Saturday, December 26, 2009

Egg Nog Parties in Hancock, Maryland

There is little mention of the Christmas Holidays in the winter camp of the 13th Mass in 1861.  Boxes of delicacies from home were likely sent to the soldiers at the front but it wasn't a "big thing" in camp like Thanksgiving, which had been celebrated November 22nd with day-long festivities.  Instead the soldiers' letters home talk of the skirmishing along the Potomac River and their efforts to keep warm in the cold, snowy weather.  Stonewall Jackson was making things lively with two expeditions sent from Winchester, Va. to destroy Dam No. 5 of the C & O Canal.  (December 7-8; and Dec. 18-22).  The only real hints of Christmas and New Years celebrations come from the resourceful John B. Noyes, who made his way into the high society of the town of Hancock, Maryland.  

photo: The town of Hancock, Maryland looks much today as it did in the 1860's.  This photo was given me by Mr. Wayne Keefer, secretary and Board of Trustees member of the Hancock Historical Society.

November 23rd, companies A, B, E & H, were detached from the rest of the regiment (thereby missing Stonewall's excitement at Dam No. 5).  They left camp at Williamsport and marched (in two days) 25 miles west to the town of Hancock, Maryland on the banks of the Potomac.  Here they stayed through January 2nd.  The little town occupies the thinnest part of the state and the borders of Pennsylvania and Virginia are just a couple of miles apart.  Noyes estimated the population at 800 inhabitants.  "This is one of the busiest places in this part of Maryland and is the centre of business for Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia for many miles around. On the opposite side of the Potomac runs the Baltimore and Ohio RR of which so much is said in the papers."  So wrote John Noyes.

The neat appearance of the 13th Mass soldiers brought them unique opportunities.  They were fastidious about their hygiene and dress.  "Houses are open to us which are closed to other soldiers," Noyes wrote.

The Henderson family in particular, welcomed Noyes and others into their home.  Through them he met the Brosius family, (the sister of Mrs. H.) and Miss Kirke of Pennsylvania.  The Henderson's owned several prosperous  stores in the region; a large one in Hancock, one in Virginia, and one in Pennsylvania.  Light duty and relaxed regulations allowed 24 year old Noyes and other members of Company B, Private Harry Sanborn, age 22, and private Joseph Chandler, age 32, specifically, to share in the local holiday festivities which seemed to be in full swing.   Egg nog parties were the entertainment of choice.  Noyes described the Henderson family to his brother:

"I have no better friends anywhere than those there made. [Hancock]   Indeed I was almost a part of Mr. Henderson's family.  His wife and children treated me as a relation, and I exerted myself to make them as happy as they made me.  At their house I made many friends, at whose houses I was always welcome to eat, meet & sleep.  There I made taffy, egg nog, and myself at home.  Even their children, 2, 6, & 8 years old respectively, were excellent company, much better than that of some young ladies I have met in the course of my life.  At egg nog parties what games of blind man's buff* I have engaged in with what pretty girls and promising young men.  Brother Chandler of Lexington used to be with me a great deal and Sanborn whom I introduced to you at Fort Independence.  These kind people, who loved to be hospitable, told me they didn't know how they should get along when we were gone.  I know the young ones will miss me very much. At Kirke's in Pennsylvania, where I used to take tea occasionally I used to hear the piano, strange music to my ears.  Addie Kirke was an excellent performer & got up excellent suppers.  Nor did she send me home on my 3 1/2 mile walk without a glass of excellent wine."

Maryland Fare
It might be fun to take a look at the types of foods served on these occasions.  In another letter John describes for his Aunt Rebecca, the fare seen at the boards of private families in Maryland.

"Apple butter is very common sauce here.  It may be quaker apple sauce, but of this I am doubtful.  It is boiled a good many hours & will keep for years.  Quince and Peach butter probably derive their name from a like mode of cooking. Apple sauce is different from apple butter, so I understand; and peach butter is different from peach preserve, which last is here invariably eaten with the most delicious cream.  Citron+ is also eaten in the same manner & it is truly delicious.

