Thursday, December 27, 2012

Civil War Oddities #68

Daily prodding by New York Tribune headlines that demanded “on to Richmond” probably contributed to the Federal fiasco at Bull Run in July 1861. Publisher Horace Greely heartily supported the war effort at that time, but he parted company with Lincoln over the issue of slavery.

Former warmonger Greeley, whose newspaper is widely regarded as having been the most influential in the nation, eventually headed a Northern movement whose aim was to affect a negotiated peace. After the war, he signed the bail bond of Jefferson Davis despite warnings that such a move could cut circulation of the Tribune in half.

Nominated for the presidency by liberal Republicans in 1872 and supported by Democrats, Greely might have gone to the White House had his opponent been anyone other than Ulysses S. Grant.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Civil War Oddities #67

John Charles Fremont, known as “the Pathfinder,” explored the West as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers Corps. By the time pioneer settlers in California elected him governor he was already nationally famous. Republicans turned to him in 1865 and made him their first nominee for the U.S. presidency. Small wonder, therefore, that in July 1861 Lincoln made him a major general and put him in command of the Western Department.

Fremont may have considered himself to have a wider following that the president who gained his office by support of less than 40 percent of the nation’s voters. Without consulting his commander in chief, he issued an August 1861 emancipation proclamation that Lincoln forced him to rescind. Embittered at Washington and chafing at having been defeated at Wilson’s Creek, the Union’s most notable active general at that time resigned after just five months in uniform.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Civil War Oddities #66

Samuel L. Clemens had done nothing of significance by age twenty-five. As a journeyman printer and pilot of a Mississippi River steamer, he had barley managed to earn enough money for bed and board. Hence it was easy for him to turn his back on civilian life and enlist in a pro-Confederate unit that was organized in his native Missouri.

It took only a few weeks for him to decide that military life was not for him. Returning to the newspaper field as a reporter, he adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain and became the most noted American writer of the century. Despite his pro-secessionist views in early manhood, it was Twain who took a fling at publishing in order to issue successfully the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Civil War Oddities #65

At age twenty, the Harvard-educated son of one of the nation’s most famous volunteered for military service. He survived such battles as Ball’s Bluff, Antietam and Fredericksburg, and then hung out his shingle as an attorney. Appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court after fifteen years of practice, he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902. There Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., won such renown for his minority decisions that his book about his dissenting opinions, Collected Legal Papers, was widely read by members of the general public as well as by attorneys.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Civil War Oddities #64

Throughout the nation, mid-century audiences clamored for a chance to see actor Edwin Booth. A son of famous actor Junius Booth, he performed in packed halls as Hamlet, King Lear, Brutus, Othello, Iago, and other Shakespearean figures.

Though not so well known, his brother John Wilkes Booth, also an actor, was admired and respected by critics and the public in both the North and South. After the April 14, 1865, assassination of Lincoln, the name of Edwin’s younger brother became more widely known than those of all other members of the Booth family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Civil War Oddities #63

Ohio-born Ambrose Bierce, a prolific writer of short stories, is today most widely remembered for his sardonic Devil’s Dictionary. He fought throughout the war, and in its aftermath said his most vivid memory was that of Union soldiers slashed to death by Confederate bayonets at Shiloh.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Civil War Oddities #62

Commander Matthew F. Maury of the U.S. Navy was already renowned among oceanographers when he changed uniforms. Becoming a Confederate officer of the same rank, he played a key role in establishing a battery of submarines.

Today, memories of his wartime work are eclipsed by the fact that he was the first man to recognize of the Gulf Stream. His pioneer work in studying the world’s largest bodies of water caused the one-time Confederate commander to become known as “The Pathfinder of the Seas.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Civil War Oddities #61

Frederick Douglass was born in Maryland around 1817, the mixed blood son of a slave, Harriet Bailey, and a white father. At about the age of twenty he escaped from slavery and settled in Massachusetts. Having committed his life story to paper, his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas earned him enough money to buy his freedom.

