Earlier this year we promised to provide you with regular posts on primary resources for the Civil War in honor of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War.  But life happens, and we’ve had an awful lot of “life” happening here in the office lately, so we haven’t been very regular.  We’re hoping to get more regular with these posts again now, but we’re not going to promise this time! Maybe we can offer you a “we’ll try as hard as we can”?

For this post, we’re taking a look at the battle of Fort Sumter through the eyes of Mary Boykin Miller – to whom we owe a tremendous debt for providing us for such rich insight into the Civil War at a time when recording history-in-the-making for posterity was difficult to do.  Literary critics have called Chesnut’s diary “a work of art” and the most important work by a Confederate author.

Who was Mary Boykin Miller?

mary boykin miller, civil war, civil war 150th anniversary, civil war diaries, civil war primary resources, civil war sesquicentennial, fort sumter, mary chesnut, women's historyMary Boykin Miller was born March 31, 1823 in the High Hills of Santee, South Carolina.  At the age of 17 she married James Chesnut, a prominent lawyer and politician who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1858, and went on to serve the Confederacy as an aide to Jefferson Davis and as a brigadier general.  The Chesnuts moved in the very highest circles of Southern society.

Mary was a South Carolina author noted for a book published as her Civil War diary, a “vivid picture of a society in the throes of its life-and-death struggle.” She described the war from within her upper-class circles of Southern planter society, but encompassed all classes in her book.

Chesnut worked toward a final form of her book in 1881-1884, based on her extensive diary written during the war years. It was published after her death in 1905.  C. Vann Woodward  annotated edition of the diary, Mary Chesnut’s Civil War (1981), won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1982.

The following is an excerpt from Mary’s diary entries while she was at the First Battle at Fort Sumter from April 11th, 1861 to April 13th, 1861.

April 12th.  Anderson will not capitulate. Yesterday’s was the merriest, maddest dinner we have had yet. Men were audaciously wise and witty. We had an unspoken foreboding that it was to be our last pleasant meeting. Mr. Miles dined with us to-day. Mrs. Henry King rushed in saying, “The news, I come for the latest news. All the men of the King family are on the Island,” of which fact she seemed proud.

While she was here our peace negotiator, or envoy, came in – that is, Mr. Chesnut returned. His interview with Colonel Anderson had been deeply interesting, but Mr. Chesnut was not inclined to be communicative. He wanted his dinner. He felt for Anderson and had telegraphed to President Davis for instructions – what answer to give Anderson, etc. He has now gone back to Fort Sumter with additional instructions. When they were about to leave the wharf A. H. Boykin sprang into the boat in great excitement. He thought himself ill-used, with a likelihood of fighting and he to be left behind!

I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate I prayed as I never prayed before.

There was a sound of stir all over the house, pattering of feet in the corridors. All seemed hurrying one way. I put on my double-gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting. In the dark I heard a man say, “Waste of ammunition.” I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. If Anderson was obstinate, Colonel Chesnut was to order the fort on one side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon, there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction?

The women were wild there on the housetop. Prayers came from the women and imprecations from the men. And then a shell would light up the scene. To-night they say the forces are to attempt to land. We watched up there, and everybody wondered that Fort Sumter did not fire a shot.

To-day Miles and Manning, colonels now, aides to Beauregard, dined with us. The latter hoped I would keep the peace. I gave him only good words, for he was to be under fire all day and night, down in the bay carrying orders, etc.

Last night, or this morning truly, up on the housetop I was so weak and weary I sat down on something that looked like a black stool. “Get up, you foolish woman. Your dress is on fire,” cried a man. And he put me out. I was on a chimney and the sparks had caught my clothes. Susan Preston and Mr. Venable then came up. But my fire had been extinguished before it burst out into a regular blaze.

Do you know, after all that noise and our tears and prayers, nobody has been hurt; sound and fury signifying nothing – a delusion and a snare.

Louisa Hamilton came here now. This is a sort of news center. Jack Hamilton, her handsome young husband, has all the credit of a famous battery, which is made of railroad iron. Mr. Petigru calls it the boomerang, because it throws the balls back the way they came; so Lou Hamilton tells us. During her first marriage, she had no children; hence the value of this lately achieved baby. To divert Louisa from the glories of “the Battery,” of which she raves, we asked if the baby could talk yet. “No, not exactly, but he imitates the big gun when he hears that. He claps his hands and cries ‘Boom, boom.’ ” Her mind is distinctly occupied by three things: Lieutenant Hamilton, whom she calls “Randolph,” the baby, and the big gun, and it refuses to hold more.