Sausage is sausage the country over, probably so called from the fact that sour sage is used in its make. Now sausage is not hog pudding, here called "pudding," although it looks just like it. looks just like sausage, but tastes a great deal better, being made of the liver of the hog.  High livers justly prefer this pudding to the common sausage.

Our meats are not so common here as with us at home.  This may be from the fact that people here live more on what they raise on their farms.  Still you may get a round of beef, if you busy yourself about it.  Chicken is the staple here.  You may have roast or fried.  You will have it for breakfast, dinner or supper.  Happen in as you may you are welcomed to chicken.  Ham is also found here now adays fresh pork fried.  Thus at Mr. Kirke's in Pennsylvania I always have for high tea, fresh pork and fried chicken.  Buckwheats are an institution here.  They are eaten at any and every meal.  [with butter or syrup].

I do not know whether squashes are rare here, or whether it is or is not turnip time.  At any rate I haven't seen any squash or turnip here or even cranberry.  Instead you would very likely see hominy.  "Hominy," you will say "I declare!"  No, not what we call hominy but hulled corn.  For it does not pay for hulled corn venders to travel in these sparsely settled regions.  Hominy is eaten without sugar or milk and may answer to our samp.**  You would also see "slaugh," that is something made up of cabbage, cut up fine, and served hot or cold, an excellent condiment extremely common here.  Pickles honey, and blackberry jam might be on the table also.  You might perhaps also see Dutch Pudding which I have heard spoken of often.

In the Eve'g. while calling on a lady or gentleman you are likely to be treated to apples and ginger bread and chestnuts & a glass of currant wine or blackbury cordial."

A Description of Some Holiday Festivities
A few excerpts from letters home describe the incredibly charmed life Noyes led while at Hancock.

He wrote December 27th, to his Father:
"A Merry Christmas to you all, or, as they say here "a Christmas gift."  I was invited to Mr. Henderson's Christmas Eve & assisted in their raising a Christmas tree. Being requested urgently to remain one night, so as to hear high mass at the Catholic Church, which last I wanted to do very much, I accepted the invitation and slept on a feather bed for the first time since leaving home.  I found no difficulty in going to sleep I assure you. Breakfast at the house of course.  In the afternoon with Chandler and the orderly I called on the Kirke's, which calling included tea.  A pleasant time was had there but no egg nog, the sine qua non of Christmas.  Tonight I may have some."

He wrote his sister Martha on January 4th:
"My last days in Hancock were passed quite as pleasantly as the first.  In fact I may be considered as having had a six weeks vacation, with just enough to do to keep my hand in.  Toward the last we had no drill or dress parade.  In the morning we answered to our names and looked out for the guard detail.  During the day we stayed in quarters, or discussed the news at the various stores about town.  Little did we seek the eve'g roll call if we wanted to be elsewhere than in quarters. Little did we care for "taps" either.  Thursday Evening the 31st, New Year's Eve, was the occasion for a taffy party at Mr. Hendersons.  I had a hand in making the egg nog myself, as also the taffy, and it was none the worse for that.  We played different games, among them blind man's buff and crooked pear tree.  At Eleven o'clock I was obliged to leave to stand guard from eleven to one at Post 5, a bridge which leads out of the town.  My friends watched the old year out and the new year in.  Seated before a comfortable wood fire I deemed it no hardship to be on guard from eleven o'clock at night Dec. 31st '61 to 1 AM Jan'y. 1, '62.

