Dads & The Civil War

Happy Father’s Day!

As we think about fathers and Civil War history, many images come to mind. Dads saying goodbye to their children and marching off to war. Civil War veteran fathers telling their children about fighting for freedom. Modern-day dads taking their children to the “fields of history” or telling them true stories about the past.

Here at Emerging Civil War, many of our authors are fathers, and we definitely believe that dads made history and dads can find time to write history!

Our Editor in Chief, Chris Mackowski, shared his thoughts about fathers and history in this excerpt from the April 2018 Newsletter: 

…[At Spotsylvania’s Mule Shoe]…we passed along the rubberized walking trail, and I told Maxwell a little bit about what took place there.

How do you tell that story to a 13-month-old?

Well, for me, at that moment, walking through the Bloody Angle with my youngest son, the story became one about all the fathers who lost sons in the fight, and all the sons who lost fathers…about all the men who didn’t go home to their families…and about those lucky men who did.

“Last Leave” by Mort Kunstler (https://www.mortkunstler.com/html/art-american-spirit.asp?action=view&ID=768&cat=144)

For all the different ways and reasons we all study the war, for me, it always comes down to one thing in the end: these were guys just like me. They were stuck in places they didn’t really want to be, trying to do their duty as they best saw it. At the Mule Shoe, how many of those men, on either side, really wanted to be there? How many were thinking of home and family just before the storm broke on May 12, 1864? How many of the wounded and dying afterwards?

That’s why I keep studying the war and telling these stories: For all those fathers and sons.

Looking for some historical accounts about fathers and their children from the Civil War Era? We combed through the archives and found a couple articles for the day…

Fathers and Daughters: Writing About Stonewall Jackson as a Dad

An Adventure With Dad (U.S. Grant and his son Fred)

A Father’s Influence (Robert E. Lee and his son “Rooney”)

Flag Day: Poetry From The Archives

Replica Union Flag – photograph by S.K. Bierle

It’s June 14!

Flag Day.

A day to remember when the Continental Congress adopted the design of the American Flag on June 14, 1777. Although Flag Day wasn’t widely recognized as a commemorative day until after the Civil War, the United States (Union) Flag was a celebrated symbol in the North and Union armies during the war and seen as a symbol of reunification after the conflict.

In March 2016, Julie Mujic shared information and and a historic poem about the day the United States flag was raised over Fort Sumter in 1865. Check it out and enjoy some patriotic musings on this special day…

Remembering the Flag Raising over Fort Sumter

Memorial Day in Rural Maine

Passadumkeag 01The trip up to Greenbush, Maine, along U.S. Route 2 parallels the east bank of the Penobscot River. The river in places gets to be half a mile or more from the road, and in other places, it’s right along the road, sometimes behind a thin screen of trees and sometimes wide open, quieter now than in the old logging days. This part of the Penobscot Valley is far enough north from Bangor that it might still be an earlier era if not for the pavement and the trucks.

Every Memorial Day, my father hops into his pickup and drives this stretch northward from his home just north of Old Town. In my youth, we used to make this trip often in the early summer to get hay from the old Tinkham Farm. In Greenbush, he turns off and, past the Helen Dunn elementary/middle school, he follows the East Ridge Road to the intersection with the Gould’s Ridge Road, and from there travels north for a couple more miles, crossing into the town of Passadumkeag. On the right hand side of the road, carved out of the Maine woods, the Gould’s Ridge Cemetery—and its two Civil War veterans—waits for visitors. 

Its formal name is the Sunny Slope Cemetery, which describes the property in pragmatic Yankee succinctness: a patch of sunny open space that slopes up modestly from the road. A pair of elongated horseshoe driveways provide access to the 200 or so graves, many of them old, old, old. Trees border the cemetery on three sides, but these are not the thick, dark Maine woods that grow not too far away. These have been moderately tamed by the homesteaders and farmers who’ve lived in this area since the early 1800s. The Penobscot tribe has lived in the area even longer.

