Monday, January 31, 2011

Fighting Dick

Israel Bush Richardson

       Israel Bush Richardson was born in 1815 in Vermont. Supposedly a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Israel Putnam, he gained entry to the United States Military Academy. He graduated 38 out of 58 cadets in the West Point Class of 1841. He saw action in the Second Seminole War. He gained quite a bit of fame from his action during the Mexican War. It would be in Mexico that he earned the nickname, "Fighting Dick." 
       He left the army in 1855 to take up farming in Michigan. When the Civil War began, he helped organize the 2nd Michigan Infantry. He married Fannie Travor in early 1861. His regiment was sent to Washington where he again met Winfield Scott. Upon seeing him, Scott exclaimed, "I'm glad to have my 'Fighting Dick' with me again." 
       He disobeyed orders at Blackburn's Ford and engaged Longstreet against Federal General McDowell's wishes. His brigade was repulsed there, but he made up for this by covering the rearguard during the retreat to Washington. Following this action he was promoted to brigadier general. 
       He commanded a brigade during the Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at Yorktown, Seven Pines and the Seven Days battles. After the campaign, he was promoted to major general. He was engaged at Second Manassas and South Mountain. 
       Richardson would see his last action at Antietam. His troops smashed through the center of the Confederate line at what would later become known as 'Bloody Lane' and was in position to break Lee's army in half. Taking the lane, his men were hit by severe artillery fire from the Confederate reserve. He was talking with one of his artillery officers when an exploding shell sent shrapnel into his side, chest and shoulder. 

Site where Richardson was wounded

       While being carried from the field, he told a surgeon, "Tell General McClellan I have been in the front rank doing the duty of a colonel. I have done a hard days work, and have worked all day. I am wounded and he must detail someone to take my command."
        The wound was not considered to be dangerous. He was carried to the Phillip Pry house, the home McClellan used as his headquarters. Surgeons stopped the bleeding. President Abraham Lincoln visited Richardson in October, but infection set in, followed by pneumonia. He died in November. 

Phillip Pry House

       Richardson was forty-six years old. Nicknamed "Fighting Dick" and also "Greasy Dick" because of his fighting prowess. He was known for his courage in combat and was perfectly fearless in action. Fort Richardson in Texas is named for him. He rests in Oak Hill Cemetery, Pontiac, Michigan. 

Richardson's grave

       Not known for his social skills, his men loved him. He had said to them, "I won't ask you to go anywhere I won't go myself."
       I wonder if Todd Richardson, a good friend of mine, would deny being related to Israel Bush Richardson. Being a lieutenant in the 26th Alabama Infantry re-enacting group, I'm sure he would deny this. Maybe, I'll just nickname him "Greasy Dick."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Master Of War

General George Henry Thomas

       I strongly recommend the book 'Master Of War' by Benson Bobrick. The book is a biography on the life of Federal General George Henry Thomas. Mr. Bobrick makes a strong case that General Thomas was the best Union commander of the Civil War. I have always believed this myself. 
       Mr. Bobrick points out the reasons that he thinks General Thomas is often overlooked as a brilliant commander. Thomas was born in Virginia and unlike Ulysses Grant, he didn't have a congressman pushing him for promotion. Every laurel that Thomas won, he won on what he accomplished during the war. 
       George Thomas died in 1870 and after his death, both Grant and Sherman attempted to smear his reputation. Grant accused Thomas of being too slow in action. Thomas was known as a general who relied on maneuver, unlike Grant who fed his troops into a meat grinder with little thought. Thomas had the most complete victory of the war at the Battle of Nashville. At the same time Grant was calling Thomas too slow, he had been bogged down in front of Petersburg for six months without accomplishing anything of merit. 

Ulysses Grant

       Grant and Sherman became best friends during the war. At the Battle of Chattanooga, Grant formulated a plan to make Sherman the hero. While Thomas held the center, Sherman was to attack the north flank of the Confederate battle line on Missionary Ridge. First, Sherman advanced and took the wrong hill. He then attacked Missionary Ridge, Cleburne's division to be exact and his troops stalled, unable to push Cleburne from his position. 

