how about this

A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Friday, January 31, 2014

"Sir: In obedience to your order, I report the following experience . . .

Report of Commander Parker, U. S. Navy, commanding Potomac Flotilla, transmitting report of Lieutenant-Commander Eastman, U. S. Navy, on torpedoes taken from the Rappahannock River.

                                                                                    U.S. S. KING PHILIP,
                                                                   Blakistone Island, May 21, 1864.

 SIR: I have the honor to forward herewith a copy of a report of Lieutenant-Commander Eastman in relation to the construction of the torpedoes lately removed from the Rappahannock River and the manner of using them as demonstrated by the explosion of one of them in the St. Marys River on the 18th instant by my order.

                 Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                FOXHALL A. PARKER,
                                                    Commander, Commanding Potomac Flotilla.


             Secretary of the Navy.

                                                          U. S. SCHOONER MATTHEW VASSAR
                                                                                                 May 18, 1864.

 Sir: In obedience to your order, I report the following experience in the use of a torpedo taken from the rebels in the Rappahannock River:
 The torpedo is a cylindrical tin vessel, with a second small cylinder at the top, and with three apertnres, one on the side and bottom, for the purpose of receiving the powder, which apertures are afterwards closed with a gutta-percha wad, and on the wad outside is a covering of beeswax and tallow.
 The other aperture is at the top, and is for the purpose of receiving a friction primer, which is pnt in first, and the aperture then made water-tight by filling in with beeswax and tallow mixed.
 The friction primer is attached to the end of a wire, which extends from the outside to the center of the vessel, so that the primer lies in the middle of the powder always.
 To prevent the primer from having any lateral motion, three wires are soldered on to the sides of the vessel and join in the middle nearly, so that the primer may pass through their bent ends without danger of catching or moving.
 The small cylinder at the top of the torpedo is covered with a tin cap so as to hold the pulling line and prevent it from being touched until the torpedo is sunk, at which time time cap is removed and the line led out to the shore.
 The torpedo holds about 50 pounds of fine priming powder, and I enclose here a diagram showing dimensions, etc.
 After informing myself thoroughly as to the manner of using this new weapon (by carefully opening one), I exploded ammother in the following manner:
 Having attached a sinking weight to the two handles which are on the sides, I pulled with a small boat into the channel and then ran my line ashore, and after this was done, I carefully removed the tin cap and lowered the torpedo in 3 fathoms water.
 The boat was then pulled ashore and the line pulled from about 50 yards back in the bushes, when, without any noise, a column of water 60 feet high and 5 feet in diameter was thrown up, and, covering the woods with spray, fell, sending a circular wave about 1 foot high to the surrounding shore.
 The appearance was grand, and if a ship was directly over one of these torpedoes she would, in all probability, be sunk; but if alongside (except receiving a quantity of water on deck), I do not believe she would be injured.
 With the information gained, I feel competent to use the remaining torpedoes against the rebels whenever it is required of me.

                                                                                            T. H. EASTMAN,
                                                                    Lieutenant-Commander, U. S. Navy.

 Commanding Potomac Flotilla.

-Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.; Series I- Volume 5: Operations on the Potamac and Rappahannock Rivers (December 7, 1861-July 31, 1865); Atlantic Blockading Squadron (April 4, 1861-July 15, 1861)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Raising the Flag at Cold Harbor

Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel James M. Moore, Assistant Quartermaster U.S.A. has been informed that the National Cemetery at Cold Harbor Virginia, was completed on the 1st of May, and dedicated by a formal raising of the stars and stripes on the staff in the centre of the ground, and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by those present. This cemetery is situated on the Cold Harbor road, on the farm of Mrs. SLAUGHTER, and about a half mile from the old Cold Harbor house. It is 234 feet in length by 220 feet in width, and contains one and one sixth acres. The total number of bodies interred is 1,930; 50 commissioned officers, 1 chaplain, 89 non-commissioned officers, and 545 privates, beside 1,245 remains not yet identified. Through the efforts of Colonel MOORE, and the skillful corps of workmen under his direction, the names, rank, and regiment of 635 of the men buried at Cold Harbor are known and a record of them kept at Colonel Moore's office for reference.

