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.

Read more about the history of embalming and its rise during the Civil War on their website. [/sws_grey_box]