William Tecumseh Sherman

       Grant ordered Thomas to make a demonstration in the center. Thomas sent his troops forward and without orders they charged up Missionary Ridge and broke the Confederate center. Far from elated at the victory, Grant turned to Thomas and asked, "Who gave that order?"
       Thomas replied that he didn't know of anyone giving them the order to charge the heights. Grant then said to Thomas, "Well, it will be investigated."
       Try as he might during the war, Grant could hardly make Sherman the hero. It would be after the war and after Thomas' death that Sherman and Grant would change history by attacking his reputation and spreading false statements about the man. 
       During the Atlanta Campaign it was George Thomas who continued to insist on flanking the entrenched Confederate army. John A. Logan was at Sherman's headquarters when the army faced the Confederate army at Kennesaw Mountain. The position was the strongest faced during the campaign. Logan noted that Sherman was reading a newspaper about Grant's high casualties during the Overland Campaign. He complained that Grant's army was gaining all the attention while Sherman's army was being overlooked. He decided that the only way to get attention back on his army was by doing some fighting. Sherman then ordered a frontal assault on Johnston's strongly entrenched army. 
       Both Thomas and McPherson objected to the plan. Sherman said the assault must be made to prove to the country that his army would fight as well as Grant's. The result was over 3000 Federal casualties. After the war, Sherman attempted to shift the blame for the battle on George Thomas, saying he had been the one who suggested an assault there. 
       Sherman praised himself for his March to the Sea Campaign when in fact he had left Thomas to deal with the Confederate army while he faced nothing but old men and young boys. 

James B. Fry

       After the war, James B. Fry wrote an article in which he quoted Sherman as saying Grant was lucky and not quite the great general that most people believe him to be. Sherman denied that he had ever said this and attempted to ruin Fry's career. Fry then produced a letter signed by Sherman where he had said that exact thing. Sherman had embarrassed himself having to admit that he had indeed made the statement. His memoirs are full of untruths in his attempt to glorify himself, much as Grant's is also. 
       I strongly recommend this book. It is very interesting to read and you will learn a lot about the two famous Union hero's of the war. You'll also learn about George Henry Thomas, probably the best commander the north had during the war. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

No Braver Soldier

Brigadier General James Deshler

       James Deshler was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1833. He obtained an appointment to West Point and graduated seventh out of forty-six cadets in the class of 1854. He served in the United States Army until the Civil War began, fighting Sioux Indians and putting down the Mormon uprising in Utah. He received a leave of absence when the war began and never returned. Instead of resigning his commission, the government dropped his name from the rolls. 
       President Davis commissioned Deshler a captain and placed him in command of an artillery battery in western Virginia. He later served as an aide on the staff of Edward Johnson. In an engagement at the Greenbrier River, Deshler was shot through both thighs as he rode along the front lines. He refused to leave the field until the fighting ended. 
       Upon his recovery, he was promoted to colonel and assigned to the staff of Theophilus Holmes in North Carolina. He was chief of artillery under Holmes during the Peninsula Campaign and saw action at Malvern Hill. Holmes labeled Deshler as his best staff officer saying he couldn't afford to lose the man. 
       After the Seven Days Campaign, Holmes was transferred to Arkansas. Deshler would be sent with him, but relieved of duty as a staff officer and assigned a brigade of Texas infantry under General Hindman. His first action as infantry commander was at Arkansas Post, a fort on the Arkansas River. Deshler was spectacular there. He commanded his men to hold their fire until the Federals were within a hundred yards, breaking two enemy charges. Someone raised a white flag in the fort during the fighting, although General Churchill in command of the fort denied he authorized a cease fire. The Federal line in front of Deshler again came forward thinking the fort had surrendered. Deshler shouted that unless they pulled back, he would open fire again because he was without orders to cease firing.

