Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Sultana Tragedy

Personal matters have diverted me from my blogging routine, and I’ve found it harder than expected to begin blogging again. I’m just now finding out about the 150th anniversary events that took place in April in commemoration of the sinking of the Sultana. The steamboat Sultana was packed with men released from prisoner of war camps in the South when it exploded on April 27, 1865. The result was the worst maritime disaster in American history, and, yet, it was an occurrence oddly overlooked, perhaps because it happened soon after Lincoln’s assassination and while Confederate armies were still surrendering. The Sultana was packed with approximately 2,400 passengers, and an estimated 1,800 died as a result of the explosion. Sinking near Mound City, Arkansas, the event has been commemorated for a number of years. I was surprised to learn that there have been twenty-eight reunions of descendants of the Sultana passengers. These have been held in a variety of locations such as Ohio, Vicksburg, Americus, Georgia, and in Marion, Arkansas. For further information about the Sultana and the reunions check out the Sultana Remembered website done by Pam Newhouse, a descendant of an Ohio soldier killed in the explosion.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Biggest Supporter

Yes, it’s been many weeks since I last posted. Interestingly, a record number of people visited my blog last month in spite of the small number of postings. Does this mean readership will be higher if I post less? I won’t spend any more time pondering that.

Mother’s Day is a fitting time to begin posting again because my biggest supporter was my mom. Yes, was, because she passed away on April 10th after a short sickness. She was 89 years old and lived life to the fullest right up until the last few weeks when illness stole her mobility and strength but fortunately not her mind.

Mom would have disliked me writing anything sentimental about her so I’ll keep my tribute brief. She had no interest in the Civil War and didn’t mind confessing that. My parents (both working in medical fields) thought it a bit odd that they produced a daughter with an intense interest in the Civil War, and yet they were supportive of my peculiar obsession. Mom ended up being my most faithful companion on visits to Civil War battlefields. Why? She liked road trips, and we were congenial travelers. I appreciated her company and liked how she was more than willing to travel to out of the way places and explore country roads. Mom was a good sport about doing the driving tours at battlefields but had no interest in doing the walking trails in spite of her concern about me walking alone. For some reason, the trail on Bloody Hill at the Wilson’s Creek battlefield worried her the most. 

She entertained herself at battlefields by staying in the car and reading. Louis L’Amour books were her favorites on these excursions. Shalako was reread seven times and rated a “very good” in her battered copy.

In spite of her limited Civil War knowledge, she was interested in all of my research projects with her favorite being my most recent. She never wearied of hearing about Albert Ellithorpe, and she occasionally said, “I like that Albert.” For that reason, as well as her tremendous support over the years, the book will be dedicated to her memory. I loved my mom and will certainly miss her support, love, and companionship. Thanks for everything, Mom!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Proud German Soldier

John Hormel, a native of the “Kingdom of Germany”, enlisted on August 9, 1862 and became a member of Company G of the 22nd Iowa Infantry. The 21 year-old worked as a blacksmith and stood five feet six and a half inches tall with black eyes and black hair; he was discharged in June 1865 from Company K of the 5th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps. On his discharge papers, he proudly and carefully used red ink to write “In Battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hills, Black River Bridge, and Seige of Vicksburg Where he was wounded.” The 22nd Iowa Infantry played the key role in the assault on the Railroad Redoubt on May 22, 1863 and suffered losses of 27 killed, 118 wounded, and 19 missing or captured. The sturdy trans-Mississippians went on to serve in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, but the assault at Vicksburg was their most memorable fight. For a recounting of the assault see Jeffry C. Burden's "Into the Breach: The 22nd Iowa Infantry at the Railroad Redoubt" in Civil War Regiments: A Journal Of The America Civil War (volume 2, #1, pages 19-35).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Finally: A Completed Manuscript

