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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Battle of the Crater- An Old New Spin on an Old Motto

Image from the Library of Congress

An interesting post on the flag of the Twenty-second United States Colored Troops . . .

The 22nd USCT fought in 1864-1865 at the battles at Petersburg and Richmond; was assigned to the XXV Corp, the only all Black army corps in United States history; participated in President Lincoln’s funeral procession after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; and patrolled the Rio Grande River in Texas to prevent foreign encroachment into the United States through Mexico.

What I found most interesting was the use of the motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," on the flag. "Thus ever to Tyrants" would seem an appropriate slogan for an African-American regiment during the Civil War, but it is more freighted with history than that. It is of course  the state motto of Virginia, featured within the seal on its state flag , and had a prominent place on the flags of many a Virginia Confederate regiment. History enthusiasts will also remember it as what John Wilkes Booth yelled as he leapt from the theatre box that April night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle of the Crater- Putting a Stamp on History

From the United States Postal Service today . . .

The Civil War (1861-1865), the most wrenching chapter in American history, claimed the lives of more than 620,000 soldiers and brought vast changes to the country. The Postal Service continues its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the war by issuing a souvenir sheet of two stamp designs for 2014.
One stamp depicts the 22nd United States Colored Troops engaged in the June 15-18, 1864, assault on Petersburg, Virginia, at the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign. The other stamp depicts Admiral David G. Farragut’s fleet at the Battle of Mobile Bay (Alabama) on August 5, 1864.
Art director Phil Jordan created the stamps using iconic images of the battles. The Petersburg Campaign stamp is a reproduction of a painting, dated 1892, by J. André Castaigne. The Battle of Mobile Bay stamp is a reproduction of a painting by Julian Oliver Davidson, published ca. 1886 by Louis Prang & Co.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Digging the Petersburg Mine- Col. Henry Clay Pleasants

 Some posthumous background of Colonel Henry Clay Pleasants, engineer in charge of the great Petersburg mine . . .

In my Biographical Notice of T. Guilford Smith, published in the April Bulletin, I spoke of the Gen.Pleasonton, with whom Mr Smith was associated in the development of the block coal of Indiana, as "Franklin B. Gowen's Chief Engineer." This error, due to my hasty confusion of names, I now beg to confess and correct. Mr. Gowen's Chief Engineer was Gen. Henry Pleasants (not Pleasonton),a distinguished officer in the Union Army, Colonel of the 48th Regiment, Penna. Vols., who conceived and directed the construction of the famous mine under the fortifications at Petersburg, Va., and, in recognition of his services, was brevetted as Brigadier-General by President Lincoln. After the war he became Chief Engineer of the Reading Coal & Iron Co. He joined the Institute in 1872, remained a member until his death, in 1880, and was much esteemed and beloved by his fellow members, besides receiving their professional recognition of his technical ability and courage- the latter having been exhibited especially in the sinking of the two vertical shafts near Pottsville, described by Eckley B. Coxe*. My friendly recollection of Gen Pleasants led me to a hasty confusion of his name with that of the distinguished Union veteran Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who after the war, became interested in Indiana coal mining, and with whom Mr. T. Guilford Smith was, for a time associated.
* A New Method of Sinking Shafts, Trans., i., 261 (New York meeting, May, 1872).

-Mining and Metallurgy, Issue 65
American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers


General Henry Pleasants, Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, whose sudden death, Friday, the 26th ult., occurred at his home in Pottsville, Pa., was born at Buenos Aires, South America, February 17, 1833. His father was John Pleasants, a merchant of Philadelphia. He arrived from South America in 1810, and graduated from the Central High School in 1851. He adopted the profession of civil engineering and commenced practice on the Pennsylvania Rail road. In 1857, ho began to practice mining engineering at Pottsville. In 1801, he entered the army as Captain of Company C, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was rapidly promoted, and in June, 1864, he was commanding the Second Brigade of the Second Division, Ninth Corps, then stationed in front of Petersburg, which he rendered a most important service as engineer of the famous "Petersburg Mine." Opposite his position tho rebels had constructed a strong redoubt, which could not betaken by assault without a terrible sacrifice of the lives of his men. He conceived the Idea of exploding a mine under the work, and having obtained the permission of Gen. Burnside, began the mine June 25, 1804, with insufficient tools and against the convictions of many officers of higher rank, including Gen. Meade. He nevertheless persevered, and, in spite of obstacles which would have discouraged a less determined man, completed tho work by July 23. On July 27 he commenced putting in the powder (four tons). The mine was fired on the morning of July 30. At the precise second foretold, the fort rose and quickly settled away, leaving a vast column of smoke and dust, and completely destroying tho works. General Meade made recognition of the service rendered by General Pleasants in a general order. On October 1st he was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and on December 18th he was mustered out his term of service having expired I but on March 13th, 1865, he was advanced to the rank of Brevet Brigadier Central. On his return to Pottsville he resumed the practice of his profession, and when the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company was formed he accepted the position of Chief Engineer, which place he held until his death.

