Did famed French marshal end his days as NC schoolmaster?

Marshal Ney at Waterloo

As improbable as it seems, in some circles there is still doubt as to whether Michel Ney, one of France’s greatest military minds, was executed for treason in 1815 or instead ended his days as a North Carolina schoolmaster three decades later.

Ney was among the ablest of Napoleon’s military leaders, commanding troops during both the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded at least four times during his career, fought in scores of battles and commanded the rearguard of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it withdrew from Russia during the ill-fated invasion of that country. Ney was said to have been the last Frenchman on Russian soil during the Patriotic War of 1812.

Napoleon himself called Ney “the bravest of the brave.”

It was Ney, however, who in April 1814 led the Marshals’ revolt and demanded Napoleon’s abdication.

Initially, Ney was lauded by the Bourbons when they reclaimed the French crown, but the newly restored monarchy was said to have reacted coolly to Ney’s non-aristocratic beginnings.

Marshal Michel Ney.

Marshal Michel Ney.

When Ney heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815, he organized a force to stop his former leader’s march on Paris in a bid to keep France at peace and show his loyalty to the newly restored regime. But despite Ney’s promise to King Louis XVIII, he found himself unable to resist Napoleon’s siren song and rejoined his former commander on March 18, 1815.

Three months later, Napoleon appointed Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On June 16, 1815, Napoleon’s forces split up to fight two separate battles simultaneously.

Ney attacked the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras while Napoleon attacked Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher’s Prussians at Ligny. The French won the initial battle, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

At Waterloo two days later Ney again commanded the left wing of the French army. At mid-afternoon, Ney ordered a mass cavalry charge against the Anglo-Allied line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannon, but found the enemy infantry arrayed in cavalry-proof square formations.

Continue reading

Why the Sand Creek Massacre needs to be remembered

At_the_Sand_Creek_Massacre,_1874-1875

This past weekend marked the 150th anniversaries of two bloody events in US history: The Battle of Franklin, a Union victory over Confederate forces at Franklin, Tenn., in the waning months of the Civil War; and the Sand Creek Massacre, in which US cavalry forces attacked an Indian camp of mostly women, children and old men more than 1,000 miles away in the Colorado Territory.

Both were routs, although only in the first were the odds anywhere near being even.

At Franklin, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee was annihilated by Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Army of Ohio, while at Sand Creek a force of 700 Union cavalrymen destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe in an unprovoked attack that claimed as many as 200 lives.

The anniversary of the former, which effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force, was noted by history aficionados, particularly Civil War buffs, and through media accounts, while the latter, among the most brutal of many assaults on Native Americans by US forces during the War Between the States, went relatively unnoticed outside Colorado.

My first brush with the Sand Creek Massacre, albeit tenuous, came earlier this year, when I visited a historic graveyard in the West Coast town where I attended high school, in Santa Cruz, Calif. Evergreen Cemetery features the final resting place for dozens of Civil War veterans, including Lanader Prindle, who served in the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

Living in the South for the past 15 years, and away from California for nearly all of the past 30 years, I had little knowledge of units that served in the west during the War Between the States. In addition, the 3rd Colorado piqued my interest because it came from a territory, as Colorado was still a dozen years away from statehood.

It was after a bit of research that I learned that the 3rd Colorado, along with the 1st Colorado Cavalry and a company of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry Regiment, took part in the Sand Creek Massacre, another aspect of US history I knew little about.

The stage was set for the Sand Creek Massacre when Black Kettle, a chief of the Southern Cheyenne, led his band to Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, according to provisions of a peace parlay held in Denver in September 1864.

Colorado’s leaders, including Col. John Chivington, a former Methodist pastor, and Colorado territorial governor John Evans, had adopted a hard-line against Indians, whom white settlers accused of stealing livestock.

Chivington made no qualms about his view toward Native Americans: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

Continue reading

Providence church eyed as site for slavery museum

cathedral of st. john

Providence’s Cathedral of St. John may be shuttered, but out front of the 200-year-old structure is a church billboard with block letters that read, “GOD IS NOT DONE WITH US YET.”

Indeed, it appears the church may take on a second life as means to shed light on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the role that all early US states – North and South – played in perpetuating slavery.

