Savannah – Sherman’s Christmas Gift to Lincoln

Sherman's handwritten note to Lincoln

Sherman’s handwritten note to Lincoln

For some of us, the City of Savannah elicits thoughts of ghosts in America’s Most Haunted City. Many southern college students see the city as a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when the city is awash with green beer and visitors in the tens of thousands.

But this month also marks the 150th anniversary of General William T. Sherman’s capture of Savannah. On November 15, 1864, after Confederate General John Bell Hood left Georgia for his army’s ultimate destruction in Nashville, Tennessee, Sherman left Atlanta for his famous march to the sea to make Georgia howl. He cut his supply lines behind him and his men grew fat on the livestock and produce that lay in their path from Atlanta to Savannah.

On December 13, Union troops took Fort McAllister, outside Savannah. Eight days later, Mayor Richard Arnold surrendered the city to Sherman and Union troops marched into Savannah. Afterward, Sherman sent President Lincoln a message:

I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

Lincoln received the dispatch on Christmas Eve. Sherman, who had wrecked Atlanta and pillaged and burned his way through Georgia, had applied a gentle touch to Savannah.

In one rare moment, after burning his way through Georgia and before doing the same to South Carolina, Sherman spared the town’s historic architecture from the hard hand of war.

Sherman's march into Savannah "March to the Sea" (Source: CivilWarTraveler.com)

Sherman’s march into Savannah (Source: CivilWarTraveler.com)

If you have the pleasure of visiting this historic Southern city with its many beautiful town squares, whether to search for ghosts or to lift a glass of green beer, pause to give thanks to “Uncle Billy” (the troops’ nickname for General Sherman) for sparing much of the beauty that surrounds you.

SOURCES:

  • Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1965 (republished by Fall River Press, New York, NY, in 2001).
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative, Red River to Appomattox. New York, New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Woodworth, Steven E. Nothing but Victory: the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

 

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Mono Lake

mono-lake-dec-2011

Mono Lake, California (Source: TripAdvisor)

When I traveled California Route 395 to Yosemite from Reno 14 years ago for a family vacation, I had no idea that Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada would serve as the setting for a major segment of a future novel. My first novel, New Garden (2013), opens in the High Sierra. My second novel, a stand-alone sequel to New Garden that should be available by March 2015, includes one major section where the action takes place in the High Sierra and the Mono Basin.

But when the California State Park Ranger told my tour group about kutsavi (see October 1, 2013 article on this blog), I knew I would work it into a future story. And I did, telling how the food source allowed my protagonist, Jack Grier, to survive a winter at Mono Pass.

Cover of my book, New Garden

Cover of my book, New Garden

As part of my research, I came across Up and Down California in 1860-1864; the Journal of William H. Brewer. Mr. Brewer served on Josiah Whitney’s geological survey team during the stated time period. In his journal, Brewer describes his 1863 experience at Mono Lake:

Lake Mono

July 9 we came on about ten miles north over the plain and camped at the northwest corner of Lake Mono. This is the most remarkable lake I have ever seen. It lies in a basin at the height of 6,800 feet above the sea. Like the Dead Sea, it is without an outlet. * * * * The waters are clear and very heavy – they have a nauseous taste. When still, it looks like oil, it is so thick, and it is not easily disturbed. Although nearly twenty miles long it is often so smooth that the opposite mountains are mirrored in it as in glass. The water feels slippery to the touch and will wash grease from the hands, even when cold, more readily than common hot water and soap. I washed some woolens in it and it was easier and quicker than in any “suds” I ever saw. It washed our silk handkerchiefs, giving them a luster as if new. It spots cloths of some colors most effectually.

Arial view of Mono Lake (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Arial view of Mono Lake (Source: Wikipedia.org)

At the time, the territory east of the Sierra Nevada was chock-full of boom-and-bust mining towns. Brewer describes the region, including the bustling town (population of approximately 5,000) of Aurora:

Immense sums of money have been spent here in this region, an immense number of claims have been taken up, nearly twenty quartz mills have been erected . . .; but whether the mines will ever pay is to me a question. * * * One or two mines may pay, the majority never will.

Where Aurora is, is as yet known. We think it in California, but there is a dispute whether it be not over the line and in Nevada Territory. Most of the inhabitants wish it there, so that Uncle Sam will pay their bills of government, but like true American citizens, who will not be deprived of their rights, they vote in both places, in California and in Nevada, and their votes have thus far been accepted in both.

Aurora was ultimately determined to be three miles inside the Nevada line.

Mono Lake was a valuable resource to Aurora’s residents, because some men made a living by gathering duck eggs from Mono Lake’s islands and selling them in Aurora for $1.00 to $1.50 per dozen ($30-$45 in 2014 U.S. dollars).

Whenever I travel south on California 395, I can’t help but think of the old mining towns and the steep prices the miners paid for life’s necessities. Mostly, however, I enjoy the jaw-dropping views from Vista Point – ancient Mono Lake dead ahead; the White Mountains to the east; the Sierra Nevada to the west; the Mono Craters just beyond Mono Lake. It’s another incredible experience before driving west up Tioga Road into the stunning High Sierra.

