Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.

Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.


In the pantheon of the Lost Cause myth, Jefferson Davis has never figured very large. Lord knows his small but loyal following has tried, but the truth is, compared to Lee, Stuart and Stonewall, old Jeffie has never been a terribly sympathetic figure.  Suspicious of his generals, opinionated, prone to cronyism, holder of grudges and a whole host of other less than noble traits, Confederate sainthood has always been a hard sell for him.  Not that one can’t make a case for Davis as a leader: Jeff Davis had to contend with egotistical generals, petty politicians and innumerable problems with shortages of military supplies, manpower and money, and given the many limitations he faced, one could argue he handled them better than any other Southern leader would have.

Fort Monroe as it looked during the war.  After the war it became Jefferson Davis' Bastille.

Fort Monroe as it looked during the war. After the war it became Jefferson Davis’ Bastille

Then, when the end came for the Confederacy, virtually alone among all Southern leaders—including many who had fomented Secession far more aggressively than he—Davis was thrown in a dungeon to rot for several years, ostensibly to await trial for treason. Davis probably would have loved to have been put on trial; it would have given him a forum to argue that secession was legal and constitutional and that he had done nothing wrong.  This was exactly why the Federal authorities did not bring Davis to trial—not even under a military tribunal.  After spending four years and hundreds of thousands of lives to suppress the rebellion, the last thing anyone in the North wanted was to reopen the whole issue of states rights and secession, even in a show trial.

Jefferson Davis in durance vile.  Casemate No. 2.  Note the shackles.

Jefferson Davis in durance vile. Casemate No. 2. Note the shackles.

Davis remained in a casemate cell in Fort Monroe for several years after his capture.  His devoted wife Lavinia pleaded her husband’s case to whoever would listen, even to the Pope in Rome.  Eventually old Jeffie was set free and he retired to the Gulf Coast to write his memoirs and argue to the world that he was right all along and everyone else wrong.  If he weren’t so unsympathetic a character, one could well regard him as a tragic figure.

As it is, however, while Jefferson Davis was less than successful in life, in death he has succeeded admirably as a first class ghost. Moreover, a number of places where he once resided are widely known to be haunted.

Fort Monroe is technically in Virginia, but all through the war it was securely in Union hands and in fact is still an active army base.  It was here that Davis was confined after his capture, kept in shackles twenty-four hours a day in Casemate No.2.  Oddly, Jefferson Davis’ ghost has not been reported there but on the citadel’s ramparts, called the Terraplain.  On a moonlit night one may see the gaunt figure wandering beneath the flagpole that sits atop the walls, pacing to and fro, wishing to be free.  His wife, Varina, also haunts the old fort, in an apartment provided for her on the fortresses grounds.  The windows in that apartment have been known to rattle all of their own, the spectre of Varina expressing her frustration at her husband’s incarceration no doubt.

The "Confederate White House" in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War.  It too is haunted.

The “Confederate White House” in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War. It too is haunted.

The Davis’ previous residence in Richmond, sometimes called “The Confederate White House,” has also been reported haunted.  While one can never be entirely sure about these things, the haunting is thought to relate to the death of one of their children, who died in an accident during the war.

Yet another favorite haunt of the Rebel President is Beauvoir, overlooking Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.  It was here he and his wife retreated to after Davis was let loose in 1867 and where he wrote his lengthy and tendentious memoirs of his years heading the Secessionist government.  While some have seen apparitions here, the ghosts are mostly unseen, with occasional manifestations, such as a bust crying tears, or the eerie sense someone is following behind you as you tour the house.  There are also some ghosts in gray, who may be the shades of Confederate veterans who lived here in the years after Davis died.  Whatever one may say about Jefferson Davis, he has one virtue which a few more modern residents of his state may profitably emulate; at least he eventually stopped fighting the war.

Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.

Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.

Although it suffered greatly from Hurricane Katrina, Beauvoir has been restored and is again open to visitors and even if one has little sympathy for the Lost Cause, one should visit this token of another era, for here resided the last prisoner of the Late Unpleasantness. May he rest in peace—but I doubt it.

For more about the hauntings of Jefferson Davis and his wife, as well as other true supernatural doings regarding the Civil War, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for documented paranormal phenomena regarding Lincoln, see The Paranormal Presidency.  For authentic accounts of Civil War ghosts in the Mid South, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.



Posted in Beauvoir, Civil War ghosts, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Fort Monroe, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Great American Presidents, Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Future: George Washington’s Prophetic Vision

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge, where Washington foresaw the Civil War.

Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge, where Washington foresaw the Civil War.

At first blush, anything to do with George Washington may seem to have little connection with the Civil War. Yet there is more than one incident in which Washington, or some spectral entity resembling him, influenced the outcome of events relating to the Late Unpleasantness.  In this first entry about George Washington and the Civil War, we will look at an obscure incident from the American Revolution which uncannily fore- shadows, not only the Civil War, but perhaps both world wars as well.  For a fuller account about Washington and the Civil War, however, I refer you to Chapter 16 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

One of he early publications of Washington's Vision.

One of he early publications of Washington’s Vision.

Let us go back to the winter of 1777, the “year of the three sevens” and the time when the Revolution almost collapsed. It was a starving time for Washington’s army at Valley Forge: the troops were ill fed, ill clothed and freezing in their hovels.  The Continental Congress, as Congress does today, did nothing to help.  The troops were not being paid and on the verge of mutiny.  It against this background that Washington’s prophetic vision at Valley Forge should be understood.

Our sole source for this incident was a soldier named Anthony Sherman. His account was first published in the 1840’s in an obscure journal now unobtainable.  Fortunately, his account was reprinted after the Civil War in the National Tribune, a newspaper published for the benefit of Union veterans, mainly to enable them to get pensions from the Federal Government.  As with the VA today, veterans were often frustrated dealing with the government they had defended and fought, died or were disabled protecting.  His account, having been told well before the Civil War, gains additional credibility thereby.