Long before Federal authorities began to look favorably on the use of black soldiers, Douglas advocated their recruitment. Nationally renowned as a champion of black Americans, he met Lincoln several times but gave only qualified support to the president’s racial views.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Civil War Oddities #60

Edward Everett Hale, grandnephew of the Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, was born in 1822. A graduate of Harvard, he became a Unitarian clergyman who for six years before his death was chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He’d be largely forgotten today, however, had he not written for The Atlantic Monthly a short story that appeared in 1863.

Hale’s fictional account of adventures of “The Man Without a Country” was a thin veiled report of the travails of Ohio congressman Clement L. Vallandigham. Vocally opposed to the war, the editor-lawmaker made international news when he was banished from the United States because of his views.

Today, Hale’s writing is better known than is Vallandigham’s name.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Civil War Oddities #59

Frank and Jesse James of Clay County, Missouri, signed up as members of the home guard, a pro-Confederate force under state control. Soon they found that even the lax rules of the militia were to much for them, so when Brig. General Sterling Price left the state for Arkansas they became bushwhackers, or renegade raiders.

Little is known with certainty about their Civil War years, which have become embellished with legends. Many of these folk tales were spawned after the pair of cutthroats became central figures in the brief era known as the Wild West.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Civil War Oddities #58

While serving as a nurse in a Georgetown hospital, Louisa May Alcott attracted no attention at all. She went quietly about her work, seldom talked with anyone at length, and was barely noticed by those with whom she associated. Yet letters written to her family, collected and published as Hospital Sketches proved that she had more than an ordinary ability with the pen. At war’s end she gained fame with her Little Women, followed by Little Men and other novels.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Civil War Oddities #57

Winslow Homer’s cumulative experience of the war was derived from about eight nonconsecutive months during which he worked for Harper’s Weekly as an artist. Though he devoted much more of his time and skill to camp life than to combat, his drawing Sharpshooter became one of the most famous Civil War depictions. During postwar years the man who prepared perhaps the most notable sketch of a Federal marksman turned to tranquil subjects and gained international fame as a painter of seascapes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Civil War Oddities #56

Confederate Brig. General Ben Hardin Helm was the only Southerner whose combat death caused conspicuous mourning in Washington. Having married Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister Emilie, he turned down his brother-in-law’s offer of a commission as Union paymaster. When Helm died from wounds received as Chickamauga, the Union commander in chief and his family went into mourning.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Civil War Oddities #55

While pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, the Rev. Dr. Henry Ward Beecher became the nation’s most famous clergyman. An ardent abolitionist, he helped to create conditions that led to the widely used label “Bloody Kansas.”

Hoping to cause the territory to tilt into the antislavery column when it became a state, the clergyman shipped substantial numbers of Sharps rifles to Kansas.

Some weapons seem to have gone to the west in crates that were marked “Beecher’s Bibles.” Hence for a time that name was applied to breech-loaders initially opposed by many Federal military leaders who believed that the use of them would encourage waste of ammunition.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Civil War Oddities #54

Missouri born Thomas Coleman Younger was just seventeen years old in 1861. He could have entered Federal service, but he chose not to do so. Instead, the youth, whose friends called him “Cole,” joined forces with guerrillas who ravaged Missouri and Kansas.

Younger gained fame as an outlaw during a dozen post-war years in which he cut a wide swath through the West. Then the Civil War veteran spent sixteen years behind bars for his part in a bank robbery at Northfield, Minnesota.

