Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Just One Family (In Photos)

Michael Miller - Company B, 30th WI
Since the holiday season is upon us, I thought in the spirit of family I would share a group of family portraits. They belong to just one family that went through the American Civil War. Based purely on visual senses, it is estimated that these photos were taken around the outbreak of the war, or even into 1862.

Michael Miller (also spelled Moeller) was born in 1813 and emigrated to the United States with his wife Mary Ann (1812-1886) before 1850 from Hessen, Germany in search of a new life. They settled in Mineral Point, Iowa County, Wisconsin, an area that at that time was filling with many German immigrants.  Not only was the landscape perfect for agriculture, but it probably reminded many of these people of home as well.  Michael was a farmer and according to the 1850 census owned property at a value of $300.00. He and his wife had four children; John (1842- ), Casper (1847-1931), Mary (1851-1914) and Nicholas (1853- ).

As the Civil War broke out in 1861, Michael kept to working the family farm at Mineral Point, Wisconsin (property valued by that time up to $1,000 - Personal Property Value $200), but finally in
1862, he could no longer hold out. After President Lincoln's call for 100,000 men he enlisted in Company B, 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on August 15, 1862 at the age of 49. Yes, he certainly was among the older soldiers in the 30th, and for that matter in almost any regiment. The 30th Wisconsin did not see the glory that other units experienced on famous battlefields across the south, but spent most of its time assisting expeditions into Indian territory in northwest Minnesota and even into the Dakota Territory. This is largely a forgotten front of the American Civil War and it was dirty and inhospitable business from so many perspectives. Similarly to today's situation in parts of the world, these men on the frontier had great difficulty distinguishing between friend and foe. Their job was to keep that balance from tipping on the periphery while the country tore itself apart. Although names like Shiloh or Gettysburg did not adorn their banners, the job was equally as important. The 30th Wisconsin also guarded prisoner of war camps and eventually moved to Kentucky later in the war for garrison duty. Michael Miller was one of the regiment's wagoners during his service. He served nearly his entire enlistment until being mustered out of Federal service after the cessation of hostilities on August 14, 1865 due to disability.

Michael's wife, Mary Ann
After the war, Michael returned to his farm where he lived with his family, the sun starting to set on his life's journey. He died on January 27, 1876 at the age of 63.  It is also believed that his son, John, served during the later stages of the war (1864-65) in the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry. Unfortunately he must have died fairly young as well because the records are very foggy. The rest of the family eventually moved with the only daughter (Mary Miller Prideaux) and her husband to Saint Paul, Minnesota where they lived out their lives and expanded the family.  They must have remained somewhat close because Mary Ann Miller (mother), Mary Miller Prideaux and Casper Miller (and his wife) are all buried together at Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul.

This brief story of course barely scratches the surface of the life these folks lived, but they were just like so many families today when the cruel winds of war severed the family bond. Even those family's that survived unscathed, moved on from the war years greatly changed. These changes along with a pervading perseverance allowed the country to start living again, healing, and moving forward in an effort to build something better out of the ashes of that terrible conflict. The reconstruction was even more complicated than the fighting of course, but the hope of that "new birth of freedom" to which Lincoln ingrained in the minds of Americans at least had an opportunity to expand...
Of course 150 years later, the difficulties of that postwar era were just beginning, but during this holiday season we have a lot to be thankful for.

John Miller
Nicholas Miller
Mary Miller Prideaux
Casper J. Miller

Michael Miller in civilian attire


Monday, September 7, 2015

Harper's Ferry Then and Now (Part 1)

One of the most detailed series of photographs to come out of the Civil War was created at one of the war's most volatile border towns in 1862.  The 22nd New York State Militia was stationed at Harper's Ferry during its three months service from May 28, 1862 to September 5, 1862.  While the unit saw no major fighting during their time at Harper's Ferry, their service certainly did leave us with a great view of garrison life at this most important of Civil War towns.  Many of the photos are fairly easy to recreate because of the great state of preservation in the historic town today.  Of course a number of locations have changed with development and destruction during the war, but a number of the sites are easily found.  Using the great images taken of the 22nd New York State Militia during their stay, we'll visit the modern sites and examine the changing scenery more than 150 years later.  We'll also take a look at some other famous views from Harper's Ferry, Then and Now.

Photo 1:

This photo shows Company A, 22nd NY State Militia in formation along Filmore Street on the western slope of Camp Hill.  From above Harper's Ferry, this view looks to the northwest with St. John's Lutheran Church in the left background.  St. John's is located along the north side of modern day Washington Street, or Business 340, just west of the intersection with Zachary Taylor Street.  The home in the back right is also still standing along Washington Street with a few alterations made since 1862.  In the background you can see the steep ridges above the Potomac River on the Maryland side of the river.  Below is the present view of the area where this photo was taken.

Below is a modern view of St. John's Church.  An artillery shell did major damage to the right window and the patch work is still clearly visible with a closer look.

