The Civil War Connections Blog

Marvelous Monitor Relish!

Hungry for history? Here’s a little recipe that was over 150 years in the making. A bottle of relish found on the USS Monitor provides the basis for this tasty treat.

In 1979, divers working for NOAA recovered a relish bottle from the area just forward of the midships bulkhead on the wreck of the USS Monitor.  A sample of the contents was sent to the National Food Processors Association in Washington D.C. for analysis.  The NFPA discovered that the pickle relish contained cucumber, onion, mushroom, mustard seed, pepper seed, peppercorn and clove.  They also discovered that it was highly contaminated with lead – likely a result of how it was prepared back in 1862.[1]

relish found on the Monitor

Mmmm! Doesn’t that look tasty? (by the way – this is not the original bottle)


Marvelous Monitor Relish – An Ironclad Promise of Tastiness (2013-Style)


1 cup chopped cucumber

½ cup chopped mushroom

½ cup chopped onion

¼ tbs salt


Mix together and let stand 2 hours, then drain through colander.


In a saucepan, mix:


1 cup vinegar

up to 1 cup sugar (to taste)

½ tsp mustard seed

½ tsp pepper seed (crushed red pepper works if you like a nice kick)

½ tsp peppercorns

dash of ground clove (to taste)


Add relish mixture and simmer ½ hour.


If desired, place in sterilized jar and seal immediately.  Keeps for approximately 117 years if stored 16 miles off the coast of North Carolina at a depth of 240 feet.[2]


Or – you can let it cool, place in a covered plastic container and chill.  Keeps nicely in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  Great fresh, but the flavor benefits from standing overnight.

[1] We have omitted the lead content in our recipe.

[2] If stored in this fashion we recommend that you refrain from actually eating the relish.

Brawned like Briareus….and whatnot

A review of Palmetto Pictures by Volney Hickox and published by Walter Low appeared in the  New York Evening Post 163 years ago this day.  While I would normally just give such a review a cursory glance – the following made me stop and reconsider.  Of this work the reviewer writes: “This purports to be a poem, devoted to the praise of our military leaders and soldiers in South Carolina; but while it is an ambitious work, it is at the same time an incomprehensible and silly one.”

Well of course this meant I had to find it. Incomprehensible and silly?  Then it must be for me! but I will let you be the judge – here is the first part of it. If you feel the need to read it all – you can find it here

Beautiful Land, where the bountiful sun

Blesses the bond of savannah and sea,

Neither so lovely till blended in one

Each to the other shall complement be,

Magical dews that the tropical day

Kisses to rapturous odor and hue,

Myrtle and laurel and orange and bay,

Purple and emerald, golden and blue.


Yonder indigenous endogens wave

Banner-like blades on a mystical bole,

And, with a vigor perennial, brave

Boreal blasts from the alien pole,

Over the plaited palmettos, abroad

Brawned like Briareus, century-old,

Grimly magnificent evergreen god

Realm of the greenwood the live-oak doth hold.


Tempests the thunderous foliage toss,

Locks of the Deity wizard and hoar,

Awfully sighs the oracular moss,

Art thou incarnate Dodona of yore?

Dead generations rejoiced at thy birth,

Peoples have flourished to power with thee,

Cities have leaped from thy generous girth,

Art of the shore and the ark of the sea.


O these soft Isles of the summery sea!

Angels their daintiest prisms composing,

Turn the kaleidoscope watching with glee,

Every moment new glories disclosing.

Land of the Beautiful, Bountiful Land!

Sweet is the blossom, but sweeter the boon,

Flowers are bright and their odors are bland,

O but the fruits of the tropical noon!


And the delirious chorusses—hush!

Mockingbird, whippoorwill, nonpareil, Nightingale, killdeer, and passionate thrush,

Fringed by the petrel’s tempestuous peal?

Tribes of the sea, how ye cherish these shores,

Meeting in wild multitudinous play,

Muscles rejoice in the succulent pores,

Crabs and soft shrimps, Epicurean prey.


What do the elves of the sun and the sea,

Cunningly comb from the glistening sands?

Is it the fleece of a sorcery

Wierder than wildered the Argonaut bands?

Magical mesh, to entangle a world—

Commerce, religion, philosophy, art,

Liberty, peace, from their pedestal hurled—

Cotton, the tyrant of manor and mart.


Ominous plant! thou shalt never again,

Ghost of the tears and the blood of the slave,

Phantom of knout-welted corpses of men,

Stalk like a ghole, with the gust of the grave,

For there’s a judgment, wherever hath trod

Blistering foot of the bondman, and earth

Gapes to develope the vengeance of God,

Ruin and rapine, and ravage and dearth.


This is the Land of divinest Delight,

Riches of rapture in every ray,

Gold of the morning and amber of night—

Passionate peace, nought to take it away.