-The Carbon Advocate. (Lehighton, Pa.), 03 April, 1880

Among the Missing.-Brevet Brigadier General Henry Pleasant, who died at Pottsville, Pa., on Friday, April 2d, would have been better known to tame had his efforts in connection with the Petersburg mine during the late civil war been properly seconded by his brother officers. His project of blowing up the Confederate fort situated on Cemetery Hill, in front of Petersburg, Va., was looked upon with comparative indifference by Generals Grant and Meade, and was not wholly successful because, as General Grant subsequently said, "The advance was intrusted to General Ledlie, the very worst general officer in the Army of the Potomac." Had the enterprise been successful it is possible our sectional struggle might have terminated in July, 1861, at Petersburg and not in April, 1865, at Appomattox.

-Clearfield Republican (Clearfield, Pa.), 21 April, 1880

Nota Bene: The Reading Coal and Iron Company had one of the most fractious labor records of the 1870's. It was Franklin B. Gowen, President of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, who hired Allen Pinkerton's detective agency to infiltrate and smash the Molly Maguires in the era after the Panic of 1873.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Digging the Petersburg Mine, II


I feel that this small contribution the the items of the war of 1861-65 is quite inadequate to do justice to so important a subject: but I trust that it will give to my Confederate friends some idea of the wonderful work done before Petersburg on that memorable occasion.
The mine was successfully exploded on July 30, 1864, but the conflict after this was a dreadful defeat for our army- no blame to us of the 48th; we did our work O. K. Had Meade, sent in the men at once after the explosion, Petersburg must have fallen; but he waited for half an hour under a bombardment till the Confederates were prepared for an assault, and all was confusion.
It will be remembered by my friends of the Southern army that the explosion did not eventuate at the time expected, as every obstacle-that could be thrown in our way by the higher authorities was done. We actually began the mine and it was well under way before the commanding officers knew anything about it. When we began to run the fuse from the entrance to the magazines where the powder was stored, the stuff was given us in small lengths, the longest about twenty feet. Of course we had then to splice the fuses four parallel lengths, and one of the splices failed about a hundred and thirty feet from the entrance. Knowing that a new splice was imperative, volunteers to enter the drift, renew the splice, light it, and lie down to die when called for. Crowded around the entrance when our men. Every one rushed to the opening when Plasants called for some one to do the work of death. The two nearest the opening were Sergt. Harry Reese ami Lieut. Jacob Douty, and they flew to the job and the rest were held back. These gallant heroes found the defect, renewed the error, lit the fine, and sat down to perish in the tunnel; but the others called to them to try an escape, and they just got out when the powder went up in a blaze of dazzling light. The growing sunrise was blackened by the mass of earth thrown up amid the smoke, and the trembling ground shook for miles around in the awful cataclysm. Congress gave to these gallant boys the "Medal of Honor," and their names will go down to glory till the history of war will die. I am told that in Petersburg the men of the Confederate army speak of these heroes often in their sessions.
When the tunnel had reached a point just beneath the Confederate lines, we projected the "laterals" at about right angles on either side of the drift, and in these laterals were placed the magazines containing the powder. These were square chambers of eight by ten feet, six on each side. The powder was principally in small kegs; but a quantity of ammunition from batteries was also added, and the fuses were run inside the duct formerly employed to carry the ventilating air from the outside fireplace to the breast of the tunnel. The last hundred and fifty feet of the duct was filled with loose powder together with the fuses; and when the fire reached the powder thus lying in the tube, of course the flame ran quickly to the magazines. The point where the fuses failed was within a hundred feet of the beginning point of the loose powder; hence it will be seen what a risk the two brave men ran in entering the mine to relight the failing fuses. The crater formed by the explosion was one hundred and eighty feet long, thirty deep, and from fifty to eighty wide. The noise of the rising and falling mass was heard ten miles away, and the earth tremor was distinctly felt twenty-nine miles distant, according to a report made to me.
Thank God for the fraternity which thus distinguishes real soldiers, though they fought bitterly against each other in the long ago! To me it is a thought of great pride that through my mother's side I am related to the two grand soldiers of the Southland — Stonewall Jackson and John B. Gordon. I also had a cousin in the Confederate army. For many years before it came to pass I did my best to cement a bond of friendship between the Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic, in which I have the honor to be a Past Post Commander and the Past Medical Director. God grant that the gallant men of your sunny South who fought so gloriously and grandly against almost overwhelming difficulties may be held in highest esteem, and that all of us on either side may never be forgotten by our descendants as men who fought as their convictions led them to do in defense of their fair land! I feel it an honor beyond description to be asked to give in my humble and altogether unworthy manner anything that can unite in bonds of fraternity and sympathy the men of the Confederate and Federal armies. Let me assure you, my dear friends, that nobody holds in higher respect the fame and name of the men of the Confederate army.