Sherman (no relation to the general) was an ordinary soldier, posted to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge at the time.  One day, General Washington emerged from his private quarters, where he had been alone for some time.  Emerging visibly shaken, he began to relate what he had experienced to a trusted aide (Sherman does not say whom, but it was likely Alexander Hamilton). Sherman was close enough to the two to hear what Washington said, and what the general had to say remained seared in Sherman’s memory.

What he allegedly heard (he was in his nineties when related it to a reporter, who apparently embellished on the tale a bit) was that Washington, alone at the time, was in his office praying.  Washington was not an overly religious, being a product of the enlightenment, when most educated gentlemen regarded God (if they regarded him at all) as a sort of divine “clock-maker” who wound up the universe and then stood back and watched it move on its own.  However, the winter of 1777-78 was “the time that tries men’s souls” and that winter Washington if fact prayed quite a bit for divine guidance.  On this occasion, it seems, his prayers were answered–perhaps.

Washington's office at Valley Forge, where a "singularly beautiful being" appeared to him.

Washington’s office at Valley Forge, where a “singularly beautiful being” appeared to him.


Washington was in his office, alone, when he became aware of a presence in the room.  It was, “a singularly beautiful being,” with whom the general tried to communicate.  After he addressed the figure several times, she finally responded.  The room’s walls seemed to disappear and his surroundings became luminous.

      ‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ she said to Washington, and then spread out her hand in a sweeping gesture several times.  Each time an angelic being dipped water from the ocean and cast it over the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.  On the third such cast “from Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land,” Sherman heard Washington say.  There followed visions of war and destruction, the blasting of trumpets and other scenes which seemed to presage war and ultimate victory.  Clearly, at least part of this version related to the Civil War.  This was, at least, how the reporter interpreted it.

Not surprisingly, ever since this account was first published, there have been professional debunkers ever eager to disprove its veracity. One industrious researcher located the records of a young officer of the Revolution and triumphantly announced the story a fake, because the Anthony Sherman in question had been at Saratoga and not at Valley Forge.  Of course, debunkers always go for pat answers and the fact that there very well may have been more than one soldier named Sherman in service during the American Revolution never entered his closed mind.

When dealing with prophecy of any sort, we are always dealing with a two edged sword; they are generally committed to paper years after the events have come true and when based on only one reporter’s account it is easy enough to discount. Moreover, prophecies are rarely clear declarative statements: they are more often clothed in vivid imagery and language capable of multiple meanings.  In this case, while another version of the prophecy seems to have been previously published well before the war, that original publication, like many early American periodicals, has not survived.  The earliest extant publication is by the erstwhile Philadelphia journalist and dates to the eve of the Civil War, when many such prophecies about the onset of war were in the air.

This is as far as most previous researchers are willing to relate of Washington’s vision.  But in fact, the account as published on the eve of war related far more than just the onset of the Civil War.  For one thing, “the singularly beautiful being” also says to Washington, ‘Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.’ If this were just propaganda meant for the northern public on the eve of Civil War, why would it refer to future generations?

Moreover, this beatific being also interprets the visions he has seen thusly: ‘Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted. Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her.’

While the first conflict she mentions is easily dismissed as the Civil War, the second and third are not. While one can put whatever spin on them one wants, it takes no Nostradamus to interpret the second and third “perils” as the two world wars, and the third conflict in particular as World War II, which was indeed the “greatest conflict” and where indeed for a time it seemed the Axis Powers would take over the “whole world.”  The professional debunkers of this prophecy conveniently leave out these parts of the prophecy, which clearly do not fit their smug theories and which, if they do not “prove” it, certainly give the story greater credibility to the modern reader.

As to the “singularly beautiful being,” several theories have been proposed as to who she was: some say the apparition was the Virgin Mary, who has been known to appear and deliver prophecies in that manner; more recently, the show Ancient Aliens theorized that she was an Alien (of course). The 1859 version makes no such assertions, so the reader is left to add their speculations to the others.

Of course, as with any prophecy, one is free to believe or disbelieve, or to interpret it as one wishes. As for me, I believe.

For more uncanny tales of the Civil War and the South, see Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Posted in George Washington, Great American Presidents, Prophecy and the Civil War, The American Civil War, The American Revolution, Valley Forge, Washington's Prophetic Vision | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



"Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he."

“Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he.”

Having just spent several years researching the wartime career of Ambrose Bierce, famous short story writer, Civil War soldier and aficionado of the bizarre and supernatural, readers will forgive me if, from time to time I discuss one or another of his tales as they relate to the Civil War.  A number more such posts will be forthcoming when my biography of Bierce’s wartime career actually comes close to appearing in print.  For now, however, let me just discuss one story that I believe actually happened.

As with many of Bierce’s pieces it is short—or more properly, as long as it needs to be. One reason perhaps why Ambrose Bierce is less appreciated today than formerly is that he did not like to write rambling, pointless character pieces drawn out into hundreds of pages—what passes for “literary fiction” these days—and the novel format of writing in general left him cold.  That he often compressed a book’s worth of writing into a short story has not been generally been appreciated by modern critics, although it was by the likes of H. L. Mencken and Earnest Hemingway.

This particular story, “A Baffled Ambuscade,” is generally classed as a short story and feel free to appreciate it as such. But the details in it are factual: at the time this story takes place–after Stones River but before the Tullahoma Campaign–the Third Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was indeed posted to Readyville, Tennessee.  The Official Records contain numerous reports of patrol actions by the regiment, especially along the Readyvill-Woodbury turnpike; even the commander mentioned in the story, Major Seidel, was a real person.  This much can be verified.  Did the ghost of Trooper Dunning actually perform as described?  Here the official record falls silent and we must rely solely on the word on one who was there.

