Thursday, June 22, 2017

Putting heads on Civil War tales

     They don't make headlines like they used to.
     As dying newspapers lay off their ink-stained copy editors, we may never see another headline quite like this verbless wonder written by Vincent Musetto for the New York Post in 1983—the most unforgettable head in the history of journalism.

     Headline writing is an art. It may be a dying art—a victim of malnewstrition—but the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) still has a Headline of the Year contest to recognize the finest examples. Here are links to the winners for 2016 and 2015
     At The Stoneman Gazette, we take pride in our headlines and have never laid off a copy editor. If ACES ever adds a prize category for anachronistic online newspapers, we'd like to nominate a few of the following favorites.
     If you feel the urge to click on any of these blue links, go hug a headline writer. 

Rebels and their bridge fall for Yankee-pranky
If you're ever caught in a headline fight, remember that the pun is mightier than the sword. This story describes a ruse involving a Union captain (a 27-year-old teacher with the unlikely name of Erastus Cratty Moderwell) who impersonated Gen. George Stoneman to intimidate superior Confederate forces. The rebels unwittingly surrendered the Nation Ford railroad trestle connecting the Carolinas, and the Yankees burned it down before Jefferson Davis could cross it.

Here's my double-headed homage to Vincent Musetto (who died four weeks after we ended the daily run of The Stoneman Gazette). When the Yankees headed south out of Asheville and crossed the Blue Ridge at Caesars Head, they looked down on rebellious South Carolina in more ways than one. While they were descending, they were also condescending.

Good headlines should make readers feel personally invested or amazed. I think this one succeeds on both counts. Over 150 years later, America is still paying a Civil War pension—and the monthly checks happen to be going to the daughter of one of Stoneman's veterans. In a different era, this 1938 Gettysburg headline about her father also did a good job of enticing readers.

The longest raid begins with a single debt
Headline writers often start with a familiar phrase and then twist it like one of Sherman's neckties. You can understand why we wrote raid instead of journey, and here's why we changed step to debt: After rebels captured Gen. Stoneman in 1864, he became the highest-ranked prisoner in the South and a laughingstock in some parts of the North. So when he got a chance to vindicate himself with a thousand-mile raid in 1865, he declared, "I owe the Southern Confederacy a debt I am anxious to liquidate."

The story includes a quote about s-e-x from Myles Keogh, a debonair Yankee officer and international man of mystery. We resisted the temptation to use that cheap clickbait in our headline, because it would have been beneath our dignity. Instead, we'll tease you with it here—beneath our headline.

The Kingston Trio and Doc Watson were also part of this story, but the title characters were both fiddlers, and young Tom fiddled around in more ways than one. In fact, he had a harem of cousins. For headline writers, a double entendre is the triple crown. 

Pyres in Salisbury, but a pyrrhic victory for rebs
It's a rare headline that can pair two pyr-words. It almost makes me want to go back and rewrite the story in inverted pyramid. Almost.

Four days in a den of Yankee lions
I like to include Bible allusions in my headlines. With Stoneman's cavalry fast approaching the Carson House, Miss Emma Rankin wrote that she still made it to church on Easter Sunday, "and our blessed old pastor gave us all the hope and strength he could gather from the Bible, reminding us that there were lions in the way, but God could shut the lions' mouths."

"If it's a good headline, we'll make it fit," Phil Batson used to say. But blogs, like newspapers, have fixed widths for columns and pages, and the challenge is to say a lot in a few words (in this case: 34 counts). This headline sums up a flurry of messages between Gen. Stoneman in Knoxville and two of his cavalry brigades in Asheville.

How to stop the U.S. Cavalry? With a winefest
The purpose of a headline is to get you to stop and read the story. Clickbait, they call it nowadays. I think this one clicks. The bacchanalian story comes from my hometown of Anderson, S.C.

Scoop! Sly Stoneman chides rebel church
The little story behind this headline was lost to history until The Stoneman Gazette dredged it out of the The New York Times digital archives. "Chides" is just such a great headline word. Otherwise, our headline might have been Education of black children vs. edification of white Presbyterians. Sly readers of my generation may read something else into that headline.

