Book Review: “The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865”

Let me say right up front that The War Outside My Window is NOT the feel-good book of 2018. In fact, it is just the opposite. The war is lost, the boy dies, and animals are harmed in the passing of this time period in Georgia. Nevertheless, with a cup of good coffee and a positive attitude, it is one of the most interesting books published in a long time.

This book is the diary of young LeRoy Gresham, the youngest son of an affluent slaveholding family in Macon, Georgia. He was twelve years old in 1860, and an invalid due to a combination of a serious leg injury from a fallen chimney that crushed his leg and skeletal tuberculosis, specifically Pott’s disease. Google up some images of this affliction and you will get a good idea of the misery that was a daily companion to this bright, inquisitive, witty, well-read, and sensitive young man.

LeRoy began keeping his journal on June 12, 1860, with a very mundane entry: “Mother has gone to the serving society.” As time continued, he began to find his own, very authentic voice. The diary is not a series of maudlin, self-pitying entries. Rather it is a view of the South from the beginning to the end of the Civil War, as Macon reacted to secession and gathered men for volunteer soldiering (in a state with a governor who did not necessarily want to send them), until the surrender at Appomattox and beyond. Interwoven among the usually inaccurate news reports, Leroy gave evidence of his deteriorating physical condition.  This amazing young man who read Greek and Roman classics along with Shakespeare and Dickens, loved math and solving puzzles, and played chess on a very high level, lay in his bed and observed the collapse of his world. To relieve the tedium of dying, his family somehow came up with a cart or small wagon to relieve his bedridden condition. A relative or more often, a young slave, pulled him around town so that LeRoy could immerse himself in the goings-on of the day.

News came in the form of newspapers, letters, and gossip. The reader will be struck with the military inaccuracies, especially as to casualty counts. Young LeRoy read every newspaper he could get and bemoaned the diminishing sources of current news as the war went on. His immediate family was impacted directly. His older brother, Thomas, served in Lee’s army in Virginia and many others in the extended group of family and friends served as well. The home front deteriorated, as evidenced by the actions of LeRoy’s mother and sister. New bonnets were made of palmetto, and dresses were repurposed in order to attend local gatherings and church. Homespun cloth was sent up from the family plantations along with meat and vegetables for the table, and to share among the less fortunate.

LeRoy wrote about everything, from social events to family matters. Deaths (many), weather (hot or raining, it seemed), and his pets were recurring topics. He named his various dogs for Confederate generals, but most were ill-behaved and ended up changing ownership. His declining health was addressed regularly, and the reader gets a solid look at family medicine in the 1860s. LeRoy’s parents could afford the very best for their son, but without an understanding of germs or disease, most of the efforts of doctors did little to alleviate his discomfort or alter the progression of his disease. Both the Preface and the Appendices have detailed accounts of how editor Janet Elizabeth Croon, publisher Theodore P. Savas, and Dennis A. Rasbach, MD, FACS worked to solve the mystery of LeRoy’s diagnosis. His care is analyzed piece by piece and compared to modern medicine, making for fascinating, if painstaking, reading. LeRoy wrote: “I am weaker and more helpless than I ever was . . . I have been sick with a pain in my back and heart all day . . . Saw off my leg.” He did not realize until the very end of his life that he was dying, and the reality of this came as a shock to young LeRoy.

Editor Janet Croon, an educated educator in her own right, has given the reader much more than just a glimpse into the past. The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Journal of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 presents the compelling story of a doomed young man of white privilege who was dying at exactly the same time the southern dream of an independent Confederacy was dying. Eventually, both fail. Without the efforts of Croon, Savas, and Rasbach, LeRoy Gresham’s voice, which speaks as powerfully to us from the past as does that of Anne Frank, would have continued to be unheard. Readers will remember LeRoy long after the covers of the book have closed. As sad and difficult as this book is to read, it is definitely an important addition to the understanding of the Southern home front.