For more true Civil War ghost stories, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for the best and most complete anthology of Bierce’s short stories, I recommend, S. T. Joshi’s The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce, (three volume set) put out by the University of Tennessee Press.  Joshi et al, have done much primary research on Bierce and his writings, and S. T. Joshi is currently busy compiling a definite collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s writings.


A Baffled Ambuscade

Ambrose Gwinnet Bierce


Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard turnpike nine or ten miles long. Readyville was an outpost of the Federal army at Murfreesboro; Woodbury had the same relation to the Confederate army at Tullahoma. For months after the big battle at Stone River these outposts were in constant quarrel, most of the trouble occurring, naturally, on the turnpike mentioned, between detachments of cavalry. Sometimes the infantry and artillery took a hand in the game by way of showing their goodwill.

One night a squadron of Federal horse commanded by Major Seidel, a gallant and skillful officer, moved out from Readyville on an uncommonly hazardous enterprise requiring secrecy, caution and silence.

Passing the infantry pickets, the detachment soon afterward approached two cavalry videttes staring hard into the darkness ahead. There should have been three.

“Where is your other man?” said the major. “I ordered Dunning to be here tonight.”

“He rode forward, sir,” the man replied. “There was a little firing afterward, but it was a long way to the front.”

“It was against orders and against sense for Dunning to do that,” said the officer, obviously vexed. “Why did he ride forward?”

“Don’t know, sir; he seemed mighty restless. Guess he was skeered.”

When this remarkable reasoner and his companion had been absorbed into the expeditionary force, it resumed its advance. Conversation was forbidden; arms and accoutrements were denied the right to rattle. The horses tramping was all that could be heard and the movement was slow in order to have as little as possible of that. It was after midnight and pretty dark, although there was a bit of moon somewhere behind the masses of cloud.

Two or three miles along, the head of the column approached a dense forest of cedars bordering the road on both sides. The major commanded a halt by merely halting, and, evidently himself a bit “skeered,” rode on alone to reconnoiter. He was followed, however, by his adjutant and three troopers, who remained a little distance behind and, unseen by him, saw all that occurred.

After riding about a hundred yards toward the forest, the major suddenly and sharply reined in his horse and sat motionless in the saddle. Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he. The major’s first feeling was that of satisfaction in having left his cavalcade behind; if this were an enemy and should escape he would have little to report. The expedition was as yet undetected.

Some dark object was dimly discernible at the man’s feet; the officer could not make it out. With the instinct of the true cavalryman and a particular indisposition to the discharge of firearms, he drew his saber. The man on foot made no movement in answer to the challenge. The situation was tense and a bit dramatic. Suddenly the moon burst through a rift in the clouds and, himself in the shadow of a group of great oaks, the horseman saw the footman clearly, in a patch of white light. It was Trooper Dunning, unarmed and bareheaded. The object at his feet resolved itself into a dead horse, and at a right angle across the animal’s neck lay a dead man, face upward in the moonlight.

“Dunning has had the fight of his life,” thought the major, and was about to ride forward. Dunning raised his hand, motioning him back with a gesture of warning; then, lowering the arm, he pointed to the place where the road lost itself in the blackness of the cedar forest.

The major understood, and turning his horse rode back to the little group that had followed him and was already moving to the rear in fear of his displeasure, and so returned to the head of his command.

“Dunning is just ahead there,” he said to the captain of his leading company. “He has killed his man and will have something to report.”

Right patiently they waited, sabers drawn, but Dunning did not come. In an hour the day broke and the whole force moved cautiously forward, its commander not altogether satisfied with his faith in Private Dunning. The expedition had failed, but something remained to be done.

In the little open space off the road they found the fallen horse. At a right angle across the animal’s neck face upward, a bullet in the brain, lay the body of Trooper Dunning, stiff as a statue, hours dead.

Examination disclosed abundant evidence that within a half hour the cedar forest had been occupied by a strong force of Confederate infantry–an ambuscade.


Library of Congress original source

Equine casualty of war, dead on battlefield

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Stone's River, Chickamauga, Civil War ghosts, Civil War History, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Third Ohio Cavalry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE JINGLING HOLE: Uncivil War in Appalachia

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds.  Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds. Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.


With Halloween fast approaching, our Civil War tales will be leaning more heavily to the supernatural side than normal, not that any time of the year isn’t a good time for a ghost story. Some years back, I published the tale of the Jingling Hole and now seems a good time to renew our acquaintance with that offering.  The full story, of course, you can read in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Those readers from “up nawth” may be unfamiliar with the fact that there was actually a civil war within the Civil War in the South.  After the Late Unpleasantness, the former Confederates who became spinners of the Lost Cause myth managed to bury the fact that there were many Southerners vehemently opposed to Secession in 1861 and that they resisted it, often at extreme peril to themselves and their families.

This was true, not only in East Tennessee, but western Virginia, North Carolina, and in several pockets of Unionism in West Tennessee, northern Alabama and Mississippi.  While most of these Southern Unionists had no love for Abolitionism, they did have a strong patriotic devotion to the nation.  For example, during the second vote on secession Johnson County in East Tennessee was 787 to 111 against. Their stories have largely been overlooked, although in recent years some have finally been coming to light.

This civil war within the Civil War was often vicious; both sides often gave no quarter in fighting and contrary to the fallacy of the Chivalrous South, the Confederate government also made war on women and children in its efforts to suppress the Loyalists who resisted them.  In fairness, the Unionist often retaliated in kind.  It was a very, very ugly time, especially in Appalachia, where this particular ghost story occurs.