This is the Land, that the Serpent of Sin

Seeks to beguile of a generous God,

This is the Land that His servants shall win—

Liberty’s Eden from Slavery’s rod.

Gouty Captain….

On August 7, 1862, Paymaster William Keeler wrote what is quite possibly my favorite line about the Monitor:

Hot, hotter, hottest – could stand it no longer, so last night I wrapped my blanket ‘round me & took to our iron deck – if the bed was not soft it was not so insufferable hot as my pen. What with heat, mosquitoes & a gouty Captain have nearly gone distracted.

Captain Jeffers was the gouty captain. But he would be leaving the Monitor soon…..

Uncle Abraham has arrived on the James

We know that President Lincoln visited the Monitor on the 9th of July, 1862. But what did he do when he left the little ironclad?

On July 12, 1862 the New York Times printed the following article:


The army was yesterday taken by surprise by a most unexpected visit by President LINCOLN. At 3 o’clock a rumor ran through the camp that “Uncle ABRAHAM” had arrived, and that be would review the army at once. At 4 o’clock a salute of 22 guns fired near the north part of the encampment roused every soldier and officer from his reverie. The first impression naturally was that the enemy had attacked our right flank, but the soldier’s ear soon detected the absence of that peculiar sound which distinguishes a blank cartridge from the screaming shell; and when he had counted 22, the matter was explained. It was the salute for the President of the United States. Immediately bugles sounded and drums beat throughout the camp as if by one spontaneous impulse, and almost before the echo of the salute had died away, long columns of troops were observed marching from their several encampments and taking their places in regimental lines for review. The day had been intensely hot, but the sun had already begun to decline, and the soldiers moved with an alacrity which showed how gratifying it was to them to receive a visit from the Chief Magistrate at this time.

The President, who came direct from Washington in a Government steamer, was signaled after rounding Windmill Point, below this reach, and as soon as the announcement, had been conveyed to headquarters, Gen. MCCLELLAN made immediate preparations to welcome him. Without waiting for any formal reception or ceremony, however, the President landed, and mounting a fine horse which the General had sent down for his use, he rode directly to headquarters, accompanied by several of the General’s Staff.

The reception of the President by Gen. MCCLELLAN was hearty and, cordial in the extreme, and showed how timely and gratifying the visit was on the part of the President. Members of the Staff, most of them already well acquainted with the President, exhibited the greatest pleasure at the unexpected meeting.

A short time only was devoted to repose. Word had already been sent to the commanders of divisions to be in readiness for a review by the Commander-in-Chief, and almost immediately afterward the President, accompanied by Gen. MCCLELLAN and Staff, were mounted and on their way to review the troops. The various army corps were encamped so widely apart that the distance to be traveled over was necessarily very great, and would, ordinarily, have occupied a whole day to visit them all in turn. The President showed that he had come on business, however, and did not loiter. Beginning with Gen. SUMNER’s command, the distinguished party rode rapidly from one camp to the other, passing through the lines and carefully observing the condition and bearing of the troops. Everywhere the President was greeted by cheers of the most enthusiastic character. He also received a salute from each army corps.

It was after 9 o’clock P.M. before the review was finished, Gen. MORELL’s Division, which is nearest to headquarters, being the last in the order visited. A bright moonlight, and a deliciously cool evening, in contrast with the broiling heat of daylight, fully compensated for the slight delay in the ceremony.

The President, though somewhat careworn, exhibited throughout the day in the presence of the troops a stern resolve, which indicated how much in earnest he is in prosecuting the war. At the sight of come of the regimental colors, which had been turn almost to shreds by the balls of the enemy during the late engagements, the President more than once exhibited much emotion. The thinned ranks of some of the divisions, as one after the other was pointed out to him among the most prominent in the late contests, seemed to awaken the liveliest sympathy, and many a weary soldier, I have no doubt, read in the rough lineaments of that face the assurance of the nation’s hearty sympathy with their struggle, and the earnest of prompt and abundant succor, in the shape of reinforcements, and an early termination of the campaign of the Peninsula.

Besides the acquisition by the Executive of valuable information of the real situation of the army before Richmond, the visit has been well timed and well received by the army. It is a message of cheer from the whole nation, conveyed through, her great, good and strong-hearted President. He returns immediately to Washington by the same steamer which brought him.

The rebels have lately made their appearance near Windmill Point, near which our steamers have to pass in coming to this landing, and have opened a battery (probably a moveable one) on our mail and other steamers as they go by. On Monday the Canonicus received a shot underneath the pilot-house, cutting off the bell wires, and the Achilles also had two balls put through her hull, and the Nelly Baker narrowly escaped having her rudder carried away by another missile on the same day. Capt. COLDEN said, “Let her rip,” and the engineer put on full steam and escaped out of range. The river is now lined with gunboats, and the rebels do not dare to bark. The mail steamer goes up and down under convoy.