Battle of Arkansas Post

       Sherman and Churchill together rode to Deshler's position. Sherman attempted to dress Deshler down, saying, "What is the meaning of this? You're a regular officer and know better."
       Deshler replied in an angry tone that he didn't have orders to cease fire. Churchill explained to Deshler that he hadn't ordered the surrender, but the fort was overwhelmed because of the display of the white flag from an unknown person. Deshler then ordered his men to stack their arms. 
       Sherman decided that he might disarm Deshler's attitude by a friendly conversation, but he didn't know Deshler very well. Deshler's parents had been born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Alabama before he was born. Sherman asked, "Are you related to the Deshler family in Columbus, Ohio?"
       Deshler, who was still irritated about being captured, replied, "I'm not related to anyone north of the Ohio River anymore."
       Sherman said he believed he gave Deshler a piece of his mind, but couldn't remember for sure. 
       Deshler was held prisoner for five months before being exchanged. He was promoted to brigadier general in July, 1863 and placed in command of Churchill's brigade of Texas troops who had lost faith in him as a commander following the surrender of Arkansas Post. The brigade was then assigned to Cleburne's Division in the Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. 
       It would be September of 1863 before Deshler would see his first action as a general officer. On September 20, he was waiting to enter the battle when Cleburne approached. Cleburne made mention to the fact that Deshler's men had yet to see action in this battle. Deshler replied, "Well, its not my fault!"
       Cleburne laughed and ordered Deshler forward. Colonel Mills soon sent word that his men were running low on ammunition. He fully expected to see one of the general's staff officer's coming to check the ammo boxes. He looked around and was surprised to see Deshler himself coming in his direction. Before he reached Mills, an artillery shell struck him in the chest without exploding and passed all the way through his body, taking his heart with it. Brigadier General James Deshler was dead before he hit the ground. 

Spot where Deshler fell at Chickamauga

       Mills reported that Deshler was "brave and generous, and kind even to a fault...Refusing to permit a staff officer to endanger his life in going to examine the cartridge boxes to see what amount of ammunition his men had...when he fell as he would wish to fall...surrounded by the bodies of his fallen comrades."

Grave of James Deshler

       James Deshler would be removed to Oakwood Cemetery in Tuscumbia, Alabama. He was loved by the men of his brigade and they would gain fame later as Granbury's Texas brigade. Deshler was 30 years old. The high school in Tuscumbia is named Deshler High School in his honor. The Dixie Station in downtown Tuscumbia sits on the site where his parents lived and he spent his childhood. 

Me standing beside the monument to Deshler beside his grave

       General Robert E. Lee wrote, "There was no braver soldier in the Confederacy than Deshler."



A Very Difficult Book To Read

       I'll post a blog a little later, but at the moment I would like to talk about a book I am currently forcing myself to finish reading. Being a writer, I don't normally like to bash another author's book, but I would like to let everyone know to skip this one and save your money.
       The title is Ulysses S. Grant: A Victor, Not A Butcher by Edward Bonekemper. I've only read one hundred of the two hundred and sixty-six pages and maybe I can explain why. So far, Mr. Bonekemper has gone through  the campaigns in which General Grant was involved. I've made it to the Vicksburg Campaign. Mr. Bonekemper seems to be a little lax with facts. 
       The back of the book says that the author "restores Grant's heroic reputation and silences his critics". Becoming frustrated with the book, I decided to skip ahead and see how far this following of Grant's campaigns will go before he begins to convince me that Grant was a military genius. I've found the book acts as a biography of Grant's career and nothing more. The cover of the book will tempt you to buy it, but you find nothing inside thats mentioned on the cover. 
       It seems General Grant is a personal hero of Mr. Bonekemper and he has allowed his personal thoughts on his subject to interfere with writing the truth of the subject. I'll give you one example and there are many more. He says that Grant had a grand plan for the destruction of Confederate General Price's army at Iuka, Mississippi. According to Mr. Bonekemper, Grant's subordinates failed him. He goes on to say that Rosecrans fought the battle, while Ord sat by idly doing nothing. This is true, but he fails to mention that Grant was with Ord and he was the ranking officer. The author then goes on to double the Confederate army's casualties to show that Rosecrans had the battle won alone and failed to follow up the victory. 
       I have over 400 books on the Civil War and rarely do I criticize an author, but I have to admit this guy has rewritten history in his own mind. Grant is not a hero of mine, but he also wasn't an idiot. I thought this guy would publish facts to make his point, but I guess some of the facts he needed just weren't there. 
       Thanks for listening to my rant. I'll get another story posted sometime today. Tim.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Black Knight

      Turner Ashby

       Turner Ashby was born in Virginia in 1828. His father, Turner Ashby, Sr., served as a colonel in the War of 1812 and died while he was very young. His grandfather was a captain in the Revolutionary War. Turner Ashby was privately tutored and after finishing, he purchased a farm near his mother's home. He named the home Wolf's Crag.