Here abouts a great many people see the new year in especially the Methodists who have what is called a watch meeting.  A great many people were about the town, & I was scarcely left alone at my post for a moment.  The New Year rose warm to greet us; mud in the streets ere long to be dried up by a driving wind.  A happy new year you were probably wishing all your friends, I wished "New Year's gift" to those I wished to catch.  I didn't know but Mothers was "a Merry new year" to me far away from home in order to balance the "happy Christmas" she sent me in her last letter.  I had a happy Christmas and a merry new year.  The new year merry in spite of the fact that I was to leave warm friends on the next day.  I came off guard at 9 AM and laid my plans for the spending of the day.  I proposed to dine in Pennsylvania, at Kirke's, sup in Maryland & Pennsylvania at Brosius's & close the day at Henderson's; but as fate would have it I received a note from Mrs. Henderson requesting Sanborn, Chandler and my humble self to take "high tea" with her.  This invitation was not to be disregarded.  I accordingly was obliged to decline the pressing invitations I received to dine in Penn. and reached town at 3 o'clock just in time to go to "high tea."

High tea here is equivalent to a tall dinner, and at the table of course all the luxuries of all seasons were bountifully dispensed.  Lieut. Johnson of the 39th Ill. & Mr. Miller the telegraph operator over the river were at dinner, who afterwards enlightened us somewhats on military movements.  I intended to spend the Eve'g. at the Brosius's, but as Miss Mary and Johnny Brosius were at Henderson's I concluded to accept Mrs. Henderson's invitation to spend the Eve'g. there.  Accordingly I went to the barracks and packed my valuables in readiness to march at 4 o'clock the next morning.  I found at Mrs. Henderson's on my return, Army [Armistead] and Bob Zwingle, Alph Byers, J. Brosius, Misses Brosius, Kirke, Thomas, and the two Miss Byers, "right pretty girls I reckon."  With Chandler and Sanborn we formed a very cozy party.  Great was the fun we had playing blind man's buff.  Right excellent was the egg nog we drank.  One of the ladies gave me a Philippine almond. Neither she nor I could get caught at the entertainment til as we were leaving I innocently offered her my arm which she took.  "Philippine" I of course remarked.++

The party broke up about midnight.  I afterward went to Henderson's store where Zwingle sleeps and had my cigar case filled up to last for the morrow.  There is no end to Hancock hospitality so far as I am concerned."

On Jan. 8th, John wrote his brother Charles:
"Vacation ends and mine came to a sudden close on January 2d, & I had scarcely time to allow my friend Armistead Zwingle, who had been with me at Henderson's last egg nog party, to fill my cigar case with the best cigars in Hancock, celebrated for its good cigars, at 12 1/2 PM of January 1st, and to get a few hours sleep, before I went on board a Canal boat about 10 AM January 2d, bound for Williamsport."

This concludes a rare look inside the private homes and private celebrations of Christmas & New Years as experienced by a few lucky soldiers with some of the leading citizens of Hancock, Maryland in the winter of 1861-62.  Here's wishing all who read this a "New Year's Gift!"

*Blind man's bluff or Blind man's buff is a children's game played in a spacious enclosed area, such as a large room, in which one player, designated as It, is either blindfolded or closes his or her eyes. The It player gropes around blindly and attempts to touch the other players without being able to see them, while the other players scatter and try to avoid and hide from the It player, sometimes teasing him/her to make  him/her change direction.  The game is a variant of tag.

+Citron is a yellow thick skinned fruit resembling a lime or lemon but larger and less acid.  The candied rind is used as a confection in fruit-cake.

**Samp is dried corn kernals stamped and chopped until broken but not as fine as meal.

++Philopena or (French) Philippine
Noyes is referencing a game here.  "Philippine" is the popular name for a nut with two kernals or the joined kernals of nuts.  It was also a game originating in Germany.  When a young lady cracking almonds chances to find two kernals in one shell, she shares them with a beau; and whichever calls out 'philopena' or 'philippine,' on their next meeting is entitled to receive a present from the other.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

General McDowell


It's not very 'Christmassy' but this is what I've been working on for the latest page of my website,  It's titled "A Change In Plans."  I've followed the new web page 'introduction' with some comments about General Irvin McDowell.  I promise a 'holiday' post before the season passes.

"A Change In Plans" (May 12-25, 1862).