A thousand such cemeteries dot the Maine back roads, or so it seems. The woods just open up for a small roadside collection of graves—sometimes there’s a church but more often not—and in a second we’ve whizzed by and the forest is once again there, and the cemetery, like its inhabitants, is just a memory—maybe even a “Did I just see that?” dream.

This is my father’s Memorial Day ritual: he comes each year to pay his respects. “It’s not much,” he tells me. “I do it as a way to connect to my dad [a WWII veteran] and to all my buddies who went off to Vietnam.”

But isn’t that the point: the take time on Memorial Day to pay your respects to those who’ve fallen in the service of the country?

Passadumkeag 02.jpgMy father is one of a handful of people to turn out at this little Maine cemetery each Memorial Day. “Just some of the locals,” he tells me. A color guard lines up, joined by a few dignitaries and five reenactors from a unit with the 20th Maine who resemble aging Civil War veterans who’ve put on their uniforms for their own past Memorial Day commemorations.

Veterans from several wars rest in Sunny Slope, including two Civil War vets. My dad asks Wayne Nickerson, the caretaker who looks after the veterans in the cemetery, who tells him the men’s names were Cary and Morrill. “Old names around here,” my dad tells me. A quick internet search even shows a Cary/Morrill reunion held in the area of Gould’s Ridge in the early 2000s.

I call Wayne. His hearing aid troubles him over the phone, so our conversation is slow and deliberate. He speaks in a Maine accent that reminds me of my childhood summers—or, “summahs,” as we would’ve said. Wayne has little to go on beyond the names of the two soldiers: Pvt. Calvin Nelson Cary, Co. E, 6th Maine, and Pvt. George W. Morrill, Co. F, 14th Maine. The town history suggests they might have been brothers-in-law, although Wayne says he has reason to believe the writer of the town history might have mixed up one Cary for another who also served.

Private Cary would have found himself in my neck of the woods during the war. Most notably, the 6th Maine stormed the stone wall and sunken road and took Marye’s Heights during the battle of second Fredericksburg. The 6th would later participate in similar spearhead attacks at Rappahannock Station and during Upton’s charge at Spotsy.

The 14th Maine, meanwhile, found itself in Louisiana for much of the war. Originally part of Ben Butler’s New Orleans Expeditionary Force, they later participated in the battle of Baton Rouge and the siege of Port Hudson. As a member of Co. F, Pvt. George Morrill would have also participated in a July 23-25, 1862, expedition to the Amite River. Herman Melville wrote a poem about the regiment, “On the Men of Maine killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Was Morrill one of those men Melville wrote about? If not, when and how did he die? An online list of the company’s final record that shows personnel changes from Nov. ’63 onward doesn’t list him, suggesting he died prior to that date. In July of 1864, the 14th Maine transferred to Bermuda Hundred in July of 1864, and then later took part in the Sheridan’s Valley campaign that fall, but I think Morrill had already returned to Passadumkeag by then. The corpse of a Union private killed in the summer Louisiana heat would pose a logistical challenge getting it back to the Penobscot Valley, so perhaps Morrill had only been wounded?

And what about Cary? What happened to him? How did he make it to the sunny slope in Passadumkeag?

As often happens, I now have more questions than answers. Now I have a new pair of Civil War stories to dig into. If Memorial Day is about paying our respects, then this will be my way to do so.

Just as my father has his own ritual for the holiday, so do I. I once again assisted with the annual luminary at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. It was, as always, a wonderful event, even with the threat of thunderstorms. But it looks like this year’s Memorial Day will also bring me like my father, to Gould’s Ridge in Passadumkeag, Maine—if not literally, then at least through the stories of the two veterans who rest there.

Luminary 2018-cloudy moon

A Young Mother At Gettysburg

Georgia McClellan, on the left (no known restrictions)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms!

In honor of the day, I wanted to share some an account of motherhood in Gettysburg during July 1863. Since this is a day of celebration, no sad war stories from me today – rather a remembrance of women’s courage and mothers’ dedication and care for little ones…and a reminder that motherhood and all its joys and challenges continues no matter what happens.

June 26, 1863, is remembered in Gettysburg military history as the day Confederates came to town. Mothers worried about their children’s safety, hurrying them inside. Many civilians claimed it was day they’d never forget. For one young woman, though, it was an especially memorable day, even before the Rebels charged through Gettysburg. That day she held her precious, healthy baby for the very first time.

About half-past two, twenty-one year old Georgeanna “Georgia” Wade McClellan gave birth to a son, but an hour later, shouts, pistol shots, and frightened cries disturbed her much-needed rest as Confederate raiders dashed passed her home on Baltimore Street. War disrupted what should have been sweet, quiet moments with her baby. Though, her family initially kept the details from her, Georgia’s brother – Sam Wade – had been captured by the Confederates as he tried to escape and get the family’s horse to safety; Georgia’s mother and sister berated the raiders outside the house and eventually got Sam returned but didn’t have such luck with the horse.[i]

John Louis McClellan, no known restrictions.

John Louis McClellan – Georgia’s husband and the new baby’s father – served in the 165th Pennsylvania Infantry during 1863, and he was away in Virginia in June. John and Georgia had married on April 15, 1862, and happily John would return home, mustering out of his unit at the end of July 1863. Still, when her baby was born and in the days afterward, Georgia depended on her mother and other family members to care for her, while she rested and adjusted to looking after her infant son.

Georgia still convalesced in bed, recovering strength after her recent labor and delivery, when battle exploded in and around the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Georgia’s mother and siblings took refuge at the McClellan home, and they moved the bed, the baby, and the invalid mother to the downstairs parlor for safety. Still, the house stood in the way of artillery and sharpshooters; one missile – artillery shot – crashed through the house and penetrated into the brick wall.[ii]

Early in the morning of July 3, 1863, mother and baby were almost miraculously spared when, according to a later account approved by Georgia, “about seven o’clock the Confederate sharpshooters again began firing at the north windows of the house. Every pane of glass was soon broken, one bullet on entering the front room struck the southwest bed post, then hit the fireplace or wall, finally falling on the pillow at the foot of the bed toward which Mrs. McClellan and the child had been turned as a measure of safety…”[iii]

Detail from William-Adolphe Bouguereau artwork “Premières caresse”(1901)

From primary sources, we can piece together an image of a young mother caught in the war’s horrible storm. Her baby – less than a week old – heard the sounds of destruction and probably wailed in fright. Though terrified by the battle and seemingly too weak to care for herself, Georgia McClellan looked after her son, probably sheltering him with her body, trying to hush his cries, and tending to his infant needs. It’s an image from Gettysburg often overshadowed by the battlefield happenings or the fate of Georgia’s sister, Mary Virginia Wade. An image of motherhood and a mother’s protecting, nurturing role in the midst of one of the worst battles in history.

Courage takes many forms in life and history. Perhaps an underestimated glimpse of courage is personified in Georgia McClellan: a mother’s courage. To shelter, protect, love, and cherish a child no matter what conflicts rage outside.

Postscript:

Young Mrs. McClellan and her son – Lewis Kenneth McClellan – survived the battle and the unsanitary aftermath at Gettysburg. After the war, the reunited McClellan family moved to Iowa, and throughout her life, Georgia actively supported temperance and other social reforms.[iv]

 

Sources:

[i] Conklin, Eileen F. Women at Gettysburg, 1863, Revisited. Thomas Publications, 2013. Page 140.

[ii] Ibid, Page 143.

[iii] Ibid, Page 143.

[iv] Find A Grave – Georgeanna McClellan https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/60505475/georgeanna-mcclellan

One Evening At Gettysburg…

It was one of those evenings when you’d just rather sit in your tent and zone-out. The Union generals had been playing “catch-up on the campaign” ever since the now-fired Joe Hooker had started a belated pursuit of the Confederate army. As for the men in gray, they’d been on the march for weeks now, into Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it just seemed like all their plans weren’t working out.