Wolf's Crag

       Turner Ashby was known for his chivalry, horseman ship, and as an avid outdoorsman. He was a natural leader and when the war began, he took command of a cavalry unit. The man was described as about five feet, eight inches, weighing about one hundred-sixty pounds and had a dark complexion from all the time he'd spent outdoors. He earned the nickname 'Black Knight of the Confederacy' because of his jet black hair and dark eyes. Always riding either a solid black horse or a solid white horse, he was a fearless leader. His command would follow him anywhere, but he was without formal military training and had lots of trouble because of his lack of discipline.
       Ashby was soon assigned to Stonewall Jackson's command in the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson gave him the job of patrolling the Potomac River north of the valley. In an engagement there, his brother Richard Ashby would be killed. Turner was told that Richard was bayoneted to death while attempting to surrender. No one for certain exactly what happened there, but regardless, Turner believed the story. From that point forward, he hated Northern troops and fought with a vengeance. 

Ashby in the militia uniform of Virginia before the war

       Ashby was soon promoted to colonel and given command of the 7th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Many were pushing for Ashby to be promoted to brigadier general, but Jackson was against the idea. Jackson didn't think Ashby was capable of higher command because of the lack of discipline in his command and no proper military training. A brave fighter, Ashby never learned how to properly drill his men. Despite what Jackson suggested, Ashby was promoted to brigadier general in May of 1862. He would hold that rank for just ten days.
       Although Ashby was brave to a fault, there were times when he failed Jackson. Cavalry being the eyes of an army, it was Ashby's job to give Federal positions and troop strengths. At Kernstown, he greatly underestimated the size of the Union army. Jackson attacked the position and was defeated. Near Winchester, Virginia, after Jackson's infantry had defeated Nathaniel Banks force, Ashby's soldiers were too busy plundering captured wagons and allowed the retreating enemy to escape. Had Ashby's men been trained properly and disciplined, most of Banks force would have been captured.
       On June 6, 1862, General Ashby was fighting a rearguard action near Harrisonburg, Virginia. His force was being attacked by both Federal cavalry and infantry. His men easily repulsed the first attack. When the second attack began, Ashby's horse was killed. Rising from the ground, Ashby charged the enemy force, yelling, "Forward, my brave men!"

Monument marking the place where Ashby was killed

       Those were his last words. A bullet had hit him in the heart. He was killed instantly. It has been suggested that he could have been hit by friendly fire leading his men forward, but this seems highly unlikely. Turner Ashby's body was carried to the Kemper Home in Port Republic, photographed and then laid out in one of the rooms. Jackson soon arrived to view his remains.

Frank Kemper Home

       Despite the differences between Jackson and his cavalryman, the Confederate commander retired to his tent when he learned of his Ashby’s death. He later wrote, “As a partisan officer I never knew his superior; his daring was proverbial; his powers of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.”

Room where Jackson viewed Ashby's body

       Ashby rests today in the Stonewall Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia next to the body of his brother Richard. Turner Ashby was thirty-three years old. 

Ashby photographed in death

Grave of both Turner and Richard Ashby

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Knight Without Fear

James Holt Clanton

       James Holt Clanton was born in 1827 in Georgia, but his family moved to Alabama in 1835. After finishing school, Clanton went to the University of Alabama. He served as a private in the Mexican War and returned to become an attorney in Montgomery, Alabama. Though he opposed secession, he raised a company of cavalry at the outbreak of the war and quickly was made colonel of the 1st Alabama Cavalry. He would prove to be a man without fear, always leading his charges, pistol in hand. 
       Clanton would see his first action at the Battle of Shiloh. According to General James Chalmers, Clanton was “constantly exposed to the most dangerous fire, exhibited the most fearless and exemplary courage, cheering on those who seemed inclined to falter or grow weary.”
       He saw action at Farmington and at Booneville drove the enemy from the field. Like most officers in the army, he had a disagreement with General Bragg and resigned his commission as colonel of the 1st Alabama Cavalry. General Bragg had little use for officers without  proper military training and this probably was what caused them to have the disagreement. 
       Clanton returned to Montgomery and raised one infantry regiment and three cavalry regiments. He would receive a commission to brigadier general in late 1863. General Leonidas Polk called Clanton “an experienced cavalry officer, very efficient and enterprising.” 