Janet Elizabeth Croon, Editor–The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

Savas Beatie, LLC, 2018

401 pages

Publisher’s Preface, Introduction, Medical Forward, Dramatis Personae, LeRoy Wiley Gresham Obituary, Postscript, Medical Afterwords, Appendix, Note on Sources, Acknowledgements, Index, Maps and Illustrations

Annie Brown: The Forgotten Conspirator

In my Civil War class, I have students read Tony Horwitz’s book, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, to learn about John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Many Civil War readers know Horwitz best from his initial foray into the genre with Confederates in the Attic. In my opinion though, Midnight Rising is even more compelling. My students spend four weeks discussing its contents and finish by writing a paper to answer the question “Did John Brown fail?”. There is never a dull moment in either conversation or written word when it comes to this topic.

However, one aspect of the John Brown story that is often overlooked is his daughter Annie’s participation in the raid. When John Brown set up camp at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland, just five miles from Harpers Ferry, for organization and reconnaissance work during the summer before the raid, Annie and Brown’s daughter-in-law Martha joined him there as part of his cover story. The two women arrived on July 19, 1859 and stayed just over two months until September 29.

Annie Brown, age 15 (courtesy West Virginia State Archives)

I decided to explore Annie’s role in the whole affair in a presentation for International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018, at a day-long symposium offered at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. My research extended beyond Horwitz’s insights and confirmed my perception of Annie as a bold and courageous young woman who contributed to both her father’s raid and to the construction of his memory.

 

 

Annie Brown was John Brown’s fifteenth child, born to his second wife, Mary, in 1843.

Kennedy Farm, circa 2014 (taken by the author)

In the summer of 1859, she was 15 years old and had been raised in a deeply religious household that centered on her father’s determination to bring about an end to slavery. When Annie arrived at the Kennedy Farm in July 1859, she was excited to assist Brown in his plans, which she had heard about for years. She and Martha went to work cooking, cleaning, making bedding, and doing laundry. But, her most important role was that of lookout. She watched for nosy neighbors and intercepted them so they would not discover the growing number of men arriving at the home. She called Brown’s raiders her “invisibles” and became devoted to them.

The days were very long, but she spent time watching the men plan, drill, and debate a wide range of topics. Annie heard, and sometimes participated in, heated conversations about slavery and religion; revelations about both topics caused fundamental shifts in her perspective and she never held her father’s religious views again after this experience. Indeed, she even questioned her part in Brown’s plan for Harpers Ferry:

“It was sometimes a hard matter for me to reconcile myself to the fact that the father who had always before this taught me to speak the truth should place me in a position where I was obliged to constantly tell lies, go by a false name, and live a false life… I used to wonder if God would bless a work that had to be done that way.”

These doubts did little to detract from her enthusiasm for the cause and she and Martha returned home on September 29, 1859, anxious to hear of her father’s success. Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry commenced on October 16. The incursion lasted less than two days, and Brown and six of his men were arrested, ten men died during the raid, and five men escaped. Oliver and Watson Brown, two of Annie’s brothers, were among those killed. Brown was tried, convicted, and hanged in December 1859.

Annie was despondent over news of the raid’s failure. Her sister, Ruth, later recalled,

Annie’s grief was terrible to see. She had known every man who fell in the fight, had been present at all their conferences, and was like a sister to many of them…She went about the house pale, silent, and tearless. She neither slept nor ate, and I feared for her reason”

Annie wrote, just two days after Brown’s execution, “For my part I feel proud when I think that his blood runs in my veins.”  She never wavered in that sense of dedication to her father and she also defended the other men for the rest of her life.

During the Civil War, Annie despaired that she could not fight as a soldier. She went into Virginia and taught freed slaves in schools set up by Union officials but in 1864 she moved to California with her mother and siblings to seek a new life and economic opportunity. They all needed a break from the constant scrutiny of being John Brown’s family.

Annie’s postwar life was difficult. She married an older man with a penchant for alcohol and she and her children suffered abuse for many years. They were never financially stable. Despite these obstacles, Annie remained focused on controlling the narrative about her father. In the years following the Civil War, Annie kept a close eye on the books written about both John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry. She spoke stridently against interpretations that presented him as crazy or dangerous and she often wrote for newspapers to critique new publications.

One of Annie’s biggest points of frustration was how little credit she received for her role. In the roundup after the raid, as her brothers at home feared arrest for conspiracy, no one ventured to ask whether she should also be held responsible for her role, which she found insulting. It also took constant demands on her part for people to believe that she had perspectives that were worth listening to – that her knowledge of the raiders and of her father’s purpose could shed light onto the mission and its meaning. As late as 1894, she remarked, “It always seemed a little queer to me that so many persons have attempted to publish books or articles on John Brown without consulting me just a little.”