President Lincoln’s relationship with General George B. McClellan deteriorated in early 1862 over McClellan’s apparent inaction.  Lincoln favored an assault on Confederate fortifications close by at Manassas. General McClellan believed Manassas was too strong to attack.

In January the newly formed Committee on the Conduct of the War, a political body hostile to McClellan, put pressure on Lincoln to learn the General's plans or force him into action.  McClellan remained silent.  On January 13th McClellan reluctantly attended a cabinet meeting and sullenly stated that he knew what he was doing, the President couldn’t be trusted to keep a secret, and that the army of the west would move soon.

     In February the general finally revealed his strategy to Lincoln.  He planned a massive advance upon Richmond, by way of Urbanna, before it could be re-inforced by the Confederate army.  Lincoln was skeptical and still preferred an immediate assault on Manassas.

     On March 8th, a week after General Bank’s advanced into the Shenandoah Valley from Williamsport, Md., the Confederate force near Washington abandoned Manassas and moved their defenses south to the line of the Rappahannock River closer to Richmond. Washington troops occupied Manassas and embarrassingly revealed the position had been held with fake guns, and a much smaller force than estimated; 36,000 men. Lincoln was furious.  McClellan’s force was 120,000 strong.  McClellan was demoted from General in Chief to Commander of the Army of the Potomac. 

     McClellan’s new plan, endorsed by his Corps commanders, was to sail around the Rebel defenses to the Peninsula and besiege Richmond, the Confederate Captital, with his huge army of 150,000 men.  Lincoln agreed but insisted McClellan provide 40,000 troops for the defense of Washington. Lincoln painfully remembered the two weeks in April, 1861, when Washington was cut off from the army, undefended, and vulnerable to a Confederate assault.

     McClellan complied but the troops reserved for the defense of Washington were spread out; 19,000 in Washington, 10,000 at Manassas, 8,000 at Warrenton (including the 13th Mass)  and 35,000 in the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln’s advisers didn’t understand the strategy and McClellan had angrily left Washington in early April without explaining it. Lincoln’s loss of faith in his leadership bothered the General who correctly viewed the political forces in Washington as his enemies.  McClellan’s political support failed when he needed it most.  Seeing only 19,000 ill-equipped troops around Washington, the President withheld General Irvin McDowell’s corps of 35,000 men from McClellan to guard the capital.  Total troops withheld by the President reduced McClellan’s invading force down from the intended 150,000 men to 100,000 men. General McClellan thought his plan ruined and his chances for success greatly reduced even though he still outnumbered the Rebels by huge margins.**

     By mid May General McDowell was moving his newly reinforced Corps of 41,000 troops, including the 13th Mass, to link up with McClellan’s army outside Richmond.

     “It was understood that McDowell was to move his corps along the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad on the 24th of May, connecting, if possible, with the right wing of McClellan’s army at or near Hanover Court-House, and by turning the left flank of the enemy, prevent his receiving reinforcements from the direction of Gordonsville. This plan had been carefully considered and matured by McDowell, who had great faith in its success.”  (Three Years in the Army, by C. E. Davis, Jr.)

     General Shields 10,000 men were also en route to Fredericksburg to join McDowell, (detached from General Bank’s force in the Shenandoah Valley).

     Confederate General Lee anticipated and feared this massive build up of Union troops around Richmond, and wrote Stonewall Jackson to create a diversion in the Shenandoah Valley to draw off some of McDowell’s army.  Lee sent General Ewell to the Valley to re-enforce Jackson.  The diversion worked.

     Banks small force of 9000 men was divided at 3 outposts.  Jackson attacked and defeated one of these at Front Royal on May 23rd.  The next day President Lincoln ordered General McDowell to send 20,000 troops to the valley in hopes of catching Jackson. This change in plans greatly distressed General McDowell.   He protested that much would be lost and little gained.  General Banks was beyond his help and the best thing McDowell could do was continue towards Richmond to threaten Confederate forces there.  Nonetheless, McDowell complied with Lincoln’s order.  The 13th Mass, in Hartsuff’s Brigade was included in the force diverted to Front Royal.