Another wartime picture of Clanton

       For some reason, General Joseph Johnston, who was always begging for troops refused to accept Clanton’s brigade into his army. He stated that Clanton was incompetent. Why he believed this is still unknown, but probably stems from a mutiny in one of his regiments at one point earlier in the war. Clanton had been cleared of any wrong doing in the affair. 
       At Greensport, Alabama, he was outnumbered six to one by Federal troops, but the brave man decided to attack at dawn. He charged around the bend, personally leading his 200 troops. Pistol in hand and charging on foot. He was only twenty paces away when the Federal opened fire, armed with Spencer repeating rifles. His clothes were riddled with bullets, his entire staff killed or wounded. 
       During the fighting, a large black soldier named Griffin a member of his command approached General Clanton and asked, “General, where is Marse Batt?”
       Clanton was as calm as could be, pointed toward the Federal line and said, “There he is, dead.”
       Griffin charged forward, amid cries to stay back, through the smoke and bullets and picked up the young soldier and returned with him in his arms. 
       “Is he dead?” Clanton asked.
       “I don’t know, sir,” he replied, “My Mammy was his nurse and I’m older than he is. I promised to take care of him and bring him to her. I’m carrying him home now.”
       The Confederate troops were compelled to retreat before the terrific Federal fire. 
       In March, 1865, he was wounded in a fight at Bluff Spring, Florida. He fired his pistol at a Federal officer and spun his horse to ride away when a bullet slammed into his lower back. The bullet passed through his intestines and then exited the body. Doctors informed him the wound was mortal, so he called his chief of staff and had him write out Clanton’s will. Captured by the Federals, they paroled him, believing he would die. He was told if he survived the wound, he was to report to a prison camp. 
       After the war, Clanton returned to his law practice. Representing Alabama in a case against the Chattanooga and Alabama Railroad, he was forced to travel to Knoxville, Tennessee. He understood that Knoxville had sided with the Union during the war and believed the railroad had the case moved to Knoxville in an attempt to have him murdered. 

Another surviving photograph of General Clanton

       On September 27, 1871, after leaving the courtroom, Clanton was walking back to his hotel room with a Colonel Prosser. Tomlinson Fort later testified that he was walking down the sidewalk across the street with David Nelson who had served as a colonel in the Federal army during the war. 
       Tomlinson Fort walked across the street and shook Clanton’s hand because they were also friends. He then introduced Clanton to Nelson, saying, “Nelson fought against us, but had been very kind to his late enemies.”
       Nelson was already intoxicated. He asked Clanton to come have a drink with him. Clanton agreed to enter a saloon with the two men. On the way to the establishment, Nelson asked Clanton, “I’ll show you something if your not a coward.” 
       Clanton, known to as a knight without fear, answered, “Do you think I’m a coward?”
       “I’m not sure,” Nelson repeated. He then began to insult Clanton, becoming very excited. Clanton as was his nature during the war remained extremely cool. This seemed to make Nelson even more excited because he couldn’t intimidate the man.
       Tomlinson Fort placed his hand on Nelson’s shoulder and said, “Keep cool, Dave. You are in the wrong and there is no use in fighting.”
       Nelson ignored him. He said to Clanton, “I don’t know whether you’re a coward or not.”
       “You can try me anytime or place,” Clanton replied.
       Nelson said, “This is as good a place as any.”
       Fort stood talking to Clanton, telling him they were both his friends and there was no use in fighting. Nelson disappeared inside the saloon and returned a few moments later carrying a double-barreled shotgun.
       Nelson fired without taking careful aim, trying to kill Clanton before he could arm himself, but missed. Clanton drew his pistol and fired back, but missed also. Nelson then fired again, hitting Clanton in the shoulder and chest with over fifteen pellets of buckshot. Clanton immediately went to the ground, landing on his hands and face.
       The buckshot had gone into his lungs, torn his shoulder from the socket and shredded several arteries in his chest. They carried him to the Lamar Hotel where he would die a few moments later. Clanton left a widow and six children, some very young. 