Annie’s headstone in California

Annie died in 1926, having suffered from poverty most of her life. Her legacy is complicated by statements she made later in life that adhered to Jim Crow notions of race, especially her vocal criticisms of the black community for not being grateful enough to her father for his actions on their behalf. I highly recommend the book The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz for more insight into how Brown’s remaining children shaped, avoided, and lived with his memory. Annie was a part of that story, actively espousing a narrative of heroism on the part of her father and his “invisibles” until the day she died. While she did not tote a gun into Harpers Ferry on that fateful October night, her actions at the Kennedy Farm that summer helped disguise her father’s true intentions and thus contributed to his ability to execute an event that shook the country to its very core. Annie Brown never apologized for her support of the raid, both at the time and in later years. She was a critical part of the story and wanted to be remembered that way.

Julie Mujic is a Scholar-in-Residence at Capital University and owner of Paramount Historical Consulting, LLC. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Columbus Historical Society and the Westerville Public Library. Feel free to contact Julie through www.juliemujic.com.

All quotes can be found in Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and The Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), pages 59, 66, 67, and 147.

“The Homespun Dress”

A couple days ago, I shared some poetry reflecting on the roles of Northern women who “went to the field.” Today, I thought it would be fair to feature a Southern poem/song for the ladies.

At first glance, The Homespun Dress focuses on a more traditional – some would say superficial – topic of clothing. A second glance reveals a sturdy undertone about weathering the hardtimes and saying good-bye to the soldier boys. While it’s a different tone than Barton’s poetry, this original piece explores another facet of women’s experiences, perceptions, and roles during the war. 

Oh, yes, I am a Southern girl,
And glory in the name,
And boast it with far greater pride
Than glittering wealth and fame.
We envy not the Northern girl
Her robes of beauty rare,
Though diamonds grace her snowy neck
And pearls bedeck her hair.

CHORUS: Hurrah! Hurrah!
For the sunny South so dear;
Three cheers for the homespun dress
The Southern ladies wear!

Sabria Clack with cased photograph of her husband, Private W.R. Clack, who served in 43rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-34983)

The homespun dress is plain, I know,
My hat’s palmetto, too;
But then it shows what Southern girls
For Southern rights will do.
We send the bravest of our land
To battle with the foe,
And we will lend a helping hand–
We love the South, you know.–CHORUS

Now Northern goods are out of date;
And since old Abe’s blockade,
We Southern girls can be content
With goods that’s Southern made.
We send our sweethearts to the war;
But, dear girls, never mind–
Your soldier-love will ne’er forget
The girl he left behind.–CHORUS

Unidentified Southern lady her husband and baby (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-33455)

The soldier is the lad for me–
A brave heart I adore;
And when the sunny South is free,
And when fighting is no more,
I’ll choose me then a lover brave
From all that gallant band;
The soldier lad I love the best
Shall have my heart and hand.–CHORUS

Unknown Southern Lady, photograph cropped (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-49718)

The Southern land’s a glorious land,
And has a glorious cause;
Then cheer, three cheers for Southern rights,
And for the Southern boys!
We scorn to wear a bit of silk,
A bit of Northern lace,
But make our homespun dresses up,
And wear them with a grace.–CHORUS

And now, young man, a word to you:
If you would win the fair,
Go to the field where honor calls,
And win your lady there.
Remember that our brightest smiles
Are for the true and brave,
And that our tears are all for those
Who fill a soldier’s grave.–CHORUS

Unidentified woman holding a cased photograph of an unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-31281)

Draft Dilemma in Poweshiek County: The Murder of the Marshals

The newspaper clipping, “United States Marshals Murdered in Iowa” quotes the Chicago Tribune, but the printed source is the Pittsburgh Daily Post, 10/13/1864, located online at www.newspapers.com

Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author David Connon

Amid mounting Union Army death counts in summer 1864, Iowa had its first draft. Three men didn’t report for duty on October 1, so the provost marshal in Grinnell sent two deputy marshals to southern Poweshiek County to round up the draft deserters. Bushwhackers murdered the marshals. As the second marshal lay dying, he named the murderers. The killings occurred in an atmosphere thick with fear, that could be traced back to the firing upon Fort Sumter.

