Monday, October 31, 2011

They like me--they really like me!!

I waited until formally announced this, but I have been invited to become a regular writer for their blog. Well, it's more than a blog--it is a series of articles, interviews, and photographs that combine to give a new look at an old war.

There are Battles & Leaders aplenty for those who like that approach, and Billy Yank & Johnny Reb remembrances as well, but there is more. Somehow these historians have managed to combine academic rigor with poetry, rainy, soft focus reminiscences with sword-edged battle analyses, and they have graciously opened their door to me.

Apparently no one was put off by embalming, zombies, weird old Eleazar Paine, or the measles! Huzzah!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Civil War Zombie Apocalypse!!!

October 31st!!!


Be Afraid--Be Very Afraid!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en is my favorite personal holiday, and I have some very fond memories of October at California's Fort Tejon. As a former re-enactor, I usually went up early and camped an extra day for the October Civil War Weekend. It was the last get-together at the Fort until Spring, so it was special. When the October moon rose, the hauntings began, and lots of tricks were played by our soldiers, on everyone! I certainly got my share!!

One of my favorite memories was of the jack-o-lanterns carved by the re-enactors and their families. It seemed each group would try to outdo the others in creativity and humor. All the generals were carved, lots of flag images, and of course, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.

It was glorious to stand there at the top of the little hill and look down into the camps, with their cooking fires and glowing jack-o-lanterns. Warm cider and gingerbread scents wafted along the cool autumn evening breezes, and sometimes there was kettle-popped corn with caramel for making popcorn balls. I truly loved those evenings.

In scouring my sources for information about Hallowe'en and the Civil War, I thought I had completely failed. I found a pumpkin carved like Lincoln, but nary a Confederate jack-o-lantern did I discover. Then my searching paid off! Co. Aytch, or, A Side Show of the Big Show, by Samuel Rush Watkins, came to mind. The book is just fun to read, and I figured ol' Sam might have something to say, since Elisha Rhodes Hunt was mum on the matter.

Corinth, Mississippi: This is where I first saw a jack-o-lantern (ignis fatui). That night, while Tom and I were on our posts, we saw a number of very dim lights, which seemed to be in motion. At first we took them to be Yankees, moving about with lights. Whenever we could get a shot we would blaze away. At last one got up very close, and passed right between Tom and I. I don't think I was ever more scared in my life. My hair stood on end like the quills of the fretful porcupine; I could not imagine what on earth it was. I took it to be some hellish machination of a Yankee trick. I did not know whether to run or stand, until I heard Tom laugh and say, "Well, well--that's a jack-o-lantern!!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

EE's loved ones

Not the smoothest upload, but I am sure you get the idea. As far as I know, the pictures to the left are the only ones of Elmer Ellsworth's parents, Ephriam and Phebe, which is how she signed her name. These may have been taken at the same time the one of young Elmer was taken--the backgrounds look the same.

I think this is a nail for the coffin of EE's "impoverished" upbringing. His parents look well-dressed and healthy--even a little fashionable for the 1840s. Photography was much more expensive then than in the 1860s, so there's another nail. I think his folks look nice--like people you could get to know.

The lovely Northern belle on the right is Carrie Spafford. She was Elmer's only real love interest. He met her in Rockford, when she was 15 or so. It is through his letters to her that a biographer has such rich source material for Ellsworth, all the way to the end.

In C. A. Tripp's book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (the one in which the author makes the claim that AL was gay), Ellsworth is discussed in great detail. The conclusion? "Ellsworth was definitely and explicitely heterosexual."

Well, that's cleared up.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Panic of 1837 / Part 3

This is a cartoon--a poorly-copied cartoon, but a cartoon nevertheless--of the unemployment situation in the Panic of 1837. I looked at it very carefully, and it is really funny, and very pertinent to today's crummy economic climate.

Drunks, pawn shops, a guy with saggy pants--I am still wondering about the man with the saw. I am gonna go for unemployed carpenter, but I will keep serial killer open as well. Google it up to see it more clearly--it is worth it! Panic of 1837 Cartoons.

