William Kurtz's blog

George Gordon Meade and the Cropsey Affair

Visitors to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, will find no shortage of tourist and trinket shops in town, each selling a variety of Civil War souvenirs, memorabilia, and paraphernalia. The battle, its generals, and its leaders have been commercialized and commodified, their images placed on innumerable products, ranging from t-shirts to bobble-heads to decorative art. Recently, one tourist store offered interested buyers a framed Gettysburg collage.

Bittersweet

After Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman took Atlanta in the fall of 1864, the Union army commenced Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea.” As an auxiliary effort to his main campaign, Sherman ordered an expedition up the Broad River in South Carolina. Sherman hoped to either cut the railroad between Charleston and Savannah in half, trapping the rebels in Savannah, or spread a weakened rebel force across the state. The resulting encounter between the Union and rebel armies resulted in a Union defeat at the battle of Honey Hill.

“Begging Their Chance to Lead the Charge”

Narratives of African American men in the Civil War usually begin in 1863, with the establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops and the federal push for the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union army. For black men in Louisiana, however, involvement began over two years earlier, with the formation of a Confederate militia to be drawn from the state’s significant population of free men of color. They were called the First Native Guards.

No Quarter Expected, No Quarter Given

On July 30, 1864, the Union army exploded a mine to expose a breach in Confederate lines at Petersburg in the hope of breaking the stalemate and ending the siege. The ensuing assault, which became known as the battle of the Crater, resulted in a Union failure and thousands of casualties in the worst racial massacre of the war. The black troops of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) faced much greater danger at the Crater than their white Union counterparts.

Alexander Caine

Of the six Albemarle-born men who joined the Union navy during the Civil War, no one left behind a larger paper trail than Alexander Caine. Caine, a barber living as a freeman in Philadelphia at the war’s outbreak, joined the Union navy in 1862 as a landsman and served on an ocean-going sloop called the U.S.S. St. Louis off the coast of West Africa. Even after leaving the navy in February 1865, Caine quickly signed up for another tour of duty, traveling to every major port in Europe and the Mediterranean.

“One Negro named Robert…Valued at…$5300 impressed by me…into the Service of the Confederate Government”

During a short-term fellowship generously provided by the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, I found primary sources at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library to contextualize my dissertation research on black Union soldiers’ experiences as prisoners of war (POWs) in the Confederacy. UVA’s Special Collections houses countless documents that provide insights into the nature of American enslavement through to the end of the Civil War, particularly in Virginia and the Upper South.

Hoos in the Hoosier State

Marion Goss and William H. Gillum’s friendship arose through surprising circumstances, given that Gillum had served in the Confederate army. Born on November 22, 1847, in Augusta County, Virginia, Gillum was the son of Dr. Pleasant G. Gillum, another UVA School of Medicine alumnus. William H. Gillum’s grandfather was a successful planter and an early settler of Albemarle County. Exactly one day before Jacob D. Mater enlisted in the 149th Indiana, Gillum enlisted in the Staunton Artillery of the Confederate army on January 24, 1865. Gillum was present at Robert E.

Hoos in the Hoosier State

While many of our UVA Unionists attended the University before the war, very few enrolled after their service. In 1869, two young men from Parke County, Indiana, travelled hundreds of miles south to enroll in the University of Virginia School of Medicine. As veterans of the 149th Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Marion Goss and Joseph Noble starkly contrasted with the typical UVA student profile. At the time, the vast majority of the faculty and student population maintained ardent pro-Confederate views, and many had served in the Confederate army.

They Hant No Vaginia Genilmen

The Civil War caused a national letter-writing boom, as young men rich and poor traveled far from their homes to fight. Many Civil War soldiers were experienced writers. Sons of wealthy plantation families were well-educated and well-read, and they wrote letters peppered with literary references, purple prose, political ideology, and sharp insights into the world around them. Some coped with the lonely hours in camp by writing elaborate love poems to their spouses at home.

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