On September 7, 1876, Northfield experienced one of its most important historical events: The James-Younger Gang tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. Local citizens, recognizing what was happening, armed themselves and resisted the robbers and successfully thwarted the theft. The gang killed the bank's cashier, Joseph Lee Heywood and a Swedish immigrant, Nicholas Gustafson. A couple of members of the gang were killed in the street, while the rest were cornered near Madelia, Minnesota. Jesse and Frank James escaped west into the Dakotas, while the remaining gang members were killed or taken into custody. Considering the James gang as related to postwar insurgency, the raid has sometimes been called the last major event of the American Civil War. One of Northfield's slogans is "Jesse James Slipped Here", based on the raid's failure.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Civil War Oddities #53

Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd, was a student at Harvard when hostilities began. Some Illinois leaders grumbled and complained at his sheltered life, but he entered law school instead of the army after his 1864 graduation. Under tremendous public pressure, Abraham Lincoln then arranged for his oldest son to become a member of McClellan’s staff.

Captain Lincoln took care of visiting dignitaries, including his father, but he never “saw the elephant” by engaging in combat. He was U.S. secretary of war and U.S. minister to Great Britain before heading the Pullman Car Company, then one of the nation’s largest corporations.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Civil War Oddities #52

John Jacob Astor, Jr., grandson of the fur trader who was the first American to accumulate a great fortune, was eager to demonstrate his patriotism. He was, however, less than enthusiastic about signing up for three years of military service. Hence he negotiated a deal whereby he became a volunteer aide-de-camp to Maj. General George B. McClellan.

Colonel Aster took up his duties in November 1861 and remained with the Army of the Potomac for eight months. There’s no record that he ever carried a musket or was exposed to confederate fire, but in 1865 he was awarded a brevet as brigadier general "for services rendered during the Peninsular Campaign.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Civil War Oddities #51

Organization of the Forty-second Ohio Regiment was completed in August 1861 with the selection of its lieutenant colonel. Leading Ohio troops in numerous engagements, he won such rapid promotion that he became a major general on September 19, 1863.
Three months later, citizens of the Buckeye State elected the two-year veteran to Congress. He left Federal forces on December 5 to take the seat he had won without waging a campaign. Eighteen years later, James A. Garfield was inaugurated as out twentieth president.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Civil War Oddities #50

A steamer took some of the Federal soldiers who were seriously wounded at Fort Donelson to a St. Louis hospital. Among the civilians who visited them were sisters known only as “three maiden ladies from Philadelphia.” Not until they had been doing volunteer hospital work for weeks did patents discover the trio to be numbered among the top ranks of America’s bluebloods. They proved to be grandnieces of James ”Commodore” Biddle, a top naval commander during the War of 1812.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Civil War Oddities #49

Thomas A. Scott, superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania railroad, took an aide with him when he went to Washington to become an assistant secretary of war. Speaking with a soft Scottish burr, his twenty-six year old companion quickly showed himself to be an expert in telegraphy. Soon Andrew Carnegie was put to work coordination rail and telegraph lines of the Union.

Serving as a civilian executive in the military transportation section of the War Department, Carnegie was never forced to dodge Confederate bullets. He considered establishment of the telegraph office frequented by Lincoln to be one of his greatest contributions to the war effort.

Entering the iron and steel business in 1865, within one-quarter of a century he had gained controlling interest in the U.S. Steel Corporation. Then the former worked for the War Department sold out and devoted the rest of his life to distributing his fortune among countless public libraries and other charitable enterprises.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Armed Forces Insignia from WW1 and WW2

Here is the first look of my Armed Forces Insignia project. This was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 1, 1954. The new image is 12.5 by 16.5, 110# gloss cover, printed on both sides.

Shoulder insignia, the brightly colored designs worn on the left sleeve below the shoulder to denote divisions, corps, armies, or organizations within the U. S. Armed Forces, express warmth and a fraternity which men of all services know from experience.

Originated by the 81st Division in 1918, the cloth patches were soon officially recognized for their value in building morale. 

Civil War Oddities #48

By 1861, the name of one-time ferryboat captain Cornelius Vanderbilt was becoming familiar in the U.S. shipping circles. Men who knew the business predicted that he would find a way to double the money he had made when he sold his California-to-Nicaragua shipping line.