Lamar House Hotel

       The case went to trial in 1873 and was highly publicized. A Judge Trigg also witnessed the incident and testified that Nelson fired the first shot at Clanton, who was not prepared or armed. 
       Nelson’s defense attorneys claimed the murder was in self-defense. The jury took five minutes to acquit Nelson of the murder charge. The entire state of Alabama became furious over the trial. Newspapers called the trial a big sham. 
       Interestingly, David Nelson’s father Thomas Nelson was a prominent politician and judge in Knoxville, Tennessee. He resigned his seat as judge to help defend his son’s murder charge. After his son was found not guilty, Thomas Nelson would spend the remainder of his life teaching Sunday school. Today, Thomas Nelson rests in an unmarked grave. David Nelson has long since been forgotten about, unlike the brave man he unjustly murdered.

Thomas Nelson, father of the murderer

       James Holt Clanton rests today in Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama. 

Me standing beside the grave of General Clanton

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Tragic Families: Lincoln and Davis

       Not long ago, someone asked me what Lincoln and Davis had in common while serving as our Civil War presidents. I replied that they both lost sons during the war. Someone standing nearby asked in which battles did they die. I had to explain that neither died in combat because neither child was old enough to fight.
       Besides the tragic loss of a son during the war, both families understood the tragedy of losing children. Only one of Lincoln’s sons lived beyond the age of eighteen. Davis had only one child to live to see her fifties. 
       Davis lost his first wife after only three months of marriage to malaria. Sarah Knox Taylor was only twenty-one when she died. Lincoln was in love with a girl named Ann Rutledge in 1831 and there is evidence the two planned to marry. In 1835, Ann contracted typhoid fever and died. During thunderstorms, Lincoln would be seen collapsing upon her grave and people began to worry for his sanity.

Robert Todd Lincoln

       Lincoln’s oldest son was named Robert Todd Lincoln. He lived to the age of 82. He wasn’t very close to his mother or father and unlike his brothers, he’s not buried with the rest of the family in Springfield, Illinois. He rests today in Arlington Cemetery. 

Edward Baker Lincoln

       The Lincoln’s second son was named Edward Baker “Eddie” Lincoln. He died in 1850 at the age of four. His death was listed as consumption, but many today believe he died of thyroid cancer. 

William Wallace Lincoln

       They’re third child was named William Wallace “Willie” Lincoln. Willie was Lincoln’s favorite, although many considered him a mama’s boy. Willie was intelligent and likable. During the Civil War, drinking water was taken straight from the Potomac River to the White House. Ironically, the Potomac River also served as the city’s septic tank. Willie and his younger brother Tad both caught typhoid fever from drinking feces contaminated water. Tad would survive the disease. Willie lingered a few weeks before succumbing. Lincoln was devastated. Twice, Lincoln had Willie disinterred so he could view his little boys body. Mary Lincoln probably suffered a nervous breakdown from the boys death. 

Thomas Lincoln

       Thomas Lincoln was three years younger than Willie. Lincoln nicknamed him “Tad” because he was born with such a large head. Tad was closer to his father due to the fact he had a learning disability and had a severe speech impediment. Some have suggested the boy may have been mildly retarded as he didn’t learn to read or dress himself until he was twelve years old. Tad would only outlive his father by six years, dying at the age of eighteen from tuberculosis.
       Life wasn’t very kind to the Davis household either. Samuel Emory Davis, the first born of Jefferson and Varina would die in 1854 at the age of two from measles. 

Margaret Howell Davis

       Margaret Howell Davis was born next and she lived to be 53 years old. She was the longest living child of Jefferson Davis. The cause of her death has never been established.

Jeff Davis, Jr.

       The third child, Jefferson Davis, Jr., was born in 1857. The boy was care free and entertaining. Davis and his wife had a difficult time with the boy. Jeff, Sr., had him taken out of the Virginia Military Institute because he fully expected him to be expelled. Margaret’s husband managed to get him a job as a bank clerk in Memphis, Tennessee. He would die there in a yellow fever epidemic at the age of twenty-one.
       The fourth child was Joseph Evan Davis was born in 1857 and this was the child that the Davis family lost during the war. He was only four years old when playing on the east portico of the White House of the Confederacy, he slipped and fell fifteen feet onto the concrete below. His skull was fractured near the forehead and he died a few moments later. Varina and Jefferson were heartbroken. Joseph was Jefferson’s favorite because he was very intelligent. Rumors abounded that Jeff, Jr., had pushed him, but nothing was ever proven. The children of Richmond raised forty dollars to buy a headstone to Joseph. Davis had the portico removed.

