Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Civil War Views: Another Photograph of the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin?

In October 1861, Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division established Camp Griffin near Langley and Lewinsville, Virginia (today's McLean). The regiments in Smith's force included the 43rd New York of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's brigade. Five years ago I discovered a stereoview of the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin. This scene was captured by Edward Bierstadt, a photographer who was also the brother of famed artist Albert Bierstadt. After some additional research, I recently learned that Edward ran a temporary studio in Langley near the 43rd New York's quarters at Camp Griffin. There he joined other photographers, including George Houghton, who took some iconic photographs of the Vermont Brigade in Northern Virginia. Surrounded by thousands of soldiers hungry for images to send to the folks back home, these photographers found a ready-made market for cartes-de-visite and camp pictures.

Among the Bierstadt photographs in the collection at the New York Public Library is the following, entitled "Culinary art in Camp, 43rd Reg. N.Y. Volunteers":

(courtesy of Wikimedia; also at NYPL Digital Collections)

This stereoscopic photograph does not mention a location. However, given that Bierstadt was with the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin, it seems highly probable that this photograph was taken there around the same general time as the regimental camp scene that I have featured before on the blog:

(courtesy of Wikimedia; also at NYPL Digital Collection)

This conclusion is further reinforced by the numbering convention at the bottom of both photographs. The photo of the regiment in formation bears the number 1319, while the culinary scene appears as number 1323. They are close enough in the sequence to be related to one another, and also bear the same photographer's inscription on the reverse of "Bierstadt Brothers, New Bedford, Mass." I haven't yet been able to reconstruct where else Bierstadt may have photographed the 43rd New York after Camp Griffin, if at all.

The photograph itself is rather curious. Bierstadt has captured an ordinary scene of camp life, in all its primitive glory, and his title for the photograph is certainly ironic! A crude shelter covers the "kitchen." Poultry and meat carcasses, along with a butcher's ax, appear to rest on a wooden plank. Boxes and pots clutter the background. A couple of the cooks wear what look like fezes. One man is busy cutting food. The picture reminds us that the Civil War was often more than just marches and battles. Thanks to Bierstadt, we are fortunate to get yet another opportunity to see life in the camps around Washington at the start of the war.


Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Civil War and American Art (2012).

For more on the location of the camp of the 43rd N.Y. see my previous posts here and here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Last Sesquicentennial Event

Last week marked the Sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination and death. On April 14 I commemorated the anniversary by attending a lecture at Ford's Theatre, visiting the Petersen House where Lincoln died, and touring a special assassination exhibit at the Center for Education and Leadership. Given the immediacy of other forms of social media, I mainly covered the day's events on Twitter and Facebook. I won't repost all of my photographs and comments here, but I'd advise readers to check out my Facebook and Twitter feeds to see what I published in real time.

Life changes a lot in four years, and I had hoped to make it to Appomattox for the 150th. Intervening events, including the recent birth of my daughter, made the trip to Appomattox a near impossibility. However, because I work in downtown DC, I knew that I could at least mark the 150th anniversary of another important milestone of the end of the Civil War years, and I ultimately decided to take a half day of leave on the 14th and spend some time at Ford's Theatre. The 150th of Lincoln's assassination is the last of the Sesquicentennial events that I will personally attend, and it was a fitting, albeit sad, end to four years of commemoration.

The incessant rain on April 14 did not deter visitors, and the line for each timed entry to Ford's Theatre stretched down the block. The number of people in the street only continued to grow as the hour of the assassination approached. Living historians entertained the crowds with their first-person accounts from the day of the assassination. I chatted with a few reenactors from Pennsylvania who represented Independent Battery C, First Pennsylvania Artillery. On the night of the 14th, four artillerymen from the battery helped to carry Lincoln to the Petersen House. Check out this post on Harry's blog for more info.

Waiting outside Ford's Theatre in the rain.

Once we were seated inside the theatre, a costumed interpreter told the story of Lincoln's assassination and death. The speaker really helped to take us back in time and imagine the horror, sadness, and confusion of that night. Her passion for the subject made for a captivating presentation. I've been to Ford's on numerous occasions, but I was moved beyond words to sit below the presidential box on the very day that Lincoln was shot 150 years ago and hear about his life, assassination, and death.