In one district of East Tennessee, the guerilla war by Unionists against the Confederates became so bitter that the district became known as “The Bloody Third.”  The killing didn’t stop with the end of the war either; the memory of wartime atrocities led to enduring feuds between neighbors for decades after the war.

There was a particular spot in this district that had a vertical cave opening, a “bottomless pit” as it were.  Whether it was the Unionist guerillas or their Confederate opponents who first thought of putting an iron bar across the opening isn’t known; apparently both sides used the pit—called the Jingling Hole.

A captured enemy would be taken to the hole and then at gunpoint forced into it, with only the iron bar to hold onto until his strength gave out and he fell to his death.  As time went on, the combatants improved on the sport and would stomp or shoot at the condemned man’s hands, forcing him to shift back and forth to avoid the attacker.  In the process the prisoner’s spurs would make a jingling sound as he squirmed to avoid the assault—hence the nickname “The Jingling Hole.”

After the war, the use of this pit as a place of torture and execution stopped; the jingling didn’t.  For years afterwards, anyone passing by on a dark night might hear an uncanny sound, like jingling spurs, coming from the direction of the pit.  If you were brave enough to go investigate, there was inevitably nothing to see.

To the best of my knowledge, the Jingling Hole is still there near Mountain City and maybe some locals could take you to the exact spot.  But I doubt you will convince them to go.

For more Civil War stories, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, while for more tales of Tennessee haints and hauntings read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla.  Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla. Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

Posted in "The Bloody Third" in East Tennessee, Civil War ghosts, Civil War in East Tennessee, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Halloween, The American Civil War, The Jingling Hole, the Paranormal, Unionist Guerillas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Medium and the Message: the Evidence for Lincoln’s Encounters with Psychics.

Originally posted on Dixie Spirits blog:

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.


I must first apologize for being remiss of late in updating the Late Unpleasantness.  I’m afraid like many, the summer heat has made me lax–that and having the house torn up with a major renovation–so my various files and notes are every which way for now.  Of course I am not solely guilty of this venial sin: August is traditionally a month when nothing gets done in publishing.  I am still awaiting final approval from one publisher n one book and I have been querying agents left and right (or write) for my latest manuscript.  With summer waning into fall, however, it is time to get caught up.  Halloween is just around the corner after all.

This outing let us delve a little into a much neglected aspect of Abraham Lincoln: his…

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Captain Aldrich and the “Dance of Death”

Statue to USCT troops in the Battle of Nashville by sculptor Roy Butler

Statue to USCT troops in the Battle of Nashville by sculptor Roy Butler

The 17th Infantry, United States Colored Troops, was initially organized in the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the fall of 1863, soon after the Battle of Chickamauga. It began by recruiting a combination of local “contrabands,” some 300 like minded Blacks from Alabama, plus additional free Negro volunteers from Ohio. Despite the need for fresh troops at the front, however, the 17th remained in the Middle Tennessee region, serving as garrison troops and then on duty with the quartermaster in Nashville. Throughout most of 1864 they were mostly on rear echelon duty, guarding the commissary warehouses in Nashville and likely also used for manual labor by the Federal Quartermaster. Despite being assigned minor duties, everything indicates that the regiment was well trained and was both willing and able to perform combat duties.
As autumn edged towards winter, the need for combat troops to defend Nashville grew. As Sherman embarked on his pillaging expedition through Georgia, he left General George Thomas to fend off the Confederate Army of Tennessee with whatever troops Uncle Billy deemed unfit for the march. The 17th was soon brigaded with other Negro troops into the 1st Colored Brigade under Colonel Thomas J. Morgan, who described the regiment as “an excellent regiment…under a brave and gallant officer.”
The regimental commander in question was Colonel Shafter, who was described as, “cool, brave, and a good disciplinarian.” One of the regiment’s company commanders was Captain Job Aldrich and Colonel Shafter’s brother-in-law. Although the Confederates had besieged Nashville for nearly two weeks, everyone in The Army of the Cumberland knew it was merely a matter of time before General Thomas would give the order to attack and raise the siege. That moment came on December 14, 1864. At last the Negro Volunteers, long relegated to backwater assignments and menial jobs, would be given their chance to fight for freedom.

Negro troops during the Battle of Nashville

Negro troops during the Battle of Nashville

While many faced the coming fight with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, Captain Aldrich’s mood was entirely different from the rest. Something had come over him: a realization that in the coming fight he would most certainly die. His feeling was not unique. During the war, many men on both sides experienced what they called a presentiment—an intuitive awareness of their forthcoming death. Comrades could argue till they were blue in the face, but when a man had such a presentiment, nothing could be done—and such intuitions inevitably proved true.
So it was with Captain Aldrich on the eve of the Battle of Nashville. His sister in law happened to be in the city at the time, and to her he gave his personal effects, to give to his wife after his death. Then Job sat down and wrote a farewell letter to his beloved wife Ann. Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” After expressing his love and reflecting on the happiness they had shared, Aldrich closed, saying:
“The clock strikes one, goodnight. At five the dance of death begins around Nashville. Who shall be partners in the dance? God only knows. Echo alone answers who? Farewell.”
General Thomas planned to launch what today would be called in football a “Hail Mary” strategy: he put overwhelming force into an attack on the Confederate’s left flank, an attack which would steamroller the enemy and roll up their entire line of fortifications. In the coming battle, the 17th USCT was given an important but hazardous assignment. They and their fellow regiments of the 1st Colored Brigade were placed on the far right flank of the Confederate line to launch a diversionary attack. If all went as planned, the Rebels would draw off their best troops from the left to deal with this threat to their right.
On December 15, 1864, despite an early morning fog, the big guns of Fort Negley and the other Union emplacements boomed out, signaling the beginning of the battle. The brigade began from a point close to the river, advancing across a cornfield towards the Rebel lines. The night before Colonel Morgan had scouted the area and believed they faced nothing more serious than a line of rifle pits.
They swept over the Rebel rifle pits with little trouble, but as they moved south of the Murfreesboro Pike and approached the railroad cut of the Nashville & Chattanooga RR, they suddenly encountered heavy resistance. Morgan and his men did not know it, but they had come up against Cleburne’s Division, one of the most experienced and toughest units of the Confederate army. General Cleburne had died at the Battle of Franklin, but his men were still full of fight. Screened by a line of woods, parts of several brigades of the division were lying in ambush, supported by a battery of four cannon protected by a lunette emplacement.
The well disciplined men of the 17th advanced in broad lines, as if on parade. They began crossing the tracks of the cut, thinking the enemy had fled. The Rebs opened up when the Federals were only 30 yards from them. The Johnnies poured round after round of canister from Granbury’s Lunette into the Colored Volunteers at virtually point blank range, while withering volleys exploded in the Federals faces. In a matter of minutes, 825 Union soldiers lay dead in or near the railroad cut. They had succeeded in diverting the enemy right, but at a terrible price.
Captain Aldrich was leading his men across the tracks when Cleburne’s elite troops opened fire. A bullet struck Aldrich in the head and he fell dead. As Aldrich had forewarned, the Dance of Death had found its chosen partner.

