My advice to Loudoun’s BOS: Fund historical markers, memorials can come later

I’ve mentioned the concerns expressed here in Loudoun County with respect to the Confederate memorial on the courthouse square (here and here).   Most I have spoken with, locally. have called for additions to the courthouse lawn …  and not removal of any memorials. Last week, Leesburg Today ran a story noting an initiative at the county level toward that end:

York To Push For Slave, Union Memorial At Courthouse

It’s looking more likely a remembrance of slaves sold on the Loudoun County courthouse steps could be coming to Leesburg.

County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said Monday that he would ask his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 2 to support placing such a memorial on the courthouse grounds.

The commemoration could also note the history of Loudoun residents who fought for the Union army in the Civil War, York said, or that bit of history could be memorialized in another way.

The chairman also said he will ask the supervisors to approve a contribution of $50,000 in county funds toward the cost of the memorial or memorials. The money would be donated only after the rest of the fundraising was complete, York said, in the same way that the county dedicated $50,000 toward the creation of a Revolutionary War statue, which is scheduled be placed on the courthouse grounds this Veterans Day….

The article goes on to discuss an effort, backed by the local NAACP branch, to place a Virginia State marker at the courthouse:

Phillip Thompson, the branch’s president, said Monday that he was pleased with York’s proposal, but he also noted that a lot of work still would need to be done before any memorial comes to fruition.

He met with York and other county government and community leaders Aug. 18, and he said that the NAACP and the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library’s Black History Committee will aim first to ask the Virginia Board of Historic Resources to approve the placing of a state historical marker at the courthouse noting the slave sales and Underground Railroad recognition.

“That’s an easier initial push,” Thompson said of the silver-and-black markers, which are generally placed along the sides of roads….

Certainly a positive step forward in all regards.

However, I would offer some observations from my seat.  Some background for those not from Loudoun is in order.  The Revolutionary War memorial mentioned by York is the product of a long running project that began in 1999.  To put a memorial up, the project needed $325,000. Not until 2012 did the project reach it’s halfway funding mark.  In December 2013, the county voted a $50,000 grant, the same figure proposed by York for the proposed slave memorial, to complete the project.  And the project will reach fruition nearly two years later when the memorial is dedicated on Veterans Day later this year.

And that effort serves as a good teaching point.  The memorial is indeed something the county will be proud of in the future.  It will fill a role, noticeably lacking, in the county’s historical landscape.  But it required a decade and a half, significant fundraising efforts, and (what I have not covered for brevity) a lot of discussions.  My point?  Memorials are good things, but they require long gestation periods and generous resource allocations.  Furthermore, memorials might not have firm “grounding” in the community, leaving them less effective.

On the other hand, I like options offered in this case – historical markers.  In fact, I would prefer that the funds be offered as grants towards historical markers.  Grants… as in plural.

My role as a member of the Loudoun County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee has given me some perspective on this.   Prior to the 150ths kicked off, there were twenty-seven historical markers, outside of those on the Balls Bluff battlefield, with substantial Civil War content.  During the sesquicentennial years, worked to place fifteen new markers in the county, an increase of over a third.  And there are two more “in the works.”  Of those markers, three (plus one of the pending markers) focused on unionist activity in Loudoun.  And three of the markers focused on wartime activity of slaves and free blacks, to include USCT.  That’s not counting the marker placed at the courthouse which, while trying to cram four years of wartime activity into 250 words, begins, “Before the war, the courthouse square was the location of slave auctions and militia recruiting activities.”

I don’t laud those achievements to say “our work is done.”  I bring those markers up to show, while progress has been made in public interpretation in the last five years there is much more to do.  For instance, we identified five other cemeteries which contained graves of USCT.  If we want to tell the complete story about Loudoun’s history, specific to the Civil War, and talk about slavery, then we should consider those sites for interpretation.

And that brings me back to that proposal from last week.  I’ve learned a lot in the last five years about how to use markers.  Likewise, I’ve learned some of the failings of memorials.  Not to say memorials are not needed.  Rather to say they are not always a good investment as compared to historical markers.  Going back to the Revolutionary War memorial, we see that will cost over $300,000.  Looking to the Mount Zion Cemetery marker featuring the USCT, that cost $2600.  The cemetery marker is part of a broader Virginia Civil War Trails system and thus is one in a larger, well-advertised, and established marker system.  And even more, the cemetery marker offers content which serves to educate where it stands.

I look at it this way – $50,000 would fund part of a memorial.  But $50,000 would go to fund almost twenty historical markers.  Those twenty markers would serve as direct educational products for the community.  If spent on such, that $50,000 would be an investment of sorts.  With placement those twenty markers could, by increasing community awareness and appreciation for the county’s history, pave the way for something substantial… perhaps on the courthouse lawn, though I’m thinking more so within the minds of the community.

A correction/clarification in regard to General Alfred Terry’s Command and the Tenth Corps

At several points when discussing the movements in North Carolina in March 1865, I have referenced General Alfred Terry’s command as “The Tenth Corps.”  Not so.  Terry’s command was not officially the Tenth Corps until later in the campaign.  I made a mistake when composing one of the first posts to mention that formation, forgetting to mention the lineage of the command.  Then continued to repeat the mistake for the “shorthand” reference of Terry’s command.  The two divisions that moved up the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad in mid-March 1865 were:

  • Second Division, Twenty-Fourth Army Corps, under Major-General Adelbert Ames.
  • Third Division, Twenty-Fifth Army Corps, under Major-General Charles Paine.

Up until April 2, Terry’s command was a provisional corps.  On April 2, Terry’s command was re-flagged the Tenth Corps, with those two divisions designated, respectively, Second and Third Divisions.

Confusing?   Let me double down on the confusion….

Tenth Corps was originally the field formation of the Department of the South. Major-General Quincy Gillmore brought it north in the winter/spring of 1864 to join the Army of the James.  As part of that formation, the corps participated in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and later the Petersburg Campaign.  When Gillmore was relieved, Terry took command of the corps (with a few leaves of absence through the fall of 1864 allowing Generals William T.H. Brooks, David Birney, and Adelbert Ames to log time as temporary commanders).

On December 3, 1864, General Orders No. 297 from the War Department disbanded the Tenth along with the Eighteenth Corps.  While the First and Second Divisions, Tenth Corps went to the Twenty-Fourth Corps largely unchanged, the Third Division was for all purposes broken up and sent to Second and Third Divisions, Twenty-Fifth Corps.   The Twenty-Fifth Corps, as USCT fans will recall, was constituted for the Colored Troops in Virginia and North Carolina.  Tracking thus far?  Hold on then.

Portions of the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Corps were assigned to Major-General Benjamin Butler’s Wilmington expedition in December 1864.  Terry held command of the Twenty-Fourth, and later, with Butler’s removal, assumed command of a Provisional Corps constituted of the troops operating against Wilmington.  That Provisional Corps included elements of both the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Corps… each of which still had divisions in Virginia!

Headache yet?  Well Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant had one.  These split corps were taxing on the staff process.  Imagine having to issue orders to a corps headquarters where divisions were dispersed in separate theaters.   On March 25, Grant wrote to Stanton noting the various units formed under Major-General John Schofield in North Carolina.  The Twenty-Third Corps, which Schofield brought east from Tennessee that winter, was already organized. General Jacob Cox was the selection to replace Schofield, who was moving up to Center Wing Commander, or Army of the Ohio as you might prefer.   However, Terry’s provisional command was a mix and match by that point.  Grant suggested that “Terry’s corps be called the Tenth.”

There was some consideration of moving First Division, Twenty-Fourth Corps to North Carolina, which would have begged another question about numbering corps.  But in the end, Grant’s simple suggestion to re-flag the corps won out.

Still confused?  Well, the explanation above just covers the “top tier” changes with divisions and corps.  The story below that level to the brigades and regiments is even more so.  That’s why in the margin of my notes there is an annotation, “Just call them the Tenth.”  I am glad the War Department kept track of all this… bureaucracy!

Having introduced the “New Tenth Corps,” let me briefly discuss the order of battle:

First Division of the Tenth Corps was commanded by Major-General Henry Birge and was largely used for garrisoning.  First Brigade remained at Morehead City and Second Brigade at Wilmington.  Only after March did Third Brigade, First Division move up to join the forces in the field.  And, to really illustrate mix-match arrangement below the division level, Third Brigade, First Division, Tenth Corps was originally Third Brigade, Second Division, Nineteenth Corps.  Colonel Nicholas Day commanded the brigade, constituted of the 24th Iowa, 38th Massachusetts, and 128th, 156th, 175th, and 176th New York Infantry.  The brigade also had 22nd Battery, Indian Light Artillery assigned.