Below is a modern view of the home seen in the back right of the Company A photo from along Washington Street.


The photo below is another from the series taken of the 22nd New York State Militia.  This one was also taken near Filmore Street near Anthony Hall from old Storer College campus.  The building in the back left is still standing today, known as Virginia Lodge Number 1, former Odd Fellows lodge.  

Below is the modern day view of the same area.  

Here is Lodge Number 1 from a different angle.


Another of the group shots taken of the 22nd New York State Militia was taken at Lodge Number 1 as well.  This one with the men gathered around the artillery positioned just to the south of the building.

Below is the modern view.  This perspective is a little bit closer, but the tree on the left edge of the photo might possibly be the same one that the soldier is sitting in to the left side in the original photo.


The following is another of the 22nd New York State Militia photos taken at Lodge Number 1.  The soldier is holding an Enfield Rifle Musket with the early style saber bayonet.  

Modern View:

Photo 5:

The following photo shows Colonel Dixon S. Miles in front of Anthony Hall.  Miles was a career military man and born in 1804.  He graduated from West Point in the class of 1824.  Like many Civil War officers, he served in Mexico and was brevetted for gallantry. He then served on the frontier and by the time the war broke out, he was a colonel.  At First Bull Run he commanded a division, which did not get into the fight, being held in reserve.  It was probably for the best because Miles was accused of being drunk.  He was then placed in command of a brigade with orders to defend the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  His headquarters were at Harper's Ferry.  As "Stonewall" Jackson's men hemmed in Harper's Ferry during the Maryland Campaign in September of 1862, Miles ordered the withdraw of troops from Maryland Heights which isolated all of his units in the environs of the town, surrounded by a ring of mountaintop artillery positions which Jackson utilized to full potential.  After holding a council of war, Miles decided that the best course was surrender, but an incoming shell mortally wounded him on the evening of September 15.  He died the following day in the hands of Jackson's men.  His force of nearly 12,000 soldiers were surrendered as the largest capitulation of U.S. forces until World War II.  

Anthony Hall on the former Storer College grounds has changed a great deal over the years.  The original building was finished in 1848, but it burned in the early part of the 20th Century, but was rebuilt with some additions on the original foundation.  Some of the other original features, like the front stairs are still the same as well.     

Modern view:

A full view of modern Anthony Hall can be seen below.  Today the building is the Mather Training Center operated by the National Park Service.


This view is looking down on Harper's Ferry and the Potomac River at its confluence with the Shenandoah River from Harper's Cemetery.  The roof of the church in the right foreground is the St. John's Episcopal Church built in 1852.  Today all that remains are the church's ruins.  St. Peter's Catholic Church today would be just out of view to the right.  The armory (or what remains of it) are visible along the Potomac shore in the lower left part of the photograph, directly over the top of the large tombstone in the left corner of the image. 

Maryland Heights is across the river to the left, Loudon Heights is across the river on the right side of the photo.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge is visible across the Potomac River with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the far shore as well, with Lock 33.     

Modern view:

Ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church today.  The roof of this church was visible in the original photo.


The following image is a view towards Loudon Heights from Harper's Cemetery.

Modern view from near the same location today:


The Brackett House was built in 1858 as the U.S. Armory Superintendent's Clerk's residence.  The structure is named after Dr. Nathan Brackett, who helped to found Storer College for freedmen in 1867. 

The following two photos are of the west (directly below) facade and east (next photo) facade of Lockwood House.  It was built in 1847 as the U.S. Army Paymaster's house.  During the Civil War it was the headquarters for both Brigadier General Henry Lockwood, commander of an independent brigade, and also, Major General Philip Sheridan for his 1864 Valley Campaign.

The Morrell House (below) was built in 1858 as the U.S. Paymaster Clerk's family residence.  Reverend Alexander Morrell of Maine lived here for a short time with his family.  Morrell was responsible for bringing the Freewill Baptist beliefs to the Shenandoah Valley.  The church's goal was to educate formerly enslaved people and Morrell was instrumental in the area, preaching and teaching for nearly twenty years. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fort Stedman Heroes - A Photo Tour

Fort Stedman at Petersburg National Battlefield.
One of the last major efforts by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to break the siege at Petersburg took
place in March of 1865.  After a terribly harsh winter of '64-'65, the Confederate forces strapped down around the 'Cockade City' were struggling to remain viable as a fighting force.  Quite simply, Grant's line was stretching the smaller Army of Northern Virginia perilously thin.  In desperation, Lee believed that the only possibility of success remained with breaking out of Petersburg and joining forces with General Joseph Johnston's army to the south.