-Army and Navy Journal, May 12, 1866

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Early Mushroom Cloud . . . or Palmetto Cloud

The Charleston Courier of the morning of the 20th—its last (Confederate) issue—thus describes the horrors of the evacuation of the city:
The terrible scenes through which this; immunity has passed since our last issue can only be conceived by those who witnessed the dreadful reality.—The saddest part of all is the loss of life which occurred between eight and nine o'clock Saturday morning from an accidental explosion of powder and the blowing up of the Northeastern rail road depot. About one hundred and fifty persons —including men, women and children —were either instantly killed or perished in the flames, and about two hundred wounded, of the immense destruction of property no estimate can be formed, but it will amount several millions.
Early Saturday morning, before the retirement of General Hardee's troops, every building, warehouse or shed, stored with cotton, was fired by a guard detailed for the purpose. The engines were brought out; but with the small force at the disposal of the Fire Department very little else could be done than to keep the surrounding buildings from igniting. On the western side of the city the conflagration raged with great fury. On the wharf of the Savannah railroad depot several hundred bales of cotton were awaiting shipment on the blockade-runners; also, several thousand bushels of rough rice. On Lucas street, leading to the depot, was a shed containing twelve hundred bales of cotton, which, together with several other sheds and buildings filled with cotton, belonging to private parties, fell a prey to the flames. Lucas's mill, containing some thirty thousand bushels of rice, and Mr. It. T. Walker's warehouse, at the foot of Broad street, tilled with commissary stores, were also destroyed.
Shortly after eight o'clock occurred the terrible explosion at the Northeastern railroad. The explosion tremendous, and shook the whole city. It appears, from all accounts, that this dreadful catastrophe was caused from the careless handling of powder by some boys, taking handfulls and throwing it into the cotton fire at the depot. In doing this they unwittingly laid a train to theI aliment in which it was stored. The spectacle which followed was horrible. —an instant the whole building was enveloped in smoke and flames. The cries the wounded, the inability of the spectators to render assistance to those selling and perishing in the fire, an incredible a scene of indescribable terror. The flames spread with great rapid communicating to the adjoining buildings, including the fine large residence of Dr. Seaman Deas, on the northeast corner of Chapel and Alexander streets, all of which were destroyed. The buildings on the opposite side of the street were soon enveloped in flames, and the fire now became unmanageable. All the buildings embraced in the area of four squares on Chapel, Alexander, Washington and Charlotte streets to Calhoun street, with few exceptions, were destroyed. About 10 o'clock, fire broke out in the large four-story brick building of Madame bultee, at the northeast corner of East Ray and Laurens street. This, with the adjoining building on the northeast corner of Minority street, were all burned. Another fire broke out about 11 o'clock in a range of buildings on the west side of Meeting street, next to the courthouse. Five buildings were burned ; the walls only were left standing.—The alarm of fire Saturday night, In Ward four, was caused by the burning of the inside of a millinery establishment on King street.
In addition to the above fires, the new bridge from the city to James island was set on fire, and was still burning on Sun day night
The burning and blowing up of the ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora and Charleston was a magnificent spectacle. The Palmetto State was the first to explode, and was followed by the Chicora about 9 o'clock, and the Charleston about 11 A. M. The latter, it is stated, had twenty tons of gunpowder on board. —Pieces of the iron plates, red hot, fell on the wharves and set them on fire. By the active exertions of Superintendent Thomas Turner, the gas works were saved. The explosions were terrific—Tremendous clouds of smoke went up, forming beautiful wreaths. A full Palmetto tree, with its leaves and stems, was noticed by many observers. As the last wreath of smoke disappeared, the full form of the rattlesnake in the centre was remarked by many as it gradually flew away.

-The Daily Dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) March 03, 1865

Monday, January 27, 2014

". . . the growing necessities of the nation."


The War Department needs a larger and fireproof building, the present one being so small that many of the bureaus are compelled to rent private houses. It is on the west side of the President's square, and is similar to the Department of State. On the first floor are the Major- General, Quartermaster-General, Adjutant-General, and Second Auditor of the Treasury; on the second, at the east end, the Secretary of War and his clerks, and at the west end, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

The flags taken in the War of the Revolution, in that of 1812 with Great Britain, and many trophies recently won from Mexico, are carefully preserved in this department. There are the flags taken at Saratoga, the Cowpens and York; those under which Scott and Jesup and their brave companions fought and conquered are literally riddled through by the enemy's balls; and here is also the flag, with an eagle wrought in silk, presented to General Pike by the ladies of Philadelphia and many others of great interest.

The Engineer Bureau is in the building on the north-west corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Seventeenth street diagonally, opposite to the War Department.