Second Division, again commanded by Ames, had this order of battle:

  • First Brigade, Colonel Rufus Daggett.  3rd, 112th, 117th, and 142nd New York Infantry.
  • Second Brigade, Colonel William B. Coan (after April 5, Colonel John Littell).  47th and 48th New York; 76th, 97th, and 203rd Pennsylvania.
  • Third Brigade, Colonel Frederick Granger.  13th Indiana, 9th Maine, 4th New Hampshire, and 115th and 169th New York.
  • 16th Battery, New York Light Artillery.

Third Division, commanded by Paine also had three brigades:

  • First Brigade, Brigadier-General Delevan Bates.  1st, 30th, and 107th USCT.
  • Second Brigade, Brigadier-General Samuel Duncan. 4th, 5th, and 39th USCT.
  • Third Brigade, Colonel John Hollman (after April 22, Brigadier-General Albert Blackman).  6th, 27th, and 37th USCT.
  • Battery E, 3rd US Artillery.

Yes, the Third Division, Tenth Corps contained all-USCT infantry brigades, indicating it’s origins with the Twenty-Fifth Corps.

At the end of March 1865, Terry’s Provisional Corps included the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  That command went to Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s command, specifically the Third Brigade of that division, on April 4.  That left Terry, as of April 10, a force of just over 11,600 infantry and 375 artillery troops (within three batteries).

Provisional Corps, with divisions from the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Corps?  Or just Tenth Corps?  Or “Terry’s Command”?  Forgive me for an error of simplification in my earlier postings.

“The future of the race is a matter of serious moment”: Foster suggests conscription to fill USCT ranks

On February 2, 1865, Major-General John Foster, commanding the Department of the South, sent this letter to Major-General Henry W. Halleck, Army Chief of Staff in Washington:

Headquarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C., February 2, 1865.

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,  U.S. Army,
Chief of Staff, U. S. Armies:

General: The experience of the past few weeks has shown that volunteering among the colored men in this department is very slow and may not for a long time furnish the number so much needed for garrison and other duties. These men, just freed from long servitude, are, of necessity, ignorant and improvident. Their idea of liberty is exemption alike from work and care. The streets of Savannah are full of them, lying in the sun and waiting for bread without labor. Needing their services as soldiers, I respectfully ask that the Department will fix a quota for the States of South Carolina and Georgia, and allow me to fill it by conscripting the able-bodied young colored men, under such restrictions and exemptions as may be deemed most wise by the Department. Such as are imposed by the existing U.S. conscription law might be designated with an order that one-half or one-third of the number liable should be drafted. I have consulted with colored pastors on this subject and they agree with me in advising the proposed course. The future of the race is a matter of serious moment. Education is necessary to make freedom truly beneficial. The training of the army will do more to educate these men than any other scheme which can be devised; it will make them self-reliant and will develop their manhood. The camp is to-day the school-house of this race; it may be that in the future the soldierly training of these people will be their protection against local injustice, while the habits of care and economy so learned will make them self-supporting.

Alike, therefore, upon military and humane grounds, I ask the careful attention of the Department to the suggestions of this letter, and am, general,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. Foster,
Major-General, Commanding.

Let me offer this letter “as is” without a lot of context for now.  Just for the reader’s consideration.  I would point out that Foster’s suggestion of conscription follows in line with a similar practice followed by Major-General David Hunter in the spring of 1863.  That is to say, the conscription was as much a means to organize an unaffiliated population that was living within Federal lines.

What do you make of it?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 210.)

“Fighting for Freedom”: Marker dedication draws big crowd

Here was the view today as we dedicated and unveiled the Fighting for Freedom marker in Leesburg:


My rough count – over 200 people in attendance.  A number that is higher than almost every sesquicentennial event we’ve had in Loudoun County.  The only one I can recall with a larger attendance was the Balls Bluff reenactment.

This was significant in many ways.  We opened new public interpretation that highlights the service of African-Americans in the Civil War.  Before today, the only indications of that service were the veteran’s tombstones.  Now there is a marker pointing those out for visitors and residents alike.  That marker will serve the community as a focal point for discussing the African American experience during the Civil War… and I would add, this will be the first of more planned along that line.

When we look back at the sesquicentennial to assess the greater success or failure, I hope those making those judgments take into consideration events as we held today.  Is this not a good mark?