William Howell Davis

       They’re fifth child was named William Howell Davis, born in 1861. He would die of diphtheria at only ten years old. They’re last child was named Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis. She would live to adulthood, dying at age 34 of malaria having never married. She is famously known as the “Daughter of the Confederacy”. 

Varina Anne Davis

       It would be difficult to imagine losing a child, but these two families tragically outlived most of their children. It must have been horrible for both of them.

Marker for Joseph Davis, paid for by the children of Richmond

Monday, January 10, 2011

Benjamin Hardin Helm and wife: The Lincoln Connection

Confederate General Ben Hardin Helm

       Benjamin Hardin Helm, called Ben, was born in Kentucky in 1831. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1851, finishing ninth out of forty-two cadets. His high class ranking managed to obtain him a commission in the cavalry. After six months of service he was forced to resign his commission because of poor health and returned to Kentucky where he became an attorney. He eventually was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature. 
       In 1856, Helm married Emilie Todd, the half-sister of Mary Todd, who became Mary Todd, wife of Abraham Lincoln. Emilie was eighteen years younger than Mary Todd Lincoln and was just a child when the two married. For the rest of his life, Abraham Lincoln referred to Emilie as “Little Sister”. 

Emilie Todd

       Helm was an officer in the Kentucky militia when the Civil War began. He was commissioned colonel of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry Regiment after refusing an offer to be made a major in the United States Army by his brother-in-law Abraham Lincoln. 
       Ben Helm was promoted to brigadier general just before the Battle of Shiloh, although he missed that engagement. At the Battle of Baton Rouge he was severely wounded when his horse reared and fell backward onto him, shattering his left leg. His wife’s brother Aleck was killed in the same action. The entire affair occurred because of troops blundering around in the darkness, nervous and too ready to open fire, expecting the enemy to be everywhere. 

Wartime photo of Benjamin Helm

       He spent the next three months recovering from his wound. After Roger Hanson was killed at Murfreesboro, Helm received command of the “Orphan Brigade” of Kentucky infantry. Helm believed in drill, but was a more approachable man than Hanson had been. Thus, his men loved him and no other commander of the brigade was ever loved as much as Ben Helm. 
       At the Battle of Chickamauga he lead the brigade in a disjointed attack. Three separate charges were made and during the last charge Helm was hit in the left side by rifle fire. His brigade had lost 500 of the 1400 men engaged and were forced to fall back. He was carried to the rear and the wound was inspected by a surgeon. Helm asked the doctor, “Is there any hope?”
       The surgeon replied, “My dear General, there is no hope!”

Monument marking the site where Helm received his fatal wound

       He lay there for several hours waiting for the inevitable. After dark, he heard cheering coming from the front. When he asked what it meant, he was told the Confederate Army had carried the day. Helm repeated to himself over and over again, “Victory!” They were his last words. 

Benjamin Helm, Lincoln's favorite brother-in-law

       Benjamin Hardin Helm was buried in Atlanta, Georgia, but twenty years after the war was over his remains were removed to Kentucky. He rests today in the Helm Family Cemetery, Elizabethtown, Kentucky. 