The Bureau of Topographical Engineers is on the first floor of the double tenement of brick on Seventeenth street, opposite to the War Department. The Ordnance Bureau has the third floor, and the Subsistence Bureau the second of the same building.

The Paymaster General is on the second and third floors of the building just south of the one above mentioned.

The Medical Bureau is in a building on the north side of G street, a short distance west of the War Department.

THE NAVY BUILDING is south of the War Department, which it resembles and is of the same dimensions. On the first floor at the east end, is the Fourth Auditor of the Treasury; and at
the west end the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs, and the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing. On the second floor, east end, is the Secretary of the Navy and his clerks; at the west end and center, the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, and the Bureau of Medicine.

Between thirty and forty national flags, trophies of battle, stuck to "a bit of striped bunting," decorate one of the rooms of the Navy Commissioners. They are well arranged and labeled, showing the names of the vessels to which they once belonged, Some of them bear evidence of the strife before they were struck to the stars and stripes of the Union.

This as well as the State and War Departments, is inconvenient from its small size for the growing necessities of the nation.

-United States Magazine, Vol. IV, May, 1857    No. 5

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chauncey and the Pig

The first winter of our military career was passed in lower Maryland on Mr. Posey's farm, our camp being about a mile back from the river. General Hooker advised Mr. Posey to collect his rails and pile them near his house, and he (General Hooker) would have a guard placed over them.
This was done but, in some manner never explained, the rails were not to be found in the spring. Several paths leading from the spot once occupied by the rail pile were visible to the naked eye, but alas the rails had vanished. How the guards accounted for the total disappearance of their charge I do not know. The First Mass. Volunteers, Battery "H"; 1st U. S. Artillery, Battery "D " ; 1st New York, and Smith s Battery were all located on this farm.
One fact worthy of mention is that Mr. Posey had not made friends with the boys. For instance, at the time we located on his premises some of the men found two sucking pigs, very small, which they took to their cabins and fed on condensed milk with a spoon until old enough to eat other food. These pigs became great pets, and when old enough followed the horses to and from water and would show fight if a horse refused to let them have a share of oats or corn while feeding. When half grown one was kicked to death by a horse; the other, black as coal, roamed at will, rigged out in a cover made from a scarlet saddle blanket.
I frequently received reports from the 1st Mass, camp concerning the conduct of his pig-ship, whose freedom in officers quarters was the talk of the camp. He stoutly resisted any attempt to remove him. Mr. Posey heard that we had a shoat in camp and straightway put in a claim of ownership, which could not be well denied, as the animal was found on the premises. But we knew the pig owed his life to the care and attention of those who had raised him.
These facts were laid before Mr. Posey when he came with two slaves to assist him in taking possession. He, however, refused to argue the matter, and armed with authority from General Hooker demanded that the pig be delivered up. I offered to pay any price he might ask in reason rather than order the men to surrender their pet. His only reply was, I want my property."
"Go and take it," I answered finally. He told his slaves how to proceed, and the boys of the Battery, who fully understood my sentiments, were not slow in devising a way to solve the problem and settle the difficulty.
They at once offered to help catch the object of all this contention, so about fifty men started in hot pursuit of the pig, managing, however, to keep near the negroes, and whenever one of the latter was in the act of stooping to seize a leg, several men would accidentally rush against and send him heels over head. Mr. Posey after fuming and fretting over the ridiculous spectacle, requested me to order the men away, which I declined to do. It was very evident that the Yankees were going to retain possession for the time being. So hostilities ceased, not to be renewed.
I might add that Mr. Pig lost his life at Hampton, Va., when following the horses to water. He was killed by a New York lancer, who was ignorant of the fact that he was a Battery pet. After some loud talking the matter was disposed of by the men of the Battery dressing and roasting Pat, whose untimely end was regretted by none more than myself.
Another appendage to the Battery was in the shape of a white bull dog named Chauncey, brought from New York by some member of the company. Chauncey was very useful. He too had a scarlet cover, and while sitting on an ammunition chest during a march, as was his wont, his general appearance was such as to increase one s respect for the canine family. Chauncey was never frolicsome, always sedate and dignified.

-A Famous Battery and its Campaigns, 1861-64 the Career of Corporal James Tanner in War and Peace Early Days in the Black Hills with Some Account of Capt. Jack Crawford The Poet Scout
by Captain James E. Smith 4th N. Y. Independent Battery

Washington W. H. Lowdermilk & CO. 1892

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"The excess of cavalry which Government permits to be maintained seriously affects the morale of the soldier"

  In the May 8, 1864, edition of the New York Times . . .