Many Iowa Republicans and Democrats had enlisted after Fort Sumter, but many peace-minded Democrats feared a draft. Some conscription-eligible men considered moving to Canada. As the war continued, outraged Republicans blasted Democrats who dissented against the war, President Lincoln, and (as the war progressed) emancipation.  Congressional candidate J.B. Grinnell (who the town of Grinnell was named after) worried  about Iowa’s southern border with slave-holding Missouri. He wrote Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood in August 1862: “Secret Societies are being organized to defy the draft and collection of taxes. The traitors are armed. Our soldiers are defenseless. We want arms. Can we not have them?”

The next year, in July 1863, thousands fell in hails of bullets at Gettysburg. The Lincoln administration quickly enacted a draft, but it didn’t yet affect Iowa (which had high numbers of volunteers). Conscription sparked several days of deadly race riots in New York City.

Abraham Lincoln

Outspoken editors of dissenting Democratic newspapers denounced the federal government’s tactics. The Muscatine Courier wrote, “Let Mr. Lincoln withdraw his emancipation proclamation and there will be no more riots in New York or elsewhere, occasioned by resistance to the draft.” John Gharkey of the Fayette County Pioneer told Iowan men in September 1863: “You should resist the conscription with your rifles, your shotguns, or whatever weapons you get hold of. If you, young men, do not resist conscription, you are unworthy to be called American citizens.”

Words turned violent outside South English, Keokuk County, Iowa, on August 1, 1863. Gun-toting Peace Democrats, led by Reverend Cyphert Tally, passed through the heavily Republican town. Fiery words flew, gunfire erupted, and Talley dropped dead. His supporters rallied at the Skunk River, some 16 miles away, drawing friends from Poweshiek and other counties. Governor Kirkwood sent in six militia companies, and the mob disappeared.

The next governor, William M. Stone, responded to Tally’s death (and the New York City draft riots) by calling in January 1864 for “loyal men” to “preserve the peace of the state.” Volunteer militia companies in every county were “promptly organized … of loyal and substantial citizens.” This action later bore deadly fruit in Poweshiek County.

J.B. Grinnell (Library of Congress)

As the war continued, Democrat fears of a growing war machine – and opportunities for negroes — became a reality. On Feb. 1, Congressman J.B. Grinnell introduced a resolution to encourage Negroes to enlist in the Union army.

President Lincoln told Grinnell, “I am glad that Congress has endorsed the policy of actively enlisting black men … It is a great day for the black man when you tell him he shall carry a gun … it foretells that he is to have the full enjoyment of his liberty and manhood.”

Lincoln concluded: “Now, tell your people in Iowa … the time has come when I am for everybody fighting the rebels. Let Indians fight them; let the negroes fight them; and if you have got any strong-legged jackasses in Iowa that can kick rebels to death, they have my hearty consent.”

Southern-sympathizing congressmen described Grinnell as being ‘drunk with blood.’  Grinnell retorted that Democrats were “in league with slavery and the Devil.”

In early May, Union troops entered the Wilderness Campaign. Turning his face like flint toward Richmond, Grant said he would “fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” Over the next six weeks, more than 60,000 Union soldiers died, were wounded, or missing. Meanwhile, Sherman’s troops moved toward Atlanta.

The war came home to Grinnell when Provost Marshal James Mathews quietly announced a draft. Grinnell Republican men formed a militia and began to drill. Mathews, located in Grinnell, “spoke of the necessity of dealing with severity with the rebel sympathizers at the north.”

Fourteen miles south of Grinnell, men formed a militia in Sugar Creek Township. That part of the county had most of its southern-born population. Elizabeth D. Williams, wife of a Union Army soldier, said the neighborhood “contained numerous sympathizers with the South,” and she said they harassed her, killed their cows, and destroyed other property.

The Sugar Creek militiamen called themselves the “Democratic Rangers.” Said to be Democrats, its members took an oath to support the United States Constitution and the State of Iowa — but with a twist. They reportedly “would resist the draft … shoot any Marshal or officer who would come for them … and assist the rebels if they should come into Iowa.”