Elmer Ellsworth's dad lost his business during the Panic, but he had a good plan. He became a butcher. Butchers came to the meat during the the 1800s, so Mr. Ellsworth travelled in the Mechanicville, NY area. Once in a while he picked up a keg of oysters down at the canal and sold them. Sometimes he trapped Passenger Pigeons and sold them as well. Apparently he was not the only one in the pigeon business, as they are extinct now.

He did well enough to keep his sons in school, stay friends with a rich man and his family, and even help his wife's family when they needed it. Many others were indeed crushed by the Panic and resulting Depression.

I think Mr. Ellsworth would have done just as well in this century

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Panic of 1837 / Part 2

Money money money m o n e y !

The creation of the First National Bank was necessary for the fledgling United States to pay off its debt from the War of 1812. Still, states thought they should have the right to coin and print their own currency.

To the left is an example of "private money," which was worth practically nothing, despite claiming a worth of $5. When Andrew Jackson decided this was ridiculous, he called for all money to be backed by "specie," or actual gold and silver. The bubble burst on May 10, 1837.

But, Jackson was no longer President! Poor Mr. Martin Van Buren, much like our current President, inherited this financial mess, and the bubble popped on his watch. The Panic of 1837 ensued, considered to be the first major Depression in America.

Elmer Ellsworth's father, Ephriam, lost his business as a tailor in this economic upheaval. EE told John Hay his father had been "ruined" by the Panic. This may have been only partly true. Yes, he lost the tailoring business, but he immediately "re-invented" himself as a butcher.

The more I read about the past, the more it all sounds like the present!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hallowe'en Ghosts

It is the season of longer nights, shorter days, cool-to-cold breezes and childhood memories of fantastical fun/fear. I often get accused of loving dead men more than those who still live. Perhaps that's true--I don't know. Here is a poem I found.

by Winifred Letts

Will you come back to us, men of our hearts, tonight
In the misty close of the brief October day?
Will you leave the alien graves where you sleep, and steal away
To see the gables and eaves of home grow dark in the evening light?

O men of the manor and moated hall and farm,
Come back tonight, treading softly over the grass;
The dew of the autumn dusk will not betray where you pass;
The watchful dog may stir in his sleep, but he'll raise no hoarse alarm.

Then you will stand, not strangers, but wishful to look
At the kindly lamplight shed from the open door,
And the fire-lit casement where one, having wept you sore,
Sits dreaming alone with her sorrow, not heeding her open book.

You will come back to us just as the robin sings
Nunc Dimittis from the larch to a sun late set
In purple woodlands; when caught like silver fish in a net
The stars gleam out through the orchard boughs and the church owl flaps his wings.

We have no fear of you, silent shadows, who tread
The leaf-bestrewn paths, the dew-wet lawns. Draw near
To the glowing fire, the empty chair--we shall not fear,
Being but ghosts for the lack of you, ghosts of our well-beloved dead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the Panic of 1837--Pt. 1

It has long been part of the Ellsworth mythos that his father was "ruined" by the Panic of 1837. Elmer Ellsworth's father was, by training and trade, a tailor. He ran a business in Waterford, although I do not know if it was a brick-and-mortar shop or if he worked from his home. A year prior to the fateful year of 1837, Ephriam Ellsworth moved to Malta, not too far away, where he met and married Elmer's mother, Phebe.

I do not know if he moved initially in order to improve his business, but I can think of no other reason. In Malta he continued his trade, hoping to be able to make a good living catering to the travelers who frequented Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa.

As the financial panic grew, travel to resorts slowed considerably, as did the need for a tailor. Rather than let everything collapse, Ephriam widened his horizons. In the Censusof 1850, Mr. Ellsworth is listed as a "Butcher."

Butchers in the 1800s did not work for a grocery, or even for a meat shop. There was no reliable way to keep meat fresh. A butcher worked by appointment. If a farmer needed a cow or pig butchered, he paid the butcher to come to him, do his work, and leave--often with a nice cut of meat as well as his pay.

I think we should call that "reinventing himself," not "ruined."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

a more peaceful post

This lovely model, luckily not runway-starved, is modeling a ladies' version of a Zouave jacket. The year of this piece of ephemera is 1859, I believe, so it is not a direct result of Ellsworth's Zouave Tour of 1860, but it does predict a trend toward Zouave mania.