From the Richmond Examiner. April 30.
One of the most serious questions of the war relates to the cavalry. It is absolutely certain that if the present number of horses are indispensable, the productive power of the country will be destroyed. One cavalry man costs as much grain and as much meat, (considering forage in its equivalent of beef.) as six or ten of infantrymen. One good infantryman, after selecting about one in four from the cavalry, is worth a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand, of the remaining horse-militia. A judicious ,selection of about one-fourth from, amongst the present vast herd of Confederate cavalry would secure all that was worth their costly support, and the rest could be reduced to foot, not only without injury, but with positive benefit to the service, even to the cavalry; service itself. One horse could be kept far and capable of any required service on what is now divided among four leap, feeble and inefficient beasts, never fit for service in any emergency. Every farmer knows that it is better to keep one good team than a half-dozen indifferent ones, and the fact is stronger with the cavalry service, for there, we see four idle consumers waiting for their skeleton brutes to get fat.
Some judicious system of reduction has become indispensable, and unless the measure is carried into effect before the next forage and grain crops are harvested, by next February we shall have absolutely no cavalry at all. Half the horses now on the meadows are so enfeebled that they must of necessity die a lingering death in the first part of the Summer, if subjected to any service; and thus they will not only have consumed the hay in the form of grass but the country win have lost half the horses employed, in the senseless policy.
The excess of cavalry which Government permits to be maintained seriously affects the morale of the soldier. They become desperate after forage for their animals in consequence of the scarcity and take, ruthlessly. whatever they can lay their hands on. The horseman, is moreover, required to furnish his own steed; and when a horse is disabled, from starvation or other cause, the rider supplies himself as best he can -- the system of "pressing" forage, very often suggesting the expedient of privately pressing a horse, when the Government can no longer save him the trouble by seizing the last beast at the days of Richmond. To such straits have things come, that a district of country often suffers less from the march through it of a brigade of Yankee, infantry than a battalion of Confederate cavalry.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Holiday that Dare Not Speak it's Name . . .

 Virginia Governor(New York born) Terry McAuliffe's first Lee-Jackson Day holiday proclamation.
 Could have been worse . . .


WHEREAS, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson were native Virginians, having served our great nation and Commonwealth as educators, leaders, and military strategists; and

WHEREAS, Lee served in the United States Army for more than three decades until he left his position to serve as Commander in Chief of Virginia's military forces and as Commander of the Army of northern Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Jackson taught philosophy and military tactics as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington for nearly a decade before serving briefly in the United States Army and later joining the Confederate Army to fight for his native Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Lee dedicated his life after the Civil War to reforming higher education in the South by serving as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he helped to greatly increase the school's funding and expanding the curriculum to create an atmosphere most conductive to learning for young men of both Southern and Northern heritage; and

WHEREAS, Jackson's leadership and bravery enabled him to rally his troops to several improbable victories against opposition forces much larger than his own, and Jackson's inspired "Stonewall Brigade" fought alongside General Lee's troops toward another victory even after their leader was fatally wounded on the second day of the Battle of Chancellorsville; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize Generals Lee and Jackson as two of our nation's most notable military strategists, as beloved leaders among their troops, as pioneers in the field of higher education and as faithful and dedicated Virginians;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, do hereby recognize January 17, 2014; as LEE-JACKSON DAY in the COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA and call this observance to attention for all our citizens.

Up the Irawaddy Part III


Part I
Part II
September 10th. — Dodged the mosquitoes after dinner by taking a nap in the stem sheets for a couple of hours, whilst they, for a wonder, were not on wing; these, unlike most others which repose themselves by sunlight, being insatiable, ready to draw blood generally at any moment throughout the day. All officers and men enjoyed the anchor being down this afternoon, to have a couple of hours' much needed refreshing sleep, coiled up in the most economical dimensions; the urgent need for which will doubtless appear from the fact, that some 50 officers and men were destined to live for an indefinite period in a small open boat, not near as large as many of our family pleasure barges on the Thames, in this fiery climate, provisioned, accoutred, and fully armed. Within a foot or two of the cooking stove, and howitzer, and underneath the seats, were 14 days' complete provisions, rum and pork, salt beef and biscuit, with ample magazines of ammunition, shot and shell, grape, canister and shrapnel, with rockets, and ball cartridge. To sum up, the only thing we still required was water, good drinking water, for which we had to substitute the pea soup-like element that floated us (a fertile source of dysentery by the way), dipping it from alongside the boat as we required it, and frequently obliged to strain this thickish mixture with our lips when drinking, as horses do. However, this could not be helped, for even had we the water handy to carry, we yet had not the room to stow it.

