Kentucky’s Secretary of State warned Pillsbury, only gave the Governor power to issue a temporary “respite”; the document Bramlette signed was, in fact, an edited version of a form used to extend the time for criminals “sentenced to be hung.”

The indictment of Josiah Pillsbury (who was eventually pardoned by President Lincoln) and other members of the Provisional Confederate Government of Kentucky, along with Bramlette’s respite, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more Civil War collections, click here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Fog of Civil War Kentucky

Civil War flagsIn a letter recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, a Confederate cavalryman tells his father of the ambiguities of war that confronted his Tennessee regiment after it occupied Brownsville, Kentucky.

First to be deciphered were the loyalties of the local citizenry: “strongly Union & Lincoln,” wrote the Rebel, and some “few southern men.”  But he detected “a difference between a Kentucky Union man & a Lincoln or an abolitionist.”  The principles of the latter made him more willing to fight, while the former, if forced to shed his neutrality, would cast his lot with the South.

Next was the level of the threat facing the Confederates, camped on a hill overlooking the town.  Someone had taken a shot at one of them while he was watering his horse at the Green River, prompting him to empty his pistol and raise the alarm. His comrades saddled and assembled in minutes to meet any attack with “a true Southern reception,” but both sides appeared to avoid any escalation.

Then came the question of how the occupiers should assert their authority, and here our correspondent had great praise for the diplomatic skill of his captain, John Bell Hamilton, a Tennessee lawyer and Methodist clergyman.  The “old United States flag was waving here when we came,” he wrote, but Captain Hamilton “gave the citizens a chance to take it down and they did so.”  There was, however, “no shouting, when it fell, for the Capt had injoined upon us not to, thinking it the best policy.”  And likewise, “no demonstration” had accompanied the raising of the Confederate flag in camp.  This “cautious & prudent” commander, wrote his subordinate with evident relief, was “making friends, certainly no enemies.”

A finding aid and typescript of this Confederate soldier’s letter can be accessed here.  For more Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Hale’s Recollections of Confederate Guerilla “Champ Ferguson”

Champ Ferguson

Champ Ferguson

The Civil War as a research topic never ceases to draw interest. The addition of a broadsheet to the Kentucky Library Research Collections adds to our excellent holdings about Champ Ferguson. This sheet features Dr. Jonathan D. Hale’s recollections of the life of the Confederate Guerilla and includes a facsimile of a Ku Klux Klan threatening letter sent to Hale in 1868. The letter received from the Klan in 1868 was sent from Lodge Headquarters in Arkansas, on a “dark and dismal night, from a “muddy Road with BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD. The letter issued a strong warning: “This is to notify you that the Spirit of Champ Ferguson still lives, and there are men living that are determined to avenge his death – and you are also aware that your oppressive and wicked acts toward the best citizens of Overton County stand recorded against you -… Prepare to meet your God.”
Champ Ferguson was a personal enemy of Hale and destroyed his home and business. The state of Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan, Alvan Cullom, the killing of “Little Fount Zachery”, Henry Sublits(sic), loss of much property and the loyalties of Ferguson are noted. And that he was worthy of execution by hanging. “The military trial, held in Nashville, Tennessee, lasted from July to October 1865. Ferguson was sentenced to be hanged; he was denied the opportunity to provide a defense on his behalf, and the sentence was carried out on October 20, 1865. Ferguson’s body was turned over to his wife and daughter, who fulfilled his last request which was to be buried at his home in White County, Tennessee, on a branch of Calfkiller Creek.”
Hale would leave Tennessee and live out the rest of his life in New Hampshire having grown tired of being a “damn Yankee.”
See http://www.ajlambert.com/history/ct_hus.pdf
For more information on Champ Ferguson and the Civil War, visit WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, or contact spcol@wku.edu. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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