Looking up at the presidential box -- this felt like truly hallowed ground.

Following the tour, we made our way across 10th Street to the Petersen House. I felt a sense of extreme loss while reflecting on all that happened there. Just shy of 150 years before my visit, Lincoln slipped from life lying on a bed in a back room, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton pronounced, "Now he belongs to the ages."

Upon leaving the Petersen House, I entered the Center for Education and Leadership, where I toured various permanent exhibits on Lincoln's death and the hunt for the assassins. Much to my surprise, I learned that my ticket included admission to the temporary exhibition of Silent Witness: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination. This exhibit, running through May 29, 2015, brings together an incredible collection of objects, including John Wilkes Booth's derringer; Lincoln's top hat, coat, and the contents of his pocket from the night of the assassination; and the blood-stained bunting from the presidential box. Given Lincoln's god-like status in U.S. history, many of these artifacts seemed like holy relics.

What I witnessed on Tuesday afternoon was nothing compared to what came later, as hundreds gathered outside the theatre to mark the exact time of Lincoln's assassination. Some people remained throughout the night to keep a mournful vigil, and by early the next morning, hundreds of onlookers once again crowded 10th Street, this time to mark the exact moment of Lincoln's death on April 15, 1865. (See here for a Washington Post report.) Although I couldn't attend, I kept watch myself by tuning to C-SPAN and reading Facebook and Twitter feeds by a host of organizations and individuals, including friend Craig Swain.

Overall, I was extremely encouraged by the public interest in Lincoln, his assassination, and death, even in jaded and cynical "Washington City"! And I was also happy to see so many friends and family who were interested in observing this 150th anniversary. I suppose that every once in a while, a historic event speaks to so many, including those who normally take only a passing interest in history. I and others like me are sometimes in our own Civil War bubble and tend to forget the wider appeal that America's history can hold. Last week's commemoration proved that some events mean so much to so many that they cannot easily be forgotten or overlooked, no matter how many years have passed.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Heaven Has Seemed to Prosper and Aid Our Cause": Lydia Atkinson Reactsto Lee's Surrender

Today marks the Sesquicentennial of General Robert E, Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. On this occasion, I thought readers might enjoy a particularly relevant except that I discovered in the diary of Lydia T. Atkinson, a teacher at the contraband camp on Mason's Island.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

In summer 1864 the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen had sent Atkinson to teach former slaves at Camp Wadsworth in Langley. Due to government policies of binding out children at the camp, her school lost pupils, and the Friends transferred her to Mason's Island in fall 1864. A few months later, Atkinson learned of the momentous news of Lee's surrender. She described her feelings in a diary entry dated April 10, 1865:
Joy upon Joy—cheer upon cheer—love and thanksgiving and praise everywhere! Glory to God in the Highest on earth and Peace Good Will toward men! At dawn this morning were wakened by the loud thundering of guns from the neighboring forts and half sleepily I murmured “Lee has surrendered!” We really thought little of it however until the paper came announcing the glorious tidings! Oh! such a happy, grateful feeling took possession of the heart -- as we began to realize that the war must indeed be over -- and the blessed angel of Peace rest upon our noble banner. It was not the insanity of joy felt when Richmond fell—but a deep quiet happiness too intense for words! Truly God’s blessing seems now to rest upon the American nation! As we have learned to deal justly by the Negro—so Heaven has seemed to prosper and aid our cause.
Atkinson's sense of happiness and relief are incredibly moving, even after 150 years. Her feelings echo those of a war-weary nation upon learning of Lee's surrender that Palm Sunday at Appomattox Court House. Most strikingly, Atkinson's words bear witness to her deep-seated personal belief in the righteousness of the Union's fight for freedom and emancipation. The Quaker teacher, who through her own deeds contributed to the cause, plainly saw the hand of God in the victory over Lee's army.


On a related note, I wanted to remind readers that I will be speaking this evening before the Arlington Historical Society about the contraband camps of Northern Virginia. The event will start at 7 p.m at the Reinsch Library auditorium on the campus of Marymount University. Please click here for more information. I hope to see you there!