…my Liver is out of order….

There was probably nothing more miserable than being on board an iron ship in the middle of the James River in the summertime. But if you were sick….that made it even worse. Fireman George Geer of the USS Monitor apparently drank some of the brackish water from the James and suffered the consequences…..

James River July 5 1862


Dear Wife


            I am still under the Doctor care but worse than I was when I wrote you last the reason is my own Carlessness the day after I wrote you I felt so well I went took charge of my Store Room again and I found it in a bad condition the men had been after things and tumbled them back any way I worked quite hard to get it in order and the next morning I found my self sick enough the Dr scolded me very hard for my carlessness and I am not to go there again without his orders  This time it is my Liver is out of order caused by drinking River Water what water passes me is the color of Blood and I am as yellow you would think I had the jaunders and I am so weak I can scarce  stand alone but I think I have seen the worst and shall commence to get bettor at once  I have not covered up any thing I have told you full as bad as I am it is nothing serious or that you need worry the least about I shall be all right in a fiew days I have lots of news to write you abut our and the Armys movements but do not feel strong enough  to write any moore I recvd two Lettors and  Paper sence I wrote you last I will answer them as soon as I can  Give my love to every body including Rachel


                                                                                                Your Loving Husband


Civil War Art: A Search for Truth

The hanging of photography or artwork from the Civil War in any museum is usually a press worthy event, especially during the sesquicentennial anniversary celebration continuing this year.  My attention was recently drawn to an article from The New Yorker critiquing some of the work hung in two current exhibitions of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Titled “The Civil War and American Art” and “Photography and the American Civil War,” the exhibitions feature images from prominent artists and photographers including Winslow Homer and Alexander Gardner.  In his article “The Seething Hell: Portraying the Civil War” (found HERE), Peter Schjeldahl praised Homer while chastising Gardner based on Homer’s tendency to produce historically accurate works of art as opposed to Gardner’s often doctored and altered images.  Though Schjeldahl rightly criticizes much of the art community surrounding work from the Civil War, he falls prey to a flaw of the same species that prompted Gardner’s motivation to produce compelling, though inaccurate, images.  Schjeldahl’s article and the two exhibitions in the Met subsequently force us to ask a few important questions about such art: Should photographs or paintings from the Civil War be hung in a museum of history, art, or both?  Is historical accuracy a necessary component of art from times of war? Before delving into these questions, let us first take a look at the men Schjeldahl discussed and the standard he set forth to determine what constitutes accurate, and consequently valuable, artwork from the Civil War.[i]

Born in 1836, Winslow Homer was an artist that possessed a great deal of natural talent.  Learning many techniques from his own self-initiated bouts of study, Homer mastered the mediums of oil and watercolor following an initial career as a commercial illustrator.  He first worked primarily with oil paints, the medium that characterized his images focused on the Civil War.  At the age of 37, well after the war’s conclusion, Homer turned to watercolors, creating images that would craft his legacy as an accomplished landscape artist.  Producing both breathtaking and unique landscapes that would influence the work of similar artists today, he is best known for his maritime scenes blending deep blues, crisp whites, and ambiguous grays to illustrate the captivating sea that could simultaneously inspire fear and wonder.[ii]

Breezing Up (or A Fair Wind) - Winslow Homer -

Breezing Up (or A Fair Wind) – Winslow Homer –


The painting that Schjeldahl focused on in his article was titled “Prisoners from the Front.”  Painted in 1866, Homer singled out three Confederate prisoners of war from the scene of defeat behind them, equipping each with an expression akin to the controversy and conflicted emotions following the conclusion of the Civil War.  Schjeldahl rightly pointed out that the question of forced citizenship, the inevitability of continuous regional tension, and the anxiety surrounding Confederate defeat were all themes communicated by the figures immortalized in oil paint.  Schjeldahl also praised Homer for his willingness to tackle more untouchable topics of his time, including the integration of formerly enslaved Americans into their new lives of freedom.  “Homer,” Schjeldahl remarked, was “a rare artist who cannot lie, grasps and conveys that the Civil War was not really over, as it may never be.”[iii]

Prisoners from the Front - Winslow Homer -

Prisoners from the Front – Winslow Homer –


Schjeldahl contrasted the works of Homer with those of Alexander Gardner, one of the most famous Civil War photographers.  Born in 1821, Gardner was a Scottish immigrant that traveled between his homeland and the United States, establishing a popular Scottish newspaper and a successful photography gallery along the way.  Before he broke out on his own in the photography industry, he was employed by Matthew Brady to initially take large Imperial photographs.  However, once the photography mogul’s eyesight began to wane, Gardner was promoted to head of Brady’s gallery in New York.  Gardner would not stay in New York long as the action of the Civil War beckoned him to the battlefields.  Using Brady’s connections and an honorary rank of Captain in George McClellan’s staff, he gained access to some of the most infamous battlefields of the war, snapping the first pictures of casualties before being removed from the fields of Antietam.[iv]