-Confederate Veteran
September 1909

Diagrams from The 48th in the war: Being a narrative of the campaigns of the 48th regiment, infantry, Pennsylvania veteran volunteers, during the war of the rebellion by Oliver Christian Bosbyshell, 1895

Friday, July 25, 2014

Digging the Petersburg Mine, I

 Some details from the September 1909 issue of Confederate Veteran . . .

Col. Henry Clay Pleasants



When the siege lines of the Federal army had been established in front of Petersburg, it was seen that a direct frontal attack on the Confederate positions could not result in their capture unless at a loss of life which would be unjustifiable even if successful. The alternative was to block the route of supplies by way of the Southside Railroad and to make the matter one of endurance on both sides — a long and tedious method. I do not use space as to what was done in other directions, but will come at once to the mine.
While looking at the Confederate defenses near the so-called "Elliot salient" Lieut. Col. Henry Pleasants, of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, saw that if that part of the defenses was destroyed the whole line for about a mile around must be untenable, because it dominated the works on either side for that distance. The Colonel and myself were close friends; and as we had but three engineers in the 9th Corps — Captain Poe, of the Regulars, Colonel Pleasants, of the 48th, and myself, also of the 48th — he and I were naturally interested in anything of that nature. He discussed the problem with me long before talking with others. Although surgeon of the 48th and brigade surgeon at the time, I had been for a year prior the engineer of the second division work, the regimental medical work being in charge of my two assistant surgeons. I agreed with the Colonel that the plan was not only feasible, but just the thing we needed to break the Confederate Inns at that vulnerable and important position, and then he interviewed some of the higher officers of the army, all of whom except General Grant, who was noncommittal, decried the ability of any one to successfully mine the works at such a distance, giving varied and illogical reasons therefor. The main difficulty in the mind of the engineers was the problem of ventilation, which was really no difficulty at all. We never had trouble of that nature after we entered the drift.
After a great delay we gut permission to go ahead, and we did. The men of the regiment wen with very few exceptions practical coal miners from Schuylkill County. We began the proximal end in a cut which afforded cover from the view of the Confederates, and it gave us the valuable assistance of a covered way through which to carry away the excavated drift. Ten triangulations gave us the actual distance of five hundred and thirty eight feet. The tunnel was originally intended to run in a straight axial line till under the salient; but difficulties cropped up as we progressed, compelling us to depart from the direct course, one of which was a sand slip which obliged us to turn the drift upward at an angle of six degrees for a distance of sixty feel, when we again resumed direct course. Much of the tunnel was lined with logs to keep up the roof, and the height of the drift was between three and four feet— the width always four feet.
The following statement will give some idea of the problem to be met: Height of Confederate terreplein above our works, 32 feet; drop into ravine behind Federal works, 29 feet; level of excavation from ravine bottom, 12 feet ; ultimate elevation of ascending slope, 17 feet;  angle of sections 1, 2, 3, relatively, 15 degrees, 42 degrees, and 11 degrees; extreme length of tunnel, as stated, 538 feet; length of laterals, 154 feet; deviation angle between sections 1 and 2, 12 degrees; number of triangulations, 10; control or proving triangulations, 4; amount of powder used in magazines, 4 1/2 tons; energy in foot pounds of power, 27,852,000; measured height of impulse, 498 vertical feet; cubic feet of earth removed from tunnel, 91,898; estimated cubical displacement of earth in crater, 456,000 tons. The mine was begun on June 25, 1864. and completed on July 27. The powder was installed on July 28 and the mine exploded on the 30th at 5:20 a.m. 
The ventilation of the tunnel was obtained by running a flue eight inches square along the floor of the drift extending from the outlet to the breast where the men were working which carried fresh air from the exterior to the breast in this manner. A fire was constantly burning in a chamber just outside the entrance of the drift, and the flue referred to was connected with the ash pit, and thus fed the fire with air brought from the extreme end or breast of the tunnel. So that fresh air flowed in through the exterior opening. The dirt removed was principally heavy clay of many colors and was called "Powhatan Clay." The men made various articles from this clay, such as pipes, miniature mortars, etc., and one very elaborate pipe was given to General Grant, which he prized highly. The dirt removed was ultimately placed on the parallels far from the mine, and was taken from the ravine only at night.
Nobody except the men of the 48th was permitted to work on the mine. Since the close of the war a considerable number of fakirs have claimed to be the originators of the mine, but they are impostors. Colonel Pleasants alone conceived the idea, and as his assistant engineer I know all about it. Pleasants was gentleman of high extraction, a soldier of extreme bravery, and a man of the highest honor, he did what never was done in the history of war before or since till this day — conceived and carried to a successful end the greatest mine ever built in the annals of military engineering — and to him alone is due the credit. The mine was ten times longer than the longest previous mine ever built.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"A Terrible Explosion" Mobile May 1865