The last few posts have been sort of sad--crazy guys and actions of crazy guys. I thought this might be a bit more cheerful and positive. My own Zouave jacket is black velvet with silver trimming and antique jet beads. I bought the beads at the 125th Anniversary of Gettysburg re-enactment.

No, it is NOT a Hallowe'en costume.

General Paine made his ghostly appearance yesterday, Monday, October 17 in It looked lovely, or as lovely as Paine ever looked. I still think the lead picture of him is Photoshopped, altho' I have no idea how Timothy O'Sullivan did it.

The book is going well. I am finishing up endnotes for Chapter Two ("Inauspicious Beginnings"), which involves reading yet another Andrew Jackson biography. I think I have said before that my understanding of economic history is not the best, but it is getting better by leaps and bounds! The Panic of 1837 is much clearer to me than it was last April, when I started. Any volunteer readers??

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eleazer Paine costume

DIY Eleazer Paine Mask!!

This is the largest, most exact image I could find of Brigadier General Eleazer Paine. I mentioned him earlier on this blog. He will be a feature of my second guest blog for in the upcoming week. I am not sure exactly which day it will appear, so you will just have to check their fantastic blogsite every day until it shows up. ( . . . and then keep checking it, because it is one of the best ones out there.)

Here are the directions for the Mask:
1) Click and drag (or whatever you PC folks do) the above image to your desktop.
2) Print it out in the most high degree of resolution your printer allows.
3) Take the image to Staples/Kinko's/Whatever and have it enlarged to a size that will fit your face--maybe 12" x 18" or so.
4) Take the image home and carefully color it. Colored pencils work well over photocopies.
5) Cut the image out. Make sure the hair is spiky!!
6) Take the image back to the copy store and ask them to laminate it.
7) Cut the extra laminating film away from the image.
8) Cut away as much of the eyes as you like, but remember, the more eye you leave, the more BOO!
9) Either attach an elastic band from side to side to hold the mask to your face, or glue it to a flat stick which you can hold in front of your face.
10) Terrorize the neighborhood just like "Old Paine!"

Happy Hallowe'en!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Inauspicious beginnings

The first "real" chapter of First Fallen is Chapter 2, "Inauspicious Beginnings." I thought I had it all figured out. I carefully explained a bit about the panic of 1837, President Jackson's issues with State Banks, and the effect this had on the economy of what was then America.

Then I sent the chapter to a friend. He casually mentioned, "What about the Canal?" That sent me back to the archives in a hurry. For any of you who might not know what to say or do if someone asks you to read something they have written, I will clear it up right now.

Just tell the writer what you honestly thought. If all the writer is looking for is unending praise, he or she will probably just show the manuscript to Mom. The rest of us want a real opinion. If we disagree or agree is immaterial. This book is no good to anyone if it isn't read--no book is. So read whatever is offered and be honest. Usually you won't say anything the writer has not already thought about.

Anyway, the Canawl deal opened things up for me. I now have a much better understanding about the North and its commercial advantage over the South, even this early in history. I have much more information with which to work, and--as I have noticed for several years now--the more I know about the past, the more I understand about the present.

Elmer Ellsworth was NOT a child of poverty. He was a child of working parents--sort of proto middle class, so to speak. No matter what EE told John Hay about how miserable his early childhood was, the facts simply do not bear this out. He was a well-loved, well-cared for little guy who lived in a big, safe house and played by the Canal paths. He wasn't rich in money, but he lived in emotional and intellectual abundance. The grinding fear that poverty brings with it as surely as we all have shadows was not a visitor to the house in the picture on the upper left.

Friday, October 14, 2011

memento mori

This is a drum, with Ellsworth's picture painted on it. So many things were created to honor and memorialize EE after he was killed, and I will share some of them here.

I often go to eBay, looking for "stuff," and I often find great things of this nature. The best so far was a large mirror with Ellsworth's image sort of etched into the top part. It went for a lot of money, and I didn't even bid.