Gardner possessed a body of work that rivaled his opponents, selections of which have filled pages of history books today.  Nonetheless, his photographs do not exist without controversy.  As Schjeldahl pointed out, Gardner was charged with moving the subjects of his pictures to produce more artistic or dramatic images.  “A rebel at Gettysburg,” he explained, “had to have died slowly, because his corpse, still flexible when Gardner found it two days after the battle, could be made to perform like a puppet in two picturesque scenarios.”  The series of photos he referred to are often called the “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter.”  In the two images below, the same corpse can be seen posed in two different locations, moved to suit Gardner’s artistic vision.[v]

[Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in "the devil's den"]

Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in “the devil’s den,” Library of Congress

[Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldier in Devil's Den]

“Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldier in Devil’s Den,” Library of Congress


Schjeldahl chastised Gardner’s photographs in his article and attributed them, along with other images doctored by Civil War artists, to the validation of Walt Whitman’s prediction that “the real war will never get in the books.”  He explained that men motivated by fame and profit, such as Gardner or the painter Frederic Church, crafted inaccurate images to attract viewers; once weighed against more accurate depictions, such illustrations of war dwarfed in historical and, in the context of his article, artistic value.  Images devoid of emotion, portraying simple landscapes or expressionless soldiers, also constituted inaccurate images according to the pen of Schjeldahl.  The artists responsible for such images, he claimed, were immobilized by the horrors of war, unable to create accurate illustrations of the world around them. Instead, Schjeldahl propped up Homer as a pioneer in his field for allying himself with the truth: war was brutal, conflicting, and grafted onto the lives of those involved in its day to day torment.[vi]

Though Homer did create accurate paintings in the wake of other biased or profit-driven artists, Schjeldahl put forth his own modern and unrealistic expectation for “accurate” works of Civil War art: captivating images that elicit an emotional response from the onlooker.  He seems to expect a spectator to feel sympathy or be surprised at the horrors of war as depicted by an artist. If the subjects of a painting, drawing, or photograph do not genuinely have the pain of war stricken across their brows, then this image must not accurately portray the scene from a hundred and fifty years ago.  Schjeldahl is, in effect, expecting the very same things in an image that Gardner and Church attempted to market toward: an audience looking to gasp, empathize with the subject, or simply see what I would term an “interesting” image.  In other words, something has to be going on in the frame beyond men marching or a landscape characterized by what Schjeldahl termed “benumbed or melancholy detachment.”  By gazing upon an accurate work, we must see the soldiers’ faces; we must feel ourselves pulled into the action; and we must carry the weight of death and destruction on our shoulders just as the men depicted did over a century ago.  Schjeldahl may initially seem to have a more stringent standard than Gardner or Church, however, he is discounting a major body of Civil War art including many of the artists that have been featured on this blog.  From topographers to mining engineers, battlefield artists to soldiers, many crafted accurate and technically beautiful images that could be overlooked or dismissed by Schjeldahl’s emotionally charged standard.[vii]

Andrew J. Russell, a painter and photographer born in New York, was the first official photographer of the United States Army.  Charged with documenting Army construction projects, he took pictures of cannons, bridges, and other fortifications with crisp black and white film, making use of new techniques taught to him by another staff member of Matthew Brady: Egbert Guy Fowx.  Alfred R. Waud, an English immigrant, also captured battlefield scenes in the pages of his sketchbook, producing images to be published for a number of northern magazines, including Harper’s Weekly.  Waud illustrated the war from the perspective of an onlooker travelling with McClellan’s army, detailing battles as accurately as he could under the pressure of live fire.  Neither artist produced images with the emotion that Schjeldahl sought in the exhibits at the Met, yet each were skilled at portraying the world around them with unique artistic techniques.[viii]

Batteries of field pieces in arsenal, Washington, D.C.

“Batteries of field pieces in arsenal, Washington, D.C.” by Andrew Russell, Library of Congress

Kearney [sic] at Battle of Williamsburg

“Kearney [sic] at Battle of Williamsburg,” by Alfred Waud, Library of Congress

Schjeldahl also focused on Northern artists, blaming the limited amount of art produced (or better yet, that remains) from the South on the distraction that sheer economic and physical devastation produced.  This line of reasoning, a common one likely parroted by a tour guide in the Met, fails on two accounts.  First, the devastation in the South from the war, though immense, was not to the magnitude that much of the public, and many academics, tends to believe.  Often this reasoning is based on photographs from Virginia widely distributed following the surrender at Appomattox depicting burned houses, dead livestock, and disheveled towns.  However, these areas were both devastated and over-photographed for the same reason: they lay alongside railroads.  These were the areas that the Union targeted when attempting to cripple the South; these were the lands that lay alongside the railroad tracks that Confederate troops were ordered to destroy, preventing the Union from advancing; and these were the towns that photographers traveled through once the Union invested resources to rebuild the dismantled tracks, reestablishing the main, and often only, means of efficient transportation through the Southern states.