     These political machinations and movements were beyond the scope of the men in the 13th Mass.  All they saw was the increased hardship imposed on them by General McDowell’s orders; the loss of baggage wagons and camp equipments that made life more comfortable, and constant drilling with full gear in temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  They compared the progress made on other war fronts with the supposed inaction of McDowell whom they labeled Mc-Do-Nothing. He was credited with each new hardship and they developed an intense dislike for him."

Some Comments on McDowell (for the blog)

     In a post made earlier this year, another blogger queried his readers which Union General deserves a new biography.  One respondent reminded readers that General Irvin McDowell never had a biography written.

In my limited knowledge of him, the first impression is that he was a poor field commander.  And when I take a closer look, my second impression is that he was a poor field commander.  But I've read interesting things about him and certainly think he deserves a biography.  After all, he was a regular army officer who remained loyal to the Government and commanded the first Union army in battle, when called upon to do so.  He withstood the dislike of his superior officers and his subordinates. His plan for the assault at First Bull Run was sound, but he was forced into action knowing his army was not trained well enough for battle, which had serious consequences for the outcome.

In May, 1862, his plans to link with McClellan were fouled by orders from the War Department to proceed to Front Royal in hopes of getting Jackson. A strategy he felt was wrong-headed and which turned out to be so.  General John Pope seemed to be the only commander who had faith in McDowell, which is like saying Moe had faith in Larry.

      I can't understand when at the battle of 2nd Bull Run, on August 29th 1862, he failed to inform Gen'l. Pope that Longstreet's army had reached Thoroughfare Gap on the 28th, allowing for a junction of Longstreet's army with Jackson's army.  McDowell even shared Pope's impression that the Confederates were retreating on the evening of the 29th.

     On the 30th McDowell made one of the biggest tactical errors in the war, when he ordered General John F. Reynold's Division north of the Warrenton Turnpike to re-inforce the center of General John Pope's Union line, thereby leaving the entire left flank practically undefended.  Confederate General's Lee and Longstreet had  planned an assault on the Union left and McDowell provided the perfect conditions for it.  It was one of the grand charges of the war.  When Longstreet began his massive advance, McDowell acted quickly to correct his error while his superior General Pope still wondered if he had enough troops on the right and center.  It was General McDowell's quick action that saved Pope's army from being surrounded and annihilated.  General McDowell lead re-inforcements, artillery and the nearest brigades he could find, to Chinn Ridge to stall Longstreet's attack.  Pope was able to fall back to high ground and save his army.  Still McDowell was twice routed at Bull Run and shared the blame with Pope for the Union disaster.

He was even accused of treason by his own men. When he took a tumble from his horse it was a 13th Mass soldier (of course) who wise-cracked "three cheers for the horse."   Some claimed his unusually tall hat was a signal to the Rebels and that wherever the 'hat' appeared defeat and disaster followed."*  He was so slandered by his own subordinate officers, that after the battle he called for a court of inquiry which exhonerated him. (McDowell and his staff in 1862.  The 'hat' is standing, center).

I read of a gathering of soldiers years after the war in which General McDowell was present, an officer proposed a toast to him as an apology for wrongs done during the war.  McDowell modestly stood and said he never worried that the record of his service would not be set right, in time.

Had he won the battle of first Bull Run he would have been a national hero.  The lack of a biography is a lasting testament to his unpopularity.  Its been nearly 150 years (!), maybe its time to consider one.  General Longstreet's biography was titled "From Manassas to Appomattox."  McDowell's biography could be called "From Manassas to 2nd Manassas."  (possible book cover design).

*Quotes referenced from the book "Return to Bull Run" by John J. Hennessy.
**Referenced from Larry Tagg's "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two hundred, two hundred-one, two hundred-two...

...And counting.

