Rare Image of Lee’s Antietam Rock
The faded carte de visite at right just might be the only extant image of the Antietam Battlefield’s most noteworthy rock.
During the September 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam, Army of Northern Virginia commander General Robert E. Lee reportedly spent some of his time watching the fight while standing on a large boulder that was located within the boundary of the current National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md.
After the war, Confederate veterans and fans of the general would chip pieces from the boulder as mementos. “This souvenir of Lee was most obnoxious to the extremely loyal and its removal was demanded,” wrote Henry Kyd Douglas, an aide to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and the rock was “broken up, dug up, scattered, obliterated.”
It was long assumed that no image of the boulder remained, but Stephen Recker, founder of the Antietam Battlefield Guides, purchased this well-worn CDV at a recent militaria show. Inscribed in pencil on the back are the words, “This is the Rock Gen. Lee Stood Upon When (the National Cemetery is at Sharpsburg)… the battle of Sharpsburg was fought. HK, Hagerstown, MD., April 12, 1871.”
At first Recker thought “HK” stood for Henry Kyd, as Douglas lived in Hagerstown after the war, but the writing doesn’t match samples of Douglas’ handwriting. Still, this important image gives us one more piece of the Antietam puzzle.
–Dana B. Shoaf
No Small Recognition
A U.S. Army logistics support vessel, USAV Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls, was recently commissioned at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Attending the ceremony were Smalls’ great-great-grandson, Freddie Meyer, other family members and supporters, and Rep. James E. Clayton (D-S.C.).
In 1862 Smalls commandeered CSS Planter, a 300- ton commercial side-wheel steamer that had been transformed into a troop transport and dispatch ship in 1861, and surrendered it to Federal forces blockading Charleston Harbor. Smalls was a 23-year-old mulatto slave working as the pilot of Planter, which was docked in the harbor. With the crew ashore for the night, Smalls boarded his wife, children and other slaves onto the ship and slipped by the Confederate defenses.
The following year, Smalls was named the first black captain of a U.S. naval vessel. After the war, he was elected to the South Carolina legislature, served five terms in Congress and later worked as a customs collector in Beaufort, S.C.
Author and photographer Kitt Alexander, who established the Robert Smalls Legacy Foundation, worked for more than 11 years to gain federal recognition for Smalls. The 314- foot-long, 5,412-ton vessel—christened in 2004—is being operated by the U.S. Army Reserve’s 203rd Transportation Detachment, which is based in Baltimore.
A Grave Matter
Who says the Civil War is over? Not Gastonia, N.C., resident Richard Hill, who decided 80 years after the fact that his ancestor, Civil War veteran Stephen S. Shook, should have a Confederate government marker instead of the Union stone that family members had placed at his grave in the 1920s.
When relatives discovered the switch—the Union marker had been left on the ground nearby—Hill was arrested for desecration of a cemetery.
It seems both sides of the family are right about Shook, who began the war in Confederate service but deserted and soon joined the Union Army, becoming a sergeant.
The charges against Hill were dropped when family members called a truce a few days after his arrest. Descendants decided that Shook could be recognized as both a Confederate and a Union veteran, according to The Charlotte Observer. The Union stone has already been returned to the grave at the cemetery near Mars Hill, N.C., but Hill is allowed to add a plaque noting Shook’s dual Civil War loyalties.
Core of Champion Hill Battlefield Finally Protected
The Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi, on May 16, 1863, lasted only four hours. But it has taken nearly 150 years to secure protection of its core 147 acres, through an easement agreement with the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT).
The battle, a Union victory for Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in his Vicksburg campaign, resulted in 2,457 Union and 4,300 Confederate casualties.
The land has been in the Champion family since 1853, except for a 20-year period in the early 20th century when crop failure forced the owners to sell it. It was repurchased after World War II.
Sid Champion’s great-great-grandson (of the same name) and three other family members signed a conservation easement with CWPT in October to protect the property. Although the family retains the land, it is now permanently protected from future development. CWPT has the right of first refusal if the family ever decides to sell the property.
Good News at Glendale
In October 2007, CWPT began a $4.1 million campaign to preserve 319 acres on four key parcels of land at the site of the Glendale battlefield in Henrico County, Va. “Until two years ago, practically none of the historic center of this battlefield was protected,” recalled CWPT President James Lighthizer. “If successful, we will have saved nearly the entire battlefield from scratch.”
According to Robert E. Krick, who serves as the chief historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park: “These acres do not fill in gaps or simply improve an existing picture. They are the core of the battlefield.”The Battle of Glendale, which is also known as Frayser’s Farm, was fought on June 30, 1862, the fifth clash between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac during the Seven Days’ Campaign.
Despite Glendale’s significance in the war, most of the battlefield remained vulnerable to development until CWPT’s recent efforts. The only protected areas were formerly the tiny Glendale National Cemetery and a small preserved lot on the outskirts of the main battle area.