Second, some of the most accurate art from the war was produced by Confederate artists.  Many of the artists under the purview of Confederate authorities were encouraged by their superiors to provide images that could aid in the war effort.  A map or a sketch of a battlefield not only captured a picturesque demonstration of the artistic capabilities of its creator, but could provide valuable information for a Confederate officer.  An accurate depiction of the lay of the land, the positioning of troops, or events that occurred could explain why a particular battle swayed in favor of victory or defeat for the Confederacy.  An excellent example of such a body of work is found in the sketchbook of Jedediah Hotchkiss, a Confederate topographer and map maker.  Hotchkiss possessed a keen eye for the world around him and produced maps and images integral to Confederate military campaigns, including many of the movements of Stonewall Jackson’s infamously swift foot cavalry.[ix]

But works similar to Hotchkiss’ call into question a greater issue surrounding many of the images produced during the Civil War: are maps or sheer depictions of reality art?  Must these images elicit an emotional reaction from the audience, or be produced with the intention of doing so, in order to be called “art”?  According to Schjeldahl, if this emotional element is not found in an image, then the creator must have been disheveled by the tragedy of war, limiting the artist’s ability to imitate reality, and preventing an accurate depiction of events from being produced: these images are inferior to works like Homer’s.  If his logic would extend so far as to dismiss the works I have presented as sincere and accurate examples of art,  I would ask why is he so intent on finding accuracy in the images displayed by the Met?  Why is he so offended by individuals such as Gardner if they were attempting to provide him with the very kinds of work he desires?  The fact is that images created during times of war blur the line between historic record and art.  Such works are held to the standards we craft for both even though certain criteria may conflict with each other.  We are offended if a beautiful image is not true to history, yet we consider images as most accurate only if they match our preconceptions of what the devastation of war should look like.  When a guest in an art museum gazes upon the painting of a burnt building in Richmond, they may wonder: Where is the emotion?  Where is the fear?  Where is the crying protagonist whose life has been turned upside down?  A spectator in a museum of history may ask similar questions of the same painting and both will likely come to the final question that Schjeldahl begs above all:  If this emotion is not found in the painting, it must not be an accurate depiction of the Civil War; why would the museum hang it?  The better question to ask ourselves would be why do we have these expectations for history?  A simple, or dare I say boring, image may be anything but; such works are not devoid of the reality of war nor absent of artistic beauty.

[i] Special thanks to John “JR” Roach, Jr. for bringing my attention to this thought provoking article: Peter Schjeldahl, “The Seething Hell: Portraying the Civil War,” The New Yorker, published June 3, 2013, accessed June 4, 2013,


[ii] “Winslow Homer and his Paintings,” Winslow Homer: Paintings, Quotes, and Biography, published 2009, accessed June 4, 2013,


[iii] Schjeldahl, “The Seething Hell,” Web.

[iv] “Alexander Gardner: Photographer,” Civil War Trust Online, accessed June 4, 2013,

[v] Schjeldahl, “The Seething Hell,” Web; “The Case of the Moved Body,” Library of Congress Online, accessed June 4, 2013,

[vi] Schjeldahl, “The Seething Hell,” Web.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Kasey Sease, “Take a Look Around: The Photography of Andrew J. Russell,” Civil War Connections: The Mariners’ Museum’s Sesquicentennial Blog, published May 21, 2012, accessed Jone 4, 2013,; Kasey Sease, “More Than Just a Pretty Picture,” Civil War Connections: The Mariners’ Museum’s Sesquicentennial Blog, published July 5, 2012, accessed June 4, 2013,

[ix] Kasey Sease, “The Lay of the Land: A Topographer’s View of the Civil War,” Civil War Connections: The Mariners’ Museum’s Sesquicentennial Blog, published May 31, 2012, accessed June 4, 2013,

Protecting History

As I approach graduation, I seem to be continuously fielding questions about my major in undergrad, and my career goals. Usually when I say that I’ve studied history and wish to work in museums, I get the glazed eyes and the confused, “why?” which usually sounds more like “why on Earth would you want to do that?” So today I have a little story about what makes me want to work in museums with dusty books and artifacts. Earlier today a coworker and I were talking about how it’s hard for us to watch historical movies sometimes because we are so familiar with the material history that goes along with it. For example, we were discussing the movie “Titanic.” Both of us said that we had seen it once and would never see it again, because here at The Mariners’ Museum there is a life jacket that is thought to have been from the Titanic. It was found by a mortician, who supposedly took it off of the body of a passenger who had perished in the wreck. Somehow after knowing this, and seeing this life jacket in person, it’s not as easy to watch Rose let Jack freeze to death in the water (because lets be real, he totally could have fit on that door too). I think it’s easy for many people to skim over history and the sorrow in it, because many people don’t connect with something that is written in a history book. Specifically, when discussing the Civil War, I think it’s easy for people to forget that it was the bloodiest war on American soil.