Thanks to the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College for providing me with the excepts from Lydia T. Atkinson's Personal Diary from 1864.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

WETA and the Arlington Historical Society: Video Short on NOVA's Contraband Camps

A few weeks ago I sat down to an interview on Northern Virginia's contraband camps with Mark Jones, a Senior Manager of Digital Media with WETA, the main PBS station in the Washington area. Mark works with the Arlington Historical Society (AHS) to create video previews of upcoming lectures sponsored by AHS. These shorts are published on Boundary Stones, WETA's local history blog. Mark contacted me about my upcoming presentation on the camps, which is scheduled for this Thursday at 7 p.m. at Marymount University. He and I talked for about an hour or so at the historic Cherry Hill Farmhouse (c. 1845) in Falls Church. We selected the location for the 19th century atmosphere, as well as the site's proximity to the spot where Camp Rucker, a contraband camp, was located. Thanks for Mark for putting together such a great mini-documentary! And so, without further ado, check out the video below and click here to see the entire post at Boundary Stones!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

N. Virginia Contraband Camps Presentation, Arlington Historical Society, April 9

I am pleased to report that the Arlington Historical Society has invited me to speak next month about the contraband camps of Northern Virginia. During the first years of the Civil War, thousands of slaves fled to Washington in search of freedom. As the number of “contrabands” grew, their living quarters became increasingly overcrowded and unsanitary, while the financial burden on the government continued to grow. Seeking to address these problems, the Union Army relocated freedmen and women to abandoned secessionist properties in Arlington and Fairfax during the spring of 1863. My talk will explore the history of these long-forgotten contraband camps, including economic, social, military, and political dimensions. My presentation will also offer some insights into where the camps were located in Northern Virginia. As readers know, this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I look forward to spreading the story of the contraband camps.

Below and at the link is some additional information on the event. I hope to see you there!

When: 7:00 pm, Thursday, April 9

Where: Marymount University, 2807 N. Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA 22207, in the Reinsch Library auditorium.

The program is free and open to the public. For additional information, please contact 703-942-9247.


For those who take public transit: A free shuttle bus provided by Marymount University is available from the Ballston-MU Metro Station (Orange and Silver lines). The University is also accessible via Metro bus routes 23A and 23T; exit at the N. Glebe Road and Old Dominion Drive stop.

For those who drive: Marymount University provides free parking. Attendees should enter the main entrance gate (located at N. Glebe Road and Old Dominion Drive) and park in the main lot in front of The Lodge. If that lot is full, visitors may also park in the White Garage, located next to the Reinsch Library, or the Blue Garage, located under Ostapenko Hall. The Security Station at the main entrance can help direct where to park.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Civil War Views: Battery Martin Scott

This week's "Civil War Views" takes another look at the strategic Potomac River crossing of Chain Bridge. The defenses around the bridge became the subject of many wartime photographs and sketches. Aside from a lower battery at the Washington end of the bridge, another gun emplacement, known as Battery Martin Scott, occupied the heights immediate above. The battery was initially composed of two 32-pounders and one 8-inch seacoast howitzer mounted en barbette. Two 6-pounder rifled guns apparently replaced these three artillery pieces.

A few months ago, I discovered that the New York Public Library has made available a collection entitled, Sketches for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper : 138 original drawings of the Civil War by staff artists, 1861-1864. This set of drawings contains many fascinating images of Washington and environs during the early days of the Civil War. Among the drawings is this sketch by Arthur Lumley of Battery Martin Scott:

"High Battery at the Chain Bridge" (courtesy of New York Public Library)

As my friend and fellow blogger Craig Swain has pointed out, the three guns depicted here aren't very precise renderings of the actual armaments at the battery. Below the battery, the wooden span of Chain Bridge crosses the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the more distant Potomac River. A mule team pulls a boat along the canal. The gun position offers a commanding view of the Virginia shoreline and hills. Incidentally, Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen protected the approaches to Chain Bridge on the Virginia side. They cannot be seen here, but sat on the hills opposite the battery.