Sensing that his commanders needed a break, General Lee inquired if there was a pizza parlor nearby, and Henry Heth said he’d heard about a good place in Gettysburg. Lee sent Heth to make reservations.

About that same time, Union General Meade decided to have a team building meeting. John Buford sent word that he’d heard of High Ground Pizza – not too far in the little town of Gettysburg – and offered to hold some tables.

When Henry Heth arrived at High Ground Pizza, he was astonished to find Buford there, already reserving about half the restaurant’s tables. Heth at once expressed his displeasure and then wondered aloud what would happen when the generals from both sides gathered in the room.

They didn’t have to wait long. Reynolds showed up and ordered some [root] beer and “for goodness sakes, hurry up!” and Gordon arrived with his gray mustang. Heth pouted in the corner, making frowny faces at the men in blue until Ewell and Lee arrived and organized some tables across from the Yankee position.

Longstreet, Early, Pickett, and Hood all came together. Longstreet took one look around the restaurant and suggested they could go to Washington for a hamburger and just leave the Yankees alone, but Lee insisted he really wanted pizza. The men in gray looked at the menu for a while. “I just wish General Stuart was here. He’s so particular in what he eats, and I don’t want to order something he doesn’t like,” Lee said, looking over the rim of his glasses absently as though he didn’t see his other friends.

Hancock, Sickles, Meade, Warren and Chamberlain entered. Nobody was quite sure why Chamberlain came; he wasn’t in the general’s star-club yet, but the other Union men just shrugged and assumed he invited himself to the party. They bent over the menus, trying to decide what to order.

Finally, Lee sent Ewell to the ordering counter to ask for four large pepperoni pizzas, if possible. Ewell had started eating healthy ever since he got married and decided it wasn’t possible; he ordered four thin crust vegan pizzas with minimal cheese. Meanwhile, all the Union men decided on carnivorous pizza and sent Sickles to place the order for four pizzas. Sickles glanced behind him, made sure Hancock wasn’t listening, and only ordered only cheese pizza because he was tired of everyone ignoring what he wanted.

The Confederate pizzas arrived first (still before Stuart, who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to the gathering). Everyone glowered when they saw what Ewell had ordered, but about that time Longstreet noticed that the Union men had pizza with yummy, gooey (and totally unhealthy) cheese. Motioning to the others, they quickly got the same idea. Forget caution and healthy dieting! Food stealing!

Now, the Union boys growled at Sickles until Warren sounded the alarm. Chamberlain – from his seat on the left, closest to the food counter – grabbed several pizza boxes and suggested they take the food to-go. The others rallied and headed for the back of Meade’s pick-up (wagon, of course). The Confederates gathered at the door while Sickles was sent back to camp without dinner as punishment for his mischief and lack of obedience.

“Men, should we stay or head back to camp?” Meade asked. After some quick thinking, the men voted to stay…because if they went back to camp all the soldiers would be mad they didn’t get to have pizza too. Now, the generals had tried that at Fredericksburg last year, and it just turned into the biggest disaster ever.

Who wouldn’t fight for PIZZA?

Pickett ran out the door, calling to the gray-clad men to follow. “Rally, brave Virginians! We can take their cheese pizza!” But it took a while to get the others to come with him, and by that time, the cheese pizza stealing opportunity vanished. The Union men shook hands, smiled at everyone (except the Confederates) and headed back to camp, thankful for an opportunity to relax and enjoy some good food.

Inside the restaurant, Stuart arrived in time to poke at the cold veggie pizza while Lee scolded him for being late. The men in gray decided to head to Williamsport Brewery on Potomac Street, leaving Lee to pay the price of the pizza with his Lost Cause Rewards Card (which would actually be billed to Longstreet).

April Fools From Emerging Civil War!