About 620,000 people died (from both disease and injuries sustained in battle), making up 2% of the population in 1860. If 2% of our population today died, it would be equivalent to about 6.14 million people. To add a mental visual for you, this would be about the same as destroy Chicago twice, and then some. For just a little bit more perspective, about 3 million people total died during the Vietnam War about a hundred years later, and about 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Similarly, about 6 million Jews were killed in the concentration camps during World War II. During the Civil War, about one in four soldiers died, and almost two thirds of those were due to disease and not necessarily injury.


Antietam, Maryland. A lone grave. Photo by Alexander Gardnery, courtesy of the Library of Congress online.

Antietam, Maryland. A lone grave. Photo by Alexander Gardnery, courtesy of the Library of Congress online.


The five bloodiest battles (listed here in order of deadliest), were Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Court House and The Wilderness. At Gettysburg, from July 1st through the 3rd, of 1863 about 51,000 men in total were killed, wounded or went missing. About 28,000 of those men were Confederate soldiers, while the other 23,000 were Union soldiers. Confederate General Robert E. Lee lost about one third of his total army at Gettysburg. Chickamauga was the bloodiest battle of the Western Theater, claiming about 34,600 men from September 18, 1863 to September 20th. Interestingly enough, the name Chickamauga is a Native American word for the “river of death,” which is an appropriate name for the location of such a bloody battle. Both Chancellorsville and the battle of Spotsylvania Court House claimed about 30,000 casualties both, with Chancellorsville going from April 30th to May 6th, 1863, and the Spotsylvania stretching from May 8th through the 21st of 1864. The Battle of the Wilderness claimed about 29,800 casualties, and took place right before Spotsylvania, from May 5th through the 7th. The Wilderness was part of Grant’s Overland Campaign, which was the bloodiest campaign in American history, claiming about 60,000 lives – which again is more than the total number of Americans killed in Vietnam. Between these five battles, there were about 176,400 casualties. And not just any casualties – but Americans killing Americans.


Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in "the devil's den." Photo by Alexander Gardner, courtesy of the Library of Congress online.

Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in “the devil’s den.” Photo by Alexander Gardner, courtesy of the Library of Congress online.


Now, I know it’s not fair of me to talk about disconnecting from history and then throw a lot of statistics at you. But as a history major who visits battlefields, these numbers are what I think about when I’m at one of those battlefields. I don’t know how many people visit museums to see the actual artifacts, but I think it’s fascinating to look at things that were actually there when these events occurred. Whether it was a canteen from Gettysburg or a radio from Vietnam, these things are important because they are physical witnesses to some of the greatest conflicts in history. I think it’s easy to disconnect from our history, and that history is so important to our nation and our national identity. After all, who are we without the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence? I think it’s important to protect the material history of our past, because without it, it’s so hard to define America and define our future.


For the website where I found all of the statistics in this blog post, click HERE.

The Other President

When thinking about the Civil War, I find it interesting to consider that there were two American governments operating at the same time. They were fighting one another desperately and had some important differences, but much of the Confederacy was modeled after the set up of the United States. They both had Cabinet members, Constitutions (though the Confederate one gave more power to the states than the United States did), and a bicameral Congress. They both also had presidents, and while Abraham Lincoln sought to reunited the Union and end slavery, Jefferson Davis fought to establish the Confederacy and expand slavery.


Jefferson Davis, between 1855 - 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.

Jefferson Davis, between 1855 – 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.


Jefferson Davis served as the first and only, President of the Confederacy during the war. Davis had graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1828, the year before Robert E. Lee graduated. While at West Point, he was put under house arrest for his involvement in what was called the “Eggnog Riot,” where some cadets smuggled whiskey into their rooms in the barracks.[1] Following his graduation he served under Colonel (and future president) Zachary Taylor. In 1835, Davis retired from the Army, so that he could marry Taylor’s daughter Sarah, despite it being against his commander’s wishes. Sarah died from disease three months into their marriage, and Davis eventually remarried Varina Banks Howell in 1844. Before his remarriage, Davis became involved in with the Democratic Party. He went to the Democratic state convention in Mississippi, and continuously gained support for the party, even becoming a potential presidential candidate in 1844, the same year him and Varina married.