Pryor, of Virginia, spoke from the piazza of the Charleston hotel. I asked what he said. An irreverent woman replied: “Oh, they all say the same thing, but he made great play with that long hair of his, which he is always tossing aside!”

Somebody came in just now and reported Colonel Chesnut asleep on the sofa in General Beauregard’s room. After two such nights he must be so tired as to be able to sleep anywhere.

Just bade farewell to Langdon Cheves. He is forced to go home and leave this interesting place. Says he feels like the man that was not killed at Thermopylae. I think he said that unfortunate had to hang himself when he got home for very shame. Maybe he fell on his sword, which was the strictly classic way of ending matters.

I do not wonder at Louisa Hamilton’s baby; we hear nothing, can listen to nothing; boom, boom goes the cannon all the time. The nervous strain is awful, alone in this darkened room. “Richmond and Washington ablaze,” say the papers – blazing with excitement. Why not? To us these last days’ events seem frightfully great. We were all women on that iron balcony. Men are only seen at a distance now. Stark Means, marching under the piazza at the head of his regiment, held his cap in his hand all the time he was in sight. Mrs. Means was leaning over and looking with tearful eyes, when an unknown creature asked, “Why did he take his hat off?” Mrs. Means stood straight up and said: “He did that in honor of his mother; he saw me.” She is a proud mother, and at the same time most unhappy. Her lovely daughter Emma is dying in there, before her eyes, of consumption. At that moment I am sure Mrs. Means had a spasm of the heart; at least, she looked as I feel sometimes. She took my arm and we came in.

April 13th.  Nobody has been hurt after all. How gay we were last night. Reaction after the dread of all the slaughter we thought those dreadful cannon were making. Not even a battery the worse for wear. Fort Sumter has been on fire. Anderson has not yet silenced any of our guns. So the aides, still with swords and red sashes by way of uniform, tell us. But the sound of those guns makes regular meals impossible. None of us go to table. Tea-trays pervade the corridors going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery. Mrs. Wigfall and I solace ourselves with tea in my room. These women have all a satisfying faith. “God is on our side,” they say. When we are shut in Mrs. Wigfall and I ask “Why?” “Of course, He hates the Yankees, we are told. You’ll think that well of Him.”

Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Lawrence sits at our door, sleepy and respectful, and profoundly indifferent. So are they all, but they carry it too far. You could not tell that they even heard the awful roar going on in the bay, though it has been dinning in their ears night and day. People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?

So tea and toast came; also came Colonel Manning, red sash and sword, to announce that he had been under fire, and didn’t mind it. He said gaily: “It is one of those things a fellow never knows how he will come out until he has been tried. Now I know I am a worthy descendant of my old Irish hero of an ancestor, who held the British officer before him as a shield in the Revolution, and backed out of danger gracefully.” We talked of St. Valentine’s eve, or the maid of Perth, and the drop of the white doe’s blood that sometimes spoiled all.

The war-steamers are still there, outside the bar. And there are people who thought the Charleston bar “no good” to Charleston. The bar is the silent partner, or sleeping partner, and in this fray it is doing us yeoman service.

April 15th.  I did not know that one could live such days of excitement. Some one called: “Come out! There is a crowd coming.” A mob it was, indeed, but it was headed by Colonels Chesnut and Manning. The crowd was shouting and showing these two as messengers of good news. They were escorted to Beauregard’s headquarters. Fort Sumter had surrendered! Those upon the housetops shouted to us “The fort is on fire.” That had been the story once or twice before.

When we had calmed down, Colonel Chesnut, who had taken it all quietly enough, if anything more unruffled than usual in his serenity, told us how the surrender came about. Wigfall was with them on Morris Island when they saw the fire in the fort; he jumped in a little boat, and with his handkerchief as a white flag, rowed over. Wigfall went in through a porthole. When Colonel Chesnut arrived shortly after, and was received at the regular entrance, Colonel Anderson told him he had need to pick his way warily, for the place was all mined. As far as I can make out the fort surrendered to Wigfall. But it is all confusion. Our flag is flying there. Fire-engines have been sent for to put out the fire. Everybody tells you half of something and then rushes off to tell something else or to hear the last news.