The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island wants to use part of the Cathedral of St. John for a museum that would examine the state’s role in the slave trade, both those who profited from it and those who opposed it. Churchgoers and clergymen were on both sides.

“In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Rhode Islanders backed 1,000 trips between Africa and the Americas,” according to the Providence Bulletin. “Newport, Bristol and Providence were among the busiest slave trade ports in North America.”

The museum would be the only one in the nation centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It would also focus on the Episcopal Church’s role in that trade’s history and the often-overlooked legacy of slavery in northern states.

Ironically, the Cathedral of St. John is just a few hundred feet from both the site identified as where Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 and the location of Williams’ home. Williams, a proponent of religious freedom, has been called the New World’s first abolitionist.

Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, played a very large role in slavery.

A Brown University report issued in 2006 found that about 60 percent of all slave-trading voyages launched from North America came from the state, more than 1,000 in all. Some 80 of those came from a single family, the DeWolfs of Bristol, RI.

Continue reading

‘Gettysburg Gun’ represents rare bit of Rhode Island, US history

gettysburg gun

Given that much of the War Between the States was fought below the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s hardly surprising that much of the history associated with the conflict is found in the Southern US, whether on battlefields or in museums.

Still, there are many unique war-related attractions located in the north. One such item is the so-called Gettysburg Gun, located in the Rhode Island Statehouse.

The 12-pound Napoleon was last fired on July 3, 1863, the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, by Battery B, 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery.

The battery, which began the battle with six guns but was down to four by the third day of action, was pounded by Confederate artillery in the fighting that preceded Pickett’s Charge.

During a fierce cannonade one of the 12-pound Napoleons, the cannon which would become known as the Gettysburg Gun, was struck by a Confederate shell, killing two of the Rhode Island gunners.

Sgt. John H. Rhodes of Battery B, 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery described the incident in an 1892 monograph on The Gettysburg Gun:

No. 1, William Jones, had stepped to his place between the muzzle of the piece and wheel, right side, and had swabbed the gun and reversed sponge staff, which is also the rammer, and was waiting for the charge to be inserted by No. 2. Alfred G. Gardner, No. 2, had stepped to his place between the muzzle of the piece and wheel, left side, facing inward to the rear, taking the ammunition from No. 5 over the wheel. He turned slightly to the left, and was in the act of inserting the charge into the piece when a shell from one of the enemy’s guns, struck the face of the muzzle, left side of the bore and exploded. William Jones was killed instantly by being struck on the left side of his head by a fragment of the shell, which cut the top completely off. He fell with his head toward the enemy, and the sponge staff was thrown forward beyond him two or three yards.

Alfred G. Gardner was struck in the left shoulder, almost tearing his arm from his body. He lived a few minutes and died shouting, ‘Glory to God! I am happy! Hallelujah!’ his sergeant and friend bending over him to receive his dying request.

The sergeant of the piece, Albert A. Straight, and the remaining cannoneers tried to load the piece, and placing a charge in the muzzle of the gun. They found it impossible to ram it home. Again and again they tried to drive home the charge which proved so obstinate, but their efforts were futile. The depression on the muzzle was so great that the charge could not be forced in, and the attempt was abandoned, and as the piece cooled off the shot became firmly fixed in the bore of the gun.

Continue reading

We can’t erase Pitchfork Ben, but we can learn from him

pitchfork ben tillman

For more than a century, Tillman Hall has dominated Winthrop University’s campus.

The three-story building, constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, features a combination gabled and hipped roof configuration, projecting bay windows, and is highlighted by a clock tower with an open belfry.

The red-brick edifice was erected in 1894, during South Carolina Gov. Ben Tillman’s reign, and the structure was named for the Palmetto State politician, who would go on to serve in the US Senate, in 1962. Tillman was instrumental in the founding of both Winthrop and Clemson University.

Unfortunately for Winthrop, Tillman’s legacy hasn’t held up well under the scrutiny of history.

A virulent racist who worked not only to codify Jim Crow laws in South Carolina, Tillman personally advocated the lynching of blacks.

So perhaps it’s not unreasonable that a pair of former Winthrop students would like the Rock Hill-based school to consider changing the name of the structure.

However, Winthrop University officials have replied that state law prevents such action.

South Carolina law prohibits changing the name of buildings or monuments named for historic figures, Winthrop Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kathy Bigham wrote to former students Michael Fortune and Richard Davis in a letter this week.