With the start of the Mexican American war in 1846, Davis and a volunteer regiment joined the fight, where he clashed with General Winfield Scott. Following the end of the war Davis rejoined politics, eventually serving in both the House of Representatives and the US Senate, and then as Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War. Prior to the escalation of the disagreement over how to proceed with slavery, Davis actually spoke out against succession as a measure to be taken. He believed in the Union, and did not support succession until his own state of Mississippi withdrew and joined the Confederacy. He was inaugurated as provisional president of the Confederacy on February 18, 1861, and then again as the official president following an unopposed election on February 22, 1862. Davis is said to have struggled as president, having a hard time managing both the military decisions and the internal affairs.

Following the capture of Richmond and Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Davis fled further south into Georgia to avoid capture by the Union troops. However, he was captured on May 10, 1865, and taken to Fort Monroe, VA, where he remained imprisoned under charges of treason until 1867, until the case was dropped and he was released. Following his release he worked for an insurance agency, traveled abroad, and throughout the United States. Davis refused to take the oath of allegiance that was required for former Confederates to regain their citizenship, and he did not regain it until 1978 when it was posthumously reinstated by Congress and President Jimmy Carter. This, as Carter supposedly said, was thought to be the last act of reconstruction and reconciliation following the Civil War.

I think the role of Jefferson Davis in the Civil War is extremely interesting. He had been involved within the US government prior to the Civil War, and had initially opposed the succession of the southern states. It shows a lot that a man who was so dedicated and involved with the United States was able to succeed and lead another government in opposition to it. I think it really helps emphasize how the nation was torn apart, and even those who believed in the Union felt so strongly about the conflict that they too left it to try to install what they believed would be a better government.


Jefferson Davis Memorial (detail), Richmond, Va. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.

Jefferson Davis Memorial (detail), Richmond, Va. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.


[1] “Jefferson Davis,” History Channel online, Accessed April 18, 2013,

Code Name: “Flamingo”

Hello faithful Connection followers! I hope everyone is enjoying some nice spring weather, and not suffering from allergies. I believe I hinted to this last week, but today I’m going to discuss the Secret Service. I think I tell you every time I do a blog that it’s topic is something of interest to me, and I’ll be honest that today is no different. But seriously let’s all admit it – the Secret Service is pretty freaking cool. They have that whole James Bond thing going on – looking cool as a cucumber while being ready to defend the President of the United States in a suit and sunglasses. You might be wondering how the Secret Service relates to the Civil War. Well, prior to the Civil War there was no Secret Service and in a horrible twist of irony, President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating the Secret Service hours before he was shot on April 14, 1865. [1] At the time however, the Secret Service would not have protected him, because their original function was to prevent counterfeit currency, and it would eventually become a division of the Treasury Department until 2003, when it was moved to the Department of Homeland Security.


Secret Service Group, between 1905 and 1945. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.

Secret Service Group, between 1905 and 1945. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online.


In the late 1880s the Secret Service attended presidential inauguration to prevent bystanders from heckling or annoying the president. In 1884, part time protection was given to President Grover Cleveland, and in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley, Congress “informally requested” the presence of Secret Service security for the office of the President’s protection.[2] The following year the request was officially approved. The list of those who are protected by Secret Service also continued to expand. In 1913 the president-elect was added to the list, and the family of the president was added in 1917. The vice president was added in 1951, and following Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 after winning the California primary, presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees were included as well. The full list, outlining who receives the protection of the Secret Service can be found HERE. Presidents elected prior to 1997 receive lifetime protection, whereas a law passed in 1997 changed the limit of protection to ten years after leaving office unless they refuse protection prior to that. Former President Bill Clinton will be the last president to receive lifetime protection.


President and Mrs. Coolidge Leaving Church, courtesy of the Library of Congress online. (Look at the Secret Service Agent behind them - totally Bond-esque!)

President and Mrs. Coolidge Leaving First Congregational Church, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress online. (Look at the Secret Service Agent behind them – totally Bond-esque!)


Today, President Obama has been guarded by the Secret Service since 2007, longer than any other president or candidate (Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton already received protection because of her status as Former First Lady). Traditionally, the President picks his own codename, and his families follow the same alliteration. For example, President Obama goes by “Renegade,” Michelle is “Renaissance,” Malia is “Radiance” and Sasha is “Rosebud.”[3] The opportunity to pick your own codename has resulted in quite a few interesting ones over the year, some of which are discussed HERE. Bill Clinton used “Eagle,” and George W. Bush actually used both “Tumbler and “Trailblazer,” the first one being from when his father George H. W. Bush (“Timberwolf”) was president. John F. Kennedy was “Lance,” while his wife Jackie was “Lace.” Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna, was nineteen when her father became vice president, and chose the name “Smurfette,” which she claims continues to make her cringe.[4] So thanks to President Lincoln for his creation of the Secret Service, if you ever have the opportunity to receive their protection, make sure you pick a name you like because you could be hearing it for an extended period of time! Me, I think I’d like code name Flamingo, circa C.J. Cregg from West Wing.[5]

[1] “Ten Things You May Not Know About Abraham Lincoln,” History Channel Online. Accessed April 16, 2013.