The Army Heritage Education Center, (AHEC) at Carlisle, Pennsylvania recently uploaded over 2,000 digital images of Civil War Soldiers from its MOLLUS Massachusetts Collection of photographs.  MOLLUS is the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a fraternal organization founded after the war for former officers.  The images in this collection included several officers of the 13th Massachusetts, which I added to my growing collection of images of men in the regiment.  I already had low resolution images of most of these photos from another web-site, but the AHEC images are much higher quality and resolution.  I get a particular thrill when I find a soldier’s image.  It seems to bring the deeds of the men one step closer to reality.  Suddenly there is a face to go with a story. 

As stated before on this blog, the “13th Mass” is a well photographed regiment.  I’ve been storing the collected images in folders on my computer, but sometimes I make 5 X 7 prints to put into a 3 ring binder, organized by company.  There is something pleasing to me about having a large tangible photographic image of a particular soldier.  When I share the latest edition to my long-suffering wife, Susan, she usually replies half-joking “The Soldiers of the 13th Mass…Collect all 1,000 !”  I became curious as to how many images I had acquired and decided to take inventory.

Using the Massachusetts Adjutant General’s report, (a roster of all men who served in the unit) I marked off all the names I had put a face to.

This can be a bit tricky because the report contains duplicate records.  Every man promoted is listed once with his original rank and once with the new rank and date of promotion.  Some men were promoted two or three times and have multiple listings, so I had to be careful not to double count anyone.  The total came to 200 men !  This doesn’t count group shots where I have several unidentified men, nor duplicate photos of the same soldier.  It was common for an officer to have his portrait made in his new uniform, after each promotion.

Therefore, I have, 2nd Lt. Charles B. Fox, 1st Lieutenant Charles B. Fox, Captain Charles B. Fox, and Lt. Col. Charles B. Fox, (you get the idea) although I would be hard-pressed to identify the particular rank at the time any one of these likenesses was made, unless it is identified on the image.  I have several different images of Colonel Leonard.

I’ve fantasized about marketing ‘baseball cards’ of the images with the service records and stats on the back of each card.  “I’ll trade you two Col. Leonards for a Lt. Col. Batchelder.”

Or, they could be made into decks of playing cards with each company representing a suit, A, B, C, D etc.  You could play 'go fish' with the deck; "Got any J. A. Howe's ?"
"No. GO FISH."

Probably not much demand for that though.  And since most of the soldiers I have so far are in Company ‘B’ it would be a one-suit deck.

I’m grateful for the images shared with me by descendants.  Those are especially rare and whenever I come across the image of a soldier whose descendant I know, I try to forward it along to them.  This has proved to be a rewarding practice.

When I discovered I had 200 images I immediately wrote a collector friend of mine.  He provided nearly nearly half of the images in my collection.  I had to share my enthusiasm with someone who cared, (or at least marginally cared - it’s lonely to be obsessed).  Again, it can be very difficult to obtain images of soldiers from any given regiment.  A couple of days after I wrote him, my friend responded, and sent me image 201; private Samuel S. Gould! 

Samuel S. Gould, was a merchant marine, who later enrolled in Harvard College.  He passed on enlisting when the first great wave of troops was called out by President Lincoln in the Spring of 1861, but he promised to answer his country’s call as soon as more troops were needed.  He did just that in August, 1862 when he left his studies and joined the regiment at the front, near Culpeper, Va.  He joined just in time to suffer through Major General John Pope’s disastrous retreat toward Manassas culminating in the second battle of Bull Run.  The new recruits were as yet unarmed and were allowed to move to the rear during that engagement of August 30th.  But 2 ½ weeks later Samuel S.Gould was killed at the Battle of Antietam, just six weeks after he came out; -  another picture, another story.

Getting Gould’s picture inspired me.  I’ve found a few images in old books listed at ‘Google books’ so I did a search and found picture 202, Melvin H. Walker, captured at Gettysburg.  I’m on my way to 300!