Three Soldiers, Three Ceremonies
Veterans get their due nearly a century and a half after the fighting ended.
Musician and Sportsman
A Union infantryman was honored on May 2 in Wallingford, Mass. William P. Smith served in the famous 54th Massachusetts and returned from the war determined to promote music and sports in his own hometown.
Smith, the first African American to join the Wallingford National Band, formed a black drum corps and organized and captained a black baseball club, the Jackson Blues. Wallingford’s Coalition for Unity Chairman Robert Robinson pointed out that Smith was certainly “very talented,” adding that his life story is “history about the town and information that every student should know, particularly in terms of dealing with diversity.”
Corporal George Brown, who served in the 19th U.S. Colored Troops and was at Appomattox for the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender, was buried without a headstone when he died at 83. The Rev. Edward O’Connell of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Port Tobacco, Md., crusaded for nearly 50 years to have his grave properly marked.
In a fine, inspiring example of reconciliation, a Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp recently donated a stone, which was dedicated this past March 29 in a ceremony attended by both Union and Confederate reenactors, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans. Brown’s descendants, as well as a number of local and state politicians, were also in attendance.
Raleigh’s Mystery Man
More questions remain than answers about a Rebel buried in North Carolina. Lore has it that he was a hotheaded Texas lieutenant named Walsh who was hanged in Raleigh after firing on Northern cavalry occupying the town. According to some accounts, the local martyr was liquored up at the time, but that didn’t stop the town’s womenfolk from decorating his grave with flowers for the next six months.
Walsh’s grave is the subject of an enduring mystery: For the past 20 years, on the April anniversary of the Rebel’s death, an unknown admirer steals into Oakwood Cemetery under the cover of darkness, lights a candle and drapes the Lone Star’s headstone with a black sash. Asked if he could identify Walsh’s faithful admirer, a lieutenant commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, North Carolina Division, shook his head and said: “I don’t think anybody can. We’ve never been able to track them down.”
Jeff Davis’ Postwar Home Reopens
The Biloxi, Miss., house where Jefferson Davis spent his final years survived 21 hurricanes more or less intact before Hurricane Katrina’s 9- foot wall of water and 24-foot storm surge came close to destroying the home in August 2005. That storm stripped the 1851 structure of its porches, front staircase and sundry other period details. It also destroyed the first floor of the Presidential Library and carried away hundreds of priceless wartime artifacts.
Despite initial fears that the house, one of the few antebellum Creole cottages left on that section of the Gulf Coast in the hurricane’s wake, might be beyond repair, Beauvoir was resurrected in time to celebrate the bicentennial of Davis’ birth in June. On June 3 a rededication ceremony marked completion of its nearly $4 million restoration.
Beauvoir’s rebuilding “symbolizes the revitalization of the entire Gulf Coast,” according to Ken P’Pool, a Mississippi historic preservation officer. “There are an awful lot of people who know and recognize that building.” For more on upcoming bicentennial events, see “Resources,” on P. 72.
Looking for ‘Beauregard’
Beauvoir’s staff has been confronted with an unusual challenge after restarting their garden tours this spring: how to find and relocate four good-sized alligators deposited in Oyster Bayou, part of the 52-acre property. The largest gator, more than 8 feet long, made its first surprise appearance when construction crews accidentally lifted him out of the water with a backhoe.
Beauvoir’s chairman, Richard Forte Sr., promptly dubbed him Beauregard, after the Southern general who famously questioned Jeff Davis’ authority during the war and later engaged in a bitter war of words with him after both published memoirs. A 6-foot gator known as Beau Jr. was trapped in April, although the big guy and two smaller companions are still at large at this writing. But then, as Mississippi wildlife manager Lynn McCoy noted, the gators are “good at what they do best, and that is hide.”
Forte noted that he’d like to be able to keep the gators on the property but can’t, as they’re too much of a threat to visitors. If wildlife experts can convince Beauvoir’s amphibious residents to cooperate, the gators will be equipped with electronic devices and then released into the Pascagoula River basin, where they’ll take part in a tracking program.
