‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

NC woman, born the daughter of a slave, dies at 91

A North Carolina woman believed to be one of the last residents of the Tar Heel State with a parent who had been a slave has died at age 91.

Mattie Rice of Union County was the daughter of Wary Clyburn, a former slave who died in 1930 at about age 90, when his daughter was 8.

During the Civil War, Clyburn ran away from his plantation in Lancaster County, S.C., to join his master’s son, Frank Clyburn, initially a member of Company E of the 12th S.C. Infantry Regiment, working as his bodyguard and cook.

Rice recalled her father speaking proudly about risking his life to save Frank Clyburn, dragging the officer to safety after he had been wounded in battle, according to the Charlotte Observer.

According to the Compiled Service Records, Thomas Franklin “Frank” Clyburn (1843-1896) joined the Confederate Army as a first lieutenant in the summer of 1861 and rose to the rank of colonel, eventually taking charge of the 12th S.C. Infantry.

He saw action at numerous bloody battles, including Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.

Frank Clyburn was severely wounded on May 23, 1864, in Virginia.

“In December 2012, Rice helped dedicate the marker in Monroe to her father and nine other Union County men. Nine of the men were slaves and one was a free black man, all of whom served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War then received tiny state pensions for their service late in life,” according to the Observer.

The granite marker at the Old County Courthouse is believed to be the first of its kind to honor black men who worked, willingly or not, for the Confederacy.

The marker sparked some controversy and raised questions about elevating so-called “black Confederates” while downplaying slavery’s role in the War Between the States.

Rice ignored such criticism, spending decades “pursuing her unusual family history,” according to the Observer.

Before the 2012 ceremony, she told the publication, “A lot of people ask me if I’m angry. What do I have to be angry about? There’s been slavery since the beginning of time. I’m not bitter about it and I do not think my father would be bitter about it.”

Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, praised Rice’s persistence over the years in highlighting her family background, work that illuminated a long-forgotten chapter of state history.

Rice’s father settled in Monroe, N.C., after the war, and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.

(Top: Mattie Rice, seen in 2012, in Union County, NC. Photo credit: The [Monroe County] Enquirer-Journal.)

Spanish-American War veterans remembered in SC

US history, sadly, is replete with “forgotten wars.” American veterans of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the earlier and current Middle Eastern conflicts were and have been largely ignored to one degree or another after their service.

In fact, unless one was a participant in the American Revolution, Civil War or World War II, there’s a pretty good chance one’s service went unappreciated.

Among the “less-remembered” wars in US history is the Spanish-American War, which launched the nation on its path to being an imperial power.

The 1898 conflict, in which the US soundly whipped an outmoded Spanish foe in 10 weeks, left the Americans with control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, and precipitated the even lesser-known Philippine-American War, in which the US battled Filipino insurgents until 1902.

Over this past weekend, veterans of the Spanish-American War were honored in Columbia, SC, during the 78th National Convention of the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans.

The three-day event attracted descendants of Spanish-American War veterans and other supporters of military veterans.

“The Spanish-American War is a time of reunification,” said Joe Long, curator of education at Columbia’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. “And it is also a time that is horribly neglected today. If these traditions and values (of service) are going to be passed down, they are going to have to be done by us.”

Sunday’s guests included J. Wesley McBryant of Indiana, whose father served in the Spanish-American War, according to The State newspaper.

McBryant, who traveled to South Carolina with his two sons for the weekend convention, said it’s important that today’s generation not forget the services of those who fought for their freedoms, the publication added.

The Spanish-American War grew out a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States following the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98).

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April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

fort-sumter-bombardment

Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading