Friday, April 11, 2014

A Surprise Visit to Battery Parrott

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a reception at the residence of the Belgian Ambassador to the United States. Located along Foxhall Rd., N.W. in Washington, this ornate home sits atop the heights dominating the Potomac River near Chain Bridge. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that that the property was the site of Battery Parrott, part of the defenses of Washington during the Civil War. In fact, the Belgian Embassy website even discusses the history associated with the location.

The Union Army erected Battery Parrott in 1862 on land belonging to local widow Ellen King. The battery was named after Robert P. Parrott, a former captain of ordinance and inventor of the Parrott gun.  Battery Parrott was equipped with two 100-pounder Parrott rifles. Gen. John G. Barnard, Chief Engineer for the Department of Washington, later called Battery Parrott one of the "most perfect and complete" batteries in the defenses of the nation's capital. (Barnard 72-73.) Along with Batteries Cameron and Kemble, Battery Parrott swept the Virginia side of the Potomac from Chain Bridge and Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen to Fort DeKalb (Fort Strong).

The remaining earthworks of Battery Parrott are plainly visible in the backyard of the Belgian Ambassador's Residence. The massive Parrott guns were mounted en barbette behind the parapet.
Battery Parrott was garrisoned at various times by companies from the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery, and the 9th New York Heavy Artillery. Company K of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery served the longest at the battery, from August 1862 until being sent to the front during the Overland Campaign in May 1864. Writing to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck about the state of Washington's defenses in spring 1864, Gen. A.P. Howe, Inspector of Artillery, observed:
Battery Parrott, Capt. Frederic E. Shaw commanding.–Garrison, one company First Maine Heavy Artillery–1 commissioned officer, 1 ordnance-sergeant, 46 men. Armament, two 100-pounder Parrots. Magazines, one; dry and in good order. Ammunition, full supply and serviceable. Implements, complete and serviceable. Drill in artillery, fair. Drill in infantry, fair. Garrison is sufficient. (in NPS at Vol. I, Appendix E.)
As with nearly all of the forts and batteries around the nations capital, Battery Parrott saw no action during the Civil War.
Photo of a 100-pounder Parrott, this one taken at Ft. Totten outside Washington (courtesy Library of Congress)

At the end of hostilities in 1865, the Union military offered King wood and other materials from the battery as compensation for the occupation of her land. The widow refused at first, but relented in October 1865, accepted the in-kind compensation, and signed a release discharging any future claims against the U.S. Government. King nevertheless filed a claim for rent and the taking of timber in May 1874. Despite the earlier release, King prevailed and was awarded compensation by the U.S. Treasury Department in 1875 and 1876.

Detail from 1865 War Department map of the defenses of Washington showing the position of Battery Parrott (center), as well as other features, including Batteries Cameron and Kemble, Chain Bridge, Ft. Marcy, Ft. Ethan Allen, and Ft. Strong (courtesy of the Library of Congress).

The position of Battery Parrott (blue pin) indicated on a modern map of Washington, DC and Virginia. (See here for a larger map.)

Sipping on a Belgian beer and looking out at the earthworks behind the ambassador's house, I couldn't help but chuckle. Things are sometimes ironic like that in Washington. One hundred and fifty years ago, boys from Maine tramped across this very land, while 100-pounder guns stood guard against the possibility of Rebel incursions, however remote. Now internationally-minded professionals were mingling and eating hors d'oeuvres, most oblivious to the importance of the site during our nation's most trying ordeal.


John G. Barnard, A Report on the Defenses of Washington (1871); Benjamin Franklin Cooling III & Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (2010 ed.); Historic Preservation Review Board, Government of the District of Columbia, Application for Historic Landmark or Historic District Designation for the Scheele-Brown Farmhouse (2013); National Park Service, A Historic Resources Study: The Civil War Defenses of Washington, Parts I & II (2004); Official Records, Series 1, Vol. XXV, Pt. 2, at 187 (1889).

Friday, March 28, 2014

Odds and Ends, March 2014

I just returned from a two-day work trip to Brasilia, Brazil. As much as I'd like to find a Civil War connection to the Brazilian capital, the city didn't even exist until 1960! However, for those interested in the Civil War's connection to other parts of Brazil, the CSS Alabama raided Federal ships off the country's coast in 1863. (Capt. Rapahel Semmes writes of the Alabama's Brazilian adventures in his memoirs.) Oh, and let's not forget the unreconstructed Confederates who emigrated to Brazil after the Civil War.

In other news, I wanted to let readers know about my upcoming talk to the McLean Historical Society at 7:30 p.m on Tuesday, April 8. This presentation was originally slated for the start of March, but was postponed due to a personal conflict. I will be talking about my research on the contraband camps of Northern Virginia, with a particular focus on the government farms in Langley and Lewinsville. The lecture is being held in the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. in McLean. Hope to see you there!

The 14th Annual Fairfax Civil War Day will be held at Historic Blenheim on Saturday, April 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will feature tours, exhibits, period music, and various living history demonstrations. I haven't yet participated in this annual tradition, but plan to go this year with my boys. For more information, including a schedule of events, see the City of Fairfax website here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Divining Motivation: William Baumgarten's Decision to Enlist, March 1864

Last week I wrote about a recent discovery that I am related to William Baumgarten of the 102nd Pennsylvania. The universe of what I know about William is rather limited. Sure, I was able to pull together a general biography and the details of his service record. But can I ever really know him?

The date of William's enlistment -- March 31, 1864 -- immediately grabbed my attention. Men who joined the Union ranks so late in the game earned a bad reputation among the old veterans of the Army of the Potomac. Many of these newcomers enlisted to collect large bounties being offered at the federal, state, and local level. Add to this mix draftees or the substitutes hired by them, and the soldiers arriving at the front in early 1864 looked somewhat different from the men who had rushed to the colors in the early days of the war.

On February 1, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 500,000 men. Those who had enlisted under the previous October's call for 300,000 volunteers, as well as draftees raised in 1863, were credited against this number. In Pittsburgh, William's hometown, the draft was set for March 1. The rush to find recruits was on. Local authorities often sought to avoid a backlash against the draft by filling the ranks with as many recruits as possible prior to the drawing of names. Pittsburgh was no different. Individuals could earn between fifteen to twenty-five dollars for getting someone to enlist. In certain wards of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, block committees knocked on doors in search of willing recruits. By the end of February, the activity had reached a fever pitch. The date of the next draft slipped to April 1.

Notice about federal bounties published in the Pittsburgh Daily Gazette & Advertiser a few days before William enlisted (courtesy of Penn State University's Pennsylvania Era Civil War Newspaper Collection).

On March 1, Lincoln called for an additional 200,000 men. The draft was ordered to take place as soon as possible after April 15 in order to fill any deficiencies. By the end of March, local bounties climbed from $250 to $265, in addition to the federal bounty of $300.

Troops from the 102nd Pennsylvania arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, March 29. As the Pittsbugh Daily Gazette & Advertiser reported a couple of days later, the presence of the regiment "has given an impetus to recruiting." (Mar. 31, 1864.) The paper observed:
Several wards of this city are endeavoring to fill their quotas from this regiment, and the private bounties now range from $260 to $300. New recruits have been receiving $280 since Tuesday. (Mar. 31, 1864.)*
On March 31, William joined the rush and enlisted in Company K of the 102nd Pennsylvania.

The draft was finally set for June 2 in Allegheny City and June 13 for Pittsburgh. The recruiting drive was by and large a success -- at the time of the draft, a deficiency of only 479 existed out of the two cities' entire quota of 2,373. (Amer. Hist. Soc. 233.)

The historical record raises obvious questions about William's motivations for volunteering. This young son of German immigrants entered the ranks during the height of recruiting frenzy in Pittsburgh. It is easy to conclude that the large bounties then being offered had a lot to do with his decision to enlist, particularly in light of all the anecdotal accounts of 1864 recruits. But should we be so quick to jump to conclusions about William or others who volunteered, without knowing more? Perhaps feelings of patriotism or a sense of duty nagged at William, and the money may or may not have made the final difference in his decision to join the Union Army. William may have wanted to enlist when he turned eighteen the previous year, but only with the passage of time or monetary inducements, or both, did his parents drop their objections. Regardless of his reasons for enlisting, William remained with Company K and fought in some of the most brutal battles of the Eastern Theater. Wounded three times in the Valley, he was finally sent to recover in a military hospital behind the lines. Even if we never discover William's reasons for going to fight, we do know that he, like countless others, volunteered to put his life at risk in service to our country at its most critical hour.


*The use of the term "private bounties" seems to indicate that private donors also furnished bounties, in addition to federal and local bounties previously discussed.


American Historical Society, Inc., History of Pittsburgh and Environs, Part II (1922); Bruce Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox (1953); A. Lincoln, Executive Order, Feb. 1, 1864; A. Lincoln, Executive Order, March 14, 1864; James B. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998); PBS, "Kids in the Civil War," American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant; Pittsburgh Daily Gazette & Advertiser, Mar. 29, 30, 31, 1864; U.S. Provost Marshal General's Bureau, Second Report of the Provost Marshall General to the Secretary of War on the Operations of the Selective Service System to December 20, 1918 (1919); U.S. War Dept., Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1865); Erasmus Wilson & Weston Arthur Goodspeed, Standard History of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (1898);

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Civil War Ancestor!

Readers occasionally contact me about their own research interests, usually related to genealogy and the Civil War. Imagine my surprise when I received an email last week from Katie Baumgarten. Katie's second great grand uncle is Reinhard (Reinhart) Baumgarten, who also happens to be one of my ancestors. As I wrote in 2011, Reinhard was born in Pennsylvania in 1839 and eventually settled in Ashland, Kentucky. He was somehow related to my Great Great Grandfather John Baumgarten. At the time of the 1870 Census, Reinhard and John were living together in Birmingham, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. I also stumbled upon a William Baumgarten, who was born in Allegheny County in 1845 and later served in Co. K of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry. I speculated based on some of my findings that Reinhard and William may have been brothers, but I wasn't certain.

Flash ahead to this March, and in steps Katie. She emailed me that William was indeed Reinhard's brother and even sent me a photograph of the two. Her grandfather, Richard, had given the picture to her. We both agreed that William and Reinhard were possibly half-brothers, given that their mothers apparently had different names. In any event, the picture simply labels them as "brothers."

Photograph of Reinhard (l) and William (r) Baumgarten, courtesy of Katie Baumgarten. A wartime wound blinded William in the right eye.  The injury to the eye seems visible here. Katie dates the picture to around 1900.

Reinhard is in my bloodline, meaning that William is an ancestor as well. I don't know John's relationship to the brothers yet, and am still trying to determine the exact family tie. Regardless, I am excited to learn that I count a Civil War solider among my ancestors. Only a few years ago, I had no idea that any of my family was even here during the War Between the States!

Second state color of the 102nd Pa. Infantry, received in April 1864 (courtesy of Pa. Capitol Preservation Committee). William served under this flag. 

William enlisted as a private with Company K, 102nd Pa. in Pittsburgh on March 31, 1864. He and the rest of the recruits joined the fight against General Robert E. Lee's Confederates as part of the First Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. William participated in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns before being transferred to Washington, where the 102nd Pa. helped to repulse Jubal Early's movement against the capital at the Battle of Ft. Stevens (July 11-12, 1864). William and the 102nd Pa. next headed to the Shenandoah Valley. William was injured in the right side of the head near Snicker's Gap in July 1864, and lost sight in one eye. He later was wounded in the left leg at Third Winchester (Sept. 19, 1864) and the left hand at Fisher's Hill (Sept. 22, 1864). Even after suffering so many injuries, William soldiered onward, and apparently fought at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. He was finally sent to recover from his wounds for six months at Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia. William was discharged from the service on June 9, 1865.

Following the war, William married Elizabeth Martin, a native of Germany, in 1868. The two had five children together. William and Reinhard ran a grocery store in Birmingham, Allegheny Co. after the war called Baumgarten & Brothers. William moved to Butler County, Pennsylvania in 1889 and started farming. At some point the family relocated to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio,where William died on October 29, 1921.

I plan to continue researching Reinhard, William, and John Baumgarten. For now, I am proud to know that I have an ancestor who fought in the war for the Union cause. This discovery has added meaning given that this year we observe the 150th of those battles where William sacrificed so much. Stay tuned for more on William and Company K. And a special thanks to Katie for sending me the information and picture.


Butler County PAGenWeb, "Genealogical Inquiries" (contains excerpt on William from 1889 book, Presidents, Soldiers and Statesmen, Vol. 1); Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, 1867-68; N.A.R.A., Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900 (available on; National Park Service, "102nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry," Soldiers & Sailors Database.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Singapore During the Civil War Era, Part II: The CSS Alabama Pays a Visit in December 1863

As I wrote last week, a recent business trip inspired me to take a deeper look at Singapore during the Civil War era. In Part I of the series, I examined some sites associated with British colonial rule in the nineteenth century, including St. Andrew's Cathedral and Fort Canning. This week I get more to the point. Believe it or not, far-away Singapore has a direct connection to the Civil War involving a famed Confederate commerce raider.

Stating in August 1862, Capt. Raphael Semmes led the CSS Alabama on far-ranging expeditions to harass Federal shipping. The Confederate raider struck targets in the Atlantic, West Indies, and Indian Ocean, all the while eluding capture by the Union Navy. As November 1863 got underway, the Alabama entered waters around present-day Indonesia, where Semmes attacked and burned three U.S. merchant ships.