[2] “Secret Service History,” Secret Service, Accessed April 16, 2013.

[3] “Eleven Great Secret Service Code Names,” Time Magazine Online, Accessed April 16, 2013.,28804,1860482_1860481_1860422,00.html

[4] “Top Not-So-Secret Codenames,” ABC News online, Accessed April 16, 2013.

[5] “The West Wing Wiki: Secret Service Codenames,” The West Wing Wiki, Accessed April 16, 2013.

The First Assassination

So, if you haven’t already been able to tell, I find Abraham Lincoln one of the most fascinating presidents that we have ever had.  For Christmas I received two books on Lincoln, and for my birthday I received a copy of the new Lincoln movie that I discussed in a blog a long time ago. For those of you who don’t know, the anniversary of the day that Lincoln was shot is quick approaching, and April 14th, 2013 will mark 148 years since John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger in Ford’s Theater. Lincoln was the first United States President to be assassinated, and the events of the assassination are fascinating.

John Wilkes Booth was Confederate sympathizer, who remained in the North working as an actor during the war. Interestingly enough, Lincoln had gone to see one of Booth’s performances prior to the assassination and Booth’s brother Edwin had saved the life of Lincoln’s son Robert, a couple years earlier. Edwin was also a famous actor, and was standing on a train platform near Robert when he slipped and almost fell in the way of an oncoming train. Edwin grabbed Robert and pulled him back onto the platform, saving him from certain injury and possible death. In contrast, John Wilkes Booth had a number of opportunities where he considered kidnapping or killing President Lincoln prior to his actually assassination. Booth was at Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4th, 1865, and is thought to have considered drawing his gun then and shooting the president during his speech. Following the inauguration, Booth had come up with a plan to kidnap Lincoln on March 20th, and take him to Richmond. However Lincoln didn’t appear at the anticipated kidnapping time, and the Confederacy fell apart not long after.


[John Wilkes Booth, half-length portrait, facing left and holding a cane], Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

[John Wilkes Booth, half-length portrait, facing left and holding a cane], Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

With the surrender of Robert E. Lee on April 9th, Booth decided to take matters into his own hands. Booth came up with a plan to not only assassinate Lincoln, but also the Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. This would not only take out the President, but also his first two successors. However, the only successful assassination was the one of President Lincoln, because Booth managed to enter President Lincoln’s box at the theater and shot him in the back of the head, before jumping out of the box and onto the stage. (I’m sure many of you are wondering why there was no Secret Service agent there to prevent this – my next blog post will discuss why!) Booth broke his leg in the leap from the box to the stage, but shouted “Sic simper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants] – the South is avenged,” before escaping on horseback. Lewis T. Payne, one of Booth’s fellow conspirators managed to get into Seward’s home and seriously injure him, but Seward did not die from the attack. The man in charge of killing Vice President Johnson, George A. Atzerodt, was unable to follow through with his assigned killing.


Washington Navy Yard, D.C. Lewis Payne, in sweater, seated and manacled. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Washington Navy Yard, D.C. Lewis Payne, in sweater, seated and manacled. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.


As Booth embarked on a wild escape attempt through Maryland and Virginia, President Lincoln was taken to a house across the street from the theater. While he survived the night, Lincoln passed away on the morning of the 15th, officially becoming the first President to be assassinated. Booth was eventually found a few days later, and died from a bullet wound, though it is unsure if it was suicide or the officials that found him. Meanwhile eight people who aided him along the way were placed on trial for taking part in the conspiracy, and four were hung, including Mary Surratt, who was the first woman executed by the United States government. Along with her, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt were also hung for their involvement.

The thing I find most interesting in the Lincoln assassination is the fact that so many other things could have occurred. Booth could have decided to kill Lincoln and his inauguration, or kidnap him before the war was over, and perhaps change the overall outcome. His brother Edwin could have been unable to save Robert Lincoln, resulting in the death of another child of the President, which also could have had immense effects on the President. If Booth’s other conspirators had been successful in their attempted attacks on Vice President Johnson and Steward, the country would have faced even more extreme upheaval. It’s always interesting to look at history and consider the way things turned out, and how different our history could have been if major events went differently than they did.


Washington, D.C. The four condemned conspirators (Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Herold, Atzerodt), with officers and others on the scaffold; guards on the wall. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Washington, D.C. The four condemned conspirators (Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Herold, Atzerodt), with officers and others on the scaffold; guards on the wall. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.