Military marker with Helm's last words

Helm's original marker

       After Lincoln heard of Helm’s death, Illinois Senator David Davis wrote: “I never saw Lincoln more moved than when he learned of the death of his young brother-in-law Ben Hardin Helm, only thirty-two years old, at Chickamauga. I called to see him…finding him in the greatest grief so I closed the door and left him alone.”
       Lincoln invited Helm’s widow Emilie to the White House to spend the winter. The trip was very peaceful, there was no fighting or blaming the other over the sides each had taken. Emilie’s daughter Katie and Mary’s son Tad often argued over who was president. Tad insisted that his father was the president and Katie insisted it was Jefferson Davis. 
       On another occasion New York Senator Ira Harris was visiting the White House and entered a room with Emilie and Mary sitting together. Harris stared at Emilie and said, “Well, we have whipped the rebels at Chattanooga and I hear, madam, that the scoundrels ran like scared rabbits.”
       Emilie immediately replied, “It was the example, Senator Harris, that you set them at Bull Run and Manassas.”
       The senator realized that he had met his match, so he turned on Mary Lincoln, asking, “Why isn’t Robert (the Lincoln’s oldest son) in the army? He is old enough and strong enough to serve his country. He should have gone to the front some time ago.”
       Mary turned the tables on him at once, saying, “It is my fault. He is desperate to join up, but I told him an educated man can serve his country with more intelligent purpose than an ignoramus.”
       She was basically calling Harris an ignoramus and this infuriated him even more. 
       “I have only one son and he is fighting for his country,” Harris then turned to Emilie and said, “and Madam, if I had twenty sons they should all be fighting the rebels.”
       “And if I had twenty sons, Senator Harris, they should all be opposing yours,” Emilie replied. 
       Senator Harris realized when he had been bested and immediately left the room. General Sickles, a fellow citizen of New York and friend of the senator witnessed the entire scene. He went straight to President Lincoln and told him to get that rebel out of the White House. Lincoln told Sickles that he and his wife would choose their guests without any input from others. 
       Abraham Lincoln pardoned Emilie and allowed her to return to Kentucky. She then sent a request to send clothing to freezing Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas Prison in Chicago. Lincoln thought this was a disloyal act and ordered that she be arrested if she was indeed aiding the Confederacy. She would never speak to her brother-in-law or sister Mary again.
       Emilie Todd would survive her husband by sixty-six years, dying at the age of 93 in 1930 of a heart attack. Just before her death, her daughter found her burning her diary and asked why she would do such a thing. Emilie replied, “There is just too much bitterness in it.” 

Emilie in old age

       She rests today in Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky with other members of the Todd family. One wonders why she wasn’t buried beside her husband who she loved so dearly.

Grave of Emilie Todd Helm

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Ohio General Loses His Coat

Joshua Woodrow Sill

       Joshua Woodrow Sill was born in 1831 in Chillicothe, Ohio. His father was an attorney who obtained the young Sill and appointment to West Point. He was quite an academic student, managing to finish third in a class of 52 cadets. Because of his high rank, he was able to earn an assignment in the ordnance department and was stationed in New York. Later, he was assigned an instructor at the United States Military Academy. 
       Just as the Civil War was breaking out, he resigned his commission to become a college professor. When the South opened fire on Fort Sumter, Sill resigned his position and offered his services to the state of Ohio. He was commissioned colonel of the 33rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. 
       He saw little action before being promoted to brigadier general in Phil Sheridan’s division. He and Sheridan became best friends during the time he commanded the brigade. His first major engagement was at the Battle of Stones’ River, called the Battle of Murfreesboro by the Confederate troops. 

Philip Sheridan

       The day before the battle opened, Sheridan called a conference with his brigade commanders. When the conference ended, Sill mistakenly put on Sheridan’s coat and Sheridan put on Sill’s coat. Thus during the battle of the next day, both men were wearing the others coat. 
       The Confederates struck Sheridan’s part of the battle line about 7:15 the next morning. The Southern troops charged right up to the muzzles of the Federal guns before breaking. Sill’s men in turn charged the retreating Confederate troops. Sill charged forward with his men and fell dead, a bullet passing through his upper lip and lodging somewhere in his brain. He was wearing Sheridan’s coat at the time of his death.
       The Confederate troops were extremely proud of having killed Joshua Sill. He had allegedly committed numerous acts of cruelty on the women, children and old men behind Federal lines just days before the battle. Confederate General Braxton Bragg stated that Sill’s body was captured and decently buried in the town of Murfreesboro which was more than the man deserved. 
       According to Federal soldiers, Joshua Sill was loved, admired, and respected more than any other officer in the army. Sheridan later named a fort in Oklahoma after Joshua Sill. Fort Sill is still the largest Artillery depot in the world. 

Monument to Sill located at Fort Sill in Oklahoma

       Joshua Sill was later removed from Murfreesboro and today rests in Grandview Cemetery, Chillicothe, Ohio. He was thirty-one years old. 

Joshua Sill's gravesite