Tell Mama! The Civil War is finally over
A month after Lee's surrender, the war and the raid were still dragging on. So was the daily run of The Stoneman Gazette. We needed a way to finish strong, and I think we found it in our Mothers Day issue, which featured heartfelt tributes from the likes of Abe Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson, and Mark Twain. Some newspapers don't like exclamations in headlines, but we're different.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day: 'Your Dear Son is Dead'

Union private Oliver Stebbins
     The Civil War was nearly over when John and Charlotte Stebbins of Three Rivers, Michigan, sent their oldest son Oliver to join the Union Army.
     He enlisted Feb. 17, 1865, in the 11th Michigan Cavalry, which was one of the eight brigades assigned to Stoneman's Raid. They rode out of Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 21, 1865—Oliver's 18th birthday.
     For the next four weeks, Stoneman's troops were beyond the reach of mail or telegraph, so we can assume that Stebbins' family heard nothing from him. They must have rejoiced to hear of the fall of Richmond April 2 and the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee April 9—certain signs that the war was ending and that their son would soon be coming home.
      Then came the following heartbreaking letters, the first two from a fellow Michigan soldier named John Schroder. [The crude spelling and wording is preserved from the original letters. I have inserted a few explanatory notes in brackets.]

Chattanooga, Tenn. April the 23 1865

Mrs. Stebbins,
I will let you know about your Oliver he is sick in the Hospital here. he was brought here with the Measles he has got over the Measles and has got Nuemonia in his side and the Bronchetis in the other side it is a hard case I have been here sick with the Measles and am just getting over them I am doing all that I can for your Dear Son he is very thirsty and wants watter every little while I watched him all last night and if he was in his right mind I assure you he will get well my bed is right beside his if he wants any thing he cals on me but I dont know whether he is in his right mind or not I see that he has something to eat every meal for I giv it to him myself I belong to the same regiment that he does. I will write you again in two or three days No more at present
John Schroder Co J 11th Michigan Inf Chattanooga, Tennessee
———————————————————————————————————
Chattanooga, Tenn.
April 27th 186
Mrs. Stebinss
Dear Madam I sorry to lett you now that your Dear Son is Dead he Deady [died] At 12 oClock at noon the 27 day of April I had sent for boys that he new but they did nott come I fill so if it is mens Duttey [duty] to write you and let you no that your Dear Son he has gon whar we all will haf to go up. Dan and I feel for him he was in good spirits for he deay I geaf him a drinck of watter about 10 minnits for he deady and he said to me John I will remember you but he call for me most all the time he never said anney thing about his father wial [while] he was sick he gott one letter from you I read the letter to him and he was glad to hear from you I haf written one letter befor to you But I don no if you haf got it or not I will go and see his garve [grave] wen I can gett thar I am som weak yet I will let you no about his garve and wet kind of plays [place] he is buryed
from your friend John Schroder
Co J the 11th Mich Infantry
Your Dear Son Close [clothes] will be sent bey express to you to Michigan he had no money wen he cam to hospitil only 75 cents and it was spent for him he had a Silver ring I hop you will gett his nam is on the ring I was going to sent it to you in a letter but it had to go with his close if God burys men live I will putt som flowers on his garve I was very sick with you Dear Son in the hospitil hear my home is in Butler Branch County Mich
———————————————————————————————————
Headquarters 11 Regiment
Michigan Vol Infty

Chattanooga, Tenn
April 28, 1865

Mrs. Stebbins
Maddam
It is my painful dutty to inform you of the Death of your son. He died in the Hospital in this place yesterday (April 27th 1865) of Rubeola (Measles) He was sent to the Hospital about (3) weeks ago he received as good care as one can get in the Hospl-he was visited by some of the men every day and all was done that surgeons and nurses could do under the circumstances Henry Parker of my Company has visited him together with others
He made one of the best Soldiers in the Regt-always doing his duty when called uppon and was verry much respected by all who knew him especially in his own company
He was steady honest and upright-and everything that makes a Gentleman and soldier and his lost is verry deeply felt by all his comrades and his officers.
He died a good Christian and a good soldier to his country and will be remembered as such by all who knew him. He will be burried in the National Cemetary with Military honors.
The cemetery is beautifully located all are soldiers in this-Department receive as good a burrial as he would north although it is done in a soldiers way
The dispatch which I received read as follows from the doctor in charge


Office USA Genl Hospit
Chattanooga Tenn Apl 28 65
Comdg officer Co. B 11th Mich Infty
Sir
I have to inform you that private Oliver Stebbins of your Co. died April 27th 65 of Rubeola (Measles)
Effects
 Knapsack. Great coat, Trousers, Shirt, 2 pr drawers, Chest, loaf shoes
Very Respectfully your Obt Sevat

John H Phillipes Surgeon
USA Volenteers in charge
Anything which I can do heard from you will be done by letting me know His effects and pay will be sent to you through the Surgeon in charge or from Washington D.C.
———————————————————————————————————
     Stebbins is mentioned in a book about Union Capt. John Edwards, "Last Full Measure of Devotion," written by Edwards' great-great nephew. They are listed among five men from Hudson, Mich., who lost their lives in the April 12 Battle of Salisbury.
     I think it is safe to assume that Stebbins was wounded at Salisbury, evacuated to Chattanooga, and subsequently developed measles and other complications. During the Civil War, twice as many soldiers died from disease as from wounds.