In the letter, Bigham cites a South Carolina law that was passed in 2000 to protect war memorials and historic structures on public property. The law prevents anyone from changing the name of any street, bridge, structure or park that has been “dedicated in memory of, or named for, any historic figure or historic event,” according to the Rock Hill Herald.

Changing the state law requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly, the publication added.

Given that it’s difficult to get two-thirds of SC lawmakers to agree on what day of the week it is, it’s unlikely that anyone could gather enough support to rename Tillman Hall.

However, that doesn’t mean that Winthrop can’t use the building’s name as a chance to highlight Pitchfork Ben Tillman’s backwardism or how much damage his views have done to South Carolina over the decades.

Continue reading

NC soldier gets proper headstone after more than a century

Elmira Prison Camp, Woodlawn Cemetery 014

For more than a century, the remains of Pvt. Franklin Cauble of the 42nd North Carolina Infantry Regiment have rested beneath a mislabeled grave marker in Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, NY.

Cauble, a Confederate soldier captured at the battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, succumbed to chronic diarrhea 150 years ago this week at the Elmira prison camp, at age 39.

The mistake occurred when the federal government replaced the original wooden markers of the more than 2,000 Confederate dead interred at Woodlawn with marble headstones in 1907.

Cauble’s grave was marked with the name of his friend, Pvt. Franklin Cooper of the 42nd North Carolina, who survived his time at Elmira.

The National Cemetery Administration announced earlier this month that the error would be rectified and Cauble’s gravestone would be replaced, likely in the next few days.

“After a thorough investigation into claims regarding the error on the headstone, it will be replaced with an in-kind headstone bearing the correct surname of ‘Cauble,’” Kristen Parker, a spokeswoman for the cemetery administration, wrote in an email to the Elmira Star-Gazette.

Continue reading

Investigating the rich history of Lowcountry rice farming

rice barge

When one thinks of antebellum agriculture, one typically thinks of cotton. Indeed, by 1860 Southern farms and plantations supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton, and Gossypium hirsutum was the dominant agricultural crop from the Carolinas to Texas.

Cotton was such an important part of the pre-war South that the Confederacy believed it would be the ultimate instrument of its independence.

Much less well known today is the princely standing held by another Deep South crop during the days before the War Between the States – that of rice.

Rice was introduced to the United States in the 17th century and is reported to have been cultivated in Virginia almost as soon as the first settlers landed at Jamestown, but it was in the marshy, humid regions of Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia that the crop flourished.

Rice planters couldn’t have succeeded without the forced labor of slaves, particularly those from the Senegambia area of West Africa and coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, slaves with knowledge of rice culture brought the highest price and were put to use on rice plantations around Charleston, Georgetown, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A new book by Richard Dwight Porcher Jr. and William Robert Judd detailing the once-great Lowcountry rice industry states that nowhere else was an agricultural crop so intimately tied to status and its associated wealth and influence as rice was to the Lowcountry.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom is an extensive account of the rice industry in Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia.

market preparation“… the real strength of this book is the author’s documentation based on extensive field research of fifty rice plantations, mill sites, museum and archival collections and travels to investigate foreign connections to the Lowcountry rice industry,” according to a review by the Charleston Post and Courier.

The work, published by University of South Carolina Press, which contains “meticulously rendered line drawings depicting the mechanical devices of the rice industry, lend a startling clarity to the written explanations of how they actually functioned and what part each played in the crop’s journey from the field to the consumer,” the publication adds.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice identifies the inventiveness of Deep South planters, recognizing that the U.S. Patent Office granted substantial numbers of antebellum patents to South Carolinians for inventions or improvement for rice harvesting and milling equipment alone.

It also recognizes the contributions of slaves “whose blood and sweat transformed inland swamps and riverine marshes into the remarkably dynamic hydraulic systems that composed the sweeping rice fields of the Lowcountry,” according to the Post and Courier.

The book doesn’t gloss over the fact that slaves worked in brutal conditions, explaining “that tidal river marshes were an extremely harsh environment just to exist in, let alone to work in. As it proved, an enslaved work force was the essential element in the survival of the Rice Kingdom, for without them the days of glory were over.”

(Top: Image showing the unloading of rice barges on a 19th century South Carolina rice plantation.)