The Alabama, a screw steam sloop, required periodic refueling, and Semmes soon set his sights on procuring more coal in Singapore. Early on Monday, December 21, 1863, the Alabama headed towards the port city in a tropical downpour. A clearing around noon enabled Semmes to get his bearings, and the Alabama finally anchored off Singapore at around 5:30 in the afternoon. The U.S. Vice Counsel, Francis D. Cobb, attempted to reach the Alabama that night, but was prevented from getting too close to the ship. (Foenander.)

On Tuesday, December 22 the Alabama entered New Harbor, about three miles down the road from the city of Singapore. The ship docked at the wharves of the P & O Steamship Company and began coaling. The entire refueling operation took around ten hours, but the Alabama also needed additional supplies. Luckily, the English merchant Hugh Rowland Beaver of the firm Cumming, Beaver & Co. had offered to help the crew procure provisions, and Semmes put him in contact with the ship's paymaster. The captain also sent an officer to meet with the governor of Singapore and assure him of the Alabama's intentions while in the colony.

"The Alabama at New Harbor, Singapore," from Cameron, Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India (1865) (courtesy of Marshall University)
Docked at New Harbor, Semmes saw first-hand the impact his raids were having on Union shipping in the region. As he later wrote in his memoirs:
A very gratifying spectacle met our eyes at Singapore. There were twenty-two American ships there — large Indiamen — almost all of which were dismantled and laid up! The burning of our first ship in these seas, the Amanda, off the Strait of Sunda, had sent a thrill of terror through all the Yankee shipping, far and near, and it had hastened to port, to get out of harm's way. We had recent news here from all parts of the China seas, by vessels passing constantly through the Strait of Malacca, and touching at Singapore for orders or refreshments. There were two American ships laid up in Bangkok, in Siam; one or two at Canton; two or three at Shanghai; one at the Philippine Islands; and one or two more in Japanese waters. (Semmes 708-09.)
Word of the Alabama's arrival spread as people went about their business in Commercial Square on Tuesday morning. The inhabitants became excited to learn that the famous raider was anchored at New Harbor. Before long, "crowds gathered to look curiously upon her, and compare her appearance with what they had read of her." (Semmes 710.) Semmes observed:
. . . all the races and all the religions of the world were represented in the throngs that crowded the coaling jetty, to look upon the Alabama, wearing the new flag of a new nation, mysterious for its very distance from them. We were to their eastern eyes a curious people of the antipodes. (Semmes 710.)
Semmes advertised in the local papers that although the Alabama was closed to visitors on Tuesday because of coaling, those wanting to inspect the ship would be welcomed aboard the next day. Carriages to take visitors to New Harbor on Wednesday were "at a premium, for natives of all classes, as well as the European residents, had determined to avail themselves of the opportunity to inspect a ship that will possess some place in the history of the present age." (Cameron 273.) Semmes attributed some of the natives' curiosity to a rumor that the Confederates kept "negro giants" chained in the ship's hold, "whom we armed with immense weapons and let loose, in time of battle. . . ." (Semmes 711.)  Author John Cameron speculated that "a clue to the interest [the natives] displayed might be found in the often repeated exclamations,—'Hantu, Kappal Hantu'— 'Ghost—ghost ship.'" (Cameron 273.)

Photograph of the CSS Alabama in Singapore, December 1863. This photograph, likely taken by August Sachtler, appeared in the album, Views and Types of Singapore, 1863 (courtesy Marshall University/Lee Kip Lin).
Heading out to New Harbor, Cameron took advantage of the chance to climb on board the ship. After walking around and examining the Alabama and its armaments, he concluded that "[s]he is not a slimly built vessel as has been frequently represented, but is of thorough man-of-war build." (Cameron 274.) Cameron was also "anxious to ascertain the loyalty of the crew, of which, according to late accounts, there were good reasons to doubt." (Cameron 275.) He "could remark no sign of impatience, much less of insubordination" and believed that "whatever may be their hardships or the precarious nature of their pay and emoluments, the crew of the Alabama would stand by her in case of danger." (Cameron 275.)

Capt. Raphael Semmes (courtesy of Wikipedia)

While the Alabama was docked in Singapore, Semmes had an opportunity to tour the city. He too seemed just as curious about the place as the inhabitants were about his ship. Semmes recorded some observations in his daily journal:
Visited the city, and was astonished at its amount of population and business. . . . Singapore being a free port, it is a great entrepot of trade. Great quantities of Eastern produce reaches it from all quarters, whence it is shipped to Europe. The business is almost exclusively in the hands of the Chinese, who are also the artisans and laborers of the place. The streets are thronged with foot passengers and vehicles, among which are prominent the ox, or rather the buffalo cart, and the hacks for hire, of which latter there are 900 licensed. The canal is filled with country boats, of excellent model, and the warehouses are crammed with goods. Money seems to be abundant and things dear. They are just finishing a tasteful Gothic church, with a tall spire, which is a notable landmark as you approach the town, and are completing officers' quarters, etc., on a hill which commands the town. . . . The moving multitude in the streets comprises every variety of the human race, every shade of color, and every variety of dress, among which are prominent the gay tartans and fancy jackets of the Mohammedan, Hindu, etc. (ORN, 1:2, 791.)*

Semmes also visited Beaver's estate outside the city, where he dined and spent the night of December 22.** The captain noted that Beaver "lived in luxurious style, as do most European merchants in the East." (Semmes 714.) His "grounds were extensive, and well kept," and the "household. . . was a pattern of neatness and comfort." (Semmes 714.) On the way back into town the next day, Semmes stopped at the British officers' mess, where he had been invited to lunch. He found a very English spread of cheese, cold meats, porter, and wines.

The night of December 23, the crew rounded up sailors who had gone on a drunken "frolic" in town. (Semmes 715.) In the end, ten crew members successfully deserted in Singapore, but at least the Alabama was able to secure four new enlistments.

Early on Thursday morning, December 24, the Alabama left the port at Singapore under a cloudy sky, loaded with coal and provisions. The ship headed for the Strait of Malacca, where Semmes wasted no time in getting back to work -- he attacked and burned three U.S. merchant ships between the 24th and 26th. The Alabama then sailed to France for desperately needed repairs. Six months later, the raider would meet its demise in the waters off Cherbourg.

Modern view of the waters off Singapore showing extensive commercial cargo traffic. Singapore is the world's second busiest container port. (I snapped this picture from the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands.)
Back in Singapore, the Straits Times downplayed reception accorded the Alabama. On January 12, 1864, the paper reported that "almost every person in Singapore paid her a visit." However, it was "worthy of remark. . . that there was no display of enthusiasm in her behalf, and that no public demonstration whatever was made in her favor." The tone is perhaps not surprising. In a December 12, 1863 article, the Times had criticized the Alabama's "cold blooded" and "wanton" destruction of unprotected U.S.merchant ships. As the paper commented:
However much we may sympathize with the South as the weaker power against the stronger, and as a people seeking independence, we can scarcely hail with satisfaction the advantages thus gained by their corsair fleet. (Straits Times, Dec. 12, 1864.)
News of the Alabama's visit to Singapore also reached America's shores, although long after the fact. Papers such as the Alexandria Gazette and New York Times carried the story of Semmes' movements around the Strait of Malacca at the end of December.

Traveling all the way to Singapore was quite a long haul. After over twenty-one hours in the air, I stepped out into a tropical land half a world away from home. Today, Singapore is a booming, modern metropolis, with a population as diverse as in Semmes' day. Exploring the city's colonial quarter, I pondered the visit by the CSS Alabama. Perhaps this is the last place you'd expect to find a link to the American Civil War. Yet just over 150 years ago, the Confederate sailors from the Alabama walked some of the same streets, and saw some of the same landmarks, as their vessel refueled for future voyages. I couldn't help but think -- now all we need is to place a Civil War Trails marker down by the harbor!


*The Gothic cathedral is likely St. Andrew's, which was consecrated in 1862. The officers' barracks were being constructed at Ft. Canning. I discussed both sites in last week's post.

**An officer from the Alabama, possibly Lt. Arthur Sinclair, later presented Beaver with the ship's battle ensign after the Alabam was sunk by the USS Kersage in June 1864.  Beaver had hosted Sinclair at his homes in Singapore and London.


Alexandria Gazette, Feb. 12, 1864; John Cameron, Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India (1865); Martyn Downer Works of Art, "A Rare Naval Treasure of the American Civil War"; Terry Foenander, "Raphael Semmes' Description of Early Singapore," Navy & Marine Living History Assn. (website); Colyer Meriwether, Raphael Semmes (1913); N.Y. Times, Mar. 9, 1864;  Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 2, pp. 791-92 (1895) (ORN); Raphael Semmes, Memoirs of Service Afloat, During the War Between the States (1869): Straits Times, Dec. 12, 1864 (in Southland Times, Feb. 15, 1864); Straits Times, Jan. 12, 1864 (in N.Y. Times, Mar. 9, 1864); John M. Taylor, Semmes: Rebel Raider (2004); Wikipedia, CSS Alabama.