The last five weeks have been hectic and stressful leaving little time for blogging. A close relative has experienced serious health problems with the bulk of that responsibility falling on me. In better news, my manuscript A Constant School of Excitement: Albert C. Ellithorpe and the Civil War on the Frontier is at a publisher and being considered for publication. Ellithorpe, as I’ve mentioned in previous postings, served as an officer in the First Indian Home Guards, a tri-racial regiment that served exclusively in Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and Missouri. Major Ellithorpe led an adventurous life, and his colorful personality is evident in his journal, his twenty-three Chicago Evening Journal articles, and various other documents. It’s been a fun project, but I was happy to send the 297-page manuscript on to a potential publisher.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In My Mailbox Today

Today, I received a copy of Dr. Donald S. Frazier’s new book, Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi, the third volume in his Louisiana Quadrille series. The previous volumes are written in a lively way, are well researched, and packed with maps and illustrations. Frazier admits in his foreword, “This is not the book I intended to write….as I opened myself to the sources, I felt compelled to go where they led; that is the essence of history….As with the other books in the series, the military campaigns remain front and center…However, the sources revealed an almost obsessive concern over slavery. Actually, these soldiers, civilians, and politicians did not fret over the institution of slavery as much as control over the slaves themselves” (p. vii).

The book is 472 pages, and I’m starting it tonight!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Ironclad Missouri

This week I learned of the death of Civil War historian Raimondo Luraghi, the author of one of my favorite books A History Of The Confederate Navy (1996). Luraghi’s focus on Confederate naval strategy, leadership, and innovations made for a fascinating study. Before I read the book, I didn’t have a deep knowledge of Confederate naval history so there were many surprises for me in the book such as the story of the ironclad Missouri. Fittingly named for a trans-Mississippi state, the Missouri was constructed in 1863 in the naval yards of Shreveport, Louisiana, with rails from the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas Railroad and iron from a facility in Jefferson, Texas. It took quite some time to build the Missouri as the army sometimes absorbed necessary supplies. It doesn’t appear that the Missouri ever engaged in combat, but her presence, according to Dr. Gary D. Joiner, may explain why the huge Eastport led the advance of the Federal navy during the Red River campaign. Her commander, Jonathon Carter, surrendered the ironclad on June 3, 1865 at Alexandria.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thank you Dr. Benson

The press of business has led to an extended absence from the blog, but now my schedule allows me to begin posting again. Today, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic and in the mood to share a personal story.

The War Of The Rebellion: Official Records Of The Union and Confederate Armies is the key reference work relating to the war. While I was reading Bruce Catton’s This Hallowed Ground, I first became aware of endnotes and their significance. At the time I was eleven years old and developed a determination to see volume ten, part one of the Official Records. From the endnotes, I learned that this book held battle reports relating to the battle of Shiloh, and I badly wanted to read about the activities of the 16th Louisiana Infantry, a unit that my g-g-grandfather served in. The Shawnee Public Library did not have the set, but somehow I learned that the library at Oklahoma Baptist University did own a set. My mom, always willing to aid me in my endeavors, approached the O. B. U. library director, Dr. Stanley Benson, with me in tow. We told him that I wanted to see the Official Records, and he appeared startled. This was my first clue that few people asked to see the set. He graciously took us into the storage area where the volumes sat encased in dust. Dr. Benson was pleased that I knew about endnotes and still more impressed when I correctly informed him that volume ten, part one was indeed about Shiloh. At that point, he agreed to give my mom a special library card so that I could check out books. 

In the weeks following, the Official Records mysteriously emerged from the storage area and appeared (dusted) in the regular stacks. With my mom’s magic library card, I could check out volumes of the Official Records along with bound copies of original editions of The Confederate Veteran and many other prizes. Dr. Benson’s willingness to allow me to use the library collection certainly helped me maintain my interest in the American Civil War. I suppose it is not surprising that I decided to attend O. B. U. And it didn’t stop there…Dr. Benson also hired me as a student worker at the O. B. U. library and encouraged me to work toward a master’s degree in library science. It came as no surprise to him, though, that after earning the master’s degree I decided to work toward a Ph.D. in history with an emphasis on the American Civil War.