One month after Fort Sumter, he surprised Federal authorities. In a letter to W. O. Bartlett, who was about to go to Washington, Vanderbilt authorized him to say that the steamer Vanderbilt would be turned over to the government on its own terms. As president of the Atlantic and Pacific Steamship Company, he offered the U.S. Navy four additional vessels. With the price of these ships to be determined by a “board of commodores,” he offered the Ocean Queen, Ariel, Champion, and Daniel Webster.

Just one year later, Vanderbilt bought a controlling interest in the New York and Harlem Railroad. From that point he had clear sailing in his quest to become one of the nation’s wealthiest men.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Civil War Oddities #47

Bavarian emigrant Thomas Nast was just twenty-one years old at the outbreak of hostilities, but he had sketched some of Giuseppi Garibaldi’s battles for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Switching to the staff of Harper’s Weekly, the artist was on numerous battlefields and in many camps. Within a decade after the end of hostilities, he gained national fame from his attacks on the Tweed Ring in New York City. Today he is chiefly remembered for having created both the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Civil War Oddities #46

According to the New York Evening Post of September 4, 1862, the Seventeenth Connecticut Regiment “left New York for a seat of war” on the previous evening. Having been organized on August 28, the unit was assigned to garrison duty until it participated in the famous “Mud March” of January 1863. A mid-winter storm left Virginia roads of “shocking” condition.

Among the privates who made up the regiment was inventor Elias Howe. At that time, the sewing machine he perfected was widely pirated in England and Europe, but Howe was not generally known. When his improved sewing machine won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition in 1867, the ground was laid for his later induction into the American Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Civil War Oddities #45

New York native Matthew B. Brady’s portrait studio saw a few table sits for the camera during the 1850’s. He was all but unknown, however, outside a small circle of persons who had learned the photographic process perfected by Louis J. J. Daguerre of France.

Aware that his eye had been damaged, perhaps by chemicals, and that he was fast losing his vision, Brady hired a group of enthusiastic younger men and sent them to war.
They made thousands of photographs for which their employer took full credit. Today much material in the Brady Collection is identified by the name of the photographer who produced it.

Still, no other man who envisioned capturing the war on wet plates is more closely identified with 1961-1865 action than the man who personally saw very little of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Civil War Oddities #44

At the outbreak of the war, ex-captain U.S. Grant was a military has been who was reduced to working as a clerk in a family owned leather goods store. Nevertheless, perennial failure Grant” became the first person since George Washington to become a lieutenant general in the U. S. Army, then spent two terms as president of the United States.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Civil War Oddities #43

Brayton Ives signed up with the Fifth Connecticut Regiment in July 1861, later switched to the cavalry, and during four years of war rose to the rank of colonel. He fought at Deep Bottom, Five Forks, Sayler’s Creek, Gaines Mill, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor Opequon, and Cedar Creek. When he took off his uniform he was considered to be one of thousands of run-of-the-mill officers. Back in civilian circles, he was president of the New York Stock Exchange before winning fame in a select circle of book collectors as owner of a Gutenberg Bible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Was Your Ancestor's Property Worth?

Genealogists often find references to money in old deeds and other documents. Even U.S. census records frequently recorded estimates of a person's real estate. The natural question is, "I wonder what that would equal in today's dollars?" There is a Web site that can answer this question.
S. Morgan Friedman's Inflation Calculator can convert a U.S. dollar amount for any year from 1800 through 2001 into the equivalent amount, adjusted for inflation, in any other year of that range. In other words, if you find that your ancestor purchased land for $400 in 1805, the Inflation Calculator will tell you that the money he spent is equivalent to a purchase of $5735.65 in 2010. 