Another thing I found was an alleged "piece of the banister against which Ellsworth fell," after he was shot at the Marshall House. In Adam Goodheart's book, 1861, he mentions purchasing a similar item for $105.49. At least I think he bought it. The piece of wood I found went for over $300! Not to me, however. I went as far as the $105.49, but not higher.

It seems that EE relics have risen in worth, probably due to 1861 and the 150th anniversary of his death last May 24. There is an exhibit in Philadelphia about the American Flag. Rumor has it that Ellsworth is featured there as well.

We spend a great deal of time and energy reading and writing about battles and leaders, strategy and tactics, and Famous Men. Each of these has a piece in the entire puzzle, and some have more than one, but it is understanding the lesser-known players that help us to see the War more fully in its context.

I am old enough to remember when diaries and letters from "the common soldier" became the way to look at things--knocking aside the Battles & Leaders theorists for a moment. I am also old enough to realize that history is made by both the nameless soldier and the famous general.

Ellsworth did not live long enough to become a famous general, but he was never a nameless soldier.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the Erie Canal Changes Everything

Here is a 1903 map of the Erie Canal System. As you can see, Troy is prominent. That's where the canal makes a 90 degree turn. Troy was where Ellsworth had his first job, and his newspaper/train job went between Troy and Mechanicville. Going west, Schenectady is the next big town.

Between Troy and Schenectady are the smaller towns of Malta and Mechanicville, as well as Stillwater, home of the "Black Plumed Rifleman." To the north are the towns of Balston Spa and Saratoga Springs. None of these towns would be worth anything if not for the Canal. It not only brought goods from the West to the East and back, but people came as well. These people might ride part way, from New York City to Saratoga Springs, for instance. Canal boats were very flat and had no facilities for cooking or sleeping, so inns and eating establishments sprang up all along the Canal.

Stores selling sundries, livery stables which rented both horses and carriages, banks, clothing stores, bakeries, ice cream stands--anything at all that anyone might wish (yes, anything! including evening entertainments and alcohol) was available along the path of the Erie Canal. Mr. Ellsworth, Elmer's father, often got fresh oysters from the Canal boats and sold them in town. Every little place vied with those surrounding it for charm and prosperity. Not a bad way of life, I think.

EE grew up here, walking the towpaths, looking at the odd and interesting people who came off the flat Canal boats, then rented carriages to ferry their belongings and themselves to the waters in Saratoga and Balston.

By the time he was a young man, the railroad was following the line of the Canal. At this time, the railroad was used mainly for passenger travel. Annually, the amount of freight increased, but trains carried people more than anything else. As miraculous as the Canal was, the train was even more so. Change was in the air, and for the first time, young men could dream of another kind of life other than the family farm. Elmer Ellsworth was not alone in his dreaming.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

General Paine

Here is a guy only a mother could love. When I saw this image, I just wasn't sure what I was looking at. Is he stoned? Is he a nineteenth century Sid Vicious? I know bleached hair when I see it, and dyed hair as well--this guy is rocking both! Plus the eyes! EEEK!

Turns out I wasn't far from wrong. As long as he was playing with friends he did OK, but give him control and add some "enemies" real or imagined, and the bodies started to pile up. His reputation was terrible. He was even too much for Sherman. I will be writing about him in some depth for sometime this month, so check back for more info. Hey--It's October!! BOO!

On the Ellsworth front, a kinder, gentler place to be, I am looking for three days alone. The first chapter--well, OK, the second--is proving difficult to finish. The information about the Panic of 1837 is well done, and makes sense--huzzah! Now I have to graft the Erie Canal to the front of the chapter, setting the economic stage for Ellsworth to perform upon.

Prior to the" Canawl," the North was agricultural, and many of its farms were subsistence-based. The Canal made it possible for goods to be shipped from the midwest (which was referred to as "The West"--I keep reminding myself that things were different then) to the great port of New York. The differences wrought by the canal were astounding! The United States underwent an economic sea change, and it has never looked back.

Ellsworth was born and grew up on the banks of the Canal, although by the mid-1800s, railroads were becoming more important for both public transportation and freight. He is definitely a man of his age. Now it is up to me to get that message to readers. So, three days of just plain, uninterrupted writing would be a gift!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back to the Point!