For more information about Mono Lake, check out the following websites:

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Thanksgiving 1864

In November 1864, the Confederacy was on life support. Its leaders had held on in the early years of the conflict, hoping for recognition from Great Britain or France. They then held on in the hope that Lincoln would be supplanted by a President who would allow the South to leave the Union in peace. This last hope was dashed when Lincoln won reelection earlier in the month. Now Southern leaders were merely “holding on.”

In 1864, the Union League decided to raise a fund to supply Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 1864 for the Union soldiers and sailors fighting in the East. The reaction of the Northern public to this plan was overwhelming. Over $56,000 in cash was raised, an enormous sum at the time and 250,000 pounds of fowl.

In 1864, the Union League decided to raise a fund to supply Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 1864 for the Union soldiers and sailors fighting in the East. The reaction of the Northern public to this plan was overwhelming. Over $56,000 in cash was raised, an enormous sum at the time and 250,000 pounds of fowl. (Source: almostchosenpeople.wordpress.com)

Meanwhile, the soldiers, North and South, did the fighting and the dying. The Southern lines at Petersburg (and on every other front) stretched thin and the rations fell to near-starvation levels. The Northern lines grew stronger and the soldiers enjoyed bountiful rations when they were not dodging bullets or cannon fire. My maternal ancestors include soldiers who served in the Army of Northern Virginia, and most likely were among those men who struggled for life on the Petersburg line. But survive they did, due to the randomness of war which allows me to write this piece today.

Thirteen months earlier, President Lincoln had issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1864, the Union League of New York was determined to do something special for the Northern soldiers. My paternal ancestors likely benefitted from the League’s efforts, which produced hundreds of thousands of pounds of food of every variety (turkey, ham, pies) and $56,000 in cash (equivalent to $1.7 million in 2014). The League’s officers included Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the future President.

The trenches at Petersburg Battlefield (Source: That National Archives and Records Administration)

The trenches at Petersburg Battlefield (Source: That National Archives and Records Administration)

On this Thanksgiving Day, as we sit around enjoying one another’s company, overstuff ourselves with nature’s bounty, and finish off the day with three professional football games, all of us should set aside a few minutes to think about how the random nature of events allows us to enjoy the holiday with family and friends. You may look to any of a panoply of events – war, disease, or other catastrophes. I can look to both sides of the Petersburg line. Happy Thanksgiving!

For more detailed articles about Thanksgiving, 1864, see:

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A Long, Cool Drink

Several years ago, I was on the hunt for water bottles that would keep ice water cold for long periods of time. My search carried me to a local hiking/biking/climbing store. When I told a store clerk about my dilemma, he told me that the body better absorbs the benefits of the water if the water temperature approximates that of the human body. My jaw dropped to the floor. While he may have been right, the last thing I want during a hike is 98.6-degree water. I think most people would side with me on the question.

Ice harvesters use a horse-drawn device to mark ice for cutting in Pennsylvania in 1907. (Library of Congress) (Source: History.com)

Ice harvesters use a horse-drawn device to mark ice for cutting in Pennsylvania in 1907. (Library of Congress) (Source: History.com)

Our ancestors were no different. The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans enjoyed ice-cold beverages whenever they could get their hands on ice. Yes, I’m talking about the wealthy and powerful ancient ones.

Fast forward to 1850 America, and ice had become the United States’ second leading export, thanks in large part to the “Ice King,” Frederic Tudor of Massachusetts. The wealthy had had access to ice long before Tudor arrived on the scene. Initially, in 1806, he focused on making deliveries to the Caribbean. He continued to export ice around the world, but by 1830, he devised the infrastructure within the eastern United States to make ice available to people of modest means.

In the East, the ice was harvested in New York and New England. In the West, Californians got their ice exclusively from Alaska until the Central Pacific Railroad crossed the Sierra Nevada and added the mountain lakes as another resource.

Tudor established ice houses, which served as supply houses (analogize to gasoline tank farms that fuel gasoline delivery trucks). By the late 1800’s, many ice houses were warehouse-size.

Ice harvesters break off chunks of ice in the early 1900s. (Library of Congress) (Source: History.org)

Ice harvesters break off chunks of ice in the early 1900s. (Library of Congress) (Source: History.org)

The “ice man” drove his wagon to an ice house and loaded the ice for distribution in 25-100 pound blocks to his customers. The ice man chipped the ice to fit his customers’ ice boxes. Ice was used for many purposes other than cooling beverages and as an essential ingredient in ice cream. It also was used to preserve certain foods and medicines.

Ice was exported abroad, sometimes used as ballast in the ships making the deliveries. Saw dust was often used to insulate the ice, both on ships and in the ice houses.

Twentieth century refrigeration brought an end to the large-scale ice business. But each time we go to our “ice box” for a few cubes of ice or a cold beverage, we should realize that our ancestors did not just wait around for the invention of the refrigerator. They knew where to find the ice, and Frederic Tudor devised the means to meet the demand.