So, when ashore, in the neighbourhood of spring water, be sure we made the most of it, "camel fashion," as Jack says, "having a regular blow-out thereof." To make matters worse, the dead Burmese floating down from the scene of various skirmishes, carrying each his loathsome load of gorging vulture passengers, sometimes even got foul of us in bathing, or "Hoogly-like" got jammed across our hawser, scenting the air for miles around, for half an hour before their actual advent with any fragrance but the "Millefleur." Meanwhile, the filthy "harpies," roused from their hurried feast, hovered grudgingly above our bamboo mast, until each corpse resumed, half dissected by their beaks and talons, its eddying voyage, when their feast commenced afresh — Oh, horrid ! To day we passed several villages quite close, with beautiful Pagodas, and enormous stone "Sphinxes," on either side of the massive marble steps leading to the elevated platform, on which invariably is erected the graceful shaped Burmese Pagoda. Each Sphinx was close on four-and-twenty feet in length, and twelve feet high, beautifully carved out of one solid stone; though in that stoneless country, where that stone came from! and what the means of transport! is a puzzle itself, a perfect "Sphinx" to me, known only to the former native generations that built such mighty temples, sometimes of brick and stucco-work, but often of solid masonry, in a country where there are no roads, nor draught save of the elephant, as a rule, unless at the largest towns, and which for the most part are half-year under water in the rainy season, the streets being traversed by boats between the piles on which the bamboo houses are built. Possibly some archives in embossed and curiously gilt chests, in the Temples of "Donaboo" and other places, might, properly interpreted, let in a ray of light on the formation of these structures. There were in the sacred chests strong paper scrolls, as records of some kind, jet black, with round hieroglyphic characters in white writing, running from right to left.

 These strong, mighty monuments, now hidden in tangled bush, incline one to associate the Burmese in a somewhat similar common origin with the degenerate denizens of the "Central American" forests; the countenance, "Aztec-like," the posture handed down on their idols, the carved log canoe, are much the same, all differing widely from the Indian proper, the Chinese, and Chin-Indian. Marble and wooden josses, and silver, too, from a couple of inches in size, the latter up to the former twenty feet in height, gilt, and inlaid with mirrors and precious stones, and various strange grotesque devices, the smaller ones often placed upon the projecting portions of the others, like votive offerings, were all guarded most zealously from our defiling touch by watchfull "Poonges," whose stealthy, vigilant dance seemed to say most plainly, " look on, but touch not." These Poonge priests, I may observe, like many of their brethren in other lands, are certainly the best conditioned of the natives. The Poonge houses are the best in all the country, verandahed, two-storied, highly decorated with carvings, the whole of solid teak as well. The "Dagon," however, and its acolyte pagodas, several in number, all around, surpass all else in size and gilding, apparently of brick, and cemented underneath the gilding. It stands on an immense platform, approached by many terraces and flights of steps; solid it is said to be, and has been gilded over every tenth year by customary golden contribution from the country generally. A strange coincidence I may mention here: — I turned one day, whilst holding a pantomimic conversation with an aged Poonge, to seek a light for a cheroot, on which he drew from out his odd-and-end-containing sash across his waist a short cylinder and piston of hard wood, and fixing a piece of cotton in a depression on the piston's end, by a rapid stroke, and the consequent aerial concussion within the tube, he unfailingly drew forth, with chuckling glee, a light — repeating the experiment (to my amazement, as he thought) with it; an instrument I saw in use with only one other man before, and that a priest too, but of the English church, and in a distant land. The Burman Poonge's wonder was excited to find in me no stranger to this effect produced by science from the "lightning theory:" and by an imperfect interpreter, much to his delight, I explained to him the cause of the phenomenon, before unknown. Here we were attended by a convoy of canoes, with one or two, or half a dozen Burmese in each, loaded with rice or sugar cane, or plantains, or some such article, who were afraid to try the passage up the river by themselves, in consequence of the "dacoits" or river pirates, who, they made signs, were killing all before them and burning the villages, which we shortly found to be too true, by the dead floating bodies and other relics in the river.