Lumley's sketch appears as an engraving in the November 9, 1861 issue of Frank Leslie's:

(courtesy of
The paper said the following about the illustration of Battery Martin Scott:
WAR is a fearful and wonderful teacher of topography. Places and objects which a few months ago were known only to travellers, or those dwelling on the spot, are now "familiar as household roads." Washington and its adjacent localities  are to the majority of readers now as well known to them as to their denizens. Among the more prominent spots is the Chain Bridge, which crosses the Potomac river at the Little Falls, about five miles above Washington City. It is the direct route from the camp at Tenellytown and Georgetown to Lewinsville and Langley, and is consequently a position of much importance. Our readers will perceive that the National Government has erected a powerful battery on the Maryland side, so as to sweep with utter destruction any hostile force. Now that the Federal Capital is safe, we trust Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee will be rescued from the rebel hordes, whose presence is unwelcome to the people of those States as it is humiliating to the National cause. (at 389-90.)
Today, I'd venture to speculate that once again, few outside the Washington area know the Chain Bridge! But Lumley's sketch reminds us of  the importance of such places over 150 years ago. So the next time you cross the river there, whether because you commute across the bridge daily, or because you are on a vacation in the area, think back to the sketch and engraving as you look up at the bluffs overlooking the Potomac.


Benjamin Franklin Cooling III & Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (2010 ed.);  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 9, 1861; OR1:21:1, 911.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Civil War Views: Lower Battery at Chain Bridge

As readers may have noticed, things are a bit "quiet along the Potomac" here on the blog! With a newborn and increased responsibilities on the home front, the time I have for research and writing each night has dwindled considerably. That said, I have many new topics in the pipeline, and much of the related research is substantially completed, so I hope that I will be able to post some original, in-depth content here as we head into the spring and summer. In the meantime, I am launching a new visual series on the blog called, "Civil War Views."

I've recently come across some amazing drawings and photographs of wartime Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. It seems that every day that the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and other institutions are making more and more visual content available on the Internet. Rather than just post a newly discovered image on Facebook or Twitter, I felt it would be nice to offer a little context about the photograph, sketch, or engraving in a good, old-fashioned blog post! So now, without further ado, here is the first installment. . . .

I've written extensively about Chain Bridge over the years. Many of my posts have focused on the defenses that the Union Army erected to protect this key Potomac River crossing. I particularly like this relatively obscure photograph of the Lower Battery at Chain Bridge:

"Battery at Chain Bridge, Washington, D.C. 1862" (courtesy of the Library of Congress).

The photograph shows the battery that was established in 1861 on the Washington side of Chain Bridge. Gun crews pose next to a 12-pounder howitzer (l) and 24-pounder howitzer (r). (Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Craig Swain for helping to verify!)  The artillery is positioned to fire through embrasures in the earthwork. A few soldiers stand guard, while others mill around at the end of the bridge. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is visible to the right side of the photograph. Incidentally, another gun emplacement, known as Battery Martin Scott, was located on the bluffs above the battery pictured here. More on that one in a future Civil War Views post!


Benjamin Franklin Cooling III & Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (2010 ed.).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Contraband Camp Developments, Late Summer & Fall 1864, Part II

Last week I wrote about the efforts of the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen to assist the contrabands living on government farms in Northern Virginia during the summer and fall of 1864. As the organization continued to send more teachers and supplies to help transition former slaves to freedom and self-sufficiency, the Union Army in the Department of Washington pursued tougher policies that were designed to reduce dramatically the number of freedmen and women dependent on the government. Capt. Joseph Brown, head of the Department's Bureau of Freedmen and Government Farms, led the campaign to cut costs.

James Mott, member of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Association and husband of fellow member and famed abolitionist Lucretia Mott (courtesy of Wikipedia).

In November 1864, the Association sent Helen Longstreth and James Mott to the contraband facilities at Mason's Island and Camp Wadsworth. On Mason's Island they found that "the condition of the people had improved" since the Association's visit earlier that fall. (First Annual Rpt. 12.) Longstreth and Mott were pleased with the educational arrangements, despite the loss of one teacher:
The new school room is large, well lighted and ready for the stoves which are promised this week. The discontinuance of the school taught by a daughter of the superintendent places all the children under our care; these at present number about one hundred who can be accommodated in this commodious room. (12.)
Seeing that the supply of water, although better than before, was still "insufficient," they pressed the camp's superintendent, as well as Capt. Brown, to complete construction of an additional well. Both men promised that the work would be "finished at once." (12.)