Marker at Colquitt's Salient
The line around Fort Stedman was an area of promise to Robert E. Lee.  The two opposing lines there were extremely close (only 150 yards apart in places), making a possible attack more manageable.  Behind the Federal line at this point and also relatively close, ran the U.S. military railroad, a vital supply line that, with a successful attack, was within easy striking distance.  Lee set his sights on the area around Fort Stedman and tasked Major General John Brown Gordon with reconnoitering the Federal defenses along this part of the line.  Gordon wrote in his official report,"If there was a weak point in those defences, I was expected to find it.  If such a point could be found, I was expected to submit to General Lee some plan by which it would be feasible, or at least possible, for his depleted army to assail it successfully."

Gordon, after a week of searching for weakness in the line, reported back to General Lee that he had "learned the name of every officer of rank in my front."  Gordon proposed infiltrating the Federal lines with different hand-picked squads.  He would use the information obtained during his reconnoitering to cause panic in the Federal rear.  These advance parties were to be supported by large attacking columns that would overpower the forces in their front and shatter the Federal line.  On the night of March 24, the Confederate attacking force prepared for the assault under the cover of darkness.  The jump-off point for the attack was a point called Colquitt's Salient, only a couple hundred yards from Fort Stedman.

The view from Colquitt's Salient towards Fort Stedman, visible at the top of the hill.  It is from here that General Gordon's men launched their assault on the morning of March 25, 1865.
The next morning, before dawn on March 25, a "solitary signal shot rang out in the stillness..."  The attackers crept out across the no-mans land at about 4:30 AM and in a few short moments were on the breastworks of Fort Stedman.  The Federal defenders of the IX Corps hardly knew what hit them.  Within seconds Gordon claimed the Confederates captured "nine heavy cannon, eleven mortars, nearly 1,000 prisoners...with the loss of less than half a dozen men."  A significant portion of works were captured on either side of the fort as well.

Fairly quickly, Federal commanders recognized the dire situation befalling them as the first rays of sunlight shown on the horizon.  General John Parke, commanding the IX Corps, quickly ordered the divisions of Orlando Willcox and John Hartranft towards the breach.  Hartranft's troops had the farthest to move, but they were very soon approaching Confederate skirmishers southeast of Fort Stedman.  At about this time, Confederates had also turned south towards Fort Haskell, but met with little success.  To the north of Fort Stedman, the Confederates drove hard through a number of veteran regiments that were far too weak to meet the initial weight of the attack.  A few of them rallied though.

Fort Stedman in May 1865 as photographed by Timothy
O'Sullivan.  Library of Congress.
Around 7:30 AM, General Hartranft received orders from General Parke to retake Stedman.  His Pennsylvanians were already sealing off the break, but within fifteen minutes of the reception of Parke's order, he had his entire division moving to retake the fort with support from the surrounding batteries.  Hartranft reported afterwards that, "This ruse was a complete success.  The enemy, seeing the advance of this regiment [211th Pennsylvania], numbering about 600 muskets, in such handsome manner, commenced to waver, when the balance of the division charged with a will, in the most gallant style, and in a moment Stedman, Batteries 11 and 12, and the entire line which had been lost, was recaptured with a large number of prisoners, battle-flags, and small-arms."  As it turned out, Hartranft was not supposed to make this counterattack until a division of the VI Corps arrived, but he saw that success was sure and commenced regardless.

General John Gordon dejectedly wrote afterwards that "daylight was coming.  Through the failure of the three guides we had failed to occupy the three forts in the rear, and they were now filled with Federals.  Our wretched railroad trains had broken down, and the troops who were coming to my aid did not reach me.  The full light of the morning revealed the gathering forces of Grant and the great preponderance of his numbers.  It was impossible for me to make further headway with my isolated corps, and General Lee directed me to withdraw."  Not until the final week of the war would another last gasp effort be made to escape the stranglehold at Petersburg by the Army of Northern Virginia.  They had lost many more irreplaceable veteran troops to no avail.  For Grant and those Union troops involved in the repulse of the attack at Fort Stedman, it seemed as if maybe the last few cards were falling into place.  They had lost many more very good soldiers as well, but seemingly the reward was not far up the road.

Union artillery north of Fort Stedman towards the site of the Hare House

Monument at Fort Stedman to Hartranft's Division of the Ninth Corps, the men that turned back the breakthrough.

View north from inside Fort Stedman.
Federal guns inside Fort Stedman looking south towards Fort Haskell.
View towards Colquitt's Salient from inside Fort Stedman.  This shows the entire track of advance by Gordon's Confederates on the morning of March 25, 1865.

View inside Fort Stedman.

Looking north from Fort Haskell to Fort Stedman.  After initially capturing Fort Stedman, parts of the Confederate attacking force turned south towards this position through the ravine in the mid part of the photo and were stymied by Union defenders in and around Fort Haskell.  Also, Hartranft's Division came charging in from the right. 
Burial marker for unknown Confederate soldiers buried at Blandford Cemetery at Petersburg.

Fort Stedman plot for those Confederates that fell in the March 25 assault, buried at Blandford Cemetery at Petersburg.

Monument to Hartranft's Division near Fort Mahone at Petersburg... these are the men that shut down the Confederate assault at Fort Stedman.

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