Fighting for Freedom: Leesburg’s newest Civil War marker, and first for the African-American contribution

Earlier this week, the Civil War Trails marker team installed this marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia:


The full text and location details are up at HMDB (of course!).  The entry also has photos of four veterans’ tombstones mentioned in the marker text.  There will be a dedication ceremony for this marker on September 6, details for I’ll post at a later date.

This marker is the fulfillment of a project I took up several years back. In 2011, Kristen Umstattd, Leesburg’s Mayor, asked if there were plans to highlight the experience of Leesburg’s African-American community as part of the sesquicentennial.  At the time I was not a member of the Loudoun County Sesquicentennial Committee, nor did I know of a “story” which we might highlight.  But the project was there.

When I joined the sesquicentennial committee in mid-2012, I went head-on for two marker projects – Edwards Ferry (which had my priority of effort due to timing considerations) and a USCT marker of some form.  Still, I didn’t have the “story” to serve as the grounding for that second project.  About the same time that Emanuel Dabney asked “…how have you incorporated their stories in your interpretation?” a news item provided the story I’d been looking for.  And not just “a” story, but a “great story” that fit into history of the community.  With that, I made the formal proposal to the committee for a marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery (that happening somewhat concurrently with the addition of Kevin Grigsby, who’s research was highlighted in that news story, in the committee).

Through the work of the committee as a whole, we’ve matured that project to a focal point – a dedication scheduled for the afternoon of September 6.  There are some important parts of that dedication – that will make this a really “big thing” – that I cannot relate at this point.  Suffice to say, this will be a good event to attend.  From our estimates, this may feature the largest attendance of any of the 150th marker dedications.

And let that sink in for a moment.  The sesquicentennial has occurred in a broad spectrum of colors.  There’s a lot more on the stage than was the case fifty years ago.  I think that is the best possible legacy we can hand over to those who will follow.  This marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery will be there long after the 150ths have faded from the headlines.  Tourists will see that “red star” on their tour maps and mentioned at travel information kiosks.  In short, it will serve a purpose.  And I do hope that we are able, with time and resources, to add more markers for the USCT veterans from Loudoun (see the map on the marker itself, as we have ample reason to add more interpretation).

One of my professors impressed upon me that good history is about “Three Ps” as he put them – People, Place, and Perspective.  With that marker, we have those three Ps.  And more importantly, a place where people can consider that perspective.

Again, please mark your calendars for September 6.  If you are in the area, you’ll want to attend this dedication, trust me!

“Two regiments of this command have not been paid”: Continuing inequality for the 54th Massachusetts

One-hundred and fifty years ago today (June 2), Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig took the time to write a letter, in a rather incredulous tone, bringing a situation regarding soldiers’ pay to his new department commander, Major-General John Foster:

Hdqrs. Northern District, Dept. of the South,
Folly Island, S.C., June 2, 1864.
Capt. W. L. M. Burger,
Asst. Adjt. Gen.,  Department of the South:

I consider it my duty to lay before the major-general commanding the fact that two regiments of this command have not been paid since they entered the service of the United States, now one year ago. This unhappy state of affairs seems to have been brought about by some misunderstanding between the United States and the State of Massachusetts in regard to colored troops. For this misunderstanding the enlisted men cannot be held responsible, and they consequently should not be made to suffer for it.

Letters have been constantly arriving for six months in these regiments, in which the wives of the enlisted men describe their sufferings and the sufferings of their families. Children have died because they could not be supplied with the proper food, and because the doctor could not be paid or medicines obtained from the druggist. Wives have proved untrue to their husbands and abandoned their offspring. Mothers advise their sons to throw down the musket and come home, it being impossible for them to live longer without their support. The effect of such letters on the minds of the enlisted men of these regiments may be easily imagined, and it reflects to the credit of the officers as well as the men that the efficiency of the regiments has not materially suffered under these trying circumstances.

I have ordered Col. A. S. Hartwell, of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers, to explain the case personally to the general commanding, and to beg the general to send him north in order to procure an order from the Paymaster-General for the payment of these regiments as soon as possible, upon the law to that effect being passed. Sending the colonel north for that purpose would at least have the certain effect of keeping the men quiet while awaiting his return, and of convincing them that something was being done on their behalf which would prove decisive, whereas now many of them do not believe they will ever receive any pay.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. Schimmelfennig,
Brigadier-General, Commanding District.