Thank you for indulging me--I thought the story of Dr. Minor was worth the telling.

Now--back to the purpose of this blog! This was a big week for First Fallen. We have over 1,000 hits! I don't know if one person has hit 1,000 times, or if someone is actually reading what I write, but 1,000 was good for me. has accepted another guest blog from me, about embalming. I thought this a fitting topic for October. They have promised me the premier Hallowe'en date of October 31, so look for it. It has a good title: "Civil War Zombie Apocalypse Not Likely!"

I just read a book called Wedding of the Waters, by Peter L. Bernstein. One loyal reader of my nascent chapters suggested I do some research about the Erie Canal in connection with the area where Ellsworth was born and grew up. I did, and it blew the chapter wide open!

I am NOT a financial historian. I know some general stuff about Hamilton, and Andrew Jackson. I know about increases in transportation affecting Northern prosperity. I did not know just how the Erie Canal affected the growth of the North as an up-and-coming business powerhouse.

I have held all along that Elmer Ellsworth was not the "child of poverty" he reported to be. I work daily with children of poverty--I know that subculture pretty well, on both coasts. My initial feeling was that there was no way Ellsworth could be so completely accepted socially by the Northern political elite (and social elite, if you factor in the support he got from wealthy New Yorkers like the Astors) if he had not had a reasonably decent beginning.

This foray into financial America is providing a lot of evidence for an emerging middle class that was defined by employment rather than inherited wealth. Ellsworth was a truly exceptional individual in many ways, but his generation--perhaps begun by Lincoln's--was the first generation, since the very first Europeans to arrive in the New World, to be "Self-Made Men." He is a wonderful lens through which to view America before the War.

Friday, October 7, 2011

the Madman / Union officer-Part 6

Well, there it is--Minor's grave. And not a mention of his service to the Union anywhere.

After over 20 years of working on the OED, Minor began to really lose it. He was old, frail, and crazy. His lucid moments were usually in the daytime. At night, the Irish were still out to get him, and he was still severely troubled by "impure thoughts." His penis was apparently enormous. Minor attributed this to the fact that, like any muscle which gets regular, vigorous exercise, it had grown in response to his efforts on its behalf.

On December 3, 1902, he solved his problem. Not the one with the phantom Irish--the other one. He surgically removed his offending body part, all by himself. (Details can be googled up.) This didn't kill him, but it was fairly astounding, nevertheless.

It certainly sent a message to his relatives In America. "Let's bring the old guy home, so he can die peacefully." After much wrangling, Minor and his brother Alfred, into whose protective custody Broadmoor released him, left London for "home," on April 16, 1910. He went back to St. Elizabeth's where, as a retired soldier, he was entitled to stay. It was here that Minor was given his first, more modern, diagnosis of dementia praecox, which we today know as paranoid schizophrenia.

He died in 1919, at a private hospital for elderly, mentally-challenged service members in Connecticut, called The Retreat.

Did his experiences in the Battle of the Wilderness trigger his break with reality? Was it having to brand a terrified young man's cheek? Was it the futile horror of trying to put shattered soldiers back together? No one knows what lies at the root of schizophrenia, and treatment is iffy at best. Minor's life, once so full of promise, then so full of despair, finally achieved meaning due to his efforts on behalf of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The book in which I found most of this story is The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester. It looked interesting, and sometimes I need a break from the Civil War. But there was the War, front and center. And . . . there was yet another wounded warrior to learn about, appreciate, and finally, to mourn.

Perhaps this isn't a typical Civil War story, but it affected me as, ultimately, all of them do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Madman / Union officer--Part 5

Now that Dr. Minor had a lot of time on his hands, he decided to catch up on his reading. With no yet (the horror!) he had to order his books from various bookshops in London. With one order came a flyer from a group of philologists. They had decided to follow through with the creation of a dictionary of all the words in the English language.

Several false starts had been made before 1878-ish, but this time it looked as though the right leadership (James Murray) and the right plan (very complicated--google it up) had come together. One thing necessary to the completion of the great work was a lot of volunteer time, and time was what our Dr. Minor had plenty of.