The Inflation Calculator only goes up to the year 2010, the last year for which inflation statistics are available. This should be sufficient for genealogy purposes. The pre-1975 data comes from the Consumer Price Index statistics published in the Historical Statistics of the United States (USGPO, 1975). All data since then is from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the United States. You can access the Inflation Calculator at:

The following article is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2012 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Civil War Oddities #42

Forty-two years of age at the time of Fort Sumter, Walt Whitman of New York had failed at practically everything he tried to do. He was successively an office boy, printer’s devil, schoolteacher, typesetter, journalist and editor. After publishing the book of poems Leaves of Grass in 1855, he cringed every time he saw a review of it.

Serving as a volunteer nurse in the hospitals of Washington, he caught an occasional glimpse of Abraham Lincoln, but spent most of him time bandaging wounds. Belated recognition of his poetic genius came first in Europe, then in the United States, after his death.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Armed Forces Insignia

Shoulder insignia, the brightly colored designs worn on the left sleeve below the shoulder to denote division, corps, armies, or organizations within the U.S. Armed Forces, express a warmth and a fraternity which men of all services known from experience. Originated by the 81st Division in 1918, the cloth patches were soon officially recognized for their value in building morale.

I found this document in my mother-in-law personal papers after she passed away. Thank you Stephanie for saving this.

Source: Sunday August 1, 1954, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Civil War Oddities #41

Frank Leslie, who was born in England in 1821, came to the United States at age twenty-seven. After working for Gleason’s Pictorial and Illustrated News, in 1854 he launched Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Gazette of Paris, London, and New York Fashions. One year later he began putting out his own illustrated weekly newspaper, only moderately successful at first. But circulation increased dramatically when it began giving the North a battle-by-battle view of the Civil War.

Made bold by success, “the man who took the war into drawing rooms of the Union” launched numerous new publications. Soon his list included Boys and Girls Weekly Sunday Magazine, Jolly Joker, Comic Almanac, Chatterbox, Ladies Magazine, and Ladies Journal. Perhaps overextended, he was forced into bankruptcy and died as a debtor.

Today each of the more than two hundred 1861-1865 issues of the illustrated newspaper is a collector’s item, and since that time, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly has been a major source of Civil War art.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Civil War Oddities #40

Kentucky born Christopher Carson, better known as Kit, won early fame in the West. As guide to John Charles Fremont’s expeditions of 1842, 1843, and 1845, he made his name a household word.

Had he wanted a brigadiership, it would have almost certainly been Kit’s for the asking. Instead of seeking command, at age fifty-two he became lieutenant colonel of the First New Mexico Cavalry. Carson led eight companies in the February 21, 1862, battle of Valverde, where his leadership was so significant that he reluctantly accepted a brevet, or honorary promotion, as a reward.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Civil War Oddities #39

Union Brig. General Edward H. Hobson considered his greatest feat to be the 1863 capture of Confederate Brig. General John Hunt Morgan. Taken near New Lisbon, Ohio, on July 26, 1863, the Confederate leader was hustled to the Ohio State Prison, but his stay was brief. He escaped on November 26, 1863.

Eleven months after being taken prisoner, Morgan and his men captured a body of Federal troops at Cynthiana, Kentucky. Their commander was General Edward H. Hobson.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Civil War Oddities #38

Chimborazo Hospital, in Richmond, is said to have been the largest hospital ever built in the Western Hemisphere, and to hold that distinction to this day. Currently the site is owned by the National Park Service and is used as the visitor center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Civil War Oddities #37

General Lloyd Tilghman, a Confederate killed in action at Champion Hill, just before Vicksburg, is said by even the most recent and authoritative reference works to be buried in Vicksburg. He is actually buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City, his body having been moved there in 1901.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Civil War Oddities #36

John Ericsson, the genius who produced the Monitor, was forced to build his ship with private capital, some $275,000 in all and was to be reimbursed by the Federal Government only if it were effective against the Confederate ironclad Merrimac, or Virginia.

The Monitor was modeled after Swedish lumber rafts Ericsson had known in his youth; its deck was only two inches above water. An effort to sell the idea of such a ship to Napoleon III failed, but the French did order five ironclad ships, despite the reputation of the inventor as a crank.