The fifty or so Democratic Rangers drilled twice in September 1864. Many of them carried arms. In mid-September, Provost-Marshal Mathews issued draft notices to three of them, requiring them to appear in Grinnell by September 30. One draftee, Joseph Robertson, said that if he were forced into the army, he would “shoot the officers.”

Democratic Ranger Michael Gleason, a native of Ireland, said he was “not in favor of forcing men to fight in a nigger war.” He bragged that “if the Marshals came to Sugar Creek Township to take men, he was ready to help kill them.” He added, “If the Marshals came into Sugar Creek township to take men out, he … had plenty of backing.”

10/1/1864 letter from Provost Marshal James Mathews to Gov. William M. Stone. The letter is contained in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Archives.

The draft deadline passed, and on October 1, Provost Marshal.Mathews sent Deputy Marshal John L Bashore and Special Agent Josiah M. Woodruff to locate and arrest three draft deserters. Bashore and Woodruff rode a buggy into Sugar Creek, unaware that the Democratic Rangers planned to drill that afternoon.

The marshals began looking for draft-deserter (and South Carolina native) Samuel A. Bryant. Two brothers, John and Joe Fleener, rode up to the marshals, opened fire, and killed one instantly. A third bushwhacker, Irish native Michael Gleason, ran up and started hitting the surviving marshal in the head with a rifle. Someone shot Gleason in the leg during the melee. The Fleeners rode away, never to be seen again. A local man found Gleason and Marshal Bashore.  The dying marshal identified his killers (and Gleason as an assailant), and he said bushwhackers (who “had sworn resistance to the draft”) had come directly from the drilling site.

Provost Marshal Mathews suspected the murders were planned and that all Democratic Rangers were accessories to the crime. He called up militias from Grinnell and Montezuma and asked Governor Stone for help. Mathews set up roadblocks into Grinnell, and he sent militiamen to capture the Fleeners, Gleason, and the draft-deserters.

Three days later, Governor Stone arrived, passing out new Springfield rifles to the militiamen, who rode off to arrest the remaining Democratic Rangers. Grinnell militiamen bagged six Colt revolvers, a pistol, a horse pistol, 15 rifles, eight shotguns, and ammunition. They also arrested 16 men.

Second view of 10/1/1864 letter from Provost Marshal James Mathews to Gov. William M. Stone. The letter is contained in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Archives.

The editor of the Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, a Republican paper, assumed the worst. He wrote, “The Unionists of Poweshiek are naturally a good deal stirred up, and if the long-threatened Copperhead war is now to begin, they are ready.” He also demonized leading Democrats as being “armed and ready, with murder in their hearts … but waiting the opportunity to deluge the country in blood. Our safety is in their cowardice and want of opportunity.”

The Montezuma Republican editor made political hay, calling Poweshiek County Democratic leaders “more guilty in the sight of God, and more deserving of punishment, than the three men who committed the murder[s].”

The evidence suggests that the Fleeners murdered the marshals to keep their uncle Joseph Robertson from being impressed into the U.S. Army. Gleason, on the other hand, was a Democratic Ranger who expressed drunken bravado (about the marshals) to the Fleeners. He unwittingly stepped into a nightmare that spun out of control. The Democratic Rangers as a group just happened to be drilling the day of the murders.

Authorities in 1867 released every Democratic Ranger except Michael Gleason, who was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. President Andrew Johnson commuted his sentence to life in prison, where Gleason died in 1875. The Fleeners escaped justice.

Tempers and emotions had dissipated by 1911, and Sugar Creek Township’s odious Copperhead reputation faded. Poweshiek County historian Leonard F. Parker wrote that the former Democratic Rangers “were evidently misled. We are glad to accord them an honorable place among good citizens since that unfortunate hour in 1864 … The war is over. Neighborly relations have been restored.”

 

David Connon has studied pre-war and war-time Iowa for the past 15 years.  A bleary-eyed veteran researcher, he has found that primary sources sometimes lead to rich stories. He has documented 76 Iowa residents who left that state and served the Confederacy. He shares some of their stories on a blog, Confederates from Iowa:  Not to Defend, but to Understand. The blog also delves into the Iowa Underground Railroad, the Iowa home-front, war-time violations of civil liberties, and book reviews. He speaks to audiences across the state through the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau, and he works as a historical interpreter at Living History Farms. He has a master’s degree in Education from Northern Illinois University.