Oliver Stebbins' grave in the Chattanooga National Cemetery
      There were probably close to 100 deaths in five states associated with Stoneman's Raid. I've documented as many as I can on our Union Memorial and Confederate Memorial pages. The Stoneman Gazette honors those who served and died on both sides.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reasons for the war? How quickly we forget

     This is not the first time our president has needed a history lesson on the Civil War.
     It also happened in May 1865, when the war was as fresh as cavalry dust and the Yankees were still chasing the fugitive Confederate president Jefferson Davis across Georgia.
     Here's a link to our original story in The Stoneman Gazette, where Union Gen. William Palmer wrote a passionate and eloquent letter intended for new President Andrew Johnson. Palmer was alarmed by reports that the adminstration might delay the full emancipation of slaves, now that Lincoln was dead. Gen. Palmer wanted the president to know what he was hearing from Southerners and why emancipation was non-negotiable.
     Our story also includes links to the "Declaration of Causes," where several seceding states explained why they left the Union.
     If you have any questions about the real reasons for the Civil War, it's worth revisiting.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Joan Baez: 'Till Stoneman's Cavalry came'

This marker was erected Jan. 19, 1988 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
They probably didn't mean to celebrate a Yankee birthday, but the ceremony
was held just one day after the 150th birthday of Major Abram B. Garner.
I know Garner's birthday because it's the same as mine. Tom Layton, editor 

     The Stoneman Gazette congratulates Joan Baez on her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her biggest hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, references Stoneman's Raid:
Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
till Stoneman’s cavalry came, and tore up the tracks again
.
     Songwriters Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm (who were inducted into the Hall of Fame with The Band in 1994) conjured up Caine to narrate historical events at the end of the Civil War.
     In the winter of '65, the Confederacy was just barely alive, and the purpose of Stoneman's Raid was to finish it off. After Stoneman's cavalry destroyed the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, the rebels' final lifeline was the Piedmont Railroad between Danville and Greensboro.
     After Richmond fell, both of those towns served as temporary capitals of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis presided April 3-10 in Danville, until he heard that Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9 at Appomattox. Then he fled to North Carolina, where he hoped that Gen. Joseph Johnston's army would be able to continue the fight.
     Davis was aboard one of the last trains that made it to Greensboro before the Reedy Fork trestle was destroyed April 11 in a daring raid ordered by Stoneman and led by Maj. Abram Garner. At the time, the Yankees were unaware of Lee's surrender or Davis's flight.
     Davis stayed April 11-16 in Greensboro and then eluded Stoneman's cavalry on his way south through Charlotte, past the smoldering bridge at Nation Ford, and across South Carolina. He held final meetings in Abbeville and Washington (Ga.) before catching up with his family and being captured by Michigan troops May 10 in south Georgia. 
This bridge crosses Reedy Fork at the same place as the original timber trestle destroyed by Stoneman's cavalry. (Photo by Royce Haley).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Remember when N.C. voted to save the Union?