Rick Reeves painting, Pride  Over Prejudice, showing USCT troops guarding captured Rebels after the Battle of Nashville

Rick Reeves painting, Pride Over Prejudice, showing USCT troops guarding captured Rebels after the Battle of Nashville

For more uncanny events of the Civil War, read Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

Posted in Civil War Christmas, Civil War ghosts, Civil War Historians, Civil War History, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Nashville, Nashville Ghosts and Haunts, Presentiments, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, The Battle of Nashville, the Paranormal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

John Basil Turchin: The Ukrainian Thunderbolt

Ivan Vasiliyevich Turchinoff, better known as General John Basil Turchin. the "Russian Thunderbolt," was actaually from the Don region of the Ukraine.

Ivan Vasiliyevich Turchinoff, better known as General John Basil Turchin. the “Russian Thunderbolt,” was actaually from the Don region of the Ukraine.

>With war and rebellion in Russia and Ukraine in the news lately, it seems timely to relate the case of one of the Civil War’s more interesting figures: John Basil Turchin, aka Ivan Vasiliyevich Turchenoff (Ива́н Васи́льевич Турчани́нов), but known to his contemporaries as “The Russian Thunderbolt.”
John/Ivan has the distinction of being the only known officer in the Union army to hail from what was then Imperial Russia—and to attain the rank of general in the US Army. Of Irish and German immigrants who became officers and generals during the war, there were plenty: even a few French and Italian; but Slavic commanders in general were few and far between and from Russia, none save Turchin/Turchinoff, to the best of my knowledge.
Actually, Turchin was strictly speaking not Russian but Ukrainian. Back in the 1860’s, there was no independent Ukraine, however, even though it was an older nation than Russia proper. Originally, there was Kievan Rus and to their north lay the Duchy of Moscow; somewhere along the line the Muscovites appropriated the name Rus and called themselves Russians, but it originally referred solely to the Kingdom based in the Ukraine.
Turchinoff was born in the Don region of the Ukraine, which these days does not flow so gently, on January 30, 1822. Ivan graduated from the Imperial Military School in St. Petersburg in 1841 and eventually rose to become a colonel in the Imperial Guard. During the Crimean War (or should I say the First Crimean War?) Ivan served on the personal staff of the Crown Prince—later Czar Alexander II. Turchinoff also supervised the construction of Finnish coastal defenses for the Imperial Crown, which was hailed as the most advanced of their day.
In 1856, Ivan emigrated to the United States with his wife Nadine, at which point he Americanized his name. Nadya (or Nadine) Turchinoff (born Nadezhda Antonina L’vova)—or simply Madame Turchin—had been the daughter of Ivan’s commanding officer in the Imerial Army and was quite a forceful personality in her own right. She was what used to be called a “daughter of the regiment”—an army brat in modern usage. She was raised in a military environment and was as much a stickler for military spit and polish as her husband proved to be. During the Civil War, in fact, at one point Colonel Turchin fell ill and was unable to command in person. Nadine stepped in and led his regiment in his absence, marching at the head of the column.
When the war broke out Turchin, a civil engineer with the Illinois Central Railroad volunteered his services. He had already organized a volunteer militia company which had put on drill demonstrations in the Chicago area. Turchin became colonel of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry and trained its recruits in the methods he learned in the Imperial Russian army. Turchin was known for strict discipline and had the reputation as a relentless drillmaster. By all accounts, however, his men did not resent the spit and polish of his regime; in fact it became a source of pride for the 19th Illinois.
Colonel Turchin and his regiment became part of the Army of the Ohio, commanded by General Don Carlos Buell. Part of Mitchell’s division initially, his command missed the Battle of Shiloh, being dispatched southward towards Huntsville instead. After Shiloh and the Corinth Campaign, however, the entire army was ordered to do line of communications repair work as they slowly moved westward to occupy Chattanooga.
The army never got there however: the still undefeated Confederate army lay just south of the Western and Atlantic rail line and began an incessant series of raids and attacks against Buell’s men. The Army of the Ohio was now dispersed in small units all along the line and not only subject to cavalry raids by regular Rebel units but also to vicious attacks by guerillas and small groups of civilian “bushwhackers.” After one such incident near Athens, Alabama, on May 2, 1862, the 19th pillaged the town, and incident subsequently called, rather dramatically, “the Rape of Athens.”
In fact, no white women were raped, no buildings were destroyed and only few merchants, believed to have supplied the bushwhackers with arms and ammo, were out some of their goods. On black slave was allegedly attacked by Union soldiers near the city, but it was apparently not the work of the Turchin’s men. Turchin did not actually give orders to pillage the town, although Turchin allegedly told his men, “I close mine eyes for two hours.”
Many in the Army, frustrated by the guerilla attacks, the civilian saboteurs and the random bushwhackers shooting at them, felt that the 19th Illinois’ reprisal was fully justified. General Buell didn’t see it that way, however. He brought Turchin up on charges, including “neglect of duty” (allowing his men to pillage the business district of Athens) which included the “utter decimation of Bibles and testaments, ruthlessly destroyed and burned to pieces in a shop.” A second charge of “failure to perform proper behavior expected out of an officer and a gentleman” was also lodged against him, which apparently included the failure to pay a hotel bill. Finally, a third charge of “failure to obey orders,” was brought against Turchin, which was apparently related to Colonel Turchin allowing his wife to accompany him in the field, something expressly forbidden by Buell.
During the court marshall, Turchin did not directly deny those part of the charges relating to his retaliation against civilian bushwhackers and saboteurs. “I have tried to teach rebels that treachery to the Union was a terrible crime,” he responded. “My superior officers do not agree with my plans. They want the rebellion treated tenderly and gently. They may cashier me, but I shall appeal to the American people and implore them to wage this war in such a manner as will make humanity better for it.”
It was during this same period that Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story “Incident at Owl Creek Bridge” is set. While the story was fiction, the background behind it was quite real; more than one local planter received a drum head court martial and execution at the hands of the Yankees at the time.
In fact, compared to what Sherman’s Army of Tennessee would later do during the March to the Sea, the treatment of Athens, Alabama, by Turchin’s men was relatively mild. Nonetheless, General Buell had Turchin court marshaled and he was to be cashiered from the army.
There were many in the army at the time who viewed Buell’s concern over protecting the property of persons who were actively aiding and abetting the rebellion—including returning their runaway slaves—to be far too lenient treatment of the enemy. They called for far harsher prosecution of the war against the rebels.
Moreover, one thing General Buell did not take into consideration in his court marshal of Colonel Turchin, was John’s wife Nadine. She went to Washington to plead her husband’s case directly to the President of the United States. Not only did Lincoln re-instate Turchin, but promoted him to brigadier general. This act not only signaled Turchin’s rising military career, it also marked the decline of Buell’s influence in the eyes of the Lincoln administration.