Early vs. Sheridan Battlefield
On August 21, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early advanced over the grounds of the 1770 Harewood estate, near Charles Town, W.Va., to attack Phillip Sheridan at nearby Locust Hill. Early later retreated over those fields when Sheridan recaptured the hill. Known as the Battle of Summit Point, the inconclusive engagement resulted in 1,000 casualties.
Recently Harewood owner Walter Washington signed a conservation easement for 219 acres with four local and national preservation and conservation organizations. The $1.6 million agreement, signed in September, doesn’t include the house, already on the National Register of Historic Places. President James Madison married Dolly Payne there in 1794.
The Remains of a Witch
O n October 25, 2007, Gordon Watts Jr., founder of Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc., led a dive team that discovered what are believed to be the remains of USS/CSS Water Witch. The ship, which flew both the Union and Confederate flags during the war, was scuttled in the Vernon River, near Savannah, Ga., by its Rebel crew in December 1864 to prevent capture by Union forces. Its cannon and other accouterments were removed before it sank to the bottom of the river.
The state of Georgia is currently in the process of building a highway extension across the Vernon, and Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources alerted the Department of Transportation that the project might be in the vicinity of the spot where Water Witch was supposed to have gone down.
In compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act, the state contracted the services of Tidewater Atlantic Research to find out what was there. A thick layer of silt covers the bottom of the river, and the artifact, if it can be identified and verified as Water Witch, is expected to be in pristine condition.
Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, external communications representative for the Georgia Department of Transportation, explained that the survey results will be submitted to the Georgia State legislature, and a request will be submitted for additional research funds.
Water Witch Served Both Rebels and Yankees
The ship encased in the mud and darkness of Georgia’s Vernon River has a long and varied history. The 163-foot-long, 464-ton side-wheel steamer Water Witch was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1853. In 1855 the ship was part of an expedition to survey the Rio de Plata River in Paraguay, during which it was fired upon by a domestic force. It sailed back to Paraguay in 1859, and after the end of that assignment returned to the United States and was mothballed. Two days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Water Witch returned to active service.
The warship was assigned to duty with the Gulf Blockading Squadron and operated near Pensacola, Fla., and along the coast of Mississippi. In late 1861, Water Witch dueled with the gunboat CSS Ivy.
In January 1862, Water Witch was transferred to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, operating off the coast of Alabama and Florida. Two months later it attacked and captured the Confederate schooner William Mallory following a five-hour chase in the Gulf of Mexico.
In October the side-wheeler saw action near St. Johns Bluff, Fla., and over the next few weeks it destroyed transport barges and conducted extensive bombardments of coastal Confederate forts, helping clear the area of enemy forces.
Throughout the summer of 1863, Water Witch’s crew kept an eye out for Rebel blockade runners along the South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida coasts. But in early 1864, while patrolling Ossabaw Sound just south of Savannah, the ship saw its final duty in Union service.
In May Confederate naval Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot was ordered to surprise and capture Water Witch. He was successful in his mission, leading a boarding party that captured the prized vessel on June 3, but during vicious hand-to-hand fighting on the deck Pelot was shot and killed.
The Confederate Navy thus gained the services of Water Witch and its armament: One 30-pounder rifled cannon; two 12-pounder Dahlgren howitzers and one 12-pounder rifled brass cannon. The ship was rechristened CSS Water Witch, and Admiral William H. Hunter, commander of Confederate naval forces at Savannah, incorporated the ship into the defenses of the city by ordering it to operate on the Vernon River. To make the ship easier to hide along the riverbanks, he ordered its 90-foot masts to be taken down.
Admiral Hunter also gave specific orders for the ship to be destroyed if its recapture seemed imminent. That became a very real possibility on December 13, 1864, when Fort McCallister fell to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s men as they reached Savannah to complete Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Orders quickly went out for Water Witch to be set afire. And on December 19, its crew ignited the blaze that sent the ship to the bottom of the brackish Vernon River, where it remains—at least for now.
$16,000 Worth of Glue, Shampoo and Hair Dye
Little Sorrel, Stonewall Jackson’s favorite mount, received a makeover recently, courtesy of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The horse’s hide, removed and stretched over a plaster model, was first put on display at the Robert E. Lee Camp Home in Richmond, before being moved to the Virginia Military Insititute in 1949. In October 2007 experts refurbished the fading hide with a shampoo and dye treatment, and glued shut several holes and splits. By selling a plush version of Little Sorrel for $16 each, the DOC raised the $16,000 needed for the project. To get your own Little Sorrell, e-mail the UDC at firstname.lastname@example.org or VMI at email@example.com.
Stonewall’s Winchester Headquarters Damaged
The Taylor Hotel, Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters in Winchester, Va., during late 1861 (the same hotel where the famous “missing button” photograph of Jackson was taken, as detailed in the October 2007 Civil War Times), suffered major damage in October when its roof and two floors collapsed. According to Winchester city officials, accumulated water from four days of heavy rain could have been the reason for the roof’s collapse.
The building in the city’s historic district served as a hotel from 1846 until the early 1900s. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and in the early 20th century it became home to a five-and-dime store that operated until recently.
Preservation officials believe the building, which has been unoccupied for several years, is well worth saving.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.