     Four days before the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, North Carolina held a statewide referendum to decide whether to secede from the Union. 
     You might have thought that was a foregone conclusion. Seven southern states had already exited.
     Yet at the end of February 1861, voters across North Carolina rejected secession and chose to remain in the Union. The vote was close, and it wasn't binding for long, but it remains a refreshing history lesson for our generation as we deal with another polarizing presidency and an increasingly fractious society.
North Carolina Standard, March 20, 1861
     This referendum was news to me when I began researching Stoneman's Raid and learned about it from the books of North Carolina historian Michael C. Hardy. I looked it up in old newspapers and found this county-by-county table in the North Carolina Standard published March 20, 1861 in Raleigh. The referendum was held February 28 (156 years ago today), but back then it took a couple of weeks to compile all the votes.
     North Carolina voters faced two questions: First whether to call for a constitutional convention to consider secession, and second to nominate delegates in case the convention was approved.
     In effect, a vote against the convention was a vote for the Union. North Carolina rejected the convention by a margin of just 661 votes, 47,333 against and 46,672 for. That made the second question moot, but if the delegates had convened they would have been 83-37 in favor of the Union.
     Many of the counties that would be raided by Stoneman in 1865 were overwhelmingly loyal to the Union: Watauga voted against a convention 536-72, Caldwell 651-186, Wilkes 1,890-51, Yadkin 1,490-34, Forsyth 1,409-286, and Guilford 2,771-113.
     Among counties ready to secede were Rowan 1,150-882, Catawba 918-158, Lincoln 708-86, Mecklenburg 1,448-252, McDowell 638-217, and Buncombe 1,219-389. Most of the support for secession was in eastern North Carolina, where slavery was more widespread.
     While North Carolina was still counting votes, Lincoln gave his inaugural address on March 4 and made one last eloquent plea to save the Union:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
     So if North Carolinians were loyal to the Union, how did we wind up in the Confederacy?
     Six weeks after the referendum, the political landscape was jolted April 12-13 by the rebel bombardment of Fort Sumter, April 15 by Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion, and April 17 by the secession of Virginia, which geographically severed North Carolina from the Union.
     Lincoln's action would have required North Carolinians to go to war against their neighboring states, and that was too much to ask. One way or another, the Union was already broken.
     Secessionist leaders in North Carolina seized the moment, bypassed the referendum, and defied the expressed will of the people. On May 1, Gov. John Ellis called for a special session of the state legislature, which authorized a constitutional convention and nominated its own slate of delegates. On May 20, 1861, they voted 120-0 to secede from the Union. North Carolina became the 11th and last state to join the Confederacy.
     Historian William T. Auman described the death spiral in his book, Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt (the Quaker Belt was centered in Winston-Salem and Greensboro):
North Carolina's Unionism proved to be no match for the centrifugal forces then pulling the United States apart along sectional seams. With the secession of the Deep South, the failure of one sectional compromise effort after another, the secession of Virginia, the firing on Fort Sumter, and the call by Lincoln on each state for troops to force the seceded states back into the Union, most Tar Heel Unionistsincluding those in the Quaker Beltfelt compelled to choose between what they viewed as the lesser of two evils and take their stand with their native section.
Less than 12 weeks after North Carolina voted to stay in the Union,
delegates unanimously approved the Ordinance of Secession.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cowpens: Following the footsteps of liberty

Stoneman's 1st Brigade probably visited the Scruggs homeplace on the Cowpens Battlefield
COWPENS, S.C.
     Americans are notoriously bad at history, but here's one question you can't get wrong: Cowpens figured in (a) the Revolutionary War, (b) the Civil War, (c) World War II, or (d) the Iraq war?
     The answer is ... all of the above.
     Tuesday, January 17, marks the 236th anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, a brief but fierce fight in 1781 that went a long way toward ensuring American independence. Cowpens became the namesake for two Navy warships: an aircraft carrier nicknamed "the Mighty Moo" that was the first U.S. ship to enter Tokyo Bay in 1945, and a cruiser that fired Tomahawk missiles at an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1993. (That attack came on the 212th anniversary of the original Battle of Cowpens, which I will assume is only a coincidence.)