Assault on Missionary Ridge.  General Turchin';s brigade was one of the firs to reach the summit and defeat the Rebel.

Assault on Missionary Ridge. General Turchin’;s brigade was one of the firs to reach the summit and defeat the Rebel.

General Turchin went on to fight bravely at Chickamagua, during the night landing at Brown’s Ferry to raise the siege of Chattanooga and later leading his men up the slopes at Missionary Ridge, where his troops being among the first to reach the summit. Turchin also distinguished himself in the Atlanta Campaign. He amply earned his epithet “the Russian Thunderbolt,” although, as we’ve seen, today we should more aptly call him the Ukrainian Thunderbolt.

Posted in Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge, Atlanta, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, General John Turchin, Ivan Vasiliyevicch Turchinoff, The Russian Thunderbolt, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

For Lincoln and Liberty Too: The Hutchinson Family Singers and Social Reform on the eve of the Civil War

The Hutchinson Family singers were influential and popular with both the public and critics.

The Hutchinson Family singers were influential and popular with both the public and critics.

In the years leading up to the Civil War there were a number of reform movements which were stirring throughout the country. Abolitionism was the most notable and vociferous, but by no means the only one. Moreover, many of those who advocated the immediate abolition of slavery were often involved in other movements, social, political or spiritual.

It may come as a surprise to some that the early Republican Party had a very strong Socialist tinge to it. The early Utopian colonies that popped up around the early Republic often combined a communitarian economic program with religious beliefs, racial equality and sexual equality. After the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe failed to overthrow the old monarchies, many Socialist revolutionaries in the Old World fled to the America to begin their lives anew. Here in the U.S. they found congenial company among these native reform movements and particularly among Abolitionist and Free Soil groups. In fact, Socialism, in various forms, was very much a mainstream movement in the North. The leading newspaper leading up to the Civil War, The New York Tribune, was unabashedly Socialist in its editorial orientation; up until 1862, Karl Marx was a regular correspondent for the paper and his columns were widely read by political reformers, Lincoln included.

Other reform movements traveled hand in hand with Abolitionism as well, foremost among them Spiritualism. Formally begun in upstate New York in the 1840’s it quickly spread throughout the US and even too Europe. Begun by the Fox sisters, whose house had begun to experience poltergeist like phenomena, their method of communicating with the alleged spirits soon became all the rage. Their novel method of divination, however, did not arise in a vacuum; the region from whence they came was called the “Burnt Over District” because so many radical religious and political reform movements originated there and spread outward from there, much like wildfire. Moreover, the oldest of the Fox sisters, Leah, was already a devotee of the visionary writer and reformer, Andrew Jackson Davis, whose writings were certainly familiar to Abraham Lincoln.

Women speaking in public, much less leading a movement, were something virtually unheard of before the Fox sisters and their success spurred other women so inclined to also enter the public forum. That early Feminism should march hand in hand with Spiritualism, therefore, should come as much of a surprise and the two movements had quite a few joint adherents, some quite influential politically.  Often those active in those movements were also militant Abolitionists.

Enter the Hutchinson Family Singers of Vermont. Although virtually forgotten today, they were tremendously popular in the decades before the war—although certainly not in the South. The Hutchinsons were the equivalent of The Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez and the early Bob Dylan all rolled into one. (If you are too young to know who those singers are, go to You Tube and get educated.)