“The Women Who Went To The Field”

In 1892, Clara Barton shared a poem she had written about women during the Civil War when she spoke at a meeting of the National Woman’s Relief Corps. She paid tribute to the women who came alongside the soldiers and surgeons in a traditional and non-traditional way to make an unforgettable impact.

Today – as part of Women’s History Month – I’m sharing a transcription of Barton’s poem with Civil War era photographs and illustrations. Be inspired!

The women who went to the field, you say,

The women who went to the field; and pray

What did they go for? just to be in the way!-

They’d not know the difference betwixt work and play,

What did they know about war anyway?

What could they do? – of what use could they be?

They would scream at the sight of a gun, don’t you see?

Unknown Lady – Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-31119

Just fancy them round where the bugle notes play,

And the long roll is bidding us on to the fray.

Imagine their skirts ‘mong artillery wheels,

And watch for their flutter as they flee ‘cross the fields

When the charge is rammed home and the fire belches hot;-

They never will wait for the answering shot.

They would faint at the first drop of blood, in their sight.

What fun for us boys,-(ere we enter the fight;)

Two ladies and a soldier, probably all relatives. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-31460

They might pick some lint, and tear up some sheets,

And make us some jellies, and send on their sweets,

And knit some soft socks for Uncle Sam’s shoes,

And write us some letters, and tell us the news.

And thus it was settled by common consent,

That husbands, or brothers, or whoever went,

That the place for the women was in their own homes,

There to patiently wait until victory comes.

Unidentified Civilian Women (probably mother and daughter) Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-36461

But later, it chanced, just how no one knew,

That the lines slipped a bit, and some ‘gan to crowd through;

And they went, – where did they go? – Ah; where did they not?

Show us the battle, – the field, – or the spot

Where the groans of the wounded rang out on the air

That her ear caught it not, and her hand was not there,

Who wiped the death sweat from the cold, clammy brow,

And sent home the message; – “‘T is well with him now”?

Mary A.E. Keen, Union nurse (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-50627)

Who watched in the tents, whilst the fever fires burned,

And the pain-tossing limbs in agony turned,

And wet the parched tongue, calmed delirium’s strife

Till the dying lips murmured, ” My Mother,” ” My Wife”!

And who were they all? – They were many, my men:

Their record was kept by no tabular pen:

They exist in traditions from father to son.

Who recalls, in dim memory, now here and there one.-

A few names where writ, and by chance live to-day;

But’s a perishing record fast fading away.

Debbie A. Hughes, Union nurse (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-53416)

Of those we recall, there are scarcely a score,

Dix, Dame, Bickerdyke, – Edson, Harvey and Moore,

Fales, Wittenmeyer, Gilson, Safford and Lee,

And poor Cutter dead in the sands of the sea;

And Frances D. Gage, our “Aunt Fanny” of old,

Whose voice rang for freedom when freedom was sold.

And Husband, and Etheridge, and Harlan and Case,

Livermore, Alcott, Hancock and Chase,

And Turner, and Hawley, and Potter and Hall,

Ah! the list grows apace, as they come at the call:

Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Union nurse and hospital matron (public domain image)

Did these women quail at the sight of a gun?

Will some soldier tell us of one he saw run?

Will he glance at the boats on the great western flood,

At Pittsburgh and Shiloh, did they faint at the blood?

And the brave wife of Grant stood there with them then,

And her calm, stately presence gave strength to his men.

Julia Grant

And Marie of Logan; she went with them too;

A bride, scarcely more than a sweetheart, ’tis true.

Her young cheek grows pale when the bold troopers ride.

Where the “Black Eagle” soars, she is close at his side,

She staunches his blood, cools the fever-burnt breath,

And the wave of her hand stays the Angle of Death;

She nurses him back, and restores once again

To both army and state the brave leader of men.

She has smoothed his black plumes and laid them to sleep,

Whilst the angels above them their high vigils keep:

And she sits here alone, with the snow on her brow –

Unidentified woman in mourning dress at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-40617)

Your cheers for her comrades! Three cheers for her now.