And, yes, I found water bottles that fit the bill (novara 24-ounce insulated bottles). I pack them with ice and put them in an insulated Igloo Maxcold pack, which I stuff in my backpack before heading out on an all-day hike. Even after refilling them once in a river or a creek, I always have some ice remaining at the end of the day. No, it’s not 98.6, thank goodness. And, like our ancestors, I’m not waiting around for someone to invent a power backpack to keep the water cold.

The video below is silent but shows how the ice harvesting process worked

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Ready to Wear Clothing

Originally posted on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained--Books & Writing at Middlemay Farm:

Looking pretty snazzy . . .

Looking pretty snazzy . . .

“In the 1800s, cowboys and other manual laborers wore what was called “ready-to-wear” — second-hand clothing that had been discarded by the higher classes.

With few exceptions (such as military uniforms), new clothing was not mass produced back then. If you wanted an outfit, you went to a tailor, who measured you and custom-made the shirt, suit, trousers, coat, or whatever. If you out-grew your duds or just got tired of them, you might sell them to a second-hand (or ready-to-wear) store, where they would be bought by folks who needed inexpensive clothes for work.

That’s why you’d often see cowhands riding the range wearing a suit coat or vest and dress pants (rather than jeans). Also, many veterans continued to wear parts of their former uniforms for work.

By the way, did you ever wonder why chimney sweeps usually wore top hats and…

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Halloween WWII Style

author114:

Happy Halloween. Great post from Pacificparatrooper

Originally posted on pacificparatrooper:

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This story is condensed from: EVERY VETERAN HAS A STORY_______

The other morning I woke up and looked out the window and saw pumpkins smashed and some decorations strewn.  “Ah, good,” I said to my daughters, “someone has done their research on the history of Halloween!”
motherjones
 
They rolled their eyes and kept reading the comics over their bowls of cereal.  After 13 years of fatherhood, I’d lost the ability to shock them…or they were hoping by their indifference to ward off the inevitable history lecture to follow.  If so — it didn’t work.
Foe much of our history, Halloween wasn’t about trick-or-treating or going around in costumes – it was about vandalism.  Halloween celebrates the dark side, the side we reject and fear – all that we try to deny.  Mischief making has historically been a part of that.  If you look at newspapers 80 or 90 years ago…

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The Civil War Hits Home: A High Price Paid by the Guilford Grays at Bristoe Station

Battle at Bristoe Station (Source: Bristoe.org)

Battle at Bristoe Station (Source: Bristoe.org)

On the morning of October 15, 1863, General A.P. Hill rode over the battleground at Bristoe Station with General Robert E. Lee. Hill repeatedly apologized to Lee for his failure on the day before, which cost so many lives. Lee seldom spoke in harsh terms and chose not to on this occasion. “Well, well, General,” he said, “bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it.” Hill had served Lee well in earlier engagements. Lee could only hope Hill would learn from this mistake. [Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, First Vintage Books 1986 Edition, pp. 792-794 (first published by Random House, New York: 1963); Robertson, General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior, Random House (New York: 1987), p. 239.]

General A.P. Hill (Source: OldPicture.com)

General A.P. Hill (Source: OldPicture.com)

The day before, Hill had allowed two brigades to march over an open field into a Yankee trap. The Confederates marched over 800 yards of barren, open field, prepared to attack a small force that appeared to be trying to escape across Broad Run. Beyond the creek, 3,000 Union soldiers waited, safely entrenched behind a railroad embankment. Before ordering his men forward, General Heth spotted the glint of bayonets to his right front. He reported his observation to Hill and asked whether the troops should wait for reconnaissance before going forward. Hill feared the Yankees in front of Heth’s troops might escape. He ordered Heth to attack immediately. Enfilading fire on the right and artillery on the left rained down on the Confederates. The 27th North Carolina Infantry Regiment caught the worst of it. Out of 416 men engaged, 290 were captured, killed, or wounded. On the eve of the Civil War, Greensborough, North Carolina’s population numbered around 2,000, and Guilford County’s population was about 20,000. By the end of the war, approximately 1,500 Guilford County men served in the Confederate army. Among the companies Guilford County sent to war were the Guilford Grays. By 1863, the Guilford Grays had been absorbed into the 27th North Carolina. Sixty-three of them went into battle at Bristoe Station. Over forty of them were killed, captured, or wounded. Several later died of their wounds. [Sloan, Reminiscences of the Guilford Grays, pp. 72-73 (1883)] The losses at Bristoe Station had to hit the small community very hard, particularly on the heels of Gettysburg only three months earlier. In that better-known engagement, 40% of the 45th North Carolina fell at Gettysburg. The regiment included Guilford County Company C. [Foley and Whicker, The Civil War Ends – Greensboro, April 1865, Guilford County Genealogical Society (Greensboro: 2008), pp. 85-94] Battlefield lapses are a terrible thing. Commanding officers pay with tarnished reputations – Lee for ordering Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg; Grant for failing to scout the ground at Cold Harbor; Hill for his aggressiveness when not tempered by good judgment (i.e., failure to scout the ground). Soldiers who take the battlefield pay with their lives. SOURCES:

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