The Hutchinsons were unabashedly in favor of Abolitionism but were also adherents of Spiritualism, worker’s rights and were also supportive of Feminism. About 1858, sister Abby Hutchinson was invited by Susan B. Anthony to attend a Women’s Rights Anniversary to be held in Mozart Hall in New York City, the Carnegie Hall of the pre-war era. It is uncertain whether Abby was well enough to perform, but some of the family certainly did, singing a ditty called, “Right Over Wrong.” The Hutchinsons also wrote at least one song in favor of Spiritualism as well.

In 1859, John Brown capped his career as a militant Abolitionist with his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Less well known is the fact that John Hutchison had friends who helped plan and finance the raid, and that he knew John Brown personally.

It is not known whether Lincoln actually heard the Hutchinson Family Singers perform but is almost certain he met one or another of the family, either during one of their concert tours to Washington, DC, when he was in Congress, or during one of their Midwestern tours. As popular as they were, and given their political orientation, Lincoln would undoubtedly have been aware of them. Their most notable achievement was during the Election campaign of 1860 when they wrote and performed “For Lincoln and Liberty Too.” Some historians claim that this militant and still performed song was what gave Lincoln the edge in the four way election of 1860. While that assertion may be hard to prove, the song certainly motivated many people to go out and vote for Lincoln who may otherwise have stayed home.

The Hutchinsons worked very hard for the Lincoln Campaign. John Hutchinson compiled two campaign songbooks the Connecticut Wide-Awake Songster and Hutchinsons Republican Songster for the Campaign of 1860. After the election, when Lincoln was journeying to Washington, he had a layover in Jersey City and it so happened that John Hutcinson’s troupe was there; they gave an impromptu performance from their hotel balcony to the President elect, repurposing their song “Right Over Wrong” for the occasion.

The Hutchinson’s political influence did not stop with Lincoln’s election; when war came, as many knew it would, the Hutchinsons performed patriotic concerts which bolstered the morale of the North. Some of their songs had a definite religious tinge to the political message, such as “Good Times Coming:”

Behold the day of promise comes, full of inspiration
The blessed day by prophets sung for the healing of the nation
Old midnight errors flee away, they soon will all be gone
While heavenly angels seem to say the good time’s coming on

Music may not win any wars, but it has the power to persuade and during 1860 and after, the Hutchinson Family Singers certainly persuaded many.

For more about Lincoln’s connection with Spiritualism, see Chapters 14 & 15 of The Paranormal Presidency.

Posted in Abolitonism, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Seances, Spiritualism, The American Civil War, The Hutchinson Family Singers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

General Winter: A Deadly Presence

Looking for survivors on the battlefield.  Many men who could have survived, froze to death after the battle

Looking for survivors on the battlefield. Many men who could have survived, froze to death after the battle

During the Battle of Nashville, in December of 1864, a brigadier sent an urgent message to his divisional headquarters: “please relieve me;” the dispatch read, “I am suffering from an attack of General Debility.” The dispatch was met with some derision at headquarters, but the divisional commander wrote a prescription to cure his brigade commander’s ailment: three regiments of infantry and a battery of Rodman guns. But a far more formidable than General Debility during the Civil War was General Winter.

You may not have heard of General Winter before, yet this general was the most effective presence on the field of battle in the Civil War, more so than any field commander North or South. The general influenced the outcome of many major battles and was a contributing factor behind victory or defeat. In the campaigns of the Western Theatre, in particular, General Winter played a commanding role.

During the winter months in the east, reading many of the soldier’s accounts, one gets the impression that The Army of the Potomac generally hunkered down in comfortable quarters surrounding Washington, DC. General McClellan did not want his precious boys getting their feet wet, or otherwise suffering discomfort. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia did not pass the winter in such luxury, but they also generally chose not to go on the offensive when the weather turned cold. In contrast, in the western theatre, the Federals campaigned repeatedly in the midst of bone-chilling cold and foul winter weather and the Butternut clad nemesis did likewise.

In January of 1862, for example, General Grant led the expedition against Confederate fortresses of Forts Donelson and Henry. It was bitter cold that winter and the Rebel troops were inadequately clothed. During the siege, the Union troops who fell assaulting Fort Donelson were caught out in the open between the opposing lines. The cries of the wounded, exposed and freezing, tore at the hearts of their comrades who were unable to rescue them. Many who could have survived, died of exposure.

At the Battle of Stone’s River in late December of 1862, both sides were also affected by the bitter cold. On the night of the first day’s fight, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was forbidden to light any fires, lest the enemy use them for target practice; to add to the misery, most troops had shed their backpacks containing blankets in the chaos of battle and Rebel cavalry had destroyed most of the wagons containing tents. But it was the wounded left on the field after the first day’s fight who suffered the most. Ambrose Bierce graphically described the situation in a forgotten small piece called “A Cold Night.” Men on both sides, wounded and unable to move, froze to death in the dark.

Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce,  Bierce wrote about the frigid conditions at the Battle of Stone's River in a macabre little piece called "A Cold Night."

Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce, Bierce wrote about the frigid conditions at the Battle of Stone’s River in a macabre little piece called “A Cold Night.”

Returning to the Autumn Campaign of 1864 and the Battle of Nashville, General Winter also played an important role here as well. While the Federals had comfortable quarters within the siege lines of Nashville, without, the Rebels shivered, ill fed, ill clothed and short of most other supplies. Whole forests outside the city were cut down to keep warm by the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the resulting deforestation was called even by sympathetic citizens as “Hood’s Waste.”