When the men of the 54th Massachusetts enlisted, the state promised them equal pay and bounties. Fourteen dollars a month does not sound like much today, but at least it recognized an equality between Massachusetts privates.  However, upon entering Federal service, where they men would receive pay from the federal government and not the state, the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of 1862 applied.  That act, not considering the full implementation of the USCT as combat troops, stated:

That persons of African descent, who under this law shall be employed, shall receive ten dollars per month and one ration, three dollars of which monthly pay may be in clothing.

This act was written and took effect before the Emancipation Proclamation.   It was implemented at a time when the government was only officially employing contrabands for non-combat duties.  By June 1864, the act was about eighteen months overtaken by events.  Thus the pay scene from the movie “Glory!” which I assume all are familiar with.  The 54th protested by refusing pay until made equal with the white soldiers with whom they shared the dangers of combat.

While some authorities felt the inequity in pay was acceptable, perhaps as a means to assuage the prejudices of some troops who were reluctant to serve with black troops.  Clearly Schimmelfennig did not feel that way.  While I cannot say the letter reflected an overall acceptance of the USCT by white commanders, it is another indication those in close proximity of the black troops had come to see them in a different light.

Later that spring, legislative action would address this issue in part, with Congress authorizing equal pay for freedmen who joined the USCT.  But that left open questions about back pay… and more importantly why escaped slaves would be paid less when performing the same duties.

(Schimmelfennig’s letter appears in OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 110-11.)

Wainwright’s Diary, May 1, 1864: “The army was never in better condition”

For Colonel Charles S. Wainwright and the rest of the Army of the Potomac 150 years ago, the waiting for the word was the preoccupation of the day:

Culpeper Court House, May 1, Monday.  We are still here but expecting orders hourly almost …. Things here look so very near a move that the chances are decidedly against our being in our present quarters for a regular Thursday entry in here this week.  Our sick were all sent off yesterday.  Burnside’s division of negroes has relieved the half of this corps on the railroad so that it will be here tomorrow.  The rest of Burnside’s command is near Rappahannock Station.  One division they say has not joined him yet.  So near as I can make out, Grant will start from here with about 125,000 men, including all Burnside’s corps and the cavalry.  One-third of the number are green troops, but there are only a few new regiments, and the army was never in better condition, take it altogether. The number stated, I am confident, is not over 5,000 out either way, as I have excellent means of knowing.  It is enough anyway; quite as many as Grant and Meade together can take care of, and properly used ought to be sure to use up Lee.  The weather continues very fine. The roads and all the country are just in the very best condition. Everyone here is in good spirits and those at home full of expectation.

The roads were fine.  The weather was fine.  But there was little to do but wait.

Several movies have depicted, at least briefly, the anxieties felt by soldiers during the “wait” for major operations.  For the World War II subjects, two such noteworthy films doing so, which I would guess most readers are familiar, are The Longest Day and A Bridge too Far.  In the latter movie, there is a scene where Sean Connery, playing Major-General Roy Urquhart, plays a round of golf the morning before his division jumped into Arnhem. That behavior reminds me, in my personal experience, of a commander who would practice fly-casting during the “waits.”  Anything to ease the anxiety and allow mental focus.  Keep in mind, as you consider the “wait,” these men were not just waiting for a train to arrive.  They were waiting for commencement of an activity in which many would perish or receive grievous wounds.  Hard to sit still with such as that hanging on the next order.

But an important difference between Wainwright of 1864 and Urquhart of 1944 lay in how much they knew of the operation.  Wainwright scarcely knew what road his batteries would march upon. While he could predict heavy fighting, he didn’t know where or when.  As one frequent contributor to this blog has remarked, Grant knew how to keep a secret!

Another important part of Wainwright’s observation on this day 150 years ago is the reference to Brigadier-General Edward Ferrero’s Fourth Division, Ninth Corps.  At the time Wainwright wrote the entry, Ferrero was quartered around Manassas, and relieving the Fifth Corps of responsibilities north of the Rappahannock along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.  Within days, those USCT regiments would move further south, then pick up the line of march to Germanna Ford.

I’ve written at length about the USCT (and 54th Massachusetts) present at Morris Island in the summer of 1863.  And I have always felt the deployment of those troops at that time provided the first “shock” to the Confederate leadership in regards to the “sable arm.”  But with the opening of the Overland Campaign, the presence of USCT on the line of march going south served a message to both Federal and Confederate.  There on the roads leading through Culpeper, over the Rapidan, and into the Wilderness were the very physical representation of the main purpose of the Civil War.  Emancipated men carrying arms into the fight.

(Citation from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, page 345.)