     As for the Civil War connection, we turn to Stoneman's 1st Brigade, which crossed the Cowpens battlefield April 29, 1865, in hot pursuit of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. 
     In his official report, Gen. William J. Palmer of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry wrote, "I had reached the vicinity of Cowpens battlefield, S.C., on April 29, when I received the order to endeavor to intercept Jefferson Davis, his Cabinet, and the Confederate specie." The orders came from Gen. George Stoneman, by now back in Knoxville, who believed that Davis absconded with up to $6 million in gold and silver specie when he abandoned his capital in Richmond April 2. 
Red lines on this 1906 map show how Gen.
Palmer's 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry headed
from Rutherfordton toward Kings Mountain
before doubling back and crossing the Broad
 River at Island Ford. "Nashville" on this map
is actually Asheville. "Cowpens" marks the
location of the town rather than the
battlefield, which is 10 miles north of the
town and just south of the North Carolina
lineI added the blue arrow to show an
April 29-30 expedition by the 12th Ohio
in pursuit of Jefferson Davis.
     Gen. Palmer actually began the manhunt the day before, starting at Hickory Nut Gap southeast of Asheville (labeled Nashville on this map). He marched through Rutherfordton, N.C., headed toward another Revolutionary War battlefield at Kings Mountain. Then he had to backtrack 20 miles to find a way across the Broad River.
     His cavalry made the crossing at Island Ford (near the current U.S. 221 bridge north of Chesnee, S.C.) and headed toward Spartanburg on a road that took them across the Cowpens battlefield.
     As the Yankees scouted for information about Davis, it seems likely that they inquired at the cabin of Robert Scruggs, whose farm encompassed part of the old battlefield. (Sixteen years earlier, in 1849, historian Benson John Lossing had interviewed Scruggs to document details of the Battle of Cowpens for his Pictorial Field Book of the RevolutionLossing later wrote the Pictorial History of the Civil War, including a clever bridge-burning episode from Stoneman's Raid that he called "one of the most gallant little exploits of the war.")
     Capt. Frank Mason wrote in his history of the 12th Ohio Cavalry that on the roundabout trip to Spartanburg, Gen. Palmer "pushed on at a swinging trot for many weary hours, crossing the revolutionary battlefield at Cowpens on the 29th, and on the same night arrived at Smith's Ford on the Pacolet River. Here Davis had crossed only forty-eight hours previous, and again the Brigade galloped forward, marching all night and reaching Spartanburg on the first of May.(Palmer's Pennsylvania troops captured Spartanburg on April 30. His Ohio regiment arrived a day later because the expedition to Smith's Ford added 50 miles. See details below.)
     Capt. Henry Weand, the unofficial war correspondent for The Stoneman Gazette, astutely noted some of the parallels between Stoneman's Raid and Cornwallis' march. "Shallow Ford over the Yadkin, as well as the ford we used over the Dan River, three miles from Danbury, were both used eighty-five years before by the British army under Lord Cornwallis, while pursuing the troops of General Morgan, who had so beautifully whipped the British under Colonel Tarleton at Cowpens."
     The original battle of the Cowpens was a strategic triumph for Gen. Daniel Morgan against what was supposed to be a superior British army commanded by Col. Banastre Tarleton, known as "Bloody Ban" for his slaughter of Patriots at the Battle of the Waxhaws on May 29, 1780 near Lancaster, S.C. If you don't know the history of Cowpens, here's your chance to wise up.
     The Battle of Cowpens came three months after the Battle of Kings Mountain, another upset victory for the Patriots. Cornwallis won the next big battle, March 15, 1781 at Guilford Courthouse, but all the fighting depleted his army faster than Britain could replenish it. Lord Cornwallis retreated to Yorktown, Va., where he surrendered to Gen. George Washington on October 19, 1781nine months after Cowpens.
     Cowpens National Battlefield is the only National Park site along the route of Stoneman's Raid (unless you count the five times the cavalry crossed what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway). The park is near S.C. 11 between Gaffney and Chesnee and makes a pleasant rest stop for travelers who need a break from I-85. Admission is free and the park is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
     If you visit, you may hear someone say, "If there had been no Cowpens, there would have been no Yorktown."


Following the fords of Jeff Davis

     Capt. Mason's reference to Smith's Ford gives us some clues about the pursuit of Jefferson Davis. Smith's Ford is over 20 miles southeast of Cowpens on the Broad River below Cherokee Falls and above the mouth of the Pacolet River.
     The Yankees knew Davis was headed southwest from Charlotte toward Mississippi to try to rally what remained of the Confederacy. Anticipating that Davis might go via Smith's Ford, Palmer dispatched the 12th Ohio Cavalry to intercept him. Indeed, they captured some stragglers from Davis' escort and learned that he had crossed the Broad River just 48 hours earlier.
     So why didn't the Ohioans (who were one of Stoneman's best regiments) immediately turn southwest to pursue Davis, instead of backtracking 25 miles west to Spartanburg? They were already on the south side of the Broad but still north of the Pacolet. The only explanation I can offer is that the Pacolet must have been too dangerous to cross. (It is possible that Davis crossed by boat.) 
     We do know from Mason's account that South Carolina rivers were flooded when Stoneman's Raid passed through. On May 3 when the cavalry crossed the Tugaloo River at Hattons Ford west of Anderson, the water was so high and swift that several horses drowned.
The same day the Yankees were at the Cowpens battlefield. Jefferson Davis was 45 miles south, fording the Tyger River on his way to the Cross Keys House between Union and Clinton. (This is the reverse side of the historical marker shown above.)