The flyer had gone out all over the United Kingdom and beyond, asking for volunteers to read specific sources and look for certain words, then write down references and sentences. These were to be sent to the team headed by Murray for fact-checking and organization. Dr. Minor immediately volunteered. His contribution to the OED was tremendous. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of notations, often doing work on certain words under the direction of James Murray himself.

Minor's contributions arrived at Murray's Oxford offices in envelopes with no more return address than Minor's name, and the name of the place where he lived: Dr. W. C. Minor / Broadmoor / Berkshire. James Murray had no idea for years that one of his most loyal and trusted volunteers was incarcerated in Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

When he did find out, he did the right thing--he didn't care. He visited Dr. Minor regularly for years, bringing him books and news of the outside world. He met Minor's doctors, and discussed Minor's case with them. As years went by, Minor got older, more frail, and crazier. Sometimes it was necessary for Murray to inquire of Broadmoor if it would be a "good day" to visit. Sometimes the answer was "no."

Minor worked on the OED for over 20 years. He was one of its most prolific contributors, and had a great deal to do with its success. The picture at the top of this article is one of Minor's meticulously hand-written cards, an example of the painstaking work he did for so long.

But Minor's story has one more chapter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Madman / Union Officer--Part 4

In May, 1863, Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane opened in England. On February 17, 1872, at 2 in the morning, three shots from a .38 Army Colt rang out in an alley in Lambeth, a Victorian slum. Moments after the last shot had been fired, London police arrested Dr. Minor for shooting George Merrett to death. Merrett was on his way to work, leaving behind eight children and a pregnant wife. He was meeting a friend, with whom he walked to work regularly. Then he was dead.

Minor readily admitted to shooting Merrett. He produced the gun, and a Bowie knife as well, which was concealed behind his back. His trial was in April, but during his imprisonment in London it became obvious that Minor had issues. He kept telling Scotland Yard that the Fenian Brotherhood (a radical Irish organization) was coming to his jail cell at night and trying to poison him. Apparently they slipped through the windows and hid in the rafters of the roof. There were also the sexual obsessions.

Minor kept alternating between the Irish trying to do him in, or submitting him to terrible, sexual predations. The result of the trial, complete with a landlady's testimony about the imaginary Irish and the constant parade of whores to his rooms (or he to theirs), was that Dr. William C. Minor, a retired Captain in the U. S. Army, was to be formally designated in Britain by Broadmoor File Number 742, and held in permanent custody as a "certified criminal lunatic."

He was going to spend the rest of his life labelled a lunatic.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Madman/Union Officer-part 3

This is St. Elizabeth's Hospital, an Insane Asylum near the Anacostia in D.C. One reader wanted to know what this series had to do with Elmer Ellsworth. The answer is, probably very little--both were in the Union Army, and Camp Lincoln, the first camp created for the 75,000 volunteers in 1861, which included the Fire Zouaves, was in the fields surrounding the hospital. This is the same hospital Lincoln pointed out to Mary Lincoln when she was getting emotionally out of hand.

In 1866, Doctor Minor was still a Union Army doctor, stationed in New York City. He worked very hard, and was brevetted a captain for his efforts. But--all was not well. He began to be noticed for doing a couple of things that were . . . odd. He began, illegally, to carry his Colt .38 service revolver with him wherever he went. When asked about this, he claimed he was afraid of being killed by Irish muggers and ruffians when he came home very late at night through Lower Manhattan.

And what was he doing there? He had begun to visit bars and brothels. I don't mean just visit them. Apparently every cent he had was "invested" in procuring sex--as much as he could get, wherever he could get it. Nightly, all night, every night. Then he would drag himself in the dawning hours by rowboat to Governor's Island and Fort Jay Hospital. He began to avail himself of very regular treatments for STDs at Fort Jay.

Things got so bad that the Army decided to move him out of New York altogether. He was sent to Fort Barrancas, Florida. Things only got worse. He began to accuse fellow officers of breaking into his room at night and making him do unspeakable things, although there was no evidence of this happening. The officers soon found him to be difficult to work with, and Minor began to stop showing up for duty. Within a short amount of time he was diagnosed with "monomania," and sent back to DC to St. Elizabeth's Insane Asylum. Things got very bad. He became completely delusional, and when he was not masturbating, he was looking for Irishmen under the floorboards and rafters of his room.

After a long, sad trial in 1871, he was retired from the Army, with benefits. He then decided to leave the country, and sailed to England--with his gun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Madman/Union Officer- Part 2

One of the truths concerning the Union Army was that there were a goodly amount of Irish soldiers serving in it--about 150,000. The Second Brigade--the Irish Brigade--fought with great distinction at the Wilderness, along with the 28th Massachusetts and the 116th Pennsylvania, along with New York's Irish units, the 63rd, the 88th, and the 69th.

With this number if Irishmen, it follows that some of them would be among those who deserted during this time. The Emancipation Proclamation had made a subtle difference in the attitudes of many Union soldiers. Some of the soldiers were immigrants, and many were forced to work at low-paying jobs. Now it seemed those jobs might be taken from them by newly-freed African Americans. Perhaps it was in their best interests to go home and reclaim their previous employment!

The Union Army felt differently. It rounded up deserters, punishing many. Legally, deserters were to be shot, but in actuality, this punishment diminished Union numbers and weakened Union forces. Alternatives were sought, and one such alternative was branding. For some unknown reason, doctors were the officers employed to use the branding iron.

Soon enough, Doctor Minor drew branding duty. Facing the quiet, academic doctor was a young man in his twenties, dirty and disheveled, who pleaded for his dignity. Minor hesitated, then pressed the glowing iron into the young man's cheek. The prisoner's screams resounded throughout the camp. They also burned, as surely as did the brand, into Minor's mind.

A week or so later Minor was transferred to Alexandria, to work as a contract surgeon at the L'Overture Hospital, the Alexandria Hospital, and the Slough Hospital. He worked terribly hard, as if trying to shake off the memories of the Wilderness. By 1866 he had been promoted to the rank of Captain. Although the War was technically over, it was not over for the men who were still hospitalized by illness and wounds received in the conflict.

It was not over for Dr. Minor either.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Madman/ Union Officer-Part 1

In keeping with my efforts at October spookiness, I present Dr. William Chester Minor. This is the only image I could find of him, and it is taken much later in his life.

He was born in 1834 on the island of Ceylon/Sri Lanka. His parents were wealthy, and had decided to dedicate their lives to bringing Jesus to the natives in the form of the Congregationalist Church. When William was 14, his parents sent him back to the U.S. to continue his education. He was admitted to Yale (at 14!) and spent the next 6 years doing his undergraduate work.

He graduated from Yale when he was 20, and spent the next 9 years in an apprenticeship under the auspices of Yale Medical School. In 1863 he graduated a Doctor in Medicine with a specialization in comparative anatomy. He immediately applied to join the Union Army as a surgeon. The Civil War was well under way.

By November of 1863 he was sworn in as an acting assistant surgeon, but it was 6 months before he was sent to the scene of any battlefield. He was remembered as a sensitive, courteous man who read, painted watercolors and played the flute. In May, 1864, this gentle soul was sent to Orange County, Virginia to do medical battle in the Wilderness. A trial by fire, surely.

Soldiers were wounded, " . . . in every conceivable way, men with mutilated bodies, with shattered limbs and broken heads, men enduring their injuries with stoic patience, and men giving way to violent grief, men stoically indifferent, and men bravely rejoicing that--it is only a leg!" Into this living hell went Assistant Surgeon Minor, armed only with bloody rags and a bone saw.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight

I subscribe to Poem-A-Day, and this showed up not too long ago. I thought it appropriate now as well as when it was written. To those who wonder why some of us live the Civil War every day, this should be a small argument we can use to explain ourselves. October is a melancholy month.

Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight
(in Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state

That here at midnight, in our little town

A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,

Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards

He lingers where his children used to play,

Or through the market, on the well-worn stones

He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,

A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl

Make him the quaint great figure that men love,

The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.

He is among us:—as in times before!

And we who toss and lie awake for long,

Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.

Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?

Too many peasants fight, they know not why;

Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.

He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now

The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn

Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:

A league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,

Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that things must murder still,

That all his hours of travail here for men

Seem yet in vain. And who will bring quiet peace

That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Vachel Lindsey