In the afternoon, Mrs. Preston, Mrs. Joe Heyward, and I drove around the Battery. We were in an open carriage.

What a changed scene – the very liveliest crowd I think I ever saw, everybody talking at once. All glasses were still turned on the grim old fort.

Russell,the correspondent of the London Times, was there. They took him everywhere. One man got out Thackeray to converse with him on equal terms. Poor Russell was awfully bored, they say. He only wanted to see the fort and to get news suitable to make up into an interesting article. Thackeray had become stale over the water.

Mrs. Frank Hampton and I went to see the camp of the Richland troops. South Carolina College had volunteered to a boy. Professor Venable (the mathematical), intends to raise a company from among them for the war, a permanent company. This is a grand frolic no more for the students, at least. Even the staid and severe of aspect, Clingman, is here. He says Virginia and North Carolina are arming to come to our rescue, for now the North will swoop down on us. Of that we may be sure. We have burned our ships. We are obliged to go on now. He calls us a poor, little, hot-blooded, headlong, rash, and troublesome sister State. General McQueen is in a rage because we are to send troops to Virginia.

Preston Hampton is in all the flush of his youth and beauty, six feet in stature; and after all only in his teens; he appeared in fine clothes and lemon-colored kid gloves to grace the scene. The camp in a fit of horse-play seized him and rubbed him in the mud. He fought manfully, but took it all naturally as a good joke.

Mrs. Frank Hampton knows already what civil war means. Her brother was in the New York Seventh Regiment, so roughly received in Baltimore. Frank will be in the opposite camp.

Good stories there may be and to spare for Russell, the man of the London Times, who has come over here to find out our weakness and our strength and to tell all the rest of the world about us.

 

In keeping with our promise to share with you various primary resources from the Civil War in honor of the sesquicentennial this year, here are a few photos from the Library of Congress’ extensive Civil War collection.  We’ve included some information about each of the subjects in the photos – some of which may be well known (like black soldiers) and others which may not (like the rise of embalming during the war). 

The Library of Congress has over sixteen thousand pictures from the Civil War – you can browse and search them on their website if you would like to spend more time taking a look at these wonderfully preserved artifacts from the war.

 

[Doctors examining a Federal prisoner returned from prison]

Doctors examining a Federal prisoner returned from prison

 

The Andersonville Civil War Prison

The Andersonville Civil War Prison was the most infamous of all the Civil War prisons. Located in the village of Andersonville, Sumpter County, Georgia, became notorious for its overcrowding, starvation, disease, and cruelty.  It was in operation from February 1864 to April 1865.

Andersonville Prison was established as a “stockade for Union enlisted men”.  The prison consisted of 27 acres and was enclosed with walls made of pine logs, which stood 15-20 feet high.  The “stockade” held a hospital but no barracks were ever constructed for the prisoners.  Originally intended to hold 10,000 men, Andersonville at one time held over 33,000 men.  According to records, a total of 49,485 prisoners went through the gates of Andersonville Prison.

Prisoners suffered from hunger, disease, medical shortages, and exposure.  The death rate at Andersonville was the highest of all Civil War prisons.  A staggering 13,700 men died within thirteen months!

The superintendent of the prison was Captain Henry Wirz.  It is said he was heartless and high-handed.  John L. Ransom, a Michigan sergeant and Andersonville prisoner, wrote in his diary on May 10, 1864:  “Captain Wirz very domineering and abusive, is afraid to come into camp any more.  A thousand men here would willingly die if they could kill him first.  The worst man I ever saw.”  Captain Wirz was tried and hanged by a military court after the war.

Andersonville Prison was investigated by the Confederate War Department, this mere fact would attest to the horrors suffered by prisoners at Andersonville. The prisoner’s burial ground is now a National Cemetery and contains 13,737 graves, of which 1,040 are marked unknown.

The area is now designated as a National Park and can be visited.  Visitors will experience a great sense of sorrow upon seeing this vast number of graves.

From censusdiggins.com, for a complete list of Civil War prisons with information on each of them visit this page on their website.  For their information on Andersonville, including a prisoner name search, POW database, and lists of prisoners who died at Andersonville, please visit this page on their website.

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Gibson's horse battery (C. 3d U.S. Art'y.) near Fair Oaks, Va. June 1862

Gibson’s horse battery (C. 3d U.S. Art’y.) near Fair Oaks, Va. June 1862


U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade

Officers of the Horse Artillery Brigade at Fair Oaks, 1862. Photo by James F. Gibson. Library of Congress.

The Horse Artillery Brigade of the Army of the Potomac was a brigade of various batteries of horse artillery during the American Civil War. Made up almost entirely of individual, company-strength batteries from the Regular Army’s five artillery regiments, the Horse Artillery operated under the command umbrella of the Cavalry Corps. The Horse Artillery differed from other light artillery (also known as “mounted” artillery) in that each member of the unit traveled on his own horse, rather than the traditional light artillery practice of some riding horses, while others rode on the limbers and caissons, with still others traveling on foot. With each man on his own horse, the unit could travel faster and more efficiently. It was the brainchild of former artillery captain and Brig. Gen. William Farquhar Barry, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac, in 1861. With such a large percentage of the U.S. Horse Artillery being artillery batteries from the regular U.S. Army, it developed a superb reputation for military efficiency, accuracy of fire, and command presence in the field and in battle.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″]  Term: “Battery” (Civil War) Refers to one or more pieces of artillery.  Usually, a Field Battery of Artillery was attached to each Infantry Brigade, and this Battery would include 1 captain, 3 lieutenants, 150 men with 6 guns and 88 horses.  The guns were muzzle loaders, 3 inch rifles, or 6 or 12 pdr. smooth bore. Late in the war, batteries were reduced to 4 guns.  Also, a Battery of Horse Artillery often accompanied each cavalry brigade, and this battery included 1 captain, 3 lieutenants, 150 men, 6 guns and 140 horses (cannoneers rode horses).

From the Wisconsin Historical Society website.[/sws_grey_box]

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[Two brothers in arms]

 

History of Black Troops in the Civil War

The U.S. Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act in July 1862. It freed slaves of owners in rebellion against the United States, and amilitia act empowered the President to use freed slaves in any capacity in the army. President Abraham Lincoln was concerned with public opinion in the four border states that remained in the Union, as they had numerous slaveholders, as well as with northern Democrats who supported the war but were less supportive of abolition than many northern Republicans. Lincoln opposed early efforts to recruit black soldiers, although he accepted the Army’s using them as paid workers.

Union Army setbacks in battles over the summer of 1862 led Lincoln to emancipate all slaves in states at war with the Union. In September 1862 Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that all slaves in rebellious states would be free as of January 1. Recruitment of colored regiments began in full force following the Proclamation of January 1863.

The United States War Department issued General Order Number 143 on May 22, 1863, establishing a “Bureau of Colored Troops” to facilitate the recruitment of African-American soldiers to fight for the Union Army.  Regiments, including infantry, cavalry, engineers, light artillery, and heavy artillery units, were recruited from all states of the Union and became known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

[sws_pullquote_right] “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass [/sws_pullquote_right]

Approximately 175 regiments composed of more than 178,000 free blacks and freedmen served during the last two years of the war. Their service bolstered the Union war effort at a critical time. By war’s end, the men of the USCT composed nearly one tenth of all Union troops. The USCT suffered 2,751 combat casualties during the war, and 68,178 losses from all causes. Disease caused the most fatalities for all troops, black and white.

USCT regiments were led by white officers, and rank advancement was limited for black soldiers. The Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia opened a Free Military Academy for Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops at the end of 1863.  For a time, black soldiers received less pay than their white counterparts, but they (and their supporters) lobbied and gained equal pay.  Notable members of USCT regiments included Martin Robinson Delany, and the sons of Frederick Douglass.

The courage displayed by colored troops during the Civil War played an important role in African-Americans gaining new rights.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A battery of "Quaker Guns"

A battery of “Quaker Guns”

 

Quaker Guns

A Quaker Gun is a deception tactic that was commonly used in warfare during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although resembling an actual cannon, the Quaker Gun was simply a wooden log, usually painted black, used to deceive an enemy. Misleading the enemy as to the strength of an emplacement was an effective delaying tactic. The name derives from the Religious Society of Friends or “Quakers”, who have traditionally held a religious opposition to war and violence in the Peace Testimony.