Longstreth and Mott visited with and interviewed many of the freedmen and women on Mason's Island:
The countenances of a few beamed with pleasure, as they showed us useful articles which they had purchased, with the proceeds of their paid labor. Some were preparing their dinners, but the greater number were sitting listlessly around the stoves, evidently suffering for want of something to occupy their thoughts and attention. Upon our asking them whether they would like to do some kind of work, their faces brightened, and their answers conveyed the idea that anything would be better than idleness, even if they received "no pay," but they preferred "pay." (12-13.)
Based on these observations, they recommended to Brown that the Government support the establishment of an "industrial school, in which [the contrabands] could be employed in making up new, and mending their partly worn, clothing, [and] also receive instruction in cutting out, making and mending such." (13.) They "found him ready to co-operate with us in establishing a school of this kind." The Association "offered to supply one or more teachers," and Brown agreed to furnish a room and supplies. (13.) Nevertheless, the captain warned Longstreth and Mott that the "Government was unwilling to make costly outlays, as the permanency of the camp in this place is doubtful on account of the unhealthiness of the island during several months of the year." (13.) Given Brown's desire to reduce the numbers of contrabands from Mason's Island and other camps, he may have exaggerated the influence that the weather had on his decision about spending more money on the contrabands. [1]

On November 5, Longstreth and Mott traveled to Camp Wadsworth near Langley.They made a troubling discovery that largely stemmed from Brown's policies of apprenticing children and hiring out adults:
Before leaving home we had learned that there were but few children at either the upper or lower camp. [2] The present policy of the Government is to find homes for all children of suitable age to bind out. Many parents not wishing to be parted from their children have left these camps, preferring the uncertainties of seeking their own livelihood without the aid of Government to the probability of what may prove a permanent separation from them. This movement has nearly broken up Lydia T. Atkinson's school. (13.) 
The pair recommended "the transfer of her remaining pupils to the lower camp. . . under the care of Mary McLain, and [Atkinson's] removal to Mason's Island where our school has been so greatly increased." (13.) The two "regret[ted] this suggested change, as the children under [Atkinson's] care had advanced rapidly in their studies, and the adults had greatly improved in house keeping." (13.)

The Friends also uncovered additional issues at Camp Wadsworth:
At the lower camp we found that our teacher had been equally faithful in the performance of her duties, but we were much disappointed to see that the superintendent had built her a very small cabin, which judging from its loose construction will barely protect her from the winter weather. (14.)
Longstreth and Mott went to see the superintendent at his home, but he was not there, so they instead talked to his wife. Based on this conversation, they concluded:
. . . [I]f we wish to do our work well, we must use our influence to induce conscientious farmers and their wives to seek such situations as this man holds, for unless those who have the care of these Government farms go hand in hand with us, and with our teachers, we shall be able to do our duty but partially, and throw discouragements in the path of those who look to us as their true friends. (14.)
The pair at least had some good news to report about Camp Wadsworth and made a few recommendations for future action:
The greater part of the Freed-people, in these two camps, are earning money by cultivating the farms. They are inclined to spend it judiciously. We, therefore, suggest, that our teachers here be furnished with a stock of trimmings and a few other articles in order to form a nucleus for a small store in case it should prove desirable to establish one here. Now, they are obliged to send nine miles to Georgetown for needles, tapes, and other similar articles. (14.)
Longstreth and Mott returned to Philadelphia with their findings. Unfortunately, the Association had little choice but to transfer Atkinson away from Camp Wadsworth due to the impact of Capt. Brown's policies. Time would tell whether the Union Army would deliver on its other promises to assist the Friends in their work among the contrabands. In the meantime, even the two visitors appeared to recognize that the contraband camps had limitations and were perhaps a temporary measure: "We must not, however, forget that it is equally our duty to obtain all the information we can, upon the various modes for elevating the Freedman, in order that we may be prepared to work in other directions, so soon as it is thought best for us to do so." (14.)


If you notice a decline in activity on the blog in the upcoming weeks, it's not because I have lost interest in the Civil War! My wife and I are expecting, and things are about to get really busy around the house with a newborn and twin preschoolers. I will try to blog whenever possible, but right now I won't make any promises about regularity of my posts. That said, I will remain active on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to follow me there as well.


[1] Between July 1864 and March 1865, the Department reduced the number of freedmen and women on Mason's Island from 1,200 to 500, and the camp was shuttered by mid-1865. (Berlin et al. 261.)

[2] Camp Wadsworth was located on two different properties that had belonged to secessionists before the war. The reference to "upper" and "lower" camp likely refers to this division.

Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993); Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865);  Friends' Intelligencer: A Religious and Family Journal, Vol. XXIII (1867).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Contraband Camp Developments, Late Summer and Fall 1864, Part I

As the Union Army fought over the future of Northern Virginia's contraband camps in the late summer of 1864, the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen continued its work to improve the lives of former slaves living on government farms near Washington. Established by Philadelphia Quakers at the start of the year, the organization provided supplies and teachers to supplement the efforts of Union military authorities. But the debate within the government was not without consequences, and by the end of 1864, the Friends would face the unwelcome challenge of a new and harsher policy towards the contrabands.

An important part of the Friends' charitable activities centered on education. Since starting work in Northern Virginia earlier in the year, the association had sent teachers to Camp Rucker in Falls Church, Camp Wadsworth in Langley, and Mason's Island. In August 1864, the Friends decided to increase the number of teachers to meet the growing needs of the contraband community. Mary McLain was dispatched to Camp Wadsworth, while Margaret Preston was installed at Mason's Island. [1]

Map of contraband quarters at Mason's Island (courtesy of TR Center). Hospital buildings are shown in the center of the drawing.

The Friends also provided the contraband camps with clothing, sewing supplies, dry goods, and other household items. At least some of these donations were sold to the freedmen and women, presumably at a discount. [2] In September 1864, the Friends' Association decided to disband its Committee on Supplies and established a new Sanitary Committee. The Board appropriated $500 to the committee for the purchase of hospital supplies for Mason's Island. That month, the committee issued the call for donations in the Friends' Intelligencer:
The undersigned, a sanitary committee of said Association, solicit from Friends and others, contributions of hospital stores, which will be judiciously distributed by nurses and teachers sent out by the Association to Mason’s Island, Camp Wadsworth, and other points in the vicinity of Washington. 
The articles most needed, are dried fruits,such as apples, peaches, cherries, plums, and blackberries; also blackberry and other syrups, and all other articles suitable for the sick and convalescent.
Contributions of bed-covering, and clothing for women and children, will be very acceptable, as they are greatly needed. Free transportation has been granted by Government from Philadelphia. (456.)

At the same time the Friends were intensifying their involvement with the camps, Capt. Joseph Brown, an assistant quartermaster, took over primary responsibility for the contrabands in the Department of Washington from the outgoing Chief Quartermaster, Lt. Col. Elias Greene. Brown pursued decidedly stricter policies than Greene, who had lost his job as the result of an Army report critical of his management of the contraband camps. Brown, the head of the Department's Bureau of Freedmen and Government Farms, wanted to rid the government of the expense and trouble of caring for the freedmen and women in the camps and tried to send as many to the Northern States as possible. He also departed from Greene's policy of keeping families together. Brown thought nothing of apprenticing children to local households and hiring out their parents on separate jobs.

Toward the end of September the Friends' Sanitary Committee sent Louisa J. Roberts and Margaret A. Griscom to Mason's Island. Roberts wanted to meet with the new Chief Quartermaster of the Department of Washington, Col. John Ellison, to explain "the wants of our teachers and the people among whom they labor." (First Annual Rpt. 10.) Following her conversations with Ellison, Roberts reported that "[o]ur teachers appear to have his entire confidence, and he seems willing to do all that lies in his power, to promote their comfort and efficiency." (First Annual Rpt. 10.) As to Mason's Island, the visitors found:
The condition of the people. . . is much improved; the great mortality that prevailed during the latter part of the summer, has given place to a more healthy condition, attributable to the success that has attended our efforts to provide hospital accommodations, and to the approach of colder weather. (First Annual Rpt. 11.)
Nonetheless, Roberts and Griscom saw indications of troubles yet to come. As the Friends' Education Committee reported in October, "many grievances were found to exist at Camp Wadsworth, and it was believed that through their representations to the proper authorities most of these would be redressed." (Friends' Intelligencer 521.) The Friends were betting on the willingness of the new military leadership to assist, but Brown's policies were fast becoming a part of the problem.