 Another account of the May, 1865 ordnance explosion in Mobile, Alabama, one of the "military accidents" that plagued the collapsing Confederacy . . .
           A Terrible Explosion.
          Special to the Macon Telegraph.

MOBILE, May 25 -A terrible and exceedingly disastrous
A gun powder explosion occurred in Mobile yesterday. A magazine which contained about thirty tons of powder, was blown up with fearful result. A number of persons who were fully half a mile distant from the spot when the disaster occurred were knocked down and injured by the concussion. The total loss in killed is estimated to have been one thousand, but the aggregate has not been definitely ascertained.The loss of property was very great, and embraced the principal business portion of the city. Seven steamboats were also burned. The cause of the terrible accident, and further particulars have not yet been developed.
- Edgefield Advertiser. (Edgefield, S.C.) June 06, 1865

Friday, July 18, 2014

From the Richmond Mayor's Court

Mayor's Court, yesterday

James Lemmon, charged with being drunk and lying on a sidewalk, was called for by his father, a respectable country gentleman, who represented that his son had been in the fight at Manassas, bore an honorable name at home, and, though guilty of imprudence in speech and conduct, was a man of character. If, as a witness had testified, his son talked while intoxicated of conspiring to rob some one, the old gentleman knew it was nothing but talk. The court ordered the prisoner to pay a fine of $1, and to be delivered to his father at 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

-The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)September 20, 1861.

James A. Lemon was an 18 year old student when he enlisted on April 26, 1861 in Alexandria, Virginia. Serving in the Washington Volunteers, later Co. H of the 7th Virginia Infantry, the unit was part of Jubal Early's brigade at the battle of Manassas. The Volunteers were actually residents of the District of Columbia, many of them members of the National Volunteers

Records show young Lemmon as wounded in the "knees" and in hospital apparently from October thru November of 1861.

Monday, July 14, 2014

When No Self Respecting City Had One Paper . . .

 The difference in reading the Richmond Daily Dispatch and the Richmond Daily Examiner . . .

Mayor's Court.
Mrs. Flutina Myers was bound over to keep the peace in the sum of $100 for assaulting and beating with a broomstick Henrietta Nockman, a girl of fourteen.

-The Daily Dispatch, April 14, 1864.

Wednesday, April 13, 1864.
. . .
Mrs. Myers, the Jewess, previously mentioned in this column, who looks as if she had been blown up in the laboratory explosion, was charged with beating a girl of fourteen, named Henrietta Nockman. The girl stated that, Mrs. Myers being in the act of beating a negro in the streeet, she was looking on, when Mrs. Myers, getting through with the negro, made a dash at her, the witness, and chased her through Mrs. Simons's house with a stick, and beat her over the head and otherwise.
Officer Granger stated that Mrs. Myers was very vicious.
Mrs. Myers was bound over to keep the peace.

-The Daily Examiner, April 14, 1864

Monday, July 7, 2014

Unexploded Ordnance

-On yesterday-afternoon. a large torpedo having lodged on the John's Island beach, it was regarded as a valuable prize by the poverty-stricken inhabitants, and a great crowd gathered round,while six, all freedmen, engaged in the fool-hardy attempt to unload the destructive contrivance. They had been engaged in the hazardous enterprise about fifteen minutes, when suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, and the crowd of bystanders were covered with sand, and enveloped with a stifling smoke. As soon as the first shock of the explosion was over, and the smoke had cleared off, it was found that Pompey Legare, the principal workman, had been blown literally to atoms, his head, arms and legs being all severed from his body. Jack Hamilton and Robert Cunningham were killed and frightfully mangled, and William and Joe Rivers were severely wounded. The sixth man, as if by a miracle, escaped unhurt. That none of the surrounding crowd were killed or even injured is passing strange, and can only be accounted for on the supposition, that the force of the explosion was upward
Charleston Mercury, 21st.
 -Edgefield Advertiser(Edgefield, S.C.) May 29, 1867