And these were the women who went to the war:

The women of question; what did they go for?

Because in their hearts God had planted the seed

Of pity for woe, and help for its need;

They saw, in high purpose, a duty to do,

And the armor of right broke the barriers through.

Uninvited, unaided, unsanctioned ofttimes,

With pass, or without it, they pressed on the lines;

They pressed, they implored, till they ran the lines through,

And this was the “running” the men saw them do.

Miss E.A. Marsh, “The Daughter of the Regiment,” in uniform with flag (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-40628)

‘T was a hampered work, its worth largely lost;

‘T was hindrance, and pain, and effort, and cost:

But through these came knowledge, – knowledge is power.-

And never again in the deadliest hour

Of war or of peace shall we be so beset

To accomplish the purpose our spirits have met.

Louisa May Alcott, Union nurse (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-53264)

And what would they do if war came again?

The scarlet cross floats where all was blank then.

They would bind on their “brassards” and march to the fray,

And the man liveth not who could say to them nay;

They would stand with you now, as they stood with you then,

The nurses, consolers, and saviours of men.

Unidentified Union soldier and lady, probably a couple (Library of Congress – LC-DIG-ppmsca-52251)

From the ECW Archives: Queen of Delphine, Part II

Lillias Nichols

(Continuing the story from Part I of Lillias Nichols as prisoner of war and her captors aboard the CSS Shenandoah.)

New Year’s Day 1865 continued clear and balmy. All sails were set with just enough breeze to fill them, the first really fine weather they had experienced since entering the Indian Ocean.

Mrs. Nichols’s canaries sang delightfully all day. New Year’s dinner in the wardroom included two splendid hams adorned with Confederate flags.

It seemed a pity to cut them, wrote Lieutenant Chew, “however, looking at them was not sufficient for the voracious appetites of some of my messmates.” Hopes for the future were tempered by thoughts of home. “What a waste of waters between me and the shores of my country!”[i]

They had a nice dinner, noted Lieutenant Whittle. “This is a day upon which all persons however separated think of their absent dear ones more than on any other. Oh! How my heart feels for my dear ones.” He invoked God’s blessing and wished for a better and happier new year. “My constant prayer is that a merciful God will guard, protect and cherish our dear country. That he will open the eyes of our enemies to the cruelty of the war they are waging against us and that he may teach them that they are wrong.”[ii]

With the dawn, the near-barren volcanic island of St. Paul rose above the horizon. Masters Mate Hunt claimed to have observed Mrs. Nichols in some distress over the prospect of being marooned there, and to have comforted her. (Hunt had a tendency to embellish his memoirs.)

She told him of stories in the Northern press describing outrages committed upon defenseless men and women by Rebel cruisers, and produced a sample from an illustrated New York publication. The article compared the men of the infamous CSS Alabama with dastardly pirates and renegades, but was, according to Hunt, full of blunders and absurdities that provided amusement in the wardroom for days.[iii]

They dropped anchor at the southern end of the island while eight officers rowed to the beach for a day of exploration and fishing, returning in the evening loaded with fish and in the best of spirits. But they paid dearly, recalled Hunt, with bright sunburns and hands blistered at the oars.

They had hoped to capture a seal or two but failing this, found a penguin and, “brought his aquatic fowlship off in triumph.” The penguin had the bray of an ass, was covered by gray down, and walked with military erectness. Someone pinned a rag around its neck resembling a shawl like an old lady, which amused them all, including Mrs. Nichols. Waddell shaped course for Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern tip of Australia.[iv]

CSS Shenandoah

The men (and woman) of Shenandoah settled into underway routine for the next three weeks with everyone anxious to get ashore. Friday, January 6, 1865, was Surgeon Lining’s thirty-first birthday. He enjoyed conversing with Mrs. Nichols and viewing her family photographs, but Captain Nichols got jealous and came poking around whenever the doctor was with her. “The fool and ass…. I shall now go on talking to her to plague him, if nothing else.”