Usage during the American Civil War

Quaker guns made of pine logs were mounted in a ruse to fool the Union into believing that the Confederates were much better armed at theSiege of Port Hudson, Louisiana in 1863. Black rings were painted on the end of the logs to make the muzzles look convincing. It worked. AfterAdmiral Farragut’s two vessels passed by Port Hudson, the Union chose to never attack from the river again

Quaker guns were used by both the Northern and Southern sides in the American Civil War. The Confederate States Army frequently used them to compensate for a shortage of artillery. They were painted black at the muzzle, and positioned behind fortifications to delay Union assaults on those positions. On occasion, real gun carriages were used to complete the deception.

Perhaps the most famous use of Quaker Guns was by Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston who placed Quaker Guns in his field works around Centreville, Virginia in March 1862, to indicate that the works were still occupied while, in fact, the Confederates were withdrawing to theRappahannock River.

Another major example occurred during the Siege of Corinth: “During the night of May 29, the Confederate army moved out. They used the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry the sick and wounded, the heavy artillery, and tons of supplies. When a train arrived, the troops cheered as though reinforcements were arriving. They set up dummy Quaker Guns along the defensive earthworks. Camp fires were kept burning, and buglers and drummers played. The rest of the men slipped away undetected…”

Quaker Guns were also used to bolster numerous Confederate fortifications during the Siege of Petersburg and greatly assisted in lengthening the amount of time the Confederates were able to hold their positions against the overwhelmingly superior and overbearing Union troops.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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[Unknown location. Embalming surgeon at work on soldier's body]

Embalming surgeon at work on soldier’s body

 

 Embalming During the Civil War

Wars are often responsible for medical and scientific advances, and the Civil War drove the need for a new science: an improved way to handle the dead. So many men died and so many were far from home, there was a growing need for a way to preserve a body for a decent burial once the body arrived home. Families wanted to see their fallen sons once more, and railroads added to the urgency by refusing to carry decaying bodies (identifiable by smell).

In the mid-19th century, the French developed a method of arterial embalming, and an American, a Dr. Thomas Holmes (1817-1900), who trained and worked as a coroner’s physician in New York in the 1850s, had begun experimenting with embalming methods used by the French.

The first military fatality of the war, Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (1837-1861), had worked for Lincoln in Springfield and later helped with the presidential campaign.  It was said that Dr. Holmes visited Lincoln and offered to embalm the body of Lincoln’s friend at no charge.

As a result of this successful effort to preserve the body, Dr. Holmes was given a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers in order that they might be sent home for burial. Holmes is said to have embalmed as many as 4,000 bodies himself, but he also created a fluid that could be used for embalming and sold it to other physicians for $3 per gallon. (At that time, the chemicals were a mixture of arsenic, zinc and mercuric chlorides, creosote, turpentine and alcohol. Formaldehyde, which soon became the primary ingredient, was not discovered until after the war.)

Though the practice of embalming established itself during the Civil War, the actual numbers of people who were embalmed were actually relatively small. Because of the difficulty in identifying bodies and communicating with families about sending a body home, only about 40,000 of the approximately 650,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War were embalmed.

With the end of the Civil War, the practice of embalming died out for a time since people were likely to die near home and could be buried more quickly. Embalming surgeons became a thing of the past, and when interest in embalming returned again in the 1890s, undertakers began to perform these duties. Companies that wanted to sell embalming fluid sent salesmen around the country to demonstrate the process and provide certificates of training, and the practice grew. (State licensing finally entered the picture in the 1930s.)

From americacomesalive.com.

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Embalming was performed by those with a medical background and usually involved the use of toxic chemicals. Embalming was performed by squeezing a rubber ball that would pump the embalming fluid into the deceased’s artery in the area of the armpit. This process took a couple of hours. There rarely was a need to drain blood because that occurred on the battlefield. When the embalming was complete, the body was placed in a wooden box usually lined with zinc. On the lid appeared the name of the deceased along with his parents’ names. Inside were his personal belongings. Holmes’ fee for embalming was $50 for an officer and $25 for an enlisted man. As the war continued and embalmers were in high demand, those figures rose to $80 and $30, respectively.

From The Washington Times.

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