Mariners’ Museum Library Moves
Christopher Newport University is about to become the new home for the largest maritime collection in the Western Hemisphere. This summer the Mariners’ Museum’s library moves to a sparkling new 100,000-square-foot building on the Newport News, Va., campus. With 78,000 volumes, one million manuscript items, 600,000 photographs, as well as several thousand maps, charts and ship plans, the Mariners’ collection spans six centuries and draws researchers from around the globe.
Little wonder that CNU President Paul S. Trible announced the creation of the partnership between the school and museum with great fanfare, pointing out that the Mariners’ collection “will not only be the intellectual center for the campus, but an intellectual center for a world community of scholars.” The new facility, located within the Trible Library, is scheduled to open this September.
Venerable Lincoln Museum Shuts Down
Timing, they say, is everything. So why would the 77-year-old Lincoln Museum of Fort Wayne, Ind., which moved into a brand-new building less than a decade ago, decide to close its doors on June 30 in the midst of the Lincoln bicentennial?
The private museum, run by the Lincoln Financial Foundation, the charitable arm of the Lincoln Financial Group, is known for its extraordinary collection of Lincolnalia, which included signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment, at least 5,000 photos, as well as a research library of nearly 18,000 volumes, thousands of manuscripts and more than 300 documents signed by the martyred 16th president.
A press release by the Lincoln Financial Foundation gives little clue as to what will happen to those treasures, and whether they will remain together or scatter to the dozens of museums, libraries and assorted interest groups that are vying to acquire all or part of the priceless treasure trove.
The foundation indicates a decision on the collection’s future isn’t likely to be forthcoming before December, merely stating that it plans to “explore exhibition options for its three-dimensional items and…digitize its documents in order to make the entire collection more visible and accessible to a greater number of people.” Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who returned to the Fort Wayne museum repeatedly in the course of writing his many books on the president, lamented, “The closing of this museum feels like Lincoln has been assassinated all over again.”
Lightning Brigade Leader’s Letters Online
After the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, then-Colonel John T. Wilder took the time to pen a vivid description of the gory aftermath of his first experience with the horrors of war to his wife, Martha: “There was just about two rebels for each of ours—probably about 9,000 in all dead—hundreds of trees shivered to splinters, gun carriages torn to bits, dead horses by the drove, heads, arms, legs and mangled bodies strewn around, all combined to make up a picture of horrors that it would be well for our infernal political leaders to look on, and if they did not learn to mind their own business, to be a part of it.”
Wilder, who was brevetted to major general by war’s end, was clearly a literate man who wasn’t afraid to express his views—and now anyone with a computer can read much of his correspondence. Roughly 65 letters Wilder wrote between 1862 and 1899, as well as other wartime and postwar correspondence, were recently digitized by the University of Tennessee’s Lupton Library.
Wilder is best remembered as the commander of the famed “Lightning Brigade,” composed of the 17th and 72nd Indiana Infantry regiments, the 98th and 123rd Illinois Infantry regiments and the 18th Indiana Battery of Light Artillery. His brigade soon gained the reputation for being able to move with the speed of cavalry and fight with the power of infantry—the latter due in no small part to Wilder’s arming his men with new Spencer Repeating Rifles, capable of spitting out seven shots for every two from the traditional Springfield musket.
To learn more about Wilder’s outlook on the war and its aftermath, go to http://www.lib.utc. edu/wilder-letters.html.
Payment Long Overdue?
Tampa, Fla., resident Joan Kennedy Biddle is trying to collect on a 147-yearold promissory note made out to her storekeeper grandfather, Thomas Pugh Kennedy, on June 21, 1861, when the city was short on cash but needed to arm against the invading Yankees. Joan argues that the unpaid debt of $299.58 should now garner a settlement of more than $22.6 million with interest.
Tampa’s motion to dismiss her claim is based, among other things, on the 14th Amendment’s prohibition of payment for debts incurred to assist in “rebellion against the United States.”
A hearing on Biddle’s claim should come in the next few months.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.