Nichols frequently walked the quarterdeck with his wife, a privilege extended to no other prisoners. According to Hunt, “the old fellow made himself so continually and unmitigatedly disagreeable that our officers perforce avoided him.” They were as anxious to be rid of him as he was to be elsewhere.[v]

Lieutenant Chew noted the crossing of the meridian exactly opposite his home on the globe and was amazed to find himself in such a far off place. He calculated that Melbourne, Australia, and Lexington, Missouri were distant from each other by the Cape of Good Hope 238 degrees of longitude, equal to 12,600 miles.

They had enjoyed summer and fall in Europe and now in the southern hemisphere were having summer over again. “I suppose by the coming of the winter months, we will have [re-]crossed the line, thus having continual summer.”[vi]

Lieutenant William Whittle reported an uncomfortable encounter with Mrs. Nichols one morning in the wardroom:

“Well Mr. Whittle, I trust that we may soon have peace,” she said, a sentiment to which he concurred.

“Do you think we can ever be friends?”

“No Madam, never,” he responded.

“But Mr. Whittle, if after the peace was made you were to meet me, would you speak to me?”

“Certainly, Madam, I would speak at any time to a female.”

“But would you not speak to my husband?”

“I might do so as he has never served against us.”

The lady expressed admiration for the Confederate Navy uniform cap and asked if she could have one. Whittle felt bound as a gentleman to acquiesce; he could say no to men but not to a woman. But they were Yankees, and their motives could only be mercenary. Whittle had no doubt she would hand the cap, if provided, over to her husband and he would sell it.

He thought no woman with so little delicacy as to place a gentleman in such a fix should expect him to comply, “and on this principle I will let the cap alone.” Mrs. Nichols apparently developed a grudging fondness for some of the officers, but never took to the somewhat stuffy Virginian. She undoubtedly enjoyed teasing him.[vii]

Shenandoah in Hobson’s Bay, February 1865 (State Library of Victoria, Melbourne)

A new parole form was prepared for signature by the prisoners before release upon arrival in Melbourne, in which they promised not to serve against the Confederacy, and not to provide information tending to the detriment of the Shenandoah. Captain Nichols signed the form without protest, but not his wife.

Dr. Charles Lining

“She let loose with her tongue, pitching directly into her husband for telling her to sign it & say nothing,” reported Lining. The lady would not feel bound by parole given under duress and would pass on whatever information she pleased (which she subsequently did to the U.S. Consul in Melbourne).

After signing the document, Mrs. Nichols turned to Lieutenant Lee and pointedly inquired: “Is there anything you want [my son] Phiny to sign?” Lee replied: “No, Madame, we are much more afraid of you than we are of him.” Dr. Lining: “She went out in a towering rage. Not to get the vials of her wrath poured out on me, I kept quiet.”[viii]

On the morning after arrival, Captain Waddell was awakened by voices in the adjoining cabin. Mrs. Nichols was preparing for departure and loudly demanding restitution of every book taken from her ship Delphine. All were returned except Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Lieutenant Whittle threw overboard.

The lady thanked them for their kindness, declaring she liked all the officers except Doctor Lining and Lieutenant Whittle. “I thought I was a kind of chicken of hers,” concluded the embarrassed lieutenant, “anyhow I was very kind to her.” The Nichols family loaded their luggage into boats and shoved clear of Shenandoah. Her parting shot: “I wish that steamer may be burned.”[ix]

(Extracted from A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015) by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes)

[i] Francis Thornton Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal of Francis Thornton Chew, Lieutenant, C.S.N.,” Chew Papers #148, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library (not paginated), 1 January 1865.

[ii] William C. Whittle, Jr., The Voyage of the CSS Shenandoah: A Memorable Cruise (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), 99.

[iii] Cornelius E. Hunt, The Shenandoah; Or, The Last Confederate Cruiser (New York: G.W. Carelton, 1867), 87-89.

[iv] Ibid., 84-86.

[v] Charles E. Lining, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 6 January 1865; Hunt, Shenandoah, 91.

[vi] Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 12 January 1865.

[vii] Whittle, Voyage, 105-06.

[viii] Lining, Journal, 23 January 1865.

[ix] Whittle, Voyage, 106; James I. Waddell, “Extracts from notes on the C.S.S. Shenandoah by her commander, James Iredell Waddell, C.S. Navy,” in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 1, 3:809.