Up Next

Camp Wadsworth suffers a setback.


[1] Preston was also charged with nursing responsibilities, as the circumstances required.

[2] According to the Friends' Association's First Annual Report:
The people on the two farms composing [Camp Wadsworth] evince a desire to support themselves, and they have paid for a considerable  portion of the clothing distributed among them. (10.)

Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993); Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865);  Friends' Intelligencer: A Religious and Family Journal, Vol. XXI (1865).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Some Updates Related to Family History

Last year I discovered that I had a family relationship to Pvt. William Baumgarten of Company K, 102nd Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. (See here for the story.) My exact connection is unknown at this time, and I am still searching for more information to complete the story. I hope that this new year brings additional discoveries in my quest to learn more about William.

While researching William's Civil War service, I came across John H. Niebaum's History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry: 102nd (Old 13th) Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Its Forebears, 1792 to 1930, published in 1931. The book tells the story of the 102nd Pennsylvania and its predecessors, including the Pittsburgh Blues (War of 1812), and the Jackson Independent Infantry (Mexican War). The Washington Infantry itself was established in 1855. Not surprisingly, a large section of the book is dedicated to the story of the regiment during the Civil War. The unit initially organized for three months' service in 1861 as the 13th Pennsylvania Volunteers. In August 1861, members of the 13th raised a new three-year regiment, which was mustered into federal service as the 102nd Pennsylvania. The regiment was assigned to the Fourth Corps, Army of the Potomac in 1862, and later that year became part of the Sixth Corps, where it spent the remainder of the war. The 102nd won a reputation for hard fighting during the Overland Campaign and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. After the war, members of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Cover of the 1st edition, 1931.

I had my eye on first editions of this book for quite some time. The history has particular sentimental value to me, as William Baumgarten is mentioned on its pages a couple of times. The book is also valuable for the rare photographs of regimental commanders, as well as complete muster rolls. After getting a little cash for Christmas, I decided to treat myself, and I purchased a first edition from a bookseller in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. The book is in near fine condition, and I couldn't be happier with owning this regimental history with a family connection. 

Excerpt showing William Baumgarten among those from the 102nd Pennsylvania wounded in the fighting at Third Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864.
William Baumgarten on the muster roll for Co. K, recruited in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
On a related note, back in November my Father attended a church function in Richland Township, Pennsylvania, where he had a long conversation with a neighbor, Richard Baumgarten. My family had wondered for years whether there was any family relationship to Richard. During the course of their chat, Richard mentioned that his grandfather, William, had been a Civil War veteran. When my Dad told me, I knew that I just had to talk to Richard. Could this William be the same William Baumgarten who fought with the 102nd Pennsylvania?

Flash forward a few weeks. My Dad paid a visit to Richard, who showed him an original photograph of William Baumgarten. When my Dad described the portrait to me, I realized that the photograph was the same one of William that I had acquired earlier last year from a Katie Baumgarten. Indeed, Richard was the grandson of Pvt. Baumgarten, 102nd Pennsylvania. And, it turns out, Katie is Richard's granddaughter!

I called Richard a few weeks ago. He and I had a very affable conversation about this grandfather. Richard's father, Frederick, along with another of William's sons, remained behind in Western Pennsylvania when William headed to Alabama. Richard's grandmother was William's first wife, Elizabeth, who died at childbirth in 1887. Richard only met William a couple of times. Unfortunately, he could not confirm the exact relationship between William and my Great Great Grandfather, John Baumgarten. Richard and I are going to meet the next time I am back in Gibsonia to go through his family history research, including materials compiled by one of William's stepgrandchildren.

This past weekend my parents came to visit, and my Dad brought a very special gift from Richard--a large, framed copy of the portrait of William (above). I am truly amazed at life's little turns. Sometimes I see fate at work. After many years, I finally meet a former hometown neighbor who is part of my extended family, and who happens to be the direct descendant of a Civil War ancestor. The fact that Richard is a living grandson of a Union veteran is also remarkable and reminds me that we are not that far removed from the nation's most violent and destructive conflict and those who fought in it.