However, the Federals too were affected by the winter weather in December of 1864. Although General Thomas had gathered together a mighty army to counter Hood’s Confederates, his counterattack had to be delayed. A terrible ice storm hit the city in the early part of December, making all roads impassable for his cavalry, without which Thomas was unable to attack. While waiting for the roads the thaw out, General Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga” was almost sacked by Grant, who sitting in comfort back east, accused Thomas of being “slow.” General Thomas came near to defeat, not due to General Hood, but due to General Winter. In the end, Thomas unleashed the Army of the Cumberland and achieved an overwhelming victory.

General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga was nearly defeated, not by General Hood but by General Winter

General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga was nearly defeated, not by General Hood but by General Winter

In all the chronicles of men and warfare during the Late Unpleasantness, the role of weather is often given only passing attention, yet it often played a decisive role. Any general who tried to defy it did so at the peril of defeat.

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Franklin, Battle of Springhill, Battle of Stone's River, Chickamauga, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Fort Donelson, Fort Henry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Battles and Bleaters of the Civil War: Some Thoughts on the History of the History of the War

The Skirmish Line by Gilbert Gaul

The Skirmish Line by Gilbert Gaul

This edition of the Late Unpleasantness deals not so much about any specific person or event of the Civil War as it does about the search for the truth of what really happened between 1860 and 1866.  That may seem a simple task; after all, every week another book comes out about what happened in the first fifteen minutes of the second hour of the first day of Gettysburg; or of how General Grant won the war single-handedly; what a great guy Lincoln was and how he freed the slaves.

Yet, as any Civil War buff worth his salt knows, or should know, determining what actually happened in the chaos of battle is not a simple task, nor is the consensus of leading historians about some leaders and their actions necessarily based on fact, but rather on inherited opinions which have come to become accepted as truth.  I will confess to have been as guilty of this latter fault as some of the more famous writers whose books have gone on to become the “bible” on certain battles and leaders.

In my research for The Paranormal Presidency, for example, I made ample use of the Historical Society of Illinois online Lincoln Papers as well as the Library of Congress’ ample resources as well as numerous other primary and secondary sources.  Not much new here; all well worn territory insofar as Lincoln scholars go.  Yet my take on those same sources and on Lincoln the man clearly does not square with the dominant consensus which generations of Lincoln scholars—one might more properly call them hagiographers—have arrived at.  I, like his scholarly acolytes, regard Lincoln as a great President; but where I differ is that I do not ignore or disregard evidence where it does not square with the received views of him that have become academic dogma.

Disputes over certain campaigns, battles and leaders are nothing new; some have been going on since before the war was over.  However, two recent books raise old issues and to varying degrees promise to throw a new light on what we thought was established fact.

Stephen Hood’s new book, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, has stirred no little controversy among Civil War enthusiasts and scholars.  Hood the Younger makes no bones about his revisionism regarding General Hood’s military career and takes aim at several well respected historian’s previous work on the subject.  His work has been criticized as biography; in fact, it is not a biography per se, but explicitly a work of historiography.  Mr. Hood has gone back into the primary sources and his reading of them varies considerably from previous writers on the subject.  He has weighed their arguments in the balance and found them wanting.

General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee

General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee

While I leave it up to Civil War enthusiasts to read his book and decide for themselves how well Stephen Hood has succeeded in his task, I will cite incident which caused me to begin to question the consensus views on General Hood.  When Jefferson Davis sought General Lee’s views on appointing John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee, Lee replied that in his view, Hood was “all lion and none of the fox,” and I have even seen the statement footnoted with the source cited; so it must be true, right?  Except, that Lee never actually said that.  As Stephen Hood reveals, that phrase was coined after the war and whether true or not, it was not Lee who said it.  On checking the citation, I found it did indeed go back to the Lee/Davis correspondence about Hood, but nowhere in those messages does that phrase attributed to Lee appear.  A minor point, admittedly, but it is a cautionary tale about accepting authority at face value.

Another new work takes aim at that icon of the Union cause, General Ulysses S. Grant, questioning the accepted narratives of the battles for Chattanooga and Grant’s claims to being the mastermind of that campaign.  In the past Grant has been the subject of criticism, but in recent decades the consensus of historians has been generally favorable to him and have generally accepted Grant and his supporter’s version of his campaigns with little question.  However, in General Grant and the Rewriting of History, Frank Varney  disputes that consensus, at least insofar as the war in the west is concerned.

Grant and his commanders at Orchard Knob watch the Battle of Missionary Ridge

Grant and his commanders at Orchard Knob watch the Battle of Missionary Ridge

There are many, myself included, who feel that Grant has been given a pass by many historians on a number of points.  In my forthcoming work on Ambrose Bierce and the Civil War, in researching the context behind Bierce’s service with the Army of the Ohio and with the Army of the Cumberland, I found much of Bierce’s critique of Grant to be well founded and largely grounded in a greater debate in the postwar era over the credit and blame for the bloodletting at Shiloh.  Bierce’s criticisms of Grant were well known, although his overall assessment of Grant was generally positive.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga have also been the subject of much controversy over the years, with much blame and praise being disbursed by various historians.  The modern view of Grant and Sherman as the heroes of the campaign has generally been the dominant narrative however.  So Varney’s revisionism had been initially received in some quarters as a much needed correction to the record.  Varney takes eminent historians to task for shoddy scholarship.  While I reserve final judgment on Varney’s work and encourage others to also make their own assessment, from what I’ve read so far, it is Varney’s scholarship which has been found wanting.  Civil War bloggers have checked several of his citations, backing his criticisms of what other historians have written, and in too many cases have found them in error or just plain bogus.

General Grant’s Personal Memoirs were very well written and his narrative has been often taken at face value by generations of historians.  There remains much about Grant’s career that requires a more critical review of the facts.  It remains to be seen whether Varney was up to the task or whether that remains for others to do.

Posted in Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Franklin, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Battle of Shiloh, Battle of Springhill, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Civil War Historians, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, General John Bell Hood, Robert E. Lee, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment